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September 19, 2005

Gittin' While the Gittin's GoodEmail This EntryPrint This Article

joebarton.jpgThe winds of change are blowing hurricane-force in Washington. Every politician in town knows it. So the natural inclination is to push the envelope as far as possible, knowing that it will be pulled back fairly quickly.

This is as true regarding the Internet as anywhere else. The Bell-cable duopoly hangs by a thread. Wireless ISPs have Moore's Law on their side. The incumbents need something very strong to counter.

This is precisely what they're going for with a bill in the House that would raise entry barriers to the sky and prevent independent ISPs from ever gaining a market toehold. (That's the chairman of the committee proposing the legislation, Joe Barton, up above.)

Naturally they call it "pro-competitive," but in the Orwellian Washington of today those with a Clue should never listen to what they say but look at what they do.

The bill is also filled with goodies for broadcasters and TV networks, such as:

Continue reading "Gittin' While the Gittin's Good"

September 16, 2005

They Don't Need Your IdentityEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Here is a surprising story.

Three times more money is lost to identity theft where the thieves just make up an identity than when they use someone else's.

Gartner Group figures $50 billion is lost from such "victimless fraud" every year, against $15 billion from identity theft.

The problem is U.S. banks don't check identities closely. Crooks can get a pay-as-you-go mobile phone with no credit check, open up a bank account in the name of that "person," pay bills on that account for a while, then use the account to get credit cards.

Banks in Europe share identity information and aren't subject to the same fraud to the same degree. Gartner said.

Continue reading "They Don't Need Your Identity"

August 27, 2005

Save the Internet!Email This EntryPrint This Article

HoS-XXX-5_Front.jpgMilton Mueller and the Internet Governance Project, whom we interviewed in June, has entered the political arena with a petition against U.S. interference in ICANN. (The illustration chosen has little to do with the subject, it's the cover of an Hour of Slack CD called XXX, from Subgenius.com.)

Mueller and the IGP were moved to act by the government's unilateral decision to shut-down .XXX after it was approved by ICANN. In his note to Dave Farber's list Mueller writes, "IGP urges everyone not to let the
advocates of content regulation be the only voices
heard by the Commerce Department."

Read it carefully.

Continue reading "Save the Internet!"

AMD's Big ChanceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

amd fab36_large.jpgThanks to Moore's Second Law (complexity causes costs to scale exponentially) competition in the semiconductor business is held in an ever-thickening mud, which represents the cost of building new capacity.

The number of company-owned fabrication plants, or fabs, must decline over time, as their cost rises above even corporate affordability. The decision to build one must be taken with increasing care, with an eye toward a far-off future. It's the opposite of what happens in the product cycle, at the other end of the factory floor, where things are constantly accelerating.

While Intel has played its hand in Asia, AMD has chosen Europe, specifically the former East Germany. More specifically Dresden, firebombed during World War II, left for dead during the Cold War.

In 2003 AMD broke ground for its second Dresden Fab, AMD 36. The plant goes into volume production next year, at a point where AMD's designs seem to be excelling those of Intel.

Market share, in other words, could make a big swing next year.

At the very same time, AMD is advancing in court, forcing Intel to defend an already-fading monopoly. A few years ago Intel had knocked AMD practically out of the ballpark. With the Dresden Fab 36 that won't be true, but AMD figures Intel must still have a case to answer for, because its hyper-competitive marketing department never changed tactics.

Evidence will likely show that Intel did have a near-monopoly under Craig Barrett, and that it did abuse its position in its dealing with big customers. But a court finding for AMD would still be a mistake.

Continue reading "AMD's Big Chance"

August 16, 2005

The Emperor is Naked! The Empire is a Lie!Email This EntryPrint This Article

casey_sheehan_714.jpg Cindy Sheehan has been able to demonstrate just how naked the Emperor is, and thus demonstrate the lie of Empire.

No one else could, because everyone else was afraid. Howard Dean said "we broke it, we own it." John Kerry supported it and couldn't back away from it.

This is how Democrats felt forced to respond, because they'd been stuck into a political wilderness for a generation by Vietnam. They were afraid to equate Iraq with Vietnam, fearing that political wilderness, and its chains, which bound liberalism and the cause of human rights for a generation.

Well, Cindy Sheehan broke through that fear. She lost her son. It transformed her. (It didn't transform her husband , but everyone's journey is different.)

By putting that transformation in our face, and in the face of George W. Bush, Cindy Sheehan is also making a change in us. Damn the past, damn the present, our kids are dying. Scales fall from the eyes.

There is no way at this point for the Emperor to appear clothed again, and his supporters know it.

That's why they're acting as they are toward Sheehan. It's like the crowd in the story, at first. Of course the Emperor's New Clothes are beautiful. You're just a stupid little boy. You just can't see the big picture.

Stupid. Little. Boy.

Stupid Little Boy, says Cindy Sheehan? Look at him, look at the Little Boy. Look at Casey. You call him Stupid, you call me Stupid?

Maybe we were. We were stupid because we believed in you. And look at what it's gotten us. My son is dead! And this is no fairy tale.

Continue reading "The Emperor is Naked! The Empire is a Lie!"

Bush Cuts Off DNS IntelligenceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

signposts5.gif
The Computer Science and Telecommunication Board has released a fairly Clueful report on the Domain Name System that manages the Internet.

Unfortunately the Bush Administration has, on the very day the report came out, moved to undercut its key recommendation.

Here's the key bit:

Before completing the transfer of its stewardship to ICANN (or any other organization), the Department of Commerce should seek ways to protect that organization from undue commercial or governmental pressures and to provide some form of oversight of performance.

The report, in other words, supports ICANN under the U.S. government because it sees this as keeping ICANN independent of government or commercial interests. Moving toward ICANN's independence is desireable, the report says, in order to minimize the perception that the U.S. government is controlling the Internet.

So far, so good.

Continue reading "Bush Cuts Off DNS Intelligence"

August 15, 2005

A Basic Threat To The WebEmail This EntryPrint This Article

cavebear.gif
The recent contretemps over Google's Digital Library plan proves that the essential conflict between copyright and connectivity has not been resolved.

I was chilled by this comment from Karl Auerbach, (right, the cartoon featured on his home page) former ICANN governor and certified "good guy" of Internet governance, to Dave Farber's list:

I've become concerned with how search engine companies are making a buck off of web-based works without letting the authors share in the wealth.

I've looked at my web logs and noticed the intense degree to which search engine companies dredge through my writings - which are explicitly marked as copyrighted and published subject to a clearly articulated license.

The search engine companies take my works and from those they create derivative works.

Continue reading "A Basic Threat To The Web"

August 09, 2005

HIPAA and Unintended ConsequencesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

hipaa-lock.jpgLike many protective laws, the HIPAA law covering the protection of your medical records comes with a small business exemption.

The exemption works both ways. Small businesses who fund their own plans don't have to comply. Neither do medical providers who don't computerize. As an NFIB alert on the law states, "Health-care providers -- such as doctors, nurses, on-site clinics, etc. -- are exempt from these regulations if they do not transmit electronically, but this exemption applies only to providers, not to group health plans." (Boldface is mine.)

The result of this is that small practices now have a major incentive not to computerize, and not to transmit anything electronically. Thus, they don't.

Continue reading "HIPAA and Unintended Consequences"

August 08, 2005

Intel Fights the PowerEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Intel_Logo.gifIntel holds the telecommunications balance of power in its hand.

Here's how The Register puts it, with its usual hyperbole:

Intel is throwing its financial, technical and lobbying weight behind the rising tide of municipally run broadband wireless networks, seeing these as a way to stimulate uptake of Wi-Fi and WiMAX and so sell more of its chips and increase its influence over the communications world.

And Intel is not going to back down. As ZDNet notes today, there's money to be made.

Continue reading "Intel Fights the Power"

August 07, 2005

The WiMax ImperativeEmail This EntryPrint This Article

kevin martin.jpgCoke and Pepsi do not represent competition. It's a shared monopoly, the Drinks Trust.

The same is true for Wal-Mart and Target, Home Depot and Lowe's, and, to cut to the chase, your phone and cable companies.

By endorsing duopoly calling "competition" what is in fact a Trust, new FCC chair Kevin Martin has shown us clearly where the Bushies stand. Those who believe in competitive markets that can compete in the world need to digest this.

china.map.gifAnd Martin's model for the Internet policy? China.

So, do you want to be an ISP?

There is only one way to do it now. You have to be a WISP. You have to connect WiFi to WiMax, and reach competitive fiber.

Otherwise you're officially dead.

The FCC ruled, over Friday and Saturday, that Bell companies no longer have to wholesale their lines to competitive ISPs. They don't even have to charge competitive prices for backhaul to the Internet. They essentially repealed the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Those phonr lines that were built with government-controlled monopoly powers over decades? They're now the sole property of four corporate entities. And they can do with this monopoly power whatever they want.

Continue reading "The WiMax Imperative"

August 02, 2005

The Moore's Law DialecticEmail This EntryPrint This Article

gordon moore.jpgToday's politics is cultural.

Even economic and foreign policy issues are, in the end, defined in terms of social issues. This creates identification, and coalitions among people who might not otherwise find common ground -- hedonistic Wall Street investment bankers and small town Kansas preachers, for instance.

I am coming to believe the next political divide will be technological. That is, your politics will be defined by your attitude toward technology.

On one side you will find open source technophiles. On the other you will find proprietary technophobes.

It's a process that will take time to work itself out, just as millions of Southern Democrats initially resisted the pull of Nixon. Because there are are divisions within each grand coalition we have today, on this subject.

  • On the right you see many people who work in open source, or who worry about their privacy, asking hard questions of security buffs and corporate insiders.
  • On the left you see many people who consider themselves cyber-libertarians facing off against Hollywood types and those who create proprietary software.

This latter split gets most of the publicity, because more writers are in the cyber-libertarian school than anywhere else.

Initially, the proprietary, security-oriented side of this new political divide has the initiative. It has the government and, if a poll were taken, it probably has a majority on most issues.

But open source advocates have something more powerful on their side, history. You might call it the Moore's Law Dialectic.

Continue reading "The Moore's Law Dialectic"

July 31, 2005

The Identity WarsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Real-ID-Act10feb05.gifAs previously noted, I became an un-person last week as the Social Security decided to waste my time over a "mistake" some one made back in 1970. (Image from Mindfully.Org.)

Either my wonderful mother (who still walks among us, to my great joy) failed to check the box indicating I was a citizen on my Social Security application, or some clerk failed to do so when the data was entered because there were separate forms then for citizens and non-citizens.

The clerk who put me through this hell blamed "Homeland Security." But I think he was really responding to the reality of how this number is used.

As I've noted many times before, the Social Security Number is an index term. Everybody has one. Everyone's number is different. By indexing databases based on Social Security Numbers (SSNs), government and businesses alike can make certain there's a one-to-one correspondence between records and people.

Stories like this AP feature don't really address this need, this fact about how data is stored. Without the SSN we'd have to create one. Some companies like Acxiom do just that. Every business and individual in their database has their own unique identifier, created by the company. Which also means that the Acxiom indexing scheme is proprietary. The only way toward a non-proprietary indexing scheme, in other words, is for government to provide one. Which gets us back to the need for an SSN.

Continue reading "The Identity Wars"

July 27, 2005

Becoming an Un-PersonEmail This EntryPrint This Article

sscard.jpgA lot has been written about identity theft, data leaks and how to fix them. A lot has been written about identity technology, and how all of it is bad.

But the bottom line is simpler. Our identification system is broken.

It's no longer a question of this system or some other system. There is no system.

What that means, in real terms, if your own identity hangs by a thread, a very thin thread that can break anywhere, and leave you an un-person.

Like me.

Continue reading "Becoming an Un-Person"

July 20, 2005

The Web is Already BalkanizedEmail This EntryPrint This Article

balkans.jpgI was giving more thought to a recent item, based on Joi Ito's brilliant piece on The Internets, and it occurred to me that the fight for "One Internet" has, in many ways, already been lost.

(The term Balkanize, or Balkanization, is often used in English to refer to this splitting up, which often (as in the 1990s) is accompanied by enormous violence. This picture of the Balkans as they are today is from Theodora.com.)

Think about it. How often do you use a Web site outside your own country? If you're an American, the answer is not very often. This is true for most people.

A lot more follows.

Continue reading "The Web is Already Balkanized"

July 16, 2005

America's Shame: Spam War Heats Up AgainEmail This EntryPrint This Article

us flag.gifThat's the title of the most "popular" spam in my inbox right now, and maybe in your inbox as well.

It represents a new form of brazenness by U.S. spammers against the Net, because when you input the phone number in the message into Google you find the same message, as comment spam, attached to a host of different topics.

When you publicize a phone number like that, and get away with it, it's pretty obvious that the authorities are simply not interested in pursuing you. The CAN-SPAM act has gone from sick joke to tissue paper, a dead letter, and the entire Internet is now under attack from American spammers.

So am I.

Continue reading "America's Shame: Spam War Heats Up Again"

July 15, 2005

This Week's Clue: The Good GermanEmail This EntryPrint This Article

If I had my druthers, every issue of A-Clue.Com would be chock-full of stories concerning e-commerce, Moore's Law, and mobile technology.

But as a human being, I sometimes feel compelled to state what I feel, and whatever happens as a result, happens.


For the first time in my career I've been afraid this week, afraid to write what I feel.

Continue reading "This Week's Clue: The Good German"

July 13, 2005

My Personal Spam WarEmail This EntryPrint This Article

spam.gifE-mail service here may experience some delays as I undergo a personal trial by spam.

In this case it's a Joe Jobber, most likely a spam gang, that has grabbed both my e-mail address and my server's IP address to illegally sell prescription drugs without prescription.

For the last few days I've been firing off myriad alerts to uce@ftc.gov, the government's address dedicated to fighting fraudulent spam, with no response.

A domain registrar called Yesnic is apparently cooperating with this spam gang. They're the registrar of record on every Joe Job in this bunch. Most of the registrations, on investigation by me, seem to be made-up, but two carry the actual name, and a legal address, fo someone in Columbia, SC. This criminal should be easy to find if someone is interested.

Meanwhile, we learned today that the most popular anti-spam technique, like the so-called CAN SPAM Act that enables spam in the U.S., is in fact becoming a spammer favorite.

Continue reading "My Personal Spam War"

Fast Work on London BlastsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

When four bombs went off in London during the G-8 summit my first thought (like yours) was Al Qaeda.

I didn't blog it. I'm glad of that now.

It turns out, according to British police, that the four suicidie bombers here were British citizens, natives. Three from Leeds, one from Luton. True, their parents were Pakistani immigrants, but the people who carried this out were local. The British police, who have done wonderful work on the case so far, are now trying to find out who put them up to this.

Again, let's not pre-judge. This might be an Al Qaeda "sleeper cell." But they could have been working under a British-based Islamic radical. Their targets may not have been Englishmen, but Muslims, since all four bombs went off in areas where many Muslims live.

I don't know. Neither do you. Let the system work.

But the face of this attack is looking less like Osama Bin Laden....

Continue reading "Fast Work on London Blasts"

July 08, 2005

Orwell's FCC ChairEmail This EntryPrint This Article

kevin martin.jpgAmericans pay more for less broadband service than citizens of any other industrial country, and our take-up rate for fast Internet service is approaching Third World levels.

The reason? Lack of competition. Phone and cable networks, created under government control, have been made the private monopolies of corporate interests whose lobbyists dominate all capitals against the public interest.

Does new FCC chairman Kevin Martin see any of this? No. Just the opposite, in fact.

The Supreme Court affirmed the FCC's decision to refrain from regulating cable companies' provision of broadband services. This was an important victory for broadband providers and consumers. Cable companies will continue to have incentives to invest in broadband networks without fear of having to provide their rivals access at unfair discounts. The decision also paves the way for the FCC to place telephone companies on equal footing with cable providers. We can now move forward and remove the legacy regulation that reduces telephone companies' incentives to provide broadband.

This is Orwell's FCC. Monopoly is called competition. Martin claims there is intense competition from Wireless ISPs and satellite providers, when in fact those companies are being driven out of the market. The vast majority of consumers and businesses today have just two choices for broadband -- their local phone monopoly and local cable monopoly, who together enjoy a duopoly and monopoly profits that lets them write-down their 30-year property in a world best served by three-year write-offs.

There's more spin after the break.

Continue reading "Orwell's FCC Chair"

July 05, 2005

Antitrust: It's the Process, StupidEmail This EntryPrint This Article

broadcom chip.jpgGiven the direction of antitrust law recently I was surprised to see the recent suits by AMD and (more recently) Broadcom. They left me scratching my head.

But there is an answer to my quandary.

Antitrust has become a process. It's not a goal, but a weapon in the business war.

The idea that Qualcomm has a monopoly in the mobile phone industry is laughable. It may abuse what position it has, charging chip makers like Broadcom the equivalent of an "intellectual property tax" in areas which use CDMA (and its variants). But GSM is the major world standard. It would be like calling the Apple Macintosh a monopoly.

The Broadcom antitrust suit comes right after it filed a patent suit against Qualcomm, accusing it of violating Broadcom patents regarding delivery of content to mobile phones.

The first shot didn't open up the Qualcomm ship, maybe the second will. All lawyers on deck!

Continue reading "Antitrust: It's the Process, Stupid"

July 01, 2005

J.D. Lasica's "Darknet"Email This EntryPrint This Article

jd_lasica.jpgDon't like fiction? I understand.

But you still need your summer reading. The season is upon us.

So might I offer you the latest from my new friend J.D. Lasica, Darknet

I've been covering the Copyright Wars for nearly a decade, and wish I had looked up from the day-to-day to try something like this book. Its subtitle is Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation, and it covers a ton of ground.

If you're not familiar with the digital underground, or what digital editing is capable of, then Lasica's book will be a revelation to you. Even for old hands like me it's good sometimes to get it all down so you can ponder it as a whole.

Continue reading "J.D. Lasica's "Darknet""

Has The Internet War Been Declared?Email This EntryPrint This Article

richard forno.jpgThe U.S. government has announced it will continue to control the DNS root structure, indefinitely.

Is this how the Internet War starts?

Until today the U.S. position was that it wanted to transition control of the root over to ICANN, a private entity, and several extensions were given.

Earlier this year, ICANN hesitated in extending Verisign's control of the .Net registry, following the SiteFinder scandal, where Verisign redirected "page not found" errors to a site it controlled (and sold ads against). Control was finally given, through 2011, but Verisign's ethical attitudes have not changed. As we noted earlier this week, it is Verisign that is behind the Crazy Frog Scandal.

Some felt that ICANN caved under U.S. government pressure. What you have here is assurance that such pressure will continue to be effective, and on behalf of a very corrupt company. If that is not seen as a provocation by the ITU I will be very surprised.

So how can that result in Internet War?

The problem, as former ICANN board member Karl Auerbach noted to Dave Farber's list today, "the only reason that the NTIA root zone is 'authoritative' is because a lot of people adhere to it voluntarily." Security expert Richard Forno (top) noted, to the same list, that "the timing is weird, coming as it does only a short time before the forthcoming meeting of the UN-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)."

I would assert that the timing is not weird at all. The U.S. government has told the U.N. that it can shove any thoughts of international control over the DNS where the sun don't shine. It has, in effect, thrown down a gauntlet and dared the international community to challenge it.

More after the break.

Continue reading "Has The Internet War Been Declared?"

June 30, 2005

Congressional SpamEmail This EntryPrint This Article

mmusgrave.jpgI just got my first piece of franked spam.

It came from Rep. Madilyn Musgrave of Colorado. (That's her, from a Congressional Web site.)

I don't know how, but my Mindspring address somehow landed on her Congressional e-mail list. The spam is filled with news of her efforts on behalf of Colorado's Fourth Congressional District, about 2,000 miles from my home in Atlanta.

You know what I can do about this spam? Absolutely nothing. That's because the federal CAN-SPAM Act (wonderful name, since it means you can spam all you want) states that I must opt-out of this spam, by hitting a link inside the letter.

The law she passed says her spam is not spam.

Continue reading "Congressional Spam"

Pressure on the Good GuysEmail This EntryPrint This Article

feingold.jpgPolitically I think Senator Russ Feingold is one of the Good Guys. So, to be perfectly bipartisan about it, is Senator John McCain. (You know what McCain looks like, so here's Feingold.)

This is especally true regarding campaign finance. Proponents of reform have been pushing uphill with scant success ever since the 1976 decision in Buckley v. Vallejo, which basically said money is speech, and those with more money can out-shout the rest of us.

McCain and Feingold tried to fit that decision inside their eponymous campaign finance act, and while on most counts the Supreme Court ruled they did, that act also covered the Internet, and both men have insisted to this day that's true.

Now that the blogosphere has pushed-back on this, pushed back hard, from both sides of the aisle, the good guys have not been heard from.

Continue reading "Pressure on the Good Guys"

June 29, 2005

The Crazy Frog ScandalEmail This EntryPrint This Article

crazy-frog.jpgCellular operators love to go on about how much better their walled data gardens are than that nasty Internet, because consumers are safer.

Really?

Jamster and mBlox created the Crazy Frog phenomenon with a very addictive, and heavily advertised ringtone that topped the British pop charts for five weeks.

But there was a sting in the tail. People (mostly kids, but at least one BBC reporter as well) found they didn't just buy a 3 pound ringtone, but a "premium SMS" service that charged them as much as 3 pounds more for each add Jamster then sent them.

The two companies are being investigated but according to the BBC the maximum penalty could be a mere 100,000 pounds to mBlox, plus loss of its British business license. It's estimated the scam has earned over 10 million pounds so far.

But do you want to know the rest of the story, the bit the Brits don't know (yet)?

Continue reading "The Crazy Frog Scandal"

June 28, 2005

The OTHER Supreme Court DecisionEmail This EntryPrint This Article

brandxrocket.jpgThe Supreme Court has decided that cable networks, created under government franchises, under monopoly conditions, are entirely the property of their corporate owners who don't have to wholesale. (That's the BrandX rocket ship -- they lost the case. What follows is directed to them as much as anyone else.)

Some ISPs bemoaned this bitterly. In the near term it means most of us have two choices for broadband service, the local Bell and the local Cable Head-End, both known for poor service, high prices, and loaded with equipment it will take decades to write off.

Smart folks, however, should be celebrating.

Continue reading "The OTHER Supreme Court Decision"

June 27, 2005

A Digital Brown? Or A Digital Plessy?Email This EntryPrint This Article

DavidSouter.jpg

It's unanimous.

By a 9-0 count the Supreme Court has held that Grokster (and its ilk) can be sued.

The decision was written by David Souter (right, in an old picture from Wikipedia), a conservative-turned-liberal appointed by the first President Bush.

Here's the key bit:

"We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by the clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties."

I've highlighted the most relevant portion. To me it looks like they wouldn't hold against BitTorrent, but that Grokster's business model, which did sell the service as a way to infringe, crossed a legal line.

As written I find it hard to argue against the language, but I guarantee I'll disagree with the interpretation, especially the spin being placed on this by the copyright industries.

As I see it the decision puts a limit on the "non-infringing uses" language of the Betamax decision, but does not overturn it. Grokster falls because its business model is based on infringement. BitTorrent has no business model, and thus may be exempt.

Trouble is that is an assertion that will be tested in courts that will twist this result just as the DMCA was twisted to reach this decision. Congress was told by the Copyright industries in 1998 that the DMCA would not overturn Betamax, that it would protect fair use, that it would not be extended in that direction and should not be interpreted as going there.

With this decision -- a unanimous decision as opposed to the 6-3 Betamax ruling -- I guarantee you the industry's lawyers will try and turn this into open season on the Internet.

But can they?

Continue reading "A Digital Brown? Or A Digital Plessy?"

Hilary Rosen Gets It (Too Late)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Hilary rosen.jpgFormer RIAA president Hilary Rosen finally gets it about copyright.

This volume needs to be embraced and managed becasue it cannot be vanquished. And a tone must be set that allows future innovation to stimulate negotiation and not just confrontation.

Her column at the Huffington Post (she apparently chose not to take feedback on it) is filled with honesty about both the tech and copyright industries, honesty she never admitted to (in my memory) while shilling for the RIAA.

But is it possible that this honesty is what finally caused her to leave? (Or did her life, and its imperatives for action, take precedence?)

That would be a shame, because the fact is, as she writes, that the answers here must lie in the market, not the law courts. For every step the copyright industries take in court, technologists take two steps away from them. This will continue until the copyright industries really engage consumers with offerings that are worth what they charge, and which aren't burdened with DRMs that restrict fair use.

Continue reading "Hilary Rosen Gets It (Too Late)"

June 10, 2005

A Note to PewEmail This EntryPrint This Article

carol darr.jpgThis is a note to the nice people at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Some of your money has gone astray. Specifically, it has gone to George Washington University for something called the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet, formerly the Democracy Online Project.

GWU put a woman named Carol Darr (right, from the Center for National Policy) in charge of this group, and she has proven to be, well, not to put too fine a point on it, an idiot. Clueless, in the parlance of this blog. To be blunt about it, she is using money given for promoting democracy on the Internet in order to destroy it.

Continue reading "A Note to Pew"

June 07, 2005

Should the Internet be Governed?Email This EntryPrint This Article

mm-headaction.gifFor my ZDNet blog this morning I interviewed Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project asking how the Internet should be governed.

The real problem is that most users, especially most Americans, don't believe it should be governed at all.

But it is governed.

The Internet is governed by the U.S. government, through ICANN, so anything the U.S. wants goes, and everyone else can go scratch. If the U.S. wants to violate the privacy of foreigners it does so. If it wants servers shut down -- even in other countries -- they're shut down. And all the "taxes" earned from site registration goes to those favored by the U.S. security apparatus.

In the 1990s there was a bit of whispering about this. But now those whispers have become a roar, because this government's obsessions with its own security (at the expense of everyone else's) and "intellectual property" (a phrase that does not appear in its Constitution) are becoming too much to bear.

That's why the ITU and the UN are sniffing around the issues involved in taking control of the root DNS away from ICANN. The coup would occur by these groups simply rolling their own, turning them on, and having member states point to them, instead of those offered by ICANN.

At first you wouldn't notice. But very shortly, as ITU and U.S. policies began to diverge there would be two Internets. Americans wouldn't be able to reach ITU pointers not recognized by ICANN roots, and vice versa for everyone else.

In a way it's already happening.

Continue reading "Should the Internet be Governed?"

June 03, 2005

ConsolidationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Marketconsol.pngThe word for today is consolidation. (The illustration is from a report on market consolidation in the business intelligence software business, from The OLAP Report.)

It is a very bad word, scary in fact.

Let's use it in a sentence, shall we?

Many analysts have expected consolidation as companies opt to buy security products from fewer vendors to lower costs and the complexity of integrating the products they buy.

Why is consolidation such a bad word?

Because it means that innovation is over, that the business is now about squeezing out profits. Unemployment inevitably follows. So too does bad service.

When businesses consolidate consumers have fewer choices. It's harder for them to go somewhere else when they're pissed off. This creates an enormous financial incentive for companies to do just that. And they do.

What's the cure for consolidation? There's really only one.

Continue reading "Consolidation"

June 01, 2005

Uncounted Costs of SpamEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Templeton.jpgWhen we count the costs of spam we usually think in terms of bandwidth, the hours spent clearing it out of our systems, and (sometimes) the cost of our anti-spam solution sets.

But there are other, uncounted costs to spam which dwarf those.

One is the loss in productivity we get from being unable to get in touch with people when we need to. On my ZDNet blog for instance I did a piece today on EFF chairman Brad Templeton (right), based on something he'd written on Dave Farber's list.

I e-mailed him as a courtesy. I had no questions. I just wanted to thank him for his wisdom and let him know I would use it.

What I wound up facing was Brad's spam filter, a double opt-in system dubbed Viking. Apparently I didn't respond quickly enough to Viking's commands, because its response to my opting-in again was to send me a second message demanding an opt-in. (All this was done with the laudable goal of proving I'm a man and not a machine.)

The bottom line. We never connected. I had a deadline, and used Brad's words. Perhaps there was no harm done.

But frequently there is harm done in these situations. I've had occasion to accidentally delete someone's note in my Mailwasher system, and then call the person in question asking for a re-send.

What if they're not in on that call? What if they sent something I needed? What if I were disagreeing with Brad in my Open Source post, or he decided after publication I was twisting his words?

The point is this sort of thing happens every day. People can't be reached in the way e-mail promised they would be, due to spam. This raises the cost of doing business for everyone, and the mistakes that result can be catastrophic -- to people, to companies, to relationships.

Now, in honor of the man formerly known as Deep Throat, I'm going to offer yet-another anti-spam solution.

Continue reading "Uncounted Costs of Spam"

May 26, 2005

The Way of Hollywood is MadnessEmail This EntryPrint This Article

When will we get effective political pushback against Hollywood's absolutism on copyright?

I once thought it would happen when people were jailed for linking.

I was wrong.

The filing of criminal charges against the people who ran Elite Torrents, a BitTorrent "tracking site," and the complete take-down of the site, has caused few ripples. Washington remains as absolutist as ever.

Instead, it's technology that retains our confidence. BitTorrent is now becoming trackerless. No trackers, no tracking sites to take down, no track linkers to toss in jail.

But that's not good enough for me. This is like depending on super weapons to defend us in an atomic age. Without peace, soon, between copyright owners and copyright users, the Internet will be effectively destroyed.

It doesn't take much imagination to see Al Qaeda propaganda, or even terrorist plans, being distributed via a Torrent. Especially a trackerless torrent.

From there it is a very quick move to seeing politicians equate file sharing with terrorism, Torrent users with Al Qaeda, and demands for a complete shut-down on any technology that can benefit the enemy.

Continue reading "The Way of Hollywood is Madness"

May 25, 2005

Doctors in the Land of LudEmail This EntryPrint This Article

caduceusstlouis.jpgAre you an American in e-mail contact with your doctor?

No?

I didn't think so. (This fine bronze of a cadeusus, the medical profession's symbol, is by James Nathan Muir, who wants patrons for putting copies on all the world's continents.)

There are two reasons why you're probably not in e-mail touch with any of your physicians:

  • Many doctors are afraid to put anything down, in writing, which might come back to bite them. This is often recommended to them by their peers and professions.
  • Many doctors use a loophole in the HIPAA statute which makes them exempt from its requirements so long as they don't computerize.

As a result most doctors remain in the Land of Lud. And the cost to their patients is immense. I just spitballed a few:

Continue reading "Doctors in the Land of Lud"

May 18, 2005

Waiting for GroksterEmail This EntryPrint This Article

grokster.gifSome time in the next month the copyright world may (or may not) reel from the Supreme Court's decision in the Grokster case.

The facts on their face are as favorable as the plaintiffs can make them. Grokster is all about making money for itself off the property of others. Its business model is to sell ads, including adware (sometimes a polite word for spyware and malware). It hoses both sides of every transaction. And the software really does little more than a good FTP server (with an automated database) would.

The vast majority of Grokster's use is driven by hoarding. People fear losing access to the music they love (or might love). So they load up, until they have gigs-and-gigs of it they have to haul around. (Thanks to Moore's Law of storage this gets lighter and less expensive over time, but it still has to be kept.)

The hoarding in turn is driven by the industry's threats. Threats of rising prices. Threats of lawsuits. Threats of copy-protected CDs.

The market solution to the facts is already in the pipeline. Many have proposed the idea of taxing people for unlimited access to the industry's wares and in fact schemes like Yahoo's Music Unlimited work just that way. Pay the "tax" (which starts at $5/month but could go up subject to negotiations with the industry) and download all you want. No need to hoard. Stop paying and all your files magically disappear. (The genie is found in Microsoft's DRM.)

More on the jump.

Continue reading "Waiting for Grokster"

May 17, 2005

Patently Obvious Patent and Copyright ReformEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Now that high-tech corporations are being held up (by smaller companies) there's a move afoot to reform the patent system.

Here is a simpler proposal, one in keeping with the intent of the Founders.

Continue reading "Patently Obvious Patent and Copyright Reform"

May 16, 2005

That's One Small Step for Wine...Email This EntryPrint This Article

...no giant leap for wino-kind.

The Supreme Court decision legalizing cross-state wine shipments is limited.

First it applies only to states where delivery of wines to homes is legal in the first place. Georgia is not one of those states. (Although that law is not always enforced -- once I got some Michelob in a press packet.)

"If a state chooses to allow direct shipments of wine, it must do so on even-handed terms," Justice Anthony Kennedy said. If it doesn't you still got tough luck.

Second the case applies only to direct from-the-vineyard sales of U.S. wine. Imported wines aren't included. Importers can't ship to consumers, only vintners can.

But let's make this sporting, shall we?

Continue reading "That's One Small Step for Wine..."

May 14, 2005

A Publisher's EthicsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

fuat kircaali.jpgBy and large publishers do not share journalism's ethical sense.

Instead they apply business ethics.

While a journalist's ethics, like that of any other claimed profession, may hold them well short of what's illegal, businessmen must go right up to the legal line, even risk crossing it, to stay ahead of the competition. Businessmen who don't think that way are easily crushed by those who do.

In journalism, business ethics often push journalists over lines they should not cross. Robert Novak practices business ethics. The National Enquirer practices business ethics. Those who choose to believe Novak or the Enquirer accept it.

And Fuat Kircaali (right), CEO of Sys-Con Media, has apparently chosen to apply business ethics in the Maureen O'Gara scandal. (He has hinted at this before.)

This weekend this blog was told that Kircaali accepted the resignations of three senior LinuxWorld editors -- James Turner, Dee-Ann LeBlanc, and Steve Suehring, rather than personally release and renounce O'Gara.

UPDATE: "We were unpaid editors but we devoted a lot of time and energy to it," according to Suehring's blog. This makes sense given Kircaali's business model, as we will discuss later on.

Apparently, Kircaali even approved O'Gara's assault on Pamela Jones of Groklaw in advance. Here's what he told Free Software Magazine.

"The language of the story is in the typical style of Ms. O’Gara, generally entertaining and easy to read, and sometimes it could be regarded as offensive, depending on how you look at it. I decided to publish the article. It was published because it was an accurate news story."

More after the break.

Continue reading "A Publisher's Ethics"

May 13, 2005

The Times vs. Sullivan BoundaryEmail This EntryPrint This Article

lb sullivan.jpg Times vs. Sullivan , as anyone who has taken law or journalism knows, holds that public figures have a much higher burden in libel actions than other people. (That's L.B. Sullivan, then police chief of Montgomery, Alabama to the right. From the University of Missouri in Kansas City.)

To win at trial, public figures must show that a story about them showed "a reckless disregard for the truth" or that a lie was deliberate. This makes it very hard for public figures to win libel awards, although to this day some do.

The question comes up because I was chatting via e-mail with Steve Ross, a journalism professor at Columbia, who said Markos Moulitsas had over-reacted to a question on his annual journalism survey. The survey asked how people felt about campaigns "buying" journalists, citing a deal between the Dean campaign and "bloggers" in 2003.

Readers here know I covered that story, that the bloggers weren't bought but hired as consultants, that they didn't act bought, and that their righteous recommendations were then ignored, so Moulitsas to this day fills a role now DNC chair Howard Dean should by rights be filling. But what brought me up short was Steve's statement that Moulitsas, alias Daily Kos, should know better, since he is "a public figure."

A public figure, eh? A blogger a public figure?

atrios.jpg Well that's interesting. I assume, then, that Glenn Reynolds is a public figure, and any suit he might file for libel is going to have a very difficult time. (Lucky me.) We can't very well have anonymous public figures and thus the "outing" of Atrios as Duncan Black, a Philadelphia economics teacher (left), last year becomes just a public service.

And if that's true, then, is Pamela Jones, a public figure? Would that mitigate any possibility of a successful legal action against Maureen O'Gara? (I don't know if anything has been filed or might be -- I'm just spitballing here.)

Wait, there's more.

Continue reading "The Times vs. Sullivan Boundary"

May 04, 2005

East of the Blog, West of the MediaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

blog-mad.jpgI will be in Nashville this weekend, attending the meeting of the Media Bloggers Association. (The image is from a cool Brazilian blog I found, apparently written by a 16-year old.)

Before I could pack, leader Robert Cox sent me a list of new applicants for membership. Given the fact I felt my own journalistic credentials were under a microscope for months, waiting for his yea-or-nay (turned out I was lost in the shuffle) and given my own recent mistakes here, I was loathe to pass on the qualifications of others.

Generally, my opinion in the past was that the market decided who should be a journalist, and who was "just" a blogger. But that may not be right. After all, bloggers can go on-and-on until they exhaust themselves, and much journalism is subsidized by politicians, so that the requirement to lie becomes a lifestyle, and the liars become institutions whose credentials no one can question. Robert Novak is a journalist only because he's paid to play one on TV.

But then came news from Reporters Without Borders that 53 journalists died last year trying to report the news. That's paid journalists, real journalists, reporters, editors and publishers.

Continue reading "East of the Blog, West of the Media"

May 02, 2005

WiFi Ground WarEmail This EntryPrint This Article

remax balloon.jpgThe political battle over WiFi shapes up as a classic match between private interests and the commons.

But it is in fact a battle over real estate. (Thus, the balloon, which is the logo of a very innovative real estate brokerage.)

Verizon pulled a bait-and-switch on New York phone booths. It installed 802.11 equipment based on the promise of free WiFi service on adjoining streets, then pulled them all back into its paid network.

Politically this makes no sense. In real estate terms it makes perfect sense.

The challenge to this looks technological, but it's really political. You can see this challenge by simply turning on your WiFi equipped laptop.

Continue reading "WiFi Ground War"

April 27, 2005

The Spam Fight ContinuesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

andrew ferguson.jpgA few weeks ago we were bombarded with news items claiming spam isn't all that bad, that we don't care about it anymore.

Not everyone has given up the fight. In fact some have escalated it. One such is Andrew Ferguson, a technically-gifted blogger out of Colorado. (That's him, above, from his blog.)

Ferguson is using SkypeOut. He calls the spammer's contact number using SkypeOut and leverages Skype's inherent cost advantage to keep that phone busy, so victims can't get through. No victims, no money to the spammer.

Ferguson can go even further, automating his SkypeOut calling so each call takes just three seconds, barely long enough for the spammer's phone to ring. That line is continually tied-down and Ferguson's SkypeOut charges remain minimal.

Continue reading "The Spam Fight Continues"

April 25, 2005

The Open Source Political ChallengeEmail This EntryPrint This Article

lobbyist.jpgIn politics a committed minority usually wins. (The lobbyist image originally appeared in New York's Gotham Gazzette, but I found it at Italy's e-laser.)

That's because, on most issues, there is no majority view. Most people don't care.

Learning an issue, and becoming committed to it, teaches you the source code of politics.

If your organization is tightly-knit, if your issues are driven by corporate interests, then your politics is closed source. On issues that mainly interest businesses this is determinative. Lobbyists and financial contributions fight and often come to settlements that aren't half bad. Traditionally most issues before regulators, from the EPA and FTC to the FDA and FCC, have been closed-source arguments.

If your organization is loosely knit, and if your issues are driven by personal feeling, then your politics is open source. Open source politics defines social issues, and the numbers involved in turn drive American politics as a whole. Politicians can win with only committed minorities on their side, if those minorities stand united.

What happens when closed source and open source politics collide? It depends on how much real interest those on the open source end can manage.

This collision is now apparent in telecommunications.

Continue reading "The Open Source Political Challenge"

April 19, 2005

Open Source TransparencyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The key benefit of open source is transparency. (That's a transparent Mozambique garnet, from CLDJewelry in Tucson, Arizona. Transparency doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.)

The key benefit is not that the software is free. It's not that you can edit it. It has nothing to do with the obligations of the General Public License. It's inherent in every open source license out there.

The key advantage of open source is you can see the code. You can see how it works. You can take it apart. You can fix it. You can improve it. Most people do none of these things, but all benefit from this transparency.

The benefit became clear when I got responses to a ZDNet post called Is Linux Becoming Windows? The news hook was a Peter Galli story about how some folks were getting upset over the feature bloat now taking place in the Linux 2.6 kernel.

Those who responded said simply that the complainents, and I, had lost our minds. Kernel features aren't mandatory. Just because something is supported doesn't mean you have to do it. You can pick and choose among features, because you can see the whole code base -- it's transparent. You can look at the various builds out there and, if there's something you don't like, something you can do better, you can fork it, and maintain your own enhanced code base.

When Microsoft changes its software it makes things incompatible. When Linux software changes this doesn't happen, because the change is transparent. New builds are transparent, and if you come to a fork in your operating system road you can take it.

Transparency is the key term. And it doesn't just apply to software:

Continue reading "Open Source Transparency"

April 18, 2005

Blogger of the YearEmail This EntryPrint This Article

groklaw.gif
Having done this work for a few years now, I do sometimes ask myself what the best bloggers have that I might lack.

The answer comes down to one thing. The best stay on one thing. They know their beats, know their limits, they do the research, and they don't flit around outside those subjects (the way I often do).

The most important blogger of our time is probably Pamela Jones of Groklaw. Groklaw is more a community than a blog (but so is DailyKos). Despite the extensive help her audience gives her, Jones still gives her beat rigid attention, tons of supporting materials, and she gives her enemies plenty of rope for hanging themselves so that, when she does speak her mind, she has both authority and supporters.

Continue reading "Blogger of the Year"

The Real P2P ThreatEmail This EntryPrint This Article

A Cachelogic study claims two-thirds of Internet traffic is now P2P, by implication the trading of copyrighted files. (That's a Cachelogic product there to the left.)

But is this just another Marty Rimm study?

Rimm, you may or may not remember, wrote a paper at Georgetown Law in 1995 claiming 85% of Web traffic was dirty pictures. This was later disproved, but the damage was done and Congress passed the ill-fated Communications Decency Act.

Mike Godwin, the former EFF counsel who fought the Rimm study and is now senior counsel at Public Knowledge, remains skeptical, noting that the Cachelogic study hasn't gone through peer review. He also notes that, since Cachelogic sells systems to control P2P traffic, it has a natural bias.

The Cachelogic claims may have logic behind them, however. Many ISPs do report that over half their traffic is on ports commonly used by P2P applications. Brett Glass of Lariat.Net, near the University of Wyoming, says the claim seems accurate, noting that unless ISPs cut-back capacity to those ports (a process called P2P Mitigation), the applications quickly discover the fat pipe and divert everyone's traffic to it, filling it at the cost of thousands per month.

And that is at the heart of the problem.

Continue reading "The Real P2P Threat"

April 14, 2005

Criminals Discover BloggingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Criminals have discovered blogging.

The BBC reports this quite breathlessly, but there's no need to be either surprised or unduly alarmed.

There are two types of scams going on, according to Websense, which was the BBC's source for the story:


  1. Blog addresses loaded with malware, advertised via e-mail or IM spam.
  2. Blog addresses loaded with malware waiting to be tripped by zombie machines.

In both these cases you can substitute the words "Web site" for "blog" and pre-date the release to 1997. Free Web page companies found this problem fairly early-on in their evolution, and now those offering space to bloggers need to be aware as well.

Continue reading "Criminals Discover Blogging"

With Friends Like TheseEmail This EntryPrint This Article

linux penguin key chain.jpgSun's plan to release Solaris under its CDDL open source license got a boost yesterday with an endorsement by...The SCO Group? (This cute Linux penguin keychain from Promotion Potion doubles as a stress ball.)

"We have seen what Sun plans to do with OpenSolaris and we have no problem with it," is the way eWeek's Steven Vaughan-Nichols quoted SCO's Darl McBride in a conference call yesterday.

The question is, with friends like these, does Sun need enemies?

Continue reading "With Friends Like These"

April 11, 2005

Today's Big Lie: Spam Is OKEmail This EntryPrint This Article

spam.gif Today's big lie is a misinterpretation of the latest Pew Internet Survey. We think spam is no big deal.

(The great-tasting pork-shoulder-and-ham concoction from Hormel pictured to the left is still a very big deal in Alaska and Hawaii. They love the stuff.)

"Email users are starting to get comfy with the spamvertisers" claims Silicon.com. Internet Users Unruffled by Spam, says TopTechNews. Internet users more accepting of spam, says Forbes.

Well, nonsense. (I would use stronger language, but I want everyone to get the point.)

Here are some facts from the same study. Barely half of us now trust e-mail, down 11% from a year ago. Over one-fifth of us have cut down our e-mail use because of spam, just in the last year.

As for the rest...users have learned to deal. We have spam filters. I use Mailwasher. We don't get as much as before because more of it is being stopped at the server level.

That doesn't mean we like it. And it's deliberately misleading to say it is. It's like the battered wife syndrome. Why doesn't she leave the jerk? Why don't you just go offline?

It's the same question with the same answer. You find ways.

But if someone would finally arrest the batterer and throw his butt in the slammer for a good long time she'd learn to be grateful.

Which reminds me...

Continue reading "Today's Big Lie: Spam Is OK"

April 10, 2005

DNS Poisoning Threatens IntranetsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Hacker 2.gifIf your company runs all its Internet traffic through an internal server, and that server runs Microsoft Windows, then you're vulnerable to a new type of hack known as DNS Cache Poisoning. (The illustration here comes from a Brazilian blog, marketinghacker.br.)

The alert went out about a month ago. The idea has been around for a decade, but it's now being adopted by sophisticated criminal gangs.

Here's how it works.

Criminals break into a Windows server caching DNS requests for an Intranet, then insert instructions redirecting users to poisoned pages. The 12-digit IP address chosen by the criminal is thus linked to a chosen Internet address, and requests for Google.Com (for instance) could go to a site that downloads spyware or key-logging software in the background.

What can be done about it?

Continue reading "DNS Poisoning Threatens Intranets"

Online Gaming For Some Means Online Gaming For AllEmail This EntryPrint This Article

lottery bank.jpgOnce any state legalizes any form of gambling online, competition can come from anywhere, even overseas. (The image is from Goodsgallery, Bensalem, Pennsylvania.)

That's the gist of last week's WTO ruling which both the U.S. and Antigua are spinning as victories for their side.

My guess is this will stop in its tracks efforts in Illinois and Georgia toward allowing online sales of lottery tickets, since it would open all Americans up to competitors around the world.

Continue reading "Online Gaming For Some Means Online Gaming For All"

April 07, 2005

JamsterGateEmail This EntryPrint This Article

jamster.gifI've seen the TV ads and maybe you have, too. "Get a free ringtone. Simply text (whatever) and get (name of hit song) as a ringtone!"

Well, it's a scam. It's not free. In fact, writes Stephen Lawson for The Industry Standard, it's a lot more costly than a regular ringtone. This is because you get multiple texts in reply, with directions for the download, and these texts cost money -- $1.99 plus call charges each. It's an easy case to make, it's simple consumer fraud, it's aimed at teenagers. A state attorney general who wants to make a name for himself (or herself) can have a field day with this.

Want to know the best part?

Continue reading "JamsterGate"

April 04, 2005

Will SCO Case Make The Finish Line?Email This EntryPrint This Article

It's beginning to look like the SCO-IBM case won't make it to the finish line, an end to discovery and summary judgement.

SCO's sponsors are blowing up. Literally.

Maureen O'Gara (left), whose name is like fingers rubbing a balloon to most in the open source community, and is regularly accused by them of being an SCO shill, reported last month that both Ray Noorda's daughter and another executive with Canopy Group, SCO's largest owner, committed suicide.

More telling, perhaps, was her reference to SCO itself, a company she has regularly defended on teleconferences. She called it "the infamous SCO Group."

When your shark-jumper jumps ship, who's left?

The real news from last month is that Canopy's position in SCO has transferred to former Canopy CEO Ralph Yarro, who chairs the SCO board. When the former VC leaves his firm and becomes your CEO, you've got no net below you and (most likely) no new money coming in the door.

SCO could use new money, because when it finally delivered its financial results for fiscal 2004 (on April Fool's Day no less) it had a net loss of $23.3 million on revenue of $42.8 million, against profits of $5.4 million and $79.2 million in revenue. Why? Because sales of licenses to Linux users totaled just $809,000, down from $25.8 million in 2003.

How can this be bad news for open source?

Simple. If SCO fails to make it to the end of discovery, the judge in the case can't set a precedent that will keep others from trying the same con.

April 01, 2005

The Issue of Our TimeEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The following appeared today in my free weekly e-mail newsletter, A-Clue.Com, now into its 9th year of publication.

You can get it free any time.


Science is the political issue of our time.

It will surprise many to hear it's controversial. But to those with an historical perspective it's no surprise at all.

Continue reading "The Issue of Our Time"

We Love Vint CerfEmail This EntryPrint This Article

vint cerf.jpg Over the years I've been critical of Vint Cerf, one of the original gearheads credited with TCP/IP.

(One look at the hairline, of course, and one must admit he's a Truly Handsome Man. The picture is from Computerhistory.org, a page describing his early work.)

When Cert looks into the future today, he gets it. He understands where we should be going, and perhaps more importantly where we should not be going, in regards to the Internet.

He shared some of that wisdom Wednesday at a dinner called Freedom to Connect.

Following are some of the high points:

Continue reading "We Love Vint Cerf"

March 31, 2005

The Right Telecomm PolicyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

simplicity.jpg

Now that you’ve read my latest dismissive screed against the government, the question may have occurred to you.

What might a proper telecommunications policy consist of? (Very pretty flower, I know. Here's where I got it. The picture is called Simplicity.)

It’s really quite simple.

Click below and I'll tell you.

Continue reading "The Right Telecomm Policy"

March 28, 2005

Editorial LicensingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Photo-los-angeles-times-building-post-bombing.jpg

At the heart of the First Amendment is the idea that you don't need a license to do journalism. (Take a close look at the Wikipedia picture -- there will be a test later.)

Now, in the name of fighting competition from a new technology, some journalists are calling for just such a license.

The bleating is seen best in today's column by David Shaw of the LA Times. Shaw feels that privileges his industry worked hard to create will be threatened if bloggers can avail themselves of the same protections.

I hope I'm getting the best of his argument in the following quote:

Continue reading "Editorial Licensing"

The Grokster Case Is IrrelevantEmail This EntryPrint This Article

As the Supremes prepare to take on the Grokster case, with commenters predicting terrible doom whichever way the wind blows, let me offer a dissenting view.

The Grokster case is irrelevant. The studios have already lost.

The court cannot make file transfers illegal. There are too many ways to transfer them. They can be transferred in e-mail attachments. They can be transferred through Instant Messaging. They can be transferred via MMS.

File transfers are basic to networking. Without the ability to transfer files we're down to typing.

Here's a compromise that rings true to me.

Continue reading "The Grokster Case Is Irrelevant"

March 25, 2005

Content's Forgotten Middle ClassEmail This EntryPrint This Article

discreet charm of the bourgeoisie.jpgIn all the arguments over copyright and patents the interests of the middle class creator are constantly invoked, then discarded.

The fact is that, while most western countries are middle class, the structure of their creative classes is pre-Marxist. That is there are a few writers, artists, musicians and actors who get rich from it, and a lot who get virtually nothing.

Unless you have business acumen, or constant success in your field, you're very likely to end up poor. And without a big hit, you're nearly certain to end up relatively poor from your work in the content industries.

At the same time, those who manage the industry, whether or not they have any talent, nearly all wind up rich.

Thus there's a difference between what we find in society as a whole and the content society.

Continue reading "Content's Forgotten Middle Class"

$465 Million For A Trade Secret?Email This EntryPrint This Article

A Santa Clark court has ordered Toshiba to pay Lexar $465 million essentially for violating a non disclosure agreement (NDA).

Some accuse me of not caring about copyright or patent rights. This is neither. It's a trade secrets case. But this is a righteous bust.

The individual responsible for all this, according to the court, was Toshiba employee Hideo Ito. Ito joined the board of Lexar, then a raw start-up, in 1997, and leaked its trade secrets for flash memory not only to his employers but also to SanDisk, the leader in the flash memory field.

Why is this a righteous bust? Because small outfits like Lexar have to align with big outfits like Toshiba in order to take on large rivals like SanDisk. It's the only way they can reach the market. If that confidence is not secured then small companies never have a chance.


Continue reading "$465 Million For A Trade Secret?"

March 23, 2005

Microsoft Patents IPv6Email This EntryPrint This Article

Eben_Moglen.jpegThey shouldn't have been allowed to do this, but according to Eben Moglen (right, from Wikipedia) they did.

Microsoft got a patent in 1998 on technology that is eerily similar to IPv6.

Moglen, who now runs the Software Freedom Law Center in New York, says IPv6 represents prior art not disclosed in Microsoft's patent application, meaning the patent should be invalidated.

He also says members of the Internet Engineering Task Force are ready to testify, creating a "smoking gun" against Microsoft, he told eWeek:

Continue reading "Microsoft Patents IPv6"

March 22, 2005

End The Gore TaxEmail This EntryPrint This Article

declan_mccullagh_d2.jpgThat’s what Republicans called it, when they were campaigning for power a few years ago.

The “Gore Tax” was their name for the E-Rate program. Its aim was to help poor schools cross the digital divide by subsidizing their access costs.

It has been a bipartisan disaster. In practice it’s nothing more than a subsidy for the Bells, who had the law written in such a way so that they got the money automatically unless they refused it for some reason.

This means, in practice, that the subsidized rate schools pay may in fact be higher than the alternative market rate. Bells are charging hundreds of dollars per month for T-1 customers who could easily be supplied by WISP DSL service at a fraction of the cost.

It gets worse. The E-Rate was also used for hardware, so schools stuck themselves with obsolete PC technology to boot. You’ve got obsolete PCs held by captive customers who can’t upgrade.

Now Declan McCullagh reports that Rep. Joe Barton wants to put the E-Rate out of its misery and I’ve got to applaud it.

Continue reading "End The Gore Tax"

March 21, 2005

Terrorism or Freedom FighterEmail This EntryPrint This Article

kofi annan 2.jpgI am a supporter of the U.N. I want it to have real power and influence.

This makes me a minority among my countrymen. So be it.

But I found myself troubled in reading this definition of terrorism today from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

"any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act".

In effect this prohibits any violent action against any tyrannical government, and puts the U.N. on record supporting that tyranny.

Continue reading "Terrorism or Freedom Fighter"

AFP Robot.Txt File FoundEmail This EntryPrint This Article

As we reported over the weekend Agence France-Presse is suing Google for $17.5 million. We reported that Agence France-Presse doesn't know how to write a robots.txt file.

We were wrong on that. Carl Malamud (no picture, sorry -- he's shy) found a reference to a robots.txt file on the Agence France-Presse site at http://www.afp.com/robots.txt

While AFP stories are not directly linked to Google News as of March 21, affiliates' publishing of those stories are.

Continue reading "AFP Robot.Txt File Found"

March 20, 2005

How AFP Can Win Its SuitEmail This EntryPrint This Article

afp-logo-1.jpgAs I noted yesterday Agence France-Presse's suit against Google News is silly.

But just because it's silly doesn't mean it can't be won.

Come along after the break and see how that might happen.

Continue reading "How AFP Can Win Its Suit"

March 19, 2005

AFP Sues Google Rather Than Write Robots.Txt FileEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Pepe1.jpgAgence France-Presse is suing Google for $17.5 million, apparently, because Agence France-Presse doesn't know how to write a robots.txt file. (The image of the faux-French cartoon character, Pepe LePew, is linked from a German site.)

The Agence suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleges Google News "stole" its content by linkig to it, with headlines and inserting thumbnails of photos. No claim is made that Google cached whole copies of the news agency's stories.

A U.S. court ruled in 2000 that it's perfectly legal to link deep into another site. But it is also legal to write a program that prevents robots from linking to any page.

On the next page is the code Agence France-Presse could easily insert into a file, robots.txt, linked to its home page, preventing all links from its site:

Continue reading "AFP Sues Google Rather Than Write Robots.Txt File"

March 18, 2005

The Oil CurseEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Spindletop.gifNote: The following was published today in my free weekly e-mail newsletter, A-Clue.Com, now in its 9th year. Join us -- always free.


The great financial Curse is to have money coming out of the ground.

I didn't believe this when I started in journalism. I started in Houston, whose economy was based entirely on the concept of money coming out of the ground - Black Gold, Texas Tea.

For most of history, money has mainly come out of the ground. Assets were what you could drill for, what you could mine, or what you could grow. The exceptions to this rule were those of trade. If you sat astride a trade route, if you had a deep water port, if the railroads decided that your location would work for a station, then your land had value.

Moore's Law has changed all that. The Internet has changed that for all time.

Continue reading "The Oil Curse"

The New ILECsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Steve largent.jpgCellular companies used to be the small, scrappy, second-tier telecomm carriers.

They're now morphing into ILECs, like the Bells. The two largest cellcos -- Cingular and Verizon Wireless -- are in fact owned by Bells. The other big guys -- T-Mobile, Sprint -- also have local coverage areas. (T-Mobile's is in Germany.)

But I'm talking about more than a superficial resemblance. At CTIA, CEO (and former Congressman) Steve Largent (right) announced MyWireless, the beginnings of an effort to use all forms of manipulation -- including Astroturf , to protect the industry's position and stall change through the courts and legislatures.

This is not how Largent (who was also a record-setting wide receiver for Seattle in a past life) put it.

Continue reading "The New ILECs"

March 14, 2005

Apple Suit Reporting is WormyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Reporting on the judge's decision in the Apple lawsuit against three Web sites has been about as bad as it gets. (Celebrate the stupidity with this lovely vase of a wormy apple, from the Seekers Glass Gallery.)

Let me tackle, as an example, the outlet with the best reputation, the BBC. Apple makes blogs reveal sources is the headline.

While the company won the initial court ruling, the fight is far from won. And the decision wasn't germane to bloggers, as the actual story made clear. "Judge Kleinberg said the question of whether the bloggers were journalists or not did not apply because laws governing the right to keep trade secrets confidential covered journalists, too."

Trade secrecy, in other words, gets more protection than national security.

More after the break.

Continue reading "Apple Suit Reporting is Wormy"

Spectrum Law Is Not Property LawEmail This EntryPrint This Article

When John W. Berresford speaks, the Bush Administration listens.

Berresford is the FCC's senior antitrust lawyer and a professor at the right's favorite school, George Mason. He has power and the connections to turn his statements into policy.

So when he came out with a paper today about spectrum policy, it was bound to be read avidly.

In his paper Berresford favorably compares the law of land property to that of spectrum. He notes how property rights and spectrum rights are limited under the law, often in the same ways, and states that "efficiency" should be the watchword in spectrum policy.

We should know what we're in for when, in his first paragraph, he mischaracterizes the debate:

Debate rages about whether the allocation and management of the radio frequency spectrum should be mostly a political process, treating it as “The People’s Airwaves,” or mostly market-driven, treating it as private property.

That's not the debate. The debate boils down to science and markets. What treatment of spectrum best serves the market, that of a government-owned monopoly or a carefully-managed resource?

We haven't just "discovered" how to use vast new areas of spectrum in the last 20 years. We've learned a lot about how such spectrum can be re-used, again-and-again.

Thus the argument of property vs. commons isn't a left-right argument (as Berresford supposes in his introduction). It's an argument over science and efficiency.

And the plain fact is that the spectrum which is most efficiently used in this country, which makes the most money per hertz, by far, is the unlicensed spectrum.

Berresford ignores both the science and market forces behind this fact.

Continue reading "Spectrum Law Is Not Property Law"

Who Will Break The Chain Against DRM?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Digital Rights Management is a conspiracy.

Once someone breaks it, it's broken.

That's the view of Cory Doctorow, a short version of what he told TheFeature recently.

There was a similar conspiracy against TV in the 1950s, he noted. None of the studios would produce programming for TV, and anyone who worked in TV was blacklisted.

Then one brave company broke the chain. Disney. Walt Disney needed money to open his amusement park, TV offered it. The move gave him an enormous competitive advantage, as big as Ted Turner's advantage in using satellites 20 years later.

Continue reading "Who Will Break The Chain Against DRM?"

March 10, 2005

Mutterings on Corporate PersonhoodEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The folks at ZDNet (of all places) are starting to hear mutterings against the concept of corporate personhood.

Companies are individuals under U.S. law. But they can't be killed or jailed as real people can. Their interests are immortal. (The illustration is from a group trying to change this.)

Corporations were made persons by the footnotes to an obscure 19th century Supreme Court decision involving the Southern Pacific Railroad. All those involved are long since dead but the railroal company's interests survive as part of the Union Pacific Corp.

Continue reading "Mutterings on Corporate Personhood"

March 07, 2005

Who Will Sa-ave Your Soul (for those lies that you told)Email This EntryPrint This Article

When Canadian Michael Geist started his "Law Bytes" column some years ago, I didn't think much of it, or him. It was conventional, and usually took the side of industry.

Either he grew, or I did, because lately he has been rocking. He's loosened up, his writing has gotten better, and increasingly he's on the side of the angels. (Special Mooreslore game now. Guess the headline reference. No peeking.)

Here's an example. In one column he goes after attempts by the Canadian government to wiretap Internet conversations, ISPs' cutting off Vonage ports, efforts to extort money from Canadian schools just-in-case some content they view is copyrighted, and the music industry's incredible ability to get content taken-down on just a say-so.

There's a theme here. And the theme is right-on. It is that the Internet is threatened as never before, by cops, by greed, and by fear. If we allow these to dominate the conversation we lose. And we must not let that happen.

There's something else.

Continue reading "Who Will Sa-ave Your Soul (for those lies that you told)"

March 01, 2005

The Best Copyright ArgumentEmail This EntryPrint This Article

As the Grokster case approaches the Supreme Court the "friends" of the court briefs (called amicus curiae) are flying.

The best is the technical brief, from a host of distinguished computer scientists including Dave Farber of Carnegie-Mellon (and the Interesting People list).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted a PDF copy.

The short version. If a law against software is strong enough to do good it will do harm. And if it's weak enough not to do harm it can't possibly do any good. Thus the Sony vs. Betamax "test," that technology is legal if it can be used for legal purposes, should be upheld.

A few details after the break:

Continue reading "The Best Copyright Argument"

February 23, 2005

Rock or Hard Place?Email This EntryPrint This Article

As of now, all class action lawsuits must go through the federal courts.

The Bushies may be sorry they made this change, because a very big class action is likely to head their way very soon.

The action will be against ChoicePoint, which managed to sell 145,000 credit dossiers to criminal gangs.

That's a big class. Every single victim may have had their identity stolen, either now or sometime later. At minimum, each victim faces a daunting task to re-establish their identity, and the impact of this theft is likely to follow them for years.

That's what lawyers call an actionable tort.

So far only one lawsuit has been filed, an individual suit in California. Expect many more.

The press coverage of this scandal has, so far, been horrendous. Most stories, like CNN's, act like the victims here somehow did something wrong.

They didn't. This was a deliberate act by a company too greedy to take proper care. They deserve whatever the legal system can dish out -- which right now is a lot less than it was a few weeks ago.

And that's the problem.

Continue reading "Rock or Hard Place?"

Fibbies Get The Paris Hilton TreatmentEmail This EntryPrint This Article

What does the FBI have in common with Paris Hilton?

They're both making news this week as victims of hackers. (The image is from a conservative humor site. Some of the stuff is pretty good.)

We wrote about Paris earlier this week. (Here's a poem for the occasion. Ahem. I've seen Paris, I've seen France, girl pull on some underpants.)

Now ZDNet reports a new virus comes in the form of an e-mail claiming to be from the FBI. (Not to be undone, Ms. Hilton herself is the subject of a new e-mail virus, called Sober.K.)

As Matt Hines writes, "The mail is disguised as correspondence warning people that their Internet use has been monitored by the FBI's Internet Fraud Complaint Center and that they have 'accessed illegal Web sites.' The e-mails then direct recipients to open the virus-laden attachment to answer a series of questions."

Continue reading "Fibbies Get The Paris Hilton Treatment"

February 22, 2005

The Jones-O'Gara FeudEmail This EntryPrint This Article

There's nothing journalists like better than a good old fashioned catfight. (The animated gif catfight is from Supah.Com. I guess you can send it to friends as a postcard.)

And in tech journalism today it doesn't get any better than Pamela Jones vs. Maureen O'Gara.

Jones edits Groklaw, the free community blog which has covered the open source revolution's legal defense so expertly. Her stuff is so good that SCO talked about putting together a rival site, called Prosco.Net, last year. (As of this writing that site is still empty.) Jones is so ethical she actually quit a really good job to stay on the beat, writing "money is nice, but integrity is everything." (I think I'm in love.)

O'Gara edits the $195/year LinuxGram newsletter. She writes fast, tight, "insider-type" stuff, with tabloid headlines like "Ray Noorda's Competence in Question." She learned her trade at CMP, and calls her company G2 Computer Intelligence.

Conflict was natural because of their differing styles. Jones is careful and shy to the point of near-invisibility. She writes like a lawyer. O'Gara is brassy and bold and uses the rest of the press as her PR machine. She writes like a journalist.

What got the feud rolling was a stunt O'Gara pulled before the court in the case of SCO vs. IBM. She filed her own motion to unseal the records, then did a story on her heroic act.

Newspaper companies do this all the time. They fight to unseal records of criminal trials or government decisions, writing a series of stories on the filings and the reaction. But Jones didn't like O'Gara's headline, nor the attitude in her story which was (to say the least) self-congratulatory.

Jones let O'Gara have it.

No hostility there. Maybe a little around the edges, oozing out? Leapin' Lizards, Batman, the heroine action figure who apparently wishes to Take the Open Source Movement Down singlehandedly is none other than Maureen O'Gara, who is asking the Utah court to unseal all the sealed records:

Continue reading "The Jones-O'Gara Feud"

February 21, 2005

Law of the HorseEmail This EntryPrint This Article

As the legislative season swings into high gear, spyware is high on the agenda.

Some 14 states are looking at bills specifically aimed at spyware. Utah is on its second go-round, having had an earlier bill tossed by the courts.

But speakers at the VJOLT Symposium last weekend agreed that spyware bills are wrong. Instead of going after the means by which privacy is stolen, strengthen the privacy laws so they cover what bad spyware does.

In stating this they all referenced a seminal 1996 talk by Frank Easterbrook of the University of Chicago (right), titled "Cyberspace and the Law of the Horse."

In it he argued against any specific laws for cyberspace, saying standards of "meat space" law should be sufficient to deal with problems that look unique.

Continue reading "Law of the Horse"

Moohr's LawEmail This EntryPrint This Article

As mentioned in the previous item, I was honored last weekend to speak at the Virginia Journal on Law and Technology (VJOLT) Symposium, "Real Law and Online Rights."

I'd expected an argument. The vast majority of copyright lawyers today are employed by copyright holders. Instead, I was given the lead-off slot, the small congregation nodded in time to my music, and the speakers all advocated a balanced view of copyright and patent law.

One of the best (in my opinion), was Geraldine Moohr, who teaches at the University of Houston Law School, a short bike ride from my old stomping grounds at Rice. She based her talk on a paper she wrote last year on copyright criminal law.

The short version. It doesn't work. "There is a lack of a social norm that would condemn personal use infringement," she said. "Civil penalties may be good enough. They have a a punitive quality to them."

Continue reading "Moohr's Law"

Would Franklin Blog, Would Jefferson FileshareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

While Susan Crawford was asking whether Ben Franklin would blog, (and Donna Wentworth was pointing the world to her piece) I was being asked a similar question "would Jefferson file share" at a VJOLT conference in Charlottesville.

The answer, in both cases, would depend on which Franklin or Jefferson you were talking about.

Franklin was desperate to publish as a young man, and the 1721 Franklin would doubtless have blogged. As a printer, Franklin routinely used copyrighted material without payment, and as a raconteur/diplomat he was far more often on the receiving end, so if he had blogged then he would have done it very carefully, judiciously, with an eye toward public opinion.

Jefferson was the first consumer, and doubtless would have used Grokster in his dorm at William & Mary. But later, as he became a public figure, he would have been far more conscious of the need for anonymity. As a politician, he would have no more admitted to copyright violation than George W. Bush would admit to smoking pot.

Both men, however, learned to live as though their private lives were public. Franklin used his fame to win an alliance with France, even letting himself be pictured in a beaver hat. Jefferson dealt with the Sally Hemings affair throughout the 1800 campaign, not to mention his lifelong reputation as a spendthrift, a wastral and, in the end, a bankrupt.

A better question might be this. Could you, or I, have done as well, then or now?

I doubt it. But we all should try.

February 16, 2005

Real Reporters Pack ToothbrushesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

There is much commentary emerging from a court ruling stating that reporters (like the one at right) must testify to a grand jury or go to jail.

Editor & Publisher wants a federal shield law. I have been a journalist for 25 years, and had the kant of a "journalist's privilege" drilled into me from the start. A shield law would be a good thing, but only if it protected all reporters, not just those few with jobs at major corporations.

But do you know what the reporter's privilege really is?

You have the right to go to jail. You also have the right to be killed in the line of duty, as dozens were in Iraq, some by U.S. soldiers. You have the right to be tortured in many countries around the world, and to rot in jail hoping someone can get you out.

These are your rights. No, these are your responsibilities as a journalist. You have the right to fight for the right to do your job. This is why journalists, the ones willing to accept these rights and responsibilities, are among the most important people on Earth. We know why the caged bird sings, because often it's us.

So if I quote you anonymously, and I promise you anonymity in exchange for your statements, I will protect that. I will risk jail for you, I will risk torture for you, I will risk death for you. If I decide your statements are that vital, and your anonymity that valuable, that's what I will do for you as a journalist. That's my job.

Continue reading "Real Reporters Pack Toothbrushes"

February 15, 2005

Facts Are Stubborn ThingsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The Copyright Police keep coming up against stubborn facts, some of their own making, that throw their arguments into the dumper.

Two are making headlines today.

First is a joint study by Harvard and University of North Carolina researchers indicating "Downloads have an effect on sales which is statistically
indistinguishable from zero." Felix Oberholzer (Harvard) and Koleman Strumpf (UNC) matched a set of downloads to record sales in coming to this conclusion. "Even in the most pessimistic specification, five thousand downloads are needed to displace a single album sale," they write.

The second piece of news comes from the industry itself.

It is, simply, the launch of Napster's "rental" service. For $15/month, you can download all you want. It all disappears when you stop paying, but the industry approved this business model, which estimates the actual value of unlimited downloads at $180/year. Spread that over 10 years, give Napster 15%, and you get an actual industry-estimated "loss" from unlimited downloading of $1,500. Not much.

This will make for some fun when I speak this weekend at the University of Virginia's VJOLT Symposium.


February 05, 2005

MCI Fingered for Spam FloodEmail This EntryPrint This Article

MCI grossed an estimated $5 million/year violating the law in its home state of Virginia, by knowingly hosting sales of a Russian virus used to turn PCs into spam zombies.

The full story, by Spamhaus' Steve Linford (below) was distributed online today. It charges that MCI knowingly hosts Send-Safe.Com, which sells a spam virus that takes over innocent computers and turns them into spam-sending proxies. Linford tracked Send-Safe to a Russian, Ruslan Ibragimov. Linford estimates MCI earns $5 million/year from its work supporting spammers.

The theft of broadband-connected PCs by viruses, mainly Send Safe and another Russian-made program, Alexey Panov's Direct Mail Sender ("DMS"), is responsible for 90% of the spam coming into AOL and other major ISPs, Linford charged.

Here's the nut graph:


MCI Worldcom not only knows very well they are hosting the Send Safe spam operation, MCI's executives know send-safe.com uses the MCI network to sell and distribute the illegal Send Safe proxy hijacking bulk mailer, yet MCI has been providing service to send-safe.com for more than a year.

Want this made a little more explicit? Read on.

Continue reading "MCI Fingered for Spam Flood"

February 04, 2005

The E-Mail MeltdownEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The final destruction of e-mail as an Internet service has begun. (This is as serious as Comic Book Guy's heart attack, right.)

Mainline spam software publishers have added a new worm to their product that not only turns PCs into spam zombies, but runs that spam through the zombies' e-mail server. This on top of an "industry" that already costs legitimate businesses $22 billion.

The result is spam that looks like it's coming from a legitimate address, and despite all the warnings most people still don't update their anti-virals so as to prevent this kind of infection.

Continue reading "The E-Mail Meltdown"

February 03, 2005

The Legal Threat To GrowthEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I agree with President Bush on something.

Lawyers represent a major threat to our economy.

But I'm not worried about defense lawyers, or plaintiff's lawyers. I'm worried about the newer scourge of so-called "intellectual property" lawyers.

You won't find the phrase "intellectual property" in the Constitution. (It's often credited mainly to James Madison, left.) There, patents and copyrights are covered by a subsection of Article I, Section 8, whcih gives to the Congress power "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

For limited times. To promote progress.

Because economic power has shifted, in our time, from our hands to our heads, and because technology is now able to move the product of our minds around the world at the speed of thought, American lawyers have done just what their British counterparts did two centuries ago. They've tried to make our economic leadership permanent through the language of law.

Continue reading "The Legal Threat To Growth"

February 01, 2005

Don't Believe The IP ScaremongersEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Over at The Scotsman, lawyer Alison Bryce is featured in one of those stories that doubtless led to Shakespeare having Dick the Butcher say "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

Her headline is "Don't believe the software scaremongers" but in fact the article is a classic bit of scaremongering.

She's repeating the Microsoft line that Linux is scary. She calls the GPL "the most restrictive license" and states quite baldly that having the source code published is dangerous. No evidence is offered.

There are also some outright howlers, like this one. "Software released under the GPL, such as the popular Linux operating system," never apparently realizing that not all Linux distros are GPL. Fine misunderstanding for an amateur, but this lady claims to be a highly-paid professional, and an expert on software law to boot.

This bit of garbage could easily have been written by Microsoft itself (and he probably cribbed off their stuff), but here's where I get angry:

Continue reading "Don't Believe The IP Scaremongers"

January 28, 2005

Script Kiddie Draws 18 MonthsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Script Kiddie Jeffrey Parsons, who adapted the Blaster Worm to go after Microsoft's Windows update site, was sentenced to 18 months in a low security prison.

Prosecutors had asked for about three years.

Continue reading "Script Kiddie Draws 18 Months"

January 27, 2005

Another Greater Fool StudyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The Elliott Wave people ask, "Is the Greater Fool Era Ending?"

Answer: No.

Here is proof. Strategy Analytics has recently published another of those truly loony market studies, this one claiming that mobile phone operators will lose $12 billion from broadband wireless over the next several years.

It's nonsense because its premise is false, namely that those profits are out there to lose.

Yes, it's possible that if WiFi and WiMax didn't exist that all broadband revenues would go to cellular. It's also true that if freeways didn't exist all inter-city traffic would be by railroad. But that does not mean I impute a loss of billions to the railroads.

Continue reading "Another Greater Fool Study"

Why Regulate TV?Email This EntryPrint This Article

In the U.S., the only excuse for regulating TV content is based on spectrum scarcity. Spectrum is scarce, it's licensed, and because of that there is a public interest test, which the agency sometimes uses to crack down on content.

Absent the excuse of spectrum scarcity, the only grounds for regulating TV content are based on the First Amendment. (The Hayes Office, which kept movies chaste for decades, was private regulation, not public.) This is not an absolute. Any conservative will tell you "obscenity is not protected," citing chapter and verse, calling in Ashcroft's Dogs of War.

The point is this is not the case outside the U.S. In England, for instance, TV content is regulated because, well, it's powerful. Thus dangerous. And so Oftel, the U.K's new "super-regulator," is sniffing around regulating the Internet.

Fortunately some there have a Clue.

Continue reading "Why Regulate TV?"

January 22, 2005

Shoot the MessengerEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Guillaume Tena of Harvard is being threatened with the charms of a French jail cell for having written-up a list of flaws in a French anti-viral product three years ago.

Tegam International, which makes something called Viguard, called Tena a "terrorist" after he published his analysis of their product in March 2002 and a French court is apparently dumb enough to take the claim seriously.

Now, Tena's no angel. Tegam says he was once a virus writer himself, credited with (among other things) Happy99, the first e-mail virus. But, they admit, he went straight and is now on the side of the angels. (This assumes, of course, that there are angels at Harvard.)

UPDATE: Tena writes to say that reports he's a virus writer are false, that they were started by Tegem and picked up by the media without questioning it. "Cite a credible source if you have one," Tena writes. "This article is now on the web for eternity. Please do something about it."

I have no independent source, other than press reports, to indicate Tena has so much as a parking ticket to his name. Absent evidence, I shouldn't spread rumors, so this is being reposted with my apologies.

So why should angels (or Yalies) support him?

Continue reading "Shoot the Messenger"

January 17, 2005

Verizon Halts Internet ServiceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Verizon, the second-largest phone network in the U.S., and the second-largest wireless operator, has decided it will no longer offer Internet service.

The question is what the Internet and its users will do in response (if anything).

The company's decision was made public this week in the form of a unilateral halt to all deliveries of e-mail from Europe by default based on a claim this is an anti-spam measure.

The claim is laughable since far more spam traffic moves from the U.S. to Europe than the other way around, thanks to real European statutes requiring opt-in and the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act, which legalized many types of spam.

But there is a larger point.

An Internet Service Provider, by definition, provides service to the entire Internet. This is usually put in the fine print of Internet service contracts. Will Verizon now modify its contracts, or simply ignore them?

Continue reading "Verizon Halts Internet Service"

January 16, 2005

Panix AttackEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Panix.Com has apparently had its domain hijacked.

Panix, a 16-year old ISP in New York, told its users that ownership of the domain was apparently moved to Australia, the DNS records were moved to the United Kingdom, and its e-mail was directed to Canada.

This should be a matter for criminal prosecution.

Continue reading "Panix Attack"

January 14, 2005

Seuss and BrinEmail This EntryPrint This Article


The Bee Watcher-Watcher watched the Bee Watcher.
He didn’t watch well. So another Hawtch-Hawtcher
had to come in as a Watch-Watcher-Watcher!
And today all the Hawtchers who live in Hawtch-Hawtch
are watching on Watch-Watcher-Watchering-Watch,
Watch-Watching the Watcher who’s watching that bee.
You’re not a Hawtch-Watcher. You’re lucky, you see!!!

Dr. Seuss's "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?" is as subversive now as it ever was, and always finds a new context.

Today the context lies in the proliferation of cameras, which seem to be watching us, all the time, and whether our "privacy" means we should turn them off.

With every Hawtch-Hawtcher out watching each other, does privacy really exist?

The answer may surprise you.

Continue reading "Seuss and Brin"

December 21, 2004

Are Courts Irrelevant To Copyright?Email This EntryPrint This Article

That's the question asked at Copyfutures recently, speculating on what might happen in the Copyright Wars next year.

The highlight should be the Supreme Court's pending Grokster decision, which might establish a right to technology that might infringe on copyright, or might overturn the old Betamax case.

But John Amone is asking a deeper question.

Namely, does it matter what the court holds at all?

Continue reading "Are Courts Irrelevant To Copyright?"

December 15, 2004

Liberal LudEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I am a big Lauren Weinstein fan. But his reasoning for being suspicious of Google leaves me thinking of two words -- Ned Lud.

But let's be fair, and offer his entire post to Dave Farber, in full:

Continue reading "Liberal Lud"

December 08, 2004

Long Arm Of The LANEmail This EntryPrint This Article

With many companies now substituting WiFi for wired networks, it's natural that those with multiple locations would want to tie them all together.

Bluesocket Inc. of Burlington, Mass. (right, from their home page) is among those getting into this game. Their home page describes them as "building an enterprise-class WLAN" and they claim their new WG-400 Wireless Gateway can handle as many as 50 users at the same time, which is pretty nifty.

But is there a general problem here? Perhaps there is.

Continue reading "Long Arm Of The LAN"

Pass The BottleEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I have a confession to make.

The one thing I would really love to have for Christmas, the one thing I'm least likely to get, is a bottle of the old family wine.

It turns out that a distant branch of my family tree runs a winery in Baden, in Germany, barely a draft notice's toss away from the Swiss border. Weingut Blankenhorn (I think it translates to good wine by the Blankenhorns) is run by Rosemarie Blankenhorn (known as Roy), who is about my age. In addition to the usual German varieties they also make a Chardonnay and a Merlot and a Cab.

But unless I can scrape up airfare and meet Ms. Blankenhorn in person (another life ambition), my chances of trying her wines are slim and none. This is because the winery is fairly small, so that only a big importer would be able to do a deal with her, and also because state laws in the U.S. keep big out-of-state importers from serving Georgia, even by mail or Web.

But that may be about to change.

Continue reading "Pass The Bottle"

December 07, 2004

TotalNews BahrainEmail This EntryPrint This Article


Back in the 1990s one of the bigger stories I covered concerned an outfit called TotalNews.

TotalNews tried to make a living for itself by putting its trade dress around others' news stories, even covering the original ads with its own. After a legal fight it backed off, but it did not disappear.

Fast-forward nearly a decade. Since getting access to an RSS feed I've seen a lot of links from something called BigNewsNetwork. Here's one. It looks like a story from Israel, a panel complaining about regulators.

Continue reading "TotalNews Bahrain"

December 01, 2004

Read The Fine Print: Pennsylvania's ShameEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Philadelphians are celebrating an agreement with Verizon which, they say, allows them to offer a citywide Wi-Fi network despite a law, signed (shamefully) by Governor Ed Rendell yesterday, aimed at stopping the municipal WiFi movement.

But they need to read the fine print.

Wetmachine has the story:


HB 30 prohibits the state or any municipality (or any municipally owned or operated entity) from providing any sort of telecom or broadband service for any kind of remuneration. The bill grandfathers any existing systems, tho, so no one will get cut off.

Sound good? Read on:

Continue reading "Read The Fine Print: Pennsylvania's Shame"

November 17, 2004

RSS SpamEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Thanks to those lovely folks at Newsgator, I've been enjoying an RSS feed on topics of interest, sent to my e-mail box, for the last month.

It's useful. It gives me great stories. But here's a dirty little secret. It's also filled with spam.

Want some examples? Let's go to my inbox today and find a few:

Continue reading "RSS Spam"

November 12, 2004

First Trojan For Mobiles SightedEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The first true Trojan Horse program targeting mobile phones has been sighted. (The image, by the way, comes from a page that is relevant to this discussion, at a Texas high school.)

There have been several claims on the title of "first mobile virus" during the year. Our first contestant turned out to be a copy protection feature. The second, it turned out, was harmless.

Now we have a "winner," a Russian trojan aimed at phones called Delf-HA. This claim, too, may be open to dispute. The payload itself goes to PCs, which then call Russian mobile numbers and send those phones SMS spam.

But it is becoming clear that firms like Symantec, which are readying versions of their anti-viral tools for mobiles, are no longer just playing on false fears. Whether their stuff works or not will, of course, remain open to testing.

November 08, 2004

The Second Life (of lawyers)Email This EntryPrint This Article


A big highlight of the Accelerating Change conference at Stanford last weekend was a demonstration by Linden Labs of Second Life. (The image is from Second Life's Web site, meant to explain the game.) It is, as its home page notes, "a 3D digital world imagined, created and owned by its Residents."

Second Life lives in a server rack somewhere in San Francisco. Each server represents 16 acres of virtual space, where users' avatars can live, work and play. So far there are about 500, but 10 more are added each week. Think of it as Everquest without the plot.

In Second Life the users own what they create. It's a simple concept, but one that is extremely hard to implement. For instance, the demonstrator couldn't pass around any of the work done in Second Life because Second Life doesn't own it. Thus, he couldn't sign the conference's standard release form, which lets the organizers have rights to what's shown.

Continue reading "The Second Life (of lawyers)"

November 01, 2004

Top Down vs. Bottom Up TechnologyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The folks over at BoingBoing remind me that, just as there are both top-down and bottom-up models of politics, there are top-down and bottom-up models of technology.

Apple represents a top-down model that masquerades as bottom-up. Its advertising has always been egalitarian, even liberal, but when push comes to shove it's the most controlling outfit out there. This is built into its DNA and corporate history. People forget that the years in which Apple allowed Macintosh clones were among its darkest.

So when Apple decides to, in Cory Doctorow's words, "remove features from your iPod and presenting it to you as an 'update'" I just nod my head and ask, "So what else is new?"

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August 25, 2004

VOIP Hardware Go-AheadEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Despite a regulatory regime that is impossible to obey (isolating data traffic that's to be turned into voice on a network with trillions of transactions going through it each second) hardware makers are going ahead with the production of Voice Over IP (VOIP) hardware.

Linksys and Netgear are the latest to say that voice support will become part of their residential gateways Real Soon Now. (For more on VOIP, buy O'Reilly's VOIP book, right.)

In this case, however, the Feds will be glad to know there's actually less here than meets the eye.

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World Law Of Minimal FreedomEmail This EntryPrint This Article

If every nation enjoys remote jurisdiction on the worldwide network, then the only functions available are those legal in every jurisdiction. (Tipped justice scales from Glad.Org.)

Yet that's apparently what the U.S. Court of Appeals thinks should happen. The court ruled that Yahoo.Com, a U.S. site, cannot be protected against French enforcement of French rules regarding what can-and-can't-be-sold.

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New Confirmation: We Spam Like MadEmail This EntryPrint This Article

New confirmation that the U.S. remains the world spamming leader comes from Sophos. Sophos, which gets its data from spam-attracting "honeypots," said 43% of the world's spam comes from the U.S., 27% combined comes from China and Korea. (The caricature is from Sophos' French site.)

Earlier this month, readers of this blog will remember, we reported on a CipherTrust study that 86% of the spam it collects at client sites comes from U.S. addresses, although many spoof foreign addresses.


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August 23, 2004

Extorting The MarketplaceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

InterContinental Hotels last week decided to stop listing its properties with Expedia and instead list exclusively with Travelocity. (Travelocity logo from the BBC.)

Few people noticed it, but it's an important event in the evolution of e-commerce, especially as travel is concerned.

Continue reading "Extorting The Marketplace"

August 18, 2004

Spam's Dirtiest SecretEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Spam's dirtiest secret is that so-called "legitimate" businesses are footing the bills. (That's CipherTrust's Paul Judge, one of the "good guys" in the anti-spam fight, at right. Read more on him here. And if you see him, buy him a beer, or whatever he wants.)

They seldom do this directly. Mostly it's through "affiliate marketing" agreements, often created by re-sellers. The legitimate companies put stuff into their channel. The re-sellers are part of the channel. If the affiliate gets busted for spam it's "Mission Impossible" -- the secretary disavows any knowledge of their actions.

This is why, not that spam has swallowed the legitimate business of e-mail marketing, it's becoming seasonal. You get sex spam in the summer, financial scams in the fall.

This could, if someone were clever, create a way in which to reduce the spam problem.

Continue reading "Spam's Dirtiest Secret"

Sue A SpooferEmail This EntryPrint This Article


I'm on my own blacklist.

My e-mail address has been falsified or "spoofed" on so many spams and viruses over the years that when I get e-mail from myself I automatically set it to be deleted.

This is not uncommon. Anyone who has had their address for some time, especially if they're written articles against spam, faces the same problem.

But now there's hope.

Continue reading "Sue A Spoofer"

August 15, 2004

Qwest and Winthrop: Casualties Of Moore's LawEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The media, the digirati, even some government figures are laughing today at the East Buchanan Telephone Co-op of Winthrop, Iowa.

They laugh because the co-op has threatened to cut-off cellular calls from Qwest on Monday, claiming it's not being paid for their termination.

The town bought a device that can distinguish between cellular calls and landline calls coming in over Qwest's long distance service. Qwest has won an injunction halting the shut-off for two weeks.

Most reaction has been that the town is crazy, that it doesn't stand a chance.

But they don't know the rest of the story.

Continue reading "Qwest and Winthrop: Casualties Of Moore's Law"

August 13, 2004

New Support for Spam Kingpin TheoryEmail This EntryPrint This Article


A new study from CipherTrust gives new support to the theory that spam could be greatly reduced by finding, and jailing, a few hundred Americans. (Picture from USA Today.)

Gregg Keizer writes for Information Week that, rather than put up a "honeypot" aimed at attracting spam, CipherTrust measured the actual spam it intercepted for its clients.

Dmitri Alperovitch, a research engineer at CipherTrust, explained that "some spammers are actually targeting specific companies with messages that the honey pots wouldn't see."

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Hang 'im High?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Jeffrey Lee Parson pled guilty yesterday to creating a variant of the Blaster worm and now faces up to three years in prison. (Picture from the Sydney Morning Herald.)

The reaction of many in the computing world is he got off lightly. Hang him high, they say. Make an example of him.

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August 06, 2004

Google Gets ScammyEmail This EntryPrint This Article


What began as an attempt to de-fang the wolves of Wall Street has descended into a Silicon Valley farce.

The problem with Google's IPO delay does not lie in the technical glitches of the system. And it doesn't lie in the really silly price being quoted -- $110 per share.

It lies in the great scandal of the 1990s -- stock options.

Continue reading "Google Gets Scammy"

August 03, 2004

Spectrum: The New FrontierEmail This EntryPrint This Article

A very important political story snuck by us last week. I blame John Kerry for it.

The story is the new push by Intel for 802.16 WiMax spectrum.

While there are lots of high frequency bands in which WiMax could live, the inescapable fact is that the lower your frequency the farther your waves can travel. That's why AM stations can be heard across the country (when conditions are right) while FM stations have trouble being heard across town.

Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney (above, from the Intel site) is lobbying China, the UK and the U.S. to open up space in the 700 MHz band, frequencies UHF TV stations will be abandoning as they move to digital broadcasting, for unlicensed use as WiMax transmission bands.

Continue reading "Spectrum: The New Frontier"

July 26, 2004

INDUCE Job ExportsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on the so-called INDUCE Act, which would hold technology's creators liable for what's done with their creations, there are some who are calling this an attack on our rights, and an attack on technology.

It's worse than that.

It's an attack on America. What chairman Orrin Hatch (left, from Internet Weekly) and his colleagues are plotting is nothing less than a 9-11 attack on the American economy.

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July 22, 2004

Another Crime StoryEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Good news.

Russian and British authorities have cooperated in smashing a ring that was organizing denial of service attacks against Internet gambling sites. The people arrested were mostly in their early 20s.

A nasty person might ask some nasty questions, however.

Continue reading "Another Crime Story"

July 07, 2004

The Councilman DecisionEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I deliberately waited before writing about the atrocious, god-awful "Councilman" decision, in which a U.S. Appeals Court panel ruled, 2-1, that your e-mail isn't private when it's in transit, on someone else's server.

To arrive at this decision, executive director Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote, the court basically had to twist the 1986 Wiretap Act into a pretzel. It's one more example of how important judges are in the American judicial system. (That's Rotenberg, left, as he appeared on the PBS NewsHour in 2000.)

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July 05, 2004

Finally, Patents ChallengedEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The New York Times reports that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has launched a systematic attack against over-broad patents. (Image from the University of California.)

The EFF is focusing for now on 10 patents, where it thinks it can find prior art that will invalidate the patents.

This is good news, but it's just a first step.

Continue reading "Finally, Patents Challenged"

June 23, 2004

Brad Hutchings On Phish-FightingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

In an item earlier today, I wondered what problems may develop from recent attempts by MasterCard and NameProtect to stop "phishing," phony solicitations for personal information using the stolen trade dress of banks and other institutions.

Brad Hutchings (pictured) responds:

Continue reading "Brad Hutchings On Phish-Fighting"

Semi-Serious On Spam, PhishingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Big consumer ISPs are talking up a campaign against spam, and financial intermediaries are talking up a campaign against phishing.

But Internet activists fear both campaigns are just bringing up the drawbridges on resources.

First, the spam fight. (The image here is also the solution to your e-mail problems, Whitehat Interactive.)

Continue reading "Semi-Serious On Spam, Phishing"

June 01, 2004

Political Principles for TechnologyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I'm for growth and change. It's the only way to stay ahead of population and pollution without engaging the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse full-time.


The success of the 1990s, and the technology industry failures of our own time, have brought me to some political principles that need to be embraced by everyone -- and which are opposed by politicians of every type -- in order to bring back growth.


  • Competition
  • Privacy
  • Transparency
  • Liberty

All these were seen as important in the 1990s. All have been discarded in our time. And we have paid the price for that.

Continue reading "Political Principles for Technology"

April 25, 2004

What Hath Peace Wrought?Email This EntryPrint This Article

The decision by Microsoft to accept (and pay for) others' patent claims was designed to create peace in the technology world. Pay 'em off and move forward.

But peace is not at hand. New patent claimants pop up every day. Now Forgent Networks is suing everyone in sight, claiming it owns JPEG, and its rights expire in 2006.

Continue reading "What Hath Peace Wrought?"

April 21, 2004

The Next Enron?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Had it not been for Enron, and Arthur Andersen, then I really doubt Sanjay Kumar and Computer Associates would be in the dock today. (Photo from The Inquirer.)

But the Enron scandal did happen, so what looked like normal business practice came to be seen as a scandal. The standard practices of the last decade, like gaming revenues to keep stock analysts happy, are now seen as morally reprehensible.

That, at least, seems the great lesson from the fall of Sanjay Kumar, who stepped down as CEO of Computer Associates today.

More shoes have yet to drop.

Continue reading "The Next Enron?"

April 19, 2004

Jeff Vick Teaches A LessonEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Over at The Moving Picture Jeff Vick has spied a deal hidden in the fine print of Howard Stern's firing.

If Howard Stern, the Regular Guys, Bubba the Love Monster and all the others like them are wondering why their employers aren’t fighting to protect their 1st amendment rights like they should, then they need only to look no further than the press release from the NAB on Friday.

“U.S. radio broadcasters have asked federal regulators to bar rival satellite radio services from offering content tailored to local markets.”

In other words, broadcasters like Clear Channel accept content censorship on condition they face no competition, as cable operators do, from satellite.

Unlike conspiracy theorists, however, Jeff has some evidence to present.

Continue reading "Jeff Vick Teaches A Lesson"

March 23, 2004

More On Why Can-Spam Can'tEmail This EntryPrint This Article

You may remember a few notes ago I wrote about how the spam flood has shifted since January, from "real spam" (phony offers with forged addresses) to "spam that is not spam" (real offers from real addresses). The volume hasn't declined, if anything it's gone up.

But my lovely bride found out exactly why the law is worthless. She looked at one of the "opt-outs" on a "spam that is not spam" message.

It only opts you out on that client.

Continue reading "More On Why Can-Spam Can't"

March 22, 2004

Real Impact of Can-SpamEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I had to spend the afternoon cleaning out my son's inbox. He has over 2,000 messages, dating back to September.

It was very educational. (Image from ABC News.)

In the course of the afternoon I learned the real impact of the CAN-SPAM Act. For every sex spammer, viagra spammer or scam spammer who has backed away, two "spam that is not spam" 'ers have come to take their place.

I noticed this as soon as the date on the messages changed from 2003 to 2004.

Continue reading "Real Impact of Can-Spam"

March 13, 2004

Triumph Of The ParanoidEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The paranoid have been having a field day with the latest news coming out of the SCO vs. IBM suit. (The postcard is available through GoMail.)

I'll admit that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they are not out to get you.

Just as many figure John Kerry as a proxy for the Kennedys, press reports are indicating that SCO is really just a proxy for Microsoft, on a FUD attack against an operating system it can't fight in conventional ways.

It the paranoid are right, Microsoft is simply Clueless. Or, perhaps, there's a point it wants to prove, namely that there should be no such thing as "public property" when it comes to the world of ideas.

If that is indeed the point, I disagree. Here's why.

Continue reading "Triumph Of The Paranoid"

March 09, 2004

End The Linux FUDEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) are unhealthy for economies and any living business. (The slightly edited Gary Larson cartoon here is from David Weinberger's Joho the Blog. In the original, the word Linux is replaced by Fud, a "dog's spelling" of food.)

So it is that businesses, especially large businesses, work hard to reduce FUD as much as possible.

That's why I don't automatically condemn companies like Computer Associates for choosing to sign a license for something they may not need a license for, namely Linux.

They're doing the rational thing. Whether it's the right thing is for a court to decide.

Continue reading "End The Linux FUD"