Friday, June 24, 2005

Business Week discovers the commons

David Bollier says Business Week have discovered the commons.

Abelson and Wilbanks on info sharing

Peter Suber a few days ago had an entry in his prolific Open Access blog that I missed, about a talk Hal Abelson recently gave at MIT. Abstract:

"Hal Abelson wants to deliver a one-two punch against the privatization of academic discourse. His weapons of choice? New global initiatives based on MIT’s own OpenCourseWare (OCW) and DSpace. Abelson owns to a “real anxiety that people are quick to talk about academic exchange under the rubrics of property and ownership,” along the lines of the motion picture, recording and publishing industries. He sees a profound threat -- that of eventual monopoly control -- to scholarly publishing. Out of self-protection, Abelson says, universities must pursue initiatives to ensure free and open academic publishing. Two coordinated initiatives would “strengthen the information commons,” the body of knowledge on which thinkers continually build and which “forms the progress of science.” One, modeled on OCW, would provide “global access to raw material from which the world’s great learning institutions create educational experiences for their students.” The other, like MIT Libraries’ DSpace, would produce an interoperable and virtual collection of research from the world’s top institutions. Abelson exhorts universities to pursue their true mission of generating, disseminating and preserving knowledge, and defend against the encroachments of the commercial publishing industry, with its near stranglehold on journals and increasingly on ideas themselves."

A video of the talk is available.

Biometric reader costs

Spy blog has been comparing Home Office estimates for the costs of Iris Scan Biometric readers for E-Borders with those for the ID card system:

"The estimated cost of installing Iris Scan Biometric Passport Readers in the 47 main airports and ports, is an average of £21,000...

This totally contradicts the wishful thinking guesstimate for the cost of an ID Card biometric reader in the Identity Cards Bill 2005 updated Regulatory Impact Assessment, published on 27th May 29005:

"(ii) a card/biometric reader with on-line access to the verification service. Organisations will be expected to fund the costs of card readers. The current working assumption is that the cost of card readers would fall within a range of £250-£750..."

Smart work.

Italian lawyers love open source

Italian lawyers in Foggia have become open source evangelists.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

UK births marriages and deaths database emigrating

According to the Guardian, the UK government are subcontracting the administration of the database of all the deaths marriages and births since 1837. That shouldn't be a surprise and it has been quite common practice for the government to privatise functions previously carried out by public service employees.

What I don't quite understand is how they managed to agree to move the database overseas to a company in India, when it is illegal to allow this information outside England and Wales. More likely to be a cock up rather than a conspiracy but it doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence over the future of the coming ID card database, does it?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Regulating through code

James Grimmelmann builds on Larry Lessig's 'code is law' thesis in a recent Yale Law journal paper. He agrees with Lessig that software regulates behaviour but it does so in subtly different and important ways to physical architecture.

Software is rule based
Software need not be transparent
Software applies the rules whether people engaged in the activity want it to or not i.e. there's no equivalent to blanketly ignoring the idiotic company procedure
Software has bugs and can go wrong (and can get hacked)

He goes on to argue that these characteristics make software (or code) suitable for regulating electronic marketplaces like eBay but unsuitable for regulating access to copyrighted material (ie eBay good, drm no good). The [very clever - one of those 'I wish I'd thought of that' sequences] goes like this:

Both eBay and drm rely on rules. So much for item one. Then we start getting divergence. On eBay and online markets generally the transparency problem with software is mitigated because the parties involved have clear access to the terms of the deal. DRM's lack of transparency causes problems, however. For example, one eboook version of the US Constitution prevents the owner from printing it out. And so the analysis continues.

Excellent paper. Well worth a read for netlaw enthusiasts.

Subscribing to digital music?

If you're thinking of subscribing to a digital music download service like iTunes, this INDICARE article has the basics.

Emails and Pope JP

The Vatican are encouraging good catholics to send emails of support as part of the process of beatifying the late Pope John Paul II. Old JP would have been pleased, as it was he who brought the Net to the Vatican in 1996.

DRM supporter breaks DMCA

To copyright aficionados this will seem funny. Ernest Miller points to the tale of a drm proponent who, when fed up with Microsoft's drm, which was preventing him getting access to material he'd bought, downloaded a utility program to bypass the drm. Ooops, he broke the law, under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998. Miller's reaction?

"It appears as if Gartenberg BROKE THE LAW! If we were to ask Jack Valenti, I'm sure he would say that Gartenberg is a THIEF!

The company that made and distributes the software Gartenberg used appear to be a BUNCH OF DISGUSTING HACKER PIRATES!

Or, perhaps, this is a good case study for governments on HOW NOT TO IMPLEMENT ANTI-CIRCUMVENTION laws."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

iPods as a cocoons

Michael Froomkin has a fascinating post a couple of weeks ago on Ian Kerr's thoughts on the degree to which communications technologies can isolate as well as connect people.

Duke Law Journals Lead with Open Access to Scholarship

"Duke Law Journals Lead with Open Access to Scholarship

Duke Law School's seven student-edited journals were prominently featured in the June 6 th unveiling of the Open Access Law Program, an initiative of Creative Commons and its Science Commons Publishing Project. The announcement of the Open Access Law Program was notable not only for the encouragement and support the Program will provide for increasing free access to scholarly literature in law, but for its acknowledgment of Duke Law School's longstanding commitment to making legal scholarship freely available on the World Wide Web to international and interdisciplinary audiences, as well as to legal scholars."

Blair plays the fear card

Thanks to Spyblog for the pointer to Andrew Gilligan's article in the Evening Standard "Revealed: how Blair is playing the fear card"

Aussie teen prosecuted for linking

The Register has a longish story on the plight of an Australian teenager who is being prosecuted for linking to a site that may have been involved in copyright infringement, something he started doing when he was 12 and updated until he was 15. Apparently his home was raided by federal police when he was 16 and he is now 18 and the case is going ahead. Alex Malik says:

"This case is significant for a number of reasons:

It is the first time that a minor has been prosecuted in Australia by the Federal Government for linking to a website alleged to be involved in copyright infringement

It is the first time that a minor in Australia has been prosecuted by the Federal Government under the “aiding and abetting” provisions of the Copyright Act

It is the first time that a minor has been subject to any kind of enforcement proceedings in Australia, in relation to internet based copyright infringement. This reminds me of the infamous US case against Brianna LaHara (, who was only 12 when she was sued by the RIAA in the US for copyright infringement."

He also says that time shifting ie recording TV programs on a VCR for later viewing is not technically permitted under Australian copyright law. That's something I was not previously aware of.

Intel executive broke the law

J.D. Lasica has a story in his recently released book, Darknet, about a vice president at Intel who broke the law without realising it. Donald S. Whiteside "violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) without realizing it — by making a home movie of his son playing Pop Warner football and incorporating snippets of a Hollywood movie."

Whiteside says of his transgression:

“This is precisely the kind of exciting consumer creativity that should be enabled. I don’t claim to have all the answers. Should I have to go clear rights to use ten seconds from Rudy in my son’s video, or does it fall under fair use? Should I have to pay pennies for every second of a snippet? I don’t know. But I do know that we have to figure out a way for consumers to do something creative without breaking the law.

To me, this episode was a great way to frame the question: Should copyright law permit this or not? Should the DMCA criminalize this sort of thing? Or should the creative community, high-tech community, and lawmakers get together to try to stimulate this kind of innovative behavior?”

Good questions.

Mum stunned by BPI demand for £2500

The Independent has a report on one mother's reaction to a demand from the British Phonographic Industry that she hand over £2500 because her daughter, unbeknownst to her, had been downloading songs over the Net. She has two weeks to cough up, at which time an unpaid demand rises to £4000.

A BPI spokesman says about a third of the similar demands they have put out have been paid by parents on behalf of their children and most of the demands have been settled.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Miller in record cos and us as criminals

Ernest Miller reckons Record Companies Intend to Make Criminals of Us All.

"People want to share music with their friends and family and they see nothing wrong in doing this. In trying to characterize such sharing as criminal activity the recording industry will only be undermining support for copyright as a whole"

P2P piracy UK going down

The FT report copyright infringement on p2p networks could be on the way down in the UK now that legal downloads are more widely available.

Stallman on EU software patents

Richard Stallman gets some space in today's Guardian to urge citizens of the EU to phone MEPs and tell them to vote against software patents. C.E. Petit is not impressed with the argument.

Kahle on bits and books

MSNBC have a nice story Turning books into bits about a journalism class at Harvard not coming up with any source material for an assignment because they used the Net not the library. Brewster Kahle's response was a shake of the head and “When we were growing up, we had great libraries. But for kids today, the Internet is their library. We are giving them an instantly accessible resource that is much worse than what we grew up with.”

Daily Law Notes

Note to self: Thanks to Cornell's InSITE for The Daily Law Notes recommendation. Very useful.

Only 21 people object to ID cards says minister

According to Spyblog,the Minister of State for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, Tony McNulty says only 21 people have written to the Home Office complaining about the plans for ID cards.

I suspect some of NO2ID's nearly 4000 pledge signatories may take note and act accordingly.

Right back in the early days of then Home Secretary's "entitlement card" proposals, there were efforts to present the "evidence" in a positive light and this is not going to change anytime soon. The government's original consultation on the then entitlement cards drew roughly 7000 responses of which well over 5000 were against the proposal. At the time, Mr Blunkett presented the results of the consultation as showing 2 to 1 in favour of the scheme.

How can 5000 out of 7000 against become 2 to 1 in favour? Simple sleight of hand - count the 5000 who communicated their opposition electronically as 1. Yes, that's right 5000 opponents can be written off as 1 because they used a particular form of communication and could therefore be dismissed as a single special interest group. Magically the opposition disappears from soundbite debates in the media and it appears as though most people support the scheme. Follow up with focus groups and appropriately worded surveys soliciting appropriate answers and the public support can then magically be improved to 80% in favour.