Thursday Threads: Legal Implications of SOPA/PROTECT-IP, Learning from Best Buy, Open Source in Medicine

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Welcome to the new year! Threads this week include a brief analysis of the legal problems in store if SOPA and PROTECT-IP become law, what an analysis of the problems with Best Buy might teach libraries, and why open source licensing of clinical tools is important.

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A Look at the Legal Aspects of SOPA and PROTECT-IP

Two bills now pending in Congress—the PROTECT IP Act of 2011 (Protect IP) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House—represent the latest legislative attempts to address a serious global problem: large-scale online copyright and trademark infringement. Although the bills differ in certain respects, they share an underlying approach and an enforcement philosophy that pose grave constitutional problems and that could have potentially disastrous consequences for the stability and security of the Internet’s addressing system, for the principle of interconnectivity that has helped drive the Internet’s extraordinary growth, and for free expression.

Don’t Break the Internet, by Mark Lemley, David S. Levine, and David G. Post, Stanford Law Review

In case you missed the dramatic events in the last days of 2011, SOPA and PROTECT-IP Act, just before Congress recessed for the year lawmakers concerned with the provisions of SOPA offered and debated enough amendments to the draft legislation that they effectively stalled passage through the House Judiciary Committee. At the end of the last committee meeting, the sponsors of SOPA acknowledged that there were significant issues and seemed to agree that they needed a confidential briefing from the Department of Homeland Security on the possible effects on DNSSEC — a highly technical but very important consideration. (Why it needs to be confidential when DNSSEC is an open specification stretches my imagination, but there you go…)

This paper by Lemley, Levine and Post describes the legal implications of enforcing the key provisions of SOPA and PROTECT-IP as drafted. The authors say “the bills represent an unprecedented, legally sanctioned assault on the Internet’s critical technical infrastructure” and describe how it is a bad prescient and why it won’t work in the end. In more positive news, there is an effort underway to draft legislation that would accomplish much of what SOPA and PROTECT-IP say they want to do without many of the downsides.

Why Best Buy is Going out of Business…Gradually

Electronics retailer Best Buy is headed for the exits. I can’t say when exactly, but my guess is that it’s only a matter of time, maybe a few more years.

The authors tell a story about how as a Best Buy customer he was approached by a salesperson wanting to sell him an on-demand video package of some sort, and that reminded me just a little bit from my academic experience of trying to push bibliographic instruction on students rather than solving the problem they had at hand. The article goes on to describe how online retailers like Amazon are more in tune with customer needs and demands. I couldn’t help but wonder if our library processes and procedures and polices are more like Best Buy or more like Amazon. From what I hear at my consortial perspective we are trending towards Amazon, but are we going to get there fast enough?

By the way, I can highly recommend a recent 51 minute audio interview with Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad and now Chief Technology Officer of Best Buy (after Best Buy purchased and integrated the Geek Squad electronics service chain early last decade. It is a fascinating view of how customer service must trump all other concerns, and how efficiently executing customer service is the true path to survival. There are some lessons in there for libraries as well.

Open Source Licensing Defuses Copyright Law’s Threat to Medicine

Enforcing copyright law could potentially interfere with patient care, stifle innovation and discourage research, but using open source licensing instead can prevent the problem, according to a physician – who practices both at the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center – and a legal scholar at the UC Hastings College of Law.

Open Source Licensing Defuses Copyright Law’s Threat to Medicine, News service of the University of California, San Francisco

Here’s something to think about. What if new medical advances where suppressed because the diagnostic instruments used were protected by copyright. The doctor in the above article goes on to say that clinical tools tend to resemble one another “not because their creators are unoriginal, but because the tools are based on the same research and the same science.” That is a legal grey area where clinics decide to err on the side of caution and not use something that could be protected by copyright. It sort of reminds me about the unsettled law surrounding orphan works — just enough grey to stifle innovation.

Another “by the way”: I can also recommend a 16 minute recording of Karen Sandler speaking at the recent O’Reilly Media Open Source conference on the need to publish the source code of embedded medical devices under an open source license so the programs could be independently inspected. It, too, comes by way of the IT Conversations podcast. Two podcast mentions in one DLTJ Thursday Threads? What can I say…I listened to a lot of podcasts over the December break.

Thursday Threads: Print-on-Demand, Video Changing the World, Puzzling Out Public Domain, and more

I’m starting something new on DLTJ: Thursday Threads — summaries and pointers of stories, services, and other stuff that I found interesting in the previous seven days. This is culled from entries that I post to my FriendFeed lifestream through various channels (Google Reader shared items, citations shared in Zotero, Twitter posts, etc.), but since I know not everyone is using those services, it might be useful to post the best-of-the-selected here once a week. Why Thursday? Somewhere long ago I read that Thursday at 11am is the best time to put a post on a blog because Thursday lunch through Friday are the most active time for readers. I have no idea whether that is true or not, but lacking any evidence to the contrary, Thursday morning will do fine. (Obviously I’m a little late on this first one, but I’ll try to do better next time. Or not — maybe this will be a one-off weekly thing.)

MagCloud — On-demand printing of magazines

MagCloud, the revolutionary new self-publishing web service from HP, is changing the way ideas, stories, and images find their way into peoples’ hands in a printed magazine format. Whether you are a novice or experienced publisher, MagCloud offers you a way to create commercial quality magazines, printed on demand with no upfront costs or minimum print runs. MagCloud is creating new ways to bring consumers and publishers together in a web-based marketplace where choice, flexibility and print on demand are the cornerstones of the community.

Could be useful for short-run, professional printing. I learned about this via a conference call with the editorial board of the NISO International Standards Quarterly.

Chris Anderson: How web video powers global innovation (TED Talk)

TED’s Chris Anderson says the rise of web video is driving a worldwide phenomenon he calls Crowd Accelerated Innovation — a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of print. But to tap into its power, organizations will need to embrace radical openness. And for TED, it means the dawn of a whole new chapter …

TED curator Chris Anderson takes the stage to talk about what he has seen as the impact of putting TED talks on the net specifically as well as the general case for the impact of services like YouTube on worldwide culture. This is definitely gets one thinking about the power of the visual medium. Closer to home, it also should get one thinking about assisting library patrons in creating and curating this content, no?

Plain English

Every field has its own jargon that’s meaningless to everyone else. Sometimes you want to translate a given -ese into lay terms while preserving the original text. Plain English is designed to facilitate this. The premise is straightforward: The original text is highlighted in yellow. When you click on a phrase, it toggles to the re-written simpler version, in gray. Buttons at the top allow you to toggle the whole thing at once. The words are stored in a simple JSON file.

From the laboratory of Slate Magazine comes this technique for toggling between one set of words and its translated form. I first found this on the NPR Planet Money blog in a post titled The Fed, Translated Into English. They used it to “translate” Fed-speak (e.g. the very dense statements released by the U.S. Federal Reserve) into more common language.

Google New

The one place to find everything new from Google.

Found via Jason Griffey’s post on his American Libraries Perpetual Beta blog. I noted there my frustration that Google New didn’t have an RSS feed to make this list of new things more machine-actionable. I still think that this missing feed functionality is strange, and if I get a chance at some point I’ll try to feed the page through Yahoo! Pipes to make one.

Rising Into the Public Domain: The Copyright Review Management System (CRMS) at the University of Michigan

Interview with John Wilkin, Associate University Librarian for Library Information Technology and Executive Director, HathiTrust and Principal Investigator for CRMS

Interesting insight into how the University of Michigan is tackling the 1923-1963 orphan works problem. (Found via James Grimmelmann)

$1000 bounty offered for JPEG2000 support in Firefox

We’ve waited long enough. Apparently Firefox needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the early 2000’s. I have a financial interest in seeing this implemented, so I’m going to step up.

I’m going to offer a $1000 bounty for native JPEG2000 support in Firefox, on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Comment #155 on this feature request has someone putting up real money to have a developer integrate JPEG2000 into the Firefox browser. The ensuing discussion gives a glimpse into how hard and how easy it could be.

White House Issues IPv6 Directive

Network World reports: Federal CIO Vivek Kundra has issued a directive requiring all U.S. government agencies to upgrade their public-facing Web sites and services by Sept. 30, 2012 to support IPv6, the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet’s main communications protocol. Kundra’s memo mandates that agencies use native IPv6 instead of transition mechanisms that translate between IPv6 and the current standard, which is known as IPv4.

You may not have heard this, but we’re running out of IP addresses. An IP address is the thing computers use to find each other on the net (and not to be confused with domain name system (DNS) addresses — the human friendly things that we put on our business cards and advertisements). In the current version of the Internet Protocol (IPv4), we only have about 4 billion addresses and we’ve used up 95% of them. There has been a big press this year to move to the next generation Internet Protocol (IPv6) that will give us 340 billion billion billion billion addresses (or roughly 50 billion billion billion addresses for each person alive in 2012 when the 4 billion addresses of the existing Internet Protocol run out). The entry of the federal government into the push for IPv6 is expected to accelerate adoption of the new standard.

On the Internet, How Do You Know If You Are Talking to a Dog?

Published in The New Yorker July 5, 1993.
Image from The Cartoon Bank

The famous 1993 cartoon from The New Yorker has the caption “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The question at the moment is: when you’re on the internet, how do you know you are not talking to a dog? When you ask to connect to a remote service, you expect to connect to that remote service. You probably don’t even think about the possibility that “” might not be “”. But what if you couldn’t rely on that? How about “”? Believe it or not, you may exist in such a world today. Last week, US-CERT issued a “Vulnerability Note” on Multiple DNS implementations vulnerable to cache poisoning. What does that mean? Read on…
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