Friday, July 03, 2009

Lori Drew verdict set aside in MySpace suicide case

The judge has reportedly set aside the earlier jury verdict holding a Missouri woman, Lori Drew, responsible for driving a teenage girl to commit suicide, through exchanges in MySpace.
"A federal judge on Thursday overturned guilty verdicts against Lori Drew, issuing a directed acquittal on three misdemeanor charges.

Drew, 50, was accused of participating in a cyberbullying scheme against 13-year-old Megan Meier who later committed suicide. The case against Drew hinged on the government’s novel argument that violating MySpace’s terms of service was the legal equivalent of computer hacking. But U.S. District Judge George Wu found the premise troubling.

“It basically leaves it up to a website owner to determine what is a crime,” said Wu on Thursday, echoing what critics of the case have been saying for months. “And therefore it criminalizes what would be a breach of contract.”"

The LA Times and others also have reports on the decision.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

No re-trial for Pirate Bay

Unsurprisingly the court of appeal in Sweden ruled last week that the judge in the Pirate Bay case was not biased.
"A Swedish court ruled today that the judge overseeing The Pirate Bay trial earlier this year was not biased by belonging to various pro-copyright organizations. The unanimous decision (Swedish) means that there will be no retrial; the defendants must hope for a successful appeal instead.

Judge Tomas Norström is a member of the Swedish Copyright Association, as are several of the lawyers who represented the recording and movie industries during the trial. He also sits on the board of the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property, an advocacy group that pushes stricter copyright laws.

After receiving a verdict of a year in jail (each) and a shared 30 million kronor fine, The Pirate Bay defendants charged Norström with bias and asked a court of appeal for a completely new trial with a different judge.

That appeal was overseen by Judge Anders Eka, who doesn't normally hear copyright-related cases but did so here in order to make the ruling appear as fair as possible."

The four men who ran Pirate Bay are now planning sue Sweden for breaching their human rights.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Government mandarin director of firm that won passport contract

On the surface this stinks.
"A legal battle was looming last night over the £400million contract to produce new hi-tech passports.

A losing bidder is threatening action over the fact that one of Gordon Brown's senior mandarins is a director of the firm which won the contract.

Gill Rider, a leading member of the Cabinet Office, not only directs the hiring of senior civil servants but is also director of De La Rue printers, which last week secured the job of producing biometric passports.

Rival firm 3M, furious that its bid was rejected, is considering a legal challenge based on potential conflict of interest."

Thanks to Peter Sommer via FIPR for the pointer.

Is UK Government U-turn on ID cards real?

The new Home Secretary's apparent reversal of government policy on compulsory ID cards yesterday has been criticised as the government spin since they are still intending to include people's details on the ID register when they apply for a passport.
"British citizens who apply for or renew their passport will be automatically registered on the national identity card database under regulations to be approved by MPs in the next few weeks.

The decision to press ahead with the main elements of the national identity card scheme follows a review by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, of the £4.9bn project. Although Johnson said the cards would not be compulsory, critics say the passport measures amount to an attempt to introduce the system by the backdoor.

Johnson said he had halted plans to introduce compulsory identity cards for airline pilots and 30,000 other "critical workers" at Manchester and London City airports this autumn in the face of threats of legal action. Longer term plans to extend compulsory ID cards to other transport industries, such as the railways, as a condition of employment have also been scrapped.

But two batches of draft regulations to be approved by MPs tomorrow and next week are expected to include powers to make the passport a "designated document" under the national identity card scheme. This means that anyone applying for or renewing their passport from 2011 will have their details automatically added to the national identity databases.

The regulations also include powers to levy a fine of up to £1,000 on those who fail to tell the authorities of a change of address or amend other key personal details such as a change of name within three months."

ACTA update

Michael Geist has noted an update on ACTA from Canadian government officials.
"The Canadian government held an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement consultation meeting today focused on pharmaceutical and access to medicines issues. The meeting was smaller than the earlier consultation in April, but featured some important new information about the ACTA process including a fuller description of planned negotiating meetings, details on the upcoming Morocco meeting, and confirmation on an inquiry from Brazil about joining the negotiations.

1. Negotiation schedule

The ACTA partners met on June 11th to discuss ACTA related issues and committed at the meeting to continue with the negotiations. The next meeting is set for Morocco in July with later meetings currently planned for October (Korea) and December (Mexico). There are additional tentative plans for meetings in February and April 2010.

2. The Morocco meeting

Officials advised that the Morocco meeting will be a two-day meeting that focuses on ACTA chapters involving international co-operation, enforcement, and institutional issues. The meeting will also address some "housekeeping" issues including ongoing transparency concerns. The Internet-related provisions will not be a focus and the Internet-related issues has not progressed beyond the U.S. non-paper that surveyed other ACTA participants on the state of their digital copyright laws (in other words, there is still no draft text).

3. New partners

During the meeting, I asked whether ACTA was open to new countries to join the negotiations before they conclude. Canada hedged, noting that the issue would be discussed at the Morocco meeting and that it would depend upon the country and the context. The issue has apparently become more urgent since Canadian officials confirmed that Brazil has approached one ACTA participant about the prospect of joining, but have not received an answer. Moreover, other countries may have made similar inquiries. I wrote about the desirability of broader participation earlier this year.

4. The De Minimis Exception

The issue of creating a de minimis exception within ACTA was raised during the discussion. The exception would be designed to carve out small quantities and personal use issues from border enforcement. Officials noted that the primary goal is to address large scale counterfeiting and that the treaty should be non-intrusive and practical. Canada is one of at least three countries that have put forward de minimis language. Officials said that there was agreement in principle with including some form of de minimis provision in the treaty."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

US Supreme Court decline to hear Cablevision DVR case

The NYT is reporting that the US Supreme Court has declined to hear the Cablevision DVR case.
"The Supreme Court on Monday delivered a blow to the television networks when it declined to hear a case about a digital video recorder technology, opening the gate for wider use of DVR systems.

The case began in 2006 when Cablevision Systems, the New York-area cable operator, announced plans for what is called a network DVR system. With it, a customer would use a remote control to digitally record a program like “60 Minutes” but instead of storing the show in the customer’s at-home DVR box, the technology would store the show on a faraway Cablevision server.

The technology would let Cablevision convert set-top boxes into boxes with DVR capabilities without requiring an installation or new equipment.

“It opens up the possibility of offering a DVR experience to all of our digital cable customers,” Tom Rutledge, Cablevision’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. Programmers including Turner Broadcasting System’s Cartoon Network, CNN and television networks sued Cablevision, saying the system violated copyright law. In March 2007, a lower court agreed, ruling that Cablevision “would be engaging in unauthorized reproductions and transmissions of plaintiffs’ copyrighted programs.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York reversed that decision in August 2008. The plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, but the Supreme Court’s refusal essentially reinforced the Second Circuit’s decision."
Scotus blog commentary is here.

Update: The Washington Post also has the story.

Deep link to iPlayer content

Tony has outlined the trick of deep linking into iPlayer content.
"One of the really handy things about Youtube is the ability to share bookmarks that “deep link” to a particular point within a video (e.g here’s Google having a dig at Microsoft; the URL?, which should start the video playing 29 minutes 10 seconds in. That is, just add something like #t=29m10s to the end of the Youtube video page URL to start the video playing that far in).

A similar service is offered on podcast material published through the wonderful IT Conversations, that lets you deep link in to a particular part of an audio file, which is great for sharing audio quotes and, err, messing around with: IT Conversations samples trigger pad;-)

Anyway, anyway, yesterday I saw this:

which means you can now deep link in to iPlayer content :-)

Deep link into iPlayer content

As with the Youtube deep linking, if you know the URL pattern, you can can create your own deep links on the fly (just add, ?t=21m45s, for example, on to the end of the URL to start the programme playing 21 minutes 45 seconds in.)

Something else I thought was interesting – the shared link is actually a BBC short link. So for an example, this is the sort of link you are given to share:

which then resolves to something like this:"


UK Safeguarding Identity Strategy launched

The UK's Identity and Passport Service has launched their Safeguarding Identity Strategy.
"Recognising the huge value and importance of individuals' identity information and tackling variations in how information is used across Government, 'Safeguarding Identity' is the focus of a new strategy launched today, 23 June 2009. The initiative has been led by IPS on behalf of Government and involved more than 12 departments and agencies. Building on a wide range of work already underway (including Directgov and the National Identity Service), it aims to deliver a common framework for the use and handling of individuals' identity information. The full version of the strategy is here. If you have any comments, contact: David White, Head of Safeguarding Identity Strategy, Identity and Passport Service. T 020 3356 8064

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Top 10 myths about sustainability

Michael D. Lemonick at Scientific American has listed his top 10 myths about sustainability.

When a word becomes so popular you begin hearing it everywhere, in all sorts of marginally related or even unrelated contexts, it means one of two things. Either the word has devolved into a meaningless cliché, or it has real conceptual heft. “Green” (or, even worse, “going green”) falls squarely into the first category. But “sustainable,” which at first conjures up a similarly vague sense of environmental virtue, actually belongs in the second. True, you hear it applied to everything from cars to agriculture to economics. But that’s because the concept of sustainability is at its heart so simple that it legitimately applies to all these areas and more.

Despite its simplicity, however, sustainability is a concept people have a hard time wrapping their minds around. To help, Scientific American Earth 3.0 has consulted with several experts on the topic to find out what kinds of misconceptions they most often encounter. The result is this take on the top 10 myths about sustainability. And after this introduction, it’s clear which myth has to come first....

Myth 1: Nobody knows what sustainability really means.
That’s not even close to being true. By all accounts, the modern sense of the word entered the lexicon in 1987 with the publication of Our Common Future, by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland commission after its chair, Norwegian diplomat Gro Harlem Brundtland). That report defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Or, in the words of countless kindergarten teachers, “Don’t take more than your share.”

Note that the definition says nothing about protecting the environment, even though the words “sustainable” and “sustainability” issue mostly from the mouths of environmentalists. That point leads to the second myth...."

Monday, June 29, 2009

First arrest for twittering?

From the Washington Post:
"Jean Anleu was so fed up with corruption in his country that he decided to vent on the Internet, sending a 96-character message on the social-networking site Twitter.

That message has now earned him a potential five-year prison sentence and the unfortunate distinction of becoming one of the first people in the world to be arrested for a tweet.

Writing under his Internet alias "jeanfer," Anleu urged depositors to pull their money from Guatemala's rural development bank, whose management has been challenged in a political scandal: "First concrete action should be take cash out of Banrural and bankrupt the bank of the corrupt."

These words illegally undermined public trust in Guatemala's banking system, according to prosecutor Genaro Pacheco."

Posner: extend copyright to protect newspapers

Though I don't alway agree with him I'm a big fan of the writings of prolific legal scholar and appeal court judge Richard Posner. Posner, along with long time collaborator Gary Becker, has maintained a really interesting blog for the past few years on which he posts regular, sometimes provocative and always thought-provoking essays on matters of contemporary interest.

Last week the esteemed judge expressed his view that the ongoing decline of the newpaper industry might only be arrested through the special extension of copyright law to ban linking to, paraphrasing or accessing extracts from online newspaper articles without the permission of the copyright holder.
"Warren Buffett, who is a wit as well as a multibillionaire, said with reference to the fact that Bernard Madoff's long-running Ponzi scheme came to light during the financial collapse of last fall that until the tide goes out, you don't know who's swimming naked. A year ago Becker and I blogged about the decline of the newspaper industry. A year later the decline has accelerated. The economic crisis has hurt the newspaper industry as it has so many industries. The question is whether it will recover (or at least rejoin its slower downward path of last year) when the economy as a whole recovers; or has the economic crisis merely revealed the terminal status of the industry.

I am pessimistic about a recovery by the newspapers. One reason is the current economic situation. A serious, protracted economic crisis can result in changes in consumer behavior that persist after the end of the crisis. A change in consumption, even in some sense involuntary, can be a learning experience. People make what they think will be merely temporary adjustments in their consumption behavior to reduce financial distress but may discover that they like elements of their new consumption pattern; and businesses too, which have reduced their newspaper (and other print-media) ad expenditures drastically. They may never go back...

So what will happen to news and information? Online news is free for two reasons. First, in the case of a newspaper, the marginal cost of providing content online is virtually zero, since it is the same content (or a selection of the content) in a different medium. Second, online providers of news who are not affiliated with a newspaper can provide links to newspaper websites and paraphrase articles in newspapers, in neither case being required to compensate the newspaper...

Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion."

It is something of a surprise to note Judge Posner's support for a special expansion of copyright law to protect a particular industry, as he has in the past been critical of such moves as the continual expansion of copyright terms (See The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law by Richard Posner and William Landes and The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard Posner). I don't have the solution to the decline of the newspaper industry or the killer idea for a sustainable business model that would rescue them but I can't agree that a law banning access or linking to their content is the way forward. People go to the New York Times because it is a reputable, credible source of news and commentary not because it is a newspaper. Their delivery medium was paper, it is now paper and the Net. Making it more difficult to get access to the NYT is unlikely to be the way to tackle their revenue problems. As Tim O'Reilly has been saying for some years, obscurity is a bigger threat than piracy.

Update: This online conversation from December last year amongst a who's who of legal scholars on the subject of challenges facing newspapers in a digital age is highly recommended.

Update 2: David Post is one of may respected scholars who think judge Posner's proposal is unworkable.
"So here we've gone and invented this fabulous global machine for linking and paraphrasing and sharing information, but nobody will be able to use it because we want to preserve the New York Times' business model. Hmmm.

My advice to the New York Times: don't count on that. Start thinking about how you can make money -- large quantities of it -- in a world in which linking and paraphrasing are pervasive and unrestricted. It's not going to be easy - if it were easy, we'd all be doing it already. But millions upon millions of people visit your website, every day - because you are the New York Times, and people value the product you produce. There's a way, I'm pretty certain, of converting that into income, though I don't know what it is and as far as I can tell neither does anyone else at the moment. Google, though, makes a lot of money giving away information, and you can too. Don't waste your time hoping that copyright law is going to come to your assistance, for it will not."