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Hiding the Law

If you’re a teacher, you need to understand the basics of copyright and fair use. Actually, that’s probably true of any adult in the US but especially teachers since we are responsible for helping our students understand the concepts, the law, and their rights under it. Or at least we should be responible.

This idea comes to mind because last week the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and other organizations celebrated Copyright Week with a series of interesting posts about the need for intellectual property policies and laws that promote creativity and innovation. Rather than heavy handed attempts to restrict access to and use of information.

Such as the ongoing attempts by industry associations to use copyright law to “interfere with transparency and open access to the law itself”, by claiming ownership of “laws that began as private standards but are later incorporated into federal and state regulations”. Six of these associations are suing Public Resource, a small non-profit organization that has been posting the regulations online for anyone to use, free of charge.

And even the business of education is involved.

In 2014, three more SDOs [standards development organizations] sued Public Resource over a standard for designing tests. That standard is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s rules for handing out billions of dollars in financial aid for students, yet the groups that published it make it hard to find and buy, in order to boost sales of a new edition. It’s not available online anywhere right now, so finding out what the law is means tracking down an increasingly rare used copy.

Reminds me a little of that classic work of educational obfuscation, Double Secret Probation. :-)

What You Don’t Know, Can Hurt You

You’ve probably never heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – and that’s by design. TPP is “is a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement.”

The governments involved, and the hundreds of corporations who are helping to write the provisions, want us to know as little as possible before it becomes law.

Fortunately, enough information about the contents has leaked to offer a good, if very chilling, picture of how the package “would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate.”

Because supporters of TPP are worried about the backlash that would result if more people had a good look at the provisions, they are pushing Congress to pass a “fast track” bill for this and similar trade agreements.

If passed, the “Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act” would give over to the executive branch much of the exclusive constitutional authority over trade policy that Congress is supposed to exercise. Sponsors of the bill claim that this process “provides greater transparency and gives Congress greater oversight of the Administration’s trade negotiations.” But in fact, fast track does precisely the opposite, ensuring that there’s even less transparency and less democratic oversight over trade negotiations, while making it easier for Big Content to impose its wish list of draconian copyright provisions on the US and its trading partners through secretive trade pacts.

Read the facts that are known about TPP and the efforts to force it’s provisions into American law. Then join the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups in demanding that Congress “stand up for your digital rights and preserve our constitutional checks and balances in government.”

The Fight for Internet Freedom

It was only one year ago this past week when the “broadest, most powerful political protest ever orchestrated on the Internet” convinced the House to kill the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Over 115 million websites, led by Wikipedia and Reddit, went dark for one day to help educate their users about the risks to the integrity of the web posed by the legislation.

Lots has been written about both the bill and the protest (the Wikipedia article linked above runs about 17 printed pages by itself), but if you want a excellent summary of what happened and what Congress has learned (and is still clueless about), listen to the most recent edition of Decode DC.

Then subscribe to the podcast. Presented by former NPR reporter Andrea Seabrook, the project is her attempt “stop re-playing soundbites of those political attacks, and start talking about what’s wrong with Washington — and what are the solutions”.

This is the kind of intelligent reporting that’s missing from most of the so-called news organizations in the US and deserves to be supported.

While you’re at it, go join the Electronic Frontier Foundation (or at least subscribe to their RSS feed) and also support their efforts to fight the next edition of SOPA.

Because it’s clear that big copyright owners and their pet Congress critters are not finished trying to restrict our rights to free speech, fair use, privacy, and equal access on the web.

You Only THINK You Own It

If you own a product, do you then have the right to give or sell it to someone else? Millions of yard sales every year would seem to say “yes”.

And when it comes to intellectual property-based items (books, for example), the Supreme Court has even given the concept a name: the first sale doctrine.

However, at least one software publisher believes that piece of legality does not apply to their products. That they have the power to restrict an owner’s right to resell them.

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Autodesk has appealed, arguing that so long as its license agreements recite the right magic words, it can strip purchasers of any ownership in the CD-ROMs on which software is delivered. If that’s right, then not only don’t you own the software you buy, but any copyright owner can simply recite the magic words and effectively outlaw libraries, used bookstores, and DVD rentals, among other things.

Ah, the magic of the end-user license agreement (EULA) which we’ve all had the pleasure of reading* during a long pause in the software install process. Right? :-)

Anyway, the EFF, which just celebrated their 20th anniversary, is involved in this and many other battles over consumer rights when it comes to digital property.

Unfortunately, most media companies these days, including software publishers, want to move away from the concept of “ownership” when you pay money for their products, whether it’s a physical package or digital download.

An idea that is only reinforced by files locked up with DRM, such as the books you buy for reading on a Kindle (something I hope is missing from Apple’s iPad book reader).

BTW, if you can afford it, contribute a few dollars to the EFF to help them continue defending our rights to own and control the media we pay for, no matter the format.


* I’ve read a few EULAs over the years, mostly so I can help people understand their fair use rights (the one that used to come with the Microsoft Office clip art collection was rather interesting). While I can’t tell you exactly what the EULAs say for any of the commercial software on my current MacBook, I’m pretty sure most read similar to Autodesk’s.

We Are Controlling Transmission

When it comes to having absolute control over the content they sell, big media companies don’t give up easily.

Or more accurately control over the content they want you pay for every time you watch it.

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You may remember that at the end of last year, the FCC declined to give a small group of Hollywood studios the ability to turn off the video inputs that over 20 million high definition televisions rely on. Almost a year later, the MPAA is back, threatening not make content available, responding to year-old arguments while trying to pretend 2009 never happened, and making a lot of noise without saying anything new.

Fortunately, groups like Public Knowledge and the EFF are working hard to block the efforts of the MPAA and others who want laws mandating switches in your TV, DVD player, computer, DVR or future devices that would allow them to determine what you can and cannot do with the media you’ve already paid for.

Which reminds me, I still haven’t put Handbrake on my new machine. Get it while it still works. :-)


The graphic comes from Wikipedia and is here because reading about this issue always seems to trigger the opening narration from the 60’s TV series The Outer Limits (“There is nothing wrong with your television set…”) in my warped little mind.

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