Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Crime of Selling Abandoned Copies

Also via the Museum of Hoaxes blog - William Patry has an interesting story about a postal worker who was convicted for selling undelivered DVDs that the US Postal Service, on the instructions of the owners of the DVDs, had thrown away.

If you came across a trash can filled with lawfully made compact discs and DVDs that the copyright owner had authorized to be put in that trash can and then thrown away because it didn’t want to pay the postage to have them returned, do you think you could be criminally prosecuted for selling those copies, and would you think that the copyright owners would be entitled to restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act? If you answered no to these questions, you would be wrong according to the Eighth Circuit.

Here’s the opinion, United States v. Chalupnik, 2008 WL 268997 (8th Cir. Feb. 1, 2008), court’s docket no. 07-1355, available on the court of appeals’ website, here (search for Chalupnik).

The facts are pretty much these (at least as recited in the opinion): defendant was an employee for the U.S. Postal Service. BMG Columbia House is a mail order operation selling CDs and DVDs by mail. Many of these discs are undeliverable. Rather than pay the postage to have them returned to it, BMG Columbia House instructed the Postal Service to throw them away. The Postal Service did throw them away. Defendant then retrieved them from the trash and sold them to area stores, netting $78,818. A surveillance camera showed defendant retrieving the items and he was arrested; he was originally charged with felony mail theft, but then pleaded guilty to misdemeanor copyright infringement. The trial court sentenced defendant to two years probation and ordered him to pay $78,818 to BMG in restitution. Chalupnik appealed .

The district court’s theory was “I do believe that there is in fact a lost opportunity to ... BMG, that the people that bought those CD's ... would likely have bought new CD's, and that that represents a real and substantial loss to ... BMG in the amount of $78,818.” The government argued that “BMG is a victim because it owns the discs, sells them with permission of the copyright owners, and controls the disposition of undeliverable discs; that each time Chalupnik sold an undeliverable disc, the artist lost a royalty and BMG lost a potential sale; and that the amount of those losses is conservatively estimated by Chalupnik's gross revenues, $78,818.

The court of appeals agreed that BMG Columbia House was a victim within the meaning of the MVRA, but held that no loss had been established...

Among the many things I find amazing in this whole debacle is the assumption that there could be copyright infringement. The copies had been thrown away at the direction of the BMG Columbia House (which may or may not have also been the copyright owner). I would think that means any ownership in the copies had been abandoned and that therefore anyone was free to do with them what they wanted. If instead of the postal worker having taken them out of the trash, what if the trash dump owner had discovered them and sold them?"

Invisible ink pens for paper voting

Wonderful story at the Museum of Hoaxes about the perils of paper voting. 20 Chicago voters were allegedly told that the touchscreen voting styluses that they had been given to mark their paper ballots were pens that used invisible ink.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Obama "Yes We Can" re-mix

Can you imagine anyone doing these kinds of re-mixes with one of our esteemed prime minister's speeches and making it work:

Rowan Williams should advise the government on ID cards

William Heath thinks people should read the text of the speech that Rowan Williams has been so heavily critcised over because he is prepared to talk in public about difficult subjects and with a deep understanding of the complexities of the real world.


People diss Rowan Williams but he spelt out years ago why customer was such an unsatisfactory term for the active participant in “services” such as health or education.

Now he spells out, in his widely-misunderstood (has anyone READ the original text?) speech on Sharia, why the spiritual grounding of our ID System plans is as offensive as Islamic primitivism:

The danger arises not only when there is an assumption on the religious side that membership of the community (belonging to the umma or the Church or whatever) is the only significant category, so that participation in other kinds of socio-political arrangement is a kind of betrayal. It also occurs when secular government assumes a monopoly in terms of defining public and political identity. There is a position – not at all unfamiliar in contemporary discussion – which says that to be a citizen is essentially and simply to be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state, in such a way that any other relations, commitments or protocols of behaviour belong exclusively to the realm of the private and of individual choice. As I have maintained in several other contexts, this is a very unsatisfactory account of political reality in modern societies; but it is also a problematic basis for thinking of the legal category of citizenship and the nature of human interdependence.

Go Beardie! I’m wholly unrepentant in my long-held view that he would make the best possible keynote speaker for a major gathering of the public-sector “transformation” community. Tell me: who else in any position of authority is articulate at this level, and thinks it’s important to work from basic principles and beliefs as we re-engineer and codify the relationship between people and they state? Not over[paid Touche Accentroid Young, nor dazed and confused Sir Bonar and Sir Wally, nor the egomanic great clunking fist.

We can’t even broach this conversation in the public media without the Sun screaming treason and some Kirsty or Johannes Humphrissimus Maximus Interromptor interrupting everyone half way through their first sentence. It is, to quote a phrase, far from ideal."

Well said.

Lord Bingham on the rule of law

The ever excellent ARCH blog points me to a wonderful speech on the rule of law given by Lord Bingham in 2006. His thoughts on the tension between the government and the judiciary are spot on as you might expect.

"ministers and public officers at all levels must exercise the powers conferred on them reasonably, in good faith, for the purpose for which the powers were conferred and without exceeding the limits of such powers... The historic role of the courts has of course been to check excesses of executive power, a role greatly expanded in recent years due to the increased complexity of government and the greater willingness of the public to challenge governmental (in the broadest sense) decisions. Even under our constitution the separation of powers is crucial in guaranteeing the integrity of the courts' performance of this role.

he British Government, through one entity or another, is very frequently involved in litigation. It is usually successful, but not invariably so. When unsuccessful it is displeased, being driven like every other litigant by a belief in the rightness of its cause but also no doubt by a belief that the public interest is best served by its succeeding. In the past the convention was that ministers, however critical of a judicial decision, and exercising their right to appeal against it or, in the last resort, legislate to reverse it retrospectively, forebore from public disparagement of it. This convention appears to have worn a little thin in recent times, as I think unfortunately, since if ministers make what are understood to be public attacks on judges, the judges may be provoked to make similar criticisms of ministers, and the rule of law is not, in my view, well served by public dispute between two arms of the state. Some sections of the press, with their gift for understatement, have spoken of open war between the government and the judiciary. This is not in my view an accurate analysis. But there is an inevitable, and in my view entirely proper, tension between the two. There are countries in the world where all judicial decisions find favour with the government, but they are not places where one would wish to live. Such tension exists even in quiet times. But it is greater at times of perceived threats to national security, since governments understandably go to the very limit of what they believe to be their lawful powers to protect the public, and the duty of the judges to require that they go no further must be performed if the rule of law is to be observed. This is a fraught area, since history suggests that in times of crisis governments have tended to overreact and the courts to prove somewhat ineffective watchdogs. In our country and in the United States, decisions have been made of which neither country can be proud. The cautionary words of Justice William Brennan of the United States Supreme Court in 1987 remain pertinent:
"There is considerably less to be proud about, and a good deal to be embarrassed about, when one reflects on the shabby treatment civil liberties have received in the United States during times of war and perceived threats to national security … After each perceived security crisis ended, the United States has remorsefully realized that the abrogation of civil liberties was unnecessary. But it has proven unable to prevent itself from repeating the error when the next crisis came along.""

Verizon reject MPPA call for ISPs to act as copyright police

Verizon executive vice president for public affairs, Tom Tauke, in an interview with the NYT, rejects the movie industry's call for telecos and ISPs to act as copyright police.

"Once you start going down the path of looking at the information going down the network, there are many that want you to play the role of policeman. Stop illegal gambling offshore. Stop pornography. Stop a whole array of other kinds of activities that some may think inappropriate...
When you look back at the history of copyright legislation, there has been an effort by Hollywood to pin the liability for copyright violations on the network that transmits the material. It is no secret they think we have deeper pockets than others and we are easy-to-find targets...
Anything we do has to balance the need of copyright protection with the desire of customers for privacy."

Better than free

Kevin Kelly:

"The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free...

This super-distribution system has become the foundation of our economy and wealth. The instant reduplication of data, ideas, and media underpins all the major economic sectors in our economy...

Our wealth sits upon a very large device that copies promiscuously and constantly.

Yet the previous round of wealth in this economy was built on selling precious copies, so the free flow of free copies tends to undermine the established order. If reproductions of our best efforts are free, how can we keep going? To put it simply, how does one make money selling free copies?

I have an answer. The simplest way I can put it is thus:

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.
When copies are super abundant, stuff which can't be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

Well, what can't be copied?

There are a number of qualities that can't be copied. Consider "trust." Trust cannot be copied. You can't purchase it. Trust must be earned, over time. It cannot be downloaded. Or faked. Or counterfeited (at least for long). If everything else is equal, you'll always prefer to deal with someone you can trust. So trust is an intangible that has increasing value in a copy saturated world...

From my study of the network economy I see roughly eight categories of intangible value that we buy when we pay for something that could be free.

In a real sense, these are eight things that are better than free. Eight uncopyable values. I call them "generatives." A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured. A generative thing can not be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfeited, or reproduced. It is generated uniquely, in place, over time. In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold."

His "generatives", btw, are immediacy, patronage, findability, authenticity, personalization, interpretation and embodiment.

Copyright Criminals

Kembrew McLeod and Benjamin Franzen's 10 minute documentary Copyright Criminals is available on YouTube.

OiNK amin's bail extended again

From The Register:

"Cleveland police have extended the bail granted to the former administrator of an alleged music piracy site for a second time, in a bid to collect more evidence for a case that could mark a watershed for UK internet law.

Alan Ellis, a 24-year-old IT worker from Middlesbrough, was arrested in October on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and copyright infringement offences, over his site OiNK's Pink Palace.

A police spokeswoman said today that he had been briefly reinterviewed today for clarifications and granted police bail to reappear on May 6. The extension has been sought to allow more time for computer forensics, she said...

Since his arrest, Ellis has publicly argued that OiNK merely provided a Google-like indexing service, and cannot be held accountable for the actual music files that the trackers poined to. It's the same defence that's set to be used by the administrators of the Swedish BitTorrent tracker Pirate Bay in their upcoming trial.

If a copyright prosecution is ever brought against Ellis, it would be a test case for a 2003 amendment to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act that states a criminal offence may be committed by a person who "distributes otherwise than in the course of a business so as to affect prejudicially the honour or reputation of the author or director"."

UK IPO decide not to appeal software patents case

David at IPKat says the UK Intellectual Property Office has decided not appeal the recent decision in the Astron Clinica software patent case and then raises a really good question about the implications:

"After the recent decision of Astron Clinica (IPKat posts here and here), and a decent two week period for reflection, the UK-IPO have now decided that they will not be appealing against the decision. Consequently, a new practice notice has just been issued by the UK-IPO...

This appears to settle for now the matter of computer program claims, which many will be relieved to see (although not, of course, those against software patents in general). The IPKat sees no reason why he should not have the following claim allowed by a UK-IPO examiner (where claim 1 is an allowable method claim):

"A computer program comprising computer program code adapted, when said program is loaded onto a computer, to make the computer execute the procedure of claim 1".

There is nothing wrong with this, according to Kitchin J in Astron Clinica and the new practice notice, so one of the IPKat's amenuenses will be putting exactly this form of claim to a UK examiner in the near future, in the expectation of it being allowed. After all, we should be looking at the invention as a matter of substance, not the form in which it is claimed. Can anyone see the reason why this claim would not be allowed at the EPO? The IPKat suspects he can, but would like others to first point out why he is wrong, yet again, on the subject."

Keep a close eye on IPKat to see how the proposed claim is received.

Meanwhile Automony has lost its against a refusal of their patent application relating to automated computer searching. The judgement is available at BAILII.

The new traceability of influence

Jon Udell has some interesting thoughts on the anxiety and celebration of influence:

Larry Lessig’s video in support of Barack Obama is making the rounds in the blogosphere. Scanning the transcript I found a comment entitled Andrew Sullivan which reads:

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

I’ve read that paragraph before. But not in the Lessig transcript. It comes from this Andrew Sullivan article in The Atlantic.

Why append it to the Lessig transcript? I think the anonymous commenter — who, however, chooses to identify himself or herself with the law firm Latham and Watkins — is drawing attention to the similarity between that paragraph and this one which does appear in the Lessig transcript:

So I want you to shut your eyes and imagine what it will seem like to a young man in Iraq or in Iran, who wakes up on January 21st, 2009, and sees the picture of this man as the president of the United States. A man who opposed the war at the beginning, a man who worked his way up from almost nothing, a man who came from a mother and a father of mixed cultures and mixed societies, who came from a broken home to overcome all of that to become the leader in his class, at the Harvard Law Review, and an extraordinary success as a politician. How can they see us when they see us as having chosen this man as our president?

Was Lessig’s paragraph influenced by Sullivan’s, which it’s reasonable to suppose he has read? My guess is that it was. If so, was the influence conscious or unconscious? My guess: unconscious.

This reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2004 New Yorker article on plagiarism, Something Borrowed...

In Something Borrowed, Gladwell refers to Lessig:

Creative property, Lessig reminds us, has many lives — the newspaper arrives at our door, it becomes part of the archive of human knowledge, then it wraps fish. And, by the time ideas pass into their third and fourth lives, we lose track of where they came from, and we lose control of where they are going.

But I digress. The real point here is that nowadays, even as ideas pass into their third and fourth lives, we don’t necessarily lose track of where they came from. A couple of years ago, Tim O’Reilly wrote a blog post entitled Act your way into a new way of thinking, which he said was “a fabulous quote from Richard Pascale’s book Delivering Results.” Tim added this postscript:

P.S. Very cool to be able to find the original source for the first quote via Google book search. As it came to me, it was simply labeled “Richard Pascale, Stanford Business School.”

Whether or not Lessig’s paragraph was influenced by Sullivan’s, the ways in which we influence one another are becoming more transparent, more traceable...

But the fact that all these connections are traceable is a wonderful thing."

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Clock ticking on EchoStar's DVR

Jonathan Z. has a lovely analysis of the TiVo V Echostar decision last week.

"Last week a federal appellate court upheld a judgment against EchoStar in a patent case brought by TiVo. I think this case is fascinating, and open a chapter of FOI with it:

TiVo introduced the first digital video recorder (DVR) in 1998. It allowed consumers to record and time-shift TV shows. After withstanding several claims that the TiVo DVR infringed other companies’ patents because it offered its users on-screen programming guides, the hunted became the hunter. In 2004, TiVo sued satellite TV distributor EchoStar for infringing TiVo’s own patents6 by building DVR functionality into some of EchoStar’s dish systems.

A Texas jury found for TiVo. TiVo was awarded $90 million in damages and interest. In briefs filed under seal, TiVo apparently asked for more. In August 2006, the court issued the following ruling:

Defendants are hereby . . . to, within thirty (30) days of the issuance of this order, disable the DVR functionality (i.e., disable all storage to and playback from a hard disk drive of television data) in all but 192,708 units of the Infringing Products that have been placed with an end user or subscriber.

That is, the court ordered EchoStar to kill the DVR functionality in products already owned by “end users”: millions of boxes which were already sitting in living rooms around the world with owners who might be using them at that very instant. Imagine sitting down to watch television on an EchoStar box, and instead finding that all your recorded shows had been zapped, along with the DVR functionality itself—killed by remote signal traceable to the stroke of a judge’s quill in Marshall, Texas.

With EchoStar’s lost appeal, that moment is now closer.

Such remote remedies are not wholly unprecedented. In 2001, a U.S. federal court heard a claim from a company called PlayMedia that AOL had included PlayMedia’s AMP MP3 playback software in version 6.0 of AOL’s software in violation of a settlement agreement between PlayMedia and a company that AOL had acquired. The court agreed with PlayMedia and ordered AOL to prevent “any user of the AOL service from completing an online ‘session’ . . . without AMP being removed from the user’s copy of AOL 6.0 by means of an AOL online ‘live update.’”

TiVo v. EchoStar and PlayMedia v. AOL broach the strange and troubling issues that arise from the curious technological hybrids that increasingly populate the digital world. These hybrids mate the simplicity and reliability of television- like appliances with the privileged power of the vendor to reprogram those appliances over a network.

We’ll be seeing more and more of these cases crop up. As our information appliances become exclusively tethered to their makers, the feature (for the maker, and sometimes the user) of being able to update it instantly also become the bug (for the maker, and usually the user) of being ordered to update it instantly. Randy Picker has written a terrific paper arguing that such tethering is a good thing — and that regulators should act to force manufacturers to tether their devices to they be updated later to conform to new or changing legal standards. I think he’s wrong, and in the book try to articulate what’s wrong with his position. His is the presumption to rebut, since actions like demanding the frying of a patent-infringing DVR are completely consonant with the law as it is today — it’s just that there hasn’t been that ability before...

From what I can tell, the stay pending appeal is now dissolved — which would mean that the 30-day clock is ticking towards hundreds of thousands of fried EchoStar boxes in people’s homes."

Voting with (Little) Confidence

Also via Risks Digest: Voting with (Little) Confidence
Electronic voting systems--introduced en masse following high-profile problems with traditional voting systems in the state of Florida during the 2000 presidential election--were designed to quell fears about accuracy. Unfortunately, those concerns continue to permeate political conversation. The Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008, introduced recently by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), proposes government funding for jurisdictions that use electronic voting to switch to systems that produce a paper trail. But many experts say that a paper trail alone can't solve the problem.

Ben Bederson, an associate professor at the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, was part of a team that conducted a five-year study on voting-machine technology. Bederson says that machines should be evaluated for qualities beyond security, including usability, reliability, accessibility, and ease of maintenance. For example, in a 2006 Florida congressional election, some voters were uncertain whether touch-screen machines had properly recorded their votes, especially after 18,000 ballots in Sarasota County were marked "No vote" by the machines. "Security, while important, happens to be one of those places where voting machines actually have not proven to fail," Bederson says. "However, in many other ways, they have failed dramatically, especially [regarding] usability. The original Florida problem was primarily a usability issue." (Among the problems in Florida in 2000 was the case of Palm Beach County, where some voters were confused by a ballot design that listed candidates in two columns. The confounding layout led some people to mistakenly vote for Patrick Buchanan when they intended to vote for Al Gore.) Bederson's team, which included researchers from the University of Maryland, the University of Rochester, and the University of Michigan, particularly focused on usability, and they evaluated electronic voting systems built by Diebold, Election Systems and Software, Avante Voting Systems, Hart InterCivic, and Nedap Election Systems, as well as one prototype built by Bederson himself.
See the original article in MIT's Technology Review for links to the study.

Transplant patient has NEW kidney removed after NHS computer blunder

Via Risks Digest: Transplant patient has NEW kidney removed after NHS computer blunder

"A kidney transplant patient was forced to have the new organ removed after just a few hours – when it was discovered that the patient's blood type had been incorrectly recorded on a computer database.

The mistake, believed to be the first of its kind in Britain, would have led to the organ being rejected – with possibly fatal consequences."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

US-Antigua gambling dispute highlights defect WTO system

From IQsensato:

"The dispute between the United States (US) and Antigua and Barbuda has already made GATT/WTO history. Antigua challenged various US measures relating to gambling and betting services arguing that they were inconsistent with the US obligations under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). This was the first dispute arising under the GATS to reach the Appellate Body. It was also the first time that the GATT/WTO has adjudicated on the public morals defence, namely, whether a member can justify imposition of trade restrictions on the basis of the protection of public morals in its territory. Additionally, the case has resulted in a rare withdrawal of commitments under the GATS as the US decided to modify its GATS Schedule to exclude gambling and betting from its market access commitments...

WTO remedies fall short of what one might ask of an effective legal system. First, there is no compensation for past harm or loss. Second, compensation in the form of enhanced market access depends on the consent of the party that violated the rules; and, in any event, some WTO members do not have the capacity to use the compensatory enhanced market access. Third, retaliation is not optimal: WTO arbitrators have previously recognized that a member may find itself in a situation where it is neither realistic nor possible for it to retaliate for the full amount of the level of nullification and impairment in all of the sectors and/or under all agreements. Furthermore, as noted in Brendan McGivern’s commentary on the dispute, retaliation under the TRIPs Agreement is especially difficult for a number of reasons. One, regardless of the legality of the authorization from the WTO, violation of intellectual property rights might be frowned upon by other WTO members and the international community generally. Two, for some products, it might not be easy to act against the TRIPs rights of US rights holders without affecting the TRIPs rights of nationals of other WTO members. Three, given the absence of rules on valuation of suspension of intellectual property rights, it would be difficult to ensure that the retaliation does not exceed the authorized amount."

UK eborders PNR

SpyBlog has a few things to say about the responses by the Border & Immigration Agency to Tom Griffin's FOIA request. Spyblog feels the data collection is excessive and dangerous.

Therefore these checks will also have to be applied, effectively, to internal travel within the supposedly United Kingdom, by aeroplane or by ferry, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

If they are allowed to get away with this, Soviet / Apartheid style internal travel bureaucracy, they try it on all other international travel and function creep and extend it to internal flights or trains or ferries in the entire UK.

We have no problem with the Police or intelligence agencies requesting such information for specific, narrowly targeted terrorist, espionage or drug or smuggling etc. investigations.

It is absolutely intolerable that such data is handed over, routinely, and automatically, in bulk, on the millions of innocent people who travel every year. Data Trawling through millions of innocent people's personal records is an expensive, ineffective and dangerous way of trying to protect our borders, and an unjustifiable abuse of our freedoms and liberties.

Hynix claim Rambus set patent trap

From SiliconValley News:

"Rambus ensnared memory chip manufacturers in a "patent trap" in its attempt to "control the industry," a lawyer for Hynix Semiconductor told a jury in San Jose on Monday.

William Price, representing Hynix, the world's second-largest maker of memory chips, told jurors that in the 1990s Rambus participated in standards-setting meetings of the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council and then secretly and illegally used JEDEC information to patent standards for dynamic random access memory, or DRAM.

Rambus gathered information from JEDEC as the chip makers spent millions adopting the standard and building plants to manufacture the chips, Price said. "At that point Rambus would come forward and say, 'Aha! We own the technology on that standard,' " he told jurors. "That activity is called a patent trap."

Hynix made its opening arguments in the final trial of the seven-year patent infringement lawsuit."

The UK Identity Chernobyl and the information half life

Kim Cameron likes the idea of an information half life that flows naturally from his coining of the term identity Chernobyl to describe the HMRC 25 million data loss.

The notion of information half-life is a great one. Let’s adopt it.

The tendency for “information to merge” is one of the defining transformations of our time. When it comes to understanding what this means, few think forward, or even realize that there “is a forward”.

The “contextual separation” in our lives has been central to our personalities and social structures for many centuries.

Call me conservative, but we need to retain this separation.

The mobility and clonability of digital information, in combination with commercial interest and naivite, lead us toward a vast sea of personal information intermixed with our most intimate and tentative thoughts.

The essence of free-thinking is to be able to think things you don’t believe as part of the process of grasping the truth. If the mind melts into the computer, and the computer melts into a rigid warehouse of indelible data, how easy is it for us to change, and what is left of the mind that is “transcendental” (or even just unfettered…)?

The ramifications of this boggle the mind. The alienation it would cause, and the undermining of institutions it would bring about, concern me as much as any other threat to our civilization.

Well said.

Cross pollination: getting bloggers to talk to scientists

Jon Udell raises an interesting issue on the degree to which conversations about a particular scientific topic can progress independently of each other in ghettoised specialist communities, communities who could enlighten each other if only they managed to communicate.
When chatter in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere intersects with scientific discourse, I’m always interested in the ways that citations do, or don’t, cross the border between those domains. In 2006, for example, while checking references for a podcast with Steve Burbeck about multicellular computing, I traced a meme about how we humans are really a hybrid of human and bacterial cells. The mainstream vector was a New York Times magazine story on obesity. It got to the blogosophere by way of a Wired News story. But the original Nature Biotechnology article mentioned in the Wired story was linked nowhere that I could find...

Here’s one approach that could help. When the citation engines in the blogosphere find references in blog entries to scientific articles on the web, they could resolve those to their most canonical forms: DOIs, PubMed records. And they could make equivalences among those forms. That way, conversation in the blogosophere about a scientific article, and scientific conversation about the same article, would tend to hang together and would be discoverable in the same contexts.

Why does this matter? Well, the marginalrevolution blog is influential, widely cited in the blogosphere. The entry that cited the PLoS Medicine article was itself widely cited. But the PLoS Medicine reaction to the article is not part of the blog conversation. I had to work really hard to find it, and to include it here.

The conversation-tracking tools used by bloggers should discover scientific discourse related to a scientific article as easily as they discover blog discourse. Conversely, the conversation-tracking tools used by scientists should discover blog discourse as readily as scientific discourse. Public understanding of science would improve, and so would scientific understanding of the public.
Update: No sooner said than done.

Real ID rule the worst of both worlds

The CDT has branded regulations issued by the Department of Homeland Security relating to the Real ID act as the "worst of both worlds."
Final regulations issued by the Department of Homeland Security have rendered the REAL ID Act, intended to strengthen processes for issuance of driver's licenses nationwide, virtually useless as a security measure, while exacerbating privacy problems, CDT concluded in a comprehensive analysis of the rules, which were issued last month. CDT is urging Congress to enact legislation addressing concerns about the privacy and security of information that will be stored on the new cards and in an electronic system used to link the states.

The forger, Fisk and Saddam

Apparently Robert Fisk's biography of Saddam Hussein is selling very well in Egypt. There is just one slight problem - he didn't write it.

Modern democracy means one dollar one vote

Tom Gallagher has a nice review of Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"The people referred to in the title of Ha-Joon Chang's book, "Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism," are advisers from rich nations who tell poor countries to embrace free-trade policies that rich nations themselves never practiced. Quoting a 19th century German economist on the British, Chang writes that today's rich nations are effectively "kicking away the ladder ... in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up" after them. But the history of capitalism has been so thoroughly rewritten, Chang says, that most of these "Bad Samaritans" suffer a form of "historical amnesia" and "do not even realize that they are hurting the developing countries with their policies."...

As Chang describes the way it really was, you realize how amazing it is that free market ideologues have been able to shoehorn Great Britain into a free-trade version of world history, given that it rose to economic dominance while building a world empire.

"The truth," he writes, "is that the free movement of goods, people, and money that developed under British hegemony between 1870 and 1913 - the first episode of globalization - was made possible, in large part, by military might, rather than market forces." And this period of imperial free trade followed long years of high tariffs and careful protection and nurturing of selected British industries..

One American who was having none of that, Chang points out, was Alexander Hamilton, who became the country's first treasury secretary and implemented an array of policies to protect the country's "infant industries" (a term coined by Hamilton): "protective tariffs and import bans; subsidies; export ban on key raw materials; import liberalization of and tariff rebates on industrial inputs; prizes and patents for inventions; regulation of product standards; and development of financial and transportation infrastructures."...

"[M]arket and democracy clash at the fundamental level," Chang writes. "Democracy runs on the principle of 'one man (one person), one vote.' The market runs on the principle of 'one dollar, one vote.' " Chang's point may seem obvious, yet it is one infrequently made, due, presumably, to the power of wealthy individuals and nations. But just as obvious is Chang's conclusion that if developing countries "want to leave poverty behind" and nurture their fledgling industries just as today's rich nations once did, "they have to defy the market.""

Big music labels sue China search giant

From Yahoo News:

"Three global record companies have launched legal proceedings against China's top Internet search engine Inc, accusing it of violating copyright by giving access to music files, an international music trade body said.

Universal Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment (Hong Kong) Ltd and Warner Music Hong Kong Ltd have asked a court to order Baidu to remove all links on its music delivery service to copyright-infringing tracks that they own the rights to, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said in a statement.

The claims have been filed with a court in Beijing, said IFPI, which is backed by global music industry heavyweights."

Danish Court orders ISP to block access to Pirate Bay

From Reuters - a Danish court has ordered an ISP, Tele2, to block customer access to Pirate Bay at the request of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Google oppose Microsoft takeover of Yahoo!

Unsurprisingly Google have reacted negatively to Microsoft's bid to take over Yahoo!

"Microsoft has been trying to depict a Yahoo takeover as a boon for both advertisers and consumers because the two companies together would be able to compete against Google more effectively.

But Google is painting a starkly different picture, asserting that Microsoft will be able to stifle innovation and leverage its dominating Windows operating system to set up personal computers so consumers are automatically steered to online services, such as e-mail and instant messaging, controlled by the world's largest software maker.

In a move that illustrates just how badly Google wants to torpedo the deal, Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt called Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang Friday to offer his help in repelling Microsoft, according to a report Sunday on The Wall Street Journal's Web site, which cited anonymous people familiar with the matter.

The assistance didn't include a counterbid, but may have included supporting other potential suitors, or a revenue guarantee in exchange for an ad partnership with Yahoo, the people said, according the newspaper."

Monday, February 04, 2008

MP bugged and everyone's aghast

So Jack Straw considers it entirely unacceptable for an MP to be bugged during a meeting with one of his constituents, who happens to be wanted by the US as a terrorist suspect. This the same Jack Straw who for years has, along with his colleagues in government, been tediously repeating the "nothing to hide nothing to fear" mantra?

The Wilson doctrine has theoretically protected MPs from this kind of covert surveillance since the 1960s. So we must look to the technical concept of 'externalities' so familiar to economists as one of the key reasons why government can repeatedly pass laws facilitating increasing intrusive surveillance. They act comfortable in the belief that such laws won't apply to them, just to the untrustworthy citizenry. Maybe it is time we dropped the Wilson doctrine and MPs shared the consequences of the fall-out from ill-conceived laws?