Friday, May 07, 2004

Frank Field on cynicism.

"DRM is part of a process to break us of the nasty habit of thinking culture is a common good. Like a speed bump, it’s not about making us stop; it’s about making us recognize that someone thinks what we’re doing is wrong. And then usingour own naïvité to get us to stop. "

Makes me feel better that I'm not necessarily being "cynical", in the OED sense of the word, just attributing self serving motives to politicians and lobbyists.
There's a fascinating exhange of views going on between Ernest Miller, Ed Felten, and Frank Field on the subject of DRM, the broadcast flag and the copyfight in general.

Ernest believes bright people pushing for drm and other expansions of intellectual property rights have got a hidden agenda because they basically can't be stupid enough to really believe drm is going to prevent copyright infringement. So they must have a hidden agenda.

Ed says the some of folk pushing this agenda that he has discussed the issues with are passionate about what they are doing, really do believe it will work and needs to work in order to balance all the interests involved.

Frank partly supports Ed in suggesting we should never underestimate the power of ideology.

"The fact that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" derives from the fact that, in order to function in an increasingly complex world, everyone is forced to construct simplifying models of the way that the world works. When these models (a)
work and (b) are buttressed with rationalizing arguments, we get something more potent - an ideology.

The problem with ideologies is that, even though they work, they rely upon simplifications that will not obtain over time. These simplifications will eventually be the downfall of the ideology, but sometimes it takes a very long time before the failure of the ideology is recognized, meaning that a lot of bad (and potentially quite destructive) decisions get made in the interim...

Ernest is right; our opponents are not (all) stupid people. But they don't have nefarious ends. Rather, they're acting within the confines of the ideologies that they believe explain the way the world works. They aren't evil or stupid; they're just confused and frustrated. The old methods aren't working, even though they *know* their methods are "right." In fact, they're in exactly the same boat that we are. And we know we aren't evil.

Ideologies are hard to defeat, because they're invisible to those who hold them. To us, it's an ideology; to them, it's "the way the world works." Beating it will take time, being honest about what is happening and working really hard to devise a new way of looking at the world that we can collectively agree upon.

We can't afford to write them off as "evil." That's seductive, but dangerous because it simply isn't true. They're just doing what they think is right. We have to respect that as we work to show them that they're mistaken. "

Siva Vaidhyanathan makes some related commentsat the Lessig blog in telling the story of meeting someone who takes the view of "the other side". Some who thought Larry Lessig was "a kook". Siva now reckons elements on the two sides are beginning to understand each other because those pusshing for expanded protection of intellectual property rights are resorting to ad hominem attacks. Adn they are doing this because the Lessig's of the world are winning the argument. Interesting theory but as Seth Finkelstein says in commenting on Siva's post,

"Unfortunately, yes, I think you hang around too many people who actually read the books they criticize. You're a professor. Academics are *supposed* to be polite. Not that they always are. But there is a strong cultural belief there, as evident in what you?re writing, that ad-hominem arguments are "wrong". Again, it may be honored more in the breech than in the observance, it may be an ideal not always practiced, but it's part of the formal codes of conduct.

Hang out with lawyers and lobbyists and politicians more. To them, lying and smearing and ad-hominem attacks are *tactics*, debate *options*. Whether they use those approaches depends entirely on whether they think they can get away with it, that it'll work with the audience. It's a pure strategic calculation. They may decide they'll look bad if they lie. They may decide it's worth it. Situations vary. But the truth or intellectual strength of the argument bears a very tenuous relationship to the approaches employed.

I certainly don't see any change at all, in terms of Jack "Boston Strangler" Valenti style rhetoric.

And remember, a mosquito is slammed hard, but that doesn't mean it's powerful and influential.

So you can't derive "panic" from any of it. It may be that you just happened to run into a few people who think meanness is the way to go.

If the courts had been rebuffing the copyright extensions and the DMCA, then there might be panic. Otherwise, it's simply tactics."

James Heald of Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) tells me that the Irish presidency of the EU are bypassing all the EU parliament and other objections to software patents and doing an end run round a vastly watered down software patents directive proposal.

"The powerful COREPER committee of EU member states' Permanent
Representatives in Brussels has provisionally agreed on a new draft for
the controversial Software Patent directive, overruling concerns from
the German, Belgian, and Danish delegations, and the Slovakian
non-voting observers. (The new accession countries only become full
voting members in November).

The new draft rejects all of the European Parliament's limiting
amendments, and is described by FFII as "the most uncompromisingly
pro-patent text yet".

The Coreper text also goes further than the original European Commission
text of 2002. In 2002 the Commission had agreed, in difficult
negotiations between DG Internal Market (Bolkestein) and DG Information
Society (Liikanen) not to allow program claims. Now it seems that DG
Information Society has rolled over to the united pressure of Bolkestein
and the Council's patent administrators.

A leaked document from Bolkestein's DG Internal Market suggests that DG
Information Society no longer objects to program claims. This concession
by Liikanen is needed in order to rush the Council working group
proposal through the ministers' session as an "A item", i.e. a consensus
point which does not need any discussion by the ministers.

Technically, the decision by COREPER on Wednesday is only a "forecast"
of the final decision, to be confirmed at the Competitiveness Council of
Ministers on 17-18 May. Until that date, Member states can still change
their minds (and their votes).

If confirmed by ministers, the text will form the basis for the
Directive's second reading in Parliament, after the EU elections. EU
rules make it far more difficult for the Parliament to make changes at
second reading.

Support for the text at a political level in some states is still said
to be quite soft; and decisions brokered in Coreper do fall apart (last
year's discussions on the Community Patent, for example).

FFII is therefore urging supporters to make their voices heard *now*,
especially software SMEs who make up the majority of the IT industry (eg
over 80% of IT jobs in Germany). In particular supporters should try to
mobilise organisations of which they are members, urgently try to meet
or contact local MPs and MEPs, and also Commissioner Liikanen's office
at DG Information Society."

Whatever your take on software patents, this is another example of the Irish presidency's slick understanding of and ability to exploit EU processes. As to their motivation, my perspective is that it is no more complicated than Bertie Ahern and co. wishing to be percieved as an "effective" presidency, "effectivenes" in this context being measured by how many things you get done, regardless of what those things are.

Boy I really am being cynical in the past couple of days. I should go an lie in a dark room and think about that book I should have been working on this week [and would have been if it had not been for my study leave being perpetually interrupted by administrative trivia].
The ACLU, EFF, ALA, CDT and PK have jointly criticised the proposed Fraudulent Online Identity Sanctions Act:

"... we write to express our concern that this bill will penalize and potentially jail Americans who seek only to protect their privacy and right to anonymous free speech online...

... The WHOIS database requires that individual Internet users, when they register domain names, make their names, home addresses, home phone numbers, and home email addresses available to the world, with no privacy protections. Users covered by this requirement include human rights activists, corporate whistleblowers seeking to avoid retribution, and ordinary Americans seeking to avoid spam, stalking or identity theft. As long as WHOIS lacks safeguards to protect their privacy and security these users will feel compelled to place inaccurate data in the database for reasons that have nothing to do with the furtherance of illegal activity.

However, HR 3754 would... create a presumption that inaccurately registered WHOIS data represents evidence of malicious intent... would make violations of copyright or trademark in conjunction with an inaccurately resistered domain "wilful," carrying the highest penalties, even if the activity were otherwise innocent...

... Under current law, the author of an anonymous web log who innocently quotes a portion of a news article that a judge later considers to be too long to qualify for "fair use" would be an "innocent infringer" and subject to reduced statutory damages. Under HR 3754 the same "blogger" would face damages up to $150,000 and potential criminal liability...

...Domain name holders who submit inaccurate WHOIS data: 1) on the basis of bona fide concerns with privacy, or 2) to protect their legitimate rights to anonymous free speech, should not be branded criminals."
The conflict between the Korean mobile phone companies and the music industry over Mp3 playing phones is getting worse. The music indsutry are threatening to get an injunction banning sale of the very popular phones.
The European Commission has proposed a new recommendation of the EU parliament and Council of Ministers on the protection of minors and human dignity and the right of reply in the European audiovisual and information services industry.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Finally for today, Larry Page's and Sregey Brin's letter to potential Google shareholders in their registration statement with the SEC makes fascinating reading.

"Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one...

...Eric, Sergey and I intend to operate Google differently, applying the values it has developed as a private company to its future as a public company. Our mission and business description are available in the rest of the prospectus; we encourage you
to carefully read this information. We will optimize for the long term rather than trying to produce smooth earnings for each quarter. We will support selected high-risk, high-reward projects and manage our portfolio of projects. We will run the company collaboratively with Eric, our CEO, as a team of three. We are conscious of our duty as fiduciaries for our shareholders, and we will fulfill those responsibilities. We will
continue to attract creative, committed new employees, and we will welcome support from new shareholders. We will live up to our ?don?t be evil? principle by keeping user trust and not accepting payment for search results. We have a dual-class structure that is biased toward stability and independence and that requires investors to bet on the team, especially Sergey and me.

In this letter we have explained our thinking on why Google is better off going public. We have talked about our IPO auction method and our desire for stability and access for all investors. We have discussed our goal to have investors who determine a rational price and invest for the long term only if they can buy at that price. Finally, we have discussed our desire to create an ideal working environment that will ultimately drive the success of Google by retaining and attracting talented Googlers. "

You don't see many IPOs running on the principle "don't be evil."
The NYT yesterday reported the large Canadian telcos' concerns about their future in the era of Net telephony. It's the standard fare about VoIP but worth a read.
John Lettice at the Register has been thinking about the UK government's draft bill and consultation [which, just as a matter of interest, is unreadable from the old computer I happen to be using at the moment] exercise on the national identity card.

After lots of analysis including genuine puzzlement as to how Mr Blunkett, the Home Secretary, really believes he can convince people that the ID cards will cost them £4, when they actually pay £35, he concludes with a question,

"So do you want this? It's a system that won't achieve most of its objectives, and those it will achieve will be achieved via massive overdesign (secure passport system? Here, take this networked database and personal information register to go with it). You get a personal ID card you don't need. You pay vastly more than you need to for the ID documents you do need. It only addresses the immigration problem (most of the British public sees immigration as a problem) if you pretend to love it and use it all the time, in all sorts of areas where you don't need it and it's inappropriate. And you get the free centralised database of your personal information anyway, providing a locus for any number of government and private databases of your personal information. Don't worry you've nothing to hide - even from your bank, other banks, loan sharks and double glazing salespeople, right?

It costs £3.1bn for all this cool stuff. At least. Go and tell the Home Office how much you support it, you've got until the 20 July, and you'll find a link to the consultation document below. If you happen to agree with any of this article, paraphrase it, don't just copy it. If you do they'll just mark you down as a petition signer and disenfranchise you, like they did with the Stand objectors in the previous "consultation.""

Consultation document.

U.S. Releases 2004 Report on Intellectual Property Protection.

Ukraine cited as "priority foreign country"

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) placed 33 trading partners on the "watch list" for IPR violations: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Slovak Republic, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Another 16 trading partners are on the "priority watch list," which entails greater
scrutiny. Eleven of these -- Argentina, Bahamas, Brazil, EU, India, Indonesia, Lebanon,
Philippines, Poland, Russia and Taiwan -- were on last year's priority list. The other five
-- Egypt, Korea, Kuwait, Pakistan and Turkey -- were moved this year from the watch
list to the priority list.

China and Paraguay get warned they're facing imminent trade sanctions for IP violations.
It seems that the start of trial of of the ten thousand (i.e. biometric national ID cards in the UK) was delayed by three months because the technology didn't work. Now it is going to for last three months rather than the planned six months.

David Blunkett has said that although the pilot scheme was late, "it is important to get it right rather than get it quickly?". I see. It does n't work. So delay the start. Then cut the time for the trial in half in case people notice there are lots of problems with it. And then claim you're trying to get it right. This is a joke. Right?

Ok, call me a cynic again. Hey, that's twice in one day.
My colleague, John Naughton, pointed me at this 10 minute interview, where an MIT student quizzed Jack Valenti. Jack genuinely didn't seem to know there were no DVDCCA licensed linux DVD players on the market.

"TT: But today, you still cannot on the market actually buy a licensed DVD player for Linux.

JV: I didn?t know that.

TT: So the question is, do you think people who go to Blockbuster, they rent a movie, they bring it
home, and they play it on Linux by circumventing the access control, are those people committing a
moral transgression?

JV: I do not believe that you have the right to override an encryption. Because if you have the right
to do it, everybody can do it. For whatever benign reason you have, somebody else has got one
even more benign. But once you let one person deal in a digital copy -- and I don?t have to tell you;
you know far better than I that, unlike in analog, the ten thousandth copy is as pure as the original --
it is a big problem. So once you let the barriers down for your perfectly sensible reason, you gotta
let it down for everybody.

I don?t want to get into the definition of morality. I never said anything was immoral in what I was
saying. I said it is wrong to take something that belongs to somebody else.

TT: Indeed, but are you doing that when you rent a movie from Blockbuster and you watch it at
home? ... I run Linux on my computer. There?s no product I can buy that?s licensed to watch
[DVDs]. If I go to Blockbuster and rent a movie and watch it, am I a bad person? Is that bad?

JV: No, you?re not a bad person. But you don?t have any right.

TT: But I rented the movie. Why should it be illegal?

JV: Well then, you have to get a machine that?s licensed to show it.

TT: Here?s one of these machines; it?s just not licensed.

[Winstein shows Valenti his six-line ?qrpff? DVD descrambler.]

TT: If you type that in, it?ll let you watch movies.

JV: You designed this?

TT: Yes.

JV: Un-fucking-believable.

TT: So the question is, if I just want to watch a movie--I rent it from Blockbuster--is that bad?

JV: No, that?s not bad. "

Valenti is going to be a hard act to follow when he leaves the MPAA.
Microsoft have launched their Janus drm software.
California have allegedly toughened their stance on electronic voting. The devil is in the detail and I remain unconvinved this is anything more than political posturing at the moment, especially since California Secretary of State is reportedly calling Diebold reprehensible and calling for a criminal investigation of the company. Ok call me a cynic.

Meanwhile at least one county in California is suing the secretary state for the right to use electronic voting in the presidential election.
The Dutch data protection authority, CBP, have stated, that the Dutch entertainment industry's anti-piracy group BREIN's sharing of information [on file sharing] with US counterparts is in breach of Dutch data protection and privacy laws. Following on from the Dutch supreme court's decision in the Kazaa case, that won't make the Netherlands any more popular with the industry.
Nice profile of Avi Rubin and his stance on the electronic voting controversy at the NYT.
From the Scotsman via historian Professor Steve Hindle, Blunkett's 'Id Card' Was Around in 16th Century. Wonderful.
I've spent another couple days this week away from my office at the OU, helping some colleagues agree the final structure and content of our new cybervandalism course, T187. The facilities at the conference centre, Harben House, run by Initial, were fine. What did really irritate me, though, was trying to access my weblog from their internet cafe and discovering it was censored by their filter software, which declared that my thoughts here might be unsuitable for children.

Do contact them about inappropriate filtering, if you feel so inclined. I've complained and been told my complaint would be reviewed by a human being. I wonder how many other filter software packages block these pages, presumably because the url and blog title contain the letters 'xxx'?
I spent a couple of days in Barcelona last week, one at the terrific Univeritat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), the virtual university, where I met a group of like minded enthusiasts for the deployment of technology in education, who actually understood what can and cannot be done with technology in that context.

I shouldn't be surprised at this but it is such a rarity in the thick of all the nonsense that gets talked, written about and done in the name of computers in education that it was an absolutely delightful day. UOC have grown from about 300 to 30000 students in about ten years. They have also in that time been learning the same lessons, as an institution, that those of us in the Open University in the UK who have been deeply engaged in deploying multimedia computer and Internet facilitated education with large numbers of students over a similar period have learnt about the potential, current limitations and practicalities of technological tools in an educational context.

I only hope our wonderful hosts, Sylvia Gonzalez and Ferran Gimenez Prado, found it as useful as we did.