Friday, July 08, 2005

Home Office paper on benefits of ID cards

The Home Office have released a 16 page paper on what they believe to be the benefits of the government's proposed ID card scheme. William Heath has read and inwardly digested it, with the prior request that "nobody dismiss this paper as "mad", "fabricated" or "incompetent" because that's no way to conduct a civilised discussion." He finds it impossible, however, to fulfil his own request in the wake of reading the paper:

"But the piece does not feel balanced - it feels like something...well (I said I wouldnt use the word, but) ...fabricated to support a previously held position. It doesn't explore the risks in a balanced way. It's phoney to claim for this ID scheme benefits which more sensible and effective e-government would deliver. This scheme is not the cornerstone for good e-government; that's something different which we shall also need!"

And William is a technophile, committed to finding a route towards e-government services i.e. he wants to see more technology in policing, intelligence, public services of every kind where the deployment of those technologies can improve the delivery of those services.

Political capital

The despicable game of making political capital out of the murder of innocents has begun in earnest. In fairness to Charles Clarke, here, at least he admits that ID cards wouldn't have prevented the atrocities yesterday. Empty headed media pundits, politicians, campaigners and PR merchants of all brands are scrambling for media exposure to enlighten us as to how their cause is so true, in the light of the bombings. They, as well as the terrorists, should be starved of the publicity.

Jefferson and rebellion

Thomas Jefferson once wrote: "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere." I wonder what he would have thought of the bombings in London or Madrid or Bali or ...

Mayor of London on the bombings

From the Mayor of London, Ken Livingston:

"In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."

London bombings

There is a lot of reporting on the Net about the London bombings. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, has just confirmed this morning that the death toll sadly has now risen to more than 50 with over 700 casualties.

Senseless. Senseless. Senseless.

EU copyright and related rights

The EU Commission "has published an in-depth study on how copyright for musical works is licensed for use on the Internet. It concludes that the main obstacle to the growth of legitimate online content services in the EU is the difficulty securing attractive content for online exploitation. In particular, the present structures for cross-border collective management of music copyright – which were developed for the analogue environment – prevent music from fulfilling its unique potential as a driver for online content services."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terrorist attacks in London

There have been bomb blasts in London. Many casualties. Some fatalities.

Our thoughts must go with the families of the dead and injured. Don't we have enough tragedy in the world without murderers engaging in this senseless carnage. Yes I do mean senseless. No cause can justify the murder of innocent people. I wish, no doubt in vain, that the media and the politicians had the sense to starve the perpetrators of the oxygen of publicity they so desperately crave.

Samuelson on Grokster

Pamela Samuelson, Berkeley's intellectual property guru, has given her views on the MGM v Grokster decision. In some ways the decision could be seen as a loss for the entertainment industries:

"MGM didn’t really want to win Grokster on an active inducement theory. It has been so wary of this theory that it didn’t actively pursue the theory in the lower courts. What MGM really wanted in Grokster was for the Supreme Court to overturn or radically reinterpret the Sony decision and eliminate the safe harbor for technologies capable of SNIUs. MGM thought that the Supreme Court would be so shocked by the exceptionally large volume of unauthorized up- and downloading of copyrighted sound recordings and movies with the aid of p2p technologies, and so outraged by Grokster’s advertising revenues—which rise as the volume of infringing uses goes up—that it would abandon the Sony safe harbor in favor of one of the much stricter rules MGM proposed to the Court. These stricter rules would have given MGM and other copyright industry groups much greater leverage in challenging disruptive technologies, such as p2p software. Viewed in this light, MGM actually lost the case for which it was fighting. The copyright industry’s legal toolkit to challenge developers of p2p file-sharing technologies is only marginally greater now than before the Supreme Court decided the case...

Moreover, had Grokster won before the Supreme Court, MGM and copyright industry groups would have gone immediately to Congress to insist on technology-hostile legislation akin to last year's INDUCE Act (see my Legally Speaking column of March 2005). There would have been a big fight between the technology industry and the entertainment industry over what the legislation should look like, but legislation would almost certainly have ensued. Frankly any law that would have come out of that sausage factory would have been a lot less technology-friendly than the Grokster decision the Supreme Court issued. Thus, the narrow vicotry MGM won before the Supreme Court has deprived it - for now - of its strongest argument for legislation to put p2p and other disruptive technology developers out of business. Insofar as MGM's goal in the Grokster case was to persuade the courts or the Congress to give it much stronger legal protection, it has not succeeded."

Computers now better at chess

Felton also thinks "It’s time to admit that computers play better chess than people."

Teaching judges about computers

Ed Felten thinks the time has come to send judges to computer science lessons.

"One of the tenets of the law and economics movement is that decisions about legal regulation of economic behavior should be grounded in a deep understanding of economics. Sound economics can predict the effect of proposed legal rules; but bad economics leads to bad law...

What is true of economics is equally true of computer science. Only by understanding computer science can we predict the impact of proposed regulations of technology. As we have seen so many times, bad computer science leads to bad law...

One criticism of law and economics is that it works well in a seminar room but may lead to dangerous overconfidence if applied to a hard case by an overworked, generalist judge. One solution is to teach judges more economics, and economic seminars for judges have proliferated. Perhaps the time has come to run seminars in computer science for judges."

Thomas Jefferson blawg

Here's an interesting idea. Thomas Jefferson gets transported into the year 2003 and writes a blog on what he finds. Here he reviews some legal blogs well the help of his modern room mate, Daniel. Given recent developments he naturally looks at the Scotusblog discussion about the Grokster decision.

"I wish to see new inventions encouraged, and new entertainment provided, and our Constitution provides for temporary patents to encourage that by benefiting the original author, as motive for producing them in the first place. However, the permanent patent of ideas - lifelong copyright of intellectual properties - is an abomination to the Constitution. That intellectual "property" should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Intellectual properties then cannot, in nature, be a subject of real property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from these creations, as an encouragement to men to pursue those ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from any body. The intellectual property used in this manner could prevent the useful inventions of some from ever becoming popular, making select few rich, who do not produce the true utility that enriches our lives. People film movies to sell them, but then determine themselves from letting others witness the copies they sell, or copies of copies, without their permission... once given, the property is then taken away. If the courts could have their way, they would have control over the mind of man to prevent it from memorizing that which is not bought and paid for, and then we would truly put a patent on ideas, such so deeply forgone from the purpose of such amusement, & their proper role in our lives. If the free circulation of copies you created is not legal, then neither is the free circulation of original property, for such is often indistinguishable in purpose & aim, often likewise, in origin."

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

EU parliament reject sw patents again

The EU parliament has thrown out the software patent directive again, according to the Register. Slashdotters are all over the story but the anti campaigners shouldn't be getting too excited. The parliament will not have the last word on the issue and don't really have the power to stop it. That power lies with the Council of Ministers who are committed to pushing it through.

BPI sue collection agencies

The united front of the music labels and the songwriter and publisher collecting agencies in relation to their concern over online copyright infringement has been breached, in the UK at least.

Never the best of friends the labels and the collecting agencies at least both agreed on the damage they saw been done to their interests by online sharing of copyrighted works. Now the BPI are charging that the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) and the Performing Right Society (PRS)are being unreasonable with their royalty demands for music sold legally via the Net. On the surface, you'd say they have a case. Royalties on CDs are 6.5%. The fee proposed for downloads is 12%. Standard negotiating procedure in my book - start high and when the other side complains agree to come down a bit. I expect this will eventually get settled out of court.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

UK man convicted of mod chipping

A UK man has been convicted of bypassing the copy control mechanisms on Microsoft's Xbox. This is the first criminal conviction in the UK under a law implemented in October 2003 in accordance with the UK's obligation under the EU copyright directive of 2001.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Pirates of the Commons

Nice essay in the Hindu by Sudhakar Thaths Chandrasekharan yesterday. Thanks to Peter Suber for the link.

"CONTROLLING access to literary works to prevent copies from being made is a practice that goes back millennia. The Royal Library of Alexandria was so notoriously difficult to get into that Ptolemy III had to bribe his way in with 15 talents of silver.

Innovations do not bloom in an intellectual vacuum where access to knowledge is controlled. Jared Diamond, in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed says that societies that restricted mobile exchange of ideas sowed the seeds of their own demise...

During Europe's Dark Ages many treasures of classical antiquity almost disappeared in book burnings by religious zealots. They were only saved from oblivion by a few pious Irish monks committed to copy and share works of learning."

The latter paragraph strikes a particular resonance at the moment, as the first chapter of my forthcoming book deals with a dispute between two monks in Ireland in the 6th century over the copying of a book, which led to the deaths of 3000 men. The remarkable thing is that the arguments over copying have lasted through the centuries and re-appear in modern day copyright cases. The only thing that has changed is the context.

Hollywood set for legal downloads

From todays NYT: Forget the Bootleg, Just Download the Movie Legally

"After years of avoiding it, Hollywood studios are preparing to let people download and buy electronic copies of movies over the Internet, much as record labels now sell songs for 99 cents through Apple Computer's iTunes music store and other online services."

The Eonomist and copyright

An article in The Economist, briefly covering the Grokster decision, rounds off with this surpising conclusion:

"A first, useful step would be a drastic reduction of copyright back to its original terms—14 years, renewable once. This should provide media firms plenty of chance to earn profits, and consumers plenty of opportunity to rip, mix, burn their back catalogues without breaking the law. The Supreme Court has somewhat reluctantly clipped the wings of copyright pirates; it is time for Congress to do the same to the copyright incumbents."

Torture and accountability

Elizabeth Holtzman, a former Congresswonan has a thoughtful essay on Torture and Accountability in The Nation.

"It is never easy to hold powerful officials accountable for their misdeeds, but it is still important to try to do so. Even if no higher-ups turn out to be responsible under civil or criminal laws for the terrible abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the mere fact of a thorough and serious inquiry could go a long way toward preventing similar abuses in the future.

If Watergate is any example, accountability at the highest level requires a number of factors: public exposure of the misdeeds; public awareness that the misdeeds violate the law; independent and fearless public officials, prosecutors and judges; and of course a crusading press...

In the final analysis, there is no sure way to compel the government to investigate itself or to hold high-level government officials accountable under applicable criminal statutes. But if the public does not seek to have it happen, it will not happen. Those in the public who care deeply about the rule of law and government accountability must keep this issue alive. Failure to investigate wrongdoing in high places and tolerating misconduct or criminality can have only the most corroding impact on our democracy and the rule of law that sustains us."

"Acountability" is a word that trips off the lips of many in political life most often in relation to holding somebody else accountable. Holtzman is right in saying we get the leaders and the level of accountability of those leaders that we deserve, however, if we don't take enough interest in the political process.

Supreme Court Justice O'Connor retires

From the LA Times: "Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court and its decisive voice on such critical issues as abortion, affirmative action and religion, announced Friday that she was retiring."

The 2nd law

A couple of researchers in Shanghai claim to have disproved the 2nd law of thermodynamics. For the scientifically unitiated, the 2nd law is science's version of "there is no such thing as a free lunch", and basically says you can't get useful energy out of a fuel without creating some waste. Xinyong Fu and Zitao Fu no longer believe this to be true.

Quickly - somebody tell Mr Blair and Mr Bush that their climate change problems are now officially solved and they can at least rescue something from this fiasco that will be the G8 submit in Edinburgh this week. In curing the world's energy crisis they will minimise the transient media exposure of our collective failure to make poverty history.

On second thoughts, having scanned the paper, it might be as well not to have our esteemed leaders counting too many energy chickens just yet. This one will be heading for urban legend status in the none too distant future I should think.

Landgrab for life and matter

David Bollier re-iterates his concerns about the patent landgrab going on in the area of biotechnology at his On the Commons blog.

"This trend is not receiving much notice, but the “ownership society” is quietly making some very deep inroads indeed. A fierce land grab is now underway to own and control some of the most basic building blocks of life and matter. These include man-made genomes of artificial species, purified versions of elements of the Periodic Table, nano-scale formulations of medicinal herbs, genetically created hybrids of living and non-living matter, and much else. ("Nano" refers to atomic- and molecular-level biological and material technologies; one nanometer equals one billionth of a meter.)...

The more basic question, of course, is whether the commons of nature and life should be converted into commodities for the marketplace in the first place. Why should high-tech entrepreneurs be allowed to own proprietary knockoffs of nature on which we all have a legitimate moral claim, as human beings. And what about non-human life and its claims on the elements of nature? The very act of ownership implies that patented materials can be severed without consequence from their niche in the web of nature. The history of markets demonstrates, moreover, that a proprietary surrogate of nature may well disrupt and destabilize natural processes in unpredictable ways – which is why extreme care and public scrutiny are needed...

The implicit moral issue in all of these developments, it seems to me, is whether market norms will govern the debate – or whether a deeper, more humanistic and ecological perspective will prevail. Right now, the property-rights, free-market boosters have the field to themselves, and the commons is hardly in sight. This is very troubling."

Government attempted to suppress LSE report

If this Sunday Times report is to be believed, then there has been some really nasty politicking going on behind the scenes over the LSE research into the UK government's ID card proposals. The Direct of the LSE, Howard Davies, is quoted as saying

“They are stepping over a line that hasn’t been crossed before. On the one hand they say it (the ID card) is not an attack on civil liberties, but then, if anyone questions any aspect of it, they abuse you and accuse you.

I have read the report myself and I’m completely satisfied it is a rigorous piece of work. Ministers may disagree with it or they may not, but the idea that it is deliberately biased or fabricated seems to me to be fatuous. I am genuinely shocked, surprised and disappointed at the response.”

And a brief glance at Davies' CV will show he's hardly one to be easily shocked. He's a former head of the Audit Commission, the Financial Services Authority, the CBI and deputy Governor of the Bank of England.

Whilst the council of the LSE have, like Davies, fully backed the research, governors have expressed concern that research funding may now be in danger and one governor has said “The behaviour is beyond the pale and is more suited to a communist dictatorship than a democracy.”

Nobody has nothing to hide

Muriel Gray did a lovely job in Saturday's Guradian of debunking of the idiotic soundbite that people who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. She starts with two stories of innocent people who had escaped abusive families and found new lives under new identities.

"The reason for recalling these cases is that in the continuing debate over the government's baffling adherence to its insidious identity card scheme, its defence boils down to one cliche: if you're innocent you have nothing to hide. This is not simply an outrageously stupid statement, but also plain wrong...

the enigmatic stranger is a keystone of the British notion of freedom. The romantic ideal that anyone can be who they wish to be is so stitched into our mythology and literature... that its loss would be a tragedy.

The "innocent have nothing to hide" cliche implies that it is only the guilty who wish to deceive, to be deeply secretive, when in fact the innocent also have plenty of valid reasons to wish to do so...

The innocent have much to hide. It's called a private life."

Read the whole article. It's excellent.

Director of LSE castigates UK government

The Director of the London School of Economics has written to the Times over the government's ill-informed condemnation of the LSE report on the proposed ID system.

"It is unfortunate that, on an issue where the civil liberties concerns are so serious, the Government should have chosen to adopt a bullying approach to critics whose prime motivation was to devise a scheme which might work, at an acceptable cost."

It's good to see a senior education executive standing up for high quality independent academic research and the integrity of the academics that have carried it out. Well done Howard Davies and the LSE’s Governing Council who have also given the people involved their full support.

Blair panic on ID cards

The Telegraph is reporting, with just a hint of glee this morning, that Tony Blair is panicking over the loss of support for ID cards.

"Tony Blair's hopes of bringing in a national system of identity cards were looking increasingly imperilled last night amid signs of collapsing public support and panic within the Government.

A YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph shows that backing for ID cards has plummeted from 78 per cent less than two years ago to 45 per cent...

Amid further signs of Labour disarray, it emerged yesterday that the Prime Minister had delivered a furious rebuke to Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, for "going soft" on the fight against crime."

Meanwhile the number of signatures on the pledge continues to grow. 7673 at 9.09am this morning.