Friday, July 15, 2005

Debating IP

I attended a fascinating debate yesterday evening at the RSA between John Naughton, the Observer's Internet columnist and Ron Marchant Chief Executive of the UK's Patent Office.

There was a surprising amount of common ground between the two. Both agreed that the vast ecology now covered by intellectual property is in a stormy, dynamic, unstable state, as deployment of developing technologies like the Internet undermines the traditional business models of the "content" industries such as publishing, films, broadcasting and music. Both also agreed that we have to find a way to navigate towards a new equilibrium which avoids extremist demands of abolishing IP on one hand and making it disastrously draconian on the other.

There was one fundamental difference though. Ron Marchant sees the function of the intellectual property system as primarily one of generating wealth i.e. it must provide a way for creators and inventors to generate a monetary return from their creations and improve the economy of the UK or UK PLC, as he put it. He also spoke articulately about the need for balance in the system such that the public receives a return from the temporary IP monopolies granted to commerce, inventors and creators. But UK Plc bottom line was the main driver.

John Naughton has never subscribed to the notion that the only worthwhile things in life are those that can be allocated a monetary value and Ron Marchant agreed with him on this. John, however, felt that the IP system also had to recognise these values more explicitly and more powerfully because of the impact that the vast number of things the IP system now touches has on society.

As we move towards the big launch of the new Harry Potter novel tonight, I was wondering what both men would have thought of the Canadian injunction issued by the Supreme Court of British Columbia but I never got the chance to ask the question. I'm fairly sure John would have agreed with Michael Geist. And I have a sneaking suspicion Ron Marchant would have too.

ID pledge

As of 11.44am GMT today, 9889 people have signed the NO2ID campaign pledge.

The Home Office now have a promotional video for ID cards. Don't bother downloading it - it's 15Mb for 5 minutes and the producers use a little artistic licence with the issues E.g. at one stage the voiceover says: "The exact process for getting an Identity Card has not yet been defined. Applying will be straightforward, and it is likely that making an application over the Internet would be the simplest method." I laughed at that point wondering how ordinary people were going to supply verifiable fingerprints and iris scans from the comfort of their own homes. Then I realised I had conflated applying and registering and assumed that they would happen at the registration centres. But the application will have to be completed and sent in first before an invitation to attend a registration centre comes.

The video also suggests the scheme will have just 3 components
• Identity Register
• ID cards
• Verification Service

Not exactly - it has to have:
• Decentralised robustly and securely networked identity registration centres, which people will have to physically visit to be registered
• ID cards
• Central database register which stores all the information
• Verification Service
• Millions of networked, handheld robust, secure, verification devices that are available to every police officer, bank clerk, doctors' surgery etc. etc. who needs it to verify people's ID cards as part of their jobs.

As far as ID card videos go I prefer this one. (A mere 2Mb and much more entertaining).

Thursday, July 14, 2005

EU Commission sue states on copyright directive

CoCo reports that the EU Commission have started legal proceedings against member states which have not implemented the 2001 copyright directive, dealing with protection of access control or anti-circumvention technologies.

UK push for EU wide ID cards

"The UK is using its Presidency of the Council of the European Union to push for the adoption of biometric ID cards and associated standards across the whole of the EU." So says John Lettice.

Statewatch have the documental proof.

As an Irishman I'm interested in the notion that I'll constitute a hole in Mr Clarke's new ID system:

"In addition to the pan-European push, the UK Government is putting pressure on Ireland over identity cards. Irish Justice minister Michael McDowell has gone on the record as opposing ID cards, saying that "I don't want to go down that road if I can avoid doing so", but this week he conceded that if the UK ID scheme goes ahead Ireland may have little choice. This latest 'Irish question' figures regularly in the UK Parliament's ID card debates because Irish citizens may currently travel and live within the UK without controls. If the arrangements don't change and UK citizens have compulsory ID cards, Irish citizens would therefore constitute a giant hole in the scheme."

I've been described as many things but ttbomk never before as a hole.

Coke threaten artist

The Coca Cola company are threatening to sue an artist in India over a billboard with a red coke background and empty vessels next to a dry water pump.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

NYT on Internet Archive lawsuit

The NYT has picked up on the Healthcare Advocates lawsuit.

Patriot act to be made permanent

According to Declan the USA Patriot Act is about to be made permanent.

State TIA Martrix still in use

Florida, Ohio, Connecticut and Pennsylvania are still using the Matrix (Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange) despite the celebrations of privacy advocates when federal funding for the scheme ended earlier this year.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Execute Malware distributors ?

An economist at the University of Rochester, Steven Landsburg, has done a cost benefit analysis on the back of an envelope and reckons US society would get better value out of executing virus spreading vandals than murderers. He certainly knows how to self publicise - the NYT have picked up on the story.

Thanks to Richard Clayton at FIPR for the links.
Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Internet archive DMCA lawsuit

William Paltry has decided to break his own rules about not commenting on complaints or motions, as a result of a complaint "n the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Healthcare Advocates, Inc. v. Harding, Early, Follmer & Frailey, et al."

The basic story is that one side used the wonderful Internet Archive to get archived material of the other side's website. So far so good. The Internet Archive trawls the web collecting material from websites unless owners of those websites opt out e.g. by asking the Internet Archive folks directly or by putting an opt out piece of code on their webwite called robots.txt. Healthcare Advocates stuck the blocking code on their site on 8th July 2003. Apparently by sending repeated requests to the site, Harding et al's lawyers were still able to get the material archived from the site, turning up the information 112 times from 849 attempts. It's not clear if any of the pages they got post dated the implementation of the robot.txt file.

Healthcare Advocates are now therefore claiming that Harding et al have bypassed copy protection technologies, which is illegal under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. To quote Paltry,

"It is alleged that the robots.txt denial text string is a technological circumvention measure and that defendant law firm circumvented it. This claim, in my opinion, is factually and legally wrong. Factually, at least from the complaint, it does not appear that the law firm "circumvented" anything, if by circumvent we mean devised a mousetrap to bypass the denial text string. Instead, it seems as if defendant kept banging on the URL until, for whatever reason, the denial failed to be recognized. This is like going down a row of houses and trying doors to see if they are open. If they aren't you move on until you find one that is. If it is open you walk in, but you certainly haven't circumvented an access control mechanism."

He also fails to see how the robot.txt file can be considered to meeting the legal definition of a "technological measure that effectively controls access to a work"

I'm sure he's right that the case will be thrown out but this is just another indication of how far lawyers are prepared to go to exploit the letter of the law. After all the lawyers will be thinking, the file is controlling access to copyrighted material and the defendants apparently managed to get access to that material anyway, so they must have bypassed a technical access control mechanism in some way? So they've figured that it is worth arguing before a court as one of a string of complaints. Potentially good court room tactics but it depends on how the judge views it.

Harry Potter book out early in Canada

Canadian publishers of the Harry Potter books, Raincoast Books Ltd., have announced that a small number of the books have been sold ahead of the release date on Thursday. The company has got a court injunction banning the buyers from disclosing the details of the plot and ordering them to return the books. The case went to Supreme Court of British Columbia on Saturday July 9th.

BBC criticised over Beethovan downloads

The BBC have been criticised by classical music labels over their recent experiment offering free MP3 versions of Beethoven's symphonies for downloading. Apparently over a million people took advantage of the offer.

One music executive said: "I think there is a question of whether a publicly funded broadcaster should be doing this and there is the obvious issue that it is devaluing the perceived value of music. You are also leading the public to think that it is fine to download and own these files for nothing."

Another said: "We have to pay premium prices to record big orchestras and pay full union rates and we have to pass those costs on to the consumer. If the BBC is going to offer recordings for free, that is going to be a major problem."

Let's see now. I believe Beethovan died in 1827, which means even if his work was protected by copyright, that copyright would have expired by now. So nobody owns his music. It is in the public domain. So whilst there may indeed be a question about whether a public broadcaster should be providing access to wonderful music from the public domain, the answer is a fairly simple yes imho.

In response to the second music executive, I'm reminded of a quote from Robert Heinlein's Life-Line:

"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back, for their private benefit."

It's a tough time to be in the music business with the changes wrought by the evolution of digital technologies but we do have to maintain a sense of proportion. The classical labels provide a worthy service commissioning and selling recordings of classical music in the public domain, which would not otherwise be so widely available. Although the music is in the public domain it is reasonable that these companies should be able to make a profit for the service they provide.

The technology, however, now opens up the possibility of creating a comprehensive library of that music on the Internet. It would arguably be anti-competitive and unreasonable to block the creation of such a library to protect the profits of the current incumbents in the classical music market. There will still be a market for classical music. The technology does not threaten music production. It threatens existing music production companies, unless they adapt their businesses to the new environment. And in response to the oft quoted "you can't compete with free", anyone for bottled water? Or as Tim O'Reilly says, on the Internet, "free" is eventually replaced by a higher quality paid service.

Monday, July 11, 2005

EU judge removed from Microsoft case

A French judge has been removed from presiding over the Microsoft antitrust case after he supposedly "created an uproar" after writing an article for a French legal magazine criticising court clerks as "ayatollahs of free enterprise".

I doubt things were quite as simple as this article suggests.

Quoting Feynman once, twice, thrice.

I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool.

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.

These are all quotes attributed to Richard Feynman and they all came to mind when thinking about data retention and ID card proposals.

London lives

One of the more thoughtful articles on the terrible bombings last week in London came from Mary Kaldor at OpenDemocracy.

"There is something perverse about globalisation. I live and work in the area of London targeted in the four explosions on Thursday 7 July. None of our phones worked for several hours and I couldn’t reach my family and close friends. Yet even before I quite realised what was happening, I was receiving emails from India, America, Azerbaijan, Kosovo and even Baghdad...

The latest tally of victims from the four bombings is more than 50 killed and 700 wounded. It is impossible to dignify this nihilistic crime by attributing political motives. It cannot be explained in terms of religion, ideology, or any rational motive, however perverted...

... the best reaction to this crime is to ignore it – to refuse to allow its perpetrators their moment of notoriety. Of course, it is important to strengthen protection of innocent people, and to track down the criminals and bring them before the courts. But the crime should not be allowed to derail everyday plans and projects."

If CCTV operators were licenced...

Spyblog speculates on whether the sifting through CCTV footage element of the investigation of the London bombings might have been helped if all CCTV operators had been licenced.

Copyright abuse

C.E. Petit has been rumminating on copyright abuse.

"Typically,1 copyright abuse falls into one of two categories:

The copyright holder who wants to squelch criticism and comment...

The copyright holder who wants to exploit a property for purposes other than copyright. One obvious example of this is Disney, with its repeated attempts to use copyright law and extend copyright law to protect that overgrown shirtless rat."

He's also been paraphrasing Winston Churchill:

"Intellectual property rĂ©gimes are the worst means of encouraging progress in science and the useful arts… except for all the others."

Irish ISPs look to bottom line

Irish ISPs have agreed not to fight music industry efforts to get the details of suspected file sharers. It's just business. Fighting legal battles on behalf of the privacy of customers doesn't provide a short term positive contribution to sharerholders' returns. It's simpler, at least in the short term, to come to an accommodation with the music companies and work out some process whereby the details can be requested and handed over. If the volume of requests becomes large, however, the ISPs might find themselves reviewing the administrative cost involved. One to watch I would think.

Clarke wants 3 year data retention

Whilst apparently resisting calls to rush through more anti-terrorism legislation in the wake of last weeks London bombs, Charles Clarke intends to push the emergency meeting of EU security ministers this week to adopt data retention plans which would force ISPs and communications companies to retain traffic data for three years. The UK government had been twisting arms originally to enforce a 7 year data retention regime across Europe but had compromised recently assuming they would only be able to get one year retention proposals through.

Somebody really needs to explain to these ministers in simple terms what the proposals would mean in practical terms. Huge expense for the industry, which would presumably want some kind of compensation from the state. Plus a vast increase in communications data noise. To find the needle gems in the data haystack you need to employ enough smart people with appropriately refined searching and targetting techniques and tools. You don't build a bigger barn and fill it with infinitely more hay. It might look impressive but your already over-stretched intelligence folks are now searching a much bigger haystack for the same number of needles.

Canada sign hate protocol in cybercrime treaty

Canada have become the first non European country to sign up to the anti racism protocol in the Council of Europe's cybercrime treaty.