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January 29, 2004

Minneapolis: City of Multimedia Installations

In each of the new Light Rail stations opening in the next few months in Minneapolis, there will be four multimedia art-delivery kiosks featuring audio and video content submitted by Minnesota artists via this call for submissions. They’re having Janet Zweig (a multimedia installation artist) do the conceptual design, ParallelDevelopment do the industrial design and Scharff Weisberg do the electronics.

All of the art will be on the topics of “Minnesota nice” or the weather. I’m thinking about putting together an audio piece. If anyone reading this needs audio engineering help with a submission, email me.

January 28, 2004

Bogus Elvis Tape — Only $250 An Inch

Robin Pogrebin reports in today’s New York Times about a new company purporting to sell two-inch segments of the “master tape” from Elvis Presley’s Sun Sessions for $500 each.

They’ve said nothing about provenance, but they do have a pretty good excuse for cutting it up. They claim that the tape is no longer playable because of its age and because of water damage, and that it was played once, digitally recorded, and can now safely be sliced up and sold off. Tapes from the 1950s (and later) do routinely disintegrate; usually, the adhesive that binds the oxide to the tape backing gets gummy and keeps the tape from running through the machine smoothly. By “baking” the tape in a low-temperature oven for a few hours, you can get everything to stick together and un-gum just enough to play the tape smoothly. Once. After that, it’s often a goner.

Nice excuse for cutting it up, but there are a number of very good reasons not to believe them:

  • They claim this is the original session tape. But if you look at the order of the songs on the tape, they’re not even in chronological order. They apparently want us to believe that they recorded “I’ll Never Let You Go” at the end of the tape in September, 1954, then recorded “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” the following April, before it on the tape. I’m sure they were frugal with recording tape back then, but there’s no way they could have known precisely how much tape later sessions would take up, such that they could start recording way into the reel and not record over anything.
  • The tape that Bongiovi is holding up in the Times photo appears to be in perfect condition. If the condition were as bad as they claim, the tape wouldn’t look brand new. A bunch of the oxide would be missing, and you’d be able to see it in the picture. Especially if there was water damage, as they claim.
  • Taking off my audio geek hat and putting on my law geek hat, take a look at the “Certificate of Authenticity”. Note that it doesn’t actually certify the authenticity of the tape. Instead, it states the opinion of Tony Bongiovi (who appears to be a business partner in this venture) that the tape is authentic. If it turns out to be a fake (and I believe it will), his liability, at least, is limited.
  • Here’s the best part. Let’s say I buy one of these snippets, then start thinking the tape is a fake and sue Master Tape Collection. My case would depend on being able to prove the tape is fake. Where’s the evidence of the tape’s authenticity? Spread all over the world in two-inch segments. The opinion of the company’s tape authenticators will stand as the only opinion ever about the tape’s authenticity, because nobody else will ever be able to inspect the whole thing.

What’s really shameless is that the Elvis estate issued them a license to use his name and likeness. I mean, I have nothing against them making all the money they can, but being seen as impliedly authenticating a fake tape is not good for an organization’s image.

January 26, 2004

New Email Virus

There’s a new email virus making the rounds very quickly. If you receive a message saying, in effect, “The text is improperly encoded”, don’t click the attachment. Please.

Infected machines participate in a denial-of-service attack on www.sco.com, the company many geeks now loathe more than any other for these reasons. Pretty dumb; what do they think they’re going to accomplish? Darl’s all of a sudden going to back off? I can’t imagine this will help the good guys, and I expect SCO will put out a press release headlined something like, “Linux Developers Release Virus; Infringes SCO’s Methods And Concepts”.

Update: Symantec has extracted a list of keywords (scroll down a bit) that, if found in an email address, will cause the worm not to send the virus to that address. I don’t like the looks of this. Random script kiddies or bad guys in second-world virus labs generally don’t specifically include code making sure the RFC editor doesn’t get the worm, or that it doesn’t get sent to isi.edu. This looks like the work of a first-world Slashdot reader, probably in the United States, judging from the keywords. It’s sad to see one of one’s own go bad . . .

January 24, 2004

Best Western . . . The Geek’s Choice

By September 1st, every Best Western in the country will have free high-speed Internet access, both Ethernet in the rooms and wireless in the lobby.

Smart move. As I’ve mentioned before, providing free wireless Internet access is a cheap amenity that creates a lot of customer value. Perhaps this move will spur other hotel chains to deploy free wireless.

This is likely to be revolutionary for my Dad, a labor arbitrator who often has hearings in small-town Wisconsin. Not every little town has an Internet cafe, but every little town has a Best Western.

Via BoingBoing.

NYT Magazine on the “Free Culture Movement”

Tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine has this piece on the current battles over copyright and their implications for the future of our culture.

While the American copyright system was designed to encourage innovation, it is now, they contend, being used to squelch it. They see themselves as fighting for a traditional understanding of intellectual property in the face of a radical effort to turn copyright law into a tool for hoarding ideas. ”The notion that intellectual property rights should never expire, and works never enter the public domain — this is the truly fanatical and unconstitutional position,” says Jonathan Zittrain, a co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, the intellectual hub of the Copy Left.

I especially like Professor Boyle’s analogy at the end of the article:

The future of the Copy Left’s efforts is still an open question. James Boyle has likened the movement’s efforts to establish a cultural commons to those of the environmental movement in its infancy. Like Rachel Carson in the years before Earth Day, the Copy Left today is trying to raise awareness of the intellectual ”land” to which they believe we ought to feel entitled and to propose policies and laws that will preserve it. Just as the idea of environmentalism became viable in the wake of the last century’s advances in industrial production, the growth of this century’s information technologies, Boyle argues, will force the country to address the erosion of the cultural commons. ”The environmentalists helped us to see the world differently,” he writes, ”to see that there was such a thing as ‘the environment’ rather than just my pond, your forest, his canal. We need to do the same thing in the information environment. We have to ‘invent’ the public domain before we can save it.”

Is The Future of Ideas our Silent Spring?

January 21, 2004

532 Does in the Crosshairs

The RIAA has filed John Doe lawsuits against 532 alleged file-swapppers. Because they can no longer subpoena subscriber information indiscriminately, they have to file suit against “the guy with IP x.x.x.x” instead, then get their hands on the person’s real name later on.

UPDATE: The RIAA has posted a sample complaint here. There’s nothing terribly surprising or interesting in the complaint, or any assertions that are facially false. One shaky bit, in the Venue paragraph, is the assertion that, “Although the true identity of each Defendant is unknown to Plaintiffs at this time, on information and belief, each Defendant may be found in this District and/or a substantial part of the acts of infringement complained of herein occurred in this District.” I don’t think they have much basis for this claim. The defendants’ ISPs’ headquarters are in the District in which the suit was filed, but that doesn’t mean any of the infringing acts took place there. This is far from fatal to the suit (venue problems are not going to get these thrown out with prejudice, especially when the identities of the defendants are unknown), but it’s certainly a bit curious.

The other interesting bit is that the RIAA is requesting rather broad injunctive relief in addition to statutory damages. I suppose, were I the RIAA, I would “ask for the world” in my complaint, too, whether or not it trampled fair use rights or ran the risk of sending people to jail for making a mix CD for their friends.

If this strategy turns up the true names of the defendants (and there’s no reason to believe it won’t), here’s hoping they ended up suing someone they shouldn’t have, like Norm Coleman or Fred von Lohmann or some well-funded, trigger-happy trial lawyer with a lot of time on his hands. It would be difficult to put that cat back in the bag.

January 20, 2004

Another Loser From SCO

. . . this time, in state court!

SCO filed yet another lawsuit today, this time against Novell, claiming common law slander of title. In Utah, “[t]o prove slander of title, a claimant must prove that (1) there was a publication of a slanderous statement disparaging claimant’s title, (2) the statement was false, (3) the statement was made with malice, and (4) the statement caused actual or special damages.” First Sec. Bank of Utah, N.A. v. Banberry Crossing, 780 P.2d 1253 (Utah 1989).

So they’re going to have to prove not only that they own the UNIX System V copyrights free of any claim by Novell (which is currently a hotly contested issue, turning on a few ambiguous phrases in a contract), but also that Novell’s statements were made with malice. This is not a winner. But, it’ll provide an amusing sideshow.

Googlefight

I’m amusing myself with Googlefight. If you have 5 minutes to kill, I recommend it highly. Some of the outcomes are expected, some aren’t.

January 19, 2004

Poor Mike Rowe. Poor Slashdot.

Mike Rowe is a 17-year-old high schooler from Canada who likes to program. He’s posted some of his programs on his web site, mikerowesoft.com. So Microsoft is getting ready to sue or UDRP him to take away his domain name. Fine. Microsoft is their trademark, and there are a dozen cases (at least in the U.S.) holding that there is a likelihood of confusion between sound-alikes and the real trademark. (E.g., if I call my soft drink Khokha Kholla, that’s confusingly similar to Coca-Cola.) They’ll sue or UDRP, he’ll raise the defense that it’s his own name forchrissakes, and the tribunal will decide one way or the other.

The real travesty here is that some key news outlets on intellectual property issues — Slashdot and the Register — haven’t mastered the rudimentary distinction between copyright law and trademark law. The Slashdot headline is “Microsoft to sue Mike Rowe for Copyrights”; The Register states that “The Beast of Redmond however reckons that the phonetic domain infringes its copyright and insists Mike hand it over or face the consequences.”

For those snoozing in the back: Trademarks are names or other signifiers used to indicate the origin of goods or services. Copyrights protect original works of authorship, and the copyright office has ruled that titles, company names, and short phrases are not eligible for copyright protection. Yes, there’s some overlap — companies can hold a copyright in their logo, for example, over which they also have trademark protection. But you can’t copyright your name (despite what some criminals with too much time on their hands think), and you can’t trademark the text of your novel.

The copyright industries’ “reeducation campaigns” are occasionally scary (e.g., encouraging kindergarteners to put a little (c) on their drawings). But I think even basic understanding of how IP laws work is too rare, and should be taught somewhere along the line. Maybe it can be part of the media literacy curriculum.

January 17, 2004

Happy Betamax Day!

On this day in 1984, the United States Supreme Court ruled that manufacturers of devices with substantial noninfringing uses would not be liable for consumers’ use of the devices to infringe copyrights. The Guardian has a good piece on the anniversary.

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.

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