Friday, July 21, 2006

John Edwards adopts bittorrent distribution

From Scripting News:

"Almost everyone missed the political significance of the Edwards endorsement (and use) of BitTorrent to distribute video. Aside from being an efficient use of technology, it is also a non-infringing use of BitTorrent. From a legal standpoint, the more non-infringing applications there are, the weaker the case of Hollywood as it goes after BitTorrent, as they have attacked other P2P technologies. Having a major national candidate using the technology for non-infringing purposes helps strengthen the case, and while I have not endorsed anyone for President in 2008, I do thank Edwards for stepping up for technology. This has a lot more impact than the kind of things bloggers usually ask candidates to do, like blogging their personal thoughts, or have video bloggers follow them into the bathroom (sorry, that's a small exaggeration). Use of BitTorrent, esp by a Democrat, is the kind of thing that politicians can actually do to help the Internet. Permanent link to this item in the archive."


Another facinating paper that Steve points to is Copyfraud by Jason Mazzone of Brooklyn Law School. Abstract:

"Copyfraud is everywhere. False copyright notices appear on modern reprints of Shakespeare's plays, Beethoven's piano scores, greeting card versions of Monet's Water Lilies, and even the U.S. Constitution. Archives claim blanket copyright in everything in their collections. Vendors of microfilmed versions of historical newspapers assert copyright ownership. These false copyright claims, which are often accompanied by threatened litigation for reproducing a work without the owner's permission, result in users seeking licenses and paying fees to reproduce works that are free for everyone to use.

Copyright law itself creates strong incentives for copyfraud. The Copyright Act provides for no civil penalty for falsely claiming ownership of public domain materials. There is also no remedy under the Act for individuals who wrongly refrain from legal copying or who make payment for permission to copy something they are in fact entitled to use for free. While falsely claiming copyright is technically a criminal offense under the Act, prosecutions are extremely rare. These circumstances have produced fraud on an untold scale, with millions of works in the public domain deemed copyrighted, and countless dollars paid out every year in licensing fees to make copies that could be made for free. Copyfraud stifles valid forms of reproduction and undermines free speech.

Congress should amend the Copyright Act to allow private parties to bring civil causes of action for false copyright claims. Courts should extend the availability of the copyright misuse defense to prevent copyright owners from enforcing an otherwise valid copyright if they have engaged in past copyfraud. In addition, Congress should further protect the public domain by creating a national registry listing public domain works and a symbol to designate those works. Failing a congressional response, there may exist remedies under state law and through the efforts of private parties to achieve these ends."

History of US privacy law

Daniel Solove has made available at ssrn a chapter he has written for a book on privacy to be published later this year. Here's the abstract:

"This book chapter provides a brief history of information privacy law in the United States from colonial times to the present. It discusses the development of the common law torts, Fourth Amendment law, the constitutional right to information privacy, numerous federal statutes pertaining to privacy, electronic surveillance laws, and more. It explores how the law has emerged and changed in response to new technologies that have increased the collection, dissemination, and use of personal information."

...and the conclusion:

"Information privacy law has come a long way. Spurred by the development of new technologies, the law has responded in numerous ways to grapple with emerging privacy problems. Although the law has made great strides, much work remains to be done. Several scholars, including myself, have criticized the ability of information privacy laws thus far to grapple with the growing collection and use of personal information in computer databases. Recent books, such as Robert O’Harrow’s No Place to Hide and my own book, The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age, have aimed to bring greater attention to the effects of companies maintaining extensive dossiers of information about individuals and selling this data to government agencies for profiling and investigatory purposes. As Paul Schwartz observes, “personal information in the private sector is often unaccompanied by the presence of basic legal protections. Yet, private enterprises now control more powerful resources of information technology than ever before.”

Thanks to Steve Hedley for the link.

Judge allows NSA spying suit v AT&T to go ahead

From the NYT: Judge Declines to Dismiss Privacy Suit Against AT&T

"A federal judge on Thursday rejected a motion by the Bush administration to dismiss a lawsuit against AT&T over its cooperation with a government surveillance program, ruling that state secrets would not be at risk if the suit proceeded."

Update: From EFF which brought the case:

"Today, EFF achieved a critical victory in our case against AT&T. Here are some key quotes from the decision:

p.36, "To defer to a blanket assertion of [state] secrecy here would be to abdicate that duty, particularly because the very subject matter of this litigation has been so publicly aired. The compromise between liberty and security remains a difficult one. But dismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security."

p.39-40, "If the goverment's public disclosures have been truthful, revealing whether AT&T has received a certification to assist in monitoring communication content should not reveal any new information that would assist a terrorist and adversely affect national security. And if the government has not been truthful, the state secrets privilege should not serve as a shield for its false public statements. In short, the government has opened the door for judicial inquiry by publicly confirming and denying material information about its monitoring of communication content."

p. 68, "Moreover, because the 'very action in question has previously been held unlawful,' AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal.""

Thursday, July 20, 2006


The NO2ID folks are suggesting that we take the media reports proclaiming the death of the ID card scheme with a pinch of salt. From their latest circular:

"You may well have seen reports suggesting that the Home Office ID programme is in trouble. A series of e-mails leaked to the Sunday Times [1] from OGC (the Office of Government Commerce, part of the Treasury) and UKIPS (the new Identity & Passport Service) revealed that senior civil servants believe the project to be yet another fiasco in the making.

Government spin has been predictable, first claiming that the ID scheme was 'under review', then "broadly on track", and now proceeding "at the same pace" [2].

So what is fact and what is fantasy?

FACT: the ID scheme that the government has been selling for the last two years or more is a lie. With no clearly-expressed goal or justification, 'feature creep' almost every time ministers opened their mouths, and a complete unwillingness to listen to real experts in the field, the Home Office has lumbered itself with something impossibly complex, horrendously expensive, and utterly unworkable.

FACT: they passed the Act anyway, spending tens of millions in the process. The biggest threat to everyone's civil liberties is leaving a law on the statute books which permits compulsory registration, lifelong surveillance and population control by ID. But we also risk seeing billions of pounds of taxpayers' money (which could be far better spent elsewhere) being thrown away in pursuit of this authoritarian delusion. Even worse, a botched attempt could expose all our most personal information - leaving some with no control over their private lives or identities for the rest of their lives.

FACT: the government will proceed regardless. This programme has been politically driven from the outset and will remain so. Blair can't afford a U-turn, and the ID programme (or more accurately, the National Identity Register) is at the heart of government strategy [3]. The bureaucrats would love for us to all be neatly numbered, so our data can be shared ever more 'efficiently' - and the suppliers still stand to make billions, whether they deliver or fail.

The danger from the ID scheme is greater than ever.

Now the government is looking at issuing cut-down 'early variant' ID cards that would 'protect' your identity with nothing more than a four-digit PIN. A gift to fraudsters. The government will still fingerprint, iris scan, background check and interrogate you for a passport - but then simply store all your data in their database. No 'benefits' or services for the public. Just all the costs, risks and intrusion.

We have to redouble our efforts. It is more important than ever that we get the message out to a public that may think 'ID cards' are off the agenda. Street stalls, leafleting - even going door-to-door. Now is the time to wake people up to the real and present danger of the ID scheme."

Call for New Body to Regulate Intellectual Property

Britain should set up a new body to regulate intellectual property in the public interest, according to the Creative Economy Forum.

The body should be set up by statute and modelled on industry regulators such as OfCom. Its task would be to ensure intellectual property laws serve the public interest by encouraging more creativity and innovation. It would follow the principles of the RSA Adelphi Charter on Creativity, Innovation and Intellectual Property.

“There is an urgent need for a new body to provide government with independent, expert, policy-oriented research,” said John Howkins, Director of the Creative Economy Forum

“We propose the government restructure the Patent Office as a statutory body with explicit public interest responsibilities. It would function as a regulatory body. One model is Ofcom, which regulates the communications industries. The new Office of Intellectual Property (OfIP) would take on all the Patent Office’s existing powers and responsibilities but operate within a policy framework shaped by the public interest. Government would have to account for the public interest instead of a narrow business focus as now.

The Forum also said there would be benefits in a body to provide research-based advice. One model is the DTI's defunct Intellectual Property Advisory Committee (IPAC). IPAC should be re-launched and given real independence, real resources and a remit throughout Whitehall. It should have an independent chair (unlike IPAC) and its own secretariat. Its members should be drawn from the public, users and consumers as well rights-holders.

Further information can be found in, ‘Who Owns the Law?’ submitted to the Treasury Gowers Review of intellectual property.

Fake IDs save lives in Iraq

From Owen Blacker via Idealgovernment:


Fake IDs Save Lives in Iraq

A fascinating AP report[1] says that Iraqis are using fake IDs in light
of the recent growth in sectarian killings. The major groups in Iraq
are not distinguishable by physical traits, but they are by name. To
avoid being killed, people are getting false identification cards:

Surnames refer to tribe and clan, while first names are often
chosen to honor historical figures revered by one sect but sometimes
despised by the other.

For about $35, someone with a common Sunni name like Omar could
become Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite name that might provide safe passage
through dangerous areas.

This illustrates very well how genuinely complex security can be. At
any time, the relevant authorities in Iraq could have decreed that all
people get (as near as possible) forgery-proof biometric ID cards and
carry them at all times -- a great way to batten down a country, right?

Doing so would have fed directly into the strategy being used by the
enemies of peace and security in Iraq today: setting up fake checkpoints
and killing people who arrive there members of the wrong sect. Identity
cards had a role in the Rwandan genocide[2] just over 10 years ago, as

Those who believe that identity cards are a simple route to good
security, well, they suffer what is so rightly known as the fatal
conceit. Central planning that deprives people of control over their
lives can be deadly -- literally -- in surprising and unpredictable

Thank goodness for the fake ID outlets in Iraq today, and thank goodness
the promoters of "secure ID"[3] in the United States didn't take their
message to Iraq."

Thank goodness indeed.

War on antisocial... er... toddlers

ARCH clearly think the government's latest idea to target toddlers and babies in their 'war on crime', is nutty, as does John Lettice.

Stem cells patent challenge

From the LA Times:

"A Santa Monica-based taxpayer rights group launched a formal challenge Tuesday to three patents that it contends have had a chilling effect on embryonic stem cell research.

The move came on the day the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would expand federal funding for such research, sending it to President Bush, who has promised a veto.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which has been monitoring California's voter-approved $3-billion stem cell research institute, initiated the challenge with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The group is the first to contest three sweeping patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation that give the foundation control over much research.

The patents stem from University of Wisconsin researcher James Thomson's successful isolation of human embryonic stem cells. Researchers have characterized them as so restrictive that they basically lay claim to any work with embryonic stem cell lines, even those derived independently. "

Critical report on Irish e-voting system released

From EDRI-gram: Critical report on Irish e-voting system released

"On 4 July 2006, the Commission on Electronic Voting released its second report on the secrecy and accuracy of the e-voting system purchased by the Irish Government.

The summary remarks at the beginning of the 200 page report say: "The Commission concludes that it can recommend the voting and counting equipment of the chosen system for use at elections in Ireland, subject to further work it has also recommended, but that it is unable to recommend the election management software for such use."

The "further work" referred to appears from the phrasing of the rest of the introduction to be relatively minor, but a detailed reading of the report reveals the extent of the changes required...

Irish Citizens for Trustworthy Evoting (ICTE) are pushing for a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis to be carried out before any decision to continue is made. The costs in terms of money and time will be considerable, and they need to be calculated accurately before they can be compared to the supposed benefits. ICTE is an independent group of over one hundred concerned Citizens, IT & Security Practitioners, and Legal Professionals calling for the introduction of a Voter Verified Audit Trail with any E-voting system used in Ireland.

On a more positive note, it is certain that the system will not be used for the next general election in Ireland, which will take place in early 2007. The strength of criticism of this system from opposition parties here means that if there is a change of government through that election this system may finally be scrapped.

Commission on Electronic Voting - Second report on e-voting (07.2006)"

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hong Kong recruit scouts as online copyright monitors

From the NYT:

"Movie and song copiers beware: use an Internet discussion site in Hong Kong to violate copyrights and you may be turned in to law enforcement authorities by an 11-year-old Boy Scout.

Starting this summer the Hong Kong government plans to have 200,000 youths search Internet discussion sites for illegal copies of copyrighted songs and movies, and report them to the authorities. The campaign has delighted the entertainment industry, but prompted misgivings among some civil liberties advocates.

The so-called Youth Ambassadors campaign will start on Wednesday with 1,600 youths pledging their participation at a stadium in front of leading Hong Kong film and singing stars and several Hong Kong government ministers.

The Youth Ambassadors represent a new reliance on minors to keep order on the Internet. All members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and nine other uniformed youth groups here, ranging in age from 9 to 25, will be expected to participate, government officials said...

When youths report to the authorities that movies, songs, television programs or other copyrighted material is being made available through an Internet posting, customs officials will verify the posting and then relay it to trade groups like the Motion Picture Association or the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. The associations and their members then send warning letters to the Web masters of the discussion forums, asking them to delete the offending posting; the customs officials keep secret which child has spotted which posting."

No comment.

Kennedy sues the voting machine companies

It seems Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who recently expressed his concerns about the 2004 presidential election, is one of the people behind the decision to sue the voting machine manufacturers for fraud. Bev Harris of Black Box Voting complains that the mainstream press haven't noticed yet, though I see ABC News have picked up the story via Associated Press. This one could well be a slow burner.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

YouTube sued

Lilian has a sensible commentary on the copyright case being brought against YouTube.

"YouTube only hosts material provided by third parties, and doesn't put up its own materials (as did), it's protected by the DMCA and ECD safe harbors. (Unless a US or European court can be convinced that it had "constructive" notice of illegality - ie it should have known what was going on or as the DMCA and ECD put it, was "aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent" - which is not altogether impossible but perhaps unlikely.) While the Napsters of this world fell foul of secondary copyright infringement, because their central database pointed at illegal copies hosted by other users. They didn't get the benefit of the DMCA because they weren't seen as a host who could respond to NTD notices and were aware of infringing activity. This seems, in retrospect, mildly curious.

As for a Grokster analysis - as Technollama also points out, it's hard to argue that YouTube "induced" copyright infringement. Their site unlike Grokster's is free of anti-copyright rhetoric and their ToS are impeccable (not that that helped Grokster!) - plus YouTube can calmly say the site was mainly set up to allow users to host their own amateur copyright material, and , I think, prove it."

Censored again

I don't have too many readers in India that I'm aware of but it looks like some Indian ISPs might be blocking all blogger blogs. At least on this occasion they're not picking on me due to the usual triple x filter problem...

IPPR Paper on the Public Domain

Rufus Pollock has written a very readable position paper for the Institute for Public Policy Research entitled The Value of the Public Domain (114k, 18 pages pdf).

Traditionally, the public domain has been defined as the set of intellectual works that can be copied, used and reused without restriction of any kind. For the purposes of this essay I wish to widen this a little and make the public domain synonymous with ‘open’ knowledge, that is, all ideas and information that can be freely used, redistributed and reused. The word ‘freely’ must be loosely interpreted – for example the requirement of attribution or even that derivative works be re-shared, does not render a work unfree.

This public domain is very large. It includes the contents of the traditional public domain such as works originally subject to monopoly protection but where the protection has expired, for example Shakespeare’s plays, which were once subject to copyright, as well as items never subject to protection, for example the theory of relativity. It also includes open source software and work released under (some) Creative Commons licenses. As such, it consists of almost all of humanity’s intellectual output up until the very recent present (for patented ideas it excludes approximately the last 20 years and for copyrighted works approximately the last 100 years).

An age-old but evolving concept

One of the first printed texts of which we have record is a copy of the Buddhist Diamond Sutra, produced in China around 868AD. In it can be found the dedication: ‘for universal free distribution’. Clearly, the idea of public domain, that is, open access to knowledge, has been present since humanity first began to formally transmit and share ideas. It is also likely that the urge to keep ideas secret, particularly those that had ‘commercial’ value, is equally old.

With the development of trade and technology, particularly during the Renaissance in Europe, these parallel approaches of openness and secrecy continued to evolve but the tension between them also increased. With the introduction of formal monopoly rights such as patents and copyrights during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, there was now a halfway house of sorts whereby the monopoly (and the associated profits) of secrecy was combined with openness in the form of the disclosure of the work.

These alternatives of openness, secrecy and state-sanctioned monopoly have stayed with us down to the present day. While most of our ideas, particularly cultural ones, are ‘public domain’, free for anyone to use and reuse, a significant portion of the intellectual works and products created by the economies of the world are protected either by some form of intellectual property rights or by secrecy – or by both, as is the case with most proprietary computer software, for example.

However, there have also been considerable changes. On the one hand there has been a large increase, particularly over the last 30 to 40 years, in the scope and duration of intellectual property rights. On the other hand, and at the same time, especially in recent years, we have seen the rise of self-consciously open models of innovation, particularly in software where the ‘copyleft’ approach to knowledge licensing first
arose in the 1980s. (This is the system whereby copyright is inverted to sustain shared access to, and prevent proprietisation of, information by requiring, as a condition of access, that those who reuse the shared resource contribute back their modifications.)

However the most significant of all changes underlies these others, for it is the change in the role of knowledge in society and the economy. Terms such as the ‘information age’ or the ‘knowledge economy’are now commonplace and hard statistics point to the fact that in most western economies the information based service sector is now more important than manufacturing. These changes in turn result from, or at
least depend upon, a revolution in communication and computer technologies that has greatly reduced the cost of production, distribution and manipulation of knowledge. Whole industries that neither existed nor were imagined 50, and possibly even 20, years ago have grown up that exploit these new-found possibilities.

What do these vast changes mean for the production and dissemination of knowledge, as well as for their regulation and support by government? These are large questions and not ones that can be answered adequately here. Instead, this paper shall address a small part of this large picture by focusing on the public domain and its value to society, concentrating in particular on the way in which open, ‘public domain’,
approaches can generate commercial as well as societal value.

Too often this value has been unarticulated and thereby left vulnerable. While those who promote stronger intellectual property rights point to the tangible benefits that these offer their businesses, the corresponding costs to the public domain and its users are invisible or ignored. This paper seeks to redress the imbalance and, in doing so, to spur a re-orientation of innovation and information policy. Our current paradigm represents a form of monomania in which monopoly rights, in the form of intellectual property, displace all else from our thinking on this subject. It binds us to a narrow, and erroneous, viewpoint in which innovation is central but access is peripheral. The system it has engendered is now so distorted that its social and commercial costs in several key areas have become large. It is therefore high time to restore balance, in particular by taking proper account of the public domain and open approaches to knowledge production. It is only by doing so that we will be able to take full advantage of the possibilities offered by this digital age."

I like the Buddhist Diamond Sutra reference and we have to continually remind ourselves that the substance of the debate between open and closed systems has been around a lot longer than we have. The context and the technologies may have changed significantly but the key issues not very much.

2 Groups banned for "glorifying terrorism"

From the Guardian: "al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, were yesterday named as the first extremist groups to be banned in Britain under new anti-terror laws...

The groups are the first to be targeted by the home secretary, John Reid, under anti-terror legislation outlawing extremist organisations who "glorify terrorism". Until now the home secretary's powers of proscription have been used only against organisations directly involved in terrorism."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Putin digs at Blair and Bush

Vladimir's Putin's digs at the hypocrisy of Tony Blair and George W. Bush were faithfully recorded by the Sunday papers which hold both men in such high esteem, the Telegraph and the Observer respectively.

"President Vladimir Putin took a swipe at Tony Blair and Lord Levy last night, making clear he thought British criticism of Russian democracy was hypocritical in light of the "cash for peerages" scandal...

"There are also other questions," he said. "Questions, let's say, about the fight against corruption. We'd be interested in hearing your experience, including how it applies to Lord Levy.""

"Vladimir Putin delivered a barbed retort to George Bush's muted criticism of Russia's democratic record yesterday when he told reporters at a joint press conference that he did not want to head a democracy like Iraq's.

The remark, which raised a loud laugh from the assembled press pool, capped a joint appearance that exposed how relations between the two men have become strained in the past two years, since Washington began criticising Putin's iron grip on Russia's media and politics.

Bush said that, during two hours of discussions, 'I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion. I told [Putin] a lot of people in our country ... would hope that Russia would do the same thing. I fully understand, however, that there will be a Russian style of democracy.'

Putin replied, smiling: 'I'll be honest with you: we, of course, would not want to have a democracy like in Iraq.' "

Losing the little bit they had...

The government are really losing their marbles. Their latest idea in the "war on antisocial behaviour" is to... wait for it... wait for it... toddlers and babies.

Someone really should take their toys away and send them to their room until they calm down. The government not the toddlers.

Template for US government data accumulation stories

Daniel Solove has decided to help out journalists reporting on the mulititude of data gathering stories involving the government. He's provided a template for their stories and all the journalists need to do is fill in the blanks.

"Under a top secret program initiated by the Bush Administration after the Sept. 11 attacks, the [name of agency (FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.)] have been gathering a vast database of [type of records] involving United States citizens.

"This program is a vital tool in the fight against terrorism," [Bush Administration official] said. "Without it, we would be dangerously unsafe, and the terrorists would have probably killed you and every other American citizen." The Bush Administration stated that the revelation of this program has severely compromised national security..."