The CPSR Compiler - May 2007
The CPSR Compiler - May 2007 - 1.0
COMPUTER PROFESSIONALS for SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Turning Thoughts to Actions
* Message from the President
* REPORT FROM THE BERKELEY DRM CONFERENCE, 9-10 MARCH 2007
Message from the President
By Todd Davies
This issue of the Compiler is the first one since our Communication Director and primary staff member, Dan Krimm, left CPSR in mid-February. Dan had just been hired in September, and the Board has spent the last few months discussing how we should move forward. I am pleased with the outcome of this process, and am now confident that we are back on our feet after a great deal of uncertainty following Dan's departure. I want to report now on where we are heading. But first, I would like to review where we have been in the last year.
Dan's leaving forced us to shift gears. The Board determined that it would be difficult to find a replacement in the middle of the winter, and that before trying that, we should seriously reevaluate whether we could expect one part-time staff person to take on the responsibility that Dan had assumed during his brief tenure as Communication Director. We decided to use this as an opportunity to see what we could accomplish on our own, as a Board, and to reflect on the most feasible future directions for CPSR. This turned out to be a longer process than I had expected, and I apologize for taking so long to write this and to resume publication of the Compiler.
The last few months have produced some exciting new projects. We won a grant from Google's Summer of Code program to develop a prototype website to promote voting and transparency in election records, called "Who Voted?". Jeffrey Gerard was hired as our intern for this project, out of a large group of well qualified candidates, and has already begun work under the supervision of Annalee Newitz, our Vice Preisdent, who co-wrote the grant proposal with board members Fyodor Vaskovich, Robert Guerra, and me. Meanwhile, our Secretary, Robert Guerra, transferred our member database into CiviCRM, laying the foundation for better integration of our records and our website. In addition, several new initiatives have sprung up on the Board that are still in the planning stages.
Since February, our Webmaster and part-time staffer, DiHuyen van Ho, has taken on an elevated workload, while most of the financial duties that had previously been handled by staff have been taken over by our Treasurer, Lauren Gelman. Lauren is going on maternity leave for the next three months (June 1 - September 1), and I have agreed to take over her duties during this period as Acting Treasurer. As we discussed CPSR's future, it became clear that the board member with the most compelling vision for the organization was our Vice President, Annalee Newitz. We all agreed a few weeks ago that Annalee should take over as President, and she will be doing so tomorrow, so this is my last message as President. Fyodor Vaskovich will become our new Vice President.
Our plan over the coming fiscal year is to rebuild CPSR by renewing its focus in those areas where we have played a vital role in the past and seem to be needed again today. A 20th Anniversary Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing (DIAC) conference is planned, focusing on progressive technology for collaboration and deliberation. And Annalee and Lauren are planning a conference on "Technology in Wartime", reviving CPSR's focus on its founding issue. Other projects are in the works as well. I am glad to be bringing back the Compiler this month, and look forward to watching the new energy that is driving CPSR express itself in the months ahead.
REPORT FROM THE BERKELEY DRM CONFERENCE, 9-10 MARCH 2007
By Karl Fogel
The conference "Copyright, DRM Technologies, and Consumer Protection", on March 9 and 10 at UC Berkeley, was a great example of competing assumptions jockeying for mental floor space. Given the disagreements in the room, the conference understandably didn't come to any conclusions about DRM. But it did two other useful things: it gave an opportunity for every possible analysis of DRM to be heard and debated, and, perhaps more importantly, it revealed the rhetorical terms in which different parties want the public to think about DRM.
On the skeptical side, several panelists talked about DRM's negative side effects: it weakens privacy, because calculating usage restrictions may require external servers to get involved; it weakens computer security, because it is a black box that cannot be opened and tinkered with; and fundamentally it is simply not what users want (panelist Andrew Bridges, of Winston & Strawn LLP, memorably remarked "There are two ways to make money by connecting supply and demand: by making it easy, or making it hard.").
What was also fascinating was seeing how representatives from content-owning companies repeatedly used the words "balance" and "choice", often as part of a broader claim that DRM has the potential to enable a wide variety of business models. The business-model argument is worth some attention for the assumption underlying it: that enabling any particular business model is a positive good, a prima facie justification for whatever DRM mechanism might be required to enable it. In economic terms, some panelists (Thomas Rubin of Microsoft, among others) seemed comfortable talking of DRM-controlled files as being like physical products or limited-resource services, rather than copyable bit strings. Victoria Bassetti of EMI even said: "DRM preserves our products' integrity", without explaining what she meant. "Integrity" is always a loaded word in this context, because most people will assume it refers to low-quality copying or to plagiarism; yet DRM encourages the former, and can impede detection of the latter. In many ways, the biggest lesson of the conference was the power of language: words like "balance", "choice", and "integrity" were used as rhetorical bludgeons, not tools of clear thought.
I've concentrated here on the remarks of unreservedly pro-DRM panelists, but I don't want to give the impression that they set the tone of the conference. There were impressive critical presentations and questions from the aforementioned Andrew Bridges, from Gigi Sohn (of Public Knowledge), Cindy Cohn (of the EFF), Ian Kerr (University of Ottowa), Deirdre Mulligan (Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, Samuelson Clinic, and Boalt Hall School of Law), Peter Swire (Ohio State University), and others. I went to the conference partly to get a sense of all the arguments for and against DRM, and was not disappointed. If there remains any major point about DRM not raised there, I'd be very surprised; kudos to the organizers.
A longer version of this report appears at
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Last modified June 05, 2007 10:34 AM