November 30, 2003

A Geeky Thought

Say I’m a thief, and I disable the security system in the boat warehouse and sneak away with a Four Winns 194 Funship. Not only am I guilty of the crime of boat theft, but I’ve violated section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, since I “circumvent[ed] a technological measure that effectively control[led] access to a work protected under this title”.

(The hull of the Four Winns 194 Funship is a protected “vessel hull design” under 17 U.S.C. 1301. The security system was a technological measure that effectively controlled access to the hull of the boat. 17 U.S.C. 1301 and 17 U.S.C. 1201 are part of the same Title of the United States Code.)

(All right, enough. Back to writing that paper.)

November 29, 2003

How is LJ Feeling?

On the LiveJournal blogging service, posts generally carry an indication of the writer’s mood — “happy,” “tired,” “bemused,” “quixotic,” etc. Some researchers at the University of Michigan have aggregated this data to paint a picture of “The Mood of LiveJournal”.

Via Danah Boyd (q.v. this great profile in last Thursday’s Circuits section.)

November 28, 2003

Litman on P2P Solutions

I’m in the middle of writing a paper on some of the implications for freedom of contract of compulsory licensing schemes for copyrights in music. There have been a number of law review articles and book chapters recently proposing solutions to the “problem” of P2P sharing, focusing on compulsory blanket licenses. Jessica Litman, a very smart copyright scholar at Wayne State, just posted this draft of a paper outlining her solution to the issue. I’m glad to have more grist for my mill (along with papers on the same topic by Terry Fisher at Harvard and Neil Netanel at Texas), but this will cause a bit of a scramble, since I’m giving this paper on Monday. Anyway, it’s a good paper, and if you’re interested in this sort of thing, you should give it a read. I think her particular solution has some problems (which I’ll describe in my paper, which I’ll post when it’s done), but they may be fixed in a later draft.

November 27, 2003

A Moment of Sanity

On Tuesday, Judge Posner of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued this decision in Assessment Technologies of Wisconsin, LLC v. WIREData, Inc. WIREData wanted access to public-domain property assessment data collected by municipalities using Assessment Technologies’ software. Assessment Technologies claimed that, because the data entered into the software was arranged in an original way, AT owned a copyright on the compilation of the data, and that compilation may not be copied. Judge Posner ruled that, because it is possible to extract the public domain data from the copyrighted database, WIREData may do so without infringing AT’s copyright in the compilation. In dicta, Judge Posner noted that if it turns out to be impossible to extract the public domain data from the database, WIREData may simply copy the whole thing, since works which are inseparable from their public domain elements are not copyrightable.

This does seem to leave the municipalities in a bit of a bind. They have contracts with AT that may prohibit them from releasing the public domain data to WIREData. While this opinion contains an implicit criticism of it, ProCD v. Zeidenberg, which held that vendors may by contract restrict the copying of public domain data contained in their products, remains good law. Under ProCD, if the contracts with the municipalities are found to prohibit the copying of the public domain data contained in AT’s database, AT may not release the data to WIREData. The municipalities may be forced to make a difficult choice between breaching their contract with AT and violating Wisconsin’s open records law (which appears to contain exceptions for copyrighted records but not for contract-encumbered records). Or, on appeal, the Seventh Circuit could revisit ProCD and poke some holes in its overbroad restrictions on the dissemination of public domain data.

November 25, 2003

Diebold Backs Down

As you may recall from this post, some incriminating internal memos were acquired from Diebold Election Systems, a maker of touch-screen voting machines. The memos show a number of incidents of improper behavior that, in addition to violating election laws, could have affected the outcomes of a number of elections. Understandably, Diebold wished to suppress the memos. They sent letters threatening copyright infringement suits if the memos weren’t taken down. Some recipients captiulated; others sued Diebold seeking a delcaration that the files were not, in fact, infringing.

Now, Diebold has filed this document with the court, withdrawing their threats of lawsuit, promising not to sue in the future, and promising not to bother the ISPs of websites hosting the files anymore. On one level, this is a victory; the memos stay up, and those hosting the memos won’t have to litigate. On another, this seems sort of unfair. Diebold sent out lawsuit threats that led a number of ISPs to shut down sites that Diebold didn’t like; when other sites called Diebold’s bluff, rather than having to prove their case, Diebold can just walk away. They can throw some “takedown” notices at the wall and hope that some stick. Most will. If they’ve got no case, they can just withdraw those takedown notices on which they receive “counter-notification” — which is the legal “bluff-calling” mechanism in this situation.

While this seems unfair, since it allows bullying without the costs of litigating the merits of the claims, it’s far better than the alternative, I think. If every counter-notification had to result in an infringement suit, there would be a lot more tenuous Internet copyright infringement suits litigated, costing innocent parties lots of money and leading to uncertain results. So, listen up, ’cause this is the last time you’ll hear me say it: The DMCA is making the right thing happen.

November 24, 2003

NYT Magazine on Online Dating

Yesterday’s issue of the New York Times Magazine had a very good piece on online dating. Sam, a woman profiled in the article, said of a man she had met online this eternal truth:

I have no one to ask whether Greg is a man-whore but Greg himself.

DVD Jon Cracks iTunes

The hacker known as “DVD Jon”, famous for breaking the encryption found on DVDs, is at it again. He’s written a small utility that allows users to circumvent the encryption on files downloaded from the iTunes Music Store. When you play an encrypted file when Jon’s program is installed, a perfect, compressed copy of the file is saved to the desktop.

Of course, you could always get a fairly clean copy of any encrypted audio file simply by playing it while running a sound recording application like TotalRecorder in the background. That way, you end up with raw PCM data, like a WAV file; if you want it in its original compressed format, you have to re-compress it. Because the audio compression used by iTunes and other music download services is lossy, decompressing and recompressing the audio results in a loss of quality. Using Jon’s program, the file you end up with is identical to the original compressed encrypted file — but without the encryption.

Happily for Apple, it’s rather hard to get one’s hands on the code (which is available at; once one does, it’s rather hard to get it running properly. It requires installing a minimal GNU system on your Windows box and compiling the DLL yourself using gcc. (If that last sentence didn’t make sense to you, you won’t be able to use this.) And you still have to buy the tracks in the first place; this just means that once you do, the technology won’t keep you from making infringing uses of the files — say, by sharing them on a P2P network.

Because iTunes Music Store already allows users to burn CDs, transfer the files to iPods, and listen to songs on multiple computers, this particular crack doesn’t add anything other than the ability to send downloaded songs to friends.

November 23, 2003


Am I the only one who hadn’t heard of the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919?

November 22, 2003

Tech Bloom

A really nice op-ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on the current “Tech Bloom”. If you’re wondering why I get so excited about my geekery, this provides a good non-geek’s overview of some of the amazing things that are happening these days.

Via BoingBoing

November 21, 2003

The Victorian Internet

Entrants to this b3ta challenge were asked to come up with images from the Victorian Internet. This was my favorite:

Disclaimer Haiku:
West wind seems to say,
"This is not legal advice;
I'm not your lawyer."

(And if you're a client with whom I have a preexisting attorney-client relationship, this still isn't legal advice.)

In case you're wondering, this blog is also not intended as advertising, as a representation of anything but my personal opinion, or as an offer of representation.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.
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