February 21, 2018

The Other Digital Divide

Long and well-written articleby Drew Clark and Bara Vaida in the National Journal’s Tech Daily, about the history of the current Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley battle over copy protection. If you’re still coming up to speed on this issue, the article is a great scene-setter. Even if you know the issue well, you still might learn a thing or two.

My favorite telling detail:

Valenti warned that the Hollings approach “might be what had to happen.”

No, the tech executives said, a process to resolve differences between the two industries was already in place: the technical working group formed in 1996. But Valenti wanted a CEO-level dialogue, not another meeting of the engineers.

Dilbert fans will recognize this as a classic Pointy-Haired Boss tactic: “We can’t solve this engineering problem. Maybe if we kick the engineers out of the room we can solve it faster.”

"Peer to Peer" in the Berman-Coble Bill

Yesterday’s defense of the Berman-Coble bill resurrected the argument that the bill only hurts the bad guys, because it authorizes hacking only of peer to peer file trading networks. And we all know that “Decentralized P2P networks were designed specifically (and ingeniously) to thwart suits for copyright infringement by ensuring there is no central service to sue.”

Let’s look at the bill’s definition:

‘peer to peer file trading network’ means two or more computers which are connected by computer software that–
(A) is primarily designed to – (i) enable the connected computers to transmit files or data to other connected computers; (ii) enable the connected computers to request the transmission of files or data from other connected computers; and (iii) enable the designation of files or data on the connected computers as available for transmission; and
(B) does not permanently route all file or data inquiries or searches through a designated, central computer located in the United States;

The definition clearly includes non-controversial technologies, such as the Web itself, that were not designed with copyright infringement in mind.

This is not just an easily-fixed bug in the bill’s definition. Instead, it reflects the fact that the Internet’s design philosophy is based on a peer to peer model in which anyone can send anything to anybody. The big-central-server design of a system like Napster is the historical exception; peer to peer is the rule.

I don’t see an easy way to rewrite the definition to draw a clear technical line between “bad” peer to peer technologies and “good” ones.

What's That "Followups" Link?

You may have noticed the small “Followups” link at the bottom of recent entries in this blog. That’s a feature called TrackBack. (The link previously said “TrackBack” but I’ve changed it to “Followups” since that seems a more intuitive name.) Kieran Healy offers a nice explanation of the TrackBack feature.

If you’re a reader, the Followups link lets you read what other people have written (in their own blogs) about an entry.

If you have your own blog, you can use the TrackBack feature to add yourself to that list, so readers of my blog (including me) can find your commentary. If you use Movable Type, just turn on TrackBack and the rest is easy. If you use another blogging tool, ask your tool author to add TrackBack support.