August 20, 2017

Archives for September 2003

Story Time (Cont.)

Several readers took issue with my previous post relating anti-infringement technology to anti-cancer technology. So let me clarify what I was and wasn’t trying to say.

First, I wasn’t saying that infringement is okay. It’s not. And I wasn’t trying to draw a moral equivalence between infringers and copyright owners. Remember: I analogized infringement to cancer.

Second, I wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t do anything about infringement. Certainly, some anti-infringement measures are worth trying.

Third, I wasn’t saying that it would be wrong to deploy an effective, side-effect-free anti-infringement technology, if such a thing actually existed.

What I was trying to do was to draw an analogy between anti-infringement technologies and anti-cancer technologies, and to point out that people think about these two technology problems very differently, and without good reason. Here are four examples of the difference:

(1) Many people in the policy debate just assume that there must be a technology available that can prevent infringement. Nobody makes such an assumption about cancer.

(2) Doctors who say “I don’t know how to cure cancer” are not accused of being pro-cancer. But software companies that say “I don’t know how to stop infringement” are accused of being pro-infringement.

(3) When a company claims to have a foolproof anti-infringement technology, their claim is often taken seriously, even if no evidence is presented to support it. But nobody would believe a claim that a drug can cure cancer, based only on unsupported assertions by a drug company vice president. Actual scientific evidence is required.

(4) Congress or the FDA wouldn’t dream of mandating the use of a particular cancer treatment (thereby banning other treatments), without independent testing of the proposed treatment and a lengthy and open discussion of how and whether it worked. Yet when it comes to infringement, mandating secret or poorly tested technologies is taken seriously as a policy option.

For some reason, the development of anti-infringment technology is treated as a political problem that can be solved by dealmaking or by decree.

Diebold Voting Machines "At High Risk of Compromise"

As expected, an independent study of the Diebold electronic voting machines purchased by the state of Maryland has found that “The system, as implemented in policy, procedure, and technology, is at high risk of compromise.” The study was commissioned by the state and performed by SAIC. A Washington Post story by Brigid Schulte reports that SAIC “found 328 security weaknesses, 26 of them critical”.

The report is available to the public only in heavily redacted form, which in itself does not inspire confidence. What is in the redacted version is bad enough; for example, it reports that the Diebold machines didn’t even bother to encrypt the vote totals before sending them to the Board of Elections.

Diebold, which had previously said we should trust their unspecified security mechanisms, now says that we should trust them to implement unspecified fixes for these problems.

In case you have any remaining confidence in unaudited electronic voting systems, consider this: a Diebold executive told the Washington Post that the fixes will be made to the Maryland machines, but not to the 33,000 Diebold electronic voting machines already in use outside of Maryland.

Story Time

In a speech today, John Fictitious, president of the Hospital Association of America, expressed his industry’s disappointment at the continuing prevalence of cancer in America. “Our industry stands ready to deploy a cure, but the doctors and drug companies have been unwilling to sit down at the bargaining table to work out a mutually agreeable cure,” he said. Spokesmen for the doctors and drug companies said they were always open to discussion, and asked for more details about the proposed cures and their side effects. But Mr. Fictitious accused them of foot-dragging: “The time for research and discussion is past. Cancer is widespread today. The simple fact is that the doctors and drug companies profit from cancer and would rather not make a deal.”

Congressional leaders expressed sympathy for the Hospital Association’s position. “We are very disturbed by the continued failure of the affected industries to reach an agreement,” said one senator. “If the industries cannot negotiate a solution to the cancer problem, we may have to step in and impose one.”

This is ridiculous, of course. Everybody knows that cancer is a scientific problem – it is an aspect of reality that cannot be negotiated out of existence and cannot be cured by government decree.

But substitute “copyright infringement” for “cancer”, “solution” for “cure”, “motion picture” for “hospital”, “Jack Valenti” for “John Fictitious”, and “software consumer electronics companies” for “doctors and drug companies”, and you get this story, which might have come from a recent newspaper:

In a speech today, Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, expressed his industry’s disappointment at the continuing prevalence of copyright infringement in America. “Our industry stands ready to deploy a solution, but the software and consumer electronics companies have been unwilling to sit down at the bargaining table to work out a mutually agreeable solution,” he said. Spokesmen for the software and consumer electronics companies said they were always open to discussion, and asked for more details about the proposed solutions and their side effects. But Mr. Valenti accused them of foot-dragging: “The time for research and discussion is past. Copyright infringement is widespread today. The simple fact is that the software and consumer electronics companies profit from copyright infringement and would rather not make a deal.”

Congressional leaders expressed sympathy for the Motion Picture Association’s position. “We are very disturbed by the continued failure of the affected industries to reach an agreement,” said one senator. “If the industries cannot negotiate a solution to the copyright infringement problem, we may have to step in and impose one.”

Somehow, people who would see the fallacy clearly in the cancer story, seem to miss the same fallacy when the topic is copyright infringement. Technical problems cannot be solved by negotiation or by government decree; and trying to do so will only hold back the progress that might one day lead to a solution.

Why do so many people miss this point? That’s a topic for a later posting.