Google Books: fair use


“In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.”

Judge Chin’s judgment in Authors Guild v. Google, p.26.

Forbes has a useful commentary on the decision.

Exclusive! NSA and Homeland Security lack sense of humour

Photograph from CBS.

This comes to us via the you-couldn’t-make-it-up department.

The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security have issued “cease and desist” letters to a novelty store owner who sells products that poke fun at the federal government.

Dan McCall, who lives in Minnesota and operates, sells T-shirts with the agency’s official seal that read: “The NSA: The only part of government that actually listens,” Judicial Watch first reported.

Other parodies say, “Spying on you since 1952,” and “Peeping while you’re sleeping,” the report said.

Federal authorities claimed the parody images violate laws against the misuse, mutilation, alteration or impersonation of government seals, Judicial Watch reported.

I particularly admire the crack about the NSA being “the only part of the government that actually listens”.

Brian, who told me about the first link, also pointed me to a fuller account about the artist, Dan McCall who came up with the tee-shirt.

What McCall meant as pure parody, apparently wasn’t very funny to bureaucrats at the NSA.

While he calls it parody they call a violation of the spy agency’s intellectual property.

“Because when you’re pointing straight at an organization or making fun at it, turning it on itself, that is classic parody,” he said.

The agency ordered him to cease and desist and forced his T-shirts off the market.

Hmmm… I’d have thought that he’d have a good First Amendment and Fair Use case. But maybe m’learned friends think not.

Google Reader, Hitler and me

This morning’s Observer column.

One of the wonders of the online world is the Downfall meme on YouTube. (For those whose time is too valuable to be wasted watching video clips, I should explain that the parody is based on remixing a scene from Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film, Der Untergang [Downfall], which chronicles Hitler’s final days in his Berlin bunker.)

The clip takes the scene in which Hitler, memorably portrayed by Bruno Ganz, launches into a tirade upon finally realising that the war is truly lost and overlays it with subtitles about contemporary issues or events. Thus Hitler rants about the inability of the iPad to do multitasking, that Sheffield United have been relegated or that Twitter has gone down again.

What brings this to mind is that a new version of the meme appeared last week. In it, Hitler is told about Google’s decision to “retire” (ie scrap) its Reader app. “WHAT THE FUCK ARE THEY THINKING??!!” he roars. “HOW CAN THEY DO THIS TO US?!! How dare they take away Google Reader. I have over 300 feeds in there!! Have they any idea how much effort I’ve put in? Of all Google products I spend 99% of my time with Reader. Why do they do this?” And so on.

For the first – and I hope the only – time in my life, I find myself agreeing with the Führer. For I, too, am a dedicated user of Google Reader…

It’s interesting — and perhaps predictable — to see the storm of (mainly geeky and journalistic) outrage at Google’s decision. But — as this post argues — it was probably a perfectly rational business decision from Google’s point of view. Most Internet users don’t use RSS, there’s no obvious direct revenue stream from it and Google is desperate for strategic reasons to shepherd its users onto Google+. On the other hand, maybe the reputational damage will cause the company to think again. After all, Google’s prime pitch is that it’s a good Net citizen — campaigning to keep the Internet open and uncensored etc.

Another thought sparked by the uproar is an observation made ages ago by Clay Shirky in another context when he said that what people complain of as information overload is actually a symptom of filter failure. I agree. Every new communications technology in history has led the early victims of it to complain of information overload. But in due course they figured out tools for managing the overload. The Net is no exception and RSS is one of the first-generation tools we devised to handle it.

In the meantime, the important thing for people like me is what to use instead of Reader. The Online Journalism Blog has published a very helpful spreadsheet giving details of the various alternatives. Thanks, guys.

Information wants to be fr…, er, shared

I’ve just bought the Kindle edition of Information Wants to Be Shared by Joshua Gans on the basis of this abstract:

Stewart Brand famously declared, “Information wants to be free.” Except he didn’t (not really). And it doesn’t. Information is much more complicated than that. What information really wants–what makes it more valuable, useful, and immediate, Joshua Gans argues–is to be shared. Using the tools and logic of information economics, Gans shows how sharing enhances most information’s value. He also shows how the business models of traditional media companies, gatekeepers who have relied on scarcity and control, have collapsed in the face of new technologies. Equally important, he argues that sharing can revive moribund, threatened industries even as he examines platforms that have, almost accidentally, thrived in this new environment. Provocative, intriguing, and useful, “Information Wants to Be Shared” will change the way you think about your ideas and the media you use to consume and produce them.

Apple’s Big Patent Win: implications

Interesting WSJ piece by Mike Isaac about Apple’s victory over Samsung.

If there’s one takeaway from Apple’s massive win over Samsung in the most-watched patent trial of the year, it’s this: If you copy our stuff, we’ll go after you.

That’s the message delivered alongside the verdict on Friday afternoon, in which the jury found Samsung guilty of infringing upon six out of the seven Apple patents in question. The result? More than $1 billion in damages awarded to Apple (or $1,049,343,540 if you want to get nitpicky about it), and of course, bragging rights in what has been Apple’s longstanding claim that Samsung devices were “slavishly copies” of Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

And now that Apple’s day in court has validated most of its patents and claims, the technology giant is armed to the teeth with enough ammo to go after any and every OEM out there.

The obvious implication is that Android OEMs need to be careful (as Charles Arthur points out). A less obvious one is that this might be good news for makers of Windows phones, on the grounds that they are less vulnerable to IP attacks from Apple than Android OEMs. Hmmm…

Ultimately, this patent verdict is bad news for everybody except Apple — as Dan Gillmor points out in his Guardian column. And it confirms the extent to which the patent system is broken.

Fair use and the Joyce Estate

“When I proposed a James Joyce biography to my publisher, I was aware that the deadliest booby trap on the road ahead was the Joyce estate’s explosive trustee, Stephen James Joyce, the author’s grandson.”

Yesterday was Bloomsday — the first Bloomsday in which Ulysses is in the public domain. The Daily Beast celebrated by publishing a nice piece by Gordon Bowker, the great man’s latest biographer in which he recounts what it was like working under the shadow of legal threats from Stephen Joyce, James’s grandson and controller of his literary estate. The piece also has a lovely photograph of Joyce with his infant grandson. Worth reading in full.

Why I’ll be avoiding Pinterest

At last: someone twigs it.

A woman named Kristen decided to look into the legality of Pinterest. After all, she’s a lawyer with a passion for photography.

What she found scared her so much, she shut down her Pinterest boards entirely.

Kristen’s investigation began after she saw photographers complaining about copyright violations on Facebook. She wondered why Facebook could get in trouble for copyright violation and Pinterest couldn’t.

She browsed Pinterest’s Terms of Use section. In it she found Pinterest’s members are solely responsible for what they pin and repin. They must have explicit permission from the owner to post everything.

Cracking the penal code

Fascinating story in the Economist about the case of Sergey Aleynikov, a Goldman Sachs programmer, who was convicted in December 2010 of stealing code tied to Goldman’s lucrative high-speed proprietary-trading operations for use by a new employer.

On February 16th, after he had spent nearly a year in prison, three judges in a federal appeals court unanimously reversed his conviction in a hearing that lasted just a single morning. Their written opinion is now eagerly awaited.

Mr Aleynikov admitted to taking code with him on his way out of Goldman, but argued successfully that this did not constitute a crime, or, to be more specific, a federal crime. He benefited from the help of a thorough lawyer, who adroitly knocked down two key claims. Because the computer trading system was not licensed or offered for sale, claimed Kevin Marino, the defendant’s lawyer, it was not a product to be bought or sold for interstate commerce, a key provision for a federal case. Because computer coding constitutes intangible intellectual property, Mr Marino said, it did not qualify under the goods, wares or merchandise components that are protected under the corporate-espionage act.

The judges quickly accepted these arguments. It is possible that lesser charges could be brought in a state court by a different prosecutor. But as it stands, the ruling raises questions about what sort of legal protection financial firms enjoy for technical knowledge that has become as important as capital or clients and that sits with a few highly mobile employees. The banks may have no choice but to inspire loyalty in their programmers so they don’t leave in the first place.