Qtrax: Oops

Someone commented recently about Qtrax, a recently-announced music file-sharing company that promised a free download service with 25 million licensed songs. There’s only one problem: as reported in Music site Qtrax forced into humiliating U-turn, the company neglected to secure deals with the four major record labels before its splashy $500,000 launch party. These folks would have felt right at home during the late-90s dot-com bubble.

Big Dig Settlement

Bechtel/Parsons Brinckeroff, responsible for design and construction of Boston’s Big Dig, agreed recently (WSJ-subscription required) with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to pay $407 million settle the state’s lawsuit over design and construction flaws. Payments from smaller contractors bring the total settlement payments to $458 million. In exchange Bechtel/Parsons escapes possible criminal liability for the death of Milena Del Valle, who was killed in July 2006 when a portion of the tunnel project’s ceiling collapsed on her car. Bechtel/Parsons could also be on the hook for up to $100 million if future problems arise from the project’s flaws that cause more than $50 million in damages.

A rose among spam

Before I empty my Gmail spam folder I rarely give the contents more than a cursory glance. Today, for some reason, I glanced down the list of with greater care and spotted at the bottom, wrongly accused of spamitude, an email from Chad Bissonnette thanking me for a financial contribution to his Gran Sous water project. He is as thoughtful and well-spoken in email as he is in person. Whatever impulse led me to spend three more seconds than normal looking at my spam, I’m glad I did.

Course wiki projects

Wednesday night I had dinner at Stella in the South End with my former business partner. We dissolved our financial advisory business in 1999 when we both started teaching full-time, me at BU School of Management and David in a Boston public school. He and his family have been in New Delhi for eighteen months where his wife took an assignment for her company and David played golf and taught in an American school. He related how his 10th-grade English students engaged in “deep reading” of classic literature–that is, reading, thinking, and making marginal notes in the velo-bound public-domain works he assembled for them–and turned Agamemnon into a play about a high-stakes soccer match between bitter foes that they then performed for classes of 6th-graders. These experiences echoed the written case assignments and wiki content creation I’ve introduced into some of my courses. Make someone write about what they read, make them find creative ways to engage with the course material, and they will understand it more fully.

The wiki assignments are new to real estate law and Internet law this semester. I want another vehicle for student engagement that can tap into and capture how they learn and create a repository of resources for current and future classmates. This week I sketched out rough ideas for how students might use the wiki with no sense of how they would react to them, and asked for volunteers to create the first projects. It has only been a few days but so far I am pleased. Their initial ideas have outstripped my thinking about what they might do. It proves to me again that the best ideas come from students.

Medical Marijuana and Employment

Non-lawyers are often troubled by how messy and inconsistent the law can be. A student asked why California law could permit medical use of marijuana when its possession is a criminal offense under federal law. I noted that such conflicts remain unresolved until lawsuit puts the conflict before a court. Coincidentally, while I was in class a friend sent me this article from Bloomberg: California Worker Fired for Marijuana Can’t Sue. Gary Ross’s doctor recommended marijuana use to relieve pain from a back injury. Ross’s employer, Ragingwire Telecommunications, Inc. fired him when a drug test required for new employees revealed he had fired up. His lawsuit claimed that his termination discriminated based on a disability and violated public policy. A California trial court dismissed his lawsuit, an intermediate appellate court affirmed the dismissal, and the California Supreme Court affirmed the lower-court rulings 5-2. According to Bloomberg the court held that “[n]othing in California’s voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which allows the smoking of marijuana when recommended by a physician, governs the ‘respective rights and duties of employers and employees.'” The article notes in passing the observation by Ragingwire’s attorney that “he didn’t believe any state legislation would overcome a fundamental conflict between the California medical-use law and federal law banning possession and use of marijuana.”

Download a song, lose financial aid?

Reading how recording labels are dropping digital rights management and recording artists are finding new ways to reach their audience, one might believe that the music industry’s business model is beginning to catch up with the 21st century. For every tentative toe in the water the industry wages a rearguard action to hold on to the past, such as the the antipiracy provisions contained in the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, a pending bill I’ve mentioned before. What does federal education-financing legislation have to do with music piracy? Among it’s lengthy provisions it requires that colleges and universities eligible for federal financial aid develop plans to offer alternatives and impose technological barriers to illegal downloading. The draft legislation does not impose penalties on those schools that fail to develop satisfactory plans, but the link between continued piracy and withheld financial aid is implicit in the mere existence of such a provision in this bill. While such indirect regulation of music piracy may be effective, Congress should not be putting colleges in the role of copyright enforcers for the Recording Industry Association of America. The existence of this provision in a a bill otherwise far removed from copyright issues evidences both the RIAA’s lobbying power and the absence of forward-thinking policy in RIAA and Congress.