Category: Law

Visualizing SOPA on Twitter

When I heard that Tyler Gray at Public Knowledge was looking for someone to do some analysis on tweets that mentioned SOPA, I thought I might try Cytoscape (an open source tool used for biomedical research, but handy for large scale data visualization) to show some of the relationships between people discussing the controversial bill on Twitter.

The result is a graph of the most active users referencing SOPA

Public Knowledge worked with the Brick Factory to set up their slurp140 tool to record approximately 1.5 million tweets which Tyler sent me in the form 350mb CSV file. I first used Google Refine to clean and narrow the set down to only tweets which were replies to someone else. This left approximately 80,000 tweets which I then imported into R. I then ranked all of usernames by how often they appeared both as senders and recipients, and then picked the approximate top 1,000 users. Since replies are sent from one user to another, the graph is directed: each edge has a direction with an origin and an arrow pointing at the recipient. There are 1,021 nodes identified by their Twitter usernames, and 1,757 edges a good portion of which are labeled with the content of their tweet.

Visualizing networks this large is more of an art than a science

I've tried to strike a balance between visual complexity, aesthetics and readability of tweets, but you'll find that this isn't always successful. Sometimes tweets run into nodes, sometimes edges run into labels, and sometimes the graph feels like a total mess. But that messiness is part of what made the SOPA debate on so interesting over the last month.

Thousands of people participating with plenty of cross talk.

The colors and sizes of the nodes and edges are coded in the following ways:

  • A node and its label size is maps to the number of tweets both posted by a user and and mentioning a user. (Ex: @BarackObama is a huge node because so many people were tweeting at him about SOPA).
  • Node color represents the number of outgoing tweets. The greener the node, the more replies a user posted. (Ex: @Digiphile sent a lot of tweets mentioning SOPA.)
  • Edge thickness represents "edge betweeness" which is how many "shortest paths" that run through it. This is a rough measure of how central a given tweet is in a network. (Ex: @declanm and @mmasnick have a thick line connecting them because many other nodes are connected to the two through that tweet.)
  • Edge color represents the language of the tweet. (Ex: Tweets in English are blue, Spanish are yellow.)

The nodes are positioned using an "force directed" algorithm which is typically designed for undirected graphs, but I found it to be the most visually compelling of Cytoscape's layout options. To learn more about force directed graphs, take a look at this d3 tutorial visualizing the characters in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.

To really browse the graph visit GigaPan where I've uploaded a 32,000 x 32,000 pixel version.

I highly recommend GigaPan's full screen mode. I've also created a couple snapshots on GigaPan that highlight interesting nodes: @BarackObama, @GoDaddy, and @LamarSmithTX21 and @DarellIssa.

If you really want, you can also download the 36mb gigapixel file, the Cytoscape source file, and the PDF vector version of the network graph.

Thanks again to Public Knowledge, The Brick Factory for providing the infrastructure to record the tweets, and everyone who has helped fight against SOPA and PIPA over the last couple of months, especially those who tweeted about it.

There's No Such Thing as a Compulsory License for a Photo

My friend Andy has a terrific post up about his ordeal settling with the photographer Jay Maisel over the threat of a copyright lawsuit. Chances are if, you're reading this, you know about that. If you haven't ready Andy's story, go and read it and then come back.

There's one pointed question I've seen crop up in a number of conversations about the settlement:

Isn't it wrong that Andy chose to pay the licensing fees for the music but not for the photograph?

This question makes the assumption that Andy could have paid the licensing fees to Maisel like he did for the music. He couldn't have. This is because Jay Maisel refused to license the image and there's no compulsory license for photography like there is for musical compositions.

A compulsory license is what it sounds like: the owner of the underlying musical composition is required, by law, to license it to anyone who wants to use it at a predetermined rate. This prohibits song writers from picking and choosing who gets to perform their works. It also allows Andy to license, at a fair rate, the underlying song compositions from a Miles Davis album to make a new album of original recordings (remember, copyrights to recordings are different from copyrights to the compositions of a song).

The copyright of photographic works, unlike works of music composition, is not subject to a compulsory license.

This means that photographers, unlike song writers, can forbid anyone from reusing their work, whether it is for a poster or for an album cover.

Now, artists like Jay Maisel obviously enjoy this absolute control over their work because it lets them dictate who uses their art and when. Song writers, unfortunately aren't afforded to this their published works.

So while no one could have prevented Andy from recording an album of remixed music written by Miles Davis -- not even Miles Davis himself if he were alive -- the same does not hold for a photo of Miles Davis.

Remember, Maisel admitted he would have refused to license to Andy the rights to the photo. So Andy's only option, short of not using the photo at all, was to use the 8-bit remix cover and wager it was a fair use.

That Andy could, in one case, hire artists to legally remix music by paying a compulsory license, but in another case had to make an expensive and risky bet on fair use (a bet that didn't pan out) feels unfair.

Put another way: why are composers required to license their compositions at a fair rate to anyone, but yet virtually every other type of artist doesn't have to play by the same rule?

I doubt anyone would argue that song composition is a lesser art or any less deserving of full royalties than other arts.

One reason is that the practicalities of compulsory rights for photographs (and other works) are hard to imagine. Music compositions are written, then performed, then recorded, whereas photographs are snapped and then printed. There's no underlying right in a photograph (thank goodness) to its "composition" like there is for a piece of music. So that is part of why compulsory licenses for photos don't exist.

But I think another part of the story is that the law has evolved the musical compulsory license as an implicit acknowledgement that music compositions are both maleable and fundamental components to our culture. Compulsory licenses make possible everything from karaoke bars to cover bands to remixes like Andy's. The alternative -- allocating complete power to composers over who reuses their work -- yields transactional costs on culture that are simply too high. The law hasn't felt the same way for the visual works.

So will other art forms, like photography, adopt compulsory licenses? I doubt it, but I can't help but they'd be a great compromise in light of Andy's settlement. I asked Andy over email whether he would have paid a mechanical license for the photo:

"Absolutely. If the laws and protocols for remixing photos were as clear and fair as covering music, I would've bought a mechanical license for the photo in a heartbeat. But the laws around visual art are frustratingly vague, and requiring someone's permission to create art that doesn't affect the market for the original doesn't seem right. I didn't think it would be a problem, especially considering the scope of my project, but I was wrong. Nobody should need a law degree to understand whether art is legal or not."

Duplicate Windows 7 Commercials Show Why Software Patents are a Bad Idea

Part of Microsoft's aggressive Windows 7 TV advertising campaign revolves pairing feature ideas with tongue-in-cheek-reenactments of how those ideas occurred to "real" users. The "real" user retells how and where they came up with the concept and then demonstrates that, hey, Microsoft thought it was a good idea too and hey, look at that its now in Windows 7! Clearly Microsoft is finally listening to its users (as opposed to Windows Vista).

Anyway, these faux testimonials-reenactments never struck me as particularly sincere and after being subjected to one just a couple of minutes ago, I realized that I had seen basically same commercial with another actor claiming to have thought of the same feature. So I went and double checked on YouTube, and indeed, there are two commercials with two totally different men (with different names) claiming to have thought of the "Aero Snap" feature in Windows 7. The former one is the original US one, and the latter one is the UK version.

So, who came up with the idea? For the sake of the argument, let's interpret it in the most generous way possible: two independent, real people named Jake and Ramin came up with the same idea and Microsoft chose to implement it. How cool.

But wait, wouldn't Microsoft probably own a patent on the Aero Snap feature? Sure enough, they do. Its actually a lot more broad and powerful than simply snapping windows, but Microsoft applied for and received the patent in 2005.

And now they have two commercials with two people claiming to have come up with the same idea by themselves. Just imagine if one of those users didn't submit the idea to Microsoft, but merged into a free software project at the same time? (It turns out that KDE, a free software window manager has long had such a feature).

In this generous interpretation Microsoft has implicitly created an argument against patents: independent and simultaneous discovery of inventions. Who do you give the patent to, Jake or Ramin? This is actually a hugely interesting area of contemporary research, and there's been lots of work done to demonstrate that new ideas are almost never new. Kevin Kelly has a good post about it here.

Unfortunately, there's a more likely and cynical explanation for the duplicate commercials: someone at Microsoft "discovered" the concept (here's a MS blog post discussing its development and effectively taking credit for it), and then they did two or more sets of commercials with different demographically-appealing actors claiming credit for the features.

Why do all Na'avi in Avatar have braids? Because code is law.

You could say that I'm partial to Lessig's maxim that "code is law."

I also think it goes a long way to explaining some decisions James Cameron made while making Avatar. More specifically, the code and technology responsible for the majority of the movie's (we can't very well go on calling them films much longer, can we?) visual experience actively constrained the choices of the production team and thereby the choices of the Avatar characters themselves. Neytiri couldn't have had voluminous hair even if she wanted to, because James Cameron's hardware and software wasn't good enough.

If you haven't followed computer graphics closely you might not know that certain textures and materials, like hair, are incredibly difficult to get right. Though there has been quite a lot of progress in the realm of still CG, capturing the motion and flow of humanoid hair is still very difficult if not virtually impossible. Cameron's Avatar didn't significantly advance the state of the art, but he was able to creatively sidestep the issue by giving his characters thick braids and dreadlocks which he could motion capture.

This alleviated the chore of trying to artificially generate the realistic movement of millions of individual hairs: if all the Na'avi had braids or dreadlocks, then all of that movement could be motion captured by actors in reality.

Much has been made of Cameron's innovation to accurately develop motion capture for individual facial movements, and it is my strong feeling that the team also took this approach for the hair of their characters. As Wired pointed out in their features on the movie, this is an evolution in the modern director relationship to computer graphics: instead of trying to *simulate* real world phenomena using procedural software, directors opt to direct a close enough analog in the physical world whose motion could be captured at a very high resolution using camera-like devices.

Don't believe me? Check out these screen grabs from the Avatar making of video floating around:

Look closely at Zoe's head and it doesn't require a lot of imagination to believe that her dreadlocks have individual motion capture devices embedded in them. It's also probably true that motion capture systems of this type can not be scaled small enough for individual hairs. This might change in the future, but for now it is a real technological constraint in the world of Pandora. There are a couple other examples of technology constraining creative choice: why don't any animals in the Pandora jungle have fur? Might it be because Cameron couldn't get CG fur to look right?

So Cameron's technological constraints and innovation drove choices that would have have otherwise been purely creative. Code became law on Pandora. Sometimes the origins of code's constraints are artificial (such as copyright law) but sometimes they're just practical constraints like software and CPU horsepower, and I think that's what happened here.

Let me know if you agree or have any evidence to the contrary.

DeCSS and (My) Radicalization

Philosophy Club Poster

I made this poster for a meeting of the Philosophy Club at Wilton High School. Admittedly, my definition of "philosophy" was pretty loose and this poster's point was pretty incoherent (apologies to MLK), but I had found myself talking about the 2600 DeCSS case Universal v. Reimerdes so much with my friends, that I figured it might be good to found a club where we could keep similar conversations going. Since our school didn't have a debate club at the time (there were rumors about an ill-fated trip involving a school bus sinking in the Norwalk River), we didn't really have any other venues to do this besides study hall.

Luckily, my father happened to be a working philosophy of science professor and had enough spare time to help us get the club off the ground. I think I organized the first session and ranted about the DeCSS case, but we later moved onto more academic subjects and discussions. The club was a high point in what was mostly a difficult period in my life and school. I think I still have some photos that we intended to submit to the yearbook and if those turn up I'll try and post them. Unfortunately the club never survived after our class's graduation as we were unable to find a faculty adviser or enough student interest. I would later use the skills I developed to launch Free Culture @ NYU, so I suppose I was on the right track.

The polemical writings of Emannuel Goldstein, editor in chief of 2600 and the main defendant in the case, about the magazine's choice to publish DeCSS had galvanized me. Goldstein articulated that the issues at hand in the suit were really ones of freedom, source code, and speech, not piracy and profits. As an early adopter of Linux (Slackware 3.3 anyone?) as well as a kid who loved movies and was incredibly excited about the potential of DVDs, the practicalities of the case were quite clear to me: why shouldn't I be able to run whatever software I wanted to play my own DVDs? Who says I can't read *that* source code? Jon Johansen, the teenager hacker who cracked the DVD encryption scheme, CSS (not to be confused with the other CSS), played the role of sympathetic hacker who I, not incidentally, looked up to.

Free speech on the internet, heck, freedom itself, appeared to be at stake, threatened by a very bad part of a very new law that sounded like it was bought and paid for by the exact interests suing our magazine.

During the case's 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals trial in May of 2001, I wore a t-shirt featuring the censored source code while sitting in the audience. The Wall Street Journal interviewed me that day and it wasn't until last year that I discovered my quote actually made it into the article in the paper:

Looking back, I now realize my interest and involvement in this case marks my early foray into the world of radical online free speech activism and copyright reform. I knew the 2600 case was important (clearly, I spent a disproportionate amount of time thinking about it, debating it, and following it closely), but I did not estimate how much these issues would continue to shape and influence my life and career. I've now been involved in this community for almost a decade, and it's only beginning to get really interesting.

Obviously, I was not alone. This case and these issues not only radicalized a generation of free software developers and enthusiasts, but also trained them with a set of skills necessary to successfully navigate these issues in the future.

My friend and now colleague at NYU, Gabriella Coleman has written an article about our story called "Code is Speech: Legal Tinkering, Expertise, and Protest among Free and Open Source Software Developers"  published in the academic journal Cultural Anthropology. Biella's paper is one of the best overviews of the conditions that precipitated the birth of a generation of internet and free speech activists. Biella concludes by arguing this type of political activism and legal autodidacticism represents a new kind of engagement with democracy, which of course, I completely agree with and am proud to be part of.

Download the PDF of her paper here, or look for it in your copy of Cultural Anthropology.

Regarding Public Disclosure of Private Fact on Social Networks

A quick update about the Facebook governance post I wrote a while ago where I wondered whether disclosing private facts about yourself on your Facebook page would constitute "public disclosure of private facts" and thereby prevent you from claiming invasion of privacy should a friend disclose something they discovered on your semi-private profile:

... American law prevents me from disclosing private facts about Alice that are not news worthy. However, if Alice had disclosed such private facts in a public space (perhaps in front of a large audience), I can pass on the facts to others and even publish them.

But what if Alice discloses her private fact on her Facebook profile? It remains private in the sense that only I and her friends can see it by logging into Facebook’s private service, but it also arguably public in the sense that I and her friends are also an audience. Does it matter how many friends she has? What privacy settings did she have in place?

Through a Slashdot post, I just stumbled across a case that hinged on a very similar fact pattern, Moreno vs. Hanford Setinel. The judge decided that since a teenager wrote a post on her MySpace blog revealing facts she believed (and now regretfully wishes) were private, she could not claim a breach of privacy under the doctrine.

The judge astutely points out that since the teenager's MySpace page and blog were publicly available to "anyone with a computer and Internet connection.", they couldn't be considered private even if she believed her actual audience to be tiny. But this leaves open the question of whether using Facebook's privacy settings would create a particular level of security that would classify the profile and facts as "private."

Obviously details about actions and relationships matter a great deal in determining whether privacy has been breached and whether certain disclosures are public "enough" to negate a plaintiff's privacy claim. But what is still interesting to me, is whether certain technical choices a user can make on Facebook are substantial enough to shift a profile from being public to being private in the eyes of the law.

As Lessig argues, code is law, but in this case, we might be able to see it the other way around: Facebook's code could amount to sufficient law.

When Does Facebook Stop Being a Startup and Start Being A Government?

A lot of my time is spent thinking about the Internet as a public place. That may seem like an obvious and intuitive concept to grasp, but it is practically difficult for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are legal, such as copyright law, and other are technical.

Many of Facebook's struggles are, at their core, symptoms of a public vs. private schizophrenia massive centralized platforms are beginning to suffer from. Wikipedia is one solid counter-example: most decisions and policies are the result of decentralized consensus or vote.

The current row over whether Facebook should allow Holocaust deniers the right to organize at first appears as a freedom of speech issue. This is certainly how the Facebook team has justified allowing certain groups to stay online. But because it is all happening on Facebook's servers, it is also (and perhaps singularly) a Facebook Terms of Service issue.

Facebook has the right to throw people off their service for reasons they deem appropriate just as Club Penguin has the right to censor children from cursing at each other when playing a video game. Facebook is not the United States government and it is therefore not subject to the same kind of first amendment scrutiny when censoring speech.

But Facebook is a government of some kind. With over 175 million users, the site is now more populous than most countries. They're also holding elections and convening debate over the rights and responsibilities of their users. It's clear that they are governing user's actions much in the same way that a government governs citizens' actions, but it is now totally unclear what inalienable rights Facebook users have when engaging with their friends and colleagues in what has become a public space. It is my hope that projects like Autonomo.us will help shift the debate towards greater user freedom and data portability in the long run, but we aren't there yet. More specifically, whether Facebook respects an external bill of rights (as drafted by Autonomou.us) is a separate issue of whether Facebook will ever legally be considered a public or private space. This battle has occurred in the physical world, and the law seems conflicted over whether massive private spaces can be considered public. In Iowa, malls are considered private property, but New Jersey's State Supreme Court disagrees, and the 1980s Supreme Court decision, Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, the court decided that states like California could affirm free speech rights in places like malls.

The ToS modification fiasco is another example of Facebook's public vs. private schizophrenia. At the heart of the blow-up over the revised Terms of Service, was a sentence claiming that users content "will survive" on Facebook despite said user deleting an account. Consumerist rightly interpreted this phrase as allowing Facebook to exploit (if not behave as if they own) your content in perpetuity. This was a dire and cynical prediction, but not unfounded.  Julius Harper did a masterful job of organizing the outrage over the modified ToS and was subsequently invited into the negotiations, which was certainly a step in the right direction.

A good-will interpretation of Facebook's new phrasing was that the sites administrators couldn't be absolutely sure that all of your content would be gone once you deleted your account. Consequently, Facebook's lawyers wanted to preclude liability (privacy, copyright and otherwise) if your content happened to show up somewhere in a backup or internally archived version of the site. Anyone familliar with running a user platform (and backing it up) will be aware of the complexity involved in keeping track of user data across many servers, so do not dismiss this challenge as an easy task until you talk to a server administrator.

But there was also a feature-based reasoning behind Facebook's ToS modification. Facebook did not want to be obligated to remove messages, wall posts, and photos from other users accounts and inboxes simply because one user deleted their account.

If Alice sent Bill a message on Facebook, and then deleted her account, should Facebook be obligated to remove Alice's message from Bill's Facebook Inbox? This is something the site could do very easily. We've all seen instances of our friends removing status updates, profile information, or photos, so there's no question Facebook can unilaterally perform the same action without our permission. But our intuition says that they shouldn't do this. Even though Bill may not own the copyright to reproduce Alice's content, he should at least be afforded the dignity of perpetually retaining a record of his communication with her, despite her desire to remove her presence from Facebook.

This is how the Internet works: if Alice and Bob were communicating over e-mail, there would be no question as to whether Bob would have the right to retain Alice's e-mail even if she deletes her e-mail account.

But Facebook is not the public Internet, where users have no control of servers across the world. Quite the opposite: Facebook does have control over everything and can actually unilaterally delete e-mails out of inboxes. This presents a unique liability and responsibility that the company's lawyers were interested in attenuating. I wouldn't be surprised it was motivated by threat of a lawsuit by an angry user wanting *all* of their content off the site, including messages sent to other users.

Ultimately, Facebook's desire to retain the metaphors of Internet communication is at odds with the company's power to unilaterally control that communication. While Facebook actually has the power to delete Alice's e-mails from Bob's Facebook Inbox, they choose not to, out of respect for norms established long ago on the public Internet. In other words, Facebook is attempting to behave like a public space while remaining a private company by crafting its own rules and laws.

There's also the issue of public disclosure of private facts on Facebook. American law prevents me from disclosing private facts about Alice that are not news worthy. However, if Alice had disclosed such private facts in a public space (perhaps in front of a large audience), I can pass on the facts to others and even publish them.

But what if Alice discloses her private fact on her Facebook profile? It remains private in the sense that only I and her friends can see it by logging into Facebook's private service, but it also arguably public in the sense that I and her friends are also an audience. Does it matter how many friends she has? What privacy settings did she have in place?

The public and private nature of Facebook feels very complicated.

In the end, I don't think the phrase "walled garden" suits the scale and character of these kinds of issues anymore, as we're no longer talking just about access to content. These issues are about government, control, public spaces, and censorship, so our freedom and laws should apply accordingly.

The Staggering Hypocrisy of the MPAA

MPAA shows how to videorecord a TV set from timothy vollmer on Vimeo.

This video is shot by my friend Timothy Vollmer at the current DMCA exemption hearings. The issue is whether Congress should allow educators and students the rights to rip DVDs for educational purposes. Peter Decherney succeeded in establishing this right for film historians working at universities, and is now seeking to broaden it to all educators and students.

In the video, a representative from the MPAA is demonstrating that it is "easy" to access and compile content from a DVD without the need to rip it using decryption software. Their suggested technique? A camcorder pointed at a flatscreen hooked into the audio signal.

This is evil and hypocritical a number of reasons. First, the MPAA has positioned themselves against camcording movies. Here, they're showing how easy it is to do. They're also one of the main organizations which have successfully lobbied for criminal penalties against people bringing camcorders into movie theaters.

Second, the software used in the presentation is VLC. VLC disables the MPAA's price fixing scheme known as region encoding and can also decrypt DVDs, providing yet another example of where the MPAA thinks their own rules don't apply to them.

Third, the MPAA has been leading the pack in attempts to close the "analog hole" through legislation and collusion with hardware manufacturers. The analog hole is precisely the phenomenon demonstrated in this video; since audio and visual data needs to be broadcast into an analog signal eventually (our brains are not capable of decrypting 1s and 0s into images and audio yet), there will always be a avenue in which to record media so long as our computers obey us.

"Closing the analog hole" refers to forcing manufactures to cripple hardware so that it is incapable of broadcasting analog signals and also incapable of recording them. It is the stuff of a dystopian science fiction plot not technical reality.

Ultimately this video demonstrates the insidiousness of the MPAA's strategy: they want to force educators to use a technique that they're simultaneously lobbying to prohibit.

End result? The precise strategy suggested by the MPAA, the analog hole, gets legislated away by the MPAA, and educators are left wasting money and time on multiple copies of crippled media.

UPDATE: Another way I'm thinking about this video: it proves that the MPAA knows closing the analog hole is impossible, thus exposing their attempts at legislation as disingenuous.

Props go to Tim for posting such a illustrative video (not to mention the nerve to post clips of Harry Potter under fair use!)

We Are One if You Are HBO

photo by jurvetson
photo by jurvetson on flickr

Techdirt is reporting that Against Monopoly is reporting that HBO is sending take down notices to people who have uploaded their own recordings of the Inaugural Concert: We Are One.  I haven't been able to verify this, but if it is indeed the case, it would seem that HBO is misunderstanding their rights under copyright law. Note that I am not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice.

Since HBO merely owns the copyright to their recording of the concert, they can't control what other people were doing with their own recordings from their own cameras. This is because a work is not entitled to copyright protection unless it is fixed. The actual performance that happened that evening wasn't fixed or copyrighted until it ended up on HBO's tapes (or hard drives).

If the content of the concert was in the public domain or free (e.g., The Star-Spangled Banner is in the public domain since it was created prior to 1923), then any audience member who recorded it had the right to make a recording of it and distribute that recording since they owned the copyright to the video. Putting aside questions of anti-bootlegging laws (which are arguably unconstitutional and not relevant to DMCA takedown notices), it is not clear that HBO can prevent distributions of privately filmed performances of public domain works that were performed in a public venue, which, if the Against Monopoly report is correct, is what part of what they're trying to do.

However, according to the Wikipedia page, a lot of non-public-domain non-free content was performed.

Which means that by recording and distributing a live performance of say, a Bruce Springsting song, an audience member might be infringing on the boss' copyright, but probably not HBO's copyright. Does anyone know more about bootlegging laws and how they might or might not apply here?

So what right does HBO have to send takedown notices for other people's works? Sending fraudelent DMCA takedown notices is itself a violation of the DMCA, so if you've been threatened by HBO for posting videos you recorded at the inaugural concert, you probably have the right to file a putback, and perhaps take action against HBO.

There are bigger questions, however, about the inaugural committee's right to leverage tax payer money and support to sell off exclusive rights of a public event to a private entity such as HBO. I'm not clear on whether their status as a legal entity would entitle them to do this.

Anyway, while I would like to see HBO put the concert into the public domain along with other works of the federal government, that is probably impossible as the recording contains works that are in copyright, such as Bruce Springsting songs.

There is the possibility that HBO could put the video but not the audio into the public domain, but I do not think there is an easy work around for including both the audio and video. This is not to say, however, that HBO is justified in sending nasty letters to citizens interested in helping celebrate an important event.

I sympathize with the inaugural committee's desire to produce and execute a fantastic recording of a historic moment in American history. I know that this kind of production costs money and there must be incentives for creating it. But I think the conflicts between HBO and citizens indicate that copyright is not the proper incentive here. It alienates too many citizens interested in documenting their own version of history, and given the context and content of our current president's administration, sets the wrong precedent for sharing that history. HBO should be ashamed of themselves.

The WSJ Gets it Wrong Again and/or The RIAA Lies Once Again

The RIAA Logo.

It turns out the Wall Street Journal's sloppy journalism cuts both ways. On Friday I blogged about how the WSJ was reporting that the RIAA had ceased filing lawsuits against individual file sharers. Stupidly, I didn't really think about their source or attempt to verify the claims myself. Neither did the Associated Press.

Ray Beckerman (who had skeptically acknowledged these reports when the WSJ article first surfaced) has discovered that the RIAA filed another round of lawsuits against individuals just last week, a discovery that directly conflicts with the WSJ piece.

The WSJ's article suffers from exactly the same flaws as its piece on network neutrality; high on conjecture, low on meaningful facts about the get of the article. The lead establishes that the RIAA is "set to drop its legal assault" but goes on to describe the negotiations the RIAA is establishing with the ISP industry. Noticeably missing from the rest of the article is any evidence demonstrating that the RIAA is actually stopping its legal assault.

So we only have ourselves to blame -- we read what we wanted to read and without Ray Beckerman's excellent sleuthing, we might still be giving the RIAA credit for coming to its senses.

Whether it was the RIAA lying to reporters (which Ray seems to believe is the case) or the WSJ trying to see a story where there wasn't one, this was a case of not thinking critically enough about sources and evidence based reporting. Either way, if the network neutrality article didn't give you enough reason to distrust the WSJ's technology reporting, this incident should. This also leads me to believe that the WSJ has under-critical technology reporters rather than a malicious agenda to purposely misunderstand technology topics.

There's a lot to be cleared up in this situation and there is probably some truth to the RIAA winding down their lawsuits, but I don't think we should hold our collective breath or consider this the victory we initially did.