Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Pope is dead, long live the Pope.
One of the most common arguments used to justify the theft of intellectual property (IP) is the doctrine of "fair use." This doctrine is used, erroneously, to support the general notion that we as consumers have a right to utilize the IP that we "purchase"* however we want, such as ripping to CDs, copying to portable devices, etc. I've even seen it used to justify downloading music via P2P technology like Bittorrent, although that's clearly not within any rational person's definition of "fair use."

Just what does "fair use" mean, though? Does it provide the right to rip music to a CD, and to copy digital versions of IP to any number of devices? Does it give us the right to use software to strip off the DRM applied by any of the various vendors of digital media, such as iTunes?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "fair use" has a much more limited definition. It means, essentially, that one has the right to utilize parts of a copyrighted work for very specific, noncommercial uses such as research, news reporting, teaching, etc. Even then, one cannot utilize an entire work, although it's left up to the court to decide what's acceptable in any given context. Clearly, though, this definition does not allow the consumer any rights to copy a given piece of IP.

Other court decisions and case law have been used to justify copying IP, and in some cases might even be reasonable absent other considerations. For example, DVD's do get damaged, and it might seem perfectly reasonable to make backup copies. However, in reviewing a few DVD's that I've purchased, I've found that each states clearly on the label that unauthorized copying is prohibited. Therefore, my only options regarding those DVD's is to refuse to purchase them, or to abide by those terms.

In any case, I do not have a "fair use" right to copy those DVD's. Any other interpretation would appear to be an urban legend, and a dangerous one at that.

*Note that I put "purchase" in quotes, although I continue to use the word throughout the post. It's a topic for another discussion, but I believe it's more accurate to say that we license intellectual property rather than purchase it. And, we do so, in many cases, according to very specific terms. It might be that those terms need to be better communicated, as with software where the licensing terms are inside the box, but nevertheless those terms apply. Only if we destroy the concept of free, voluntary trade can we feel free to violate the terms of our own agreements.
What a shocker: Iran has increased its uranium enrichment. This is a confusing story, really a mismash of disjointed facts. Iran has improved its enrichment capabilities and violated its agreements, but probably can't sustain their efforts, unless they can, in which case something should probably be done, but nobody knows what. Pretty common stuff for the mainstream media.

The one most important fact, though, is that Iran has stated its desire to destroy Israel and the United States (and the West, and Disneyland, and women with their powerful hair), which should be enough. How they mean to do so really isn't all that important to me.
Certainly, I'm no fan of the World Bank in general, and I don't think that anyone should utilize their authority to violate the terms of their agreements. But, the story about Paul Wolfowitz and his "ethics violations" is astounding for how much press it's receiving.

What did the guy do, exactly? As far as I can tell, he put his girlfriend in a cushy job. Horrors! That's certainly front page news.

Of course, taking millions of dollars in bribes from Saddam Hussein in administering the "Oil for Food" program, and contributing to starvation among the Iraqi population, has hardly warranted any negative coverage of the United Nations since the story first broke years ago. Here we have verified, documented corruption of the worst kind, in an organization that threatens the very sovereignty of the United States, and there's relatively little about it in the mainstream media.

Note that I'm not saying that there was no coverage, but that the story warranted Monica Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson, Paris Hilton coverage, and it received nothing even close to that.
This highly Digged story is interesting mainly for the comments. It's amazing how so many people are so willing to equivocate when it comes to stealing someone else's work.
Digg Report: Today's #1 Digg, at 6522 Diggs (wow!) show another Digg tendency: some stories just never go away. I can remember this basic theme, "The cancer cure that (Big Pharma, the Government, Nobody) cares about" on more than a couple of occasions in reference to the drug dichloroacetate.

Certainly, I'd be as happy as anyone about a cure for cancer. But the notion that such a cure could be found and scientifically verified, and then somehow remain hidden, is ludicrous. Businesspeople aren't idiots--if they saw a cure for cancer, they'd jump all over it, because somebody would make money from it. And, they'd stop wasting as much of their money on finding other cures.

Update: I was thinking more about this, and I wonder: is this story so popular because it has some scientific importance? Or, is it popular because it plays on the Digg Leftist mentality that "big business" is somehow responsible for keeping such a medical advance from the rest of us?
I think Condi is entirely correct when she says we're not in a new Cold War with Russia. A "Cold War" implies that a "Hot War" is the alternative, and I certainly hope we're not that far gone. With the Soviet Union, the Cold War was the alternative to mutual destruction; all of the global brinksmanship, proxy wars, espionage, etc., for all of its horror, was fundamentally more attractive than a shooting war between countries with thousands of nuclear weapons.*

Rather, I think the next Cold War could be with Iran. And, while the Communists weren't rational, they still wanted to live. We can't say the same about the religious.

*I'm not equating the Soviet Union and the United States here. The USSR was fundamentally evil, the United States was not. One deserved to survive, the other did not. But, the fact was, had things devolved to a hot war, I for one don't believe that things would have gone well.
Two points struck me from this story about Microsoft's recent open letter about open source violations of its patents.

First, there's "...Microsoft's business is very much, maybe all, about legal contracts." I find this a fascinating comment, because I can't imagine what business in a free market isn't about legal contracts. Every legitimate transaction in a free society is based upon the notion of at least an implied contract between the parties. Otherwise, there would be no way to seek redress in the courts when one side is in breach.

Next is, "The contractual approach underlines a fundamental philosophical attitude about ownership: If I create it, it's mine." I struggle to imagine another attitude about ownership. Could it be, "If I don't create it, it's mine"? No, of course not. Or, "If I create it, it's not mine"? Hardly, at least in a rational society. "It doesn't matter whether or not I create it, it's still mine"? Ditto.

The issue of Microsoft's approach to combatting open source software is much more complex, and deserves its own rational treatment. Perhaps such a treatment will show up on this blog. But, the concept of "ownership" is definitely central, and these two statements are fascinating mainly in how they bring into question concepts of business and ownership that I would have imagined were self-evident.

Apparently, I was wrong.
I don't agree that Americans like a monarch. I didn't care for Bush Sr., despised Bill Clinton, can't stand Bush Jr., and might commit hari-kari if Hillary is elected, but I don't think this is a tendency toward a secret yearning for royalty.

I think it does, though, show a certain complacency (to which the article does allude). And, it shows how vitally important it is that we avoid democracy at all costs, and that we somehow reinstate the founding republican principles (the article says this, as well). Limited government is the only way to avoid allowing complacency (and today's Internet-fueld mob-rule mentality) to create an oppressive majority rule.
Hopefully this Ali Asgari guy is singing like a canary about now. If he has negative things to say about our enemies, though, I'm sure he'll have no credibility with the mainstream media.
Mr. Vice President, of course Arab "leaders" are mostly in support of stabilizing Iraq. Nobody likes a civil war, the Middle East is full of sectarian and religious conlict irrespective of America's involvement, and they'd be happy to have us spend American money and lives to clean up their messes for them.

I don't know if we have any choice but finish things in Iraq, but I hardly think that Arabian support should count in our calculations.
Celebrity Report: Bruce is at it again. Or, this might be part of the chat I previously linked. In any case, he makes the point: celebrities aren't particularly qualified to comment on current topics simply because their celebrities. In another context, I might be embarassed to make such a self-evident point, but given the penchant of actors to make inance political comments it's a point that needs to be made.

Over and over. Of course, Bruce himself could benefit from some speechwriting. Are you listening, Bruce? I'm available, and I'm affordable.