Friday, January 19, 2007

A deadly certitude

Steven Weinberg has been reviewing Richard Dawkins' latest book The God Delusion.

"Richard Dawkins’s even-handedness is well-intentioned, but it is misplaced. I share his lack of respect for all religions, but in our times it is folly to disrespect them all equally."

NYT Pogue Blog Ode to the RIAA

David Pogue at the NYT has composed an "Ode to the RIAA" to the tune of Village People's "YMCA". One comment suggested it should have been "Owed to the RIAA"

"You’ve just been sued by the R.I.A.A.!
You’ve just been sued by the R.I.A.A.!
Their attorneys say, you committed a crime,
And there’d better not be a next time!

They’ve lost their minds at the R.I.A.A.!
Justice is blind at the R.I.A.A….
“You’re depriving the bands! You are learning to steal,
You can’t do whatever you feel!”"


Superdatabase madness

One blogger has been pondering what life will be like for an ordinary Joe Soap in a superdatabase UK, with the government intent on demolishing all barriers to data sharing.

"Joe Soap, clean, honest living man who wanted to find new work to pay the mortgage and his bills, never been in trouble in his life, now has a criminal record, his fingerprints and DNA will stay on file for 100 years, he now has an ASBO which makes it illegal for him to do everyday things that the rest of us can do legally, he is no longer allowed to travel to London, and travel anywhere else in the UK has to be approved by the police, he is on the V&S Offenders register, and his life is under constant supervision...

By passing laws and building Databases all your eggs are now in one basket and make everyone, absolutely everyone suspicious, be the target of suspicion, and allow the lowest rated civil servant access to your very soul.

I can hear Mr Blair protesting now that this is not what all these laws are for, but Mr Blair, please understand, THIS IS HOW THEY WILL BE APPLIED, if not in a dictatorial regime, certainly one in which it is very easy to hit all your targets when the laws are all on your side."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Commission 1 Ireland 0

The EU Commission have won a case against the Irish governement on failure to properly implement an EU directive from 1992 (Council Directive 92/100/EEC of 19 November 1992 on rental right and lending right and on certain rights related to copyright in the field of intellectual property).

The Irish government's crime? IPKat explains:

"They had exempted all categories of public lending establishments from the obligation to remunerate authors for any lending carried out by them, that's what they did."

IPKat welcomes the judgement. Personally, this time, I'm on the side of the Irish government, given the nature of the potential impact on open access.

Minister McFadden and wibbies

William Heath wonders if there may be a minister in government now who may be prepared to listen to some wibbies on information systems and government. His officials apparently like him anyway.

Bush agrees to drop warrantless wiretapping

The Bush administration has reportedly agreed (WSJ, subscription required unfortunately) to stop the mass warrantless wiretapping that has created so much controversy over the past eighteen months. The Department of Justice has said that such activities will be brought back under the review of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. I suspect, as usual with these things, that the devil will be in the detail and Marty Lederman agrees:

"The President has "determined not to reauthorize the Terrorist Surveillance Program when the current authorization expires," and the Department of Justice will now submit its surveillance applications to the FISA Court for approval. Indeed, this volte-face apparently is the result of the fact that DOJ has convinced a FISA judge to issue "innovative and complex" orders in one precedential case already. So says a new letter from the AG to Senators Leahy and Specter.

According to the letter, the FISA court seems to have approved orders finding that at least part of the FISA statutory standard was [would be?] satisfied -- that "one of the communicants is a member or agent of Al Qaeda or an associated terrorist organization." (That's not quite the statutory standard, which requires that the target of the intercept be such an agent, and also that "each of the facilities or places at which the electronic surveillance is directed is being used, or is about to be used, by a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.") It apparently took "considerable time and work" for DOJ to persuade the FISA judge to go along with whatever this newfangled sort of approval is. (According to Tony Snow, the FISA Court has promulgated "guidelines" and "rules" to govern this new form of approval.)

The ACLU case challenging the legality of the TSP is, at least for now, scheduled to be argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in two weeks...

The transcript of the background conference call with DOJ officials is here. The officials there claimed that the new procedures "will comply in all respects with the requirements of the FISA statute,"... One official did stress, however, that the orders "take advantage of . . . developments in the law before the FISA court." In other words, the FISA court apparently has been persuaded that in some respects the FISA statute is more forgiving than previously understood -- that it demands less proof or proof of a different kind than what the court once required. Orin Kerr provocatively surmises that perhaps what's going on here is a form of anticipatory warrant. It's unlikely that we'll know the details of this secret new internal law of FISA anytime soon.]...

Without knowing anything more about it, my sense is that this is probably a beneficial development, whatever its impetus might have been. I find it very difficult to imagine that the FISA court would roll over and approve an "innovative" legal theory if it were dubious -- especially not in this context, where DOJ has many incentives to get the FISA court on-board and where the congressional and public spotlight is shining so brightly. Without the New York Times, and Judge Taylor, and the 2006 election, this would never have happened. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and all . . . . Even though the public might never find out exactly what's up here, presumably Congress and the FISA court are now acting as some not-insignificant checks. And if so -- if the extreme and unilateral positions of the Executive are a thing of the past here, the system has worked."

It looks, on the surface, like a significant reigning in of presumed Executive powers for Mr Bush to back down on something this politically sensitive. Of course Marty Lederman and others have been arguing for some time that the president has been acting outside the constitutional checks on balances of his office in relation to his actions in approving the mass warrantless surveillance at the centre of this dispute. Jack Balkan thinks the motives are political:

in this case, the Administration insisted for months that the President did not need to follow the procedures in FISA, either because of the AUMF or because of inherent Presidential authority. Apparently, it has now retreated from that legally untenable position, hoping to moot, or at the very least disarm, federal litigation challenging the legality of the NSA program. Once again, the goal is to prevent a court from stating clearly that the President acted illegally and that his theories of executive power are self-serving hokum.

When we put these two stories together, a pattern emerges: the Administration repeatedly takes unreasonable positions about its powers. It insists that obedience to these views is necessary to the very survival of the Republic and that those who would dare to disagree are jeopardizing national security. It makes these aggressive claims repeatedly in every venue, hoping that others, cowed by its aggressive self-confidence and patriotic appeals, will be overawed and simply give in. It struts and boasts and threatens and exaggerates until its bluff is called, at which point its previous assertions simply become-- as they once put it in the Nixon Administration-- inoperative. Put another way, the Administration's stance on Presidential power has resembled nothing so much as an altogether familiar character, the neighborhood bully."

eIFL Statement at WIPO SCCR

The Electronic Information for Libraries (eIFL) have just made an eloquent and succinct statement to the WIPO committee considering the broadcast treaty, the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. I hope the eIFL folks don't mind me reproducing it in full here (via the A2K list):

Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries

Electronic Information for Libraries (eIFL) and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) have argued in our previous statements that any draft treaty on the protection of broadcast organisations limits itself to its intent i.e. to prohibit signal piracy. We welcome the endeavours in the Chairs discussion non-paper that the focus should be set on the protection of the live signal and on signal theft.

Both our organisations support the Joint Statement of Certain Civil Society, Private Sector and Rightsholder Representatives. Point three of the statement argues that any treaty that allows for broader rights must be accompanied by an equally broad set of mandatory exceptions and limitations. We believe that this is a time consuming task for the purposes of this draft treaty and in the signal based approach, it is unnecessary.

The alternative rights based approach would involve crafting appropriate exceptions and limitations, an increasingly complex task for the digital age. Today we live in a global digital environment. But the exceptions and limitations with which we work were developed in an analogue world. They are paperbound. The basic format for most content has become digital. Librarians find themselves struggling with unsuitable exceptions and limitations to adequately deliver content and services in the digital age. Nowadays, libraries must adopt sometimes absurd practices in order to comply with copyright law. Libraries services are stymied when they should be expanding and developing in response to new technologies. Analysis and guidance on the issues is necessary.

The agreed statement to Article 10 of the WIPO Copyright Treaty, which states that Member States may extend existing exceptions and limitations to the digital environment and may devise new exceptions appropriate to the digital network environment, was an attempt to provide a remedy to such future issues. Ten years on, we believe that the problems faced by libraries have become too complex to be properly addressed by this general statement expressing an intention.

Exceptions and limitations are being undermined in substance because they are bound to an ageing technology. As a result of the change in format from print to digital, libraries have largely become subject to contract law instead of copyright law. Libraries experience on a daily basis how exceptions and limitations are being undermined in principle by contracts which seek to override statutory exceptions and limitations and are enforced by technological protection measures. We believe that this serves to undermine copyright law itself. Analysis and guidance on the issues is necessary.

This is why we welcome the initiative of the distinguished delegation of Chile and the support of GRULAC for this committee to consider exceptions and limitations for libraries, education and the disabled in its regular work. The proposal by Chile for a study on exceptions and limitations for libraries is therefore a welcome step.

Libraries are an essential component for education and research, the acquiring of knowledge and culture by citizens, and for the enlightenment of society. This role has traditionally been recognised through exceptions and limitations for libraries as expressed in international treaties and national copyright laws.

We would wish for the proposed study to identify the problems, illustrated by case studies from a range of real experiences, from the local public library to the worlds great research libraries. Different remedies would be analysed, followed by recommendations of practical benefit to libraries. In this way, we would hope that the role of exceptions and limitations for libraries in the digital environment would be reinvigorated.

eIFL and IFLA believe that WIPO is the natural organisation to host such a study and we would be pleased to be of any assistance in this regard.

WIPO attempt to finalise broadcasting treaty

James Love is in Geneva watching developments at the World Intellectual Proerty Organisation as they try to finalise negotiations over the proposed broadcasting treaty.

"One faction in the negotiations wants to revamp provisions in a 1962 treaty (one that the United States and 80 other countries never signed), with new or expanded intellectual property rights for anyone who "broadcasts" third party content. Relying upon the current 108 page draft of the treaty, they propose that anyone who qualifies as a "broadcaster" or "cablecaster" would get a set of exclusive rights to prevent others from re-publishing or using the information, including on the Internet, without permission from the broadcaster or cablecaster. This right would be in addition to the rights and permissions (if any) associated with the copyright in the work, and would apply even to works that are in the public domain, or where the copyright owner was willing to freely distribute the work. It would create an entirely new set of liability problems for companies that aggregate third party content, a fact that lawyers for Yahoo and News Corp (treaty supporters) have apparently not explained to their CEOs...

Opposing this scenario are a growing group of countries that want the treaty to take a much narrower approach, only prohibiting the "theft" of programing signals, but not extending an intellectual property right in other people's copyrighted works. The problem is, no one can explain why such protection is needed, since it is already illegal to steal cable or satellite service under many existing laws, including existing copyright laws."

Privately, Hollywood admits DRM isn't about piracy

Given my increased level of irritation with DRM at the moment you won't be surprised that I draw your attention to this.

"For almost ten years now I have argued that digital rights management has little to do with piracy, but that is instead a carefully plotted ruse to undercut fair use and then create new revenue streams where there were previously none...

In a nutshell: DRM's sole purpose is to maximize revenues by minimizing your rights so that they can sell them back to you...

There is simply no evidence whatsoever that DRM slows piracy. In fact, all of the evidence suggests the opposite, and arguments that DRM "keeps honest people honest" are frankly insulting. If they're already honest, they don't need DRM.

If we believe Ronald Grover's sources in his BusinessWeek article of last week, the problem is liberal DRM and not piracy, and this is a startling admission. According to him, an unnamed studio executive said that a major reason why studios weren't jumping on board with the iTunes Store and other similar services is that their DRM is too lax. "[Apple's] user rules just scare the heck out of us." It's not piracy that's the concern, it's their ability to control how you use the content you purchase.

As it turns out, five devices authorized for playback is too many, and the studios apparently believe that this is "just as bad" as piracy. Hollywood believes that iTunes Store customers will add their buddies' devices to their authorization list, and like evil communists, they'll share what they have purchased. This makes little sense, because the way iTunes works, you can only issue so many device authorizations at a time. You could share with a friend, but then your friend would have to be authorized to play all of your purchased content, taking up an authorization. Inconvenient, huh? But is it a big problem?

I can walk in to Best Buy right now, buy a DVD, and lend it to every person I know. Who hasn't lent a DVD to a friend or colleague? This is perfectly legal behavior, but you can see that Hollywood hopes to stop this kind of thing via DRM. Thanks to the DMCA, once copyrighted contents have been encrypted, your rights fly right out the window."

Horse bolted on school fingerprinting

I reported last week a small step forward in the school children fingerprinting saga. The Register reports that the Information Commissioner reckons the horse has bolted on this and it is too late to do anything about it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Petition for open access to scientific publications

From Ian Brown via the ORG list, JISC and others are petitioning the EU for open access to scientific publications:

In the wake of the publication of the report from the "EU Study on
the Economic and Technical Evolution of the Scientific Publication
Markets of Europe" a consortium of organisations working in the
scholarly communication arena is sponsoring a petition to the
European Commission to demonstrate support for Open Access and for
the recommendations in the report. Signatures may be added on behalf
of individuals or institutions.

Please register your support for Open Access in this way. To sign the
petition (shown below), please go to The sponsoring organisations are JISC (Joint Information Systems
Committee, UK), SURF (Netherlands), SPARC Europe, DFG (Deutsches
Forschungsgemeinschaft, Germany), DEFF (Danmarks Elektroniske Fag- og
Forskningsbibliotek, Denmark).

Dear Commissioner,

Our mission of disseminating knowledge is only half complete if the
information is not made widely and readily available to society. Berlin Declaration, October 2003

In January 2006 the European Commission published the Study on the
Economic and Technical Evolution of the Scientific Publication
Markets of Europe. The Study resulted from a detailed analysis of the
current scholarly journal publication market, together with extensive
consultation with all the major stakeholders within the scholarly
communication process (researchers, funders, publishers, librarians,
research policymakers, etc.). The Study noted that 'dissemination and
access to research results is a pillar in the development of the
European Research Area' and it made a number of balanced and
reasonable recommendations to improve the visibility and usefulness
of European research outputs.

Now, a year after publication of the Study, we urge the EC to endorse
the recommendations in full. In particular, we encourage you to adopt
the first recommendation as a matter of urgency:


Research funding agencies have a central role in determining
researchers' publishing practices. Following the lead of the NIH and
other institutions, they should promote and support the archiving of
publications in open repositories, after a (possibly domain-specific)
time period to be discussed with publishers. This archiving could
become a condition for funding.

The following actions could be taken at the European level: (i)
Establish a European policy mandating published articles arising from
EC-funded research to be available after a given time period in open
access archives, and (ii) Explore with Member States and with
European research and academic associations whether and how such
policies and open repositories could be implemented.

We would recommend that, in accordance with the recent
recommendations from the European Research Advisory Board and the
statement of the European Research Council on Open Access, any
potential 'embargo' on free access should be set at no more than six
months following publication.

Research must be widely disseminated and read to be useful. Adopting
Recommendation A1 will immediately ensure the widest possible
readership for EC-funded research, increasing the potential benefits
resulting from the research, and promoting European scholarship both
within Europe and beyond. Evidence is accumulating to indicate that
research that is openly accessible is read more and used more and
that open access to research findings would bring economic advantage
across the European Research Area. The Commission has a unique
opportunity to place Europe at the forefront of the dissemination of
research outputs and we encourage you to adopt the Study
recommendations for the benefit of European research.

I've been DRM'd

Well it had to happen didn't it ? After all the years of griping on this blog and other forums (including my forthcoming book) about DRM I've just been caught out by a DRM system. I bought a Panasonic DMR-EX85 DVD recorder from HughesDirect. My kids had had a giggle about Martin's Internet Nano Christmas shopping woes so had been tracking the machine's progress towards us and in that regard everything went ok and it arrived as scheduled yesterday.

I connected all the wires up and the machine went into its automatic set up routine. Again everything seemed fine and it picked up the channels etc. with no apparent difficulties. The digital signal was quite strong though it somehow picked the wrong aspect ratio, so we got an elongated picture until I adjusted it manually. We watched the end of a film on one of the digital channels and again everything was basically ok though the digital signal cut out once or twice when the wind got up later on. Then I put in one of the kids' DVDs.

We get "whirr, beep, whirr, whirr..." for about half a minute as the machine scans the disk, then the display reads “NoREAD” and a small window appears briefly on the TV screen saying “Cannot Read”. Attempting to press the “play” button on the machine or the remote control merely brings up a small red circle with a red diameter in the top right corner of the TV screen. Page 75 of the manual helpfully says this means: “The procedure is being prevented by the unit or the disc” but unhelpfully doesn't provide any remedy whatsoever.

Uh oh, I think, DRM? Well maybe I should try a different disk before jumping to conclusions. I tried six, all with the same result. Grr does this blooming machine think I'm trying to pass a US DVD off on it or something? All six were UK sourced disks though the machine is set up to play region 2 or all region encoded disks. The kids were disappointed not to be able to use the new toy right away

This morning I spoke to a very helpful and technically knowledgeable Hughes' customer service representative called Paul who immediately confirmed my suspicions about the DRM getting a bit confused. Occasionally in transit on some part of the manufacturing process or the supply chain the machine gets a bump which just knocks the drm out of synch and it "thinks" it is officiously carrying out its duty to protect the machine from playing DVDs from unapproved regions and actually it just can't read the code and recognise approved disks either. We both agreed I should send it back to them, so that is where it is going on Friday with Hughes providing a full refund. Since they didn't have any 85s left in stock I've ordered a lower spec and cheaper EX75 instead.

I await the DMR-EX75, due Friday, on which hopefully the DRM will be more cooperative. Well done to HughesDirect and particularly Paul for being so helpful. My visions of being kept waiting endlessly in an automated answering queue thankfully didn't come to fruition this time.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

An Educational Prank

Kembrew McLeod has been poking fun at his university management in order to make a serious point.

"In a groundbreaking marketing move, six corporations sponsored my undergraduate course during the fall of 2006. To be more accurate, I should say, with a wink and a nod, that they "sponsored" the course.

There was no contractual exchange of money or services in this faux patronage experiment and, to be honest, some of the businesses didn't want to be involved in my scheme. (One company representative, sensing the political motivations behind my endeavor, told me via an e-mail message: "You will not use the Disney logos or any connection to the Disney Co. in your class.")

I began referring to my syllabus as a McSyllabus, and for the duration of the semester my corporately sponsored name was Professor McKembrew McLeod...

My experiment was a provocation, a quiet protest that escalated near the end of the semester after a contentious move made by the University of Iowa's Board of Regents. That body had increasingly adopted a top-down management style and embraced a corporate model for the university, and demonstrated that last November by scuttling a 10-month presidential search because it didn't like the finalists.

The board's actions inspired me to push my prank even further, and so I personally contacted each regent, telling them about my plan. It came as no surprise when one regent -- unaware of my satirical motives -- happily endorsed the idea of a corporately sponsored classroom...

The troubles faced by the University of Iowa (and our nation's universities, more generally) run deeper than a mere bureaucratic squabble. This episode highlights the systemic problems that emerge when we try to turn the university into "an economic engine for the state," a term our administrators are fond of using."

"Brain fingerprinting" admissable in court

Jeff Jonas swears he is not making this up:

"Apparently, your brain creates a very specific electrical brain response, known as P300, when one is presented with information that is already contained in one’s mind. If you recognize the information (i.e., it is familiar to you), you will have a P300 response. There is no way to avoid this; it is a biological/electrical stimulus response event. Sort of like a lie detector, only (reportedly) always accurate.

Think of this as Mind-Reading 1.0.

Question: "Did you murder John Doe?"

Answer: "No."

Question: "Have you ever been inside this house?" [While presenting a picture of the front of a house]

Answer: "No."

Question: "Did you commit this murder?" [While presenting a picture of the murder scene, which took place in the bedroom]

Answer "No."

"Sir, you are under arrest – you had a P300 response to the murder scene."

Maybe you are feeling some comfort knowing this is not being accepted in the courtroom. Think again. P300 is already being used in court as admissible evidence by both defense and prosecuting attorneys.

Now what happens when science improves and Mind-Reading 2.0 is available?...

Now juxtapose this emerging technology with how our courts have interpreted our rights against unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution. For example, the Supreme Court long ago ruled (Smith vs. Maryland) that we have no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in telephone call header data (i.e., whom you called, on what day, and for how long).

Now that the technology exists to "read" P300 responses, I have to wonder where we are going to draw the line...

Is it possible the Supreme Court could someday rule that certain brain activity is not private? If this seems far-fetched, let me share one plausible journey that might just make this true. The Court has held (Katz vs. United States) that an expectation of privacy is not "reasonable" unless both: (1) a person can claim "a legitimate expectation of privacy" over a particular type of information; and (2) this expectation is one that society is prepared to recognize as "reasonable." And, of course, what society sees as "reasonable" changes over time..."

Scary but a nice illustration of how a series of apparently small and some moderate-impact technology and legal systems decisions, spread out over a period of time and taken without a systemic appreciation of their cummulative effect, can lead to a dangerous place.

MI6 and Blair at odds over Saudi deals

From the Guardian:

"Britain's secret intelligence service, MI6, has challenged the government's claim that a major corruption inquiry into Saudi Arabian arms deals was threatening national security.

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, told parliament before Christmas that the intelligence agencies "agreed with the assessment" of Tony Blair that national security was in jeopardy because the Saudis intended to pull out of intelligence cooperation with Britain. But John Scarlett, the head of MI6, has now refused to sign up to a government dossier which says MI6 endorses this view."

US Law School Deans united on Guantanamo detainees

I mentioned yesterday that Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles “Cully” Stimson called for business clients of law firms which employ people also representing Gunatanamo detainees to lean on those firms to drop these cases. It has provoked a response from a plethora of US deans of law:

"We, the undersigned law deans, are appalled by the January 11, 2007 statement of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles 'Cully' Stimson, criticizing law firms for their pro bono representation of suspected terrorist detainees and encouraging corporate executives to force these law firms to choose between their pro bono and paying clients.

As law deans and professors, we find Secretary Stimson's statement to be contrary to basic tenets of American law. We teach our students that lawyers have a professional obligation to ensure that even the most despised and unpopular individuals and groups receive zealous and effective legal representation. Our American legal tradition has honored lawyers who, despite their personal beliefs, have zealously represented mass murderers, suspected terrorists, and Nazi marchers. At this moment in time, when our courts have endorsed the right of the Guantanamo detainees to be heard in courts of law, it is critical that qualified lawyers provide effective representation to these individuals. By doing so, these lawyers protect not only the rights of the detainees, but also our shared constitutional principles. In a free and democratic society, government officials should not encourage intimidation of or retaliation against lawyers who are fulfilling their pro bono obligations.

We urge the Administration promptly and unequivocally to repudiate Secretary Stimson?s remarks."

This blunt Chicago Tribune article spells out exactly why the people incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay need high quality legal representation.

Sometime before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, a man named Abdul Aliza was taken from his home and his family in Afghanistan and was forced at gunpoint to work for the Taliban as a cook's assistant.

Interrogated years later by U.S. officers at the military prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba, Aliza insisted that he had never joined with the fighting against America or its allies.

"Did you fight against the Northern Alliance . . . or any United States forces?" Aliza was asked, according to a transcript the Pentagon released.

"I have never fought," Aliza answered. "I was forcefully taken."

"What did you do while in captivity or while you were with the Taliban?"

"I served them food."

Officers told Aliza that having been kidnapped by the Taliban and forced to serve as a cook or a waiter was irrelevant to whether Aliza was an enemy combatant. Aliza found this impossible to comprehend...

Bush administration officials have assured the American people that Guantanamo keeps us safe because it keeps dangerous Al Qaeda terrorists off the street.

But the Pentagon's data show that only 8 percent of the prisoners at the base are even alleged to have been Al Qaeda fighters--assuming the allegations against them are true...

Much of the problem has to do with the words and definitions the administration uses.

Being an enemy combatant does not mean a prisoner did anything wrong, the administration said in documents written by the Department of Defense in 2004.

The term does not require evidence that a prisoner knowingly took any action against the United States, or even that he was a willing participant in the conflict. As a result, many prisoners at the base are, by any reasonable standard, completely innocent. the past, we sensibly distinguished enemy soldiers from unwilling servants. Today, we conjure up combatants from the Taliban's cooks. Some of the men identified in this article spent years at Guantanamo before their eventual release without any charges; the rest, along with nearly 400 others, linger there still."

Energy debate

Natalie Rothschild at Spiked informs me the magazine has an online debate going on about the future of energy. It's interesting but clearly designed to provoke argument, being seeded with four articles giving single-dimensional perspectives and the token one with a gentler tone - one says coal is the only answer, another says it's nuclear power, one says we must save energy, one says we must increase energy production and consumption and the final one says we must understand the energy debate is a complex issue and renewables, though not the solution, have a part to play.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sofware patents yes or no?

IPKat has been thinking about software patents and bridging the chasm between those in favour and those against the idea.

"Section 60 of the UK Patents Act 1977 sets out what does and doesn't constitute an infringement of a patent. In subsection (5) there is quite an extensive list of exceptions to the standard ways of infringing a patent (eg making, using, disposing of). These are meant to be equitable ways of limiting the power of a patent holder against those who should not be pursued for infringement. These include farmers, private non-commercial users, medical researchers and others.

Perhaps this is the place to look for a solution. Why should the development, use, distribution etc. of computer software itself be classed as infringing? If it wasn't an infringement, wouldn't this solve the problems of those who only want to make new software or modify existing software and don't want to risk infringement? Wouldn't making an exception of this kind help the development of new and innovative software solutions?

Here is a proposal then that might just achieve this. In Section 60(5), insert this subclause:
(j) it consists of the making, use, disposal, offering, keeping or importation of computer software.
This little change would exempt software itself from patent infringement. It would not prevent computer implemented inventions from being patented, nor would it prevent companies from suing others for infringement based on real embodiments requiring patentable software solutions, for example the sale of music players or telephones incorporating patented software-implemented inventions. It would, however, prevent software developers from being sued under a patent for merely developing and distributing software they have developed themselves.

Of course, big companies like Microsoft and IBM would doubtless complain that their rights would be severely restricted by such exceptions. However, a large part of the protection afforded to software such as Microsoft's operating systems is due to the combination of copyright protection together with the almost impossible task of reverse engineering publically available object code into source code that can be made sense of. So, copyright protection (which, to remind readers, lasts for 70 years after the last author's death - a very very long time) together with the law of confidential information, seems quite adequate to protect the investment needed to develop software. After all, a return on investment is what the IP game is all about, is it not?"

US Defence Official Calls for Business pressure on Guantanamo lawyers

From Balkanization:

"Now comes before you Mr. Cully Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs. In an interview with conservative radio broadcasters on a local A.M. station, Mr. Stimson remarks that an interesting, breaking story is the list of blue-chip law firms representing Guantanamo detainees – a list that he says was unearthed by a FOIA request (although, as Stimson knows quite well, the information was never a secret). (The audio is here. Scroll down to Guantanamo Bay: Five Years Later.) Stimson finds it “shocking, really” that prominent law firms would do any such thing. As he rattles off the list of law firms, it becomes clear that he has it on paper in front of him: it’s too lengthy to come off the top of his head. Asked who is paying the law firms, Stimson magnanimously admits that some of these lawyers are working pro bono, but then he hints darkly that others may have nefarious, secret funding sources. Enemies within! More terrorist lawfare!

He adds, “I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. It will be fun to watch that play out.”...

The response was predictable, and gratifying. The ABA’s president, and defense-bar spokesman Neal Sonnett leaped to the law firms’ defense, as did Senator Leahy. After outraged editorials in both the New York Times and the Washington Post publicized Stimson’s obscurely-situated interview, the Defense Department disavowed his remarks in strong terms, and made all the right noises about how important it is for the legal process to have excellent counsel for detainees.

How’s that again? For five years, the government (not least Defense) has fought in every way possible to avoid access to legal process for the detainees, a campaign that culminated in the habeas-stripping provisions in the Military Commissions Act. Why would they want excellent representation for the detainees, given that they don’t want the detainees ever to find a forum to be represented in? The hypocrisy boggles the mind. I assume that what bothered Defense about Stimson’s remarks is not their content but their candor."

EU officials OK US ATS data sharing

According to the Washington Post at least one EU official has declared that they are satisfied with US government assurances that the 'Automated Targeting System' for risk-assessing air passengers travelling to and from the US meets EU privacy requirements.

"But in a letter to the chief privacy officials of 27 countries, the American Civil Liberties Union and London-based Privacy International said the Automated Targeting System violated the October data-sharing accord, U.S. law and European data-protection laws.

The system's creation of terrorist risk assessments on all passengers, the storing of profiles for as long as 40 years, and the fact that passengers have no right to see, modify or correct the information violates the agreement, the groups said."

Carbon trading and human rights

SinksWatch tell us (Word Doc 222k) that a new report from the World Rainforest Movement, A Funny Place to Store Carbon (pdf 772k) outlines:

"...human rights abuses at Mount Elgon National Park in east
Uganda, where the Dutch FACE Foundation has been planting carbon
'offset' trees since 1994. The report exposes how villagers living along
the boundary of the park have been beaten and shot at, have been barred
from their land and have seen their livestock confiscated by armed park
rangers guarding the 'carbon trees' inside the National Park."

The table of contents of the 104 page report give you some idea of what to expect from its substance but chapters 1, 3 and 7 are well worth a read.


1. Ticking the right boxes or offsetting responsibility? ....................
Box: FACE: The facts .......................................................................................... 9
Box: The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA)...................................................... 12
2. Mount Elgon......................................................................................... 21
The peoples living in and around Mount Elgon ................................................ 23
The Bagisu ......................................................................................................... 23
The Sabiny ......................................................................................................... 24
3. A chronology of conflicts at Mount Elgon ....................................... 27
Box: The British in Uganda................................................................................. 28
Box: International support for evictions ............................................................. 33
Mount Elgon is declared a national park ............................................................ 37
Evictions from the Kapkwata Softwood Plantation ............................................ 40
Land rights, shootings, killings .......................................................................... 41
A new boundary and more evictions .................................................................. 42
Parliamentary committee on natural resources ................................................... 44
More conflict ...................................................................................................... 46
Boundary disputes, another survey and the Benet sue UWA ........................... 47
Illegal logging and yet more conflicts ................................................................ 49
4. The UWA-FACE project ..................................................................... 59
Is the FACE project additional? .......................................................................... 59
UWA’s version of events at Mount Elgon ......................................................... 62
The UWA-FACE project and the boundary of the national park ....................... 64
Benefits to local people from carbon sales? ....................................................... 67
Notes from a visit to Mount Elgon ..................................................................... 68
5. IUCN and NORAD.............................................................................. 73
IUCN and the Katoomba Group ......................................................................... 78
Box: Carbon forestry in Uganda ......................................................................... 79
6. Forest Stewardship Council Certification ........................................ 83
Does the project comply with FSC standards?................................................... 83
SGS’s visits to Mount Elgon .............................................................................. 93
Certifying the trees or certifying the park management? .................................... 94
7. “We just want our land back” ............................................................ 99"

Over 50 people have reportedly been killed in and around the boundaries of the disputed region. We cannot tackle pollution and climate change through carbon trading schemes designed to allow the affluent to go on polluting at increasing rates. It's smoke and mirrors. It may ease our conscience to think that we've paid to have some trees planted in Africa to aborb carbon emissions equivalent to those pumped into the atmosphere by our latest holiday flight. Yet any "solution" to this massive global systemic mess based on the assumption that we can continue to pollute at exponentially increasing rates is doomed to fail. And as this report points out, the immediate implications for indigenous peoples in and around the areas chosen for these carbon-offsetting plantations can be life threatening in ways that us comfortably off Westerners would prefer not to think about.

Thanks to my colleague, Ray Ison, for the link.

Crypto-Gram January 15, 2007

Bruce Schneier's latest Crypto-Gram packed full of common sense about security is now available. Two stories which will interest regular readers are that identity thieves are targetting children and just after Christmas a Florida judge ruled that a losing Democratic candidate, in a close fought congressional election contest, had no right to examine the source code of the voting machines that seem to have produced smoe anomalies in the election.