Open Source, Open Standards & Peer Production

The folks at the Concurring Opinions blog were kind enough to invite me to participate in a 2-day symposium they are holding about Brett Frischmann’s new book, Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resources. In my review, I noted that it’s an important book that offers a comprehensive and highly accessible survey of the key issues and concepts, and outlines much of the relevant literature in the field of infrastructure policy.  Frischmann’s book deserves a spot on your shelf whether you are just beginning your investigation of these issues or if you have covered them your entire life. Importantly, readers of this blog will also be interested in the separate chapters Frischmann devotes to communications policy and Net neutrality regulation, as well as his chapter on intellectual property issues.

However, my review focused on a different matter: the book’s almost complete absence of “public choice” insights and Frischmann’s general disregard for thorny “supply-side” questions.  Frischmann is so focused on making the “demand-side” case for better appreciating how open infrastructures “generate spillovers that benefit society as a whole” and facilitate various “downstream productive activities,” that he short-changes the supply-side considerations regarding how infrastructure gets funded and managed. I argue that: Continue reading →

Over at TIME.com, [I write about](http://techland.time.com/2011/11/14/the-consequences-of-apples-walled-garden/) last week’s flap over Apple kicking out famed security researcher Charlie Miller out of its iOS developer program:

>So let’s be clear: Apple did not ban Miller for exposing a security flaw, as many have suggested. He was kicked out for violating his agreement with Apple to respect the rules around the App Store walled garden. And that gets to the heart of what’s really at stake here–the fact that so many dislike the strict control Apple exercises over its platform. …

>What we have to remember is that as strict as Apple may be, its approach is not just “not bad” for consumers, it’s creating more choice.

Read [the whole thing here](http://techland.time.com/2011/11/14/the-consequences-of-apples-walled-garden/).

Wired’s Brian Chen writes today about the “damage” caused to Apple’s competitors and there own developers by products announced at yesterday’s WWDC keynote, making several claims that are bit dubious, the most suspect of which was this claim about Apple’s new cloud-focused trio:

Now, here’s why iCloud, iOS 5 and Lion pack such a deadly punch against so many companies: Together, they strengthen Apple’s lock-in strategy with vertical integration.

While I don’t doubt that Apple is indeed going to deal a very deadly punch to many competitors with their version of cloud computing for consumers, I think using the term “lock-in” is going to far.  True lock-in would mean driving consumers down a one-way street where their data can’t be moved to another platform (think Facebook prior to late last year) or driving up switching costs through cancellation fees ala the telecom industry.  Apple, on the other hand, is offering consumers a truly compelling user experience, not holding them hostage.

Continue reading →

What I hoped would be a short blog post to accompany the video from Geoff Manne and my appearances this week on PBS’s “Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman” turned out to be a very long article which I’ve published over at Forbes.com.

I apologize to Geoff for taking an innocent comment he made on the broadcast completely out of context, and to everyone else who chooses to read 2,000 words I’ve written in response.

So all I’ll say here is that Geoff Manne and I taped the program in January, as part of the launch of TechFreedom and of “The Next Digital Decade.”   Enjoy!

 

 

Anyone who knows me will attest to my status as an Apple fanboy. (I type this on my new 11″ MacBook Air, which I managed to resist purchasing for a full week after it was announced.) Hopefully they’ll also attest to my ability to put consumer preference aside when considering logical arguments because today I want to suggest to you that Apple’s business strategy is good for the open internet.

Apple has come under fire by some supporters of an open internet and open software platforms such as Jonathan Zittrain and Tim Wu, who argue that Apple’s walled garden approach to devices and software will lead us to a more controlled and less innovative world. In particular, they point to the app store and Apple’s zealous control over what apps consumers are allowed to purchase and run on their devices. Here’s the thing, though: Every Apple device comes with a web browser. A web browser is an escape hatch from Apple’s walled garden. And Apple has taken a backseat to no one in nurturing an open web. Consider this: Continue reading →

[Last week's episode of Econtalk](http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2010/10/hazlett_on_appl.html) featured Russ Roberts talking to Tom Hazlett about Apple vs. Google and open vs. closed business models. Tim Lee has already [addressed](http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2010/10/hazlett_on_appl.html#c122115) some concerns about Russ and Tom’s treatment of the topic, which I won’t rehash here. But I did want to comment on this statement by Russ (at minute 33):

>The idea that you shouldn’t buy Apple stuff, which I’ve actually seen people say, because it’s somehow immoral because [Steve Jobs] is so controlling, is a bizarre idea. I’m not quite sure where it comes from. It comes from some of the freedom of the internet and the stuff we’ve become accustomed to.

Russ then likens a personal conviction to avoid closed products to some of his readers’ feelings of entitlement that they have a right to post a comment on his blog, and to a stranger thinking he has the right to take hot dogs from Russ’s backyard grill. I don’t think I have to explain why these analogies don’t hold up. What I would like to point out is that abstaining from certain products on moral grounds (and even hectoring friends to do the same) is not at all bizarre behavior. We see it all the time by animal lovers who won’t buy leather or products tested on animals, or people who avoid buying diamonds from conflict areas. I’m sure there are products Russ wouldn’t buy on moral grounds.

So if you honestly believe (and I don’t) that patronizing Apple will help contribute to the closing of the Internet, and you value that openness, especially for political reasons, you would be acting perfectly rationally by boycotting Apple. And such an act would have nothing to do with anti-capitalism because, as Tom Hazlett points out, open business models are perfectly compatible with capitalism.

Now stay tuned. In another post later today I’ll suggest why in fact Apple may be good for the open internet.

DIY News and Commentary

by on October 13, 2010 · 1 comment

What a delight it has been to watch the rescue of the Chilean miners on a live feed, without commentary from any plasticized, blathering “news reporter.” Of course, there are editorial judgments being made by the camera crews and on-scene director, but it is refreshing to make my own judgments based on what I see happening and what I see on the faces of the miners, their wives, and standers-by.

As my friend, the curmudgeonly @derekahunter notes, “There’s really nothing worse than listening to a reporter attempting to fill time while waiting for something to happen.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been chasing down some intemperate commentary on Twitter about the recent discovery of explosives in a New York cemetery. One Fred Burton, identified on his Twitter feed as Vice President of Intelligence for STRATFOR and a former counter-terrorism agent, Tweeted at the time that these explosives seemed like “a classic dead drop intended for an operative.”

But now we know the explosives are old, they were dug up and laid aside in May or June of 2009, and someone recently found them and decided to report them. That is not consistent with a dead drop, and Burton was wrong to speculate as he did, starting an Internet rumor that needlessly propagates fear.

As a public service, I’m doing a little bit to cut into Burton’s credibility, which should cause him to think twice next time. The winning Tweet is not mine, though. It’s @badbanana’s: “Military-grade explosives found at NYC cemetery. Hundreds confirmed dead.”

In summary, it’s a do-it-yourself news and commentary night. I’m making my world and re-making yours (just a tiny bit), rather than all of us sitting around being fed what to think.

My article for CNET this morning, “The end of software ownership…and why to smile,” looks at the important decision a few weeks ago in the Ninth Circuit copyright case, Vernor v. Autodesk.  (See also excellent blog posts on Eric Goldman’s blog. Unfortunately these posts didn’t run until after I’d finished the CNET piece.)

The CNET article took the provocative position that Vernor signals the eventual (perhaps imminent) end to the brief history of users “owning” “copies” of software that they “buy,” replacing the regime of ownership with one of rental.  And, perhaps more controversially still, I try to make the case that such a dramatic change is in fact not, as most commentators of the decision have concluded, a terrible loss for consumers but a liberating victory.

I’ll let the CNET article speak for itself.  Here I want to make a somewhat different point about the case, which is that the “ownership” regime was always an aberration, the result of an unfortunate need to rely on media to distribute code (until the Internet) coupled with a very bad decision back in 1976 to extend copyright protection to software in the first place.

Continue reading →

I’ll be there, speaking on a privacy-focused panel entitled: “We Know What You Watch.”

Spooky!

There’s an interesting agenda and, as conferences go, this one seems to be pretty well organized. For example, they have a page of badges they encourage participants to use in promotions like this one. (What do you think of the one I selected?)

And they suggest the Twitter hashtags #openvideo and #ovc10.

Once again, New York TLFers, that’s the Open Video Conference, Oct. 1-2 at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

jailbroken phone graphicThe Digital Millenium Copyright Act makes it a crime to circumvent digital rights management technologies but allows the Librarian of Congress to exempt certain classes of works from this prohibition.

The Copyright Office just released a new rulemaking on this issue in which it allows people to “unlock” their cell phones so they can be used on other networks and “jailbreak” closed mobile phone operating systems like the iOS operating system on Apple’s iPhones so that they will run unapproved third-party software.

This is arguably good news for consumers: Those willing to void their warranties so they can teach their phone some new tricks no longer have to fear having their phone confiscated, being sued, or being imprisoned. (The civil and criminal penalties are described in 17 USC 1203 and 17 USC 1204.) Although the new exemption does not protect those who distribute unlocking and/or jailbreaking software (which would be classified under 17 USC 1201(b), and thus outside the exemption of 17 USC 1201(a)), the cases discussed below could mean that jailbreaking phones simply falls outside of the scope of all of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions.

Apple opposed this idea when it was initially proposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, arguing that legalizing jailbreaking constituted a forced restructuring of its business model that would result in “significant functional problems” for consumers that could include “security holes and malware, as well as possible physical damage.” But who beyond a small number of geeks brave enough to give up their warranties and risk bricking their devices, is really going to attempt jailbreaking? One survey found that only 10% of iPhone users have jailbroken their phones, and the majority are in China, where the iPhone was not available legally until recently. Is it really likely that giving the tinkering minority the legal right to void their product warranties would cause any harm to the non-tinkering majority that will likely choose to instead remain within a manufacturer’s “walled garden“? I don’t think so. If, as a result of this ruling, large numbers of consumers jailbreak their phones and install pirated software, the Copyright Office can easily reconsider the exemption in its next Triennial Rulemaking.

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