ACTA

As reported in “Meet SOPA’s Evil Twin, ACTA,” SOPA’s demise has brought the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement–ACTA–into focus. (The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has posted ACTA’s text.)  The U.S. was among the group of nations that signed ACTA last October; 22 European countries signed it last Thursday, prompting protests throughout Europe (ars technica, “Opponents protest signing of ACTA without adequate debate“). The U.S. signed ACTA as an Executive Agreement that (the Obama administration claims) does not change U.S. law and thus need not be submitted to Congress, limiting public commentary on its provisions.  Jack Goldsmith and Larry Lessig challenged the Constitutionality of the administration’s secret ACTA negotiations in a  March 2010 Washington Post Op-Ed.

[ACTA’s] proposals [contained in a leaked January 2010 draft] might or might not make sense. But they ought at least be subject to public deliberation. Normal constitutional procedures would require the administration to submit the final text of the agreement for Senate approval as a treaty or to Congress as a “congressional-executive” agreement. But the Obama administration has suggested it will adopt the pact as a “sole executive agreement” that requires only the president’s approval.

Such an assertion of unilateral executive power is usually reserved for insignificant matters. It has sometimes been employed in more important contexts, such as when Jimmy Carter ended the Iran hostage crisis . . .

The Supreme Court, however, has never clarified the limits on such agreements. Historical practice and constitutional structure suggest that they must be based on one of the president’s express constitutional powers (such as the power to recognize foreign governments) . . .

Joining ACTA by sole executive agreement would far exceed these precedents. The president has no independent constitutional authority over intellectual property or communications policy, and there is no long historical practice of making sole executive agreements in this area. To the contrary, the Constitution gives primary authority over these matters to Congress, which is charged with making laws that regulate foreign commerce and intellectual property.

Obscured by SOPA, ACTA managed to fly under the radar to multi-national ratification. The question is whether it’s too late.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) joined the chorus of criticism this week when he called ACTA “more dangerous than SOPA” at a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s not coming to me for a vote,” he said. “It purports that it does not change existing laws. But once implemented, it creates a whole new enforcement system and will virtually tie the hands of Congress to undo it.”

SOPA Status

It’s been a consequential week for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act, the two controversial pieces of copyright-protected legislation pending in Congress. I’ve posted about these bills in recent months but I’ve not attempted to post the play-by-play culminating in last week’s coordinated online protest against the bills. Now that the bills have stalled–the New York Times reports “the pressures of an election year make action this year unlikely”–over the next few days I want to take time to compare the bills’ stated purposes with their methods for achieving those purposes, and separate fact and myth from arguments of both the bills’ proponents and its opponents. These particular bills may be gone for good but the issues they address and, as important, the music, motion picture, and publishing industry lobbying effort that pushed for their creation are still patrolling the House and Senate.

EU Rules ISP Not Required to Monitor for Copyright Enforcement

While Congress considers passing legislation that imposes duties on ISP’s to monitor for and take affirmative steps to counter copyright infringement the European Court of Justice–the EU’s high court–held this week “that Internet service providers could not be required to monitor their customers’ online activity to filter out the illegal sharing of music and other copyrighted material.”

Priming the Pump

In the blur of class preparation, reading papers, meetings with students, social engagements, workouts, and late-night Patriots games my desktop has become jammed with articles and ideas. Since I can’t go back in time I’ll clear the slate with these brief posts and try to get back in posting rhythm.

First, Facebook Founder Finds He Wants Some Privacy reports on Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to force 02138 magazine (for those who do not “go to school in Cambridge,” 02138 is the Harvard zip code) to remove some “unflattering documents” from its website. A freelance reporter obtained the documents from the federal district court in Boston, where they were filed in connection with a lawsuit against Zuckerberg by the founders of ConnectU who claim that Zuckerberg stole their idea for a campus-based networking site after they engaged Zuckerberg for programming help. The documents include “include Mr. Zuckerberg’s handwritten application for admission to Harvard and an excerpt from an online journal he kept as a student that contains biting comments about himself and others.” The court rejected Zuckerberg’s motion to remove the documents without explaining his ruling.

Steven Kirsch–inventor, a serial entrepreneur, and philanthropist–has come up with a new way to stop junk email. Spam’s End? Maybe, if Time Allows discusses his scheme and his personal challenge in seeing it to fruition. Kirsch has Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, a form of blood that is “considered incurable, although it can be managed beyond the five- to seven-year longevity that new patients are usually told to expect.” His spam-blocking technique relies on “the recognition that the ratio of spam to legitimate e-mail is individually unique. It is also a singular identifier that a spammer cannot manipulate easily. By assessing the combined reputations of the recipients of any individual message, the Abaca system determines the “spaminess” of a particular message.” Kirsch is approach his illness like an engineer, treating it as a problem requiring a solution.

Adult website Perfect 10–described by a defendant in a lawsuit as “a serial filer of nuisance copyright claims”–has come up short in one of its suits. This week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear its appeal from the 9th Circuit’s decision in Perfect 10 v CCBill LLC. In one of those coincidences that makes teaching–especially teaching Internet law–so much fun, the Court denied Perfect 10’s appeal on Monday of a week in which we are reading and discussing Perfect 10’s copyright lawsuits against Google and CCBill. To be fair, the 9th Circuit did remand the case against Google for further consideration of some of Perfect 10’s claims.

Last for this desk-clearing exercise, there have been numerous articles written about the suicide of 13 year-old Megan Meier. The story in a nutshell:

Meier met a 16-year-old named “Josh Evans” on MySpace. Her mother reluctantly gave permission to add Josh as a friend and visit with him online. They became close, but he suddenly turned on her, calling her names, saying she was “a bad person and everybody hates you.” Others joined the harassment, and the barrage culminated in Meier’s Oct. 16, 2006, suicide, just short of her 14th birthday.

Weeks later, Meier’s parents learned the boy didn’t exist—he’d been fabricated by a neighbor, Lori Drew, the mother of one of Meier’s former friends. The girls had had a falling-out, police say, and Drew wanted to know what Meier was saying about her daughter.

Drew managed to stay under the radar for a while but eventually she was outed–a Google search for “Lori Drew” yields about 59,000 hits and a search for <“Lori Drew” helicopter parent> yields almost 370 hits including Judith Warner’s piece in the NY Times: Helicopter Parenting Turns Deadly. Outrage and venom notwithstanding, the local prosecutor announced this week that he will not charge Drew in Megan Meier’s death because her conduct did not violate any criminal statutes. reviewed laws related to stalking, harassment and child endangerment before making his announcement. “[Prosecutor Jack] Banas said harassment and stalking laws both require proof that communication was made to frighten, disturb or harass someone. In this case, he said, the fictitious MySpace profile was created not to bully Megan, but to find out what she was saying about the neighborhood mother’s then-13-year-old daughter, a former friend. There are a few statements at the end that are a heated argument,” he said. “That’s why you have a hard time making a harassment case.””

The 59th Street (Toll)Bridge Song

In the spring of 1967 Jimi Hendrix released Are You Experienced?, his first album, and The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. My friend Rick bought Sgt. Pepper as soon as it was available and, incredibly excited by what he heard, called and played it for me over the telephone. I first heard “With a Little Help From My Friends”, “She’s Leaving Home,” and “A Day in the Life” on a spring afternoon while standing in my kitchen with a bakelite phone receiver pressed to my right ear. My first listening of Are You Experienced? came courtesy of another friend, who played it one Friday evening at full volume in his darkened bedroom. My hair stood on end at the opening chords of “Purple Haze.” I had never before heard music like that.

We experience music more immediately, more personally than any other form of popular culture. Movies and television required (until video-capable iPods and $1.99 episodes of Lost and The Office) that we sit and watch a screen. In my lifetime music has always been portable, first through car radios (my high-school car, a 1965 Plymouth Fury, had only AM radio which means I heard Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” about 1,000 times in 1970 alone), then through the Sony Walkman and its progeny, which led to today’s ubiquitous MP3 players. Technology has allowed us to accompany our lives with a personal soundtrack. We all have music that is ours. 1967 was also the year of The Graduate,plastics,” and the birth of Dustin Hoffman’s career. I recall Dick Cavett asking Hoffman whether sudden fame had changed his life. Hoffman replied “It’s not like Mrs. Robinson plays when I go to the bathroom in the morning.” These days we can all have Mrs. Robinson–the Simon and Garfunkel original or the Lemonhead’s version–playing when we go to the bathroom in the morning.*

I’m thinking about this because of recent exposure to the inevitable boomer-retrospective articles and radio shows about the Summer of Love and the juxtaposition of two articles: Jason Fry’s “The Perils of Online Song Lyrics” in the 5/21 Wall Street Journal (subtitled “Yahoo’s New Lyrics Service Is Promising,But Why Can’t I Copy and Paste the Words?”) and Mark Helprin’s “A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?,” an op-ed piece in the 5/20 New York Times. Helprin argues that copyright law should protect creative works to the same extent that law generally protects rights in personal and real property. Congress can, Helprin asserts, circumvent (my word, not his) the Constitutional provision authorizing Congress to extend a monopoly to authors “for limited times,” by vitiating the meaning of “for limited times:” “Congress is free to extend at will the term of copyright. It last did so in 1998, and should do so again, as far as it can throw.” Helprin is a far-more skilled and practiced polemicist than me, but to my simple mind this expression of his argument falls off the rails before it leaves the station. In its entirety Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Congress’s power to enact copyright law must serve the purpose of promoting the progress of useful arts. This argument (in Eldred v Ashcroft) failed to convince the Supreme Court to overturn the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the term to the life of the author plus 70 years, but the Eldred decision does not support the position that Congress can extend the term of copyright at will. Larry Lessig is articulating a more complete and scholarly refutation of Helprin’s argument.

The article about the Yahoo lyrics site explores the confluence of our appropriation of popular music for personal expression and the “propertization” of copyright. As Fry states “[s]ong lyrics are one of those things the Internet might have been made for . . .” Most of use have searched for song lyrics. The Archive of Misheard Lyrics at www.kissthisguy.com is a favorite site. Song lyrics are part of our aural wallpaper, a cultural touchstone, a form of shorthand, titles for the chapters of our lives (I’m in one titled “well . . . how did I get here?“), the raw material for wedding vows, and memory triggers. We hear a phrase in conversation that reminds us of a lyric that transports us to the time in our life associated with that song. (If reading that made you think of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, good.) Song lyrics are all that but, at the request of copyright holders, you can’t copy and paste lyrics from Yahoo!’s lyric site. According to Nicholas Firth, Chairman and CEO of BMG Music, Inc., a copied lyric is a lost sale–an idiotic comment that ignores the reality in which most of us live. If the choice is between paying a licensing fee to copy a lyric into a blog post and going without I’ll go without. Most people would say the same, even people old enough to remember Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” who did not grow up with file-sharing. I won’t pay the copyright holder a trespassing fee to walk in my own memories.

* It must have been kismet that caused iTunes shuffle to play the S&G version of Mrs. Robinson as I was writing this paragraph.

PS: A student sent me the link to this video a few days ago. Titled “A Fair(y) Use Tale” it summarizes principles of copyright law using clips from Disney animations. Cute, obsessive, and worth a look, if just to wonder: how long did it take to put this together?