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A Message to a Friend Explaining My View on Intellectual Property

I think that IP is one of the largest issues going and to make it worse, people don’t know anything about it. That’s what makes it so dangerous. Corporations are slowly but surely gathering more and more power over IP, many people think that this is good for businesses because they can protect their interests, but that’s not really what IP is about. IP is more about anti-competitive behavior than anything right now. It is being abused by crooks who extort money from businesses by claiming overly broad and obvious copyrights granted by people who don’t understand the concepts they are certifying. It is also being used by larger companies to lock out newcomers. An example of this is Vonage being sued by Verizon. It is also used to try and kill derivative works, like The Grey Album, by Danger Mouse. Stifling creativity not just in the art but in the sciences as well. IP is used to create artificial monopolies, like MLB saying people can’t disseminate the facts (which are currently not part of IP) of a baseball without authorization. But worse of all it is abused by people who just want to silence others, the DMCA for example has been widely abused to do just that.

IP laws need to be reformed so that they are balanced, so that they protect people first and businesses second. I don’t want to win second place to an artificial person (ie corporation).

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business, politics, technology

Where is Capitalism Anyway

There’s a hard case for saying capitalism still exists in America. Calling our market a free one is like saying a cage-free chicken is honestly free. The irony is that it is the market leaders (often ones who clamor for deregulation) are the ones that are steering America’s market towards a feudal system.

The linchpin in this drive is patents & copyrights and to a lesser degree trademarks. Patents & Copyright aren’t necessarily bad, but they are being heavily abused in the US. It only takes one look at Marshal, Texas to understand where we are heading.

While small businesses and start-ups are hurt, the folks sitting at the end of the punch are the America people. The state of intellectual property laws are such that we’ve stifled innovation in America and reduced competition. The concept of the free market is that those who can’t survive in business are pushed out of the market, however through intellectual property management any company that has established itself can remain on artificial life-support by abusing the system through lawsuits that either give failing businesses a cut of their competition’s income or by blocking that competition altogether.

The result is that old weak companies wheeze along while newer innovative companies are left emaciated or quietly strangled out of existence through a feudal market. A feudal market is one in which companies survive only through virtue of their heritage (intellectual property). If a new innovative company enters the market it must pay the old company to work on the land (license fees) or it can not work at all.

Companies have learned this and have begun hoarding patents. These patents abused to the detriment of America. The long-term result of a feudal business model is that innovative products will cost more and come from other countries. While the old companies flail in their slow death they are taking the economy with them. And while their death is slow it will not be nearly as painful for them as it will be for middle and low class Americans.

The life-span of companies has been artificially prolonged leaving us with undead monsters who scour the market for the brains of the living. There is always a balance, the dead trees fall down and decompose, feeding the young trees as the stretch upward, the question is where those trees will be. Will innovation be able to survive in America or will it find more fertile soil elsewhere? And consider this, sometimes the old dead trees don’t fall down and decompose, sometimes they pile up— the only thing for that is a fire, but fire destroys everything and it takes years for a new forest to grow in its place. Do we really want to wait for the fire?

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humor, politics, technology

Ten Things I Hate About Comandments

Fair use makes great derivative works like this legal. Of course Viacom still had it taken down, even though they legally don’t own it. But now it is back, take a look.

This is just one of the many reasons fair use needs to be protected. The DVD-CCA (the folks is charge of DVD licensing) are trying to make it illegal to copy a DVD in anyway, in fact they don’t even want people to playing a DVD movie without the DVD in the drive. So for example, if you wanted to save battery life on your laptop during travel by watching a movie from its hard drive you’d be doing something illegal. The worse thing is that the DMCA will probably make it work— hope you’re all ready to say goodbye to your rights.

People should write to their representatives and let them know that we all think the DMCA needs to change. The content creator’s rights are important, but the rights of the people purchasing that content is important too. The problems with the DMCA go way beyond DVD protection— fair use and innovation freedom in general are being strangled.

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arts, technology

Electric Slide part 2

The plot thickens! Richard Silver, the man who claims to own the silly line dance known as the electric slide is now being sued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of Kyle Machulis. Kyle had uploaded a video onto youTube where, among other things, folks do the electric slide for about ten seconds. Silver said they were doing it wrong and infringing his copyright, so issued a DMCA takedown notice. The EFF is now suing Silver for violating Machulis’ right to free speech as a videographer.

While this seems like it’s just another part in a story that keeps getting more and more ridiculous it is actually pretty important. It isn’t important because the electric slide is a dance that we all need rights to (I would gladly wave that right if we can abolish the dance step from all history), but because the precedent that will be set. This is something that needs attention. Seriously. The issue is fair use, which is the issue that dominates most discussions about DMCA abuses. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act is terribly problematic, mostly in that it hinders fair use, and (even more absurdly) free speech. Kudos to the EFF for taking on the issue, I’m proud to have donated to a organization dedicated to ensuring people’s rights extend into our current and future technologies. Without people like the EFF the electric slide could soon refer not to the dance, but to describe the trend of our digital rights.

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Look What That Wacky DMCA is Doing Now!

A little while back I mentioned that you can’t copyright an art form, but you can copyright a performance… here is a great example of how that is being used.

If you have you ever been to a wedding where someone danced the “Electric Slide” and you videotaped it Ric Silver might have a lawsuit waiting for you. That is right, this knuckle head is using the mother of all bad ideas, the DMCA, to stop just about anyone from doing the Electric Slide on video, from teaching it, or even listing the moves without his permission.

Silver also claims to have come up with breakdancing and The Robot (seriously, look at the bottom of his webpage!), so you kids better watch out, especially if you’d like to show your stuff online at a place like YouTube. CNet recently reported Silver has issued DMCA powered take down notices for just about every video that has the Electric Slide performed in it on YouTube. It seems as if he’s scoured the entire planet for footage of his silly dance suing at will to try and leech every penny possible from folks. CNet reports:

Indeed, Richard Silver, who filed the copyright for the Electric Slide in 2004, said on one of his Web pages that the DeGeneres Show had been putting up a legal fight as he tried to get compensation for a segment that aired in February 2006 in which actress Teri Hatcher and other dancers performed the popular wedding shuffle.

But this isn’t about a dance that most people don’t care about. It’s about someone trying to squeeze pennies out of others by enforcing copyright. The world is rapidly changing into a place where “content creators” can own and control just about anything, and that is scary.

The most insightful part of Wikipedia’s entry on the Electric Slide is the talk page. It is Ric Silver at his best insulting people and making several threats there to sue folks for things like slander and defamation of character and using the timeless catchphrase, “We’ll be seeing you in court.”

The question has to be asked, is this the direction we really want things to go? A place where we can’t dance unless a bonehead like Silver gives us the okay? Will America be the home to some sort of bizarro version of the Footloose town, where kids can’t dance or Ric Silver will get their parents house?

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Why Microsoft is Dumb

Microsoft’s new operating system is called Vista. From what I’ve read it is going to give pirates a heck of a hard time to steal (for a few months at least), but the real bonus is that it’ll frustrate legitimate users— not only that, it will place all sorts of limits on how legitimate users can use Vista just because Microsoft claims that somehow it will save them money.

Yes, piracy is a problem, especially in some places outside the US. The thing is, people who live in some places outside the US can’t afford a $300 operating system. We can say “tough,” but that is pretty ridiculous considering computers are the only way to participate in a global economy. Computers are a necessity not a luxury.

I don’t think piracy will change because of Microsoft’s new piracy measures, but I’m not even sure that was the genuine intention. When Microsoft puts limits on how many times you can transfer the operating system (only once) from an old computer to a new one, or even outright deny any transfer (for computers shipped with Vista) it rings to me more in the key of greed.

What else is new with Vista? Besides only being able to transfer the OS once? You also won’t be able to use the regular version of Vista as a virtual OS— this means folks using mac will have to the more expensive version (currently set to cost $300-$400). And failure to activate Vista within 30 days results in the computer doing nothing but allowing 30 minutes of internet access.

Fair use seems to dictate that some of these things are illegal, but I am no lawyer, and fair use laws have been weakened thanks to things like the DMCA. That is to say, our rights as consumers to use things we’ve purchased however we like has been, and is being, pulled out from under us inch by inch.

It’s time to go with a Mac everyone, Apple won’t pull things like this anytime soon. Right now you can buy the latest Mac OS for about $100, or buy a family pack (good for five computers) for just $160. That’s a far cry from the adware and virus friendly Microsoft line of products. If you don’t like Apple, that is fine too, but sooner or later people are going to have to consider other options, out with the old in the unix based OS’s like SuSE, Fedora, or Ubuntu. No, they aren’t a Windows replacement, but then again that’s part of what makes them good.

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