Monthly Archives: June 2010


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EFF, Public Knowledge And Creative Commons All Respond (Politely) To ASCAP’s Misguided Attack

Following last week’s bizarre decision by ASCAP to attack Creative Commons, Public Knowledge and EFF as part of its fundraising campaign, all three organizations have now responded, and done so with a bit of wonderment at why they were painted in such a misleading light.

  • Creative Commons responded in an interview with Zeropaid, noting how misguided and flat-out wrong it was for ASCAP to suggest that Creative Commons somehow undermines artists’ rights, when it’s always done exactly the opposite:

    “It’s very sad that ASCAP is falsely claiming that Creative Commons works to undermine copyright” Steuer told ZeroPaid. He explained, “Creative Commons licenses are copyright licenses — plain and simple, without copyright, these tools don’t even work. CC licenses are legal tools that creators can use to offer certain usage rights to the public, while reserving other rights. Artists and record labels that want to make their music available to the public for certain uses, like noncommercial sharing or remixing, should consider using CC licenses. Artists and labels that want to reserve all of their copyright rights should absolutely not use CC licenses.”

    It does make sense because Creative Commons is voluntary. The creator can choose whether or not to use Creative Commons or not.

    “Many tens of thousands of musicians, including acts like Nine Inch Nails, the Beastie Boys, David Byrne, Radiohead, and Snoop Dogg, have used Creative Commons licenses to share with the public. These musicians aren’t looking to stop making money from their music. In fact,” Steuer added, “many of the artists who use CC licenses are also members of collecting societies, including ASCAP. Incidentally, that’s how we first heard about this email campaign — many musicians that support Creative Commons received the email and forwarded it to us. Some of them even included a donation to Creative Commons.”

  • The EFF responded in an interview with, where it noted, amusingly, that the EFF’s long-standing proposal on how to “fix” copyright law, actually is to set up an ASCAP-like system for digital music (this is something that I’ve long disagree with EFF about, by the way). So it seems pretty silly to claim that EFF is somehow trying to undermine ASCAP. It just takes issue when ASCAP takes a ridiculous stance like claiming that ringtones require a separate “public performance” license — a position that is clearly at odds with the law.

    “They imply in that letter that the EFF don’t want artists to get paid for their work,” says Rebecca Jeschke, EFF spokesperson. “For years, we’ve had a proposal for Voluntary Collective Licensing,” she says, a scheme by which users of file sharing services could contribute to funds for artists. She says the EFF has been working on the issue since 2003. “We’re interested in making sure that there’s a balance, that copyright respects the rights of the creators but also innovators and speakers, and that [the doctrine of] fair use rights [a provision of US Copyright Law] are respected.”

  • Finally, Public Knowledge responded on its own website, in a response that is similar to the EFF’s, pointing out that it clearly supports getting artists’ paid, has no interest in undermining such rights, and has advocated models similar to ASCAP’s:

    Of course, anybody who has spent more than 5 minutes on our website or talking to our staff knows that these things are not true – Public Knowledge advocates for balanced copyright and an open Internet that empowers creators and the public.  What we oppose are overreaching policies proposed by large corporate copyright holders that punish lawful users of technology and copyrighted works.  We have taken artist-centric positions on a number of critical copyright issues which have put us at odds with some of our copyright reform colleagues.  For example, PK has supported a level-playing field in the payment of performance royalties and called for (pdf) copyright holders to sue large scale peer-to-peer infringers directly, as opposed to holding innovators liable for the infringement of others.  We have also advocated for changes to the law that would make it easier for online music services to license content from music publishers, leading to greater legal use of music and greater compensation for artists.  Finally, and oddly enough, we have emphasized the central role that performance rights organizations like ASCAP could play in a digital world and have praised them for their ability to keep accurate records of who owns what copyright.  So frankly, we’re more puzzled by this attack than anything.

So, basically none of these organizations do anything like what ASCAP claimed. It’s too bad that ASCAP still seems to be standing by its backwards-looking position.

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Amazon Acquires Woot; Woot CEO Pens Best Acquisition Letter Ever

It appears that Amazon is expanding by trying to buy up cool e-commerce companies that have unique and fun cultures that its fans love. I would imagine there are worse strategies out there. We already covered how Amazon bought Zappos, with the company culture playing an important role in the decision-making. Now Amazon has bought Woot (a site, I should admit, that I have a bit of an addiction to). And unlike the lame corporate-speak note that Zappos put out when it was acquired, Woot has handled the announcement in true Woot-like fashion with perhaps the best CEO letter you’ll ever read about an acquisition. Here’s just an excerpt:

Over the next few days, you will probably read headlines that say “Matt Rutledge revealed to be monstrous pseudo-human creation of Jeff Bezos.” You might even see this photo making the rounds. Rest assured that these rumors have nothing to do with our final decision. We think now is the right time to join with Amazon because, quite simply, every company that becomes a subsidiary gets two free downloads until the end of July, and we very much need that new thing with Trent Reznor’s wife on our iPods.

Other than that, we plan to continue to run Woot the way we have always run Woot — with a wall of ideas and a dartboard. From a practical point of view, it will be as if we are simply adding one person to the organizational hierarchy, except that one person will just happen to be a billion-dollar company that could buy and sell each and every one of you like you were office furniture. Nevertheless, don’t worry that our culture will suddenly take a leap forward and become cutting-edge. We’re still going to be the same old bottom-feeders our customers and readers have come to know and love, and each and every one of their pre-written insult macros will still be just as valid in a week, two weeks, or even next year. For Woot, our vision remains the same: somehow earning a living on snarky commentary and junk.

We are excited about doing this for all sorts of reasons. One, our business model is so vague that there’s no way Amazon can possibly change what it is we’re truly doing: preparing the way for the rise of the Lava Men in 2012….

And then there’s this lovely rap video Woot staff put together to explain the acquisition. The video even ends by noting “the preceding video does not represent the view or opinions of Obviously.” Let’s just say that it’s not your standard bland “hey we’ve been acquired” announcement:

Taking a step back, it’s pretty interesting to see Amazon acquiring companies with such unique cultures and then leaving them alone and letting them act entirely independently. It will be worth watching to see if that lasts (or if it can last). But for now, it’s cool to see.

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Homeland Security Works For Disney Now? Announces Shut Down Of Movie Sites At Disney

Well, here we go. Remember how, a few months back, we noted how odd it was that the Justice Department (which, of course, employs many former RIAA/MPAA/BSA lawyers) was designating a special task force to fight copyright infringement? After all, copyright infringement is mostly a civil issue, between two private parties. For years, however, the entertainment industry has been working hard to convince the government to act as its own private police force, and following a totally one-sided “summit” with Joe Biden (who recently claimed that infringement is no different than doing a smash and grab at Tiffany’s), suddenly the feds had a special IP task force… at the same time that it was downgrading the priority of crimes that cause actual harm, such as identity fraud.

Now, it looks like law enforcement isn’t even trying to hide the fact that they’re taking orders from Hollywood. Dark Helmet points us to the news that Homeland Security proudly announced raids on nine different movie sites, which they accuse of infringing on copyrights. But what’s most interesting is where the announcements about these raids happened: at Disney. And who else was there on stage? Execs from other studios. Yup, Homeland Security isn’t even trying to make the slightest effort to hide the fact that it now works for corporate interests. It will announce legal activity from the companies, which stand to benefit the most from such activity.

Imagine if the FTC announced plans to charge Google with antitrust from Microsoft’s offices? With execs from Yahoo and Apple on stage. Wouldn’t people cry foul?

Not only that, but the guy in charge of the raids blatantly admits that it’s now a homeland security priority to protect movie studio interests:

The head of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], John Morton, says that the number of illegal movie sites is dramatically rising both in the U.S. and abroad, and organized crime is behind some of them. ICE is putting movie piracy front and center in this new initiative, by making its first actions to protect the movie studios’ intellectual property.

What does customs have to do with a domestic dispute over civil copyright infringement? And why are Homeland Security officials so closely involved with a few Hollywood Studios that they’re not just protecting their business models, but also announcing these efforts from the studios’ own offices?

I don’t know anything about these sites that were shut down. I’ve never heard of any of them, but they’re nine out of hundreds, if not thousands. It won’t do anything to actually help Disney or these other studios. Users will quickly shift elsewhere. The content will still get released just as quickly.

The claims that these sites were run by “organized crime” could very well be true, but I’d like to see some actual evidence on that. It’s a common refrain from the industry, but no actual proof has been presented. At best they’ve shown that some DVD counterfeiting operations have some mob ties, but that’s not the same thing. Note that in the announcement no actual evidence of organized crime links were provided.

In a separate article, US Attorney Preet Bharara is quoted as saying that the government took these actions because “copyright infringement translates into lost jobs.” Never mind the fact that the GAO just pointed out that such claims are highly questionable (especially the ones from the MPAA — who won’t provide their methodology), this raises a really serious question about government interference into private markets. The government’s role is not to protect industries from losing jobs. It never has been. Otherwise it would have “raided” car companies for making horse buggies obsolete. Using that as justification has no legal basis whatsoever, and is really a very disturbing claim.

The whole thing appears to be a gross misuse of government resources to protect a few movie studios, which are unwilling to adapt to a changing market place. People should be outraged over such a misuse of government powers, but because these are “pirate” sites, everyone will look the other way.

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Firefox on the iPhone? Mozilla submits Firefox Home to Apple

We’ve known that Mozilla has been working on a version of its Firefox browser for iPhone called Firefox Home. On Wednesday, it submitted its attempt to Apple.

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas

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Hulu CEO So Careful Not To Upset Cable Companies, He Might Just Destroy His Own Business

A year and a half ago we questioned whether or not Hulu could really survive, given the rock and a hard place situation it had put itself in by being owned by the content rights holders, who wanted to limit what Hulu could do in competing against the rest of the online world. This limitation by its owners was quite obvious in the recently released subscription package that felt wanting.

Now, Hulu’s CEO, Jason Kilar — who, it should be noted, has always appeared to fight for consumer interests against the demands of Hulu’s owners — has come out and said, quite clearly, that Hulu is not trying to “kill” cable. In other words, he’s signaling to the world quite blatantly: Hulu is unable to do the one thing it needs to do to be a successful business.

If Hulu were a truly independent business, the main focus of that business would be to flat-out disrupt the monopoly cable TV business. That’s a huge opportunity. But, of course, Hulu’s owners don’t want that, because they’re in this neat symbiotic relationship with the cable companies, where those cable companies keep paying more and more money to the TV companies just to carry their shows. So they don’t want to upset that business model — even if it’s incredibly anti-consumer. So, because of that, Hulu can’t do the one thing it needs to do. It’s telling, by the way, that the only people in our comments, who thought that Hulu’s subscription offering was a good deal, were those who had or were planning to ditch cable. And here comes Hulu admitting that it’s not designed to help those people. Yikes.

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New Google News design emphasizes choice

Readers of Google News will have more options for customizing what stories they see on the page in the new design unveiled Wednesday.

Originally posted at Relevant Results

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If The Public Library Was Invented Today, Would The Gov’t Call It Organized Crime And Shut It Down?

We’ve seen authors in the past complaining that libraries are engaged in book theft, which is an argument that is pretty laughable — though, has, at times been suggested by various publishing groups. But, in general, most people recognize the public service a library does by helping to educate people. So when some folks in Bulgaria decided to try to set up a user-generated online library of sorts, you wouldn’t think that the site would get raided by the police, be declared “damaging to culture,” and have its organizers described as an organized crime syndicate. But, that’s what happened.

The site, let anyone upload works for a Bulgarian audience — so there definitely were some infringing works on the site. However, the site was quick to take down any material upon request. The effort was strictly non-commercial, with no ads appearing anywhere on the site. In fact, many authors uploaded their own works, as they realized what a great resource it was.

However, the Bulgarian Book Association flipped out, and once it flipped out, the Bulgarian government had its organized crime law enforcement group raid the site, and describe the organizers as a “gang.” Users of the site also took issue with the claim that the site was in any way damaging. They said it was regularly used like a library, but since you could only read the books on a computer, it likely resulted in more sales (or visits to physical libraries). A user of the site told TorrentFreak:

“I can’t understand how any library can damage the the culture of any nation. And, as there are virtually no e-readers sold here, the only way to read the downloaded books, was on the monitors of PCs,”…

“Anybody that has ever read a book on a screen knows that it isn’t very comfortable. So, lots of paper books have been bought, because when someone starts reading on the screen, likes the book, but is not comfortable, he goes to the book shop and buys it.”

There’s a great detailed legal analysis of Chitanka’s position, noting that the law is a bit ambiguous here, but the site may have a reasonable defense, and qualify as protected under safe harbors by making its works “publicly accessible” as a library.

Either way, all of this makes you wonder: if traditional public libraries were just being founded today, how much effort do you think publishers would go through to shut them down by claiming they were illegal and violations of copyright law?

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Amazon acquiring eccentric retailer

Retail giant Amazon is acquiring the “one deal, one day” retailer According to Woot, the company will remain its own retailer, and not a part of Amazon’s own site.

Originally posted at Web Crawler

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Music Publishers Keep Lashing Out At Consumer Groups; Those Who Respect Individuals’ Rights

It appears that music songwriters and publishers don’t yet recognize that going on the attack against groups representing public interests and consumers’ rights is a strategy destined to backfire. They just keep doing it, and it’s really making them look both petty and petulant, with no desire to actually understand these issues. Instead, they just think the world owes them their business model, and anyone looking out for larger interests is, quite literally, “the enemy.” We’ve already covered ASCAP’s (long planned) attack on Creative Commons, EFF and Public Knowledge. These attacks are so distasteful that even many ASCAP supporters are upset about them.

Now, it appears that the National Association of Music Publishers is getting in on the misplaced anger. In a recent speech, its CEO, David Israelite lashed out at these groups, and lumped CEA and CCIA into the bunch. CEA and CCIA, of course, have both been pretty strong supporters of making sure that copyright law is not harming innovation or the economy. These are important issues if you believe that a stronger economy is important for everyone — including musicians and songwriters — but it appears that Israelite and the NAMP take a very narrow, zero-sum view of the world, which is that, if the gov’t isn’t handing over greater and greater protectionist policies, something’s wrong — and anyone who supports looking at the actual evidence should be shouted down as an enemy. It’s not a position that can be supported by logic, so it’s pure emotion:

But there is a growing enemy that does not have respect for copyright at all. And this is a very different enemy.

When the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a study in April on the economic impact of intellectual property piracy, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the Consumer Electronics Assn. and the Computer and Communications Industry Assn. took out a full-page ad in newspapers around Washington, D.C. “Content industry piracy claims are bogus,” the ad read. “For years, claims of huge losses from digital piracy have been used to justify harsh restrictions on innovators and consumers . . . They have harmed our competitiveness, hampered legitimate businesses and impeded innovation.”

Who are these four groups and why would they take out full-page ads to suggest the ridiculous–that theft of intellectual property isn’t really bad? The answer is, this is the new face of our enemy.

Yup. They call these groups “enemies” twice. Very subtle there. What’s really glaring, however, is that Israelite doesn’t even respond to the actual study at all. I mean, you would think that the actual evidence presented by one of the few parts of the government that is widely respected for its objectivity in doing research, would be worth commenting on. Nope. He skips right over the actual evidence and blames these four groups for actually highlighting what the evidence says. And then he claims that they’re “suggesting the ridiculous”? In other words, Israelite has taken such a faith-based position, that when actual evidence is presented that goes against his faith, he doesn’t just shoot the messenger, he shoots anyone who repeats the message. Convincing.

These four groups have an extremist, radical anti-copyright agenda. They all have an economic interest in the theft of our music or paying little to nothing for it. [And] they are intellectually dishonest in how they approach these fights.

Radical extremists, huh? Isn’t that what the Canadian politicians behind the new copyright law, James Moore, just called critics of his bill? Sounds like the talking points on anyone actually interested in consumer rights is making the rounds, and “radical extremists” is the key phrase in trying to tar and feather anyone who suggests consumers have rights.

I have put together a top 10 list of the positions taken by these groups that I will define as their extremist, radical anti-copyright agenda.

Oh, do tell. This is going to be a great list, I’m sure. Please make sure that it’s in Letterman-style countdown format too…

No. 10: They support changing the law to reduce damages for copyright infringement.

That’s radical extremism? Wow. Of course, when the damages for copyright infringement are so far out of line with the actual harm of copyright infringement — such that someone sharing a single album’s worth of music for non-commercial purposes can be fined $2 million — it seems like it’s actually kind of a pretty good question why the damages are so high. Even judges in these cases appear to find the damages results laughable. When the damages are entirely out of line with actual harm, it seems perfectly reasonable to suggest they be brought more in line. How is that radical or extremist?

No. 9: They support the elimination of statutory damages for secondary copyright infringement.

Again, how is it either radical or extremist to suggest that liability for breaking the law should fall on those who actually break the law, rather than some 3rd party with deeper pockets? Personally, it seems a lot more radical to blame one party just because it’s easier and they have more money, rather than those who actually break the law.

No. 8: They favor rolling back copyright extension; in some cases, radically.

Again, I’m at a loss as to how this is either radical or extremist. Actual evidence (again, the stuff Israelite would apparently prefer to avoid at all costs) has shown the net loss to society and culture from copyright extension. Our original copyright law lasted for, at most, 28 years. The entire point of copyright law was supposed to enrich the public domain, but we haven’t had anything enter the public domain in years, and it’s unlikely we’ll see much enter the public domain in our lifetime. That seems radical.

No. 7: They favor the elimination of the songwriter and publisher rights for server, cache and buffer copies.

Again, this is not at all radical. Nor is it about “eliminating” rights. It’s about accurately applying the law so that ridiculous results don’t emerge — such as cases where cache or buffer copies of songs require additional royalties and licenses, when they’re clearly in transit. It was about not outlawing technology based on how long the wire is (i.e., the Cablevision case, where Israelite apparently supported the blatantly ridiculous position that a DVR hosted by Cablevision is illegal, because it hosts cached versions in transit, while the DVR in your home is legal).

No. 6: They oppose efforts to obtain the identities of individuals engaged in massive copyright infringement.

Not quite. They oppose efforts that expose individuals’ privacy without fair and due process. Who knew it was “radical extremism” to insist on privacy rights and due process. These groups have no problem with exposing the identities of those who break the law when there is due process involved. It’s hard to believe that Israelite is really suggesting that music publishers don’t believe in due process or privacy rights.

No. 5: They support extreme versions of orphan works legislation.

Misleading again. Orphan works legislation is a red herring — only brought about because of the ridiculous overreach in copyright law that wiped out the public domain. The sort of overreach that Israelite’s group supported. So now when these groups try to fix one of the massive problems that this overreach created, it’s dubbed “radical extremism.” Yikes.

No. 4: They have filed legal briefs supporting anti-copyright positions of Grokster, Napster, LimeWire, Cablevision, Google, YouTube and Verizon.

Misleading in the extreme. None of those lawsuits involved “anti-copyright” positions, no matter how much the entertainment industry likes to spin these cases that way. The first three — Grokster, Napster and LimeWire — were never “anti-copyright” positions, they were questions about third party liability. Again these are just questions about who it’s fair to blame: the user or the toolmaker. The entertainment industry wants to blame the toolmakers. Common sense says you blame the actual user. Claiming that a debate over properly applying liability is an “anti-copyright” position is deliberately dishonest. The Google/YouTube case is the same story. It’s a case about liability. Not anti-copyright. The Cablevision case we described above. It was about whether or not the industry could veto technology based on the length of a wire. That’s not anti-copyright at all.

Finally, it’s pretty shocking that he includes Verizon in this list. I’m guessing he’s referring to the RIAA’s fight with Verizon way back when. To suggest that Verizon is “anti-copyright” is ridiculous. That was, yet again, a case about due process — which I guess Israelite is admitting he doesn’t believe in. This Verizon case involved the question of whether or not the RIAA could just demand Verizon hand over details of Verizon customers without a court-reviewed subpoena. The issue covered basic due process, which had nothing, whatsoever, to do with copyright.

It’s really stunning how blatantly Israelite is basically admitting that due process is meaningless if you interfere with “his” business model.

No. 3: They oppose graduated-response protection for copyright owners.

Yes, it’s “radical extremism” to support the view held overwhelmingly by consumers that kicking people off the internet is punishment that does not come remotely close to fitting the “crime” of sharing, distributing and promoting music you love for free.

And, again, of course, most of the arguments against graduated-response efforts are due the clearly unconstitutional lack of due process involved: cutting people off the internet based on accusations rather than convictions is pretty radical and extremist. Actually fighting for due process? Not so much.

No. 2: They oppose treaties that support copyright enforcement like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

Heh. This one is amusing, because he conveniently ignores the serious problems with ACTA. They’re not “opposed” to these treaties just for the hell of it, or because of some “radical extremist anti-copyright” position. They’re opposed to it because it has all sorts of ridiculous language that will do serious harm. But, I guess for Israelite to realize that he’d have to look at the evidence, and he’s less a fan of that than he is of supporting due process.

No. 1: They actually argue that illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic helps the economy and doesn’t hurt songwriters.

I’m actually not aware of any of those four groups actually saying that, but I will say it. What’s hurting songwriters is their inability to adapt to a changing market. The songwriters who are adapting seem to be doing just fine. We write about them all the time, but Israelite won’t read this blog, I’m sure, because it’s filled with “evidence.” Yes, if you don’t adapt to market changes, it can “hurt” your business. But that’s what most of us here in capitalist America think is a good thing. Otherwise we’d all be riding around in horse buggies. So, sure, automobiles “hurt” the horse buggy market. And the printing press “hurt” the monks-writing-books business. But what happened? Much greater opportunities came about as a result, and the smart horse buggy makers who jumped ship to join automobile makers did just fine. We’re seeing successful songwriters adapting all the time. It’s just that they’re doing it without kowtowing to Israelite and NAMP.

I don’t see how any of that represents “radical extremism.” I see plenty of attempts to falsely demonize those who believe in due process, privacy rights, consumer rights, innovation, correctly applying liability and (*gasp*) actual factual evidence. But, that’s not radical extremism. It’s called reality.

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New developer permissions roll out on Facebook

The social network is instituting a new interface to inform users of exactly what they’re agreeing to when they connect a third-party app to their accounts.

Originally posted at The Social

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