Jon Ippolito
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Works in Orono, Maine United States of America

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Re: Internet2: Orchestrating the End of the Internet?

Thanks for this thoughtful response, Phil. It's hard for me to disagree with someone who is so plugged into Internet2--and says such nice things about me. But I'll do my best, with the help of Google and the EFF's Seth Schoen.

> (1) the broadcast flag only applies to over-the-air broadcasts (not
>cable, satellite, or internet streaming

That's basically true--although Seth tells me the jury is still out on whether the flag applies to cable. In any case, Hollywood didn't need to lobby for a broadcast flag on cable or satellite broadcasts because those providers already can (and generally do) slap on even stricter DRM. The FCC approved this stricter form of exclusion--with minor limitations--in their recent "Plug and Play" proceeding.

> (2) [the broadcast flag] will not prevent
>copying for fair use. For example, you will still be able to record
>over-the-air broadcast TV shows at home for later use.

Yes, if you use software or hardware that meets Hollywood's specification. While in theory such a device might let consumers do everything they're legally allowed to do, in reality the MPAA has no incentive to encourage devices that let consumers do something Hollywood won't profit by. Jack Valenti isn't really interested in letting you freely record digital TV with your current DVD burner, email a clip from a President's press conference to your mom, or create a high-definition video installation based on an archive of short TV clips.

To be sure, Jack doesn't have the direct authority to approve or disallow new PC tuner cards and DVD players. But before the broadcast flag, Hollywood had no recognized legal interest in appealing an FCC decision. Now that there's an FCC ruling designed specifically to protect their own interests, the movie studios are hiring expensive lawyers to do just that.

In the short term, some consumers may not notice the immediate effects of the flag. (Though I'm guessing Johnny Consumer will be ticked off when he learns that the $500 video player he bought in 2005 won't play a recording Aunt Betty made with a DTV receiver she bought in 2006.) More important for the long run, however, will be the flag's effect on innovation in video software and hardware. To build a legal device to interoperate with the broadcast flag will require it to be "untamperable." That rules out any technological innovation that requires tinkering or experimenting with an existing apparatus. In particular, it rules out open source software such as GNU Radio, because open source projects *require* others to be able to tinker with them. Do we really need another market where open source developers are told they can't compete because it would it would wreck the business plans of entrenched commercial interests?

While analog recording devices are not constrained by the broadcast flag, the MPAA has been trying other schemes to "plug the analog hole." A particularly ludicrous proposal, documented in the MPAA's "Content Protection Status Report" filed in the US Senate in 2002 and echoed by two TV execs at last week's DVB World, calls for embedding anti-copy chips into every analog-to-digital converter manufactured. As you probably know better than I, those wee little converters are everywhere--in digital scanners and camcorders, but also in thermometers, seismographs, computer mice, mobile phones, and light-meters. That Hollywood would presume to constrain technological development in everything from health care to scientific research testifies to its fanatic obsession with controlling technologies that are incompatible with its business model.

>The broadcast flag system *will* prevent large scale redistribution,
>i.e. massive piracy.

But will it? Many observers have noted that the broadcast flag's DRM has all the toughness of a wet paper bag. It's just unencrypted bits in a stream, and the spec is publicly and lawfully accessible. The MPAA even sidestepped the question of effectiveness in their official FAQ. The ease with which it can be subverted makes me worry that its introduction will spur illegal reuses of digital TV while locking out legal ones.

By the way, you don't need to be a Bram Cohen to get around this DRM. Sure, you won't find a flag-free player manufactured after this July. But if you're keen on committing massive copyright infringement, just plunk down $150 for a tuner card before the deadline. Then you can spew pirated Alias episodes afterward to your heart's content.

>The ability to quickly create improvised collaborative groups was
>recognized as being among the highest application priorities in the
>earliest pre-planning of Internet2. Application level efforts such
>as the Internet2 Commons, VRVS, and indeed the very Access Grid
>technology that MARCEL depends on, are some of the fruit of this
>early vision.

I'm glad to hear you think there's plenty of room on Internet2 for pickup collaborations outside of the broadcast model. Knowing you, you've probably participated in some interesting events on Internet2. So forgive me if the consortium's public face--which I've seen in Ann Doyle's presentations and Internet2 Web sites--doesn't reinforce the vision of open and improvisatory collaboration described above. Some of the networked performances I've seen associated with Internet2 sound innovative, but they take for granted a clear distinction between performers and audience. Likewise, I want to be part of the Internet2 Commons--but not if I have to shell out a couple grand to join it. And an Open Student Network is a great idea, but not if the end result is a television channel for Connie Chungs-in-training.

But as you suggest, much of the problem may lie with the choreographers rather than with the engineers. Perhaps if MARCEL and Internet2 folks brainstormed together, they might come up with less hierarchic models of high-bandwidth culture.

>Router level digital rights
>management is not being considered by any of the internet standards
>bodies. It's not even over the horizon.

That's good to hear, and you're in a much better position than I to know what Internet2 chieftains are contemplating. I suppose my concern is less with what Internet2 is now than with what it could easily become if the MPAA starts getting its claws into it.

You see, I don't know how to square your reassurances with the comments by MPAA and Internet2 VPs in the story I posted earlier. When Chris Russell talks about working with Internet2 to "manage illegitimate content," how is he going to do that without sniffers inside the network that tell him what's being traded or who fed it into Internet2?

Today, you and I can plug off-the-shelf PowerBooks into Ethernet cables at our university offices and communicate via Internet2 without Hollywood's blessing. I was optimistic that this privilege might someday belong to a much wider cross-section of people. But now the pessimist in me is thinking that even spoiled academics like us may be denied that freedom if the MPAA gets its way. As the folks at Public Knowledge commented in regard to the FCC's "Plug and Play" proceeding:

"One of the key issues in this proceeding is the extent to which content companies and content-delivery services can leverage the Commission's goals of promoting digital television, cable compatibility, and competition in the navigation-device market into sweeping regulations whose principal effect is not to serve these goals, or even to prevent piracy of digital television. Instead, the real purpose of these proposals is to restore to content companies, to the extent possible, the degree of control over video they exercised prior to the invention of the videocassette recorder."

I hope that folks like you with some influence in the consortium will take this threat seriously enough to be mindful of it. Thanks for helping to air this debate in public.

>And I personally look forward to working further with both!

I'd love to start a working group on Internet2/Access Grid devoted to questions of access and control. As long as admission is free :)



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copyrighting DNA tunes

From the Now I've Seen Everything Dept:

"Maxygen's scientists and lawyers are proposing [to] encode the DNA sequences as MP3s or other music files and then copyright these genetic 'tunes'....As the 'authors' of these DNA-based songs, Maxygen could, in theory, control the rights to the compositions for 95 years or more--as opposed to the 17 years given under current patent law.",1294,52666,00.html

As laughable as Maxygen's proposal is, it also hints that the structural defects of copyright--which is supposed to protect the lowly from the mighty--are independent of the particular situation of art and artists.

What's next, a Celera Genomics press conference with guest spokesman Lars Urlich?

I pity you science fiction writers out there, trying to think up futures as bizarre as our present.