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June 10, 2015

Anti-circumvention, 18th century style

The 1998 Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA), among other restrictions, makes it a criminal act to try to figure out how a software program works if it uses copyright protections (typically some form of Digital Rights Management). (The Berkman Center’s Digital Media Law Center has an excellent explanation of this.)

There are exceptions and exemptions, but it overall it is symptomatic of government’s prioritizing private business interests over public learning.

David S. Landes’ fascinating book, Revolution in Time, mentions an early case of DRM and an attempt at an anti-circumvention policy (pp. 172-5). It is literally a case: a watch case.

As Landes tells it, at the end of the 18th century, the most noted pioneering clockmaker was John Arnold. Arnold, the son of a watchmaker, rose rapidly, even presenting King George III in 1764 with a clock so small that it fit into a ring. But from around 1781, he began to run into a young upstart named Thomas Earnshaw. Earnshaw had invented a spring detent escapement (illustration) that proved to work better than Arnold’s, and would eventually replace it.

Arnold’s detent.

Arnold introduced a spring detent remarkably like Earnshaw’s remarkably soon after the latter introduced his, leading Earnshaw to think that Arnold had copied one of his early models. There were means, motive, and opportunity, for Earnshaw had been forced to disclose his innovation in order to try to raise the hundred pounds required to patent it. One of the people he showed it to was Thomas Wright, watchmaker to the King. Arnold had asked Wright for access to one of these prototype models on the grounds that Arnold had already applied for his own patent. Wright provided it.

Writes Landes:

When Earnshaw heard of this, he was furious. Wright defended himself by saying that he had not given Arnold permission to open the watch and had protested when he did: “Mr. Arnold, I will not have the watch opened.” To which Arnold had haughtily replied by asking if anyone in Wright’s shop knew how to make a watch anyway and then answered his own question by saying that “so far from being able to make a watch, none of them knew what o’clock it was.” This insolence was enough to provoke even a theeing-thying Quaker. “Mr. Arnold,” said Mr. Wright, “it does not signify whether I can make a watch or not, I don’t fear getting plenty of employee at mending thine, and if the watchmakers do not know what o’clock it is they can know by going to Greenwich for it as thee does.”

Nothing like #QuakersTalkingSmack.

In any case, it’s a new millennium and time for a copyright act suited for that new millennium.

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July 17, 2012

Yahoo’s patents

It has been bruited about that maybe Yahoo has hired Marissa Mayer, employee #20 at Google, in order to get acquired by Google. I cannot see the sense in that as an acquisition tactic, but it has led to further speculation that Google is interested in Yahoo for its patents.

Now that makes sense! In fact, here are just four of the many valuable patents Google would acquire from Yahoo:

  • US PATENT 893749039 Improving the rapidity of the embarrassment of a corporate board through non-vetting techniques
  • US PATENT 989209374 Significantly depressing corporate value by the refusal of no-brainer acquisition offers through the innovative application of self-importance

  • US PATENT 463874738 A new calculus of corporate value that rewards the acquisition, mishandling, and abrupt closure of genuinely innovative services with loyal user bases.

  • US PATENT 784789909 Techniques for the alienation of a company user base by re-imagining customers as consumers and services as Big C Content.

(The truth is that I have a soft spot for Yahoo as one of the original engineer-led sites, and I hope Marissa can lead it back from the brink.)


Hanan Cohen points to I’m more ambitious than that; I’d substitute “Yahoo” for “Flickr” on that site.

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March 12, 2012

Time for the Patent Office to move off of TIFF?

Look up a patent at the US Patent Office site, click on “Images” to see the image, and the chances are very good that you’ll get the sense that people are patenting white paper over and over and over again. The images generally do not show up. (Example)

A little exploration (which you shouldn’t have to do) explains that this is knowingly broken:

These full-page images are not directly viewable using most Web browsers.They are in 300 d.p.i. Tagged Image File Format (TIFF). However, there are many variants — or “flavors” — of TIFF, including different ways of compressing the image data within the TIFF file. The TIFF flavor used by PTO and other countries’ intellectual property offices is international standard ITU T.6 or CCITT Group 4 (G4) compression. Displaying them requires either a TIFF G4 plug-in for your browser, or a properly installed and configured application to which your browser sends G4 TIFF images for display. Note that relatively few image viewers and plug-ins handle G4 compression.

So, here’s an idea: Convert the images to a format that browsers can handle. Post those. Make TIFF the format you have to ask for specially.

Would a business post links to images that they know won’t show up, and make you go to a Help page to discover why? (Thanks to Greg Cavanagh for the alert.)


November 29, 2008

James Boyle on the public domain

James Boyle’s new book, The Public Domain, is an entertaining, insightful, seminal work. It’s available now for sale, reading on line for free, or downloading for free. You thus have zero excuses not to read it. And you’ll be glad you did. A book this important shouldn’t be so delightful.

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February 21, 2008

[cyberinf] On the Edge

Session description:

By lowering or bridging barriers, cyberinfrastructure can bring different institutional, enterprise, and policy models into unaccustomed proximity. The result may be powerful complementarities – or it may be competition or conflict. Since the separation between institutional and public policy also blurs, what kind of stewardship should the academy provide for advancing knowledge infrastructure? When should it take the lead in developing standards? How should it account for industry and sector differences? How should voluntaristic and cooperative models fit with market-based models? How should universities navigate/mediate between open and controlled models of knowledge?

Kaye Husbands-Fealing (U of Minn) leads the discussion. [I’m live-blogging which means I’m being sloppy, hasty, uneven, and erroneous.]

Arti Rai (Duke) reports on her study of how U’s have patented software through the 1980s and 1990s. The percentage of sw patents have been increasing, especially since the legal decisions making it easier to patent sw. [Unfortunately, I can’t keep my blogging up with her. Lots of info, and I don’t know the jargon well enough. Sorry! Here‘s a paper by her on the topic.]

Eliot Maxwell (Committee for Economic Dev.) Think about openness in terms of access and responsiveness. Responsiveness means people can contribute, distribute, etc. In the continuum of open to closed, the appropriate degree of openness is context sensitive. E.g., you don’t want medical records to be totally open. It’s not about IT but about the ability to get contributions from very different sources. It’s not always just the experts. It’s an attitude as much as it’s an instantiation in the infrastructure. What matters is adopting an ethos of sharing and collaboration, Eliot says. Instead of being the best and the only, the U should think about collaboration as a way out of the zero sum goal. The U should change the tenure system so getting info out onto the Web counts. Maybe U’s — including small liberal arts colleges and community colleges — should study how collaboration works and doesn’t work. We need to make info available, findable, searchable, interchangeable. Also, we need an attribution system since that’s the incentive. We have a technology to doing that, but we don’t always design it into our systems. In 15 yrs, U’s won’t be as associated with a place, about 4 continuous years, or about producing paper.

Brian Kahin (U of Mich) says we’ve been discussing different parts of the cyberinfastructure. We are seeing a rapidly expanding ecology of knowledge. How do you present this to industry, to the board of trustees, to legislators, to prospective students, etc.? Are U’s aligned with their own researchers on the nature and role of knowledge? None that Brian knows, he says. Open access is a paradigm for transformational effect. I don’t see the same thing on the tech side. I see very little interaction between legal scholars on patents and the U’s administration of patents. And this brings up the question of stewardship. What credibility does the U have to speak for public policy? And, we need to think about collaboration science, Brian says. We don’t have a lot of good info. We also ought to be working on strategies for developing standards. How do we have innovation policy when we have so many different models of innovation? Finally, is collaboration the be-all and end-all? On the Net we also see complementarity; that’s part of the Internet and probably should be considered part of the ecology of the cyber infrastructure. [Sorry this is so choppy.]

Q: (Kaye) Eco-innovation looks at the well-being indices and considers how innovation affects the end-users. How can we use the cyberinfrastructure to take the pulse all the way to the end user?
Arti: Erich Von Hippel has done a lot of work on distributed innovation. Users are innovators. Feedback to the researchers would be very helpful.
Eliot: Openness is consistent with that type of feedback. On the Internet, if you make a crappy product, everyone knows it’s a dog.

Q: What is the governance procedure for sunsetting data? Who decides how much data to store?
A: As organically as possible.

Q: Do we really want all projects to be sustainable? Shouldn’t some of them just die when they’re done? And some of them need non-open control of IP
Eliot: Yes, the openness should be appropriate to the project.

Q: It’s easy when talking about data to simply say that it’s a community issue and each community will develop its own ways of sorting these things out. But re-use and recombination of data for purposes far away from their original purpose is very exciting.
Arti: Great point.
Eliot: Maybe funders can help.

Do we really want funders to decide what’s sustainable? Shouldn’t it be a Darwinian process?
Eliot: Not decide. Funders should make applicants think hard about sustainability from the beginning.

Q: We still don’t know what we mean by “cyberinfrastructure.” Are we any closer to agreeing on it? How do we show its value if we can’t agree on what it means?
Brian: We can think of it as an asset (something you’ve already invested in) or as a prospect (where things are going). Those two questions come out in different ways. The asset vision is the Internet. The prospect points to semantics and ontologies that let you do more things with knowledge.
Eliot: I’m less interested in defining what cyberinf is that in what we’re trying to get from it, i.e., to be more collaborative and open.

Q: In my view, cyberinf is not just ICT. We should think of the infrastucture as being collaborative.
Brian: Part of what you’re talking about is virtual organization.

Q: A group of research U CIOs have been meeting to talk about what they can to shape the growth of a national cyberinfrastructure.

Q: We need to be able to talk about this simply and clearly.

[Too fried to blog. Sorry.] [Tags: ]