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Archive for August, 2008

Comment Snob

From BoingBoing:

YouTube Comment Snob is a Firefox plugin that nukes comments with too many spelling mistakes, weird capitalization or punctuation, and too much cussin’. It works pretty damned well, too.

Sure, you’ll miss some worthy comments that happen to be misspelled or contain some bad language. But in an age of abundance, you’ll find plenty of other worthy comments to read.

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Putting some analog back into the digital copyright fight

Here’s how the DMCA has worked so far: A copyright holder (henceforth “publisher”) notices an instance (henceforth “video”) of what it thinks is a violation of its copyright on a site such as YouTube (henceforth “YouTube”). The publisher sends YouTube a notice that the video infringes copyright. YouTube then has a choice: It can disagree that the video infringes, and leave it up, or it can take it down and let the video’s poster know that it’s done so. If YouTube chooses Door Number One, it becomes liable if a court decides the video really was infringing. So, inevitably, YouTube takes it down. The video’s poster can then counter-notify YouTube that the video is not infringing. (In this one example, YouTube’s lawyers will actually take a look to decide whether they think it infringes or not. But YouTube is very special in this regard.)

On paper, this seems reasonable. And maybe if the whole thing were done with paper, it would be. But the claims of infringement can be compiled digitally — publishers like Viacom automatically generate lists of every instance of, say, “jon stewart” in a video’s title and submit lists of over a hundred thousand URLs, obviously without having actually reviewed any of the videos — while the response is analog, and thus hard, time-consuming, and risky.

Now there’s been some good news.
A federal judge has ruled that before a publisher submits a DMCA takedown notice to a site like YouTube, some human being has to look at it to decide if it actually infringes, or if it is protected by Fair Use. If this ruling is maintained, it will help re-balance the insanely pro-publisher, pro-protection, pro-restriction copyright regime by taking away the incentive to take down anything and everything that looks like it might maybe perhaps upset a publisher’s delicate sensibilities.

PS: Did you remember to join the Electronic Frontier Foundation to help protect your online rights? [Tags: ]

Open science and the competition-collaboration slider

There’s an excellent story on the front page of the Boston Globe today, by Carolyn Johnson, about scientists who just go ahead and blab about their data before the village elders have given them permission.


The article says:

Scientists who plunge into openness also risk giving a competing lab a leg up.

“Maybe somebody has discovered some interesting gene and doesn’t want to blab to the whole world about why it’s interesting,” said Michael Laub, an assistant professor of biology at MIT. He says his lab is not overly secretive, but does not post “all the gory details of what someone is working on, because I don’t want my grad students necessarily to be scooped by someone else.”

Laub is just saying what everyone knows.1 But the fact that everyone knows it and we’re ok with it is a sign of the problem with the system: The system we want maximizes knowledge and innovation, but the system we have swerves in order to preserve credit for individuals. From the discovery of the shape of DNA to AIDS research, we’ve seen some of the problems with the competitive model of science. But we also routinely see the benefits, as scientists work overtime in order to get credit for a discovery.

And yet, the mix seems wrong. The competitive model made more sense when it was more difficult to share data anyway. The collaborative model is proving itself in unexpected places. It’s clear that a mixed model works — some competitive, some collaborative — but it’s not clear how far we can push the slider toward the collaborative side. My hunch, and my hope, is that it’s way further than we would have thought, especially since experience shows that the satisfaction of being recognized as a continuously generous member of a network can at least equal that of authors of intermittent, officially-sanctioned publications.

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1I’m totally guessing about his, but I suspect that Laub actually talked with Johnson, the reporter, mainly about the virtues of open science, but noted that his group doesn’t give away absolutely all of its data…and it was only the last part of the sentence that made it in. As I say, I’m totally making this up, but the quotation had that sort of ring to it.

The University of Nottingham has a Periodic Table of Videos, with one video for each element. For example:

<object width=”425″ height=”344″><param name=”movie” value=”″></param><param name=”wmode” value=”transparent”></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><embed src=”″ type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowfullscreen=”true” wmode=”transparent” width=”425″ height=”344″></embed></object>

Thanks to LaughingSquid for the link.