Monday, December 19, 2005

Sealing the Last Hole

ArsTechnica is reporting on a resolution in the house of representatives that will "close the analog hole." What this means to the rest of the computer using public is the end of being able to convert analog media content to digital. This would require that any media player made within about a year of the passage of the legislation to recognize flags in digital media that determine their authenticity. All of a sudden this looks like another disastrous idea the tech giants tried to push through over the summer, the so-called broadcast flag legislation. I guess what worries me most about this particular legislation is that it would create problems for vendors like TiVo. The House Reps pushing the bill focus on a particularly damaging case where a defendant pled guilty to selling $20 Million worth of illegally produced, copyrighted material. To "pirate", we must buy special hardware, say a computer. Then, we like to convert said software to a portable form of hardware which requires more hardware, like iPods. You think that Republicans who are interested in helping the economy would let every form of "piracy" occur to promote other aspects of the economy. Defendant's like the $20M pirate are different than the every day user. This legislation shouldn't hurt the everyman and the economy at the same time. There are reasons congress moved against the trusts and monopolies after the depression. I guess I hope that we can learn from our mistakes, and see the evil end coming sooner rather than later.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Far be it for me to say what Congress should do with its time, you know, being a voter and all, but maybe I thought there was a list of things they should not be doing. If I remember correctly, one of those things is not creating laws that favor one religion over another. The title link goes to a story about a resolution in the House that aims to protect the "themes" of Christmas. I am pretty sure that any Congressional endorsement of any religion over another will violate the establishment clause. The problem is that I can't decide whether I need to re-read the First Amendment, or Congress needs to brush up on what the Bill of Rights says.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More Compu-stupidity...

The title link goes to an MSNBC story detailing a new microchip that may find its way into computers in the near future. This particular chip holds information regarding the computer user's identity, and can be accessed from the web by websites to identify the computer user. To MSNBC's credit, they give the chip a fair review both to its benefits and detriments. Regardless of how easy it may make online commerce, I think this is a bad idea for one very important reason, identity theft is already a big enough problem, we don't need to provide phishers with anything that will make their illegal activity any easier. This chip will do just that. Imagine having a chip on your computer that contains enough personal information to identify you as the perpetrator of other cyber crimes. This is literally only your name, I.P. address, and possibly home state. A brilliant hacker would have an easy time copying this information from an unsuspecting visitor of his/her site and using the information as a mask to go hack someone else's computer, bring down the wrath of the RIAA/MPAA, or even shop with online credit if the information were sufficient to permit it. Congress need not get in the business of determining what technology the individual must have. We are better off making things slightly more complicated to prevent crime than making it easier for those who wish to exploit a person's privacy.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Legislative futility: regulating video games

The Grey Area in print this month deals with the push to regulate the content in video games. This was the topic of the 17th Annual Swygert First Amendment Moot Court Competition at the Valparaiso University School of Law, and a multitude of lawsuits all over the country. I approached the topic purely from a policy perspective, and frankly, this is an area that the government needs to avoid.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Democracy 2.0

Wiki-law is a democratic experiment aimed at determining how laws should be made. This is an interesting read, and really demonstrates the way society probably should proceed with socially acceptable practice. Some thing, though, don't make much sense. One positive example is redefining marriage's role in society, and who may attain the socially recognized status of marriage. One negative example is the proposal that copyrights only last for one year. This does not take into account the profit aspect of information in capitalist society. While this experiment will likely be more beneficial as a litmus test for public opinion, it does fail to consider the impact of economics on social structure and law.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

DRM: From Inside the Industry

The title link goes to an op-ed in the New York Times describing the detrimental effects of Digital Rights Management from a musicians perspective. Interesting read, maybe now big business will start listening, and save us all from future problems like the Sony Rootkit.

Educating Out Freedom of Speech

Education in America stands at the pinnacle of teaching the body politic that its rights remain supreme over the institution of government regardless of the circumstances. Legally, these protections don't extend to private education, but to what extent should we sacrifice permitting exercise of free speech regardless whether the speech is in good taste. The title link goes to a story about a dental student at Marquette University. Apparently, the student posted some personal opinions about a teacher on his blog that got him expelled from school for the remainder of the academic year. Regardless of the area of study, should we, as a society, condone permitting educational institutions to limit speech in the public sphere? Blogs have exploded around the globe as a vehicle for the exercise of free expression. Holding individuals responsible for their speech limits the effectiveness of the First Amendment. Chilling speech, in any way, works towards the break down of this most fundamental of civil rights. While there are limits on the protections provided by the First Amendment, any action limiting speech should fit well within the confines of unprotected speech.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Illinois Video Game Law?

For all of my Moot Court collegues, the title link goes to a CNN story about how a district court invalidated an Illinois statute prohibiting the sale of sexual explicit and excessively violent video games. This isn't unbelieveable since the Seventh Circuit has invalidated these laws on two occasions so far. Regardless, everyone in the VUSL Moot Court Honors Society should get a kick out of this.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Illegal Open source?

The title link goes to a story about recent legislation proposed in France that will effectively ban the distribution of open source software. Why do we care? The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) effects things in the US in a similar way. VideoLAN is a media player effected by this legislation because of the software it uses to circumvent restrictions on DVD's. In addition, the legislation will make every Linux distribution that plays DVD's or copy protected media illegal, at least in France. Expanding this domestically will significantly limit the expansion and development of desktop Linux. Interestingly, one federal circuit court of appeals has already held that computer code falls within the ambit of First Amendment protections. If this is the case, the government can't prohibit the production of computer code. This places copyright interests in playable formats at odds with the First Amendment protecting code. So which trumps?

It would seem that most businesses would benefit from permitting all kinds of media players to play their media. This will provide the consumer with the ability to purchase and play DVD's or CD's on any operating system. Using specific software will fundamentally limit market share because people won't buy what they can't play using software of their choice. These things won't benefit business even if they aim to protect intellectual property rights. The best bet for everyone to prosper is to criminalize distribution. This will throw open the market for media players, protect copyright law, and not criminalize hobby programming. Regardless, this idea is asinine. Government should not be in the business of picking and choosing what software people use. Moreover, the government should not support big business's abuse of the consumer.