Monday, October 24, 2011

Fair Use a Felony?

There is currently a Senate Bill on the floor of the Senate, Bill S.978, that would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted material for the purpose of "commercial advantage of personal financial gain" a felony.  This is of course ridiculously dumb. Everything is under copyright these days. Copyright is what "designers" use to keep the cheaper products they sold overseas out of the country, to keep their domestic profits high. So pretty much no one can show up in a stream, cause unless they are naked in front of a green screen, there is probably going to be something under copyright in the shot.

But there are some larger issues. They include demarcating who is a journalist and who is not, protecting parody and satire, the wide scale potential for abuse, and just preserving our history.

I've seen many regular video authors who discuss what's going on in the some or all of the world. They frequently do this with the help of clips or snippets of copyrighted materials. Right now these people have not had to stand up and wrap them selves in the formal trappings of being a journalist, but threaten them with losing their right to vote and they will. In this it could really backfire because ultimately uses now that do not get protected as fair use will end up protected under journalistic freedom. Or the digital word of mouth that these people provide will dry up, which will hurt people. And the loss of discourse if one person with something meaningful to say is silenced, is really more of a cost then just about any cost to the copyright holders.

Parody and Satire, are a huge part of our culture. Shows like the Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live and The daily show are institutions in our culture, and they all stream, and they all use clips of copy written material. And in addition to these voices there are many minor sources of satire and parody out there. And not all the the butts of the jokes appreciate it. Right now it's more trouble then it's worth to harass these people, but when the cost of losing the fight goes up for the satirists,  Intimidation becomes a viable tool to silence these voices.

And ultimately this has huge potential for abuse. When most streamed content contains some things that are under copyright, and most politicians stream content. In one fell swoop an authoritarian regime could round up the opposition. As a tool for intimidation this would have a power for those who can afford to use it. It may not be abused at first, but I think it's too dangerous a weapon for abuse to allow to sit.

Finally what happens when someone captures some historic event like a disaster or accident, but has something under copyright, like a song or clothing or something. Do we want to lose these witnesses to our history?

Ultimately copyright is a trade between creators and society, that is intended to benefit both. When one side of equation isn't benefiting from the social contract anymore then contract has no point.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When are you legally an Adult?

So knowing some of history, it's not clear that the age of adulthood is well established and thee is some sign of this in the law. In the Baby-boomers life time the drinking and voting age were lowered to 18. Only to have the drinking age raised again. But the alcohol legislation in Maryland says that an adult in your immediate family may allow you to drink in their private residence. If you're an adult at 18 then this means you can drink at home, once you're 18. I doubt that was the intent. On the other hand at 18 you can sign legally binding contracts, by default get charged as an adult, and your parents are no longer responsible for you. But along those lines, I can't remember the last time I heard of a 17 year old being charged as a juvenile. So what is it? Is it the standard age at which you are a charged as an adult, 18 when you can sign contracts, serve in the military and vote, or 21 when you finally have no privileges withheld? If it is 18, does that mean that age discrimination is legal? Can you be striped of privilege just because of your age? I think the AARP would have something to say about that, but as long as we leave this up in the air they have no reason to get involved.

What do you think? Is this a quagmire or is it clear?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The fall of Official Identity

I think it's funny, I keep hearing about new measures for ID cards, when the system that supports them is dying. There are three things in motion right now that are undermining or system of official identities and that could cause major upheaval if we don't proactively seek to address them. 

To understand the first big threat, it helps to have ever had to establish yourself independently with a state ID authority (normally the DMV or MVA). In addition to providing documentation establishing who you are, you have to establish where you live. They normally have people do this by bringing official mail, bills, bank statements, etc. The problem with this is that most people have started to interact with the people who generate that mail online, and most of them want to help you "Go Green" (and save them money), by stopping to send you such mail. No longer receiving that official mail. Good luck proving that you live where you do, especially if you're living with a friend or somewhere where you don't have a lease. Oops!

The second threat is tied to the first. That's the impending collapse of the US Postal Service. Not only will it accelerate the first problem, just as the first problem accelerates it, but it prevents new interesting problems for the future. The USPS are generally the one of the main agents for officially recognizing addressing change. If you're still getting bills Fed-Ex'ed to you, what happen when you move to a new community or building that Fed-Ex doesn't understand yet, cause the database of valid addresses isn't being updated anymore? As long as your identity is established with mail, you need the USPS.

The third threat, and this is the big one, is what happens when people become long term nomads? Let me explain because this one is a little more complicated. Why do we maintain private residences? To hold our stuff, For recreations that require infrastructure, for a place to sleep, a place to be a family, and as a place with a Bathroom. So let's take a time to look at these motivations and see what's on the horizon.  

As my posts on media have probably let on, I'm a bit of a major consumer. But over the last few years, less and less of my spending results in the physical accumulation of more stuff. Most of the media I buy is bought digitally and with new cloud initiatives, I'm less likely to have to house infrastructure to make sure that I don't lose it. When my stuff other then furniture is just my clothes and the devices that I carry around all the time anyway there's a lot less of a motivation to invest in a location. And the seeming universal migration that everyone makes to college is going to have the younger generations realizing this sooner.  

The idea of having a hobby room or a media room appeals to a lot of people, but often this is what loses the space wars. In addition to that preferences in media consumption tend to make people want to be where they can consume the media they want. Well as the media goes digital and cable services start letting you view your content anywhere. You can view your media anywhere especially as technology to take what you've got in your pocket and put it on a big screen improve. Just like fitness rooms and laundry rooms, I could easily see dorms and apartment buildings of the future containing reservable media rooms, that are posh enough that they make up for the lack of space, which in addition to the media rooms, let them fit more people in that space. And eventually Hobby retailers will figure it out too. Someone will eventually setup a place as a perpetual con. They will have a store where you can by hobby paraphernalia setting where you can partake in your hobby, better then you could in your cramped  home, and even some storage space that you can rent to store your stuff. Plus while you're their they'll also sell you things for peripheral needs like food and/or for the late sessions a place to crash. And the best part is that these places help you connect with people with similar interests to you. 

As for the biological needs of sleeping and the bathroom. As people's use of their home becomes more and more dorm like, because they don't need space for stuff or hobby supplies, then there's not reason for there not to be a shift. Some people like Google already have fitness rooms and nap rooms at some of their locations, how long before employees that are at a remote site for a night or a month just crash there, even if the employees doesn't think of and provision for it first. So now you have people moving from college Dorms to corporate Dorms. When will these people ever change their permanent address to be anything other then their Parent's home?

Which finally brings us to having a family. So you've people who still list their home as their parents home, who have all the stuff they own that won't fit in a duffel bag and messenger bag at their parents home, and who will probably need help when it comes to day care anyway. Where are they going to go? If it's close enough they will probably just go to their Parents home. Which isn't so far fetched a thing, for a lot of our history there have been familial homes. And if we're spending most of our adult lives as vagabonds, why not? The only problem is that some familial homes will be inconvenient. And the answer to that is new ones being established. Or maybe your aunt, uncle, or childless older friend will invite you in as family. 

And the problem with being a long term nomad who spends decades of their life are marginally tied to any one residence isn't establishing official identity, it's with what happens when your official identity doesn't match your actual one. What happens when you're a "resident" of New York, spending all your professional time in California? Who get's to tax you? Who do you get to vote for?  and how is a jurisdiction supposed to afford the infrastructure it's residents need if none of them officially live there?

So we are heading towards a world where it is getting hard to establish official identity and one in which it easier to maintain one that isn't an actual reflection of reality. We're approaching a world in which it's easier for people to be transient, but in which our funding of infrastructure, governmental representation, and maintaining official identity is based on not being inherently transient. And what happens when a person finds themselves untethered, with a place to sleep and job, but no real home and no way to establish an identity? A lot of the assumptions that have built modern America were reflective of the time but not really the past, or perhaps the future. So do we work to preserve those assumptions or try to fin a better set?

And the most important question, as is the question with all inevitable change is will we act now when we can be thoughtful and have time to innovate, or will we wait until we are at the moment of crisis?