15 January 2004

When Bad Ideas Are Good 

posted by Lindsay @ 12:34:00 pm Perm Link
Most of my contributions to this Blog have so far been making fun of perfectly serious subjects. Now I want to redress the balance, by taking a joke seriously.

The particular joke is a story in satirical online 'newspaper', The Onion. According to this week's lead story, in a 'change of plan' concerning US reconstruction aid to Iraq, in place of an array of military and reconstruction projects, the US now intends to "Give Every Iraqi $3,544.91, Let Free-Market Capitalism Do The Rest." The story quotes Rumsfield as saying, "If we simply step back and let the market do its thing, a perfectly functioning, merit-based, egalitarian society will rise out of the ashes. Probably some restaurants or hardware stores or something, too."

Now this is obviously not meant to be taken too seriously, but why not? It is not so different from the basic capital scheme advocated by Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott in their book, The Stakeholder Society. Of course, Ackerman and Alstott tailor their recommendation (namely, that every adult US citizen should receive a stakeholder grant of US$80,000 subject to completion of basic schooling, and absence of a criminal record) to a country with an already developed infrastructure. I can't imagine that they would advocate a basic capital scheme to replace the development of national infrastructure, or the provision of policing. And there is a further problem, namely that if we really do want to create a "perfectly functioning, merit-based, egalitarian society", such a scheme must be open not merely to the present residents of Iraq, but to future ones as well, i.e. the unborn. Perhaps the U.S and their allies should undertake to fund a stakeholder grant for the next 20 years, after which time the scheme could be funded by the Iraqis themsleves. And perhaps, $3,544.91 is an insufficient amount, even in a country with a cheaper cost of living than here. Perhaps Rummy should sign up to giving Iraqis the full $80,000 that Ackerman and Alstott propose. After all, you can live without a well developed infrastructure, or without basic policing but it certainly imposes extra costs - those extra bars on the windows, and the AK 47 under the bed, for example, not to mention the medical bills when you contract cholera.

But these problems notwithstanding, I think the scheme has many benefits. Firstly, as Elinor Ostrom has pointed out in her book, Governing the Commons : The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, communities can develop the institutions to regulate commons-type goods (including aspects of the built environment), perhaps better than either the state or the market . $80,000 would no doubt provide a reasonable education for an iraqi child, or would provide the startup capital for a business - those restaurants or hardware stores. If all else fails, it is probably enough to bribe the relevant authorities to allow the beneficiary entry into the US, the UK, Australia, or any other countries which waged war in Iraq.

Long live bad ideas!

13 January 2004

posted by Rob @ 9:09:00 am Perm Link
Call for Papers: Cybercrime and Digital Law Enforcement Conference
The International Journal of Communications Law & Policy [editor: I'm an editorial board member] and the Yale Journal of Law and Technology have issued a call for papers in combination with the "Cybercrime and Digital Law Enforcement Conference" being hosted by Yale Law School's Information Society Project in March.

More information on the call, including submission details, can be found here. Deadlines are February 15 for the writing competition (with the authors of the two top papers being invited to present at the conference) and May 1 to be included in one of the special issues.

11 January 2004

Deregulation of Sin 

posted by Lindsay @ 4:04:00 pm Perm Link
Fed up with the typical crackpot recommendations of philosophers? Well, now Cambridge Professor Simon Blackburn has come up with an account of the good life that I think I can work with.

In a contribution to an OUP book series re-evaluating the Seven Deadly Sins (for those of you unacquainted with sin, these are: lust, anger, gluttony, sloth, pride, greed and envy), Blackburn has declared that lust "is a life-affirming virtue and should no longer be considered a vice." This is truly the best news I have heard in years. This follows an earlier, and even handed contribution by Francine Prose which argued that, despite it's problems, gluttony is "an affirmation of pleasure and passion." No more living in a barrel for me. No sireeee! And after all these years I believe I have some lost time to make up. I may well folllow the example of this chap. (truly great song, by the way).

Let's hope that these appealing arguments provoke a vigorous debate on the thoroughgoing deregulation of sin!

07 January 2004

posted by Rob @ 2:49:00 pm Perm Link
When a License is not a License

In the online world, especially the blogging world, lots is said about copyright, copyleft, copynorms, and more. Lots of online people are concerned with copyright. And one of the big concerns is licensing copyright works, either voluntary licensing or compulsory licensing. And one of the people I am always hoping will write or post something in the copyright area is Cory Doctorow. He's just, well, really smart and thoughtful, and, well, really fun to read. So when he (or some other smart person) posts something that doesn't seem to make sense, I wonder what's wrong with me; so I read it again, and sometimes I figure out what's wrong with me, and other times I never do. But then sometimes it's not me; sometimes it's a confusion of terminology (perhaps brought about because we're all so busy looking for things to be wary of in the copyright area . . . ).

What am I talking about? Yesterday Cory recently posted a short piece at Boing Boing entitled, "Royalty Free Postmen Coming to UK." The link provided leads the reader to a page that discusses the UK Licensing Commissioner's commitment to working out issues in the licensing bill then under consideration (the Boing Boing post talks about a "new licensing scheme in the works in the UK," but the link posted is from February 2003). The post places the licensing question in the context of copyright, referring (as in the title of the post) to royalties. The UK Licensing Act 2003, though, which has actually already become law (explanatory notes here, guidance here [large pdf]) and is now in the evaluation stage, relates not to copyright, but to licensing of pubs and live performances.

So, it's not that whistling postmen don't need copyright permission in the form of a license from the copyright holder of the tune they're whistling, it's that they don't need a live performance license from the government to whistle that tune. They very well may, however, need permission from the copyright owner. Due to the extreme narrowness of the "fair dealing" exemption to the UK copyright law's exclusive rights grant (there is no private use right in the UK beyond the terms of the copyright license granted by the owner, unless it is for "private study"), this is actually a real question. The real answer? Well, whether permission (or a royalty) is required in these kinds of circumstances most likely depends on whether the whistling in question could be considered a public performance of the work, an issue that -- as a typical lawyer -- I will refuse to comment upon until confronted with the facts of a particular case.

So what we have here is a confusion in terminology. The UK law Cory talks about is certainly about licensing. But it is not about copyright, or royalties, or any of the commons issues that confront us today. In actuality these issues were expressly not included in the scheme (as noted in the "Notes to Editors" near the bottom of the page linked in the original post). So what we have here is just a bit of confusion caused by the use of similar terms in disparate areas of regulation. But at least this one I managed to figure out.

01 January 2004

posted by Rob @ 12:00:00 am Perm Link
Happy New Year
From all of us, to all of you . . .

New Year Poem
Tomorrow in the offices the year on the stamps will be altered;
Tomorrow new diaries consulted, new calendars stand;
With such small adjustments life will again move forward
Implicating us all; and the voice of the living be heard:
"It is to us that you should turn your straying attention;
Us who need you, and are affected by your fortune;
Us you should love and to whom you should give your word."

Philip Larkin