May 30, 2024

Archives for November 2002

RIAA's Anti-Infringement Site Infringes

I swear I’m not making this up.

DSLReports observes that the RIAA’s new anti-infringement website, UnitedMusic, contained material copied without permission from a page at the University of Chicago. The RIAA has now removed the apparently infringing material.

My Worst Fears, Confirmed

Cory Doctorow points to a new tool, GetContentSize, that evaluates what portion of a Web site is content, as opposed to formatting and other junk. When applied to this site, here is GetContentSize’s report:

Total page size: 32939 bytes (not including images, attached scripts or style sheets)


UPDATE (1:00 PM): Adrian Holovaty, the author of GetContentSize, writes that he has fixed the bug that caused this site to be labeled as content-free. Now the site rates as 38.7% text content. Now that it’s fixed, GetContentSize looks pretty useful in diagnosing sites that have too much baggage and too little content.

Post-Napster File Sharing at Princeton

Today’s issue of the Daily Princetonian, our student newspaper, reports on file sharing issues on campus.

(Note that the article has its facts wrong about the Napster case. Napster was not found to have violated the DMCA. Napster’s legal problems had to do with contributory and vicarious copyright infringement.)

Report from the ACM DRM Workshop

Yesterday I attended the ACM “Digital Rights Management” Workshop in Washington DC. There were about 100 attendees, most of them computer scientists, with a few lawyers and Washington policy types thrown in. Papers from the workshop are available online.

My main impression was that the speakers were more openly skeptical about DRM than at past conferences. I don’t think this represents any real change in opinion. The real cause, in my view, is that industrial researchers are now starting to say in public what they would only say in private before.

The skepticism about watermarking was especially strong. One speaker described a simple attack that apparently can defeat essentially all state-of-the-art watermarking methods. Another speaker’s paper says

Proposals for systems involving mandatory watermark detection in rendering devices try to impact the effectiveness of [file sharing systems]…. In addition to severe commercial and social problems, these schemes suffer from several technical deficiencies, which, in the presence of an effective [file sharing system], lead to their complete collapse. We conclude that such schemes are doomed to failure.

In Search of Technology News

I still remember the first time I saw a newspaper that had a technology section. It seemed to herald the arrival of technology in the mainstream of American life, and to offer the public a chance to understand how life was about to change.

Lately I have begun to wonder whether the technology section is a good idea. Don’t get me wrong; straightforward, down-to-earth discussion of technology is needed now more than ever. The problem is that that isn’t what technology news means anymore.

More and more, our “technology news” isn’t about technology at all. It’s about stock prices, earnings reports, lawsuits, and executive hiring and firing. In short, it’s an annex to the business page, reporting on companies that just happen to make high-tech products. This seems to be true at all of the major newspapers I have seen.

Consider the technology page of today’s New York Times online. It highlights these five stories:

1. A shareholder lawsuit against alleges financial improprieties at AOL Time Warner.

2. A brokerage firm changes its advice to its customers about whether to invest in Intel stock.

3. Executives at Citigroup bribe New York’s 92nd Street Y to admit one of their children to the Y’s preschool.

4. Workers at a Canadian phone company vote to go on strike.

5. A court approves the bankruptcy plan of a telecom company.

This is all about finance and labor relations. You could write the same stories about bathtub manufacturers or fast-food chains. The only connection to technology is that each story mentions a company that sells high-tech products.

Story number 3 is a particularly extreme example. To the extent that it’s even about a company, the company involved is Citigroup, which isn’t a tech firm. This is an eye-opening story that belongs in the newspaper – just not on the tech page.

For a long time I bemoaned this not-really-tech-news phenomenon but thought of it as basically harmless. What’s the big deal, I thought, if some newsworthy material is mislabeled?

But lately I’ve started to wonder whether this mislabeling is having insidious effects. What if the editors of these newspapers think they are educating their readers about technology, because they publish a tech section? What if readers think they are learning about technology because they read the tech section? What if lawmakers think that this stuff is what technology is really about?

Yes, I know. Too many pure technology stories are boring. It’s a rare writer who can make a real tech story clear and compelling. If the tech section were really about tech, it would have to be much smaller.

That’s fine with me. In an ideal world, today’s non-tech “technology” stories would still run, but they would be put in the business section where they belong. The tech section would run less often, and would actually talk about technology; think of it as a cousin of the science section, which might run once a week at a big-budget paper. Like science writers, technology writers would be fewer and would have the rare talent required to write tech stories that people actually wanted to read.

The first time I see that kind of tech section, I’ll really know the world really has changed.