Ernie the Attorney : searching for truth & justice (in an unjust world)
Updated: 6/5/2003; 10:32:26 PM.


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Monday, April 01, 2002

Jenny reviews the Adobe-Hacker case, as covered by Wired, and asks:

Hey, Bruce and Ernie - [what] if this defense of the DMCA is allowed to fly...?   She is referring to the Assistant US attorney's argument that, "in creating the DMCA, Congress did not intend to make any allowances for technologies which might have lawful circumvention purposes, ... instead it wanted 'a blanket prohibition on any device that's designed to circumvent (copyright restrictions),' regardless of whether the device may have some legitimate purposes." [Wired Article] (my emphasis)

I can't speak to the aerodynamics of that argument, although I understand why it was made.  I haven't spoken much about the whole digital rights issue, although I find it fascinating, and the legal issues are certainly interesting.   But forget the legal arguments; they always represent the trees in important debates like this.  Here's some things that I have noticed about the struggle for digital rights (which includes Napster, DMCA, etc):

  • Information is a valuable resource, and it should be allowed to move about freely
  • People are hungry for knowledge and entertainment, which are forms of information
  • The government's job is to facilitate that which increases learning and knowledge
  • There's a lot of money at stake and so people get "confused" easily

The digital rights issue (I hate to call it "intellectual property" for the same reason given by Richard Stallman) should be especially interesting for us Americans who, by the way, were weened on cheap literature.  "Cheap," as in: "inexpensive."  Did you know that in 1843 the average Londoner who wanted a copy of Dicken's A Christmas Carol would've paid the equivalent of $2.50 where the average American would have paid $0.06?  [Cite p. 50].  That's because, as shocking as this may sound, we didn't always have broad copyright laws.  And that's another thing to celebrate in November when you're carving the turkey.  Think about it. Our country, at a critical time in its development, was the beneficiary of the weak protection given to foreign authors such as Charles Dickens.  And my question is: what if we had not had access to cheap information? 

I'm not suggesting that there is no purpose to copyright protection, or that authors and inventors shouldn't be given some legal protection to reward and encourage their efforts.  They should (up to a point). The question is why are we granting the protection, and what sort of protection will best further our societal goals (goals like: educating our populace)?  It seems that we have stopped asking the purpose of the laws (remember the monkees?) and are now obsessed with the venal goal of protecting "intellectual property."   We forget that "intellectual property rights" are relatively new in the overall history of human development. 

Our efforts to control knowledge through the mechanism of intellectual property law, to me,  carries the overtones of communism's attempt to control knowledge through the mechanism of ....well you know what I'm talking about.  Socialism.  Capitalism.  They can both be fertile ground in the effort to control knowledge.   But somehow I doubt that knowledge can be controlled.  Under any system...even a complex legal system predominately influenced by laywers/lobbyists, and people who are devoted to extracting blood from turnips...



11:14:51 PM    

Nobel Laureates' Petition to Secure Whirled Peas

P.J. O'Rourke admits he is at a disadvantage in criticizing the 103 Noble prize winners who petition for action against the threat to world peace.  What's the threat?  Why, global warming...of course.  [Link Atlantic Monthly]

10:49:48 PM    

Google - Useful for Phone Numbers

Okay, I'm sure everyone knows this and I'm just really behind the curve.  I just found out that if you want to lookup a phone number with Google you just type in the person's name and the two letter state abbreviation (e.g.  "Ernest Svenson LA") and it will pull up their name and phone number.  Amazing!!!!  It doesn't work for more common names, but when you're looking for Swedes in Louisiana it works fine.  [Read more Google Features]

8:18:09 PM    

A Simple Story - The Monkees in the Cage

This is a simple story that I believe has made its rounds in Internet email.  It contains a profound truth.  It's about researchers who studied monkees.  They put five monkees in a cage and hung a bunch of bananas from the ceiling, which would be too high for the monkees except there was a chair in the cage.  Naturally, the monkees quickly figured out that they could position the chair under the cage and get to the bananas.

But when they did. The "researchers" hosed down the monkees with a high pressure hose.  And not just the monkees that were trying to reach the bananas, but all of the monkees in the cage.  After the monkees had been conditioned not to go for the bananas, they replaced one of the monkees with a new monkee.  When he would try to get to the bananas the other "veterans" of the hose-down would beat him until he gave up.  At intervals the researchers would replace a monkee.  Eventually, all of the monkees were replaced and none of the replacement monkees would try for the bananas, even though none of them had been hosed down.

The profound truth of this story is obvious, and I think it is equally obvious that the story is more than just a story about monkees.

7:54:12 PM    

Instant Messaging - The New New Thing

My earlier post on Instant Messaging brought this comment, which is from a good friend of mine, and I'm sure represents a normal state of affairs these days-

"Over the last two years IM has become the preferred means of communication for kids (jr. high schoolers, that is). My 7th grader gets on the computer and begins communicating with his "group" as soon as he gets in from school. He's certainly no computer geek but this continues late into the night. It's a very large and diverse group, both male and female. Their lingo is quite fascinating. If he's got a question he finds the answer at the computer. As far as he's concerned, the home telephone and study groups at the library have become obsolete... "

I wonder if we adults really understand the IM phenomenon?  The Yahoo article that I read gave an example of an Asian girl whose parents strictly controlled her social life (screening phone calls from boys etc).  The girl used IM and was able to have a social life that was fairly normal (perhaps even more normal than we might imagine if the above comments reflect the norm--which I'm sure they do).  The thing that keeps surfacing about IM is the fact that it creates "presence" and a sense of immediate contact that other web applications (i.e. E-mail) do not have.  I underlined one part of her comment that suggests that  IM is used by kids for useful things like "online study groups."   It is the "useful" part of IM that intrigues me (I think that we adults tend to think that it is frivolous...which is of course what people thought about the telephone when it was first deployed).  So how will IM be useful?

I have used IM in a limited way at work, but I can see how it allows for a different form of communication.  It is a hard thing to grasp, which Steven Vore recognizes in this interesting post. 

He suggests that IM is helpful in his work where people that he has to collaborate with are in different offices in different cities.  The need to share ideas in real time among groups is the strength of IM.  [Link]  No doubt synchronous collabortive tools are going to have increasing importance, and this is not just because of the fear of travel in the wake of 9/11.  Finding new ways to work together for certain projects (where the cost, in money and time, of travel) is increasingly necessary.  To me the IM phenomenon is something worth thinking about....

6:39:27 PM    

Librarians testify in Phildelphia Filtering case

Librarian Candace Morgan, the first plaintiffs' witness, didn't flinch when government attorney Timothy Zick placed an open binder of Web porn photos in front of her.

"Is it your testimony that I have the right to look at these Web sites?" Zick asked.

"Yes, it is," replied Morgan, the associate director of the Fort Vancouver, Wash., regional library. [Findlaw Link]

If you want to read the American Library Assn's complaint click here.

2:10:41 PM    

Egan's Law Passed

Under the new law, the Catholic Church must alert residents when it moves into the neighborhood.  [Satire - Link]

2:00:34 PM    

© Copyright 2003 Ernest Svenson.

Comments by: YACCS

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