Saturday, November 03, 2007

Why a rights Robocop will never work

Cory on why a rights robcop will never work.

"It's all the rage these days: crackpot proposals to automatically police the internet for copyright violations, stopping them even before they occur.

From YouTube's promise to find and stamp out copyright infringing uploads to the counterproposal from the motion picture studios and Microsoft to find and stamp out infringing uploads, everyone is getting in on the act.

The problem is, it's all lies, wishful thinking and irresponsible promises.

Look at it this way: for this system to work, you'd have to write a piece of software that had a thorough understanding of "all the copyrighted works" (keep in mind that every creative work is copyrighted from the instant it's created), and it would have to be able to spot every transformation, re-encoding, downsampling, and re-edit of those works in order to stem the tide...

It would also have to be nearly perfect in regards to false positives - every time it misidentified a home movie of your kids' first steps or your gran's 85th birthday as Police Academy 29 or Star Wars: Episode 0, Jedi Teen Academy, your own right to use the Internet to communicate with your friends and family would be compromised - likewise unacceptable.

Even worse: what happens when your video of a corrupt politician rigging an election is flagged as an infringement, and by the time the mess is sorted out, the election is already over?

And no matter what, it would be an incredible invasion of privacy...

Remaking the internet to invade privacy and silence our conversations is a crummy idea, but even worse is the fact that it won't actually stop or even slow infringement. But for so long as there are technology companies with magic beans to sell - and desperate, ageing entertainment execs willing to buy them - we'll have to keep fighting."

Friday, November 02, 2007

Rowling sues to block book version of Harry Potter fan site

From AP via Findlaw:

"Author J.K. Rowling and the maker of the "Harry Potter" films are suing a small publisher in the United States over its plans to release a book version of a popular Web site dedicated to the boy wizard.

The suit, filed Wednesday by the author and Warner Bros. in federal court in Manhattan, claims that RDR Books of Michigan will infringe on Rowling's intellectual property rights if it goes ahead with its plan to publish the 400-page "Harry Potter Lexicon" on Nov. 28.

According to the publisher, the book contains much of the same material already found on, a fan-created collection of essays and encyclopedic material on the Harry Potter universe, including lists of spells and potions found in the books, a catalog of magical creatures, and even a "who's who in the wizarding world."

In the past, Rowling has expressed support for such fan-driven efforts and has singled out the Harry Potter Lexicon Web site and its editor, Steve Vander Ark, for high praise.

But in the lawsuit, Rowling claimed that the print version of the Lexicon would improperly interfere with her plans to write her own definitive Harry Potter encyclopedia, one that would include new material not in the novels."

Why do I get the feeling that this one is being driven by the lawyers and accountants rather than J.K. Rowling herself?

Lords accuse government of head in sand attitude over e-crime

From the BBC:

"An influential group of peers has accused the government of putting its "head in the sand" after it rejected their ideas for dealing with e-crime.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee report found the internet was "the playground of criminals".

But the government did not agree with its suggestion that lawlessness "was rife" on the internet. "

FAST want P2P suspects banned from the Net

It seems that John Lovelock, the head of the Federation Against Software Theft, wants people suspected of using P2P networks for copyright infringement to be banned from the Net.

iPlayer DRM

Ben Laurie is not impressed at the BBC's complaints about criticism of the iPlayer.

"An interesting podcast with Ashley Highfield, Director Future Media & Technology.

We’re not doing enough [about open source] and it is something I want to turn up the heat on

Well, that’s a good start, but he then goes on to say

The problem at the moment, there is no open source DRM. It’s almost a contradiction in terms, if you have DRM how can you have it open source? Because open source people will be able to find out how it works and get round it.

Oh, dear. Because, of course, no-one will work out how the Microsoft DRM works, just like they haven’t worked out all the other DRMs out there. Not.

In any case, this entirely misses the point: there is no DRM on the broadcast signal, nor was there on old-fashioned video tapes. Why are downloads different? Why is it not sufficient to rely on the law, as has always happened in the past? Why not assume that your users are mostly honest rather than treat them like criminals?"

Well said Ben.

Not surpisingly Cory has something to say about this as well.

"Ashley Highfield, the BBC's Director Future Media & Technology, has done an interview with the BBC Backstage podcast about the BBC's new DRM-based net-delivery system, iPlayer, which delivers a slim fraction of the functionality available to people who watch their TV over the air.

Highfield defends the company's DRM in an incoherent way, attacking straw-men ("The rightsholders need DRM to protect their rights" and "we need open source DRM, but that may be a contradiction in terms," "Rightsholders are scary," "We need a fictional technology that will let us insert ads but only when American eyeballs are present") but without addressing the really meaty questions.

The BBC broadcasts the entirety of its programming at the speed of light, in digital form, without DRM, to every corner of the UK. The net is flooded with every single show the BBC transmits. The BBC has previously stood up to rightsholders who insisted DRM (removing DRM from its satellite feeds, despite an entertainment industry boycott that lasted a year). Adding DRM to its downloads just makes the downloads suck, traps Britons into using Microsoft OSes, shuts out one in four license-paying households who don't have the right combination, bans open source -- but it has nothing to do with stopping infringing downloads...

I like Highfield -- I know him personally and think he's smarter than this. I'd love to see him interviewed by someone who actually walked him through the real implications of what he's proposing here."

Music score library takedown a huge dent in the security of the public domain

Michael Geist considers the recent threats against and subsequent closure of the International Music Score Library Project website a hugely important case for the future of the public domain.

"In February 2006, a part-time Canadian music student established a modest, non-commercial website that used collaborative wiki tools, such as those used by Wikipedia, to create an online library of public domain musical scores. Within a matter of months, the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) featured over 1,000 musical scores for which the copyright had expired in Canada.

Nineteen months later - without any funding, sponsorship or promotion - the site had become the largest public domain music score library on the Internet, generating a million hits per day, featuring over 15,000 scores by over 1,000 composers, and adding 2,000 new scores each month.

Ten days ago, the IMSLP disappeared from the Internet. Universal Edition, an Austrian music publisher, retained a Toronto law firm to demand that the site block European users from accessing certain works and from adding new scores for which the copyright had not expired in Europe. The company noted that while the music scores entered the public domain in Canada fifty years after a composer’s death, Europe's copyright term is twenty years longer.

The legal demand led to many sleepless nights as the student struggled with the prospect of liability for activity that is perfectly lawful in Canada. The site had been very careful about copyright compliance, establishing a review system by experienced administrators who would only post new music scores that were clearly in the Canadian public domain.

Notwithstanding those efforts, on October 19th, the law firm's stated deadline, the student took the world's best public domain music scores site offline...

This case is enormously important from a public domain perspective. If Universal Edition is correct, then the public domain becomes an offline concept, since posting works online would immediately result in the longest copyright term applying on a global basis.

Moreover, there are even broader implications for online businesses. According to Universal Edition, businesses must comply both with their local laws and with the requirements of any other jurisdiction where their site is accessible - in other words, the laws of virtually every country on earth. It is safe to say that e-commerce would grind to a halt under that standard since few organizations can realistically comply with hundreds of foreign laws.

Thousands of music aficionados are rooting for the IMSLP in this dispute. They ought to be joined by anyone with an interest in a robust public domain and a viable e-commerce marketplace. "


Obama promises net neutrality laws

It seems that Barack Obama is promising to introduce net neutrality laws if elected president. His team must think that the geek vote will help to halt his sliding support though Hilary Clinton and others have made similar promises.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

DJ Rupture laments the passing of Oink

DJ Rupture laments the passing of Oink.

"More than anything else this year, music & software file-sharing site Oink changed the way I thought about the music industry & BitTorrent technology. I’d heard rumors of Oink for years but hadn’t seen the members-only site until early ‘07. Oink was anal, Oink was comprehensive. The site administrators were fierce about quality — only high-quality files from original CD/vinyl rips could be posted. Many releases were even posted as FLAC (lossless) files. Oink allowed only entire releases, with complete tracklist information (uploading an incomplete album or a poorly labeled MP3 could get you kicked off). No bootlegs or concert recordings or unfinished pre-release mixes were permitted...

Oink didn’t offer solutions; it highlighted the problems of over-priced, over-controlled music elsewhere. Oink was an online paradise for music fans. The only people who could truly be mad at it were the ones directly profiting from the sale of digital or physical music. (Like myself! F%5k!)

Oink had everything by certain artists. Literally, everything. I searched for ‘DJ Rupture’ and found every release I’d ever done, from an obscure 7″ on a Swedish label to 320kpbs rips of my first 12″, self-released back in 1999. It was shocking. And reassuring. The big labels want music to equal money, but as much as anything else, music is memory, as priceless and worthless as memory…

About a week after I shipped out orders of the first live CD-r Andy Moor & I did, it appeared on Oink. Someone who had purchased it directly from me turned around and posted it online, for free. I wasn’t mad, I was just more stunned by the reach… and usefulness of the site.

If sharing copywritten music without paying for it were legal, than Oink was the best music website in the world...

Watching Oink work helped me to understand the structural intelligence of BitTorrent architecture. Oink, like BitTorrent itself, became stronger & faster the more people used it - scalability writ large. Folks wanted to share - to maintain high share ratios. New releases were highly valued. But users kept older releases available as well (you never know when someone will want your Norwegian proto-deathmetal collection, so you keep your bandwidth open). Whether you call it distributed tape-sharing (to use an 80s term) or distributed piracy (to use a 90s industry term), Oink’s use of BitTorrent & careful quality control did it elegantly."

Politicians: the sum of their parts

I like this idea:

"Create a mathematical equation using photos of people, animals, characters or objects that are the sum of a particular politician's parts."

Example (without pictures):

Bill Clinton - George Clooney + Cold dead fish = Hilary Clinton

The Brickfish competition is restricted to US politicians but I'm sure there's some mileage in this in other areas of the world too...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Kremlin plans to control the Net

The Washington Post reckons the Russian government are planning to take over the Net.

"After ignoring the Internet for years to focus on controlling traditional media such as television and newspapers, the Kremlin and its allies are turning their attention to cyberspace, which remains a haven for critical reporting and vibrant discussion in Russia's dwindling public sphere.

Allies of President Vladimir Putin are creating pro-government news and pop culture Web sites while purchasing some established online outlets known for independent journalism. They are nurturing a network of friendly bloggers ready to disseminate propaganda on command. And there is talk of creating a new Russian computer network -- one that would be separate from the Internet at large and, potentially, much easier for the authorities to control...

Many people here say they believe Putin didn't mind a free Internet as long as it had weak penetration in Russia. But with 25 percent of Russian adults now online, up from 8 percent in 2002, cyberspace has become an issue of increasing concern for the government.

Some Russian Internet experts say a turning point came in 2004, when blogs and uncensored online publications helped drive a popular uprising in Ukraine after a pro-Moscow candidate was declared the winner of a presidential election. Days of street protests in the capital, Kiev, led to a new vote that brought a pro-Western politician into the presidency.

Today, the Kremlin is ready with online forces of its own when street action begins.

On April 14, an opposition movement held a march in central Moscow that drew hundreds of people; police detained at least 170, including the leader of the march, chess star Garry Kasparov.

Pavel Danilin, a 30-year-old Putin supporter and blogger whose online icon is the fearsome robot of the "Terminator" movie, works for a political consulting company loyal to the Kremlin. He said he and his team, which included people from a youth movement called the Young Guard, quickly started blogging that day about a smaller, pro-Kremlin march held at the same time.

They linked to one another repeatedly and soon, Danilin said, posts about the pro-Kremlin march had crowded out all the items about the opposition march on the Yandex Web portal's coveted ranking of the top five Russian blog posts."

Senators call for hearings on telcos blocking Net traffic


"Two Senators on Friday called for a congressional hearing to investigate reports that phone and cable companies are unfairly stifling communications over the Internet and on cell phones.

Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said the incidents involving several companies, including Comcast Corp., Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., have raised serious concerns over the companies' "power to discriminate against content."

They want the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to investigate whether such incidents were based on legitimate business policies or unfair and anticompetitive practices and if more federal regulation is needed."

Saudi King gets the Red Carpet Treatment on visit to UK

Johann Hari displays his anger on the front page of today's Independent at the UK government's welcome of King Abdullah al-Saud:

"The truth is that the British Government – and all Western societies – are so addicted to Saudi Arabia's oil that they feel they can't speak back. They are terrified of seeing the petrol that lubricates our economy (or the arms deals that butter it) being turned off, as it was in 1973 oil crisis. It is only by making a rapid transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels that this depraved relationship with a tyranny can be unpicked – but the Government shows no sign of doing this, preferring to stick to the old exchange of sycophancy, arms deals and crude oil.

As The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman puts it: "Addicts don't tell the truth to their dealers." That's why this week the torturer will be inside Buckingham Palace, and his victims left outside, alone."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Teaching writing through blogging

This is an idea from Clay Burell that I like a lot - teaching writing through blogging.

"Sylvia Martinez on the red-hot GenYES blog writes several posts about getting teens to use Web 2.0 independently - like we adult edubloggers do - to develop their literacy skills in ways that classrooms typically cannot match.

One reason I love Sylvia's posts is that she references reports and data that I don't have the will or temperament to seek out, but which speak almost always to my own priorities as an educator. A case in point: the goal of creating a "LearnerTalk" (but that sounds schooly) of student edubloggers to give us teachers lessons on how our Classroom 2.0 attempts measure up. Sylvia writes that this is already happening spontaneously, which encourages me to seek ways to harness and shepherd that trend into this arena...

Anybody who's taught high school English should know why most students hate to write in schools. It's because they're taught to write badly.

If I assigned any of you to write about ideas that aren't self-selected, in forms that aren't self-expressive, for an over-worked audience of one that puts two or three words, random red hieroglyphs, and a permanently-branded number into a ledger that threatens to determine your fate, face it: you would learn to hate writing (and school) too...

First, students would write self-directed blogs. No homework assignments allowed in terms of subject matter, though standards of style and conventions would be set;

Second, assessment would be based on readership, comments, subscriptions, visitor stats, Technorati authority ranking (with safeguards against fraudulent links, which are easy enough to spot), self-assessment, and other non-authoritarian, teacher-gives-grades assessment styles. (And yes, as usual, it's the institutional but otherwise counter-educational imperative to grade everything that presents the biggest obstacle to this approach to learning.)

--Wait, you say. That's not fair. Some students who are not blessed with verbal intelligence will not attract subscribers, visitors, comments, and so forth. But not so fast: the art of compensation with other intelligences is so much more possible on blogs. Not a great writer? Then compensate by communicating through images (see Diane Cordell's blog), podcasts (see Wes Fryer), films (see Marco Torres and Mabry Middle School), graphic novels and comic strips (see ToonDo). Carve out a niche doing Google Earth productions (see Google Lit Trips) as your blog's specialty. Find some skill you have, or some passion you want to extend, and adapt your blog to exploit that."

Net neutrality

Humanity lobotomy the case for net neutrality. Recommended.

Educational uses of Second Life

I'm one of those who thinks that excitement about Second Life as a great educational forum is a bit of a distraction from what we should be focussing on to get teh best out of technology in education. But Stephen Downes points me to this extensive list of educational uses of Second Life which possibly suggest I should review my perspective.

"This is an overview of some of ways Second Life can be used, and in some cases, has been used for educational purposes. See Further Resources at the bottom of this page for links to more examples and other resources.

We have interpreted the term 'education' very liberally, since, like in real life, learning can occur when 'education' isn't deliberately happening. We see all of Second Life itself as a learning environment. Also, many of the projects listed are not educational projects per se... but point to ways that Second Life can be used in education...

The investment in acquiring Second Life user skills remains a significant barrier to the use of the environment widely in education, though it certainly continues to have potential.

Blackboard tactics

From Michael Feldstein:

"Blackboard apparently sponsored a spy to go to the D2L user conference and report back on the events and even had an employee pose as a university employee (with a fake email address) to gain competitive information...

Also, Blackboard’s communications with its PR firm apparently say that, while the public story around the patent is that they are protecting their intellectual property, the “real” purpose was to “contain and control” D2L. So the goal is to distract the #2 vendor in the LMS space with a costly lawsuit. Not only has Blackboard known all along that their lawsuit could damage competition in the LMS space (as I and others have argued); they explicitly intended to damage competition, as the court documents apparently show. Judging by the amount of traffic I saw at the D2L booth this week here at EDUCAUSE, it looks like they failed...

D2L is preparing to file for a summary judgment, which is not surprising given that they have already gotten two thirds of the patent claims ruled invalid by two different judges. Sadly, since Blackboard’s motive is apparently to cost D2L as much money as possible regardless of their chances of winning in court, it seems virtually certain that Blackboard would file an appeal if they lose."

Desire2Learn apparently posted details of the Blackboard behaviour on their website - further details of which Feldstein says would cause a certain queasiness - and then got a threat from Blackboard's lawyers, so took down the post rather than get involved in more protracted legal wrangling over that as well.

Parliamentary Question on Usmanov

Jeremy Corbin has been asking a question in parliament about Alisher Usmanov.

"Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour) | Hansard source

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will publish reports received from British embassies relating to Alisher Usmanov.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy (Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office) | Hansard source

Such information would constitute personal data. A request for personal information brings into play the relevant legislative provisions on data release by the Government and would require the consent of the individual concerned."

Spyblog says:

"This reliance on alleged "personal data" exemptions to the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act and to Parliamentary Questions, by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is puzzling.

They are not invoking "national security", which one might expect them to do, regarding the so called "confidential telegrams" (i.e. communications between an Embassy and the FCO, which are more likely to be secure emails these days, than actual telegrams) or even Open Source Intelligence, which former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has mentioned regarding Alisher Usmanov's criminal convictions and pardons, and his allegedly corrupt links with the Moscow and Tashkent ruling presidential cliques."

Leave no marks

Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First have published a sobering report, Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality.

Copyright hits the Republican presidential race

Apparently John McCain has been told to extract Fox news clips from his adverts but Rudy Giuliani has been allowed to used loads of Fox material, including the dame material they have demanded McCain deletes. Mitt Romney also has Fox footage but as yet has not received a cease and desist letter. I take it Mr Murdoch, thought to be a close friend of Giuliani, is not too keen on McCain then? McCain is unlikely to get the Republican nomination (though Murdoch's henchmen must be concerned?) but I hope he learns a lesson from the Fox action about the abusive actions of certain types of IP businesses.

How many days

Also via Jason Schultz:
How many days of the Iraq war could be used to pay for healthcare for children?

More thoughts on Grokster

Jason Shultz shares his thoughts on the latest decision in the Grokster case.

"Over two years after the Supreme Court's decision in MGM v. Grokster, the trial court has issued its ruling on remand concerning whether and what type of permanent injunction should issue against Streamcast, the lone remaining defendant/manufacturer of the P2P file-sharing software at issue. (Grokster previously settled out of the case).

The order is quite lengthy -- 83 pages -- and contains a wealth of analysis. Of particular interest is the court's analysis of whether or not there should be a presumption of "irreparable harm" in favor of an injunction. Traditionally, many courts had presumed when intellectual property rights were involved that such presumptions were proper in order to preserve the IP owner's exclusive right to control their copyrighted or patented material. However, after the Supreme Court's recent eBay v. MercExchange decision, courts have been questioning this presumption, asserting that IP case are like any other civil case and IP owners should not receive special favors toward meeting their burden of proof.

However, despite finding there is no presumption, the court goes on to find irreparable harm to copyright owners from the P2P software provider for two reasons:

  1. Streamcast's inability to pay statutory damages for all the files it induced infringement of, and
  2. The ongoing viral nature of infringements empowered by the P2P architecture that Streamcast helped to create.

On this second point, the court emphatically states that StreamCast is responsible for irreparably harming copyright owners because Morpheus end-users "obtain 'perfect copies' of Plaintiffs' work that can be inexpensively reproduced and distributed ad nauseam."

It also found that StreamCast's inducement has "eviscerated Plaintiffs' ability to protect and enforce their statutorily-created property rights" because "Plaintiffs' power to control their rights has been so compromised by the means through which StreamCast encouraged end-users to infringe (digital files plus the internet) that the inducement amounts to irreparable harm."

So, if one follows this logic, a viral distribution system on the internet could well lead to a presumption of irreparable harm for any infringements it induces. Given that the power of the Internet is based on such dynamics and efficiencies, this could be a dangerous rule for future distribution technologies."


"So what's a court to do? Well, instead of simply mandating that StreamCast stop all infringement, it sorts through the various options and settles on filtering. While the court justifies filtering on the premise that it is an option that will not shut down the Morpheus system (an overboard approach) but still addresses the issue of infringement, I also think the court found it to be the most flexible option, leaving it with a feeling that it could easily revisit the issue by raising or lowering the sensitivity and burden of the filtering requirements as needed.

In discussing the scope of the filter, the court quickly dismisses any requirement that it be "perfect" as that would effectively shut down StreamCast and ban distribution of the Morpheus software. Instead, the court required StreamCast "to reduce Morpheus's infringing capabilities, while preserving its core noninfringing functionality, as effectively as possible." This boils down to two things:

  1. Installing a filter as part of future Morpheus software distributed to the public; and
  2. Taking steps to encourage legacy users of the old Morpheus software to upgrade to the new filtered versions.

Of course, phrases like "effectively as possible" are bound to be the subject of dispute, but the court did make it clear that it is not expecting StreamCast to go bankrupt trying to filter out every possible work. It also required the Plaintiffs to submit information about each copyrighted work to be filtered so that StreamCast couldn't be held in contempt for innocently leaving out a song or movie from its list. Finally, the court ordered the appointment of a special master to help evaluate the "highly technical" aspects of StreamCast's implementation of the filtering program and how effective it should and can be.

One other interesting aspect of the court's decision was its discussion of whether a company distributing a P2P system found to be inducing infringement could ever be free of its intent to induce. In this decision, the court found that no, it could not. Once an inducer, always an inducer, or as the court said, "The bell simply cannot be unrung." This means that tech companies must be extremely careful never to be found to be inducing, else they forever bear that mark in litigation."

It all sounds very much like the decision in the Australian Universal v Sharman (Kazaa) case and sure enough teh parties got into a legal tit for tat last year with the music companies accusing Sharman of not doing enough to follow the judge's order and Sharman responding in kind ending with complicated contempt of court proceedings. Ed Felten says of the latest Grokster decision:

"The judge first rejected the plaintiff’s proposal that StreamCast be required to stop all infringement using its software. He recognized, correctly, that that would be impossible, so that such an injunction would be a death sentence for StreamCast.

Instead, the judge will require StreamCast to set up a filtering system that reasonably balances effectiveness and cost, with the strong emphasis on effectiveness. The precise details will be worked out with the help of a special master: an independent technical expert to be appointed by the judge. Which means yet more legal process to choose the special master, wait for the special master’s advice, and then order specific action from StreamCast.

All of this may be proper from a legal standpoint, but it seems unlikely to matter in practice. It’s hard to see how StreamCast can sustain a business given the legal and financial strain they must be under, and the likely ruinous monetary damages they’re still facing. I can understand why the plaintiffs might want to keep StreamCast on life support, in the hope of getting legal rulings that prove helpful elsewhere. But why does StreamCast keep fighting?"

Any guesses on how long it will be until first lot of contempt of court proceedings?