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.

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”

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.

Scientology v. Internet

I have to congratulate Gawker Media honcho Nick Denton for the courageous stand he’s taken against Scientology. Nick is standing tall and refusing to take down the video of a rambling and incoherent Tom Cruise doing $cieno-babble, while the rest of the Internet has been cowed by threats. The Scientology empire will sue, so their threats aren’t idle.

Scientology is a dangerous cult, and we need more Nick Dentons fighting the good fight.

An Act of Deception

Intelligent Design is a deceitful critique of Darwinian descent with modification that attempts to undermine the commitment of science to find natural causes for natural phenomena. Its apparent goal is to have public school science classes teach Divine Intervention as an alternative to natural causes. One of the favorite complaints of Intelligent Design advocates is that they’re persecuted and denied free speech whenever the absence of any rational basis for their claims is exposed, and their favorite method is deception. Once again, the deception has come to the surface in a story in the New York Times on their upcoming film “Expelled.” The film’s producers obtained interviews with several prominent scientists by claiming to be doing a documentary on the intersection of science and faith rather than a propaganda piece for anti-scientism.

As the Times correctly surmises, there isn’t really any great scientific controversy over the subject matter:

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.”

Hence the claims of persecution are groundless. But we Americans love the underdog, so some will root for the ID’ers anyway.


See Volokh and Reason for more.

Predictably, the ID response is riddled with falsehoods. The Discovery Institute claims there’s an active scientific dispute over descent with modification (there isn’t) and that Richard Sternberg and Guillermo Gonzalez suffered reprisals from the science establishment for their support of creationist ideas, Sternberg at the Smithsonian and Gonzalez at Iowa State University. In fact, Sternberg was never employed by the Smithsonian and Gonzalez’ failure to win tenure was based on his thin publication record.

But we already knew that.

Roaming the afterlife

A dead Malaysian ran up a $218 trillion cell phone bill and people are mystified:

A Malaysian man who paid off a $23 wireless bill and disconnected his late father’s cell phone back in January has been stiffed for subsequent charges on the closed account, MSNBC has reported. Telekom Malaysia sent Yahaya Wahab a bill for 806,400,000,000,000.01 ringgit, or about $218 trillion, for charges to the account, along with a demand from the company’s debt collection agency that he settle the alleged debt within 10 days, or get a lawyer.

It’s actually very simple. Dead people can communicate with the living through the simple mechanism of Electronic Voice Phenomena, documented in the movie White Noise, by leaving recored messages. They’ve apparently figured out that cell phones are way cooler than voice recorders, and they’ve all been having a ball calling living friends and relatives and shooting the breeze. As these calls come from an area with exceptionally high roaming charges, the bill seems high, by living human standards. Which is just another example of what a limited perspective we have on stuff.

Read me first

Writing in The Guardian, the esteemed technologist Seth Finkelstein offers a clear and concise picture of Wikipedia’s delusional alternate reality:

One of Wikipedia’s major public relations successes has been in misdirecting observers into a narrative of technological miracles, diverting attention from analysing its old-fashioned cult appeal. While I don’t mean to imply that everyone involved in Wikipedia is wrapped up in delusion, that process is a key factor. A charismatic leader, who peddles a type of spiritual transcendence through selfless service to an ideal, finding a cadre of acolytes willing to devote their lives (without payment) to the organisation’s projects – that’s a story worth telling. But not abetting.

This is particularly interesting to me at the moment, because one of the faithful is trying to get me banned from editing the Wikipedia article on Net Neutrality, simply to silence a point of view.

Wikipedia is the place to go when reality doesn’t live up to your expectations. Wiki-reality is so much better than real reality that once you go there, you’ll never come back. Kudos to Seth, information entropy’s biggest enemy.

David Isenberg, who should be basking in the afterglow of his successful Freedom to Connect conference, is very upset with The Guardian for publishing Seth’s opinion. The poor dude should join the debate rather than try to silence other points of view. Oops.

UPDATE: The ultimate Wikipedia bogey-man is Daniel Brandt.

UPDATE: See The Register for a cute satire If Surgery Was Like Wikipedia.

Trivia at risk?

A new development in the Wikipedia fake credentials scandal:

After pressure over the weekend from Wikipedia’s Il Duce Jimmy Wales, the encyclopedia’s most illustrious fake professor Ryan Jordan has resigned his post at Wikia Inc.

Wikipedia depends on the kindness of strangers, and if their support stops, it will have to shut down. And then where would we find the life stories of the participants in American Idol season 2? Oh, the humanity.

The Wikipedia Scandal Continues

Nick Carr reports on the latest twist in the Wikipedia phony credentials scandal:

Head Wikipedian Jimmy Wales, having previously defended the Wikipedian administrator Ryan Jordan, who faked an elaborate online identity – “Essjay” – as a distinguished religion scholar, has this morning asked his beleaguered colleague to resign, saying that his “past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on.”

Seth Finkelstein highlights the core of Jimbo’s belated reaction:

It doesn’t matter that Essjay lied to the New Yorker reporter about his credentials, making Wikipedia look good to the media – a matter Wales has known about for weeks. No mention of the dishonesty of using degree falsification to endorse Wikipedia in a letter to a professor. That’s lying to those outside The Family.

But he used his false credentials in content disputes. That’s serious! It’s an IN-WORLD offense! It’s inside The Family.

It all started with a Wikipedia official lying to the New Yorker:

Essjay was recommended to Ms. Schiff as a source by a member of Wikipedia’s management team because of his respected position within the Wikipedia community. He was willing to describe his work as a Wikipedia administrator but would not identify himself other than by confirming the biographical details that appeared on his user page. At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay’s real name. Essjay’s entire Wikipedia life was conducted with only a user name; anonymity is common for Wikipedia admin-istrators and contributors, and he says that he feared personal retribution from those he had ruled against online. Essjay now says that his real name is Ryan Jordan, that he is twenty-four and holds no advanced degrees, and that he has never taught. He was recently hired by Wikia—a for-profit company affiliated with Wikipedia—as a “community manager”; he continues to hold his Wikipedia positions. He did not answer a message we sent to him; Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikia and of Wikipedia, said of Essjay’s invented persona, “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it.”

Wikipedia fans claim Ryan Jordan is an exception and most of the paid staff and volunteer editors are honest. My experience in Wikipedia editing, including the inevitable content disputes, administrative blocks, and arbitration requests leads me to believe that Ryan Jordans are more the rule than the exception in Wikipedia land. It’s a project that’s built on unpaid, anonymous labor, and the only thing they can possibly be getting out of it is emotional payback (read: a fantasy life.)

Jordan, like countless other Wikipedians, created a persona for himself that represented what he wished himself to be, and he stomped through Wikipedia pretending it was real for so long he became deluded enough to believe it.

Someday I’ll write about what goes on behind the scenes at Wikipedia, and it won’t be pretty.