Kevin Clark's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week
from the [variable]- dept
I’m relatively new around here. I’m a composer, and an all-around arts/internet/economy type guy. I teach, speak, and occasionally consult, when I’m not building a new grantmaking platform for New Music USA. And the Onion just called our podcast (Actually Happening) pedantic, so I can die happy now.
I’ve always been a fan of the “from the [variable] department” formulation on Techdirt, so for this week’s favorites I’ve imagined a Techdirt University, with ivy-covered and idiosyncratically-named departments lounging about the campus. Let’s take the tour.
First up is the “Why do the thought police always suck at thoughts” department, created in 1957 based on groundbreaking ethnographic work on the members of HUAC. The still unfolding NSA/FISA/PRISM scandal is confirming some of our most plausible fears, but my favorite part of the story is the dopey thinking that always turns out to be behind the mask of secretive state behaviors. This week’s examples include a Senator reassuring us that it’s always been this way, the Director of National Intelligence saying the real problem with all this spying is everyone talking about it, and Prime Minister Erdogan blaming massive protests on Twitter instead of the actual things that are happening.
If you want a laugh amidst all this, go hunting for Edward Tufte’s (and others’) tweets mocking the design of a powerpoint presentation about PRISM.
Next up is the department of “Holy Crap How Can Anyone Think Our IP System Doesn’t Need Reforming?” or HCHCATOIPSDNR for slightly shorter and much less pronounceable. Students in this department frequently minor in Judicial Horrorshows.
Lindsey Graham doesn’t know if we internetty types are covered by the Constitution. Congress just plain gave up on legislating copyright (How great would it be to actually have a statute that defines and protects the public domain as much as it does Mickey Mouse?). Big content is coming out against fair use, and doing it at the expense of blind people. Intellectual Ventures continues to fail at being either intellectual or venturing at all, really. And possibly my favorite this week: an assertion of copyright to avoid releasing problematic mugshots.
If that works, maybe in place of suing for slander or libel I’ll be able to sue under copyright law. I’d assert that telling other people what I did wrong, no matter how factual their report may be, involves an expression of knowledge of my actions, which by definition infringes on the copyrights I hold on the expression of all acts I perform, be they good, bad, or non-existent.
Nearby the HCHCATOIPSDNR is the parallel department of “Increasingly Sisyphean Efforts At Reform”, or I SEAR, for a shorter description of the department itself and also my feelings. Mercifully, a patent judge comes out on the side of the angels. Among those angels is President Obama and also Planet Money. Three cheers for protecting podcasting! And one of our more friendly courts rules that you can in fact make copies of the prior art in academic journals when you’re in court to prove that there is some prior art.
Our next stop is the bizarrely well-funded department of “Powerful People Massively Misunderstanding The Internet”. I’ve always wondered why they don’t use their research money to get less terrible at this. British politicians are continuing to blame the wrong groups for all the porn. Dan Brown’s insights into the history of religion stand him in awesome stead for discussing video games. Australia tries to block one site, and accidentally blocks the sun. And France creates an imagined plague of piracy on iPads and then demands payment from Apple.
Our last full department is that of the “Evil and Sneaky Powers That Be”. They have a small brick building on the old campus that formed the original core of Techdirt University, and a surprising number of professors from the department manage to get promoted into administration despite having done frightfully little actual research. This week we’ve had a look at the weird setups that allow investors to sue entire countries for dubious reasons. We’ve seen another important treaty head to secret negotiations because…. well, just because, actually. And lastly, Microsoft has attacked the first sale doctrine mainly because old business models need to be protected by the state from changing economic realities. How many more times do you think we’ll see someone argue that in our lifetimes?
Next we have two stories from the new and small department of “Intertextual Analysis of Bad Things That Happen”. A lot of different issues intersect in the drama of unlocking phones. You have companies lobbying for their interests to be protected through legislation. You have the muddied waters between owning a thing and owning a license to use a thing in only a limited number of ways. And you have lots of people in power who don’t really understand what we’re talking about in the first place, much less why it inconveniences anyone or how it impacts any legal principle. It’s a longstanding story and one worth watching.
There’s also the matter of newer, more expensive drugs working less well than the older medicines. This is a really thorny, but very important issue. There are issues of the state of pharmaceutical research, and of the patent restrictions that make drugs extremely profitable. But the trickiest thing is how the money now seems to be in incremental improvements and not in massive medical advances. The free market is often awesome for getting great things to happen, but the incentives the companies have lobbied for, and the pressures to sell more drugs instead of curing more diseases, have muddied the waters. There’s a lot going on here, and a lot of weird pressures on a lot of smart people who wake up in the morning trying to cure disease, and I hope that soon we can let them do their jobs the best they can.
And on that hopeful note we’ll end our tour of Techdirt University, please visit the admissions office for brochures, and before you take on any debt, remember to call your members of congress and urge them to lower the interest rates on student loans.