Weekly output: DMCA exemptions, Facebook futurism, Tinder, Web Summit

Back in March, my friend Ron Miller was recounting his experience at Web Summit a few months earlier and suggesting I go. I’m glad (not for the first time!) I heeded his advice. For a sense of those five days in Dublin, see my Flickr slideshow.

I’m now about to spend a couple of days in New York for the Consumer Electronics Association’s Innovate conference, where I can heckle David Pogue get an update on what the gadget industry’s been up to.

11/3/2015: Why Jailbreaking Your iPhone Is Legal But Hacking eBooks is Not, Yahoo Tech

Longtime readers may recall I wrote a post for CEA’s public-policy blog in 2011 about the incoherent policy of granting exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s ban on circumventing DRM. My wait for an opportunity to revisit this topic ended when the government issued this year’s round of exemptions a week and change ago.

Yahoo Tech Facebook Web Summit talk post11/4/2015: Facebook’s Vision for the Future: Drones With Lasers, All-Seeing AI, VR for Real, Yahoo Tech

This post stands as a sequel of sorts to the piece I filed from SXSW about a similar talk from Google’s “Captain of Moonshots” Astro Teller about a comparable range of ambitious experiments.

11/4/2015: Tinder’s Sean Rad: We’re Changing the World, One Long-Term Relationship at a Time, Yahoo Tech

I was worried I wouldn’t get into the hall to see Rad’s interview, but the crowds parted and I got a seat. As I asked at the end of this post: If you, unlike me, have ever installed Tinder on your own phone, do you agree with Rad’s take on this dating app?

11/6/2015: Robot sex, drone sheep-herding: what you missed at Web Summit, USA Today

The lede and end of this story popped into my head almost immediately, but the rest took longer to write. As in, I was still working on it while on a bus to meet three of my cousins for dinner. (Dublin FYI: The buses have WiFi that worked well for me after I’d answered a moderately intrusive questionnaire on the “captive portal” sign-in page.)


Weekly output: defective touchscreen digitizers, the future of video content, Google Books, Tech Night Owl, Verizon Wireless privacy

I had one of my shortest stays in San Francisco this week–I arrived Sunday night, then flew home Wednesday morning. Three days in, jet lag still had me waking up so early that getting to SFO for a 7:25 a.m. departure was no trouble at all.

10/19/2015: Phone with mind of its own may not be hacked or haunted, USA Today

My Sunday column went up a day late. After all the deadlines I’ve shredded, I can’t complain.

Comptel Plus panel10/20/2015: Looking Ahead: The Future of Content, Comptel Plus

I moderated this panel about online video services in San Francisco at the annual conference of the Washington trade group that just renamed itself from Comptel to Incompas. My fellow panelists: Netflix public-policy director Corie Wright, Verizon Wireless v.p. and associate general counsel William H. Johnson, and Zander Lehmann, writer and creator of the Hulu series “Casual.” Almost all of the questions we got from the audience focused on something neither Hulu nor Netflix offer, and which is only available in limited quantities on VzW’s Go90 service: live sports.

10/20/2015: Google’s Fair Use Victory Is a Win for Us All, Yahoo Tech

It had been years since I last wrote about Google Books and the Authors Guild lawsuit against it, but Friday’s ruling in favor of Google allowed me to return to the topic–and offer some thoughts on the fuzzy definition of “fair use” in copyright law. Fun fact: the books in that photo fill a shelf in the lobby of the Marriott Courtyard Union Square, where I stayed Sunday night.

10/24/2015: October 24, 2015 — Josh Centers and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked about Apple’s new iMac and my old one, the state of software quality in Cupertino, and the prospect of an Apple car (I think Apple’s talents would be better placed in imitating Tesla by developing a competitor to the Powerwall home battery).

10/25/2015: Verizon’s AOL deal brings new privacy worries, USA Today

The impending combination of Verizon and AOL’s advertising machinery will bring one improvement in privacy: Verizon Wireless will stop stamping its “UIDH” tracker all of its subscribers’ unencrypted Web traffic. But the company’s privacy notice is sufficiently vague on this point that I missed it in a first draft.

Weekly output: copyright and APIs, 5 GHz WiFi

Beyond what you see here, I also filed 4,000-plus words’ worth of reviews that have yet to be posted. You can imagine my relief at getting them off the to-do list.

Yahoo Tech API-copyright post5/13/2014: How the Government Can Improve Tech: Stop Reinventing Intellectual Property, Yahoo Tech

In this week’s column, I teed off on the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s dangerously foolish ruling that you can copyright the workings of an application programming interface–a judgment that, if the Supreme Court somehow doesn’t toss it in the trash, will make a lot of reverse engineering illegal. I was not surprised in the least to see a few IP maximalists surface in the comments to contest my opinion, but I thought they would try to offer a counterargument more sophisticated than the likes of “this guy wants to make everything free.”

5/18/2014: How to fix pokey WiFi at home, USA Today

In yet another Q&A based on a relative’s computing travails, I explained how switching a WiFi network from 2.4 GHz to 5 GHz could end interference issues caused by a surplus of other WiFi networks and baby monitors but require adding a second router to ensure the same coverage as before.

Feed me, see more (The Magazine meets BuzzFeed)

This story originally ran in issue 15 of The Magazine. You can now read it here by virtue of that publication’s impressively author-friendly contract.

One of the Web’s most popular sites — and the exceedingly rare media property soaking up tens of millions of dollars in venture-capital financing — gets much of its content without asking permission to use it, much less paying for it.

The Magazine BuzzFeed coverThat’s not news. But if you talk to some of the people whose images wind up in BuzzFeed’s endlessly clickable and heavily clicked-upon photo galleries, you may have your expectations overturned, as mine were: most say thanks for the exposure.

BuzzFeed at first looked like an appropriator that took value without returning it, irritating professional photographers who find their work both increasingly valued and increasingly used without compensation. But on closer inspection, BuzzFeed may be finding its way toward a safer course — a careful combination of conventional licensing and curatorial selection.

Continue reading

Weekly output: SideCar, Internet sales taxes, group-play apps, Do Not Call, Android screen lock

Nothing too dramatic this week, but first thing Monday morning I’m on the plane to SFO for two conferences: Influence HR on Monday, where I’m speaking on a panel about media relations (disclosure: the organizers are picking up my airfare), and Google I/O Wednesday through Friday.

SideCar DisCo post5/6/2013: SideCar Approaches A Regulatory On-Ramp, Disruptive Competition Project

This ride-sharing service aims to match drivers with time to spare on their existing routes with people heading in the same general direction. The D.C. Taxi Commission, along with other local regulators, sees it as an illegal taxi service. SideCar is pleading its case with the public but also with elected representatives: my interview with CEO Sunil Paul was delayed 45 minutes because he was finishing up a breakfast meeting with Ward 3 city councilmember Mary Cheh.

5/8/2013: Expert: Online sales tax would make real difference to main street, Voice of Russia American Edition

Harvard Business School professor Benjamin G. Edelman and I talked about the Marketplace Fairness Act, the bill that would require most Internet retailers to collect sales taxes for states that simplify their tax regimes.

5/10/2013: Group-Playback Apps Let You Choose Your Own Copyright Adventure, Disruptive Competition Project

I thought there might be an interesting piece about the copyright-law implications of Samsung’s Group Play app, which lets you play one song through multiple devices at once; after encountering a similar, Web-based app at the Day of Fosterly event last weekend, I decided there was.

5/12/2013: Will spam calls ever stop?, USA Today

A query on my neighborhood’s mailing list about a clearly illegal telemarketing call we’ve received a couple of times led me to revisit the topic of spam calls–and spam texts. There’s also a tip about two ways to strengthen the pattern-lock option on Android phones.

On Sulia, I noted two unexpectedly gutsy tech-policy bills–one from Sen. John McCain that would basically blow up much of the TV business, another from Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Anna Eshoo, Jared Polis and Thomas Massie that would repair the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-circumvention clause–and shared Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s low opinion of Congressional tech literacy. I also related news about United Airlines’ upcoming switch from drop-down screens to streaming media on its A319s and A320s, at the cost of its Channel 9 air-traffic-control audio. And I wrote a sponsored post about Betabeat’s startup-pitch webisode series that, apparently, almost nobody read.

DMCA exemptions: requesting permission to innovate (2011 CEA repost)

(Since a site redesign at the Consumer Electronics Association resulted in the posts I wrote for CEA’s Digital Dialogue blog vanishing, along with everything there older than last November, I’m reposting a few that I think still hold up. This one ran Dec. 16, 2011; it may help explain where the last few months of headlines about phone unlocking came from.)

One of the stranger rituals of U.S. tech policy is now unfolding in Washington: the triennial reassessment of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “anti-circumvention” rules.

In this exercise, the Librarian of Congress considers granting exemptions to the DMCA’s ban on picking digital or electronic locks that control access to copyrighted works. The DMCA mandates this review because of the possibility–in retrospect, certainty–of companies abusing their immunity from customer interference with “digital rights management” systems to limit non-infringing uses.

DMCA exemption rulemakingYou may prefer to call this a “requesting permission to innovate” ritual.

In four earlier rounds of exemption proceedings–in 200020032006 and last year–Librarian James H. Billington has inconsistently expanded the range of DMCA exemptions, sometimes taking away earlier permissions.

He legalized hacking into Web-filtering software to inspect lists of blocked sites the first two times but didn’t renew that in 2006. The exemption granted in 2000 for defeating broken DRM mechanisms that wrongly deny access was then narrowed to a loophole for breaking obsolete or malfunctioning “dongle” hardware keys. (A related exemption, covering systems that require presenting an original copy of a program or game in a storage format that has become obsolete, arrived in 2003 but was not renewed in 2010.)

E-book customers won the right in 2003 to hack their DRM if it prevented the use of screen-reader accessibility software and have kept it since, but no equivalent accessibility exemption has been granted for movie viewers. And yet in 2010, the Librarian legalized ripping “protected” DVDs for fair-use criticism and commentary purposes, something still not allowed for DRMed e-books or music.

2006′s exemptions let you unlock a phone to use on a competing network, but 2010′s narrowed that to used phones. But last year’s proceeding also granted the right to jailbreak a phone to install the software of your choice–a big development for iPhone users.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the 20 comments submitted in this year’s proceeding focus on preserving prior gains or ironing out inconsistencies.

For example, a group called the Library Copyright Alliance only wants to renew 2010′s DVD-ripping exemption, while the University of Michigan’s library seeks to have its protected class of students widened beyond those in “film and media studies.”

(Those links and all that follow point to PDF files.)

Public Knowledge wants to see the current DVD rule extended to cover “space shifting” to other formats, noting the increasing number of laptops without DVD drives.

A coalition of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Gallaudet University and the Participatory Culture Foundation propose granting a broader exemption to make movie downloads, streams and discs accessible to those with hearing or sight impairments.

A group led by the International Documentary Association proposes to expand the same provision to cover Blu-ray discs and movie downloads and streams so that future filmmakers can incorporate fair-use excerpts in documentary or fictional works. A set of professors at the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere make the same request for educational use and are echoed by the University of Rhode Island’s Media Education Lab.

The American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind, meanwhile, want to maintain an exemption for making e-books accessible to readers with limited vision. The Open Book Alliance wants another for removing DRM from books that are already in the public domain.

Mobile devices figure in over a quarter of these submissions. Small wireless firms MetroPCS CommunicationsYoughiogheny Communications and a trade group called RCA – the Competitive Carriers Association all want to renew and expand 2010′s phone-unlocking exemption to cover mobile devices in general, not just phones. Consumers Union concurs.

The Software Freedom Law Center also favors allowing device owners to install the operating system of their choice. It also wants to permit desktop users to bypass any mandatory app stores–although neither Windows nor Mac OS X impose that restriction today.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sent in an all-of-the-above brief backing exemptions for jailbreaking phones, tablets and video-game consoles and another set for unlocking DVDs, downloads and streams to extract fair-use clips.

Four submissions from individuals request blanket waivers on circumvention for personal use; a fifth seeks one for the narrow category of DRMed e-books in the Mobipocket format Amazon no longer supports on its Kindle readers.

We’ll have to wait until sometime in February to see which of these requests get a favorable hearing, or if any of 2010′s exemptions will disappear. That’s plenty of time to contemplate a broader question: If a far-reaching provision of a law carries such a high risk of collateral damage that an unelected official must drill holes into it every three years–and those holes seem to get bigger over time–shouldn’t we think about rebooting that rule?