M. Alan Thomas II’s Techdirt Profile


About M. Alan Thomas IITechdirt Insider

My addiction started when I began reading copyright law for fun in college, and it's all been downhill from there: library school, a "Guild of Radical Militant Librarians" t-shirt, an information policy Tumblr, and now Techdirt.

M. Alan Thomas II’s Comments comment rss

  • Mar 3rd, 2015 @ 8:59pm

    (untitled comment)

    The publicity rights bit is an eye-roller—if this is even nominally illegal, that just proves it's a bad law—but there's definitely no copyright issue here. And as far as copyright's concerned, as long as the painting itself was legally made, § 109(c) provides the library the right to display it.

  • Feb 17th, 2015 @ 4:36pm


    Precisely my thinking. And I've never left the country, so the NSA couldn't have collected anything on me while I was abroad.

  • Jan 27th, 2015 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: You first

    Also, it's a difference between tracking that can, in aggregate, reveal very private and personal information vs. knowing simply that some generic officer is performing their office in a particular location today with no tracking over time or of personal lives.

  • Jan 27th, 2015 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: You first

    A good point. I think we can; there's a presumption of transparency in government and a presumption of privacy for private citizens. These presumptions can be used to differentiate the cases.

  • Jan 21st, 2015 @ 1:55pm

    (untitled comment)

    So the NSA knows that (1) nation-states can render IP tracking of a "cyberattack" irrelevant if they've compromised the backbone or even simply hacked the scapegoat and (2) if one nation-state has found a 0 day or other security flaw, another nation-state can hijack it or the resulting data flows for their own purposes.

    Now if only we could convince policy-makers of this....

  • Dec 30th, 2014 @ 10:42pm

    (untitled comment)

    Nevertheless, Zaman’s repeated variation in redirection strategies and his use of technical approaches like the “meta refresh” technique have frustrated Orbitz’s efforts.
    Can part of the response filing be a section that just says "RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER}"?

  • Dec 20th, 2014 @ 7:29pm

    (untitled comment)

    Ah, the child porn strawman–ad hominem. Also Dan Kleinman a.k.a. Safe Libraries, who seems to live to be a one-man vocal minority on this issue. (I wonder if he's still advocating domain-level blocking with OpenDNS when challenged on overblocking/underblocking....)

    Assuming that they're serious (and not intentionally pushing an emotional button in order to achieve an ulterior goal), the people raising a child porn argument are focusing on one specific issue on which they only imagine anyone disagrees with them while implicitly or explicitly advocating solutions that are overbroad because they're not considering the impact of their solutions on any factor besides that one issue. Which narrow focus resulting in collateral damage is kinda the objection raised in the article and elsewhere.

    Child pornography—the legal-defined category—is illegal. When a patron is encountered accessing it, as with any unambiguously illegal activity (e.g., on with absolute liability), reporting them to the police is proper practice. I will happily argue that any specific individual who has argued or done otherwise is wrong on that specific issue. I am confident from my own experience and reading that few, if any, librarians would disagree with me. There certainly aren't any ALA statements that I'm aware of that say that child pornography should be legal or not reported; there are merely statements that certain methods of handling the problem are ineffective and/or will have unintended consequences that will routinely outweigh the rare cases in which some nominal benefit is obtained.

    We agree on the problem; we differ as to what is an appropriate solution because we are not narrowly focused on a single issue. Representing our position purely in terms of how it might theoretically affect your single issue is to make a strawman out of our argument. Attempting to extrapolate our values from a strawman in order to then discredit our morals and values in order to discredit our other arguments is an ad hominem predicated on a strawman, which is hardly a logical argument.

  • Dec 20th, 2014 @ 6:45pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    For many people, yes, there are very limited options. I can't say with certainty exactly how many people are limited to exactly 1 "option," but I think that helping other people is important and we should make it as available as possible, not dismiss all but a single service. Library usage statistics show a spike in both general demand and employment-related requests every time there's a recession, so we have hard evidence that libraries are a place that people turn to for help.

    Of course, you're right that libraries aren't the only things standing between free society and totalitarianism, between democracy and autocracy. That doesn't mean that they're entire irrelevant, though. For example, John Adams wrote on libraries and democracy in A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law. FDR talked about it, too, although he's obviously more divisive. Still, it does say something about our nation's belief in libraries and democracy that, during the occupation of Japan, we sent a contingent of the nation's top librarians to Japan to create a modern, Western public library system there on the grounds that we couldn't give them democracy without public libraries; it just can't exist.

  • Dec 20th, 2014 @ 6:30pm


    I'm not a member personally, and I wouldn't support them unreservedly, but within the confines of certain issues, yes, I think they do good work. My point was largely to explain that the various groups with overlapping interests frequently coordinate who takes the lead on any specific case, so I can't say that librarians do it all.

  • Dec 19th, 2014 @ 8:16pm

    Re: Re: Go librarians

    At the risk of seeming like a self-absorbed ass for hogging First Word, first comment, and Last Word, I'm going to Last Word my own comment here so people have somewhere to direct more than just words of thanks.

  • Dec 19th, 2014 @ 8:05pm


    There are some libraries with odor policies. Some of those are blatant attempts to make it impossible for the homeless to use the library, which is absurd, because how else are they going to get job training and apply for jobs online? But most places the line is drawn at "the smell is making it hard for other patrons to use the library." It takes a serious odor to cross that line, and it will always be a judgement call, but the point is that we can't let one patron interfere with another's right to use the library . . . even if that sometimes sets up impossible double-binds.

    Of course, not letting one patron interfere with another goes for all the "moral guardians," too, which is why we fight them. Even the porn people can be a problem if they insist on doing it at a workstation that others can't avoid viewing as they pass by, especially if there's no good way of keeping kids out of the area; that's why porn is often restricted* to a few computers that are in a position where no-one can accidentally see what's on the screens.

    *Preferably by policy, not filters.

  • Dec 19th, 2014 @ 7:55pm

    Re: Go librarians

    In addition to supporting the excellent work done by the ACLU and EFF, you should consider donating to the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), which is a nonprofit litigation-and-education organization run out of the ALA's offices but legally a separate entity for various reasons. Anyone can give/join.

  • Dec 19th, 2014 @ 7:49pm

    Re: Re: Thank you.

    Oh yeah, tons. The phrase was coined in an FBI email obtained by the New York Times via FOIA request, and the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) rushed through an order of buttons for the then-upcoming ALA Midwinter conference. I am told that it was the fastest selling piece of merch in their history.

    There's no IP encumbering the phrase, so there's lot of merch out there these days. I personally own a Guild of Radical Militant Librarians shirt ("Scimus quae legis, et non dicimus") as well as the similarly-themed Intellectual Freedom Fighter messenger bag and somewhat less-related Libr(A)rian (anarchist librarian) tote bag. (The latter two are available as various other types of merch as well.)

  • Dec 18th, 2014 @ 8:57pm

    Thank you.

    Thank you for your support. We fight hard against censorship, for government transparency, against overbearing copyright, &c., so you can understand why I like Techdirt. (I'd love to see one of the Techdirt regulars on a panel at ALA Annual some year, but that sort of programming isn't my strong suit.) And we're usually pointing out these problems years before anyone else gets on board; during what was being called "the Summer of Snowden," ALA Annual hosted a well-attended panel titled "WE TOLD YOU SO." (We did one on filtering the same year: "Access denied!")

    Of course, librarianship's dirty secret is that we didn't really get this liberal and libertarian until circa the '60s. For example, we spent the early part of the 20th century fighting with teachers and the newly-minted child psychologists over which profession was best suited to decide which books were appropriate for children, and not in a good way. But today? Libraries are the most anti-government government agencies around.

    I'm proud to call myself a Radical Militant Librarian (to quote the FBI and many, many librarians thereafter). Allies are always welcome.

  • Dec 18th, 2014 @ 5:32pm

    (untitled comment)

    I'm not sure we can argue without qualification that pre-cell-phone phone data didn't include location information; knowing that I'm calling from near tower X is a lot LESS specific than knowing that I'm calling from the pay phone on the NW corner of 5th and Park. The difference is that the cell phone roams everywhere with you (including on private property) and captures all calls (not just ones at specific locations being monitored).

    That being said, if I'm going to commit a planned crime, I'm not going to be carrying a tracking device with me.

  • Dec 6th, 2014 @ 11:39pm

    (untitled comment)

    I don't know that you can assume that Type I and Type II error rates are necessarily identical. Correlated, maybe, but probably inversely and rarely identical.

  • Nov 28th, 2014 @ 12:55pm

    (untitled comment)

    The Freedom to Read Foundation fights good old-fashioned analog censorship around the USA as well.

  • Nov 19th, 2014 @ 4:55pm

    (untitled comment)

    The number of nonexistent account could very well be spelled out. If it was thousands, it would be very hard to refer to it as "several" (although the government's sense of scale is obviously unreliable); I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be "seven" or "eight".

  • Nov 15th, 2014 @ 1:24am

    (untitled comment)

    Asserting that someone is unfit for public office and public scrutiny of government officials is so perfectly protected by the First Amendment that the biggest delay in dismissing the case is going to be waiting for the judge to stop laughing.

  • Nov 13th, 2014 @ 7:11pm

    (untitled comment)

    The president's statement called for an investigation of net neutrality violations at interconnection. Now that we've got Comcast's okay on that, I'm sure we'll be seeing the FCC launching one any day now. . . . 9_9

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