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Category: Politics

Declan mellows out

Declan McCullagh is on some strange Californian “let’s just relax” vibe lately; first it was his suggestion that geeks should ignore politics, and then his suggestion that the DMCA isn’t so bad. The first one, OK, I can see the argument that geeks are better suited to create social change by writing code… although his example is flawed, since Zimmerman went through a ton of political process to avoid being arrested. Declan also forgets the sad case of anon.penet.fi, which was effectively shut down by political pressures. It’s a shame Julf Helsingius didn’t worry more about the politics, no?

Anyhow, the DMCA argument is way further out there, floating somewhere on the deep fringes of reasonableness. Ed Felten did an excellent job of rebutting Declan’s article, so I won’t belabor the point. I just have to wonder what’s up with the guy lately. He was so tremendously sensible during the CDA period.

Dave Winer has gone barking mad

I try to stay away from entries entitled “Dave Winer has gone barking mad,” but from time to time I suspect I just won’t be able to avoid it.

Background: Dave got miffed because Lawrence Lessig’s big speech included an exhortation to get off your butts and do something about the political arena. Dave, to be perfectly fair, is in fact fairly active in a scattershot kind of a way. He also deserves applause for his rejection of patents, although he couldn’t have actually patented everything he thinks he could.

However, one of the things intelligent individuals are expected to do is understand the concept of generalizations. There is a difference between saying “Hm, that was a generalization and doesn’t apply to me” and saying “I’m not like that, so he was lying.”

Dave fumed for a few days and finally found an old statement he made regarding Lessig. It was bullshit then, and it is bullshit now. Code is not process, it’s code. Prose has two levels: process and the words themselves. Software has three: the process, the source, and the code.

It’s true that Lessig’s original argument is somewhat inaccurate, in that you can learn from observing the behavior of a program. “Hey, copy and paste are good.” But Lessig wasn’t even making an analogy; he was citing an example. Dave didn’t really read the article very closely.

The problem is that Lessig is speaking from a broad base of theory and a deep understanding of the copyright system, whereas Dave is speaking from the perspective of someone who’s always assumed he’s simply entitled to the rights he sees as universal. Unfortunately, the copyright system is not based on universal rights. It’s based on a contract between the government and the creator. Copyright assumes no inherent right to intellectual property; copyright provides the creator with a right to the creation in return for the creator’s work. It is not a method of protecting an inherent right. (In the US. Europe is different.)

However, all that was fairly mild compared to the current temper tantrum. Dave’s accused Lessig of cluelessness, and buying into the authority of the laws. Which is truly perplexing, because those are the laws that keep me from copying Dave’s software and giving it to all my friends.

But what I think Dave is missing here is that Lessig accepts the authority of the process… which is part of what civil disobedience is all about. Thoreau got a lot wrong, but he did understand that civil disobedience necessarily includes getting arrested.

Finally, today, Dave pointed out that the world does get something in return for his copyright. But gah! He misses the point again! To the degree that Dave choses not to patent his techniques, yes, the world does get something in return. However, that is a choice Dave has made and the copyright system does not oblige him to make that choice! The copyright system protects Dave, and Dave has chosen to eschew a portion of that protection. Good for Dave — but how does that make Lessig’s comments about the system wrong?

Street uses

The BBC had an article about interesting multi-region DVD players, which perhaps holds clues about the inevitable clash between the people who make content and the people who make devices to display that content. If DVD manufacturers can’t hold the multi-region line, what are the chances that computer makers will care long-term about Hollywood’s digital rights management demands?

Fear of flying

Wired does an admirable job of covering the laws regarding air travel and government ID. In short, it appears to be the case that the airlines must request a valid form of ID, but it is not the case that the airlines must turn away a passenger who does not present a valid form of ID. Airlines can, of course, refuse to allow passengers to board for any reason.

Fastrak Fever

The San Francisco Bay Area automated toll system, Fastrak, may be used to collect traffic flow data. Basically, they’re adding sensors along the highways which can pick up passing Fastrak boxes. They promise to keep the data separate from driver info, but since the existing Fastrak system is designed to track the passage of specific cars through toll plazas, you gotta figure the capability will be there. I figure the first time there’s a high-profile man hunt, the new sensors get used to track cars, for perfectly understandable reasons. Who’d want to tell the public “No, we’re not using every possible method to track that kidnapper and his victim.”? Not me. Better not to have the capability.

More Biden, more Feinstein

Delaware Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden; Wisconsin Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner; Virginia Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott; Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers; North Carolina Republican Rep. Howard Coble; and California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. What do they have in common? Those are the Congressmen who signed a letter asking the Justice Department to aggressively prosecute people who download copyrighted music files. Cause jail time for MP3 downloading is so very appropriate.

Judge Kessler's decision

While I’m on the subject, Judge Kessler’s decision is now available from FindLaw. It’s a PDF document. It warms my heart:

“Difficult times such as these have always tested our fidelity to the core democratic values of openness, government accountability, and the rule of law. The Court fully understands and appreciates that the first priority of the executive branch in a time of crisis is to ensure the physical security of its citizens. By the same token, the first priority of the judicial branch must be to ensure that our Government always operates within the statutory and constitutional constraints which distinguish a democracy from a dictatorship.”

What she said.