Archive | Internet

Searching for Time Travelers on the Internet

Physicists Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson have written an article on their research searching for time travelers on the internet. This could turn out to be the scientific paper of the year! But, sadly, no evidence of time travelers was found. Slate summarizes the study here:

In a paper pre-published on arXiv, a pair of actual physics professors detail their exhaustive efforts to canvass the Internet for evidence of time travelers. Drs. Robert J. Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson of Michigan Technological University had me at the first line of the abstract: “Time travel has captured the public imagination for much of the past century, but little has been done to actually search for time travelers.” Say, that’s a good point!

They go on to explain that they approached the problem by scouring the Web for tweets, Google searches, and other online postings about events—such as a comet or the naming of a new pope—that hadn’t happened yet at the time they were posted. “Given practical verifiability concerns,” the researchers note, “only time travelers from the future were investigated.” That’s understandable: Time travelers from the past presumably wouldn’t have had prescient insights to offer.

Sadly, it seems, neither did any time travelers from the future. “No time travelers were discovered,” the researchers report, in what must rank as an early front-runner for most disappointing sentence of 2014. They conclude: “Although these negative results do not disprove time travel, given the great reach of the Internet, this search is perhaps the most comprehensive to date.”

Either time travelers don’t exist, or Star Fleet’s Department of Temporal Investigations is doing a bangup job of covering up their presence, so as not to contaminate the timeline.

Here is a link to the full paper.

On a (slightly) more serious note, the authors [...]

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Some Important Thoughts About Internet Governance

David Bollier and John Clippinger have an extremely interesting short essay on “The Next Great Internet Disruption: Authority and Governance” that is well worth reading.  They start from Reed’s Law:

When we look back on the past twenty years of Internet history, we can more fully appreciate the prescience of David P. Reed’s seminal 1999 paper on “Group Forming Networks” (GFNs).  “Reed’s Law” posits that value in networks increases exponentially as interactions move from a broadcasting model that offers “best content” (in which value is described by n, the number of consumers) to a network of peer-to-peer transactions (where the network’s value is based on “most members” and mathematically described by n2).  But by far the most valuable networks are based on those that facilitate group affiliations, Reed concluded.  When users have tools for “free and responsible association for common purposes,” he found, the value of the network soars exponentially to 2– a fantastically large number.   This is the Group Forming Network.  Reed predicted that “the dominant value in a typical network tends to shift from one category to another as the scale of the network increases.…”

It’s a little geeky, yes – [and, if you're interested, I've got a somewhat longer and, I think, reasonably intelligible discussion in chapter 3 of  my book, here] — but I’ve long thought and still believe that it embodies a principle of the highest significance in understanding what the Net is and what it might become.  As I’ve said ad nauseum over the years to anyone who will listen, the Internet is, in a most important sense, entirely a phenomenon of large scale;  it is different from the hundreds of thousands or millions of other networks and inter-networks and inter-inter-networks out there in the world solely [...]

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Top 50 Law Professors on Twitter

The list was compiled by Clare Kaufman, for WorldwideLearn.com. She explains: “The following top law professors dominate the Twitter-verse, either through the wit, volume or audience. Criteria for selection for this list include the quality of the tweets, the number of followers and the most active users.” For whatever reason, I’m not on the list, although based on number of followers, I rank #40. Since SSRN downloads are already a very important item in law faculty rankings, perhaps the day will come when Twitter too will play a role in the ever-escalating status competition among law professors.

Regardless, the Top-50 list might a useful guide for folks who are looking for additional people to follow on Twitter. Not surprisingly, it is dominated by professors who specialize in technology issues. Impressively, Lawrence Lessig, @lessig, bestrides the law prof twitterverse like a colossus, with nearly 200,000 followers–which appears to be (I didn’t count) about as many as the other 49 combined.  @davekopel has only 0.7% as many followers. [...]

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Are Search Engine Providers Like Internet Service Providers?

Today’s NYT reports on the white paper Google commissioned from our host, Eugene (about which Eugene blogged here). I don’t know this area nearly as well as Eugene does, but I found this portion of the article particularly interesting:

there is a bit of a rub for Google, some scholars say. The kind of reasoning Mr. Volokh uses in his paper could come into conflict with one of Google’s policy priorities — the so-called net neutrality rules that call for everyone to get equal treatment on the Internet.

Since Google is not connecting users to the Internet, it is vital for its business that the companies that provide access to the Internet do not play favorites. Yet, if those providers could somehow qualify for First Amendment protection, then the government would have a harder time mandating “net neutrality.”

Mr. Volokh never mentions net neutrality in the paper, but a Duke law professor, Stuart M. Benjamin, who has written an academic paper casting doubt on First Amendment protection for mere transmitters of information like Internet service providers, said he saw a clear connection.

Mr. Benjamin said an Internet provider like Comcast, for example, could offer “a family friendly Web,” which would filter out content considered inappropriate for children; by doing so, “they have now gone to protected speech.”

But he also suggested there was a potential for Mr. Volokh’s reasoning to extend First Amendment protections to transmitters that do even less — for example, those that simply provide faster speeds to companies that pay more money. That is the kind of behavior net neutrality rules are meant to prevent.

The more the First Amendment is applied to how information is transmitted via the Internet, Mr. Benjamin said, the harder it is to regulate. “Whether that is a good or bad

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Pew Report on Politics and Social Media

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released a new report on social networking sites and politics.  Among its main findings are that most Americans use social networking sites but that liberals are more likely to use  such sites than are conservatives.  It also finds that many people are surprised by what they learn about the political views of their friends and acquaintances through such sites.  The report also includes some interesting findings on how people respond to encountering political views they do not like on such sites.

Politics can be a sensitive subject and a number of SNS users have decided to block, unfriend, or hide someone because of their politics or posting activities. In all, 18% of social networking site users have taken one of those steps by doing at least one of the following:

  • 10% of SNS users have blocked, unfriended, or hidden someone on the site because that person posted too frequently about political subjects
  • 9% of SNS users have blocked, unfriended, or hidden someone on the site because they posted something about politics or issues that they disagreed with or found offensive
  • 8% of SNS users have blocked, unfriended, or hidden someone on the site because they argued about political issues on the site with the user or someone the user knows
  • 5% of SNS users have blocked, unfriended, or hidden someone on the site because they posted something about politics that the user worried would offend other friends
  • 4% of SNS users have blocked, unfriended, or hidden someone on the site because they disagreed with something the user posted about politics

Of course, that means that 82% of SNS users have not taken any steps to ignore or disconnect from someone whose views are different – or have not encountered any views that

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A Milestone Week for the Net

Well, that was interesting!

Wednesday’s day of protest marks, I believe, a profoundly important turning-point in the history of the Net and of its place in human society. Several months ago, in one of my many periodic rants about the dreadful, unconstitutional, and repellant features of the intellectual property laws introduced into this session of Congress (SOPA and Protect-IP), I wrote:

The IP bills that Congress now has before it . . . are deep and profound threats to the Net and to our freedom on the Net. If anyone has good ideas about how to fight back other than to stand on the street-corner, as I am doing now, and shouting to the rooftops, I’d be interested to hear them.

I co-authored (with Mark Lemley and Dave Levine) a “Law Professors’ Letter of Opposition,” and I’ve blogged about it a number of times before (as have others), . But I’m going to keep at it because this is an issue that really needs more public traction than it is getting. I’m not going to stand here and say that this law will destroy the Internet as we know it, although I actually believe that to be true. I’m not going to say it, because predicting the future is impossible and I like to avoid doing it in public — though, like all of us, I have my own beliefs about what the future will bring. So I’ll put that aside and focus on the principles at stake; even if the damned thing weren’t going to destroy the Net as we know it, it is of surpassing ugliness, and if you care about freedom and liberty, you’ll agree with me.

What’s most gratifying about the events of the last couple of days — and I assume that you don’t need [...]

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Stopping the Stop Online Piracy Act

In several recent postings (here and here, for example) I called on all interested persons to come to the Internet’s defense against a spate of truly dreadful bills now making their way through Congress (the “Protect IP Act” and SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act”). Larry Downes, always a thoughtful voice on tech matters, has an interesting piece in Forbes about the rather astonishing outcry that the bills have engendered. As someone who’s been doing Internet law for almost 20 years, I can’t remember any issue galvanizing public opinion in quite this way since the 1996 “Communications Decency Act” [outlawing "indecency" on the Net -- good luck with that!]. It’s quite gratifying, and something of a turning point, I think, in terms of the politics of the Net, and it’s gratifying to have played a small part to help generate the current outcry about these truly egregious bills (Mark Lemley, Dave Levine, and I having written a Law Professors’ Letter in opposition that generated over 100 signatures — and, according to the counter at Scribd.com, has been downloaded over 50,000 times already . . . ) I’m pretty gratified; once I saw the full-page ad in the Times a few weeks ago, signed by Google, eBay, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Twitter, Zynga, and several other tech giants, stating their opposition to these bills, I began think we might actually have a good chance of winning this one and saving — seriously — the Internet. I think the copyright interests may look back at this battle and realize that they overstepped; galvanizing Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, . . . into action is not going to help their cause much, I don’t think.

[And if you're not aware of how serious a threat these bills are to the Internet's technical, [...]

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Second-Hand Music?

Here’s an interesting development: the ReDigi Used Digital Music Store. Application of copyright law’s “first sale doctrine” — which allows you to re-sell or give away copies that you have purchased of books, records, or other copyrighted works without the copyright holder’s permission (the doctrine that allows, for instance, used book stores or video rental stores to operate without payment of any additional royalties to the copyright holders) — to digital works has always been something of a puzzle. On the one hand, there’s a strong argument that the Copyright Act treats copies of works embodied in digital files the same way it treats copies of works embodied in print or on canvas; on the other hand, the fact that digital files are so preposterously easy to copy means that it’s awfully easy to circumvent the law by “re-selling” a digital file you’ve purchased while still retaining a copy for yourself – which is not within the protection of the first sale doctrine.

So along comes ReDigi. Their claim is that they’ll let you re-sell all that crappy music you downloaded during a drunken spree the other night — if you install their application on your computer, which will do a scan and certify that you haven’t kept any copies of the file around. [See the story in the NY Times here] Clever!! If you really have disposed of your copy of the file in question, it’s hard to see how the copyright holders can complain (though complain they will — book publishers still hate the 2d-hand bookstores . . .).

But there’s one thing I’m not clear about. Suppose I purchase a song at iTunes, stick a copy on my hard drive and a duplicate in my “locker” on the Apple iCloud server. Then, I resell the [...]

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How About Occupy Hollywood?

One of the obvious dangers of the Internet Age is that we’ll be so distracted by everything going on around us – lots of it interesting, complicated, and even important (not to mention all the stuff that’s idiotic and unimportant and fundamentally uninteresting) — that we will fail to recognize the truly important stuff when it comes along.

The IP bills that Congress now has before it — the Senate version of which is known as PROTECT-IP, the House version as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), sometimes known as the “E-Parasite” bill — are deep and profound threats to the Net and to our freedom on the Net. If anyone has good ideas about how to fight back other than to stand on the street-corner, as I am doing now, and shouting to the rooftops, I’d be interested to hear them.

I helped draft a Law Profs Letter in Opposition, and I’ve blogged about it a number of times before, as have others — good places to start if you are unfamiliar with the issue are the EFF site, the CDT site, and Techdirt. But I’m going to keep at it because this is an issue that really needs more public traction than it is getting. I’m not going to stand here and say that this law will destroy the Internet as we know it, though I actually believe that to be true. I’m not going to say it, because predicting the future is impossible and I like to avoid doing it in public — though, like all of us, I have my own beliefs about what the future will bring. So I’ll put that aside and focus on the principles at stake; even if the damned thing weren’t going to destroy the Net as we know it, [...]

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It’s “the Internet.” Please.

I’m losing my battle to keep the initial capital “I” in “the Internet.” I’m starting see references to “the internet” everywhere; the latest to fall seems to be The Economist (see headline from July 30: “An internet with Chinese characteristics” – I’m quite certain that it was “the Internet” up until quite recently).

It actually matters. I had a footnote in the first chapter of my “Jefferson’s Moose” book about why I was keeping it as “the Internet,” and the more I think about it, the more I think it matters — for our understanding of the Internet and its role in the world, which is surely something we need to understand.

Suppose we live someplace that only has one bookstore. You write to me: “I’m going to the bookstore; let’s meet there.” I understand what you mean — after all, there’s only one bookstore.

Now, suppose we live in a place with lots of bookstores. Now if you write “I’m going to the bookstore; let’s meet there,” I have no idea what you mean.

Finally, suppose we live in a place with lots of bookstores, but — it being a college town — it has one that is often referred to as “the Bookstore.” You know, the Bookstore. If you write “I’m going to the Bookstore,” I know where to meet you — it’s a way of designating one bookstore out of many.

There are a hundred million internets — or 82 million, or 461 million, or who knows how many. Ranging from little teeny-tiny ones (like the one that connects my home network to my service provider’s network) to big ones (the LAN in my law school building to the University network), to one really, really gigantic one. It would be nice to have a proper noun for [...]

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New Internet Top-Level Domains Coming:

After many, many years of debate and discussion, ICANN — the rather peculiar hybrid policy/technology private/public institution that manages the Internet’s naming system — has finally approved a process to open up the Internet’s list of “top-level domains” (TLDs) [Stories here and here and here give some of the details] ICANN will begin accepting applications from entities who want to operate their own TLDs — so we could well see an avalanche (.xxx, .highschoolreunions, .store, .hobbies, .dirtymovies, etc. etc. – not to mention the many hundreds of others that will now be permissible using other languages and other alphabets (Chinese, Russian, Greek, . . .) of new TLDs in the years to come.

[Note: For those of you unfamiliar with ICANN and its role in Domain Name System (DNS) management, I put together (rather well, if I do say so myself) the whole (rather astonishing) story as a chapter in my book; I've posted the chapter here, if you're interested]

I’ve been around the Internet long enough so that I’ve seen some things that were given the “Historically Important” or “Next Big Thing” label that petered out to nothing (and vice versa), but this is, I think, an important development in the history of the Net. A lot of people (myself included) have been urging this on ICANN since its inception back in the late 90s; there’s no technical impediment to the proliferation of new TLDs, and it always struck me (and others) that ICANN was merely maintaining artificial scarcity in sticking close to the original list of seven TLDs (the familiar .com, .org, .edu, etc.).

The implications of this for Net architecture and searching and linking and many other Net functions may be quite profound over time – the Net might look very different in 10 or 20 years [...]

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More on DHS and Copyright Enforcement:

Fellow Blogger Orin Kerr, in several comments on my posting yesterday, has asked some questions deserving a response:

David,

If DHS is just making a request and has no legal authority to enforce its request, then of course Mozilla is free to ignore the request. At the same time, I wonder: If you were in charge of enforcing the criminal copyright laws, what would you do about the many sites that exist to facilitate copyright infringement? What steps do you think are fair and appropriate ones — if any?

A couple of thoughts about this. First, about being “free to ignore the request.” If, say, a representative of the Department of Health and Human Services wrote to the Dean of a Law School and said: “We hereby request that you not hire any African-Americans or Jews for your faculty — oh, and not to worry, you’re free to ignore our request,” we’d all be (appropriately) outraged. Heads would surely roll. A request from the government is not like a request from your neighbor or colleague; it carries additional weight. Especially, I think, when it comes from the Dep’t of Homeland Security. It should carry additional weight; as a citizen, I care a great deal about the security of my homeland, and if the government asks for my help in that task, I’m inclined to give it, or at least to consider it. I happen to regard that as a simple consequence of citizenship – not that I’ll do whatever the government asks me to do, but that I will consider it. The more frequently they ask for things they have no right to ask for, the less inclined I am to take their requests seriously.

The DHS has no more legal authority to request that Mozilla disable MafiaaFire than [...]

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Homeland Insecurity, At It Again:

The Dep’t of Homeland Security is indeed at it again. I’ve blogged about their campaign on behalf of US copyright holders to “seize” the domain names of websites (irrespective of the actual location of the site, provided that it is registered in one of the databases of a US domain name registrar or registry). It’s a really troubling new phenomenon — even putting aside how downright stupid, and outrageous, it is that DHS, which even in light of last week’s developments obviously has other important work that it should be attending to, is getting into the copyright-enforcement game.

But it appears to be getting worse. Now, they’re going after software providers. As reported by Nate Anderson at arstechnica, DHS recently approached the folks at Mozilla and “requested” that they remove/disable a popular Mozilla add-on, “MafiaaFire.” MafiaaFire is a (pretty simple) domain name redirector; if the website operating at wereallydon’tlikeIPlawyers.com moves to wewerejustkidding.org, a user with the MafiaaFire add-on who types “http://wereallydontlikeIPlawyers.com” into his/her browser window is automatically redirected to wewerejustkidding.org.

You can see what they’re unhappy about, I suppose; sites that have had their domain names “seized” have managed to get up and running in a matter of hours after the “seizure” by switching over to new domain names, and things like MafiaaFire make it easier for users to find the new site.

But screwdrivers, pencils, automobiles, bunsen burners, Frisbees, and many, many things are used by Bad Guys to do their Evil Deeds; that does not give the government the right to restrict the availability of those items (absent some specific statutory basis for doing so). It’s conventionally referred to as “the Rule of Law.” DHS has absolutely no legal authority (of which I aware, at any rate) to order Mozilla to take this action with [...]

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Copyright Tail Trying to Wag Internet Dog, Take 153:

As I’ve noted before on a number of occasions, a possible landmark copyright case is now before the 2d Circuit, Viacom et al. v. YouTube. On behalf of 44 co-signatory law professors, Annemarie Bridy and I wrote an amicus brief urging the court to affirm the lower court’s decision that YouTube is immune from copyright claims unless it has item-specific and location-specific information about infringing postings. The brief – which I think turned out quite well, and is, at the very least, a good example of decent legal prose — is available here. Briefs submitted by other amici (and there are lots of them) are available here.

I’ve reprinted below some of my comments from earlier postings about the case. I could be falling prey to a common syndrome: when you work as an advocate for one side in a case for a while, you begin to believe that you have truth and justice firmly on your side, that the opposing position is outrageous and contrary to all common sense and moral principle . . . . But I really do think this one matters, for the future of the Net.

It was a bit more of an adventure submitting this brief than it should have been — the 2d Circuit does not treat its “amici” in a very friendly fashion. Not only must you be admitted to the 2d Circuit bar to submit an amicus brief — no temporary admissions pro haec vice are permitted — but you also have to be sure to be hooked up to the latest version of the court’s electronic filing system; not huge problem, i suppose if you’re a lawyer or law firm practicing frequently in front of the 2d Circuit, but not something that a law professor, even if [...]

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