Bloomberg came out with quite a bombshell last night, discussing how lots of tech companies apparently work with the NSA and other government agencies, not to pass data on users over to the government, but to share exploit information, sometimes before it's public or patched -- in some cases so it can be useful for the US government to use proactively. Last month, we had written about how the feds were certainly collecting hacks and vulnerabilities for offensive purposes, but it wasn't clear at the time that some of these exploits were coming directly from the companies themselves.
The report names one major participant: Microsoft:
Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the world’s largest software company, provides intelligence agencies with information about bugs in its popular software before it publicly releases a fix, according to two people familiar with the process. That information can be used to protect government computers and to access the computers of terrorists or military foes.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft (MSFT) and other software or Internet security companies have been aware that this type of early alert allowed the U.S. to exploit vulnerabilities in software sold to foreign governments, according to two U.S. officials. Microsoft doesn’t ask and can’t be told how the government uses such tip-offs, said the officials, who asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.
That's fairly incredible. You'd expect Microsoft and other tech companies to be focused on fixing the bugs first, not letting the NSA exploit the vulnerabilities on foreign computers.
The same report, once again, implicates the big telcos for their cushy relationship with the intelligence community -- in which the telcos willingly and voluntarily hand over massive amounts of user data. There's no oversight here, because the telcos apparently have no problem dismantling the privacy of their users.
Some U.S. telecommunications companies willingly provide intelligence agencies with access to facilities and data offshore that would require a judge’s order if it were done in the U.S., one of the four people said.
In these cases, no oversight is necessary under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and companies are providing the information voluntarily.
The article later notes that the big telcos -- AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Level3 and CenturyLink -- have all agreed to participate in a program called Einstein 3, which analyzes metadata on emails, but that all of the companies asked for and received assurances that participating wouldn't make them liable for violating wiretapping laws.
Before they agreed to install the system on their networks, some of the five major Internet companies -- AT&T Inc. (T), Verizon Communications Inc (VZ)., Sprint Nextel Corp. (S), Level 3 Communications Inc (LVLT). and CenturyLink Inc (CTL). -- asked for guarantees that they wouldn’t be held liable under U.S. wiretap laws. Those companies that asked received a letter signed by the U.S. attorney general indicating such exposure didn’t meet the legal definition of a wiretap and granting them immunity from civil lawsuits, the person said.
Suddenly the "blanket immunity" clauses in CISPA make a lot of sense. The whole point of CISPA, it appears, is to further protect these companies when this kind of information comes out.
Museums and copyright have historically had a somewhat strained relationship. Overly complicated copyright laws and overly long copyright terms have only made this more problematic, resulting in museum policy oddities like prohibiting photography and sketching, as the Art Institute of Chicago recently did. (Flash photography is prohibited almost universally, but more for preservation of artwork than for copyright reasons.)
Many museums post their collections online, but the Rijksmuseum here has taken the unusual step of offering downloads of high-resolution images at no cost, encouraging the public to copy and transform its artworks into stationery, T-shirts, tattoos, plates or even toilet paper.
The staff’s goal is to add 40,000 images a year until the entire collection of one million artworks spanning eight centuries is available, said Taco Dibbits, the director of collections at the Rijksmuseum.
This collection may seem miniscule next to that of the Smithsonian, which has digitized over 14 million items from its collection. But the Smithsonian's images are deliberately low-res, a choice it made to deter commercial use. The Rijksmuseum has no such qualms about its catalog being "exploited," stemming from its very realistic take on the realities of the digital era.
“We’re a public institution, and so the art and objects we have are, in a way, everyone’s property,” Mr. Dibbits said in an interview. “‘With the Internet, it’s so difficult to control your copyright or use of images that we decided we’d rather people use a very good high-resolution image of the ‘Milkmaid’ from the Rijksmuseum rather than using a very bad reproduction,” he said, referring to that Vermeer painting from around 1660.
Not only are the images hi-res, but the museum's archive site, Rijksstudio, provides online image manipulation tools for downloaders to utilize. The site asks that users refrain from commercial use (it sells even higher resolution images for that purpose), but also tacitly acknowledges that people are going to use these works however they see fit.
“If they want to have a Vermeer on their toilet paper, I’d rather have a very high-quality image of Vermeer on toilet paper than a very bad reproduction,” he said.
Even the act of making Vermeer toilet paper is considered part of the Rijksmuseum experience.
Mr. Dibbits of the Rijksmuseum maintains that letting the public take control of the images is crucial to encouraging people to commune with the collection. “The action of actually working with an image, clipping it out and paying attention to the very small details makes you remember it,” he said.
Many have argued that allowing photography (or access to downloadable archives) takes money out museums' pockets. After all, if you've seen the painting via a cell phone, why bother seeing the original? But that argument ignores why people go to museums. It's not because the picture is remarkably different in person than when viewed as a high-res photo. It's the whole experience. At worst, photography displaces a gift shop postcard sale. And anyone receiving a postcard from a museum knows it's no substitute for being there.
The Rijksmuseum has gone a step or two further than most, not only by providing high-res downloads (because if it doesn't, someone else will) but by encouraging interaction with the uploaded works with its set of digital tools. Art isn't static. But some museums continue to pretend it is by offering low-res archives wrapped in restrictive usage limitations. Which approach to museum archives is more likely to inspire creation of new works?
For those of you who have managed to avoid the viral sensation of February, known as "The Harlem Shake," consider yourselves lucky. People still seem at a total loss how this became "a thing," but it involves the opening 30 seconds of a song released nearly a year ago, called The Harlem Shake, by Baauer, with the first half involving someone in a wacky costume (often involving a helmet) dancing while others around them ignore it, followed by a bass drop and suddenly everyone around is dancing crazily, often involving costumes, stuffed animals (or real animals), people in sleeping bags and much much more. It's gone quite insane (and, yes, we know it's not "the real Harlem Shake" but so what?) with way, way, way, way too many people, companies and organizations all doing their own versions. There were reports of 4,000 Harlem Shake videos being uploaded to YouTube every single day, and over 60,000 being on YouTube already. If you want (and I warn you to be careful), you can spend hours going through video after video. The KnowYourMeme link up top has collected some of the most popular ones. I cannot vouch for how many such videos it takes before you are driven insane, so be forewarned.
Over the weekend Baauer's song hit number one on the charts and it appears to be doing fairly well around the globe. Also, the song has resulted in a sold out show in NY for Baauer and what is likely to be a fair bit of money. That's because, rather than freak out about others using "his" song (which includes a bunch of samples), Baauer and his label Mad Decent have a deal with INDmusic, which helps indie labels/musicians claim YouTube videos via ContentID and place ads on them. So, combine a top selling song on iTunes, plus allowing the free use of it on YouTube (and monetizing it via ads) and it seems like a tidy profit is being made.
So, for a bit, this was looking like yet another story of how letting people build something on your music was enabling a nice way for one artist to make money, without flipping out about "copyright infringement." But... then we learned that it wasn't quite that simple. As highlighted by The Verge, while Mad Decent and Baauer have mostly let people do what they want with the song, they did send a takedown to Soundcloud over Azelia Banks posting her lyrics over the entire Baauer track, and also posting a video:
That quickly turned into a bit of a Twitter fight, with Banks calling out Baauer:
And, from there we get the following exchange:
Of course, it seemed like there absolutely had to be more to this, as it was unlikely that Banks put together that song and video so quickly after the meme took off (especially since the video doesn't reference the meme at all). Indeed, in an interview with the Daily Beast Baauer (real name: Harry Rodrigues) explains:
“I’m not happy about it,” says Baauer. “She had a version that we were going to release because I’m a big fan of hers. We knew she likes to beef with producers. So she laid something on ‘Harlem Shake’ and it was so/so. Didn’t love it. And that was a little while ago, and since all this video stuff happened, our plans all changed. Because of that, we decided to just release the song on it’s own with no vocal version. So we told her, ‘Please don’t release your version.’ And she said, ‘Well, I’m going to put it online anyway.’ And we said, ‘Please don’t. We’d really like it if you didn’t.’ And she did.”
Still, while lots of folks are defending Baauer here (in part because Banks does have a reputation for getting into arguments with people, and in part because she also went on a homophobic rant), she did have a point when she tweeted this:
Art is supposed to be inspiring, and you should be happy when someone is inspired by your art. In fact, one might argue that Baauer's statement to Banks that "its not ur song" could potentially come back to bite him as well. In that same Daily Beast interview, he talks about how he created the song:
“I just had the idea of taking a Dutch house squeaky-high synth and putting it over a hip-hop track,” he says. “And then I tried to just make it the most stand-out, flashy track that would get anyone’s attention, so put as many sounds and weird shit in there as I could. The dude in the beginning I got somewhere off the Internet, I don’t even know where, and the lion roar just makes no sense.” He laughs. “There’s the sound of flames in there, too, it’s just really low.”
He doesn't know where the "dude in the beginning" comes from -- though, the folks at Reddit have figured it out (because Reddit knows everything). You have to imagine that wasn't licensed, though, if he didn't know where it was from. Who knows about all of the other samples. Personally, I think it's great that he created something by building on the works of others, and was inspired to create something that has become such a huge hit. But you'd think that someone who made the song by pulling bits and pieces from others wouldn't be so fast to sling claims of "ownership" back at someone else who built off of his work. Yes, there's more to it than that and, for the most part, Baauer seems reasonably giddy with all the insanity (and he definitely seemed to do a nice job with his Reddit AMA thanks in particular to this exchange).
It would just be nice if artists who really build on the works of others didn't jump to claiming ownership when others build on their works as well.
In the recently released Copy Culture In The US & Germany survey report from the American Assembly (for which we provided the design & layout work), one small but especially interesting component is the list of reasons given for downloading TV shows and movies. The American responses were pretty evenly distributed among the various key reasons, and serve as a laundry list of things that piracy does just slightly better, or slightly more permissively, than most legitimate sources:
Why I Download TV/Movies For Free (US, Based On Americans Who Do)
While price was one of the top three reasons, this hardly paints a picture of penny-pinching freeloaders—rather, it shows emerging trends in media consumption that distributors and rightsholders simply can't keep ignoring. Absolutely none of these responses are surprising, because they are exactly the way people have been interacting with the majority of content online for years now. They share, they use multiple devices, they expect comprehensive access and a choice of sources, they want access as soon as possible, and they are put off by obtrusive advertising.
Of course, that last item is a bit of an oddity. The knee-jerk reaction among most people is that all advertising is bad, but that seems to underestimate the amount of stuff that advertising pays for or subsidizes, and that most of us happily enjoy on a daily basis. Advertising is one of those things that only ever gets badmouthed, because you only focus on it when it's bad — when it's good it doesn't register as advertising because it doesn't register as intrusive. The perennial buzz around Superbowl commercials and the 44-million views on Old Spice's famous viral ad support this notion pretty strongly.
In the world of online television, I think there's room for both subscription models and advertising-funded models — and even some combinations of both if balanced correctly. But until content providers start tackling the overall problem by catching up to pirate sources in the many areas where their services fall short, no model is going to succeed in defeating piracy.
As we noted earlier, one thing that Aaron Swartz would have almost certainly wanted, as a memorial for his own accomplishments, would be for others to continue that work and to do much more with it. It's a small thing, but it's been inspiring to watch one aspect of that come to life: some academic researchers suggested a bit of simple civil disobedience in asking other researchers to post their own research publicly for others to download, and use the tag: #pdftribute. Many researchers quickly jumped at the chance, leading some to set up a website, appropriately called PDFtribute.net to collect all the tweets and the links to all of that research.
It's unclear how much of that research is technically "allowed" to be published like this. If you're not familiar with the dirty sausage making of academic research, many journals claim all copyrights on research (despite not paying a dime for it -- and, in some cases, even requiring the researchers or their institutions to pay to submit the papers in the first place). Many then have policies that bar the original researcher from further distributing the work, so it's likely that some of the released research is in violation of those agreements. That said, over the past few years, more and more journals (often due to significant pushback from academics) have recognized how ridiculous this is, and many have started to allow -- either officially or with a nod and a wink -- academics the right to post free copies of their own research on their own website. A few, much more enlightened journals even encourage researchers to post the work.
Either way, if one of the legacies of Aaron Swartz's all-too-short life is to get more people interested in open access to research, and to drive that movement forward, that's a good thing.
TorrentFreak points us to an interesting new study from Christian Peukert of the Munich School of Management, and Jorg Claussen from the Copenhagen Business School, that looks at the shutdown of Megaupload to see if they can determine what impact it had on the box office for various movies. The findings are probably not what Hollywood wanted to see: basically, the evidence shows that taking down Megaupload didn't suddenly send people running back to the theaters. In fact, for many, many movies there appeared to be a tiny decrease in box office take, though the results are not statistically significant. The one exception to this was for "blockbuster" films that appeared on more than 500 screens. There there was a similarly tiny increase in box office. Considering that the MPAA and studio heads keep insisting that they're really concerned about indie filmmakers when they try to stamp out piracy, this suggests they may be doing it wrong.
Of course, you shouldn't read too much into non-statistically significant findings, but at the very least the data does pretty clearly show that there wasn't a sudden rush by people to go back to the theaters once Megaupload went away. Furthermore, it's possible that at least some movies -- perhaps a lot of movies -- were slightly harmed by less word of mouth. As the researchers note:
Our counterintuitive finding may suggest support for the theoretical perspective of (social) network effects
where file-sharing acts as a mechanism to spread information about a good from consumers with zero or low
willingness to pay to users with high willingness to pay. The information-spreading effect of illegal downloads
seems to be especially important for movies with smaller audiences.
At the very least, it seems like a good area of research that deserves more study going forward.
The Navy SEALs, specifically SEAL Team 6, forever cemented their already laudible place in American history when they killed former public enemy number one Osama bin Laden. Since then, their notoriety has landed the special forces group in the news several times, whether it was when Disney attempted to trademark their name (and later dropped it), or the controversey over a former SEAL releasing a book about the bin Laden raid.
The seven were charged with the unauthorized showing of their official combat gear and dereliction of duty for disclosing classified material after an investigation found the seven to have worked as paid consultants for two days with the video game company Electronic Arts, according to a U.S. Navy official familiar with the investigation.
The seven, all senior enlisted sailors, received their punishment Thursday at their base in Virginia. All seven were given a letter of reprimand and their pay taken for two months. The move essentially prevents their chances for promotion and ends their military careers.
Even knowing as little as I do about being a Navy SEAL, it's difficult to critique the Navy brass for being upset. The showing of gear and unauthorized consulting may not seem like a huge deal to civilians, but SEAL Team 6 enjoys the absolute front line of the latest and greatest equipment the Navy deploys. In fact, the technical name for the group is actually the US Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). Showing off the highly classified gear they use is a big deal.
That said, it's sad to see the careers of 7 SEALs ended over this, but it will also be interesting to see if this story Streisands EA's recently released game into skyrocketing sales.
It's election day, of course, and with that comes some amount of civic pride among a number of voters. That's a good thing, for the most part, and in this era of social media and people sharing photos and videos about their lives, plenty of people are sharing imagery of their own ballot. Perfectly reasonable, right? Well, yes, except when that runs into laws designed to keep your ballots secret. There are, of course, good intentions behind such laws. But mixed in with all those local laws concerning camera usage inside a polling place are some that could cause trouble for people doing something quite ordinary. For example, it appears that people in Wisconsin who decide to Instagram/Tweet/Facebook an image of their ballots, have committed a class I felony, election fraud. And this doesn't appear to just be a law that the state is going to ignore either. It's been issuing warnings to people that they could face felony charges if they do post those photos. Undoubtedly, many will be unaware that they're committing election fraud when they thought they were just showing civic pride. One hopes that officials in Wisconsin, and other states, take the context into account before moving forward with any legal responses.
As mentioned, last week, we held an all day brainstorming event, bringing together artists and entrepreneurs to talk about the challenges and opportunities that we all face, and to see if there are ways to help each other. I'll have a full writeup on that later this week, but one point that was raised by some of the musicians at the session was that "success" can mean different things to different people, and one full-time musician pointed out that just being able to afford her own health insurance was a kind of "success," in that it showed she'd been able to earn enough to cover that bare minimum of "necessities." So it's interesting to see, just days later, that Amanda Palmer is making a lot of news today with her fascinating #InsurancePoll campaign, which she started after reading Nicholas Kristof's story about his college roommate, who has prostate cancer and is in bad shape -- in large part because he put off going to the doctor since he didn't have health insurance. In response, Amanda realized that many musicians, similarly, do not have health insurance, and she tweeted about it:
most small-to-mid-level musicians i know don't have health insurance. some musicians find tricky ways, some pay, most take the risk & pray.
when i was in my early twenties, buying my own insurance would have been equal half my rent. it just didn't seem like an option. my parents had just watched the death of my step-brother (uninsured when stricken with a disease) almost destroy the family bank, and so they DEMANDED i get insurance.
they offered to pay half.
i was lucky.
From there, lots of other people responded with stories about their own health insurance situation, and she decided to ask people more directly about their own health insurance situation with a quick poll question:
quick twitter poll. 1) COUNTRY?! 2) profession? 3) insured? 4) if not, why not, if so, at what cost per month (or covered by job)?
The end result was tons of people responding, most using the #InsurancePoll hashtag.
That seemed quite interesting to Amanda, who got a volunteer to start tallying up all of the info. And she noticed some of the commentary, which noted that people in various countries were somewhat unaware of how things were elsewhere:
people OUTSIDE the US were looking at all the tweets from the US and feeling really, really, really bad for us. and some younger tweeters (teenagers, i can only assume) were shocked that we americans don't have what they have (the NHS was getting a lot of love and support from the brits, especially seeing as it's under threat).
people INSIDE the US couldn't believe what people OUTSIDE the US didn't KNOW. this is the amazing power of twitter sometimes. we all think we share common knowledge, and then something like this pops up and BAM – you see a whole bunch of people in different countries shocking the hell out of each other. we all know that lance armstrong doped, that lady gaga gained weight, , etc….but tons of people in the UK/Finland/Australia/etc don't know the extent to which US people FREAK OUT on a daily/monthly/yearly basis about insurance. how much it changes our lives. and how EVERYbody has a story.
No matter what your stand is on health insurance or healthcare, you can't deny that this bit of information sharing is both powerful and impressive. Amanda and the volunteer are going to tally up all the data and release it when it's ready, which should be interesting as well. While this is hardly a scientific or randomized survey, it is interesting information that is making more people aware of the situation that others are in. When you think about the power of social media to even create such a discussion (outside the normal realms of political fighting), it's really amazing.
California college students hit with tuition increases in recent years will get a little financial help after Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Thursday to create a website on which popular textbooks can be downloaded for free.
Twin bills by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) will give students free digital access to 50 core textbooks for lower-division courses offered by the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems. Hard copies of the texts would cost $20.
The bill establishes a new California Open Education Resources Council, which will be required to choose the 50 core textbooks and then:
to establish a competitive request-for-proposal process in which faculty members, publishers, and other interested parties would apply for funds to produce, in 2013, 50 high-quality, affordable, digital open source textbooks
The ripple effect of this legislation should spread way past California and throughout the whole country. With quality publisher-grade peer-reviewed options becoming newly available in open format and competing against the high-priced publishers' textbooks, faculty will need to pause to review these and see how they can be used in their classroom.
After all, if high-quality textbooks are freely available in digital form -- or hence for low prices as printed copies -- hard-pressed universities elsewhere in the US (and internationally) would be crazy not to consider them. The cc-by license means that the text can be freely modified for local needs as necessary, or translated.
A group of Finnish mathematics researchers, teachers and students write an upper secondary mathematics textbook in a booksprint. The event started on Friday 28th September at 9:00 (GMT+3) and the book will be (hopefully) ready on Sunday evening.