July 2010

I dashed off a piece for CNET today on the Copyright Office’s cell phone “jailbreaking” rulemaking earlier this week.  Though there has already been extensive coverage (including solid pieces in The Washington Post, a New York Times editorial, CNET, and Techdirt), there were a few interesting aspects to the decision I thought were worth highlighting.

Most notably, I was interested that no one had discussed the possibility and process by which Apple or other service providers could appeal the rulemaking.  Ordinarily, parties who object to rules enrolled by administrative agencies can file suit in federal district court under the Administrative Procedures Act.  Such suits are difficult to win, as courts give deference to administrative determinations and review them only for errors of law.  But a win for the agency is by no means guaranteed. Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

Two privacy bills are already up for consideration. And at yesterday’s Senate Commerce hearing on Consumer Online Privacy, we heard Senator Kerry announce that he will be working on new legislation to regulate online privacy.  While we wait to see what Kerry will offer, NetChoice has concerns over the bills we do know about:  Rep. Rush’s “Best Practices Act” and the Boucher/Stearns Discussion Draft. Our side-by-side comparison identifies four concerns:

  • Both proposals would regulate small websites that don’t even collect PII. Boucher-Stearns would regulate a tiny online startup that is adding just 100 users a week, even where its users provide only a made-up user name and password. As defined, “covered information” would overly restrict the flow of useful information and harm the development of ad-supported content and services. Continue reading →

This week on the podcast, Perry Chen, co-founder and CEO of Kickstarter, an online platform for funding creative projects, discusses the enterprise.  Chen talks about the inspiration behind Kickstarter and its business model, how project creators convince backers (not investors) to fund them, funding success rates, and the most interesting projects funded so far.

Related Readings

Do check out the interview, and consider subscribing to the show on iTunes. Past guests have included Clay Shirky on cognitive surplus, Nick Carr on what the internet is doing to our brains, Gina Trapani and Anil Dash on crowdsourcing, James Grimmelman on online harassment and the Google Books case, Michael Geist on ACTA, Tom Hazlett on spectrum reform, and Tyler Cowen on just about everything.

So what are you waiting for? Subscribe!

The Senate Commerce Committee will hold yet another hearing today (7/27/10) at 2:30pm Eastern with two panels:

  • Witness Panel 1
    • FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz
    • FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski
  • Witness Panel 2
    • Guy “Bud” Tribble, Apple’s VP for Software Technology
    • Bret Taylor, Facebook CTO
    • Alma Whitten, Google’s Privacy Engineering Lead
    • Jim Harper, Cato Institute
    • Dorothy Atwood, AT&T’s Senior Vice President, Public Policy & Chief Privacy Officer
    • Prof. Joe Turow, University of Pennsylvania

Join me to watch the livecast. I’ll be livetweeting on the #Privacy hashtag.

I summed up most of my thoughts on the online privacy issue in my written testimony to the FTC’s privacy roundtable last fall. Also check out my paper Privacy Polls v. Real-World Trade-Offs, which explains why Prof. Turow’s polls can’t really show us what choices consumers would make if actually presented with the trade-off between locking down on the use of their data and the content and services supported by advertising that relies on that data for its value.

Interesting article in the New York Times today about how the radical media activist group Free Press is now working with an organization called The Harmony Institute toward the goal of “Adding Punch to Influence Public Opinion.”  The way they want to “add punch” is through entertainment propaganda.  The Times article notes that Harmony’s mission is “aimed at getting filmmakers and others to use the insights and techniques of behavioral psychology in delivering social and political messages through their work.” And now they want to use such “behavioral psychology” and “political messaging” (read: propaganda) techniques in pursuit of Net neutrality regulation.

More on that agenda in a second.  First, I just have to note the irony of Harmony’s founder John S. Johnson citing “The Day After Tomorrow” as a model for the sort of thing he wants to accomplish. According to the Times interview with him, he says the movie’s “global warming message [and] rip-roaring story, appeared to alter attitudes among young and undereducated audiences who would never see a preachy documentary.”  I love this because “The Day After Tomorrow” was such a shameless piece of globe warming doomsday propaganda that it must have even made the people at Greenpeace blush in embarrassment.  After all, here is a movie that claims global warming will result in an instantaneous global freeze (how’s that work again?) and leave kids scurrying for the safety of New York City libraries until a quick thaw comes a couple of weeks later. (Seriously, have you seen that movie? That’s the plot!) So apparently we can expect some pretty sensational, fear-mongering info-tainment from Harmony and Free Press.

But here’s what’s better: Do you know who produced “The Day After Tomorrow”?  Oh, that’s right… Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation financed and distributed that movie!!  The man that Free Press casts as the nefarious media overlord set to take over all media and program our brains gave us the greatest piece of radical environmental propaganda of modern times.  Now, which does that prove: (A) Rupert Murdoch is hell-bent on programming our minds to embrace a sweeping global warming regulatory agenda, or (B) Rupert Murdoch is out to entertain people and make money? If you answered B, congratulations for being a sensible person.  If you answered A, then click here now to start giving money to the Free Press!

OK, so let’s get back to Free Press and what they are up to with the Harmony Institute (which I originally thought was an online dating site).  Free Press apparently hired Harmony to research public attitudes about Net neutrality and how to influence them.  Harmony’s Johnson tells the Times they got interested in the Net neutrality because Free Press and the Pacific Foundation paid them handsomely to do so.  And it appears Free Press got their money’s worth. Continue reading →

The always-excellent Wall Street Journal “Information Age” columnist L. Gordon Crovitz has another editorial worth reading today, which builds on the Second Circuit’s recent decision to reverse FCC content regulation for broadcasting.  In “The Technology of Decency,” Crovitz explains “parents don’t need the FCC to protect their children.” “Technology makes it easier to block seven or any number of dirty words,” he notes. “Taking the FCC out of regulating indecency might just lead to more decency by refocusing responsibility where it belongs: on broadcasters and parents.”

That’s a point I’ve hammered on her in the past and in all my work on parental empowerment solutions, including my book, “Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods.” Indeed, 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.  And, luckily, poll after poll shows that parents are stepping up to the plate and taking on that responsibility (contrary to what some policymakers in Washington imply).

Moreover, legally speaking, Crovitz shows why the old rationales for regulating broadcasting differently no longer work. “No medium is likely ever to be as pervasive as broadcasting once was,” he notes. He goes on to note that: Continue reading →

The White House and the Federal Communications Commission have painted themselves into a very tight and very dangerous corner on Net Neutrality.  To date, a bi-partisan majority of Congress, labor leaders, consumer groups and, increasingly, some of the initial advocates of open Internet rules are all shouting that the agency has gone off the rails in its increasingly Ahab-like pursuit of an obscure and academic policy objective.

Now comes further evidence, none of it surprising, that all this effort has been a fool’s errand from the start.  Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica is reporting today on a new study from Australia’s University of Ballarat that suggests only .3% of file sharing using the BitTorrent protocol is something other than the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works.  Which is to say that 99.7% of the traffic they sampled is illegal.  The Australian study, as Cheng notes, supports similar conclusions of a Princeton University study published earlier this year

Continue reading →

The Economist has gotten on the wrong side of a favorite pet-peeve of
mine: confusing “digital” with “electronic.” Fear the blog post, Economist.

When I read in the story “Digitisation and Its Discontents” that the works of the Beatles are “scarcely available digitally,” I was struck. How does that square with the Beatles CD I have in my CD collection? All the others for sale on Amazon? Is this some mass bootleg operation?

No, what’s going on is that the Economist is confusing the words “digital” with “electronic” or “online.”

What digital means, in the context of modern technology and communications, is “converted to digital form,” as in a series of 1s and 0s that contain the meaning of the original analog version. The random online dictionary I just selected has “representing data as numbers” and “representing sound/light waves as numbers” as its top two definitions. It does allow “of e-commerce” as a third definition, but—ugh—I think we’d be smart to distinguish carefully between digital, electronic, and online, each of which mean different things.

Lots of Beatles works are available digitally—on CDs. Just now, I was waiting in line at the pharmacy staring intently at the prescription I was trying to fill—not because I’m near-sighted, but because it has a digital watermark in it, thousands of dots arranged in patterns. These dots are undoubtedly arranged to contain signals that will frustrate forgery of the prescription pads. This was information in digital form, but not electronic and not online.

Electronic means “using valves, transistors, or silicon chips” or, secondarily, “by computer.” If electricity is used in a communications process, it’s probably electronic, but that says nothing about whether it was digital or not. A bullhorn is electronic, but not digital, and it’s not online.

Online, of course, is “operating under the direct control of, or connected to, a main computer” or “connected by computer to one or more other computers or networks, as through a commercial electronic information service or the Internet.” Most online stuff is going to be digital and electronic, but lots of things that are digital and lots of other things that are electronic are not online. The Beatles works are available digitally, as are several of the other works discussed in the story. They’re just not available online yet.

I’m in the Valley today livetweeting the Space Frontier Foundation‘s NewSpace 2010 conference. Check out the exciting agenda or join the discussion on Twitter (#NewSpace2010).

The conference runs all weekend, 8:30-5:30 Pacific time. As readers may know, I’ve been involved with the Foundation since 2005, was chairman 2008-2009 and was just re-elected to its Board of Directors. Here’s the Foundation’s credo:

The Space Frontier Foundation is an organization of people dedicated to opening the Space Frontier to human settlement as rapidly as possible.

Our goals include protecting the Earth’s fragile biosphere and creating a freer and more prosperous life for each generation by using the unlimited energy and material resources of space.

Our purpose is to unleash the power of free enterprise and lead a united humanity permanently into the Solar System.

The livecast video follows below: Continue reading →