April 18, 2024

Archives for November 2002

Rubenfeld on Copyright and the Constitution

October’s Yale Law Review has an interesting article by Jed Rubenfeld, entitled “The Freedom of Imagination: Copyright’s Constitutionality.” (Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and not a legal scholar, so I’m not fully qualified to judge the scholarly merit of the article. What you’re getting here is my semi-informed opinion.)

Rubenfeld argues, convincingly in my view, that standard claims about copyright and freedom of speech don’t stand up to scrutiny. He argues that copyright as now enforced places unconstitutional limits on free speech.

He goes on to explore how copyright can be made constitutional. This involves a detour to discuss the meaning of the First Amendment, followed by the laying of a new framework for copyright. He finds that copyright’s ban on literal copying is constitutional, but the rules regarding derivative works need to be adjusted.

Whether this ultimately is correct is beyond me, but I think the article is worth reading if you’re interested in these issues. I would like to hear the opinions of any readers who are lawyers.

[Link credit: Kitchen Cabinet]

Tech Provisions in Homeland Security Bill

Orin Kerr, over at the Volokh Conspiracy, summarizes some tech-related provisions in the new Homeland Security bill.

The bill changes the sentences that can be assessed for some computer crimes. The effect of these changes is unclear but will likely be small. The widely discussed life-sentence-for-hacking provision applies only in cases when the crimes deliberately or recklessly kill people; but such crimes are already punishable under state murder statutes. There is also an increase in the penalty for intruding into people’s email.

The bill also makes some changes in wiretap law, granting more power to law enforcement. I won’t attempt to further compress Kerr’s already-compressed explanation; read it yourself if you’re interested.

UPDATE (12:49 PM): Ted Bridis points out that the life-sentence-for-hacking provision applies even to attempts to kill people. This might in some cases allow prosecutors too much leeway.

Why I Wike the Web

Evewy so often you discovew an onwine sewvice that you nevew knew you needed. My discovewy today is the Diawectizew, which twanswates any web page into one of eight mostwy humowous diawects. Oh, dat scwewy wabbit!

To wead the west of Fweedom to Tinkew in Ewmew Fudd diawect, cwick hewe.

Pavlovich Decision

The California Supreme Court has ruled that Matt Pavlovich can’t be sued in California state court for posting DVD decryption software (though he can probably be sued elsewhere). Apparently, the key issue was whether Pavlovich’s knowledge that his action would affect California companies was by itself enough to give California courts jurisdiction. The Court ruled that it was not.

Denise Howell at Bag and Baggage has a quickie analysis of the opinion.

The Slashdot Effect

I read Slashdot every day. It’s one of the best sources for tech news, and it contains many nuggets of useful information and informed commentary. If anything interesting happens in the tech world, Slashdot will discuss it.

Sadly, the treasures of Slashdot are often buried in a vast wasteland of speculation, misinformation, and irrelevant blathering. For example, the commentary on yesterday’s California Supreme Court ruling on the Pavlovich case includes this gem, contributed by an “Anonymous Coward:”

Livid was fully functioning as was DeCSS BEFORE nov 30th 1999.

DMCA does not cover software or hardware created BEFORE the begginning of 2000.

This is a fact.

DMCA will NEVER have any bearing on the original frozen sources of Nov 1999 Livid …

DMCA start date was a few months too late.

Despite its emphatic tone, this posting is just wrong: the relevant portions of the DMCA went into effect in October 1998. There is nothing in the DMCA exempting programs created before 2000 or 1998 or any other date.

In theory, Slashdot’s collective moderation process is supposed to weed out ill-informed postings by downgrading their scores; but in practice that doesn’t happen as often as one would like. The posting I quoted above has the maximum possible moderation score (5). Worse yet, the moderators have given it the label “Informative”. Readers who trust this posting will be ill-informed at best, and at worst may break the law.

(There is a response comment on Slashdot, written by “Guppy06,” pointing out the inaccuracy. This response has moderation score 3, and label “Interesting.” But an “Anonymous Coward,” perhaps the original poster, disputes Guppy06’s conclusion.)

By this point, I have probably provoked enough flamage to destroy several medium-sized cities. So let me say it again: I like Slashdot. I’m glad I can read Slashdot, and I thank its many well-informed participants for making it worth reading, despite its often depressing signal-to-noise ratio.