Why Lawyers are Scorned

This is simply breath-taking:

Wholesale copying of music on P2P networks is fair use. Statutory damages can’t be applied to P2P users. File-swapping results in no provable harm to rightsholders.

These are just some of the assertions that Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson made last week in his defense of accused file-swapper Joel Tenenbaum.

Nesson founded the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

If he made this argument with a straight face, I predict a world-wide botox shortage.

There’s more:

Is Harvard Law professor Charlie Nesson crazy? As Nesson himself admits, “this does seem to be a question on many people’s minds.”

It’s not on my mind, nor on the minds of the students who serve as co-counsel:

The discomfort with strategy extends even to Nesson’s own students, who are doing much of the research and writing. Ray Bilderback, who is writing the “disclosures” about expert witness testimony, wrote that “all of this looks very bad from my perspective. I think that introducing our experts at this late stage to the very novel argument that we intend to raise at trial—an argument which has no real basis in case law or moderate academic scholarship—is a blunder that could have very serious consequences. At this point, I have no idea what our disclosures will look like. And they have to be filed TOMORROW. Bad, bad, bad. We should have been working on this for weeks rather than days.”

Read the whole thing, it’s even crazier than you think. Before it’s all over I expect to see Nesson invoking John Perry Barlow.

UPDATE: Here’s some more from The Register.

DTV Transition Starts, World Doesn’t End

Contrary to the expectations of Congress and the FCC, the first phase of the DTV transition took place without major incident. Some 23% of American TV stations stopped sending out analog signals Tuesday at midnight, and only 28,000 calls came into the centers the FCC and the cable and satellite providers have established for transition help. The biggest category of call, close to half of all calls, was from people unable to pick up the digital broadcasts at all, or picking them up with very poor quality. A significant number didn’t know how to setup their converter boxes, or didn’t realize that the converter boxes have to scan for channels.

These numbers support a suspicion I’ve had for a while now, that the emphasis on converter boxes is misplaced. The problem that most people are going to have is a complete inability to receive digital broadcasts at all, because they don’t have the right kind of antenna, the antenna isn’t oriented properly, or because they live in the wrong place. Many stations are moving transmitter locations to alter service areas, and won’t be serving some traditional customers any more. Others are reducing power, sometimes quite substantially. Digital broadcasts are more robust, so some reduction in power is quite sensible. But I suspect that over-the-air delivery of TV is such a small percentage of the overall market – well below 20%, and in some areas less than 10% – that it doesn’t make financial sense for stations to invest heavily in high power transmitters.

The timing of the transition was very bad for this reason. A substantial number of OTA TV viewers are doing to need upgrades to roof-mounted antennas, and in many cases they’re going to need multiple antennas pointing in different directions. Getting up on a roof in February is not a pleasant experience in much of America, so a May or June transition date would have been much more sensible. In any event, it’s a good time to buy stock in antenna companies.

I’ve been doing some experiments with roof-mounted antennas that I’ll be reporting on shortly. So far, I can only get 5 stations where I live, and four broadcast in Spanish. Perhaps the FCC needs a budget for bilingual education as well as for converter boxes and antennas.

Internet Myths

Among my missions in this life is the chore of explaining networking in general and the Internet in particular to policy makers and other citizens who don’t build network technology for a living. This is enjoyable because it combines so many of the things that make me feel good: gadgetry, technology, public policy, writing, talking, and education. It’s not easy, of course, because there are a lot of things to know and many ways to frame the issues. But it’s possible to simplify the subject matter in a way that doesn’t do too much violence to the truth.

As I see it, the Internet is different from the other networks that we’re accustomed to in a couple of important ways: for one, it allows a machine to connect simultaneously to a number of other machines. This is useful for web surfing, because it makes it possible to build a web page that draws information from other sources. So a blog can reference pictures, video streams, and even text from around the Internet and put it in one place where it can be updated in more-or-less real time. It enables aggregation, in other words. Another thing that’s unique about the Internet is that the underlying transport system can deliver information at very high speed for short periods of time. The connection between a machine and the Internet’s infrastructure is idle most of the time, but when it’s active it can get its information transferred very, very quickly. This is a big contrast to the telephone network, where information is constrained by call setup delays and a very narrow pipe.
Continue reading “Internet Myths”

Incidentally, he speaks well too

Obama’s Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy:

According to presidential historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota, some Americans might find it “alienating” to have a president who speaks English as if it were his first language.

“Every time Obama opens his mouth, his subjects and verbs are in agreement,” says Mr. Logsdon. “If he keeps it up, he is running the risk of sounding like an elitist.”

The historian said that if Mr. Obama insists on using complete sentences in his speeches, the public may find itself saying, “Okay, subject, predicate, subject predicate — we get it, stop showing off.”

The president-elect’s stubborn insistence on using complete sentences has already attracted a rebuke from one of his harshest critics, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

“Talking with complete sentences there and also too talking in a way that ordinary Americans like Joe the Plumber and Tito the Builder can’t really do there, I think needing to do that isn’t tapping into what Americans are needing also,” she said.

How dare he.

The best in women’s wear

Y’all should go read about this amazing dress designer, Miranda Bennett, in Time Out New York

A very feminine and elegant woman’s line with a little edge and a lot of versatility. “For my current collection, I imagined a really well-packed suitcase,” she explains. “I wanted the pieces to function together and fit a woman’s daily transition as she leaves the house in the morning, goes to work and goes out afterward.” Utilizing a casual wool fabric, Bennett innovatively creates jumpers; soft, flowing dresses; and flattering tops that look chic in any setting. And, unlike most multipurpose items, each piece has a surprising touch, like hidden pockets or a cozy silk lining. “I like to give the wearer a hidden luxury—it’s a nice secret for her to have.”

She does really amazing things with the cloth, like this:

Miranda dresses
a Miranda dress

Go forth and purchase.

TiVo rolling out YouTube support

Another sign of the ongoing convergence is TiVo new software enabling Series 3 and HD customers to play YouTube directly from TiVo in the latest software:

As I’d suspected, TiVo support for YouTube is indeed hidden within the 9.4 software update. Series 3 and TiVo HD subscribers should start seeing the application show up as early as tomorrow (Thursday), though the rollout will be completed over the next few weeks. And in some form of meta-irony, I’ve shot a brief video of YouTube on TiVo… on YouTube.

Switched digital video and TCP remote control are also parts of this release. TiVo is evolving into a bit of a nano data center, albeit very limited one.

Public Knowledge’s new star off the rails

Public Knowledge and Free Press have apparently hired file-sharing enthusiast Robb Topolski in some lofty-sounding role, and he feels compelled to expound on network theory that’s way over his head. I’m trying to correct some of his misunderstandings, but it’s not going well. Here’s what I told him at his new employer’s blog: Continue reading “Public Knowledge’s new star off the rails”

FCC-enabled Triple-Play Customer

After writing about triple-play and residential broadband for years, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and try it out. I already had Internet access from Comcast, and I’ve taken out an order to add TV and phone service. The motivation wasn’t entirely economic, although it will save me a bundle for the first year. I’m currently getting TV from DirecTV and my phone from AT&T like a normal person, so the prices of these services will be cut in half and my Internet would have been $15 cheaper for a 50% higher cap, but I decided to go for the 16 Mb/s cap for a price that’s still lower than what I’ve been paying for a 4 Mb/s cap.

My primary motivation for dropping DirecTV was to get away from their crappy DVR. I don’t watch live TV at all, and haven’t since I got my first TiVo in 2002, but there’s no way I can tolerate DirecTV any more. They used to partner with TiVo for a nice unit that integrated two satellite tuners with the recorder, but they idiotically decided to cut their ties with TiVo and do their own thing a couple of years ago. The DirecTV box still doesn’t know what channels I get, and there’s no way I can tell it, so it tries to record baseball games on channels I don’t get and misses the ones I do. This is really unacceptable.

The only convenient way to record all the games played by the A’s is to do a keyword search for “Oakland A’s”, because the actual titles of the games are things like “Oakland A’s at Evil Anaheim Angels of Anaheim” or vice versa. So title search would require 58 entries on each of the four channels where A’s games appear (local OTA, Comcast Sports Net Bay Area 1, 2, or HD.) The keyword search for “Oakland A’s” tries to pick up games on other sports nets and national channels, which is worthless.

Although Comcast has a deal with TiVo and is testing a Comcast DVR with TiVo software, the feedback on the TiVo forums is that it doesn’t work very well, no doubt due to the crappy Motorola hardware platform it’s built on. Some day it will probably be fine, but it clearly sucks at this stage. Thanks to the FCC, cable companies are required to support CableCard, so I can use a true TiVo HD box on cable with the simple addition of a cable M-Card, as the story goes. So we have an odd case of Comcast gaining my TV business because of regulatory action on the cable front that doesn’t exist for satellite TV. DirecTV is not required to open their system to third-party DVRs, and they don’t. Don’t believe that the irony of this effect of cable regulation is lost on me.

The first hiccup came when I tried to activate TiVo service on my new DVR, which I bought from Amazon for $214.65 (it’s up to 263.47 already.) TiVo accounts are indexed by e-mail address, and because I already had a DirecTV TiVo, they wouldn’t let me login to their site with my e-mail address to active the new own-brand TiVo, which is pretty dumb. So I had to use an alternate e-mail address after a fruitless hour on the phone with CS. TiVo does some things exceptionally poorly.

I should have that all straightened out by the time the cable guy shows up, but I do have to ask him why he ran over Kevin Martin’s dog (*inside joke*.) More on that later.

Sharecroppers Have it Better

Seth Finkelstein’s latest column for the Guardian examines Jimbo Wales’ efforts to expand his empire outside Wikipedia:

In general, we are poorly served by slogans such as the “wisdom of crowds”, which often stand for nothing beyond finding a few popular selections by various types of polling. It may work well for entertainment sites, and business owners are enthused at how consumers can be led to volunteer to undertake part of the process of determining what to sell to a target market. But the idea that these simple systems can be applied to deep value-laden social problems, of politics, or even relevant search results, is like trying to use a hammer to turn screws on the basis that it works so well to hit nails.

He uses the “digital sharecropper” image to describe Wikipedia contributors. Actually, sharecroppers do make some money from their work, so Wikipedia contributors are more like slaves. But given the voluntary nature of their participation, “slaves” overstates the inferiority of their status relative to Wiki overlords Wales et. al. Perhaps “brainwashed cult members” works best.

See Seth’s blog for more.

And for related news, see this Valleywag story about Wikipedia’s number two and his defense of pedophilia. Not kidding, boys and girls, it’s for real.