Archive for the 'culture' Category

Wikipedia bans British Dept of Health?


According to the British Department of Health, Wikipedia banned their IP address from creating or editing entries in August 2007, pursuant to a policy blocking edits from IP addresses that are shared by many users. Gawker’s somewhat sensationalist (entitled “Everyone With Any Authority Is Banned From Wikipedia” and tagged “Webtards”) but amusing take:

The minister of state said Wikipedia had banned them for making “too many edits,” even though two edits a day sounds pretty reasonable for a major government organization. From now on, anyone from the DoH will have to sign in with a username, which should make it harder for anyone to notice if the department’s trying to push any certain message. Thanks, Wikipedia, for making sure governments don’t get too transparent, and ensuring that it will be easier for my cousin Mac to spread the truth that humans are solid all the way through, like potatoes.

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Pakistan blocks YouTube… from the entire world



The worldwide “block” was only for two hours but it’s still pretty ridiculous stuff. I can’t quite wrap my head around how they managed to change the “internet’s routing tables” for the entire world. From my understanding, you have to be pretty huge (like an entire country in this case) to get other country’s routers to mis-route addresses. I don’t think it was their intention to take YouTube down for the entire world, but it’s pretty scary that they had the power to at all. Meanwhile, the block in Pakistan will continue until further notice.

Social networking and the media


I was just reading a BBC news story about the tragic suicide of two young cousins. They both come from Brigend, in Wales, where 14 other young people have committed suicide in the past year. There hasn’t been any official explanation for the prevalence of suicides in this relatively small community but obviously people are looking for answers. In what seems at least questionable journalistic practice the following three one sentence paragraphs appear:

Police are investigating the deaths but say it is too early to say how they are linked.

It is thought both youngsters were members of the Bebo and Facebook internet social networking sites.

Relatives confirmed Ms Stephenson knew two previous young people from the Bridgend area who hanged themselves last year.

This is the only mention of social networking in the whole piece, with the implication being that this might be tied up with something happening on the sites. This may be true, but without any evidence to back this up I think the sentence is quite irresponsible. To be sure, there are problems that need to be addressed, but for now reporting like this won’t help ease the minds of worried parents. There is undoubtedly a “web difference” between some teenagers and their parents which creates an air of suspicion about online activities, reporting like this won’t help address the differences.

Two young cousins ‘found hanged’ – BBC News

In Defense of Classical Music


David Byrne’s article that we read for class Tuesday had an offhand remark that was rather negative towards classical music that I feel I need to address. He stated, “to build temples where only “our kind of people” can hear music (opera houses and symphony halls).” Nothing could be further from the truth. I worked for the (now defunct) Florida Philharmonic and saw firsthand the amount of time and money they dedicated to community outreach and introducing classical music to new people. For an example of just how much outreach orchestras do, check out the Cleveland Orchestra’s Education and Outreach page. Even if you don’t enjoy classical music, you have to admit that professional orchestras make more concerted efforts to get new people to listen to their genre than some guy with a guitar and a MySpace page.

For those of you who are interested in seeing how the web is changing the avant-garde classical music scene, check out Hunter is a very talented composer who I met in college. His “Interactive Series” involves compositions that were created using user-generated web input in the form of an online marketplace, a flash introduction, and online registration forms.

Should it be illegal to point?


This article about about a Swedish company, The Pirate Bay, illustrates a way in which the lawyers of P2P sites may strike cord with a judge by reasoning by analogy.

The sticky part, however, is that The Pirate Bay doesn’t host any of those files — like Google, the site is nothing but an index of where those files are located. The actual files are hosted on millions of computers around the world, some of which may only have a small part of the original file, thanks to the magic of the peer-to-peer technology known as BitTorrent. . . . In other words, The Pirate Bay is only pointing Internet users to those files, in the same way that Google and Yahoo and MSN point users to webpages. Is that — or should that be — a crime?

Just as no Judge wants to enter a judgement against libraries, it is not likely that any Judge or jury currently thinks of Google as an company that should be held liable for merely “pointing.”

The article ends with a line which illustrates (the societal norms discussed in class) that the founders of the site do not think what they are doing is wrong:

The founders of the service say their tracker will remain operating even if they are found guilty.

A thought on why we steal music and why we don’t steal cds.


Since our class I had a thought about one of the deeper implications that “stealing music online” gives rise to for intellectual property law and theory. This is the move to perfect intellectual property. By this I mean intellectual property that is for all intents and purposes completely intangible. Digital storage and transmission of copyright material is so disruptive not only because it allows perfect copies and non rivalrous use but because it finally cuts the cord between tangible property an intellectual property. Traditionally copyright material had to be expressed in some way in the physical world if one was to own it (I’ll come to tv and radio below). This could take the form of books, vinyl records, cassettes and cds. Thus the intangible is made tangible and by a process of sublimation an intellectual property right becomes linked to and valued as a tangible property right. Breaking this link makes intellectual property stand on its own and defend itself on its own merits, without the help of our seemingly hard wired propensity to favour protection of property rights at all costs. And rightly so.

I mentioned tv and radio above because I think this illustrates my point to some extent. These are two mediums by which intellectual property is transmitted without the use of a tangible carrier. Do we have a different attitude to copyright in these two mediums? I think we do. Recording from the television and removing the ads to watch at a later date or even recording songs from the radio onto a cassestte (happy days!) just doesn’t seem as wrong as stealing from a shop. To be sure the original broadcast is usually paid for indirectly by advertisements but perhaps its not the fact that it was originally free that assuages our moral conscience. Perhaps its because intellectual property without its tangible property carrier is simply not the same kind of property at all.

This post is really a round about way of stating the obvious: intellectual property is not the same as tangible property. I just think the distinction may go to expose something deeper that is wrong with intellectual property law as it currently stands, or at least might tell us that the argument for intellectual property as a concept needs to be made more clearly and prominently.

Justification vs. Counterpoint (Names Redacted Tackily)


At the tail end of class, there was a counterpoint raised to a justification for illegally downloading music. Person A justified illegal downloading, arguing that music wasn’t sold for a fair price and that consumers are within their (moral) rights to steal music until a reasonable price is charged. The counterpoint from Person B was that if we took this justification outside of the mp3 realm, it would sound ludicrous. To paraphrase Person B’s counterpoint: you’re essentially arguing that it’s alright to go into any store and steal anything that you don’t believe is priced fairly.

I agree that uncovering the general logic behind the justification sheds some light on it. Still, I don’t think this is the level of generality that illustrates the fundamental disagreement between Person A and Person B. I think if we take the level of generality up a few more notches, we arrive at the question(s) of if/when one actor’s (in this case, slightly) extra-legal or (in this case, slightly) immoral activity (here, the consumers’ illegal downloading) is justified to curb another actor’s legal but (in this case, you guessed it, slightly) immoral activity (here, the sellers’ virtual market-wide agreement to sell CD’s for $20 a pop in the late 90’s).

I’m pretty sure I sympathize with the stickin’-it-to-the-man (i.e., what I’m hypothesizing is Person A’s) side of this question (both including and excluding everything with parentheticals in the last sentence), but I don’t have a single, soundbite-theory about why (yet). Therefore, I’ll limit my pro-stickin’ arguments to responses to counters, if only to get a sense of the battle field before I launch into page-long assaults.

Still, I definitely can see it both ways, even if the discussion starts from the premise that extra-legal downloading can be an acceptable form of stickin’ (I’m sorry, that’s the last one, I promise). It’s plain lazy to use extra-legal measures to change the nature of the music business before exhausting legal venues. In this case, illegal downloaders with intentions to fight the good(ish) fight against the music industry have chosen to use their mouses and keyboards to trounce the law with a few clicks and commands instead of using them to work within its confines with some persuasive typing (e.g., organizing music consumers over the net).  We consumers are putting forth these arguments seven or eight years after we started Nasptering, Kazaaing, and i2Hubbing. We could have spent that time using the web to create legal venues through which to pursue the goal of a new kind of openness instead of resorting to the P2P Nuclear Option, but we chose the easy short cut.

That’s all for now.

In any case, I suggest you also reflect on a more visual argument for breaking the law in the name of culture:


Class 3 Blog Post


Despite the fact that I volunteered to be the first class blogger, Professor Palfrey began the class by maligning for my NY Giants shirt. Evidently reluctant to linger on a sore subject, he was eager to move on to Internet filtering.

A. Palfrey began the Internet filtering discussion with a chalkboard exercise using Professor Benkler’s layers of the Internet as a frame. The layers include:

1. Content (e.g. this blog post)
2. Applications (e.g. Microsoft Word)
3. Logic Layer (e.g. TCP/IP and other standards)
4. Infrastructure (hardware)

B. For more on Benkler’s layers, see Yochai Benkler, From Consumers to Users: Shifting the Structures of Regulation Toward Sustainable Commons and User Access, 52 FED. COMM. L.J. 561 (2000), available at….

C. Palfrey then moved on to explain the inspiration for the Access Denied project. A number of scholars, Palfrey, Zittrain, and Business School Professor Ben Edeleman among them, set out to determine whether Internet users could access the same Internet from anywhere in the world. They tested the notion through a number of case studies, most notably Saudi Arabia and China:

1. Saudi Arabia – the Saudi authorities were reluctant to bring the Internet to their populace. They maintain a website that contains information regarding the state’s filtering program. It includes a mechanism by which Saudi citizens may request that a blocked site be made available. The Saudis were initially cooperative with the Access Denied project and blocked primarily pornography.

2. China – much less forthcoming. There is no analogous site that explains the state’s filtering policies or any process for requesting that a given site has been blocked unnecessarily.

3. With a smooth segue back to the Internet layers, Palfrey explained that the while both the Saudis and the Chinese filtered at low down levels of the Infrastructure and Logic layers, the Chinese also engage in higher level filtering at the Application and Content layers. They enlisted the assistance of the ISPs, OSPs, and search engines to engage in filtering.

a) Palfrey then brought up the Open Net Initiative Google China Search Comparison site and ran a number of search comparisons, including “human rights” and “Tiananmen Square.”’s search results page states that “all results are not here.” The URL for the ONI Google Search is

B. Turkey: A New Case Study?

1. Professor Palfrey is on his way to Turkey this evening to attend a number of meetings on Internet filtering. When Palfrey asked the members of the class who they expected to be involved in the discussions, people suggested not only major ISPs and application providers from both Turkey and the U.S., but also religious leaders and academics.

2. As Palfrey explains, in many countries, there are disputes between the Minister of Economic Development, who is generally in favor of an open Internet, and the Minister of Telecommunications, who is generally in favor of filtering on the basis of protectionism.

C. Timed Censorship Strategies – Recently, Palfrey and others have observed strategically timed censorship efforts in the context of elections. The preferred method of timed censorship strategies is overloading. Overloading the censored sites is an ingenious methods of censorship because it is difficult to distinguish from high Internet traffic.

D. Wikipedia in China – Why might Wikipedia be blocked and unblocked three times? It’s clear why it got blocked initially. Wikipedia is potentially dangerous for the Chinese government. But why would they unblock it? They probably realized the beauty of Wikipedia – that anyone can edit it at any time. As a result, the Chinese government may have figured they could win the propaganda war against Wikipedia users. Why block it again? Other countries (ex. Japan) may be dedicating the same resources to the editing war. And so the cycle continues.

E. Internet and Gender – In the last few minutes, Professor Palfrey turned to the question of gender differences on the web, in the context of the Pew survey. Understandably, many students had issues with the survey methodology, most notably the potential inaccuracy of a self-reporting survey method.


Joho newsletter – Three relevant articles?


I’ve posted a new issue of my newsletter. The three articles in it seem to me to be related to the topic of this class, although they definitely are not part of the assigned readings.

 February 4, 2008

the Web different?
Is the
Web just the next medium in our history of media, or is it a spiritual
transformation, the great hope, blah-di-blah-di-blah?

and scarcity
In a world of
abundance, fairness is so 1990s. 

The next future of HTML:
 The draft of the next version of HTML manages a surprisingly
fine balance between the needs of humans and the needs of our computer

Bogus Contest: Tech clichés

Communication tech isolates us: A poem


Here is a poem by Les Murray that ran in the January 28, 2008 issue of The New Yorker (which owns the copyright). It seemed apropos to our discussion in Class 1 about whether and how we can be friends on the Net.

Science Fiction

I can travel
faster than light
so can you
the speed of thought
the only trouble
is at destinations
our thought balloons
are coated invisible
no one there sees us
and we can’t get out
to be real or present
phone and videophone
are almost worse
we don’t see a journey
but stay in our space
just talking and joking
with those we reach
but can never touch
the nothing that can hurt us
how lovely and terrible
and lonely is this

For me, the key line is his idea that via telecommunication we cannot be “real or present.” But, then what are we on the phone or the Net? Unreal and not present? That seems plain wrong, especially since the bulk of the poem seems to be trying to explain how we’re present when using telecommunications devices. Is talking on the phone or participating in an online forum about politics or cancer or child-rearing really “lovely and terrible and lonely”? Jeez, someone should get him a copy of Elizabeth Edwards’ Saving Graces stat! (FWIW, I’ve posted about that book.)

And three snarkier questions, just because this poem irked me: 1. Shouldn’t an editor have flagged “almost worse” as either meaningless or cowardly? 2. What happened to the punctuation? Did he run out of commas? 3. Who wants to tell him that “the speed of thought” was already used, and by no one less than that great poet, Bill Gates?