May 30, 2024

Archives for June 2003

Petition for Public Domain Enhancement Act

Larry Lessig writes:

We have launched a petition to build support for the Public Domain Enhancement Act. That act would require American copyright holders to pay $1 fifty years after a work was published. If they pay the $1, the copyright continues. If they don’t, the work passes into the public domain. Historical estimates would suggest 98% of works would pass into the pubilc domain after 50 years. The Act would do a great deal to reclaim a public domain.

This proposal has received a great deal of support. It is now facing some important lobbyists’ opposition. We need a public way to begin to demonstrate who the lobbyists don’t speak for. This is the first step.

Regardless of your position on the proper length and breadth of copyright, I hope you will agree with me that there is no reason to maintain the copyright on works that are essentially abandoned. A great many old works are simply unusable, because it would cost too much to figure out who owns the copyrights on them. The Public Domain Enhancement Act would put only two tiny “burdens” on copyright owners: (1) pay a fee of one dollar to maintain their copyright on any old work, and (2) register their ownership of the copyrights on old works so that potential licensees can find their owners.

The beauty of this approach is that, while imposing essentially no cost on the owners of commercially valuable copyrights, it reclaims for the public domain that vast majority of works that have no remaining commercial value after fifty years. To enter the public domain, a work has to be so devoid of commercial value that the copyright owner isn’t willing to pay even one dollar to maintain its copyright. This seems like such a no-brainer that it’s hard to see how anyone who takes cultural progress seriously could oppose it.

If you agree with me, please sign the petition.

Software Infringement Rate Decreasing

The Business Software Alliance (BSA), a prominent industry group, has announced the results of its annual study of copyright compliance by business software users.

According to BSA, 39% of business application software, worldwide, was infringing in 2002. This is down from a high of 49% in 1994. The U.S. was the most law-abiding country, with an infringement rate of 23% in 2002.

These are interesting data for the debate about music and movie copyrights. For software at least, the infringement rate is going down, and the U.S. has the lowest infringement rate. The software industry must be doing something right.

Palladium as P2P Enabler

A new paper by Stuart Schechter, Rachel Greenstadt, and Mike Smith, of Harvard, points out what should have been obvious all along: that “trusted computing” systems like Microsoft’s now-renamed Palladium, if they work, can be used to make peer-to-peer file sharing systems essentially impervious to technical countermeasures.

The reason is that Palladium-like systems allow any software program absolute control over which hardware/software configurations it will interoperate with. So a P2P system can refuse to interoperate with any “unauthorized” version of itself. This would keep copyright owners (or anyone else) from spoofing file contents. Although the paper doesn’t point this out directly, a clever Palladium-enabled P2P system would make it much harder for anyone to trace the true source of a copyrighted file.

The moral of this story is simple. Computer security is, ultimately, a battle for control of a computer system; and in that battle, both sides will use the available tools. The same tools that make robust networks also make robust P2P networks. The same tools that prevent infiltration by viruses also prevent infiltration by spoofing agents.