May 24, 2024

Archives for October 2002

Fritz's Hit List #24

Today on Fritz’s Hit List: traffic speed cameras.

These cameras snap a picture automatically when they detect a car exceeding the speed limit, so that the police can enforce speed limit laws. Since these cameras record (possibly copyrighted) images in digital form, they qualify for regulation as “digital media devices” under the Hollings CBDTPA. If the CBDTPA passes, any newly manufactured traffic speed cameras will have to incorporate government-approved copy restriction technology.

Fight piracy – regulate traffic cameras!

[Thanks to James Downs for suggesting this item.]

Slate: Nigerian Scam Emails Explained

Brendan Koerner at Slate explains why we’re all getting so many Nigerian scam emails. Most of them really do come from Nigeria, though the rest of their story is of course fictional.

Compulsory Licensing: Responses

I have gotten several interesting responses to my posting on compulsory licensing of music.

Ernest Miller at LawMeme offers a tongue-in-cheek response. (At least I think it’s tongue-in-cheek.) He says that the same logic that supports compulsory licensing of music would also support compulsory licensing of pornography (requiring everybody to pay a tax to support pornographers).

Adam Shostack offers some good criticisms of compulsory licensing. He writes

The first [criticism] boils down to the ugly details of compulsory licenses. What do those who connection share do? Net cafes? In Pakistan? Do they pay $5USD a month? What can I then do with my music? What if I don’t keep any music that I don’t buy; do I still pay the tax?

Good point. All of these issues would have to be negotiated, and we know the result would be non-ideal. The strongest claim that can be made here is that the existing system has serious problems with compliance and enforcement, and the compliance issues with compulsory licensing, while real, aren’t any worse and might actually be better.

Adam also argues that DRM-style technology regulation, as in the Hollings CBDTPA, would be required to enforce a compulsory license. (He even makes a sharp but good-natured wisecrack about starting up “Ed’s Hit List.”) I disagree with him here. The plan would require collecting a tax on technology devices (or Internet service) but once you paid your tax you would be home free, to do whatever you want with your technology. In my view there would be less call for technology mandates in a world of compulsory licensing.

Finally, Adam writes

The second reason that compulsory licensing is a bad idea is that it freezes progress. In a fairly few years, the labels have moved from no negotiation to PressPlay. We’ve had fascinating ideas about how to reformulate copyright from Jessica Litman. We’re likely to have more. But a compulsory licensing scheme will freeze progress way too early.

Another good point. If we keep blundering along on the current path, we might eventually discover a better solution. A compulsory license would lock us into a poor solution, whose only possible virtue is that it isn’t quite as bad as the current state.

In response to these suggestions, let me just reiterate that I am not advocating compulsory licensing. I wasn’t just being ironic when I said it was a “bad idea” and “hard to stomach.” The fact that it is getting any serious consideration says a lot about the magnitude of our current problems.

Edison's World

Lately I’ve been reading a biography of Thomas Edison, one of history’s great tinkerers. (I recommend the book: Edison by Matthew Josephson.)

I’m amazed at how little the basic nature of the high-tech business has changed since Edison’s day. The products are different, but the business seems very much the same. Edison coped with – and used – vaporware, FUD, standards wars, and ruthless venture capitalists. He fought “bugs” and “piracy.” He and his employees worked insane hours to rush products to market, driven by the same familiar yet mysteriously powerful creative urge that we see throughout the industry today. From this turmoil emerged products that changed the world.

It’s fashionable to say that today’s technology products and businesses are different, and vastly more sophisticated, than anything that came before. I suspect that if Edison saw today’s industry, he would disagree.

[Glossary for non-techies: “Vaporware” means announcing a product well before it is ready, so as to intimidate competitors and delay customers’ purchases until your product is ready. “FUD” means to spread misleading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt about competitors’ products. A “standards war” is a battle between competing vendors to dictate and control technical standards.]

Fritz's Hit List #23

Today on Fritz’s Hit List: musical car horns.

These automobile horns play prerecorded digital sounds, so they qualify for regulation as “digital media devices” under the Hollings CBDTPA. If the CBDTPA passes, any newly manufactured musical car horns will have to incorporate government-approved copy restriction technology.

Fight piracy – regulate car horns!

[Thanks to Steven Burtt for suggesting this item.]