Friday, June 25. 2010
New York federal judge Louis Stanton ruled that Google's YouTube did not violate Viacom's copyrights. It was a technical decision based on the Digital Millenium Copyright Act's safe harbor provision for service providers. To wit, service providers such as YouTube are not liable for the actions of their users as long as they follow certain rules, such as promptly removing copyright-infringing material in response to complaints filed by the copyright holders.
I'm not a legal expert, so I don't claim to know whether the problem is with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act or the judge's interpretation. But there is a problem here, because the ruling clearly favors those who provide a platform for displaying copyrighted videos without permission over those who produce video content for compensation.
I strongly suspect that Google's ultimate goal is to profit from others' copyrighted material by selling more advertising, and the way they are pursuing that goal is extremely clever. By slowly enlarging the scope of permissible copyright violations, Google is putting tremendous pressure on content publishers to cut a deal. It's revealing that judge Stanton said in his decision that YouTube and Google "not only were generally aware of, but welcomed, copyright-infringing material being placed on their website."
Here is the dilemma: digital technology and the Web make it easy to copy and redistribute content. Some activists argue that traditional copyright rules are obsolete and threaten the Web's ongoing success. Copyright holders fear that they will not receive fair compensation for their creative works because they will no longer be able to maintain exclusive control over those works.
The problem with the ruling is that it places too much of the enforcement burden on copyright holders in a game they can't possibly win over the long term. Should everyone who produces videos and films be forced to hire full-time people to monitor the Web and file complaints every time one of their copyright-protected videos is posted? Even if the service provider promptly removes the material, considerable damage can be done in a short period, and the material can always be reposted. And if it's OK to host copyrighted material without permission for 2 days, on what principle would it be wrong to extend that to 2 weeks?
The other extreme would be to place too great of a burden on service providers. For example, asking Internet service providers (ISPs) to inspect all of their traffic and block uploads before they are completed is clearly unworkable. It also wouldn't make sense to treat a Website that hosts user-uploaded videos the same as a site that knowingly distributes pirated material--as long as the user-uploaded video Website takes reasonable precautions to block and remove pirated material.
My understanding is that Viacom wants YouTube to make a reasonable effort to detect and block copyrighted material before it is posted. That makes sense to me, because it says that a Website that hosts user-uploaded videos should at least share the burden of identifying copyright-infringing videos. To say YouTube only has to remove copyright infringing material after it has been posted is tantamount to saying that it's perfectly OK to ignore copyrights until the owner complains.
Gazing into my crystal ball, I see weekends filled with stolen content uploaded on Fridays.
UPDATE: Scott Cleland explains why Judge Stanton's ruling is likely to be overturned.
Thursday, June 24. 2010
I am somewhat dismayed that less than 50% of Americans recognize that big government endangers individual rights. The good news is that 15% are undecided. These are the results of the Rasmussen Poll announced today.
You only need to study history or visit a cross section of the world's countries to know that wherever there is a lack of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or freedom of assembly there is sure to be big, despotic government.
Sadly, young people today are rarely taught that the Founders of our country were the first to approach the design of government from a scientific perspective. The Founders examined forms of government past and present with the purpose of architecting a government that recognized the people's unalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It was the brilliantly conceived system of checks and balances that made it work and, for the most part, endure.
It's also sad that 37% of adults believe that big government is a protector of individual rights. Though it's not surprising: even police states have supporters. We've seen this recently in Iran, where a brutally oppressive theocratic government still manages to stage mass rallies in its support and has no trouble finding people willing to beat and kill peaceful protesters. I doubt that 37% of Americans would support a police state, but I'm fairly sure they would be willing to trade some of their individual freedoms for the illusion of government-guaranteed financial security.
The real question is: how determined are the 48% to fix things?
Wednesday, June 16. 2010
Yesterday President Obama said we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and produce more "clean energy." That may be so, but what are the chances that the federal government can cause a major shift to renewable energy by the end of the President’s second term—assuming he is reelected?
Consider these facts. The federal government has been pushing energy conservation and a shift to renewable energy since the OPEC oil embargo in 1973. There has been some progress, but it doesn’t amount to much. According to Wikipedia, renewable sources account for just 3.4% of electricity generated worldwide.
It gets worse. The vast majority of today’s renewable energy comes from hydroelectric plants—a technology that wreaks havoc with the environment—and biomass—a scientific euphemism for wood-burning stoves. Solar, wind, and geothermal energy barely register a blip on the global energy radar screen.
Having done some work in the solar energy field in the early 1990s, I am baffled by those who think we can switch to solar energy by decree. Today, solar energy is simply too inefficient, unreliable and expensive to meet our energy needs. People have been working on solutions to these problems for decades with only meager results. And contrary to reports in some science magazines, there’s little evidence that we are on the verge of a breakthrough. Today’s research could bear fruit in five years or fifty years. Or something unexpected might intervene, causing us to change course entirely.
I did some consulting work for a solar energy company called Midway Labs. The company’s founder, the late Paul Collard, wisely focused on developing a solution for small villages in Africa and Asia. Collard’s unique solution employed light concentrating optics and solar cells designed to withstand high temperatures. The system could generate enough electricity to meet a small village’s basic requirements, but it required a mechanical system for tracking the sun as it traveled across the sky. It also required a large bank of storage batteries to take over at night and on cloudy days. The cold, hard fact is that a gasoline-fueled generator is more efficient, more reliable, and less expensive.
What’s almost completely missing from the public debate about renewable energy is informed discussion about the manufacturing, distribution and maintenance challenges. We can build wind farms all across the U.S., but what’s the cost to build and maintain enough of them? How much energy will be lost transporting electricity from rural areas to population centers? What's the environmental impact of large-scale deployment? Similarly tough questions apply to solar electricity and rechargeable batteries.
As one skeptic observed, renewable energy sources must be subsidized to create demand, while the fossil fuel industry is profitable despite being heavily taxed.
Like the fiber-to-the-home technology in telecom, expect several impressive showcase deployments. But the mass market evolves according to its own timetable and logic.
UPDATE June 17, 2010: Today's IEEE Spectrum Tech Alert was dominated by bad news about renewable energy and CO2 emissions reduction. Both stories (California's Geothermal Plans in Trouble and Why Carbon Capture Won't Work) concern projects that depend on access to scarce water supplies.
Friday, June 4. 2010
All politicians believe they know what to do about the high cost of health care. There's just one problem: most of them are not qualified to solve the problem.
During the 1990s, we had the failed Health Security Act. The key elements of this plan were to increase government regulation and decrease the number of doctors--particularly specialists.
Now we have the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The crux of this plan is to increase both government regulation and the number of doctors. However, there's strong evidence that the Obama Administration believes we should shift the emphasis of health care from aggressive, high-tech treatment to lifestyle management and hospice.
I admit that these plans have the potential to reduce costs. But I fear it will be by returning medicine (as experienced by the average consumer) to the 19th century.
Thursday, June 3. 2010
The following is a transcript of Benjamin Netanyahu's statement regarding the attempt to create an unrestricted supply line to the Hamas terrorists:
Once again, Israel faces hypocrisy and a biased rush to judgment. I'm afraid this isn't the first time.
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