Friday, March 12, 2010

New documentary on copyright

Thanks to Siva Vaidhyanathan for pointing me to a new documentary on copyright,

CITIZEN 3.0 copyright, creativity and contemporary culture

10 days and counting until eCAF goes live

In a little reported statement from the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, Dawn Primarolo, yesterday, we learn that the latest Nu Labour 'cure it with a database' disaster, the electronic Common Assessment Framework (eCAF), is imminent.
"The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Dawn Primarolo): I am announcing today progress in the implementation of the National electronic Common Assessment Framework system (National eCAF)
Many children and young people in England need support from a range of services because they have additional needs. The Common Assessment Framework (CAF), which came about as part of the Every Child Matters reforms, plays a crucial part in delivering this for them. The CAF is designed to help practitioners to assess the additional needs of children and young people when they emerge, and to work together to meet them. CAF is used only with the consent of children and young people, or their parents and carers as appropriate. Since its introduction in 2006 thousands of practitioners have been trained in the CAF and are now using it successfully in their day-to-day work.
CAF information is currently recorded using a paper format or on local systems. A new system to electronically enable the CAF, called National eCAF, will be made available from 22 March 2010 to a small group of early adopter organisations who have applied to take part in this scheme. They comprise four local authorities—Birmingham, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Walsall, and two voluntary organisations—Barnardo’s and Kids. Information will be held on National eCAF, as with the CAF, only with the explicit consent of the child or young person, or their parents or carers as appropriate.
The security of National eCAF is of paramount importance. Only authorised, trained practitioners with enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks will be able to use National eCAF; they will also need a token and a password to access the system.
We have worked closely with professionals and partner organisations on the development of National eCAF to date, and we will continue to do so as we develop the system further, and in the light of the experience of early adopter organisations.
For more information, please visit"
The CAF, remember, is the scheme under which any child in the UK can be labelled "at risk" for not consuming 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Whilst at the same time the government presides over a regime where immigrant children can be held in detention centres as long as the paperwork labels them as adults.  There surely has to be an opportunity here to have detained immigrant minors labelled as "at risk" from the authorities?

For a comprehensive insight into the issues with eCAF and its sister database calamity, ContactPoint, see the excellent Action on Rights for Children website and YouTube films.  From Terri Dowty at ARCH:
"If you’re still not sure what a CAF (‘Common Assessment Framework’) is, it’s a personal profiling tool to be used on children and their families when a child needs services. The Practitioners’ guide can be downloaded here (pdf) and we recommend that you scroll down to Annex D on p.71 to get an idea of the kind of information that is sought. That weasel word ‘appropriate’, designed to disguise subjective opinion as non-judgmental, makes 21 appearances, as when a practitioner is invited to consider whether the child has ‘age-appropriate friendships’ and ‘appropriate behaviour’, or whether parents offer ‘appropriate’ sensitivity, warmth, guidance and support.
And, yes, they are planning to put this information on a single, national database.
As for consent, we have been told repeatedly by those working in children’s services that, in practice, if you want services you had better agree to the CAF process. When it comes to who actually gives this ‘consent’, to quote from our research report on the subject:
The Government asserts in guidance that children in England can generally be presumed able to consent to the sharing of their personal and sensitive data from around the age of 12. Many local authorities repeat this advice. It has no basis in English law."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

UKIP oppose EU Parliament resolution on ACTA transparency

About an hour ago  Glyn Moody suggested we write to our MEPs thanking them for voting so hugely in favor of the resolution tabled on 'Transparency and State of Play of ACTA negotiations'.

I thought what a good idea and composed a short note but then thought I should just check out if all my MEPs had voted in favor. It turns out that two of them, both UKIP, voted against the motion.  So I looked through the entire list of votes and it seems that of the 13 MEPs who voted against the motion 10 were UKIP members and 3 independent Dutch MEPs.

ORG discover BPI drafted web blocking amendment

The ever vigilant and enegetic Open Rights Group has discovered that the BPI drafted the contoversial web blocking amendment to the digital economy bill passed in the House of Lords.  Here's Jim Killock of ORG:
"Just in case you were wondering where the idea for a web blocking amendment came from, we attach to this blog post a copy of the BPI’s draft, along with their justification for it.
Now, amendments often come from lobby and campaign groups, including us, not least because it’s the easiest way for them to show parliamentarians what they want. But the fact that twice, with the original copyright by diktat proposal, and then the web blocking proposal, the BPI essentially got to write what they wanted and get it proposed more or less wholesale as law, in such a tremendously sensitive area and in such a one-sided manner, shows something is very wrong with the way this debate is being conducted.
Parliamentarians need to recognize that copyright touches everyone and every technology in the digital age. It is no longer a question of inter-business regulation and deals. Getting copyright wrong has the potential to mess up our freedom of speech, prevent us from getting the benefits of new technologies, and damage society in other very profound ways.
It is therefore deeply inappropriate for such fundamental proposals to have been introduced by both the government or the opposition parties at the behest of one side of the debate. That applies just as much to disconnection, which Mandelson introduced in the sumer at the last minute under pressure again from the BPI and other rights holders.
As the Conservatives launch their digital policies today - we again ask why these proposals are being supported, in such direct contradiction to their apparent aims?"
And as Lilian Edwards points out in comments, since the BPI drafted the law, they can claim copyright in it and once it is passed ask an ISP to block the ORG site for posting a copy of their copyrighted material in full. Then as Francis Davey, Richard Clayton and others have pointed out the ISP has nothing to gain and significant money to lose by refusing to take the site down.

Something smells...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

We can't circumvent our way around censorship

Ethan Zuckerman is one of a number of very smart people who have been working at Harvard for several years on the issue of net censorship.  He has written a terrific article at World Changing this week pointing out that rhetorical calls from politicians to keep the Net free have to be backed up with a deep understanding of the complexities involved and real commitment and deployment of resources to address the problem.
"I strongly believe that we need strong, anonymized and useable censorship circumvention tools. But I also believe that we need lots more than censorship circumvention tools, and I fear that both funders and technologists may overfocus on this one particular aspect of internet freedom at the expense of other avenues. I wonder whether we’re looking closely enough at the fundamental limitations of circumvention as a strategy and asking ourselves what we’re hoping internet freedom will do for users in closed societies.
So here’s a provocation: We can’t circumvent our way around internet censorship.
I don’t mean that internet censorship circumvention systems don’t work. They do – our research tested several popular circumvention tools in censored nations and discovered that most can retrieve blocked content from behind the Chinese firewall or a similar system. (There are problems with privacy, data leakage, the rendering of certain types of content, and particularly with usability and performance, but the systems can circumvent censorship.) What I mean is this – we couldn’t afford to scale today’s existing circumvention tools to “liberate” all of China’s internet users even if they all wanted to be liberated...
In short:
- Internet circumvention is hard. It’s expensive. It can make it easier for people to send spam and steal identities.
- Circumventing censorship through proxies just gives people access to international content – it doesn’t address domestic censorship, which likely affects the majority of people’s internet behavior.
- Circumventing censorship doesn’t offer a defense against DDoS or other attacks that target a publisher...
- We need to continue supporting circumvention efforts, at least in the short term. But we need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that we can “solve” censorship through circumvention. We should support circumvention until we find better technical and policy solutions to censorship, not because we can tear down the Great Firewall by spending more.
- If we want more people using circumvention tools, we need to find ways to make them fiscally sustainable...
- As we continue to fund circumvention, we need to address usage of these tools to send spam, commit fraud and steal personal data. … but we’ve got to find a solution that protects networks against abuse while maintaining the possibility of anonymity, a difficult balancing act.
- We need to shift our thinking from helping users in closed societies access blocked content to helping publishers reach all audiences...
- let’s find ways to challenge companies to build blocking resistance into their platforms and to consider internet freedom to be a central part of their business mission...
- The US government should treat internet filtering – and more aggressive hacking and DDoS attacks – as a barrier to trade. The US should strongly pressure governments in open societies like Australia and France to resist the temptation to restrict internet access, as their behavior helps China and Iran make the case that their censorship is in line with international norms. And we need to fix US treasury regulations make it difficult and legally ambiguous for companies like Microsoft and projects like SourceForge to operate in closed societies. If we believe in Internet Freedom, a first step needs to be rethinking these policies so they don’t hurt ordinary internet users.
The danger in heeding Secretary Clinton’s call is that we increase our speed, marching in the wrong direction. As we embrace the goal of Internet Freedom, now is the time to ask what we’re hoping to accomplish and to shape our strategy accordingly."
In the light of the web blocking amendment to the UK digital economies bill let me just repeat some of Zuckerman's suggestions:
continue to fund circumvention...
challenge companies to build blocking resistance into their platforms...
pressure governments in open resist the temptation to restrict internet access...
pressure governments in open resist the temptation to restrict internet access...
pressure governments in open resist the temptation to restrict internet access...
pressure governments in open resist the temptation to restrict internet access...

Commerce, consumer groups and academics object to amendment 120a

An eclectic collection of conscientious objectors from the tech industry, the NGO sector and academia have come together to point out some of the major flaws in amendment 120 to the digital economies bill facilitating web blocking.

"Amendment 120A Digital Economy Bill March 10th, 2010
Dear Sirs,
We regret that the House of Lords last week adopted amendment 120A to the Digital Economy Bill. This amendment not only significantly changes the injunctions procedure in the UK but will lead to an increase in Internet service providers blocking websites accused of illegally hosting copyrighted material without cases even reaching a judge. The amendment seeks to address the legitimate concerns of rights-holders but would have unintended consequences which far outweigh any benefits it could bring.
Endorsing a policy that would encourage the blocking of websites by UK broadband providers or other Internet companies is a very serious step for the UK to take. There are myriad legal, technical and practical issues to reconcile before this can be considered a proportionate and necessary public policy option.  In some cases, these may never be reconciled. These issues have not even been considered in this case.
The Lords have been thoughtful in their consideration of the Bill to date.  It is therefore bitterly disappointing that the House has allowed an amendment with obvious shortcomings to proceed without challenging its proponents to consider and address the full consequences.  Put simply, blocking access as envisaged by this clause would both widely disrupt the Internet in the UK and elsewhere, threatening freedom of speech and the open Internet, without reducing copyright infringement as intended. To rush through such a controversial proposal at the tail end of a Parliament, without any kind of consultation with consumers or industry, is very poor law making.
We are particularly concerned that a measure of this kind as a general purpose policy could have an adverse impact on the reputation of the UK as a place to do online business and conflict with the broader objectives of Digital Britain.  This debate has created a tension between specific interest groups and the bigger prize of promoting a policy framework that supports our digital economy and appropriately balances rights and responsibilities.  All parties should take steps to safeguard this prize and place it at the heart of public policy in this area.
Yours sincerely,
Richard Allan, Director of Policy EU, Facebook
Neil Berkett, Chief Executive, Virgin Media
Matt Brittin, Managing Director, Google UK and Ireland
Charles Dunstone, Chairman, Talk Talk Group
Jessica Hendrie-Liaño, Chair, Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA)
Jill Johnstone, International Director, Consumer Focus
Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group
Mark Lewis, Managing Director, eBay UK Ltd
Ian Livingstone, Chief Executive, BT Group
Professor Sarah Oates, University of Glasgow
Dr Jenny Pickerill, University of Leicester
Mark Rabe, Managing Director, Yahoo! UK and Ireland
Dr Paul Reilly, University of Leicester
Jess Search, Founder, Shooting People independent film makers
Professor Ian Walden, Queen Mary, University of London
Tom Watson MP"

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

EU Parliament resolution on ACTA tabled

Christian Engström writes that an EU Parliament resolution has been tabled on 'Transparency and State of Play of ACTA negotiations'. The resolution:
"1.    Reminds that the Commission has since the 1 December 2009 the legal obligation to immediately and fully inform the European Parliament at all stages of international negotiations;
2.    Expresses its concern over the lack of a transparent process in the conduct of the ACTA negotiations which contradicts the letter and the spirit of the TFEU; is deeply concerned that no legal base has been established before the start of the ACTA negotiations and that no parliamentary approval has been asked for the mandate;
3.    Calls on the Commission and Council to grant public and parliamentary access to ACTA negotiation texts and summaries in accordance with the Treaty and the Regulation 1049/2001 on Public Access to Documents;
4.    Calls on the Commission and Council to pro-actively engage with ACTA partners to rule out any further negotiations of an a piori confidential nature and to timely and entirely inform Parliament about its initiatives in this regard; expects the Commission to make proposals already prior to the next negotiation round in New Zealand in April 2010 and to demand that the issue of transparency is put on the agenda of that meeting, and to refer to Parliament the outcome of this round immediately after its conclusion;
5.    Stresses that, unless the Parliament is immediately and fully informed at all stages of the negotiations, Parliament reserves its right to take suitable action, including bringing a case before the Court of Justice in order to safeguard its prerogatives;
6.    Calls on the Commission to conduct an impact assessment of ACTA's implementation on fundamental rights and data protection, on the ongoing EU efforts to harmonise IPR enforcement measures, and on E-Commerce, prior to any EU agreement to a consolidated ACTA treaty text, and to timely consult with Parliament about the results of this assessment;
7.    Welcomes affirmations by the Commission that any ACTA agreement will be limited to the enforcement of existing IPRs, with no prejudice for the development of substantive IP law in the European Union;
8.    Calls on the Commission to continue the negotiations on ACTA in order to improve the effectiveness of the IPR enforcement system against counterfeiting;
9.    Urges the Commission to ensure that the enforcement of ACTA provisions - especially its provisions on copyright enforcement procedures in the digital environment - are fully in line with the acquis communitaire; demands that no personal search is undertaken at the EU borders and requests full clarification of any clauses that would allow for warrantless searches and confiscation of information storage devices, such as laptops, cell phones and MP3 players, by border and customs authorities;
10.    Considers that in order to respect fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and the right to privacy, with full respect for subsidiarity, the proposed Agreement must refrain from imposing any so called "three strikes" procedures, in full respect of the decision of Parliament on article 1.1b in the (amending) Directive 2009/140/EC that calls to insert a new para 3 a to article 1 Directive 2002/21/EC on the matter of  "three strikes"
11.    Emphasizes that privacy and data protection are core values of the European Union, recognised in Article 8 ECHR and Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which must be respected in all the policies and rules adopted by the EU pursuant to Article 16 of the TFEU;
12.    Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission, the Council and the Governments and Parliaments of ACTA negotiation participants."
Christian Engström provides a link to a Microsoft Word version of the full resolution. Amonsgt quite a range of demands including a ban on ACTA introducing 3 strikes, the resolution threatens that the parliament will apply to the European Court of Justice for greater transparency and public access to the details of the ACTA negotiations.

Shock horror: protestors and police get along

Too often we see/hear headlines of clashes between protestors and police that go wrong.  Here's an encounter that was amicably handled by both sides.

iPhone Developer Program License Agreement

Fred von Lohmann at the EFF has obtained a copy of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement and it's not pretty.
"The entire family of devices built on the iPhone OS (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) have been designed to run only software that is approved by Apple—a major shift from the norms of the personal computer market. Software developers who want Apple's approval must first agree to the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement.
So today we're posting the "iPhone Developer Program License Agreement"—the contract that every developer who writes software for the iTunes App Store must "sign." Though more than 100,000 app developers have clicked "I agree," public copies of the agreement are scarce, perhaps thanks to the prohibition on making any "public statements regarding this Agreement, its terms and conditions, or the relationship of the parties without Apple's express prior written approval." But when we saw the NASA App for iPhone, we used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ask NASA for a copy, so that the general public could see what rules conrolled the technology they could use with their phones. NASA responded with the Rev. 3-17-09 version of the agreement (it has reportedly been revised somewhat since—please send us the current version if you are able).
This "license agreement" is particularly relevant right now, given the imminent launch of the iPad and anytime-now issuance of the U.S. Copyright Office's ruling regarding jailbreaking of the iPhone.
So what's in the Agreement? Here are a few troubling highlights:
Ban on Public Statements...
App Store Only...
Ban on Reverse Engineering...
No Tinkering with Any Apple Products...
Kill Your App Any Time...
We Never Owe You More than Fifty Bucks...
Overall, the Agreement is a very one-sided contract, favoring Apple at every turn. That's not unusual where end-user license agreements are concerned (and not all the terms may ultimately be enforceable), but it's a bit of a surprise as applied to the more than 100,000 developers for the iPhone, including many large public companies. How can Apple get away with it? Because it is the sole gateway to the more than 40 million iPhones that have been sold. In other words, it's only because Apple still "owns" the customer, long after each iPhone (and soon, iPad) is sold"

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Student's Guide to Maxwell's Equations: complementary podcasting

I've been brushing up on Maxwell's Equations - I was one of those people who found vector calculus fun when I was in school and college - and noted one of the books students are recommended these days is Daniel Fleisch's A Student's Guide to Maxwell's Equations.  It's one of the few books I've come across to focus entirely on the four equations which constitute the mathematical foundation of the modern world - all forms of elecromagnetic communication are based on them.  Usually you have to trawl through a lot of  theory to get to the equations, as in Feymann's excellent Lectures on Physics but students (and I admit to still being guilty of this) tend to like the most efficient route (aka shortcuts).

It's a terrific little book but for educational technologists the interesting addendum is Fleisch's website accompanying the book on which is included not just the usual correction notes but solutions to all the problems set at the end of each chapter and podcasts to go with each section of each chapter of the book.  The podcasts take the form of lectures that sometimes repeat but also expand on the material in the book or explain it in a slightly different way, an excellent resource for not just those with a predisposition towards aural learning but average individuals like yours truly too.  I'd have included answers to the problems at the end of the book too.  In the days when I did sums seriously I liked to be able to check I had got the right answer without having to go off and check a separate source.  There was nothing as irritating as those maths texts that didn't include the answers at the back or only included a small sample of them.

That minor grumble aside, is this the future of the textbook?  I've agreed to write a chapter on information policymaking for a reader on the nature of information to be edited by my esteemed colleagues at the OU, Magnus Ramage and David Chapman.  Maybe I should think of doing a complementary podcast to go with it?

Some Gowers exceptions being implemented

According to the 1709 Copyright blog, some of the Gowers review recommendations on new copyright exceptions are to be implemented in the Copyright (Permitted Acts) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 (See Annex A, p51).

The exceptions include:

Research and Private Study...

Copying by librarians: parts of published sound recordings and films...

Copying by librarians or archivists: unpublished sound recordings and films...

Copying by Educational Establishments...

Preservation of Cultural Heritage...
...but not format shifting and parody, two of the key areas noted by Gowers. Hugo Cox at the 1709 Copyright blog points out some of the reasons why these have been omitted - primarily because it is complicated and the government don't want to antagonise the content industries with a general election imminent -and in the meantime people still continue to copy millions of songs (eg from CDs) onto millions of digital music players in the confident belief that it is perfectly legal to do so.  Unfortunately that belief is misplaced, unless they happen to be resident in a jurisdiction other than the UK that does permit format shifting.