Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The DOJ's Copyright Fetish Might Screw Up the Internet's Future; Forbes, 6/9/15

Marvin Ammori, Forbes; The DOJ's Copyright Fetish Might Screw Up the Internet's Future:
"The DOJ asked the Supreme Court not to review a lower court decision that said API interfaces are copyrightable. But that decision threatens new and existing websites and devices that we all rely on. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will ignore the DOJ’s recommendation and eventually reverses the lower court.
“But what’s an API?” you ask. API stands for “application programming interface” and is essentially a way for software developers to interact with information on other sites or on their own sites. When you go to a restaurant’s website and see an embedded map of the location, the restaurant’s developers didn’t create the map from scratch. They merely used an API—perhaps the Google Maps or Mapbox API—to get a map for the location. An API lets one company build on another’s innovation; we don’t all have to create a global mapping company merely to give directions to our restaurants. An API obviously has two parts: the interface and the code behind it. The interface is essentially a shortcut available to others (imagine “1899 M St. NW location” or some other shortcut that probably every map developer already knows) and the code behind it is all the complicated computer lines that create the visual map.
The case at issue involves whether the interfaces—just the shortcuts, not the code behind it—are copyrightable. It arises out of a lawsuit between Oracle and Google concerning the Java programming language. Computer programmers use a variety of “languages” to create websites and apps—they’re called Ruby on Rails, Python, Erlang, C+, Basic, and so on. Some languages are more popular than others, the same way English is more popular than Icelandic or Dutch."

Saturday, June 6, 2015

‘Hand to God’ Play Sued by Abbott and Costello Heirs Over Use of ‘Who’s on First?’; New York Times, 6/4/15

Andrew R. Chow, New York Times; ‘Hand to God’ Play Sued by Abbott and Costello Heirs Over Use of ‘Who’s on First?' :
"The Broadway play “Hand to God” has ridden its foul-mouthed humor, as well as a wry use of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s “Who’s on first?” baseball routine, to five Tony nominations.
But the estate of Abbott and Costello is trying to catch the play stealing just days before the Tony ceremony on Sunday. The comedians’ heirs on Thursday sued over the play’s use of the famous routine.
“Filing a lawsuit on the eve of the Tony awards is obviously nothing more than a stunt,” the play’s lead producer, Kevin McCollum, said in an email. “Frankly, we welcome the attention.”
The federal lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, is claiming copyright infringement against the playwright Robert Askins, the producers and the promoters. The estate said cease-and-desist requests were sent after the play opened on Broadway in April, and it is seeking damages and lawyers’ fees."

Review: ‘Notes of a Native Song’ Is Stew’s Homage to James Baldwin; New York Times, 6/4/15

Charles Isherwood, New York Times; Review: ‘Notes of a Native Song’ Is Stew’s Homage to James Baldwin:
"The concept, according to Stew, who wrote the lyrics and text and collaborated with Heidi Rodewald on the music, is to present Baldwin “as a blues singer,” although the music is primarily rock-driven, as was the case with their “Passing Strange,” which opened at the Public Theater and subsequently moved to Broadway. Stew also jokes that he might be accused of “spiritual copyright infringement” in creating that show, because he has long been inspired by Baldwin’s own journey. As with Baldwin, who wrote most of his work during a long exile from America spent mostly in France, Stew’s artistic development took place partly in Europe and was dramatized in “Passing Strange.”
He certainly needn’t worry about actual copyright infringement in “Notes of a Native Song.” For the most part, the details of Baldwin’s life are alluded to haphazardly; don’t expect anything close to a linear biography, or even a nonlinear one."

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Medicine’s Hidden Roots in an Ancient Manuscript; New York Times, 6/1/15

Mark Schrope, New York Times; Medicine’s Hidden Roots in an Ancient Manuscript:
"Scholars are just beginning to pore over the text, the oldest known copy of Galen’s “On the Mixtures and Powers of Simple Drugs.” It may well provide new insights into medicine’s roots and into the spread of this new science across the ancient world...
Little is known of the history of the manuscript in Baltimore, formally known as the Syriac Galen Palimpsest, from its recycling in the 11th century until the 1920s, when it was sold to a private collector in Germany. After that, the manuscript fell again from public view until 2002, when it was purchased by a collector in a private sale. He has not been publicly identified.
In 2009, the Galen Palimpsest was lent to the Walters Art Museum for spectral imaging of its leaves by an independent group of specialists, which would reveal the erased Galen undertext. Each page is photographed digitally at extremely high resolution with varying colors and configurations of light, which in various ways illuminate the inks, grooves from writing and parchment itself. Computer algorithms exploit these variations to maximize the visibility of the undertext.
The resulting images went online under a “creative commons” license, meaning that anyone can use the material free for any noncommercial purpose. Once the images were online, William Noel, who was the curator of manuscripts and rare books at the museum, began organizing members of the tiny community of scholars who study Syriac scientific texts to study the new material."

‘The Last Bookaneer,’ by Matthew Pearl; New York Times Sunday Book Review, 5/29/15

John Vernon, New York Times Sunday Book Review; ‘The Last Bookaneer,’ by Matthew Pearl:
"The novelistic conceit of “The Last Bookaneer” is based on the historical fact that until the passage of the International Copyright Act of 1891, the pirating of books, especially books by British authors, was common in America. Set at the time of the act’s passage, Pearl’s novel tells a one-last-heist story of two rival pirates, Penrose Davenport and a mysterious malefactor called Belial, who separately leave for Samoa, where Robert Louis Stevenson is finishing what promises to be his final novel. (Stevenson and his family did indeed spend his last years in Samoa.) Each bookaneer hopes to steal Stevenson’s manuscript and sell it to a New York publisher before the law goes into effect on July 1, which means they’re engaged in a race against time...
In his asides, Pearl can be smart and inventive. He clearly knows the quirky history of books, especially those by the great 19th-century writers. The voice of his narrator, a bookseller by trade, is authentic and convincing, with just the right dash of stuffiness and complaint. In fact, the best thing about “The Last Bookaneer” may be the opportunity it provides for its author to comment on writers, bibliophiles and publishers, with sly allusions to today’s changing and threatened book culture. The closure of a bookshop, Fergins remarks, is a “failure of mankind — a sign . . . that bookshops will one day disappear altogether and be replaced by mail order.”"