Category Archives: fair use / IP

competition, innovation, and the public good…all under attack

ZEO FTW: Free new app sees polyphasic naps, improves privacy

We don’t believe folks like Steve Jobs who claim “Open systems don’t always win.” We don’t believe that it’s ethical for body measuring companies to block users access to their information.  We don’t believe that Zeo shouldn’t be ripped open and hacked–hell, do that and we may just give you a job.

We do believe that you own your data, can take your data with you, and get to decide what to do with it.  We believe that you should be able to hack your SD Card data and get at your raw brainwaves. We believe in the power of open source software that anyone can modify to their own needs.  And we believe in our users ability to set us straight when we go off course.

From "Privacy Activists Rejoice, ZeoDecoderViewer is in Alpha!"

Yaaaaay, Zeo!  I love when a company I've raved about does rave-worthy things after the fact, thus making me look either smart or psychic. 

To clarify all the ways in which this is awesome:

  • The ZeoDecoderViewer can process & show polyphasic nap data!
  • It's free!
  • It lets you see your sleep data on your own computer, without uploading it to the Zeo website!
  • It's exactly the kind of thing most electronics companies refuse to do, because they want to "lock customers in" instead of giving them what they want!

Nice work, Zeo!  I really hope I get time to try this soon…if any of you do, please drop a comment & let me know what you think?

Thanks!

Synthesis (and Time Travel Advice)

…Synthesis is a weird thing; in my brain, it's either working or it isn't.  And I'm realizing that writing fiction is the thing that makes it work, that greases those cogs and applies the force to move that particular machine.  I'm actually possessed of a different mind when I'm writing than when I'm not.  And writing breeds writing; when I'm doing it every day, the machine is turning, and everything I encounter gets churned up in it. 

Rainer Maria Rilke said, in his awesome "Letters to a Young Poet", that the question you must ask yourself, deep in the blank silent place where we are all totally alone, is "Must I write?"  –And it's just true, and always has been, that for me that answer is Yes.  I go slowly crazy without it; I harden; I dry out; and I lose the ability to synthesize.

Unfortunately when I am writing, I'm also crazy (just in a more fluid and happier way), and I produce a lot of strangeness that really has no place in this world that I know of…so congratulations, blogland; you win the garage-sale potluck treasure-hunt giveaway of my mind.  ;)

This one's called "Grandpa Bill's Time Travel Advice".  There's a story behind it, but maybe it's more fun without that.  (Knowing the backstory is sometimes like knowing what that tasty dumpling is made of, innit?)  I will mention, though, that I love Time as a subject, simply because it lets you have so much subtle fun with the language, just by changing tenses, or messing with things people say but don't usually mean literally.  This piece is littered with little crap I did on purpose just to be snarky about the fact that it's written by a time-traveler. 

Oh well.  Here you go!

Grandpa Bill's Time Travel Advice

 
Dear boy,
at whatever age this reaches you—perhaps
hello to your lovely wife, perhaps
condolences on your poor friend, perhaps
congratulations on your graduation—there are always
a thousand perhapses, and perhaps that is lesson one: you must always
remember them all, if you are to Travel.
 
I realize this letter may not be the fanciest of presents,
but it will arrive at precisely the right time, and that,
you will learn, is worth something.
Wherever you are about to go when you receive this–
the attic, the garage, the boat-house, the antiques shop–
there is where you will find it, and after that nothing will be
anything like you expected. You will know, or figure out by accident,
how to use it; that is always true. Everything else you must learn.
And you will learn things
that it feels like no man should know, but you must trust me on this,
that you, if no-one else, at least you, were meant to know.
For that is who we are.
 
Take a moment, then, now, to gather yourself – I've made sure
that you should have a moment, so please use it. The shock can be
quite considerable,
and it's essential that you keep your wits about you.
Take stock of all the physical things you carry: Your hat, your watch,
the frog in your pocket, anything. Anything you take with you,
you must keep the utmost careful track of, for a physical object
is like a depth-charge in the streams of time; for as long as it exists,
which admittedly is not usually long in the grand scheme,
it can push and pull the currents around it so far,
so scarily far. Next, find a mirror and memorize your own face.
Tell yourself its features: High forehead, flattened nose,
perhaps that chiseled dent in the upper-lip that I have myself.
If you can, study family pictures and stories as well, and know their traits,
see them in yourself and learn how to hide them;
for you'll be shocked how easy it is to encounter your kin,
and I don't think I need to tell you how horrible the consequences
of doing so unwittingly can be. You exist,
and I exist, because all of us have either taken the utmost care,
or given our utmost – sometimes our lives – to correct some mistake.
 
This is just one of the many occupational hazards.
 
Have a care for your health: Neither food, nor drug, nor disease
in other places is necessarily compatible with your own. Bring your own
victuals and medicine; keep your skin covered; do not have sex.
Learn to carry valuables, but not money; non-local currency is useless and a giveaway,
but your spoons, or some other silly thing, may keep you comfortably quite a while.
And speaking of whiles: Beware staying too long. At first,
your aim should be to stay only seconds, minutes; learn
what you can from a single scene, and then leave immediately. As you get better
with researching and preparing, it will be safer to stay longer,
but don't look for immortality too soon:
Life is more complex than you could ever possibly understand.
Remember this fact and give it the respect it is due.
 
For a beginner trip: Go to the past first. Distant enough that you aren't there twice,
but near enough that you can speak the language and work the
technology. Get used to moving around in at least one long-gone era.
Be wary of witnessing major historical events – they will cause images
of you to proliferate, which can cause many problems
in the future.
 
As to the future: Save it for emergencies or when you are
very advanced. Start by going a bit ahead of where you aim to be,
and stealing the equivalent of a history encyclopedia. That way
you can at least do some research. Without research,
nowhere is safe. But the future is extra-unsafe, because there you may be
expected.
 
Learn mathematics – lots of mathematics, and physics. All the most impressive
things of which you are now capable, hinge on your understanding of
numbered time, and the laws of the Universe.
Fortunately, the gift for calculation runs in our family; I hope you have it.
 
That's about all the practical advice I can probably give you,
dear grandson (and, truth be told, we are related other ways as well;
but those are mysteries you must untangle yourself or remain ignorant, as you choose).
But I have a piece of philosophical advice as well, after all my decades
and centuries of experience: We are not here by accident.
The thing which you are about to find is more than a miracle of science;
it is a miracle, period.
It exists for a reason, even more so than you or I or any other thing:
It is here to serve a purpose. You are part of that purpose.
It is up to you to find which part, and to be that thing as hard and pure
and for as long as you can.
 
I wish you a large beautiful sphere of love and life and pain and reality.
 
Love,
Grandpa Bill.
 
 

And how the hell is it almost Friday??

"At COMPANY _______ we value your privacy a great deal. Almost as much as we value the ability to take the data you give us and slice, dice, julienne, mash, puree and serve it to our business partners, which may include third-party advertising networks, data brokers, networks of affiliate sites, parent companies, subsidiaries, and other entities, none of which we’ll bother to list here because they can change from week to week and, besides, we know you’re not really paying attention.

We’ll also share all of this information with the government. We’re just suckers for guys with crew cuts carrying subpoenas.

Remember, when you visit our Web site, our Web site is also visiting you. And we’ve brought a dozen or more friends with us, depending on how many ad networks and third-party data services we use. We’re not going to tell which ones, though you could probably figure this out by carefully watching the different URLs that flash across the bottom of your browser as each page loads or when you mouse over various bits. It’s not like you’ve got better things to do.

Each of these sites may leave behind a little gift known as a cookie — a text file filled with inscrutable gibberish that allows various computers around the globe to identify you, including your preferences, browser settings, which parts of the site you visited, which ads you clicked on, and whether you actually purchased something.

Those same cookies may let our advertising and data broker partners track you across every other site you visit, then dump all of your information into a huge database attached to a unique ID number, which they may sell ad infinitum without ever notifying you or asking for permission.

Also: We collect your IP address, which might change every time you log on but probably doesn’t. At the very least, your IP address tells us the name of your ISP and the city where you live; with a legal court order, it can also give us your name and billing address (see guys with crew cuts and subpoenas, above).

Besides your IP, we record some specifics about your operating system and browser. Amazingly, this information (known as your user agent string) can be enough to narrow you down to one of a few hundred people on the Webbernets, all by its lonesome. Isn’t technology wonderful?

The data we collect is strictly anonymous, unless you’ve been kind enough to give us your name, email address, or other identifying information. And even if you have been that kind, we promise we won’t sell that information to anyone else, unless of course our impossibly obtuse privacy policy says otherwise and/or we change our minds tomorrow. 

We store this information an indefinite amount of time for reasons even we don’t fully understand. And when we do eventually get around to deleting it, you can bet it’s still kicking around on some network backup drives in somebody’s closet. So once we have it, there’s really no getting it back. Hell, we can’t even find our keys half the time — how do you expect us to keep track of this stuff?

Not to worry, though, because we use the very bestest security measures to protect your data against hackers and identity thieves, though no one has actually ever bothered to verify this. You’ll pretty much just have to take our word for it.

So just to recap: Your information is extremely valuable to us. Our business model would totally collapse without it. No IPO, no stock options; all those 80-hour weeks and bupkis to show for it. So we’ll do our very best to use it in as many potentially profitable ways as we can conjure, over and over, while attempting to convince you there’s nothing to worry about.

(Hey, Did somebody hold a gun to your head and force you to visit this site? No, they did not. Did you run into a pay wall on the home page demanding your Visa number? No, you did not. You think we just give all this stuff away because we’re nice guys?  Bet you also think every roomful of manure has a pony buried inside.)

This privacy policy may change at any time. In fact, it’s changed three times since we first started typing this. Good luck figuring out how, because we’re sure as hell not going to tell you. But then, you probably stopped reading after paragraph three."

 

These lawls* brought to you by this genius here.

Just to type something non-sleep related for once… ;)

pd

*hell yes that was a legal pun.

Good Company (pat pat)

As citizens, we care (or at least have a responsibility to care) about whether our governments are doing well or badly.  That responsibility is the flipside of our right to fix government organizations when we don't agree with what they're doing, or how.

We've been citizens for hundreds of years, so we're getting used to this process, to these rights and responsibilities, sorta.  But we've only been consumers for a few decades, so it's understandably still catching on that, hey!  That means we have a responsibility to know and care what companies are doing and how; and also a right to support the good ones and kill the bad ones!

A few for your consideration, then:

GOOD:

EZTakes.com is a movie-seller specializing in the "stuff you used to find only at the corner family video-store, before they went out of business", and they certainly do have a fascinating stock of odds, ends and weird stuff.  Even better, though, they have a clean, simply-designed website without a lot of privacy-violating crap on it, and they refuse to DRM their files, so the movies you buy from them (at great prices; many are even free) are guaranteed to work with whatever hardware, etc. you want to use them with. 

What *really* impressed me is their terms of service, which states, "we will not restrict your rights as a Consumer, including fair use…and if we ever try to, this statement takes precedence." 

Now that's commitment — contractually limiting your future activities to ensure that you mean what you say.

What if Facebook had done that with their initial promise to "keep your personal information private"?

 

BAD:

Speaking of terms of service, check out this doozy I ran into the other day:

Due to manufacturer policies, all packaged items with plastic clamshells, shrink wrap, special seals, or other types of packaging that sustains damage when opened are NON-RETURNABLE if the packaging has been OPENED or TAMPERED.

…Yes, that's right, this company (an online electronics seller called SuperBiiz) has a 30-day return policy, but it doesn't apply to anything that comes in packaging that you have to open.  Er, which as far as I can tell, includes everything they sell.

Sheesh.

 

Of course, it doesn't end there.  There are a veritable plethora of companies engaging in bad practices now — practices that limit, undermine or destroy your rights as a consumer (fair use, first sale, and the right not to be gouged or price-fixed against); or damage or deteriorate your rights as a citizen (i.e. your 4th-amendment right not to be searched without cause, or your freedom to criticize them in public forums).  There are also companies who openly do damage to our country or society, say by hiring workers overseas for sweatshop wages to avoid paying locals, or by allowing oil-spills and mining-accidents when it's cheaper than adhering to the regulations (and it is, believe me). 

I don't have to say that there's no excuse for what these companies are doing.  Capitalism and the free market is not an excuse; the marketplace has rules, like everything else, and breaking or bending them is cheating, and removes your right to earn a profit or to continue to do business.

The problem is that regulatory agencies aren't the best, or strongest, ways to enforce good behavior from companies:  Consumers are.

And I DO have to say, I think, that there's no excuse for consumers who shirk their responsibility to be knowledgeable and shop carefully — no more than there's an excuse for citizens who ignore what their government does, don't vote, or carelessly pollute their environment.  In both cases, citizens and consumers, we have rights, and the responsibility to be aware of and protect them.

Don't worry, it's not that hard. 

I haven't set foot in a Wal-Mart in fifteen years and look!  I'm still alive! 

(Yes, that was snarky.  But seriously, sometimes I feel like I have to say that to my fellow Michiganders, who seem to think that something like "not shopping at Wal-Mart" is just a huge hardship; like it's way too much to ask them to not save $0.03 on toilet-paper this week so that manufacturing can stay in the U.S. a little and people can stop being underpaid and discriminated against.  CRY ME A RIVER, yo.  You have a bumper-sticker that says 'out of a job yet? keep buying foreign!' but you claim it only applies to cars?  PUH-LEEZE. ;)

Denying physics won’t save the video stars | Cory Doctorow – Times Online

Fifteen years of draconian copyright regimes show that when you create powerful enforcement tools without any consequence for misuse, they get misused. And half a century’s worth of evidence on digital technology shows that no amount of enforcement will make computers and the internet worse at copying. Hard drives won’t get magically bulkier and more expensive. Networks won’t get less accessible, slower and harder to use. General technological literacy won’t decline. If you want copying to stop, physics is not on your side.

–via Denying physics won’t save the video stars | Cory Doctorow – Times Online.

 

Good article, good facts, catchy headline — what more could you ask for? Oh yeah, a kickass author to write it. If you haven’t read his amazing YA novel "Little Brother ", or checked out the free online serialization of his new (also kickass, I think) novel "Makers", well, now you have the tools to do so, dontcha? ;)

Words Have Meaning

From this piece by the awesomely clear-headed Lawrence Lessig:

“…I read this piece by Kevin Kelly, “The New Socialism.”

Words have meaning. We don’t get to choose their meaning. If you call something “X” people will hear the equation. They won’t read the fine-print which says (“By X, I mean really not-X).

Kelly says:

When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it’s not unreasonable to call that socialism.

That statement is flatly wrong. It is completely unreasonable to call that “socialism” — at least when the behavior described is purely voluntary. It’s like saying “Because Stalin set up a competition between different collective farms, it’s not unreasonable to call that free market capitalism.” Both statements are wrong because they point to a feature that is common, and ignore the feature that is distinctive. At the core of socialism is coercion (justified or not is a separate question). At the core of the behavior Kelly celebrates is freedom.

Kelly’s argument is like so many today that has implicitly embraced the view that free market, libertarian sorts believe that the only thing in the world is competition, or people working to non-common goals. It is the idea that we are free only if we are antagonistic, and that free market theorists have been working to create a world where individuals struggle against, not with. A world that aspires to dog-eat-dog as its central value.”

Professor Lessig, if you didn’t know, is a lawyer and law professor and incredibly intelligent guy who writes numerous books about the future of copyright, public domain, and media and the Internet.  The Change Congress movement, in which he’s heavily involved, is probably one of the better plans to get Congress to pop its mouth off the corporate teat (and it’s working, see?).  I don’t agree with 100% of everything he’s ever said, but the man is a top-notch thinker on several topics that aren’t well represented by reason and logic, and more people ought to be listening to him, darnit.

Also, less people who have no freaking idea what they’re talking about should be using the word “socialism”, please.  The blatant mis-uses of that word, specifically, are getting really old!

…But my favorite sentiment here, I think, is simply that words have meaning, and we don’t get to choose what it is. I totally agree with that:  Unless you’re writing an analytic work and carefully defining everything as you go along (and therefore writing something that’s really only valuable to people who want to read analytically), you simply can’t toss words like “God”, “democracy”, “religion”, “freedom” and “theft” around and then expect to be given a freebie when you’re obviously wrong by the accepted definition.

Or as a brilliant teacher I once had used to say, “Define your terms,” because if you don’t, you’re defining them as ‘as commonly used‘ — by your readers, in their culture and setting.  Either way, you accept responsibility for how your words are construed.  That’s the price of having a voice.

Point – Game – WIN

From Lawrence Lessig’s blog:

Beautifully put by Fred Benenson:

NIN’s CC-Licensed Best-Selling MP3 Album

Fred Benenson, January 5th, 2009

NIN Best Selling MP3 Album

NIN’s Creative Commons licensed Ghosts I-IV has been making lots of headlines these days.

First, there’s the critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, which testify to the work’s strength as a musical piece. But what has got us really excited is how well the album has done with music fans. Aside from generating over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week, and hitting #1 on Billboard’s Electronic charts, Last.fm has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

Even more exciting, however, is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

Take a moment and think about that.

NIN fans could have gone to any file sharing network to download the entire CC-BY-NC-SA album legally. Many did, and thousands will continue to do so. So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked.

The next time someone tries to convince you that releasing music under CC will cannibalize digital sales, remember that Ghosts I-IV broke that rule, and point them here.

I think we can safely say that settles THAT argument. 

Now, just for fun, if you’ve ever wondered any of the following:

  • if being a comedian / personality is easy;
  • if Robin Williams is not one of the best who’s ever played the game;
  • if Japanese talk shows are not the screwiest thing ever invented;

…Then I’ve got a fast, fun, and more than a little ear-splitting answer for you!  Behold, Robin Williams versus Tomoe-chan!

“It’s an American promotional present!”  …Talk about grace under fire.  Though is it just me, or do you get the impression that if he says one thing wrong she’s going to sprout tentacles and head for L.A….?

It is Icky and You Suck for Writing It BUT

If you’re interested in Freedom of Speech issues at all, DON’T miss Neil Gaiman’s post  on the topic.  He does the flat-out best plain-language explanation ever of why defending freedom of speech means defending ALL speech, even speech we find actively icky.

I was complaining the other day about Twilight (as I often do), for being hideously written and revoltingly anti-feminist, and someone asked me, didn’t I wish that crap like that would be taken off the shelves? 

And I said NO, I do NOT; rather I wish that people had better taste and didn’t encourage such shitty writing and horrendously stupid depictions of women by buying it — and that the best way to get them to stop buying it was not to pull it off the shelves, but rather to be just as loud and speechy as I can about how badly it sucks.  My heated soliloquies to the tune of “Good lord this Twilight crap is pure rubbish” have actually convinced a few people, you know, and those people will not only not buy Twilight; they’ll think a little more about the next art they do buy and whether it’s crappy and/or anti-woman, based on what they now believe because of what I told them about Twlight.  If Twlight didn’t exist or wasn’t being sold, that could not have happened.  So hell no, I don’t want to get rid of it.  I want it to live forever in infamy as an example of what unbelievably sucky writing looks like!

In other words, the answer to bad speech is MORE GOOD SPEECH.  This has been proven time and time again, as Maestro Gaiman does such a wonderful job of elucidating.  If you hate something, some art or communication that someone else has produced, SPEAK THE HELL UP about it — but don’t make the mistake of trying to get rid of it, or before you know it, someone will be getting rid of something you like.

Free Speech is one of the best things about America that actually stuck around and worked, and the more we defend it, the better we look to everyone and the closer the world comes to true democracy.

That’s right, I said it — If you want to spread democracy, defend the right of speech that you hate to exist.  (Then produce twice as much speech about why it sucks.  ;)

Your Lack of Tech Knowledge Matters

Like science, technology is something that Americans are going to understand when they’re expected to understand it, and not much sooner.

Our copyright system is screwed up.  (And we’re spreading it to other countries who also don’t know any better.)  We will never unscrew it as long as our level of public knowledge about the issues involved is set by things like The Wall Street Journal classifying copyright guru Lawrence Lessig’s new book as a “defense of piracy”.

I adore Professor Lessig and follow his work pretty closely, so I can say without even reading the book that you could only possibly interpret his views that way if at least one of the following were true:

1.  You knew less about technology than my grandmother;

2.  You were being paid off by certain industries that are trying to protect themselves from the market impact of certain technology benefits to consumers and artists by writing laws that basically outlaw those benefits.

…Unfortunately, many readers of the WSJ who aren’t following this issue aren’t going to read the book either, and so, via a combination of misinformation and ignorance, we risk losing access to several very important rights, as well as several awesome new priveleges that technology advances ought to have by all rights provided us by now. 

Instead, the WSJ and the ignorant public (indirectly, and others directly) propose that we live in a country where arts, culture, consumer rights, and technological advances are all stifled (and often prosecuted) by laws designed by mega-corporations to secure their profit-streams against the boogeymen of competition and innovation.