Andy on the Road

31 August 2010

Cardullo’s gets rid of the TV in Harvard Square

Filed under: boston — Andy @ 9:47 pm

Iconic Harvard Square store Cardullo’s just decided to get rid of one of its defining elements: the TV that always seemed to be playing Sox games when you walked by.

(h/t Universal Hub)

28 August 2010

Purchasing for the People: a Proposal for a National Corpus of Significant American Works

Filed under: deepthoughts,intellectual property,soapbox — Andy @ 12:17 am

Today marks the 47th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech.  The speech needs no introduction. I don’t need to tell you what it was or who said it. We know all that by virtue of living in the United States. It is so important to our national identity that we just know it, and many cannot identify from where they learned it (save those who experienced it firsthand).

Considering its ubiquitous nature, you may surprised to know that the speech is still protected under copyright, and any use of it (barring the frustratingly narrow world of fair use) is subject to a license from the estate of Dr. King.  The speech has been subject to litigation, including a 1990s challenge where CBS used a section of the speech in a documentary and did not seek a license, whereupon the estate sued for infringement.  There, the 11th Circuit rejected a summary judgment motion for CBS, holding that CBS did not prove the work was in the public domain due to publication without registration and proper formalities.  This matter settled out of court, so the question was never fully resolved, but today the work is largely considered protected.  The Estate treats it as such, and to other potential users, that’s probably all that matters.  Dr. King published the work and registered copyright shortly after the speech in 1963 (according to this SDNY case), and his estate renewed copyright in 1991, so the work will remain under copyright until 2058.

So as you look over footage from that speech today, note how little of the actual speech you hear.  Often a clip from the march will run silently, or only for a second.  You will probably only see one station, at most, play it, and they will probably acknowledge that they licensed it from the King estate.  Those seeking to use the speech publicly in any form will need to enter into an agreement with the EMI or Intellectual Properties Management in Atlanta to use it.  Fail to do so, and the Estate could decide to sue.

I see this as a societal wrong.  That speech is so vital to American identity that it should be as free as our founding documents to read aloud, share, disseminate, remix, and re-envision.   No organization or entity, not even the very estate of Dr. King, should be able to restrict others’ use of the speech.  It is simply too large and too significant to not be freely accessed and shared.  We all should be able to broadcast the speech in our own manner, and share from it extensively and without limitation.

On the other hand, our actions should not punish Dr. King (or his heirs) for creating a work so significant that it far eclipses other cultural works.  Remember that copyright in America is all about creating incentives for authors and artists to create and disseminate works.  It would be a perverse incentive, indeed, to afford a writer a monopoly over a sermon, and then remove that monopoly should the writer create a profoundly important sermon.  Dr. King, though his estate, is well entitled to compensation.

I see a third option to balance the rights of the copyright owner and the desires of the public: the United States, on behalf of its people, could purchase the speech and release it into the public domain.

Imagine if we created an award, given periodically and with appropriate pomp and circumstance, for works of the caliber and importance of the “I Have a Dream” speech.  This award would come with a substantial cash prize, and in consideration the recipient would assign copyright interest in the work to the United States.  The U.S. could then inject the work into the public domain, making it free for all to use.  Over time, this would build a corpus of important American works, which could be celebrated and shared throughout the country, freely, and without hesitation.  The “I Have a Dream” speech, or “This Land is Your Land” (claimed to be under copyright, though disputed), or “Happy Birthday To You” (still considered under copyright, though disputed), or “God Bless America” (likely still under copyright, and many arrangements of which are actively protected), or any other cultural artifact which transcends Romantic authorship and has become vital to our cultural identity could be shared as freely as “The Star Spangled Banner,” The Gettysburg Address, or the moon landing footage (all in the public domain).

This is not without some precedent.  We have a National Recording Registry, designed to preserve the primary recordings vital to our national identity.  We have a National Film Preservation Board, doing the same for works of film.  The quasi-public Kennedy Center recognizes a handful of artists, musicians, and comedians for their lifetime achievements in the arts.  The Library of Congress is well-equipped to handle this sort of project — consider its Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.  The United States could give Nobel-Prize levels of compensation for the work and still strike an equitable bargain: a substantial amount of revenue to the copyright holder, and a comparably insignificant dent in the national budget.  And with such a system we would not need to wonder if a use of King’s speech was “fair,” or likely to result in a cease and desist letter.  We would be at liberty to perform the speech, incorporate it into songs, broadcast or webcast the speech, restore the work and share such restorations, or play the speech in public buildings.  The work would not be abandoned by this status, but canonized, and appropriately celebrated by all.

26 August 2010

Clever idea for a homebrew Arduino project: at-home metro displays

Filed under: huh.,washingtondc — Andy @ 1:24 pm

One big thing that D.C.’s subway has over Boston’s subway is this:

(from Flickr user Greychr)

Estimated arrival times for each train, displayed at the station.  What’s even better is that WMATA is now making this data available for developers.  Now, having this at a station is cool, and having it on your cell phone is cooler, but you know what would be coolest?  Having that data in your living room.

Consider this — I live about a block and a half from the Stadium-Armory Station, so it takes me only a minute or two to get underground.  How cool would it be to have an LCD display in my living room that tells my roommate, my guests, and me when to expect the next train?  It could be simply a miniature version of what WMATA already provides in the station, combining the data that WMATA makes available with a Arduino chip connected to an LCD display.

Aside from a killer conversation piece, I see business applications for this too.  What centrally-located D.C. office wouldn’t love to tell its employees, clients and patrons exactly when the next train is coming to a nearby Metro station, via a simple display in the lobby?  How cool would it be to get window installations of arrival times in a commercial establishment, perhaps bundled with advertising for additional revenue?  It could be on a personal device like the Ambient Flurry Alarm Clock, but instead of weather, it pulls down the train schedule.  And that’s just from my lunchtime brainstorm of potential applications.

So I have no idea how to make a dream like this happen from a technical perspective, but do any of you want to help me make a crack at it?

23 August 2010

Footwear for Superusers

Filed under: boston,laughs,nerdingout — Andy @ 9:37 am

I took one last stroll up Mass. Ave. before heading back to D.C., and noticed a new store in Porter Square:

Finally, a shoe store for Unix nerds.

5 August 2010

What’s changing through the Copyright Cleanup, Clarifications, and Corrections Act of 2010

Filed under: intellectual property,lawsandsausages — Andy @ 5:40 pm

The Senate and House, as predicted, appear to be pushing through a copyright bill before the end of the term.  There’s not much here for those that don’t use the word “wonk” when describing their interest in the subject, but for some reason nobody seems to be writing about it at all, so I guess my blog is as good as any to collect these alterations.

Here are the changes:

1. Greater Use of Electronic Resources at the Copyright Office

The law would change the text following Section 512(c)(2) of Title 17, which addresses the registration of agents for purposes of DMCA notice and takedown procedures, to read (change annotated):

The Register of Copyrights shall maintain a current directory of agents available to the public for inspection, including through the Internet, in both electronic and hard copy formats, and may require payment of a fee by service providers to cover the costs of maintaining the directory.

The bill would also alter Section 205(a), which handles the way in which transfers of copyright are recorded at the Copyright Office, by including the following (in italics):

Any transfer of copyright ownership or other document pertaining to a copyright may be recorded in the Copyright Office if the document filed for recordation bears the actual signature of the person who executed it, or if it is accompanied by a sworn or official certification that it is a true copy of the original, signed document. A sworn or official certification may be submitted to the Copyright Office electronically, pursuant to the regulations established by the Register of Copyrights.

Both of these appear to give the Copyright Office wider latitude to rely on electronic correspondence for copyright affairs, which is likely to expedite efficiency and transparency, if done well.  (The Copyright Office has been experimenting with an “e”-presence, but has stumbled in execution.)

2. The Manufacturing Clause is Finally Gone

Section 601 will be repealed and reserved, and the title of Chapter 6 will change from “Manufacturing Requirements, Importation, and Exportation” to “Importation and Exportation.”  Also repealed are referring subsection 409(10), and the following from Section 602(b).:

In a case where the making of the copies or phonorecords would have constituted an infringement of copyright if this title had been applicable, their importation is prohibited. In a case where the copies or phonorecords were lawfully made, United States Customs and Border Protection has no authority to prevent their importation unless the provisions of section 601 are applicable. In either case, the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to prescribe, by regulation, a procedure under which any person claiming an interest in the copyright in a particular work may, upon payment of a specified fee, be entitled to notification by United States Customs and Border Protection of the importation of articles that appear to be copies or phonorecords of the work.

This removes the oft-criticized and no-longer-used manufacturing clause, which limited the ability of foreign manufacturers to import into the United States English-language copies of works, forcing such copies to be printed domestically.  This has been widely criticized as an obstacle for international recognition of U.S. copyrights, and was removed of all force way back in 1986.  I doubt any will mourn its passing.

3. Sublicensing is Expressly Allowed

Section 201(d)(2), governing the transfer of ownership in copyright, is amended as follows:

Any of the exclusive rights comprised in a copyright, including any subdivision of any of the rights specified by section 106, may be transferred as provided by clause (1) and owned separately. The owner of any particular exclusive right is entitled, to the extent of that right, to all of the protection and remedies accorded to the copyright owner by this title, including the right to transfer or license the exclusive right to another person in the absence of a written agreement to the contrary.

I don’t know of any cases which found to the contrary, but by adding this language it seems indisputable that licensing a copyrighted work by default includes the right to sublicense that work, absent agreement to the contrary.  Interestingly, Germany and a few other countries take the opposite tack on this issue, requiring original author consent for sublicensing, absent agreements to the contrary.

4. Old Phonorecord Publication Exemption is Not Just for Musical Works

Section 303(b) is revised:

The distribution before January 1, 1978, of a phonorecord shall not for any purpose constitute a publication of the musical work any musical work, dramatic work, or literary work embodied therein.

Section 303(b) itself was enacted in 1997 to clarify this lingering question about publication dates (which mattered greatly before the enactment of the 1976 Copyright Act in 1978), and the 2010 Act expands this clarification beyond musical works to include anything that might have been distributed via phonorecord before sound recordings were protected.

5. Yes, Copyright Royalty Board Decisions are Subject to Judicial Review.

Section 803(b)(6)(A):

The Copyright Royalty Judges may issue regulations to carry out their functions under this title. All regulations issued by the Copyright Royalty Judges are subject to the approval of the Librarian of Congress and are subject to judicial review pursuant to Chapter 7 of title 5, United States Code, except as set forth in subsection (d). Not later than 120 days after Copyright Royalty Judges or interim Copyright Royalty Judges, as the case may be, are first appointed after the enactment of the Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act of 2004, such judges shall issue regulations to govern proceedings under this chapter.

I am unaware of anyone claiming that CRB decisions were not subject to judicial review as any agency determination might be, but I could see someone raising that argument.  FYI, the constitutionality of the Copyright Royalty Judges is presently being challenged as a violation of the Appointments Clause.

6. Slight Tweak in Sound Recording Blanket Licenses

Sections 114(f)(1)(A) & (B) lay out the method by which the Copyright Royalty Board issues royalty schedules for use of sound recordings in digital broadcasts. Subsection (C) has been revised to state:

The procedures under subparagraphs (A) and (B) shall also be initiated pursuant to a petition filed by any copyright owners of sound recordings or any eligible nonsubscription service or new subscription service indicating that a new type of eligible nonsubscription service or new subscription service on which sound recordings are performed is or is about to become operational, for the purpose of determining reasonable terms and rates of royalty payments with respect to such new type of service for the period beginning with the inception of such new type of service and ending on the date on which the royalty rates and terms for preexisting subscription digital audio transmission services or preexisting satellite digital radio audio services eligible non-subscription services and new subscription services, as the case may be, most recently determined under subparagraph (A) or (B) and chapter 8 expire, or such other period as the parties may agree.

This alteration generalizes the terms used somewhat, and seems to be acknowledging that the § 114(f) license now extends to non-subscription as well as subscription services.  Beyond that, I leave it to digital broadcast experts to forecast how this might change this (very, very messy) section of copyright law.

The balance of the bill seems to be slight typo tweaks and rearrangements to reflect these minor substantive changes.  For more, see the THOMAS entry for the bill.

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