June 30, 2005

"Who -- and Where -- are the New Media Gatekeepers?" - IEEE DSO

Greg Goth, "Who -- and Where -- are the New Media Gatekeepers?"
IEEE Distributed Systems Online, vol. 6, no. 7, 2005.
http://dsonline.computer.org/portal/site/dsonline/index.jsp? pageID=dso_level1_article&TheCat=&path=dsonline/0507&file=o7003.xml

The questions surrounding who will ensure that online information remains accessible and authoritative have received much attention in recent months. Concerns range from European unease that a new book digitization partnership might result in an American-skewed repository of digital books, to apprehension over the Chinese government's near-ubiquitous control of search engines and Web sites. This debate over ensuring freedom of access and accuracy of information -- and who will assume the role of gatekeeper -- has raised old problems in new technological contexts.

I'm quoted:

How effective the unofficial bloggers' efforts will be in maintaining a window into China is a matter of debate among Western China-watchers. Longtime blogger and anticensorship activist Seth Finkelstein doubts that blogs alone will significantly alter the Chinese power structure.

"There are always people who win some victories under the present system, but I'm very much against technological determinism -- the idea that blogs are going to overthrow the government of China, -- Finkelstein says. "The idea that suddenly technological change will give a huge advantage to one side is [an] extremely dubious proposition."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , press | on June 30, 2005 01:00 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
June 29, 2005

Grokster aftermath

At the risk of continuing somewhat "meta" items, every time I've had the notion to write a substantive long post on the Grokster decision, it's seemed inadvisable. Remember, general blog punditry (overall, to a first approximation) selects for appeal, not accuracy. That is, barring some external constraint (e.g. newspaper journalism is to a large extent riding the coattails of a product bought for fish-wrapping and puppy-training, or at least classified ads and horoscopes), there's sadly little point to being right rather than popular.

There's a few different aspects conflicting in the overall filesharing issue:

1) Conventional music business models (copyright) are under stress from copying technology changes.

2) These changes have a positive side in new means of distribution.

3) These changes have a negative side in new means of distribution.

I doubt a Supreme Court of Solomons would be able to easily resolve all of it, especially in one case. In dealing with these changes, there are existing-company businesspeople who would reflexively do the equivalent of suppressing a cure for cancer so they could continue to sell quack medicines. There's wannabe-company businesspeople who would love to make a quick buck any way they could, and don't hesitate to wrap themselves in cause of innovation as a PR strategy. There's an army of promoters and hypesters of all stripes.

It's intellectually lazy to write "a pox on all your houses". But, on the other hand, my writing much against the conventional civil-libertarian wisdom will only get me flamed.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in misc | on June 29, 2005 11:53 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 27, 2005

Grokster and being careful what you wish for ...

[I have found something unique to post about the Grokster decision, instead of being doomed to leftover punditry!]

There's a fascinating passage in the court opinion's discussion of intent (page 7):

"StreamCast even planned to flaunt the illegal uses of its software; when it launched the OpenNap network, the chief technology officer of the company averred that "[t]he goal is to get in trouble with the law and get sued. It's the best way to get in the new[s]."

Wow. He sure got his wish! In the sense of "Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it".

It would be very interesting to see the full text of that email (it doesn't seem to be available on the free web, and I don't have access to pay legal databases). It might have been gallows humor. Then again, some naive people have seriously told me I should deliberately get myself sued, for similar reasons (I do NOT put much faith in their advice!).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on June 27, 2005 10:18 PM | (Infothought permalink)

Grokster 0-9 loss


Read it and weep:

Held: One who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirma- tive steps taken to foster infringement, going beyond mere distribu- tion with knowledge of third-party action, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties using the device, regardless of the device's lawful uses. ...

SOUTER, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. GINSBURG, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and KENNEDY, J., joined. BREYER, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which STEVENS and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined.

Let the punditry begin!

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on June 27, 2005 12:48 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 25, 2005

"Existence" vs "Constructive" Blog Punditry Standards

Ernie Miller responded to my punditry observations, and I updated my Grokster post in reply. I want to break out another part of his post for note:

Finkelstein himself is privileged when analyzing and writing about censorware. My commentaries on censorware can't touch Finkelstein's. That's a good thing. That's a reason for more people to write about what they know, in otherwords, to blog. The hard part is finding who to read when. The filters are imperfect, but the quality of material available has improved dramatically. ...

I appreciate the compliment. Unfortunately, as I have often noted (I know, _ad nauseum_ ...), to a good approximation, nobody reads my commentaries on censorware. Recently, one deep irony was that a great suggestion for getting heard in criticizing "Safe Eyes" censorware and the Consumer Reports article, was to write a letter to the editor (thanks, Lis).

The quality of material has indeed improved dramatically if you judge on "existence" - that somewhere, in the literally billions and billions of web pages in existence, there is accurate information. But given the billions of people in the world, there's almost certainly a perfect soulmate of true love for nearly everyone too. The trick is finding it, and that problem is far more than "imperfect".

Moreover, one thread which runs through my writing is that there really isn't "a reason for more people to write about what they know, in otherwords, to blog" - unless e.g. they're somehow connected to a reward system for it (granted, true of many professionals) or happy shouting to the wind (a self-delusion of many people in general). Blogging is not costless, in terms of time and effort. Volunteering is laudable, making the world a better place even in terms of information available. However, it's notably limited as a reason.

I am hereby increasing the amount of skepticism of blog evangelism on the Net. Recursively, how much good, objectively, will that do?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 25, 2005 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 23, 2005


[Note - This post isn't really about the MGM v. Grokster Supreme Court case (liability standards for Peer-To-Peer technology). It's about punditry.]

After reading the n'th post saying roughly that the Grokster case has not yet been decided, I was strongly reminded of the old Saturday Night Live running joke where a satirical news flash would report "General Franco is still dead" ("and today, in our citizen-journalist blog-correspondent legal report, the Grokster case is still undecided").

When the court's decision finally is released, to a first approximation, there can't be more than about a dozen things to say about the result. The top three being:

1) Industry wins, civil-libertarians say "Bad", analysis: Court slap "pirates".
2) Industry loses, civil-libertarians say "Good", analysis: Congress will pass new law, slap "pirates".
3) Muddled decision, Industry, civil-libertarians say "Good/Bad", analysis: Some say congress should pass new law, slap "pirates"?

All that remains is to fill in the details (the fastest pundits may have already half-written articles set to go, with just the relevant quotes to add).

So, as a matter of mathematics, the number of people trying to say something about this, vastly outnumbers the basic number of things to say. The insight of power-laws is that the distribution won't be uniform. Sure, anyone can write about it - but there isn't much of a reason to read what anyone writes. Blog-evangelists consistently neglect this factor. Not to mention the relative privilege necessary to be able to take the time to spend pouring poring over a document and writing analysis.

Which is a long-winded way of noting that after all the time I spent going over the Blizzard vs. BnetD material (which was of some personal interest), to maybe 100 extra readers (though all contributions gratefully accepted), I'd say there's little gain to be had in the punditry race if you're not already a Usual Suspect or attempting to become one.

Update , 6/24 1pm Eastern: Ernie Miller posts a response (my emphasis):

Seth Finkelstein takes an interesting and pre-emptive shot at post-Grokster commentary, claiming that there will only be one of three main story lines. For the traditional media, sure. ... [snip]

Yet the blogosphere is going to be doing something else as well. On several sites, including the Picker MobBlog and a branch off of SCOTUS Blog, you're going to have more than two dozen of the finest legal minds in the country dissect and discuss the decision in real time. Within 24 hours, many of the main legal themes, disagreements, and remaining questions will have been thoroughly analyzed.

This commentary misunderstands my main point, which is a mathematical observation on the nature of punditry, and implications thereof. I wrote "there can't be more than about a dozen things to say about the result. The top three being:". The big, mass-appeal, newspapers and TV will take the simplest view. Small specialized publications - which include blogs will go into more detailed analysis. But, for any nontrivial given scale, the total number of "worthwhile" analyses is quite small, and much less than the number of people who will write them. Hence, there is a huge imbalance - which is then resolved in a exponential distribution, with a few specialists taking the secondary slots after the bigger media takes the primary slots. And you have to be positioned to get in "[w]ithin 24 hours" to even try. Frankly, this looks very much like being an (unpaid) trade-publication reporter than anything else.

The point is hardly that specialist publications go into more detail than nonspecialist publications. But here, talk of "the blogosphere" is not useful analysis. There's levels of pundits. In fact, my view is that from a certain height of observation, this is the old regime structually (and remember, quite a few A-list bloggers are traditional media people, and the prominent specialists often have many bigger-media connections).

I highly value Miller's legal analysis. However, the structure of the distribution isn't changed - in fact, that's exactly the point. There's more overall excellent people that there are pundit-slots, and small differences (not necessarily of quality) lead to exponential curves. Hence my use of this case as a worked example.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 23, 2005 04:21 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 21, 2005

Blizzard v Bnetd Oral Argument

I listened to the oral argument for the Blizzard v BnetD case. The following are my impressions about the hearing (see also Groklaw, via Copyfight). Note for background and my perspective, I devoted the time to listen to it all, because it's necessary knowledge for my estimating the risks that I might someday be sued (I've abandoned censorware decryption research), and how such a case might evolve.

A quick summary of the issues being appealed: The programmers (of the BnetD software in the case title) violated DMCA 1201(a)(1) and DMCA 1201(a)(2) anti-circumvention provisions, the DMCA 1201(f) reverse-engineering exemption doesn't apply, shrinkwrap license prohibitions can override reverse-engineering rights.

Some people think that in complicated technical cases, the judges are idiots. But in much of the material I've read, the judges seem to have a good sense the technical background. The problem isn't that they're stupid (which feeds into the idea that if we could just explain it all to them, they'd agree with civil-libertarians). Rather, it's often that they're not favorable. As was said in another case:

"As soon as the judge says 'hacker,' you know you've lost," University of Minnesota law Professor Dan Burk said. "There is an attempt to paint defendants as unsympathetic, low-priority, on the fringe--to make it seem like nobody respectable is going to be harmed except for weird hacker types."

And that was the subtext I perceived in the oral argument here. The judges didn't say 'hacker', though, but they seemed to be trying to make up their minds as to whether anybody respectable was going to be harmed. The legal conflict expressing that social determination boiled down to whether "public policy" supports allowing reverse-engineering against an obvious mass-license "contract" forbidding it, and whether the DMCA's reverse-engineering exemption should be interpreted broadly or narrowly.

In two sentences, the argument was:

Company lawyer: If you allow this reverse-engineering, "piracy!" will be rampant.
Progammer's lawyer: Reverse-engineering is necessary for innovation, these programmers didn't pirate anything.

And as I heard it, the judges clearly understood that was the argument.

The programmer's legal team had a tough task getting out from under the many precedents that appeared to go against their position - the DeCSS cases, Bowers v. Baystate (shrinkwrap against reverse-engineering). They did a valiant jobs, in my view (while the opposition spent a notable amount of time praising those precedents as exactly applicable to this case). But I think at the end it's just going to come down to whether the judges believe public policy should support such reverse-engineering rights or not. And the track-record for that sort of determination is not good.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on June 21, 2005 12:42 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 20, 2005

China, Microsoft, Censorship, etc. etc.

I feel I have an obligation to post something about the Microsoft/China/Blog censorship issues (what a combination!). Yet I don't really have much original to say. The comparatively few people reading me are likely civil-libertarians already, so why clog the web with yet another post on it (or "opposition research" from censorware-makers, same issue from a different perspective)?

There's a few Lessig-style code-is-law implications, about how government and large businesses can work together to enforce control. But I'm not sure this incident works well as a teachable moment about the concept. When some people see a large corporation doing the bidding of a repressive government, it tends to reinforce the simplistic "government-bad/business-good" framework, and they'll just conclude all the bad aspects of the situation should be attributed to the bad government.

The government of China sure doesn't care what I think.

Any issue of censorship has a whole host of generic arguments, ranging from extreme moral relativism ("But it's a traditional culture value to burn heretics"), to cheap contrarianness ("I say heretics should be burned, and the reaction shows I'm being persecuted for my courageous stance against the totalitarian orthodoxy of permissiveness!"). Those are being iterated over ad nauseum.

There's also the free-speech politics as it affects me. I have some thoughts regarding various projects in the air. But I tend to keep them to myself. Given various players involved, negative comments from me would just come across as sniping, and positive comments would set me up to look very bad if I was asked to follow through (i.e., if I said "X is a bad idea, it won't work", well, it's not my project, so that sounds like carping. If I do "[Think: X is a bad idea, Y is a bad idea, there might be something in Z - say:] Z sounds so neat!", then if someone says "We're doing the X,Y,Z project, why not get involved?", I'll then look like I'm making excuses for not walking the walk). I managed to navigate my way around one of these dilemmas a while back, taking no damage, but it was choppy seas, and things have just gotten worse for me since then. I sometimes joke, I don't to want to deal with stressful software-project politics even for lots of money, much less no (or very little) money. I suspect somebody will end up getting a grant for the topic. But I'm nowhere near connected enough to be in the running for such a grant (as well as lacking the sales skills).

Oh, China Herald is a good non-echo-chamber site.

Hopefully I have now fulfilled my "obligations" on this topic.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on June 20, 2005 05:36 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 18, 2005

Cites & Insights June 2005, Blogging, Journalism and Credibility Conference

Walt Crawford's publication Cites & Insights 5:8, June 2005 issue has been out for a while now. I had intended to write about one portion earlier, but I needed to track down some material. There's good stuff about the Broadcast Flag, Wiki's, RSS, and more. But I think I can add particular value to the following portion:

What really happened at the Blogging, Journalism and Credibility Conference? I've read notes and comments from several participants, most of which leave me more confused than ever -- particularly regarding the only reasons I care about the question. That is, why was ALA a cosponsor of this conference, how much did it cost ALA, and what did my professional association get out of it?

What happened at the Blogging, Journalism and Credibility Conference? A bunch of Harvard Berkman Center people, and A-listers, burnished their credentials as Experts On The Hot Topic (and in the run-up, some others got hurt). Very simple. I suspect ALA cosponsored to get a piece of the action. Why not? But further:

Jon Garfunkel posted his thoughts at his Civilities weblog on January 28, 2005 and before (civilities.net). The January 28 posting deals with inclusiveness at the conference (at which Garfunkel was an observer). It's an interesting post, beginning with Garfunkel's assumptions: "[T]he conference was meant to affect only the people that wanted to be affected by it..." "[F]unctional proxies may be more important to diversity than identity proxies. A black woman may not be expected to be able to speak for all black women, but a librarian who speaks for library users should be seen as...credible for that is her job." "[W]hile there are many strands [of] diversity to aim for, some...are more critical than others for [a] given situation." Right up front, I wonder about the example given for the second assumption. Only one librarian/weblogger was at the conference--and she no longer works in a library. Is it truly the job of one librarian to "speak for [all] library users"? Does a journalist speak for all newspaper readers? (Garfunkel's ""Gatekeepers" series has concluded; more on that in a future issue.)

I think the point there was to move away from a certain crudeness in identity politics ("a black woman"), when that is in reality an expression of some desired functionality. It's not that a librarian speaks for library users in an elected-representative sense. But rather that the job of a librarian has advocacy for library users in a certain professional sense. Being e.g. "a black woman", or any political-power minority, is often unfairly loaded with some sort of group interest advocacy, and that's a longstanding political problem.

As to why it's needed:

Mostly, the conference was dominated by bloggers: "What was missing mostly was outsiders -- skeptics of blogs, cultural critics, community activists -- who could consistently and reliably respond to some of the myths and assertions being made." That's the sense I've picked up from all the coverage I've seen. Thus Seth Finkelstein: "I think the issue which some critics are exploring is that the speaker's list, overall, doesn't seem to have anyone who has to struggle for credibility." The "dominant woman," Rebecca Mackinnon, excerpted some comments for a piece in The Nation on March 17, 2005 (www.thenation.com). Reading those comments, I see little to intrigue or interest me, with the possible exception of Karen Schneider's sensible note that many people can't be expected to "recalibrate their BS detectors" for the blog world, as Dan Gillmor presumes they should. Summing up -- I don't know what really happened; ALA hasn't told me why it was worth their sponsorship or money; but I'm sure the privileged few who were invited enjoyed themselves. Good for them.

Well, I can't speak for ALA, but I can try to answer that question - Karen Schneider's rebuttal, live during the conference, was definitely worthwhile. I don't know if I could put a dollar value on it, but in one sense, it was priceless. And showed the value of having outside-the-bubble attendees. Per the WebCred transcript:

I love Dan Gillmor and he talked about today the audience is going to have to do a lot more of the work and it's funny because I come from a lot - from a profession where code of ethics is that the user should have to do a lot less of the work. ...

If I, as a librarian, could assign any homework for today it would be that you go to the Digital Divide Network and read some of what Andy Carvin had to say because I think it's a great reality check to remind yourselves that most people are still not very well-connected, not very well-educated about the internet. As my sister says "What are these globs you keep talking about?" [laughter]

Note those words, "reality check". Something I've said many A-list conference attendees desperately could use. And "the user should have to do a lot less of the work" could be a rallying-cry. And note how it was framed - a profession where [the] code of ethics is. That is, the advocacy here comes out of the profession's ethics, not the circumstances of race or sex.

Perhaps the above was a trivial occurrence. But Z-listers have to settle for small victories.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in webcred | on June 18, 2005 06:06 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 17, 2005

"Neat New Stuff" (Marylaine Block)

"Neat New Stuff" by Marylaine Block is a weekly collection where:

The sites I include are usually free sites of substantial reference value, authoritative, browsable, searchable, and packed with information, whether educational or aimed at answering everday questions. I'll also include one or two sites that are just fun

My blog has been graced by a mention in this week's edition. Thank you.

[Numbers: The mention seems to have sent maybe 200 readers my way, of which perhaps 5 or 6 subscribed. But all contributions gratefully accepted]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press | on June 17, 2005 06:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
June 16, 2005

Macrovision Files Lawsuit Against Sima and Interburn, over DMCA, more

"Macrovision Files Lawsuit Against Sima and Interburn's DVD Copying Products"

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--June 15, 2005--Macrovision Corporation (Nasdaq: MVSN) announced today that it has filed suit against Sima Products Corporation ("Sima") and Interburn Enterprises Inc. ("Interburn"). The lawsuit charges that Sima's "Video Enhancers," which are principally used to allow consumers to make unauthorized copies of copyrighted DVDs, infringe Macrovision's patented copy protection technology and also violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA"). These products include, but are not limited to, products currently marketed under the names CT-1, CT-100, CT-2, CT-200, and SCC-2. The lawsuit further charges that Interburn products infringe Macrovision's intellectual property and the DMCA.

(via Importance Of and CoCo).

Many months ago, I wrote about about exactly this issue of GoDVD!, DMCA, Macrovision:

... Here's the interesting issue - the DMCA basically mandates Macrovision in recorders. Macrovision, technically, is basically a "bug" in the video signal. So ... does selling signal-enhancing equipment like the GoDVD! (which specifically corrects that bug) violate the mandate? According to the letter of the law, I'd say no. On the other hand, this looks very much like what a hostile judge would view as a loophole. Or at least fodder for a quick amendment. The DMCA was definitely trying to outlaw the anti-Macrovision functionality which is part of the GoDVD! box.

I suppose the upshot is that even if it's true now that the GoDVD! box does not violate the Macrovision section of the DMCA, I'm not optimistic as to how long it will remain true.

We are about to find out ... I have my opinions, but the only ones which count are the court's opinions. I'll also note that even if the targeted companies have a reasonable legal defense, funding that legal defense may bankrupt them.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on June 16, 2005 08:04 AM | (Infothought permalink)
June 15, 2005

RSF: Results of the competition for best blogs defending freedom of expression

Reporters sans frontieres - Blog awards 2005 results http://www.rsf.org/blog-awards-en.php3

"Reporters Without Borders selected around 60 blogs that, each in their own way, defend freedom of expression. The organisation then asked Internet-users to vote for the prize-winners - one in each geographical category."

Congratulations to the winners.

I was nominated, but some of the winners are far better deserving of an honor here. Particular attention should be paid to the winner in the Iran category, Mojtaba Saminejad. Says RSF:

"A weblog that earned its editor, Mojtaba Saminejad, a two year prison sentence in June 2005 (See : www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=12563). In a demonstration of solidarity the 10 webloggers named here, who were also nominated for a prize, all voted for Mojtaba.They were : Nikahang, Shabah, Mithras, Khorshidkhanoom, Z8un, Memarian, Ghaja, Webnaameh, Shabnamefekr, Shargi."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on June 15, 2005 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 14, 2005

EFF - Legal Guide for Bloggers

EFF's Legal Guide for Bloggers

I'll play, to add to the link 'pop/'rank/'rati.

The guide is well-done, and people who dislike EFF should not think it overly partisan. Many contentious political issues have been gently side-stepped, or treated neutrally to a fault. And it's useful.

But of course, no matter what your rights are, there's always a worrisome gulf between theory and practice. Perhaps the single most important statement in the guide is:

Can EFF defend me?

Maybe. EFF is a small, grassroots legal advocacy nonprofit supported by member contributions. We provide pro bono (free) legal assistance in cases where we believe we can help shape the law. Unfortunately, we have a relatively small number of very hard-working attorneys, so we do not have the resources to defend everyone who asks, no matter how deserving. If we cannot assist you, we will make every effort to put you in touch with attorneys who can. If you're in trouble, you can contact us at information@eff.org.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in legal | on June 14, 2005 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 13, 2005

The Power Of The Press, Personal Being Quoted Example

Observe the results of the following Google news search:

Results 1 - 10 of about 157 for Seth-Finkelstein Internet-filtering-expert

Observe the many sites represented in the echoing.

Ponder the estimated total audience.

Is this a make or break article? No. Though it's a great piece. However ...

People who think blogs are going to "route around" Big Media, or even provide a way for an ordinary citizen to fight Big Media, are simply stark raving lunatics. Bonkers. Deluded. Touched in the head. Or, more darkly, selling something a smart person would be well-advised not to buy.

Structurally, the only thing that happens is that BigBlogs take a place among other "bigs". I've said this before, of course. But recursively, practically, it won't be heard.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 13, 2005 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 11, 2005

AP Article on XXX domain

I'm quoted:

Will a virtual red-light district help parents curb online porn?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

By ANICK JESDANUN AP Internet Writer

NEW YORK -- A red-light district tentatively cleared for construction on the Internet -- the ".xxx" domain -- is being billed by backers as giving the $12 billion online porn industry a great opportunity to clean up its act.


But given the limited effectiveness of a voluntary ".xxx" for filtering, Internet filtering expert Seth Finkelstein calls ".xxx" no more than a mechanism "to extract fees from bona fide pornographers and domain name speculators." (ICANN also gets an unspecified cut of each registration fee.)

Quite an extensive collection of sources in that article. I'm in interesting company.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press | on June 11, 2005 11:17 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (0)
June 10, 2005

Technorati Top 100 Notes

Inspired by Dave Rogers' observations on Technorati's redesign, I looked over the new Technorati Top 100 page. It's now using the slogan "The biggest blogs in the blogosphere, as measured by links"

Without being exhaustive, I noticed two of Top 100 blogs, "#73 - Where is Raed ?" and #"90 - dive into mark", haven't had any material in many months. Oh, tell me again how marvelously meritorious is the A-list. The entry "#86 - Silicon Valley Dan Gillmor's eJournal", has also been abandoned, since he changed locations, twice now (hmmm - how long for his latest blog to crack the list? To surpass his old one?)

My blog's on a long blogroll of someone around the middle of the list (thanks). It turns out not to send me much traffic though - maybe four real hits all of last month. Not that I'm complaining (about that). But it inclines me to think that perhaps one shouldn't worry all that much about blogrolls, except maybe for the very, very, top. Or that there's a difference between a list of resources, and cronyism.

As to comments on the numeric implications, well, I've said that over and over. And self-referentially, it doesn't do any good.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 10, 2005 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 09, 2005

Utah Censorware Law Challenge by ACLU-Utah, CDT ("The King's English v. Shurtleff")


SALT LAKE CITY--Citing free speech and interstate commerce violations, a broadly-based group of Utah bookstores, artistic and informative websites, Internet service providers and national trade associations filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the constitutionality of a Utah law meant to restrict children's access to material on the Internet.


The new law, passed by the 2005 session of the Utah legislature, has three primary components:

1) Utah Internet content providers must evaluate and rate their speech, at the risk of criminal punishment.

2) The Utah Attorney General must create a public registry of Internet sites worldwide containing "material harmful to minors" - speech that is unlawful to intentionally distribute to minors but that is constitutionally protected for adults.

3) It extends existing criminal restrictions on distribution of "harmful" materials to distribution on the Internet. Similar provisions have been uniformly held unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause and the First Amendment by federal courts across the nation.

Text of lawsuit: "The King's English vs Shurtleff"

Anyone who knows the relevant Internet censorship court cases, knows that this Utah censorware law was dead-man-walking the moment it was born. The only issue was how long it would take for the resources to be spent to put it out of its misery. Kudos for ACLU-Utah and CDT or doing so.

Per my earlier "HB 260" post, the coverage of this case from the Religious Right might be interesting.

In terms of non-echoing, I skimmed through the lawsuit to see what technical censorware research was used. Much material about "virtual hosting", where many website share the same IP address. It seems to flow from an earlier CDT case in Pennsylvania, which makes perfect sense given that CDT is part of this case.

On a personal note, if anyone is inclined to be "helpful" and to suggest to me that I might find support here, please abandon that idea immediately. Between certain issues of their staff, and stories I haven't told, it's not going to happen.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 09, 2005 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 08, 2005

CDT - "Protecting Copyright and Internet Values"

Center for Democracy and Technology has a "Balanced Framework for Online Copyright Protection" policy paper on "Protecting Copyright and Internet Values"

"This paper seeks to outline a general framework for addressing the problem of copyright infringement on the Internet in a balanced fashion."

I made a comment at Ernest Miller's blog, which has been well-received, so I'll repost it here:

It's important to understand that CDT is basically a business-oriented policy organization, mostly telecomm. Not that that's a bad thing per se. But that's what they are.

The report is "balanced", from their perspective - it's balanced between the interests of the business of big copyright-owners, and in the interests of the business of big tech/bandwidth companies. These are somewhat in conflict, and CDT outlines the issues.

Value add - for a further sense of the genre of these sorts of policy papers, read my earlier post analyzing CDT's Library Censorware Wish List ("Principles").

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on June 08, 2005 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (0)
June 07, 2005

Ex-Ex-Ex Domain And The Economics Of Domain Profit

Let me clarify my focus on the subject of the "Ex-Ex-Ex Domain", laying out again how I'm analyzing it.

The .XXX domain is an instance of ratings/labelling system, and so intrinsically has all the civil-liberties issues which are generic to that class of systems: Often not truly voluntary no matter what the PR, potentially a marginalization tool, useful more for the industry than the supposed users, and so on. But, considered as a ratings/labelling system, .XXX is a particular crude and bad one. That's not just my activist/partisan opinion, it's the opinion of professional censors, who are saying it's not technically helpful in censorship ("It won't make software filters any more effective"). From my perspective, it's a standard scheme (I call it "The Scarlet Letter"). The issues surrounding that sort of proposal are well-settled, and unlikely to change the slightest whenever somebody comes up with it again (as they will ...). The general ratings/labelling battle has been fought over far more complex efforts (keywords: "PICS", "RSACi", "ICRA", etc.)

So, who wants it? Not, what could it be turned into, but who wants it? Follow the money!.

The first thing that happens when any new domain registrations begin, is the landrush of speculators. People are going to be trying to register everything from sex.xxx to whitehouse.xxx to benedictxvi.xxx, just on the off chance that they can resell it to someone else. Note registries make no profit whatsoever on domain resales - they make their profit on initial sales and renewals.

From a registrar's point of view, domain-name speculators are great customers. They tend to do bulk orders. They're sophisticated, so they don't require a lot of hand-holding and technical support. They make good clients for various after-market services to manage their many speculative domains.

And domain renewals are almost pure profit. So a bunch of speculators sitting on what they think might be very profitable names, is a flock of golden geese for the farming.

And golden they are, because instead of the approximately one dollar or two dollar chump-change net profit margin for standard domains, it seems we're talking around $50 profit - FOR EVERY NAME!

"We're In The Money" ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 07, 2005 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)

Censors Against dot-XXX domain

Continuing the analysis of dot-XXX "domain pornography", note the very strong statements of censors (my emphasis):

CWA Says ICANN'S XXX Domain Should Be Canned

Washington, D.C. -- Concerned Women for America (CWA) says the plan by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to create a XXX domain for Internet porn sites is an idea that should be canned because it creates more problems than it can possibly solve. ...

"The only restriction on XXX domain participants is for any sexually explicit content to feature only adults, but there's no requirement to block access to kids. It legitimizes pornography and makes it even easier for kids to find it. It won't make software filters any more effective," [CWA's chief counsel Janet] LaRue added. "People who equate this with zoning brick-and-mortar sexually oriented businesses are clueless about cyberspace and how it operates.

"Most of the porn sites offer hard-core porn that is prosecutable under federal law. Giving them a XXX domain makes as little sense as giving illicit drug cartels a domain," LaRue concluded.

Also heard from: Family Research Council Voices Opposition to '.xxx' Domain Name: "The '.xxx' domain also cloaks the porn industry with legitimacy. The industry will have a place at the table in developing and maintaining their new property".

And Enough-Is-Enough quoted (my emphasis) "It's a nice little red-light district for the pornographers, but I don't think it's going to do anything to protect kids," said [Donna Rice] Hughes, president of the group Enough is Enough. "It's not going to make filters work any better."

When notable censors are saying very loudly, essentially, "THIS WON'T HELP US CENSOR", so they don't want it, I tend to think that's useful to know. It's not dispositive. But a good rule of thumb all the same.

Contrast this with censorware history, where the Religious Right did "Filtering Facts" funding, and well as interesting connections, and the utility of the indicator should be clear.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 07, 2005 01:34 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (6)
June 05, 2005

Authority, Mediating, Hierarchy, etc. again

It's been an interesting week for A-list-watchers. The launch of a radio show led to discussions about brand bloggers, mediating, long considerations of authority, attention, hierarchy, spinning out to everything from seeds of the longtailer's manifesto to conjectured layers of onions.

But, how much good does it do? Won't we still put trust in gatekeepers? Are there any lessons learned? Since blogging is more broadcasting than conversing, there seems no hope of flattening the curve.

So I'm wondering again if this all does much good. sad face

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 05, 2005 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
June 04, 2005

Online Journalism Review - "Companies subvert search results to squelch criticism"

Companies subvert search results to squelch criticism

"It's not illegal, but it's SEO gone bad. Companies such as Quixtar are using Google-bombing, link farms and Web spam pages to place positive sites in the top search results -- which pushes the negative ones down."

Echoed for the following:

CNN has denied any wrongdoing. "There is absolutely no truth to any speculation that CNN was involved in blog spam," CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson told me via e-mail. Programmer/blogger Seth Finkelstein theorizes that the person spamming the blogs was more likely trying to help get noticed by search engines by doing amateurish keyword stuffing, rather than an elaborate anti-optimization attack.

"The Net is filled with people who go around and spam blogs to get their message heard, with various degrees of skill at it," Finkelstein wrote on his Infothought blog. "So by the saying 'When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses before zebras,' when you see weird spam, think marginal people before elaborate PR campaigns. It's a much better fit."

[Which quoting, note, did not "just happen", but was due to the grace of an A-lister to whom I flacked my post, and found it worthy, so I was approved by a gatekeeper]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , press | on June 04, 2005 10:13 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 03, 2005

.XXX Domain Pornography

[Investigation! Uncommon links! Not a regurgitation like the zillions of other posts echoing this topic!]

I'm terming the .XXX domain, "domain pornography", as a pun on its denotation and connotation.While it's theoretically domain-name-FOR-pornography, in practice, it's domain-name-AS-pornography. That is, people find the concept salacious in itself ("red-light district!")

The above application really should be read to get a concrete sense of the agenda:

The .xxx TLD is intended primarily to serve the needs of the global online adult-entertainment community. ..."

And here's the "money quote" (pun intended):

"In terms of possible domain name related litigation, ICM and IFFOR believe that registrants may be better positioned to use an affirmative statutory defense in connection with prosecution under newly enacted US law. Under Section 108 of the Protect Act, entitled Misleading Domain Names on the Internet (aka Truth in Domain Names), it is now a crime in the US to knowingly use a domain name to deceive a person into viewing obscenity or to knowingly using a domain name to deceive a minor into viewing material that is harmful to minors. However, Section 108 further provides that for the purposes of this section, a domain name that includes a word or words to indicate the sexual material on the site, such as `sex' or `porn', is not misleading."

In short, it's clearly a way to extract rents from bona-fide pornographers in return for a weak certification against prosecution. Not a bad business plan, since they managed to get ICANN on-board.

The dot-XXX discussion is intriguing, for the message from distinguished free-speech lawyer Robert Corn-Revere, who's on retainer ("Legal Protections for the Voluntary Nature of the .xxx Domain"). And also Usual Suspect Talking Head ("WiredSafety and its WiredKids, Cyberlawenforcement and WiredPatrol divisions") Parry Aftab's message.

Follow the money, follow the money, follow the money ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 03, 2005 12:01 AM | (Infothought permalink)
June 02, 2005

.XXX Domain Approved

The .XXX domain is now ICANN approved, per an orgy of reporting. Before people get too hot and bothered, it's more a pornographic titillation itself as opposed to hardcore action.

Though it seems that the only result of my writing is unsatisfied self-gratification, on the off chance there are some voyeurs out there who may derives some pleasure from legal exhibitionism, I put forth the following for display:

Perversely, commercial pornographers would remain relatively unaffected by the [Communications Decency] Act, since we learned that most of them already use credit card or adult verification anyway. Commercial pornographers normally provide a few free pictures to entice a user into proceeding further into the Web site. To proceed beyond these teasers, users must provide a credit card number or adult verification number. The CDA will force these businesses to remove the teasers (or cover the most salacious content with cgi scripts), but the core, commercial product of these businesses will remain in place.

(ACLU v. Reno, District Court decision)

The sites which will buy the XXX domains are the same sites which register for every blacklist and already want credit-cards. It's not about protecting-the-children. Rather, this is a protection-racket, selling compliance to sex sites.

But, let the domain pornography begin!

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 02, 2005 12:01 AM | (Infothought permalink)
June 01, 2005

"The Net Effect" - On The Great Firewall Of China

The Net Effect

"As China's Internet gets a much-needed makeover, will the new network promote freedom or curtail it? - By Steven Cherry [IEEE Spectrum Online]

Highly recommended. But I'm biased:

How will censorship work with four different companies' products? According to Seth Finkelstein, a Cambridge, Mass., network programmer and an expert on Internet censorship, router-based censorship can and does take place at any point in the network. Each of the routers in the CN2 contract - in all three rings - can be expected to access a database of banned names and words, either within the router itself or in a subsidiary server connected to the router. ...

And in conclusion:

"The Internet is fairly centralized in the United States, too," notes Finkelstein, the Cambridge, Mass., programmer. "Not for political reasons but for economic ones." It turns out that the largest Internet providers push all their packets of data through large regional routers connected to proxy servers that already examine packets for evidence of quality-of-service or other problems.

"Our political system is vastly different from China's," Finkelstein says, "but if we had a national panic, if we felt we had to censor the Internet, it's scary how easily it could be done. There's a famous saying, 'The Internet considers censorship to be damage, and routes around it.' I say, what if censorship is in the router?"

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , press | on June 01, 2005 08:02 AM | (Infothought permalink)