Leigh Beadon’s Techdirt Profile


About Leigh BeadonTechdirt Insider

Leigh Beadon, formerly Marcus Carab, now a full-time member of the Techdirt team.

Located in Toronto, Ontario.



Posted on Techdirt - 30 August 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the redacted dept

It seems there are no lows to which the recording industry won't sink, reaffirmed this week by a series of anti-piracy ads that exploit the tragic stories of dead (and highly successful) musicians. Violynne won most insightful comment of the week for an open letter to those who might be misled by this campaign:

Dear upcoming artists reading this article,

What you're actually reading are the states caused by these performers and their record labels.

In a time before royalties (and it took a new copyright law to get them, by the way), these performers had no choice but to trust their labels, many of which withheld thousands, if not millions, from the artists which actually created the music.

Their suffering had nothing to do with people stealing their music (trying to walk out with an LP tucked under the shirt isn't easy).

Their suffering was due to lost revenue by the labels, most represented by the RIAA (whose sole purpose is to extort as much money from artists as possible).

Don't fall for the ruse. Take a few months and learn business, economics, and the law so you can manage, market, and profit by yourself.

Because the second you take that advance and sign the dotted line, you'll be hitting the bottle and pain killers too.

For second place, we head to the story of the DOJ dropping a case after being told it can't simply seize laptops at the border. One anonymous commenter pointed out how telling this reaction is:

The government would rather drop a case against a serial killer if it meant saving them the ability to continue spy on others illegally.

Proof is this case, as well as the one where they dropped a kidnapping case just so they don't unveil they were using Stingrays to catch the guy.



For editor's choice, we start out on our post about another Techdirt post that disappeared from Google due to a right-to-be-forgotten request. One commenter asked when the last legitimate such request was made, and John Fenderson supplied a simple answer:

Never. There can't possibly be a legit request since the entire idea is illegitimate.

Next, we head to the news of Universal's humorless takedown of a parody Nirvana song, where Jef Oliver noted how much online culture can tell us about the entertainment industry:

Someone posts a video on the internet. Several comments say "Enjoy it before it is taken down."

When your business is known for its over-aggressive copyright stance and not for the media it is supposed to be releasing, there is a problem.

Over on the funny side, our top two winners are extremely similar comment from the same post. There are a handful of people who like to accuse Techdirt of being a shill for Google, so when we criticized the company's actions on net neutrality this week, the sarcastic responses came fast and racked up lots of funny votes. Both top winners were anonymous, so here's first place:

but techdirt is such a google shill, how could they possibly speak badly of Google.

Oh, I get it now, Techdirt is a net neutrality shill. They shill on principle and for the public interest. How much is the public paying you Techdirt?

And here's second place, which took a more deadpan approach:

Bunch of freaking Google shills. You just won't shut up about how awesome Google is and how it can do no wrong, will you? Why don't you freaking marry Google if you love it so much?

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out on our post about United in-flight wi-fi blocking certain news outlets. Someone commenting under the name United Wifi Content Police offered an in-character reaction:

Oh shit, we forgot to block Techdirt!

And finally, after documents on the tobacco industry were released as pages of solid black redactions, one anonymous commenter gave us a good blanket response for all similar freedom-of-information failures:

At least we are still free to read between the lines...

That's all for this week, folks!

38 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 29 August 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: August 23rd - 29th

from the not-so-fast dept

Five Years Ago

There were a lot of branding battles breaking out this week in 2010. LucasFilm targeted a company called Jedi Mind with claims of trademark infringement, false designation of origin, trademark dilution, breach of contract and unfair competition; Madonna got sued for selling clothes under the name Material Girl by a company that had already been doing that since 1997; Warner Bros. called in the lawyers over "Harry Popper" condoms being made in Switzerland; Facebook kicked off a trademark fight with Teachbook; Take-Two Interactive discovered that it couldn't snag the bioshock.com domain because it was registered before the Bioshock trademark; and yet another player jumped into the trademark fight over the Mafia Wars Facebook game. Meanwhile, in a town up here in Ontario, some guy managed to trademark the phrase "Welcome to Parry Sound" and started demanding money from local businesses.

Copyright collection societies around the world were up to their usual tricks, with a Czech proposal that would require artists to get collection society permission to use Creative Commons, a South African society fighting to prevent music from entering the public domain, and BMI trying hard to reverse a court ruling that let venues route around it.

Also this week in 2010, Techdirt received one of the most incredible legal threats we've ever been hit with, demanding we take down the entire site over some unidentified comments.

Ten Years Ago

In 2005, China's internet censorship regime was in full-swing, and we got to see some rare quotes from the state defending the system. Meanwhile, the Chinese government was also turning its attention on video games, with the introduction of a three-hour limit on online gaming sessions.

Anti-spam laws focused on children were beginning to backfire while an unsurprising study showed that college kids are too smart to fall for spam. The popular fear that texting was ruining children's language skills was shown to be unlikely, not that anyone noticed, many being more focused on using phones to track kids' whereabouts. At least in Japan it appeared that mobile phones had the unexpected effect of reducing teen smoking.

Fifteen Years Ago

Technology was changing plenty of things in 2000. This week, we saw the first car designed almost entirely on a computer — but the more exciting advancements were in new polymers, which promised all sorts of automobile performance improvements (not to mention new achievements in the field of medicine). Some scientists were working on genetically modified goats that produce spider's web protein in their milk, while others had figured out how to make skin temporarily transparent. Meanwhile, a new protest group was building robots to spraypaint sidewalks and hand out pamphlets.

The dot-com world was still uncertain, and for some reason a lot of people seemed to love gloating about that fact. The Economist took the time to look at a list of things the internet can't do, and while it focused on loftier goals, the potential list did get a bit shorter with the first forays into online pizza delivery.

Eight-Hundred Years Ago

The Magna Carta is famous as one of the foundational documents in the history of modern law, and the fact that it was signed in 1215 is one of those popular pieces of trivia that float around with minimal context. Many can name that year, but fewer know that it would be another eight decades before the Magna Carta truly held any sway. Initially, it was the centerpiece of an English civil war, drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and signed by King John and a bunch of rebellious Barons — all of whom on both sides promptly ignored it pretty much entirely. The King then did an end run to Pope Innocent III, who sent a letter dated August 24th, 1215 in which he declared the Magna Carta "null, and void of all validity for ever" and threatened excommunication of anyone who observed it. It would later be reintroduced at the end of the war, then again a few years later, by John's son, and then another seventy years after that by his son, at which point it finally became England's statute law.

Leave a Comment..

Posted on Innovation - 29 August 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: A Voice-Operated Household Assistant

from the ok-computer dept

Ever since Star Trek: The Next Generation, who among us hasn't thought it would be cool to have an omnipresent voice interface with a starship or, failing that, our own house? Sure, PADDs iPhones have Siri now, but it's just not the same. Our focus for this week's Awesome Stuff isn't the first attempt to create a voice-operated computer assistant for the home, and it probably won't be the last, but the Mycroft is certainly worthy of note.

The Good

One of my first Kickstarter purchases was the Ubi, an earlier attempt at this idea by a startup that now appears to have given up on device manufacturing and focused entirely on operating a cloud service. Nevertheless, it was a nice little piece of hardware and fun to play with — but it's always fallen a little short of the smooth, perfect functioning that would be necessary to make it a seamless part of everyday life. Whether or not the Mycroft will hit a higher mark is impossible to know for sure without trying one out in person, but there are a couple aspects that make it notable.

First is the fact that it's built with a commitment to open software and hardware. It's built on a Raspberry Pi (with all the tweakability and extendibility that implies) and Linux, and is completely open source, with a special backer tier on Kickstarter that gets developers early access to the software which they can run on their own Pis before Mycroft is released. As for the AI processing that happens in the cloud, it's all done using various open, public APIs for things like voice recognition and natural language processing, rather than relying on a single proprietary service like most such devices. Second is the price: thanks to all that open software and hardware, the Mycroft on Kickstarter clocks in at only $150 for the fully extendable model and $130 for the more basic version (including global shipping, and with some additional early bird discounts still kicking around too). This is considerably lower than several voice systems with fewer features.

The Bad

Devices like this are very hard to evaluate without trying them out, or at least reading some hands-on reviews — so these pre-production Kickstarter sales are for those who have faith, spare cash, or a really insatiable desire to achieve that Star Trek dream. It's also important to keep in mind that the Mycroft isn't especially useful as a standalone unit: its capabilities come from integration with other smart-home devices and the internet of things — or at least other Mycroft units. For people whose homes are already equipped with smart thermometers, wireless door locks, networked sound systems and the like, a centralized voice control system is a powerful tool, but for everyone else it's just a fun toy/exceptionally fancy alarm clock. "Here I am, brain the size of a planet..."

The Okay-Free

This is an odd detail, but one that stands out if you've used multiple voice-activated devices before: you don't need to say "Okay, Mycroft" to wake the unit up — just its name by itself will do. This is nice, since a lot of devices use the "okay" phrase (I've got "okay Google" for Google Now searches on smartphones, "okay OnePlus" to wake my OnePlus One, and "okay Ubi" for the aforementioned similar device), and while this does make that Radiohead album seem prophetic, these "okays" have a tendency to cross-pollinate and wake up the wrong device. Mycroft, I suppose, is a unique enough sound that the device can listen for it without the need for an additional trigger — though it remains to be seen whether it will be accidentally awoken by episodes of the BBC's Sherlock.

18 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 25 August 2015 @ 12:45pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 39: Technology's Impact On Democracy

from the voice-of-the-people dept

From e-voting and online petitions to broad new avenues of communication between politicians and the public, technology is changing democracy, and has the potential to do so even more. This week we're joined by Catherine Bracy, the Technology Field Officer for Obama For America in 2012, to discuss the current and future impact of rapidly changing technology on the democratic process and whether these impacts have been "good" or "bad."

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

8 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 23 August 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the cops-and-photographers dept

When a theater chain announced plans to bring TSA-style security to the movies with bag and purse searches, it sounded stupid. But to Johan it sounded suspicious, leading to our most insightful comment this week:

My guess that this is a disguised attempt at catching outside food and drink to boost concession stand sales. Just say you're looking out for customer's safety and at the same time remove the contraband twizzlers.

Next, after a photographer attempted to sue over the use of his photo by a map company — despite that use perfectly adhering to the Creative Commons license he chose — Arthur Moore won second place for insightful by pointing out just how counterproductive the whole ordeal was:

The worst thing is the photographer wasted a perfectly good opportunity. Instead of companies seeing that his work was good enough to be used commercially, they'll now see him as someone who is willing to frivolously attack anyone who does more than look at his work.

For our first editor's choice on the insightful side, we've got a comment from a photographer expanding on that point. Marcel de Jong discusses the benefits of sharing your work for free:

Most of my photos are released under CC-BY, a decision I didn't take lightly. And some of them have been used in commercial settings (there's a webshop selling fridge magnets of photos of mine, and several have appeared in magazines and online articles (including one in a cracked.com article)). It just makes for a more interesting line on my resume: "Internationally published photographer" instead of "Hobbyist fool with a camera".

I'd love to have one of my photos used as the cover of a book/map. I'd buy a copy of that, instantly, or at first ask if I could get one for free.

Next, since it wouldn't be a week in 2015 without a story of police misbehaviour, we turn to one such example in which a woman caught an officer beating a handcuffed suspect only to have him attempt to prevent her from recording the incident. One commenter pointed out that we should all really be using software that uploads the videos to the cloud as they are shot, so that you can tell an officer there's no way to delete the recording, but Rekrul had his own idea:

No, don't tell them that it's automatically backed up online. Let them think the recording is gone so that they can file their bogus report. Then once they've lied in their official statement, release the recording and prove that they lied.

Over on the funny side, we surprisingly start out on that same not-so-funny story, but only because That One Guy latched on to the quote that "guns don’t belong in the hands of children" and provided a response that scored nearly as many insightful votes as it did funny ones:

I actually agree wholeheartedly with this, and it's nice of them to finally admit it. Mind, a little odd that he describes the police as 'children' in his statement, but I suppose a group that regularly throws tantrums when they don't get their way does rather fit the definition.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to replace my irony meter, given it seems to have exploded for some reason.

For second place, we head to the story about Jeb Bush's campaign against "creating" encryption, leading one commenter to wonder if he realizes that encryption already exists and is in heavy use around the world. In response, an anonymous commenter paraphrased his requests:

"Stop making all this math guys!"

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with a response to Xerox's decision to start region-locking ink cartridges. This seemed like a terrible idea, but one anonymous commenter saw a lot of sense in it:

Regional ink markets just make good sense.

Ink sold in Iowa, for instance, can be sold as 'corn-based'. Markup: 25%.

Ink sold in Nebraska can be sold as 'pigshit-based'. Markup: 32%.

Ink sold in India can be backfilled with mercury and other cost-effective fillers and sold as 'Murican!' Markup: 13%.

Zip code based micro-regions are important in areas like Washington, D.C. Ink destined for the DOJ requires the thick 'Redacto-Blend'. Markup: 325%, while ink going to Congress requires the much thinner 'printed-on-a-tissue-of-lies' blend. Markup: 600%.

Yes, ink markets are important, not only for specific customer needs, or "customer needs hahahaha", but for the much more relevant 'where-are-we-going-to-get-the-money-for-our-Caribbean-conferences' requirements.

Ink: because the world runs on chumps not knowing any better.

Finally, we've got a nice and simple response from Baron von Robber to the folks at Ashley Madison, who are still trying to abuse the DMCA to hide the devastating data leaks:

Dear Avid Life Media,

I hear pissing into the wind will help too.

That's all for this week, folks!

14 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 22 August 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: August 16th - 22nd

from the now-that's-theft dept

Five Years Ago

Throughout these posts we've seen lots of snippets of the history of the Pirate Bay, and this week in 2010 we looked at a presentation by Peter Sunde that tells the whole story. Meanwhile, BitTorrent was beginning to directly promote creators who embrace alternative distribution, the porn industry was once again leading the way by embracing piracy and monetizing experiences, and the Kids In The Hall admitted to pirating their own show because it's so hard to get legally. Amidst all this, a popular graph was going around suggesting that the web was dying because of its dwindling share of overall traffic, with P2P and video on the rise — but the absolute numbers told a different story.

Industry groups were negotiating net neutrality (again), and the recording industry saw this as an opportunity to link copyright infringement to child pornography (again). John Mellencamp was calling the internet an "atomic bomb" for music while U2's manager was focusing on anonymous blogging as the core problem. Grooveshark was still going strong, but Universal Music pushed Apple into pulling it from the app store, while we pointed to a chart that nicely illustrated the utter insanity of music licensing.

Ten Years Ago

Five years before that, we were pointing out that the industry has to let go of DRM before it kills mobile music, and that exclusive mobile content deals don't make any sense. We took a look at just how the DMCA came to be, and were happy to see someone finally fighting back against a RIAA lawsuit.

In the world of TV, executives were finally starting to realize that they had to embrace new technologies; in the world of movies, some theaters were trying to offer a better experience while others were blaming their slumps on the simple problem of bad movies; in the video game world people were freaking out as usual about violence while we pointed out that games actually suck for indoctrination; and in the newspaper world, it wasn't exactly shocking to learn that the growth was happening online. But by far the most hyped medium was a relatively "new" one: podcasting.

Also this week in 2005, Google piqued a little bit of interest with the purchase of a small, secretive startup called "Android" that wouldn't tell anyone what it was working on beyond "mobile software". We expressed doubts that this meant Google would be developing a mobile OS, as some had surmised, and suggested that it was probably something to do with location-aware search and advertising. Little did we know...

Fifteen Years Ago

A lot of people were expressing doubts about Amazon recently in 2000, and this week the company hit back with numbers to show it's not worried. Annother huge name at the time, RealNetworks, was rolling out a new business model that sounded a lot like premium cable. And who knew what the future would hold for these two companies...?

Digital marketing was all about targeting kids this week in 2000. They were, after all, way more likely than teens to click banner ads, and schools were such a great place for advertising to a captive audience. But why stop there? The Internet Underground Music Archive offered a prize to parents who would name their baby IUMA, and it didn't take long to find the first winner.

In the world of futuristic tech (some of which remains futuristic) we saw looks at quantum computing and neural networks, surgery conducted with the aid of robots, and far out musings about controlling the weather with satellites and microwaves.

One-Hundred And Four Years Ago

With the onslaught of people who insist on calling infringement "theft", it's easy to forget that there's also such a thing as real art theft. Perhaps the most high-profile example happened on August 21st, 1911, when the Mona Lisa was stolen by a Louvre employee who believed it should be returned to its native Italy. It wouldn't be found for two years.

Amusingly, this instance of real stealing had an effect not unlike the "stealing" that oh-so-terribly happens online: it led to a massive increase in the Mona Lisa's popularity. Prior to the theft, the painting wasn't really known outside the art world, but international reporting of the theft and recovery (notwithstanding a significant public-attention detour after the sinking of the Titanic in between) is what turned it into the world's most famous work of art.

10 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Innovation - 22 August 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: When Two Colossal Robots Fight, Everybody Wins

from the rock-'em-sock-'em dept

By now, you've probably heard that there's a giant robot fight coming in the near future: a US team has challenged a Japanese team to a brawl, and the challenge was accepted on the condition that it includes hand-to-hand fighting. Clearly America isn't going to back down because of this requirement, but that means Megabots Inc. needs to upgrade its Mk.II bot — and they're turning to the crowd for help.

The Good

Three words: giant robot fight. Picture BattleBots (it's back!) but way, way bigger and with the drivers inside the robots. Do you need more than that? Well, the specifics are pretty cool: Mk.II is already a formidable robot, but designed mostly to look awesome and deliver long-range attacks. The team has an overall $1.5-million plan to do a significant overhaul and get the Mk.II ready to take on the Japanese bot — and they're seeking the first $500,000 on Kickstarter. That'll cover new armor, melee weapons, a higher top speed, and the necessary hydraulics and power systems to keep all that operational. If they can break through the target and hit some stretch goals, things start to get even more interesting: at $750k they'll begin designing and testing modular weapons to find the best armament; at $1-million they'll begin working with the winners of a DARPA challenge to give the currently-top-heavy Mk.II advanced balancing capabilities (like the videos of self-balancing DARPA robots that get creepier every day); at $1.25-milion they'll bring in NASA safety experts to make sure the driver is completely protected (should this maybe be... higher priority?); and at $1.5-million they'll apply the icing to the cake in the form of a Hollywood-grade paint job.

Even if you don't care who wins this fight, you probably want to see it happen.

The Bad

...And if you do care who wins this fight (and are rooting for the US) then you should probably back this project, because at the moment there's plenty of reason to believe that the Mk.II might have bitten off more than it can chew. Its opponent — the Kuratas by Suidobashi Heavy Industry — is an extremely impressive machine. The Mk.II might be a bit heavier-duty, but the Kuratas is far more maneuverable and features some pretty advanced targeting and piloting systems. It's pretty clear why the Japanese team wanted a hand-to-hand combat component: the Kuratas hasn't been seen sporting any particularly heavy firepower (while the US bot, unsurprisingly, has) but it's not hard to picture it taking out the Mk.II up close by trumping it on manoeuvrability and balance — because, like so many robot competitions over the years, there's a good chance this one will end somewhat-disappointingly with one of the bots unceremoniously falling over. $1.5-million worth of upgrades will go a long way towards ensuring this is a fair and intense fight.

The Empowering

Of course, as much fun as it will be to see these robots in action, the real dream for many will be to drive one — and that's absolutely a possibility. Starting at $1000, all the tiers offer the chance to pilot the Mk.II — with higher prices bringing in the chance to try out its guns and fists. At the top tier of $10,000, you get to join the pit crew and get the inside view of the entire match including watching on-site assembly of the bot — and since all five spots were snatched up far more quickly than expected, the team has added another round of five, and three of those have already been claimed.

15 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 18 August 2015 @ 12:40pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 38: Yes, There Are Business Models That Don't Need Intellectual Property

from the plenty-of-them dept

Time and time again, we hear the claim that without copyright and/or patents there is no way for creators to make money, or even any reason for anyone to create anything at all. This is obviously absurd on many levels, but in today's episode we look at the most immediate and practical ones: the many business models that aren't based on intellectual property, and approaches to incentivizing creativity and innovation that don't involve locking things down.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

19 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 16 August 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the not-so-fair dept

This week, the sad story of the US government's treatment of whistleblowers added another chapter when Chelsea Manning was threatened with indefinite solitary confinement over some minor violations of military prison rules. Both our top comments on the insightful side come in response to this news, with first place going to JustShutUpAndObey with a solid observation about any time you see a charge labelled "disrespect":

I've noticed that the people most insistent on being respected are typically the least deserving of it.

In second place we've got That One Guy, who connected this example to the case of Edward Snowden:

So about that 'fair trial'...

Manning made the USG look bad for a short period of time. Snowden continues to make them look bad with the gradual releases of what he gave to reporters. Manning is looking at indefinite solitary confinement for actions which basically boil down to 'being rude'.

Anyone want to take a wild guess what kind of treatment Snowden would get if the USG got it's hands on him?

Every additional piece of evidence as to how the USG treats whistleblowers makes it more and more clear that Snowden did the right thing in refusing to 'face the consequences of his actions' by staying in the US, and those who continue to insist that he should return to the US are either grossly ignorant or intentionally dishonest if they think or claim he would be treated in a fair manner, whether before, during, or after his joke of a 'trial'.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we'll start by rounding things out with one more comment from that post — New Mexico Mark offering a veteran's point of view:

Approved torture degrades a nation

As a vet, I understand military discipline. However, like hazing and other forms of "discipline" there is a point where it simply becomes sadistic abuse. In fact, one of the differentiators between legitimate punishment and torture is a clear communication to the convicted of the sentence / punishment, including duration.

Studies have shown that isolation beyond a few days is psychological torture designed to break minds. In extreme cases it is the "clean hands" equivalent of a lobotomy. It may be arguable whether Manning's behavior in a military prison setting merited punishment. However, legitimizing torture as acceptable for any reason is indefensible. It degrades its practitioners and advocates along with its victims.

Some might make an argument based solely on perceived efficacy. My response is that "The ends justify the means" for otherwise horrific behavior is the stock rationalization of the craven and the cowardly. Surely we can do better as a nation.

Next, we'll pivot to the comparatively light news about Oracle telling customers to stop seeking vulnerabilities in its products. One anonymous commenter neatly pointed out that this really doesn't instill confidence:

It doesn't say much for Oracle when their CSO says "trust, but DON'T verify."

Over on the funny side, we start out on our post about the HP legal saga that is absolutely chock full of redacted documents. Ninja took first place with an excellent conspiracy theory:

Can't you see, you fools?!? This is HP plotting to force people to print dozens of black ink pages so they will sell more overpriced ink! All the redaction in FOIA and Government documents released is due to this nefarious plan from HP!


I'd add something trying to link the logo and the letters to the devil but I'm lazy.

For second place, we head to the story of the school police chief who went way overboard against a student for an "offensive" tweet, and now must face a lawsuit. After someone pointed out that this was really all about kissing not sex based on the phrase "making out", one anonymous commenter adopted appropriately horrified tones:

Oh, sweet mercy, teenagers kissing? [Fans self.] Why, I do declare, this must be stopped at once!

For editor's choice, we remain on that post where one commenter offered a defence of the school's actions so formulaic and colorless that it almost could have been deadpan sarcasm — and given that the case itself is about a piece of deadpan sarcasm, this sarcastic anonymous response really does work on several levels:

I agree! In fact, I think we should outlaw sarcasm. Slow folks like me have to think too hard to figure out if people are being serious, that's discriminatory.

Finally, after Lenovo was discovered installing crapware even during fresh Windows installs, one commenter naturally wondered what happens when you install Linux. RD had the likely answer:

You get reported for "piracy", naturally.

That's all for this week, folks!

9 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 15 August 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: August 9th - 15th

from the copyright-strikes-again...-and-again,-and-again dept

Five Years Ago

And so the 2010 copyright shenanigans continue, with problems on several fronts. In the world of collection society shakedowns, we saw how the day-to-day legalized extortion by BMI works, while Canadian collection society Access Copyright was trying to bleed more money out of students for photocopying privileges; New Zealand authors were calling for a "you must be a pirate" internet licensing fee, and the settling of a payola case offered yet more evidence for why the RIAA's calls for a Performance Rights tax are ludicrous. At least all this meant that more and more people were realizing how problematic collection societies are.

In the world of lawsuit-based shakedowns, US Copyright Group actually withdrew two lawsuits... in order to refile them against individuals while Righthaven continued to ramp up its "sue everyone" insanity. But we're not done yet: next stop is the world of bogus and over-aggressive takedowns. A German anti-piracy group knocked out a video for which it had no rights whatsoever, the Discovery Channel forced down a popular Deadliest Catch fan site by claiming that embedding the official videos is infringement, and EMI suddenly decided to single out one popular Empire State Of Mind parody (out of hundreds) for a takedown. As one history we pointed to this week neatly outlines, copyright started as a tool for censorship, was attempted as an incentive system, and is now back to its roots.

Ten Years Ago

We continue our tour by jumping back to 2005 and the world of copy protection nonsense. Even as we pointed out how DRM simply doesn't work, and only pisses off legitimate customers we found out Princeton was getting ready to use digital textbooks with heavy-handed protections and wondered if companies think buyers are complete idiots — leading to the bigger question of whether the industry understands the concept of legitimate uses of technology at all. It didn't seem likely, with record labels eyeing the concept of release windows for music, universities bailing out of label-promoted forced music subscription services and people striking back at Microsoft for its intellectual property propaganda.

And now, the freakout list: FedEx freaked out about people making furniture with their boxes, politicians freaked out about Usenet, the Associated Press freaked out (or tried to stoke others to freak out) about Daylight Savings Time changes causing Y2K-esque computer problems, one writer freaked out about online anonymity, and an entire high school of students freaked out (presumably) when a computer glitch told them they all got failing grades.

Fifteen Years Ago

Finally we come to the wellspring of many of the copyright debates that still rage to this day: the Napster controversy, with Intel taking a pro-peer-to-peer stance this week while music retailers had mixed opinions and one new piece of software was attempting to blend Napster with instant messaging. Already we were starting to look at ways for artists to make money without relying on intellectual property laws.

We also saw the internet effect with other fields. In the world of health, it turned out the web was a great place for people with Munchausen syndrome (the compulsion to feign illness and disease) while people were beginning to track the overall impact of the internet on healthcare and doctor-patient relationships — plus the huge potential for dangerous quackery. In the world of sex we saw a porn ban struck down as unconstitutional while libraries were struggling with how to handle porn (still called "cyberporn") and married couples were struggling with how to handle cyber-infidelity.

Thirty-Five Years Ago

This isn't something that actually happened this week in 1980, but a New Yorker article this Thursday pointed to the newly-minted 808 Day on August 8th to honor the (not actually exact) birthday of the Roland TR-808 — the most iconic drum machine in the world. The closer look at the history is fascinating, tracking the machine's unlikely adoption by emerging styles of music, and the way its sound was essentially "crowdsourced" as various producers tweaked settings over the years and built off each others' adjustments, eventually producing the familiar sounds that you almost certainly recognize even if you don't know the machine by name.

8 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Innovation - 15 August 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: 3D Photography For All

from the scan-away dept

One of the oft-touted features of 3D printers, especially in the early days, was the ability to scan an object and reproduce it. But as the printers themselves have become cheaper and more accessible, the focus seems to have shifted to downloadable and shareable designs, with little attention being paid to the scanning devices that help complete the "replicator" vision of our 3D printing future. This week we're looking at Bevel, an low-cost device that brings 3D scanning to any smartphone.

The Good

The most immediately noticeable thing about Bevel is the price. Some personal 3D scanners exist in the range of thousands of dollars, and a growing number in the range of hundreds, but I've never seen one that clocks in at a mere $50 like the Bevel. And this isn't something that produces faux-3D images with some forced depth — it's a proper scanning laser that works in concert with a smartphone's existing camera to build a true 3D model of an object. The resultant models are 3D-printing compatible (though likely not without some care and tweaking, as is generally the case) and quite impressively detailed for such a small, low-cost device. Interestingly, the Bevel is not a USB/Lightning peripheral, but rather uses the headphone/microphone jack — which is great for compatibility, though it does mean it needs to be separately charged since it can't draw power from the phone.

The Bad

The Bevel does appear to be tied down to a proprietary app, though for such a smartphone-specific device requiring presumably quite complex software, that's not a huge shock. I'd love to see more interoperability in smartphone peripherals, and the separation of device drivers from specific apps, but it's hard to lay the blame for that solely at Bevel's feet. More curious and concerning is their insistence on trademarking the term "Genuine 3D" to describe Bevel's photos. While I understand the desire to differentiate Bevel from apps that create a fake 3D photo effect, trying to turn the concept of a proper 3D scan/photo combination into a trademarked brand name seems unnecessary and potentially problematic, given that it's a function and a type of media that is going to become increasingly commonplace.

The Creepy

Bevel's 3D photos are quite impressive. It can capture very complex objects, even people, with a high level of detail. But... the results when it comes to people, while technically appreciable, are creepy as hell. I totally understand the desire to show off the Bevel's capabilities, but using terrifying renderings of their team members as flagship examples is an odd choice. I can see lots of uses for the Bevel, but their marketing material seems to suggest the most popular will be capturing moments with friends, which I frankly doubt unless your friends are already wrinkly zombie creatures.

3 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 11 August 2015 @ 12:20pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 37: Humble Bundle Deserves More Credit For Its Many Innovations

from the shouldn't-be-so-humble dept

When people talk about today's most innovative technology and media companies, the discussion tends to orbit the usual suspects: Apple, Google, Facebook et al. But there's one small company that we've long believed deserves far, far more attention for its multitude of smart innovations: Humble Bundle. This week, we discuss the many subtle but extremely meaningful choices that have grown the Humble Bundle from a simple experiment into a revolutionary form of distribution, and wonder why the company doesn't get more credit as an innovator.

This week we're also unveiling our brand new podcast theme song written, produced and recorded by long-time Techdirt friend Dan Bull.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

3 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 9 August 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the cops-and-'robbers' dept

This week, we saw yet another example of police trying to get away with flagrant abuse as the deputy who left an unresisting suspect with broken bones and torn ligaments sought immunity, claiming he didn't use excessive force. That One Guy won most insightful comment of the week by pointing out how insane and disturbing this is on every level:

If this is how they treat someone who /isn't/ putting up a fight...

Broken leg, bruised bloody and battered face, permanent muscle damage, and how does the cop in question and his precinct respond?

By claiming that he didn't use excessive force.

Just think about what they are claiming here. They're honestly arguing that broken bones and permanent bodily harm is seen by at the very least one precinct as acceptable, for the 'heinous' crime of unintentionally spitting a cigarette in the general direction of an officer.

Yet again the police show why you would have to be an utter fool to trust them, or even want them anywhere near you.

Meanwhile, Universal Music was employing its own brand of excessive force with a series of anti-piracy ads depicting the severed extremities of artists supposedly destroyed by piracy. With a double-win, we've got That One Guy again, this time comparing the campaign to other famously ineffective attempts to brainwash kids:

D.A.R.E. to download a car

Funny thing about 'educational' campaigns like this: Kids are actually pretty good at spotting lies and ridiculous hyperbole, and they don't respond well to either.

Telling kids that trying drugs(or downloading music) just once is enough to ruin your life(or the career of a musician) works great as a scare tactic... right up until they see someone who has tried drugs and seems to be just fine, or see a musician who is absolutely swimming in money, despite the constant claims about how piracy is 'destroying music'.

At that point, most of them are going to realize that they've been lied to, and it won't matter if some of what you told them was in fact true, your credibility is now destroyed, and at best they'll probably ignore anything you have to say from that point onward, whether drug or piracy related.

Remember, just because it works on politicians doesn't mean it will work on children, as the latter group is much smarter and and much more able to spot when they're being lied to.

The RIAA was waging its own war against piracy, futilely targeting BitTorrent while exposing a total misunderstanding of how the technology works. From there we get our first editor's choice from insightful — an anonymous comment that scored high on the funny side of things as well:

Dear Mr Shipbuilder

We have noticed that you make schooners. Schooners are sometimes used by pirates. Please add this technology to your schooners that will render them unusable by pirates (and most other users).

Next, we head to the insane suggestion from NSA supporters that Apple's encryption could be material support of terrorism based on the fact that they could reasonably foresee the risk of encryption aiding terrorist groups. Chris Brand expertly turned this idea around:

"Reasonable and foreseeable risk"

So we know that identity theft and the like happen all the time. By this argument, if my iPhone gets hacked and I suffer a loss, I can go after Apple for *not* encrypting the data, because they made it easier for the hackers.

For first place on the funny side, we return to Universal's gruesome campaign where Michael found a deeper level of irony:

Artists that cut off their ear never amount to anything.

For second place, we cycle back round to the story of police violence, where a commenter adopting the moniker Deputy Burgess offered a parody of the sort of defense you so often hear from officers and police apologists:

go fuck yourselves

hey people, you don't know the stress of my job. For all I know his cigarette might have contained explosives ricin or child porn, or all three. Think of the danger the public could have been in if he had succeeded. His own actions led to my prompt response in protecting the community and had I not succeeded, the result could have been 9/11 times a thousand. So fuck y'all and Bubba lets go out tonight and keep America free.

For editor's choice, we start by returning one last time to the Universal campaign, where a joke about pirating eyes and fingers led to a discussion about the fact that people absolutely will do that if medical 3D printing is accessible but the necessary blueprints are locked down by copyright. Just Another Anonymous Troll followed this line of thinking to its inevitable and ironic conclusion:

...and it's still copyrighted, so you're a pirate and the RIAA will kick down your door and rip your 3-D printed eye out of your skull, ironically forcing you to wear an eyepatch.

Last but not least, though I never expected a top comment to come from one of our Daily Deals posts, the recent offer of an HDTV antenna led to this Aereo callback that's surely worthy of note:

The cable is only 10 ft long. That is great! I don't want to be involved in any law suits for using an antenna with too long of a cable.

That's all for this week, folks!

7 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 8 August 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: August 2nd - 8th

from the the-more-things-change dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2010, we called attention to the Campbell Soup Company's positive 1964 reaction to Andy Warhol's art, and wondered how that same situation might play out today (with the smart bet being "cease and desist"). As it happened, we got plenty of examples of aggressive takedowns and legal attacks that very same week: NAMCO demanded the takedown of a kid's project recreating Pacman in a simple learning language, Pilsbury sent its lawyers after the "My Dough Girl" bakery for its mild similarity to the famous Dough Boy, the FBI claimed Wikipedia can't display its agency logo, the RIAA was going after people for sharing Radiohead's free In Rainbows album, the Beach Boys were making a ridiculous copyright claim over Katy Perry's California Gurls... The list goes on and on. At least one ridiculous threat was squashed by public reaction: George Lucas backed down from his threats against Wicked Lasers for daring to be compared by others to lightsabers.

The blocking game was being played at the highest levels around the world, too: while the UAE and Saudi Arabia were moving to ban Blackberries, Australia was grappling with attempts to make ISPs responsible for stopping piracy, and Indonesia was just going ahead and ordering all ISPs to block all porn within two weeks.

Ten Years Ago

Five years before that, some US Senators were more interested in taxing online porn than banning it — though the bill was clearly, undeniably unconstitutional. Meanwhile, in what's become a long-running tradition, America was using a trade agreement (this time the CAFTA) to export the worst parts of copyright law.

The Sprint-Nextel merger was approved, while Mozilla was in the process of building its corporate subsidiary; newspapers were still figuring out how to do online news and not always building great websites, while Rupert Murdoch was buying up online media companies. Perhaps the most notable of those purchases was MySpace, a site that was already showing cracks in its popularity and usefulness.

Also this week in 2005: the ringtone bubble was bursting, people were getting stung by phishing schemes and bad bank security (while the fear of identity theft was great news for the document destruction business), Cisco was learning a tough lesson about attempting security through obscurity, and apparently the astrophysics community was learning a security lesson of its own.

Fifteen Years Ago

The big topic this week in 2000 was e-commerce. Some were questioning whether or not it had any kind of future at all, though others were saying it's doing just fine. The people getting in on the conversation ranged from a small-town mayor who decided e-commerce is evil all the way to the presidential candidates.

Mobile devices were causing all the usual upsets in places people hadn't previously considered them, whether that's bugging people on camping sites or causing mistrials in murder cases. Internet-enabled cellphones were selling well, though it wasn't clear if this had much to do with the under-utilized internet capabilities, and some wondered if PC-dominance in the US was holding back adoption of truly revolutionary mobile devices. But hey, these were the days when a 6-gigabyte MP3 player was news.

Thirty-Eight Years Ago

A couple months ago, we pointed to the release of the Apple II in 1977. Now, hot on its heels, we've got the August 3rd release that same year of the competing TRS-80 Micro Computer System, another major milestone in the history of personal computing.

6 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Innovation - 8 August 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Making Mesh Networks

from the come-together dept

Remember the early days of wireless routers, when every city street-corner was home to a dozen unsecured WiFi connections? That was hardly an ideal (or safe) state of affairs, but it did feel rather nice and neighbourly at times, and there was a certain sadness in watching all the open networks get locked down over the years. Today we're looking at Meta Mesh, a project that aims to help communities recapture the good parts of those glory days in a fair, secure and superior manner by building their own distributed bandwidth-sharing networks with ease.

The Good

Mesh networking is a powerful idea, and one that embodies the spirit of distributed design and open interconnection that underpins the internet. The basic idea is that by uniting a community on a shared network with no central access point, you can share the huge amounts of unused and inefficiently allocated bandwidth that gets paid for and wasted every day. ISPs, after all, are not doing a good job (or any kind of job) at this allocation: power users pay exorbitant fees and are viewed by ISPs as a problem, low-income users have few if any options for affordable service, and the average person pays for far more bandwidth than they ever use. Few cities can or will offer municipal wi-fi, and those that try often do a pretty poor job of it.

A mesh network lets a community fix all that on its own. The average home or business now has a bunch of powerful wireless networking equipment sitting in a corner to serve a handful of computers and devices — but what if those homes and businesses used that equipment to connect to each other, to turn all their little networks into one big one and extend it throughout the city? The possibilities are huge.

If there's one key reason this isn't already happening in most major cities, it's that it isn't necessarily easy to do. That's what Meta Mesh aims to change by offering a complete guide to setting up mesh networks without a lot of technical expertise, and a web store where people can purchase preconfigured equipment. The necessary gear isn't expensive, and hasn't been for a long time — removing the technical barriers to finding and setting up that gear changes mesh networks from complex projects into simple solutions.

The Bad

Bandwidth sharing is a critical function of mesh networks, and might be their "killer app" as it were — but the possibilities actually extend far beyond that, which is something I wish Meta Mesh was discussing more. Think of all the other things a community could do with its own ad-hoc network: local versions of geographically-linked services from Craigslist to Uber to Tinder; neighbourhood cryptocurrencies and other tools built on a local blockchain ledger; peer-to-peer sharing that never touches the wider internet. Imagine the possibilities when these networks are extendable and bridgeable. Mesh networks won't just revolutionize how we connect to the internet — they are poised to become a powerful and vibrant part of the the global information network in their own right.

Meta Mesh is a great first step, but I worry that the pitch's focus on bandwidth-sharing makes this sound exclusively like a charitable endeavour, when in fact it's so much more.

The Obstacles

Of course, there's little doubt that ISPs will react badly to this. The aforementioned shift from mostly open to mostly locked-down home WiFi networks — though ultimately a good thing for security's sake — didn't happen so rapidly because people started learning about security: it happened because ISPs gave up on their short-lived crusade to stop customers using wireless routers entirely, and started supplying pre-secured ones themselves. You can expect them to be just as crafty in attempting to prevent this kind of bandwidth-sharing too: first by enforcing their anti-sharing terms of service, then if that fails by attempting to take control of the mesh networking world and milk it for every penny (destroying its purpose in the process). It will be a frustrating battle, but one that ISPs are no longer in a position to easily win as more and more people are waking up to the fact that broadband service in this part of the world sucks.

3 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 4 August 2015 @ 12:45pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 36: In Defense Of Copying

from the ideas-and-execution dept

We live in a world that venerates "ideas" but ignores the fact that even the best idea is worthless if it's poorly executed. In turn, people who "copy" ideas are often demonized, even when it's their superior execution that is responsible for their success. But the truth is that copying is a critical part of innovation and progress, and the instinct to ignore or refute that idea has left us without many clear measurements of its impact — not to mention lots of bad policy, and a highly problematic "ownership culture" when it comes to ideas and creative output.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

5 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 2 August 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the birthday-bust dept

This week, we got a lot of reactions to the huge (but not necessarily surprising) discovery of evidence showing that Happy Birthday has been in the public domain for nearly a century. There was a general agreement that this whole situation is insane, but one specific suggestion that it was "petty" and "a waste of taxpayers money" garnered a push-back from PaulT that won most insightful comment of the week:

A sign that the system is broken? Yes. A petty dispute? I don't call the fact that a private company is hoarding rights to a song that should have been in the public domain decades ago to the tune of $2 million/year petty. If the song is public domain, they are making huge levels of income based on a lie.

A waste of taxpayer money? Again, I don't see how returning the public's property to its rightful owners under the original contract is a waste, especially if this results in a wider discussion of how broken and one-sided the copyright system is. Especially if as a result of this, Warner are found to have been misleading enough to be forced to return its ill-gotten gains and other companies are forced to return public domain properties to their rightful owners. OK, that's unlikely, but I can dream.

It's a silly dispute in that it should never have been allowed to come to this, but since we're here it's a good fight to have.

Meanwhile, we were quite disturbed by one veteran's story of being on the receiving end of a police raid, and discovering that quite unlike his military training, it is "standard procedure to point guns at suspects in many cases to protect the lives of police officers". That One Guy took second place for insightful by expanding on this extremely worrying contrast:

And they wonder why people don't, and should never, trust them...

The military are taught that guns are dangerous weapons, only to be brought out when you plan on using them, and are willing to accept the consequences of doing so. The police on the other hand are apparently taught to draw guns at the first possible opportunity, and treat them not as deadly tools fully capable of killing someone with a single twitch of a finger, but simply a method of intimidation.

Also, gotta love(or is that 'loathe')that double standard in play.

Police point guns at someone else to 'protect' themselves, even when it's not needed? Perfectly acceptable, and in fact outright desirable.

If someone pointed a gun at a cop in order to 'protect' themselves from a them? Attempted murder, assaulting an officer, whatever charges they can cook up, and assume they aren't gunned down on the spot(not likely), they're almost certain to spend several years in jail for 'attempted murder of an officer'.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with one more nod to That One Guy for a thematically related comment on a partially-related post about asset forfeiture, this time taking on the pervasive and dangerous idea that "criminals don't deserve the protection of the law":

That is one of the nastier ideas that has infected 'law enforcement' specifically, and even society in general, the idea that if you break the law, or are even accused of breaking the law, that it means you no longer deserve to be protected by the law. I've even seen people argue this in the comments section on TD, the idea that those that act outside the laws have, by their actions, removed themselves from the protections the laws provide, and no longer deserve any sort of fair or just treatment by the system, because criminal/terrorist.

'Sure we stole a bunch of stuff from someone, without any sort of trial or anything, but look, they're a criminal, that makes it okay!'

This idea however is terrible, as both 'guilty' and innocent both deserve the full protection of the law, otherwise it becomes utterly meaningless. If you can strip away someone's right simply by accusation, or even the finding of guilt, then those protections cease to exist, and are merely optional, to be applied at whim.

Next, we head to our excellent guest post by Barry Eisler about the many ways in which the Authors Guild and similar groups utterly fail to represent the interest of authors. One one commenter, apropos of absolutely nothing, accused us of "loving pirates" and promoting piracy, Barry dove into the comments to point out the irrelevance of this assertion... then debunk it anyway, for good measure:

Forget about the misleading "never met a pirate you didn't love" cliche intro, or the bullshit notion that anyone is advocating for piracy as a "right"... if your point is that the Authors Guild's efforts against piracy somehow redeem all the pro-publisher activities I discuss in my article, your response is at best awfully tangential.

Anti-piracy efforts don't help authors because piracy doesn't hurt authors:



The whole notion that piracy is a zero-sum game, that someone who downloads a book for free would have paid full price for it if the free download were impossible, is antithetical to common sense and everyday experience. Anti-piracy efforts are emotion driven and ignore logic and evidence.

I say all this, by the way, as an author who is regularly informed by the AG et al that he should be terrified of and enraged by piracy. Yawn.

With all that, you want to rebut my post by talking about how the AG hates piracy? How about a response a little more on-point than that?

Over on the funny side, for first place we return to the Happy Birthday saga, and Warner's obfuscating response. One anonymous commenter couldn't resist a little singalong:

Happy Birthday to sue
Happy Birthday to sue
if it quacks like a duck
we'll sue it like one too

Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me
I screwed the public domain
and all of you

I'm sure they are singing all the way to the bank... 10M gross @ 2M net for the last 80 years, I could retire on that

In second place, we've got a simple response from jupiterkansas to a simple question: have "We the People" petitions ever had any real results?

Well... we know they're not building a Death Star.

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start with an anonymous comment about the hologram rap concert that was shut down because politicians and cops didn't like his lyrics — but it's an idea that could be applied in all sorts of situations:

I think we should follow the Youtube example and make them take a course on the Constitution. After 3 strikes you're no longer allowed to hold office.

Finally, in response to Wordpress taking a stand against abusive DMCA takedowns, we've got someone under the name Mr Big Content providing some extremely deadpan sarcasm:

This is Why We Need Much Stricter Copyright Laws

All this does is put more obstacles in the way of intellectual property owners trying to prevent theft of their intellectual property. Why should intellectual property be a special case, with all these extra hoops to jump through, compared to any other property? It should be treated the same!

It is too much to expect intellectual property owners to bear all the burden of looking after their property. The Internet has a moral obligation to help us. After all, they are the technical experts, what is so hard for us should be childishly easy for them, they just don't want to do the work. Unlike normal property, intellectual property needs to be treated very specially and carefully, with lots of extra legal restrictions, because it so easily gets thefted

That's all for this week, folks!

4 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 1 August 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: July 26th - August 1st

from the happy-birthday-FBI-and-CIA! dept

Five Years Ago

The last few weeks have been full of copyright ridiculousness, but this week in 2010 features a lot of exploration into copyright's nuances. First, the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress finally outlined DMCA exemptions for jailbreaking smartphones and some other situations, while rejecting some other proposed exceptions — and sparking Canada to take a fresh look at its own anti-circumvention proposals, essentially admitting it lets the US heavily influence Canadian copyright law. One US court started to put some limitations on the anti-circumvention clause itself by suggesting that simply using circumvention software is not itself a violation; the British High Court ruled that emulating a piece of software is not infringement; and another ruling let venues deduct from their BMI license deals when they directly license music. This was also hot on the heels of ASCAP's boss refusing Larry Lessig's invitation to debate, and bizarrely claiming that said invitation was an attempt to "silence" ASCAP.

A bunch of other interesting questions arose in the form of copyright concerns over Flipbook, the sale of prints made from long-lost (but recently found) Ansel Adams negatives, attempts to assert new copyrights on work by an artist who had been dead for 71 years, and the highly problematic proposal of a new digital transmission right. Meanwhile, the British Library was concerned about copyright hindering research, and gamers everywhere were worrying about copyright stymying the preservation of video game history.

Ten Years Ago

We got a bunch of wonderful tech-panics this week in 2005. Perhaps most notable was the head of the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force declaring that "cantenna" wi-fi extenders are nefarious and illegal and getting the news media to swallow it. We also saw a panic over "pod slurping" (an unnecessarily specific version of data-theft-by-trespassing), and a seemingly random trio of senators got extremely concerned about porn on file-sharing networks while we awaited a mysterious new anti-porn bill informed by obsolete data. One lawyer in the US was moving on from his freakouts about Grand Theft Auto and unveiling brand new freakouts about The Sims, while Australia was outdoing the US on the former by effectively banning GTA altogether. Beatles producer George Martin was complaining about how easy it is for people to record music these days, and Techdirt itself became the target of a very tiny and personal tech-freakout: one unknown AOL user who was convinced we were spamming him (and apparently unable to find the unsubscribe button in every one of our double-opt-in newsletters). At least it didn't go down the way things do in Russia, where a notorious spammer was found brutally murdered.

Also, long before the world reeled at Pluto's loss of planet status (something I believe is now back up for debate?), astronomers were pointing to a tenth planet even further out.

Fifteen Years Ago

Napster's fate was in a serious state of flux this week in 2000. First, a judge ordered an injunction, shutting it down; the pundits piled on, taking a wide variety of views on this development (some much smarter than others); but, by the end of the week, Napster was granted a stay on the injunction and kept things running; cue an unbelievable volume of discussion from all corners of the internet, with some realizing that the RIAA's war on Napster, even if ultimately "successful", was a perfect example of utterly failed strategic thinking.

As you follow Techdirt's posts right around this time, you'll notice something that we started to notice ourselves: intellectual property was becoming our most popular topic and a tentpole of the blog (even though today it's hard to imagine that ever wasn't the case!)

This week in 2000 we also saw early glimmers of major technological trends, like the fact that the video-game industry would become a massive entertainment sector rivalling Hollywood. But we also saw lots of tech that was just slightly ahead of its time: wireless was heavily hyped and clearly going to matter some day, but lots of key factors were holding back adoption, especially in the US and especially when it came to things like wireless banking. Some tech was clearly moving forward — such as input methods for handheld devices (which were still pretty dismal back then) — while other areas were a bit more stubborn: newspapers didn't seem to be dying nearly as fast as predicted, and 83% of people in the UK said they'd never switch to the internet for news.

107 & 68 Years Ago

July 26th is a double-whammy in the history of America's federal landscape in the areas of law enforcement, security, espionage and more. First, in 1908, it was the day that The Bureau of Investigation (which would become the FBI) was formed. Then, thirty-nine years later, it marks the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which established the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency, and laid the groundwork for the Department of Defense.

2 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Innovation - 1 August 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Making GovTrack Even More Awesome

from the how-a-bill-becomes-a-law dept

If you pay any sort of ongoing attention to Congress, you're probably familiar with GovTrack, the extremely useful online resource created by Joshua Tauberer in 2004, containing robust info on the status of all the bills that hit the floors of the House and the Senate. It's a fantastic tool, and today we're looking at a crowdfunding push to make it even better by hiring a full-time researcher to add additional context and analysis to the bills and votes being tracked.

The Good

Until very recently, GovTrack was fully automated and had no staff — which is why one man's pet project has been going strong for over a decade without much if anything in the way of revenue. But Joshua knows there's lots more the site could be doing, and recently hired an intern to start testing out a big new addition to GovTrack: researchers who can closely follow the most important bills and dig into them deeper than the algorithms can, providing commentary and analysis plus readable summaries of legislation, and reporting on the underlying political context. To that end, they've also launched GovTrack Insider as a Medium page, which already features a bunch of posts on various important bills and votes from the last few months.

The Kickstarter goal is to upgrade from an intern to a full-time researcher on a six-month contract — or two as a stretch goal. This could really take the already-useful GovTrack to a whole new level.

The Bad

While I don't by any means think this is a bad idea, there are still a few potential pitfalls. The first is that it's not clear how this one-time fundraising goal can/will translate into something ongoing. A researcher can do a whole lot in six months, but the ongoing flow of bills through Congress requires ongoing attention with no end in sight. Will we be looking at another Kickstarter for the next congressional session? Or is there some plan to secure new revenue streams with the expanded GovTrack? Either way, if this project is as useful to people as it's likely to be, some will surely be happy to keep paying.

The other, perhaps more critical, pitfall is politicization. Once you move from automatically tracking raw data to actually writing up summaries and analyses, it's almost inevitable that you'll have to start taking political/ideological sides from time-to-time, no matter how committed you might be to neutrality or objectivity. It might prove very difficult to expand GovTrack in this way without beginning to be seen as an at-least-slightly partisan publication rather than a wholly neutral tool for anyone to use — though, that doesn't mean it's impossible.

The Rewarding

There are some very interesting rewards available for backers of this project (and the choice to link the dollar amounts for the various tiers to important Congress-related numbers is a neat one). At lower levels, backers can get in on webinars and group chats that explore Congressional issues and provide advice on political advocacy, while the higher tiers offer the ability to get custom summaries and analyses written of bills that you choose.

But perhaps the most attractive (or at least the most fun) options are those that take advantage of the research intern's other skill: art. At various tiers, he'll draw you a custom caricature of any Representative or Senator that you choose. No word on if you get to dictate how flattering or unflattering said caricature is, though.

14 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 28 July 2015 @ 12:00pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 35: Kevin Smith On How To Be Yourself And Make A Living

from the creative-success dept

Long-time Techdirt readers know that we're big fans of Kevin Smith, not just for his films and podcasts but also for his many innovative approaches to business, distribution and creativity in general — and we're proud to say that he is also a pretty big fan of Techdirt. This week, he joins us on the podcast to discuss the experience of striking out on your own path as a creator while countless voices from the status quo try to tear you down — and the rewards that come when you manage to ignore those voices and be unapologetically yourself.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

5 Comments | Leave a Comment..

More posts from Leigh Beadon >>