Andy on the Road

7 July 2009

Thrill-arsis

Filed under: huh.,music,seriesoftubes,theroad — Andy @ 5:52 pm

There’s more to write about Michael Jackson – the will and its deep-in-the-music-industry executors, Internet music sales records set and broken this past week care of Jackson, how monoculture will change after his passing – but I’m done.  I think this story has been blogged to death.  I’ll end with the weirdest two stories on this topic: one, care of BoingBoing, that They Saved MJ’s Brain, and two, care of WFMU, on the worst eBay cash-in imaginable.

24 June 2009

Citizen Media Law Project and Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press file amicus brief in New Hampshire Supreme Court Case

Filed under: Berkman,oyez,seriesoftubes,thecommonlaw — Andy @ 7:48 am

I don’t typically cross over my work with this blog, but I wanted to share this press release regarding an amicus brief I drafted with the CMLP and RCFP. I’ve added a few links to ease navigation.

Cambridge, MA – June 23, 2009 – The Citizen Media Law Project (CMLP), assisted by Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, urged the New Hampshire Supreme Court to defend the First Amendment rights of a website that covers mortgage industry news.

The CMLP, in conjunction with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) and with the assistance of local counsel Paul Apple of Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon in Portsmouth, NH, submitted an amicus curiae brief (PDF) in the case of The Mortgage Specialists, Inc. v. Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, Inc. The case involves Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, Inc., which runs a mortgage industry website that posted a New Hampshire Banking Department document, obtained from an anonymous source.  That document described certain business practices of the Mortgage Specialists, Inc., a lending company under investigation in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  After the mortgage company discovered the disclosure, it sued the website, demanding that the document be removed and that the anonymous source be identified.  The Rockingham County Superior Court granted these requests (PDF), and the case is presently on appeal.

In their brief, the amici focused on a series of cases in which courts permitted the publication of confidential or controversial documents – from the U.S. Supreme Court in the famed Pentagon Papers case through recent cases involving recorded cell phone conversations and videos of police searches posted onlineAmici also provided extensive caselaw support for the proposition that anonymous news sources should be protected.

The amici urged the New Hampshire Supreme Court to carefully consider the harm the Superior Court’s ruling would have on freedom of the press, noting in their brief that the publication of this document “is not unlawful in New Hampshire, and, even if it were, would nevertheless be fully protected speech under the First Amendment.”  In addition, amici asked the Supreme Court to apply New Hampshire’s qualified reporter’s privilege to protect the identity of its source, noting “[i]t is the function of an organization, not the medium of publication, which defines it as worthy of a journalist’s privilege.”

The CMLP was represented on the brief by the Cyberlaw Clinic.  The CMLP and the Cyberlaw Clinic are both based at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, an organization dedicated to studying the development of cyberspace.  Andy Sellars, a Cyberlaw Clinic summer intern and student at The George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC, drafted the brief alongside CMLP Assistant Director Sam Bayard, Cyberlaw Clinical Fellow Christopher Bavitz, and RCFP Legal Fellow Samantha Fredrickson.

“It was a great privilege to work with the CMLP and RCFP on this important issue,” Sellars said.  “We hope the New Hampshire Supreme Court will carefully weigh the First Amendment rights at stake in this case.”

For more, see the CMLP and RCFP press releases on the subject, as well as Sam Bayard’s blog post from April.

17 June 2009

Tim Hwang on Internet Memes

Filed under: Berkman,friendsromanscountrymen,laughs,seriesoftubes — Andy @ 5:45 pm

As part of the Ignite show (a bureau within the O’Reilly media franchise), Berkman Center compatriot Tim Hwang did a 5-minute, 20-slide talk on the spread of Internet memes. He’s one of the only academic minds seriously studying the RickRoll, LOLCats, Three Wolf Moon, Keyboard Cat, Xzibit, or any of the other strange Internet phenomena. The structure of the talk prevented deep, quantitative analysis, but Tim still manages to throw in a little bit of data, cut with a whole lot of e-mirth. Check it out:

Be sure to read/see more from Tim in the U.S. Bureau of Fabulous Bitches, Broseph Stalin, or the Tim and Diana Show.

24 May 2009

Quick update: /. says Last.fm did in fact give up users to the RIAA (but they didn’t want to)

Filed under: followup,RIAA-WTF,seriesoftubes — Andy @ 10:20 pm

Update 6/3 - As that “grain of salt” warning suggested, Ars Technica posted on Monday 6/1 that that last.fm denies this in the clearest terms possible:

As a result, Last.fm’s Russ Garrett has issued a strongly worded denial on Last.fm’s forums. “That particular data is controlled tightly inside Last.fm and is only stored for a short period of time. Any request for such data would have to be approved by myself first. The suggestion that CBS’s ops team provided this data is just not possible—Last.fm operates as a separate entity and their operations staff do not have access to our system,” Garrett said. “It really seems like someone is trying to slander us here.” In another post, Garrett clarified that Last.fm has never given data linking IPs to scrobbles to any third party or to CBS, for that matter.

This doesn’t really change my analysis below as to whether they could do such things without violating the Privacy Policy for the website, but it certainly should allow last.fm users to breath a sigh of relief.

Original post below…

All of this is done with anonymous sources, so take it with a grain of salt, but /. contributor “suraj.sun” says TechCrunch, the party responsible for breaking the Last.fm-gives-up-users-to-the-RIAA story in February, now has released another story claiming additional sources have confirmed that Last.fm data was leaked to the RIAA, by way of parent company CBS:

Here’s what we believe happened: CBS requested user data from Last.fm, including user name and IP address. CBS wanted the data to comply with a RIAA request but told Last.fm the data was going to be used for “internal use only.” It was only after the data was sent to CBS that Last.fm discovered the real reason for the request. Last.fm staffers were outraged, say our sources, but the data had already been sent to the RIAA.

I documented the initial leak back in February, and I noted how impractical it would be to try and base an infringement claim on Last.fm data. It seems TorrentFreak agrees with that conclusion. I still am very skeptical that this happened, but given what we’ve seen from the RIAA over the past few months I’m more inclined to believe the RIAA would try this, as part of their “kitchen-sink” strategy for litigation.

TechCrunch also argues in the link above that such disclosure would violate Last.fm’s own Privacy Policy. I assume the part they mean is…

Certain third party individuals or organisations may have access to your personal information (excluding your email contact information) via Last.fm’s API and webservices or as a result of agreements between Last.fm and its preferred partners. (However, you should be aware that if you provide your e-mail contact information and/or username directly to any such third parties, they may use your information for their own purposes.) Such partners may use such information for their own purposes, which may be either commercial or non-commercial in nature and which may include targeted advertising or direct marketing. These third parties may be based in the United Kingdom or elsewhere (including outside of the EEA). [Emphasis added; British spellings in original]

…paired with this:

We believe in privacy and therefore will take all reasonable measures to ensure that your personally identifiable information remains private. However, in the event that we are required to disclose personally identifiable information by a court, the police or other law enforcement bodies for their investigations, regulation or other governmental authority we will make such a disclosure without being in violation of this Policy.

Assumedly, TechCrunch is arguing that Last.fm lists mandatory disclosure to “a court, the police, or other law enforcement bodies” at the exclusion of other interested third parties (to wit, the RIAA). As Last.fm promises not to give up your “email contact information,” this would mean a personally identifying disclosure to someone who is not a court or the police would be off limits acording to the Privacy Policy. However, you also see this clause…

We collect data regarding the users of Last.fm, including: (i) The Internet Protocol (IP) address of the user’s computer. This may or may not be associated with a particular Internet Service Provider (ISP); (ii) The referring URL, if any; (iii) The browser software identification (i.e. the brand and version of your browser software).

… and it makes no mention as to whether or not the IP address is part of the “personal information” which Last.fm makes available to third parties. So, by disclosing the IP address and not the email, CBS/Last.fm could still give up info to the RIAA and not violate the Policy.

(When I posted about this a couple months ago I also got into a quasi-fight with one Jonty Wareing of Last.fm, who thought I was doubting his existence. Jonty? You still read this? Want to comment on this story?)

17 May 2009

Dark Night of the Soul

Filed under: huh.,missingthepoint,music,RIAA-WTF,seriesoftubes — Andy @ 1:39 pm

(Sparklehorse, from Flickr user broma)

Hello again, folks. My transition into summer has left me with little time for blogging. This is a shame, as always, as there has been a veritable eruption of news in areas about which I love to write. I hope to post up a couple more heady things on current IP affairs over the next few days. In the meantime, I wanted to make sure you all heard the news regarding the new Sparklehorse/Danger Mouse album.

This collaboration is the materialization of a rumor that has been around for years. Danger Mouse helped Sparklehorse on some tracks in 2006′s Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, and Sparklehorse’s artistic center, Mark Linkous, had cryptically mentioned a more formal collaboration in several interviews since that time. In early April Pichfork noted that the longstanding rumor looked to be true, and what’s more, they were bringing a tour de force of guest artists, including Black Francis (of the Pixies), James Mercer (of the Shins), The Flaming Lips, Scott Spillane (of Neutral Milk Hotel and The Gerbils), Vic Chesnut, and Iggy Pop. Early this month we learned more: the project, called Dark Night of the Soul, is not exactly an album, but rather a multimedia series which you can explore in the link above. The album/book, indeed featuring all of the artists mentioned, was slated for release later this month, with an art installation in LA debuting May 30th to highlight some of the works and showcase some media created by the one and only David Lynch to accompany the music.

As of last week the indie rock world was buzzing in anticipation of this pending, star-studded album. But then, on Friday, Billboard announced that the album was “scrapped” due to “unspecified legal issues with EMI.” This puts the parties involved in a very awkward situation, as on May 7th the album was leaked, and earlier on Friday NPR began streaming the album as part of an exclusive first-listen series. As Idolator and Boing Boing and many others have since reported, also on Friday (and the timing of all of these events is very unclear for those who just got all these news stories in an RSS-feed dump), Danger Mouse and others decided to release the album as a blank CD-R with the full booklet and a label disclaiming “For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.” In subtext, it sounds as if Danger Mouse is going to rely on the same filesharing architecture which made him world famous in 2003 to help spread his latest project.

It’s hard to comment on this until details about the legal issues around this album come to light. For what it’s worth, my guess is that it has to do with appearance rights for one of the guest artists. Often times as part of a larger record deal an artist will promise not to appear on other record labels’ albums without prior approval from their record affiliate. This is only a guess, however, and we’ll have to see in time what is the actual problem at issue here. Certainly the blank CD-R move is a pretty clever stunt, and probably helps drum up some publicity for the album, but an album with this lineup needs no large publicity push and Danger Mouse doesn’t exactly need to do anything to prove his anti-RIAA stance and thus earn fans in the college age, tech-driven demographic. However, equally apparent is the fact that people are not going to come out in equal volumes to buy an album containg a blank CD. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but there are many millions of music consumers out there that do not follow the web and its affairs as thoroughly as us, and without knowing the backstory behind this album they aren’t going to buy up the guy from Gnarls Barkley’s latest spinoff project unless the CD actually has the audio on it. Besides, unless this “legal issue” has to do with one’s exposure to further liability from a third party (e.g. EMI is preventing Danger Mouse from releasing this because EMI might then get sued by company X for whatever reason), all involved would probably be better off if they simply allowed the album to be relased. It seems as though those who seek to scrap the album have never heard the old expression about trying to unring a bell. At this point the album will never disappear, any damage is likely done, and whoever is holding this up likely has little to lose and everything to gain going forward.

The NPR stream is still live, and I encourage everybody to listen here. I’ve been listening while writing this, and I love it. Danger Mouse’s influence I clearly felt, and his signature presence does much to unearth the broody layers that have made Sparklehorse one of my favorite bands for years (Good Morning Spider is without a doubt a desert-island record for me). Hearing so many familiar voices, with songs tied together by Sparklehorse’s instrumention, is beautiful accompaniment for this quiet Sunday afternoon. Let’s hope the parties involved can work through whatever’s keeping this from having a full release and give this work the full commercial benefit it is most certainly due.

14 April 2009

BC student’s electronic devices seized under curious probable cause

Filed under: boston,huh.,lawsandsausages,seriesoftubes — Andy @ 11:05 pm

(BC, from Flickr user glemak)

Here’s a strange one care of EFF and Universal Hub:

On March 30th a Boston College student had all of his electronic equipment (including his computers, iPod, hard drives, digital camera, and cell phone) seized by BCPD, under allegations that the gadgets are “evidence of a crime or … of criminal activity” and/or “intended for use or … used in the commission of a crime.” The crime appears to be “unlawful access to a computer system” (MGL Ch. 266 § 120F), to wit, creating a fictitious account for a peer at gay dating/hookup site Adam4Adam.com and sending an email to a listserv “outing” that peer, accessing BC records and changing grades, downloading music and movies, and allegedly jailbreaking a cell phone.

As EFF notes, the peculiar thing about this complaint is the way in which the officer attempts to establish probable cause for the warrant. Not only are the allegations primarily coming from one roommate, who recently got into a fight with the suspect, but the “suspicious behavior” the warrant (PDF) cites includes:

  • being a computer science major
  • working in the school’s IT department
  • fixing friends’ laptops
  • writing commands from a terminal prompt on a Linux machine

By that level of cause, I think at least four or five of my friends act with sufficient suspicion to warrant seizure of all their electronic devices.

Now it is entirely possible that the suspect here is using a series of ghost devices and networks of computers to trick the BC network into accessing grades or covering up unlawful activity, and if the allegations are true they demonstrate an outright terrible and crass sense of humor, and profoundly poor judgment. But it’s important to look beyond the crime alleged and see how this warrant came to be executed. Generally, we expect law enforcement to come up with a little more PC than just this. (In all fairness, the detective does also note that he was investigated for a previous computer theft, but never charged, and the same witness accusing the suspect here accused the suspect there.) To issue a warrant on only the use of terminal commands and a statement made by a known enemy of the suspect makes virtually all ill-tempered computer geeks ripe for investigation. The one area where the suspect’s IP was accurately traced was the listserv posting of a faux Adam4Adam.com ad. Lucky for the suspect ignorant, homophobic jokes aren’t against the law.

This also makes one wonder if the RIAA will try and get in on the action here. If the informant is to be believed, the suspect probably has a cache of music and movies on his computer. I’m sure the RIAA would love to pressure the Middlesex DA into making a case out of those files. I’ll need an expert in Criminal Procedure to let me know how possible this scenario is. The search warrant is certainly open enough as to suggest it is looking for any and all illegal digital activity. Or perhaps Apple will try and make a criminal case of the jailbroken phones (if it was, in fact, his iPod Touch that was hacked).

For copies of the warrant and other court documents, visit EFF’s case page. EFF is joined by ace tech & IP law firm Fish & Richardson in filing an emergency motion to quash the warrant (PDF), arguing a failure to establish probable cause, that several of the allegedly unlawful actions are in fact lawful, and the seizure of all of his electronic devices constitutes irreperable harm by denying him of his employment (fixing computers) and cutting off his means of communication. This is going to be an interesting case, and I’ll keep posting updates here as I uncover them.

Vote on Wikipedia’s new license

Filed under: huh.,intellectual property,seriesoftubes — Andy @ 5:00 pm

(from a fantastic series by Flickr user quartermane)

Heads up Wikipedia editors:

The world’s most-cited website is considering a change to the terms by which it makes it content available to editors. And for once, the proposed change looks pretty cool.

Wikipedia is putting to a vote whether they should migrate the license on their content from its current GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) to a Creative Commons Attribution/Sharealike (CC-BY-SA) license. The general plan is that everything licensed under GFDL will be dual licensed to CC-BY-SA, and incoming works would take just the CC license.

It’s worth noting that both Creative Commons and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales are in favor of the switch (as well as CC founder Lawrence Lessig). If you have edited Wikipedia more than 25 times since March 15 you have the option to vote. Click here for more info on how to do so.

In its essence, the objective here is to update the license to reflect the same level of content control (or lack thereof), but offer a license that better represents Wikipedia’s content. Also, the GFDL has some particularly cumbersome requirements, such as requiring the reprint of its entire license on every derivative work. The CC license would avoid these, easing proper use. As Wales put it in a recent Wikimedia Q&A:

When I started Wikipedia, Creative Commons did not exist. The Free Documentation License was the first license that demonstrated well how the principles of the free software movement could be applied to other kinds of works. However, it is designed for a specific category of works: software documentation. The CC-BY-SA license is a more generic license that meets the needs of Wikipedia today, and I’m very grateful that the [Free Software Foundation] has allowed this change to happen. Switching to CC-BY-SA will also allow content from our projects to be freely mixed with CC-BY-SA content. It’s a critically necessary change for the future of Wikimedia.

I don’t know enough about the GFDL to comment intelligibly on the differences, but I wholeheartedly support the CC-BY-SA license in general. I use the sister license, CC-BY-NC-SA, for everything I put up on this website, and any pictures I post are usually licensed under the same terms on Flickr and elsewhere. The biggest concern appears to be the attribution requirement, and how it will play out in action (see this Wikimedia discussion on that point). There’s also a bit of a battle brewing between Free Software Foundation fans (drafters of the GFDL) and Creative Commons fans on many of the discussion threads out there. While this would make for a fantastically geeky West Side Story spinoff, I think they’ll work out their differences.

For more intelligent discussion:

30 March 2009

The Pirate Bay hits Facebook

Filed under: huh.,intellectual property,seriesoftubes — Andy @ 3:52 pm

(a crowd outside the ongoing Pirate Bay trial, from Flickr user Brian Einarsen)

I don’t know what to make of this, exactly, but Wired reports today (and Recording Industry vs. The People and Slashdot reported yesterday) that filesharing giant The Pirate Bay has built Facebook connectivity into their website. As Wired explains:

By clicking the link, users can share torrent tracker links — often used to download large music and movie files via the bit torrent protocol — via Facebook, by either posting it on their profile pages or sending the link to friends using Facebook’s private messaging feature.

For the would-be Facebook Pirates reading this right now: don’t do this. You’re going to get caught, and contributory infringement is protected under Copyright Law (to what degree this is contributory infringement or more like the debated “making available” situation is for those better trained than I to debate, but it could be quite costly to guess wrong, and perhaps even more costly to litigate out the right answer).

The benefit this gives to RIAA litigation is twofold. One of the hardest problems facing the RIAA in these cases is being able to “catch” the filesharing as it happens. This was easier in the Napster days, as it all went through a centralized system, but the modern filesharing approach through BitTorrent makes it very difficult to track the activities of any given IP address. What this TPB/Facebook interface does is make Facebook the clearinghouse for activity and allows the content holder to build a much stronger case against the filesharer. And I tend to believe that when faced with outing some customer information (information that is already put public by the customer) in exchange for better bargaining power with the RIAA, weighed against whatever reputational damage FB recieves from cooperation with the RIAA, Facebook will almost certainly put B2B over P2P. The benefit of having easier access to commercial music on Facebook will be too good to pass up (not to mention the desire to avoid being slapped with a vicarious infringement action).

This leads into the second, and probably more dangerous, risk for the would-be filesharer. A second major hurdle for the RIAA litigation has been to actually tie an IP address to a name. ISPs are reluctant to release that information, universities have made a cause célèbre out of their reactions to RIAA requests, and to get it wrong is embarassing for the Association (think of the grandmothers and computerless who have been sued under these circumstances). This Facebook function will preempt all of this fuss and give the RIAA a name to build a case against. Granted, it’s likely not to be enough to sustain a case, nor may it even be enough to start a lawsuit. But if TV police dramas have taught me anything, it’s that when doing illegal activity it’s best not to annouce one’s actions to the world. (And make no mistake: unless the content holder permits this downloading by general license or direct permission, or the content is in the public domain, it is illegal.)  As comments on /. note, it is debatable whether owning a torrent tracker file alone is infringement, or whether this would be infringement under the law as it stands, but when has that stopped the RIAA from litigating in the past?

I’ll be very curious to see what traction this app gets in my Facebook circle. The Wired article promises updates and a comment from Facebook, so stay tuned.

22 March 2009

Call Letter Origins

Filed under: boston,huh.,seriesoftubes,washingtondc — Andy @ 10:52 am

I need to break my web-silence for a minute to put up this website that BoingBoing wrote about yesterday (for the 0.5% of you out there that read my website and not theirs). OldRadio.com has put together an awe-inspiring list of radio call letters and what they stand for. They even have my wee little 12-watt WRBB on the list. (“(R)adio (B)ack (B)ay”). Check it out. Here are some MA favorites and their meanings:

WRBB – Radio Back Bay
WBCN – Boston Concert Network
WGBH – named for its transmitter on Great Blue Hill.
WFNX – radio station partner of the Phoenix magazine.
WCVB – (might be my favorite) – Channel V (as in five), Boston
WMBR – Walker Memorial Basement Radio (basement of the MIT building where the broadcast is produced)
WXRV – “the RiVer”
WBUR – Boston University Radio
WEEI – Edison Electric Illuminating, company predecessor to ConEdison (there’s one to pull out at a bar)
WXKS – “KiSs” 108
WMJX – “Magic” (which is weak)
WBOS – I think you can figure this one out on your own…

A few are conspicuously absent – WZLX, WBZ, WAAF, WUML, and WZBC, for example – but overall, this is a pretty impressive list.

A few DC favorites, for my District friends:

WCSP – CSP-AN
WASH – WASHington, DC
WSMD – Southern MD (as in Maryland)
WETA – Washington Education Television Association
WAMU – American University Radio
WPGC – Prince George’s County, MD
WJFK – named for JFK. No joke.
WGTB – GeorgeTown university Broadcasting

Not on the list is WRGW, but I imagine it’s “Radio George Washington.” Just guessing, here.

16 March 2009

Amusing BPD Twitter Message

Filed under: berkman@10,boston,huh.,seriesoftubes — Andy @ 1:05 pm

Out of curiosity as to how municipalities are starting to use Twitter, I started following the Boston Police Department over the weekend. I consider it the Internet equivalent of getting a police scanner at Radio Shack. This morning I got this direct message from the BPD:

bpdtweet

I’d like to think we’re smarter than that as a society, but I’m entertaining bets as to when The Smoking Gun will report an attempt to inform police of a crime in progress via Twitter. This makes me think of this April 2008 story of the kid who used Twitter to get out of an Egyptian jail (and thanks to Jonathan Zittrain for providing that anecdote at Berkman@10).

Update: once again, Universal Hub has blasted my hit counts into the stratosphere. Thanks, Adam.

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