Several comics’ comments on those ‘click here to agree’ policies

Here is Steven Pastis’ (Pearls Before Swine) commentary:

Stephan Pastis' Commentary on App LIcenses

And a well-known comic strip artist has taken the iTunes End User License Agreement (EULA) and presented it as comic strip dialog in the style of a number of famous comic strip artists (including the authors of Garfield and Dilbert). There are numerous privacy-related issues that these ‘agreements’ raise.

Here is my colleague David Post’s thoughts on the latter.

Some small news on the copyright front

As many have found out, posting a video on YouTube can be perilous if it contains material that you do not own copyright to. Currently Google (Youtube’s owners) will remove videos if they receive what is known as a ‘takedown notice’ from the entity claiming to be the copyright owner. In a case I blogged about several years ago, a video that NASA uploaded was automatically taken down because a news website had pointed to it.

Now Google has decided to provide some defense for those who are engaging in ‘fair use’ of copyrighted material. Fair use permits material to be posted if it is parodied, transformed or used for educational purposes (the exact details are rather more complicated and can be found on a WSU library website).

Google has announced it will legally intervene on behalf of these users, keep the videos up online, and even cover the costs of defending against copyright claims. You can read the juicy (and somewhat political) details in this article.

It will be interesting to see whether Google takes any flak on this.

Copyright Robots Strike Again

I have written in the past about how Youtube’s copyright robots take Youtube videos down if their digital brains sense a copyright violation. They know nothing of ‘fair use’, ‘parody’ or any reasonable ‘exception’. Today Rand Paul announced he is running for President, and the video announcing it has been taken down:

The strangeness of copyright culture in our country continues. I should add that I am posting this late on Tuesday afternoon, when what shows up when you click on the link is this:

Rand Paul copyright image

For the gory details on why this link is video non grata, incidentally, you can go here.

Important Federal Court Decision on Online Book Search Engines

The 2nd Circuit Court released a decision today in a case involving the Hathi Trust, which has been scanning old books and making them available online for search purposes. Some author’s unions sought to prevent them from doing this on copyright grounds, but Hathi (and many supporters) argued that the open-source non-profit partner with Google Books was entitled under the ‘fair use’ provision of the Copyright Act to scan millions of books (including, particularly, ‘orphan’ books whose copyright was still valid, but whose authors were either long gone or unlocatable) and make the results searchable.. Hathi Trust is an invaluable tool for historical, linguistic and literary research because it means that millions of out-of-print books were accessible to the world of research.

This doesn’t mean you can now just read any book in their repository. You can’t. What you can do, however, is search for every instance of a word in the millions of books and get the surrounding context for each use (which is a gold mine for linguists), or find mentions of historical events or people (or political theories or scientific experiments) in millions of books scattered around the country.

The court’s conclusion was that making snippets available through searches, and making entire texts available to the visually impaired constituted fair use through the ‘transformative’ clause of the fair use clause (you can read all about it on the  WSU Library’s Copyright page).

Here are two news items on the court case:

Volokh Conspiracy (libertarian law school-oriented blog)

Inside Higher Ed

Illegal Downloading and the University–again

In a week or so Dean of Students, David Strauss, will be sending a message to all WSU students reminding them that they should not be downloading copyrighted material (books, music, movies, software) illegally, and that the owners of those copyrights (especially of movies–MPAA and music–RIAA) are out looking for sites that distribute those files and will come after the distributors, which, in many cases, are the same people who did the downloading in the first place. This is because the software that handles downloading (BitTorrent and its competitors) not only helps you download content, but also makes it available to others to download from you.

My friend and colleague Tracy Mitrano, IT Policy guru at Cornell, recently wrote a great article in Inside Higher Ed on this issue.  As Wayne State does, Cornell sends out a message (as required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008) on the topic, and she usually asks students to write her with questions. The article is primarily a response to a question she got, and her answer is so thoughtful, I’d like to simply post a link to it here:

More on the sad Aaron Swartz Case

After Aaron Swartz committed suicide a few months ago the uproar led MIT to commission an internal inquiry. It released its findings a couple of days ago (in and around the controversy swirling around the NSA and its various programs). While they conclude that MIT didn’t actually do anything wrong, they suggest that they might have acted differently:

Larry Lessig suggests that MIT is ducking its actual responsibilities:

JSTOR (the source of the data that Swartz was downloading and ‘freeing’ also had a statement:

A couple of months ago Techdirt discovered that the prosecution of Swartz was likely politically motivated, incidentally:

Chasing illegal downloading: It’s not just for Universities anymore

You probably noticed the cheerful note C&IT sent yesterday warning you about illegal filesharing. As you probably know, the RIAA and MPAA are attempting to combat the sharing of their copyrighted files through underground distribution systems such as BitTorrent. They do this by posing as downloaders and trolling for their copyrighted files, then sending an email to the owner of the network that is being used. For many years they have sent emails to Wayne State saying they have found illegal files on some IP address. C&IT is required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to find out who was using that IP address and send a ‘take-down’ notice to that person, ordering them to remove the offending files, and we have a fine, automated process to do just that. As we mentioned in the message, there may also be sanctions, such as fines if the address resolves to someone in the Residence Halls, and students are subject to the Student Conduct Code.

Okay, you’ve heard all of this before. What you may not have heard is that RIAA and MPAA are now going after the other internet service providers, beyond universities. They have made agreements with Comcast, AT&T and so on to do the same thing to users of those services (which includes pretty much everybody reading this). So, if you are sharing files illegally, they may go after you. There is a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ rule (i.e. they will warn you six times before they start limiting your download speed). You can read the details here:


A word to the wise.

More on the tragedy of Aaron Swartz

Yesterday I wrote about the tragic suicide of Aaron Swartz, who was being prosecuted by the feds for publishing articles he downloaded from JStor,  even though JStor declined to press charges.

Just found out that he was one of the leaders of the movement to oppose SOPA, the ‘Stop Online Privacy Act’ that I blogged about earlier. Below is a link to a brilliant talk he gave in June about his role in this fight. I don’t agree with all his political asides, but generally he was right on, as far as I’m concerned. It’s about 25 minutes long, but you can run it in the background, as it doesn’t have any graphics–just a talking head.

A ‘Fair Use’ Victory

Over the past couple of years there has been a major legal debate between organizations representing authors and publishers on the one hand, and a couple of major Internet entities–Google and the Hathi Trust.

The Hathi Trust, based at Michigan, is a coalition of a number of large universities. Its mission is ‘to contribute to the common good by collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge.’ and its goals include:

  • To build a reliable and increasingly comprehensive digital archive of library materials converted from print that is co-owned and managed by a number of academic institutions.
  • To dramatically improve access to these materials in ways that, first and foremost, meet the needs of the co-owning institutions.
  • To help preserve these important human records by creating reliable and accessible electronic representations.

Essentially, Google helped Michigan and the other universities virtually scan all the books in their libraries in order to make them searchable and store their contents electronically. The idea was to make the books accessible to visually impaired students, and to allow researchers to search the entire corpus of texts. Linguists, for example, search written texts for early uses of particular words, or when studying grammatical constructions. Needless to say, such research would be impossible if it was necessary to read through every book in the U of M Library to find instances of the word there used as a subject of verbs other than be, appear, and seem (this happens to have been part of my dissertation research). And, of course, my doing that research would not have had any effect on the sales of the physics texts, novels and encyclopedias of fungi that are located in the library and were scanned. But the Authors’ Guild argued that this scanning reduced their sales and deprived them of income.

Last week U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. (Southern District of New York) ruled that this scanning constituted ‘fair use’ of copyrighted material, and threw the Authors’ Guild suit out. He wrote ‘I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by Defendants’ MDP [mass digitization project] and would require that I terminate this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts that at the same time effectuates the ideals espoused by the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act].’ (The whole decision is available here.)

The notion of ‘transformative use’ is crucial in permitting use of copyrighted material without permission. It is what allows parodies, criticism, and now, crucially, linguistic and sociological research. It’s hard to imagine what the world would be like if a book review required the author’s permission to quote from the book being reviewed.

And, as was pointed out in Inside Higher Ed, this is the third major copyright case that universities and scholars have won. You may recall from a year or so ago that some major textbook publishers sued the University of Georgia for putting too much material into online coursepacks (inside Blackboard, incidentally). The judge in that case threw out most of the Association of American Publishers and the Copyright Clearance Center’s lawsuit also. And finally, a group representing documentary film makers failed in a lawsuit against UCLA.

Ultimately I think the major ‘take-away’ is that when scholars use copyrighted material in their research and teaching they are not ‘stealing’ it, and their use of it is unlikely to affect royalties going to authors. This makes these cases different from the music and movie industry’s war against ‘unauthorized’ downloading (whatever you think of the morality/legality of those cases).