Category: Technology

A More Fair Approach to Fair Use

2000px-US-CopyrightOffice-Seal.svgIntellectual property law in the U.S. has not aged so gracefully with the development of internet content publishing. Obviously, this development could not have been foreseen until the very recent past, so it comes as no surprise. As usual though, the law is slow to adapt to the fast-paced changes that society at large is facing today.

Fair use is an aspect of IP law that has particularly caused issues in our modern ‘cut-and-paste culture. The confusion is detrimental to most of the important parts of U.S. copyright law, which is not always clearly defined anyway, and is often misunderstood. Fair use compliance is by nature something that can’t be quantitatively measured, which has turned out to be both an asset and a liability for those seeking protection under its wing. I believe the lawmakers behind IP laws recognized that a simplistic rubric for defining fair use could not ably address the nuances and complexities inherent in the issue, and that it must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. This gives those appealing for fair use designation the opportunity to defend themselves and their work. The downside is that it gives full discretion to the court.

In this internet age, there is so much content being produced and distributed that it’s not at all feasible to deal with intellectual property disputes on a case-by-case basis anymore. Copyright infringement is handled by computers running algorithms which alleviate people from having to do the grunt work, but are incapable of handling the nuanced and flexible nature of fair use laws. Copyright has always been ‘opt out’ by default, but until now the drawbacks of such a system have not been completely evident.

So in response to the problem, Youtube is announcing that they will provide legal services for select videos which fall victim to indiscriminate removal over copyright charges. Youtube has become a platform that is especially plagued by these issues. Hundreds of videos are uploaded to Youtube every minute by everyday internet users, many of whom will make use of copyrighted materials such as music, pictures or movie scenes. I’m sure most of us have clicked on a Youtube link only to receive a ‘content unavailable’ message, at least several times in our lives.

The number of small insignificant cases vastly outnumbers the large critical cases since now anyone (including many who have limited knowledge of copyright law and fair use) can upload content through platforms like Youtube. It’s safe to assume that most of the videos removed are not important enough to warrant legal action by the parties whose IP is potentially being infringed upon. Those same videos, therefore, are probably also the products of people who don’t have the means to take countermeasures. Making a case for fair use can be complicated and costly. The ‘opt out’ nature of copyright as it stands means that the cases not worth looking into will always be ruled in favor of the copyright holder unless an appeal to fair use is made, which discourages the legitimate use of copyrighted material for creative or educational purposes. This is antithetical to the original intent of copyright law, which was to encourage the production of new intellectual property.

This policy of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ is also damaging to sites like Youtube, for whom it is in the best interest to encourage content creation and to make users feel free to upload videos.

In the best case scenario, Youtube would be able to provide legal service for all users, but this is clearly not possible, considering the scale of such an undertaking. An undisclosed Youtube publisher, quoted in the ZDNet article linked above, noted that it’s a step in the right direction, but implementing an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mandate would go much further towards finding a solution, since it is not possible for Youtube to offer protection for all users.

Youtube’s move to defend fair use content illustrates that they are aware of the value it contributes to the platform they operate. Thankfully, they are willing to do what they can to even the score. The real solution will not be to simply bandage the hole. Musicians and artists have begun to call for a more fundamental change in the archaic copyright law being applied to internet age IP disputes. For the time being, we may have to settle with band-aids.


Encryption and Terrorism in the Post-Snowden Era

9609572241_d02bd5cbf2_oIn the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris last weekend, the question hanging in the air is whether or not there is anything that can be done to prevent such tragedies. Foreign policy and attitudes towards refugees have taken center stage, eclipsing what could become a very serious issue: encryption.

Ever since the Snowden revelations, it seems that regulators are desperately grasping for justifications for snooping into data, even as companies have sought to demonstrate their commitment to providing security for consumers. I wrote an article last month which tackled Apple’s policy on encrypting data. The recent attacks look like fertile ground in which to sow the seeds of such a justification. But even the truly awful nature of the terrorism occurring overseas does not convince me to relax my stance on what I see as one of the most important policy issues of our day.

Policy makers have sought to blame the effectiveness of the terrorist attacks on the use of encrypted communication, causing Russia to push for a ban on encrypted services like Telegram. In the U.S., Silicon Valley is beset by politicians from all sides. Pavel Durov of Telegram skillfully set forth his opposition with an incisive and sarcastic quip for the Moscow Times ‘I propose banning words. There’s evidence [to suggest] that they’re being used by terrorists to communicate.’

I would hope that government officials’ arguments in support of creating backdoors are due to ignorance. The worst thing that could come of tragedies like the Paris attacks would be that they be used manipulatively. In the words of Chris Riley of Mozilla to International Business Times, ‘creating policy from a reactive posture is inherently problematic.’ I couldn’t agree more. The same IBT article mentions a letter signed by several leaders in the tech industry, including Mozilla, asking Obama to reject any proposals requiring backdoors to encrypted data. Such a proposal could set dangerous precedents, not only in the U.S., but worldwide. This includes countries with governments that have a history of gross violations of the trust and rights of their citizens. Once a backdoor exists, there is no way of controlling how or when it is used or by whom.

The idea that Durov so insightfully set forth in the above quote is an essential part of the debate that is obscured by the reactionary sensationalism prone to set in after such events as these attacks. If encryption is banned or companies are forced to provide backdoor keys to the government, terrorists and criminals will find other means of executing their goals.

Encryption is a technique, and it is not something that can be fully legislated against. It’s impossible for any government to prevent everyone from using encryption. It can be banned and made illegal, but that does not stop people from using it or putting it in place. After all, bombing cities and killing innocent people is also illegal, but terrorists continue to perform such acts. Only those already willing to cooperate with regulation would comply with providing backdoors to encrypted data. The government would be no closer to hamstringing terrorists.

Even if the government was somehow able to successfully breach all encryption, terrorists would only find other means of communicating, just like they did before encryption was accessible. By making encryption essentially useless – and just as easy for hackers, criminals, and oppressive regimes to break as it is for whoever it is that’s supposed to be protecting us from terrorism – policies that require backdoors wouldn’t hurt anybody as much as they would hurt average citizens.

We can only hope that the tech companies defending data encryption, and those aware of the dangers inherent in allowing for backdoors, can convince politicians to reconsider the matter. We should not let more corruption and injustice come of the evil that we currently mourn.

Hyperloop: Speed Into The Future

hyperloop-new-ftHype About Hyperloop

In 2013, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and Space X, revealed a high-speed ground transport concept called Hyperloop. This announcement came shortly after the California high-speed rail car plans were unveiled. California’s bullet train is reported to cost a minimum of $70 billion to link Sacramento to San Diego. Musk, among others, found California’s

Could there be a Future for Brick and Mortar?

brickandmortarIn recent times, it has seemed like online shopping is slowly pushing in-store shopping out of the picture. There are a lot of reasons why switching to online shopping makes sense. It doesn’t involve leaving the house and driving to a store, and sometimes sales tax is eliminated or the product is sold at a lower price than in-store. But brick and mortar stores might not be going the way of the dodo.

This week, Amazon opened its first retail store ever. In an ironic twist of fate,the online company that is so often credited with killing brick and mortar bookstores
is now looking to expand by opening its own physical location. Books sold in the store are offered at online prices, and they even come with customer reviews printed on cards. Located in Seattle, the new store primarily appears to be an experiment. As of yet, there are no firm plans to build more stores, but if this one goes well, Amazon hopes to open more locations.

It’s not quite clear what Amazon is hoping to achieve with this store, but it is probably safe to assume that they have legitimate reasons for venturing into the physical realm. Business News Daily reported on a study that found consumers still prefer to purchase in person. Many who participated in the study said they will often use the internet to research and browse before purchasing, but they prefer to make their actual purchases in a physical store.

Global Internet Access – The Race Is On

48405289  ‘Global internet access’ has become a paramount goal of     humanitarian effort. Companies like FaceBook, Microsoft and Google are chomping at the bit to provide broad internet access in the most remote corners of the earth. Google’s latest initiative, Project Loon, sends balloons into the stratosphere to boost 4G signal to countries like New Zealand and, most recently, Indonesia. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg finds himself particularly concerned with connecting India to the internet, and ultimately of course to FaceBook. India has a population just north of 1.2 billion with less than 20% having internet access. A market of this size stimulates internet developers to pioneer the cause. However, FaceBook and Google may be late to the party, as far as India is concerned.

An Indian company based in Bangalore may have the necessary technology to provide access to most, if not all 1.2 billion people in the country. Saankhya Labs has developed Meghdoot, a transmitter that utilizes TV white space to provide and boost internet signals. At the core of the transmitter lies a microchip no bigger than a postage stamp. The Pruthvi chip powers the transmitter and allows it to convert the unused TV bandwidth into amplified internet signal.

Crowdfunding – Free Market Solutions for Social Causes

crowdfundingpicIf you’re like me, you’ve probably contributed to a couple of crowdfunding campaigns before. I love the idea of crowdfunding. It feels great to direct your support to projects in which you are interested, and to be able to contribute an amount that works for you. It’s like a more visible and interactive way of fundraising and donating. Crowdfunding started out mainly as a platform used for deliverable content like films and music but recently, it has expanded to include personal and cause-oriented projects such as helping victims of natural disasters or supporting the adoption of a child. Essentially, crowdfunding has become a free market solution for social causes.

GoFundMe seems to be the premier platform for cause-oriented crowdfunding, but IndieGoGo can still claim it’s place as the first personal and non-profit funding platform. IndieGoGo recently decided to make a move for GoFundMe’s crown by building