Friday, February 13, 2004

I learn from The Filter that there's a nice summary of the controversy surrounding the Diebold electronic voting machines and leaked internal memos at the Berkman Center. Section "5.0 The Implications" seems to be repeated twice. Possibly for emphasis? Probably in error. I'm sure the Berkmanites will correct it pretty quickly.
I was telling some friends over lunch on Wednesday that I had just heard a BBC radio report on the problems with trying to play copy protected CDs in certain Vokswagen CD players. It seems that Andrew Orlowski at the Register heard the same report and has written about it: Copy-crippled CDs launch in UK, baffling Auntie Beeb.

Orlowski reports the conversation very accurately. What I can't get is how a hardened consumer-advocate journalist lets by openings like those provided by the BPI spokesman. He tells her the CD standards have been around for a long time and then says the CD manufacturers have recently "enhanced CDs" with new features (i.e. copy protection). And the effect of these new features is that the CD produces silence when played i.e. doesn't work. It's a bit like Raleigh saying 'we decided to take the wheels off our bikes to reduce bicycle thefts and improve our service to customers; and don't blame us that the bikes are no good for cycling, the government should have adapted the road transport infrastructure to take account of our changes.'

As to the notion that "The CD em player that he's got in his car is not actually, eh supposed initially to play audio CDs." Oh you mean that road was not meant for cycling my wheel-free-enhanced bike on? Even the BPI spokesman thinks "Now that might sound a bit strange" and the journalist still doesn't pounce.

You just could not make this stuff up.

All I can suggest to irritated, music loving, Volkswagen owners is to try to ensure not to have too many passengers when trying to play copy protected CDs. You might find yourself getting sued by the John Cage estate for infringing (public performance) their copyright in silence. Incidentally the real settlement figure was not the six figure sum the BBC report here but it was substantial and somewhere between four and six figures.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

The EFF have posted a recording of the oral arguments in the MGM v Grokster appeal hearing. MGM's lawyer took a bit of a battering from the judges. I don't know whether that gives any indicator as to the ultimate decision in the case but isn't it fantastic to able to get direct access to this kind of material.
The NYT have a profile of Bram Cohen who created BitTorrent, the file sharing software that speeds up the downloading process for large files (such as digital films) and has the movie industry so worried.

"Under older file-sharing systems like Napster and Kazaa, only a small subset of
users actually share files with the world. Most users simply download, or leech, in cyberspace parlance.

BitTorrent, however, uses what could be called a Golden Rule principle: the faster you upload, the faster you are allowed to download. BitTorrent cuts up files into many little pieces, and as soon as a user has a piece, they immediately start uploading that piece to other users. So almost all of the people who are sharing a given file are simultaneously uploading and downloading pieces of the same file (unless their downloading is complete).

The practical implication is that the BitTorrent system makes it easy to distribute very large files to large numbers of people while placing minimal bandwidth requirements on the original "seeder." That is because everyone who wants the file is sharing with one another, rather than downloading from a central source. A separate file-sharing network known as eDonkey uses a similar system."

Copyfighters are grappling with the implications of the Appeals Court decision earlier in the week on DMCA [alleged] copyright infringement notice and takedown procedures for ISPs. The case was Ellison v. Robertson et al.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Some light relief from the Onion on the Patriot Act.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Roger Clarke is getting exorcised about the Australian government's misrepresentation of the value of face recognition technologies.

"It's very likely that a project called SmartGate, conducted by the Australian Customs Service, will be trumpeted throughout the world as the good news that face-recognition technology has been waiting for.

This email contains an assessment of the extreme manipulation of data, truth and the media on which such 'good news' stories will be based...

The brazenness of Custom's manipulation of media and public opinion exceeds the standards normally expected of the Government.

(1) No data has been provided, despite assurances given in the past that data would be provided.

(2) The invited experts who were paraded by Customs are arguably about the world's two foremost designers of testing for biometric technologies.

But is appears that:

they did not *perform* the tests
they did not *design* the tests...

... The best quotation that Customs seem to have been able to extract from the two experts was that "the scheme's performance is remarkably good for an operational facial recognition system".

That seems quite positive, until you realise that the other attempts around the world have been abject failures, and pilot after pilot has been quietly abandoned.

In other words, the quotation can be readily interpreted as "it doesn't work very well, but it's better than the other disasters we've seen".

This is borne out by an answer by one of the experts to a reporter's question. He said: "In one test 100 company employees attempted to impersonate someone other than themselves and eight of them were falsely accepted by the system. That is a very
low rate of false accepts". At that"very low" level of false acceptances, every 747-load of people can include 25-30 terrorists..."

Roger is clearly not too happy and you can't blame him. Deployment of lousy expensive technology to create the illusion of improved security does nobody any favours. And whilst the over-stretched authorities are distracted dealing with processing those 25-30 innocents per planeload, the real terrorists have a clear run at their targets.

Roger has an informative general introduction to biometrics on the web.
The latest in the unintended consequences of intellectual property legislation is covered by The Register: "Seven years jail, $150,000 fine if you don't tell the world your email and home address" This is further example, though thankfully one not yet on the statute books, of the industrial regulation leading to a daft situation when applied at a personal level and in an unexpected/unexplored context.

The article winds off with an amusing exchange between a Harley-Davidson trademark manager and an IP lawyer included in Milton Mueller's wonderful book Ruling the Root. Mueller went on to say: "Under ICANN's contractual regime, the consumers and suppliers of domain name registration services are required to facilitate their own surveillance by intellectual property owners. If we apply the same logic to any other industry, it seems absurdly overreaching. Motorcycles can be used to break the law, but we do not require all vehicle manufacturers to create a publicly accessible, global database with complete and accurate information about all their customers... The linkage of resource administration to policy and regulation in the domain name regime has given intellectual property interests much more extensive rights of surveillance than they had before."

That's a pretty good rule of thumb when it comes to regulation of new communications or Internet techologies - apply the same logic in a different context and give it the absurdity test. James Boyle calls it the telephone rule. When ever he gets some hyped up journalist contacting him for 'the internet angle' on the latest sensational crime story, he asks them to substitute the word "telephone" for the word "internet" and see if they a can blame the telephone for whatever terrible crime has been perpetrated.
Frank Zappa as far back as 1983 was suggesting a different business model for the music inductry. He called it "A PROPOSAL FOR A SYSTEM TO REPLACE ORDINARY RECORD MERCHANDISING"

"We propose to acquire the rights to digitally duplicate and store THE BEST of
every record company's difficult-to-move Quality Catalog Items [Q.C.I.], store
them in a central processing location, and have them accessible by phone or
cable TV, directly patchable into the user's home taping appliances, with the
option of direct digital-to-digital transfer to F-1 (SONY consumer level digital tape
encoder), Beta Hi-Fi, or ordinary analog cassette (requiring the installation of a
rentable D-A converter in the phone itself . . . the main chip is about $12).

All accounting for royalty payments, billing to the customer, etc. would be
automatic, built into the initial software for the system.

The consumer has the option of subscribing to one or more Interest Categories,
charged at a monthly rate, without regard for the quantity of music he or she
decides to tape.

Providing material in such quantity at a reduced cost could actually diminish the
desire to duplicate and store it, since it would be available any time day or night. "

SO these ideas have been around for a while...