Monday, December 21, 2009

Private Property - Don't Touch!!!

Private property is one of the fundamental building blocks upon which the United States is built. Regretfully the concept of private property is increasingly being abused. Specifically the claim that you are entitled to tell others what to do should you believe that your "property" is somehow being affected.

A recent illustration of this process appeared in the "" a local newspaper out of Wilmington, North Carolina. So I thought that I had better jump on this story as it also complements my beliefs that those who believe in so-called intellectual property are claiming property rights that they don't possess.

The Star News writes in the article "Ocean Isle Beach homeowners, officials battle over native landscape" that:

Beauty, it's said, is in the eye of the beholder. And for Doug and Jane Oakley, their house in Ocean Isle Beach surrounded by thick and lush native vegetation is a beautiful sight.

“This is the glue that holds this island together,” said Jane Oakley as she pointed out the yaupon, wax myrtle and cedars amid the green canopy in her backyard. “Mother nature isn't wrong.”

But some of their neighbors, along with officials in this Brunswick County beach town, have a different opinion.

They see the trees and shrubs, many covered in thickets of thorny vines, that surround the house at 9 Isle Plaza as an eyesore and a haven for rodents and snakes.

The town has now taken the couple to court in an effort to get their property cleaned up


The house, built in 1964, also looks out of place and a bit dilapidated when compared with the newer and larger beach homes that line the quiet street.

The Oakleys think that might be the real reason they're under pressure to clean up their lot.

So here we have the neighbors and the local municipality asserting that they have a "right" to "force" a property owner to do things on their property to protect the property values of others.

On the nature of property from the Libertarian point of view, S. Balasubramanian wrote that one of the most basic principles of Objectivism is that no man may claim the right to initiate force against another. (An Objectivist Recants on IP). I am not an Objectivist (in fact I consider it to be a bankrupt philosophy), nevertheless there is an important fundamental take-away from this Libertarian concept. One does not have a right to "force" another on their property to protect your so-called property interests.

Unfortunately, neighbors (as the Oakley story points out) seem to believe today that they can tell you what to do on your property based on the fact that it affects their property values. The Oakley case regretfully is not unique, when we lived in California the local papers would occasionally have articles on how trees on private property and public parks, blocking coastal views, would be mysteriously cut down.

In terms of so-called intellectual property, those who have "sold" you the content believe, like the Oakley neighbors, that they maintain an entitlement to reach out and tell you how you can use your property. S. Balasubramanian phrased concept this better with the following question: "How do you reconcile the facts that recognising and enforcing IP essentially gives some people a right to the physical property of others?"

The situation that the Oakley's are in is really quite similar to what is happening with so-called intellectual property. The figurative "neighbors" assert that they have an unjustified right to "force" you to protect their property even if it places a needless burden on you. It is time to recognize that "neighbors" do not have a right to "force" you to protect their property rights (which in some cases is fictitious anyway).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nanny State Hypocrisy?

Those who claim to be dedicated to the concept of the "free market" like to toss out the concept of the Nanny State when the government proposes a regulation to protect its citizens. A recent example of this is Berin Szoka post: "Congresswoman, CALM Thyself! LA Times Eschews Eshoo Nanny State Bill to Regulate Ad Volume"> Congresswoman, CALM Thyself! LA Times Eschews Eshoo Nanny State Bill to Regulate Ad Volume". Berin writes: "The LA Times has come out swinging in a devastating editorial against Rep. Anna G. Eshoo’s (D-CA) Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, passed by the House on Tuesday. As Adam Thierer and I have discussed (here, here, and here), and as PFF’s Ken Ferree notes here, this silly paternalist law would require the FCC to issue rules that broadcast and cable TV ads: ..."

The apparent hypocrisy arises when the private sector makes appeals to government to intervene for their protection. Richard Bennett for example writes: "It is time for the U.S. government to take global theft of U.S. intellectual property, especially digital content, much more seriously. A new ITIF report finds that the U.S. government can and should do more to support industry efforts to reduce digital piracy, a growing problem that threatens not only the robust production of digital content, but U.S. jobs. While there are no “silver bullets” to reducing digital piracy, there are a number of “lead bullets” that can and should be implemented. Specifically, ITIF calls on the federal government to not preclude those impacted by digital piracy, including copyright holders and ISPs, from taking steps, including implementing technical controls like digital fingerprinting, to reduce piracy."

So here we have the "free market" advocates writing expansive posts raising significant issues about the evils of the Nanny State when it comes to the trivial issue of volume control. Now when the "free market" sector feels that they need protection, they have no apparent feelings of duplicity in now demanding that the supposed enemy Nanny State step in to protect their interests. Hypocrisy.

So if the government proposes regulations to protect its citizens from abuse, no matter how trivial, we get posts "exposing" how government will take over our lives through abusive and onerous laws. When it comes to the appeals of the private sector for "protection", the Nanny State now becomes our friend. So its OK for the private sector to use the power of the Nanny State, but it is not acceptable for the citizens to be protected by the Nanny State? How Orwellian.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Neglected Concerns in the Copyright Debate

Two stories recently surfaced that point to neglected aspects in the copyright debate. Both deal with the question of enforcement. Techdirt writes: "Congress Gives $30 Million To Fight 'Piracy'". And Freedom to Tinker writes: "Erroneous DMCA notices and copyright enforcement, part deux". Each of these articles, in their own way, unintentionally demonstrate that we tend to view the copyright debate from the viewpoint of the content creators. After all when someone works to create something they should be rewarded for their efforts. A no brainier.

However, things are not that simple. We need to push back on the implicit acceptance that the content creator is simply a victim that needs to be protected when copyright is abused.

So what is wrong with the Congress giving $30 Million dollars to fight privacy? Essentially we are using the power of the State to protect a special interest, the content creator. But then when it comes to protecting the consumer from the abusive tactics of private industry, there are howls of agony over "restricting" business flexibility, Big Government, and the Nanny State. It seems to me that if we truly desire smaller government, freedom, and not a Nanny State; that we should NOT be enhancing (enlarging) the law enforcement bureaucracy. It logically follows that when consumer protection is the responsibility of the consumer, then protection from piracy is a private sector responsibility and NOT a State responsibility.

Now for the shortcoming of Mike Freedman's post: "Erroneous DMCA notices and copyright enforcement, part deux". Mike asks a legitimate question, how best to fight piracy. The problem is that he is using the current law as the "level playing field" from which to undertake his analysis and he really does not go into any meaningful discussion of how the content industry continues to aggrandize ("land grab") their so-called property rights. My response to Mike's question is that many concerns with copyright "enforcement" would disappear if we restore the copyright privilege as originally envisioned in the Constitution and by eliminating the "land grab" of the content creators for "rights" that they should not possess. Eliminate the so-called "crime" and the enforcement issue diminishes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Net Neutrality and the First Amendment

This is going to be a short casual Casual Observation concerning the amorphous "them" who believe that net neutrality will violate the First Amendment. See the post Net Neutrality Regulation & the First Amendment by Adam Thierer. The claim is that the "evil" regulators are out to squelch freedom of speech. This whole analysis by Thierer is astonishingly simplistic and biased.

It is simplistic and biased since it seems to purposely overlook the attempts of the private sector to employ the power of the State to squelch freedom of speech. For example, TechDirt reports that: "Tiger Woods Gags UK Media; Alerts World To Nude Photos". Now, if that example seems a bit off topic, this article is a bit closer: "Anti-Piracy Group Says That Just Talking About File Sharing Should Be Illegal". Even closer to the point: "AT&T Whines To FCC That Google Voice Violates Net Neutrality".

Now if the ani-net neutrality folks are so adamant about protecting freedom of speech, why do they not expose the efforts of the private sector to use the power of the State to deny freedom of speech?

Of course there is a companion question (that I will not be delving into at the moment) concerning the efforts of the private sector to lobby the "evil" regulators to pass laws favorable to their self interests. So when this type of lobbying occurs, why doesn't the anti-net neutrality crowd whine about this form of abomination?

My take, the anti-net neutrality crowd, despite their supposed defense of free speech, are surreptitiously promoting corporatism.

As an aside, Julian Sanchez has an excellent article: "The Virtual Fourth Amendment". Concerning the complexities related to the collection of private information. I had hoped to integrate this into today's post, but it will have to wait for a later day.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Travesty

Paul Johnson published an excellent article: Nothing Noble About Nobel in Forbes Magazine. Mr. Johnson writes:
"Awarding President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize does him no good and devalues the prize. This award has gone to some dubious recipients in recent decades, but at least they had demonstrated their virtues (and vices) by actions as opposed to mere words."
Tom Tooles also has an excellent cartoon concerning the insolence of granting the award.

In theory, we need to earn our "awards" through actual performance. Obama has yet to perform. In fact, he is sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan clearly prolonging an existing war.

Leaders serve as role models for the citizens of our country. As such they are supposed to lead by example. Obama will not be setting a good example in accepting an unearned award. Along those lines, the news this past week was unfortunately not kind to Tiger Woods. He projected a squeaky clean image, unusual for most so-called sport "heroes". Unfortunately he has now joined the ranks of those (political, corporate, Hollywood, and sport) leaders who have tarnished their image through scandal. In this case, the scandal was one or more mistresses.

So what sort of message is sent to the citizens of this country when the President receives and unearned award and other people who are perceived to be highly regarded role models turn out to be nothing more than fictitious constructs?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Called it Wrong on Obama Concerning Afghanistan

Back in October 2008 I wrote "Afghanistan a Potential Quagmire" In that post I wrote that Obama would probably withdraw from Afghanistan after some sort of "careful" reassessment. Obama orders 30,000-troop buildup in Afghanistan. Well I guess I was wrong.

Staple's Joining the Darkside?

I had long considered Staples to be one of the more reputable stores when it came to salesmanship. Now it appears that Staples may be dipping its toes into disingenuous business practices similar to Intuit, Verizon, and PayPal.

Recently, I went in to Staples buy some printer ink and was greeted by a variety of large colorful "sale" signs. Get $3 back they touted for recycling your old ink cartridges and 10% off the purchase of a new ink cartridge they screamed. Good news!

When I got home, I had the chance to finally sit down and read the terms and conditions of the "sale". See below.

It quickly dawned on me that this "sale" was illusionary. It required that I "earn" a minimum of $10 in reward points in a quarter. Failing to meet that goal meant that I would loose the money that I was supposedly saving from the "sale". Since I don't have much reason to buy lots and lots of stuff from Staples, the supposed savings from the "sale" price were a fallacy. I returned the items to Staples and bought the same items from at a cheaper price.

While I am at it, I might as well mention an article that appeared on TechDirt: "Yes, We Can Write Our Opinions Without Contacting The Company We're Writing About First". While this TechDirt article does not deal with the topic at hand, it does contains links to how companies are scamming their customers. One particular link leads to an article by Michael Arrington: "Video Professor Tries To Bully Washington Post, Fails". Additionally, Jim Harper wrote about shady business practices in: "The Negative Feedback Loop Begins". While Staples has not yet descended to these levels, the fact that Staples is toying with misleading sales points to possible continued future use of deceptive business practices. Our Country is on a slow agonizing downhill slide.

Fiscal Responsiblity? Your Kidding

Today, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana appeared on CNBC. In short, he mindlessly regurgitated the unoriginal mantra of of tax relief with fiscal responsibility. Nice goal, but how do you achieve it?

Representative Pence does not say how. The obvious implication is that if we reduce the "onerous" tax burden then we will need to cut government spending. Will he cut the military? Will he cut social security? Will he cut infrastructure spending? Will the aged be kicked out of nursing homes? Will he eliminate school lunch programs? My mind gleefully spun-on.

Given this upwelling of questions in my mind, what really triggered me to write is that our esteemed journalists failed to follow-up with the obvious question: "Well Representative Pence what said sounds great, now how do you propose to provide tax relief and balance the budget?"

So when will our "journalists" return to real reporting and dig deep into story? We have had too many politicians promise unrealistic goals without the scrutiny that they explain how it will be accomplished.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Analog Science Fiction And Fact Database

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, at one time had a database, but in the course of events it dissolved into the void. Fortunately, Dave Baranyi has been keeping up the index on an Excel Spreadsheet. This is seventy (70) + years of data!

For several years, as an occasional project, I have been working on my own personal database of Science Fiction Stories. In the hopes of getting the Analog stories back on-line, sometime in the future, I have developed an Access database based on Dave's spreadsheet. This database is a prototype, there is still a lot of work to do, mainly getting the database moved over to MySQL (which I do not yet know) and learning PHP. So it will be a long time before this really becomes usable, in terms of the internet.

Below is the opening screen. This is not meant to be "pretty", since this is a prototype. The Analog cover to the left is meant to show that the cover art can be added when this gets closer to being completed. Some of the boxes that are currently visible will disappear in the final version (whenever it gets done) since they are only needed temporarily for programming purposes.

If any Analog subscribers would like a copy of the database leave me a message on the readers forum. (Click on the images to see them better.)

When you click on an authors name, all stories by that author in Analog are displayed.

Below is a screen image, from my existing book database, that cycles the cover art with the magazine issue.

Hopefully, the current Analog project can be expanded to include all magazines, especially those out of print. Sample below from my existing book database.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Inconvient Truths

A couple of cartoons on the abysmal state of our legal system and the ethics of our non-representing representatives. The first one: Dilbert, by Scott Adams.

The second one: Help Desk by Christopher Wright.

Click on the images or the links to see them better.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Internet Appreciation - Manuals and Spare Parts

Yes an anti-gripe. One of the unappreciated benefits of the internet is the ability to easily get manuals and spare parts. In the past few days I was able to download two manuals for some electronic gadgets where the paper manuals were eaten by the void. I also appreciated the ability to enlarge the text. The manuals, are now stored on my computer for easier retrieval.

Our lawnmower broke, a week ago. I was able to find the schematic at the company's website. I was able to easily select the parts to be ordered. The on-line ordering process went exceptionally well. The parts arrived today, and the lawn mower was fixed in 15 minutes!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Legalizing Theft - The New Capitalism III

Seems to be a rash of content related to "Capitalism: A Love Story" by Michael Moore. Steve Forbes, in the October 19, 2009, edition of Forbes had his own take, "Capitalism: A True Love Story". Steve's "Fact and Comment" is an excellent read. Positive points that he has made, which I have been harping on is that Capitalism is built on several fundamental principles. One is trust. Another is that both parties to a transaction walk away with a net benefit. While these are points that I can agree with, Steve continues to perpetuate the myth that the collapse of our financial system was caused by government regulation. Government regulation may have had a contributory relationship, but Steve overlooks the fact that it was the free-will of corporate leaders that created the bogus financial instruments and who also had the laws changed to allow them to work their "magic" with less regulatory oversight.

I have yet to hear of any regulation that "forces" someone to take a multimillion dollar bonus for issuing what has turned out to be almost worthless paper. A least Steve recognizes that "... a sizable portion of the assets created in recent years turned out to be "make believe," the result of an unsustainable, ephemeral bubble in housing and the churning out of increasingly exotic financial instruments. ... that created stuff ends up undermining the global financial system and battering the lives of hundreds of millions of other people. ... Even those individuals not normally hostile to free markets now hold suspicions that capitalism is fundamentally based on greed and is immoral ... "

Tom Toles, in the Washington Post published this cartoon, which is an excellent summary. (Click on the image to get a better picture.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Legalizing Theft - The New Capitalism II

A confluence of events may have just occurred. Recently, by accident, I saw Michael Moore being interviewed by CNBC on his new movie "Capitalism: A Love Story". In that interview Michael noted that we have lost our moral compass when it comes to making money. Today, I ran across a New York Times article and video: "Profits for Buyout Firms as Company Debt Soared". This article concerns the buying and selling of the Simmons Bedding Company. With each buying and selling action, the private venture firms would increase the debt of Simmons and pay themselves. In that article, the Times is reporting that Simmons will be soon filing for bankruptcy protection. The Times notes that the employees and bondholders will lose but the private venture firm will be making a profit when this is all over.

What the Times is reporting is unfortunately not new, private equity firms have been buying companies and stripping them of there assets for many years. What is telling in this situation is that this article appeared just after the release of "Caplitalism: A Love Story". Now I don't know if the congruence of these two events is a coincidence or not, but they both further highlight that we have a corrupt form of Capitalism. How corrupt Capitalism has become was illustrated just over a year ago with the housing bubble and the use of Collateralized Debt Obligations that proved virtually worthless. We need to restore a moral balance to Capitalism. Furthermore, our corporate and elected leaders need to make decisions with the public interest in mind.

In summary, Rick A. in the reader comments section of the Times article remarked that:
"So in their supposed mission of making companies more efficient, and supposedly, more profitable, PE has actually succeeded in making companies grossly inefficient, and has destroyed lives, families and communities in the process, all while profiting from their shell games and paper-pushing. Then they avoid paying their fair share of taxes using lawyers, accountants and more shell games. All while our country sinks like a rock.

This is capitalism at its worst, and plainly indicates that business needs more regulation to do what's morally right, since the PE people have proven themselves to be morally bankrupt while they bankrupt the rest of us.

Ain't that America?"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Legalizing Theft - The New Capitalism

When I came home for lunch I turned on CNBC's Power Lunch as was surprised to see them interview Michael Moore who just released a new movie: "Capitalism: A Love Story". I was pleasantly surprised by his statements that we have lost our moral compass and that capitalism today is perceived as a means of "legalized theft".

I don't think that Mike fully understands capitalism and several of this comments are off base. Nevertheless I am pleased that he was given this airtime to present his viewpoint. My belief is that we are into corporatism. Our elected leaders today, seem to be nothing more than shills for the corporate interests that they represent. The result, our laws are of, by, and for the corporations. I hope that you will an opportunity to read my other post under Economics. There are some good Dilbert strips!

PS: This is my first attempt at embedding a video. Need to figure out how to eliminate the unused white space.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Begining of a Trend?

Good to see others recognizing the absurdity of how companies feel entitled to impose fees on the public. In the spirit of fairness, if companies feel entitled to contact us, we should be able to charge them for our time and the use of our equipment. Companies do not have a right to impose on us without our permission. Please see: Misplaced Regulatory Blame II. The cartoon below is by Darrin Bell from: Candorville. (Click on the image to see it better.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Breaking Out the Red Banner of Revolution

Crosbie Fitch on his webpage, Digital Productions, put together a very informative breakdown of the various views towards intellectual property. In his post, Natural IP in Nihilism to Maximalism, Crosbie writes:

"To put Natural IP in context, here it is among four key positions – using the example of a poem:

  • IP Nihilism: No-one can own a poem, only the material comprising the copies of it.
  • IP Naturalism: Those who have legitimate1 copies of a poet’s poem own that poem in the copies within their private property (house, car, briefcase).
  • IP Monopolism: A poet should also be granted a transferable reproduction monopoly (on the pretext of incentivising publication).
  • IP Maximalism: A poet, or his assigns, owns his poem in all representations throughout the universe, forever."
The breakdown helps to define a continuum from which the intellectual property discussion can be analyzed and debated. Personally, in response to the increasingly shrill calls for ever "stronger" intellectual property rights; I have been moving in the other direction, towards IP Nihlism. Fundamentally, why should the public (me specifically) have their property rights to the use of content diminished to the point of extinction so that the "seller" can extort an unreasonable monopoly rent?

For a summary read on my "enlightenment" please see narrative The Case Against IP: A Concise Guide. Also see Mike Masnick's series on The Grand Unified Theory On The Economics Of Free. Of course there is a lot more. In the meantime, break out the red banner of revolution!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Copyright Propaganda

Those advocating a "strong" copyright use half-truths so that the reader is left unaware of the real purpose of copyright and that the copyright of today is not the copyright of yesterday.

TechDirt writes: "A Look At The RIAA's Copyright Propaganda For Schools". In that story Mike looks at the RIAA's "curriculum" for teachers and the RIAA's Music Rules! webage. Of particular interest is the following RIAA quote:

"You might also inform them that our nation's Founders included copyright protection in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8), believing that it would encourage creativity by giving the creators of intellectual property an exclusive right to profit from their artistic talents."
So what is so onerous about the above quote? To begin, the Nation's Founders passed the "Copyright Act of 1790". The Wikipedia entry for the "Copyright Act of 1790" states:

"The Copyright Act of 1790 was the first federal copyright act to be instituted in the United States, though most of the states had passed various legislation securing copyrights in the years immediately following the Revolutionary War. The stated object of the act was the "encouragement of learning," and it achieved this by securing authors the "sole right and liberty of printing, reprinting, publishing and vending" the copies of their "maps, charts, and books" for a term of 14 years, with the right to renew for one additional 14 year term should the copyright holder still be alive."
Then in 1998 the onerous "Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA)" was passed. The Wikipedia entry states:

"The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998 extended copyright terms in the United States by 20 years. Since the Copyright Act of 1976, copyright would last for the life of the author plus 50 years, or 75 years for a work of corporate authorship. The Act extended these terms to life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier.[1] Copyright protection for works published prior to January 1, 1978 was increased by 20 years to a total of 95 years from their publication date."
Finally there is the US Constitution. While the RIAA cited the US Constitution, they never disclosed the text below and its implications:

"To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;"
As can be seen, the RIAA has not disclosed three critical points. First, the time period for copyright has significantly increased since the Nation's Founders established copyright in 1790. Second, the purpose of copyright is to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. Third, copyright was meant to be of limited duration.

In reading the RIAA statement, the reader would be left with the incorrect impression that the purpose of copyright is to provide a content creator with a revenue stream over an unspecified period to time. Clearly that is not the case.

Tom Bell writes:

"The term of copyright has steadily expanded under U.S. law. The first federal copyright legislation, the 1790 Copyright Act, set the maximum term at fourteen years plus a renewal term (subject to certain conditions) of fourteen years. The 1831 Copyright Act doubled the initial term and retained the conditional renewal term, allowing a total of up to forty-two years of protection. Lawmakers doubled the renewal term in 1909, letting copyrights run for up to fifty-six years. The 1976 Copyright Act changed the measure of the default copyright term to life of the author plus fifty years. Recent amendments to the Copyright Act expanded the term yet again, letting it run for the life of the author plus seventy years."
So when will those who advocate a "strong" copyright acknowledge that they have been getting what they have asked for at the expense of the public??? Probably never. The real theft is not the public "stealing" from the content creators, but the content creators "stealing" from the public.

The "Mockingbird's Imitations" website obtained a copy of Lord Kames's opinion in the case of Hinton v. Donaldson (1773). Note the date, 1773. Lord Kames writes:

"And when, upon expiration of the monopoly, the commerce of these books is laid open to all, their cheapness, from a concurrence of many editors, is singularly beneficial to the public. ... In a word, I have no difficulty to maintain that a perpetual monopoly of books would prove more destructive to learning, and even to authors, than a second irruption of Goths and Vandals."
So 300 years ago, the discussion concerning copyright already recognized that a "strong" copyright would be detrimental to society. In reading the RIAA propaganda you would never know that the purpose of copyright is to promote progress of science and the useful arts for the benefit of society; not to make the content creators rich through a State granted monopoly.

A National Disgrace II

The Washington Post writes: "Where the Towers Stood, Delays and Disagreements Mount". In summary the Post writes: "Eight years later, the site known as Ground Zero remains mostly a giant hole in the ground. A projected completion date has been pushed back years, if not decades. The project has been beset by repeated delays, changing designs, billions of dollars in cost overruns, and feuding among the various parties involved in the complex undertaking."

In commenting on the article gce1356 wrote: "America is no longer the land of getting things done, instead it's become the land of blustery talk, endless arguments, finger pointing and blame, bankers, insurance executives and lawyers."

In commenting on the article ChrisFord1 observes: "5 years - whole cities were rebuilt after WWII. ... 1 year - the time it took to build the Empire State Building ... Gaze on the Pit. Now proof America has lost it's ability to get things done"

A country that dwells on the past, is country that is in decline. Build a simple memorial park and get on with resolving our other national issues.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A National Disgrace

MSNBC writes: "Ahead of the Sept. 11 anniversary, questions remain over progress at site". Once again I am unfortunately reminded that both our corporate and governmental leaders do not seem concerned about getting things done, but about making meaningless ego driven verbose assertions about how great we are. If we were a results driven progressive country, questions would naturally arises as to: why has the site not been rebuilt, why haven't those responsible for our financial collapse been put in jail, why don't we have a new generation of space shuttles in production, and why can't we balance our budget?

The Washington Post recently ran this book review: "Rome Wasn't Destroyed in a Day Either". Essentially Rome declined over a period of time because it rotted from within. In reviewing the book, the Post remarks concerning Goldworthy's that: "Nevertheless, he finds some disturbing messages about inefficiency and corruption, about what happens when the selfish desire for personal advancement overrides thoughts of the common good, when bureaucracies become so swollen that they lose touch with their overall purpose and when institutions grow so large and powerful that their sheer size conceals their errors and inefficiencies." Of course there are significant differences between the US today and the Rome of yesterday. But based on the ever growing list of outstanding concerns, it is worth pondering on whether the US as a nation, like the concept of peak oil, has begun to decline.

As for me, build a simple memorial park. If we can't even get organized to implement, it is ridiculous and pointless to endlessly dwell on making some sort of grandiose statement . Build a park and lets get on with solving our real problems.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Verizon's Onerous Terms of Use

The terms and conditions of use for this card are incredibly troublesome. Nothing new here, but its still worth looking at the disingenuous logic. (To see the terms and conditions better, click on the image.)

1. The card requires that you acknowledge reading the terms and conditions of use. Yet the card states: "Terms and Conditions of use are subject to change without notice." (emphasis added). So what is the point of agreeing to terms and conditions of use, if the company can change them at any time? (While this is not an online terms of service, take a look at District Court in Texas Rejects Online Terms of Service as Illusory and Unenforceable.)

2. Technically this card is supposed to be a convenience feature to prepay for your future use of the phone. One of the conditions is that: "Airtime expires 30 days from the date it is added to the account". So after thirty days your remaining money evaporates! This is a blatant rip-off.

So why does Verizon use in its ads the image of a friendly sympathetic guy backed-up by a large "we are there for you" staff? Based on the terms of use, this does not compute.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Misplaced Regulatory Blame II

Back in May I wrote about misplaced regulatory blame. One aspect of this issue (by those opposing regulation) was that privacy regulation was ineffective and expensive as discussed by Lee Gomes in his Forbes article: "The Hidden Cost of Privacy". The reality it that the regulations Mr. Gomes was railing against weren't real regulations. The regulations simply require the disclosure of privacy practices and did not constrain how a company actually broadcasts private data to the world-at-large. But wait, like an infomercial, there is more!

Forbes, in that very same issue, also had an opinion piece by William Baldwin: "Privacy for Sale". Mr. Baldwin writes:

"Junk phone calls, sites that snoop on your Web surfing, medical Peeping Toms--your privacy is under constant attack. There ought to be a law!
No, on second thought, there ought to be a product. When commerce and legislation compete to solve a problem, commerce usually does a better job."
Similar to Mr. Gomes article both these articles fail to acknowledge that the right of privacy belongs to the "recipient" not the instigator. Since the free-market (especially Forbes) promotes the concept of self-responsibility; these articles - instead of lambasting regulation - should have demanded that companies act responsibility to protect privacy.

What is ludicrous is that instead of demanding responsible corporate behavior, Mr. Baldwin advocates that people buy products to defend their privacy!!!! The obvious between the lines interpretation is that corporations have an unrighteous entitlement to invade your privacy. If you want to protect it, you need to pay-up or suffer the consequences. Sounds a bit like extortion.

So why should I have to pay a private company to protect my privacy? From my point of view, if companies are not willing to act ethically and truly respect the privacy of the public, regulate them.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global

The New York Times has an article "Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global". The Times writes: "At first glance, Japanese cellphones are a gadget lover’s dream: ready for Internet and e-mail, they double as credit cards, boarding passes and even body-fat calculators. But it is hard to find anyone in Chicago or London using a Japanese phone like a Panasonic, a Sharp or an NEC. Despite years of dabbling in overseas markets, Japan’s handset makers have little presence beyond the country’s shores."

My focus, however, is not with the article but the perceptive reader comments on the article. We are consistently admonished by those advocating free markets and less regulation that we will have a utopian economy if companies are free to compete unhindered. But as I have read articles concerning technological innovation in various newspapers and blogs, I have been made aware that the US is behind the technological curve. Clearly a disheartening concept. So what gives? The unfettered free market seems to have disappointed us concerning technology innovation and has had a significant meltdown (more bluntly ->failure) in the financial arena. Instead of incessant assertions of being superior we need to look into the mirror and ask ourselves how we can do better.

R writes, as a reader response to the article:
I borrow my dad's old cell phone when I'm home -- it's a 1 year old model, with music downloading capabilities, a sweet 5+ megapixel camera capable of taking photos and long movies, and of course, internet and email accessible. It also functions as a debit card -- I can pay for drinks at the vending machine with it, use it as a train pass, and buy things with it in stores. How much did this cost? Because the model had been out for a year, the physical phone itself cost all of 1 yen, or less than a penny.

And it's not just cell phones. Whenever I go back to Tokyo to visit my family, I'm amazed at how far behind the western world is. Our washer is over 10 years old, and it measures the amount of clothes you put in, and calculates how much laundry detergent should be used. It has over 20 options for different types of clothing/material, and still works like a charm. Our bathtub is automatic -- type in the temperature you want it to be on our central computer, the water starts coming out and the temperature is maintained until you turn it off. Oh, and it stops automatically at the right level, and beeps when it's done. My camera, a basic Sony cybershot, came out in the US over a year after I got it in Japan, and my brother's camera was never released in the US. I could go on and on -- but the point is, we're an average middle class family, with average middle class appliances. There are now amazing green advances being made: from houses that (somehow) can recycle and reuse a portion of their electricity, are solar-powered, etc. I could never dream however, of having things like this in the US.

Japan has amazing innovations, but I don't expect to see them over here anytime soon.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle

The New York Times reports that: "Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle". In summary, the Times writes: "In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them."

Before getting into the implications of this, I need to give the Times +2 points. I have been immensely critical of the Times coverage of copyright issues. So they get +1 point for running the story, plus another point for David Pogue's post: "Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others".

This incident points to two themes that have not yet achieved "traction" in the public debate over the extent of copyright. First, that when you purchase content that you obtain a property right to the use of that content. Second, that the copyright holders do not have an unlimited right to control the use of the content. The Times writes: "Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said." Please see my post: "Piracy and the Legal System".

David Pogue notes: "This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is “rare,” but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final."

Though Amazon may throw out the word "rare" hoping to minimize the PR boondoggle, the potential for the vendor to remotely disable what you have bought exists and may even be expanding. It doesn't take long to find examples where the vendor has made attempts at disabling or has disabled the content you bought. Walmart, Yahoo, and Microsoft attempted to shut down their music servers which would have resulted in the music vaporizing. Electronic Arts is going to Require Internet Connection For Command & Conquer, which would allow Electronic Arts to disable the game at their whim. Cory Doctorow in"MLB rips off fans who bought DRM videos" wrote: "MLB shut down the DRM server because they've changed suppliers, and now they expect suckers to buy downloads of games in the new DRM format." Audioholics reported: "DRM Strikes Again - Plays for Sure to Play no More".

When we buy content, we acquire a right to use that content as we wish. The content creators do not have a right to deprive us of that use.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Anniversary

Forty years ago, on July 20, 2009 man landed on the moon. Celebrations will soon be ensuing. The Las Vegas Review Journal writes; "40TH ANNIVERSARY: Moon landing taught us much about science -- and ourselves". Celebrating, this success should be a joyous event, but it is a bittersweet event since we are celebrating a past event and not a new success. When a country celebrates its past over its future, it is a country that has lost its will to move forward.

I would even go so far as to say that the meltdown in our economy and the failure of the National and State governments to balance their respective budgets demonstrate that our corporate and political leaders are, sad to say, incompetent. If we can't resolve our domestic issues, how can we move forward?

I will even throw-in a "fringe" Russian
Russian academic Igor Panarin who has predicted that the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. This prediction was covered by the Wall Street Journal: "As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S." Now, I don't think that is going to happen, but it does raise (from an outsiders viewpoint) the specter that the US is a dysfunctional country. Our lack of progress in space and our inability to solve domestic issues are symptomatic of that dysfunction. A sad truth.

I have additional comment here. On an upbeat note, enjoy July 20, 2009 and celebrate our
accomplishments of that day in 1969.

Update: The Washington Post (7/13/2009) published an article: "Space Station Is Near Completion, Maybe the End". According to the article: "In the first quarter of 2016, we'll prep and de-orbit the spacecraft," says NASA's space station program manager, Michael T. Suffredini. Whether this announcement is simply political gamesmanship, I don't know, but it potentially points to a further reduction in our space program.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Towards a Liberal Copyright

Against Monopoly reports a new working paper "File-Sharing and Copyright" by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf. The authors write that: "Copyright exists to encourage innovation and the creation of new works; in other words to promote social welfare. The question to ask is thus whether the new technology has undermined the incentives to create, market, and distribute entertainment." The authors conclude that: "As this essay has made clear, we do not yet have a full understanding of the mechanisms by which file sharing may have altered the incentives to produce entertainment. However, in the industry with the largest purported impact – music – consumer access to recordings has vastly improved since the advent of file haring. Since 2000, the number of recordings produced has more than doubled. In our view, this makes it difficult to argue that weaker copyright protection has had a negative impact on artists’ incentives to be creative."

Beyond adding my usual comment that copyright is not meant to be a welfare system for content producers, I won't be saying much. Below are links to articles/posts that have opined that a liberal copyright policy is better than the so-called strong copyright. I hope that you will find them interesting.

The link immediately below is a review of "File-Sharing and Copyright"
Harvard Study Finds Weaker Copyright Protection Has Benefited Society

The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales An Empirical Analysis
(Here Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf conclude that: "Downloads have an effect on sales which is statistically indistinguishable from zero.")

The Impact of Music Downloads and P2P File-Sharing on the Purchase of Music: A Study for Industry Canada
Here Birgitte Andersen and Marion Frenz write that: "Our review of existing econometric studies suggests that P2P file-sharing tends to decrease music purchasing. However, we find the opposite, namely that P2P filesharing tends to increase rather than decrease music purchasing."

Against Intellectual Property

Against Intellectual Monopoly

Digital Productions

A Tale Of Two Studies On File Sharing...

Respected Dutch Researchers Note That Piracy Has A Positive Impact On The Economy

Textbook Company Embraces Free For Infinite Goods, Charges For Scarcities

Copyright And Its Harm On Culture

Nobel Prize Winning Physicist Explains How Intellectual Property Damages Innovation

How Copyright Is Holding Back The Creative Class

The sampling above is probably overkill, but I hope that it will serve as potential reference material should you wish to refute the propaganda of the content industry that so-called strong copyright (that deprives the consumer of their rights to content) is necessary to foster creativity.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New York Times - Off-Base Once Again

Once again the New York Times has written an article that purports to document how content creators, artists in this case, are getting screwed. In the article, "Use Their Work Free? Some Artists Say No to Google" , the Times quotes one of the artists as saying: “You’d think that if anyone can afford to pay artists and designers it would be a company that is making millions of dollars,” Mr. Ciardiello said in an interview."

Further down in the article the NYT writes: “There’s a lot of concern that newspapers and all of print is becoming a bit of an endangered species,” said Brian Stauffer, an illustrator based in Miami whose work has appeared in publications including Rolling Stone, Esquire and Entertainment Weekly, and who also rejected Google’s offer. “When a company like Google comes out very publicly and expects that the market would just give them free artwork, it sets a very dangerous precedent.

Based on the tone of this article, the Times is once again attempting to foster the concept that the Internet is costing artists their jobs. This is disingenuous subterfuge to elicit sympathy for the "starving artists" and to distract the public from the reality that the newspaper industry is dying and can no longer support the number of artists wishing to be employed.

First, this article is logically flawed. Google is at liberty to solicit free content from anyone. If you don't want to work for free then you are free to decline. This is not, as the Times attempts to portray, about the obligation or capability of Google to pay artists for their work.

Second, look at the employees of the automotive industry. They are being laid off left and right due to the economy and the industry's obsolete business model. The content industry, like the automotive industry, is dying based on changing technologies and an obsolete business model. So why should it be any different if you are an artist and the newspapers can not afford you? As with any profession, you are not entitled to paid work.

Yes, it is depressing not to be able to get paid for producing content, such as artistic works. But we live in a free market system that is competitive. If the market doesn't value your work, to the point that you can make a living at it, then it is time to seek another employment opportunity.

Google does not have an obligation to only use paid employees. If people are willing to work for free, based on their love for the art, and contribute to Google, good for them. If you don't want to work for free then don't. The Times just does not seem to understand that content producers do not have a special right to paid employment.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Student Power - An Unrealized Potential

The LINUX community seems to missing a great opportunity to employ student power. When attending to college, students are routinely given assignments. Many of these assignments, while educational in nature, are useless from the viewpoint of adding to society's knowledge base. To make the student's work both educational and productive, students (on either and individual and/or class project basis) could be offered assignments related to enhancing the LINUX operating system. Actually, this would apply to all open source efforts.

I have been out of academia for some time, so I don't know whether this is or is not being done. If it isn't being done it would seem to be a tremendous waste of student power!

This concept has been simmering in my brain for some time. The following TechDirt article: "Student Wins Against Professor's Threats Over Posting Code Online" rekindled my interest in engaging students to enhance open source projects.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Intuit - A Despicable Company

Maybe my nerves are frayed today and that resulted in me having an extreme visceral reaction to the TechDirt article: "The End Of Microsoft Money: Big Company Doesn't Always Win". Maybe it was because Mike Masnick mentioned two of my all time "favorite" companies in one post and was off-base with his analysis to boot. Mike's off-base comment was that Intuit "won" the personal accounting product "war" because "Smaller companies are often more innovative and effective at taking on big companies."

The realty is quite different, Intuit, the seller of Quicken, is NOT an innovative company. Intuit "won" this contest because of marketing. In fact, Mike has a link to the underlying Cnet article: "How Intuit managed to hold off Microsoft". What is not mentioned in either the Cnet article or in Mike's analysis is the overly aggressive hyper abusive marketing strategies used by Intuit to sell their products. Additionally, Intuit does not disclose all the onerous business practices they impose to force the buyers into unnecessary "upgrades". Quicken, the personal finance program, is simply a cash cow for Intuit.

Intuit didn't win because it had a better product, it "won" because the more inept company, Microsoft, decided to drop out.

When Quicken was first released, it was a good program, it was innovative, and I had no complaints about Intuit's corporate policy. Over time Intuit has become a despicable company. I won't bore you with the mind numbing details of my negative experience. I'll end it here, but I would suggest doing an internet search so that you can form your own opinion.

PS: Paragraph above corrected based on the comment provided by Anonymous Coward. Also added a link to the Intuit, Inc. page on Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Jim Cramer's Wall of Shame

Jim Cramer has a popular financial show on CNBC, Mad Money. Recently he re-invigorated his CEO Wall of Shame identifying those CEO's who have succeed in destroying their companies. As part of this process Jim has been soliciting the audience to suggest nominees to who have earned a "coveted" spot on this wall of shame. In today's business environment that shouldn't be hard.

Last night it was the turn of Lewis Campbell, the CEO of Textron to get roasted and placed on the Wall of Shame. Textron, in many respects is very similar to General Electric. Like Textron General Electric has virtually collapsed. Forbes reports, in an aptly titled article: "Dim Bulb", that under Immelt guidance that GE's "stock has delivered a negative 12% annual return, 11% less than the S&P 500 Index, taking GE's market value from $390 billion to $198 billion." Forbes goes on to write that "This record and Immelt's average annual pay of $14.4 million over the last six years put him near the bottom of our performance-versus-pay scorecard. He has some contrition about this. In 2008 he declined a bonus and earned only $5.3 million."

So Campbell gets his own special spot on the Wall of Shame but Immelt is quietly passed over. General Electric, it should be noted, is the owner of CNBC news. Consequently, Jim's boss just happens to be Immelt, the CEO of General Electric. If equality means anything, when will Immelt be placed on the Wall of Shame?

PS: We own shares of General Electric

Search Engine Shortcomings

A long standing complaint that I have had with search engines is that they disgorge a lot of irrelevant results in the form of sales pitches. Of particular concern, when searching for for product reviews, you get websites that do not have real reviews and in some cases don't even have the product! Yet you are stuck wading through this morass looking for that proverbial needle.

Of course, to be fair, these search engines would not exist if it were not the for the fact that companies are paying the search engines for this advertising. Nevertheless, it is a disservice to simply dump on the user irrelevant content. After a while, the user will get discouraged and simply not use the search engine. Displaying relevant results, in the end will promote business and user satisfaction/trust will be a lot higher. Ubersoft has an excellent cartoon related to Microsoft's new search engine Bing, that also highlights the detrimental effects of giving the user irrelevant results. (To see the image better, click on it or on the word Ubersoft.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Odds and Ends

May was pretty busy, my twin daughters graduated from college. They were both accepted to graduate school so now we are busy getting prepared for that. From the perspective of bringing some sanity back to copyright law and patent law, there have been some positive developments.

TechDirt reported on May 8, 2009 that: "Court Rejects Online Terms Of Service That Reserve The Right To Change At Any Time". The underlying article from JD Supra: "District Court in Texas Rejects Online Terms of Service as Illusory and Unenforceable". In looking these articles up, I also ran across this old TechDirt article: "Court Pushes Back A Bit On Unilateral EULA Changes". The underlying court decision can be read here.

Against Monopoly also picked up on this story: "Canada rules against business method patents". Michael Geist has this write-up: "Canadian Patent Appeal Board Rules Against Business Method Patents".

In reading these posts I also thought of Ed Foster who died in 2008 and wrote the Gripe Line column for Infoworld. Christina Tynan-Wood has since taken over the column. For good or bad, the theme of the Gripe Line has returned to its original concept of working to resolve consumer complaints with computer vendors. With Ed (the column over-time) increasingly focused on abusive corporate practices, such as the ever changing EULA which has made contract law a farce. His exposure of abusive corporate practices and abusive legislation will be missed by those seeking to put sanity back into copyright law.

The Economist in May ran an online "debate" titled "Copyright and Wrongs". The premise of the debate was whether copyright law was beneficial to society or detrimental to society. A lot of good points were made. But what was unfortunate about this so-called debate is that it seemed to be between two people who support copyright and were only arguing the point of how onerous copyright law should be! Hardly a real debate.

A breath of fresh air in this debate were the comments by Ms. Jessica Litman. Ms. Litman wrote "In the past 30 years, technology has made printing presses, paper, ink, warehouses, trucks and shelf space optional. Mass dissemination need be expensive no longer. Authors can communicate directly with huge audiences. ... Technology, thus, offers an opportunity to rebalance copyright law to ensure that a larger share of the copyright bargain can be enjoyed by creators and by readers, listeners and viewers." Ms Litman goes on to say that: "Instead, we have seen the conventional distributors of 20th-century works stampeding each other into a copyright panic, and running to lawmakers with demands for greater control over both distribution and consumption. Lawmakers, for their part, have been happy to oblige them, since copyright-affected industries have a record of generosity to politicians."

As a final casual observation, the Washington Post reports: "Trump to Miss California: You're Fired". I have not followed this story that closely, but it seems that Ms. Carrie Prejean has become the victim of a character assassination whisper campaign because she actual said something she meant. What is amusing with this, in a perverse way, is that I came home and my wife was watching a show where a contestant was making her pitch before a panel of judges. The contestant said, in a typical politically correct fashion, that if she won, that she would give her money to the UN. Unexpectedly one of the judges asked her: "When was the last time you did community service?" Stunned silence followed. The look on the contestant's face said it all, concerning her hypocrisy. Its unfortunate that Ms. Prejean is paying a price she should not be paying.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Health Insurance and the Automotive Industry

It seems that there has been an increasing buzz in the media concerning health reform. The Washington Post writes: "Obama Signals Willingness to Compromise on Health Reform". What I think is interesting is that health insurance industry may be starting the same downward spiral that the US automakers have taken. Like the automotive industry new economic realities are emerging that may, in the end, put the health insurance industry as we know it out-of-business in a relative sense.

First, the original intent of insurance, especially health insurance, was to provide medical coverage for catastrophic events. Overtime, the health insurance industry has morphed into an industry that is providing routine coverage (such as well health examines), and other supportive services such as smoking cessation. Nothing wrong with doing that, but the costs of providing all these services has to be paid for out of the employees and companies health care premiums. This would be similar, but in a reverse sense, to the automotive industry failing to curb union wages.

Second, the health insurance companies have become bloated inefficient bureaucracies with overpaid executives like the automobile companies. These companies are now managed based on accounting not the delivery of goods and services to the consumer (patient).

Third, when you buy insurance you are, in a sense gambling. Will I get sick or not???? The insurance companies of course hope that you never get sick. In the old days, before we had medical testing, it was pretty much a random event as to whether you unfortunately won by being sick/dying or the insurance company wins by you being healthy. In the old days the insurance companies could not really test risk-factors, such as genetic diseases, that we can today.

Today the operating environment is quite different and in a sense favors the insurance companies. Individuals can now be tested for a wide variety of risk factors, such as cancer, which in theory would allow the insurance companies to better allocate their customers premiums. The insurance companies also have significant potential liabilities associated with medical care. You get injured but don't really die and have to spend years in the intensive care ward. Health care today because of the ability to test risk factors, the ability to predict susceptiblity, the availability of exotic expensive treatments, and the ability to keep people alive makes medicine today - expensive. Few people would advocate cutting costs by pulling the plug on a patient.

Fourth, the increasing cost of medical insurance has become a national issue. Like the automotive industry, the health insurance industry has simply continued to raise the price of its products and continued with this tired old business model. As with the automotive industry, the politicians are now beginning to see/taste/smell "votes" for stepping in and supposedly solving this growing concern. Clearly the hand writing is on the wall that some structural changes will be forced on the health care industry like the automotive by our non-representing politicians to save us.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Misplaced Regulatory Blame

The government makes a good target for the blame game. Recently a flurry articles were published "documenting" onerous government regulation. Over at the Technology Liberation Front (TLF) we have: "Privacy Regulation: Expensive and Ineffective", "Golden Age for Antitrust?", and "What the EU Doesn’t Get: Harming Competitors is Called Competition (and shouldn’t be illegal)" . Over at TechDirt we have: "More Privacy Laws Don't Mean More Privacy". My issue with these articles is that they simplistically regurgitate the mantra that government regulation is bad without even bothering to investigate if the government regulation was actually bad.

Two of the TLF articles dealt with a fine that the EU placed on Intel for alleged deceptive business practices. Braden Cox wrote that: "The European Commission is a loose cannon when it comes to antitrust and competition law." Unquestioned in the TLF articles is the issue of whether Intel did or did not pursue deceptive business practices. Even Ed Felten picked up on the concept that Intel may not be all that innocent: "European Antitrust Fines Against Intel: Possibly Justified".

Two articles dealt with the issue of "privacy". These posts were triggered by Lee Gomes writing in Forbes: "The Hidden Cost of Privacy". The concern with these posts is that the reader is lead to believe that companies are being unduly burdened with privacy regulations. The actual topic is NOT privacy regulation but the disclosure of a companies privacy policies. The companies are not being forced (against their will) to protect your privacy, they are simply being required to disclose their privacy practices. A big difference.

The vexing implications of these "blame government regulation" posts is the persistent refusal to acknowledge that companies should be held accountable for their willful actions. If Intel pursued deceptive business practices, they should be held accountable, but that question was not asked. If companies violate privacy laws, they should be identified and exposed, but that question was not asked. Before, blindly blaming government regulation for all our various ills, we need to question and examine what the responsible companies were doing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Piracy and the Legal System

The New York Times recently headlined "Four Convicted in Sweden in Internet Piracy Case". The Washington Post headlined "Pirate Bay's fileshare four get year in jail". As a summary, the New York Times wrote: "The court found on Friday that the men — the three founders, Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg and Peter Sunde, as well as Carl Lundstrom, who provided financing — had aided copyright infringement by operating the site, which provides links to thousands of songs, films, video games and other material, and helps users download them."

What is also interesting is that the New York Times ran an editorial "Unreasonable Search". The editorial concerns 13 year old girl who was strip-searched based on a false report by a fellow student. The Times rightfully concludes that "The invasion of privacy was extreme and the security rationale weak. The court should rule, as a lower appellate court did, that the search was unconstitutional."

Coincidentally, the Washington Post ran the following story "High Court Limits Searches of Suspect's Car After Arrest". In this case the Post writes "In a decision written by Justice John Paul Stevens, an unusual five-member majority said police may search a vehicle without a warrant only when the suspect could reach for a weapon or try to destroy evidence or when it is "reasonable to believe" there is evidence in the car supporting the crime at hand."

What is the relationship of unreasonable search to Pirate Bay? We seem to be developing two legal themes, that are applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner. The media fans the flames of moral outrage when a child or a suspect does not receive due process . However, when it comes so-called intellectual property there is at best silence from the media. Usually the media portrays the copyright owners as a "victim" protecting their property. Not mentioned is the itty bitty detail that the copyright owners are violating the rights of the accused.

For example Mike Masnick writes that the verdict on Pirate Bay is flawed because: "The idea that a toolmaker can be liable for the actions of its users should trouble everyone -- especially when the tools have plenty of legitimate uses as well."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an article: "Doctorow's Law: Who Benefits from DRM?" the critical quote is that: "Anytime someone puts a lock on something you own, against your wishes, and doesn't give you the key, they're not doing it for your benefit." A few months ago Walmart, Yahoo, and Microsoft, all attempted to turn off their music servers. So here we have companies who in theory oppose stealing, yet when they deem something is unprofitable they have the ability simply press a "kill switch" and presto the consumer losses their investment in the music. Clearly those who claim that you should respect their property rights have little respect for your property rights. Disabling a consumers product constitutes a form of "stealing".

TechDirt reports: "Senator Feinstein Trying To Sneak ISP Copyright Filtering Into Broadband Stimulus Bill". TechDirt writes: ""allow network management" for "deterring unlawful activity"". If one translates this Newspeak into simple English, it would allow whoever is "authorized" to "read" your data steam without any pretext of a reasonable cause. In fact, the data could be searched based on the mere allegation of wrong doing. If one where to apply this search standard to the girl who was strip-searched based on a false accusation or to the police who searched the car without a warrant - these would turn out to be justifiable actions. Moreover, there would a quagmire over what would constitute an "unlawful" activity. Its a slippery slope, So it amazes me that the media will scream moral outrage on one hand while conveniently ignoring equally atrocious behavior on the other hand. Truly we are in Orwell's world of 1984.