Author Archives: jon

Alternative Potter

I can't help it — I'm a sucker for _______ in the style of the Famous (and not-so-famous) Authors. So here, from a contest in the Guardian, is the Alternative Potter project: eighty-plus versions of the Death of Albus Dumbledore.

(This isn't a spoiler, by the way. The Guardian started this contest before the book was released, and they picked Dumbledore as the victim arbitrarily. They didn't know who gets killed in the current book — and I'm not telling.)

The entries are something of a mixed bag, but here's William Carlos Williams:

This Is Just To Say

I have killed
the wizard
who was in
your novels

and whose death
you were probably
for book seven

Forgive me
he had it coming
so beardy
and so old

(Thanks to Jim MacDonald, co-blogging at the ever-rewarding Making Light, for finding this; his readers have contributed more.)

Posted in Completely Different | Comments Off on Alternative Potter

I Love Google Translate

Jessica, Ari and I are going to be in Japan a little later in the summer, and we thought we'd visit a buddy of mine who has a hole-in-the-wall restaurant/bar on the northern outskirts of Tokyo. It's been a bunch of years, though; we weren't sure if he was still in business. So we googled his old phone number on, and — sure enough — we got a hit. It appears (my Japanese isn't what it could be) that the page is some sort of listing of businesses in his neighborhood (I believe on a single street); we were happy to see that my friend's restaurant was included in the listing (and thus, presumably, is still there).

We wanted to know more, though, and ran the page through Google Translate, which generated this. It turns out that in this very neighborhood, I can shop at businesses including “The circle of the umbrella it is clear,” “It increases and,” and “Love raw hall pharmacy.” I can cut my hair at the “Seeing and it is dense haircut store”; I can buy blue fruit at the “Eguro blue fruit store”; and, most enticing of all, I can eat spirit meat at “The meat it is astringent and.” I'll be there in a couple of weeks. I can't wait.

Posted in Sufficiently Advanced Technology | Comments Off on I Love Google Translate

Rehnquist doesn’t resign

I wrote here that I thought it would be in the Democrats' interest for President Bush to name a new Chief Justice this summer. But for all that, I was tremendously pleased to read Rehnquist's statement that he wishes to “put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors” of his imminent retirement, and that he will perform his duties on the Court “as long as [his] health permits.”

Cool. Why? Mostly because I've a lot of experience (rather too much) with my loved ones struggling with cancer, and one thing I know is that you have to fight. On a personal level, I'm rooting for him, and I'm buoyed up by his choice that he's not going to give in easily. You need to struggle and be stubborn and ornery and strong and brave, and that's what he's been doing — with matter-of-factness and good humor, no less — and good for him.

A story I like to tell: My dad, Norman Weinberg, served with Rehnquist in 1943 in an Army Air Force Technical Training Detachment at Denison University in Ohio. (That, and subsequent postings, kept the two privates safely out of combat.) I've got a class book from that year, which describes “Hubbs Rehnquist, that great liberal and crusader for the Wisconsin dairy farmer,” as “[l]azily stretched out on his bed with his patented eye-ear-nose sleeping bag over his head.” (I have no idea whether the first part of this description was ironic or straightforward.)

More than forty years after all that, I met then-Justice Rehnquist for the first time. I introduced myself as Jon Weinberg, and mentioned to him that he had served with my father at Denison. His reaction: “Not Norman Weinberg?”

I've had a fondness for him ever since.

Posted in Law: The Supremes | 2 Comments

More on #$%%^*@#$ Lawyers

Since I posted this yesterday, I've seen two well-thought-out posts suggesting that the case is a closer one under the DMCA than I gave it credit for. Here's why I think it isn't. One of the things I said yesterday was that if there's a technological protection measure here, it looks like “copy protection rather than access protection, which puts defendants in the clear.” I'll try to unpack that now.

The DMCA contains three key prohibitions. First, it prohibits you from “circumvent[ing] a “technological measure” that “in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to” a work protected by copyright. Second, it prohibits you from manufacturing, providing, or otherwise trafficking in any technology designed or marketed to do the same thing. Third, it prohibits you from manufacturing, providing, or otherwise trafficking in any technology designed or marketed to circumvent a technological measure that, in the ordinary course of its operation, prevents, restricts, or otherwise limits folks' ability to copy, publicly display, publicly perform, or make derivative works based on a work protected by copyright.

We don’t need to worry about the second two prohibitions today, because the law firm wasn't providing anybody with circumvention technology. Rather, the question is: Did the law firm's banging on the Internet Archive with requests for the page circumvent a “technological measure” that in the ordinary course of its operation “require[d] the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access”?

I don't think so. This language describes technology that mediates access — that allows access to some people and not to others, depending on whether the person seeking access had properly applied “information, or a process or a treatment,” so that the copyright owner authorized him to get access. Think pay-per-view. Think DivX. The Internet Archive server that the law firm banged on, by contrast, was running code designed to prevent anybody from downloading a copy of the pages in question. Distributing software designed to circumvent that code would fit within the third DMCA prohibition I listed — so if you think that making repeated requests for something can constitute circumvention, then the DMCA might prohibit a person from distributing user-friendly “Internet Archive-banging” software. But nothing in this case implicates the first prohibition.

Posted in Law: Copyright and DMCA | 3 Comments

Iraq News Archive

Check out, if you haven't, the White House's Iraq News Archive. Go ahead; do it. Then come back. Doesn't seem to be a lot of news about the glorious progress of “Renewal in Iraq,” sure. But the big question is: What's with all the Latin? Why is the White House, in lieu of any good news from Iraq, instead educating us with quotes from Cicero on the philosophy of pleasure and pain? Well, Mr. Answer Man has the answer (courtesy of The Red Pencil Diaries). It appears that compositors historically (that is, for about 500 years) have used Cicero texts for mocking up typeset pages when the actual content isn't ready. Pagemaker and other typesetting programs still have the relevant passages from Cicero built right in. (The world is a strange and wonderful place.) In the case of the White House's Iraq News Archive, the “greeked” text was there to make sure that lines positioned properly. But there was a dearth of Iraq news that the White House wanted to print; the web designers apparently abandoned the page; and it went/stayed online with the “Greek” still there …

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, this is called “greeking.” Why is it called greeking, given that the text itself (natch) is in Latin, not Greek? I have no idea.

Posted in Iraq | 6 Comments

#$%%^*@#$ Lawyers

Some folks have filed a really silly lawsuit against the Internet Archive and another law firm (news report; complaint). Here's the story:

A couple of years ago, a law firm called McCarter & English, representing a New Jersey company called Healthcare Advocates, sued a Pennsylvania firm called Health Advocate for trademark infringement. Defendant's lawyers — a firm called Harding Earley — used the Internet Archive to pull up plaintiff's old web pages, to help in the defense. It appears that Healthcare Advocates had recently put up a robots.txt file with instructions to block public access to its old pages, but the folks at Harding Earley made a whole bunch of requests, and the pages sometimes displayed anyway.

Healthcare Advocates, represented by McCarter & English, is now suing both the Harding Earley firm — for copyright infringement, violations of the DMCA and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and state-law torts — and the Internet Archive, for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and misrepresentation.

This is silly. The copyright claim against Harding Earley is silly. Setting aside anything else, if there ever were a textbook example of fair use, reproducing a once-publicly available web page because its content was relevant to the proper disposition of a lawsuit would be it. The DMCA claim is, if not silly, at least wrong. It's hardly obvious that sticking a robots.txt file on your server counts as a technological protection measure within the meaning of the DMCA, since web crawlers are free to ignore such markers if they choose. If plaintiff's robots.txt file were a TPM, its instruction to the Internet Archive to withhold the file looks to me like copy protection rather than access protection, which puts defendants in the clear. And finally, as Bill Patry has noted, it's an unworkable reading of the DMCA to say that if you click on a link once and don't get anything, then you're illegally “circumventing” by clicking a bunch more times to see if your luck changes.

The silliest claims are the ones against the Internet Archive itself. Take it from me: The Internet Archive didn't have an obligation under the relevant laws to make sure that that there were no glitches in its implementation of its decision to respect robots.txt.

Sigh …

Posted in Law: Copyright and DMCA | 4 Comments