Weekly output: iPhone electrocution, Ethernet chat, VLC and the DMCA, phone upgrades, disabling Android apps

Getting sick when you work for yourself is no fun: There’s nobody else who can fill in to complete the work you signed up to do, so sometimes you can only write slower than usual and take lots of breaks. That’s how I spent part of Tuesday (when my daughter’s cold caught up with me) and all of Thursday (when I was recovering from some weird digestive discomfort by largely taking a break from food).

WTTG iPhone electrocution7/16/2013: iPhone death allegations, Fox 5 News

WTTG had me on the air to talk about a strange story out of China involving a woman electrocuted when she used an iPhone while charging it. I suggested that a poorly-made knock-off charger might have been at fault, and that now seems to be the case.

7/17/2013: Bandwidth Chat, IDG Enterprise

I’ve signed up with IDG to help host a few Twitter chats it’s running for various clients. This week’s Comcast-sponsored chat focused on “carrier Ethernet”–a dry topic that did not seem to draw much interest. But at least it was a good practice for the slightly more consumer-relevant topics coming up.

7/19/2013: Trying To Ban Links to Software Is The DMCA Joke That Never Gets Old, Disruptive Competition Project

I’d meant to write this reaction to HBO asking Google to remove a search result link pointing to the open-source video app VLC sooner–Friday afternoon is not a good time to get a wonky tech-policy post any extra attention. So I submitted a recap of the story on Slashdot (I know, old school), and the editors there were kind enough to put that on the site’s front page.

7/21/2013: Pegoraro: How often should I upgrade my phone?, USA Today

I was amused to see the headline for this analysis of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon’s new frequent-upgrade deals start with my name–as if I’m some tech sage whose name alone can be invoked to settle arguments.

On Sulia, I offered a preview of what I’d say on Fox 5, observed how a hack into a Congressional site revealed some Hill staffers’ terrible taste in passwords, teed off on the exploitative pricing of the AT&T and Verizon early-upgrade deals, and confessed how my query about an apparent exemption to MLB.tv’s idiotic regional blackouts might have gotten that magic Zip code fixed.

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Internet 1, Big Copyright 0

Some 11 and a half years ago, I was mad enough about a story in the news that I stayed up until 3:57 a.m. (according to the timestamp on the file) to write a column about it. That issue was a case called Universal v. Reimerdes, in which a federal judge had ruled it illegal to distribute the DeCSS DVD-unlocking software.

I knew that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “anti-circumvention” provisions made such a ruling possible. But it was something else to see it applied to a program with obvious fair-use potential–and to have people then act as if it were entirely feasible to halt the distribution of that file over the Internet. I just had to write about something so insultingly unfair and mind-boggingly stupid… assuming I could get the importance of it across to people who had never heard of DeCSS or the DMCA:

Last Thursday, a judge in New York City ruled that an obscure magazine called 2600, based in Middle Island, N.Y., can’t post an equally obscure program, DeCSS, on its Web site, or link to other sites that offer it. Few people have used this software, which unlocks a DVD movie’s encryption, and not many more seem to care.

They should. This lawsuit is all about the mix of fear and greed that is driving the entertainment industry to put tighter and tighter locks on its products–and whether consumers get to do anything about it.

That August 25, 2000 column in the Washington Post was the first of many copyright rants I’ve had occasion to write. A lot has changed since then–DeCSS, of course, never disappeared and has since been replaced by better software that I’ve used to make copies of my DVDs to watch on laptops without optical drives–but one thing had not. The entertainment-industry firms that had lobbied for the passage of the DMCA and cheered the DeCSS verdict had kept on getting their way in Washington. Never mind the larger size of the tech industry; at worst, Big Copyright might lose a round after an egregious overreach, but that setback would then go largely unrecorded.

That changed this week, thanks to a storm of protest over the Stop Online Piracy Act and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act. Both would have turned the Internet’s Domain Name System into a censorship mechanism; the former would have also given copyright owners a financial kill switch for sites accepting user-generated content. And both looked set to sail through Congress until people noticed and started getting righteously fed-up, culminating in yesterday’s blackout protests at sites from Wikipedia to WordPress.com.

Those two bills have since taken a public beating–not just on tech-news sites, but on the evening news–and sponsors of each have been rushing to hit the Undo button on their support.  To judge from the more delusional press releases issued over the last 48 hours, I’m not sure that Hollywood even knows what hit it.

I would have liked to have seen this moment happen back in 2000, but this year will do.