Google book settlement rejected for good reasons

Background

Straight from Judge Chin’s opinion, “In 2004, Google announced that it had entered into agreements with several major research libraries to digitally copy books and other writings in their collections. Since then, Google has scanned more than 12 million books. It has delivered digital copies to the participating libraries, created an electronic database of books, and made text available for online searching.”. Google’s project affects so many people outside the also has policy for copyright holders to contact them and opt-out of the digitization, indexing, and republishing process should they object to their work being republished. Enter the usual benefits from widespread sharing and easy access to digital information, but wait—isn’t this just well-funded widespread commercial copyright infringement?

Why should this project deserve professional participation from libraries but not well-organized grassroots networks sharing copyrighted digital works without license? Or why didn’t the old Napster system get librarian’s help when they effectively helped people share digital copies of copyrighted sound recordings without license?

Usually when someone goes to the trouble to distribute a huge collection of copyrighted work without license they’re called on the carpet for it and stopped, typically with a settlement that pays off some allegedly representative organization. In this case a lot of people found fault with the idea that Google would be given (apparently exclusive) permission to digitize and reproduce (in part or whole) lots of books. They filed letters describing their views to Judge Chin. But in this case I don’t see anyone calling for criminal punishments for well-organized corporate, commercial, copyright infringement. Where’s the call to talk to US Congresspeople about increasing penalties for corpoate copyright abuse? Apparently it’s okay to be a corporate copyright infringer but not a grassroots copyright infringer.

Various takes

Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive wrote about this highlighting the advantage of decentralized dissemination of the works.

We are in favor of building a digital library system that has many winners, but the Google book settlement seems like a bridge too far. We are sorry that it had to go this way, but the monopolistic aspects of the settlement do seem problematic.

That copyright holders are being spoken for strikes me as a greater problem with the proposed settlement; as the judge said, “Absent class members who fail to opt out will be deemed to have released their rights even as to future infringing conduct.” due to the opt-in nature of this settlement. The judge rightly saw this as ridiculous because “A copyright owner’s right to exclude others from using his property is fundamental and beyond dispute.” and “it is incongruous with the purpose of the copyright laws to place the onus on copyright owners to come forward to protect their rights when Google copied their works without first seeking their permission.”.

I appreciate the interest of building a digital library but I’m not sorry the settlement was rejected because it was preposterous. Until copyright law is changed to allow non-commercial verbatim copying and distribution in any medium for all published works (which I think copyright law should allow), I don’t see why librarians would (as many libraries are) handing over books still in copyright to be scanned and made a part of Google’s collection. The US can have whatever copyright policy its citizens wish to have, so go about changing the law and making it allow what you really want to do. Librarians must know they don’t have license to reproduce another’s work regardless of the benefit to the public; this can’t possibly be news to them; is this not contributory copyright infringement? These concerns seem far more important to me than the monopoly for Google this settlement attempted to create because I imagine the monopoly wouldn’t last for long had it been granted—how hard could it be to argue that some other party should get to infringe copyrights like Google has been doing?


The EFF acknowledges that its argument against the settlement on the basis of loss of privacy was not, in the judge’s view, a reason to reject the settlement, but EFF still headlined its blog entry “Google Books Decision: “The Privacy Concerns are Real”” quoting a passage from the opinion. The privacy concerns struck me as a red herring; if other parties can leverage the same permission Google got (as I believe they’d eventually be able to do) there would be someone who would reproduce the works in a way that privacy is preserved (download a file from a place that doesn’t track you or get a copy from a friend and read it anywhere you want anytime). I too want to read privately but I don’t see this as being a particularly salient issue for this agreement. Any popular database has the same privacy issues EFF talks about Google’s book database having, but we don’t discourage people from building interesting databases. The more useful and easily-accessed a database is, the more people’s queries will reveal their intent in using the database. Is there something about this database unique to Google? Plenty of other organizations track accesses across time, users, and searched-for content.

Arduino: The Documentary

An informative new documentary is out about Arduino, “an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software” (source: arduino.cc). You can find all sorts of free software to use with your Arduino board so you can make a lot of interesting devices: robots that crawl, 3-D printers to make other real-world objects, blinking light controllers, and tons of other things. Your imagination is really the limit of what you can do with Arduino.

Arduino comes with inseparable freedoms because Arduino’s environment is built to give you the freedom to explore whatever you want: Arduino software is licensed to share and modify under the GNU General Public License and this software has been ported to run on any operating system, Arduino’s getting-started documentation is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License so share and alter that to your taste too (so long as you pass on the freedoms you got), and the Arduino Uno board works with any computer that has USB (which is virtually every computer you’ll use). You are empowered to do all sorts of interesting things with Arduino, as participants in the documentary attest to.

Download:

Glenn Greenwald’s scathing critique of “Progressives” mostly right-on

In light of US President Barack Obama’s recent appointment of what Glenn Greenwald calls “JP Morgan’s Midwest Chairman, a Boeing director, and a long-time corporatist — Bill Daley” Greenwald posted another mostly spot-on article in which he criticizes so-called “Progressives” who blindly support the Democrats regardless of what that party does:

Progressives who do this will tell you that this unconditional Party support is necessary and justifiable because no matter how bad Democrats are, the GOP is worse. That’s a different debate. The point here is that — whether justified or not — telling politicians that you will do everything possible to work for their re-election no matter how much they scorn you, ignore your political priorities, and trample on your political values is a guaranteed ticket to irrelevance and impotence. Any self-interested, rational politician — meaning one motivated by a desire to maintain power rather than by ideology or principle — will ignore those who behave this way every time and instead care only about those whose support is conditional. And they’re well-advised to do exactly that.

Generally, another slam-dunk for Greenwald who has a habit of great writing. I think the major theme of Greenwald’s post comes from Frederick Douglass’ famous quote

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.
Frederick Douglass

Progressives who go along with the Democrats to get along will get whatever horrors that party dishes out. Douglass was correct then and he’s correct now.

I don’t agree with some of Greenwald’s minor points made along the way:

  • MoveOn.org and Rachel Maddow are either not progressives or the word “progressive” has become just another way to say “blind Democrat party supporter”. I’ve never found Maddow’s show to be that compelling (I’ve mentioned some of my disagreement with her perspective on this blog). MoveOn.org never fails to rally behind Democrats at election time, much like the Nation magazine with their periodic anti-Nader editorials published around election time. I’ll be surprised if Maddow doesn’t fall into line supporting the Democrats closer to election time.
  • I don’t think the debate over who is worse is as separate a debate as Greenwald says: I don’t think either party is worse overall; I think both Democrat and Republican parties are roughly equally horrible and I believe they support mostly the same big-ticket issues: endless war/world dominance or empire, reduction in civil liberties, running up the cost of government, ecological disaster. Any issue where large sums of money or power are at stake generally find bi-partisan support in the US Congress. Unconditional Party support is never justified as it’s a sure road to being ignored.

While it’s perfectly rational for any candidate to ignore anyone who asks nothing for their support (“support” meaning: vote, campaign contribution, or staffing time on their campaign) the Left has long behaved as if they’re ignorant of the message they send when they behave in this way. I don’t see how the Left or Progressives can expect to maintain their number of supporters when they boast blind Democratic Party support.

I no longer think highly of the Left or Progressives because too many of the Progressives I come across (in person, reading their work, or having worked with them on political stuff in the past) blindly support Democrats and believe in voting Democrat because “[Republicans] are worse” and, just as Greenwald said, are horribly offended when their elected leader doesn’t heed their views. For me, Progressives who do this merely support corporatism, the single thing that undergirds all the horrible stuff the US is involved in.

As a result I have stopped caring about who becomes US President or which of the two US corporate-run major parties leads Congress. I know the same policies will be furthered no matter who wins. Greenwald’s articles point out how one party is no better than the other; you can skim Greenwald’s blog posts and find posts on major issues where Obama’s Democrats kept G.W. Bush’s policies intact or made them worse.

Justice will not happen when killers run the state

DN!’s headlines today included

Amnesty: Prosecute Bush for Torture

And the human rights group Amnesty International is calling on the Obama administration to prosecute former president George W. Bush following his admission to authorizing the waterboarding torture technique. Writing in his new memoir Decision Points, Bush says he first granted the CIA permission to waterboard self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In a statement, Amnesty International said, “Under international law, anyone involved in torture must be brought to justice, and that does not exclude [Bush]. If his admission is substantiated, the U.S. has the obligation to prosecute him.”

Democracy Now!, 2010-10-11

But you’re dealing with President look-forward-and-not-into-the-past Obama. We knew this in April 2009 when he and the Republicans agreed that investigations leading to prosecutions would be somehow unsavory and unwise:

Obama said in April that CIA interrogators who had used waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning — on suspected militants will not face prosecution and he released Bush-era memos specifying that the practice did not constitute torture.

Republicans criticized Obama’s release of the memos, saying it left the door open for the prosecution of former Bush officials who authorized severe CIA interrogations.

Reuters

Obama has been true to his word; former president George W. Bush thinks prosecution is so unlikely he can admit to authorizing drowning people in print and on his book promotional tour. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is coming out with a book as well in which his publisher said he’ll cover “previously undisclosed details and insights about the Bush administration, 9/11, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”; perhaps more admission of torture is coming soon there too. Meanwhile, the CIA destroys taped evidence of two foreign prisoners’ interrogation and Obama’s Justice Department announces that there will be no charges:

Justice Dept.: No Charges in CIA Destruction of Interrogation Tapes

The Justice Department has announced no one will be charged for the destruction of videos showing the interrogation of two foreign prisoners. The tapes were destroyed amidst worries they would do political damage if ever publicly revealed. According to the Washington Post, charges still could be filed related to obstruction of justice or misleading investigators during the probe. The prosecutor heading the case, John Durham, is conducting a separate investigation into whether CIA interrogators and contractors should be charged for the Bush-era torture and abuse of foreign prisoners.

Democracy Now!, 2010-11-10

Apple infringing copyright…again

Background

In May 2010 Apple distributed copies of a computer version of the classic board game Go through its App Store. This GNU Go variant is licensed under the GNU General Public License version 2 (GNU GPL) which does not allow additional restrictions to be added to the license. Apple’s App Store imposes additional restrictions on the applications distributed through the App Store, restrictions which are incompatible with the GNU GPL. Hence the incompatibility Apple introduced when it drafted the rules for its App Store.

Apple reviews every program it distributes through its App Store so Apple knowingly distributed this Go program in violation of the GNU GPL. This constitutes copyright infringement.

Apple has all the permission they need to distribute GPLed software through their App Store. The GPL ensures this; Apple could even distribute GPLed programs commercially charging users for downloading copies of GPLed programs.

The Free Software Foundation, GNU Go’s copyright holder, pointed this out to Apple in their usual way aiming for compliance not litigation:

In most ways, this is a typical enforcement action for the FSF: we want to resolve this situation as amicably as possible. We have not sued Apple, nor have we sent them any legal demand that they remove the programs from the App Store. The upstream developers for this port are also violating the GPL, and we are discussing this with them too. We are raising the issue with Apple as well since Apple is the one that distributes this software to the public; legally, both parties have the responsibility to comply with the GPL.

The only thing we’re doing differently is making this announcement. Apple has a proven track record of blocking or disappearing programs from the App Store without explanation. So we want to provide everyone with these details about the case before that happens, and prevent any wild speculation.

Free Software Foundation’s License Compliance Engineer Brett Smith

Instead of changing the App Store rules to get themselves into compliance with the GPL, Apple decided to stop distributing GNU Go. This choice deprived Apple’s users of GNU Go.

The latest chapter: VLC

Now Apple is at it again: this time with VideoLAN Client (VLC)—a versatile media player one can use to watch all sorts of movies. VLC is quite famous in free software because it is so easy to use and because it plays so many different media formats.

Someone made a version of VLC for Apple’s iOS (the operating system Apple ships on the Apple iPad). The programmers submitted their variant of VLC to Apple’s App Store and Apple chose to distribute the program. Apple never changed the conditions which prohibit them from distributing GPL-covered programs, so they are again infringing the copyright of a free software developer.

This time one of the VLC copyright holders, Rémi Denis-Courmont who is also one of VLC’s primary developers, complained to Apple:

VLC media player is free software licensed solely under the terms of the… GNU General Public License (a.k.a. GPL). Those terms are contradicted by the products usage rules of the AppStore through which Apple delivers applications to users of its mobile devices.Rémi Denis-Courmont

and the FSF concurs:

The GPL gives Apple permission to distribute this software through the App Store. All they would have to do is follow the license’s conditions to help keep the software free. Instead, Apple has decided that they prefer to impose Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) and proprietary legal terms on all programs in the App Store, and they’d rather kick out GPLed software than change their own rules. Their obstinance prevents you from having this great software on Apple devices””not the GPL or the people enforcing it.

Apple continues to use more DRM in their products: they just announced that a Mac App Store will be coming soon to their laptops and desktops, and you can bet it will have the same draconian restrictions as today’s App Store. Meanwhile, people enforcing the GPL like Rémi are fighting against DRM, so that everyone can be in full control of their own computers. We’re thankful to him for taking a stand. If you want to show your support, too, it’s easy: just steer clear of Apple’s DRM-infested App Store.

Free Software Foundation’s License Compliance Engineer Brett Smith

Anyone failing to comply with programmers who license their work to freely share and modify comes off looking very bad because they step on the efforts of people who are trying to treat people nicely. Therefore Apple comes off looking very bad every time they deny their users free software for non-compliance with copyright.

Update (2010-11-23): Brett Smith posted FSF analysis of Apple’s terms and conditions to the VLC-devel mailing list (local copy). Karen Sandler and Bradley Kuhn also go into this issue on their show “Free as in Freedom” (Ogg Vorbis recording, local copy). As I pointed out elsewhere, Apple’s changed terms and conditions still don’t allow them to distribute GPL’d works; Apple is still disallowing themselves from distributing GPL’d works.

Update (2011-01-07): Rémi Denis-Courmont writes to Planet VideoLAN:

At last, Apple has removed VLC media player from its application store. Thus the incompatibility between the GNU General Public License and the AppStore terms of use is resolved – the hard way. I am not going to pity the owners of iDevices, and not even the MobileVLC developers who doubtless wasted a lot of their time. This end should not have come to a surprise to anyone.

Apparently war is not an issue to discuss

US President Barack Obama’s program-length (27 minute) appearance on The Daily Show just aired. There was no mention of the preeminent moral and financial issue of our time: occupation and war. The US is killing civilians, occupying foreign lands, engaging in torture beyond what is being owned up to (thanks to WikiLeaks for publishing war records and confirming what so many knew for years!), and civil liberties are diminishing before our eyes at a cost of trillions of dollars. These occupations are using up money which could have helped millions of poor unemployed Americans facing an ongoing mortgage fraud crisis (which the government refuses to stop). The mid-term elections are coming up and apparently the corporate media is showing itself to be useless. Indeed, war should be an election issue.

Will Americans care that most of their chocolate is made by children?

Document thumbnailsDocument thumbnails[O]n Halloween much of the chocolate Americans will hand out to trick-or-treaters will be tainted by the labor of enslaved childrenAndrew Korfhage

Apparently capitalism and big business vertically integrate oppression. Korfhage writes that Congress shelved legislation that would have ostensibly kept slave child labor out of US chocolate companies but when the chocolate companies announced a voluntary plan to deal with the problem themselves, Congress backed down. As a result most Americans won’t find it easy to distinguish which chocolate was produced with slave child labor. The self-regulation plan was a ploy to keep on using child slave labor without Congressional oversight. US chocolate companies kept legislation at bay in 2005 and again in 2008 by renewing their call for self-regulation and Congress keeps buying it.

When businesses use slave child labor they have already demonstrated that they are incapable of self-regulation. I’m guessing Congress knows this but has fallen into the time-honored trap of soliciting campaign donations from the businesses they’re supposed to regulate. Any business which promises to clean things up from within should be ignored; clearly we need more punitive anti-child/slave-labor legislation. It’s unlikely that anything but disincorporation, prison time for business leaders, and heavy fines will stop businesses from being slavers.

Can you have an economic system designed to push for the lowest possible price without treating people as marketable objects? Capitalism has never demonstrated that this is possible.

With the majority of modern slaves in agriculture and mining around the world ”“ and forced labor prevalent in cotton, chocolate, steel, rubber, tin, tungsten, coltan, sugar, and seafood ”“ it is impossible to get dressed, drive to work, talk on the phone, or eat a meal without touching products tainted by forced labor. Even reputable companies can profit from abuse when they do not protect their supply chain ”“ whether at the level of raw materials, parts, or final products ”“ from modern slavery.US Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010

Relevant links


Update 2011-01-02:
I highly recommend seeing “The Dark Side of Chocolate” and continuing to only buy chocolate from the organizations the researchers, journalists, and investigators working against child slave labor have pointed to (see the aforementioned PDF for more on this).

Don’t fight your own chosen license

Occasionally you come across an informative source for information and you want to republish what you find, but you look into the licensing terms and find that the copyright holder’s opinion of how to properly interpret the license is at odds with the license text.

Consider ProPublica; an investigative journal with interesting articles and research. Their FAQ for “Can I republish one of your stories?” says yes: “Unless otherwise noted, you can republish our articles and graphics (but not our photographs) for free” and that their articles are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 US license. But their page entitled “Steal our Stories” attempts to add bizarre requirements not found in the CC license. Adding more confusion, this page isn’t in sync with their FAQ.
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Escalating the arms race through fraudulent foreclosure and intrusion?

The headline and story tells the tale succinctly enough:

JPMorgan Chase Agent Breaks into Home of Borrower

A Florida woman has revealed an agent hired by her bank broke into her home after she fell behind on her mortgage payments. Nancy Jacobini of Orange County was inside her home when she heard the intruder. Thinking she was being burglarized, Jacobini called 911.

Dispatcher: “Do you hear somebody trying to open the front door?”
Nancy Jacobini: “Yes, yes.”
Dispatcher: “Ma’am?”
Nancy Jacobini: “My alarm is going off.”
Dispatcher: “OK.”
Nancy Jacobini: “He’s in. He’s in the house.”
Dispatcher: “He’s in the house?”
Nancy Jacobini: “Yes.”

The intruder turned out to be an employee hired by Jacobini’s bank, JPMorgan Chase, to change her locks. But Jacobini was only three months behind on her payments and wasn’t in foreclosure. Chase has apologized for the incident. Jacobini has hired an attorney to pursue legal action against the bank.

With the plague of fraudulent bank actions against homeowners (breaking in with intent to lock the homeowner out, fraudulent foreclosures) these days, one wonders how attractive it would be for politicians to campaign for letting homeowners kill intruders on their property.

Apparently both corporate parties agree to do little to help homeowners from being kept out of their homes without due process (Republicans raise no objection to Democrats saying the US doesn’t need a national moratorium on foreclosures). It would be far more wise to not give homeowners reason to reach for their weapons.

Update (2010-10-25): More on this from Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!.

Putting corporate “news” in perspective

Recently I had time to watch the Wednesday, March 12, 2003 Charlie Rose interview with Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! (transcript, video). Despite Rose asking if she’d return to his show, Rose has not had her back. After watching this interview I think it’s readily apparent why: Rose’s arguments just don’t work out.

In that 2003 interview Goodman talked about how, during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, corporate news presented the American public with a “parade of retired generals” and a “military hardware show”.

In the years after this interview studies have found exactly what she was talking about:

  • May 2009: Amy Goodman interviewed David Barstow about his Pulitzer-prize winning corporate news exposé. As Goodman put it in February 2010, Barstow is “the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter who exposed how dozens of retired generals working as radio and television analysts had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to military contractors that benefited from policies they defended.” (emphasis mine) Barstow, despite winning such a widely lauded prize, didn’t get interviewed much about his story.
  • February 2010: Goodman interviewed Sebastian Jones about his Nation cover story called “The Media-Lobbying Complex” summarizing it as “A four-month investigation into the covert corporate influence on cable news found that since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials have repeatedly appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure that they are paid by corporate interests.

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