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April 17, 2006

Fun facts about domain names

Fun facts about domain names:

Blog: Some things you may not know about domain names: There are 17,576 possible three-letter combinations, and all of them are registered....

April 15, 2006

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

It's good that ICANN's GNSO has adopted a definition of the purpose of Whois
that construes the purpose of the database as being merely for the limited
purpose of making technical adjustments to the net.  This may redound onto
NTIA (part of the US Dep't of Commerce) with regard to NTIA's obligations under
the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 USC 552a) with regard to NTIA's privacy-busting
regulations over the .us ccTLD.  You see, now that NTIA dictates
policy for .us it's going to be rather hard for NTIA to continue to
pretend that the Whois information of .us is not a system of records
under the Act.  And the act does require the agency (NTIA) to conform the
use of the information to the purposes for which the information is needed to
fulfill an agency mission.

Way, way, way back in another era I was offered a position as an attorney in
the office of the counsel to NTIA.  During that time NTIA was a strong
proponent of computer and network privacy.  It is amazing how completely
NTIA has flipped over the intervening years from an advocate of privacy
protection into an agency that now works with considerable zeal to destroy
privacy on the internet.

Changing the subject - I just drove back from Phoenix to Santa Cruz and we
took the detour to see the wildflowers (especially California poppies) between
Lancaster and Gorman (California highway 138, Lancaster Road).  It's a late
wildflower season but it looks like its going to be a spectacular one. 
Right now the patches range from a few acres to several hundred acres.  But
I expect that between now and the end of April that the flowers will overshadow
the scenes from Wizard of Oz.  If you are in the vicinity of LA you
should consider taking a look.  I'm probably going to detour back through
the area on my way to Las Vegas for Interop at the end of April.

Interop - yes, once again (as I've done nearly every year since 1987) I'll be
working behind the scenes.  This year I'll be at the iLabs running network
impairment systems (my Maxwell product) to evaluate and demonstrate the susceptibility
of VOIP systems to various kinds of network conditions ranging from simple
packet loss and jitter to actively hostile conditions.  Even with good
network conditions I don't think VOIP call quality would have been acceptable
unless cell phones had so badly reduced our expectations regarding voice quality
and transmission delay.  And with predatory providers operating under the
euphemism of "network neutrality" and with increasing levels of
internet congestion at exchange points (driven by net services such as
entertainment grade video), we may have VOIP users longing for the "toll
grade" quality of Ma Bell's network of 1990.

That is, I hope to be in Las Vegas.  A note to myself: Next time I
decide to paint a bathroom to surprise my wife I'll get somebody else to pick up
and reseat the toilet.  The amount of pain that can come from a scrunched
back, and the time it takes to heal, are amazing.  It's really put a crimp
on my activities, particularly things like air travel.  I'm forced to walk
like Quasimodo in slow motion.  Even relatively simple tasks - like
standing in the kitchen while preparing a dinner for a dozen people (something I
really enjoy doing) have become excursions through a world of pain that I never
knew existed.

(Since other people are doing it: Music played on the box as I write this:
The Duhks, Four Blue Walls; Suzanne Vega, Harbor Song.)

April 13, 2006

Digital Copyright Law Hurts Consumers, Scientists, and Competition

Digital Copyright Law Hurts Consumers, Scientists, and Competition:

EFF Report Highlights More Unintended Consequences in Seven Years of DMCA

San Francisco - In the seven years since Congress enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), examples of the law's impact on legitimate consumers, scientists, and competitors continue to mount. A new report released today from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), "Unintended Consequences: Seven Years Under the DMCA," collects reports of the misuses of the DMCA -- chilling free expression and scientific research, jeopardizing fair use, impeding competition and innovation, and interfering with other laws on the books. The report updates a previous version issued by EFF in 2003.

The report tells the story of the delay of the disclosure of the Sony BMG "rootkit" vulnerabilities on millions of music CDs. The dangerous software flaws were initially discovered by Princeton graduate student J. Alex Halderman. But Halderman delayed sounding the alarm about the security problems for several weeks so he could consult with lawyers about potential violations of the DMCA. The report also details the DMCA's role in impeding RealNetworks from selling digital music to Apple iPod owners, along with other unintended consequences from the DMCA.

"Rather than being used to stop 'piracy,' the DMCA has predominantly been used to threaten and sue legitimate consumers, scientists, publishers, and competitors," said EFF senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann. "This law is not being used as Congress intended, and a review of the past seven years makes it clear that reform is needed."

For "Unintended Consequences: Seven Years Under the DMCA":

For more on EFF and the DMCA:


Fred von Lohmann
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

April 11, 2006

ICANN: Fighting over Table Scraps - Wendy Seltzer

ICANN: Fighting over Table Scraps:

I've finally recovered from another ICANN meeting, frustrated as ever. 700 or so people flew halfway around the world to hear canned presentations, dueling-monologue public form sessions, and resolutions that left major issues unresolved, and to gripe in the hallways about how little was being done.

Every time I talked to someone who had been away from the ICANN scene for some time and returned, I heard the same assessment: "It looks just the same as it did N years ago," for varying values of N. Yet many of us return nonetheless, I because I'm still trying to make ICANN responsive to the public interest.

I've been trying to explain why ICANN inspires such vigorous debate and loathing. ICANN is not about big issues. A domain name policy, even a perfect one, isn't going to cure cancer, or even bring connectivity to rural Africa. It's no surprise many in the GAC (Government Advisory Committee) complain about the difficulty raising understanding of ICANN issues with constituents who don't yet have reliable Internet access.

But the big issues are not on the table. Even the big issues of Internet connectivity -- bridging digital divides, routing around private or government-imposed obstacles, network neutrality -- are not part of ICANN's mandate or sphere of control. Thankfully. ICANN oversees allocation of IP address blocks, accredits domain name registrars, and decides what new top-level domains will enter the root zone.

Furthermore, most of the functions ICANN oversees "just work." Even if it doesn't seem "fair" that MIT has more IP addresses than many countries, by and large, those who need addresses get them. Domain names resolve uniquely. Independently designed protocols interoperate.

We're fighting over table scraps from a table that wasn't very well stocked to begin with. The fight for those crusts and bones gets even more vicious when the loaves and steaks aren't part of the debate, because we can't trade off more important issues in the bargaining.

The problem is that when it doesn't "just work," ICANN's "bottom-up" process is neither bottom-up nor effective to resolve the problems. Without big issues at stake, much of the general public can't be bothered to learn all of ICANN's acronyms and procedures to participate. Those who do are derided as kooks or edge cases. We're told that the telephone company doesn't want to hear from its customers (paraphrasing a comment by Board member Veni Markovski).

ICANN's problem is that the table scraps of issues are still important. Certainly to those who have built businesses in ICANN-regulated industries, most notably domain name registrars and registries. But also to the general public. Lots of issues fall between out-in-the-street-protest important and negligible: the cost of domain names, the availability of domain names and new pools of domain names (TLDs), the ability of trademark claimants to take domain names from prior registrants.

ICANN's core values refer to the "Internet Community." That community is not just those with commercial interests, but especially those using the Net to communicate: the new blogger who wants a domain name to hang her weblog; the parent who wants an email address he controls; the critic who wants to criticize a business without having her home address and telephone number made public.

ICANN needs a better way to hear and respond to the public Internet community, but so far, there's little indication it's listening. Without the at-large public, this "private-public partnership" looks a lot like a conspiracy in restraint of trade.

April 09, 2006

ICANN's Recent Report on "Alternate Roots"

ICANN's Recent Report on "Alternate Roots":

ICANN's "Security and Stability Committee" (SSAC) just issued a report
on "alternate roots"

The best word I can think of to describe it is "dud".

Remember ICANN's ICP-3:
A Unique, Authoritative Root for the DNS
from back in year 2001?

Remember how ICP-3 was filled with hysterical language about how competing
DNS roots would cause the internet sky to fall and and DNS caches be polluted?

The new report from the SSAC quietly distances itself from those
claims.  This is the positive aspect of this new SSAC report.

The report, however, continues the unjustified and undefined claim that only
ICANN can publish a DNS that is "authoritative".  And the report
continues ICANN's historical method of using subjective social and business
concerns as justifications for technical restrictions.  For example, this
report makes the claim that only ICANN authorized top level domains can operate
with concern for customer needs and that only ICANN can act in conformity with
some never-defined notion of "public interest" (an odd claim given
ICANN's ejection of the public from virtually all aspects of ICANN's
decision-making machinery.)

In other words, ICANN's Security and Stability Committee, a committee of
technical worthies, has authored a report that addresses neither security nor
stability, and those matters that it does address are supported by
non-technical, conclusory assertions for which the members of the committee possess
no particular expertise or experience.

But the most important aspect of the new SSAC report is this:

The SSAC report does not raise any technical reason why as a technical matter
there can not safely coexist on the net several different DNS naming spaces -
which may or may not be consistent with one another - each dangling from a
different DNS root.

The report does say that two people each using a different root might
get different answers to the same DNS question.  But that is a meaningless
observation - it is something we've all known for years: that different DNS
hierarchies may, but need not necessarily, yield different answers.

The discussion about competing roots has evolved so that we now ask whether
different DNS hierarchies are consistent or inconsistent with one another.

Inconsistency, like a tango, takes two.  When two or more roots differ,
it is useless to engage in endless, and ultimately dogmatic and religious,
debates about which is "authoritative".  It is far more useful to
ask whether each root serves the needs of the community that has voluntarily
chosen to use it.

One of the underlying assertions underlying ICANN's behavior towards
competing roots is the implicit belief on the part of ICANN is that ICANN has a
duty to suppress DNS heresy and create a single catholic
name space that everyone on the internet is required to use.  In other
words, ICANN does not want communities to have a choice; it's either the ICANN
way or naught.

It is impossible to reconcile ICANN's Procrustean
stance vis-à-vis competing roots with the idea that every user of the internet
should have not only the ability but also the right to shape the way in which he
or she uses the internet.  This idea of control at the edge is the
underlying conception of the end-to-end principle and of my own First
Law of the Internet

Why should ICANN be allowed the power to deny to users of the internet the
ability and right to shape the landscape of names that they, and their children,
use on the internet?

The biggest hammer this document had to throw was that the authors couldn't
conceive why anybody would want to operate a system of root servers.

In other words the report says that because the authors do not have an
imagination then nobody else does - which is both absurd and false.

Not long ago I published a note entitled What Could You Do With Your Own Root Server
That note considered the ways in which a root server operator could take
advantage of its position for profit or power.  It is quite clear that a
single root server operator could obtain a significant revenue stream.  It
is even more clear that an entire system of roots, if it can garner adequate
use, could also obtain significant revenue.

Consider, for example, a root system that takes a few cues from Google:
Consider a root system that uses data mining to generate a revenue stream and
that attracts query sources (users) by giving those users a taste of the
action.  Suppose you were to receive a check from such a root system that
paid you $0.0001 for every DNS name that you (legitimately) resolve using this
root system rather than the ICANN/NTIA root.

Consider the opportunities for preferential or optimized name services.

Consider the opportunities for highly filtered views of the DNS
landscape.  Not everyone considers universal connectivity to be a
boon.  For instance Motorola recently found that it could create a
lucrative line of mobile
phones for orthodox Jews
in Israel in which the ability to call or be called
by certain phone numbers can be restricted by the elders of the sects.

ICANN's SSAC seems to have no more foresight than the business professor who
gave the founder of FedEx a low grade because the professor thought the Federal
Express business model was silly.

Good thing the FedEx founder had the opportunity to test his idea.

However, in the land of ICANN no idea is permitted unless approved by the
ICANN powers.

Yet there are those who still refuse to see that ICANN's methods are nothing less
than highly intrusive and destructive regulation plunged into the body of the
internet up to the hilt.

April 04, 2006

IANA Contract Extended by Six Months

IANA Contract Extended by Six Months:

The U.S. Government has extended the current phase of ICANN's IANA contract for six more months. Importantly, this is not a renewal of the contract, simply an extension of the existing contract. The extension ends on September 30, 2006, the same date that ICANN's MOU with the United States expires.

ag-ip-news.com (Intellectual Property News Agency)AGIPNEWS2906

ag-ip-news.com (Intellectual Property News Agency)AGIPNEWS2906:

USPTO Orders Reexamination at EFF's Request

SAN FRANCISCO - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced in a Tuesday press release that at its request, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) agreed to reexamine an illegitimate patent held by Clear Channel Communications.

The patent - for a system and method of creating digital recordings of live performances - locks musical acts into using Clear Channel technology and blocks innovations by others.

"The Patent Office agrees that there are serious questions about the patent's validity," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "This is a significant victory for artists and innovators harmed by Clear Channel's patent and for anyone concerned about overreaching, illegitimate patents."

Clear Channel now has two months to file comments defending its patent, to which EFF will get to respond. The USPTO will then determine whether to invalidate the patent. In roughly 70% of instances like this one in which a request for reexamination is granted, the patent is narrowed or completely revoked.

"Patents serve an important role in our economy," added Schultz. "Keeping illegitimate patents out of that system benefits all of us, helping up-and-coming artists and entrepreneurs."

EFF filed the request for reexamination in conjunction with Theodore C. McCullough of the Lemaire Patent Law Firm and with the help of students at the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Clinic at American University's Washington College of Law. The Clear Channel patent challenge is part of EFF's Patent Busting Project, aimed at combating the chilling effects bad patents have on public and consumer interests. The Patent Busting Project seeks to document the threats and fight back by filing requests for reexamination against the worst offenders.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a nonprofit group of lawyers, technologists, volunteers, and visionaries working to protect digital rights.

April 02, 2006

Thinking Shouldn't Be Illegal - JSQ

Thinking Shouldn't Be Illegal:

I'm a little surprised to find myself in wholehearted agreement
with Michael Crichton, after what I wrote about
his essay about alarmism
But his recent New York Times op-ed
says something clear, simple, and important:

Actually, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented
that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact
public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can
be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results
and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal
circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.

This Essay Breaks the Law

by Michael Crichton,
The New York Times,
OP-ED Section,
Sunday, March 19, 2006

Maybe this will convey to more people that

Software Patent Reform

and patent reform in general is needed.

One reason proponents of software patent reform don't get very far
is that big pharma likes patents broken just the way they are,
so that they can own profitable things such as parts of the human genome.
As Crichton says:

Do you want to be told by your doctor, "Oh, nobody studies your disease
any more because the owner of the gene/enzyme/correlation has made it
too expensive to do research?"

The question of whether basic truths of nature can be owned ought not
to be confused with concerns about how we pay for biotech development,
whether we will have drugs in the future, and so on. If you invent a new
test, you may patent it and sell it for as much as you can, if that's your
goal. Companies can certainly own a test they have invented. But they
should not own the disease itself, or the gene that causes the disease,
or essential underlying facts about the disease. The distinction is
not difficult, even though patent lawyers attempt to blur it. And even
if correlation patents have been granted, the overwhelming majority of
medical correlations, including those listed above, are not owned. And
shouldn't be.

I like patents.
But I think there are serious problems with the current patent process,
and I think Crichton is doing us all a favor by sounding the alarm.