Property

Grinch Alert: Rupert Murdoch

The GrinchAccording to Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corp:

We intend to charge for our news websites. The Wall Street Journal‘s WSJ.com is the world’s most successful paid news site and we will be using our profitable experience there and the resulting unique skills throughout News Corp to increase our revenues from all our content.

And from Chase Carey, News Corp’s Vice-Chairman and COO:

We believe customers value quality journalism. We need to get paid for our product as it shifts to the digital world.

Whether it’s Diller, Iger, or Murdoch – there is one message here: People need to pay us even more for the privilege of being influenced by our digital content! But, isn’t their influence valuable enough? Rather than discussing how consumers should pay more for the privilege of being influenced by these corporations, we should be discussing the social, political, psychological, and economic costs of giving these corporations the kind of influence they have. We pay a price by allowing corporations like IAC, Disney, and News Corp to wield as much power as they do within our society – something Manuel Castells highlights nicely in his “Communication, power and counter-power in the network society” essay.

Grinch Alert: Robert Iger

The GrinchAccording to PaidContent.org, Robert Iger (CEO of Walt Disney Co.) recently stated:

Our product is extremely valuable … and if we are offering it on another platform or in another location for the consumer to access it, I believe that’s more value we are delivering [to a distributor or consumer] and we should get paid appropriately.

If Disney plans to make their content space-time specific, how exactly do they plan to enforce that without violating the privacy of their consumers? Disney would have to track their content over time and across space — even after it’s been purchased. Welcome to the Cyberspace Enclosure Movement (CEM).

iPhones of Mass Destruction and the Code War

According to Apple, jailbreaking your iPhone violates Apple’s license agreement, constitutes copyright infringement — and — is a threat to national security. Meet the new weapon of mass destruction: the hacked iPhone. Just like Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, the iPhone of Mass Destruction is more red herring than reality. In a nation obsessed with security, particularly cybersecurity, the attempt by Apple (and AT&T) to frame a hacked iPhone as a security threat raises important questions of social reproduction, particularly among youth.

iParticipate

Apple made this argument to the U.S. Copyright Office in response to a request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the U.S. Librarian of Congress grant an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would clearly define jailbreaking as legal (under certain conditions). Back in 2006 the Librarian of Congress granted six 3-year exemptions to the DMCA, the fifth of which stated:

Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.

This expiring exemption was widely understood to legalize the act of jailbreaking for otherwise legal, personal, and non-profit purposes. However, now that the EFF is seeking a similar exemption, Apple is going further than previous arguments (i.e. jailbreaking violates your license agreement) and is now arguing that jailbreaking results in copyright infringement and could compromise national security. This continues the meme, advanced by corporations and governments alike, that “loose code” is a threat to security in the informational age – thus, equating piracy and hacking with insecurity in order to rationalize monopolistic business practices. The very same business practices that Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, warned would lead to “vertical integration” between the medium and content. As Wired’s Threat Level points out:

This also explains why Apple rejected the official Google Voice App for the iPhone this week. We thought it was because Google Voice posed a threat to AT&T’s exclusivity deal with Apple. Now we know it threatened national security. At stake for Apple is the closed business model it has enjoyed since 2007, when the iPhone debuted. More than 30 million phones have been sold. Apple has told the Copyright Office that its locked-down platform is what made the iPhone’s success possible

Here are 3 key excerpts from Apple’s statement to the U.S. Copyright Office:

  1. Jailbreaking does violate a license agreement between Apple and the purchaser of an iPhone.  All purchasers of iPhones must accept the terms and conditions of the iPhone Software License Agreement (“IPSLA”) at the time of purchase of the iPhone (and any later updates of the software)…
  2. Jailbreaking constitutes copyright infringement.  Because jailbreaking involves unauthorized modifications to Apple’s copyrighted bootloader and OS programs, it is a violation of 17 U.S.C. § 106(1) & (2)…
  3. Because jailbreaking makes hacking of the BBP software much easier, jailbreaking affords an avenue for hackers to accomplish a number of undesirable things on the network…  For example, a local or international hacker could potentially initiate commands (such as a denial of service attack) that could crash the tower software, rendering the tower entirely inoperable to process calls or transmit data. In short, taking control of the BBP software would be much the equivalent of getting inside the firewall of a corporate computer – to potentially catastrophic result. (emphasis added)

And 2 key excerpts from EFF’s statement to the U.S. Copyright Office:

  1. Jailbreaking an iPhone in order to run lawfully obtained software does not constitute copyright infringement. Nothing in the Apple iPhone Software License Agreement changes this conclusion. As explained in our original submission, any reproductions made in the course of jailbreaking an iPhone are privileged by both Section 117 and the fair use doctrine.
  2. With respect to the application of Section 117 to jailbreaking, the Librarian will have to evaluate whether an iPhone owner is the “owner of a copy” of the Apple firmware that is delivered with and operates the device. In addition, the Librarian will have to evaluate whether the process of jailbreaking the iPhone involves an “adaptation” that falls within the scope of Section 117. (emphasis added)

In our article, Cookie Monsters: Seeing Young People’s Hacking as Creative Practice, Cindi Katz and I spoke at length about jailbreaking (and hacking more broadly) as a form of play — as a creative practice that helps young people to better understand and control their technological environments. To help make our case, we profiled AriX — the then 13-year-old iPhone hacker and developer of the ijailbreak application:

In an article entitled “Hacking: The New Child’s Play?” posted on an IT security website, AriX is associated with a list of young crackers who have engaged in malicious and clearly criminal activities. With the subtitle “Researchers worry as teens and pre-teens play an increasing role in illegal online exploits,” the piece makes no distinction between the hacking of AriX and the reported computer crimes of the other youth profiled, even though the latter’s activities included derailing trains in the Polish city Lodz and stealing considerable sums of money from people’s bank accounts (Wilson 2008). The distinction between these activities and hacking like AriX’s is clear.  But even at that, the U.S. Librarian of Congress granted six exemptions to the DMCA in 2006…

If Apple gets its way, young hackers like AriX would be considered criminals — and any attempt to rework the copy of a software program that they legally own would be considered illegal at best and a threat to national security as worst. Creating a generation of people who are forced by law to simply take technology “at interface value” (as Sherry Turkle likes to say) is a recipe for disaster. I wonder how many mechanics or engineers our society would  have produced during the industrial age if a generation of young people were told it was illegal to tinker with a car or bike that they legally owned? Would Bill Gates or Steve Jobs have even existed (at least as we know them) if they weren’t allowed to tinker with the various technologies they interacted with during their youth? Copyright laws were created to ensure creativity – not to ensure the power of certain governments or corporations.

Grinch Alert: Barry Diller

The GrinchAccording to Bloomberg.com, Barry Diller (Chairman and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp) has joined a growing list of corporate executives trying to convince the public that they should pay for the online content that has largely been produced by the public — for free:

“It is not free, and is not going to be,” Diller said today at the Fortune Brainstorm conference in Pasadena, California. In addition to IAC, he is chairman of Expedia Inc., the online travel service, and Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc.

Diller, 67, joined a group of media chiefs, from Liberty Media Corp.’s John Malone to Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger, who are challenging the accepted model that consumers pay for Internet access and then content is free. Diller predicted there will be three revenue streams: advertising, subscriptions and transactions.”

Advertising and transactions are one thing – while both are fraught with ethical, moral, and legal concerns, they have nonetheless become established “revenue streams” for many online companies. The advanced targeting capabilities afforded by the Internet delivers consumers to corporations more effectively than print media or television could have ever dreamed (e.g. facebook), and many people — myself included — have demonstrated a willingness to pay (or pay more) for “secure” transactions (e.g. PayPal). But subscriptions? Why should anyone have to pay for online content, the overwhelming majority of which has been freely produced by the public?

Propertizing free information, and charging people to access it, is an awfully Grinch thing to do.

Amazon gets Orwellian with Orwell

On 07.17.09 Amazon got a bit Orwellian by remotely deleting copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from people’s Kindles — copies that were legitimately purchased from Amazon (the original purchase was credited to people’s accounts). The Kindle is a small, portable and proprietary e-book reader — in many ways, Kindle is an iPod for print media. By controlling both the hardware and software that constitute the Kindle, Amazon can tightly regulate to whom, where, and how long e-books are made available. Amazon/Kindle thus becomes the marketing/distribution medium connecting publishing companies (who are interested in “monetizing” their IP in cyberspace) and informational consumers (who are increasingly encouraged to pay for — formerly — free content).

Last August, I blogged about Apple’s decision to embedded a remote kill switch in the iPhone’s operating system that allowed them to deactivate applications of their choosing — including applications which were knowingly installed by an iPhone’s owner. At the time, I argued that Apple’s “security” decision to censor what applications I could and could not install on my iPhone, as well as it’s flagrant surveillance of what I did with my iPhone, made me feel a lot less safe and a lot less secure. The current Kindle snafu isn’t all that different. Not only is Amazon asserting their right to retroactively terminate past purchases (raising important questions of censorship as well as what exactly we get to “own” in exchange for our hard-earned cash) but they are also displaying their ability to monitor all information flowing through the Kindle.

If you bought a Kindle from Amazon, and if you bought an e-book from Amazon to read on your Kindle, then what right does Amazon or some publisher have to continue regulating those technologies? Sony can’t regulate what shows I watch on my TV, and my local bookstore can’t pull a “my bad!” and retrieve a book they’ve sold me. With all the moral grandstanding over IP / copyrights (from the  AAP, RIAA, MPAA, and so on…) at what point will we start respecting people’s rights to the intellectual property they legitimately produced or purchased? What about our property rights?

Goldman Sachs and the war on (loose) code

Loose nukes code is fast becoming an object of national security. Like their industrial cold war predecessors, code  has been framed as the informational equivalent of a loose nuke — potentially capable of obliterating markets and governments if obtained by a rogue state hacker. This growing meme has been furthered most recently by the news of an ex-Goldman Sachs computer programmer who allegedly circulated proprietary trading code:

Sergey Aleynikov, an ex-Goldman Sachs computer programmer, was arrested July 3 after arriving at Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. officials said…

At a court appearance July 4 in Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Facciponti told a federal judge that Aleynikov’s alleged theft poses a risk to U.S. markets. Aleynikov transferred the code, which is worth millions of dollars, to a computer server in Germany, and others may have had access to it, Facciponti said, adding that New York-based Goldman Sachs may be harmed if the software is disseminated.

According to Reuters, who broke the story:

Federal authorities say the platform quickly processes rapid developments in the markets and uses top secret mathematical formulas to allow the firm to make highly-profitable automated trades.

Aside from its entertaining similarities with the 1997 film The Spanish Prisoner, I find this news story particularly interesting b/c of the way it brings into focus 4 interrelated phenomena:

  1. Automated trading software has become a prominent actor in the manipulation of national and global markets.
  2. Corporate propertization of code has become a strategy for shaping such manipulation (cf. 1) according to its own economic interests.
  3. Government has engaged in globally policing proprietary code to ensure that the informational restructuring of the economy (cf. 1 & 2) continues to favor current power-holders.
  4. Individuals within the informational work force have emerged as potentially destabilizing actors in informational restructuring (cf. 1 & 2) and are thus becoming objects of national cybersecurity (cf. 3).

As Jon Stokes over at ars technica argues, the US government and Goldman Sachs aren’t concerned that this proprietary trading code could manipulate the market (that’s exactly what it’s designed to do) — they’re concerned that if this code gets “loose” it could challenge Goldman’s standing as a primary market manipulator. Whether these allegations turn out to be true or not, what’s apparent is how this event has been framed as a “wake up call” (as a former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission put it) for  financial institutions to acknowledge the importance of their code by enhancing efforts to lock it down. This, naturally, requires greater government and private policing of informational borders, and greater surveillance of the individuals who interact with intellectual property in order to mitigate the potential power of certain informational workers.

piracy as creative practice?

ars technica has an interesting summary/critique of a working paper, titled “File-Sharing and Copyright” by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf. Since the genesis and intent of most copyright law is to stimulate creativity — not to protect authors and publishers — Oberholzer-Gee & Strumpf argue that while file-sharing might be harming the music business (“might” being the keyword) it does not appear to be stifling the production of new music content. All of which begs the question: if copyright law is meant to stimulate creativity (not to protect the business interests of authors/publishers) and if sharing music — at a minimum — isn’t stifling creativity, then why aren’t we updating our copyright laws to protect this increasingly common and important creative practice? The working paper can be downloaded here, and the ars technica summary/critique can be found here.

pirates win seat in EU parliament

According to Wired’s Threat Level blog:

Sweden’s Pirate Party won a seat in the European Union Parliament, swept in Sunday amid outrage over a new copyright law and the convictions of the four founders of The Pirate Bay.

The party, formed to protest copyright law, took 7.1 percent of votes in Sweden and one of that country’s 18 seats in the European Parliament. The party stands for radical reform of copyright legislation, abolition of the patent system and guaranteed online-privacy rights.

Check out wikipedia for background on the Pirate Party or visit the official Pirate Party website.

experience is the life of the law

from The Common Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr:

The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed. The law embodies the story of a nation’s development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics. In order to know what it is, we must know what it has been, and what it tends to become. We must alternately consult history and existing theories of legislation. But the most difficult labor will be to understand the combination of the two into new products at every stage. The substance of the law at any given time pretty nearly corresponds, so far as it goes, with what is then understood to be convenient; but its form and machinery, and the degree to which it is able to work out desired results, depend very much upon its past.

(emphasis added)

Cookie Monsters published in CYE

Cindi Katz and I just published an article in a special issue of Children, Youth and Environments that focuses on Children and Technological Environments. CYE is an open access journal so you can read our article for free through their website (FYI – they ask you to create an account before providing access to the articles).

Here’s the article’s abstract:

Cookie Monsters: Seeing Young People’s Hacking as Creative Practice

This paper examines the benefits and obstacles to young people’s open-ended and unrestricted access to technological environments.  While children and youth are frequently seen as threatened or threatening in this realm, their playful engagements suggest that they are self-possessed social actors, able to negotiate most of its challenges effectively. Whether it is proprietary software, the business practices of some technology providers, or the separation of play, work, and learning in most classrooms, the spatial-temporality of young people’s access to and use of technology is often configured to restrict their freedom of choice and behavior.  We focus on these issues through the lens of technological interactions known as “hacking,” wherein people playfully engage computer technologies for the intrinsic pleasure of seeing what they can do.  We argue for an approach to technology that welcomes rather than constrains young people’s explorations, suggesting that it will not only help them to better understand and manage their technological environments, but also foster their critical capacities and creativity.

Keywords: children, youth, Internet, cyberspace, security, hacking

And here is some background on the Children and Technological Environments special issue:

Children, Youth and Environments has just published a special issue on “Children and Technological Environments.” It features a substantive introduction by the guest editors, Nathan G. Freier and Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and 14 high-quality, peer-reviewed articles on such topics as interactive humanoid robots, digital libraries, virtual natural environments, video and online games, hacking, assistive technologies for children with learning disabilities, and learning by doing with shareable interfaces. The authors include leading researchers from the U.S., Britain and Japan.

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