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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Copyrights, Copycense, and Nonsense

A revealing dispute has erupted between Ben Sheffner of Copyrights & Campaigns and the not-so-competent Editors of the website Copycense, which humbly describes itself as "the online journal of code and content."

To shorten a longer story, Professor Edward Felten recently disclosed a summary of the results of a forthcoming "Sahi-Felten study" of files available to users of a "trackerless" BitTorrent-based file-sharing program. According to Professor Felten's summary, statistical analysis showed that 99% of the files available were infringing. Ben Sheffner then authored a blog post that described this summary as "[v]aluable information to keep in mind while debating net neutrality rules and IPS's right to manage their networks and fight piracy."

But Mr. Sheffner's observation outraged the allegedly pious data-prudes at Copycense. In an unsigned "Editorial" entitled Science vs. Advocacy, the crack team at Copycense thus sanctimoniously denounced Mr. Sheffner for daring to suggest that such imperfect "summary" data should ever affect important debates about network neutrality: Calling his post "reflexive" and "impetuous" they denounced his conclusion: "drawing such correlations at this point--with respect to the summary, the resulting paper, (which has not yet been vetted, reviewed, or published), or Felten's perceived or actual personal or professional biases--is premature and careless."

I will not summarize the droning Copycense account of a few of the many, many things that can inarguably go wrong during statistical analyses of sociological phenomena. Indeed, that would be pointless because Copycense itself actually concluded its sanctimonious sermon by agreeing with the substance of the conclusions that it had just denounced as "premature and careless":

"We can say with a strong level of confidence, however, that the way the current statutes are written, it would have been shocking if anything significantly less than 100% of the files on BitTorrent were technical infringements of copyright law."
How thoughtful of Copycense to admit that it knows better than to take seriously its own prudish fretting about theoretical defects that could arise from yet-to-be-reported nuances of the Sahi-Felten study. Even though Copycense currently lacks all the data that it claims to need in order to fully and completely assess all of the implications of this forthcoming study, Copycense still admits that even persons as erudite as its own Editors can, nonetheless, already "say with a strong level of confidence [that]... it would have been shocking if anything significantly less than 100% of the files on BitTorrent were technical infringements of copyright law."

Continue reading Copyrights, Copycense, and Nonsense . . .

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 1:56 PM | Copyright, Cyber-Security, E-commerce, IP, Internet, Mass Media, Neutrality, Think Tanks

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Google Policy Fellow Program

Google has announced that it is now accepting applications from undergraduate, graduate and professional students for its summer 2009 Google Policy Fellowship. Applicants can request placement at a number of DC think tanks, including PFF.

Applications are due by December 12, 2008. The program will run for ten weeks during the summer of 2009 (June-August) and pay a $7,000 stiped. Apply today!

posted by Berin Szoka @ 11:48 AM | Think Tanks

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Friday, October 24, 2008

PFF Launches Center for Internet Freedom

PFF has just launched the new Center for Internet Freedom. CIF offers an alternative to the proliferation of advocacy groups calling for government intervention online by offering timely analyses and critiques of proposals that diminish the vital role of free markets, free speech and property rights. We aim to drive the Internet policy debate in new directions by emphasizing a layered approach of technological innovation, user education, user self-help, industry self-regulation, and the enforcement of existing laws consistent with the First Amendment. Such an approach is a less restrictive--and generally more effective--alternative to increased regulation. Here are some of the issues I'll be working on as CIF's Director in conjunction with my esteemed colleagues Adam Thierer, Adam Marcus, and adjunct fellows:
  • Defending online advertising as the lifeblood of online content & services, especially in the "Long Tail";
  • Emphasizing market solutions to problems of privacy protection, especially regarding the use of cookies and packet inspection data;
  • Protecting online speech and expression both in the U.S. and abroad;
  • Defending Section 230 immunity for Internet intermediaries;
  • Opposing online taxation and legal barriers to e-commerce and digital payments, especially at the state and local levels; and
  • Ensuring that Internet governance remains transparent and accountable without hampering the evolution of the Internet.

posted by Berin Szoka @ 11:50 AM | E-commerce, Internet, Privacy, Think Tanks

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Commissioner Adelstein Gets It -- Or Almost All of It

The Aspen Summit kicked off last night with an address by FCC Commissioner Adelstein, who got 3 out of 4 issues right in his quite engaging speech. I say that teasingly, because the Commissioner's speech once again reaffirmed that digital issues do not necessarily break down along neat Democratic/Republican political lines. Commissioner Adelstein addressed four topics, urging less regulation on three. On multicast must-carry, cable a la carte mandates and indecency regulation, the Commissioner urged caution, restraint and reliance on markets rather than regulation. Despite these laudable positions, the Commissioner remains steadfast in his defense of media ownership regulation. Nonetheless, not a bad opening batting average where he and PFF fellows agree on 3 of 4 major FCC issues.

posted by Ray Gifford @ 11:04 AM | Commons, Communications, Economics, Events, Innovation, Internet Governance, Think Tanks

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Into the Sunset?

Well, it isn't exactly a heroic ride off into the sunset with the background of the Monument Valley (yes, I've watched John Ford westerns far too many times), but next week marks the end of my tenure as President of PFF.
I am humbled by the well wishes from those with whom I often disagree, Professor Lessig and Jeff Pulver. Even more, I owe thanks to the many colleagues and friends I have made these past years. DC is a place where cynicism can easily thrive, but there are also many thoughtful, principled folks who are struggling for the right answers within the often disspiriting insititutional situation.
I do think we did some things of real value while I was at PFF -- the Digital Age Communications Act, the Institute for Regulatory Law & Economics, the founding of the Center for Digital Media Freedom and the blossoming of IPCentral.info, to name just a few. These programs, and the dedicated folks who make them possible at PFF, will continue to thrive and grow. The cynics' eyes will roll, but I have been privileged to work with wonderful colleagues whose devotion to human liberty is complete and unfailing. Though there are practical imperatives for any institution, the think tank world is really a place for dippy idealists who believe that ideas matter.
With this reverie going on way too long, I think I'll go watch the Searchers again.
I am not going far -- just to the less managerially taxing role of Senior Adjunct Fellow. In the meantime, look me up in my new gig here, where we'll try and change the face of regulatory, competition and IP law from the inside out (cynical snickers welcome here).

posted by Ray Gifford @ 1:17 AM | Think Tanks

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Weak Reductionism from Common Cause

Common Cause has taken out after PFF, among others, for accepting support from, of all things ... corporations! The longer I've been at PFF, the less plussed I am by these periodic attacks on our credibility. But this one is particularly weak in its tendentiousness and selectivity.

The breathless expose purports to shed new light on the "astroturf" campaigns engaged in by communications corporations. For PFF, this heroic Common Cause sleuthing must have taken at least 15 seconds navigating our web site to our supporters page. But the bombshell revelation that we accept corporate donations kind of falls flat because we tend to have supporters on both sides of many issues: net neutrality (Cable/Telephone companies AND Microsoft and Google); franchise reform (Cable AND Telephone Companies); Spectrum Reform (Wireless Cos. for property rights AND Intel and Microsoft for commons); content and liability (Verizon AND the RIAA). This inconvenient fact would ruin a good, straightforward "they are slavish toadies" storyline, so Common Cause chooses to elide that and only point to supporters whose positions they don't like. In other words, the funding issue is only being used by them as a proxy to forward their substantive position in the underlying debate. It is a species of intellectual laziness, at best, or dishonesty, at worst.

Continue reading Weak Reductionism from Common Cause . . .

posted by Ray Gifford @ 10:01 AM | Think Tanks

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Did Senators Hear Randy's Call for Reform?

Two weeks ago, my colleague Randy May posted a short critique of the principles announced by Senators Burns and Inouye to guide video franchise reform. Randy called for reform. Wouldn't you know it? A half dozen senators released a new set of principles just in time for the February 15 Commerce Committee hearing on the issue. The Senate hearing came on the heels of a filing deadline at the FCC for a NPRM soliciting input on franchise authority. What will come of all this activity? I sure don't know, but read below for the briefest of scorecards on who is saying what on the issue.

Continue reading Did Senators Hear Randy's Call for Reform? . . .

posted by @ 8:43 AM | Broadband, Cable, Capitol Hill, State Policy, The FCC, Think Tanks, Wireline

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Friday, December 16, 2005

IURC Takes a Beating from Discovery

Over at the Disco-Tech blog, Bret Swanson is not impressed with the latest action of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

What's worst: Requiring cost studies from all firms that offer anything more than a standard voice service in order to establish price floors.

When I wrote about Indiana here, and here, both legislative offerings emphasized phased deregulation of prices. Obviously, the IURC went a different direction after the legislation failed.

posted by @ 4:17 PM | State Policy, Think Tanks, Wireline

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Competition Dividend?

A new policy bulletin published by the Phoenix Center tackles some of the issues around franchise regulation. The study addresses revenue problems faced by local government that may result from proposed changes to the current franchise fee system. George S. Ford and Thomas M. Koutsky authored the paper. (Several years ago Ford collaborated with Tom Hazlett on an excellent paper that showed empirically why "level playing field laws" had anti-consumer effects.)

Ford and Koutsky assume that franchise fees will continue to apply to gross revenues. They assume that franchise regulation will be maintained. And they conclude that new franchise revenues will result from wireline telecom firms entering the video marketplace. Time will bear out their first assumption. The second assumption may be well founded: Franchise regulation is likely here to stay but is by no means necessary. Their conclusions are worth noting. First, they find that successful wireline entry into the video market will increase revenue collections by as much as 30 percent. There is a little math involved but basically new entry drives prices down and with lower prices, more consumers are willing to buy video services. As a result, total gross revenues increase. To maintain the same level of revenues, the cap on franchise fees could be dropped from 5 percent of gross revenues to 3.7 percent, according to Ford and Koutsky.

I'm not convinced that the political attractions of a revenue neutral policy should outweigh the virtues of reduced regulation and taxation for all market participants - elimination of the franchising regime - but I can certainly agree with the final conclusion of Ford and Koutsky, namely, for consumers to see any "competition dividend" the current franchising process must be reformed.

posted by @ 6:32 AM | Cable, State Policy, Think Tanks, Wireline

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Friday, August 26, 2005

VZ MCI Merger and Karl Popper

The Public Interest Institute - a mainstay for policy research with a limited government bent in Iowa - has published a study by Richard Wagner on the Verizon MCI deal. It is not every day that I come across a policy paper on mergers with references that extend from Copernicus to John Maynard Keynes to Karl Popper, but this paper does.

When it comes to the merger, Wagner is for it. To my mind, his approach to dynamic change in the market is well explained and the following passage is essential.

That habitual pattern of thought contained several particularly important and confining features. One was that telephones are instruments by which people speak to one another over wire-based connections. Another is that telephones and televisions are distinctly different instruments used for divergent activities, and with computers being yet a third distinct instrument. If this old fashioned pattern of thought is applied to the Verizon-MCI merger, it is possible to think that the primary difference between the pre-1984 situation and the current situation is that the national monopoly has been replaced by four regional monopolies.

To reach this conclusion, however, is to ignore all of the technological and commercial innovations that have taken place that have changed the characters of telephones, televisions, and computers, and of the enterprises that deliver those services. Competition has generated massive technological change, and those changes in turn have generated similarly massive changes in the organization of commercial enterprises. This relationship between changing technology and subsequent changes in the commercial landscape is simple to see and easy to understand.

posted by @ 4:46 PM | Think Tanks

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Thursday, July 7, 2005

Governor's Call

posted by @ 2:14 PM | Cable, State Policy, Think Tanks

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Thursday, April 7, 2005

A Little Telecom Reform May Go a Long Way in the Short Run

posted by Kyle Dixon @ 10:52 PM | Broadband, Capitol Hill, Communications, Innovation, Think Tanks

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Aspen Conference Kicks Off Federal Institute for Regulatory Law & Economics

posted by Kyle Dixon @ 7:36 PM | Capitol Hill, Communications, Economics, Electricity, Events, General, IP, Think Tanks

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Google Policy Fellow Program
PFF Launches Center for Internet Freedom
Commissioner Adelstein Gets It -- Or Almost All of It
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Did Senators Hear Randy's Call for Reform?
IURC Takes a Beating from Discovery
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