It’s Not Just The Hugos

DRM farces are like London buses. You wait for ever, and then several come along at once. After writing my story for ComputerWorld about the blackout of the Hugo awards by a copyright enforcement robot with no concept of “fair use”, along came an even more stunning story. Yes, the big rally to reselect Barak Obama as candidate for the upcoming US elections was hit by a shoot-first-ask-questions-afterwards bot claiming to be protecting just about every content provider imaginable.

So I’ve updated and expanded the story for InfoWorld – take a look. The key quote:

“When a technologist embodies their or their employer’s view of what’s fair into a technology-enforced restriction, any potential for the exercise of discretion is turned from a scale to a step, and freedom is quantized. That quantization of discretion is always in the interest of the person forcing the issue.”

When you assign algorithms to make subjective judgements, they can’t. Instead, they impose the biases of the people who created them. The content distributors, like UStream and YouTube have a bias, created by US law, to block anything that might turn out to be infringing, because that’s how they get “safe harbor”. Thus the technology they wrote or bought from snake-oil suppliers is imposing their bias.

We fix it not by getting the suppliers to do better bots – they can’t, algorithms are incapable of subjective judgement – but by fixing the law so it doesn’t incent the providers to have this bias.

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