Friday, June 27, 2003

From the Berkman Center we learn that "James Boyle, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law at Duke Law School, has won this year's World Technology Award in Law" James' book Shamans Software and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society is one of the most enlightening works on intellectual property and information economics I've ever read and this award is thoroughly deserved. The elite list of nominees he was up against gives you an indication of how important his work is:
Prof. Martin Adelman - George Washington University Law School
Mr. Hisamitsu Arai - Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters,Cabinet Secretariat
Prof. Yochai Benkler - New York University School of Law
Prof. Robert Bohrer - California Western School of Law
Prof. James Boyle - Duke Law School
Mr. Stuart Brotman - Stuart N. Brotman Communications
Prof. Paul Goldstein - Stanford Law School
Dr. Thomas Hoeren - University of Muenster
Dr. Kamil Idris - World Intellectual Property Organization
Mr. Michael Kirk - American Intellectual Property Law Association
Prof. Edmund Kitch - University of Virginia
Prof. Lawrence Lessig - Stanford University
Judge Richard Linn - U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Prof. Daniel Poulin, Mr. Ernst Perpignand and Mr. Marc-Andre Morissette - LexUM, Faculty of Law, University of Montreal
Prof. Pamela Samuelson - UC Berkeley
Dr. Barbara Simons - Association for Computing Machinery

A fair few things of note around but I'm limited for time today, so check out the usual suspects like Donna Wenthworth but one thing I would like to point you to is David Post's short note at the Volokh Conspiracy -
"Copyright Battles, Con't: Public Library of Science, a group of scientists and physicians seeking to insure that scientific information is placed in the public domain, free of copyright or other intellectual property protection, has launched a campaign to strip copyright protection entirely from works prepared with the "substantial" financial support of the US government.....
It's an important effort, I think (full disclosure: I've been a kind of informal advisor to the PLoS people for a while now), worth keeping an eye on. The recording industry's battles over Internet "piracy" have received most of the buzz in this area, but in many ways this clash between scientists and scientific publishers is equally important for the future of copyright law. " I have a quibble - I'd have said it's more important for scientific information to be in the public domain but I guess that's the techie in me.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

A company that makes mod chips for the Microsoft XBox has released the design of the chips under an open source license in Australia. Microsoft and rival Sony will not like that. Sony, in January 2002, successfully shut down, through legal action, a [messiah] mod chip [for Sony's Playstation] importer to the UK but failed in a similar action in Australia, in July 2002.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

George Radwanski, Canada's Privacy Commissioner, resigned yesterday after his recent troubles. It's a long and robust resignation letter and he's sticking strongly to the line that he is the victim of nasty politics, perpetrated by folk in power, who didn't appreciate his effectiveness in his job.
"I hope that all fair-minded Canadians will judge me by what I have accomplished on their behalf and
by the unwavering vigour, commitment and spirit of service with which I have carried out my duties,
and not by the vicious, untrue and distorted things that have recently been said and reported about
me. I have paid a heavy price in these past days for doing my job of overseeing and defending the
privacy rights of all Canadians as I believe they deserve to have it done, but I leave proudly and
with no regrets except for being unable to carry on this vital work."
The Canadian media have a rather more negative perspective on the resignation.
SCOTUS blog on US V ALA on the Supreme Court decision upholding CIPA enforcement of library filters. They also provide a brief accessible summary of the positions of the various justices.
Jenny Levine's got a collection of links on the case. You can tell she's not overly enamoured with the decision,
"This decision only points out even further how out of touch
our politicians and judges are with the daily lives of the
people they are supposed to represent. Obviously none of
them use the public libraries they just deemed themselves
knowledgeable enough to censor.

Final thought for the night: someone please correct me if
I'm wrong, but there's no additional funding for libraries to
start purchasing site licenses for filtering software, using staff
time and resources to create internal solutions, or
outsourcing the job of building something. So now we're
supposed to divert existing monies (that help pay for the
access itself?) from our already weakened budgets in order
to be compliant with this decision? I'm still looking for the
common sense logic here...."
I suspect one of the Chief Justice's arguments, which he will be most criticised for, by opponents of the decision will be: "A library’s failure to make quality-based judgments about all the materials it furnishes from the Web does not somehow taint the judgments it does make. A library’s need to exercise judgment in making collection decisions depends on its traditional role in identifying suitable and worthwhile material; it is no less entitled to play that roll when it collects material from the internet than when it collects material from any other source. Most libraries already exclude pornography from their print collections because they deem it inappropriate for inclusion. We do not subject these decisions to heightened scrutiny; it would make little sense to treat libraries’ judgments to block online pornography any differently, when they judgments are made for just the same reason.” He's not actually treating like with like here and is pre-supposing that the libraries define what gets filtered out. Whereas it is the software filter companies who decide what criteria are used for filtering. Justice Souter, who disagreed with the majority (6-3) opinion, argues that excluding porn from an existing set of resources is different from actively spending money on porn to include in those resources. For a self described luddite, that's a pretty good demonstration that he understands the difference between the 'push' nature of most conventional media versus the 'pull' nature of the Net. Chief Justice Rehnquist, in the paragraph quoted, doesn't display a direct awareness of the push v pull distinction. It's unfair to take the paragraph out of context and I have not yet read the entire 56 page ruling but that one jumped out at me a bit.
One of the concurring justices (can't remember which at the moment) seems to be primarily swayed by the argument that there is no big deal here. If library patrons want unfiltered access to the Net via a library computer, they can just ask the librarian to switch the filter off. The possibilty of such an outlet then brings the question of anonymity into play. I might find it no big deal to ask a librarian to switch a filter off because, for example, it happens to block access to a site like the Ethical Spectacle, maintained by a prominent critic of software filters, Jonathan Wallace. (The websites of people like Jonathan and Seth Finkelsteinhave been blacklisted by some filter software companies.) Others might not be prepared to ask a librarian to switch off a filter for fear of being perceived in a negative light as someone interested in pornography. In his dissent, Justice Souter, on this point said "First, the statute says only that a library 'may' unblock, not that it must...In addition, it allows unblocking only for a 'bona fide research or other lawful purposes'. There is therefore necessarily some restriction, which is surely made more onerous by the uncertainty of its terms and the generosity of its discretion to library staffs in deciding who gets complete Internet access and who does not." Absolutely.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Following the deliberations of JURI on software patents, the European Parliament are scheduled to vote on the matter on 30 June, according to this contribution to Slashdot. For those of you who may be concerned enough about this to consider contacting your Member of the European Parliament about this, the UK OFFICE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT have provided a convenient map to allow you to identify your representatives.

Breaking news - the Supreme Court has just posted it's judgement in the CIPA library filtering case, US v ALA. Looks as though they've ruled the Act constitutional. No doubt the legal scholars will be all over this one very soon.

Phillip Greenspun in the Harvard blogosphere is concerned at the privatisation of previously public owned resources. His theory is that in spite of an economic downturn, the stock prices of companies absorbing these commons is going up because of this absorption. It would be really interesting to see some hard evidence of such a direct link, if there is some out there. Larry Lessig has offered some relevant background to the part of the story about Disney flyovers.

Update: Given that the Supreme Court has now ruled CIPA is ok on first amendment grounds, it's interesting to note that Reporters Without Borders have just published their second report on the state of global Net censorship. Vint Cerf has written the foreword. In it he says:
Truth is a powerful solvent. Stone walls melt before its
relentless might. The Internet is one of the most powerful
agents of freedom. It exposes truth to those who wish to see
and hear it. It is no wonder that some governments and
organizations fear the Internet and its ability to make the truth
known. The phrase "freedom of speech" is often used to
characterize a key element of democratic societies : open
communication and especially open government. But freedom
of speech is less than half of the equation. It is also vital that
citizens have the freedom to hear and see. It is the latter area in
which many governments have intervened in an attempt to
prevent citizens from gaining access to information that their
governments wish to withhold from them.
Ian Lance Taylor visited SCO to find out about their case against IBM and linux. There was no direct access to legal documents and SCO are still keeping the detailed evidence and claims under wraps but there is more detail here than in previous media reports. Taylor did have to sign a draconian non disclosure agreement but was shown a piece of code that SCO claimed infringed their rights. Taylor wasn't convinced by the example and wasn't able to provide a copy because of the NDA but his perspective was that that it was possible that some code may have been copied from unix into linux but that there were numerous examples of the same code to be found easily around the net and that SCO were stretching the definition of what constituted a derivative work. Nice to see a few scraps emerging on this saga but the explicit evidence and court documents remain elusive and beyond the scope of open scrutiny for the moment.
The Special Olympics World Summer Games 2003 opened in Dublin on Saturday evening. Can somebody tell me why the british media have ignored it? As the official site says "This is the first time in the 35-year history of Special Olympics that a World Games Opening Ceremony has been held outside of the United States of America." It's on the UK's doorstep and yet the media here are more interested in a guy with a false beard and a dress sneaking into a 21st birthday party.