A New Lawsuit Against Google

A man in Pennsylvania has sued Google for $5 billion in damages, alleging (in a handwritten affidavit) that Google is violating his privacy. He says that the name “Google,” when turned upside down, is a “code” for his Social Security number. If a person can mumble in writing, this guy does, veering onto the subject of the war on terror, something to do with crimes against humanity, and mention of his financial resources, which include an overdrawn bank account and a snowboard valued at $200.

Good grief!

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Free Press

In the wake of the New York Times dropping its paid Times Select service, there is news today that the Wall Street Journal’s Web site may drop its pay wall as well.

Again, the role of liberator is being played by advertising revenue. The WSJ, purchased recently by Rupert Murdoch, a closely monitored development that had many journalists worried that the end of the world had arrived, hopes that revenue from advertisers will cover the loss of about $30 million a year in subscription fees.

Why keep a newspaper’s Web site behind a pay wall? To make money, of course, but that only works if readers continue to use the paid Web sites. If users can get equally well-written news cheaper (read: “free”) elsewhere, they will.

Continue reading “Free Press”

Mr. New York Times, Tear Down that (Pay) Wall!

The New York Times plans to dismantle its Times Select paid service in an effort to drive more readers deeper into their Web site and increase ad revenue, Reuters reports.

The service will shut down on Wednesday after two years of service. Times Select had about 227,000 paid subscribers, who will receive pro-rated refunds when the service shuts down.

I’m really, really happy about this, considering that most of the articles that made me say, “Ooh, cool!” had that annoying little orange T next to them. It’s also a sign of the times that the Web site of record sees the value of making their content freely accessible.

Protecting Children Online

Virginia has become the first U.S. state to require Internet safety education in public schools, according to a report on National Public Radio today.

Officials at the Virginia Attorney General’s office told NPR that children often don’t realize they are at risk online, and parents don’t know enough to teach their children how to protect themselves online.

However, some other states, like North Carolina and Connecticut, don’t think education is enough and want social networking sites, hotbeds of illicit online activity, more closely regulated. One of the suggested measures to protect children would be something like online parental permission forms.

Security officials at MySpace, the most popular networking site, told NPR that additional hoops like permission forms would not work and could be easily forged. MySpace believes keeping kids safe online will result from a combination of education and improved safety features built into the Web site.

The Focus of Our Public Libraries

Libraries are facing an identity crisis. According to the American Library Association, more than 99 percent of American public libraries offer free Internet access, and 73 percent of those libraries are the only source of free public access in their communities.

The Associated Press reorts that the demand for Internet access and computer time in libraries has done nothing but grow, yet few libraries have plans to expand their technology offerings.

The culprits are infrastructure and money. Computers cost more than libraries can afford in most cases, and if the libraries could afford them, often they do not have space to house them or the electrical wiring necessary to power them.

So what is a library to do? Some, mentioned in the AP article, are cutting staff to pay for computers. Others, and this will surely shock some, are cutting down on book spending.

Is this a turning point? Libraries have become an expected “right” for all Americans, and free access to information has been touted as one of the cornerstones of a democracy for years on end. Yet do we need to abandon our notion that such information needs to come from books? Being public institutions, can libraries ignore the public’s demand for more computers and faster Internet access on principle?

An Interesting Copyright Question

A reader at Slashdot recently posted this item, which I quote in its entirety because it’s fairly short:

The Guild Wiki, an extremely popular fan-made wiki for documenting the Masssively Multiplayer game Guild Wars, was originally supported by donations, then later advertisements — supposedly just enough to break even. Just the past week, the owner of the domain name surprised this wiki community by revealing that he had sold the domain name, the database, and his services to Wikia, a commercial entity that intends to profit from Guild Wiki’s content. The catch? Much of Guild Wiki’s content falls under Creative Commons by-nc-sa license, which denies the commercial use of licensed material. Arena.net created their own community run wiki to serve as the in-game help system, because they didn’t think they could use the material on Guild Wiki commercially. If Wikia continues to serve ads over Guild Wiki’s content, how can the thousands of contributors to the site stop them without going to the expense/trouble of hiring attorneys (or the crude path of mass vandalism)? If it turns out the site owner has been making a profit all along from ads, what’s the remedy?”

The questions that came up in the discussion below this post varied. Since the CC license existed for the articles posted to the wiki, did the site’s owner have the right to sell ads or sell the site for commercial use? Did the wiki writers on the Guild Wiki have the right to use so many direct quotations and screenshots in the first place, or does all that material belong to the Guild Wars makers? What real good does a Creative Commons license do when the user doesn’t register that copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office? Is there a legal case here for someone?

I’m no copyright expert, so I can’t claim to know the answers here, not without a day of research I don’t have time for right now. Still, we are getting to a point where we need to ask whether the Creative Commons can really protect the content it is supposed to protect or whether it is just a smoke screen. I, for one, really hope that Lessig picks up on this topic and holds forth.