26 February 2015

Unhyphenated Internet Link Sausages

Well, maybe not. Hyphenated terms are the English equivalent of German compound nouns… for which I have an obvious, and perhaps even inordinate, fondness.

  • There's an increasing groundswell of controversy over author identification, as a should-have-been-obvious follow-on to the "authenticity wars" from 2006 or so until about 2012. On the one hand, we have advocacy — even dubiously extreme advocacy — of recognizing that not all authors are members of the presumed elite. On the other hand, we have some of those we might expect to benefit from such extremism rejecting overt value-judgments of books based upon single aspects of the authors' private lives (that seldom, if ever, infuse the books themselves).

    That the underlying problem is real is irrelevant, because the artist is not the art (or vice versa), however much, or little, they influence each other. In the end, this is just another aspect of "judging the book by its cover" — it merely extends "cover" to include "marketing department single-phrase description of the author." Both books and authors deserve better than being treated like laundry detergent. Indeed, readers deserve that books and authors are treated better than laundry detergent.

  • In many ways, Frank Underwood is merely a logical extension of Jimmy Carter. In both instances, their greatest achievement was obtaining the power to govern; the actual attempts at governing, not so much. Or so the early takes on Season 3 of House of Cards seem to imply... and, in many ways, remained a subtext throughout The West Wing.
  • An important decision in Europe regarding the (fine, visual) artist's right to proceeds from later sales of the original work gets an admirably clear explanation at the IPKat. (Judicial opinions can only aspire to that kind of simultaneous clarity and nuance.) This matters more than it appears to: It will affect not just European artists, but all artists whose originals are sold in Europe at any time; and it has some interesting implications for the current struggles over musical performances. In the US, we still separate the performer's rights (whatever they are) from the songwriter/composer's rights (whatever they are). Christie's France demonstrates that at certain fundamental levels, that's an deceptive distinction that lawyers are simply not competent to make.
  • "Net neutrality" is now law. The fun part is going to be the challenges to enforcement. "Fun," that is, if that word is an acronym standing for "fouled-up nonsense" (or something like that).

    As a policy matter, this is long overdue. ISPs have long tried their damndest to get all of the benefits of being common carriers — such as insulation from liability for merely transmitting customers' libellous statements, see 47 U.S.C. § 230 — without any of the responsibilities that go along with being common carriers. One of those responsibilities is equal treatment; it's why your phone bill does not distinguish, within calls in the same area code, with whether it's a business, a government office, or Grandma.

    The problem with net neutrality is that it has been (mis)characterized as "regulation of the internet," and therefore A Bad Thing By Definition. Both ends of this rhetorical strategy are at best disingenuous. A requirement that one not discriminate is literally a regulation... but so are the purported standards of discrimination that the requirement to avoid discrimination replaces. The sole difference is that invisible private parties set those standards of discrimination; it's still regulation, it's just not necessarily a federal agency doing it. I'm also perplexed that this nature of regulation could necessarily be A Bad Thing By Definition, any more than a speed limit in a school zone is A Bad Thing By Definition. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and especially not on the internet; trying to pretend otherwise is at best foolish.

    The only real question is whether the FCC has statutory authority to regulate. Keep in mind that the last set of court challenges, led by Verizon, were to similar regulations that were adopted under a different (and by its own terms much narrower) statutory section. The courts determined that the narrower section didn't quite reach far enough, but explicitly left open whether other — on its face substantially broader — authority that the FCC had not relied upon could justify treating ISPs as common carriers.

    In the end, this will be a case of B'rer Rabbit ending up in the briar patch. General customer demand was going to force ISPs to upgrade their systems to the levels seemingly "required" by Netflix et al. within the next couple of years anyway; the internet "fast lane" is just a way for the ISPs to try to charge a rent to those senders whose business model most depends upon that faster access. The unstated, interesting corollary, of the FCC's decision today will be found on customer bills in three or four years after local rates get considered... and won't that be fun for everyone?