I came across an interesting feature in the case law portion of Google Scholar.  A non-law student asked me for help in locating three cases that she couldn’t find through LexisNexis Academic.  She explained that she also tried using Google Scholar.  I expanded the information about each by doing a few web searches as well as to verify the accuracy of the case names she gave me.  Two of the three were ultimately available through LNA.  The third was not.

I searched Scholar with the information I had located about the case and found an opinion with the right caption.  I opened the document and noticed that the docket number was a hyperlink.  I clicked on it and discovered that there were actually seven opinions issued in the case, at least at the federal District Court level.  I remember back when Google Scholar added the case law database that the engineers in charge said it would be easy to create a citator but that their contract with the “unnamed large legal publisher” that licensed the text prohibited that feature.  Somehow that didn’t stop Google from adding two features that form a quasi-citator.

One is the “How cited” link in the upper left corner of the page containing the full text of an opinion.  That gives links to other citing cases with snippets of text from those cases.  There is another option to see all cases that cite the source case.  The second feature is a series of links on the same page under the heading “Related documents.”  This is where links to the same case at a different appellate level may be found.  By hyperlinking the docket numbers, Google can now offer a quasi-history along with its quasi-citator.  The only thing missing and presumably barred by contract are the symbols (emojis?) identifying the quality of the citation.

The main feature of Google Scholar’s case law, of course, is finding cases related to a problem through keyword search.  The results were hit or miss back in 2009 when the database went public.  The case list showed relevant decisions but it seemed as if something was missing.  The trust factor wasn’t there.  I mention this because I tested Scholar last fall when I created scripts for teaching features and strategies available using Lexis Advance, WestlawNext, and Bloomberg Law.

The problem was set in New York State.  Essentially, an individual sued a landowner for injuries sustained while riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on the owner’s property.  The searches were from the perspective of the owner under the theory of assumption of the risk.  I liked the problem because there is a New York statute that specifically exempts liability for injuries sustained in most but not all unauthorized access circumstances.  It gave the opportunity to show research elements such as case results, links to statutes, annotations under statutes, and how to find related headnotes.  All three databases brought up the same leading cases and straightforward navigation to the related research types on each system.

I tested the same keywords in Scholar and sure enough, it gave results featuring all of the same leading cases on the first page of citations as I had found in LA, WN, and BL.  Essentially, Google’s algorithm has improved tremendously since those early days.  Google is hardly a substitute for any of the commercial databases as it does not have the value-added features such as secondary sources and others.  At the same time, anyone searching Scholar’s case law database can do so with a good amount of confidence in my opinion.

Incidentally, anyone wishing to see the scripts I designed should contact me for copies.

Mark

Here are a few of technology developments that I thought were kind of interesting.  One is that Google will now allow a user to download all of his or her search history for all time, or at least all tracked time.  Then again, isn’t “all time” and “all tracked time” synonymous?  The instructions and links to the relevant screens are available in this article from CNBC.  I don’t really have a problem with Google tracking anything.  I do as much or more searching based on my work as a reference librarian.  That leads to some interesting ads, such as books from Thomson Reuters or Lexis Publishing available on Amazon.  I know other people don’t have the same attitude I have about Google and other search engines.  At the same time, I’m probably one of the most boring people around when it comes to targeted ads.

Another story from CNBC also mentions a change in the Google search algorithm that will favor mobile sites in search rankings when the search comes from a mobile source.  The story notes that nearly half of Google traffic between June and November 2014 came from a mobile device.  The change goes into effect tomorrow.

Here’s a short note about the Internet of Things.  Mashable and other sites are reporting that Wink Hubs, controllers for things like door locks and lights, among other connected devices stopped working because of a software update that broke the connection between the device and its servers.  The device is so secure that a remote software update isn’t possible.  Owners have to send the device back to the company to get fixed.  I guess turning keys in locks and flicking light switches is sooooo 2000.  Kids these days!  They have it easy.  Why I remember when Alta Vista was the best search engine around.  And when we used Yahoo, we didn’t search, we looked through lists of links!  Those were the days.

Speaking of Yahoo, the company is reworking its deal with Microsoft on using Bing as the engine that powers Yahoo search.  Some of the results will now come through Yahoo’s own engine which will also supply Yahoo’s own ads.  The story is here.

Mark

CNET is telling us that Google is now offering something called Google Classroom.  It combines Google Docs, Drive, and Gmail for use as an electronic hub between an instructor and students.  Another story from Inside Higher Ed notes that it’s no competition for the major classroom management systems used in universities as there are no grade management capabilities.  Still, with anything Google does there is the initial product offering and then there are the improvements over time.

The case law on Google Scholar is a perfect example of this.  The search algorithms improved tremendously over time.  Concept searches now bring relevant results.  The so-called citator Google provides may not compare with Shepards and KeyCite.  However, it pulls quotes and links from the database showing how a cited case is used in context.  Pro se litigants may find this feature useful.  Ask me about Google Classroom in three years when we see how disruptive it is. –Mark

I had a phone call this morning while I was getting ready for work.  There was a gentleman at the other end of the call telling me he was calling from Microsoft support and that my computer was riddled with viruses.  Should that be virii?  I had read about these types of calls in the tech press.  I told the caller that my computer was fine but he insisted that it was not based on reports Microsoft had received from my machine.  I argued for a minute but finally had to hang up on him despite his urgent insistence.

It was a scam that was trying to get me to download software that would effectively riddle my computer with viruses and pay for the privilege no less.  I’m writing about this lest anyone get fooled by this approach to compromise a phone, laptop, or desktop computer.

More information is available from Microsoft (the real Microsoft), the Register, which is a tech site from the U.K., and the Malwarebytes blog.  The latter has specific examples of “errors” used by the scammers to alarm a potential mark.  Microsoft technical support never makes cold calls to Windows users.  The scam, by the way, has variations for Apple users.  That’s mentioned in the blog post.  Please don’t waste your time with these people. –Mark

For those who want to get an idea of the new LexisAdvance interface there is a YouTube video that Lexis has provided.  I can’t tell whether the new design improves searchability or not.  I see an example of a search result but not necessarily the way to get there.  That’s not a criticism.  Anything is better than the one that exists now.  All I would say at this point is Lexis, please do not get rid of the Lexis.com part of the site until the new interface takes hold and works.  Check out the promotional (and I do mean promotional) video here.  Note that comments are disabled.  I wonder why? –Mark

The Internet turned 25 years old today.  At least that is what several articles in the press are reporting.  That anniversary is somewhat in dispute, but hey, crowdsourcing is never wrong, right?  The news report on the local CBS radio outlet pointed out that anyone under 25 would not know a time without the Internet.  Well, duh.  Perspectives change.  I never knew a time without television, radio, telephones, cars, or any of the other technological advances that allow individuals to roam and communicate freely.  It’s evolution.  Anyone remember the telegraph?  Think of Morse code as packets sent over a wire to a receiving station, though a bit more manual than what we are used to today.  Evolution.

The Internet itself has evolved.  I don’t need to go into things like Gopher sites (remember them?).  I remember complaints in the early days when advertisers and merchandisers established web sites to sell us stuff.  Some believed this was the wrong direction for a medium with such a strong educational potential.  The Internet is now an enthusiastic marketing paradise for consumers and companies alike.  Education is in fact one of the products.

I want to harken back to a few events at the dawn of the Internet age that come to mind when these anniversaries pop up.  I don’t know if anyone remembers Usenet.  It was (and is still is) a global discussion board for all kinds of topics.  Law academics and technologists would use it to share ideas about the distribution of legal materials.  The discussions were substantive and interesting.  A message appeared in 5,000 newsgroups one day in April, 1994 from the law practice of Cantor and Siegel.  It offered firm services in regard to a green card lottery.  The discussion groups exploded in outrage.  My point about this is outrage or not, spam should join the terms death and taxes as certainties.  Wikipedia has more information about this.

The second event happened a little bit earlier.  Anyone remember Lotus 1-2-3?  It was the spreadsheet software of choice before Microsoft Excel hit the market.  Lotus announced in 1990 that it intended to sell CDs with contact and other demographic information for 120 million U.S. consumers.  It would include purchasing habits in the information set.  The collective outrage forced Lotus to cancel the project approximately one year later before any CDs were released.  Today the discussion focuses around how much of our information corporate collates.

I think we have more or less accepted the concept that we are tracked.  How secure that information is kept and who has access to it seems to dominate the conversation these days.  There are those, of course, who believe we shouldn’t be tracked at all.  I acknowledge their fight.  I think the best we can get is control over how our information is used in some form.  I’m not averse to being surprised in this policy fight, however.

My point for those 25 year olds who never knew a life without the Internet is simple.  You also may not have known an Internet without spam, without tracking, without government interference, without being characterized or classified.  Consider the cultural norms that have evolved with the Internet and decide if you’re happy with the trade-offs you accept for convenience.  The Internet wasn’t always the way it is now.  Some of those old norms still have value.  — Mark

 

OCLC Research is presenting a free webinar called “Inside the Digital Public Library of America” Presented by Dan Cohen.  From the description:

In this OCLC Research Distinguished Seminar Series presentation, Dan Cohen goes behind the scenes to discuss how the DPLA was created, how it functions as a portal and platform, what the staff is currently working on, and what’s to come for the young project and organization.

More information and sign-up is here.  –Mark

News reports are appearing about Microsoft offering free and legal versions of Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint via cloud access.  Readers may be aware that Microsoft is pushing Office 365 as a subscription based alternative to installing the application suite on a computer.  The free web versions of the most popular Microsoft applications are associated with a Microsoft account and OneDrive, formerly SkyDrive.   One can open, edit, or create a document in OneDrive by selecting the option from the menu choices at the top.

Anyone familiar with a computer based version of the Office applications will feel quite at home.  The same ribbon interface appears with just about the same options.  I believe, as with most people, I use only common formatting in documents.  Everything I needed in Word is here and more.  In fact, I’m typing this in Word Online as a way of testing the viability of the product.  So far, so good.  This version of Word appears to support keyboard shortcuts (at least the ones I use) without too much variation from the boxed Office suite.  The editing process is smooth and stable.

Some features are missing.  Inline spell and grammar check do not appear to be an option.  There is an spell check feature under Review in the menu bar.  Some option boxes require clicking a button to select a choice rather than responding to the Enter Key.  Drag and drop seems to be missing as well.  These are minor inconveniences.   I find the product very comfortable to use, especially for the price.

Anyone interested in creating a Microsoft account to use OneDrive or Office Online can sign up for free at this page.   Additional commentary on the product are available in CNET NewsTime Magazine, and PC World.  –Mark

ALA, ARL and EDUCAUSE are calling on the FCC to take action on net neutrality.  They assert:

  • Libraries, colleges and universities depend on the intellectual freedom afforded by the Open Internet to develop content and applications that serve the public interest;
  • Libraries and higher education institutions are prolific providers of content, services and applications on the Open Internet;
  • Research libraries and institutions rely on the Open Internet as end-users to collaborate with and obtain content and services from outside sources; and
  • The ability to access library, college and university services should not depend on location.

I can understand the concerns.  While much of the public discussion focuses on how consumers are affected, libraries certainly have a stake in whether their e-content is blocked or slowed down somewhere along the network.  It may seem an unlikely outcome, though in the world of commerce anything is possible.  The full statement is here. –Mark

The big news today is the announcement that Comcast is acquiring Time-Warner Cable (TWC) for $45 billion.  Internet activists are aghast at the idea as it has the potential to reduce competition between Internet service providers in markets served by both companies.  A petition is already posted on the White House web site urging the rejection of the merger.  Comcast has stated that it believes the merger will likely be approved, albeit with conditions.  It’s already stated that it would shed some 3,000,000 customers for the combined company to stay under or maintain a 30% market share.

I have a funny feeling that the merger will be approved as well due to the politics surrounding it.  I believe activists are right in that competition will suffer.  How many cable and Internet services exist in any given area?  Usually it’s one or two and in some major metropolitan areas it can be three or four.  The FCC wants to foster competition in cable and Internet services and approving the merger would seem to go against that policy.

About three weeks or so ago, the FCC lost a major case where its net neutrality rules were struck down.  The Court said that the FCC didn’t have the power under its rules to regulate information service providers.  The Court said that the FCC has the power to reclassify Internet providers as telecommunications carriers if it wanted to.  These can be regulated.  FCC chairman has made statements that he will take the Court up on its suggestion.  The problem, of course, is that the reclassification is a time consuming process subject to political pressure.

Regulation would prevent an Internet Service Provider from slowing down or blocking traffic from Internet companies.  A deliberately slow connection for Netflix or Amazon media streams isn’t good for that either company.  Payments from either would solve that problem without regulation.  It’s that kind of business model which is at stake.  Congress is not of one mind when it comes to allowing the FCC to regulate in this area or not.  Lobbyists, start your cash machines.

Let’s harken back several years when Comcast merged with NBC.  The FCC lost a similar case when it tried to prevent Comcast from slowing bit torrent traffic on its network.  The FCC’s leverage at that point was to impose net neutrality-like conditions on Comcast in approving the merger.  I suspect that there will be a similar result in this case.  The FCC, in this scenario, will get Comcast to abide by net neutrality principles in exchange for its takeover of TMC.  It’s a politically expedient outcome that will give the Commission more time to work on its net neutrality strategies.

One can only hope that Google starts building out last-mile fiber connections in more places than Kansas City and Austin to expand competition between carriers.  It takes a huge financial investment to wire up a city and Google is one of the few companies with both the money or interest in taking on the challenge.  – Mark

Justice Thomas has made a few statements about race in the United States as reported in Salon and other sources yesterday.  Here are a few quotes:

“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school,” Thomas said. “To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up.”

“Now, name a day it doesn’t come up,” he continued. “Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah.”

Here’s my favorite quote:

“The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites,” Thomas said. “The absolute worst I have ever been treated. The worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me — by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”

Without further clarification, I would suggest that a good chunk of that criticism extends merely to the logic he uses in his opinions and their outcome.  That is fair game in my opinion, as it would be with any other Justice.  Justice Kennedy, for example, gets his share of criticism from religious organizations for his votes on same sex marriage and similar cases upholding privacy in sexual matters.  And don’t get me started on Justice Scalia!

The Atlantic is running an article called The Collapse of Big Law:  A Cautionary Tale for Big Med.  The article details how lawyers measure success in terms of money, not purely as a matter of greed, but in comparison to the competition.  Gone, apparently, are the days when doing something of value for society through law practice is a real metric.  The context of the article is the lack of jobs for recent law school graduates.  The rest of the article compares what’s happening in law to similar practices developing in the medical field.

I’ll give an anecdotal story about a law school application essay as related to me by the Admissions Director at one of the schools at which I have worked.  The Director told me that one student did not write an essay as such but drew a large dollar sign across the page.  I understand the applicant was admitted at least for being honest.  I have to believe there were other qualities that qualified the student for admission.  Anyone pulling that stunt today would be incredibly naive.  That shows how long ago I had that conversation.

Publishers Weekly reports that Apple lost its appeal at the Second Circuit on the limited issue of staying the order of Judge Denise Cote imposing the external compliance monitor on the company.  Apple has complained about Michael Bromwich, the appointee, being intrusive and expensive.  The article describes the Second Circuit’s order:

The court cited the government’s own statements that the monitor, Michael Bromwich, was “empowered to demand only documents relevant to his authorized responsibility” and to “interview Apple directors, officers, and employees” only on subjects relevant to his task. “We agree with that interpretation of the district court’s order,” the court held. “In addition, we take counsel’s statement as a formal representation that appellees also accept that interpretation.”

Oh well, better luck on the main appeal, or not, depending on one’s perspective.

Jonathan Band writes an interesting essay on the Future of Fair Use after Google Books in Project Disco.  That’s “Disco” as in disrupted competition.  Band wrote the amicus brief for the Library Copyright Alliance and was cited five times in Judge Chin’s decision.  The piece describes the ideas in the debate he had with Jon Baumgarten, former General Counsel of the Copyright Office.  I get the impression that the Authors Guild have an extremely limited view of fair use based on the exchange between the two.

And finally, ads in the Firefox browser?  ZDNet has the story. — Mark

I came across Ravel Law today.  I’m not quite sure what to make of it.  The New York Times calls it “A search, analytics and collaboration tool for lawyers, this platform visualizes and organizes legal cases to highlight patterns and connections between them.”  Some of the confusion I have about the site is due to the limited public access that is available in the free account.  Search results offer opinions from federal and state courts, though the latter are only available with a premium subscription.

I want to emphasize that this is not a review of the site or the full product Ravel offers.  I’ve spent a little bit of time searching some concepts relating to antitrust law as a matter of seeing what results are returned.  My immediate impression is that the site offers full-text opinions with a graphic representation of a case’s relevance combined with relational spokes to other cases that have cited it.  These are represented as interactive circles that work with a citation list.   Hovering on a related case brings up a short snippet of the citing case.  Clicking on a circle brings up the full text of the case.  There is also an interactive timeline that can limit citations to a particular time span.

The value in this appears to relate concepts from one case to others through the visuals on the graph.  The larger the circle, the more important the case will be.  Lines connect one circle to another circle and it’s very easy to see which major cases are connected to other major cases.  This is like a citator on steroids in my opinion as one can get to this point with a simple search.  Citators in Lexis and Westlaw obviously require the analytical starting point to be a citation.  That means multiple steps in developing the analysis that finds the value and use of related cases.  The snippets help immensely in determining which related cases are of value.

I can honestly say that I’m intrigued by what I’ve seen so far.  There is nothing like it in Lexis or Westlaw.  I intend to continue trying out Ravel Law to get a better understanding on how it works.  I’m sure I’ll be writing about this site in the future.  Aside from the information in the Ravel Law FAQ, some commentary about the site by Greg Lambert is in 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. – Mark

Things I read this morning:

Visits to Wikipedia pages in English declined by 21% in 2013.  The Register reports that this may be due to Google implementing its Knowledge Graph in its search results.  That’s where the search giant ads basic facts about the subject of the search.  Some of the information placed directly in the search results may fulfill the ultimate purpose of the query.  I’ll just add that Microsoft’s Bing product does the same thing.

Last week I wrote about the (predictable) reaction by law faculty to the ABA’s proposed accreditation standard that called for job security for faculty, though not requiring tenure.  Most of the arguments in favor of keeping tenure centered on academic freedom.  Inside Higher Ed has a lengthy article about Professor Louis Wozniak who teaches at the University of Illinois in the Engineering School.  The Board of Trustees at Illinois revoked his tenure for revealing the emotional state of student on his blog.  The article suggests that Wozniak is a “difficult” colleague.  I’ve dealt with all kinds of faculty over the years in the various law schools where I have worked.  Some of them were total jerks.  Could Wozniak’s situation become a cautionary tale for law if the new standards go into effect?

While we’re on the subject, this article in the ABA Journal about a faculty member barred from his campus due to anger issues is also worth reading.  Professor Joel Cornwell is suing the John Marshall Law School in Chicago under the ADA.  The suit claims that the school did not accommodate his Asperger’s Syndrome in violation of the Act.

Finally, this story from the Christian Science Monitor reports on Microsoft’s successor to Windows 8/8.1.  Microsoft will apparently detail what Windows 9 (name subject to change) will contain in terms of features.  A similar article in ZDNet suggests that Microsoft may make more significant changes that balance the tablet/desktop interface, though these aren’t detailed beyond running a windowed version of the Metro interface from the desktop.  That’s kind of the opposite of the way it is now where the desktop runs as a “Metro” selection.  Microsoft needs to figure out what it’s doing here.  It’s pretty much acknowledged that Windows 8 has not penetrated the market as much as Microsoft has liked.

I’m of the belief that the tablet interface makes no sense on a large, non-touch screen connected to a desktop computer.  I appreciate that the company has made it easy to bypass its tablet interface with the release of the Windows 8.1 update.  The tablet apps are interesting, but my traditional desktop applications work well, or well enough, that I need to change.  I may not be typical.  Other speculation in the news is that Windows 9 could be out in early 2015.

Mark

If anyone thinks that the paper industry is dying a slow death because of electronic information replacing printed information, well, this article in the Los Angeles Times should dispel that notion.  One statistic cited is the $27.8 billion in 2012 sales by International Paper.  That was an increase of $1.8 billion over the previous 12 months.  Paper is still essential for everyday conveniences.

I suppose that we get horrified when the NSA tracks us, but it’s cool when Apple does it, right?  See this story in ABC News.

Old school publishing and open access tussle in this story of the conflict between Elsevier and Academia.edu over posting academic papers.  Thanks to DMCA takedown notices, guess who is winning for now?  The story is in CNET.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is telling us that the average debt at graduation for undergrads is $29,400.  If that’s the average, then Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be law students.  That’s where tens of thousands of more get piled on.  Someone should sell bumper stickers that read “law school is for trust funders.”  Some 18.5% of Ph.D graduates have $30,001 or more of debt according to another story in the Chronicle.  It was 16% in 2002.

One law school is actually responding to the debt crisis by (gasp!) lowering its tuition.  The University of Iowa is lowering its tuition by 16.4% for both in- and out-of-state students.  That’s a drop of $4,300 and nearly $8,000 less per year respectively for these students.  The drop kicks in starting with the fall 2004 semester.  How can they do it? Volume, volume, volume.  The school can make up the financial difference with just about 20 or so additional students.  Read about it in the Huffington Post.

Joe wrote about the Arizona State University announcement for its new law school home in downtown Phoenix.  There is a picture of the planned Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at the KTAR web site.   It looks pretty impressive. I wonder how it’s going to be financed.

Mark

I wrote a post earlier this week on LG’s data collection practices on its smart TVs.  LG televisions apparently have a feature for collecting and transmitting to LG channel view information as well as file names from a connected USB stick.  There is a setting that allows a user to turn off the feature though when selected the information was still collected and transmitted.  The rationale for this was to customize ads sent to the TV based on viewing habits even though there was (allegedly) no personally identifiable information collected.

LG figured out it had a publicity problem on its hand.  The company issued a statement saying it will fix the problem with a firmware update that will actually turn off the feature when a user turns it off.  The same update will stop the reading of file names from attached devices as well.  LG admitted that data was transmitted though never stored on its servers.  What?  Then what was the point of transmitting it in the first place?  I think there is more to this than the company wants to admit.  Perhaps the information was sent to a third party who supplies the customized ads.  Who knows.   I think LG needs to be a bit more forthcoming on just what is going on here.

Details are in a report on CNET.

Mark

There seems to be a convergence of stories recently about privacy and tracking lately.  If privacy isn’t dead it certainly seems to be fighting a losing battle while on life support.  Where to start?  There is a report in CNET on Vint Cerf’s statement, “Privacy may be an anomaly.”  The reason for that is the level of detail people are sharing through social media.  Another Cerf quote:  “Technology has outraced our social intellect.”  I find that hard to argue with that concept.  There are multitudes of ways to track people and their habits down to fine details.

An older story in Ars Technica tells that Facebook is working on a way to collect mouse movements.  As the story points out, it’s not uncommon for web sites to track where someone clicks on a page.  That’s one way to determine an ad’s effectiveness.  What Facebook intends to do is watch the mouse.  How does someone move along the page?  Where does the mouse hover and for how long?  Mobile views obviously do not use mice, but tracking in this context extends to tracking when a newsfeed is visible.  My understanding is that the Facebook like button is its own tracking device between sites whether one has a Facebook account or not.

The next item concerns the humble toothbrush, though it is symbolic of the so-called “Internet of things.”  The concept is promoted as a social good in that all of the dumb devices we use will become smart at some point and our interactivity with them will come with new conveniences.  Consider this statement from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff as reported by ZDNET:

“Everything is on the Net. And we will be connected in phenomenal new ways,” said Benioff. Benioff highlighted how his toothbrush of the future will be connected. The new Philips toothbrush is Wi-Fi based and have GPS. “When I go into the dentist he won’t ask if I brushed. He will say what’s your login to your Philips account. There will be a whole new level of transparency with my dentist,” gushed Benioff.

Any marketer would gush over this level of personal detail.  It may benefit the doctor-patient relationship, but who else would have access to this information and how will it be used?  I’m not sure I would be comforted by doctor-patient confidentiality in these circumstances.  I’m sure it will all be in the terms and conditions for the device, or not, at least if the next story’s details are accurate.

A blogger in the U.K. has discovered that his LG smart TV sends details about his viewing habits back to LG servers.  Those habits also include the file names of items viewed from a connected USB stick.  There is a setting in the TV that purports to turn this behavior off (it’s on by default).  It doesn’t work as data is forwarded to LG no matter what the setting.  LG responded to this disclosure as reported in the story on Ars Technica:

“The advice we have been given is that unfortunately as you accepted the Terms and Conditions on your TV, your concerns would be best directed to the retailer,” the representatives wrote in a response to the blogger. “We understand you feel you should have been made aware of these T’s and C’s at the point of sale, and for obvious reasons LG are unable to pass comment on their actions.”

Or putting it another way, we don’t care if you’re put out by these practices.  Life’s good, as they say, depending on who has the power in these relationships.

When I think of Marc Benioff’s toothbrush scenario I can imagine smart devices coming with embedded chips that connect to the web automatically and upload information.  As of now the choice is ours as to whether to connect our devices to the web.  I have a DVD player that is web-enabled though I have not turned on that feature.  My TV set is huge, but also not connected to the web.  My choice, of course, and I may not be typical.  In fact, I’m sure I’m not.

I can predict that there will be a time when a web connection is going to be mandatory for some devices to even work out of the box.  It’s in every marketer’s interest if that came to be.  Or, if I wanted to be exotic, I can predict another pervasive wireless Internet that overlays the one we know and love.  It will just be for smart devices that will connect automatically for our “convenience.”  There may just be enough moneyed interests to make that happen.  Terms and conditions may or may not apply.

Mark

Google’s fair use victory over the Authors Guild is the company’s second recent copyright victory.  Way back in 2007 the English Premier League and others sued YouTube for copyright infringement after it displayed highlight clips of EPL matches and other uploaded videos.  What started with a 39 page complaint filed on May 4, 2007 ended with a stipulation to dismiss the case filed on November 7, 2013:

Pursuant to Fed, R. Civ. P, 41(a)(1)(A)(2), all remaining plaintiffs, through counsel, hereby stipulate to the dismissal with prejudice of all their claims asserted in this action, with each party to bear its own costs, expenses and attorneys’ fees.

The dismissal came months after the plaintiffs were denied class action status.  The story is in the Guardian.   So, the case ends after 6 years or so and 461 docket entries.  Win or lose, the lawyers get paid.

Mark

Judge Denny Chin ruled today in favor Google in the book scanning case.  The ruling is consistent with the results in the Georgia State electronic reserve case and the HathiTrust case in particular.   Judge Chin assumed that the Authors Guild established a prima facie case of copyright infringement at this stage of the proceedings.  He examined each of the four factors for the defense of fair use and found:

  • Purpose and character of the use (factor one):  Google’s use is “highly” transformative in that the word index helps readers, scholars, researchers, and other to find books.  Moreover, the manipulation of electronic text can help researchers discover historical trends in how words are used.  Google’s for-profit status is of slight concern because of the important educational purpose served by Google Books.  Factor one favors Google.
  •  Nature of copyrighted work (factor two):  The majority of books scanned are non-fiction.  Though fiction deserves greater protection, all scanned books were published and available to the public.  In any event, both parties in the case agree that the second factor is not determinative.
  • Amount and substantiality of the portion used (factor three):  Google scans the entire book.  Courts have held, however, that copying the entire work can be fair use in some circumstances.  Judge Chin notes that the key to Google Books is its ability to offer full-text search.  Google tightly controls and limits the display as snippets in response to a search.  Factor three weighs slightly against a finding of fair use.
  • Effect of use upon potential market or value (factor four):  The Authors Guild argued that Google Books would act as a market replacement for books.  Alternatively, a searcher can use multiple word searches to construct a book out of snippets.  Google enhances the book market as each display links to sources where the book can be purchased.  As such, it provides a way for authors to get noticed.  As for the snippet to books argument, someone would have to have a copy of the book in order to construct a copy from the online display.  In any event, this would not be possible as Google has blacklisted some snippets as never displayable.    The fourth factor weighs strongly in favor of finding fair use.

If any of that wasn’t enough, Judge Chin had this to say:

In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.

Take that, Authors Guild.  Speaking of whom, the Guild issued the usual “we’re going to appeal statement:”

Judge Denny Chin today ruled that Google’s mass book digitization project to be a fair use, granting the company summary judgment in the copyright infringement lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild in 2005.

“We disagree with and are disappointed by the court’s decision today,” Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken said. “This case presents a fundamental challenge to copyright that merits review by a higher court. Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of fair use defense.”

“We plan to appeal the decision.”

I’m sorry the Guild disagrees and is disappointed with the ruling.  I’m not.  The only question I have is why did it take this long to get to this point?  The opinion is here courtesy of Public Knowledge.

Mark

Things I’ve read lately on the Internet that have piqued my interest include an article on The Atlantic by Bruce Schneier called The Battle for Power on the Internet.  Scheier argues that institutional power wielded by government and corporations have caught up with hackers and formerly (relatively) powerless advocacy groups when it comes to use and control of the Internet.  It’s an interesting read in that he leans to institutional control as the likely winner in the long run.  Corporations and government work together in a public/private partnership to track Internet usage.  One uses the information for marketing and the other for surveillance.  This is, in contrast, to the early days of the network when anonymity ruled.

We’ve seen the Internet destroy re-fashion certain industries such as news delivery, music and media, and Schneier touches on these to the extent that industry and government work with each other to minimize piracy in intellectual property, enforce trade restrictions, and track activities.  That last one gets prominent attention, although Schneier doesn’t take a stand on whether this is good or bad.  One of his examples shows how the rebels in Syria use Facebook to organize resistance.  The Syrian government uses Facebook activity to identify individuals for arrest.  In the end, those with technical proficiency will be in the best position to endure changes.

It’s always been my opinion that the more convenience technology offers, the more we are likely we are to be tracked and monitored.  I’m not paranoid about this.  It’s almost impossible to use an electronic device or service without creating a transactional record.  I think we are well past the point of limited archives that evaporate after a short time.

My solution would be to have a clear understanding of what information is collected, for how long, how it’s used, and who has access to it.  I don’t mean to support vague and wordy privacy policies either.  There should be a clear law or policy that requires that this information be spelled out.  Schneier suggests that neither a police state nor an Internet utopia is likely.  As he puts it, “figuring out a stable middle ground is hard.”  He states these kinds of issues are primarily political questions and will be sorted out that way, no matter how technology develops.

Mark

Windows 8.1 became available last week to consumers wishing to upgrade their Windows 8 installations.  The update is free and is only available as a download through the Windows store.  I have a Windows 8 machine that is dedicated to music production.  My so-called productivity machine runs Windows 7 with no plans to upgrade to Windows 8.1 for the foreseeable future.  I am one of the Metro Modern Interface haters, though I’m not pathological about it compared to some of the comments I’ve read in tech stories.  All of my audio/video applications are based in the desktop.  I made the upgrade last weekend.

Aside from the download (about 3.5 GB), a lot of the actual installation happens behind innocuous screens that ask for patience or state “almost done” or words to that effect.  SkyDrive is deeply integrated into Windows with an option in the install process to use it or not (which Microsoft does not recommend).  I declined as I didn’t need cloud storage for everything I do.  Raw recorded multi-channel music files can be in the hundreds of megabytes each and I don’t need to waste the bandwidth to access them.

Microsoft seems to lean on machine owners to log into their systems using a Microsoft account, though there are ways to maintain a local account on the machine.  If a local account already exists, there is an option on the “create a Microsoft account” screen that includes a link to “Continue using my existing account.”  See the illustration and instructions here and here.

Depending on preferences, there are steps to disable Bing search as part of the desktop search, if one doesn’t want it, and steps to boot directly to the desktop (right click on the desktop taskbar and look for the option under navigation).  There are better options for grouping apps on the Start Screen.  The Start Button also returns with my favorite feature.  Right clicking on it brings up several options, including one to power down without having to invoke the charms list on the right side of the monitor.  The Start Button is worth it for that feature alone.  One other point worth mentioning is that antivirus software such as McAffee does not work with Windows 8.1.  The install process silently removes any installed antivirus software and replaces it with Windows Defender.

I understand what Microsoft is doing here by creating an operating system that can share information seamlessly over Windows powered devices.  It makes sense in a world where people use phones, tablets, and desktop machines and need that convenience.  It’s lost on me since a) I don’t use social media, so I’m not constantly sharing anything, b) have only one Windows 8 capable computer with no current plans to buy another, and c) use all of my applications via the desktop with a mouse and keyboard.  I appreciate the fact that Microsoft has built in settings that can be changed to disable most of the new features. I’ll be posting links to the better articles that offer Windows 8.1 tips over the next few days.

Mark