Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ideas from MySQL for Google Summer of Code 2009

Check out the ideas from MySQL for Google Summer of Code 2009!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Evolutionary Advantage of Open Source Software

I originally wrote this entry on September 17, 2004, and published it on blogs.sun.com.

The evolutionary advantage of open source software rests not on the openness of the source code but on the openness of dialog it engenders, an openness which is often too hard to create without available, open source code.

Within the context of open dialog, learning occurs naturally, and ideas progress with minimal transaction costs.

Digital Rights Management, Where is the Big Question

I originally wrote this entry on September 7, 2004, and published it on blogs.sun.com.


Rights Management (DRM) is one of the big technology questions web engineers have to deal with today. [For some introductory material, see this Australian Government guide to DRM. Also, ACM has held some workshops on DRM.]

In my view, a workable DRM system should allow some reasonable amount of content sharing. [See my notes on content sharing: To Share or Not to Share, That's the Question and To Share or Not to Share (II).]

Digital content distribution services continue to grow.

RealNetworks, for example, reports that its content business has grown more than 50% (at $99 million) while its enterprise software business has fallen by 14% (at $26 million). This shift in revenues goes back to 2000, the WSJ reports.

Many companies see their content services as a cash cow they need to protect at any cost. They are developing propriety systems that could be perceived as closed off to other content distribution systems. On the other hand, some may argue that distribution systems need to be protected to ensure their healthy evolution.

Looking to bridge that gap, RealNetworks recently introduced Harmony, a technology that lets consumers purchase songs on its RealPlayer Music Store site and transfer them to iPods or dozens of other players. Apple has threatened to sue RealNetworks and alter its technology to block such transfers.

(Marcelo Prince, The WSJ, Sept. 1, 2004.)

Is it in the interest of content owners for there to exist incompatible systems of content distribution and digital rights management?

This is a hard question to answer. On the one hand, more incompatibiltiy means greater barriers to wanton content sharing. On the other hand, more incompatibility may mean greater reluctance to join the digital music market as a buyer.

Finally, as I've said earlier, the most important question to ask in designing a DRM system, besides those very important questions related to limited-term copyright issues, is whether the system will allow some reasonable amount of content sharing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Copyright extension

I wrote this entry, originally, on June 30, 2004.

In Chapter 13 of his most recent book, Free Culture, the acclaimed Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has presented a critical evaluation of Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) passed by the 105th Congress.

Lessig first provides a constitutional analysis of the copyright protection, emphasizing the part of the "Progress Clause" that stipulates a limited term for exclusive rights assigned to authors:

Congress has the power to promote the Progress of Science . . .
by securing for limited Times to Authors . . . exclusive Right
to their . . . Writings . . .
(Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution)

Lessig's basic point is that one cannot keep extending copyright protection and still remain faithful to the Progress Clause.

Lessig then notes that if we limit ourselves to the first 25 years of the works affected by CTEA, we see that only 2 percent of that work has any commercial value. (Lessig, p. 221)

Lessig describes how copyright term extensions can lead to disappearance of pieces of our culture which are of great significance but which may not be commercially active. He describes the high cost of obtaining copyright information regarding commercially inactive works and the legal risks of publishing them without clear findings on their copyright status. Those costs and risks, along the copyright extensions given by congress seem poised to lead to the disappearance of large chunks of American culture.

Of all creative work produced by humans anywhere, a tiny fraction
has continuing commercial value. For that tiny fraction, the copyright
is a crucially important legal device. For that tiny fraction, the
copyright creates incentives to produce and distribute the creative
work. For that tiny fraction, the copyright acts as an "engine of
free expression."

But even for that tiny fraction, the actual time during which the
creative work has a commercial life is extremely short . . . [M]ost
books go out of print within one year. The same is true of music and
film. Commerical culture is sharklike. It must keep moving. And when
a creative work falls out of favor with the commercial distributors,
the commercial life ends.

Yet that doesn't mean the life of the creative work ends. We don't
keep libraries of books in order to compete with Barnes & Noble,
and we don't have archives of films because we expect people to
choose between spending Friday night watching new movies and
spending Friday night watching a 1930 news documentary . . . To
understand who we are, and where we came from, and how we have made
mistakes that we have, we need to have access to this history.