Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur

October 6, 2000

Media Echo Chamber

I've avoided discussing political issues here in the past, but this particular thread of the web leads to such an interesting piece that I couldn't pass it up. It starts at Salon, where Scott Rosenberg points out that Al Gore never claimed he invented the internet. That might sound crazy, given that "everyone knows" he did, but if you look at the actual quote and consider the role he took, the claim no longer seems absurd.

In a letter reprinted at Cluebot, Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, who created some of the fundamental protocols of the internet, write: "No one in public life has been more intellectually engaged in helping to create the climate for a thriving Internet than the Vice President." A response to this thread looks closer at the way the media misrepresents Gore and includes two lengthy articles, the first exploring how Gore's actual statements mutated into the widely-cited-but-false claim that he invented the internet, and the second looking into the ways ideas can get so ingrained that people refuse to consider contrary evidence.

It's a fascinating and frightening look at how the media can affect its own coverage of an issue to the point where nobody bothers to check if the underlying assumptions are true. It makes one wonder, for instance, whether Bush is really an idiot, or if we're just used to hearing him called one. #

Revenge of Copyright

The music industry doesn't like MP3s because there's no built-in copy protection. As they see it, if people have the ability to copy and distribute music as easily as a text file, no one will pay their absurd markups for CDs anymore. Understandably reluctant to create an entirely different economic model for music, they created the Secure Music Digial Initiative, which uses a "watermark" embedded in the digital music file to identify it (unlike Tuneprint, which uses the acoustic properties of the music itself to identify it). SDMI-compliant players will then refuse to play the music if you haven't paid for it.

There are a lot of holes in this already (like, what about non-SDMI-compliant players?), but that didn't stop the SDMI from announcing the Hack SDMI Challenge, offering up to US$10,000 to anyone who could break the SDMI's proposed copyright protection scheme. At this point, calls went up to boycott the contest, aruging that hackers shouldn't help the music industry improve its copy protection and thereby undermine their own fair use rights. (The SDMI, meanwhile, claims that they do allow for fair use.)

Makes sense, but is a boycott the best approach? Apparently, some within SDMI feel that the watermarking technique is fundamentally flawed, and that a succesful hack could force SDMI to start over. For them, the boycott is baffling: "If I were a hacker or an open-source person and I didn't like what SDMI is trying to do, I would think that I would want to break the technology--to make sure that it doesn't work, and to make sure that it doesn't get implemented." The open-source types (well, some of them) reply that they want SDMI to go down in flames as a warning to others, which doesn't strike me as an especially charitable view. #