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Intellectual Property Rants, SUV Wrongs, and Random Movie/Media Reviews
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:: Thursday, March 06, 2003 ::

The Broadcast Flag Tax

AP is carrying a story about the current Digital TV "broadcast flag" debate going on in Congress.

For those of you who haven't heard of this, it's the next Big Brother measure that the MPAA wants to impose on consumers to "keep them honest" while they watch TV. Ed Felten gives a nice technical explanation of it here.

Basically, the MPAA wants to force Digital TV (HDTV et al) Manufacturers to insert complex modules into their new TVs (and other devices that record like Replay TV) that will monitor digital broadcasts for a special "flag" that will tell the TV whether or not it can allow the user to save the program currently playing and move it to another device. So, for instance, say you want to record the Oscars at home, but then watch it at your Mom's house the next night. If the MPAA has gratiously turned the flag off, you can. If not, you can't. Even though it's clearly fair use for any consumer to do so (see Sony v. Universal), it's now going to be in the hands of the MPAA, not you.

The worst part is how they are doing it. Rather than simply negotiating with consumer electronic manufacturers, the MPAA has gone to the FCC to demand that the FCC regulate any device that can receive DTV signals and mandate that it conform to using broadcast flags. The proposed regulations go so far as to even say that no such device can be sold in the US unless 3 movie studios have pre-approved its broadcast flag mechanism. So much for the free market and consumer choice.

Beyond the monopolistic nature of the MPAA's efforts (and I'm not talking copyright monopolies here), the problem with the Broadcast Flag is that it is essentially a tax. In the article link above, Fritz Attaway of the MPAA states "Over-the-air television as we know it today will be a thing of the past." His reasoning seems to be that because you can encrypt cable and satellite transmissions, all TV will eventually move to those delivery mechanisms over unencrypted Over-The-Air transmissions because encrypted transmissions can't be "pirated". [I don't know what world he's living in. $20 to the cable dude and I've got free HBO, but hey....]

Anyway, even assuming he's right, it seems to me that America likes its Over-The-Air TV. If that's the case, why should the MPAA be allowed to destroy it? As I see it, phasing out Over-The-Air broadcasting is simply a way to impose a "tax" on consumers by forcing them to upgrade to either flag-enabled DTVs, cable and/or satellite where they not only need new equipment but have to pay ever-rising monthly fees. If the social benefit of the Broadcast Flag is to protect the MPAA, then consumers will essentially be forced (via FCC regulations) to pay taxes to "protect" the content industry from piracy. It's Content Welfare. The Content Industry can't pull it's own weight, so it's looking for government handouts and expecting the public to pay for it, even though the public isn't benefitting. [Gee, don't I sound like a Republican?]

At the UC Berkeley DRM conference, Richard Epstein noted that the Broadcast Flag tradeoff was pretty simple -- we're trading consumer rights (such as fair use) and numerous new and diverse innovations in the consumer electronics market for theoretically greater security on intellectual property. Is this really the choice that a majority of Americans would choose if they could? Are we reallly ok with the Broadcast Flag tax? Sure, you can argue that watching television is voluntary, so you don't have to pay if you don't want to play. But I don't think the government should be imposing such a heavy burden on this choice, especially in light of who's automatically benefitting from it.

Howard Shelanski @ Boalt often talks about regulatory arbitrage -- a situation where industry heavy hitters coopt the objectivity of regulatory groups that supposedly serve the public interest. If the MPAA continues this tack, the FCC may well become a sad example of such a scenario.

For me, I say No New Taxes. If the MPAA wants to offer us better television, they should put a superior product on the market and let consumers choose who's pocket to put their money in.


:: Jason 5:51:00 PM [+] ::
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Imaginary Candidate Beating Bush in 2004 Election Polls

Reuters and ABC are reporting that the American public would likely vote for an unnamed Democratic presidential candidate over re-electing George Bush by a 48-44 margin.

While this is surely bad news for the Bush camp, I'd also hate to be the eventual Democratic candidate if he/she ends up losing to Bush in the end, given these polling numbers now.
:: Jason 5:27:00 PM [+] ::
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Centuries-old Batter Splatter Problem Solved



A physics student in the UK has figured out the algorithm for flipping pancakes in a pan perfectly every time.

Apparently all you need to do is make sure the angular velocity of the cake equals the square root of Pi, times the gravity divided by the distance the pancake is from the elbow times four.

Geeze, why didn't I think of that?

p.s. This article is also another example of how Brits have more fun in their press. Check out the caption for the pic!
:: Jason 9:28:00 AM [+] ::
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:: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 ::

Shameless Self-Promotion



I'm quoted in this month's Reason magazine regarding the research I did post-Eldred on the availability of pre-1946 movies. Just a little ditty, but hey -- since when does size matter? :)
:: Jason 7:10:00 PM [+] ::
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U.S. Spams Iraqis the Old Fashion Way




Check out this Online Gallery of infowar leaflets dropped on Iraq by U.S. Forces over the past few months.

Cred: BoingBoing.net
:: Jason 6:05:00 PM [+] ::
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:: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 ::

The Animatrix



The producers of The Matrix have started releasing a 9-part animation series called THE ANIMATRIX. Two of the four free episodes are available online.

All I can say is: Wow.


:: Jason 8:31:00 PM [+] ::
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Text of Kiesling Resignation Letter



Here's the (supposed) text from the resignation letter of U.S. diplomat John Brady Kiesling to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing you to submit my resignation from the Foreign Service of the United States and from my position as Political Counselor in U.S. Embassy Athens, effective March 7. I do so with a heavy heart. The baggage of my upbringing included a felt obligation to give something back to my country. Service as a U.S. diplomat was a dream job. I was paid to understand foreign languages and cultures, to seek out diplomats, politicians, scholars and journalists, and to persuade them that U.S. interests and theirs fundamentally coincided. My faith in my country and its values was the most powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal.

It is inevitable that during twenty years with the State Department I would become more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and selfish bureaucratic motives that sometimes shaped our policies. Human nature is what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for understanding human nature. But until this Administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer.

The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America┬╣s most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.

The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam. The September 11 tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for those successes and build on them, this Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to so to ourselves. Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish, superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name of a doomed status quo?

We should ask ourselves why we have failed to persuade more of the world that a war with Iraq is necessary. We have over the past two years done too much to assert to our world partners that narrow and mercenary U.S. interests override the cherished values of our partners. Even where our aims were not in question, our consistency is at issue. The model of Afghanistan is little comfort to allies wondering on what basis we plan to rebuild the Middle East, and in whose image and interests. Have we indeed become blind, as Russia is blind in Chechnya, as Israel is blind in the Occupied Territories, to our own advice, that overwhelming military power is not the answer to terrorism? After the shambles of post-war Iraq joins the shambles in Grozny and Ramallah, it will be a brave foreigner who forms ranks with Micronesia to follow where we lead.

We have a coalition still, a good one. The loyalty of many of our friends is impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up over a century. But our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the U.S. to drift into complete solipsism. Loyalty should be reciprocal. Why does our President condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this Administration is fostering, including among its most senior officials. Has "oderint dum metuant" really become our motto?

I urge you to listen to America┬╣s friends around the world. Even here in Greece, purported hotbed of European anti-Americanism, we have more and closer friends than the American newspaper reader can possibly imagine. Even when they complain about American arrogance, Greeks know that the world is a difficult and dangerous place, and they want a strong international system, with the U.S. and EU in close partnership. When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet?

Mr. Secretary, I have enormous respect for your character and ability. You have preserved more international credibility for us than our policy deserves, and salvaged something positive from the excesses of an ideological and self-serving Administration. But your loyalty to the President goes too far. We are straining beyond its limits an international system we built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained America's ability to defend its interests.

I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S. Administration. I have confidence that our democratic process is ultimately self-correcting, and hope that in a small way I can contribute from outside to shaping policies that better serve the security and prosperity of the American people and the world we share.

:: Jason 11:43:00 AM [+] ::
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