Friday, December 12, 2008

UK government U-turn on copyright extension

It seems that the UK government are doing a U-turn on their opposition to the extension of the copyright term in sound recordings. The good folks are ORG are unimpressed and suggest we start writing to our MEPs.
"UK Culture Secretary Andy Burnham today indicated that he would support an extension of the length of copyright protection granted to sound recordings from 50 years to 70 years.

The announcement directly contradicts previous Government policy on term extension, and could disappoint many UK citizens hoping the UK will reject proposals currently being discussed at EU level to extend the copyright term. Back in 2006, the independent Gowers Review of Intellectual Property recommended against term extension. The review commissioned significant independent research [.pdf] which found that extending term would have a negative effect on consumers, and scant benefits for the majority of performers. Making the announcement today, Burnham indicated that he was prepared to ignore the facts in favour of what he called a “moral case”.

But the U-turn can probably be more accurately ascribed to the intense lobbying activities of record labels and collecting societies - the bodies likely to see the most benefit from extending term - ever since Gordon Brown accepted Gowers’ recommendations in full."

UK consumer group goes after copyright bullies

From Ars Technica:
"UK consumer advocacy group Which? has filed a complaint against the law firm responsible for sending out letters to Internet users threatening them with legal action if they don't pay up for various copyright violations. The organization says it has investigated a number of letters sent by Davenport Lyons and believes that it has sent repeated accusations to innocent users, coercing them into paying for something they didn't do. As a result, Which? wants the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) to look into the matter for "excessive bullying.""
Thanks to Glyn at ORG for the link.

Who owns Christmas? IP lawyers?

From Forbes:
"Tis the season for intellectual property lawyers.

In late November, Louisville, Ky., abruptly abandoned plans for a Christmas display based on the story "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

It wasn't because of public uproar, or the big green meanie terrifying small children. No, it was the cease-and-desist letter from lawyers representing the estate of legendary children's author Dr. Seuss, threatening to sue for copyright infringement if the city went ahead with the Grinch-themed display...

Father Christmas, a British company and owner of, owns a trademark for "Santa Claus."...

Even asking for presents is in legal limbo. Much to the chagrin of computer-savvy children everywhere, a company in Florida called Channel Intelligence says it owns the rights to digital wish lists. Last week, it filed a lawsuit against half a dozen Internet start-ups alleging patent infringement, saying they had violated the patent by creating ways for users to create wish lists for products that people may want others to buy for them."

Sony settles invasion of children's privacy suit for $1million

From AP via Findlaw:
"Sony BMG Music Entertainment has agreed to pay $1 million to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission that it improperly collected and disclosed personal information on thousands of children under 13 without their parents' consent.

The FTC said Thursday the civil penalty is the largest ever to be paid in a case alleging violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Quotes of the day and a rant on government ID stupidity

"Failure does not strike like a bolt from the blue. It develops gradually according to its own logic." Dietrich Dorner.

"Evils which have struck their roots deep in the fabric of human society are often accepted, even by the best minds, as part of the providential ordering of life. They lurk unsuspected in the system of things until men of keen vision and heroic heart drag them into the light, or until their insolent power visibly threatens human welfare." William Charles Braithwaite, 1919

Thanks to my colleague Judith Williams for drawing my attention to the first of these and to William Heath for pointing out the Braithwaite quote, in the midst of an entertaining rant about the leaking of the government's non disclosure agreement allowing warrantless police and private security company searches of the homes of anyone engaged in employment in connection with the ID card system.

"The latest leak to come through Phil “hardest man in NGO-world” Booth takes us deep into the power and control-crazed vision of group-think-world. Behing the mind-guards lurks a fearful and paranoid community whose arrogant power seems to run unchecked by reality, and therefore somehow impotent.

It’s the Home Office/IPS non-disclosure agreement. The Benighted System’s anti-leaks provisions are already leaked to Wikileaks.

For years I told suppliers to think very carefully before taking on the business and political risk of dealing with people who didn’t know what they were doing and were wilfully blind to how unpopular it would be. I should have added: the suppliers should also expect to be treated with contempt, corporately and as individuals.

There’s a dark humour in this. The more the control model fails, the more desperate the attempts to exert more control. It’s well worth a read, and it does make for desperate reading.

If a court requires disclosure about the Benighted Scheme (think BAe/Saudi Arabia, illegal immigrant security guards in Home Office etc) suppliers are required by the NDA to be as uncooperative as possible with the request. Instead they must co-operate with Home Office/IPS agencies to challenge the validity of any requirement to disclose. This sums up the Home Office’s open government philosophy.

The Home Office will pick up half the tab of the legal challenge. Who cares? It’s only taxpayers money, and what better activity to spend it on than contesting legalistic do-gooders trying to be open about the Benighted Scheme?

Company premises, and the premises of individuals working for the companies, can be searched without warrant on the sayso of the Home Secretary. Who cares? These are but filthy profit-grubbing private sector people, barely worth getting a proper pension. They take the generous patronage of the Home Office IPS, and can expect to forego some basic rights for 25 years.

When I’m really gobsmacked by the ways of the world, and trying to react constructively to it I find a Sunday morning with the local Quakers helps calm me down. These words form 1919 were helpful today:

Evils which have struck their roots deep in the fabric of human society are often accepted, even by the best minds, as part of the providential ordering of life. They lurk unsuspected in the system of things until men of keen vision and heroic heart drag them into the light, or until their insolent power visibly threatens human welfare.

Let’s drag these secretive, disrespectful and probably illegal practices into the light. I hereby give an Ideal Government “men of keen vision and heroic heart” award to
- Phil Booth of No2ID, who is far smarter than his critics in government have ever considered, and also far more constructive. (And funnier)
- Ross Anderson of FIPR. Yes, you can be cantankerous, but it’s a pleasure working with you sir.
- all the FIPR posse working on an imminent report for JRRT: Terri, Angela, Ian, Philip
- Becky Hogge, not merely to show than the masculine can be taken to include the feminine in this quote but mainly for a wonderful stint at Open Rights Group
- Kim Cameron, Stefan Brands, Caspar Bowden, Jerry Fishenden, now all at Microsoft but all thinking globally
- Jeff Jonas and select IBM colleagues ditto; Robin Wilton and select Sun colleagues ditto
- David Davies, Clare Short and all politicians who are taking this stuff seriously
- Henry Porter, Simon Jenkins and all other journalists ditto
- everyone at the Reg except for that chippy nitwit whose name I’ve forgotten
- the officials inside Whitehall who are concerned but should not be named
- the Wikileaks team
- everyone who helps or supports FIPR, ORG, No2ID, ARCH, Liberty Alliance
- Doc and the new VRM colleagues working to deliver a more constructive approach which empowers humans to deal with the organisations’ big machines

IdealGov ethnographers: feel free to nominate more!

Hey! We’re a posse! What a wonderful group to hang out with. It’s so invigorating and exciting to be trying to bring constructive change to something so sinister and stupid. We’ll get through this. And remember: the people throwing up this sort of dismal rubbish may be our foes today but they’l be our friends tomorrow. Each one is (as Bazza O’Bazzer’s critics would never call him) a child o’ God.

But it’s going to be difficult for a bit. "

My list of good guys would be similar to William's though I'd also include the good Mr Heath himself, Lilian Edwards, Cory Doctorow, James Boyle, Richard Clayton, Peter Sommer and John Naughton. And quite a few others who may not be as visible but are working equally hard on steering our evolving information society in a positive direction.

How bad will it be when ContactPoint goes live?

In a forewarning of how bad things are probably going to get when the children's database ContactPoint goes live, the BBC are reporting:
"The private details of thousands of children were found on a memory stick dropped by a council worker.

The device, which was found by a member of the public, was reported missing but the employee told Leeds City Council it did not contain sensitive information.

In fact it included the names, dates of birth, ethnicity and contact details for about 5,000 nursery-age children living in the Leeds area.

The council has apologised and started an investigation.

The stick, which was found in a second-hand car, also contained confidential information about child protection and whether or not the children's parents claimed state benefits."

Monday, December 08, 2008

Plan to stop ID card leaks is ... leaked

My mailbox has been blitzed over the weekend with the controversy over the IWF's filtering of an image from a 1976 album cover on Wikipedia. It's generated a lot of heat and not a lot of light on a variety lists, blogs and the mainstream media. On another matter, I'd recommend this story from yesterday's Sunday Times:
"JACQUI SMITH, the home secretary, has suffered fresh embarrassment from a new Whitehall leak disclosing that ministers are seeking new powers to search the homes of staff working on ID cards.

An 11-page confidential Home Office document – which was sent to a campaigner against ID cards – suggests that the employees’ homes could be entered without the need for a police warrant."

The non disclosure agreement that this report refers to is available at wikileaks. The relevant paragraph from the agreement is on page 8:
"5. Audit Rights

In the event of the Company or any of its Corporate or Individual Recipients fails to comply with the requirements under this Agreement or at the sole discretion of the Authority, the Company and each of its Individual Recipients shall permit the Authority and such personnel or agents as the Authority shall at its sole discretion determine and notify in writing in advance to the Company, to gain entry and access to the premises and any and all records, computers and other property of the Company and such Individual Recipients containing or including any NIS Information, for the purposes of ensuring that the NIS Information and all associated Copies are secure in accordance with the terms of this Agreement or have been destroyed permanently or removed from their possession."

From paragraph 1 of the agreement an "Individual Recipient" is defined as "any individual who may have access to NIS Information who is a director, employee or member of seconded staff of and/or under the control of the Group" (the 'Group' being 'the Company and all of its wholly owned subsidiaries from time to time')

Update: Lilian has her usual balanced and sensible analysis of the heat and wind surrounding the IWF censorship of the album cover on Wikipedia.

Update 2: Cory has weighed in also suggesting transparency.