Archive for March, 2005

 

Johnnie Cochran

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

Johnnie Cochran is dead.

The question is: Did OJ kill him?

 
 

Campus Imbalance

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

The Volokh Conspiracy writes about campus imbalance here and here, based on a WaPo article that rightfully points out that campus professors are lopsidedly liberal:

The evidence is mounting that there is an ideological one-sidedness to university campuses today. The relevant question is whether it is having an effect on the education of American college students.

A recent conversation with a professor of mine at Babson can shed some light on the matter. Jefferson Flanders taught an intensive course I took recently, and he teaches regularly at NYU. He mentioned after class one day that he is consistently surprised by the comments he gets from the student surveys. Students give him consistently high marks because, they say, “he’s the only professor I’ve had at NYU who hasn’t brought his politics into the classroom.” Flanders was astounded by that, and believes that students will increasingly tune their professors out, and in the long term, may look to alternative means of obtaining an education rather than paying for the farce that a liberal arts degree has become. Volokh seems to agree:

This is consistent with what I hear from many of my own students–university campuses have become so cartoonishly left-wing that many students are essentially just tuning out their professors. Students report that they just go through the motions of pretending that they are converted, then they just regurgitate the mantra on exams in order to get a good grade. Meanwhile, many students dismiss their professors as risible ideologues (a good example here).

BTW, Flanders wrote a pretty good op-ed on blogging here.

 
 

P2P Mining

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

Michelle Malkin started the P2P mining meme a few days ago, pointing out how many tax returns were available on P2P networks with a simple search of “1040″ or the like. Tax Guru, Tax Prof, Roth & Co, and eventually Glenn Reynolds picked up on the meme as well.

Well, I checked it out on Limewire and found much the same thing. But then a friend suggested searching for “*.xls” which brings up all the Excel files within my reach. Doing so actually yielded the employee roster of a small construction company in the Midwest, containing about 13 names, addresses, salaries and yes, Social Security numbers. Not a bad grab for about 5 minutes of work.

Then it occurred to me. What if I went to a site, like, oh I dunno, freecreditreport.com, and started entering in some of this information and checking credit scores and the like. I could even send in “corrections” to the credit reporting companies, and start filing credit card applications right online as well. Within minutes, I could be stealing the identities of 13 people and start charging up a storm within days. Not a bad little racket.

Of course, I did no such thing, but it is scary what can be done.

Turns out you can also mine for social security data using Google hacks.

 
 

Happy Easter

Saturday, March 26th, 2005

Happy Easter everybody!

 
 

Nudity Anyone?

Friday, March 25th, 2005

I once predicted that we would soon reach a state where everybody has their nude photo posted online somewhere, voluntarily or not. Now MSNBC seems to agree:

“I think to some extent people feel underappreciated, especially in more a urban society,” she explains. “It’s hard to feel sexually special, and so I think a lot more people want to be ogled whether they are handsome or beautiful or not … they get people to be flirty with them.”

What’s more, people are rejecting the idea that porn and erotica can only come from the pros. “I think there are a lot of people who are tired of seeing scripted, plastic bodies.”

The girl-next-door factor
This is certainly the case for “Trent,” a contributor to and frequent visitor of Voyeurweb.com, a site for those who want to show off and those who like to look at them doing it. “Digital cameras and scanning technology have given access to many,” says Trent, a married man in his mid-30s. He has come to “enjoy viewing those erotic photos better than watching professional pornography” because of what he calls “the girl-next-door factor.”[...]

Blogs are also coming out with homemade porn. Bloggers all over the world are uploading pictures of themselves in various states of undress or engaged in sex acts, proving the theory that one image of a woman performing fellatio looks pretty much like every other one. These sites say, “Here I am, aren’t I sexy? Aren’t I a wild force of nature?” They serve to remind us that sexual desire and desirability can be — should be — a part of all our lives.

But should they be a part of our blogs?

Read the whole thing here.

 
 

Too Wild To Advertise

Friday, March 25th, 2005

Many advertisers, however, are still reluctant to advertise on blogs:

Gawker Media, one of the biggest brands in Web log publishing, launched a saucy urban travel blog called Gridskipper on Jan. 31. On that day, the logo of the site’s sole sponsor, Cendant Corp.’s Cheaptickets, could be found in ads on each page. But by Feb. 3, the company had removed its banners and boxes, leaving empty spaces on some pages.

What happened?

In the intervening days, Gridskipper covered editorial topics such as eating psychedelic mushrooms in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum and the pricing policies of an escort service in Prague. Cheaptickets declined to comment, but Nick Denton, Gawker’s founder, says he thinks the site was “too naughty” for its sponsor.

Ok, but Denton should have known that that type of content wasn’t mainstream enough for most advertisers. On the other hand, some advertisers seem to have ridiculous expectations:

For now, many big companies are sitting on the sidelines. “We’re in a wait-and-see mode,” says Stuart Bogaty, senior partner and managing director of mOne Worldwide, a digital ad agency that is part of WPP Group. He thinks that companies will remain skittish until agencies can better monitor and control what individual bloggers are saying about them. On the other hand, that might undercut their renegade appeal. “If we were able to convince a blogger to do that,” he notes, “it would reduce the value of his blog in general.”

Gee, ya think???

Read the whole piece here.

 
 

Clear Channel To Podcast

Friday, March 25th, 2005

Good news for the medium:

Clear Channel Communications Inc. plans to start “podcasting” clips from its radio shows and hosting exclusive live online concerts to draw more traffic to its radio Web sites.

The radio giant, which owns 1,200 stations around the country, hopes to build listener relationships with local stations through the move, and increase advertising revenue by selling online spots that will run with the concert or podcast.[...]

Clear Channel’s podcasting initiative will begin by May. The company will allow listeners to download programming such as comedy skits by popular morning show hosts. But music programming, which involves complicated licensing and royalty issues, won’t be included in the podcasts. Podcasting in general is focused mostly on talk-radio formats.

Yeah, if the big boys like Clear Channel can’t afford to podcast music, then nobody can.

In any event, read more about the initiative here.

 
 

How To Make A Quick $6,000

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

Slashdot style:

I fought back against a junk faxer and reached an out-of-court settlement in the neighborhood of $12,000, half of which went in my pocket. If you’d like some more detail, read on.

Read the whole thing here.

 
 

Sumo Thong

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

Is the Sumo thong going the way of the necktie?

A row has broken out in Japan over whether sumo wrestlers should be allowed to wear shorts when competing.

Traditionally, sumo wrestlers compete naked, apart from a small arrangement of wrapped cloth, known as a mawashi.

With fewer children adopting the sport, Japan’s amateur sumo association suggested a switch to shorts, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported.

Frankly, I’d prefer to watch women wrestle wearing Wicked Weasels, but if I have to watch fat guys, I guess the thong thing just makes it over the top enough to warrant watching.

Read more here.

 
 

Ted Olson on P2P

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

Former Solicitor General turned RIAA hack has written an absurd commentary for the Wall Street Journal today. Let’s take a look at some of the juicer tidbits.

After attempting to liken P2P file sharing to stolen property in the physical world, he comes up with this:

These copyrighted products are being stolen every day as a result of so-called peer-to-peer file sharing systems that are available to any one of us free of charge as long as we have a computer. They are operated by companies who make millions of dollars in advertising revenues aimed at the systems’ users. It has been estimated that tens of millions of songs and 400,000 movies are illegally copied in this manner every single day.

Estimated by whom? Blank out. What he probably means to say is estimated by him and his RIAA buddies who have a vested interest in seeing that number inflated. If he had an objective or unbiased source without a vested interest in the outcome, he probably would have cited it, now wouldn’t he?

But what’s more is that in every single study I’ve seen regarding the number of songs stolen, they presume that the person doing the downloading a) would have ordinarily purchased the music had it not been available for free (a completely fallacious assumption) and b) that the person doing the downloading didn’t already own the music they were downloading. In my experience, the latter situation is far more common that one might at first believe.

Take the example of one coworker of mine, a woman in her early fifties who purchased an iPod mini. She wanted to put her music collection on her iPod, but didn’t want to pay iTunes for it. Why? Because she had already purchased all the music she could ever want and her collection was sitting in her basement, recorded on vinyl. She had no technical expertise to rip her vinyl to her iPod, so she sought to just download her music from a P2P network. So, was she stealing?

I think not. But I think Olson would disagree.

The Framers of our Constitution believed that private property rights are at the core of a free and prosperous society; and that property comes in many different forms, intellectual property as well as tangible property. In fact, the Framers considered intellectual property rights so important to the development of our culture and economy that they extended special protection to intellectual property through the copyright and patent clauses of our Constitution. For over two centuries, Congress has implemented these protections through laws designed to provide our creative citizens with a property-based incentive to transform their ideas into innovations and artistic works in order to stimulate creativity and promote the progress of science and useful arts.

Never mind Olson’s improper mixing of past and present tenses in the first sentence here. Let’s get to the meat of the matter. The phrase “intellectual property” is decidedly 20th century in origin. Legal texts simply do not even mention the phrase until the late 19th century, and in the 20th century it gained momentum to the point where it became a commonplace expression. But in the 18th century, when the Constitution was written, the phrase was not in use.

That’s because the phrase is basically a metaphor. And Olson seems to want to take the metaphor literally. But there are several distinct differences between real property and so-called “intellectual property”. Let’s list just a few:

  • Real property has no expiration date set on it. It is transferable to others in perpetuity. “Intellectual property” on the other hand, has a limited life, 20 years for a patent, and 90 years plus the life of the author for copyright. When the founders wrote the constitution, the limit for copyrights was 14 years, plus one term of renewal for 14 years should the copyright holder wish to do so. By that standard, all copyrights older that 28 years would be in the public domain today, such as say, the entirety of the Beatles music library.

  • Real property must be recorded with a register of deeds, to set an objective measure of who owns what. No such requirement exists for copyright.
  • Real property must be maintained for some purpose to remain in the hands of the owner. This principle dates back to John Locke. That is why you can buy thousands of acres in Wyoming on eBay for a pittance, because it is very difficult to maintain such a large tract of land and to keep squatters off of it from a distance (or even if you live there). Failure to maintain fences and “no trespassing” signs at a minimum can lead to loss of property rights to squatters. Copyrights and patents, on the other hand, can go unused by their “owners” with no dissolution of their rights, thus the phenomenon of “orphaned works”. Real property cannot be likewise “orphaned” as squatters would eventually acquire real rights in the property.

And that’s just scratching the surface. What the founders envisioned was a limited exclusive right to reproduce or authorize reproduction of a work or invention. They also envisioned that such a work would eventually become a part of the common culture or common knowledge in a field or craft generally within the lifetime of the creator of that work. What Olson is envisioning bears no resemblance to that.

The purveyors of these file sharing enterprises advance the utterly absurd defense that inhibiting their unlawful enterprise will somehow stifle innovation. Not unless stopping pickpockets stifles magicians. The fact is that innovators must have legal protection if they are to innovate. The best way to stifle innovation is to allow the theft of the innovator’s product. Lawful and productive creativity is severely inhibited when cheating and theft is not controlled.

The P2P defense is decidedly not absurd. The entirety of the Internet is based on the exchange of information. Unless the Supreme Court wants to ban such practices as email an IM connections, there is no way to make the practice of file sharing illegal per se. Rather, what Olson is proposing is akin to enforcing no trespassing laws by outlawing walking itself. Sure, such a ban would stop people from trespassing, but at what cost?

The Framers’ insights are not outdated in the digital era. If anything, the advent of file-trading services confirms the Framers’ wisdom — and underscores the continuing importance of a system of property rights that protects and encourages creativity and innovation.

Indeed, the Framers’ intentions are well worth nothing, though they bear little resemblance to Olson’s ideas. The Framers understood that after 28 years a content creator typically should have exhausted the ability to generate revenue from his work. And should such a work still be desired by the marketplace, it is because it has become a part of the common culture to which we all belong, not just to the creator any longer. They judged that given the distribution technologies of the time, 28 years was enough for a typical content creator to receive just compensation for his work.

Today, distribution methods are decidedly more efficient than they were in 1789. If anything, the length of a copyright should be shortening, not lengthening. The fact that it has been lengthening, the fact that songs which by any objective measure are part of our common culture, songs such as “Happy Birthday”, are still “owned” by Time Warner is evidence that something else is afoot here. Namely, copyright holders have banded together as a cartel to purchase laws from congress that in essence, make no sense. That alone is bad enough. I just wish they would be honest about what they’re doing, rather than attempt to claim the moral high ground, as Olson has done today.

Read Ted Olson here.