Friday, April 08, 2005

West try patent alternatives

James Love in the FT on options to traditional patents.

Philadelphia wi-fi plan

There are plans afoot in Philadelphia to "transform its streets and neighborhoods into a gigantic wireless Internet hotspot....

The project highlights the growing trend among cities big and small to build out their own broadband access networks. Claiming their cable and local phone companies were dragging their heels over deploying broadband or charging rates too high for lower-income residents, many municipalities have turned to building high-speed Internet networks themselves."

Good for them. It's a real pity a few municipalities couldn't wake up to the idea on this side of the pond. It was one of the things I called for in my Unfinished wish list for government in the area of education. (Item number 18 on the list). I won't be holding my breath but it might be fun to quiz the election campaigners about it.

RIAA in Grokster: ok to copy CDs for personal use

There was an apparently unexpected concession from the music industry lawyer, Donald Verilli, in the MGM v Grokster hearing before the US Supreme Court last week. If you can get hold of the transcript, on page 12 beginning at line 3, he says "The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it on your iPod."

And sure enough if you check the RIAA site now, you can find this:

"What is your stand on MP3?

This is one of those urban myths like alligators in the toilet. MP3 is just a technology and the technology itself never did anything wrong! There are lots of legal MP3s from great artists on many, many online sites. The problem is that some people use MP3 to take one copy of an album and make that copy available on the Internet for hundreds of thousands of people. That's not fair. If you choose to take your own CDs and make copies for yourself on your computer or portable music player, that's great. It's your music and we want you to enjoy it at home, at work, in the car and on the jogging trail. But the fact that technology exists to enable unlimited Internet distribution of music copies doesn't make it right. "

In the US it is lawful to make copies for personal use but the entertainment industry have generally been reluctant to concede this in the PR battle that constitutes the copyright wars. I've no idea how long this faq has been on the RIAA site (The Internet Archive suggests since June 2003). As late as November last year, the head of the RIAA legal department, Stan Pierre-Louis, was saying that copying CDs to a computer hard drive and then to an iPod was copyright infringement.

What's fascinating is that many of the smart advocates opposing the music industry were unaware of it too. Just goes to show how the rhetoric can come to dominate and interfere with the process of negotiating a reasonable way forward. With protagonists on both sides focussing on the extremes, the middle ground gets neglected. The cynics, of course, will say that it is the pulling the rabbit out of the hat act on the part of the RIAA – making an apparent concession now in an attempt to demonstrate reasonableness.

Of course this apparent concession to recognise the current state of the law does raise the question of whether the RIAA would think it was "great" to bypass the drm (copy protection) increasingly found on commercial CDs in order to make a personal copy.


Blogger posting problems this morning

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Online music interoperability

Looks like the US Congress is finally waking up to the downside of drm. The congressional intellectual property committee held a meeting about the interoperability, or lack of it, of online music services. A quote from one of the politicos:

"This interoperability issue is of concern to me since consumers who bought legal copies of music from Real could not play them on an iPod" The industry are urging the lawmakers to keep their noses out of this particular market. Napster representative, William E. Pence, for example said the government "historically not been a participant in competition between early-stage consumer technologies."

Interoperability will eventually come home to roost on the music industry, Apple, Real et al because people will no accept the daft prospect of having to buy a range of different digital music players to play music sold to them by different companies. The sooner the better.

Machester airport compensate passenger

From the Manchester Evening News, this is interesting.

"A PASSENGER has been awarded £4,000 compensation after Manchester Airport took his photograph without permission.

The landmark pay-out, for breaking data protection rules, could open the floodgates to thousands of other claims. Another passenger has been given £2,000 in an out-of-court settlement and 20 other travellers have begun legal action against the airport. Two claims have been rejected."

EDRI-gram - Number 3.7, 6 April 2005

EDRI-gram - Number 3.7, 6 April 2005 is full of interesting news as usual.

Contents ============================================================

1. Secret minutes EU data retention meeting
2. No delay for EU biometric passports
3. German court confirms ISP blocking order
4. Rapporteur EU parliament: more liability for ISPs
5. First P2P prosecution case in Sweden
6. ISP self-regulation proposal film industry
7. Bulgarian ISPs ordered to remove websites
8. Germany: meta search engine responsible for hyperlinks
9. EDRI-member nominated in Blog contest
10. Recommended reading: DRM
11. Agenda
12. About

One of the more notable parts is the pointer to Cory Doctorow's "Digital Rights Management: A failure in the developed world, a danger to the developing world" There are very few people who write as clearly and articulately as Cory about DRM. Essential reading.

Privacy protection version 2.0

DANIEL J. SOLOVE and CHRIS JAY HOOFNAGLE have released version 2.0 of their Model Regime of Privacy Protection.

TIA defender new DHS privacy chief

C¦Net News are reporting "The Department of Homeland Security's privacy board chose as its chairman Paul Rosenzweig, a conservative lawyer best known in technology circles for his defense of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness project."

Jurisdiction again

There is another Internet jurisdiction mess at the moment in relation to a political corruption investigation in Canada.

The retired judge conducting the public enquiry into the popularly labelled "Adscam" affair ordered that the testimony of some witnesses, who are also facing pending criminal proceedings, should be suppressed, with potentially severe penalties for anyone deciding to ignore the ban. Details of the banned testimony, however, have been leaked to a blogger in the US who has published them.

This introduces all kinds of problems for the upcoming criminal cases. Apparently in Canada, witnesses who refuse to answer questions at a public enquiry of this nature can be jailed until they do. The testimony at the public enquiry cannot be used in a subsequent criminal trial, however, because Canadians have the right not to incriminate themselves. So if a prosecuter asks the same question as arose in the public enquiry, the accused would have the right, in the criminal court, to refuse to answer.

With all the gory details now out on the Net, however, how does this affect the accused chances of getting a fair trial? In principle you might think not at all - after all if the details are already part of the proceedings of a public enquiry they are in the public domain.

Why does the Net change things?

Monitoring, recording, processing power, computers, the Internet and very powerful database filtering tools make it possible to find out all sorts of things about people. It is relatively difficult to search and correlate paper data. The number of people who can attend a public enquiry is limited, so that testimony closed to those in attendance will not be widely circulated. But combining the power of computers to do 'clever' things with data is phenomenal, and the Internet to allow data to be searched remotely and merged with data from other places, leaked testimony gains a whole new dimension.

There are no easy jurisdictional or centralised constraints because the data flows don't recognise jurisdictional borders. Data can be collected, processed and used on a scale not previously imagined. What's more, it is cheap to do it and getting cheaper. Hence the integrity of the upcoming criminal trials gets brought into question.

No doubt, in the thick of the rhetoric of the general election campaign on this side of the pond, our main political parties would declare it outrageous that someone, perhaps admitting criminal culpability in a public enquiry, should be allowed to get off in a subsequent criminal trial on a legal technicality. But the law really matters and we cannot apply a variety of standards, based on mob mentality or the right of the few to point accusing fingers, with those who appear to be "obviously" guilty getting less protection than the rest of us. That way lies the conviction of lots of innocent people and as I understood the Irish and British legal systems (though it is arguable in the light of the political rush to be seen to be the toughest on crime), at least, on principle the conviction of the innocent is deemed to be the worst miscarriage of justice.

French appeal court support Yahoo

A French appeal court has ruled in favour of Yahoo in the long running dispute between the company and two groups of anti-semitism campaigners. The latest case was an attempt by the Union of Jewish Students and the International Anti-Racism and Anti-Semitism League to have Yahoo held liable for promoting and selling Nazi memorabilia.

In the original case, which threw up all kinds of fascinating jurisdictional issues, a French court ordered Yahoo to install software filters to block access for French residents to the section of the website offering the Nazi items for sale. This triggered righteous indignant moral outrage in the US about a French court daring to challenge the first amendment rights of a US company. Court cases in the US followed where the courts declared a French court could have no jurisdiction over a US company, operating a server on US soil.

We ended up with a kind of judicial stand off where the US courts said the French had no jurisdiction and the French courts said they did have jurisdiction on the grounds that they had the right to prevent anyone, including a foreign company, offering Nazi memorabilia for sale in France. They had a point too.

Yahoo did have a slight problem, though. The part of the website offering the Nazi items was written in French. So in the thick of all this lawyering, they quietly dropped the Nazi sales, whilst declaring it had nothing to do with the court case and that they would continue on principle to fight through the courts for the right of US companies to operate freely.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

EU parliament move to 2nd reading on sw patents

The EU parliament has dropped its formal objections to the procedural anomalies with the council of ministers' adoption the software patents directive.

""We are now embarking on the 2nd reading," Eva Lichtenberger, a prominent opponent in the Legal Committee to the decision reached by the Council, declared in a talk with heise online. So as to prepare for the vote in the plenary session of parliament Ms. Lichtenberger, who is an Austrian member of the EU Parliament, has demanded from the Council that the supplementary declarations by the eight "dissidents" in this body of representatives of national governments be made available unabridged and in complete translation to the peoples´ representatives."

Grokster back again and France declares war

There has been a vast amount of notable activity in cyberprof territory in the past few weeks, when I've not been posting here. Most notably MGM v Grokster reached the US Supreme Court on 29 March.
All the usual suspects covered the story.

I just wanted to draw your attention to the Washington Post article yesterday, though, suggesting that French President, Jacques Chirac, had quietly declared [cultural] war on Google, as a result of their project to digitise famous academic libraries.

"France declared war on the United States three weeks ago.

You didn't notice? Clearly, you're not French.

This war is being fought against one of America's greatest exports. Not rock 'n roll. Not McDonald's or the Disney Co. This time it's Google that the French have in their crosshairs.

Jean-Noel Jeanneney, president of France's Bibliotheque National, or National Library, declared last month that Google's project to create a searchable online database of the world's books constitutes the sunrise of an American hegemony over information and literature.

Jeanneney's call to arms rattled French President Jacques Chirac's saber. Along with French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, announced on March 17 that France would study ways for the European community to embark on a similar project so as to counter Google's thrust into the heartland of Euro-culture."

Great news frmo my perspective. The more that open access becomes a mainstream political issue the better, especially if the competition gets focussed on who can be the most open!