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September 4, 2009

The price of free law

The latest Radio Berkman episode has me interviewing Steve Schultze about his RECAP project that posts public domain legal records that otherwise you’d have to pay to access. And the federal courts are not all that happy about it.

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August 31, 2009

Copyright’s creative disincentive

Tucows is participating in the Canadian copyright consultation process. Rather than submitting a comment written in the usual lawyerly prose, Elliot Noss, Tucow’s CEO, asked me to write up something about copyright in my usual imprecise and incoherent prose. I like Elliot a lot, and I care about copyright, so I wrote about the argument that without strong copyright protection, creators won’t have an incentive to create. The piece is now posted… [The next day: I absolutely should have mentioned that this was a commissioned piece. I.e., Elliot paid me to write something, and posted it unaltered.]

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August 21, 2009

The copyright debate

Doc does a yeoman’s job (were there yeowomen?) pulling together some links in which copyright is debated. I haven’t made my way through all of them, but I can already recommend the post…

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August 20, 2009

New issue of JOHO the Newsletter

I’ve just sent out the August 18, 2009 issue of JOHO, my newsletter. (It’s completely free, so feel free to subscribe.) It’s all new material (well, new-ish) except for one piece.

[email protected]: Recently, the tenth anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto came out, a book I co-authored. Here’s some of what we got wrong in the original version.

In the new edition’s introduction, I list a bunch of ways the world has become cluetrain-y, many of which we take for granted. The fact is that I think Cluetrain was pretty much right. Of course, at the time we thought we were simply articulating things about the Web that were obvious to users but that many media and business folks needed to hear.

But Cluetrain also got some important things wrong…and I don’t mean just Thesis #74: “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.”

Our kids’ Internet: 

Part 1: Will our kids appreciate the Internet?: Will the Net become just another medium that we take for granted? 

I love the Internet because even now, fifteen years into the Web, I remember what life used to be like. In fact, give me half a beer and I’ll regale you with tales of typing my dissertation on an IBM Model B electric, complete with carbon paper and Wite-Out. Let me finish my beer and I’ll explain microfiche to you, you young whippersnappers.

The coming generation, the one that’s been brought up on the Internet, aren’t going to love it the way that we do…

Part 2: The shared lessons of the Net: The Net teaches all its users (within a particular culture) some common lessons. And if that makes me a technodeterminist, then so be it.

In my network of friends and colleagues, there’s a schism. Some of us like to make generalizations about the Net. Others then mention that actual data shows that the Net is different to different people. Even within the US population, people’s experience of it varies widely. So, when middle class, educated, white men of a certain age talk as if what they’re excited about on the Net is what everyone is excited about, those white men are falling prey to the oldest fallacy in the book. 

Of course that’s right. My experience of the Web is not that of, say, a 14 year old Latina girl who’s on MySpace, doesn’t ever update Wikipedia articles, isn’t on Twitter, considers email to be a tool her parents use, and — gasp — hasn’t ever tagged a single page. The difference is real and really important. And yet …

Part 3: How to tell you’re in a culture gap: You’ll love or hate this link, which illustrates our non-uniform response to the Net.

The news’ old value:  

Part 1: Transparency is the new objectivity: Objectivity and credibility through authority were useful ways to come to reliable belief back when paper constrained ideas. In a linked world, though, transparency carries a lot of that burden.

Part 2: Driving Tom Friedman to the F Bomb: Traditional news media are being challenged at the most basic level by the fact that news has been a rectangular object, not a network.

Bogus Contest: Net PC-ness: What should we be politically correct about in the Age of the Web?

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August 18, 2009

RecapTheLaw.org

RecapTheLaw.org has a Firefox extension that both gives access to public docket records and makes them actually publicly accessible. The courts charge for access to these dockets, including every time you search and for every page of search results. The system is called PACER. RECAP gives you access to PACER (and is PACER spelled backwards). When you use RECAP to view a docket through PACER, RECAP uploads it into the Internet Archive, since the docket info is in the public domain even though the courts charge you for accessing it. The next time someone goes through RECAP to find that docket, she’ll get it for free from the Internet Archive. RECAP also adds helpful headers and other metadata.

RecapTheLaw comes out of the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy. Well done!

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August 13, 2009

Lego hops off the Cluetrain onto the tracks in front of it, wondering what that increasingly loud sound could be

Jake McKee was the Global Community Relations Specialist at Lego. In his essay in the tenth anniversary edition of Cluetrain (subtle product placement, eh?) he tells how Lego learned to engage with its users, and how this was good for everyone. (Josh Bernoff writes about this here.) Lego was a great example of how a business can benefit by getting down off its high horse and playing in the grass with its customers. Thank you, Jake.

Now Jake is gone from the company, and Lego has become an excellent example of how to be a clueless, frightened laughingstock. A 14-year-old user used Legos to create a stop-motion homage to Spinal Tap, which Spinal Tap projected in concert and wanted to include in its DVD. Lego refused to give permission. As a company spokesperson said: “…when you get into a more commercial use, that’s when we have to look into the fact that we are a trademarked brand, and we really have to control the use of our brand, and our brand values.”

First, I am not a lawyer, but: No. The Lego logo wasn’t shown anywhere in the video, and it’s hard to believe that Lego could win a suit.

Second, No. How customer unfriendly can you get? You sell us something that enables us to create what we want, and now you say you get to control what we create? You won’t let us take photos or videos of what we create? Does Crayola get to tell us we can’t post photos of the inappropriate messages I write with their crayons, because it might hurt their image among their target audience of 3-9 year olds and cretinous participants in political debates?

So:

Top Five Inappropriate Items to Construct out of Legosâ„¢ brand Legosâ„¢, owned by Lego Systemsâ„¢, a Lego Groupâ„¢ company

5. Legoâ„¢ Mindstormsâ„¢ dildo

4. Legoâ„¢ ThePiratesBay ship logo

3. Legoâ„¢ world’s most ineffective and uncomfortable condom

2. Legoâ„¢ official Spinal Tapâ„¢ Mud Flaps

1. Legoâ„¢ giant upraised middle finger

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August 12, 2009

Apple: Totalitarian art

Jason Calacanis has an excellent post making the case against Apple, from an Apple fan’s point of view. I’m basically with him.

Doc Searls has long said that the key to understanding Steve Jobs — and thus to understanding Apple — is that Job’s an artist. We understand when an artist wants to maintain complete, obsessive control over his creations, especially when they are as beautiful as some Apple products are. But it’s not just artistry at work at Apple. Apple tends towards totalitarianism.

You can see why in its computer architectures: Its products work because they’re relatively closed systems that run tightly controlled hardware, unlike Microsoft’s operating system that has to be able to work on just about every piece of hardware that comes along. And Apple’s stuff generally works beautifully. (I switched from Windows to the Mac about three years ago.) But the hardwired connection between the iPod and iTunes — only recently loosened — is there not to benefit users, but to meet the DRM needs of recording companies and to tether users to Apple. The hardwired connection between the iPhone and the App Store represents a disturbing direction for the industry, in which Apple acts in loco parentis to protect users from their own software decisions, and (apparently) to exclude products they believe hurt the business interests of their partners. The App Store’s success makes it particularly threatening; it’s easy to imagine Apple’s rumored tablet adopting the same strategy, then other companies following suit.

It’s not an unmixed picture, of course. The removal of the egregious DRM from iTunes is a step forward, and seems to have been a step Apple eagerly took, and the movement of the Mac’s OS onto Unix added admirable transparency. Plus, Apple makes some beautiful stuff that works beautifully.

I just wish that going forward, I felt more confident that Apple is on our side, not just as customers but as digital citizens.

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July 31, 2009

Tenenbaum trial bloggage

Marc Bourgeois is doing some excellent blogging of the RIAA v. Tenenbaum trial. Fascinating.

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July 28, 2009

Annals of openness in peril

1. The court has rejected Charlie Nesson’s basic defense of Joel Tenenbaum’s sharing of music files. The case is going to jury which may levy the same sort of insanely excessive fines as in the Jammie Thomas-Rassert trial. I hope Charlie’s team can convince the jury that the fines and the entire process are so onerous and disproportionate that the RIAA has been abusing the court system. Of course, IANAL, and IANAOTJ (I am not on the jury).


2. Barnes and Noble has launched its e-book software. It runs on iPhones as well as on PC’s and Mac’s. I’m having trouble finding which formats it supports, but judging from its Open dialogue, not PDF, .doc, .html, .mobi, or text. It does support .PBD books.

After a very very quick session playing with it, it seems quite competitive with the Kindle, and because I’m running it on my Mac and not on the little piece of crippled hardware I bought from Amazon — the Kindle is just barely adequate as a reader, and is still overpriced by more than 100% in terms of its value, imo — having the use of a keyboard and a mouse is a big step up. And, unlike the Kindle, you can use whatever fonts you have on your machine. Still, it’s only incrementally better than the Kindle’s software (again, on a quick look), not a great leap forward for readers.

One of B&N’s big advantages is that it’s hooked into Google Books, enabling you to download public domain books that Google has scanned in. You do this by searching for a book on the B&N site and noticing the “free from Google Books” label. Be sure to sort by price; otherwise B&N lists the for-pay versions first. If B&N wants to be aggressive in this space (= succeed), it should create an easy-to-find section that lets you browse Google’s free books. Get us using the ereader and then sell us the copyrighted books. (If B&N has such a section, I couldn’t find it quickly enough.)

BTW, I presume (and thus may be wrong) that Google did a special deal with B&N to enable this. If so, I find it worrisome. If Google is going to be granted a special right to scan in books without fear of copyright reprisals, it will be the de facto national e-library, discouraging others from undertaking similarly scaled scanning projects, and thus should be making its public domain books equally and maximally freely available. IMO.

2a. [Later that evening:] B&N stores are now providing free Wifi. Yay!


3. Apple is not permitting the Google telephone service into the Apple App store, thus simultaneously and inadvertently making the case for Zittrainian generativity.


4. [Later that day]: On the happy front, Google has open-sourced an implementation of Wave.

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July 25, 2009

The racial divide in Internet devices

A Pew Internet report says that while 56% of Americans have accessed the Internet wirelessly, there’s a stark racial divide in the devices we use. About half of the African-American and English-speaking Hispanic population accesses the Net through cellphones and other handheld devices, but only 28% of white Americans have ever done so.

Three bullet points quoted from the report:

* 48% of Africans Americans have at one time used their mobile device to access the internet for information, emailing, or instant-messaging, half again the national average of 32%.

* 29% of African Americans use the internet on their handheld on an average day, also about half again the national average of 19%.

* Compared with 2007, when 12% of African Americans used the internet on their mobile on the average day, use of the mobile internet is up by 141%.

We can read this in many different ways:

  • Mobiles are helping to end the digital racial divide

  • Mobiles are extending the digital racial divide by providing second-class Net access to African Americans

  • For a far greater percentage of African Americans than white Americans, the Net is less generative and participatory

  • We’d better make sure that the carriers become device independent and Net neutral

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