News and Commentary about Law, Technology, and their Intersection.
* Law and Technology Trends
There is a great scene in the movie “Apollo 13” where NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz in mission control in Houston is grappling with the full extent of the problems that have just been discovered with the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft. Gene Kranz exhorts the engineers: “Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” Some of today’s best commentary about the legal and social issues related to technology comes from engineers. Perhaps it is because engineers are used to working the problem, while lawmakers are, at best, just guessing about cause/effect, or, at worse, ignoring the real issues and caving in to pressure from lobbyists. There are many law and technology problems in the news, and some are being worked better than others.
Q: Are bloggers journalists?
Q: Will AACS DVD encryption stop file sharing?
Q: Should anonymous speech be protected in the United States?
Q: Should the producers of technology be liable for their users’ actions?
If gun manufacturers have been able to avoid liability for the use of their products, I find it hard to believe that P2P software makers will be held liable for the use of their products. Yet, amazingly, the P2P issue is before the Supreme Court (MGM v. Grokster). Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Commerce is “cracking down” on free speech by preventing anonymous domain name registrations. Work the problem people (and read the Constitution while you’re at it).
USPTO Provides Web Access To Trademark Applications (2005-01-27)
The Trademark Office has made trademark applications available on its website, which is very helpful for, among other things, companies researching a new product or company name.
Domain Owners Lose Privacy (2005-03-04)
“The U.S. Commerce Department has ordered companies that administer internet addresses to stop allowing customers to register .us domain names anonymously using proxy services.”
Who’s Liable For Actions Of People Who Share? (2005-03-27)
“The entertainment industry argues that developers of software used for copyright infringement should be held liable. The opposition — which includes technologists and Internet providers SBC and Verizon — says to do so would set a dangerous precedent that would turn back the clock. They say it would make owners of many popular products today, including the iPod and the TiVo digital TV recorder, liable for copyright infringement as well.”
Bloggers Are Journalists (2005-04-07)
“[I]t’s the [big publications] that need to show that they are covered by the First Amendment — blogs are the easier case, not a harder case that needs to be proven.”
AACS DVD Encryption Won’t Stop Filesharing (2005-04-18)
“Once again, DRM will limit competition without reducing infringement. Companies are welcome to try tactics like these. But why should our public policy support them?”
Court Yanks Down FCC’s Broadcast Flag (2005-05-06)
“In a stunning victory for hardware makers and television buffs, a federal appeals court has tossed out government rules that would have outlawed many digital TV receivers and tuner cards starting July 1.” So it’s not all bad news.
* Spyware, Spam, Security, and Silliness
Have you ever wondered how an entire industry has been able to sell buggy products while simultaneously disclaiming all meaningful liability for those products? Welcome to the software industry. The July/August 2002 issue of MIT’s Technology Review cover story focused on bad software and how to fix is (see summary below). But it seems to me that little progress has been made in the last three years.
For example, I used to enjoy blogging a lot more than I do now, until my weblog (powered by Movable Type) became infested with blog spam (comment spam and TrackBack spam). While Movable Type does provide plug-ins to address this foreseeable problem, their software — out of the box — is vulnerable, and an unprotected weblog will quickly become infected with spam unless the plug-ins are installed. Something as fundamental as this should be part of the core product, not part of an add-on.
Similarly, a clean installation of Microsoft Windows will quickly become infected with spyware, adware, malware, and viruses if the user doesn’t add third-party software. Amazing. Out of the box, the product is unusable (some would say unsafe) for its intended purpose.
So it is no surprise to me to see “The Wall Street Journal” report that some companies are finally saying “enough is enough” to software companies (see summary below). I also find it short-sighted for Microsoft to cut off security patches for “unverified” Microsoft products. This policy will certainly result in the proliferation of more buggy software. Nice.
Why Software Is So Bad (2002-07-01)
“The lawsuits will eventually come. And when the costs of litigation go up enough, companies will be motivated to bulletproof their code…. It’s either going to be a big product liability suit, or the government will come in and regulate the industry.”
Web Publishing: MT-Keystrokes Helps Prevent Weblog Spam (2005-03-10)
If you use Movable Type, this is an essential patch.
Movable Type ‘nofollow’ Plugin (2005-01-18)
If you use Movable Type, this is an essential patch.
Microsoft: Legit Windows Or No Updates (2005-01-25)
“Aiming to crack down on counterfeit software, Microsoft plans later this year to require customers to verify that their copy of Windows is genuine before downloading security patches and other add-ons to the operating system.”
Companies Seek to Hold Software Makers Liable for Flaws (2005-02-24)
“Major technology customers, fed up with spending millions of dollars to fix problems caused by software flaws, are starting to press software makers to assume responsibility for the faults and pick up some of the costs…. ‘Can you imagine if GM produced a vehicle and said, We did a pretty good job of engineering this. It worked in the laboratory. Here it is, consumer, you go crash-test it,‘ asks Eric Litt, chief information-security officer in GM’s information-systems and services unit. ‘We wouldn’t accept that as a society.'”
Spyware Cleaners: Download.com Congratulates Self For Filtering Spyware (2005-04-28)
“CNET’s Download.com … started testing their software for adware and spyware – and removed nearly 600 products from their index in the process…. Shame on you, Download.com, for taking this long to protect your users.”
* Software Licensing
We need a software user’s bill of rights. One that would require software manufacturers to provide copies of software licenses with their products (and not just show it to them on the screen), that would prevent terms and conditions from being unilaterally updated, that would prevent software from being installed without our permission, etc. For example, if I don’t have to “accept” the GPL, why do software installers (such as WinSCP 3.6.8 and RealVNC 4.0) tell me that I have to?
The bill of rights should apply to both commercial EULAs and open source licenses like the GPL. I would also like to see a wiki-based site where web users rewrote both a commercial EULA and the GPL. If the GPL were rewritten in a public forum, perhaps it would prevent others in the open source community from feeling the need to write their own licenses.
Sun’s Open Source License Wins Final OSI Approval (2005-01-19)
How does OSI approval helps users make informed decisions about the differences in various software licenses?
Why I love the GPL (2005-01-29)
“If you don’t disassociate the two, then the GPL is going to rise and fall in your estimation based on how [well you’re] getting along with Stallman at the moment. Remember, we’re talking about a man who can polarize a room into warring factions just by walking by. I admire Stallman greatly, but I don’t always agree with him. It’s perfectly OK to like the GPL and to dislike Stallman. They are two different things.”
Rewriting the GPL No Easy Task (2005-02-02)
“‘Like it or not, Mr. Stallman’s decision on the [GPL] is final,’ Moglen said. ‘The challenge is that this process cannot be done by just one man. So, before we start changing it, we had better be aware how difficult this is going to be and of all the things that will come loose once we start shaking it.'”
Thoughts On Software, Copyright, And The GPL (2005-02-04)
“If the courts still have no idea how to apply copyright to software…, it is extremely risky to rest all of free software and open source protection on copyright of software.”
Too Many Open Source Licenses? (2005-03-04)
I love creative music. I recently played keyboard in a rock cover band for a school fund raiser. At work, I listen to alternative rock. Recently, I stumbled upon the “mashup” art form, which is one of the most exciting developments in music in my lifetime. A mashup is an entirely new song created by overlaying tracks from different songs. Check out “Paperback Believer” from Go Home Productions, which is a mashup of “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles and “I’m A Believer” by The Monkees.
MP3Tunes Launches (2005-02-09)
MP3Tunes sells MP3s for $0.88 from mostly independent artists. These are 192 Kbps MP3s, which is higher quality than most MP3s on the Internet. There are about 300,000 songs in the MP3Tunes store.
Liveplasma Maps Music And Movie Recommendations (2005-02-16)
If you are a visually oriented person, Liveplasma is a good way to find artists musically related to your favorite artists.
Amazon Offers Free MP3s (2005-04-21)
The problem with these MP3s is they are low quality (128 Kbps), the same as what most Internet radio stations broadcast, but not as good as what you’d get from ripping CDs into MP3s with the default settings in iTunes. But it’s a sound (pun intended) marketing idea.
Apple Releases iTunes 4.8 (2005-05-10)
iTunes 4.8 now includes support for QuickTime movies and includes access to 1.5 million songs in the iTunes store.
Bose SoundDock (2005-02-23)
Music wants to be portable. But if you’ve spent all of your time ripping your CDs to MP3s, you might want to consider purchasing a Bose SoundDock to play MP3s from you iPod over speakers in your living room.
Yahoo! Music Engine Launches (2005-05-11)
About eight months (translation – forever in Internet time) after it acquired MusicMatch, Yahoo has launched it’s Music Engine service to compete with iTunes. One millions songs but Windows only. Yawn.
* Fun And Useful Stuff
Mac OS X: Delicious Library Is A Personal Media Catalog (2005-02-07)
Delicious Library lets you catalog your books, DVDs, CDs and video games (on your Mac). This is one of those products that reminds me that I am never ever going to catch up on digitizing things that I care about. But it’s nice to dream.
Life Hacks: Recycling Roundup (2005-03-28)
Some “how to” tips for recycling old computer equipment.
Entertainment: How To Turn An Old PC Into A DVR (2005-04-27)
Consider building your own digital video recorder from that old PC instead of buying a TiVo.
Mac OS X: Tiger (OS X 10.4) Released (2005-04-29)
Must — resist — the — urge — to — upgrade!
* About LawLawLaw
LawLawLaw focuses on the patterns in stories about law, technology, and their intersection. Where have we been? How did we get here? Where are we now? Where are we going? How will we get there? LawLawLaw is distributed by email and published on my weblog (http://www.erikjheels.com/).