Weekly output: phoning it in from cars, begging for DMCA exemptions

I’d mean to have a third post on this list, but my attempt to review Facebook’s new Timeline interface was thwarted by the fact that I still don’t have access to Timeline in my own account. (I’ve asked Facebook PR to look into this.) The switchover of my CEA work from the soon-to-close, subscription-required Tech Enthusiast site to its free Digital Dialogue blog also ate up a decent chunk of time. So there’s just two posts to my name for the week.

12/14/2011, New Rule: No Phone Use Behind The Wheel?, Discovery News

One of the more pleasant surprises of writing for Discovery has been how much I enjoy the challenge of coming up with the featured illustration required by its blogging format. In this case, I first thought I’d take a photo of any old cell phone in front of a car dashboard. Then realized I could have some fun with the concept by instead using the vintage Trimline phone I picked up at a yard sale last year, as you can see in the thumbnail at right.

Oh, right, about the post: This was my first take on the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposed ban on any phone use by drivers. (I plan on revisiting the topic at greater length next week for CEA.) In it, I criticize the proposal for its political implausibility and near-impossible enforcement, then suggest three ways that phone vendors could make in-car use safer. I thought the comments would then light up with denunciations of nanny-state behavior, but about half of them favor the phone prohibition. And then there was one person who decided the real problem on the road is cyclists. I was not amused by that: I’ve clocked about 11,000 miles on my bike since 1998 and I’m a member of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

12/16/2011, DMCA Exemptions: Requesting Permission To Innovate, CEA Digital Dialogue

My first non-paywalled post for CEA covered the kind of out-of-the-headlines tech-policy topic that could be a tough sell at a lot of traffic-driven newsrooms: the current round of requested exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “anti-circumvention” rules. The whole idea that adding “digital rights management” locks to a copyrighted work deprives a buyer of any right to circumvent that DRM to exercise fair-use rights has always struck me as unfair. I used this post to outline the history of requested exemptions from the DMCA’s anti-circumvention rule, something we’re allowed to ask for every three years; collectively, they do not paint a flattering picture of this law.

Note that CEA’s blog (how happy am I see it’s based on WordPress?) includes a separate feed for my contributions, which I encourage you to subscribe to in the RSS client of your choice. If anybody actually does that anymore…

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CEA’s pivot: no more paywall

I can drop the phrase “subscription required” from my self-promotional vocabulary: The Consumer Electronics Association is closing its Tech Enthusiast site and moving my contributions from there to its existing CE.org site.

With that move, announced in a press release on the Arlington, Va., trade association’s site, you can now read my weekly post for free. (The latest looks into the inconsistent history of granting exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “anti-circumvention” rules; it should be up soon it’s up now on CEA’s Digital Dialogue blog.) They plan to keep the TE site up until Jan. 31; if your membership runs through Feb. 1, you should get a refund.

Attentive readers will recall that I only started writing for TE three months ago, so this might seem like a rapid pivot. But take a moment to think about the underlying goal here. It wasn’t to lock in an extra revenue stream (though nobody at CEA would have minded that); it was to get more people tuned into the organization’s interests, as I wrote in November 2010 when this program launched. That incentive may explain why CEA twice dropped the price of a TE membership, first from $49 to $29 and then down to $9 with a discount code.

Many news organizations have faced this same issue, but CEA’s membership dues and other existing revenue sources mean it doesn’t need to finance its Web operations from reader subscriptions or advertising revenue. So I’m not surprised to see the organization end the paywall experiment in favor of a free, consumer-focused portal featuring my work. (CEA’s release calls my insights “invaluable”; I don’t know about that, but I hope they’re worth what they pay me.)

Ending the need to log in to read my weekly ruminations on the state of the electronics industry opens other interesting possibilities that would have been less viable behind a paywall. I’ve already suggested to the folks at CEA that I start doing Web chats like those I used to host at the Post, and they seem interested. If you’ve got other suggestions, the comments are all yours.

(Edited 12/16, 10:16 p.m. Added a link to the DMCA post.)