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Among the six principles for designing digital rights management (DRM) systems spelled out in Inside Risks ("DRMand Public Policy," July 2005), Edward W. Felten included: "Since lawful use, including fair use, of copyrighted works is in the public interest, a user wishing to make lawful use of copyrighted material should not be prevented from doing so by any DRM system." That's a fine sentiment, but Felten gave no indication how it might be achieved by an actual DRM system.

Fair use cannot be determined algorithmically. It depends instead on a review of four factors specified in the copyright statute. Two of them—often the most important—are "the purpose and character of the use" and "the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."

It is difficult to see how a DRM system alone could make any meaningful determination of the fair use factors. It lacks information about the potential market for the work and how the copied portion of the work will eventually be used. To be sure that a DRM system will never prevent a lawful fair use of copyrighted material, it would have to trust the user regarding whether the use is indeed fair.

Even for something that presumably could be determined by a DRM system, "the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole" provides only limited help in determining whether a use is fair. In one case, the copying of fewer than 300 words from a book was found by the U.S. Supreme Court to be an unfair use (Harper & Row v. Nation). In another, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the copying of an entire work was still a fair use (Sega v. Accolade).

A technical society like ACM has a special responsibility when making proposals to policymakers that the result is not only good policy but technologically feasible and sound.

Lee Hollaar
Salt Lake City, UT

Author Responds:

No technology can always distinguish fair use from unfair; I wrote as much in "A Skeptical View of DRM and Fair Use" in Communications (Apr. 2003). But it doesn't follow that systems must block fair use. Systems could be designed to avoid obstructing fair use, even if it means allowing a few infringing uses. They could also have safety valves that open a path to fair use, as in Apple's iTunes DRM.

Allowing a few infringing uses isn't fatal; DRM could never hope to stop all infringement. Public policy should favor designs that allow fair use and allow them to be used fairly.

Edward W. Felten
Princeton, NJ

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We All Own David

In "Protecting 3D Graphics Content" (June 2005), David Koller and Marc Levoy made liberal use of words like "theft" and "piracy" to describe would-be copiers of their 3D models of cultural-heritage artifacts, including Michelangelo's David. I cannot speak to Italian law, but under U.S. law (and thus for any viewer of the data in the U.S.) such slavish copies of public-domain works are not themselves copyrightable. Much to the dismay of museum curators, this was made clear in a 1999 decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Bridgeman Art Library Ltd. v. Corel Corp.).

What Koller and Levoy are protecting is not the museum's nor their own property; the 3D models of David belong to the public. What they are protecting is a business model based on preventing the legitimate, legal sharing of information. Their opponents in this battle are neither thieves nor pirates but potential competitors to the museum gift shop or customers the museum fears losing.

It is understandable that museums want to protect an income stream they've come to rely on to accomplish their missions. It is also understandable that Koller and Levoy are willing to help them maintain their gatekeeper status in exchange for at least limited access to the treasures they hold. But this is short-sighted.

Information technology and policy involve new systems constantly building on top of what came before like a giant coral reef. The project described in the article takes us another step down the path of information gatekeeping that rewards the hoarding of information and the blockade of communication rather than the promotion of the useful arts and sciences.

It also reinforces the message that we are all cultural sharecroppers, that education and the arts are reserved for those with the money to pay for them, and that the public domain is just a myth thieves might tell themselves to assuage a guilty conscience. This is the exact opposite of what our universities and museums represent and undermines the project participants' legitimate desire to share these treasures with the world.

Bradley Rhodes
Mountain View, CA

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Less Than Meets the Eye in Online Coursework

Rudy Hirschheim's study of an example of Internet-delivered education ("The Internet-Based Education Bandwagon: Look Before You Leap," July 2005) offered good reasons for caution. I would now like to add a student's perspective, making some points not included in the article. As a continuing-education student, I recently took five programming courses, three in the classroom and two on the Internet.

The tuition for the Internet courses was considerably less than for the classroom courses, and the breadth of offerings was greater. Therefore, in addition to the flexibility and convenience of Internet courses, I (as a student) greatly appreciated having to pay less and being able to choose from a more extensive list of options. (All the classroom courses were at a community college, but the online courses, though listed in the college's catalog as if they were provided by the college, were actually provided by, a Web-based organization "selling" hundreds of courses through more than 1,200 colleges, universities, and other accredited institutions.)

I found the Internet courses covered much less material and required much less of the student. Each set of courses involved roughly the same number of lessons or classes, with the Internet ones fixed at 12 lessons each, and the classroom ones ranging from 11 to 14 weeks, with one class per week.

Each Internet lesson included only four or five Web pages covering, at most, two or three points, while the classroom courses covered one or two chapters per week from programming books of 500 to 1,000 pages. I zipped through the Internet lessons in less than an hour; most involved just retyping sample code. Studying and preparing for the classroom courses took hours of reading and programming, aside from the hours in the classroom.

The grading philosophies were also markedly different. In classroom quizzes and exams, grades seemed to reflect how well the student remembered details and was able to build on them. For the Internet classes, all questions were multiple choice, and the intent seemed to be that everyone should score 100%. A short quiz followed each lesson, but the scores were not kept, and we were encouraged to keep retaking the quizzes until all the answers were correct.

The final exam could not be retaken, but we were encouraged to print it out and make sure we knew all the answers before taking it online. All answers were directly or indirectly in the lessons. The only reason we might not get 100% was laziness or mistakenly clicking on one choice when we meant another.

I wonder if Hirschheim's finding that the grade range is the same for both classroom and Internet classes holds for the courses. It might also be the case that the students aimed at a certain grade and then did whatever they had to do to achieve it, even though the amount of effort between, say, a B online and a B in the classroom is vastly different.

What about the lack of comparable communication, as described by Hirschheim, between students and teachers in online courses? I found that a number of postings (all questions and answers were posted to a public space for each course) was sometimes required just to clarify a question—and could take days. Some students seemed to constantly post for posting's sake or to get a virtual pat on the back—and would probably not have made such off-the-cuff comments in a real classroom. I could count on one hand the number of things I learned from posted questions during the Internet courses, while I learned any number of things in classroom discussions among the students, as well as with the instructor.

One Hirschheim finding I disagree with is that online students want all teaching materials delivered online. For the online courses I took, all material was indeed delivered online, but I considered it a disadvantage. With all material online, I lost access to the information when the class ended, unless I printed it out Web page by Web page. Real books contain a lot more information than what is presented in online lessons.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of using a book is that months or years from now, when I need to review or remember something, it will be on my bookshelf, and I'll know where to look for it. In each online course I took, at least one student asked the instructor to recommend a book.

I do not know which type of education is more effective over the long term. The courses I took taught skills, and like any skills, I'll forget them unless I use them. Use not only provides reinforcement but will enable me to improve them beyond what I learned in the initial coursework. This will happen whether I take a course online or in person. But there is no doubt that online courses of the type require much less of the student and cover much less material.

Richard H. Veith
Port Murray, NJ

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Software Lessons From the Dallas Cowboys

As a longtime fan of the Dallas Cowboys [U.S. football team], I was surprised to read (and disappointed to have missed) their purported recent trip to the Super Bowl. "A Closer Look At Attention To Detail" by James J. Cappel et al. (July 2005) apparently overlooked the sad truth about Cowboys campaigns since Bill Parcells was hired as head coach in 2003.

The Cowboys' most recent trip to the Super Bowl was in 1996 when they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I do agree, however, with the results of the authors' survey indicating that ATD is important in any work, including IT. ATD can be achieved in much the same way as high productivity and high quality by creating a culture within the organization that embraces the value of ATD. IT workers in particular have the ability to adjust their effectiveness over a range of tasks due to the intellectual nature of their work. Creating a culture where ATD is appreciated and recognized will improve their ATD.

The U.S. automobile industry learned the importance of ATD in the 1970s as the result of Japanese competition and now produces some of the best vehicles in the world. IT organizations must prepare themselves to do the same; worldwide competition is here to stay.

Scott Reynolds
West Chester, PA

Editor's Note: We regret that an editing error led to the misinformation about Bill Parcells' coaching history. In fact, the authors noted that Parcells' attention to detail was successful in turning around the performance of previous teams he coached and taking them to the Super Bowl.

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