Friday, September 09, 2005

Roadmap for open ICT systems

The Berkman Center at Harvard, with the help of senior government figures and business leaders from all over the world has produced a roadmap for open ICT systems...

"...a user-friendly guide for policymakers and technologists offerings tools for understanding, creating, and sustaining open information and communication technologies ecosystems.

Who is the Roadmap Intended For?
Policymakers, managers, technology architects and other stakeholders from industry and civil society seeking a user-friendly tool for understanding what open ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) ecosystems are, why they are embraced and how to evolve them."

Fred Von Lohmann interview have a nice interview with Fred Von Lohmann of the EFF. Extract:
p2pnet: Do you think someone who downloads a music or movie file is in effect negating a sale somewhere, some time?

von Lohmann: When tens of millions of Americans are downloading music, one of them will support virtually any proposition. Doubtless, some file-sharers are downloading as a substitute for purchasing. For others, the downloading is driving more purchases. Many policy-makers and economists think that the important question is which response is predominant. I think that's looking at the wrong thing. After all, if downloaders were given the opportunity to pay a reasonable, up-front, flat fee in exchange for the freedom to download whatever they like, that would create an altogether new way to monetize downloading...

p2pnet: Is it reasonable to mention both 'pirates' and file sharers in the same breath - or, put another way, are they components of the same problem, as the entertainment and software industries suggest?

von Lohmann: I think the use of the term "pirate" is inaccurate and unfortunate. "Piracy" has traditionally been used to refer to infringers who are selling counterfeit copies for personal gain. Lumping typical downloaders into the same group as for-profit pirates is a mistake - they are not the same people, are not driven by the same motives, and are a great deal more diverse in age, income, and circumstance.

Pirates are never your customers. Downloaders, on the other hand, are the core of music fandom - they are, like it or not, the core demographic that the music and movie industries will need to please in the future.

Guantánamo Bay hunger strikers in 5th week

"More than 200 detainees in Guantánamo Bay are in their fifth week of a hunger strike, the Guardian has been told."

Zero piracy economically sub optimal

Chris Anderson at the Long Tail has some interesting thoughts on DRM. He concludes:
So the moral for video content holders and others considering DRM: be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. "Uncrackable" DRM could make the P2P problem worse, by driving more users underground and depressing prices. Don't imagine that if you release content in a relatively weak DRM wrapper (like today's DVDs) and copies get out that the whole market will collapse. Instead, you may find that piracy stays constant at relatively low levels, leaving the rest of the market happier and more profitable.

The lesson is to find a good-enough approach to content protection that is easy, convenient and non-annoying to most people, and then accept that there will be some leakage. Most consumers see the value in paying for something of guaranteed quality and legality, as long as you don't treat them like potential criminals. And the minority of others, who are willing to take the risks and go to the trouble of finding the pirated versions? Well, they probably weren't your best market anyway.

IMHO, the "good-enough approach to content protection that is easy, convenient and non-annoying to most people" is no drm. Plug and play is the standard for "easy, convenient and non-annoying" in my book (e version or otherwise) and drm comes nowhere near.

Bush drops minimum wage for Katrina rebuilding

President Bush has "issued an executive order Thursday allowing federal contractors rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pay below the prevailing wage."

I can only echo the sentiments of congressman George Miller of California,

"President Bush should immediately realize the colossal mistake he has made in signing this order and rescind it and ensure that America puts its people back to work in the wake of Katrina at wages that will get them and their families back on their feet"

HMV Microsoft downloads play for sure maybe

In the bad old days you'd buy a tape or CD, take it out of its box, stick it in the music player and press play. What a complicated way to "get access to" music you've bought.

With the brand spanking new world of music piped to your home computer via legitimate Internet digital music sales, things are so much easier, as Andrew Orlowski's description of the new HMV/Microsoft service demonstrates... er... maybe not.
Have HMV and Microsoft banished the compatibility issues that have dogged the market to date? And have they laid the fears of digital activists about locked music to rest?

Microsoft was alert to these concerns when it branded its music technology "Plays For Sure™". So judge for yourself from this explanation, produced by HMV itself.

Will HMV music Play For Sure on an iPod?

It surely won't, we're assured:

"Due to some software and file incompatibility, Apple iPods cannot be used with the HMV Digital service."

And what's the assurance that music you can play music you've downloaded if you choose the HMV Unlimited option, but your subscription lapses?

100 per cent that it won't be playable at all:

"Please note that anything downloaded via HMV Unlimited is a 'conditional' download, and is effectively rented. It will only be accessible whilst your subscription is active."

But doesn't everyone use MP3? Am I sure I can convert the files to MP3?

You surely can't:

"There is no facility in the player to these files using an MP3 encoder."

How sure are we that the music will play on our new PC? Why, as it happens, that's as easy as ... a support call to Bangalore:

"Please contact the Customer Service department. Just use the 'Contact Us' button and we will deactivate your computer [our emphasis].

Deactivate? That sounds drastic. But heck, you've probably already thrown it out of the window already - and this way it will take up less space.

In our blind rush to trust in computers to do absolutely anything better, we're amazingly tolerant of how poorly computing technologies are actually deployed in practice. When I switch on my office desktop in the mornings it takes 3 to 5 minutes to boot up. My home PC takes longer. They can sometimes take almost as long to switch off, (having clicked on the start button). If the TV or music system took as long as that I'd think there was something wrong with them. But hey, computers are so useful and so good at what they do that we're happy for them to be no good at what we actually use them for.

EDRI-gram Number 3.18, 8 September 2005

EDRI-gram Number 3.18, 8 September 2005 is now available. Most notable is the report on UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke's passionate recent challenge to the validity of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Talking about the need "to balance important rights for individuals against the collective right for security", Clarke said: "The view of my Government is that this balance is not right for the circumstances which we now face – circumstances very different from those faced by the founding fathers of the European Convention on Human Rights - and that it needs to be closely examined in that context."

Clarke was specifically referring to the difficulty under the Convention of deporting people suspected of being involved with terrorism, but obviously thought it was acceptable to attack the general principle of protecting citizens against their governments by granting them inalienable minimum rights and freedoms.

A large majority of liberals, social democrats and greens in the European Parliament responded in outrage. The influential Liberal leader Graham Watson told Reuters: "Human rights are indivisible. Freedom and security are not alternatives, they go hand-in-hand ... Much as the public may dislike it, suspected terrorists have rights." Watson also quoted criticism by human rights lawyer Cherie Booth -- wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair -- of the country’s hardline anti-terror measures. "To ... invoke a form of summary justice would in the words of the lawyer Cherie Booth cheapen our right to call ourselves a civilised society," he said.

Franco Frattini, the European Commissioner for Justice addressed the Parliament in a much calmer way on the same topic. "We should never be tired to repeat that when working on security we have to keep a balance between law enforcement activities and the protection of other fundamental rights." Earlier, the spokesperson of Frattini told the Berliner Zeitung the Commission would finally launch its proposal for a directive on data retention on 21 September. But Frattini created more ambivalence about the timeline in his speech: "And we have to balance prosecution activities and privacy. We will consider this both in the proposal on data retention and in the presentation of the first comprehensive proposal on data protection in the third pillar scheduled for October."

Telcos don't like Clarke's data retention plans

European Telecommunications Network Operators's Association have complained about the UK government's plans for EU wide data retention, according to this morning's Guardian. They believe the data storage would breach EU privacy law and "would prove expensive and intrusive, with far-reaching implications for every citizen."

Update: Ian Brown at FIPR, has pointed me at this morning's Scotsman, which says Clarke loses battle over European terror plans

Thursday, September 08, 2005

RIAA request retry at oral argument

The RIAA are asking to have another go at their original oral argument in the case against a mother fighting their lawsuit on p2p copyright infringement.

Cerf joins Google

John Battelle says Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) today announced that it hired Vinton (Vint) Cerf, the longtime technologist who is widely known as a "founding father" of the Internet, as Chief Internet Evangelist.

Felten on Kazaa in Oz

Ed Felten has explained why the p2p filtering ordered by the Australian judge in the Kazaa case will prove to be problematic in practice.
Designing such a filter is much harder than it sounds, because there are so many artist names and song names. These two namespaces are so crowded that a great many common names given to non-infringing recordings are likely to contain forbidden patterns.

The judge’s order uses the example of the band Powderfinger. Presumably the modified version of Kazaa would ban searches with “Powderfinger” as part of the artist name. This is all well and good when the artist name is so distinctive. But what if the artist name is a character string that occurs frequently in names, such as “beck”, “smiths”, or “x”? (All are names of artists with copyrighted recordings.) Surely there will be false positives.

It’s even worse for song names. You would have to ban simple words and phrases, like “Birthday”, “Crazy”, “Morning”, “Sailing”, and “Los Angeles”, to name just a few. (All are titles of copyrighted recordings.)

The judge’s order asks the parties to agree on the details of how a filter will work. If they can’t agree on the details, the judge will decide. Given the enormous number of artist and song names, and the crowded namespace, there are a great many details to decide, balancing over- and under-inclusiveness. It’s hard to see how the parties can agree on all of the details, or how the judge can impose a detailed design. The only hope is to appoint some kind of independent arbiter to make these decisions.

Ultimately, I think the tradeoff between over- and under-inclusiveness will prove too difficult — the filters will either fail to block many infringing files, or will block many non-infringing files, or both.

This is the same kind of filtering that Judge Patel ordered Napster to use, after she found Napster liable for indirect infringement. It didn’t work for Napster. Users just changed the spelling of artist and song names, adopting standard misspellings (e.g., “Metallica” changed to “Metalica” or “MetalIGNOREica” or the Pig Latin “Itallicamay”), or encoding the titles somehow. Napster updated its filters to compansate, but was always one step behind. And Napster’s job was easier, because the filtering was done on Napster’s own computers. Kazaa will have to try to download updates to users’ computers every time it changes its filters.

NO2ID campaigners arrested

According to the BBC, 6 people associated with the NO2ID campaign have been arrested this morning. The six were on their way to protest outside a summit of European ministers on Tyneside. The BBC says:
The NO2ID group said they were arrested on Thursday morning on the grounds they may cause a breach of the peace.

The campaigners, who were going to wear orange boiler suits and bar codes on their foreheads, had created a massive ID card to highlight what they see as an increasing restriction on civil liberties.

A spokesman for NO2ID said:
"It is shocking that we could not have a peaceful protest in a peaceful country but this is what these ministers want."

A spokeswoman for the police said:
"Four men and two women have all been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage and are currently in custody."

Update: Spy Blog is not impressed.


From Jamais Cascio,

"Although a good case can be made for the idea that science has an important role to play in the process of global development and the abolition of poverty, scientific journals quite often focus upon subjects and research of greater interest to the developed world than to the developing regions. To an extent, this is not at all surprising: the bulk of the research happens in the West and in Japan, and scientists do tend to work on issues that are important and interesting to them. Yet there are large numbers of working scientists in the developing world, too; how can their voices be better heard?

That's the goal of AuthorAid (PDF), a proposal from the editors of the Journal of Public Health Policy (JPHP), with the backing of the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research and the Council of Science Editors' (CSE) Task Force on Science Journals, Poverty, and Human Development."

The originators of the idea have written about it at SciDevNet.

"A global 'publishing gap' condemns efforts at reducing poverty to suffer from the shortsightedness of the rich. This is because the health and science researchers closest to poverty and poor health in the developing world are the least likely to publish their work and ideas in the academic journals that influence policymakers.

Various proposals to address this problem have been made. We would like to suggest an additional strategy, which would link developing-world authors with promising work to voluntary editor/scientist mentors anywhere in the world, on a manuscript-by-manuscript basis.

The mentors could then help the authors prepare submissions that science and policy journals will accept and publish."


BBC opens TV archive to remixers

BBC opens TV archive to remixers

Newscasters finally start snarling

Jack Shafer at Slate at the end of last week: The Rebellion of the Talking Heads
Newscasters, sick of official lies and stonewalling, finally start snarling.

BREIN free software

A Dutch antipiracy group are planning to release "free" software to enable parents to detect P2P file sharing programmes on their computers.

I doubt that anyone lacking the skills to check whether there computer has Kazaa or the like (usually involving looking for the desktop icon, or clicking start-programs) will have the skills to download this software. But even if they did, wouldn't it be better if the parent spoke to the child?

Hellkom v Tellkom

From IPKat: "South African telephone company Telkom has settled its dispute with Greg Stirton, the owner of the domain name."

UK ORG Launched

A UK "Open Rights Group" has been launched.

Spy Blog and ID card disinformation

Spy Blog is irritated about a new government leaflet on identity fraud suggesting ID cards will solve the problem. They won't.

IP Scholars Papers

Justin Hughes has put the papers from the IP Scholars conference online.

Great resource.

6 year old rescues babies in New Orleans

From the LA Times:
In the chaos that was Causeway Boulevard, this group of refugees stood out: a 6-year-old boy walking down the road, holding a 5-month-old, surrounded by five toddlers who followed him around as if he were their leader.

They were holding hands. Three of the children were about 2 years old, and one was wearing only diapers. A 3-year-old girl, who wore colorful barrettes on the ends of her braids, had her 14-month-old brother in tow. The 6-year-old spoke for all of them, and he told rescuers his name was Deamonte Love.

Thousands of human stories have flown past relief workers in the last week, but few have touched them as much as the seven children who were found wandering together Thursday at an evacuation point in downtown New Orleans.

Potter at iTunes

JK Rowling has finally agreed to allow the Harry Potter books to be sold as downloadable audio files from iTunes.

What Greenspan Can't See

A thoughtful and thought provoking essay by Jonathon Rowe On the Commons about the limitations of measuring even just economic value purely through monetary flows.
The era of blaming government could be over. Not only that, the era of portraying environmental concerns as the self-indulgence of tree-hugger elites is over too. If Katrina proved nothing else, it is that this thing called the “environment” isn’t a matter of sentimentality and aesthetics. It is about life support, and economics in the most elemental sense – that is, the mustering of available resources to meet urgent human need.

Alan Greenspan and his fellow divines have been hunched over their calculators trying to work out the consequences of Katrina to what they call “the economy.” Their computations are warped from the git-go, and not a little sick. They fixate on the part of life that is transacted through money. Thus anything that increases the slosh of dollar bills – or of some other currency -- is by definition “good for the economy.”

Where this thinking leads was apparent in a recent article on entitled (I’m not kidding) “Katrina’s Silver Lining.” Here’s the key passage.

“When a hurricane comes, count on large-cap investors to snap up stocks of not only home improvement companies, but also discount retailers (everyone's running for flashlights and other supplies and will be replacing losses from flood damage), home builders (all those houses need to be rebuilt) and oil companies (damage to refineries down in the Gulf sparks supply worries and kicks up prices)...

The worse things are the better they are, so long as someone is making money from the distress. In this way of thinking, obesity, stress, car crashes and divorce also are great for “the economy” because they occasion the expenditure of a great deal of money. Toxics in the air and water are a double gain: once when the corporation makes money by producing them, and then when people have to spend additional amounts on cancer treatments and the like. (By the way, what does it say about Vice President Cheney that Haliburton, his former company, ends up cashing on both the disasters of the Bush years – Katrina and 9/11. Just a coincidence I guess.)

As I said it’s a little sick. And myopic too. Greenspan et al are staring at an economic failure of epic proportions, and they can’t even see it because it’s beyond the focal plane of money. I’m talking about the economy of nature, the natural life support system that is no less important than the monetized economy and – as Katrina has shown – often is much more important.

Katrina was a man-made disaster even more than a natural one. It was not the hurricane alone that caused the devastation in New Orleans. It was the hurricane plus the absence of the wetlands that should have buffered the city from the storm. Every 2.7 miles of wetlands reduces a storm surge by about one foot. Louisiana has been losing wetlands equal to the size of Manhattan every year. You don’t need a slide rule to see where that calculus leads.

It’s not malls and vacation homes that are destroying these wetlands, as in other parts of the country. In Louisiana it’s largely oil. Offshore drilling has required the dredging of large canals, which enable salt water to flow into the marshes and cause land to sink. The other culprit is the extensive system of levees built to protect New Orleans from the Mississippi floods. These floods used to carry sediment into the marshlands which nourished and replenished them.

No floods means no replenishment. What used to be a buffer zone is now just open water, and a clear shot for the hurricane that experts have been warning of for years...

This includes the stupidity in the way the nation measures “growth” -- ie the GDP. How can they say the economy is “growing”, if it is cannibalizing the commons economy upon which our very lives depend? When the oil industry destroys wetlands, shouldn’t that be a subtraction from growth rather than an addition? When it takes billions of dollars to dig out from a man-made disaster – a growth-made disaster – then should those expenditures count towards growth at all?

John Battelle Book Published

John Battelle's book, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture is apparently now available from Amazon (though not the UK store yet).

Be careful about blogging when job hunting

Ivan Tribble advises bloggers to be careful about what they write, especially if they are looking for a job. He has previously written a piece about this for the Chronicle of Higher Education where he "gave a sharp warning to bloggers on the academic job market" based on his own recruiting experience. The column generated a big response from bloggers. He's been thinking about the responses.

"Among the more outraged responses to my column, the biggest issue seemed to be freedom of speech. There appears to be some confusion about what the Constitution guarantees. "Hello officer, the stolen goods are in my trunk," is one example of free speech that can get you incarcerated. Telling a bank officer you plan to skip town with the cash will certainly cut your chances of getting a loan.

Likewise, there's plenty of constitutionally protected speech that has no place in an interview. Try telling an interviewer, "Kinda heavy, aren't you?" Or "Man, these undergrads are so hot!" It's not hard to conjure up examples.

If "be careful what you say," is good general advice for the job seeker, why is it so controversial to add the word "online"? Maintaining the privacy of comments broadcast to the entire computerized world seems disingenuous. Public speech, while certainly free, is still public...

Getting hired, then, is much like hitting the lottery. How does a candidate get the winning combination? The best advice I've heard says, by being who you really are. Some people will be alienated by who you really are, while others will find you appealing.

A job seeker must consider: Does that online projection (some would say construction) of yourself present you as you wish to be seen...

As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don't "get it." That's right, I don't. Many in the tenured generation don't, and they'll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come.

If that's bad news, I'm sorry. But would it really be better if no one bothered to mention it? Shooting the messenger may make some feel better, but heeding the warning might help them get jobs."

Monsanto bitter about Bitter Greens Journal

Journalist, farmer and blogger, Tom Philpott, has upset Monsanto to the extent that their trademark lawyer ("Barb Bunning-Stevens
Assistant General Counsel - Trademarks") has sent him a cease and desist notice.

After thinking about it for a few days he responded:
Dear Ms. Bunning-Stevens,
Although it's comical for a corporation with upwards of $5 billion in annual revenue to harass an obscure blogger who helps run a 2.5-acre farm, the tone of your letter is earnest; so I will reply earnestly.

Your arguments seem specious to me, and I therefore I must refuse to cease using "Roundup, ready" as the title for an occasional feature on my Web log.

You write that "[t]his use of the term could cause your readers to think that your journal is in some way sponsored by Monsanto or that Monsanto supports the positions set out in your journal." Yet my journal clearly presents itself as a "running critique of industrial agriculture," and from its first post on has made no secret of its distaste for Monsanto and its particular style of industrial agriculture.

I doubt you will be able to dig up a single reader who, after perusing a "Roundup, ready" post, will think to himself, "Now this fellow must be on the Monsanto dole!"

To further clarify my position on Monsanto, and to underline my institutional, financial, and ideological independence from it, I'm considering placing a new feature along the left-hand side of my blog. Titled "Bitter Greens on Monsanto," it would be a compilation of clickable headlines to the 15 or so posts that have mentioned your company. Would that go some way toward distancing our two entities?

Nor am I persuaded by the claim that my use of a comma in "Roundup, ready" somehow "weakens [Monsanto's] trademark rights." If I were in the business of genetically altering seeds so that they could withstand copious applications of herbicides, and I were marketing my product under the brand "Roundup, ready," cheekily trying to leverage Monsanto's marketing might and hoping the comma would protect me from copyright troubles, I would certainly tremble in fear on being contacted by a Monsanto attorney. And I would immediately cease and desist that dubious practice.

However, I am selling nothing. I am a polemicist employing (in the case of "Roundup, ready") satire to advance the cause of locally based, organic agriculture. If I'm able with my writing to stop a farmer from buying your product, then it will be due to the force of my arguments, not to any confusion regarding your trademark.

With all due respect, it seems to me that rather than protect your trademark from any serious threat, what you're really trying to do is intimidate a political opponent into ceasing what is surely Constitutionally protected speech. And so, as I stated above, I must decline your request. And I will redouble my efforts to study and write about the practices of your company.

Tom Philpott

Thanks to Overlawyered for the pointer to the story.

Ernie the attorney out of New Orleans

I hadn't appreciated that Ernie the Attorney (Ernest Svenson), whose blog I occasionally refer to here, lived in New Orleans.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A story from a survivor in New Orleans

This story from one of the survivors of hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans is an horrific indictment of the actions of some officials in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Microsoft sue the Commission

Microsoft have sued the European Commission.

Google Print and copyright

Jonathan Band has produced a useful paper on "The Google Print Library Project: A Copyright Analysis"

It explains the project (there is a fair bit of confusion around about exactly what Google are doing) and looks at the copyright and fair use issues.

Lexmark and analog DRM

The Free Culture blog has an eminently readable rant about Lexmark winning
their recent case.

The case was about whether Lexmark could offer a “prebate” on some of its ink cartridges with the stipulation that ink cartridges bought under this prebate (that is, a discounted price) would carry a contractual obligation on the part of the customer to mail back the empty cartridges to Lexmark — and not reuse them by using an ink-syringe kit to refill them or sending them to a company that refills cartridges for you (such companies being the ones represented by ACRA, a trade association for such things).

There’s no actual contract, of course. The reason companies don’t make you do this random crap most of the time is because, before, it would require railroading you into signing something, which most customers won’t do.

But now apparently by generalizing from the way shrinkwrap licenses or “Click to Accept” EULAs on software work, hardware is falling under similar rules. The Court has ruled that if a box reads “Single Use Only”, then buying the product and opening the box constitutes a contract of sale that says you will only use the product once and not find some third-party way to reuse it...

I mean, come on — we’re not talking about electronically stored data here anymore, not about information, not about complex technology. We’re talking about your right to buy a container filled with fluid, use up the fluid and fill it up again with fluid. What’s next, Evian refusing to allow you to fill their containers with non-Evian water? When you can’t own something as mundane as an ink cartridge — when a simple physical object that fulfills a simple physical function is licensed rather than being sold the old-fashioned way, when companies absolutely refuse to allow us to have the right of resale and reuse and creative retooling that we’re used to with actual physical objects that we actually physically buy and take home to our houses to use –

Well, damn. This fight’s just gotten a lot bigger than cyberspace. This is now a meatspace fight. This fight is now about the right to own anything.

Hybrid cars the true cause of congestion!

From David Bollier,
If there’s one thing that drives free marketeers nuts, it is the idea that people just may have the capacity and desire to make moral judgments for themselves, and to apply them for the collective betterment of society. Libertarians argue instead that the Invisible Hand is the only moral capacity we’ll ever really need. This issue arises because now that John Tierney has stepped into the libertarian slot at the Times (quotas, anyone?), the obligatory columns celebrating the free market have become predictable rants against fuzzy-headed do-gooders. Say what you will about William Safire (Tierney’s illustrious predecessor), he was a columnist of political sophistication and writerly flair.

Libertarianism has apparently come to such a sad turn that it now needs to recycle the strawman arguments of yesteryear in order to affirm the moral infallibility of The Market. Last week’s column (August 30) was a classic. Tierney explained the real culprit for congested highways and air pollution is not the SUV, sprawl or the highway lobby, but…. environmental elitists who drive hybrid cars! The headline captures the cultural resentment disguised as policy analysis: “The Road to Hell is Clogged with Righteous Hybrids.”

Apparently John Tierney, the NYT columnist Bollier is criticising, said:
As traffic slows down [due to the swell of righteous hybrid owners in lanes reserved for carpooling], there’ll be more idling cars burning more gas and emitting more pollution, but politicians will be reluctant to offend hybrid owners by revoking their privilege.

Evidence-free ranting. There's a 6 month waiting list to buy a Toyota Prius in the US and relative ownership volume of hybrid cars is miniscule...

Hogwarts Security

Bruce Schneier has been thinking about security at Harry Potter's school, Hogwarts. (To Potter fans: There are plot spoilers in the comments, though, so don't read if you haven't read the most recent book)

Clarke confronts judges on terror law

Clarke confronts judges on terror law, says Alan Travis at The Guardian.

"The home secretary, Charles Clarke, has given a fresh warning to judges not to frustrate his decision to deport terror suspects by insisting the courts respect human rights deals struck with countries such as Jordan."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Quote of the day

Quote of the day:

"The larger any organization, the higher the probability that its top management lives in a totally imaginary world." (Source unknown).

Ideal Government Europe

William Heath's Ideal Government is going pan European - see Ideal Government: Europe.

Groklaw on Balmer's threat to kill Google

Pamela Jones has been ruminating on Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer's alleged threats to kill Google and bury the company's CEO, Eric Schmidt.

I await with eager anticipation the cries of moral outrage from Rob Enderle and Laura Didio and Darl McBride and everyone else who has accused the FOSS community of verbal extremism.

That may be quite a wait, so let me be the first to call on the proprietary software community to condemn in no uncertain terms such violent speech coming from their community. Death threats are never acceptable, don't you agree?

Such threats coming from the CEO of the largest software company in the world are far more serious than they would be coming from some teenage Slashdotter, because Ballmer surely has the means to follow through, does he not, should he actually mean it?

If you were Mr. Schmidt, how safe would you be feeling today? It was a metaphor, you say. Likely it was, but are you positive? And let's say you answer yes, it was a metaphor. Is it all right for a convicted monopolist to threaten to "kill" a competing company?

Concept wars

William Heath has been thinking about a paper by a David Bewley-Taylor. US Concept Wars, civil liberties and technologies of fortification characterises the "widespread introduction" of "invasive technology" in the wake of 9/11 not as a break from the open society many believe the US to be, but rather "the next organic phase of an ongoing process of fortifying the United States." The US, he says, "has long been characterized by exclusion." The paper also charaterises technology as a tool of exclusion.

Hmmm. Social exclusion is certainly not exclusive to the US and technology is most certainly enabling when designed, deployed and regulated appropriately.

Chief Justice Rehnquist dies

US Supreme Court Justice, William H. Renhquist, died on Saturday last. Howard Bashman has links to all the tributes. President Bush has now decided to appoint John Roberts as Chief Justice, having nominated him earlier in the summer to replace the retiring Justice Sanda Day O'Connor.


Jurispedia is a great idea and hopefully is will take off, though it is a bit light on content at the moment.

SAR 11

I'm in environmental decision making thinking mode today, reading a wonderful (near final) draft of colleagues Chris Blackmore's and Andrea Berardi's first book in our new masters course due on stream next year; and I came across this fascinating snippet on a group of bacteria I had never heard of, "Pelagibacter ubique", also called SAR 11. Apparently it has the most efficiently coded genome on earth and is crucial to the operation of the carbon cycle.

Kazaa lose in Australia

An Australian court has finally ruled in the long running case brought by the record industry against Sharman Networks, owners of the Kazaa file sharing software. From the BBC:

The judge dismissed as "overstated" accusations that Kazaa's owners were infringing copyright themselves.

"The more realistic claim is that the respondents authorised users to infringe the applicants' copyright in their sound recordings," he said.

Kazaa's owners were ordered to modify the software within two months to include filters designed to stop the sharing of copyright material.

A fresh round of hearings will now be held to determine the level of damages, which could run into the millions of dollars.

Kim Weatherall, who has done the most comprehensive analysis of the decision that I've seen so far, reckons the judge has been "brave" in insisting that Sharman attempt to implement some kind of filtering process to cut copyright infringement. "Brave" because this will mean in practice a constant series of hearings where Sharman and the record companies complain about how each party is not doing enough (just like the Napster case in the US). She's probably right.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Google extend book search operations

Google have extended their book searching operations, according to this report from internetnews.

EU Net regulation IMIS reponse

A paper with the rather dry title, "Response to the European Commission Issues paper on the Rules applicable to Audiovisual Content Services from the Institute for the Management of Information Systems (IMIS)" takes a rather unconventional, though enlightening approach to critiquing an EU Commission proposal.

The hypothetical review from the perspective of a future historian is very effective and is introduced with a relatively standard, if extremely damning, criticism of the proposal, thus:

Over the past two decades IMIS members have seen the European information
industries first stagnate and then begin to atrophy. This process has been
expedited by a series of ill-judged regulatory initiatives, including under
the banner of "harmonisation". In consequence over half the IMIS membership
now lives and works outside Europe, many in those nations to which UK and
EU-based information systems and service jobs, including content creation
and electronic publishing have been relocated over recent years.

The surreal thought processes behind this issues paper exemplify a mindset
that looks set to expedite that process by helping drive away what is left
of our content creation and publication industries, while failing to protect
children or consumers from abuse.

The absence of any analysis by the Commission of the economic consequences
of past EU policies with regard to the regulation of information society and
e-commerce products and services, let alone of those likely to follow from
this initiative, led one of our members to consider how a future historian
might view the likely consequences of this initiative. We believe that his
short paper will be more effective in helping open up constructive debate
than would a conventional response

The essay that follows, The Day the Internet Stopped, is well worth reading in full (it only runs to about 2 pages). I'm not necessarily subscribing to the political vision outlined here but it is very very cleverly done. Congratulations to the IMIS for taking the approach given the serious risk that it might be ignored or marginalised in the consultation for doing so. And well done to the author for convincing the IMIS to run with it.

HMV get into online music sales

HMV have been slow getting to market but are launching a service today in partnership with Microsoft offering a catalogue of 1.3 million songs.

Publishers oppose UK Open Access

From last Tuesday's Guardian,

"Publishers and learned societies are fighting a last ditch action to stop the research findings of thousands of British academics being made freely available online."

Evoting security specified in California

The California State Senate has passed a law specifying minimum security requirement for electronic voting machines, including a ban on linking the machines to the Internet. This may well be a sensible interim measure, depending on the specific security problems at issue in California but although I have serious concerns about previous and planned design, regulation and deployment of electonic voting machines all round the world, I'm not sure a ban on connecting them to the Net will be sustainable or sensible in the longer term.

Schoolkid tinkerers offered deals

The 13 schoolchildren in Pennsylvania who bypassed the filters on school issued laptops have apparently been offered deals which avoid them getting criminal records.

Switching jobs a problem?

Microsoft's argument in their legal case against former executive Kai-Fu Lee and Google has taken an interesting turn.

"The high-profile dispute largely hinges on a noncompete agreement Lee signed with Microsoft. But in court filings, the software giant has also mentioned the theory of "inevitable disclosure," which holds that in some circumstances people can't avoid sharing or relying on trade secrets from their former employer when moving to a competitor."

I wonder how far that can be pushed?

They knew what to expect in New Orleans

From Wired,

Virtually everything that has happened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck was predicted by experts and in computer models, so emergency management specialists wonder why authorities were so unprepared.

"The scenario of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans was well anticipated, predicted and drilled around," said Clare Rubin, an emergency management consultant who also teaches at the Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at George Washington University...

Underlying the situation has been the general reluctance of government at any level to invest in infrastructure or emergency management, said David McEntire, who teaches emergency management at the University of North Texas.

"No one cares about disasters until they happen. That is a political fact of life," he said.

"Emergency management is woefully underfunded in this nation. That covers not only first responders but also warning, evacuation, damage assessment, volunteer management, donation management and recovery and mitigation issues."

Update: John's been thinking about FEMA, the US federal agency in charge of emergency management and its absorption into the Department for Homeland Security. "It’s clear that FEMA had always ranked the flooding of New Orleans as one of the three biggest disasters that could befall the US. In the old days, the head of FEMA had a seat at the Cabinet table and might even have had the ear of the President. But now, advice and information from FEMA has to be filtered through another layer of bureaucracy — the Homeland Security Secretary, who is probably obsessed with terrorism."

Sunday, September 04, 2005

RSS Feed for B2fxxx at last

I've finally got round to adding an RSS feed to this blog, courtesy of Feedburner.

Customer is always wrong with DRM

Derek Slater has produced a guide to the DRM restrictions in the most popular legitimate online music services.

"There is an increasing variety of options for purchasing music online, but also a growing thicket of confusing usage restrictions. You may be getting much less than the services promise.

Many digital music services employ digital rights management (DRM) — also known as "copy protection" — that prevents you from doing things like using the portable player of your choice or creating remixes. Forget about breaking the DRM to make traditional uses like CD burning and so forth. Breaking the DRM or distributing the tools to break DRM may expose you to liability under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) even if you're not making any illegal uses.

In other words, in this brave new world of "authorized music services," law-abiding music fans often get less for their money than they did in the old world of CDs (or at least, the world before record companies started crippling CDs with DRM, too)."

The wonderful swizz of the cards

Starring Tony Blair as Dorothy and others you may well recognise in supporting roles, from the folk who brought you the very model of a modern labour minister... (Thanks to Ian Brown at FIPR for the link)

Meanwhile, according to Donna, on the IP front Lexmark have succeeded in doing with contract and patent law what they failed to do with the DMCA, excluding customers from using cheap generic replacement printer cartridges.