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October 31, 2006

About Dan Gillmor

Dan Kennedy’s written a terrific story about Dan Gillmor and the Center for Citizen Media… [Tags: ]

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[berkman] Wendy Seltzer on copyright technology policy

Wendy Seltzer is leading a lunchtime discussion at the Berkman Center about how copyright works not just as law but as technology policy. Copyright tech has been shaping law and culture, she says. [As always, I'm paraphrasing, missing big chunks, making the elegant clunky, etc.]

She looked recently at the 1995 federal policy statement on the “national information infrastructure” (= da Net). It reads as if the Clinton administration wanted to promote the Internet by protecting “intellectual property.” But it turns out that the Internet has even more value by letting us communicate with one another. Yet, the copyrighted content has been wagging the dog, restricting what and how we can communicate. E.g., the DMCA (which encourages ISPs to take material down), restrictions on fair use, the anti-circumvention laws (including the Broadcast Flag). Laws that give an incentive to create can then become a barrier to communication and access, Wendy says. “So far this limited monopoly is the best way we’ve found to give artists and authors an incentive to create.” We don’t want to return on patronage, she says. The market seems to be the best mechanism. “But this market has its own inefficiencies.” E.g., every computer makes copies (just by visiting a page), so tightening copyright laws can inhibit us unnecessarily, not to mention preventing remixes and mashups that make political points.

While the Internet makes infringements easier, the laws passed in response have given copyright holders new tools to go after infringers, swinging the balance against users. E.g., section 512 of the DMCA says that ISPs should “expeditiously” take down material that someone—anyone—claims infringes. So, ISPs don’t have to examine every piece posted to their system, but the incentive is to err on the side of removing materials.

Q: I’ve heard that YouTube is only taking down potentially infringing clips longer than five minutes. [A quick search on YouTube for "daily show" clips supports this—weak evidence.]

Q: What’s going on with the counter-notice provisions of the DMCA (section 512g) which lets someone whose material was taken down complain.
A: It’s rarely used. Many of the infringement notifications are invalid, and still few people counter-notify. Out of a thousand notices, there were only two counter-notices.

Q: How should the industry respond to the real threat?
A: The data suggest that encrypting songs on iTunes doesn’t stop them from being available unencrypted on filesharing networks immediately, but it does stop people from building their own music players and integrating them. E.g., because DVDs are locked, there’s been no new technology that lets you do more with your DVDs.

Q: The music industry doesn’t care about secure DRM any more. Will that happen to other industries?
Wendy: That’s encouraging.

Wendy hopes artists will insist on having more open licenses of their material.

Q: What should, say, Sony do?
A: Reinvent themselves. They still provide “taste” services. But it’s not the high margin business it used to be. They should pare down to the services they provide that have value.

Q: Isn’t the ease of ripping an argument for stronger IP, so Tower Records can stay in business?
A: Copyright is about protecting the artists, not Tower Records. If the market no longer needs Tower Records…

Q: How about AllofMP3.com?
A: the business model seems to be: “We’re in Russia and will ignore everyone else’s copyright law.”

She says that she thinks the successful sites will be differentiated not by their content but by their navigability, guarantee of quality, etc.

Q: Protecting artists is a good ting. Art is a public good. You mentioned patronage. But in Europe, arts get funded through grants.
A: It’s great to have government support for the arts, but artists shouldn’t be solely dependent on that.

Q: How can the communication side make a claim against the entertainment industry?
A: If citizens demanded it…

Wendy likes subscription models that don’t track the data too closely (for privacy reasons) and that allocate revenues to the artists.

Q: If we were negotiating copyrights with individual artists, what would the DMCA look like?
A: I’m not convinced artists want the DMCA.

Q: But when I listen, the artist would get ten cents…
A: (someone) That’s what Rhapsody does now.

Wendy: That’s what DMX does. Would artists give their rights over to bulk licensing agencies? Do what you will with the music and we’ll figure out who to give the money to? If the agency was transparent enough…

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Ethanz on Google Coop

Ethan Zuckerman discovers that Google Coop’s roll your own search engine has high precision but poor recall, i.e., it gives few irrelevant returns, but misses stuff it should find.

A little poking solves the mystery pretty quickly. Google Coop Search works by searching against the main Google search catalog, retrieving 1000 results and filtering them against the sites you’ve included in your catalog. This makes sense, computationally – these searches are fast, almost as fast as normal Google searches. Rather than conducting 3000 “site:” searches and collating and reranking the results, Google is sacrificing recall, getting 1000 results and discarding those not in your set of chosen sites, which requires one call to the index and a really big regular expression match.

…In other words, the little engine I’ve built is useful only if the sites I’ve chosen are relatively high ranking and authoritative sites on the topics I’m searching on.

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Reddit acquired

Reddit, one of my favorite social front pages, has been acquired by CondeNet, the CondéNast online group. Good news for the Reddit folks. And maybe a very very smart move by CondeNet…if they let the Reddit folks heavily influence how the service is developed. [Tags: ]

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How far we’ve come

Yesterday, the Berkman Center hosted a small party for local political bloggers. John Palfrey had us pause for a moment so the attendees could introduce themselves. A sampling: Betsy Devine has tracked the NH phone bank scandal. A professor from Northeastern blogs as a media watchdog. Rick Burnes of FaneuilMedia is plotting political donations on Google maps. Several folks from BlueMassGroup, a Democratic blog that’s also a community, were there. Matt Margolis, founder of Blogs for Bush, a site that’s kept its flame alive two years after the election, was there; he runs a Massachusetts site to rally the state’s overwhelmed conservatives. Steve Garfield told how he posted fantastic footage he’d shot of Deval Patrick at a rally, while the conventional news media all missed the moment. And many more; I didn’t do a systematic job of writing down names and blogs.

My point isn’t that there was a cloud of luminaries at the Berkman last night, well la-di-da. I don’t think there was an “A-list” blogger among us. And that’s my point. As we went around the room, I got chills realizing how far we’ve come. Capturing remarkable moments, tracking scandals — every issue has her blogger — monitoring the media, rallying supporters, mashing up financial info…we’re doing it all. We take it for granted. But it’s changed how the world works. And we’re only at the beginning.


The Boston Globe’s circulation is down 7% this year, falling from 414,000 to 386,000. Boston’s other daily paper (well, not counting the Metro), fell 12% to 203,000. The Globe’s Sunday circulation fell 10% to 587,000.

The Globe was already in financial trouble. The path it’s currently on predictably leads to scaling back in coverage and running more syndicated articles. If the current decline continues it’s hard to see how the Globe can survive. And that would be a disaster. A newspaper is greater than the sum of the knowledge, talent and experience it aggregates.


Another reminder of how much things have changed: The discontent about the use of electronic voting machines has become an issue almost entirely because of the Web. The people who have made it an issue are not reporters but scientists and researchers who have published directly to readers. That’s how they’ve gotten traction. And that’s new. [Tags: ]

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October 30, 2006

Rosenberg interviews Johnson

Scott Rosenberg has a great interview with Steve Johnson about Steve’s new book, The Ghost Map. It’s one smart writer interviewing another smart writer. Plus, Scott and Steve are both really nice, a virtue often under appreciated, especially when it shows up in folks whose egos could justifiably be way bigger than they are.

Scott closes with a question about Steve’s new site, Outside.in that aggregates stuff by zip code. [Tags: ]

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October 29, 2006

Jeff Jacoby is not a racist, but he’s not my favorite columnist

Jeff Jacoby is a conservative columnist for the Boston Globe, so I disagree with his conclusions quite frequently. But, over the years I’ve also disagreed with his reasoning almost as frequently. He seems to me to be one of those columnists who comes up with a provocative conclusion and then tries to figure out how he can support it…and doesn’t always succeed.

This morning he complains about people accusing their political opponents of “playing the race card.” That’s the new McCarthyism, he says. He points to the GOP ad that “pokes fun” at Harold Ford, a black candidate for Senate in Tennessee:

And a bare-shouldered bimbo squeals, “I met Harold at the Playboy party” — a reference to Playboy’s 2005 Super Bowl bash in Florida, which Ford attended. The ditzy blonde returns at the end to whisper, with a wink, “Harold: call me!”

It was a witty, entertaining ad — and it promptly had liberals and Democrats and even the odd Republican screeching about how “racist” it was.

Ford went to a Superbowl party sponsored by Playboy, which clearly means he’s on the prowl for white “bimbos.” Nothing offensive about that! And talk about witty! [Note to the sarcasm impaired: That was sarcasm.]

Jacoby then lays the smack down (or whatever that slang phrase is that the kids are using):

But the plain fact is, there is nothing remotely racial about the Tennessee ad. And I can prove it: The ad would be just as effective if Ford were white.

Jacoby furthers his case:

The same litmus test exonerates Kerry Healey’s much-maligned TV commercials against [the black Democratic candidate] Deval Patrick in the Massachusetts governor’s fight. In one ad, a woman of indeterminate race is shown walking to her car in a parking garage, while a voiceover reminds viewers that Patrick has “praised a convicted rapist.”

Jacoby’s point is that the “ad would be precisely as effective if he [Patrick] were white.”

And on what basis does Jacoby claim this? Has he done a study to test the ad’s effect if the candidate were white or black? No. The best I can figure is that Jacoby means that the explicit argument made by the ad would apply equally to a black or white candidate. But, as he acknowledges, the “McCarthyites” who claim that this is a covertly racist ad point to implications and code words that only make sense within the context within which the ad is actually heard. In this case, everyone who sees the ad knows that Patrick is black, and many — thanks to Healey’s manipulative and cynical raising of the issue — know that the rapist in question is black. In a world truly free of racism, there would be no residue of former cultural associations between rapists and black men. But this is not that world.

So, let’s apply Jacoby’s “proof” to a hypothetical ad attacking Deval Patrick. In this ad, a gang of male, black youths are following a pretty young white woman through the darkened streets. “They’re over-sexed, and they want our women,” says the voice over. Then the ad shows a photo of Deval Patrick. “He’d be fine shining your shoes, but do you really trust him as governor?” According to Jacoby, this ad would be equally effective if Patrick were white because we’re all against crime, and you don’t have to be black to be a good shiner of shoes. But you have to have a brick ear not to recognize that my hypothetical ad is wildly racist. Jacoby’s test fails the real-world test in which ads have meanings beyond the literal words intoned. In context — that is, in the real world — the anti-Ford and anti-Patrick ads are racist, and I believe deliberately so.

Jacoby simply misses the point, not because he’s racist but because (I believe) he’s too intent on being controversial. Conclusions should come last, not first.

Or maybe just as Bush’s speechwriters talk about the “soft racism of low expectations” (a great phrase, despite how it’s used), we should talk about the “soft racism of ignoring racism.”


The Globe today warmly endorsed Deval Patrick for governor, pointing to his ability to listen to those who disagree and his refusal to polarize the electorate for his own personal gain. I’m an enthusiastic supporter — I’ve worked the phone banks for him — and hope that his resounding victory will help rip the Willy Horton page out of the Republican playbook.

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I emailed Jeff Jacoby to tell him I blogged this. He wrote back and gave me permission to run his reply here:

Of course your ad would be wildly racist. But what does your hypothetical
ad have to do with the real ones I wrote about? Healey’s ads, unchanged in any way, would be equally effective against Deval Patrick if he were a white liberal. The Tennessee ad, unchanged, would be equally effective if Harold Ford were white. That tells me that the ads are not racist — or even racial. I appreciate your taking the time to comment on my column, but you seem to have completely missed the point I was making.

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October 28, 2006

Britt Blaser’s 64th Brithday wish

Britt is an ever-youthful 64 today and writes:

What do I want for my 64th birthday? I’d like some reporter to stand up at a press conference on live TV and ask, ‘Mr. President, on what date do you believe that we will all agree that the Iraq War has turned out no better than every other project you fucked up in your life?’

Ouch! [Tags: ]

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How could I be so stupid?

I’ve spent the past couple of days going through the copy edit of Everything Is Miscellaneous. The copy editor, Christopher O’Connell, has done an incredible job. Not only has he corrected every bad comma, transformed every errant “that” into “which” and vice versa, and capped every uncapped capitalized word, but he’s also unearthed an embarrassing number of factual and thoughtual errors that would have mortified me if they’d seen print. I am impressed with the number of ways I’ve managed to go wrong, even though I was rather careful (or so I thought) when taking notes. I misspelled names, don’t know whether 350 BCE is in the third or fourth century BCE, and am wrong about the citizenship of some important historical personages. (What, Napoleon wasn’t Irish???)

It is a usefully humbling experience for which I’m very grateful.

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October 27, 2006

BlogBridge topic libraries

Pito Salas explains how BlogBridge’s topic guides work, and how you can use their Feed Library software product to create your own. BlogBridge is a well-intentioned, free, open source blog aggregator that works across platforms. I’m a user and an advocate. (I’m also an uncompensated advisor: disclosure) [Tags: ]

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