Piano Scrolls and the Law
Music & MP38/7/2000; 3:24:14 PM Two articles that go well together:The Standard has ''The Piano-Scroll Precedent'', a retrospective on copyright law and past technology.'Technology, then and now, takes unexpected twists and turns, and copyright law struggles to keep up. Today, as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ponders the Recording Industry Association of America's complaint against Napster, people trying to cope with the fast-changing Internet might draw some lessons from history.'And a reminder from Salon that the law is not the immutable thing that some believe:'...And for six months, two questions have persistently filled my e-mail in box from perplexed or outraged readers. 'First: Why do so many people think it's OK to break the law and cheat artists out of their income? Second: If I'm so smart, what do I think the record companies should do?
'These questions share some unspoken assumptions that are worth noting -- like a belief that the law is always unambiguous and unchangeable, and a notion that the interests of "artists" (creators) and record companies (distributors) are identically aligned. But the people asking the questions are sincere, and they deserve answers.'
Will the Real Katie.com Please Stand Up?
General IP Issues
8/7/2000; 3:02:41 PM 'This isn't the first time that two parties have squabbled over a domain name, but Jones' case is unique in one aspect. Countless cybersquatters have registered domain names of large companies and tried to extort large fees from the companies in exchange for relinquishing the names. A whole body of law now addresses the rights of companies to extend their trademark to Web addresses. But no one has yet tested the right of Web address owners to extend their trademarks to other offline media.'
A hacker crackdown?
8/7/2000; 12:39:30 PM 'As the long arm of the law reaches Napster and its lookalikes, programmers could be held responsible for what others do with their code.'
The inaugural "Programer's Rights" story, which convinced me to start this as a new department.
New Department: Programmer's Rights
Programmer's Rights8/7/2000; 12:37:39 PM I'm creating a new department for what I percieve to be a controversy I suspect we'll be hearing more about in the future: Programmer's Rights and the responsibilities that come along with those rights.Like any controversy, one can find hints of it extending far back, but I think this issue has come into a new focus with the developments surround Napster. Can Napster-the-software's writers (i.e., Napster-the-company) be held responsible for the software's use?In Napster's case, it is further blurred by the fact that Napster is also a service (Napster-the-service), but in the case of distributed programs like FreeNet, there's no service to shut down, so when the authors are taken to court, it will be solely because they have created a program with which it is possible to violate some law or other. While copyright is the current favorite, expect old the old standbys to show themselves (you know, kiddie porn and bomb instructions) and new ones to join the fray around the world (illegal political speech, perhaps not in the USA (perhaps!) but it will be an issue in other countries).If this issue continues to take off, there are some other lawsuits waiting to happen in this area:
- So-called root kits: These are little bundles of programs that you can download that will allow you to completely take over some computer. These are created by exploiting known vulnerabilities in some program and using those vulnerabilities to gain some user control over the system. Usually, these kits will also attempt to hide their prescense, with varying levels of success.Frequently, they are usable by people with little-to-no computer knowlege. They can cause great damage, both when used deliberately to cause damage, and accidentally, when used by a novice to powerful effect. Does the author of this kit bear some level of responsibility for the authoring of the kit?I'd consider this on the far end of the spectrum, BTW. There are no compelling reasons for these kits to exist, except to crack. Programs that simply exploit security holes and do so in an open fashion to demonstrate them are necessary to computer security discourse... programs that use these holes to secretly take computers over and hide their existance are not necessary.
- ALL Serving software: If you're going to hold Napster accountable because it facilitates MP3 sharing, then for consistency, you need to go after other things that facilitate that sharing... IRC being the natural first target.If the corporations could twist this the way they'd like, this could be used to largely lock us into a web where only approved servers could serve anything significant, with teams of lawyers verifying the intellectual property status of every byte being served, because it would be illegal to run a rogue server. I can't seriously imagine things going this way, it's just the logical conclusion of the Napster suit.
- Utility software: Any software peripherally related to any other lawsuit. Can I sue the manufacturors of the crash simulation software the car companies use if I'm injured in a crash? What about the people who wrote the software to design the crash simulation software? If Intel releases another chip with a division bug, could I sue Intel for nearly anything related to a computer at some point, because it might have something to do with that bug? Certainly, these are extreme, but I expect to see them in some form.
Yet, for all the confusing technology and endless permutations involved in the computer business, this is actually not a technical or Internet issue at all. It is really a result of our society's fascination with lawsuits, and our desires to shift blame from people to whoever has deep pockets and can pay for the blame.In the end, this boils down to a fundamental question that people of all industries face: Can the manufacturor of a product be held responsible for the use of that product? Can the supplier of a product be held responsible for its use? When? Why? This is the really the same issue for guns, tobacco, cars, planes, and anything else.The only rational answer is "The vast majority of the time, no." Personally, I can only stomach saying yes when there's active fraud involved, such as is claimed on the part of the tobacco companies. Most any other answer results in absurdity... and the proof of that statement will quite likely lie in the truly absurd stories I expect to populate this department... on par with the absurdity of claiming the damages caused by Napster probably exceed the entire revenue of the record companies in the last year (because each infringement could cost from $500 to $100,000... absurd!). Stay tuned
THE ARCHIVAL MIND: The Brain's Third Hemisphere
Digital Divide8/4/2000; 9:59:47 PM 'Indeed it also seems possible that we are now developing a new thought-consciousness. Our intuitive awareness of this fact accounts, I believe, for the characteristic love affair people come to have with their computers. To the outsider they are "computer nuts" or "nerds." The outsider can never understand one thing the present analysis makes clear. People who fall in love with their computers are really falling in love with their own minds, and the stunning new Boolean capabilities it makes possible.'This strongly reminds me of the concept of Intelligence Amplification, or IA (to provide a counterpoint to AI, Artificial Intelligence). The idea is that computers and humans will evolve together, with each providing unique strengths, into a symbiotic relationship, rather then the more morbid and scary AI Conquers World scenario.I catagorize this as a Digital Divide story because when I think digital divide, this is what I think about. "Access to information"? Not really so importent. The question is, will there be a class of people who can use their third hemisphere, and a class of people for whom it forever remains economically inaccessible? Computer 'literacy' is aptly named; the importence of being able to manipulate computers and obtain useful data and knowlege from them is on par with conventional literacy, for much the same reasons, and those reasons are growing stronger daily.Without computers, without the network of webloggers functioning almost as a prototypical group mind (without all that nasty mind-merging stuff I'd hate), without the computers to manage the astonishing flow of data I take in every day, I'd never be able to run this site. I don't just mean that because, as a web site, you need a computer of some kind to read it and I need one to create it, but I mean I'd never be able to hunt down the amount of information on these topics that I do... and still have time to do anything else. Rather then a consuming life passion, iRights is much more like a hobby, one of many.So, look at it this way: Because I make good use of my third hemisphere, I routinely engage in an activity as a hobby that in any other century would have required full time engagement. To deny these abilities to anybody is on par with denying them the ability to read. Perhaps they can't or won't read, but they must be given a chance.Note that conventional computer classes taught in high-school and even college (for the non-Computer Science majors) do not cover this sort of thing at all... they teach computers as a tool to do paperwork, or perhaps as a glorified calculator, but not as a thought tool. (This will not be easy to correct until we have a better understanding of how this thought tool affects us, and learn how to exploit it to the fullest.)This is also in some sense why Linux and Unix geeks like those operating systems so well... they may be a pain to use, but they facilitate being used to process information and extract meaning that Windows can't do (without massive effort).'People who fall in love with their computers are really falling in love with their own minds, and the stunning new Boolean capabilities it makes possible.'
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