Jack Valenti doesn’t get it — after all these years

Jack Valenti doesn’t get it — after all these years

I always thought the MPAA stance on IP protection was shortsighted, but even I assumed that at least they knew what the problems were. Here’s an excerpt from an astonishing interview between Keith Winstein of MIT and Jack Valenti which demonstrates the true state of affairs.

KW: But today, you still cannot on the market actually buy a licensed DVD player for Linux.

JV: I didn’t know that.

KW: So the question is, do you think people who go to Blockbuster, they rent a movie, they bring it home, and they play it on Linux by circumventing the access control, are those people committing a moral transgression?

JV: I do not believe that you have the right to override an encryption. Because if you have the right to do it, everybody can do it. For whatever benign reason you have, somebody else has got one even more benign. But once you let one person deal in a digital copy — and I don’t have to tell you; you know far better than I that, unlike in analog, the ten thousandth copy is as pure as the original — it is a big problem. So once you let the barriers down for your perfectly sensible reason, you gotta let it down for everybody.

I don’t want to get into the definition of morality. I never said anything was immoral in what I was saying. I said it is wrong to take something that belongs to somebody else.

KW: Indeed, but are you doing that when you rent a movie from Blockbuster and you watch it at home? … I run Linux on my computer. There’s no product I can buy that’s licensed to watch [DVDs]. If I go to Blockbuster and rent a movie and watch it, am I a bad person? Is that bad?

JV: No, you’re not a bad person. But you don’t have any right.

KW: But I rented the movie. Why should it be illegal?

JV: Well then, you have to get a machine that’s licensed to show it.

KW: Here’s one of these machines; it’s just not licensed.

[Winstein shows Valenti his six-line “qrpff” DVD descrambler.]

KW: If you type that in, it’ll let you watch movies.

JV: You designed this?

KW: Yes.

JV: Un-fucking-believable.

KW: So the question is, if I just want to watch a movie–I rent it from Blockbuster–is that bad?

JV: No, that’s not bad.

KW: Then why should it be illegal?

Afterwards, I wondered how old Jack Valenti is. A search of Google images brought up pics like this one from CNN…

… which suggests that, in addition to knowing nothing about Linux, he has terrible taste in shirts. His bio reveals that he was born in 1921, and worked for Lyndon Johnson until he became head of the MPAA in 1966. So he’s been a lobbyist for nearly 40 years. What a guy!

John Paczkowski on Google

John Paczkowski on Google

“We’re not evil; we’re also not stupid: Much has been made of Google’s forthcoming auction-style IPO, and the promises of a system that attempts to put individual investors on a level playing field with large mutual funds and institutional investors. Should the auction function as intended, it will wrest virtually all control away from the IPO’s underwriters, and make it difficult for speculators to sell out early for a quick profit. Small-time investors are hoping that Google’s unorthodox methods will prove successful, and perhaps even effect some change in the conventional “wisdom” that has long governed initial public offerings. But that may be wishful thinking. In the coming weeks, big institutional investors will likely demand that Google and its underwriters hand them a piece of the IPO at a price lower than the one that will be set at auction. And Google may well cede to those demands. It’s certainly left itself room to do so. In its S1, the company said its offering price may reflect ‘the prices bid by professional investors.’ What does this mean? That powerful institutional investors, as they often do, will end up having a say in how Google’s IPO plays out, and that they could end up profiting from it more than anyone else.” [From Good Morning Silicon Valley]

More thoughts about Blogging

More thoughts about Blogging

I’ve been brooding some more about George Packer’s piece about blogging. Some further thoughts:

1. I realised that I’ve been keeping an online diary for a long time — since 1997, it turns out. (I went back through my archive to find out.) Reading those early entries (which were — and remain — on a private website) has made me realise why I started doing it. I was overwhelmed by what was coming at me from the Web and realised that I had to invent a method of keeping track of things that was better than a list of bookmarks. So I began keeping an online diary as a kind of lab notebook. It was good for a while but then it too threatened to overwhelm me. But I put a search engine on the site and then it was transformed into the most incredibly useful resource. At that point I realised that I had finally found a solution to the conundrum of how to combine insatiable and wide-ranging curiosity with a hopeless memory. From then on, I knew that if I’d written about something in my diary, I could always find it — and the links associated with it. (This was all pre-Google, of course).

2. We are building Blogging into all the courses on the Open University Relevant Knowledge programme that I run. What we’re finding is that many students find it difficult to get started. Why? It’s not because it’s technically difficult, but because they are thrown by the idea of publishing their thoughts to the world. For most people, that smacks of terrible arrogance — it involves assuming that other people would be interested in reading what they have to say. I’ve never had any difficulty in that respect, possibly because I have the requisite arrogance, but probably also because I’ve been a newspaper columnist for as long as I can remember. (I’ve written a weekly column continuously since 1982).

Dissing the Blogosphere

Dissing the Blogosphere

There’s an interesting critical piece about Blogging on Mother Jones. Quote:

“The constellation of opinion called the blogosphere consists, like the stars themselves, partly of gases. This is what makes blogs addictive — that is, both pleasurable and destructive: They’re so easy to consume, and so endlessly available. Their second-by-second proliferation means that far more is written than needs to be said about any one thing. To change metaphors for a moment (and to deepen the shame), I gorge myself on these hundreds of pieces of commentary like so much candy into a bloated — yet nervous, sugar-jangled — stupor. Those hours of out-of-body drift leave me with few, if any, tangible thoughts. Blog prose is written in headline form to imitate informal speech, with short emphatic sentences and frequent use of boldface and italics. The entries, sometimes updated hourly, are little spasms of assertion, usually too brief for an argument ever to stand a chance of developing layers of meaning or ramifying into qualification and complication. There’s a constant sense that someone (almost always the blogger) is winning and someone else is losing. Everything that happens in the blogosphere — every point, rebuttal, gloat, jeer, or “fisk” (dismemberment of a piece of text with close analytical reading) — is a knockout punch. A curious thing about this rarefied world is that bloggers are almost unfailingly contemptuous toward everyone except one another. They are also nearly without exception men (this form of combat seems too naked for more than a very few women). I imagine them in neat blue shirts, the glow from the screen reflected in their glasses as they sit up at 3:48 a.m. triumphantly tapping out their third rejoinder to the WaPo’s press commentary on Tim Russert’s on-air recap of the Wisconsin primary.”

The vigour of this piece seems to be partly fuelled by self-loathing (see the confession about his addiction), but he’s right about the tendency of some blogging sub-cultures to function as echo chambers. My suspicion, though, is that this is more true of ‘political’ blogs. My own experience of blogs is completely different. I subscribe to the RSS feeds of many for a variety of reasons. Some are thoughtful and thought-provoking. Some are beautifully written. Some are just plain quirky. Some are a nice mix of news and personal info. Some give me up-to-date technical info I can’t easily get any other way. Some are by friends. Some provide terrific photography. And I write my Blog for myself and a few friends, mainly as a way of letting them know what’s on my mind. So I don’t experience the echo-chamber effect, though I recognise that it exists. For me, Blogs provide a flow of ideas and news that I couldn’t get any other way.

New York Times on Google IPO

New York Times on Google IPO

“Unlike many companies that went public at the height of the Internet bubble, Google, the dominant Web search engine, is already profitable. And it appears to have strong competitive advantages.

But the company also has question marks. Its management is, for the most part, young and inexperienced, and the registration statement for its offering, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is long on platitudes (one section begins “Don’t Be Evil”) and short on specifics.”

Actually, it’s a better piece than that excerpt would suggest.

“Investors will probably flock to Google”, it continues, “which has displayed astonishing growth and profitability during its six-year history, analysts say. Last year, the company had $962 million in sales and $106 million in profits.

But that significantly understates the company’s true profitability, because Google had unusually high tax and option expenses last year. In reality, it appears to have generated $570 million in pretax cash profits last year. That is still more than Yahoo, but Google is also spending more heavily than its chief Internet rival on new computers and equipment.

Martin Pyykkonen, an analyst at Janco Partners in Denver, said he thought Google and Yahoo ought to be valued comparably. Both companies have search engines, although Yahoo also provides a broad range of services like personal ads and an instant messenger. Yahoo’s sales were higher than Google’s last year, but Google is growing faster and has higher margins. ‘They look an awful lot alike, if you look at the numbers,’ Mr. Pyykkonen said.

Hmmm… Interesting that much of the financial comment compares Google to Yahoo! In practical terms, I’ve never thought about them in that way. In fact, I don’t see them inhabiting the same universe. And I’ve never used Yahoo! for anything. But then, I’m a user, not an investor.

Open source ‘too costly’ for Irish e-gov

Open source ‘too costly’ for Irish e-gov

Register story:

“E-government in Ireland will be built using open standards technology, which may not be open source software such as Linux, Ireland’s e-minister Mary Hanafin has confirmed. Speaking at the Irish Software Association’s 16th annual conference, sponsored by Microsoft, O’Donnell Sweeney and ACT Venture Capital, minister Hanafin gave a brief overview of the state of Ireland’s e-government plans and said that an update to the government’s ICT strategy document “New Connections” would be published before May.

“The use of open standards is critical to the government’s plans,” she said. “But it is important to remember that open standards are not the same as open source.” Minister Hanafin indicated that Ireland’s e-government system, once fully constructed, needs to last for several decades and must therefore be upgradeable. “Using open standards gives us that option.”

She added that the government had looked into the long-term cost of various architectures and had determined that using only open source software could, in the long run, be more expensive. “The long-term cost of open source may outweigh the short term savings,” she said”.

Bet this is based on a report by one of the big consulting firms. It would be interesting to see it. Not that I don’t have faith in big consulting firms, of course. ;-) Must do some digging. Wonder if Karlin Lillington knows….