Charity Debt: Public Knowledge

I said earlier this month that I was probably going to pick Public Knowledge for this month's Charity Debt.  I never actually got around to doing the write-up, though.  (I mean, now I'm getting around to it.  But it's the 21st.)  For the record:  though I absolutely intend to buy a copy of Pirate Cinema for a classroom somewhere, my feeling of debt to authors who release their work for free is separate from my commitment to donate a chunk of my (hypothetical) income to charity on a regular basis. Public Knowledge's minimum donation is $10, so this month's entry is going to be a little more expensive than usual.  But that's fine.  The point of this is to do it when I can afford it, right?  Though I'm starting to feel like I should do some of them soon even if I'm not out of debt yet.

Public Knowledge lists four major categories of issues they support:  Open Internet, including net neutrality and getting internet access to as many people as possible; Promoting Creativity, including pursuing a more balanced system of copyright, and defending that more balanced system to protect more artists; Open & Accessible Technology, including "Ensuring access to communications for all Americans;" and International, including foreign legislation about copyright and control that would affect the internet for everyone.

Public Knowledge is a great cause, and I'm happy to support it.  This looks like one of the places I'd be interested in signing up for a regular donation, when I have an income greater than my expenses.  Until then, I'm committing to donate $10 when I can get around to it, and encouraging all my readers to donate, too.

TEDxTalk: The Paper Town Academy

How was I unaware that John Green has a TED talk?

This is a fantastic talk.  It gets at exactly how I feel about learning -- it's not about collecting a catalog of disconnected ideas in a great big mental list, it's about mapping out the territory in your mind to guide you in learning new things.

There isn't much else to say about it, it just deserves as many views as it can get.

Google's new anti-piracy initiative

Why, Google? Why would you do this to us? Alright, to be fair, Google's anti-piracy approach is not as inherently destructive to the basic nature of the internet as SOPA, PIPA, CISPA and ACTA were.  But Google's new approach, to punish sites that receive a high number of copyright infringement notices by decreasing their PageRank values and pushing them further down the search results, has some potentially serious consequences.

It would only take into account whether people claim a site has infringed, not whether the site has actually done so.  Bogus copyright takedown notices definitely exist.  And while the scale of i might not necessarily make it possible for individuals to deliberately target sites with legal content that they object to, it will likely punish websites that produce fringe content that is defensible but easy to attack.

Fair use of trademarks might result in takedown notices that are completely unjustified on the basis of parody laws, but it seems Google won't distinguish those from legitimate claims.  So, issues like Matthew Inman's recent controversy with FunnyJunk could have punished The Oatmeal for its criticism (though this system would likely also punish FunnyJunk for the initial art theft that started the controversy.)

I'm against this, because I'm against Google taking sides with the current legal zeitgeist, even though the people responsible for this decision must know that copyright reform would be better for the internet than reinforcing contemporary legislators' bad behavior.

SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith taking another shot at the internet

(via Boing Boing) Unlike SOPA, though, this one's a cheap shot.  Part of SOPA's functionality was to appoint "IP attaches," government officers whose job would be to pressure other countries into adopting SOPA-like regulations.  Smith's new bill, called The Intellectual Property Attache Act, seeks to replicate that function on its own.  At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow points out that this method has been used before, in a long-game of changing US regulations:

The new bill, [...] will create a class of political officers who will see to it that all US trade negotiations and discussions advance SOPA-like provisions in foreign law. And as we've seen with other trade deals, one way to get unpopular measures into US law is to impose them on other countries, then agree to "harmonize" at home. (Emphasis mine) points out,

The specifics of the bill appear to go further than the version in SOPA. It is clear that the bill itself is framed from the maximalist perspective. There is nothing about the rights of the public, or ofother countries to design their own IP regimes. It notes that the role of the attaches is:

to advance the intellectual property rights of United States persons and their licensees;

It looks very much like Doctorow and Clay Shirky were right, that SOPA, PIPA and ACTA, beyond not being the first, will certainly not be the last attacks on intellectual freedom on the internet.

Def Leppard's badass music negotiation

(via Boing Boing) The way record labels treat bands is notoriously awful, and has only gotten worse since the advent of iTunes.  At least one band, Def Leppard, has come up with a way around their horribleness.

"Our contract is such that they can't do anything with our music without our permission, not a thing. So we just sent them a letter saying, 'No matter what you want, you are going to get "no" as an answer, so don't ask.' That's the way we've left it. We'll just replace our back catalog with brand new, exact same versions of what we did." [says frontman Joe Elliott]

Unfortunately, not all bands have this sway, not all bands have the resources to re-record their back-catalogue, and not all bands have the established fanbase that would support this kind of move.  But in the cases where it's possible, it's good to see bands standing up to the labels.

A few days ago, John Green reposted on his tumblr an article about the necessity of labels -- or the particular ways in which labels encourage a diversity of music.  I like to think I'm sensitive to those arguments, and I definitely agree with John's point that books are made tangibly better by the institution of publishing that surrounds them.

I believe that can also be true for musicians, and there are a lot of ways I know it is true.  But the balance of the deal right now is seriously screwed up.  Something needs to be done about it, and however nebulous that 'something' is, stands like the one Def Leppard has taken are steps toward pushing the labels into becoming something new.

I hope, anyway.

Is Tetris allowed to be copyrighted?

(via Boing Boing) A recent court ruling says yes, but the reason that there was a real case at all highlights one of the basic issues intrinsic to legislating around art.

Copyright doesn't apply to sets of rules, only to the specific expression of those rules.  So iPhone developer Xio Interactive was able to argue in court that everything about Tetris constitutes a rule, rather than an expression.  A New Jersey circuit court ruled against them, but I want to take a closer look at the issue.

Ars Technica summarizes the case itself, and it's an interesting read.  In it, they quote the judge's definition of Tetris's basic ruleset, in order to work out what details beyond that point qualify as expression:

Tetris is a puzzle game where a user manipulates pieces composed of square blocks, each made into a different geometric shape, that fall from the top of the game board to the bottom where the pieces accumulate. The user is given a new piece after the current one reaches the bottom of the available game space. While a piece is falling, the user rotates it in order to fit it in with the accumulated pieces. The object of the puzzle is to fill all spaces along a horizontal line. If that is accomplished, the line is erased, points are earned, and more of the game board is available for play. But if the pieces accumulate and reach the top of the screen, then the game is over. These then are the general, abstract ideas underlying Tetris and cannot be protected by copyright nor can expressive elements that are inseparable from them.

It sounds to me like there should be more that constitute intrinsic rules to Tetris -- like the fact that the blocks are all possible combinations of 4 squares arranged so that their sides are touching -- but that's beside the point.  There isn't a Platonic definition of Tetris.

This is normal in a legal system.  It's one of the reasons we have courts and legislators -- to work out the sticky details between what's legal and what isn't.  And I think it's important to take note when the legal status of the work is in this way ambiguous.  Copyright obviously isn't well-equipped to deal with video games and electronic media, and it's being used ad hoc to compensate for that problem.  But as the world the law refers to changes, so must the law.

Internet: illegal in japan?

(via SourceFed) Note: this headline is exactly the kind of misleading, histrionic crap I've complained about before.

Japan has quietly passed legislation much like the SOPA, PIPA and ACTA attempts which Americans and Europeans have been attempting to beat back for months.  Among other things, this means much of the content on YouTube is basically illegal now in Japan.  Worse, because of the vague wording of the bill, it might also be illegal for Japanese citizens to watch YouTube videos anywhere else, either.

I don't know what kinds of effects Japan's law is going to have on the international state of the internet, but I can say what I hope will happen:

I hope this legislation, which will obviously fail to improve the quality of the internet in Japan, or the profitability of record companies' endeavors there, will become a clear case study that international protections of web freedom are necessary.

I hope it will lead to the promotion and passage of an internet bill of rights, which would supersede Japan's legislation.  I hope this will make clear the need for a more cohesive international community, and some amount of worldwide law.