If Links Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Links

The Associated Press is mad as hell and they aren’t taking it anymore.

While whom they remain angry at is somewhat nebulous, the venerable pillar of news reporting is looking to get a piece of the new media revenue pie by asserting greater control over their content. The current status quo is one where various types of web entities (such as Google, Yahoo!, and The Huffington Post) arrange licensing agreements in which they pay for the right to link to AP stories, audio, and videos. It is from here that the gray areas of the web emerge as sites, bloggers, and other aggregators link to the content that is generated through these AP licensees. On these tertiary sites, people can generate revenue from either ads or services that they provide while linking to AP product.

While stealing content is pretty straightforward, the trouble begins with linking of photographs, stories, summaries, and other copyrighted content. Such sites look to invoke the “fair use” for their use of the copyrighted materials since their argument is that they do not take substantial portions of the original works. While copyright law defines a “fair use” exemption, the criteria for determining such a case is less than crystal clear. By their own admission, there are no set parameters and it would require a case by case analysis of the works to determine whether “fair use” applies or not.

So, here lies the current dilemma: how does a link fit into the equation? The controlling document here is the Digital Rights Millennium Act, an act that was written and amended (and re-amended) before the current wave of web technology of the last two years. While current court cases provide a limited fair use protection to certain forms of linking (such as thumbnails and  inlining (linking photographs from other servers)), there is a still a universe of circumstances under which links exist. There is no way that the current version of the DRMA addresses these new circumstances to any degree of satisfaction; in fact, I would agree with the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the inadequacies of this act create a internet ripple effect which do not reflect the current web reality. While I as a content creator am completely sympathetic to people who wish to control the fruits of their labors, the current laws and regulations apply obsolete or ill-fitting rules on those who wish to share content with the new tools and technology in use today.

There are those who say (and I am one of them) that the news print media has had over a decade to adapt to the new web environment. The signs that the current business model would not hold have been there with the reduction of readership and shrinking subscription base. It is only now that a new revenue stream has become apparent that the AP has determined itself to exercise control over the content. But this genie is out of the bottle, and the technological and social norms of the internet have done nothing but to make the sharing of information easier and more accessible. Once again, it is an industry that should be pushing innovation in technology by developing new methods of information delivery that will generate revenue and provide news while still embracing fair use as a means to increase site traffic and readership. For the AP to try to put the breaks on the link economy (which does exist) would be akin to trying keep a litter of puppies from escaping from a box; the constant effort to retain everything will prove to be exhausting and ultimately fatal to an flawed business model. There is nothing to fear in linking; if anything, it is a medium that should be embraced by the AP.

(Posted at LISNews)

the marijuanablogs

Since President Obama appeared on an internet based town hall earlier last week, my RSS reader has been exploding mentioning the implications of his answer to question of marijuana legalization. (Since the questions were submitted and voted upon, let’s set aside the idea for the purposes of this discussion that the voting system was gamed by marijuana advocates.) In the end, the President said he did not favor legalization of marijuana as a means of stimulating the economy. A strict interpretation would say that he did not turn down the possibility since he limited his answer to marijuana legalization as a economy stimulant. (Thus avoiding the first time marijuana stimulated anything more than the snack food economy or carpentry. Oh, and the press noticed this as well.) In pairing this answer with the New York State Assembly repealing the Rockefeller laws, it brings up a questioning of the concept of how we deal with drugs and drug offenders in this country.

This reminds me of a classic Bill Hicks sketch about alcohol versus marijuana.

“You’re at a ballgame, you’re at a  concert, someone’s really violent, aggressive, and obnoxious.  Are they drunk or are they smoking pot?”

In reading the collected accounts at Andrew Sullivan, I cannot help but wonder that, if you were to exchange the terminology of pot smoking for booze drinking in the user stories, would anyone raise an eyebrow by their tales of use? None whatsoever. Now, this might be more revealing of how our society views these different vices, but it really sends up some flags for me. Why should the destructive traits of alcohol be set aside so readily? Why don’t we examine the pros and cons of marijuana in an open forum?

For full disclosure, I have never tried it and have no real interest to. Over the years I have friends who smoke it recreationally and lead very normal lives of gainful employment, dating, and other normal social relationships. I will concede that any drug can be abused, whether it is marijuana or a narcotic or an over the counter cold medication. There is a belief that certain drugs can lead to harder drug that are worse habits and extremely unhealthy, which I can understand but find somewhat incomplete in terms of cause and effect. I think that it is more of a case of personality, social perceptions, and old fashioned curiosity that enables people to make the jump to these more debilitating addictions. (I’d love to see some more studies on this.)

I do see marijuana as a separate entity in comparison to the larger context of the war on drugs. The war on drugs, sadly, is a bureaucratic monstrosity offering empirical proof that the road to Hell is paved with both good intentions and taxpayer dollars. Let there be no doubt that there are some extremely nasty drugs out there and these drugs cause some serious societal damage. However, our current approach to drug enforcement, drug user treatment, and the criminal justice system absolutely stinks. We need a serious reevaluation on how to tackle this issue before we throw another few billion dollars down the crapper (the irony of this drug enforcement evasion tactic metaphor should not be lost on this discussion topic). We are not doing any favors to our southern sovereign neighbors, nor the American penal system, nor our minority populations. I would not advocate an end to the war, just the closing of certain fronts and a new approach to the strategy of enforcement.

I fear that the marijuana legalization debate will get the same reception that advocates for a discussion of a lower drinking received. Rather than examine the merits of each argument, we’ll be assailed by sensationalist media and anti-drug advocates pushing specious reasoning such as “Anyone who favors marijuana legalization just wants to get high without being hassled, and anyone who favors drug decriminalization generally is or wants to be a drug user.” And we lose more than an examination of the issue, we lose people to a faulty system, resources to an inefficient policy, and another serious issue lost to a short attention span public at the feet of a 24/7 news cycle media. The pure distillery of news information to literally minute segments is maddening with complicated issues like this one, but I digress.

Personally, any real discussion about marijuana decriminalization should start with moving it from the Schedule 1 list to the Schedule 2 list. I don’t forsee full decrmininalization in the near future, but a gradual relaxing of the prohibtion over time. I think, with each generation, we slowly stop focusing on the glass or pipe in front of us and look at the person behind it. It always boils down to a people issue and we need to start treating it like one.