Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Today’s First Post from Personal Democracy Media has a remarkably concise rebuttal to critics of net neutrality:

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) writes in Politico that we shouldn’t allow government to “crash” the Internet party. It’s worth reading his op-ed if you want the full gist of the current disinformation campaign against net neutrality. Rubio claims the FCC is going to “play favorites” with Internet service providers, which is like saying SEC plays favorites with stock brokers by requiring them to play by the same rules.

He also claims the Internet “is a place…[not] unlike a city or town”—which it is not, it is a set of protocols. And finally, he argues that “it belongs in the hands of our people,” which is a welcome sentiment that completely elides the fact that most of it runs thru pipes owned by avaricious monopolists.

Read Senator Rubio’s actual misguided take on net neutrality here. As PDM notes, this is what opposing arguments are likely to take in the runup to the FCC’s rulemaking.

Published on under The Digital Age

Today, Boston’s public radio station WBUR aired a segment on the recent $7.4 million lawsuit between the copyright owners of Blurred Lines and Got To Give It Up:

A lot of composers wondered if copyright is now being extended to cover not just lyrics and melody but a whole vibe. Rhythm. Timbre. This hour On Point: what’s theft now when it comes to music? To song?

It’s a good listen, but the real reason you want to visit WBUR’s web site is for the side-by-side comparison of songs and the other songs which allegedly ripped them off. Some of these I would have called shameless, before listening.

Published on under The Digital Age

By way of Eve Ahearn, I just learned that the prestigious Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University produces a podcast about the internet. And there’s an episode about a particlarly titillating subject of intellectual property laws: pornography.

From the show notes:

While the web has created incredible new economic opportunities for adult entertainers […] few other industries on the web face the glut of competition from services that offer similar content for free or in violation of copyright. Simply put, there’s so much free porn on the net that honest pornographers can’t keep up.

Surprisingly though, the porn industry doesn’t seem that interested in pursuing copyright violators. Intellectual property scholar Kate Darling studied how the industry was responding to piracy, and it turned out that – by and large – adult entertainment creators ran the numbers and found that it simply cost more from them to fight copyright violators than it was worth.

I will say that while the pornography industry may have adopted this approach on a broader scale, various independent artists have employed the “hey, you’ll download it anyway, so it might as well be from me” legal strategy. For example, MC Frontalot, who for a good many years simply gave away his music for free.

Published on under The Digital Age

The Boston Globe highlights the work of a standing committee in Massachussetts, convened by their Supreme Judicial Court. Is it about drug sentencing guidelines? Three Strikes laws? The death penalty?

Nope. It’s about memory. Specifically: it’s useless.

Eyewitness testimony is one of the most powerful forms of evidence in a trial. It’s also one of the most problematic; in fact, it’s “the number one cause of wrongful convictions,” says Daniel Medwed.

Medwed is a law professor at Northeastern and a member of the new Standing Committee on Eyewitness Identification, which was recently convened by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The committee is charged with devising police and court procedures that take into account the central lesson of research on eyewitness testimony: “Our memories of what we see aren’t static. They’re elastic and malleable and change over time,” Medwed says.

This is great news. The fact is that human memory is awfully fallible, and Massachusetts is researching ways to improve their use of other peoples’ memories. This is very important. But it’s not a surprise. I’ve written previously about how human memory isn’t a good foundation for our entire legal system.

The memory-related surprise this week is courtesy of Simon Oxenham at Neurobonkers, who describes a new study that found it’s not just eyewitnesses’ faulty memories you need to worry about; it’s your own traitorous brain’s as well:

It’s not often that a study comes along that makes me want to drop everything and read it from cover to cover, right there and then. It’s also not often that a paper is terminated early, out of fear of inflicting harm on participants; one memorable example is Zimbardo’s infamous Stanford prison experiment. Take note of that; we’ll come back to that later. One such paper was recently published in Psychological Science. Researchers convinced 70% of participants that they had committed a serious crime — theft, assault, or assault with a weapon, when in reality they had done no such thing. […]

The fact that the researchers were able to create false memories of serious crimes will likely make the study relevant in criminal trials involving alleged false memories. In the US, 30% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence resulted from false confessions, admissions, statements to law enforcement, or guilty pleas, according to the Innocence Project. Many of these have been blamed on the controversial Reid technique of interrogation, that remains widely used by many police forces in the U.S. and around the world.

The numbers here are staggering and sickening. Subjects were deemed to be “convinced” they’d committed a crime if they “remembered” (i.e. invented) ten specific details about the crime itself. A full 70% of folks just wholesale invented a criminal experience under the right circumstances (i.e. ones which are very similar to the circumstances in which police interrogate suspects). Mind boggling. And then that second number: 30% of the folks exonerated by DNA evidence confessed to the crime.

You’ll want to read Oxenham’s piece. And then maybe you start keeping a really good diary. You know, just in case.

Published on under Legal Theory

For the last month or two, I’ve been using a third-party keyboard on my phone called Nintype. Until last fall, Apple didn’t allow developers to put keyboards on the App Store, so this is a reasonably new option for iOS users.

When the first keyboards hit the App Store, I tried Fleksy, which bills itself as the World’s Fastest Keyboard, as well as Swype, the most well-known keyboard replacement on Android OS – it boasts 500 million users around the world. I used Fleksy and Swype for about a week each, but went back to the built-in iOS keyboard each time after deciding that neither presented a meaningful upgrade from the iOS one.

It’s a high bar: the built-in keyboard on an iPhone is pretty great. Since basically forever, it has automatically resized the targets for keys based on what it thinks users are about to type. Example: you type the letter W, and the area where you could tap to type H gets a lot larger than G or N or B or other letters. The phone makes it easier to type H and harder to type all the other letters which would make no sense after a W. These changes are invisible to the user, but this is what it would look like if you could see what the keyboard “thinks” you’re about to type:

This makes the Apple keyboard the most accurate touchscreen keyboard I’ve ever used. I assume Fleksy and Swype both provide some similar feature to improve users’ typing, but it never felt like either keyboard was as accurate as the default iOS one. Less accurate typing means more time correcting your own words, which means less time actually typing. Typing on a phone is slow enough without having to go back every third word and fix it.

Published on under A Day in the Life

Henry Farrell, writing for Aeon Magazine, on the trouble with buying black market goods on the internet:

Would-be criminals on the hidden internet repeatedly complain that they have been ripped off. In the description of one commenter on the Hidden Wiki:

“I have been scammed more than twice now by assholes who say they’re legit when I say I want to purchase stolen credit cards. I want to do tons of business but I DO NOT want to be scammed. I wish there were people who were honest crooks. If anyone could help me out that would be awesome! I just want to buy one at first so I know the seller is legit and honest.”

This might be a good example of Poe’s Law – if it’s trollsmanship, it’s good. If it’s not, it’s amazing. Here’s another great quote about Ross Ulbricht, the man who was just convicted of various federal crimes related to running the Silk Road:

Ulbricht built the Silk Road marketplace from nothing, pursuing both a political dream and his own self-interest. However, in making a market he found himself building a micro-state, with increasing levels of bureaucracy and rule‑enforcement and, eventually, the threat of violence against the most dangerous rule‑breakers. Trying to build Galt’s Gulch, he ended up reconstructing Hobbes’s Leviathan; he became the very thing he was trying to escape.

Farrell’s article is called The Reluctant King of the Hidden Internet, and it’s fantastic.

Published on under Not The Onion