The medical profession and censorship of opinion

Health care professionals are supposed to do no harm, per the Hippocratic Oath. Who would ever have thought that some of these so-called “professionals” would partake of censorship?

Timothy Lee’s recent article on highlights a dentist who is in fact doing exactly this:

I needed a new dentist, and Yelp says Dr. Cirka is one of the best in the Philadelphia area. The receptionist handed me a clipboard with forms to fill out. After the usual patient information form, there was a “mutual privacy agreement” that asked me to transfer ownership of any public commentary I might write in the future to Dr. Cirka. Surprised and a little outraged by this, I […] refus[ed] to sign and [the receptionist] show[ed] me the door.

The story goes on to say this is actually part of a template issued by an organization quite ironically and idiotically called Medical Justice. Indeed, Timothy has likely stumbled upon just the tip of the iceberg, and there are probably several doctors and dentists blindly relying on the advice of Medical Justice to protect their practice against slander and libel, when in fact these provisions not only do no such thing but instead do more to make those doctors and dentists look bad.

My advice to Dr. Cirka, and for that matter any doctors and dentists facing similar problems: don’t censor your patients, and let your good work speak for itself. Have an attorney review any “legalese” in the forms you have new patients fill out and sign; don’t blindly follow the advice of organizations such as Medical Justice.

“First do no harm” applies to free speech rights, too. At least, it should in any sane society.

Dumping “John Doe”: A Federal judge that’s had enough

A recent Ars Technica story highlights the recent actions of Judge Milton Shadur (who I’m going to refer
to as Judge Milton) against two cases filed by copyright lawyer John Steele. Steele had the misfortune of two
similar cases landing in Judge Milton’s court, both copyright infringement cases involving pornography, and both identifying the defendants as “John Doe” with only IP addresseses.

From the article:

On May 6, Steele dismissed the case he had brought only two days earlier. But Shadur wasn’t  going to let Steele just slink away. Though federal courts can indeed be slow, it took Shadur only three days from the case assignment to issue a memorandum order that opened with these words:

It seems that attorney John Steele (“Steele”) might be well advised to stay away from Las Vegas or other casinos, because his current filing on behalf of plaintiff Boy Racer, Inc. has—despite odds in the range of 25 to 1—been assigned at random to the calendar of this District Court, which had previously been the recipient of another random assignment of a Steele-filed action (that one being CP Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-300, No. 10 C 6255). This Court had ended up dismissing the CP Productions action for the reasons stated in its February 7, 2011 memorandum order and its February 24, 2011 memorandum opinion and order, which (among other reasons) rejected attorney Steele’s effort to shoot first and identify his targets later.

Shadur went on to say that he doesn’t want to see any more of these “John Doe” cases that bring a huge list of IP addresses against people who may or may not even live in Illinois. […]


And kudos to Judge Milton (Shadur) for standing up to this abusive lawsuit tactic. To be fair, though, there’s a bit more to it than that: according to this previous story, Judge Milton had received way too many motions to quash from way outside his jurisdiction on the first case that Steele filed (the CP Productions case), as far away as New Jersey and Texas. So this is a case of “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”

And Counselor Steele really has no excuse for being this sloppy. (Note: the following explanations get a bit technical.) Running a simple whois command on an IP address will tell you the administrator of the ARIN registry for that address block. Sometimes, one will get lucky and get something like:

Speakeasy, Inc. SPEAKEASY-5 [...]

which makes it pretty obvious the IP address is in the Houston, TX, area. Other times, it’ll be more generic. Sometimes traceroute (misspelled as tracert on Windows for reasons known only to Microsoft’s developers) is a useful tool for clues on what jurisdiction an IP address might be in. An example follows:

traceroute to (, 30 hops max, 60 byte packets
 5 (  325.347 ms  327.186 ms
329.107 ms
 6 (  332.383 ms  333.537 ms  334.881 ms
 7 (  336.787 ms (  113.547 ms (  116.247 ms
 8 (  128.580 ms (  39.069 ms (  118.223 ms
 9 (  133.125 ms (  122.922 ms  123.194 ms
10 (  138.868 ms (  141.094 ms  143.230 ms
11 (  145.647 ms  148.089
ms  150.223 ms
12 (  151.922 ms  154.586 ms  156.312 ms

Looking at the hostnames for the hops, a pattern emerges: So, indeed, this website is probably hosted somewhere in the Chicago, IL, area. We aren’t worried about the hops where they are routed through Kansas City and Dallas/Fort Worth, but bonus points if you noticed the route goes through those cities on its way to the Windy City.

(Also, at the time I did this trace, the route was apparently unstable, switching between different paths across Cogentco’s network during the time of hops 7-10. Sometimes this happens but it should not be confusing in the end; just remember to look from the bottom up.)

Of course not every example will be this clean-cut and some backbone ISPs now put less geographic information in their hostnames under the guise of “security.” But between traceroute and whois, one should get enough information to get the city (and thus the proper court to file in) right about 95% of the time, and this shouldn’t take much longer than a couple of minutes per IP address. Yes, it’s a bit more time, but any competent attorney should have no problem with spending a couple of extra hours doing what amounts to due diligence work to keep judges like Judge Milton happy.

A digital wrong?

A recent post by Geoff Livingston to his blog touched off a firestorm of controversy recently. Photographers take the stance that regardless of where the photo is posted, the photographer retains absolute copyright, even to the point of–somewhat tastelessly–insisting on the use of a watermarked photo for such uses as a  profile (as blogged by Mr. Livingston). The heading of what is legally permissible does not include everything under the heading of what is in good taste.

However, the real story here is how Mr. Livingston uses the loaded and confusing terms such as “digital rights” and “intellectual property” in clear ignorance of the viewpoint those terms assume. Indeed, the FSF has warned about such terms for some time. Despite the prevalence of the misleading, confusing, and biased term “intellectual property” the intelligent reader should note that copyrights, patents, and trademarks are not property rights and are not treated this way at all in the actual laws that set aside government-created exclusivity over artistic works, inventions, or logos and names used in trade. Copyrights and patents are time-limited, and are privileges which only exist because of the governments enacting laws which impose the restrictions on others.

I’m going to try to explain how nonsensical it really is to lump copyright, patent, trademark, and whatever else under one umbrella term. Imagine, for a moment, the confusion that would result over lumping laws governing motor vehicles, railroads, airplanes, and nautical vessels under “transportation law.” In particular, a yellow signal light means something completely different to a train than a motor vehicle, and the concept of right-of-way is completely different for watercraft (boats) than for land-based motor vehicles (for boats, right-of-way is actually the responsibility to maintain course and speed). These differences, and many more that don’t immediately come to my mind, are not unlike the differences between copyright, patent, and trademark law (and whatever else comes under the umbrella of “intellectual property” as even the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is surprisingly vague).

While Mr. Livingston refers freely to social wrongs in his post, I believe it to be an equal social wrong to feed the ever-growing misconception that copyrights are property rights by use of terminology clearly intended to help promote confusion between the two. Indeed, I have to wonder if the widespread term “intellectual property” itself led Moshe Zusman, the photographer with whom Mr. Livingston had the original dispute, to greedily assert copyright as if it were a property right.

Redefining “work for hire”

A recent post to the ThinSkull Blog at highlights a case in Canada which takes the concept of “work for hire” as it relates to copyright and quite literally turns it upside down.

From the post:

John Hawley was sentenced to ten years in prison for armed robberies committed in his mid-twenties. After he was released on parole, John started a “successful commercial art and design studio in Toronto” (Hawley v. Canada, [1990] F.C.J. No. 337). When he served a part of his sentence in Frontenac Institution, a minimum security prison, he created a large painting entitled “Mount Whymper.” This work of art became the subject of a lawsuit he brought against the federal government claiming copyright in “Mount Whymper.”

The Federal Court denied his claim. It found that John was an employee of the Crown at all material times…

According to the court, if you’re in prison, you are [a federal employee], at least for the purposes of IP ownership. It ultimately doesn’t matter that your employment is forced and that your spare time is artificially limited and controlled.

Prison has two separate and distinct roles: punishment and rehabilitation. Unless a defendant is serving a sentence of life without parole or a sentence which will not expire until after the defendant does, rehabilitation cannot be ignored. Yet that is exactly what has happened here.

I find the notion that John was considered “an employee of the Crown” (what they call the government in Canada) ludicrous. The money John made from selling that painting would certainly help his rehabilitation quite a bit. It would also teach him a valuable lesson about making money in the world of honest people and decent society, a lesson that I wish more ex-felons were eager to learn.

Instead, the Canadian government has chosen to stunt John’s rehabilitation using a quite elastic interpretation of “work for hire” as it relates to copyright. The chilling effects here will be obvious: prisoners will simply resort to concealing their artistic works while serving their sentences and will be more clandestine about pocketing the profits. In short, the Crown is encouraging known criminals to keep acting like criminals, a dangerous and short-sighted move.

Shame on you, government of Canada. This galactically stupid leap of “logic” is due to set criminal justice back decades if not over a century.

The proprietary software cartel and the IIPA

Russell McOrmond’s blog entry on Digital Copyright Canada chronicles a recent statement by the IIPA (International Intellectual Property Alliance, a name which should have been avoided due to obvious bias). The IIPA attacks legally free software in their submissions to six different countries.

Now, having a legally free alternative to something like Microsoft Windows or Adobe Photoshop would in and of itself discourage infringement of those companies’ copyrights, particularly in countries where the economy simply cannot sustain the same (ridiculous, in my opinion) licensing fees as those charged in the US. As Russell states in his post:

The fact the IIPA is encouraging countries to have policies which increase infringement rather than have people switch to competing software is telling about their actual goals.

The idea of computer users having freedom is anathema to Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, and other members of the proprietary software cartel. The prevalence of terminology like “open source” only serves to underscore the real problem: lack of comfort putting words like “free software” and “freedom” out in the open where they belong.

The proprietary software cartel thrives on this kind of thing; even Microsoft has thrown a few bones to the “open source” crowd, including their own hosting site Codeplex (a rather poor replacement for Sourceforge, with click-wrap licensing on the download pages that is gratuitously incompatible with non-Javascript browsers). Microsoft has also taken advantage of the confusion to release certain programs under licenses which look very similar to free software licenses, but which in fact require the derivative works to still run under Microsoft Windows. This is the danger of “open source” as these licenses no doubt would qualify under a layman’s definition of the term “open source” yet violate the core principle of the free software movement.

I had high hopes for Adobe truly freeing Flash after it acquired Macromedia (the originators of Flash). Instead, Flash is just as locked up as it always was. Thankfully PDF has not suffered the same fate–yet.

Indeed, the cartel which prospers by taking the freedom away from computer users would rather see those users give up their freedom and not pay the license fee, than choose freedom and use software not controlled by the cartel. It’s not unlike the drug pusher that offers the free hit.

And I know this is a bit of a tangent, but this is what burns me up about companies like Microsoft being allowed to pay off judgments in product; this plays right into their hands and is practically a reward for breaking the law. The next time Microsoft loses such a case, how about a judgment requiring a donation to the FSF and computer hardware shipped either with a GNU variant or without an operating system? For Adobe, how about a required donation to the GIMP and Inkscape development teams? You get the idea. That will be a deterrent.