Friday, February 24, 2006

iTunes Unfair Contract Terms

From Lars Grøndal, BEUC (a European consumers organisation), Brussels, Belgium, "In every day life consumers are frequently accepting standardised contractual and technological terms that they have little or no understanding of. Some of these terms are generally unfair and do not stand up to legal scrutiny. In this article iTunes Music Store’s Terms of Service is used as an example of a standard contract containing unfair terms...

Both DRMs and standard terms are seldom open to individual negotiation – either the consumer accepts them or the consumer will have to take its business elsewhere. If consumers had a wide variety of easily comparable terms this would not be a problem. But as the situation is today, with opaque and often standardised conditions, consumers are facing insurmountable difficulties in obtaining fair terms. Even the legally trained consumer will have trouble getting a proper understanding of all the terms you meet in every day life."

He does a nice job of dissecting parts of the iTunes licence but it's worth remembering that these terms are by no means unique to iTunes. I'd really like to see some of these ridiculous EULAs challenged under unfair contract terms legislation, though arguably, as Lars Grøndal says, "the current legal regime does not fully take into account the unique characteristics of digital products."

Home Secretary and the DNA database

Spy Blog asks: "Why not put Home Secretary Charles Clarke's DNA on the National DNA Database?"

"Home Office Minister Andy Burnham has made a Written Ministerial Statement on the National DNA Database

Unconvincingly, he claims that

"Inclusion on the NDNAD does not signify a criminal record and there is no personal cost or material disadvantage to the individual simply by being on it"

If Home Secretary Charles Clarke, or the other Home Office Ministers like Andy Burnhan are so sure that this is the case, then why not lead by example, and voluntarily place their own human tissue samples and "DNA fingerprints" on this NDNAD, to be retained forever, and potentially re-analysed and data shared, without their consent, in the future ?

Why not do the same to all of the NuLabour politicians as well, considering how dangerous these people are to our security and liberty ?

What is a "criminal record" , for practical purposes these days ? If you have any entry on the Police National Computer (PNC), the Police Local Cross-Check, (PLX), or the Information Management, Prioritisation, Analysis, Co-ordination and Tasking (IMPACT) systems for "soft intelligence" being slowly brought in by after the Bichard Inquiry, then you have, in effect got a "police record", which, in practice, is going to be virtually indistinguishable from a "criminal record"m especially when the details are passed on to other systems such as Criminal Records Bureau checks or to foreign governments for "terrorism suspect lists".

These latter systems will usually not be privy to the details of why you are "known to the police" computer systems, e.g. a voluntary DNA sample, and innocent people will be put under suspicion as a result."

WIPO Broadcast treaty debate

A couple of days ago the National Academy of Sciences hosted a debate on the WIPO Broadcast Treaty. Unfortunately there was only a small audience.

"First up was Jen Urban of the USC law school, who gave a terrific presentation detailing her concerns with the treaty and how it would not provide for the exemptions and exclusions under copyright law. She also talked about how, since webcasting was not necessarily limited to video, that data could be protected under the treaty, in contravention of this country’s law banning the protection of facts. Jen was followed by an equally excellent presentation by Mike Nelson of IBM, speaking for the Internet Society, who gave a primer on how the Internet and distributed computing work. Mike also talked about how extending broadcaster rights to webcasters would raise a myriad of problems, such as the fact that anybody who sends streaming video over the Internet would be considered a webcaster under treaty. His thesis was that broadcasting and webcasting are different, and regardless of the substance of the treaty, should not be treated the same. Wrapping up was the International uber-advocate Jamie Love of the Consumer Project on Technology, who reiterated the lack of need for the treaty and that it was not accomplishing its intended purpose – signal theft protection. He also chided WIPO for always defaulting to increasing protection, even where it has not been shown to benefit creators or the public, particularly in third world countries. He argued that WIPO has other more pressing matters before it, including the development agenda, which seeks to develop IP policies that help, rather than hinder developing countries."

Biopiracy by copyright

Descriptions of new species are protected by copyright. This can have the effect of making those descriptions inaccessible, beyond the means of many developing (and biodiverse) countries.

Cultural environmentalism

James Boyle has been writing insightfully again about cultural environmentalism in the Financial Times.

iTunes TV shows and iCraveTV

Jonathan Zittrain, who nowadays is spending half his time in the US and half in the UK, is a happy Slingbox user and he's been buying TV shows from iTunes. But he wonders how come iTunes are not falling foul of the iCrave TV ruling.

"I'm in the UK much of the year, and have found the Slingbox to be a great way of watching my home TiVo from anywhere. Additionally, just recently the iTunes store started offering a limited number of TV shows for download. $1.99 for an episode of The Office or Battlestar Galactica works well -- high quality, no commercials, and can be watched without the broadband connection required by Sling.

I tried a few episodes that way, liked it, and then was bemused when I couldn't find the TV shows anywhere on the iTunes Music Store site that's viewed within iTunes. It was as if the project had been quietly canceled -- no link anywhere to the shows I knew had been there a few days before. I finally figured it out: the Store was doing an IP address geolocation, and finding me in the UK, offered me the UK store -- which has no TV. I presume that that's because Apple hasn't cleared the rights for worldwide distribution of these shows -- only US distribution. (I'd be interested if anyone knew for sure.)

I saw a very small dropdown box at the bottom of the UK store that let me select US, and a new page appeared, with the TV shows on the menu again. (In fact, the dropdown box then disappeared, so choosing the US view of the iTunes store is a bit like staying at the Hotel California.)

I was then able to download the shows here in the UK. I'm delighted at this, of course -- but I'm curious how Apple gets around the problem suffered by iCraveTV when it wanted to rebroadcast over-the-air TV onto the Internet -- an activity illegal in the US and, they were prepared to argue, legal in Canada, where the site was hosted. They first used user-provided area codes to determine whether someone was in the US, denying access to those who provided US codes. They then attempted other means to filter -- though an expert for the plaintiffs concluded that a "substantial" number of hits were still coming from within the US. Certainly whatever efforts they made were did not dissaude the federal judge hearing the request by broadcasters from issuing a restraining order shutting down iCraveTV. In any case, Apple is (happily for me) allowing people outside the US to access the US music store by simply finding that dropdown box.

So is Apple in better stead than iCraveTV because (1) the broadcasters aren't upset about leakage outside the US, and in fact still profit from it since "leaked" shows are still paid for; (2) Apple actually has the overseas rights but doesn't offer the shows on its non-US versions of the store for other reasons; (3) Apple has a US credit card on file for me (which doesn't actually seem relevant to the legal analysis if indeed Apple doesn't have the right to ship the content overseas); (4) ... ?"

Gowers Review of Intellectual Property

The Gowers review of intellectual property has issued a call for evidence as part of its commitment to consult widely.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

BMJ and open access

Merrill Goozner laments the end of the British Medical Journal's open access policy.

"Among the four major medical journals, the British Medical Journal is my favorite. It has the most extensive news coverage of the fight against the infectious diseases that are ravaging the developing world, a subject in which I take a keen interest. And it consistently prints iconoclastic studies that take on the medical establishment.

And, until this year, it was entirely free on the web. That made it distinct from the other big-time journals (the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and the Journal of the American Medical Association), which charged hefty fees to view individual articles of interest if you weren’t a subscriber. But, alas, BMJ’s open access policy went the way of the dodo bird this January, leaving medical consumers locked out of all the major journals. Accessing some of BMJ’s original research articles and all of its news section now require a subscription to the journal.

It’s testimony to the poverty of the public policy debate in this country that no one in the mainstream media has yet raised this issue – access to cutting edge medical information – in response to the Bush administration’s push for “consumer-driven health care” through individual health savings accounts. How are consumers to choose wisely when and where to get health care if they are cut off from key sources of information? It’s like sending car buyers to the used-car lot while denying them access to the Kelley Blue Book.

I’m a skeptic when it comes to consumer-driven medicine anyway. Buying health care isn’t like buying a house or car or even legal services. The vast majority of expenditures occur in either emergencies or when the patient, i.e., the consumer, is under the duress of ill-health. If I find myself in that situation, I want a doctor who can quickly guide me to the most effective care and give me carefully thought-out options that hopefully are not based on some drug industry-funded study published in a second-tier medical journal and dropped off in his or her office the day before yesterday by a drug industry salesman (these reprints are a major source of medical journal publishing revenue, by the way)."

Indian scientist denied visa to visit US

A world renowned Indian scientist who has been to the US dozens of times previously, has been denied a visa to travel to the US, apparently because his expertise in chemistry makes him a potential terrorist.

Free Software, the Public Domain, and the People Who Don't Get It

Is Michael Froomkin being a little hard on the Trading Standards officer quoted here?

Innovation in teaching

From Cory again: "Teachers in predominantly black schools in the US have developed a program to teach fractals by using corn-row hair-styles as examples of the form"

Now that's what I call good teaching.

Author to finish trilogy as a reader-supported web-book

Author, Diane Duane, has decided to finish a trilogy as a reader-supported web-book, after her publishers decided the market wasn't big enough to publish the book. Cory says:

"She'll publish the ten chapters or "The Big Meow" one chapter at a time, releasing a new chapter every time her donations pot crosses her minimum-to-publish threshold. At the end of the experiment, the supporters will get bound copies of the book from Diane's vowed to finish the book in time for the World Science Fiction Convention in LA this August 23.

The first two volumes of the Feline Wizards trilogy drew a sizable audience, but not enough to convince Diane's publisher to pay her to write book three. Over the years, an anxious audience has demanded a conclusion to the series, so back in December, Diane posted an open question to her blog: would her readers support her if she finished the trilogy without a publisher?

The answer's been a resounding yes -- one reader's even gone so far as to offer a $1,000 matching grant to Diane toward the completion of the book. "

Good luck to her. It will be interesting to see if it works.

Shopping carts, copyright and the limits of intuition

Derek Slater has been explaining why the "you wouldn't steal the shopping cart, so you shouldn't use the copyrighted work without permission" analogy breaks down, even though it is intuitively appealing rhetoric.

"The point of the comparison to shopping carts is to make us think that whatever intuitions apply to one case should apply to the other. So, if our intuitions say that stealing a shopping cart is wrong, using a copyrighted work without permission is also wrong - in both cases, we're taking something away from the rightful owner.

But what about libraries? Libraries provide free access to copyrighted works without any compensation to copyrighted works. Perhaps libraries should be shut down, and copyright holders should be able to license book-lending services under whatever terms they want.

In general, I bet (or, rather, I hope) that our first intuition about libraries is that they're perfectly justifiable and socially beneficial. If DeLong or others want to push us to accept their analogy to shopping carts, they should also be willing to bite the bullet and say that libraries are at best a tolerable though unfortunate historical accident and at worst unsound policy that must be eliminated as soon as possible; alternatively, he ought to have a clever way of distinguishing this case or clarifying his principle. If these principles lead to ostensibly wrong conclusions, we ought reject the intuitions pumped from the shopping cart comparison."

I fear that copyright expansionists do indeed think of libraries as an intolerable and "unfortunate historical accident" and that we are never too far away from public proclamations to the effect that taxpayer monies are being wasted and the free market is getting distorted by an unsound policies supporting libraries "that must be eliminated as soon as possible." Even in the US, though, such an argument would be still seen as a little extreme.

Update: Derek metions Lawrence Solum's analysis of the ecomomics of intellectual property from 2003 and it really is terrific. Required reading for anyone who genuinely wants to understand the difference between tangible and intellectual property.

New dedicated anti piracy police unit in UK

From the BBC,

"A police unit dedicated to combating movie piracy and those responsible for the manufacture and distribution of pirated films has launched in London.

In partnership with the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact), the new unit will pursue individuals and groups profiting from the sale of fake DVDs. "

Nature article on GIS and Google Earth

There's a nice (if a little too upbeat) article in last weeks Nature about Google Earth and geographic information systems (GIS) software. It focusses on their potential value for scientists, particularly in relation to environmental monitoring but this is exactly where computing based networked information systems can really have an impact in education too. A picture paints a thousand words and if we start tapping into the real possibilities for explaining abtract concepts through the kind of visual representation that these kinds of tools make possible, then even the skeptics like teacher Peter Berger, may begin to realise we have not even scratched the surface of their (and our) potential.

Thanks to my colleague Dick Morris for the link.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Big tech cos complain to EU about Microsoft

From ZDNet, Rivals hit Microsoft with new EU complaint

Strict liability for data breaches?

Mark Rasch, of SecurityFocus asks if there should be Strict liability for data breaches?

The magic silicon bullet in the classroom

One teacher, Peter Berger, thinks we should be careful about getting dazzled by what computers are being used for in schools, and perhaps focus instead on what they are useful for and more importantly what they can't and shouldn't do.

"Consider, for example, data released by the U.S. Department of Education, which estimate that twenty-three percent of preschoolers have used the Internet "before they can even read." This makes preschoolers "the largest group of new users," a distinction which thrills the Department's technology overseer. She's especially pleased that "young students don't differentiate between the face-to-face world and the Internet world."

Excuse me, but don't we want small children to recognize the difference between a picture and a real person? That used to be an important stage in cognitive development.

Sympathetic boosters like the director of one Washington, D.C., preschool center chime in that computers teach toddlers problem solving, hand eye coordination, and "the social component of working together." Come on. Does anybody seriously pretend that crowding around a computer monitor is the best or only way to teach that stuff...

At the undergraduate level a new device, the wireless clicker, is debuting in classes. With this gizmo the professor asks a question, and the students press their "yes," "no," or multiple choice answer buttons. A few minutes later their votes materialize as a bar graph on an overhead screen."

The gizmo apparently eases fears of giving the wrong answer.

Irish ID card plans shelved

The Irish government have apparently shelved plans for an ID card scheme.

The Memo

Jane Mayer at the New Yorker has the story of how an internal effort on the part of some Bush administration lawyers to ban the abuse and torture of detainees was thwarted. (Don't be surprised if the link dies. New Yorker story links have a limited life).

Thanks to Michael Froomkin for the link.

Anagram tube map nastygrammed off the Net

From Cory,

"The hilarious remixed London Tube map that substituted anagrams of the station names has been censored off the Internet by lawyers working for Transport for London. The page now reads, "Content removed at the request of Healeys Solicitors acting on behalf of Transport for London and Transport Trading Ltd."

I blogged the map last week -- it was one of the funniest and most creative re-uses of the familiar map I'd ever seen. The London Tube Map is part of the culture of London, a genius work of information design that is as familiar to a Londoner as the familiar pub designs and the black cabs. Like all culture, it's subject to being remixed by playful citizens and artists.

No one made money from the anagram map (in fact, serving a big PDF to lots of people can cost a lot of money). Instead, we Londoners shared the map on a noncommercial basis the same way you would any clever joke or song or poster about the world around you. It's shameful for Transport for London to have abused UK trademark law to engage in rank censorship. It should celebrate the creativity of its riders, not punish it."

Recommending draconian laws for the chop

Ian Brown and Spyblog have been drawing up a partial list of laws they'd like to see repealed in the interests of liberty in the UK.

Jenkins on Bush Blair and Bin Laden

Simon Jenkins has been unkind to George W. and Tony again but at least he was being optimistic about the future this time:

"There never was a “terrorist threat” to western civilisation or democracy, only to western lives and property. The threat becomes systemic only when democracy loses its confidence and when its leaders are weak, as now. Terror attacks are for the police. For George Bush and Blair to demand a “long war” against Bin Laden and, by implication, a long suppression of civil liberty is ludicrous. Western civilisation is not some simpering weakling that cowers before a fanatic ’s might, pleading for leaders to protect it by all means, however illegal. It has been proof against Islamic expansionism since the 17th century. It is not at risk.

The American president and the British prime minister have spent half a decade exploiting Bin Laden for political ends, in thrall to their security/industrial complex. They have relied on terrifying their electorates with new and bloodcurdling threats, with what Runciman calls “spook politics”. But they will pass. The half-baked “message” laws passed by Britain’s limp parliament last week will fall in disuse. The vitality of British and American democracy has always been its ability to produce antibodies when truly challenged by an internal or external menace. The West will rediscover its self-belief and restore the liberalism, properly defined as freedom, that it once exemplified to the world.

Bin Laden is not going to win and never was. But Bush and Blair are giving him an astonishing run for his money."

Feedburner RSS feed problems

I seem to be having problems with my RSS feed which doesn't appear to be automatically picking up new posts here. I'm having to go to Feedburner and update manually. If anyone's newsreader is not picking up B2fxxx readings as regularly as previously could you let me know. It's certainly a problem with the Firefox Sage newsreader and it would be useful to see which others it affects too. Thanks.

The Secrets of Harry Potter

As a long since lapsed Catholic I'm reminded that Fr. Roderick of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, in the Netherlands was the kind of priest that my friends and I could relate to growing up. He runs the Catholic Insider podcast, which includes a series of interesting podcasts on the mythology and symbols in the Harry Potter books and the Star Wars films.

It's a much neater way of communicating with a young audience than trying to get the books banned and convince them that J.K. Rowling's engaging works are somehow evil and dangerous, as the Christian Right in the US have been doing for years.

Monbiot on RFID tags, ID cards and sheeple

George Monbiot has been worrying about the creeping erosion of civil liberties that will be facilitated by technology and the apathy of the general population to such developments, such as biometric ID cards and implanted RFID tags.

He's right, if a little dramatic in the interest of telling a story but as has been repeated ad nauseum by various respected historical figures, constant vigilance is the price of liberty. If we don't have the energy or interest to shape our own society, then other forces will do so.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Schneier on ID cards and slightly fatter wallets

Bruce Schneier, with his usual clarity, has been explaining why ID cards will not cure Fat-Wallet Syndrome.

"..neither a national ID nor a biometric system will ever replace the decks of plastic and paper that crowd our wallets.

For starters, the uniqueness of the cards provides important security to the issuers. Everyone has different rules for card issuance, expiration and revocation, and everyone wants to be in control of their own cards. If you lose control, you lose security...

Another reason is reliability. Your credit card company doesn't want your ability to make purchases to disappear if you have your driver's license revoked.Your airline doesn't want your frequent-flier account to depend on a particular credit card. And no one wants the liability of having their application depend on someone else's infrastructure, or having their infrastructure support someone else's application.

But security and reliability are only secondary concerns. If it made smart business sense for companies to piggyback on existing cards, they would find a way around the security concerns. The reason they don't boils down to one word: branding.

My airline wants a card with its logo on it in my wallet. So does my rental car company, my supermarket and everyone else I do business with...

The companies give you their own card partly because they want complete control of the rules around their own system, but mostly because they want you to carry around a small piece of advertising in your wallet...

That's why you still have a dozen different cards in your wallet. And countries that have national IDs give their citizens yet another card to carry around in their wallets -- and not a replacement for something else."

Latest EDRI-gram available

The latest EDRI-gram newsletter has been published, including this from Ian Brown:

"DVD circumvention device released in Ireland

SlySoft, a company registered in Ireland, has released software that allows users to convert their own DVDs to formats they can watch on mobile phones, Playstation Portables, video iPods and similar devices.

This is one of the first examples seen in the wild of a "circumvention device" which bypasses the copy restriction technology contained in the DVD format - something that is illegal under the Irish law transposing the European Union Copyright Directive of 2001.

Those publishing DVDs now have the right to sue SlySoft for copyright infringement. Will they risk the bad publicity and possibility that Irish courts might set a precedent not to their liking?"

Kazaa back in court down under

The Kazaa Australia case is back in court today and the hearing could last 5 days.

Copyright and Access to Knowledge

The Consumers International Asia Pacific Office in Kuala Lumpur has issued a report, Copyright and Access to Knowledge, assessing the state of copyright law in 11 Asian countries. It is a sobering study and IMHO gets to the heart of some of the key difficulties with copyright today.

Amongst other things the report compares the relative costs of books in Indonesia, Thailand and the US. Relative to average incomes, a student paying $80 for a book in Indonesia would be the equivalent of a US student paying nearly $3200 for the same book in the US. As the Executive Summary states,

"Access to knowledge is critical for developing countries that seek to educate their masses. Educational materails therefore need to be made accessible to the public. Unfortunately the international copyright regime has developed in a manner to increasingly curtail access."

We have been blind to this massive economic barrier to access to information for generations because it has mainly been a problem for developing nations, out of sight and out of mind. Some people (a small minority in the scheme of things) are only really waking up to it now because of the work of folks like Larry Lessig and James Boyle on the impact of developments in intellectual property policy in our embryonic knowledge society. But these barriers will become increasing problems in our digital society unless we get serious about developing a balanced IP landscape.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation come in for some serious stick in the report too, with the conclusion that WIPO's technical assistance to the countries that were the subject of the study was "thoroughly inadequate" leading the countries concerned to provide far more protection to copyright owners than the treaties which they signed up to required.

Simon Davies steps down from NO2ID Board

Simon Davies has stepped down as chairman of the NO2ID campaign advisory board because he was concerned that the government might use him to discredit the campaign, just as they have been doing in their attempts to discredit the LSE Identity Project.

What I had not realised was how much the government attacks have cost Simon Davies personally. He has lost a lot of consultancy work and had a huge drop in income as a result of the attacks. He has also had to move house and give away his dog. I'm not surprised he is considering legal action against government ministers. It's an appalling state of affairs.

Cowardly to attack Christianity and not Islam

Nick Cohen directed his typical brand of insightful polemic at the international uproar caused by a Danish newspaper printing of cartoons featuring the profit Mohammed. I have no time for violence excused by perpetrators claiming their religious sensibilities have been disturbed and Cohen has a very important point to make about UK media in relation to this situation. His argument is that Catholics, Jews, politicians and British troops are safe targets for journalists because they won't resort to violence (against those journalists) but in the current political climate some extremists, who claim to be acting in defence of Islam, will.

"Newspaper editors will print pictures of servicemen beating up demonstrators in Basra, which may place the lives of British troops in danger, but not Danish cartoons, which may place their own lives in danger.

You can't be a little bit free. If you are not willing to offend Islamists who may kill you, what excuse do you have for offending...British troops who won't?"

HBO call for ban on DVR copying

HBO have apparently called for a total ban on digtal copying of "Subscription Video On Demand" services. No comment.

Secure Flight Suspended

The latest US passenger screening programme, Secure Flight, has been suspended due to security concerns. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit discovered that the "TSA may not have proper controls in place to protect sensitive information."

The US government's own 'Secure Flight Working Group on Privacy and Security' had already determined as much and more, as had another GAO report. The Working Group's report was originally posted on the TSA website but got removed and replaced with an "Executive Summary" which failed to mention the group's main findings. Bruce Schneier, who was a member of the working group, has more to say on the subject of Secure Flight and aircraft security.

Ndyio in Bangladesh

The first Ndiyo-based Community Information Centre has opened in Bangladesh: a four-screen internet cafe with internet connectivity via a mobile phone. Let's hope it's the first of many, not least because of the coming energy crisis. One of Ndyio's many positive qualities is that it is significantly less energy intensive that the widely accepted Wintel alternative.

Stiglitz: US the elephant in the room on global warming

Nobel prize winner and former Chief Economist at the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, believes that the way to get the US to start acting responsibly on global warming is to get the WTO to sanction them for breach of international trade rules. It's a clever argument - that the US government's refusal to actively engage in reducing carbon emissions constitutes a de facto subsidy to US industry. Such subsidies are illegal under the WTO's trade rules. It's a great pity it is unlikely to happen, not that the current simplistic focus on carbon emissions is sufficient to tackle the complex systemic problem of environmental degradation, but it would be a start.

The Lion Sleeps

'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' is apparently one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century. There were nearly 180 versions, and it was also included in 14 films and a very popular West End/Broadway musical. Yet the original creator, Solomon Linda, never benefited from its success. Linda recorded the song sometime in the 1930s in Johannesburg, a time when blacks were not allowed to receive roylaties. He and his band were given a small amount of money for the rights to the song, which became an instant hit in South Africa. The Weavers popularised the song in the US in the 1950s and a version recorded by The Tokens in 1961 went to number one in the US charts. Solomon Linda died in poverty less than a year later.

Linda's family, however, have now settled a legal dispute with Disney and other US rights holders agreeing to pay compensation in the six figure bracket, including "back payments for royalties as well as future payments."

Nice to see copyright serving the underdog for a change.