Blown To Bits

Archive for June, 2009


Friday, June 26th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

The Register has a fascinating report on a new phenomenon, arising from the conjunction of stiff copyright laws and the zero-cost copying those laws were meant to combat, insofar as the works copied were under copyright. People are making copies of works in the public domain and slapping their own copyright notice on them, and then charging money for them. The article describes the use of this technique for some 19th century Japanese books. But why would anyone pay for them when they are in the public domain? Because it may be safer to do so rather than run the risk that you are wrong about the claimed copyright ownership. This scam hits universities hard, because they have proved to be attractive targets for copyright lawsuits and are likely to err on the side of paying (or, to be specific, having their students pay).

But what could be the business model for the scammers? After all, what if they publish books and no one buys them? No problem — they issue the books as print-on-demand volumes through Booksurge. They have no costs until the first copy gets ordered. There is not much incentive for Amazon (which owns Booksurge)_ to crack down.

We blogged awhile back about the Obama administration’s misunderstanding of the fact that White House photos are in the public domain (The White House Confused PhotoStream). No scam intended there, to be sure, but it’s an indicator of how the public domain will continue to get restricted if people don’t fight back. Oddly, Creative Commons (under which Blown to Bits is licensed for free download on this site) is now getting into the act, apparently on the wrong side.As the Register reports,

Now Creative Commons seeks expanded authority to administer the Public Domain, by issuing a “Creative Commons Public Domain License,” as if it was a sublicense of its own invention. Creative Commons is trying to expand its licensing authority over not just newly created works, but all public domain works.

Very odd. I hope someone will correct the Register, if they have the story wrong, or correct Creative Commons, if it’s right.

Added June 29: Creative Commons says the Register is wrong. CC says,

Creative Commons does not have any “authority to administer” the public domain, whatever that means. Our public domain tools are not licenses — there is no “Creative Commons Public Domain License”. CC0 is a waiver that allows a copyright holder, to the extent possible, to release all restrictions on a copyrighted work worldwide. The Public Domain Certification facilitates clearly marking works already in the public domain as such. We also don’t have “licensing authority” over newly created works. All of our tools are voluntary and have an over-arching goal of expanding the commons, more specifically the public domain in the case of CC0 (as much as possible) and the Public Domain Certification (the effective public domain, by making existing public domain works more clearly marked, including with metadata, making them more available and discoverable).

RIP Catalogs in Harvard Magazine

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

Harvard Magazine has reprinted my comments on the death of the printed course catalog at Harvard in the July-August issue.

Privacy, Montana Style

Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

The City of Bozeman, Montana is demanding that those applying for jobs supply passwords for their accounts with social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace, apparently so the City can check out what kind of acquaintances they have. What about the guarantee in the Montana constitution, which states, “the right of individual privacy is essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest”? Well, says the City’s attorney, that has to be balanced against the need “to make sure the people that we hire have the highest moral character and are a good fit for the City.” Montana is a funny state, not as individualistic as the mythology of Western America might make you think. Nor are Facebook and Myspace as private as their terminology may lead users to expect. Still, I’m guessing the city won’t keep this practice up long — for one thing, “good fit” tests are easily abused, and for another, these sites typically have a term of service such as (to quote Facebook’s) “You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.”

Encryption is the answer

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

In Blown to Bits we spend all of Chapter 5 making the argument that (a) perfect secrecy is possible through public key encryption and (b) almost no one encrypts their email anyway. Why this would be the case is one of those small mysteries of the universe. Few of us actually know people who know that their email has been read, but most of the time we’d have no way to know that. If you are sitting in Starbucks and the guy with the double mocha latte is running a packet sniffer, you’d never know the difference.

Today’s New York Times has the kind of story that might lead more people to take the issue seriously. It seems likely that the NSA is snooping on more email than they’d like to admit. The simple fact that the cost of surveillance has plummeted in itself makes abuse more likely. (THe NSA doesn’t need to loiter at Starbucks. They can get access to ISPs’ switching equipment.)

If you use Google’s Gmail, you can encrypt all your mail. The preference setting is pretty obscure, and you have to opt-in: the default is no encryption. Chris Soghoian, I, and a number of other computer scientists and security experts have just called on Google to make encryption the default. Our letter explains it all: You can read it here.

French Three Strikes Law Unconstitutional

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

The French anit-piracy law, adopted in France on the basis of strong support from President Sarkozy, has been¬†declared unconstitutional The logic is elegantly simple and equally applicable in the UDS. ‚Ķ “Internet est une composante de la libert?© d’expression et de consommation‚Ķ¬†en droit fran?ßais c’est la pr?©somption d’innocence qui prime” ¬†– “The Internet is a coomponent of the freedom of experssion and of consumpton ‚Ķ In French law it’s the presumption of innocence that prevails.” (Well, OK. So there is no “freedom of consumption” in the US Constitution, as far as I know!)

THanks to Carolinna Rossini for the pointer.