Texas Megahighways

As discussed on Slashdot, and reported by the AP, Governor Perry wants to build “megahighways” across the state of Texas:
> The Trans-Texas Corridor project, as envisioned by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, would be a 4,000-mile transportation network costing an awesome $175 billion over 50 years, financed mostly if not entirely with private money. The builders would then charge motorists tolls.
>
> But these would not be mere highways. Proving anew that everything’s big in Texas, they would be megahighways — corridors up to a quarter-mile across, consisting of as many as six lanes for cars and four for trucks, plus railroad tracks, oil and gas pipelines, water and other utility lines, even broadband transmission cables.

This should prove to be an interesting issue for Texas politics, as conservatives and liberals alike will take issue with many parts of the plan. Environmentalists are concerned about the impact to the land surrounding the “megahighway” and those concerned about property rights (including Gov. Perry’s own part) are worried about the effects on farmers and ranchers.

The Constitutionality of Software Copyrights

As mentioned on The Technology Liberation Front , “Greg Aharonian, Editor/Publisher of the Internet Patent News Service—and one of America’s leading intellectual property experts—has just filed a major lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of software copyrights. In his complaint to the U.S. District Court’s Northern California Circuit, Aharonian details the adverse impact of vague software copyright laws and decisions.”

I haven’t had a chance to read all of this, but from the overview, and some skimming, I think this could prove quite interesting as it may well affect the very foundation of the software world.

Also, a quick note, Adam Thierer, who posted this to The Technology Liberation Front, edited CopyFights: The Future of Intellectual Property in the Information Age which contains some essays discussing this issue and patents on business methods. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is seriously interested in the interaction of copyrights, business and the consumer now and in the future.

IPac in Wired

Check out the Wired News story titled Battling the Copyright Big Boys, which provides a great introduction to what we, at IPac are building, and the goals we aim to accomplish. There is a lot to do, so if you have some time, and care about copyright and intellectual property issues (including whether or not you can record your favorite TV show), then stop by the IPac site, and sign up!

Donna Wentworth makes a great point concerning how to help us fight bad law. In her post about the story she recommends that people “give up today’s (and/or tomorrow’s) wildly over-priced Starbucks latte and make a donation to IPac.”

Chris Rush Cohen of the INDUCE Act Blog has also provided coverage and kind words regarding the IPac story. It’s great to see the word spreading!

30,000,000 Newspaper Pages

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. government plans to place 30 million pages from historical newspapers online, beginning in 2006. The papers will date from 1836 through 1922. This will be an amazing resource for students, teachers, historians, researchers, and… well anyone who wants to see what life was like during that period. At the moment, if you wanted to find an old paper, you would have to “pore through many thousands of microfilm reels at the Library of Congress, regional libraries and newspaper offices.” The Library of Congress has posted a sample of what is to come: The Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers’ Newspaper of World War I, 1918-1919

One interesting side note… Notice that the end date is 1922. Want to guess why? Copyright. Anything printed in 1923 or after will not be available due to the various copyright extensions passed by Congress over the last few decades. So, sadly we will not have the same access to materials concerning World War II (having ended 59 years ago) or the Korean War (ended 51 years ago). Yet again, the American public is affected by poor copyright laws. While I applaud the efforts of the Library of Congress, and cannot wait to browse through the available pages, I think it is important for we, as citizens, to see what it could be were we to (re)adopt fair copyright practices.

Link via Creative Commons

DeLaying Tactics

As CNN is reporting, House Republicans are trying to protect Representative Tom DeLay (R. TX):
> The House Republican Conference, composed of all GOP members in the chamber, planned to vote Wednesday to modify a requirement that would force DeLay to step aside if charged with a felony requiring at least a two-year prison term.
>
> Party rules require leaders to relinquish their posts after a felony indictment, but the change would eliminate the requirement for non-federal indictments.

It appears that the Republican Party has given up any pretense of ethics within its leadership. This is truly sad as it casts a very poor light on other, reputable members of the GOP and chips away at the faith and trust we, as citizens of this great democracy, have placed in our elected representatives.

The changes to the rule were proposed by Representative Henry Bonilla, a fellow Texas Republican, who, oddly enough benefited from the Texas redistricting efforts railroaded by DeLay. Surprised? No, I didn’t think so.

Now, if DeLay isn’t indicted, then I see no reason for him to have to step down, but if he is brought up on charges, he should step down until the case is resolved. But, as he probably has an insane amount of pull, this is unlikely without a sizable public outcry, the odds of which, I expect are pretty low. The populace is rather weary after a grueling election cycle. Sigh.

Ultimately I find it depressing to think of the fact that one of our two major parties has decided to change the ethical requirements that they set because one of their leaders can’t meet the rules. In most organizations, this would indicate that the ‘leader’ should step, or be forced aside to allow more capable/ethical members to step up and lead.

The Senate Ponders Bad IP Laws

Wired News reports that the Senate may try to pass a hellish cornucopia of copyright and IP laws during the current lame duck session:

The Senate might vote on HR2391, the Intellectual Property Protection Act, a comprehensive bill that opponents charge could make many users of peer-to-peer networks, digital-music players and other products criminally liable for copyright infringement. The bill would also undo centuries of “fair use” — the principle that gives Americans the right to use small samples of the works of others without having to ask permission or pay.

This is a key example of why I have committed much of my free time to IPac. If you aren’t familiar with IP, here is some more information from the site:

IPac is a nonpartisan group dedicated to preserving individual freedom through balanced intellectual property policy.

We believe that technological innovation and individual creativity are vital to the future of this country. We believe that a prosperous and democratic society depends on freedom for all individuals to pursue scientific invention and artistic expression. Unfortunately, new intellectual property laws threaten to stifle these freedoms and restrict public participation in science, art, and political discourse.

Ultimately, the only way that we, as consumers and citizens can guarantee that we are allowed to use our purchases the way we want (and the way that we have been able to historically), is to speak up to the politicians who routinely trade our rights for campaign donations from large media groups. If you want to retain the right to use your purchased media in the same ways that you did 20 years ago, it is time you stand up and lend a hand.

Christian Exodus

Apparently some on the extreme right have decided that the “U.S. Constitution has been abandoned under our current federal system”, and thus it is time to ” re-introduce the Christian principles once so predominant in America to a sovereign State like South Carolina”. The full posting is located at: Christian Exodus :: Come Out of Her, My People (note, that is their page title, I didn’t make it up – look at the top of your browser window while visiting the site to verify this). Another interesting quote from the page:
> ChristianExodus.org is orchestrating the move of thousands of Christians to reacquire our Constitutional rights and, if necessary to attain these rights, dissolve our State’s bond with the union. Click on our Plan of Action page to find out how we can experience God-honoring governance once again.

So, if I read this correctly, the fact that the right had larger turnout in the last election than they have experienced in decades, thus re-electing an Evangelical Christian to the Presidency, and solidifying a conservative Republican hold on the Legislative branch wasn’t enough. So, they are threatening to take over a state and quite possibly secede from the Union. Boy, that’s a novel concept. I’m sure it will have just as much success as the last time South Carolina seceded from the rest of the country.

This is why I don’t like extremists (no matter which way they lean) – they think up ideas, that, while they are amusing, ultimately make me shudder at their utter lack of awareness and understanding of the world.

IPac: Five of Six

Good news on the Intellectual Property front, as five of the six candidates supported by IPac won their races yesterday. The one exception was Brad Carson, who was contesting a tight Senate race in Oklahoma. While these six were the first, IPac is still quite young, and thus didn’t have the opportunity to have a large impact on the ’04 elections. The real focus is on preparing for the 2006 elections. Two years really isn’t all that long to achieve the goals on our list.

Electoral Shedding

An interesting commentary on the upcoming election, and the unlikely, though constitutionally possible, situation that electoral shedding could elevate a person who is not running for president to the top spot: Tech Central Station – Tie Goes to the…
> Interested in becoming president this year? If so, hope for an electoral college tie. With an unlikely, but plausible, perfect tie — 269 electoral votes for both George W. Bush and John Kerry — anyone meeting the Constitutional qualifications for president could end up president. Here’s how.

Sixth Circuit Reverses Lexmark DMCA Ruling

As reported on Copyfight, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling that was in favor of Lexmark against Static Controls, a company that makes replacement ink/toner cartridges. As the EFF explains “When Static Controls reverse-engineered the authentication procedure in order to enable refilled and remanufactured cartridges to work with Lexmark printers, Lexmark sued in Lexington, KY, claiming both copyright infringement and circumvention in violation of the DMCA.”

A snippet from the opinion:

> Lexmark would have us read this statute in such a way that any time a manufacturer intentionally circumvents any technological measure and accesses a protected work it necessarily violates the statute regardless of its “purpose.” Such a reading would ignore the precise language – “for the purpose of” – as well as the main point of the DMCA – to prohibit the pirating of copyright-protected works such as movies, music, and computer programs. If we were to adopt Lexmark’s reading of the statute, manufacturers could potentially create monopolies for replacement parts simply by using similar, but more creative, lock-out codes. Automobile manufacturers, for example, could control the entire market of replacement parts for their vehicles by including lock-out chips. Congress did not intend to allow the DMCA to be used offensively in this manner, but rather only sought to reach those who circumvented protective measures “for the purpose” of pirating works protected by the copyright statute.

Passport Chips

Wired has a great article discussing the plan to use RFID microchips in American passports. While I am a fan of technology, and the speed and security improvements it often brings, I must admit that I shiver when I think of some of the stupidity that can come along with it. For example, the fact that the current plan is to use technology that would be able to read these chips remotely. At first this sounds like it could prove to be a convenient setup for traveler and customs alike as it would cut down on lines. But, the problem lies in the fact that anyone with an RFID reader (which are inexpensive, and easily available to the public) will be able to read the data held on a passport remotely. Oh, and the data isn’t encrypted. At all. So much for security and identity protection. A nice quote from the article:
> The State Department hopes the addition of the chips, which employ radio frequency identification, or RFID, technology, will make passports more secure and harder to forge, according to spokeswoman Kelly Shannon.
> “The reason we are doing this is that it simply makes passports more secure,” Shannon said. “It’s yet another layer beyond the security features we currently use to ensure the bearer is the person who was issued the passport originally.”
>
> But civil libertarians and some technologists say the chips are actually a boon to identity thieves, stalkers and commercial data collectors, since anyone with the proper reader can download a person’s biographical information and photo from several feet away.
>
> “Even if they wanted to store this info in a chip, why have a chip that can be read remotely?” asked Barry Steinhardt, who directs the American Civil Liberty Union’s Technology and Liberty program. “Why not require the passport be brought in contact with a reader so that the passport holder would know it had been captured? Americans in the know will be wrapping their passports in aluminum foil.”

Hopefully the digital signature used on the passport is truly secure, and this won’t prove an issue.

Person to Person Politics

Yet again, Mr. Lessig presents a wealth of information to the world via the Net. A new site, p2p-Politics makes so much sense, that I am rather surprised that no one else had already done this – I sure as hell didn’t think of it. Luckily he did.

What is it? Well, I’ll let them answer that question:
> There is an extraordinary range of political speech that has been created for this election, some of it professionally made, most of it not. We are volunteers who think that it should be easier for people to show other people the content they think they should see before they vote.
>
> We built this peer-to-peer site to enable people to send personalized messages with links to video clips about this election.

Trashing Voter Registrations

Reports that a private voter registration company in Nevada destroyed the voter registration forms of people who marked themselves as Democrats has been circulating the blogosphere, and is gaining the attention of the mainstream media. Unsurprisingly, reports and allegations are coming out of the same type of voter disenfranchisement in other states by other companies. From what has been reported, voters of both parties are being hit by this, so it isn’t a one-sided issue. According to an investigation by KLAS TV in Las Vegas:
> An employee of a private voter registration firm alleges that his bosses trashed registration forms filled out by Democratic voters because they only wanted to sign up Republican voters.
>
> The allegations have set off a political firestorm stretching from Las Vegas to Washington D.C., and beyond.

As well it should. If the allegations prove to be true, those responsible should be locked up for a very long time. There is no excuse for taking away one of the most important rights, we as citizens have.

Senator McCain Stands Up for Consumers

As Jason Schultz has reported on Copyfight, Senator John McCain (one of the few politicians I personally respect) is standing up against poor legislation that aims to deprive consumers of our fair use rights. A choice quote:
> From the text of the bills that have been available to date for Senators to review, I believe that one part of this broad legislation, the Family Movie Act, may actually harm consumers while appearing to help them. To be clear, I support the stated goal of the Act’s authors: immunizing from legal challenges a technology that enables parents to skip offensive material from prerecorded copies of films and television. While I applaud the merits of their stated intent, I fear that the very exemption designed to achieve this laudable goal simultaneously creates an implication that certain basic practices that consumers have enjoyed for years — like fast-forwarding through advertisements — would constitute criminal copyright infringement. I note that Consumers Union and Public Knowledge, as well as a host of others parties interested in protecting consumers, share my concerns.

On a side note, Senator McCain’s Web site also provides a list of his ‘Pork Statements‘, identifying “items that are unnecessary, low-priority or wasteful spending contained in the annual appropriations bills”.