Law and Public Policy

Senior statesmen

While doing a bit of research on a political attack email circulated over the weekend I came across this fact. In 1994 Congress changed the law so a US President first elected after 1997 will receive up to 10 years of Secret Service protection after they leave office. Before the change presidents since 1965 had been entitled to lifetime protection.

There is an interesting related paradox. In the late 18th century, when the United States Constitution was written, the average life expectancy of a newborn baby was 35 years. Now 200 years later the life expectancy of a newborn is more than 80 years. (This simplistic observation does not adequately take into account age-adjusted life expectancy of a person surviving childhood diseases that are much less of an impact on today's statistics than they were two centuries ago.) The point being the founders of the country envisioned the president as not only a mature person but possibly an elder statesman. In this context it is interesting that in more recent times as newborn life expectancies have grown longer we've had some of the youngest presidents yet to serve. Although the late 20th century also brought the oldest American President ever elected so all this could mean very little.

Fast forward

Fast forward a few years....

KANSAS CITY (January, 4, 2020) - Made-4-U foods today introduced its new line of ready-to-eat meals. Unlike traditional TV dinners and even "diet" meals Made 4 You's Arsithin™ ready-to-eat meals are guaranteed to help you lose weight.

Jacob Jones, president and CEO of Made-4-U foods says "It's a fantastic new technique." Jones took the homeopathic approach to a whole new level. "If a little bit is good for you then a whole lot must be great," Jones said. By increasing the chemical content Made-4-U has perfected the taste vs. weight loss balance. After years of research Made-4-U found that arsenic, the same ingredient in cigarettes that keeps smokers thin, is effective in many forms of food, especially those high in tomato paste content.

Weather data to dry up?

Senator Rick Santorum introduced the National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005 earlier this year. The bill would have several troubling effects. These impacts may mark the first time the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association have had occasion to be allied on an issue.

The bill, which Santourm says was crafted with the "jobs of Pennsylvanians in mind," would limit the National Weather Service's ability to provide information to the public. Instead the agency would use its tax-payer funding to create "a set of data portals designed for volume access by commercial providers of products or services." These services, such as Santorum campaign donor AccuWeather, would then provided to consumers through commercial services.

Limiting access to commercial providers would eliminate the provision of data for so much of rural America. Everybody from search and rescue teams to farmers and small town fire-fighters would be at the mercy of these commercial providers for critical, sometimes life-or-death, situations. With the recent fires in Southern Nevada for example, the large weather services didn't have information available. Residents of the farms and rural residences would have had no information to make decisions. In truth we need more information not less.

Rehnquist to retire

Weblogs are alive tonight with the rumor that Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist will announce his retirement at news conference tomorrow morning at 10 ET. There are a few places are whispering that it could also be that Justice John Paul Stevens plans to retire. Notably the sites suggesting Stevens resignation are largely circular references to other sites that point back at them.

The sentiment that this might lead to a rash of people moving to Oregon based on the states (soon to be illegal if the rumors are true) assisted suicide law has been expressed elsewhere. It seems to me the more measured reaction would be to study up on Canadian immigration policies.

A9, Perfect 10 and the Supreme Court

Cnet has an article about the publisher of Perfect 10 suing Amazon over its A9 search engine.

The suit and another against Google by the publisher claims the operators of these search engines are infringing on Perfect 10's copyright by including images in their search results. To my non-legally educated mind, the suits don't seem to be such a huge deal. There are plenty of opportunities for Perfect 10 to protect their copyright. If as the article implies the suit has to do with Google indexing other sites that are hosting the infringing images then separate action against those sites will solve two problems at once. It seems from this seat on the sideline like a company looking for a way to squeeze money from the search engines that are making money.

The article notes in the last paragraph "The situation is more dire after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that companies can be held legally liable for copyright piracy that takes place on their online networks." Which leads me to say um, not really. Cnet needs to get their facts straight here. The Supreme Court ruled that there was enough evidence that the cases against Grokster and Streamcast should not have been granted summary judgement. They went on to describe a lot of actions that look like the companies were inducing users to violate copyrights of third parties. However, they also by way of example, suggested filters might be one way a company could help to show they are not liable for inducing infringement. It so happens that robots.txt is just one such filtering mechanism that Google, A9 and others support.

The unlawful objective is unmistakable.

Dan Gillmor expresses a common sentiment on the Grokster ruling. Innovation, Gillmor suggests will be the casualty. I really couldn't disagree any more.

The opening paragraph of the 24-page opinion of the court says in part:

We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.

Throughout the opinion Justice Souter seems to take great pains to detail that the issue in question here is not that a pair of companies came up with software that could be used for legal and illegal purposes. The issue is that two companies not only produced software that could be used in multiple ways, but that they actively marketed the software for uses that infringe on companies copyrights.

Reliance on Sony


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