Copyright Reform Bad for GPL/Open Source?

Ars Technica has a piece about Sweden’s Pirate Party pushing for copyright reform. Counterintuitively, this may weaken alternative licensing schemes (“copyleft”) such as the GPL. The GPL relies on strong copyright law to enforce its stipulation that derivative works also carry the GPL (“share-alike”), which keeps open source projects from going proprietary.

The Pirate Party’s plan, which proposes five-year copyright terms, would make it unnecessary for companies to conform with copyleft licensing requirements only five years after the code is published. This effectively guts copyleft as a vehicle for encouraging broader code disclosure and makes copyleft licenses such as the GPL behave more like permissive licenses.

If, after five years, you can do whatever you want with copyrighted/copylefted code, then you’re not bound by the GPL. Not only would free software be fueling proprietary projects without any code in return, but developers of proprietary code would be less likely to help develop the free version and more likely to just wait out the five years and simply take the code. As Richard Stallman notes:

Once the Swedish Pirate Party had announced its platform, free software developers noticed this effect and began proposing a special rule for free software: to make copyright last longer for free software, so that it can continue to be copylefted. This explicit exception for free software would counterbalance the effective exception for proprietary software. Even ten years ought to be enough, I think. However, the proposal met with resistance from the Pirate Party’s leaders, who objected to the idea of a longer copyright for a special case.

I understand libertarian inclinations, but this is a case where a stricter law actually leads to more freedom. Pirate party supporters, please give Stallman’s argument some serious thought.


Pirate Bay Trial: Copying vs. Making Available

As the Pirate Bay Trial gets under way, prosecutors have dropped the charges that the popular BitTorrent tracker site made copies of copyrighted material.  The remaining charges assert that the Pirate Bay made copyrighted material available.  At the heart of the case is whether keeping track of links to other sites constitutes “making available.”  Pirate Bay doesn’t host these files, but points to other BitTorrent trackers and ultimately to other users who have parts of the file on their computers.

The Pirate Bay’s servers don’t host the material, but the Motion Picture Association of America said its operators have profited “by enabling the illegal distribution of audio-visual and other creative works on a vast scale.” [Information Week]

I’ve posted before about the futility of trying to enforce a ban on linking (see, e.g., DeCSS, the DVD decryption app).  We have Google.  A file can be deleted and reappear elsewhere on the net without any problem finding it.  You may as well ban Google for making available the Pirate Bay.

It’s really a technicality whether the torrent file (which describes the movie/mp3/other file) resides at the Pirate Bay, or on another site which is indexed by the Pirate Bay, or in fact is distributed over the same peer network across which the files travel:


Yoga Adjustments for Pregnant Practitioners, with Bec Conant

As a yoga teacher without much experience with pregnancy, I had some hesitation about advising pregnant practitioners.  I had heard various vague, sometimes conflicting, rules about what poses to avoid.  To be sure pregnant practitioners were safe in my class, I would have to stop them from doing most poses.  I felt that it would not be fair to let my ignorance or nervousness stifle their practice.

Bec Conant‘s workshop, Yoga Adjustments for Pregnant Practitioners, covered what I need to know in order to be confident that my instructions are safe.  First and foremost, Bec dispelled many of the myths about what is appropriate for pregnant practitioners by going into the physiology of pregnancy and childbirth.  Yoga can also prepare for the effort and relaxation required in childbirth.  Having a positive mindset about the benefits of yoga during pregnancy — with facts to back it up — allows me to provide support rather than just worrying about safety.

We covered the anatomical demands and effects of pregnancy, common physical experiences and how to adjust for them, and key points for safety and comfort.  We watched videos and discussed empowered, yoga-informed pregnancy.  Finally, we strapped on fake bellies and Bec led us in a prenatal yoga class.  I was surprised to find myself strongly imagining the experience of pregnancy from the perspective of yoga.  While this is no substitute for actually practicing yoga while pregnant, I feel that Bec provided the information I need to accommodate the experiences of pregnant practitioners in my classes.  I would recommend this workshop to any teacher who is not yet comfortable and well-informed about supporting practitioners during pregnancy.


Don't Neglect Your Upper Back

In yoga there is a lot of focus on heart opening, which usually means expanding the upper chest.  This is critical for back bending, in which the easy bend comes from the low back and the challenge is to spread the curve evenly along the spine.  Heart opening also relates to emotional gripping — it’s common to tighten the chest in response to stress or anxiety.  As a result of spending so much effort on opening the front of the upper torso, sometimes the back side of that same region of the spine is compromised and forgotten.

For a lot of us, opening the chest means puffing out the pectorals, rolling the shoulders back, and squeezing the shoulder blades together, like a soldier.  To the contrary, a full opening of the chest has to include softness around the armpits and space for the side ribs, which means that the shoulders get wider and not just driven back.  In child’s pose, sense the breath moving into the back, spreading the shoulder blades and allowing the backs of the armpits to both spread and lengthen toward the crown of the head.

Next, try a more subtle feeling of opening in the upper back.  Stand in tadasana, cross your arms and hold opposite elbows, and allow the forearms to rest fully on the front ribs or solar plexus.  Allow the hands to draw the elbows toward each other as the armpits spread.  Inhale more space between the shoulder blades.  See if you can still lift the sternum here.  The key point is that the opening in the front and back of the chest, while opposite in direction, can coexist.

In fact, when you think about lengthening the spine, or anything else for that matter, you only find the full length when both sides are long — otherwise you’re just bending.  While of course opening the chest maximally is inconsistent with opening the upper back maximally, see if these two movements can support each other like the two sides of an arch.  Taking the fight out of opposition is one of the most joyful reliefs life offers!


Top 10 Records of 2008

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Quiet, catchy, sad, deeply confident.

Bonnie Prince Billy - Lie Down in the Light




I got tired of updating a thousand different profiles and pointing people to various different sites just to share an idea or link or schedule.  So I’m centralizing my various stuff here on

This site now includes the information about my yoga teaching that was posted on

I slapped up a small Google Cal of my yoga teaching schedule… it’s almost too small to be useful, but too big to fit into my layout smoothly.  Anyone have a suggestion for that?

Update:  just pulled in some of the content from my technology blog.  Some of it is news-oriented and some is more “big ideas”… I’ll try to integrate the stuff that fits.


Tight Wrists

Do your wrists hurt during or after handstand, bakasana, other arm balances, or even chaturanga dandasana? Tightness in the wrists and forearms is a common cause of pain and injury to the hand and wrist, and it also leads to alignment problems cascading up the arms to the shoulders and back. When the arches of the hands collapse, weight goes into the joint. Proper alignment, working the arches of the hands, and doing some direct wrist openers will go a long way to preventing injury and making your wrists happier!


Web Widgets

Read/Write Web posts a good survey piece on web widgets. They’re mini-applications that add functionality to your site from another site.

Traditionally, if you needed a particular tool, you’d download it and run it on your PC. Then the web came along, and now you can edit images, cut video, and of course work on your documents and spreadsheets all within your web browser. Great! But all those functions are on different sites. What if you want to use some of those advanced functions on your own site (like your blog)?

Enter widgets. They allow your blog to call up functions (and possibly content) from another web site using standard web code. That’s what allows YouTube clips to appear in blog posts. But that’s just the beginning, as Read/Write Web explains.

At the other end of the spectrum from widgets is SaaS. Enterprise applications are now being delivered not in a shrink-wrapped box for you to install on your big local server, but in real time over the web. Of course you pay big bucks for this, but it can actually be cheaper than maintaining the software and local server. As these services mature, it makes more and more sense from an engineering perspective — why solve a problem every time it occurs when you can solve it once, centrally?

As computing power gets cheaper, it becomes more efficient for medium and large web apps to provide widget-like integration with users’ own sites. You probably wouldn’t want mission-critical data out on a free server (although a lot of people are putting sensitive files up on Google Apps). But what if you could invoke another site’s enterprise-level functionality, apply it to your local data, and mash it together on your web site?

Why would anyone give away such critical software? The same reason that sites give away widget functionality now: because user participation (and the resultant market share) is more valuable than license sales. Just as “You’re a Nobody Unless Your Name Googles Well,” your web app is a nobody unless users can access it freely, as in freedom and as in beer. (See my previous post; same concept, different context.)

While the paid SaaS model makes sense as a transition from the buying-software-in-a-box model, license fees and proprietary APIs only hinder the success of web services. We may end up with something that much more closely resembles YouTube when the widgets grow up.


Downside of Ubiquitous Data

Ars Technica picks up on a paper by Harvard professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on the dystopian possibilities of ubiquitous data storage. He describes a digital panopticon:

If whatever we do can be held against us years later, if all our impulsive comments are preserved, they can easily be combined into a composite picture of ourselves. Afraid how our words and actions may be perceived years later and taken out of context, the lack of forgetting may prompt us speak less freely and openly.

Of course, the other side of that coin is that not only will comments be preserved, but so will their context! The exact opposite trend is already in motion: rather than trusting an edited, summarized version of a conversation (say, as presented by news media), savvy web surfers go to the original transcript and see the context for themselves.

Just as Photoshop makes average people into image retouchers, YouTube makes us video distributors, and Amazon makes us book reviewers, Google and other search tools make us journalists. We’re learning to evaluate and corroborate claims, to seek out primary sources and cite them.

If every stupid comment ever made is stored, then it should no longer be a scandal to find a stupid comment someone made. As usual, human values trail behind technology. But if you want a preview, ask an 18-year-old how they evaluate a peer’s old web posts. Those in glass houses forgive smudges.


Mobile Linux Gears Up

As I recently posted, handheld computing is set to take a big step forward, and with the hardware finally becoming suitable, there is a big question: proprietary or open software? Ubuntu is gearing up to make that a real choice [BBC].

As this post on the Ubuntu listserv explains,

it is clear that new types of device – small, handheld, graphical tablets which are Internet-enabled are going to change the way we communicate and collaborate. These devices place new demands on open source software and require innovative graphical interfaces, improved power management and better responsiveness.

Intel, specifically, have announced a new low-power processor and chipset architecture which will be designed to allow full internet use on these mobile Internet devices.

Instead of limited-function services like web browsing over my cell phone — which is so expensive and clumsy that I never use it — we will have general-purpose and freely expandable computing in our hands. This is going to be big.