Monday Mar 14, 2005

Bloggers and Trade Secrets

Are bloggers journalists? Are they given protections (e.g. the ability to keep the identity of one's sources secret) granted to journalists? This question has been raised in a few recent court cases.

I'm not a lawyer, but the most recent ruling in the U.S. courts seems to be saying that at least when it comes to revealing trade secrets, it really doesn't matter whether bloggers are characterized as journalists or not.

This past Friday, a California superior court judge ruled in favor of Apple Computers Inc. in its case against a group of bloggers who have allegedly revealed trade secrets of the company.

Nick Wingfield, staff reporter of the The Wall Street Journal, writes in the Monday, March 14 edition (page B3) of Apple's victory in the court case ("In a Blow to Advocates of Free Speech, Judge Rules 'Blogs' Held Trade Secrets"—online version requires subscription.)

Judge James P. Kleinberg of California superior court in Santa Clara County denied a request by a trio of online "bloggers," who operate Web sites devoted to Apple news and rumors, to block Apple from obtaining documents that might reveal who was leaking confidential company information …

The case has attracted intense interest because the bloggers have argued that they are journalists, and should be protected under federal and state laws from having to reveal their sources of information. In his ruling, Judge Kleinberg said the journalistic status of the bloggers, in essence, doesn't matter. Instead, he accepted Apple's argument that the stories contained trade secrets that, in effect, were stolen property, not unlike a physical item such as a laptop containing confidential information.

The Journal reports Electronic Frontier Foundation has been representing the bloggers.

A copy of the ruling can be found here.

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Monday Feb 07, 2005

Contributory Infringement

What does this 1984 Sony - Universal City Studios case tell you about the Grokster case the Supreme Court has decided to hear?

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Wednesday Jan 26, 2005

Blogs, (Trade) Secrets and the Law

The case involving Apple Computer and Harvard undergraduate student Nicholas Ciarelli (who goes by the pseudonym Nick dePlume) may determine the limits imposed on what content blogers in the U.S. can publish. The case already raises many issues. For example, in what way, if any, should such limits be any different compared to those imposed on print journalists? (My own intuition says they should not be.) What are the limits on the protection of a journalist's sources? What if trade secrets are divulged? Does it matter that sources on the internet can be more easily anonymous? Since such sources can post anywhere anonymously, would hosting of a site that allows such postings become illegal? If not, would it still be legal if the site becomes famous and particularly focused by the nature of its evolution? In other words, if Ciarelli did not perform any editing but only provided an automatic site, would there still be a case against him? If not, why would personal involvement make it into a case?

Friday Jan 21, 2005

Code Or Law

Claims to copyright can take some funny turns. For example, Marx Brothers, in retaliation to Warner Brothers suing them to prevent their plans to make a parody of Casablanca, had sued Warner Brothers for the use of the word "Brothers" claiming that "Marx Brothers" had made a prior use of the word.

In his book Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig points to a trend whereby digital content becomes the dominantly accessible form of conent.

Since such content will have to be accessed using electronic gadgets and software, it becomes possible for the software developed for access to dictate rights that were not either defined or limited in law, but which will be limited, effectively, in code.

On the Internet, however, there is no check on silly rules, because on the Internet, increasingly, rules are enforced not by a human but by a machine: Increasingly, the rules of copyright law, as interpreted by the copyright owner, get built into the technology that delivers copyrighted content. It is code, rather than law, that rules.And the problem with code regulations is that, unlike law, code has no shame. Code would not get the humor of the Marx Brothers. The consequence of that is not at all funny.

Lessig continues:

This is the future of copyright law: not so much copyright law as copyright code. The controls over access to content will not be controls that are ratified by courts; the controls over access to content will be controls that are coded by programmers. And whereas the controls that are built into the law are always to be checked by a judge, the controls that are built into the technology have no similar built-in check.

Tuesday Jan 04, 2005

Tuesday Books -- From Redmond, Washington and Oxford

Tuesdays are my book browsing days at the Palo Alto branch of Borders.

There's no knowing what will grab my attention when I enter the bookstore.

By the time I've left, some 40 to 90 minutes later, I'm usually satisfied with what I've seen.

Last time, it was a quick look at The Philosophy of Schopenhauer by Bryan Magee.

This time, I was more "technical" in my pickings, but only after a run-in with a non-fiction as soon as I entered the bookstore.

It's amazing how refreshing one hour of random book reading can be to the mind.

Let me talk about the technical ones first, and then I'll turn to the "non-fiction".

I ran to two books from our friends up in Redmond that looked really good. One, which I'd seen before but whose beautiful simplicity I had completely missed (Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzold) and the other, a more recent book (Find a Bug: A Book of Incorrect Programs by Adam Barr).

I'd browsed Code many years earlier but was too embroiled in the actual writing of code (in Java) to sit back, relax and enjoy its simple reminders. It certainly didn't seem to have much to teach then, and probably has little now, but no one can deny the almost mundanely pedagogical but straight presentation that touches on everything that matters and is important in the essential foundation of digital computing.

The next book, Find a Bug, which I'd like to browse in more detail, seems to be hitting on a bull's-eye. How many bug books, "effective" books, and programming languages and styles books have I seen which say nothing about the importance of the concept of variables? Too many in my life to bother recording in memory. How could so many books miss such a supremely important notion in all programming languages? It escapes me, but it has not escaped this book. When I first came to Sun, I had to pore over the RMI-IIOP code (just dropped after some work by IBM, according to an agreement in the early days of Java) and debug the mammoth. But without my training in logic and model theory, I'm not sure I could have ever gotten the job done. In logic, the first principles are the concepts of bound and free variables. (See Quine's book for example.) Without these concepts, how can any one understand any program? And there is plenty of evidence that many don't. Once cast in those terms, i.e. bound and free variables, the writing and reading of programs, particularly object oriented or functional ones, become not only easier but more natural. Find a Bug seems to have understood this issue although I need to read more of it to confirm its usefulness to my full satisfication. Moreover, Find a Bug touches on a breadth of programming languages, not everything but at least a good picking.

I'm sure we already have the top two books in the Sun Library, and I'll certainly be checking them out for my evening reading.

Now, to the third which is a short sweet one from Oxford as part of their "Very Short Introductions" series: Cryptography: A Very Short Introduction by Fred Piper and Sean Murphy. I liked this book simply because it can be held in the hand in various reclining positions, unlike the much more complete but also much more verbose and thicker Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier, which I've had for some time but have never had the time to even take out for a good browse, not to mention the fact that the book is impossible to hold while lying down. (Why do publishers create such books?) In Schneier, only the most concentrated reader can claim to avoid missing the forest for the trees. It seems to me that Piper and Murphy's little book brings all the most important details as headlights to explore the forest.

Last but not least, I should mention the first book that grabbed my attention in the "New Non-Fiction" category as I stepped to the center of the book store: The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict between Iran and America by Kenneth Pollack. First, the choice of name is not original at all. Lord Corzun of the British Empire, and the governer of India, titled his 1892 book on Persia (based on his colonial tutelage in India) Persia and The Persian Question. I guess what was a question for one empire has turned into a puzzle for the next. At the outset, what Pollack misses in his [ Persian Empire Superiority Complex | Shiite State | 19th-20th Century Inferiority Complex ] analysis of Iran is that the Persians, through the history of their ancient empire, their embrace of Shiite Islam and their experience with modern Europe, have come to believe in a sense of justice that is very refined, unique and almost revolutionary in its conception, a conception that still demands a more comprehensive analysis and which is the real source of Pollack's puzzlement. As I quickly read the last chapter of his book ("Towards a new Iran policy") I could not help think that it was a compilation of a number of opinion pieces that the author might have written earlier. Unfortunately, these opinion pieces have little punch, and that last chapter should have been a book of its own, with a full analysis of the colorfully pale differences in the pervailing opinions about the topic of the chapter. While it makes some correct observations regarding the futility of many U.S. dreams regarding Iran, it sheds no real light on how the U.S. must proceed to adjust its policies towards Iran. So, it looks like Pollack may have missed a real opportunity in building the book to its climax. Nevertheless, the book does have an interesting cover graphics, designed by Victoria Wong. Someone was not asleep in design school. Well-done Victoria!

Wednesday Oct 27, 2004

U.K. Office of Government Commerce Gives Stamp of Approval to Open Source

U.K. Office of Government Commerce has given positive marks to open source software in a joint study with IBM and Sun Microsystem Inc. You can read the press release and view the full set of reports releases by the OGC. The report concludes with a review of OSS deployment in Munich, Germany, and in Exremadura, Spain.

Tuesday Oct 05, 2004

SOA . . . Is that All ?

So, do I really get to cook SOA with these 10 ingredients? On ingredient number 6 (Governance), at least, I'd recommend another look.

Thursday Sep 30, 2004

Bugs Lead to Existential Questions

There are some who believe that we only switch from our "being" mode to our "thinking" mode of existence when something breaks down.

Let me give an example to make things clear.

Say, you're walking in Central Park in New York City towards a bench to sit for a moment.

As you do this, you're not constantly thinking: "Oh, this is a bench; now I'm 10 yards from it; it has 4 legs; it is painted green ; now I'm 4 hards from it; it is made of wooden planks and the legs are steel, etc. . . ." (Are Central Park benches green and made of wooden planks and steel? Or are they coming in concrete these days?)

If we thought in this fashion and of all these details, we'll go mad very quickly. Instead, we simply go and sit on the bench and enjoy the fresh air. That's what I like to call the "being" mode of existence.

Now, if the bench breaks beneath you as you sit, it will probably lead you to fall.

At that point, you will start going over everything that is supposed to make it a bench and wonder what went wrong, what "broke," what was not as it was to be. That's what I like to call the "thinking" mode of existence. A mode that deals with bugs in the existential environment.

So, it should be no wonder that the best way to start learning and thinking about existing, complex code and the process around its production, is to start by debugging it. Once the code is known and navigable, we become comfortable and at home, returning to the "being" mode. We become the code and know it as us.

Which mode is prior to the other? For which mode are we best tuned? Which is a "better" mode? Is code a place to be or a place to think? Is code even a place?

I don't know the answers to these questions.

What I do know is that every software engineer (or urban professional for that matter) needs to get out some times to see the world, take a bicycle ride (1, 2) or go on a simple stroll in the park, to sit on a bench, preferably made of wooden planks that won't break.

Sunday Sep 19, 2004

Open Dialogue Code

It's funny how certain corporate strategists pay more detailed attention to the press than to their own corporate purpose. (Some may even believe that all their problems stem from bad press.)

So, now we read in the reports (Reuters and the WSJ) that Microsoft has decided to open source its Office software to certain governments and under certain conditions. The same reports say that Microsoft has apparently done this to combat the advances of Linux, its "open-source" desk-top OS rival.

Under the program, Microsoft doesn't completely lift the veil. Governments are able to see 90% of the source code. The bulk of the rest is code where a third party owns the copyright, according to Microsoft. The company also holds back from exposing code that relates to antipiracy technology. (The WSJ, Sept. 20, 2004)

Even if source code is to be shared with more governments and under much less strict conditions, the strategic threat that Microsoft faces will persist. The problem is not an inability to see the code but an inability to participate in the dialog that ends up in it.

As I've said earlier, what matters is not openness of the source (whatever that means) but the openness of the dialogue about the source code, its use and evolution.

And here is another question worth thinking about. Would government regulations around the world ask for "open-source" code or "open-dialog" code? Most probably, it would be the former because "open-source" is a property more measurable.

Friday Sep 17, 2004

The Evolutionary Advantage of Open Source Software

The evolutionary advantage of open source software rests not on the openness of the source code but on the openness of dialog it engenders, an openness which is often too hard to create without available, open source code.

Within the context of open dialog, learning occurs naturally, and ideas progress with minimal transaction costs.

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