maradydd: (Default)
...but getting that across to NMBS is taking some doing.

Let me explain. Here in Belgium we have a public railway service in the technical sense of the term: the National Railway Company of Belgium (abbreviated NMBS in Flemish, SNCB in French) is wholly owned and operated by the government. It's an "autonomous government company", a bit like Ma Bell in the old days, but crucially, it is a nationalised system.

Up until fairly recently, an enterprising young student, who goes by the handle tuinslak, operated a site called It was a rather popular mobile site which offered transit and routing information formatted for mobile phones, and did a far better job in that space than NMBS' own routeplanner (which has never been usable on mobile phones, and up until very recently was a crash-prone Web 1.0 monstrosity; it's much nicer on a regular computer now, but still not great). tuinslak informed NMBS back in 2008 that he was putting together a routeplanner for mobile users; they ignored his email until about a week ago, when they sent him a cease-and-desist order.

What burns me up is the claimed basis for the C&D. NMBS claims (translated) that i-rail "reuses the data of NMBS. This violates [NMBS'] intellectual property rights, as well as copyright and database rights."

So let me get this straight -- a nationalised company, which is to say, a company owned part and parcel by the citizens of Belgium, is claiming that a Belgian citizen's use of data generated by NMBS is in violation of intellectual property rights? By virtue of being a Belgian citizen, tuinslak has those rights himself. Whose intellectual property rights is he violating? His own?

I'm looking forward to seeing this one go before the courts. I'm not sure if tuinslak is planning on fighting it (though I'm going to contact him and find out); it's clearly something that the EFF should be interested in, and if he doesn't have a legal defense fund in place then I want to get one started.

Relatedly, Lorin Parys has an op-ed in De Standaard, calling for NMBS to put effort into a developers' API for its public information and to quit wasting time and taxpayers' money on an in-house replacement for a third-party mobile routeplanner site that clearly made a lot of people happy. I particularly liked this bit of rhetoric (again, translated):
If we can make non-personally-identifiable information from government and businesses public, we can unlock a stream of creativity and entrepreneurship. The government must lead the way, not lock the door.
maradydd: (Default)
By way of the EFF: a concise overview of just how much of a pain in the ass it is to follow proper fair use provisions when remixing a scene from a movie. EFF Chairman Brad Templeton did a subtitles remix of that Hitler-ranting-at-everyone scene from the movie Downfall, with Hitler as a producer (and apparently affiliated with the MPAA). (Such remixes have frequently been subject to DMCA takedown notices on YouTube.) In order to make sure he was 100% square with the DMCA, Templeton had to order a Region 2 copy of the DVD in order to export video without subtitles through the analog hole, then reimport it (over S-video) before adding his own subtitles.

It certainly shows how much of a pain in the ass it is to jump through all the legal hoops, and how the process could be streamlined. Oh, and the parody video is really funny; you should go watch it (at the link above).
maradydd: (Default)
Who made me the genius I am today,
The mathematician great politician that others all quote?
Who's the professor that made me that way,
The greatest that ever got chalk on his coat?

One man deserves the credit,
One man deserves the blame,
and Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is his name. Oy!
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobache... Vladimir Vladimirovich Pu...

I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky Putin.
In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics economics: Plagiarize!

Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
So don't shade your eyes,
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize...
Only be sure always to call it please, "research".

(article by way of [ profile] grepmaster)
maradydd: (Default)
As promised, the press office of the Senate Judiciary Committee just sent me their release on the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. (Thanks, y'all!) Below the cut, it's reproduced in full. The first section is a press release, i.e., the who (as in, who's sponsoring it), what (description of the bill), when (today), where (Washington, DC) and why (pull-quotes from the bill sponsors explaining their goals) for journalists to refer to. The second section is a statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy, which (based on its wording) I think is being read before the Senate today.

I especially want to draw attention to the third section in order to head off any possible misinterpretation. The third section is a summary of the bill, not the bill itself. It describes what will be contained in each section of the bill, but the summaries and descriptions are not the bill. So, for instance, the bit in section 2 where it talks about "conditions on eligibility" -- those will be spelled out in much greater detail in the bill itself, which you can look for on THOMAS when it's posted there. I expect it'll be up by tomorrow. (ETA: according to Alex Curtis over at Public Knowledge, the bill numbers you're looking for are S.2913 and H.R. 5889. They have PDFs which you can download, too.)

I'll have some remarks on the bill itself, once the actual text is posted. But for now, enjoy the press kit! (ETA: [ profile] vanbeast tracked down the direct link on Sen. Leahy's site, so you can read it there too.)

And now, what you've all been waiting for )
maradydd: (Default)
People. Really. When are you going to learn?

The Illustrators' Partnership is at it again, claiming that they've been sent a draft of the Orphan Works Act of 2008. (No THOMAS link provided, because guess what -- there's not one.) "They haven’t officially released it yet," they claim, "but we’ve been told the Senate will do so this week."

O RLY? Time to do a little digging.

See, the thing to understand about Congress -- indeed, any legislature -- is that it's full of rumors. The entire U.S. legislative branch, from the Speaker of the House down to the lowest congressional page, is as gossipy as a high school lunchroom. Legislators like to know what their fellow legislators are up to, and if you want to substantiate a rumor, the best thing to do is to talk to someone on the right committee.

I picked up my trusty mobile phone and looked up the Senate Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. Why, look at that -- one of my Senators, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), sits on it. I figured I'd start with her office, since I bug them pretty frequently about issues I care about -- they might even know my voice by now. A cheerful staffer picked up on the second ring, and I introduced myself and explained what I was looking for. She couldn't find anything in their database (not surprising, since neither could I), and just to make sure we were on the same page, I pointed out that I was looking for a bill that hadn't been introduced yet, but which I'd heard was likely to be introduced this week, and asked whether anyone on Sen. Feinstein's staff had heard anything about it. She put me on hold, and came back a few minutes later to apologise; no one in the office knew anything about it. I thanked her for her time, and hung up.

Strike one.

Next step: the head of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Unfortunately, no one in Sen. Hatch's office was around. (This happens when you call close to 5pm Eastern time.) I tried one of his state offices, but they said I'd need the Washington office to help me. Oh well. I'll try them tomorrow.

Ball one.

Next step: the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). (He's also the head of the Committee on the Judiciary, to which the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property belongs, which makes him a good bet for information.) This time, I got a guy who searched through the records, again couldn't find anything, and suggested I talk to somebody in the office of the Committee on the Judiciary. I thanked him and let him route the call.

Strike two.

The staffer for the Committee on the Judiciary searched through everything they had, still couldn't find anything, and said I could talk to their press secretary if I thought that would help. I said sure, it was worth a try, so he tried to raise her on the phone, but only got her voicemail. I left her a message explaining the situation (bill hasn't been introduced yet, heard it was going to be introduced this week, any information on it would be awesome, thanks), left my phone number, and hung up.

Half an hour later, the press secretary for the Senate Judiciary Committee called me back. (Now that's service!) She said that the bill was probably going to be introduced tomorrow, and she'd be happy to send me a press kit about it. I gave her my email address, and inquired as to who will be sponsoring it. As it so happens, the sponsors will be Sen. Leahy and Sen Hatch. I expressed my surprise, since the person I'd talked to at Sen. Leahy's office hadn't known about it, and she said it was probably because the other guy wasn't a Judiciary Committee staffer; she only knew about it because she was. Ok, no big deal then.

Saved by the bell! As I said before, a phone call to someone on the right committee will substantiate (or disprove) any rumor. Your legislators have their phone numbers on the Internet for a reason -- when you have questions, call them.

Still, no points to the Illustrators Partnership for saying "OMG THERE'S A BILL" but failing to disclose the sponsors or how people can get information about it for themselves. As I've said here and elsewhere, my only dog in this fight is making sure that people can get the information to make informed decisions. I'm not a fan of organisations who say "trust us, we have the data, we've interpreted it, no need for you to worry your pretty little heads over what it actually says, just listen to what we say and repeat our take on it to all your friends." A responsible organisation will give you the source material so that you can make your own decisions.

And now I'll do just that. For starters, here's all the contact information for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. I spoke with Erica Chabot, Judiciary Press Secretary for Sen. Leahy. Give her a call at (202) 224-2154 and she can hook you up with the press materials. (I haven't received them yet; I expect them some time tomorrow.)

You can also contact the offices of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who are co-sponsoring the Senate bill. Note that I got farther with the Judiciary Committee itself than with Sen. Leahy's office, but once the bill's actually introduced, you'll want to contact its sponsors and the members of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property to give them your opinion.

If the bill is introduced in the Senate tomorrow, then it should be in THOMAS by Thursday morning. I'll be keeping an eye out for it, and will post at length about it once I've had a chance to read through it. (I also owe the Illustrators' Partnership a response to their response to "Six Misconceptions About Orphaned Works", but I have this thing called a "day job" that keeps me a little busy.)

More later.
maradydd: (Default)
In my previous post, I mentioned GovTrack, a nifty, free watchdog service which provides a more user-friendly interface to THOMAS (the Library of Congress's archive of events in current and previous sessions of the United States Congress). With the tools there, you can follow individual Representatives or Senators (they're your representatives, make 'em represent you!), individual bills (so if there's one particular bill whose progress you want to watch, you can track it easily), or issues you care about (by subject or committee. You can do all your tracking through the site, or use RSS feeds of things or people you're interested in, or even sign up to get alerts via email.

Unsurprisingly, one of the most-watched subject areas is copyright. For those of you who are interested in what copyright-policy-related issues actually are up before Congress right now, here's a quick, biased-toward-things-I-find-interesting rundown:
  • S. 1642, Higher Education Amendments of 2007. Section 477 would require colleges and universities to inform students that "unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file-sharing, may subject the students to civil and criminal liabilities," as well as requiring schools to provide students with a description of their policies on file-sharing and of penalties for violating federal copyright law. Passed the Senate in July 2007, doesn't seem to be scheduled in the House yet.
  • H. Res. 314, Supporting the goals of World Intellectual Property Day, and for other purposes. This is just a resolution, not a bill; it doesn't propose any changes to federal law. It basically just says "yay intellectual property, intellectual property is great, the House of Representatives thinks World Intellectual Property Day is a good idea." Since it's just a resolution, not actually a bill, it won't go on to the Senate if the House passes it, and the President won't have to decide whether to sign it. But, hey, it's on the calendar.
  • H.R. 3746, the College Access and Opportunity Act of 2007. This is very similar to S. 1642, above; in this bill, section 484 talks about the same kind of information-providing requirements. This kind of thing happens a lot in Congress -- the House and Senate will almost simultaneously produce very similar bills, they'll get voted on separately, and eventually one of them will vote to approve the other house's bill. Introduced in October last year, not scheduled for debate yet.
  • H. Res. 414, Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that foreign governments should work diligently to legalize all computer software used by such foreign governments, and for other purposes. Another resolution which won't directly affect U.S. law, but which may influence how we interact with other countries. It exhorts foreign governments to follow WTO agreements, the Berne Convention, and the WIPO Copyright Treaty with regard to how they (as in, the governments themselves, not necessarily citizens of their countries) use copyrighted software. Introduced May 2007, not scheduled for debate yet.
  • S. 1353, the Internet Radio Equality Act of 2007. This one is pretty interesting: it's basically the legislative branch attempting to overturn some actions the executive branch took in early 2007 with regard to royalties that web radio stations must pay to content owners. It also proposes that these changes be written into law. Should be of interest to anyone who's involved in producing web radio, whether you're doing it commercially or whether you're just one guy with a copy of Shoutcast. (For instance: did you know that under current law, to be considered a "noncommercial webcaster", you actually have to apply to the IRS for a tax exemption? This stuff is pretty thorny.) H.R. 2060 is quite similar to this one; both have been introduced to their respective houses, neither has been scheduled for debate yet.
  • S. 760, the Four Corners Television Act of 2007. Would make it less of a hassle for cable and satellite providers to rebroadcast TV transmissions originally broadcast in state capitals to more remote areas of the state. S. 124, the Satellite and Cable Access Act of 2007, is a competing Senate bill. (That happens sometimes.) S. 258 is also quite similar, but more general, and worth looking at for the interesting issues it brings up -- it allows satellite carriers to rebroadcast content to far-away subscribers even if they've done so illegally before. Introduced last March, not scheduled yet.
  • H.R. 1689, the Curb Illegal Downloading on College Campuses Act of 2007. If passed, this bill would let the Department of Education give colleges and universities money that they could use to make it harder for students to use campus networks to illegally download copyrighted material. This is a really short bill, and doesn't go into any kind of detail about what sorts of policies or programs schools can or can't implement. The concept of fair use is never mentioned anywhere in the bill. In practice, I wouldn't be at all surprised if schools ended up getting grants from the Department of Education and spending them on RIAA propaganda materials. I'll be watching this one pretty closely. OTOH, it went to the Committee on Education and Labor last March and hasn't been amended or scheduled. This will be a short legislative year thanks to the election; I bet this one dies in committee.
  • H.R. 1524, the Artist-Museum Partnership Act. S. 548 is basically the same thing. Would allow artists, writers, musicians and scholars to donate their works to certain types of nonprofit organisations (e.g., museums) and claim it as a deduction on their taxes. This one's been hanging out in the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Committee on Finance since early last year.
  • S. 256, the Perform Act of 2007. Also deals with royalties for playing music on the radio, though this one would apply to ordinary FM and AM radio as well as web radio. There's a weird little clause in here, in section 2(c), which I find rather troubling: it requires broadcasters to use technology (read: DRM, though I don't quite get how) to "prevent the making of copies or phonorecords embodying the transmission in whole or in part, except for reasonable recording." What's "reasonable recording", you ask? Well, they define it later. A "reasonable recording" is private and noncommercial, for starters -- ok, that's fine, that's fair use. But the bill doesn't want you, in the privacy of your own home, to be able to (for instance) use software that automatically records only the tracks from a web radio station that match a list of artists you like. (Apparently it's okay for me to listen to "Goth Hits of the '80s" and manually start recording every time a Cure track comes on, but if I write a program to listen to the stream for me and start recording when the word "Cure" appears in the artist field, that would be illegal under this bill.) But it gets worse: a "reasonable recording" is also one that's encumbered with DRM preventing me from redistributing it to anyone, or even to my iPod. (If I have a "secure in-home network", like a set-top box, that's okay, but not my iPod. WTF.)

    What I find most offensive about this part of the bill is that it doesn't take into account the desires of individual artists. For instance: I listen to Jonathan Coulton's podcast. iTunes downloads it for me, automatically, every time Jonathan posts a new podcast. Jonathan releases his music under Creative Commons, meaning that he's quite happy for me to go around giving copies of his music to whoever I want. Now, maybe podcasts don't count as "transmissions" under this interpretation of the law, but what if I find an "all Creative Commons works, all the time" web radio station, and decide I want to round out my Jonny C collection by automatically capturing every Coulton track the station plays? Illegal, if this bill passes.

    I don't like this bill because it casts a "chilling effect" on innovation. Why prohibit me from capturing just the tracks I want (if the creators are okay with that), and redistributing them if the creators are okay with that? It's an attempt to bring the hammer down on copyright infringement in a way that also prohibits non-infringing behaviour, and that's not cool in my book.
  • Moving on, S. 522, the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Act. This one would establish a task force to crack down on the international trade and domestic importing of counterfeit goods, e.g. medicines, DVDs, mechanical parts, purses, &c. Sent to the Committee on the Judiciary last February, hasn't left yet.
  • H.R. 1201, the Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act of 2007. This one would fix a lot of broken stuff in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. If passed, it would be legal to circumvent DRM, break encryption, or otherwise defeat copyright protection for the purpose of doing something non-infringing with the content involved -- for instance, a teacher could use DeCSS to decrypt a couple of DVDs in order to use segments of them in a video for the classroom, or you could remove DRM on music you've bought in order to make it playable on an MP3 player which doesn't support that kind of DRM. It's also on the pile for the Committee on the Judiciary. (They're busy guys.)
  • Finally, S. 1957, the Design Piracy Prohibition Act. Same thing as H.R. 2033. It would extend copyright protection to fashion design, and establishes a bunch of definitions and policies related to how that would work.

(I skipped a couple of bills which don't appear to have anything to do with copyright policy, e.g., appropriations bills affecting the Copyright Office.)

Anyway, the summaries and text are all right there for you to read. These are actual bills before Congress right now, so if there are any you particularly support or dislike, then let your elected representatives know! It's a much better use of your time than railing about things Congress isn't even looking at.
maradydd: (Default)
My friends list today has been swept by a storm of fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding this article by Mark Simon on Animation World Network about the issue of orphaned works. "Orphaned works" are creations likely still under copyright -- photographs, illustrations, written works, music, &c. -- for which the original creator cannot be found, and thus their copyright status cannot be determined. Orphaned works present a thorny problem in today's litigious society, because when the question of "who owns X?" can't be answered, very few people are willing to do anything with X if they fear that they'll be sued for it.

For instance, suppose that you have your parents' wedding album, and the photos in it are starting to fade. You go to a photo shop to get the pictures scanned and digitally retouched, so that you can save them on DVD to show your kids in ten years. However, the copyright on those photos belongs to the photographer, not you or your parents. The photo shop tells you that unless you can get permission from the copyright holder, they can't do anything with the photos. Do you know who your parents' wedding photographer was? Do they remember? What if the company the photographer worked for has since gone out of business, and nobody can track down the individual person who took the photos? The pictures are "orphaned works", and no one knows who owns the rights on them.

Or what if you're cleaning out your great-aunt's attic, and you find a box full of pictures of your town as it was 100 years ago? The local history museum would love to add them to its collection -- but it can't, unless you, your great-aunt, or somebody can track down the original photographer and secure his or her permission (or the photographer's estate's permission, if the photographer's dead) to donate the photos. (Copyright in the United States lasts for life of the creator plus 75 (EDIT: 70, for works created today, older works are weird, see here for details; thanks for the correction, internets) years, so chances are, even 100-year-old photos are still under copyright. Thank Disney for that one, guys.)

But Mark Simon apparently believes that enacting legislation to handle orphaned works in a way that protects people who legitimately try to find the original copyright holder, but can't, will lead to the effective invalidation of copyright on ALL UNREGISTERED ART EVERYWHERE OMGZ CALL OUT THE CAVALRY. His article, which I linked above, is miserably poorly researched, jumps to completely illogical conclusions, and, most retardedly of all, implores artists to letterbomb Congress in protest of proposed legislation which does not actually exist. Someone please tell me where this guy is getting the crack he's smoking, because I want to avoid that streetcorner and everything in a six-block radius, kthx.

So, here are six misconceptions that are making the rounds about orphaned works, and a short explanation of why each one is a misinterpretation or just a flat-out lie. I also give links to useful supporting material, and resources you can use to keep track of this issue as it evolves.

1. "There’s legislation before Congress right now that will enact major changes in US copyright law regarding orphaned works! We have to act immediately!" )

2. "If I want the copyright on my art to be recognised, I’ll have to pay to register each piece!" )

3. "If I don’t pay to register my copyright, anyone in the entire world will be able to use it for free!"  )

4. "Someone else could register the copyright on my work, and use that against me!"  )

5. "If I don’t track down people who are illegally using my copyrighted works, I’m SOL!"  )

6. "Displaying my artwork anywhere means that it automatically becomes orphaned, and anyone will be able to use it!"  )


I hope this addresses any fears you might have about orphaned works and the sort of legislation that might come up regarding them. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment and I'll do my best to answer them. Likewise, please feel free to link this article or reproduce it in full or in part; I am placing it under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license. Creative Commons License

[ profile] kynn also has some cogent observations about orphaned works, Mark Simon, his sources, and some follow-the-money fun here.


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