Update: RIAA Still Completely Insane, Just Not Acting On It (Yet)

Filed in Social IssuesTags: Computers, Copyright, Fair Use, Internet, Music, Technology

Yesterday I wrote about an RIAA lawsuit against someone solely for ripping legally purchased music CDs. Engadget posted an update that the lawsuit is not for ripping CDs, but rather is one of RIAA's garden-variety MP3 distribution lawsuits. A commenter on their previous post linked to the summary judgement that states as much.

While I pointed out in the previous post that the RIAA still states its belief that ripping CDs - even for personal use - is a copyright violation, they (thus far) have yet to make that argument in court. Here is a key statement from the brief (pg. 6, lines 11-20 - emphasis added):

Howell also objects to liability on the grounds that he owns compact discs (“CDs”) containing the disputed sound recordings and that he “translated” them to his computer for personal use. In support of this argument, Howell attached photographs of CDs and cases to his Response. However, the question is not whether Howell owned legitimate copies of some of the sound recordings on CD, but instead whether he distributed copies of the recordings without authorization. Howell’s right to use for personal enjoyment copyrighted works on CDs he purchased does not confer a right to distribute those works to others without Plaintiffs’ authorization. 17 U.S.C. § 106(3). As he admitted that the sound recordings were “being shared by [his] Kazaa account,” Howell is liable for distributing them in violation of the recording companies’ exclusive right.

That said, given the RIAA's rumblings, don't b e surprised when they eventually sue someone merely for ripping legally purchased CDs.

I would also point out something that may prove to be the impetus for not only the downfall of the RIAA's war on consumers, but also for the application of current copyright law - and that is the application of current statutory damages for copyright infringement to MP3 distribution. Current law allows for damages from $750 to $30,000+ per infringed work.

Given that the going rate for an MP3 is on the order of $1 per song, awarding a statutory damage of even the minimum $750 per song is absolutely outrageous - especially considering that the lawsuit is a case of distribution-by-making-available claim. Here, the RIAA made no effort to prove any actual distribution, but only that the defendant violated laws against distribution of copyrighted work merely by making it available in a publicly accessible, "shared" folder.

Clearly, the RIAA here cannot show anything close to $750 per song in actual damages - and even if the award is considered punitive rather than statutory, the punishment far outweighs the crime. The RIAA's continual pursuit of these statutory damage awards will not only result in a consumer revolt, but may actually lead to public outcry for a revision of the copyright law in question.

Of course, music labels - and thus, the RIAA - are on the verge of going the way of the dinosaur. More artists will produce and distribute their works independently, cutting out the middlemen represented by the RIAA.

IMO, it can't happen soon enough.

WordPress 2.3.2

Filed in Web DevelopmentTags: Geekery, Web Site, WordPress

The latest version of WordPress - version 2.3.2 - has been released. It is mostly a security update. Get it while it's hot!

Edit: Make that Version 2.3.2, not 2.3.1 - it's late; I'm tired!

RIAA Officially Gives Paying Customers the Middle Finger

Filed in Social IssuesTags: Computers, Copyright, Fair Use, Music, Technology

Engadget links to a report that the RIAA is suing someone not for distributing digital copies of music, but for making personal digital copies of legally purchased CDs. Some of the quotes from the RIAA and their lawyers are amazing:

"If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you're stealing. You're breaking the law and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages."

At the Thomas trial in Minnesota, Sony BMG's chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, testified that "when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Copying a song you bought is "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy,' " she said.

Like the defendant in this absurd lawsuit, I am confident that the courts will uphold what is clearly a fair use of copyrighted work. The RIAA will rue the day tha tthey brought this lawsuit - not only for their legal defeat, but also for the public relations nightmare that the suit will become.

Note that this is not the first time the RIAA has made this argument. Of course, the last time it did so, it directly contradicted its own testimony before the U.S. Supreme court, in which RIAA lawyers stated:

"The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod."

Fair-use resources: EFF, Chilling Effects, Stanford Law

Rubin’s Most Recent Libel of ESC Opponents

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Media Bias, Missouri, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

There are lies, damn lies and anything uttered by Donn Rubin.

--Mark Twain, paraphrased

Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures (sic) chairman Donn Rubin has already proven himself to be a spin master, but his latest screed is downright slanderous.

In this op/ed piece (h/t Secondhand Smoke), Rubin lauds recent advancements in stem cell research, in which differentiated (adult) stem cells have been induced to revert to a pluripotent (i.e. "embryonic") state. He then goes on to claim that Missourians who oppose embryonic stem cell and cloning research (actually, he refers to such opponents as "stem cell research opponents" - as usual, intentionally obfuscating the difference between research with adult and embryonic stem cells) would have stood in the way of the research that led to these advances.

I think now is as good of a time as any for a good, old-fashioned, paragraph-by-paragraph fisking of Dehr Spinmeister.

Anti-stem cell groups would deter successes.

I defy Rubin to identify even one "anti-stem cell group." To my knowledge, no such group exists. If it does, it is by no means mainstream, and is certainly no credible threat to ESC proponents in Missouri.

Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures lauds the stem cell advances occurring around the world as tremendous steps in medical science's ongoing battle to cure disease, and we eagerly await further discoveries as scientists continue the ethical exploration of this new medical frontier.

An excellent example is last month's widely covered advances in Wisconsin and Japan where scientists were able to reprogram an ordinary skin cell to assume much of the versatility of embryonic stem cells. And, even more recently, this month scientists in London used embryonic stem cells to develop a stem cell "patch" to repair scar tissue from heart attacks and American scientists used embryonic stem cells as a novel way to test the safety of drugs.

As the Secondhand Smoke post points out, the development of the "stem cell 'patch' to repair scar tissue from heart attacks" was in a Petri dish only.

All of these advances demonstrate how important Missouri's constitutional protections are, ensuring that our patients and families have the same access as other Americans to whichever approaches prove most successful and lead to the best medical treatments and cures.

Amendment 2 provided no meaningful protection for either the research that led to these advances nor for any potential treatment derived from them. Neither the research nor derived treatments were or have been threatened. The debated has always concerned Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT, a.k.a. cloning) in order to create viable human embryos for the express purpose of being destroyed in order to harvest pluripotent, embryonic stem cells. The research Rubin cited did not involve anything in that debate.

Moving on - all that was just Rubin's wind-up; now we get to his screwball:

If stem cell research opponents had their way, none of this outstanding science would have been possible. Ironically, they would have blocked the very groundwork that led to the technique they now seem to embrace — the reprogramming of ordinary skin cells into embryonic-like stem cells.

Again, there are no such "stem cell research opponents" but rather opponents of human cloning and embryo-destructive research. In fact, many of us in that camp have very adamantly expressed that we must center our debate not on the ethical nature or efficacy of research involving embryonic stem cells themselves, but rather on the ethical nature and necessity of human cloning and the destruction of viable human embryos for the purpose of that research.

Further, "reprogramming of ordinary skin cells into embryonic-like stem cells" in no way involves either human cloning or the destruction of viable human embryos; rather, it involves induction of a normal, differentiated skin cell into a pluripotent state.

But Rubin doesn't stop there:

For years, anti-stem cell groups in Missouri have discounted the unique lifesaving potential of embryonic stem cells, dismissing evidence presented by the vast majority of leading medical and patient organizations. We're glad to see that they are beginning to accept this lifesaving potential.

(Still waiting for Rubin to identify one of these "anti-stem cell groups in Missouri"...) To the contrary, we have not "discounted the unique lifesaving potential of embryonic stem cells" - with the exception of the uniqueness of that potential. Again, we do not oppose research involving pluripotent (even embryonic) stem cells; rather, we oppose the cloning and/or destruction of human life in order to obtain those stem cells.

As for the "unique lifesaving potential" of ESCs, if that potential had been demonstrated sufficiently, the research would have support from the normal means of funding: the private sector; however, the private sector has indicated - by virtue of the direction of its funding - that it believes in the potential of adult stem cell research. Ironically, it is Rubin and his ilk that continue to ignore and discount the future potential and already proven efficacy of adult stem cells.

They may have joined the bandwagon in celebrating a single technique, but they fail to acknowledge that the advance with reprogrammed cells was merely an initial step that can only achieve its medical potential through additional embryonic stem cell research. The scientists who led these advances, James Thomson of Wisconsin and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan, have stated clearly and unequivocally that all stem cell research must continue. It would be a tragedy if their successes were misused to cut off other important avenues of medical research.

Rubin makes absolutely no sense here. Why would research that neither started nor ended with embryonic stem cells require "additional embryonic stem cell research"? And Rubin outright lies about Yamanaka's beliefs on the subject of continued embryonic stem cell research. This International Herald-Tribune article (h/t ProLifeBlogs) quotes Yamanaka (emphasis added):

Yamanaka was an assistant professor of pharmacology doing research involving embryonic stem cells when he made the social call to the clinic about eight years ago. At the friend's invitation, he looked down the microscope at one of the human embryos stored at the clinic.

The glimpse changed his scientific career.

"When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters," said Yamanaka, 45, a father of two and now a professor at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University. "I thought, we can't keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way."

And again (emphasis added):

He said he had never handled actual embryonic cells himself, and the American lab uses them only to verify that the reprogrammed adult cells are behaving as true stem cells. "There is no way now to get around some use of embryos," he said."But my goal is to avoid using them."

Far from having stated "stated clearly and unequivocally that all stem cell research must continue," Yamanaka clearly and unequivocally wants to eliminate the need for the use of embryos for stem cell research - in fact, by his very words, it is his goal. Rubin's misuse of Yamanaka's research advances and intent in order to bemoan the alleged misuse of those advances moves beyond irony into audacity. It is simply beyond the pale for Rubin - who repeatedly dismisses embryos as "cells in a Petri dish" - to mis-characterize the intent of Yamanaka - who has stated that he sees little difference between a research embryo and his own daughters.

Not only has Rubin no respect for the sanctity of all human life, but he also has no shame.

In the following statement, Rubin hoists his over-used canard, in this case, a tripartite reiteration:

If those seeking to repeal Missouri's constitutional stem cell protections get their way now, they would block the important research required to bring the new technique to its full lifesaving potential.

Those whose aim it is to ban all embryonic stem cell research in Missouri cannot have it both ways. They cannot continue to oppose the very research that is required to achieve the lifesaving goals that they now claim to embrace.

Those who threaten to repeal Missourians' access to stem cell research should step back and allow scientists to conduct the work necessary to achieve the goals that I hope we all share — to cure disease and improve the lives of patients and families.

There you have it: Rubin's imagined opponents desire to "repeal Missouri's constitutional stem cell protections," to "ban all embryonic stem cell research in Missouri," and to "repeal Missourians' access to stem cell research."

We've covered this one, but one more time, for the sake of thoroughness: we do not wish to repeal Missouri's constitutional stem cell protections (per se - I have no problems with protecting stem cell research, though I don't believe such an issue has any place in a state constitution; it is a constructionist matter, not a moral one). We do, however, wish to repeal Missouri's constitutional protection of human cloning. Further, the repeal of that protection would in no way whatsoever impact research such as Dr. Yamanaka's, since his research neither began with nor resulted in an embryonic cell of any kind - much less, one procured through the destruction of a cloned human embryo.

Neither do we wish to ban all embryonic stem cell research in Missouri. We do wish to ban all human cloning, and oppose the destruction of human embryos for such research. Further, we oppose public funding of such research - and therein lies the key issue, and the Stowers (and other ESC researchers) cannot get sufficient private-sector funding, and want the government to foot the bill.

Likewise, we in no way wish to repeal Missourians' access to stem cell research. We fully support research involving adult stem cells, and any other research not involving the destruction of human embryos. We also support their right to seek private funding for whatever legal research they wish to pursue.

Rubin shows his usual lack of honesty and forthrightness; however, in this piece Rubin displays outright slander of his "opponents" and an intentional misrepresentation of Dr. Yamanaka's intentions.

Donn Rubin is a liar. I only wish I could see what Mark Twain would actually have said about him.

Facebook, Beacon, and Privacy Rights

Filed in Social IssuesTags: Internet, Privacy, Technology

Recently, social networking site Facebook has undergone intense scrutiny and backlash for the implementation of its third-party advertising system called Beacon.

For those unaware of the Beacon application, here's a brief primer. Beacon is a JavaScript application used by third-party web sites (such as epicurious, travelocity, blockbuster, etc.) in conjunction with Facebook. The third-party website implements JavaScript code that sends certain data to Facebook. These data may include movies rented at Blockbuster, recipes searched at epicurious, or travel plans booked on travelocity. The websites send these data to Facebook, and if the user of the third-party website can be identified as a Facebook user, the data are published in that user's update feed.

Without re-hashing the explanations given elsewhere, see here for more technical details of the application. Others have listed the third-party websites that have implemented Beacon.

You may be asking yourself why you should care; well, here's why: these third-party websites are sending your personally identifiable user data to Facebook - whether or not you are a Facebook member (as is demonstrated by the previous link explaining the technical details).

It appears that much of the scrutiny has been on Facebook's implementation of the application, and the site's publishing of user-identifiable data. That scrutiny was much-deserved, and Facebook has made significant changes both to the implementation of Beacon and to their privacy policy. In fact, Facebook users can now opt-out of the application entirely - at least on the Facebook side.

However, it appears to me that a lot of heat has been placed on Facebook, and not enough on the third-party websites. While it is somewhat more comforting to know that Facebook will not publish user-identifiable information without my approval, the fact remains that all those data are still sent from the third-party websites to Facebook. If those data are tied to a user who has opted out of the application, Facebook has simply indicated that it will discard, not save, and not publish those data.

While I think Facebook has handled the implementation of Beacon poorly, I have a far greater problem with the third-party websites, who have implemented the Beacon application without any notice to or prior approval from its users. (In fact, one lawyer has speculated that Blockbuster is in clear violation of a law that prohibits the release of movie rental data.)

Facebook would certainly be in the wrong for publishing such data without user permission; however, the third-party websites that gather and send those data to Facebook have committed a far more egregious wrong. Sending to a third party data about my purchases and other activities without my permission has to be a clear violation of any worthwhile privacy policy.

Personally, I don't have a problem with the Beacon application; I only oppose its current implementation. Websites should be free to implement the application, but it should be done openly, and in an opt-in manner. If BrandNameWebsite wants to implement Beagle, and send data about my purchases to Facebook, it should give prior notice to its users, update its privacy policy, and require users to opt-in to having their data collected and sent.

Fortunately, you have options to control your experience with the Beagle application. As mentioned previously, you can opt-out entirely on the Facebook side. You can also use various browser plug-ins to notify you of websites using the Beagle application and to block the application altogether. (Websites that use the application put a few lines of JavaScript code into their website. That code makes a remote call to a known directory on the Facebook website. The plugins work by detecting and/or blocking the URL for the JavaScript code on the Facebook website.)

Winter Storm – Water Main Break

Filed in PersonalTags: Missouri, Saint Louis

How's everyone dealing with the little winter storm that is coming through the midwest? We're expected to see a total of 6-8 inches of snow.

Oh, and we have no water.

We apparently had a water main break here at the apartment complex. I called the emergency maintenance number about an hour and a half ago to report a sharp decrease in water pressure. I was told that I would get a call back from maintenance, but never did. So, I just called back, and was told about the water main break, and that it would take maintenance 8-10 hours to fix.

Good thing we keep plenty of water in the apartment. Of course, I really don't appreciate not getting a call-back on the issue, considering the winter storm we're undergoing.

UPDATE: Our water has been restored.

Representative Julia Carson (D-IN) Dies

Filed in PoliticsTags: Democrats, Indiana, Indianapolis

The Indianapolis Star is reporting that Democrat Julia Carson, US Representative for the Indianapolis area, has died, mere weeks after announcing that she would not seek re-election due to her failing health, including apparently terminal lung cancer. Rep. Carson was 69.

While I believe that the people of Indianapolis would be better-served by a representative less staunchly liberal, I would never have wished ill will or ill health on Rep. Carson. May she rest in peace, and may God be with her family in this time of loss.

Grandma Carrie, Rest in Peace

Filed in PersonalTags: Family, Indiana

I received some very unexpected news this week, when my mom emailed me to say that my Grandma Carrie had passed away.

Carrie Pilant wasn't my biological grandmother, but she was, in my mother's words, the only real mother that my mother knew. Some of my oldest memories are of visits to see Grandma Carrie and Papaw Wayne "down on the farm" - from my dad's hunting trips (even the ones he let me go with him), to playing in the fields with my "cousins", to Sundays - with church service at Friendly Grove, a big Sunday dinner back at the house, and an afternoon nap.

Grandma Carrie had suffered through various health issues in recent years, but from all accounts, her passing was unexpected. Unfortunately, it was so sudden that I was unable to coordinate the time off from work to attend her funeral, which took place Thursday.

I don't know what more to say right now, other than that I haven't really lost my grandma; she has just gone home. If anyone loved the Lord, she did; and now she is with Him for eternity. I sympathize the most with those in her family on whom she had such a profound impact.

Rest in Peace, Grandma Carrie.

Fascist Nanny State in Nebraska

Filed in Religion, Social IssuesTags: Christianity

Unbelievable:

Rush talked about the atrocity committed in Nebraska, in which the State removed a five-week-old baby from the home of his parents for a week, in order for the baby to undergo state-mandated blood tests. The parents objected to the testing on religious grounds, so the state prosecutors went to a judge and then sent armed sheriff's deputies to the house to remove the baby.

The baby, still nursing from his mother, was placed in foster care not only for the blood to be drawn, but also to await the return of the results of the bloodwork.

Hey, Nebraska: do you remember the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States?

Such blatant disregard for the First Amendment is the very reason we have the Second Amendment.

Haunted Fraternity House

Filed in PersonalTags: College, Indiana, RHIT, Terre Haute

Here's one for my mother-in-law: the fraternity house in which I lived while in college is haunted. The Terre Haute Trib-Star writes about it every so often; here's the latest. Here's a little background from the article:

[The] fraternity house was part of a several-building complex for the former Vigo County Home for Dependent Children, which was also known as the Glenn Home. The orphanage was created in 1903, though the “main building” was constructed in 1896, and still survives, a Web site dedicated to the Glenn Home’s history reports.

Several buildings were replaced through the orphanage’s tenure, which lasted more than 75 years. It finally closed in 1979, and many of the buildings later became part of Pi Kappa Alpha’s property.

And then the legends began.

Here is the Glenn Home History website.