AC Milan – PSV 2-0

In an interview published a couple of weeks ago, PSV winger Young-Pyo Lee said that he cherished losing, because from losing you can learn. “We haven’t had many chances to learn this season,” he concluded.

Well, yesterday PSV were a given a masterclass in football by AC Milan, and I hope the youngsters at PSV have been paying attention, because they received a lot of course material. It would be interesting to see how they develop from this point onwards. PSV earned its chance to play with the best this season, and I think it has the players who can do something with that.

He had loved not wisely, but too well

The Distributed Proofreaders have a forum thread (registration required, I believe), in which they put noteworthy phrases they come across.

You know how they say you should not have a tattoo with the name of the love of your life, because tomorrow she will love another? From Stevenson, on his travels through the South Pacific:

“It is a pleasant society, and a hospitable.”

“But one man, who was often to be seen seated on the logs at the pier-head, merits a word for the singularity of his history and appearance. Long ago, it seems, he fell in love with a native lady, a High Chiefess in Ua-pu. She, on being approached, declared she could never marry a man who was untattooed; it looked so naked; whereupon, with some greatness of soul, our hero put himself in the hands of the Tahukus, and, with still greater, persevered until the process was complete.”

“He had certainly to bear a great expense, for the Tahuku will not work without reward; and certainly exquisite pain. Kooamua, high chief as he was, and one of the old school, was only part tattooed; he could not, he told us with lively pantomime, endure the torture to an end. Our enamoured countryman was more resolved; he was tattooed from head to foot in the most approved methods of the art: and at last presented himself before his mistress a new man. The fickle fair one could never behold him from that day except with laughter.”

“For my part, I could never see the man without a kind of admiration; of him it might be said, if ever of any, that he had loved not wisely, but too well.”

“You’ve all done very well”

In what is perhaps my favourite comedy series, Are You Being Served, there is a character called Young Mister Grace, the very old owner of the department store that is the background for the series. The idea being that there is an even older Mr. Grace that we initially do not get to see.

Eindhoven is a recent boom-town that was raised from obscurity by the Philips family. Amazingly, Young Mister Philips is alive today (he turned 100 this year), and he got to hold the championship “dish” that company club PSV had won for the eighteenth time this year. Apparently until recently he would drop by practice sessions now and again, and would give little “You’ve all done very well”-speeches to the players, half of whom probably don’t even understand Dutch.

Two more for the copyright lawyers

Here are two more copyright law problems that I cannot solve:

1) SNTE is claiming copyright on an illuminated Eiffel tower in Paris, so that photographers are not able to sell pictures of that object without paying a license fee. How can SNTE claim copyright when they “created” their Eiffel tower lighting in 2003, whereas the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas already had the same lighting in 2002? Is this a simple matter of either infringement or licensing, or is some other aspect of the law involved?

2) Microsoft’s license to its proprietary networking protocols are too restrictive according to the European Union.

I have asked this on a dozen forums, but so far no-one has answered me: what “right” does Microsoft have to its protocols that a license is required to use them?

Are protocols copyrightable? (Where’s the expression?) Are they patentable? (How are they non-obvious?) Are they a trade mark? (This is the one that actually seems feasible to me.)

The strange thing is that though nobody can tell me what legal basis exists for Microsoft’s license, nobody is questioning that there is such a legal basis either.

The Microsoft webpage on this issue does absolutely nothing to make things clearer:

The […] License Agreement […] grants to licensees […] a license under Microsoft European intellectual property rights for the purpose of interoperability with Microsoft client and server operating systems. Specifically, licensees will obtain the rights to use the licensed Microsoft technical documentation to develop implementations of the […] protocols for the available server tasks enabled by the WSPP protocols that the licensee selects.

(Emphasis added by me.)

So Microsoft identifies two (types of) rights:

  • the Microsoft European intellectual property rights, and
  • the right to use documentation

Which law or jurisprudence established these rights?

Or, to put it differently, if I were to develop software using Microsoft’s protocols, what argument would the judge use to justify putting me in jail?

(The previous problem was: Why do works that are first published after the author’s death, still generate a copyright?. The answer to that was that authors can sell a work to a publisher under the condition that it won’t be made public until after the author’s death.)

Firefox trumps Explorer … over there

More Firefox users visit BoingBoing than IE users. Everybody I know is suddenly buying Macs. Highly educated folks use DSL, less educated people use cable to connect to the internet.

That last bit comes from a column (Dutch) by Hendrik Rood, who notes that these movements indicate that internet connectivity is finally becoming a real market. Maturer markets already had divisions along social lines; think of the car market, for instance. Would the same be happening to the webbrowser market?

(If you speak Dutch, you should really read the column.)

Beat but the beaten path

Tanya Rabourn draws an interesting analogy between landscape architecture and web design: “Rather than discourage people from making their own way, landscape architects can opt to design walkways to accommodate the natural patterns formed after a period of use. […] So, you might have the situation where the grandest building on say a college campus, might be the administration’s preference for a large, imposing walkway, but the usage patterns dictate that another building is the more popular. The result is the familiar negotiation between what the stakeholders want to project and what the users need.

(Through Zeldman)

Competition and copyright

I am trying to remember what I heard or read a Dutch copyright lawyer say about using the Dutch Agency for Competition to take the edge off of some of copyright’s more heinous effects. There is an agency called NMA that must make sure monopolies are not abused.

Googling for the Dutch words for competition (“mededinging”) and copyright (“auteursrecht”), I stumble upon only three (types of) cases in which copyright and the right to free competition clash.

One is where publishers have a lock on the market and use it to force authors to transfer their copyrights to them. Composer Tony Eyk complains to parliament about how all broadcasting corporations engage in this practice, so that a composer who wants to write for Dutch national television has no way to do so competitively.

Two is where representatives of copyright holders enforce copyright even against the wishes of those copyright holders. This is an old complaint that is often aimed at BUMA/STEMRA, the collection agency for composers and performing artists. BUMA/STEMRA claims (IIRC) that it cannot do its work if it has to start taking the wishes of individual authors into account.

The most recent case that I know of is where my ISP, XS4All, gave a birthday party which included a symposium on copyright. It had agreements with all performing artists that their performances could be downloaded for free, but BUMA/STEMRA disagreed. XS4All filed a complaint with the NMA.

Three is the situation where copyright is claimed to maintain a monopoly. A case that has been dragging on for years and that again involves the broadcasting corporations is that of the TV program listings. Broadcasting corporations claim they own the program listings. This is important to them, because they tend to get a lot of income from publishing TV guides. However, so far courts have concluded these listings lack the amount of originality needed to create a copyright.

None of these three cases seem to show up the heinous effects of copyright as a monopoly though. #1 seems to indicate that copyright is sometimes not a large enough club, #3 seems to suggest that copyright sometimes is so large a club, that organizations will wish to employ it before exploring other options, and #2 seems to be orthogonal to the whole question: AFAIK (but IANAL), the law explicitely grants authors (and performers?) the right to negotiate outside the collection agencies, so I don’t really see a problem there. Lawsuit, let BUMA/STEMRA pay, and hope that they learn from it and try to get procedures in place that will allow the authors more freedom to negotiate.

My First Web Comic

OK, so technically speaking it is not my comic. (And it’s not even my first web comic.)

Americans get some things right. Yes they do. Now don’t you deny it, it’s true! For instance, they (sometimes?) argue that the public should not pay twice for things. So their copyright law has a provision that works created from public funds cannot be copyrighted.

The devil is in the details, and in everyday practice a lot of publicly funded works are saturated with copyright claims. Luckily, amongst others NASA and the Library of Congress (the US variant of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek) get it right, and so I find myself browsing their collections for reusable stuff often and with pleasure.

The following cartoon is from a newspaper called Stars and Stripes, which was distributed in the last years of the Great War among the American troops stationed in France. Every page I have seen so far has a drawing taking up most of the top right hand corner of the page. Someone should collect these and clean them up.

Trooper trying to roll his own

Memo to self: find out if Douglas Wolk got around to creating a public internet archive of early American newspaper comics.

Pains of progress

Last year I wrote: “wikis, blogs, forums and community software [seem to] have all the potential to supplant CMSes, at least in the non-commercial space [and] by doing so, they bring the possibility to the websurfer to edit the pages he visits, thereby fulfilling the last unfulfilled promise of the web.”

Well, I don’t know about that, but they sure are useful! Reusability of code is a great thing. Lately I have been running into the other side of the medal.

For instance, I read that the software running this here blog is made by Evil folks. The more painful since I have been sitting on a number of bug reports and suggestions for improvement (that I was going to follow up with patches hopefully); now I don’t know what to do with them. And recommending WordPress to other people (which I have done in the past) is now out of the question too. Which is a pity, because there is nothing wrong with the software itself.

A forum that I have installed on at least four sites has been bugged by virusses that use Google to find their victims. I have had to update twice, on each of the sites. Installing phpBB is so trivial that it takes less than five minutes, and my customers have been charged accordingly. However, updating the often modified forums takes a lot more. It’s not just a matter of uploading the files that were changed, but I need to make sure I did not change these files myself: those changes may be lost if I overwrite them with the security update’s changes.

I have also started selling the service of installing, configuring and customising Mambo CMS, and I cannot begin to imagine the sort of headaches that is going to give me.

Of course, this is all the logical consequence of doing business; I changed my business model, and it was a good and smart change, but I did not foresee all the consequences.

As a practical matter I need to start thinking about how I am going to deal with these contingencies in the future. How am I going to make sure I need not overwrite my own customizations with security updates? How am I going to deal with dealers who turned out to be untrustworthy?

DRM threatens fringe copyright consumers

The evils of DRM have been documented elsewhere, but so far I have disagreed: the market will decide whether DRM is valuable or not.

Politicians routinely overestimate the power the consumer has when negotiating with Big Copyright, and the laws that are meant to make cracking DRM illegal are far over-reaching; but these are not problems inherent to DRM itself, and must be attacked on their own.

There may however be a far more severe problem with DRM that does require direct intervention: readers with unorthodox usage patterns and readers with unorthodox tastes are left in the cold. Of course, this also happens outside of DRM: publishers are not obliged to carry works that don’t sell, nor are they obliged to publish works in unusual formats. However, DRM exacerbates this problem.

Teleread points out that libraries suffer DRM too. I can imagine that for libraries things are worse: they have usage patterns that may not stroke with what the DRM allows. A book being read by more than four persons? A book being read more than twice a year? Surely, the lock would conclude, this must by piracy?

Lawrence Lessig points to another part of the problem (and perhaps a more complex one): the way we choose to “protect” works, helps determine the sort of works we choose to create. I say “more complex”, because this could work both ways. On the one hand, getting a good contract might require locking up your work in DRM. This means less opportunity for your work to get remixed and integrated in all of culture, and readers may even vote with their wallets and not buy your work. Depending on the contract this may be good or bad for the author: however, it is always bad for the work.

And on the other hand, authors may choose not to write the sort of works that publishers won’t buy because they are hard to “protect”.

I won’t spill tears over types of work getting extinct. If copyright were abolished today (and I am not sure that would be a bad idea), some works–Hollywood blockbusters are often named as an example–will certainly vanish. But other works will flourish in their place. Makers of collage art would no longer have to contemplate a carreer change.

The thing is, if we make a choice to eradicate certain types of art, it should be a conscious choice. I doubt though that the law-makers who have “protected” DRM so far have given this much thought.

(I use quote marks for “protect”, because I believe that copyright and digital locks do the opposite for works; once locked up in a technological or legal device, the chance of copying is limited, and therefore the chances of dissemination and ultimately survival of a work are limited.)