As the summer wanes, the days get shorter, and the wind starts hinting of fall, you’ll naturally ask, what’s hawt in curriculum this year? Forget sex ed and intelligent design, the latest educational brawl is copyright!
Curriculums are being shipped to thousands of schools across America to teach our children all about intellectual property—every lesson plan authored by a lobbying group or industry association. It’s even legally required now in California’s famously overfunded schools.
I’m pretty into this copyright thing, but I still try to drop by the real world on occasion, just to see how it’s going. In real life, schools are struggling with larger classes and fewer resources. Now, instead of music or art (or my favorite elective, ninjutsu), we’re going to have our overworked teachers inculcating children about one side or the other of the copyfight? Great.
The Kindle is pretty, and sleek, and invitingly Linux-based. But underneath that alluring exterior, right alongside that hackable code, is a body of laws: terms of service, DMCA, and DRM, saying “Oh no, don’t touch me!”
To keep providers like the Author’s Guild happy, Amazon has restricted features and talked about uses being prohibited, as with its famous update taking away much text-to-speech functionality. But in a world where everything gets hacked, Amazon doesn’t have to do much more than make a reasonable effort at DRM—the legal burden is on the user. The Kindle is not very well-locked-down, and often hackers take that as winking permission.
Jesse Vincent is among the Kindle customers to create a “user-generated update.” His native ebook converter for the Kindle, called Savory, lets you convert ebooks from open formats (EPUB and PDF) to the Kindle’s format. He did it because, he says, “I’m in love with my Kindle.”
Trademark has been a way for creators to indicate the source of their work for hundreds of years. It makes sense—one of the reasons I don’t buy that email-pitched V1agra is that I’m not sure I can trust Pf1zer. Trademark is in the same class of property rights that give us copyrights and patents.
No one else can call their drug Viagra, it’s Pfizer’s property. Recently, trademark law has been used to get domain squatters off common brand names, which I like when it really pertains to domain squatters and feel weird about when it targets the unfortunately named Viagra family’s website.
Colleen Bell is an Austin roller derby girl who skates under the name Crackerjack, a word that means expert, but is more fun to say. She’s trying to trademark her handle for inclusion in an upcoming video game featuring roller derby girls, presumably beating the crap out of each other. Fun!
Jeff Koons is getting mixed signals from the American legal system. He’s an artist known for “appropriating” pop culture in his art—that’s infringing copyright to some, fair use to others.
In 1992 a photographer sued Koons for creating a statue of his photograph of two people with a line of puppies crossing their laps. Koons exaggerated the dogs’ features, turned them blue, added flowers, and called it “Banality.” The judge didn’t buy that this was different enough, or parody, and Koons lost the case along with some of the $300,000 he’d sold three statues for. It was a mixed verdict for the photographer—he won the case, but legally speaking, it seems his work really was banal.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the much maligned grandaddy of peer-to-peer music piracy, Napster, and the eighth of the music industry’s first terrible move.
Napster founder Shawn Fanning didn’t exactly invent music file sharing—before Napster, Mac people had Hotline, which, being Mac software, presumably had better fonts, a gorgeous interface, and seven rabid users. What made Napster more than piracy was its many millions of users and billions of downloads. Napster had a population of music fans communicating their preferences and acting as free distributors and archivists, as well as consumers.
It wasn’t the 72,000 copies of Enter Sandman that made Napster interesting. It was finding out that someone out there had digitized their beloved recording of the TV musical version of Around the World with Nellie Bly—some crazy wonderful someone. It’s amazing that Napster didn’t result in more marriages based on hopelessly obscure tastes. It was the only moment when we could tell what bits of 20th century music people care about today, or had a chance to let tomorrow care about them too.
For years, Congressman Rick Boucher of Virginia wandered the desolate wilderness reserved for lawmakers who speak sensibly about copyright and the Internet. Well, given that criteria, the desolate wilderness was reserved for Rick Boucher. He’s been in Congress since 1983 and self-identifies as a techno-geek. Boucher is a different kind of politician—ours—loyal to a technology community few other representatives know exists. He has worked to legalize crypto export, expand rural broadband, support net neutrality, and has pushed back on copyright maximalism.
Boucher went so far as to say, “The recent extension of the copyright term by the Congress was wholly unjustified,” in a Slashdot interview in 2001. That’s right—Slashdot interview. Even Cory Doctorow described him as “the closest thing to a copyfighter in Congress.” (Boucher did vote for telecom immunity, confirming that no one is perfect.)
Usually, I don’t write about Google, because googling it is so hard. But ambiguity isn’t enough to thwart my interest in Google’s recent movement in the world of books. Google Books (originally Google Print) has come to a settlement with publishers that will, in essence, make it the default collecting society for out-of-copyright books—with no congressional oversight.
It’s the result of 1337 legal hacking. In 2004 Google announced plans to scan in-copyright books that were part of university holdings, something no other book scanner had talked about doing. In 2005 the publishers and authors sued Google in a move that sent waves of not shocked at all through the copyright community. It was closely watched by sad copyright wonks (moi) as possibly defining fair use online.
Google skipped all that and instead suggested amassing a library no one could duplicate and selling the books. The publishers went along for a cut of the action. Thing is, because Google settled, it’s a deal only Google gets.
Since childhood, I’ve bitterly wondered why I don’t have a jet car, or my own robot assistant and constant companion. I would call it Sally, and Sally would keep me organized and help me fight crime at night.
Part of the reason my future has failed me is abuse of the patent system, the part of IP that protects and fosters technological innovation. You can’t copyright an idea, but patents give you a limited time to develop and grow an idea yourself. However, the patent system hasn’t changed much in 300 years, leaving it flawed and exploitable. Nobody exploits the system better than patent trolls.
With a presidential election around the corner, let’s look at how people pervert copyright law to squelch speech. Copyright takedown notices were never meant to stifle whistle-blowers or detractors, yet that’s become a popular use for them. Individual critics are likely to go broke even if they win a case, so people and ISPs tend to back down at lawyer point.
It's a cruel and efficient tactic, of which more after the jump.
Who doesn’t love a Caribbean island? Imagine yourself on a beach in Antigua with a drink that comes in a hollow coconut. Beautiful women walk by. The sun begins to set, and you’ve just finished importing your DVD collection to a hard drive. It's good to be free from the DMCA.