Category Archives: Communications

US Academic-speak Translated for a UK Audience

The U.K. Graduate Student’s Guide to Interpreting Feedback from American Faculty — Kieran Healy (Duke), via Leiter.

Posted in Communications, UK | Comments Off on US Academic-speak Translated for a UK Audience

SOPA, PIPA, and Internet Blackout Day

I have somewhat mixed feelings about Internet Blackout Day. Much as I sympathize with the motives, I have never much liked campaigns that try to take the oppressor’s symbols (pink triangles, yellow stars, what have you) and turn them around into pride symbols. The origins stick.

Similarly, I get the idea of fighting censorship with quiet. See what censorship will get you? But I still don’t like it. So I’ve run a compromise, with an overlay on this site that you can click through.

The cause is serious. Congress is contemplating two very dangerous Internet blacklist bills: SOPA (in the House) and PIPA (in the Senate). SOPA has been shelved, perhaps only temporarily, but PIPA is still alive and kicking.

EFF’s summary of the issues is right on target:

The “Stop Online Piracy Act”/”E-PARASITE Act” (SOPA) and “The PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA) are the latest in a series of bills which would create a procedure for creating (and censoring) a blacklist of websites. These bills are updated versions of the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA), which was previously blocked in the Senate. Although the bills are ostensibly aimed at reaching foreign websites dedicated to providing illegal content, their provisions would allow for removal of enormous amounts of non-infringing content including political and other speech from the Web.

The various bills define different techniques for blocking “blacklisted” sites. Each would interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), which translates names like “” or “” into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. SOPA would also allow rightsholders to force payment processors to cut off payments and advertising networks to cut ties with a site simply by sending a notice.

These bills are targeted at “rogue” websites that allow indiscriminate piracy, but use vague definitions that could include hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire, and Rapidshare; sites that discuss piracy such as, p2pnet, Torrent Freak,, and ZeroPaid; as well as a broad range of sites for user-generated content, such as SoundCloud, Etsy, and Deviant Art. Had these bills been passed five or ten years ago, even YouTube might not exist today — in other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous.

There are already laws and procedures in place for taking down sites that violate the law. These acts would allow the Attorney General, and even individuals, to create a blacklist to censor sites when no court has found that they have infringed copyright or any other law.

See also EFF’s blacklist site. PIPA is scheduled for a vote in the Senate next Tuesday, so if you are a US citizen this is a good time to call your Senators and tell them to oppose the bills.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Communications, Law: Free Speech, Law: Internet Law | 2 Comments

A Joke for Benjamin

This Centipede joke is for Benjamin.

Posted in Communications | 1 Comment

EFF’s Blog-a-thon

EFF, to celebrate its 15th anniversary [], is asking folks this week to blog about their their “click moments” — as they put it, “the very first step you to took to stand up for your digital rights.” This is a hard question to answer for me. I've done a variety of things over the years that count as online activism, but it's difficult, thinking about it, to separate that stuff from my day job. After all, I'm an academic. I get paid to sit around and figure out what I think is correct and say so. It's my job to speak truth to power (and anyone else).

But I remember my first contact with EFF. It came in the form of the September 1991 EFFECTOR, EFF's newsletter (it was printed on dead trees at the time), and it contained this summary by Esther Dyson of EFF's basic message: “There's a new world coming. Let's make sure it has rules we can live with.” I scissored out the membership form on the back and sent it in with my $40 — and I started reading what EFF had to say.

I drew on that stuff in a column I sent out two years later to the law-professor members of the American Association of Law Schools Mass Communications Law section. Parts of it are funny reading now. One of the things I said was that while we “hear a lot about electronic home shopping … I think I'd be perfectly happy living the rest of my life without” it. Little did I know.

Some of the rest of it, though, was on target. My point was that in building the information superhighway, we needed to develop a switched network in which anybody could become a content provider — not some monopoly content provider giving you 500 channels and interactive shopping, not any one-way system with a fixed number of channels, but a two-way, switched, many-to-many communications infrastructure that looked like the Internet. A system like that, I wrote, “could transform the nature of mass communications.”

It did.

This is my last post as a guest blogger here — Michael should be coming back tomorrow. Thanks for putting up with me. I had a great time.

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Cutting the cord

It's official: according to the FCC, people in this country now have more wireless telephone subscriptions (cell phones) than land-line subscriptions. As of December 2004, we had 181.1 million wireless subscriptions (up from 167.3 million six months before); we had a mere 177.9 million old-fashioned plug-into-the-wall lines (down from 180.1 million six months before).

The number of land lines, in fact, has been dropping steadily since its peak of 192.5 million in December 2000, while the number of wireless lines has been growing by 10-15% every year. Today, the two graph curves finally crossed.

It's a new world a-comin'. My eleven-year-old doesn't really grok the fact that you used to have to plug your computer into the wall to get Internet access. How twentieth-century was that?

Posted in Communications | 1 Comment