Archive | June, 2005

More Clear Thinking on Grokster, and Taking It One Step Further

Following up on yesterday’s remarks, today I see that Ross Rubin’s Switched On column at Engadget also focuses on the specifics of the Court’s Grokster decision, rather than taking it as a wholesale attack on mp3 technologies:

The upshot is that, even though most consumer electronics products should be in the clear, the Grokster case will likely remind manufacturers to play it safe by ensuring that the advertising and primary appeal around their products is not designed around fostering infringement.

However, one downside noted by Rubin is that the Court did cite Grokster’s failure to attempt to stop infringing uses as a contributing factor in its decision. Therefore he thinks we’ll see more devices that specifically limit or block sharing — something that the iPod, for instance, already does.

For his final point, Rubin looks to Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge, noting that “this was a case about business models, not technology.” Indeed, that’s part of the point I was trying to make yesterday.

And so, on the claim that the Grokster decision will inhibit innovation, I have to ask, “what kind of innovation?” With the contemporary techno-fetish of the amorphously defined concept of “innovation,” we have to ask what it means to inhibit innovation.

In this case, the kind of innovation that is directly blocked is corporate profit derived from creating a product marketed to share music in contravention to existing laws.

Regardless of what I think about the validity of those laws, I am also critical of corporate profit, period. I don’t cry when Enron is busted for breaking laws, why would I cry for Grokster? I don’t buy the claim that Grokster had any right to profit from their network, just like I don’t buy Enron’s right to profit.

So, the kind of innovation I’d like to see are anonymous P2P networks that take a model like BitTorrent and make it better for sharing high-bandwidth independent media materials across borders and in a way that protects producers and viewers from governments and corporations.

We don’t need a corporate sponsor, like Grokster, for that to happen, and this decision doesn’t necessarily get in its way.

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G8 Radio: Webcast and Broadcast

G8 Radio will be providing streaming audio coverage of protests against the G8 in Scotland this weekend, in addition to related reportage and analysis.

The venerable Amsterdam unlicensed station Vrije Keyser Radio will be carrying the broadcast at 89.6 FM. In their announcement they write:

Amsterdam based independent free radio station ‘Radio de Vrije Keyser’ was founded in 1979 by the squatters scene.

The past two years, repression by the Dutch authorities towards free radio’s in the Netherlands has grown dramatically. After being tolerated by the authorities since the early eighties, also Vrije Keyser Radio recently got threathened by the police that they would take actions if the transmitter was not turned off permanently. But Vrije Keyser Radio goes on!

These days, Vrije Keyser Radio is only on air during special occasions, like certain festivals, demonstrations and other protests.

Temporary, hit-and-run, and event-based broadcasts can be very effective ways of using unlicensed radio strategically to bring much-needed info to the airwaves while minimizing the risk of being busted.

According to G8Radio, these other broadcast and web stations will also be carrying the feed:

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The Pragmatics of the Grokster Decision

Matt at tries on some clear thinking about the Supreme Court decision in the MGM vs. Grokster case:

From what I can tell, this is a fairly narrow decision with nuance. The Supreme Court seems to have ruled that a company cannot promote an illegal use for a technology. Those same kids writing lean little p2p applications for assignments will create on their own. If they go ahead and say “hey, use this to steal,” then they risk feeling that ominous chill of the man breathing down their neck (or is that “the heat?”). If an entity does is, then it can be held accountable for such use, says the court. This is not the same as saying that if a technology is misused or has an illegal use that then the entity that produced is liable, and I think the line is pretty clear.

I think he’s on the right track. While it would be nice to have a clear umbrella decision like the Betamax one, very few Supreme Court rulings are ever that clear. And this one does not say that Grokster is guilty, just that the case may proceed to determine if it is.

Of course, this is the problem with the law, in general. While the Supreme Court is the court most likely to run on clearer principle, it’s still hemmed in by the constitution as interpreted, the laws and written, and custom.

While on the surface Court rulings seem to disallow particular behaviors and actions, they also frequently provide clear instructions on how to avoid breaking the law while achieving similar goals.

Following Matt’s logic, it could be just a matter of the developers behind a P2P technology to be very careful in how they promote and market their tech.

Keep in mind that this case goes after a particular for-profit company, which is trying profit off this technology. Things do change when the tech is developed by volunteers, especially if they’re anonymous and/or from outside the US, especially if the marketing issue is the most defining.

I’m not cheering this decision, but I think it’s important to recognize that we’re all stuck in a pragmatic compromise of having to thrash through thousands of screwed up laws everyday, and somehow most of us figure a way to cut through the maze.

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Another Indymedia Server Seized: Bristol, UK

Thanks to Jebba, I’m alerted to the alarming seizure of yet another Indymedia server:

On Monday, June 27th, Indymedia Bristol’s server was seized by the police. An Indymedia volunteer was also arrested during the raid on suspicion of incitement to criminal damage and is now on bail. …

Bristol Indymedia say: “We are outraged at the actions of the police. They have completely disabled the entire Bristol Indymedia news service. By their actions they have undermined the principle of open publishing and free access to the media, thereby removing people’s opportunity to read and report their own news. This situation has serious implications for anyone providing a news service on the Internet. We do not intend to let this stop us from continuing the project.”

Last week, police demanded access to the server to gain the IP details of a posting. The alternative media outlet is receiving advice from civil liberties organisations and the NUJ. Before being legally forced to hand over the server, Indymedia Bristol stated: “We do not intend to voluntarily hand over information to the police as they have requested”. Bristol Indymedia see the seizure of their server and the arrest of one of their volunteers as an attack on the freedom of speech. …

The collective best guess is that this is related to the upcoming G8 meetings in Scotland, which begin this coming weekend.

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