June 2007

Scott Cleland blogs alertly on the problems with the framework proposed for the 700 MHz auction. Ah, do we never learn?

Dick Durbin — the Senate’s Majority whip — came out four-square in favor of the Fairness Doctrine today, declaring in The Hill — a newspaper for Capitol Hill: “It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine” It’s the clearest statement yet from a member of the congressional leadership that there will be a real fight over the issue.

Oddly, Durbin explained his position with an appeal to old-time values: “I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision.”

Unfortunately, that “old-fashioned attitude” comes with other old-fashioned ideas — such as government restrictions on what the media can and can not say. Memories of Torquemada no doubt bring tears to his eyes as well.

Of course, if he really wants to be old-fashioned, he could dig up a copy of the First Amendment, adopted way back in 1791, which says “Congress shall make no law… abridging freedom of speech, or of the press.”

How quaint is that?

Well, I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record on this point, but it never ceases to amaze me how some policymakers get away with speaking so poorly of parents during policy debates about media content. First, you will recall that, in late April, the Federal Communications Commission released a report calling for the regulation of violent video content on the grounds that parental control tools and efforts were ineffective. (For details, see my essay: “FCC Violence Report Concludes that Parenting Doesn’t Work.”) Then, just last week, at a House Commerce hearing on “The Images Kids See on the Screen,” Rep. Ed Markey and several other members of the committee argued that parents just couldn’t cope with modern media and that government needed to step in on their behalf. But nothing could top the performance of Sen. John Rockefeller at today’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on “The Impact of Media Violence on Children.”

Sen. Rockefeller opened the hearing with a verbal tirade “repeatedly bashing TV and its executives as though they were Dan Aykroyd’s Irwin Mainway SNL character out to sell bags-o-glass to unsuspecting kids,” as John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable noted. Sen. Rockefeller, who is planning to soon introduce legislation to regulate “excessively violent” television programming, said that the industry is being “cowardly” and “debasing our culture” in a “never-ending race to the bottom.”

Rockefeller went on to say that the industry was “blaming parents” for not dealing with the problem of objectionable content with private controls and methods instead of censoring content themselves before it ever got on air. “Parents do not want more tools,” he argued, “they want the content off the air.” Of course, that point is debatable as I’ll discuss more below.

Continue reading →

Tim’s latest TechKnowledge article explains why why libertarians should celebrate free software, and cautions that we shouldn’t let lefty-sounding ideals about “community” negatively cloud our perception of the GPL and free and open source software. He’s right, even if knee-jerk reactions may be otherwise – but allow me to expand the discussion. What happens when government celebrates free software, such that voluntary cooperation becomes co-opted by public policy?

Libertarians who embrace free software will (or should!) be against government programs favoring it. However, when some free software proponents adopt rhetoric calling government to their cause, it’s not enough (unfortunately) to just make the libertarian case against regulatory intervention. We must also make the deep-dive into analyzing the merits of pro-intervention platitudes.

A discussion on the merits may well require determining whether free software really does offer certain advantages, or if the new version of the dominant license governing free and open source software — the GPL — may have legal or administerability problems with its upcoming version 3.

Analyzing free software in order to debunk advocacy in favor of government preferences for free software could be seen as being against free software itself. But it’s not necessarily so, and it wasn’t meant to be the case when my colleagues at ACT and I took a deep-dive analysis into a report chock full o’ interventionist advocacy.

A European Commission report calls for a new industrial policy to ignite report advocated government programs (a la Airbus) based on free and open source software. ACT analyzed the report with a series of blog posts reviewing each section. We found that the report’s analysis favoring Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) wasn’t adequately supported by the data. Moreover, by advocating interventionist public policies the report’s recommendations may harm, not help, Europe’s overall ICT sector. We did this not to attack FLOSS per se, but to oppose interventionist policies on behalf of FLOSS.

The report makes no attempt to disguise its purpose: convince European policymakers to favor FLOSS in their procurement decisions and other programs. Section 9 of the study—Trends, Scenarios and Public Policy Strategies—suggests a number of public policy programs to promote FLOSS, some interesting but all interventionist:

Continue reading →

The debate over the Fairness Doctrine has up until now had a bit of a shadow-boxing quality to it. While opposition to the FCC rule has been abundant — it’s hard to turn on the radio without hearing some discussion of the issue — actual legislative proposals to reinstate the rule have been scarce.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, however. So, rather than wait for advocates of the doctrine to make their move, Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican from Indiana, has decided to take the offensive by introducing his own legislation to ban the FCC from reinstating the rule. Specifically, Pence’s bill, to be introduced later this week, provides that the Federal Communications Commission “shall not have the authority to prescribe any rule, regulation, policy, doctrine, standard, or other requirement that has the purpose or effect of reinstating or repromulgating” the Fairness Doctrine.

While the bill’s chances for passage in the Democratic-controlled Congress are unclear, Pence’s bill is significant. First, it gives opponents of the Fairness Doctrine a clear goal around which to rally — endng the “will they or will they not” guessing game. Perhaps more importantly, the legislation potentially redefines the question at hand from “should regulation be imposed?” to “should regulation be allowed?”

It’s a good question, and a debate well worth having. Stay tuned.

A centerpiece of the Leahy-Hatch/Berman-Smith Patent Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1145 and H.R. 1908) is the establishment of an injudicious post-grant opposition procedure (also known as a “second window”). According to Chairman Howard L. Berman (D-CA) of the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, a new layer of review is needed because:

In an effort to address the questionable quality of patents issued by the USPTO, the bill establishes a check on the quality of a patent immediately after it is granted or in circumstances where a party can establish significant economic harm resulting from assertion of the patent. [emphasis added.]

There are several key problems with the proposed new procedure for post-grant review contained in sec. 6 of the Patent Reform Act of 2007.

Continue reading →

UnRealID in Action

by on June 26, 2007 · 0 comments

There will be votes today and tomorrow on the REAL ID provisions in the Senate immigration bill.

The good folks at unRealID.com have put together a page to facilitate your communication with your Senators about these issues. If you have an opinion – and you should – this would be a good time to express it.

In late April, the Federal Communications Commission released a new report recommending that the government assume a great role in regulating violent video content on television.In response to that report, I penned a lengthy essay entitled, “FCC Violence Report Concludes that Parenting Doesn’t Work.”

I wasn’t kidding. Flipping through that report, one is struck by the fact that the FCC seems to think that parents are completely incompetent and that only benevolent-minded bureaucrats can save the day from objectionable fare that enters the home. And now Congress is ready to get into the game as well. During the House Commerce hearing I testified at last Friday on “The Images Kids See on the Screen,” Rep. Ed Markey, Chairman of the Telecommunications & Internet subcommittee, said that “I believe Big Father and Big Mother are better able to decide what is appropriate for their kids to watch, rather than Big Brother.” Yet, almost in the same breath, he went on to note that he was prepared to give the FCC greater authority to regulate certain things on television “for the children.” Several others members of the subcommittee made similar statements, professing on one hand to believe in parental responsibility, but then quickly listing several caveats and calling for government to regulate media content in some fashion. Not to be outdone, the Senate Commerce Committee plans a hearing tomorrow on “The Impact of Media Violence on Children.”

For those of us who continue to believe in personal responsibility (as well as that little thing called the First Amendment), this is all very frustrating. As I pointed out in my recent book, “Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods,” there has never been a time in our nation’s history when parents have had more tools and methods at their disposal to help them decide what is acceptable in their homes and in the lives of their children. Parents have been empowered to make decisions for themselves and their families. And parents seem to be growing more comfortable with the idea of making these decisions for themselves instead of turning to government to do it for them. Two new public opinion polls reflect that reality.

Continue reading →

Steven Levy’s column for Newsweek bemoans the trouble that some fellow has gotten himself into, selling mash-ups of hip-hop songs without licensing. Fair use? Transformative use? Why bother with the technicalities? Levy and a legislator likes the fellow, so they weigh in on the side of legislating (yet another) exception. Maybe jam transformative and fair uses together into a whole new category, “rave” use, with a safe harbor for “hipster” use and for the older set “cool” uses? The principle behind it might be that if you offend only a little, you are liable, but if you offend multiple players a lot, you are home free.

The problem of how to license a whole bunch of stuff (167 artists in this case) all at once for a reasonable fee is a daunting one. Not so daunting that one ought not to try. But is proposing yet another exemption or exception or compulsory license or combination thereof really an intelligent approach to the problem? It is not. It is flatly embarrassing that legislators and experienced commentators on copyright cannot do better than this perpetual handing out of legal privileges to the favorite information cause du jour, simultaneously screwing creators and leaving the next innovative

Continue reading →

Very nifty demonstration of binary logic:

Based on my hazy recollection from the one computer architecture class I took, this is very close to how addition in real computers works, only the rockers are replaced by a sequence of NAND gates.

Hat tip to Cord Blomquist, who doesn’t appear to believe in permalinks.

More details here.