A few weeks ago, we featured the Gloveone and talked about the growing market for supplemental virtual reality devices. We also talked about the coming VR future on this week's podcast episode. But there's another half of the VR world we haven't talked a lot about: the capture and creation of VR environments. This week, we're looking at the Sphiricam 2, a 360-degree 4k camera.
As VR devices like the Oculus Rift become more popular, there's going to be a huge thirst for content — and in this everyone-is-a-creator world, a huge thirst for content-making tools, too. Though much of the excitement has been around video games and from-scratch environments, there are also plenty of compelling things to be done with material captured the real world. For that, you need an elaborate multi-camera setup — or a device like the Sphericam. It's tiny (about the size of a tennis ball), rugged and full-featured, and requires no special knowledge to capture 360-degree footage which can then be converted to a navigable VR environment. It's basically a GoPro combined with a Google Street View car, and that's pretty cool. For the videophile, it has solid specs: 60fps raw video at 4096x2048 resolution, on six cameras with no blind spots.
There's really only one major drawback here, and that's the price. At $1500 plus shipping, it's not something that's going to find its way into everyone's pocket overnight. That's not to say the price is unfair — given the amount of technology packed into the device, it seems at least reasonable, but for the time being it remains an obstacle. Still, just like the VR devices themselves, it's likely that things like the Sphericam will only get more and more accessible as time goes on.
The User Generated
This is the part that's really exciting and interesting about devices like this. Today, it's simply no longer enough to release a new means of consuming content to the world — it needs to come with ways of creating that content. The world of virtual reality will have no multi-decade gap between early "professional only" days and later "everyone's in on it" days, like photography or film or recorded music — the two will arrive almost simultaneously, with content coming from a huge spectrum from amateur to professional and everything in between. Devices like the Sphericam are paving the way for this, demonstrating that even something cutting-edge like virtual reality can and will be adopted by creators of all classes. It's going to be an interesting future in more ways than one.
It would take many, many blog posts to fully articulate all the ways that modern copyright law threatens innovation. But one notable way is through Section 1201 of the copyright statute.
As discussed previously, Section 1201 is ostensibly supposed to minimize copyright infringement by making it its own offense to bypass the technical protective measures (TPMs) controlling access to a particular copy of a copyrighted work. (Sometimes these sorts of TPMs are referred to as DRM, or Digital Rights Management.) It is a fair question whether forbidding the bypass of TPMs is at all an effective approach to minimizing infringement, but it?s an even more important question to ask whether the portion of the copyright statute that forbids the bypassing of TPMs does so at the expense of other sections of the statute that specifically entitle people to make certain uses of copyrighted works.
The answer to this latter question is clearly no, and in fact Congress anticipated that it would be ?no,? when it put into Section 1201 the requirement that the Copyright Office consider afresh, every three years, whether certain types of TPM bypassing should be deemed specifically permissible, notwithstanding Section 1201?s general prohibition against it. Unfortunately these triennial rulemakings are an extremely cumbersome, expensive, and ineffective way of protecting the non-infringing uses of copyrighted works the public is entitled to make. But the even bigger problem, and the one that I will focus on here, is that Section 1201?s prohibition against bypassing TPMs is increasingly standing in the way of not just non-infringing uses of copyrighted works but non-infringing uses of computing devices as a whole.In the triennial rulemaking underway members of the public petitioned for a number of exemptions to Sections 1201?s prohibition, which the Copyright Office distilled into 27 classes of exemptions. The first 10 classes generally sought to allow people interact with copies of copyrighted works in ways they were entitled to but that the TPMs controlling the interaction prevented. But the latter classes, 11 through 27, were notable in that, rather than involving the sort of consumption of copyrighted media content DRM is designed to control, they all were classes designed to allow people to interact with computing logic itself.
Some of these classes, like 23 (?Abandoned software ? video games requiring server communication?) and 24 (?Abandoned software ? music recording software?), sought to allow people to bypass TPMs so that they could actually run the copies of software they legitimately had access to. But for many of these classes petitioners found themselves needing to ask not for exemptions to use copyrighted works in ways that they that the legitimate right to but for exemptions allowing them to use computers in ways they had the legitimate right to use them.
Because particularly for the classes seeking exemptions to modify the functionality of, or perform security research on, devices like phones (Classes 11 and 16), tablets (Class 12), TVs (Class 20), vehicles (Classes 21 and 22), and even computer-chipped medical devices (Class 27), that?s what these devices all are: computers. They just happen to be phone, TV, car, and pacemaker-shaped computers. Like a home PC (which Congress had not explicitly sought to regulate access to in 1998 when it codified Section 1201) they are pieces of computing hardware with circuitry that gets controlled by software. And, just like the home PC, people should be able to use the processing power of their computing devices as they would choose to, regardless of the shapes they come in.
Unfortunately, unless they bypass the TPM they can?t, and unless the Copyright Office grants the exemption they can?t bypass the TPM legally. And that?s a problem, because when people?s exploration of the full contours of their computing devices is limited by the threat of legal sanction, all the innovation and discovery that exploration would have yielded is chilled.
But to the extent that it is copyright law that is causing this chilling, it is a particularly bizarre result. Copyright law is inherently about promoting the progress of the arts and sciences, or, in other words, stimulating innovation and knowledge-sharing. It is completely anathema to copyright law?s constitutional mandate for Section 1201 of the copyright statute to explicitly impose barriers to that discovery.This contradiction was an important point I made in two sets of comments and testimony submitted as part of this rulemaking process. In them I argued that these exemptions, particularly for classes 11-27, should be granted liberally in order that people?s freedom to tinker with the tools they legitimately possessed not be impinged upon just because those tools happened to contain a TPM. If the Copyright Office were to do nothing and simply let these TPMs continue to block this free exploration with the threat of legal sanction it would be particularly unjust because none of those TPMs were implemented to limit the infringement of copyrighted works. While the software running a device may itself be a copyrighted work, the TPM bypass would not be about violating any of the exclusive rights in that work?s copyright. Rather, the TPM bypass would simply be about getting the device itself to work as its user would choose.
Opponents to these classes argued that, even if the TPMs were not guarding against copyright harms, they prevented other sorts of harms that might result if people could use computing technology with unfettered freedom. For instance, they fretted, with regard to vehicles it was argued that if people could study or modify the software on their cars then brakes would fail, pollution would increase, and other terrible consequences would befall the world. But something important to remember is that by limiting this sort of discovery we also limit all of its benefits as well. If people cannot legally do security research on their cars, for instance, it doesn?t make those cars more secure. It just makes it harder to make them more secure.
Also, it is not the role of copyright to regulate technology use and development (except to the extent that it is designed to stimulate innovation). When the Copyright Office suddenly gets to be the gatekeeper on how people can use their computing technology, while it may forestall some potential negative outcomes to that use, it also forestalls any good ones. Furthermore it prevents any other more appropriate authority better equipped to balance the costs and benefits of technology use to craft more nuanced and effective regulation to address any negative ones. As they would ? after all, it?s not like we have been living in the Wild West up until the Copyright Office managed to become inserted into the technology regulation space. For instance, even in the analog world if people modified the physical attributes of their cars ? something they never needed the Copyright Office?s blessing to do ? other regulators could still speak to whether they would be allowed to drive their modified cars on open roads. These other regulators have not become enfeebled just because the modifications people may choose to make to their cars may now be digital, particularly when the consequences to these modifications are not.
But even when the consequences to how people use their machines are digital, regulators can still address those outcomes. The problem has been that regulating computing use is tricky and up to now we haven?t done it very well. Instead we?ve ended up with laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), laws that are very powerful and just as blunt, which punish beneficial computer uses as much as negative ones. But just because we have not perfected laws governing computer use does not mean that the Copyright Office should simply say no to these uses. In fact, it?s actually reason that the Copyright Office should say yes to them.
One of the problems with the CFAA is that it construes the question of wrongfulness of a computer use based on the permissibility of that action. As a result, without the exemptions we are left in a situation where barriers erected under the auspices of copyright could threaten to become the sole basis by which the CFAA gets its teeth to sanction the very sort of inherently non-infringing activity that copyright law was never intended to prevent. And that?s the bitter irony, because while laws like the CFAA sadly lack any adequate mechanism to assess whether a computer use is a beneficial or otherwise fair use, copyright law by design can, and, indeed, pursuant to its Constitutional origins, must.
For these reasons the Copyright Office should grant all the sought after exemptions, particularly for these latter classes. And it?s also for these reasons that it?s time to amend the copyright statute to remove the bottleneck to innovation Section 1201 has become given how it requires the permission of the Copyright Office before any of this computer use can be allowed.
Thanks to Jeffrey Vagle and others for their help preparing these comments and testimony.
Reposted from Digital Age Defense
?However, if a service provider is notified of a clear violation of the law, it must not only remove the content immediately, but also take precautions which ensure that no further infringements will be possible.?While that may appear reasonable at first glance, in practice it's a mess. The only way to even try to do that is to over-aggressively block any and all uses of that particular work -- which will undoubtedly lead to overblocking. Song playing in the background? Blocked. Parody video? Blocked. Algorithm not sure? Blocked.
The draft text includes provisions that could make it extremely tough for generics to challenge brand-name pharmaceuticals abroad. Those provisions could also help block copycats from selling cheaper versions of the expensive cutting-edge drugs known as ?biologics? inside the U.S., restricting treatment for American patients while jacking up Medicare and Medicaid costs for American taxpayers. ?There?s very little distance between what Pharma wants and what the U.S. is demanding,? said Rohat Malpini, director of policy for Doctors Without Borders.In response, the USTR falls back on its standard lame reply, about how draft texts are not "final." But this is why it's actually important to post these draft texts publicly, because what the draft Politico saw appears to show is that, whether or not it gets it, the USTR is fighting for policies that would harm poor, sick people, and massively benefit giant pharmaceutical conglomerates.
The highly technical 90-page document, cluttered with objections from other TPP nations, shows that U.S. negotiators have fought aggressively and, at least until Guam, successfully on behalf of Big Pharma.That bit of information seems rather important in determining whose interests the USTR is truly representing in these negotiations. Remember, that while the final agreement will be posted publicly, the negotiating texts (which show what each side argued for) are being kept secret for four years after ratification -- by which point the staff at the USTR will likely have turned over greatly, and whoever is there now can pretend they had nothing to do with the negotiating positions that the US is now locked into.
"As an artist myself, I feel that KickStarter may be hurting artists by focusing on 'donating money' rather than celebrating the artist for what they do. Their model does not build fan relationships but just continually asks for hand outs."Even if you agree with that statement, that's completely unrelated to the question of whether the patent is valid or if Kickstarter infringed. And, indeed, the court has now ruled that the patent is, indeed, invalid. Thankfully, between the time of Kickstarter filing for declaratory judgment and this ruling, the Supreme Court's useful Alice ruling came out, making it clear that you cannot patent "generic" computer functions. The ruling in this case relies heavily on that ruling and rejects the patent as nothing more than an "abstract idea" around "patronage" which is not patentable:
The ?887 Patent?s claims are directed to the concept of crowd-funding or fan-funding, i.e., raising funds for a project from interested individuals in exchange for incentives. Whether the abstract idea in play here is defined as ?crowd-funding,? ?crowd-based funding,? ?fan-funding,? ?incentive-based patronage,? ?incentivized crowd-funding,? or some other combination of these words is of no moment: the abstract concept at play in the Patent remains the same. Claim 1 broadly recites a ?system for marketing and funding one or more projects of an artist? ... and the specification describes the invention as ?methods and systems for obtaining financing from interested individuals to produce a creative work in exchange for an entitlement from the author of the work? .... These claims are squarely about patronage ? a concept that is ?beyond question of ancient lineage.? ...Later in the ruling, the judge notes that everything in the patent is "well-understood, routine conventional activities." That is, the very opposite of what is patentable.
Moreover, this concept of incentive-based funding is incontestably similar to other ?fundamental economic concepts,? and to other types of ?organizing human activity,? both of which have been found to be abstract ideas by the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit.
Nothing about the ?887 Patent transforms the concept of crowd-funding into patent-eligible subject matter. Beyond the abstract idea of patronage, the claims merely recite ?well-understood, routine conventional activities,? by requiring either conventional computer activities or routine data-gathering steps.It's good to see a nice clean ruling, though it's too bad this had to sit in court for more than three years, wasting tons of resources that could have been focused on more innovations for creators and innovators. And, of course, it might not be over yet, as Camelio has suggested that he may appeal the ruling.
Almost exactly three years ago, Mike wrote up a post that discussed Planet Money pulling together five economists with differing political views to see what they could all agree on. The result was several policy ideas that appeared to transcend politics if economics was the driving motivator instead of any kind of partisanship. The whole post is awesome, and has influenced my thoughts on economic policy and taxes to a large degree, but I came away from it with one general concept firmly in mind: tax what you want to discourage, don't tax what you want to encourage, and never tax innovation or the future.
And now my home city is taxing the future. You see, the city of Chicago recently announced that it will extend its 9% amusement tax to online streaming services and cloud computing.
A ruling by Chicago’s Department of Finance allows the city to add an extra nine percent tax onto “electronically delivered amusements” and “nonpossessory computer leases.” In an odd combination, buying a subscription to streaming media, such as Netflix or Spotify, would qualify, as would using a cloud computing platform, such as Amazon Web Services. Each would be subject to 9% tax; Chicago is the first major American city to levy a tax on either streaming services or cloud computing services.Amusement taxes in and of themselves generally violate the concept I highlighted in the opening. After all, if you're a municipality, taxing fun is essentially saying you want less fun. But what makes this re-write of the amusement tax already on the books silly is that it is purely a money-grab. Here's what happened: the amusement tax in Chicago worked primarily to collect revenue from book stores, music stores and movie rental stores, which are obviously becoming increasingly in short supply as consumers move to online stores and streaming services like Netflix and Spotify and Amazon for all of the above. This is actually a good thing from a public interest standpoint for a variety of reasons: less pollution from physical products, more efficiency in the marketplace, the opening of more creative outlets for members of the city, and more access to more content from more places and devices, meaning a more robust economic marketplace. The future, in other words, although increasingly the present as well. And Chicago wants to tax all this, effectively discouraging its use, in order to collect an additional $12 million a year.
Cities with amusement taxes have lost revenue as more people forgo book stores, record shops and video rental stores in place of online outlets. But $12 million isn’t going to be much more than a drop of water in the bucket of the city’s $1 billion operating shortfall.Fighting the future doesn't even yield much of a reward, so why do it at all? Don't tax what you want to encourage and tax what you want to discourage. This makes it look like the city of Chicago really wants a tax policy to make the city operate like it was 1995.
The number of state wiretaps in which encryption was encountered decreased from 41 in 2013 to 22 in 2014. In two of these wiretaps, officials were unable to decipher the plain text of the messages. Three federal wiretaps were reported as being encrypted in 2014, of which two could not be decrypted. Encryption was also reported for five federal wiretaps that were conducted during previous years, but reported to the AO for the first time in 2014. Officials were able to decipher the plain text of the communications in four of the five intercepts.Obviously, if more communications are encrypted by default, it's true that the numbers here would likely rise. But the idea that there's some massive problem that requires destroying the safety of much of the internet, seems more than a bit far-fetched.
I'll bet burglars wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprint evidence a lot more than four times last year. Time for a war on gloves?