Tuesday, September 09, 2003

A CNN report on a pirate Harry Potter publisher in Venezuela is a reminder of why publishing houses get so upset about copyright infringement. A poor Spanish translation of the latest J.K. Rowling blockbuster is selling like hotcakes for the equivalent of $25. This is despite the fact that the translator admits on nearly every page that there were phrases and sentences s/he could not understand. The official Spanish language translation is not due for months and this character decided to fill a gap in the market.

Thanks to Siva Vaidhyanathan for pointing to this story about the battle between Ontario province in Canada and a US biotech company, Myriad Genetics, with a patent on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Testing for these can apparently help to predict a woman's risk of developing breast cancer where there is a history of the illness in the family. Myriad are threatening court action unless Ontario stop doing their version of the test, (which is done at one third of the cost and provides results two months faster). Similar threats against British Columbia last year led labs there to discontinue testing, according to the report cited.

Monday, September 08, 2003

The Foundation for Information Policy Research has released an important new report on the implementation of the EU copyright directive of 2001.

"Implementing the European Union
Copyright Directive

Ian Brown

Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of
22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and
related rights in the information society has proven more contentious than
its drafters foresaw. This EU Copyright Directive (EUCD), as it is
commonly known, allowed only 19 months for implementation by
Member States. But controversy in many of the fifteen States meant that
only Denmark and Greece met this deadline.

Given the experience in the United States with a similar piece of legislation
passed in 1998, this may be less surprising than it seems. The EUCD and
the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) both give new
protection to “technological measures:” systems that restrict the use of
literary and other works in digital form based on instructions from their
owners. Even legitimate users of such works are forbidden from
circumventing such measures. Tools that facilitate circumvention are also
banned. This has led to problems in the US for innovators, researchers,
the press, and the public at large.

This guide describes the debate that has occurred within each of the EU
states during this process of implementation. It also describes the options
that are available in implementation, and how these options have been
exercised across the EU. Our aim is to provide information to government
and civil society bodies in the countries that will be joining the EU during
2004, and hence who must also transpose the Directive into national law
as part of that process. These organisations will then be in a better position
to represent the views of copyright users in the debate over transposition,
in order to ensure a proper balance between the rights of rightsholders and

The European Commission is due to report on the operation of the
Directive in December 2004, after which amendments may be made by
the Parliament and Council. Until then, careful use of its flexibility in
implementation may prevent the recurrence in Europe of some of the
problems seen in the US as a result of the DMCA.

The guide will be updated to provide further information as the legal
situation evolves, particularly in those countries that have only very
recently, or are yet to, publish draft legislation (Ireland, Luxembourg and

You can see the entire report at the FIPR website.
The UK cabinet are divided on David Blunkett's plans for a biometrically embedded national identity card.

The national ID card proposal fails security expert Bruce Schneier's 5 step test at the first hurdle:

1. What problem(s) does the proposed solution - in this case a national identity card - solve?
2. How well does it solve it (or them) and how can it fail?
3. What other problems does the solution create?
4. How much does it cost?
5. Is it worth it, given the answers to the first four questions?

What about step 1 then? Well the proponents in government are keen to suggest it solves everything from immigration to terrorism and includes identity fraud, benefit fraud, illegal working, unauthorised access to health care, as some of the bonuses along the way. The ID card appears really to be David's Blunkett's Grand Plan, (in the mould of the BBC's fictional "Yes Prime Minister" Jim Hacker's Grand Design) to be used as a plaform to challenge for the leadership when Blair eventually steps down. In reality, it's a massive expensive, intrusive solution looking for a problem; and the list of problems it is claimed that it will solve grows progressively.

So in answer to Schneier's first question, we don't really know what problem it is supposed to solve. But it's a great platform to bring out a "vocal minority" who can be appropriately demonised in the mass media. (Of the 7000 or so people who responded to the government's exercise on the "entitlement card", about 6000 were against it - but the proponents in government still regularly say that a majority of those who responded to the exercise supported the idea, by a factor of 2 to 1).

How well does it work? Leaving aside the fact that we don't know what problem it will solve, the focus of supporters appears to be on the idea that it can't fail because it will be embedded with biometric information. But somebody should paint this in big bold print at the head of Mr Blunkett's grand plan -

Biometric information may be unique but it is not secret.

We leave bit's of dead skin and hair and our fingerprints on lots of things. Senior political figures have photos taken every day. Will some of those be of suffient quality to give iris scan details? Card's containing people's biometric information can therefore be forged and since there will be a be incentive for organised crime to forge these cards - due to the widely held belief that they can't be forged and the range of services they will provide access to - they are likely to be forged on a large scale.

What other problems does the 'solution' create - see above for starters.

How much? An absolute fortune - in the billions of pounds.

Is it worth it? Er, that's a tough one but on balance I'd say no.

And I'm not even a security specialist. Someone like Schneier could really poke holes in the proposal.

The Telegraph is painting it as the tortises versus the hares, with Blunkett and Blair and co. being the hares. Brown and Prescot are the alleged cautious tortises. Let's hope this one works out like the fable.

The Telegraph is also complaining about the new directory enquiries services in the UK. "Some of the new directory inquiries services were accused of operating a
"stalkers' charter" last night after providing phone numbers for people's
homes without being given the residents' names."

Former Environment minister, Michael Meacher, is painting the war of terrorism as bogus and suggesting "The 9/11 attacks gave the US an ideal pretext to use force to secure its global domination" He's also scathingly critical of the UK support for the US in this context,

"The conclusion of all this analysis must surely be that the
"global war on terrorism" has the hallmarks of a political myth
propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda - the
US goal of world hegemony, built around securing by force
command over the oil supplies required to drive the whole
project. Is collusion in this myth and junior participation in this
project really a proper aspiration for British foreign policy? If
there was ever need to justify a more objective British stance,
driven by our own independent goals, this whole depressing
saga surely provides all the evidence needed for a radical
change of course."

Whilst David Blunkett ponders his national identity card, senior police officers, according to the Guardian, are to "call this week for the database of 2m DNA samples to be extended to everyone in the country. " This would apparently help the police to prevent crime and solve crimes more easily.