Blog - Unity Behind Diversity

Searching for beauty in the dissonance

Tagged: Google

Copyright law doesn’t make sense on the Internet

Last year, Viacom sued YouTube for a billion dollars over copyright infringement. The lawsuit is problematic and the premise is weak for many reasons, but that’s for another time. The recent news is that Google has filed its response to Viacom’s recent filings. Its defence has people talking about the ideological and political battle that is the backdrop of this lawsuit, namely its effects on copyright law.

Mike Masnick from Techdirt observes that this is ultimately about the difference between content and communication:

Media companies still look on the internet as a content platform. That is, they think of it as a new broadcast medium. Most other folks recognize that the internet is a communications medium, and the focus should be on the ease of communication. That’s a problem for anyone who comes from a world of broadcast media, and it creates all sorts of problems for copyright law that is designed mainly to protect a broadcast-style media. Yet, when it comes to communication, the idea of using copyright to restrict content gets weird in a hurry. [emphasis mine]

In typical communication, copyright makes no sense. You don’t worry about copyright (even though it exists) when you send a letter or an email to a friend. You’re communicating, so of course the idea gets copied and repeated. In broadcast, the broadcast media model was always based on control and artificial scarcity.

Applying copyright to a communications platform sure does get weird in a hurry. My chat client keeps logs on my computer. Do my friends and co-workers have copyright claims on my chat logs? Am I infringing copyright if I forward an email I receive? Who owns the comments on a blog? Do music royalties make sense online?

Copyright was crafted to regulate broadcast mediums, not communications platforms. That’s a very compelling reason why it makes little sense on the Internet.

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Facebook launches Lexicon, mini-feed import

Facebook launched two cool new features today: an import feature for the mini-feed and Facebook Lexicon

The import feature for the mini-feed is very cool. Basically, if you have an account with another supported web service, updates from those services can be included in your mini-feed by simply specifying your username. At launch, only Flickr, Picasa, Yelp! and del.icio.us are supported, but they’ve promised Digg and other sites in the future. I’ve set my mini-feed to import from my del.icio.us account, to track websites that I’ve bookmarked.

This would be really cool for other web services I use, like YouTube or Twitter, or maybe Last.fm. Which gets me thinking… this is competing directly with some Facebook applications which essentially provide this function to interface with other web services. I think that’s great, because this is a much more efficient way to provide simple updates. I wonder if they’ll give access to developers in some way, so that developers can create “import modules” for their own favourite web services. That would be cool.

There’s still room for Facebook apps though. I’m not sure I’d want Last.fm to publish every single song I listen to on my mini-feed, yet the What I’m Listening To app by Last.fm places a separate feed on your profile. The choice between a simple import and a Facebook app would depend on the nature of the service in question.

The second announcement was Facebook Lexicon. Facebook Lexicon is to wall posts what Google Trends is to search queries. It lets you enter up to five terms and view the frequency that those terms are mentioned by users over a basic timeline. This is the successor to Facebook Pulse, which was “temporarily pulled for revamping” last year. Given the nature of wall posts compared to search queries, it provides some insight into different types of trends, examining what people (mostly younger people) talk about rather than what people are seeking information about.

Some examples:

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Google sued by Christian group for denying abortion ad

Google is being sued by the Christian Institute in the UK for denying the group’s advertisement. The group wanted to place an ad on the keyword “abortion”, but apparently Google’s current policy “does not permit the advertisement of websites that contain ‘abortion and religion-related content’.” The Christian Institute is claiming that Google is violating the Equality Act 2006 by discriminating against religious groups.

The ad itself doesn’t seem to be offensive or deceptive. It would have read: “UK abortion law – news and views on abortion from the Christian Institute. www.christian.org.uk

This seems odd to me based on Google’s usually unbiased policies. It usually prides itself on being a service provider and being indifferent to the content it’s providing. Granted, this is an advertisement as opposed to a search result, but it still strikes me as a little odd, especially since the policy is so sweeping (‘abortion and religion-related content’ – no requirement for it to be offensive or deceptive at all).

Does this policy make any sense? What if it were the other way around?

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Google Talk chatback

Google Talk launched a new service today called chatback (found via Garett). It enables Google Talk users to post a badge to their website or blog, which allows visitors to open a conversation with them. Visitors need not have a Google Talk account, and all badges can be disabled in one click. The conversation opens in the Google Talk gadget – a web-based client. Visitors can see your status in the badge; if you set it to busy, then they won’t be able to disturb you.

Check out my badge. It’s posted below (if it doesn’t appear, it’s also on my contact page).

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Access Gmail with a secure connection

Did you know that when you’re viewing mail in your Gmail account you’re not using a secure connection by default? That means that anyone who’s sniffing traffic on your network can intercept your packets and essentially read your email or, worse yet, steal your session (ie. login to Gmail as you)!

The chances of this actually happening to you are very slim. But Google actually offers HTTPS (ie. encrypted) access to Gmail, so why not take advantage of it? To use HTTPS, you just need to change the “http://” in the address bar to “https://” once you’re logged in and hit enter.

You need to do this ever time to log into Gmail though, which is a bit annoying. That’s why I’ve begun using the GMailSecure script for Greasemonkey. Greasemonkey is a Firefox add-on which allows you to install scripts that customize websites for you. This script simply replaces “http://” with “https://” for you whenever you’re logged into Gmail.

For any security conscious Firefox+Gmail users out there, this add-on ensures that you’re always viewing your email over a secure connection.

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Google Desktop for Linux!

Yesterday, Google released a (beta) version of Google Desktop for Linux. Check out their blog for the announcement! It includes indexing for PDF, PS, text files and source code, HTML, OpenOffice documents, Thunderbird email, Gmail, web history, man pages, images, music, and it also includes the Quick Search box. It doesn’t (yet) include the sidebar or support for any gadgets.

Screenshot from Google:
Google Desktop for Linux

This is hopefully the first of many “significant accomplishments/releases” for Linux this year from Google, according to their presentation at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit a couple weeks back, which was actually hosted at Google’s Mountain View Campus. Google already has official Linux versions of some of it’s popular applications, such as Google Earth and Google Picasa (though Picasa uses WINE).

Here’s to hoping that Google Talk is next!

On a side note, Google Docs & Spreadsheets also recently unveiled new changes to their user interface, which also benefit Linux in the sense that it is a web-based (i.e. cross-platform) option for basic office applications.

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