November 30, 2002

Michael Jackson's nose

There's an unflattering photo of Michael Jackson making the rounds, where it looks like his nose has collapsed. It's indeed a weird-looking photo. But nobody seems to have pointed out that very prosaically, a close look seems to indicate it's merely that he has TWO pieces of tape on his nose. One short piece going down vertically, and over that short piece, a longer horizontal piece running across his face (and partially covering the short vertical piece). The pointed, collapsed, end, in the photograph is just the square end of the vertical piece being folded together and then pressed-down on the end of his nose.

Try it with a Band-Aid. That pointed end is clearly what happens when the ends of the tape are pinched together. It just looks like a part of his nose, because the color the tape is close to the color of his skin (assuming the latter term has any meaning these days).

Not that Jackson hasn't undergone extensive, err, bodily modification. So it seems he was at the tail end of losing some face. But give the guy a break. How pretty would you look, while in court for being sued, and not fully recovered from surgery (albeit cosmetic surgery)?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo | on November 30, 2002 10:22 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 29, 2002

Underwriting content?

I saw an interesting proposal today about funding creative works via underwriting content. Hmm. There might be something here. Not a tip-jar. Rather, along the lines of announcements of "This program was brought to you by ...". Currently, only fairly large corporations can do that. But there might indeed be some value in making it available cheaper. That is, having classical artist patronage, but at a more affordable level. Tip jars and donations rely mostly on altruism which has some limitations. But underwriting is advertising of a gentle sort, which is not entirely altruistic. Hmm ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on November 29, 2002 09:06 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 28, 2002

Alice's DMCA?

I started to write one of the parodies of Alice's Restaurant, but I didn't feel inspired to do pages and pages of it. This was the initial paragraph:

And I, I walked over to the, to the bench there, and there is, Group W's where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the Total Information Agency after committing your special computer crime, and there was all kinds of mean nasty ugly looking people on the bench there. Viagra spammers. Credit-card crackers. Relay-rapers! Relay-rapers sitting right there on the bench next to me! And they was mean and nasty and ugly and horrible cracker-type guys sitting on the bench next to me. And the meanest, ugliest, nastiest one, the meanest relay-raper of them all, was coming over to me and he was mean 'n' ugly 'n' nasty 'n' horrible and all kind of things and he sat down next to me and said, "Kid, whad'ya get?" I said, "I didn't get nothing, I had to pay $500,000 and take down the hyperlink." He said, "What were you arrested for, kid?" And I said, "Circumvention." And they all moved away from me on the bench there, and the hairy eyeball and all kinds of mean nasty things, till I said, "And violating a shrinkwrap license". And they all came back, shook my hand, and we had a great time on the bench, talkin about spamming, credit-card cracking, relay-raping, all kinds of groovy things that we was talking about on the bench. ...

... And friends, they may think it's a movement. ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on November 28, 2002 04:37 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 27, 2002

DMCA, more on substantial non-infringing use

Further on the frequently-seen DMCA and substantial non-infringing use argument, this passage from the eBooks ruling should be studied (emphasis added);

The inescapable conclusion from the statutory language adopted by Congress and the legislative history discussed above is that Congress sought to ban all circumvention tools because most of the time those tools would be used to infringe a copyright. Thus, while it is not unlawful to circumvent [ed note - ONLY "rights" restrictions] for the purpose of engaging in fair use, it is unlawful to traffic in tools that allow fair use circumvention. That is part of the sacrifice Congress was willing to make in order to protect against unlawful piracy and promote the development of electronic commerce and the availability of copyrighted material on the Internet.

Accordingly, there is no ambiguity in what tools are allowed and what tools are prohibited because the statute bans trafficking in or the marketing of all circumvention devices. Moreover, because all circumvention tools are banned, it was not necessary for Congress to expressly tie the use of the tool to an unlawful purpose in order to distinguish lawful tools from unlawful ones. Thus, the multi-use device authorities cited by defendant, such as the statutes and case law addressing burglary tools and drug paraphernalia, offer defendant no refuge. The law, as written, allows a person to conform his or her conduct to a comprehensible standard and is thus not unconstitutionally vague.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , dmca , legal | on November 27, 2002 08:49 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups

The Slashdot Defect

Edward Felten decries an inaccurate Slashdot comment receiving a high score:

In theory, Slashdot's collective moderation process is supposed to weed out ill-informed postings by downgrading their scores; but in practice that doesn't happen as often as one would like.

The problem here is the difference between what is correct and what is popular. This aspect of the scoring system is well-known, even legendary (sigh ... there goes any of my possible newfound respectability).

The system is a vote (with editors sometimes stuffing the ballot-boxes, but that's a whole different topic, some other time ...). There's some attempt to weed-out bad voters, but above-average intelligence, much less topical expertise, is not a particular qualification. It's almost a study in partially (not fully) democratic voting-theory. That is, confident, appealing "candidates" (posts) often do reasonably well, even if they're not particularly right.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo | on November 27, 2002 08:41 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 26, 2002

DMCA and substantial non-infringing use

I've noticed in some of the DMCA-exemption discussions, that one of the very first things people tend to do is basically re-invent the "capable of substantial non-infringing use" argument - that is, if something has any use at all which is non-infringing, that should dominate. This has been thought-of before, and addressed. The principles are worthy, but arguing it as just as theory isn't so simple. It's very important to read what has gone before, in the 2000 DMCA rulemaking results (emphasis added) :

Proponents of such an exemption make two related arguments. First, some commenters argue that using Section 1201(a)(1) to prohibit circumvention of access controls on works that are primarily factual, or in the public domain, bootstraps protection for material that otherwise would be outside the scope of protection. It would, in effect, create legal protection for even the uncopyrightable elements of the database, and go beyond the scope of what Section 1201(a)(1) was meant to cover. An exemption for these kinds of works, proponents argue, is necessary to preserve an essential element of the copyright balance `` that copyright does not protect facts, U.S. government works, or other works in the public domain. Without such an exemption, users will be legally prevented from circumventing access controls to, and subsequently making noninfringing uses of, material unprotected by copyright.


On the record developed in this proceeding, the need for such an exemption has not been demonstrated. First, although proponents argue that 1201(a)(1)(A) bootstraps protection for uncopyrightable elements in copyrightable databases, the copyrightable elements in databases and compilations usually create significant added value. Indeed, in most cases the uncopyrightable material is available elsewhere in ``raw'' form, but it is the inclusion of that material in a copyrightable database that renders it easier to use. Search engines, headnotes, selection, and arrangement, far from being a thin addition to the database, are often precisely the elements that database users utilize, and which make the database the preferred means to access and use the uncopyrightable material it contains. Because it is the utility of those added features that most users wish to access, it is appropriate to protect them under Section 1201(a)(1)(A). Moreover, all copyrightable works are likely to contain some uncopyrightable elements, factual or otherwise. This does not undermine their protection under copyright or under 1201(a)(1)(A). [footnote] \8\

[footnote] \8\ One commenter suggested an exemption for ``compilations and other works that incorporate works in the public domain, unless the compilation or work was marked in such a way as to allow identification of public domain elements and separate circumvention of the technological measures that controlled access to those elements.'' PH4 (Ginsburg). While this approach could address some of the concerns raised by proponents, it is unclear whether it would be technologically feasible for copyright owners to implement. Furthermore, as discussed below, the Register has not yet been presented with evidence that there have been or are likely to be adverse impacts in this area.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , dmca , legal | on November 26, 2002 09:05 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 25, 2002

How To Win (DMCA) Exemptions And Influence Policy

Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2002 08:07:11 -0800
From: Lee Tien
Subject: guide to DMCA "exemption" process -- 3 weeks left
To: Law & Policy of Computer Communications

EFF is pleased to present a guide to the DMCA "exemption" process.

Under this process, the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress must make a triennial inquiry regarding adverse effects of the DMCA's prohibition on circumvention on "certain classes of works."

If adverse effects are shown, the office can "exempt certain classes of works from the prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works." The exemptions only last 3 years.

The author, Seth Finkelstein, is one of the very few people who succeeded in arguing for an exemption (for the act of circumventing access/copy controls on censorware blacklists) in the last round (2000). [The Copyright Office received many comments and rejected the overwhelming majority of them; I think in the end only 2 or 3 exemptions were created.]

The upcoming round is the next one, for 2003. "Written comments are due by December 18, 2002."

This is about the only part of the DMCA that can mitigate its fell sway, so if you have any interest in the topic at all, it's well worth reading.

Lee Tien
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism , censorware , copyblight , dmca , infothought , legal | on November 25, 2002 11:41 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (0) | Followups
November 24, 2002

DMCA and criminal penalties

I've been looking into the criminal penalties section of the DMCA. This is scary stuff. You do NOT have to be a big-time infringement business to trigger criminal liability in modern copyright law (as most famously demonstrated by Dmitry Sklyarov) . In fact, it's surprisingly easy.

From the Department of Justice Criminal Resource Manual:

Copyright Infringement -- Fourth Element -- Commercial Advantage or Private Financial Gain (emphasis added)

It is a common misconception that if infringers fail to charge subscribers a monetary fee for infringing copies, they cannot be held to have engaged in criminal copyright infringement. It is the position of the Department that the term "for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain" does not require the payment in money for the infringing works, but includes payment by trading anything of value for them. Thus, when "bartering" (i.e., the practice of exchanging infringing works for other infringing works) results in the unauthorized dissemination of substantial amounts of infringing product without recompense to the copyright holders, prosecution appears to be fully consistent with the purposes of the criminal copyright statute.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca , legal | on November 24, 2002 11:51 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 23, 2002

Lawrence Lessig quote on DMCA

This says it all:

"But we're in a world where disobedience is treated with felony convictions. The idea that you are going to get lots of civil disobedience against the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is just crazy. You're going to get lots of prosecutions and people going away to jail."

-- Lawrence Lessig, Reason interview

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca , quotes | on November 23, 2002 05:25 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 22, 2002

Curmudgeonness on "Revenge of the Blog"

I started reading the commentary for the Revenge of the Blog Conference. Frankly, and no offense to the blog-star panel, I started to overdose very quickly. I had too much deja vu and bad flashbacks, from the days when the magical Internet was going to equalize us all.

The basics: If you're a professional talker, that is a journalist, some lawyers, some policy-makers, and a new punditry tool appears, this leads to more commentary. And some people are well-positioned to take advantage of this new ecological niche, and prosper in it. This leads to much ponderous pontification of What It All Means, which is of course - more punditry, on punditry, which is a favorite subject of punditry.

I saw this happen with mailing lists and Usenet. It came around again at the start of the World-Wide-Web. There was some of it for Internet-Relay-Chat. There was was another iteration when "virtual communities" were all the rage. And now it's come around to blogs.

Let me say again, there's nothing wrong with a profound navel-gaze of The Meaning Of It All. I just couldn't bear to read much of it, since I'd read it all so many times before in the past decade.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , infothought | on November 22, 2002 09:30 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 21, 2002

DMCA and leveraged Denial-Of-Service attacks

There's been much news about the DMCA being used to take-down leaked advertisements, by claiming the prices are copyrighted/trade secrets. Recently, I've been working on DMCA exemptions, so the following passage from the 2000 rulemaking results is fresh in my mind:

A related worry of commenters is that, in practice, section 1201(a)(1) will be used to ``lock up'' works unprotected by copyright. They predict that compilers of factual databases will have an incentive to impose a thin veneer of copyright on a database, by adding, for example, some graphics or an introduction, and thus take unfair advantage of the protection afforded by Section 1201. In addition, they fear that access to works such as databases, encyclopedias, and statistical reports, which are a mainstay of the educational and library communities, will become increasingly and prohibitively expensive. On the record developed in this proceeding, the need for such an exemption has not been demonstrated.


... the fear that 1201(a)(1)(A) will disadvantage users by ``locking up'' uncopyrightable material, while understandable, does not seem to be borne out in the record of this proceeding. Commenters have not provided evidence that uncopyrightable material is becoming more expensive or difficult to access since the enactment of Section 1201, nor have they shown that works of minimal copyright authorship are being attached to otherwise unprotectible material to take advantage of the 1201 prohibitions.

Now, the take-downs are not the same DMCA section. But I was struck by the fact that it is roughly the same problem. There are gradations in copyright, which matter in fair-use. But by, err, "circumventing" fair-use, the DMCA does away with all the balancing. All one needs now is the thinnest of copyright, e.g. pricing data or annotations - and the full fury of the DMCA can then be brought to bear.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on November 21, 2002 11:51 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 20, 2002

YesterDMCA, a DMCA song

Many people have heard Jonathan Watterson's DMCA song, based on the Village People "YMCA" hit. Today, suffering from DMCA immersion, I was inspired to compose my own doggerel, based on the song "Yesterday"

With apologies to Yesterday by John Lennon and Paul McCartney:

a parody by Seth Finkelstein

Algorithms programmed in any way
Now it looks as though there's liabilit-ay
And, it's 'cause of the D-M-C-A

I'm not allowed to speak in C
There's a shadow hanging over me
Oh how D-M-C-A makes silence be

How some bits do flow, you can't know,
We couldn't say
I said something wrong
now I'm among, law D-M-C-A-ay-ay-ay

"code" was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
And, it's 'cause of the D-M-C-A

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on November 20, 2002 07:23 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 19, 2002

DMCA Rulemaking - GroundHog Day

Today is the DMCA Rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works day, which is the day we can start to apply for DMCA exemptions.

This is akin to a cross between Groundhog Day (the movie), and a leap year. That is, this day comes around every three years, but we have to go through everything we went through three years ago in terms of DMCA exemptions. I mean this part of the procedure (emphasis added):

There is a presumption that the prohibition will apply to any and all classes of works, including those as to which an exemption of applicability was previously in effect, unless a new showing is made that an exemption is warranted. ... Exemptions are reviewed de novo and prior exemptions will expire unless the case is made in the rulemaking proceeding that the prohibition has or will more likely than not have an adverse effect on noninfringing uses. A prior argument that resulted in an exemption may be less persuasive within the context of the marketplace in the next 3-year period.

But here if the Library of Congress doesn't see a shadow ("cannot be based on speculation alone"), we get more winter (as in chilling effects).

More on this topic in the future.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on November 19, 2002 11:52 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 18, 2002 - linking lunacy

One more item on dot-kidding: Consider the requirement of no outside links:

`(11) Written agreements with registrars, which shall require registrars to enter into written agreements with registrants, to prohibit hyperlinks in the new domain that take new domain users outside of the new domain.

( Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002)

Besides being redundant (if one is already restricted to the sandbox, why prohibit hyperlinks?), there is a very deep problem here. Are they really saying that there is a profound difference between

"See the material at"


"See the material at (which is located at , as you have probably figured out, but is not a hyperlink, because if we made a hyperlink to we'd be violating our contract, so we can't make a hyperlink to"

Either they end up meaning "no URLs", which is even sillier, or we have a profound problem of not understanding that hyperlinks are nothing more than convenient references. That is, if the exact same reference is acceptable as long as it is not a "hyperlink", that seems to defeat the purpose.

I suppose none of the sites will be able to run common mailing-list or groups/bboard software which tends to turn URLs into hyperlinks.

Maybe it'll be like curse words, e.g. "s*cks" (umm, how many asterisks are going to be needed to be OK?). We can have http://p**f*r*.*rg

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 18, 2002 11:42 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 17, 2002 - a simple demonstration of the problem

Here's a simple way to demonstrate why the "" domain is not a panacea. Consider the standard given in the Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002.

(5) SUITABLE FOR MINORS- The term `suitable for minors' means, with respect to material, that it--

`(A) is not psychologically or intellectually inappropriate for minors; and
`(B) serves--
`(i) the educational, informational, intellectual, or cognitive needs of minors; or
`(ii) the social, emotional, or entertainment needs of minors.'.

Now, the question: Does the book Heather Has Two Mommies meet this standard? Think about the implications.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 17, 2002 11:51 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 16, 2002

I've watched some of the hoopla over a supposed domain, the Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002.

Blather, blather:

To facilitate the creation of a new, second-level Internet domain within the United States country code domain that will be a haven for material that promotes positive experiences for children and families using the Internet, provides a safe online environment for children, and helps to prevent children from being exposed to harmful material on the Internet, and for other purposes.

The concept can be condensed down to one basic idea, that the US government will certify sites as OK-for-minors. There is no need to have this certification as a domain name. It could be done just as well with a simple list of US government certified OK-for-minors sites, and that would be vastly simpler to administer.

The dirty little secret of this boondoggle is as follows:


Almost nobody wants "whitelists". Whitelists have been around for years and years and years. I could write pages on this history of the idea. Just think about the basics. It's not like the concept just now occurred to people.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 16, 2002 11:53 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 15, 2002

Updated Censorware Report - BESS's Secret LOOPHOLE

From: Seth Finkelstein
To: Seth Finkelstein's InfoThought list
Subject: IT: Updated Censorware Report - BESS's Secret LOOPHOLE
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2002 06:21:18 -0500

It's been in the news recently that the Supreme Court has decided to review the decision where the Federal censorware law "CIPA" was struck down for libraries. See the information at

So I've revised and updated an anticensorware report of mine: BESS's Secret LOOPHOLE: (censorware vs. privacy and anonymity):

This report described a then-secret category, which could never be unbanned, in the censorware program BESS (BESS is made and marketed by the company N2H2). A LOOPHOLE turned out to be anything which let a reader view material prohibited by censorware - such as anonymizer/privacy sites, language translation sites, even sites which helped people check the design of their web pages. All of these sites were banned, at all times, even though they had no pornography or sometimes any content objectionable at all. They were forbidden themselves simply because the services the sites provided could be used to read forbidden material.

In this update, I've added new examples, such as a site which gives the general service of allowing people to edit any image file (since that service can be used to retrieve image files, it's banned).

The report has also been revised with more discussion of the legal implications of this banning, including mentions of my report in expert-witness testimony in the CIPA case, and discussion in the lower-court decision which struck down the law.

Almost all news reports describe censorware in terms of filtering out pornography. But that is not accurate, as it focuses only on presumably objectionable material. Censorware is about controlling what people are allowed to read. That's a profoundly different problem. And so far the courts have grasped the implications, that such control requires vast banning to even attempt to be effective. I hope the courts will continue to maintain that banning anonymity, privacy, language translation, and so on, in order to make sure no-one can read prohibited material, is thoroughly against the Constitution.

Infothought mailing list

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 15, 2002 06:36 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 14, 2002

N2H2 (censorware company) not quite yet bankrupt

A few people have been speculating over the prospects of censorware company N2H2, wondering over the exact time they will run out of money. Their "Book Value", as I write this, is negative, and their stock price isn't worth a cup of coffee per share. It isn't even worth a can of soda per share. It's just about the penny-gumball range.

Well, today they released their most recent financial results:

N2H2 Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2002 Financial Results; Generates $1.9 Million in Positive Cash Flow.

But ...

Net loss for the quarter was $1.8 million, a 74 percent reduction from the net loss for the fourth quarter of 2001. Net loss for the year was $6.6 million, an 81 percent reduction from the previous year's net loss of $35.5 million.

The deathwatch continues ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 14, 2002 11:56 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 13, 2002

Supreme Court to review CIPA (censorware law)

[This is a well-reported item, but I believe I have something valuable to say, per below]

As reported in many standard places. the Supreme Court has decided to review the CIPA case, concerning the Federal law which links library funding to mandatory censorware.

By the way, it's important to keep in mind that while almost all news coverage will tout this as filtering pornography, censorware also usually bans anonymizers, language translations sites, google caches , even the archive WayBack Machine. This is because sites such represent a threat, a LOOPHOLE in censorware's control. This overbroadness has been a factor in the CIPA decision.

Update Nov 15: I've revised and updated the report

It now has revised and updated examples of LOOPHOLE sites, as well as containing the various mentions of the topic in the CIPA case.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , legal | on November 13, 2002 03:49 AM | (Infothought permalink)
November 12, 2002

Copyright And Culture Forum Quotes

The audio for the recent MIT copyright and culture forum is now available

I transcribed a few of my favorite quotes (I was there)

Siva Vaidhyanathan:

"Even though dozens of young lawyers and law students were writing about rap sampling, most of them hadn't a clue about how the music actually works" (12:20)

"It seemed to me that this is the sort of use, the sort of transgressive use, without permission, often in a very critical way, that American culture supports, celebrates, rewards. But apparently American law had a big problem with it." (13:15)

Jonathan Zittrain:

"If you substitute the words "garbage heap" for public domain, you get the sense of what they're figuring when something loses it's copyright." (43:07)

(about the movie It's A Wonderful Life being rerun so many times since it's in the public domain)
"Which actually led Judge Posner to write an article saying that copyright is good, because it prevents us from getting sick of things by restricting their availability. I'm getting somewhat sick of Judge Posner, but that's OK." (44:18)

And I (Seth Finkelstein) can be heard asking a question from the audience:

"Given that we've talked about what the problem is, what do you think are the best ways to get to the result that we want to have?" (1:23:46)

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , quotes | on November 12, 2002 03:59 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 11, 2002

The Spam Magic Word - "Viagra"

Amusing - in SpamAssassin (version 2.31) the word "viagra" - just mentioning the word, anywhere at all in a message - is almost enough by itself. to have a message marked as spam at default testing levels. The word 'casino' isn't as bad, but still problematic.

Now let's see if anything happens to this blog item ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in spam | on November 11, 2002 11:55 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 10, 2002

More SpamAssassin, example problem in Telecom digest

I've spent around a third of a day in various volunteer investigations of why some mail gets mistakenly flagged as spam by SpamAssassin. I've done this before, in entries such as SpamAssassin and Crypto-Gram. and SpamAssassin and Michael Moore's latest mailing, And I'm not finished today. In lieu of yet one more analysis, I'll point people to another case, of SpamAssassin and Telecom digest.

Now, SpamAssassin is not a bad tool. Its very openness is one reason someone at least has a fighting change of figuring out what it is doing.

And I've also spent around another third of a day arguing with someone about spammers and free-speech (putting forth the viewpoint that spammers take too much advantage of civil-libertarians). Another drain. Spam is like locusts, it destroys the environment, via a plague.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in spam | on November 10, 2002 11:55 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 09, 2002

Issac Asimov quote about Libertarianism

I've been reading parts of Isaac Asimov's memoir I. Asimov, and this quote caught my eye (page 308):

He always pictured himself a libertarian, which to my way of thinking means ``I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to starve''. It's easy to believe that no one should depend on society for help when you yourself happen not to need such help.

Quite so. One reason why I say Libertarianism Makes You Stupid.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in quotes | on November 09, 2002 11:48 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 08, 2002

Fritz's Hit List, my intended contribution

Ed Felten has put Fritz's Hit List. on hiatus. Though I didn't think it was a killer argument, per discussion, again, it was fun. So I'll note what I sent in as my suggestion, just for amusement:

The Furby

From the famous NSA "Furby Alert":

As harried parents scrambled in the weeks before Christmas to get their hands on these homely, high-tech cyberpets that supposedly repeat what they hear, the supersecret spy agency put out a "Furby Alert" on its internal intranet in early December and banned the Furby from Fort Meade.

"Personally owned photographic, video and audio recording equipment are prohibited items. This includes toys, such as 'Furbys,' with built-in recorders that repeat the audio with synthesized sound to mimic the original signal," the Furby Alert warned NSA workers. "We are prohibited from introducing these items into NSA spaces. Those who have should contact their Staff Security Officer for guidance."

And when you think about it, the NSA is right. It's funny to think of state secrets being smuggled out in a Furby. But, the incongruity doesn't mean it couldn't happen.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on November 08, 2002 10:52 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 07, 2002

Copyright And Culture Forum

I was at the copyright and culture forum, the talk mentioned today in copyfight and furdlog. I'm not going to attempt to summarize it. The speakers were great, the discussion was excellent, the topic was timely, etc.

Instead, I'm going to write about what was on my mind as I listened, and what I asked: What's the optimum strategy for effective change? I'm awed by the amount of money on the copyright-control side. And they have lawyers too, in fact more of them, and can pay them higher fees.

The answer (from the speakers) seemed to be about working on several fronts: popular organizing, lobbying, public litigation, and technical innovation.

That was good as far as it went. I kept hearing in my mind a lot of echoes from the old "crypto wars" (the right to use encryption). That was mostly won, by a combination of lobbying/litigating over technology. Of course, as I try to make people aware, the legal grounds there were "national security" rather than "property". And that's a world of difference.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on November 07, 2002 07:20 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 06, 2002

ACM DRM Workshop

From James S. Tyre :

[dvd-discuss] ACM DRM Workshop

To: dvd-discuss(at)
Subject: [dvd-discuss] ACM DRM Workshop
From: "James S. Tyre" <jstyre(at)>
Date: Wed, 06 Nov 2002 17:24:14 -0800

Just FYI, the ACM DRM Workshop is upcoming. (Most) all of the papers to be presented can be downloaded now from the Workshop's site, Many sound interesting, but I've only read one so far, and it is worth reading:

3:50pm - 4:15 The darknet and the future of content distribution
P. Biddle, P. England, M. Peinado, and B. Willman (Microsoft Corporation)

James S. Tyre mailto:jstyre(at)
Law Offices of James S. Tyre 310-839-4114/310-839-4602(fax)
10736 Jefferson Blvd., #512 Culver City, CA 90230-4969
Co-founder, The Censorware Project

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on November 06, 2002 10:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 05, 2002

Richard Stallman essay: Words To Avoid

Richard Stallman has an essay Words To Avoid which should be better-known. It make many interesting points about the implications of certain terms. For example:

`Digital Rights Management''

``Digital Rights Management'' software is actually designed to impose restrictions on computer users. The use of the word ``rights'' in this term is propaganda, designed to lead you unawares into seeing the issue from the viewpoint of the few that impose the restrictions, while ignoring that of the many whom the restrictions are imposed on.

Good alternatives include ``Digital Restrictions Management'' and ``handcuffware.''


`Intellectual property''

Publishers and lawyers like to describe copyright as ``intellectual property.'' This term carries a hidden assumption---that the most natural way to think about the issue of copying is based on an analogy with physical objects, and our ideas of them as property.

But this analogy overlooks the crucial difference between material objects and information: information can be copied and shared almost effortlessly, while material objects can't be. Basing your thinking on this analogy is tantamount to ignoring that difference.

It's interesting reading.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on November 05, 2002 11:36 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 04, 2002

Amy Wohl, blacklists, and spam-wars

I read about Amy Wohl's spam blacklisting troubles from Ed Felten's blog item, and, curiously, started digging into the problem (forget about Declan's spam troubles in that item, he can take care of himself). I started writing a letter about it, but soon realized that much of what I had to say in a technical sense had already been said in other's comments (see particularly Paul Verhelst's message) .

It's amazingly hard for an ordinary person, or even a skilled person without specialization in spam, to figure out what's going on in these cases. Here, what happened is that the ISP ( which sends out Wohl's newsletter apparently is also suspected of sending spam mailings, and thus blacklisted. So while her newsletter isn't spam, the same mailing service is allegedly a spam source. So some receiving ISPs drop everything coming from that sending ISP (ie. won't receive any mail from, whether it's spam or not). It was not trivial to figure out this even was the issue, before even thinking about what one should do about it.

Worse, a volunteer service which just provides information on some spam blacklists (and more),, got blamed by mistake for supposedly being the provider of the blacklists.

That's a half-page just slogging through the basics. I think I've got it all correct, but I'm not 100% sure.

Sigh. I keep telling myself: Stay out of the spam-wars. I did my service to the Net, got the scars for my medal, doing any more battles will likely not be good for me.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in spam | on November 04, 2002 01:45 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups

Digital-Rights-Management / Newspeak article

I've adapted some earlier entries on the subject of Digital-Rights-Management matching Newspeak, into a small stand-alone essay on my site. This is now being run in this month's edition of the webzine Ethical Spectacle. Note Lawmeme also liked the idea.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , infothought | on November 04, 2002 09:33 AM | (Infothought permalink)
November 03, 2002

Dr. Dobbs Python-URL! newsletter and Spam Detection

It seems the October 28 Dr. Dobbs Python-URL! (a newsletter about the scripting language Python) is getting marked as spam, according to one netnews posting

I haven't verified this myself, but as a guess, I can conjecture in part why (emphasis added):

Grab an interpreter (it's free), fire up an interactive Python shell, and start playing with the tutorial of your choice (also free). That's the fastest way to get answers to your questions you'll believe. You'll like the answer you discover-unless you're an idiot [wink]." - Tim Peters

I've seen similar examples earlier.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in spam | on November 03, 2002 03:43 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 02, 2002

This is NOT about the Microsoft Decision

The Microsoft Decision is upon us. I'm not adding my two bits. Forget it. I do read through legal decisions at times, because I like original source documents. But I'm not going to slog through 344 pages and try to find something to say about it, something which hasn't already been said elsewhere by pundits with far more of an audience than me. In fact, I've probably got a better chance of attracting any notice by writing that I'm not writing about it.

Read Lawmeme's coverage summary

Actually, Lawmeme has lots of coverage itself

The story on has a phrase worth noting:

Talking heads and typing fingers with little or no understanding of this technology will be orally menstruating their half-cocked and half-cooked ideas everywhere you turn.

That's an odd way of putting things, but the idea is clear. I refuse to add to the plague of punditry here.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo | on November 02, 2002 08:06 PM | (Infothought permalink)
November 01, 2002

Musing on a conference proposal: A DMCA Speech-In?

I was trying to generate a good proposal for the 13th Annual Conference on Computers, Freedom & Privacy. Last time around, I sent in an idea about a tutorial to evaluate censorware, but that didn't make the cut. Maybe I'll renew that proposal. But I was trying to come up with something more intriguing. It's a hard process though, since the idea would need to be "edgy", without having sufficient liability to be cutting oneself to pieces. And it's sometimes not clear when one is on the bleeding edge (and about to be cut to ribbons).

I think the fundamental suppressive strategy of the DMCA is more solid than some would grant. It's classic - pick off the "ringleaders" (here, the programmers or professors) with legal liability, and no matter how much noise is made by everyone else, choking that bottleneck works. Some people get to be celebrities or niche-celebrities. But as I recall from a book discussing legal cases against activists, it's important to keep in mind that there's not much celebrity to go around.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on November 01, 2002 09:06 AM | (Infothought permalink)