INTRODUCTION

In the past couple of weeks, although there haven’t been any new posts on this blog, there have been a couple of significant additions: some links to other websites and a new ‘Page’ consisting of a copyright warning.  (The link to the copyright warning can be found in the upper-right corner.)

It’s only a coincidence that my blog acquired links and a copyright warning during a period when the issue of the uses and abuses of online content was so hot–at least in the United States.  I read at least a couple of Canadian newspapers a day, and have had a long-time interest in copyright law (especially as it pertains to education), so if there had been anything relevant in the Canadian papers in the days leading up to the online protest, I would have read it.  But even I didn’t know anything about the proposed, sweeping, American legislation intended to curtail online piracy, the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA)–that could have had very important implications for Canada–until after the day of protest.  On Wednesday (the 18th of January), when I visited the WordPress site to add a few more links to my blog, and saw that the homepage was blacked out, I initially thought a hacker had been up to some mischief.  On Thursday, finally, an editorial about SOPA and the blackouts was published in the Canadian national newspaper, the National Post and, the following weekend, I came across an article by the Canadian law professor, Michael Geist, in the Canadian edition of the Huffington Post.  But there should have been more information readily available, in a timely manner, for we Canadians–at least so we would have known what was going on with the blackout of so many of our favourite websites, originating in both the US and Canada.

After I first learned about SOPA (and the related proposed legislation PIPA), and started to acquaint myself with the legislation and its implications, mainly by reading material on the Internet originating in the US, I considered making it the main subject of this post.  But, now that the vote on the legislation has been delayed–probably due at least in part to the online protest–and new legislation that more narrowly targets Internet pirates already is being discussed, I’ve decided not to write about that subject, apart from what I’ve already said.  Instead, immediately below, I’ll be commenting about digital copyright, especially as it pertains to this blog.  Later, I’ll briefly discuss a second, somewhat related, topic: computer privacy and cloud computing.

 

DIGITAL COPYRIGHT, ESPECIALLY AS IT RELATES TO THIS BLOG

As I was preparing my previous post, about seeing the reproductions of Leonard Cohen’s drawings and paintings at a local private gallery, it seemed like an appropriate juncture to introduce greater technological complexity into this blog, as a learning exercise for me and, to be sure, to make this blog more useful and attractive to potential readers.  (I’ve had about 1,000 ‘hits’ in total on this blog up to now–probably about half of which were me checking, and rechecking, for typos.  Many of the others could have been tomato growers starting to search on the Internet for interesting seeds for their next crop, since it’s that time of year–who are now wondering where they can get seeds for those blue ‘Gopnik’ tomatoes.  My goal is to get at least a couple of hundred hits per post, from actual readers.)  I thought of incorporating some links to external sites, including the site of the gallery where I saw the show, and maybe Leonard Cohen’s own website, as well as a few thumbnails of works in the show.

Since I recognize the importance of copyright law in general, before proceeding, it seemed prudent to check out the main points of copyright law as it pertains to blogging, in both Canada and the United States, the latter since my blog is hosted by WordPress, that originates in the United States.  From what I could gather from both Canadian and American sources, it seems there are three main points relating to the use of the material of others in one’s blog of which bloggers should be aware.

First, incorporating links to the homepages of websites (including blogs) that themselves do not violate copyright law is entirely acceptable.  No special permission is required.

Second, linking to specific content that is copyrighted on even a site that itself does not violate copyright law is more questionable, and probably should be avoided when possible.  One reason for this is that many owners of websites put special stipulations for the use of copyrighted content on their websites, commonly on their homepage, and typical users of the website, who have entered the site through the homepage, have the opportunity to read these stipulations before proceeding.  By creating a link that enables Internet users to enter such a site “through a backdoor,” bypassing the homepage, these users may end up violating copyright–and the blogger who created the link may be held ultimately responsible.  On the website of the British artist, David Hockney, one even has to ‘click’ that one agrees to various copyright stipulations laid out on the homepage before gaining entry–the usual way–to the site.

The third, and final, main point of which bloggers should be aware is that incorporating copyrighted material from other websites directly on one’s own website may be done in moderation, with proper credit given to the creators of the material; however, the limits on the acceptable use of the material of others do vary, depending on the kind of material, the special sensitivities of the creator, and the specifics of the way in which the material is used.  Broadly speaking, writers seem to mind less about having their work appropriated online (in moderation and assuming proper credit is given) than do musicians and visual artists (including photographers).  One reason for this difference would seem to be the longstanding tradition of written works being quoted in other written works: another possible reason is the relative ease with which digital music and visual images may be manipulated and altered somewhat, and then passed off as the work of someone other than their original creator.  On the other hand, some visual artists and musicians, particularly those who seek greater recognition, may not mind, assuming they are given appropriate credit.  When there is any question, it is best to obtain permission before using even short music clips or thumbnails of copyrighted visual imagesAs an alternative to using copyrighted visual images, there are certain websites that provide images that may be used for free, which is made explicit on their homepages.  For example, the cloud background for the below ‘mash-up’ that I (mostly) created was taken from one such website.

In adding some enhancements to my blog in the past few weeks, I followed these basic guidelines.  For example, although I was tempted to include some thumbnails of some of Leonard Cohen’s pictures that were included in his show at the Granville Art Gallery, I ultimately decided against it.  Instead, I added just a link to the homepage of the Granville Art Gallery site that, at least during the run of the show, included thumbnails of all of Cohen’s pieces in the show.  In my post about visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery, I added a link to the homepage of David Hockney’s website, but no links to any of the content on his site–including not even his iPad art, that is an inspiration to me as someone who is making my first foray into iPad art, and that I think also would be of interest to any readers of this blog.  The one link I added that goes to copyrighted material within a website is the link to the preview of Andrew Gopnik’s new book, The Table Comes First, on Google Books.  That one was a little questionable, but it seemed I was doing no harm to Google Books or Adam Gopnik by including the link, and some of my readers may not be aware of the previews available on Google Books, and how to find them.  (I myself didn’t know about these very helpful previews until after I got my iPad, and had more time online to indulge my online fancies.)

As I add posts to this blog, I’ll continue to follow these basic guidelines–and hope that any readers of this blog who are considering using any of its content that I have produced also will follow them.

 

PRIVACY AND CLOUD COMPUTING

 

 

A couple of weeks ago, I made another trip to my local Apple store to get Apple’s new operating system, iOS 5.01, installed on my iPad.  New iPads (those currently being sold, fresh from the factory) have the new operating system pre-installed so, from now on, owners of new iPads who don’t own computers won’t be at the mercy of friends who do own computers, or employees in Apple stores, to get their iPads “set up”.  Future iPad winners without computers–or sales receipts–won’t have to go through what I went through.

The main reason I wanted to get the new operating system installed was to ensure that if, my iPad was somehow seriously damaged, or stolen, all the material that’s now on it would still be available to me.  I’d reached the point where what I had on my iPad, including not only apps and assorted downloads but also, by now, a couple of hundred photographs and my iPad art, had become at least as valuable, if not more valuable–at least to me–than the iPad itself.  Having iOS 5.01 on one’s iPad (or other Apple device) means that, generally speaking (I’ll clarify this shortly), all the material that is on the device is automatically saved on external servers through iCloud, Apple’s version of cloud computing.  Presumable this happens whenever one connects the device to WiFi or even plugs it into an ordinary electrical socket to charge the battery.  (How on earth does that work?!)  Since I still don’t have a computer on which I can back up all this material, it’s a great relief that, if anything should happen to my iPad, I now won’t lose what is on it.

On the negative side, I do have some concerns about privacy with cloud computing.  On the most basic level, although it’s possible I’ve been overly-influenced by the hacking prowess of the fictional character on the TV show, “Criminal Minds”, Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia, it seems that it would be relatively easy for tech-savvy unauthorized parties to hack into an iTunes account, from which material now stored on Apple’s iCloud can be retrieved, using any device connected to the Internet, anywhere in the world.  All they would need is the email address and password associated with the account.  With iCloud, this would give said parties access to all of the material–including, potentially, sensitive documents and photos–on an Apple device.  Also, on another level, conceivably there are ways of accessing material directly from “the cloud”, bypassing iTunes.  I’ve read that material that is stored in “the cloud” is ‘encrypted’, but what exactly does that mean?  Surely there are people who can ‘dis-encrypt’ something that is encrypted–including, I would assume, the employees of Apple who developed and maintain the encryption system, some of whom may have “gone rogue”.

I realize that, with iOS 5.01, one can add passwords to selected documents, or selected folders of photographs–but how much security do these passwords actually provide?  Also, I know there are settings on iPads with iOS 5.01 that enable one to dis-enable iCloud for all documents or all photographs–although, if one’s main purpose in getting iOS 5.01 is to have material saved externally, one wouldn’t be prepared to have all documents or all photographs not saved on the iCloud.  Even with these security options available–and assuming they generally worked–it seems that iPad users could easily forget to add passwords and adjust settings when they should do so.

In my present situation, since my iPad is just for personal use and since I don’t have much to hide, I’m willing to possibly sacrifice some privacy for having a means of backing up the contents of my iPad.  But I can think of situations in which iPad users would not be prepared to possibly sacrifice that privacy. 

As an extreme example, getting back to “Criminal Minds”, in an episode that aired a couple of weeks ago, just after I got the new operating system installed on my iPad, the members of the FBI behavioural analysis team featured on the show were all issued with new iPads (or at least tablet computers covered by black cases, that seemed to be iPads).  Assuming those tablet computers were iPads, I had to wonder if it was realistic that members of the FBI investigating serious criminal cases would use iPads with iOS 5.01, with various sensitive documents loaded on them.  Since Garcia personally issued her team of FBI agents with the iPads, and since she’s such a computer whiz, iPad users who take basic precautions probably don’t have to worry at all about privacy and cloud computing–or maybe we do.

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