CBS claims copyright in open mike tape of Assemblyman Duvall

In a story entitled “Recorded Sex Comments Cost Calif. Lawmaker His Job,” the Associated Press reports that California Assemblyman Mike Duvall resigned after his boasts about extramarital affairs were recorded by an open mike. The story mentioned that the tape had been posted to YouTube, and – like all dedicated academics with inquiring minds – I thought I’d confirm the facts through original source material. Here’s the screen I got back after a Google search.

Apparently, CBS has sent a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube over the tape. It’s an interesting claim on several levels. As an initial matter, it’s questionable whether there’s any creative originality of the sort that supports copyright. The tape came from an open mike left on the desk the Assemblyman was seated at before a committee hearing. What creative selection and arrangement is there in the placement or decision to routinely record such meetings?

Additionally, it appears that the tape was not made by CBS or its representatives. Another YouTube posting (where you can see Duvall and hear parts of his words) indicates that the tape in question was made by the “in-house television station used by the state legislature.”

Finally, of course, there’s a strong fair use argument here.

Now, it is of course possible that CBS has a better copyright claim than I’ve suggested. If it was a tape of a newscast that contained the tape, then the entire newscast probably is copyrightable. That having been said, I can’t help wondering why CBS would have sent a takedown notice. Given the availability of the tape in other places, I doubt that they had any serious copyright related commercial interest to protect. Given Duvall’s status as a public official and the location where the boasts were made, I’m skeptical that he had any serious defamation or privacy claim. Maybe they were worried about claims brought by women Duvall was talking about. Or, even worse, perhaps someone had a political allegiance with Duvall.

Regardless, unless CBS acted to protect a bona fide copyright interest, it looks like the takedown of the tape in question illustrates how copyright can be misused in the digital environment to thwart the public’s ability to see firsthand how its public officials behave.

Seeing With Your Tongue: No Really

Not much law here, yet. Researchers have taken theoretical work begun decades ago and developed a “brain port,” a device that uses technology to allow people to reorganize how they process sensory data. In the example below, blind people are able to see images. The device takes visual input, processes it, sends impulses to a pad that sits on someone’s tongue, and then the person is able to see some images. It takes quite a bit of training and in some cases folks have been able to use the device such that they actually re-train the brain and can reduce use of the device. Yes in a sense they have “rewired” their brain. This advance is just cool. The video also explains that the advances in this field trace to Professor Paul Bach-y-Rita who apparently had to overcome a fair amount of resistance in his fields of neurobiology and rehabilitation, because he was challenging many accepted beliefs regarding the way the brain works and more (all hail Kuhn). Will the law become involved in this area? It probably already is insofar as patents and copyright are being used to govern the technology. In addition, as I have noted before, the advances in embedded or sensory enhancing devices raise numerous questions regarding privacy, the ownership of data, bioethics, and research ethics. So welcome to the future and take a look at the video. It really is amazing and wonderful that scientists have made these breakthroughs. At the very least, anyone questioning how basic research can lead to unforeseen benefits should pause after seeing this work.

New Developments in Cryptography and Privacy

ofb_encryptionAccording to Help Net Security, Craig Gentry, a researcher at IBM, appears to have found a way to allow “the deep and unlimited analysis of encrypted information – data that has been intentionally scrambled – without sacrificing confidentiality.” The solution involves a an “ideal lattice.” I’ll leave the explanation of all the math to the math/computer science folks. As the Help Net article notes, the solution seems to enable some great advantages for anyone providing cloud computing for:

computer vendors storing the confidential, electronic data of others will be able to fully analyze data on their clients’ behalf without expensive interaction with the client, and without seeing any of the private data. With Gentry’s technique, the analysis of encrypted information can yield the same detailed results as if the original data was fully visible to all.

It all sounds wonderful. One could have encrypted data and let others data mine while maintaining anonymity or privacy. Yet, something seemed odd to me. So I did what lawyers do, I called someone who knew more about computer science and asked for some help. That person explained that yes this could mean one could query an encrypted database without decrypting the data. The example to consider is a database of book purchases. One could ask how many people bought both book A and book B and see that result without ever seeing what a specific person purchased. Great, right? Not so fast.

As this person reminded me, with other sources of information one can figure out what a specific person did. That reminded me of the AOL debacle. With a little work, people were able to figure out who the anonymous subjects were.

All of which highlights that privacy is not binary. The cluster of information and the ability to analyze it seems often, if not always, to lead to problems about the use of information. So if this breakthrough allows a company or the government to claim that we should remain calm and all is well, we may want to remain clam but show how all may not be well. A few regulations about the use of the data even if supposedly anonymous, might allow the beneficial aspects of the solution to thrive while limiting the harms that can occur.

Image: WikiCommons
By: Gwenda; License: Public Domain
(My apologies to CS folks if the image does not match the breakthrough’s area of encryption)

Who Are You? Some Thoughts on Public/Private Information and Who’s Who

I received an email from Who’s Who today. Apparently I have been included on their list of Who’s Who in Law Higher Education. I did not ask to be included and I am not sure that I want to be on this list. So I poked around. Mark Lemley is in their database, and my alleged relation Anuj Desai is in there too; but not Dan Burk. I did some searches on some of my co-authors here and at Concurring Opinions. Many are listed, I wonder if they knew that. In addition, some of the listings have old titles (yes, that’s you Danielle, my friend). And there’s the problem.

In a world where people develop online reputations, being included in a database such as Who’s Who may not be desired. I always thought of the publication as one requiring payment for inclusion; that is apparently not so. Still that image persists in my mind so I don’t like being in the database. In addition, it is difficult to tell what criteria was used for to include or not include people. After digging around it appears I found this claim: “We maintain our own list of faculty and administration acquired from most Ph. D. granting universities across the United States and Canada. Currently more than 300,000 faculty are listed. These academicians are either nominated by other colleagues, self nominated, or have been selected and informed by our nomination committee based on the information published on them by their institutes.”

Some may argue that this is merely a database. Yet, the FAQ claims that it is:

the most comprehensive and authoritative online source of information available on leading and influential experts in the institutes of higher education. We are dedicated to creating an environment for information and collegial exchange among academicians via the Internet. We feel confident that Academic Keys can successfully supplement traditional professional magazines and journals in facilitating a powerful and dynamic communication venue. The Who’s Who in Higher Education is of critical reference value to a wide variety of groups:

– Colleagues at other universities use the Who’s Who as a valuable directory and reference.

– Government and corporations use the Who’s Who to identify expert consultants.

– Law firms use the Who’s Who to identify expert witnesses.

– Funding agencies use the Who’s Who to send RFP alerts.

– Media employees use the Who’s Who for accurate background facts on the individuals who are making news.

– It is the ideal starting point for research on individuals considered for appointments and nominations.

– The Who’s Who is an indispensable source for selection of speakers

No kidding? If any of these claims are true, then the thin and possibly erroneous information listed could harm someone’s reputation. Are people going to the site to look for experts, speakers, and so on?

In reality the site is focused on employment and seems to want to be an ad-driven service for academia-related jobs. The blanket inclusion of academics in the Who’s Who list seems to be a way to beef up the company’s image of reaching the wide range of academics. To be fair, the site has a way for one to remove one’s name. But that requires sending an email (could be an inadvertent conduit for more useless email). Worse, why should one have to work to remove one’s name from a database? It seems like a low-grade tax or blackmail. One has to find whether one is one some dubious list, whether the information is accurate, and then correct it. Which reminds me, has anyone figured out why one has to pay to have an unlisted number? But I digress.

The key idea here is that Who’s Who can scour the Web and list publicly available information. But I am not so sure why they can include people in an alleged database as if they chose to be in it without the consent of those in it. The system of “We included you, but you can remove your name” is backwards. In short opt-in, not opt-out is the better norm. They should know that and adhere to it. That approach could even enhance the company’s reputation. After all, a list of people who actually want to be on it and who provide accurate information may be useful to those seeking experts and scholarly exchange etc. As it is, a list of people who are added whether they like it or not is not something that offers useful information and mainly irritates people.

Who Are You – The Who

Maps and Legends

Space the final frontier. These are the voyages of … ah, you know the rest. Exploration and the idea of frontiers seem to capture an important part of the human experience. The possibility of finding something new, of entering uncharted territories excites people. And, although one may want to keep the secret of the Northwest Passage or the Straits of Magellan a secret, sooner or later a map is created to increase the amount of benefit that can be extracted from the discovery. Yet with the world seeming to collapse into one connected place, the role of maps has changed. In short, maps are a new frontier for property and privacy.

As Jacqueline Lipton noted Google Maps has enabled the persistence of race discrimination. Google Maps has also spawned some other curious creations and connections. For example, I wrote about the flap over what is a true IMAX screen and that folks put together a map of IMAX screens with information about the screen size. The H1N1 (aka swine) flu epidemic revealed an interesting dual use for maps. One person created a frequently updated map with information about claimed incidents. I was curious about the source and found that one person at, what else, a bitotech company focused on recombination and disease, was behind the map. In addition, a group called Health Map seeks to offers a map that connects “disparate data sources to achieve a unified and comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases and their effect on human and animal health.” On the light side, Total Film has a feature that uses Google Street view to show 25 favorite film locations.

As seems always to be the case, folks will probably soon argue about who owns what. The more interesting point might be the way maps show the malleability of information. In some hands, maps show fun things like where a film was shot. In other hands, maps provide useful epidemiological information. Yet, certain home owners may not be pleased about having tourists show up to gawk at what had been a quiet abode. Cities, counties, and even states may be upset if lay people assume that suspected or even confirmed outbreaks mean they should create a de facto or quasi-quarantine. Last, knowing where specific racial, religious, and other groups are can all too easily lead to mob behaviors.

The information mill churns. We have to sort it out. Old tools have new impacts. Today maps pose challenges. Tomorrow it will be something else. I am never certain that the law is the best way to manage these changes. Nonetheless, we have to consider what they are and how they function in case the law is asked to do so. On that note, please share any other creative and/or challenging uses of maps of which you are aware.

Last here is a little music for the trip:

Maps And Legends – R.E.M.