Friday, April 21, 2006

Freakonomics author sued for defamation

The author of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Steven D. Levitt, has been sued for defamation, by long time critic John R. Lott Jr., author of More Guns, Less Crime.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Phillips sue Kodak over JPEG patent

Phillips have sued Kodak for patent infringement, "claiming Kodak's digital cameras and scanners infringe a patent U.S. Philips holds that covers JPEG encoding of images."

Boyle in the FT: Supersize my rights

James Boyle has a quietly passionate piece in the FT about the need to inject some degree of reason into the documentary film sphere, given the barriers thrown up by the genre's "clearance culture."

"Ironically, the problem here is not a broadening of the rights themselves, but a “clearance culture” that demands licenses for the tiniest fragment of copyrighted material caught in the viewfinder or on the soundtrack of the documentary film. Imagine trying to sanitize your film of every song being played on a radio, every fleeting background shot of a copyrighted film or TV program. Imagine you are filming some kids, and one their cell phones rings, playing a copyrighted ring tone. That happened to Amy Sewell; the phone played the “Rocky” theme tune. The owners of the rights asked for $10,000 to clear it. Or imagine you need to refer to the cultural material of the time to tell your story; Eyes on the Prize, the great documentary on the American civil rights movement, was pulled from the shelves for several years because the painstakingly acquired licenses to the innumerable snippets of music, photos and news film needed to tell the story had all expired...

Ironically, the biggest injury here may be to copyright itself. An entire generation of young film-makers now see it as nothing but an impediment, a source of hassles, ludicrous demands from clearances, and mind-numbing cease and desist letters. Yet that is not true. The reality they see has little to do with the law and everything to do with a culture of fear and misinformation...

Two years ago at Full Frame, one of America’s leading documentary film festivals, a group of filmmakers challenged my colleagues and me to decode this reality in a way that human beings as well as lawyers could understand. When the Festival was held again this year, we returned with our answer – a comic book. (One reader noted that “law professors write comic book” sounds like the kind of joke that begins “The Pope, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Godel walk into a bar…”) Writing it was a strange activity, and I fear the Dean has been given new reason to wonder about my mental health. But documentary film is a vital part of our culture and the people who will shape its future do not have lawyers, or read law review articles. It would be tragic if a pattern of ludicrous and legally ungrounded predatory behaviour stopped my kids from seeing their culture fully reflected in the documentaries to come, the ones that will change the way they see the world. Or perhaps even making those documentaries themselves."

I highly recommend the comic James refers to but unfortunately it doesn't appear to be available in the UK yet.

Why is HDTV drm so weak?

Ed Felton has posted a series of discussions on his blog about the high defintion TV drm system HDMI. In the final one he asks why is the system so weak? His answer?

"HDCP encryption exists only as a hook on which to hang lawsuits. For example, if somebody makes unlicensed displays or format converters, copyright owners could try to sue them under the DMCA for circumventing the encryption. (Also, converter box vendors who accepted HDCP’s license terms might sue vendors who didn’t accept those terms.) The price of enabling these lawsuits is to add the cost of 10,000 gates to every high-def TV or video source, and to add another way in which high-def video devices can be incompatible.

The second question is why they weren’t willing to spend an extra 20,000 gates to use a more secure crypto scheme. Doing so would have reduced, in the long run, some types of P2P infringement. They apparently felt this would not be a good investment, presumably because other infringment scenarios were more troublesome. Why spend money strengthening one link in a chain, when other links are already weaker?

The bottom line is clear. In HDCP, “security” technologies serve not to disable pirates but to enable lawsuits. When you buy an HDCP-enabled TV or player, you are paying for this — your device will cost more and do less."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Renew for freedom

The NO2ID campaign has launched a 'Renew for freedom' campaign to encourage people to renew their passport during May 2006 to avoid having to get their details collected for the National Identity Register.

Terrorism, Pfizer Style

James Love doesn't pull any punches with this story about Pfizer.

"Recently Pfizer sued the head of the drug regulatory agency in the Philippines, personally, asking for 1.4 million pesos in damages. Pfizer also sued another government official, the regulatory agency itself, and a government-owned trading company...

In the Philippines, Pfizer charges from $.88 to $1.46 per day for Norvasc (more for the larger dose). In 2004, the average per capita income in the Philippines was $3.20 per day. Eighty percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day. Pfizer knows this. They have calculated that they can make greater profits selling Norvasc at a high price to a small number of the wealthiest Filipinos (less than 5 percent of the population can afford the drug), than a larger number of people with lower incomes.

The Philippine government is trying to undertake some extremely modest measures to lower the price of this drug. They want to import versions of the drug that Pfizer sells in other countries. Pfizer charges much lower prices for the same drug in Thailand, Indonesia, India and other countries in the region. And, the Philippines government says it won't even do this until June 2007, when the Pfizer patent on Norvasc expires.

In other words, the Philippines government is allowing Pfizer to price Norvasc out of reach for 95 percent of the population of the country for the entire term of the patent, but they want the cheaper prices foreigners pay, when the patent expires.

But this isn't good enough for Pfizer. Pfizer is suing the government, and government officials personally, so it can stop the process of testing the imports. Pfizer figures this might delay the imports of the cheaper drugs for 18 months. And Pfizer also hopes they can stop the Philippines government from reducing the prices of other Pfizer products, including Lipitor, Zithromax and Unasyn, which are in a similar situation.

The legal issues are described briefly in this blog by my colleague Judit Rius.

Pfizer seems to be succeeding in bullying the Philippine government. Apparently the Philippine government has stopped efforts to register the cheaper imported products.

This is only the latest installment in a long history of pressure on the Philippines government. For example, check out this astonishing report by Jennifer Ellen Mattson on a 1999 Collaboration between the US government and pharmaceutical industry to oppose Philippine government efforts to promote expanded use of generics for off-patented drugs."

If you have the time Jennifer Ellen Mattson's timeline referred to by Love as 'astonishing' is well worth a read. It's a classic and not very appetising case study in how the international politics of intellectual property work.

Kim Weatherhall says:

"To introduce a generic (or even an imported version of a drug) to the market, regulatory approval must be obtained from the TGA (our equivalent of the US FDA). That means demonstrating 'bioequivalence' - to prove the drug is the same as the approved version sold by an innovator company...

Australia already has springboarding provisions that that allows activity by generics manufacturers during the patent period to enable them to collect the information required to obtain regulatory approval...

I just can't believe that Pfizer would have the nerve to sue for this kind of activity, perfectly legal in most places around the world. The patent will be respected, they get the patent term. Actually, that's not hard to believe - that is use of existing law. The Phillippines should be supported to amend its law to allow springboarding. I find it harder to believe Pfizer would sue government officials in their personal capacity - that is just unconscionable additional pressure to add to the equation, and just plain inappropriate."

Rachel meets Charles

Rachel from North London and her father have had their meeting with the Home Secretary Charles Clarke. She's posted her perspective on the meeting on her blog. It was more civilised than the last time Mr Clarke met the good reverend.

Bun fight heads for meltdown

From IPKat: Bun fight heads for meltdown

"The IPKat has learned from the BBC, via his friend Simon Haslam, of a vicious Austrian dispute over Easter Bunnies. Chocolatier Lindt claims the exclusive right to make a golden Easter bunny with a red ribbon around its neck, selling some 60 million of them each year. Austrian company Hauswirth has apparently been making similar bunnies for half a century. The news report does not make it clear what sort of IP right Lindt holds, but it the IPKat presumes that it's a trade mark registration for a three-dimensional product, consisting of the chocobunny itself."

Politicians' mindset and technology policy

Ed Felten has been pointing out yet again that people who make technology policies should understand the technologies they are trying to regulate.

"DRM tries to defeat technology with technology, so faith in technology doesn’t get you very far. To make good policy, what you really need is to understand the technologies on both sides of the battle, as well as the surrounding technical landscape that lets you predict the future of the technical battle.

The political challenge here is how to defuse the dangerous instincts of the less-informed techno-utopians. How can we preserve their general faith in technology while helping them see why it won’t solve all human problems? "

Photographing architecture is not a crime

Photographing architecture is not a crime. Thomas Hawk has been taking photos of public buildings and upsetting security gaurds again. Hilarious.

FBI want to filter journalist archive

The Chronicle reports that

"During his life and career as a muckraking journalist in Washington, Jack Anderson cultivated secret sources throughout the halls of government -- sources who passed on information that allowed Anderson to investigate and write about Watergate, CIA assassination schemes, and countless scandals. His syndicated column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, earned him the enmity of the corrupt and powerful -- so much so that during the Watergate years, associates of Nixon had discussed assassinating the columnist. They never went through with the plot. Anderson died last December at the age of 83.

His archive, some 200 boxes now being held by George Washington University's library, could be a trove of information about state secrets, dirty dealings, political maneuverings, and old-fashioned investigative journalism, open for historians and up-and-coming reporters to see.

But the government wants to see the documents before anyone else. "

The need for a debate on ID cards

Lilian Edwards, risking the wrath of ID cards activists, says she's neither particularly in favour nor against them. She reckons the no campaigners have two broad objections. The first practical e.g that the technology doesn't work and is costly. Secondly questions of principle. On the objections on the grounds of practicality she says:

"To me these are issues of detail - of technology and management; which are difficult to critique in a non paranoid way right now as we know so little about the design of the underlying database or its costing. The time to argue these points is when we know how the database is to be designed, what the permissions for access to data will be and what the rules for event illegal immigration we need this legislation."

We know the scheme is based on the notion that these multiple complex problems can be partly addressed through mass surveillance, coordinated through a large central ID database. We also know that this superficially attractive notion is flawed, not just in the details but in the generic architecture of such a scheme. The base rate fallacy says you can't find a needle in a haystack by throwing more hay on the stack.

One of the fundamental problems is that the government started with a 'big' idea (big, expensive, hi-tech, and affects everyone) in response to the attacks of 11th September - build an ID card system - and have been looking for reasons to prove it might be a good idea ever since. (The latest is catching people who avoid speed camera fines). Spending a fortune building an information system with a series of ill-defined, ever changing multiple purposes and working out the details as you go along is a good way to ensure that the system will fail. Here's the solution. Now what was the problem again?

On the principled arguments against ID cards she reckons we've got "a system as good as we can devise of laws and practices for dealing with consent to the collection of, and subsequent protection of, personal data. It's called data protection law." Though she accepts the practice of data protection law is less than ideal i.e you can drive a coach and horses through the loopholes and enforcement is vastly under resourced, she'd like a debate on the real issues surrounding ID cards:

"But most of all I'd like to see a debate on ID cards that isn't focused around "it'll never work" or "it'll cost too much" or "they can't make me do this" or "we all know it's a bunch of lies". That isn't a debate. That's a lynching. I'd like to see a debate that focuses round the real issues"

Actually, the folks at the LSE and 60 associated academic experts around the world have already done a terrific job of identifying the real issues with the proposed UK ID card system. William Heath, Kim Cameron, Stefan Brands and others have clearly explained the principles and advantages of, as well as the difficulties in building a suitably designed distributed identity network architecture, (which unfortunately is nothing like the system being proposed in the UK. And remember, the LSE folks began their research by outlining support for the idea of an ID card scheme in principle.)

Unfortunately the response from the government to the LSE and thoughtful critics of the scheme has been angry soundbites. Anger begets anger and no campaigners respond in kind, partly out of anger and partly because that is the level which gains media attention. Incidently if there has been any lynching being done it's been the government's appalling personal attacks on Simon Davies, one of the coordinators of the LSE report.

Regarding the substantive point about the need for an informed debate, I'm all for that starting with question one of the Schneier 5-step security analysis:

What problem are you trying to solve or what is the purpose of the system?
Ans.: Multiple, dynamic, mostly complex (though the speed camera one is not that complex), ill-defined purposes.

Ok. Well, there is no point arguing about devils in details if we haven't got a clear system purpose.

On Lilian's specific questions for debate e.g.

"How, if at all, do we want to balance our privacy rights and the positive uses that can be made of a linked database, for both citizens and consumers? What are the safeguards that need to be built in, which once specified we can then pass to the database builders? And most of all what kind of privacy do most people really want - not the activists, not the No2ID card people, not the constitutional law academics, but everyone?"

I'd rephrase the first slightly to avoid the privacy v security/benefit dichotomy implicit in the question and say "How can a network with a suitably designed (along the lines of Cameron's 7 laws of identity) identity architecture benefit us?" Technophiles like yours truly will say there are multiple ways such an architecture could improve our engagement with government and commerce. There are also multiple ways in which a poor system could damage the relationship. On her final question of what kind of privacy people really want, its fairly clear that although most of us say we are concerned about privacy, our actions often demonstrate otherwise. If more of us really became aware of the implications of divulging the mass of personal data we make available to the world, we might change our behaviour of course.

Update: Apologies for the typos on Lilian's name which I've now amended.

How Sun's DRM dooms them and all they touch

Cory as usual is spot on on the subject of DRM

"David Berlind has written about Sun's "Open DReaM" crippleware project, a DRM that pretends to be "open source" and an "open platform" in a cynical bid to curry favor with copyfighters and studios. The gimmick is that Sun's technology has to be run as signed code on trusted computing hardware, which means that while you can see the code, you can't change it, improve it, or build on it.

Once you have code you can't modify on hardware you can't access, "open source" can't be meaningfully used to describe a project. The key to free and open source software is the right of users to understand, modify, and distribute their changes to the tools they use -- to continue a tradition as old as the Enlightenment and as fundamental as the scientific method.

Sun's project doesn't subvert DRM, it subverts open source. It complies -- barely -- with the letter of older OSS definitions, while gutting their spirit. It's a car with the hood welded shut, with an "open" engine underneath the welding-seam.

This is a betrayal of the OSS community by Sun, which should know better. There is no market for Open Dream. No music listener woke up this morning wishing for a way to do less with her music. If Sun wants to compete with the Microsoft-controlled Open Mobile Alliance (which this project is really all about), then they should deploy set-top home Java servers (Sun, after all, is in the Java business and the server business, not the crippleware business) that grab music and video off the net, air and through the analog hole on your home theater, organize it, sort it, transcode it, and load it onto your laptop and phone -- and that use the paid mobile data networks run by the carriers (3G, EVDO, GPRS) to stay in synch.

This is a business-model that plays to Sun's strengths, that delivers value to carriers and handset vendors, and that doesn't set Sun on a doomed path to finding a way to deploy a technology of sufficient brokenness to court Hollywood."

Louis Barfe on Cliff Richard's call for longer copyright term

Louis Barfe had to turn down the chance to talk to the BBC Ten O'Clock News last night about Cliff Richard's call for an extension of the copyright term on music recordings. Rather a shame since he had come important things to say.

" Cliff believes that it’s terribly unfair that copyright in sound recordings should expire after 50 years. He believes he should have the right to receive payment for his recordings in perpetuity. Funnily enough, as a fellow creative toiler, I semi-agree. I’d hate to think of the Peter Pan of Pop having to sell his last tennis racket to make ends meet, but the fact is that extending the copyright period past the current 50 years would be injurious to artists less fortunate than Sir Cliff.

Pick a record, any record. Look at the small print on the label. Chances are that somewhere it will say “© Original sound recording is owned by [insert flatulent money-grabbing corporate monolith here]”. Not “© Original sound recording is owned by the poor bugger who wrote and recorded it”. Only successful artists with persuasive managers retain the copyright in their own recordings, leasing them to the record companies for a set period, after which the deal is renegotiated. Most artists still sign direct to a record company, which then owns every chord they strum or note they warble during the period of that contract, for 50 years after its release.

That’s 50 years in which the record companies can re-issue and re-package the music, making it available to a grateful listening public. Or it’s 50 years in which the record companies can let the music sit deleted and unloved in an archive, whining about downloaders while fail ing to realise their assets fully, as would be good business practice anywhere else. The re-issue market is booming, and it’s a market that will seemingly withstand any amount of product. Moreover, the technology now exists to make available material that would not turn a profit on even the most modest CD pressing run.

Disenfranchised from their work, most artists have no control over its exploitation and destiny. Records that sell for silly prices second-hand, and are ripe for re-issue, sit gathering dust. One option is for the artist or a reissue label to license the recordings from the record company. However, they usually demand an extortionate up-front payment, which, in the case of most niche recordings, is enough to discourage all but those with a Brewster’s Millions complex from bothering."

TV ad enforcer

Phillips have taken out a patent on "Apparatus and method for preventing switching from a channel during an advertisement display."

The abstract reads:

"An apparatus (270) and method is disclosed for preventing a viewer from switching from a channel when an advertisement is being displayed on the channel. The apparatus (270) and method comprises an advertisement controller (270) in a video playback device (150) that (1) prevents a viewer of a direct (non-recorded) broadcast from switching channels when an advertisement is displayed, and (2) prevents a viewer of a recorded program from fast forwarding the recorded program in order to skip past advertisements that were recorded with the program. A viewer may either watch the advertisements or pay a fee in order to be able to change channels or fast forward when the advertisements are being displayed."

Jamie Kellner rides again. For those who don't remember, Kellner, Chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting said Ad skips are "theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial or watch the button you're actually stealing the programming."

Thanks to Glyn Wintle at ORG for the pointer.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Rights and wrongs of the digital age

Michael Geist has an article on the BBC website looking at the recent French regulations on DRM as a jumping off point to consider the issue of government tinkering with technology.

"With government intervention looming as a possibility and the private market unlikely to resolve compatibility concerns, what principles should regulators adopt to provide all stakeholders with greater certainty about the appropriate circumstances for lawmakers to tinker with technology?


The obvious starting point is that intervention is possible, indeed desirable, where companies with dominant marketplace positions exploit the lack of compatibility for anti-competitive purposes...

Regulators may also be inclined to act in order to protect the public in cases when technology poses a safety concern or is used to eliminate or hamper consumer rights.

Technological requirements to meet safety standards or enforce environmental protection are common today, with government setting requirements for many consumer products and mandating testing before certain technologies may be marketed to the public.

Similar issues are entering the digital domain...

... need for government to avoid prohibitions that limit the ability of the public to tinker with technology.

CED report on Openness in Digital Economy

The Committee for Economic Development (CED) has released a report on Open Standards, Open Source, and Open Innovation: Harnessing the Benefits of Openness. It concludes:

"Because of the advantages of open standards, the
Council recommends that governments encourage
the development and use of open standards through
processes as open to participation and contribution
as possible. The Council believes that the
participation of civil society would be beneficial in
the formation of standards with important social
consequences. The Council also recommends that
the results of government-supported research be
readily available for inclusion in open standards, as
they have been in areas such as grid computing...

To foster open innovation, the Council recommends
not only that the NIH should continue their efforts
to expand the dissemination of the research they
support, but also that other federally funded,
unclassified research should be made broadly
available. Consistent with the position it has taken
in its earlier reports, the Council recommends that
any legislation or regulation regarding intellectual
property rights be weighed with a presumption
against the granting of new rights. The burden of
proof should be on proponents of new rights to
demonstrate with rigorous analysis the necessity of
such an extension, because of the benefits to society
of further innovation through greater access to
technology. Finally, the Council suggests that the
National Science Foundation (NSF) fund research
into alternative compensation methods, similar to
those created to facilitate the growth of radio, to
reward creators of digital information products and
accommodate the changes brought about by the
digitization and growth of the Internet."

Interesting to hear such conclusions from a US think tank.

Update: Ian is enthusiastic about the conclusions.

US eyes data retention

According to Declan, US politicians have eagerly latched onto the EU's data retention dircetive to declare that the US should also be requiring ISPs to engage in mass snooping. The excuse is that such mass surveillance will help to protect children.

"At a hearing last week, Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who heads a House oversight and investigations subcommittee, suggested that data retention laws would be useful to police investigating crimes against children.

"I absolutely think that that is an idea that is worth pursuing," an aide to Whitfield said in an interview on Thursday. "If those files were retained for a longer period of time, it would help in the uncovering and prosecution of these crimes." Another hearing is planned for April 27.

Internet providers generally offer three reasons why they are skeptical of mandatory data retention: first, it is not clear who will be able to access records of someone's online behavior; second, it's not clear who will pay for the data warehouses to be constructed; and third, it's not clear that police are hindered by current law as long as they move swiftly in investigations.

"What we haven't seen is any evidence where the data would have been helpful, where the problem was not caused by law enforcement taking too long when they knew a problem existed," said Dave McClure, president of the U.S. Internet Industry Association"

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Pirates of the Far East

John has a nice piece in this morning's Observer.

"The one phrase you hear very little of whenever China's economic potential is discussed is 'intellectual property'. This is because China is world champion in every branch of piracy known to man. I don't think there's a CD, DVD, computer game or software package that is not illicitly available for a dollar or two in virtually every town in China...

For the past seven years, Canadian firm Research In Motion (RIM) has been planning to launch a version of its BlackBerry mobile email service in China. It filed its first application to do business there in 1999 and has since registered at least nine trademarks for the device and accompanying service.

And now, just a few weeks before the BlackBerry service launches, guess what happens? China Unicom, the state-controlled wireless network, has launched a rival service called - you got it - RedBerry."