Friday, February 23, 2007

Microsoft's costly MP3 patent loss

Microsoft's big loss in the MP3 patent dispute is reported in all the usual places. The NYT take: MP3 Patents in Upheaval After Verdict

"Microsoft was ordered by a federal jury yesterday to pay $1.52 billion in a patent dispute over the MP3 format, the technology at the heart of the digital music boom. If upheld on appeal, it would be the largest patent judgment on record.

The ruling, in Federal District Court in San Diego, was a victory for Alcatel-Lucent, the big networking equipment company. Its forebears include Bell Laboratories, which was involved in the development of MP3 almost two decades ago.

At issue is the way the Windows Media Player software from Microsoft plays audio files using MP3, the most common method of distributing music on the Internet. If the ruling stands, Apple and hundreds of other companies that make products that play MP3 files, including portable players, computers and software, could also face demands to pay royalties to Alcatel."

Torture and '24' - because it hurts us less than the real thing?

From the Register Torture and '24' - because it hurts us less than the real thing?

Privacy in Public places

Nicholas Bohm, via the ORG list, recommends an excellent article "Privacy in Public Places" by N.A. Moreham in the Cambridge Law Journal for November 2006 - [2006] CLJ 606.

"ONE of the most difficult questions facing English courts as they
develop the common law right to privacy recognised by the House
of Lords in Campbell v. MGN Ltd.1 is whether and, if so, when a
person might have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public
place. Should an individual have a cause of action if she is
photographed as she leaves her mother’s funeral or as he receives
medical attention after an accident? Or should there be an absolute
rule which says that there is no privacy in a public space? Recent
decisions in England and the European Court of Human Rights
(ECtHR) suggest that it is no longer an answer (if it ever was)
simply to say that the disclosure concerned something which took
place in public. A more difficult question therefore remains: if the
existence of a privacy interest does not depend on the nature of the
space in which claimants find themselves, how do we determine
whether a person does have a legitimate privacy interest...

This article looks at how the courts should answer this question
when the claimant is in a public place (i.e., places such as parks,
beaches, restaurants, bars and sports facilities to which members of
the public have access, either freely or on payment of a fee)...
The article rests on the premise that by
carefully examining dicta in existing case law and by identifying
underlying principles, one can begin to identify a coherent framework
for the protection of privacy in public places in English law."

Algerian accused of 9/11 pilot training loses compensation claim

The Independent reports that Lotfi Rossi, an Algerian living in the UK who was accused of involvement in the flight training of the 9/11 attackers, has lost his case in the judicial review of the refusal of the UK Home Secretary to agree to compensation for a miscarriage of justice. Mr Rossi's case featured in Amnesty International's damning report in 2006 UNITED KINGDOM Human rights: a broken promise (see section 2.4).

"On 21 September 2001, Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian man then aged 27, was arrested in Slough, England, reportedly at gun-point at 3 am...on suspicion of involvement in "terrorist" activities... Lotfi Raissi was released after seven days’ questioning and immediately re-arrested on the basis of a warrant requesting his extradition to the USA. He was then detained for five months as a Category A (high security) prisoner in Belmarsh Prison, first in the High Security Unit (a prison within a prison) and then in the high-risk wing. The US authorities claimed that he was involved in the 11 September attacks in the USA as the flight instructor of some of the 11 September hijackers. At the time of his arrest, the US authorities claimed that they had sufficient evidence to show not only association with some of the 11 September pilots, but also evidence that he was actively involved in a conspiracy with members of the al-Qa’ida network. This evidence reportedly included correspondence, telecommunications and video footage. The extradition warrant, however, was not based on any such evidence; the US authorities brought instead so-called "holding charges" in connection with Lotfi Raissi’s failure to disclose, on an application for a US pilot’s licence, both a conviction for minor theft, for which he was fined ten years earlier, and a knee surgery to repair an old tennis injury. This minor offence, which provided the basis for the extradition warrant were, technically, extraditable offences, punishable by more than a year in prison.

Amnesty International was concerned that the US authorities’ reasons for seeking Lotfi Raissi’s extradition included the fact that his identity and professional occupation fitted a certain profile: an Algerian man and a Muslim, a pilot and a flight instructor in the USA...

In April 2002, the presiding judge brought the extradition proceedings against Lotfi Raissi to an end. The judge stated that there was no evidence whatsoever substantiating Lotfi Raissi’s involvement in "terrorism"...

The US authorities have failed to date to substantiate the serious allegations they made against Lotfi Raissi. Amnesty International considers that what happened to Lotfi Raissi is a powerful illustration that in the FBI’s wide sweep in its hunt for conspirators in the attacks in the USA or for members of the al-Qa’ida network, innocent people could get caught up, violating their rights and those of their relatives to liberty and livelihood.

In light of Lotfi Raissi’s case, the organization remains concerned, in particular, about procedures which can be used to target someone on the basis of identity profiling, and to then detain them for a prolonged period of time while evidence is sought to substantiate suspicions of their involvement in criminal acts. Amnesty International believes that Lotfi Raissi’s case also shows the dangers of how the extradition process could be used to label someone as a "suspected terrorist" and to detain someone for a prolonged period of time, in the absence of a prompt and thorough assessment of the evidence."

Mr Raissi has unsuccessfully sued the FBI and his case is also being reviewed by the UK Independent Police Complaints Commission. He lost the judicial review because Lord Justice Auld and Mr Justice Wilkie ruled that the compensation scheme applying to wrongful detention and accusation of a crime does not technically cover people held pending extradition.

eMusic CEO predicts DRM will die off

eMusic CEO, David Pakman, is predicting DRM will soon be a thing of the past. He says

"If we're still talking about DRM in five years, please take me out and shoot me."

I wish I had his confidence. He may find he has to invest in a bullet proof vest when the time comes.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Steep “Unlearning Curve”

Will Richardson has been thinking about the things educators need to unlearn.

"One of the most challenging pieces of figuring out how to move education forward in a systemic way is “unlearning curve” that we teachers and educators have to go through to even see the possibilities that lay before us. So much of our traditional thinking about personal learning and classroom practice is being challenged by our ability to publish and connect and collaborate primarily because of the opportunities afforded by the Read/Write Web."

I agree with that.

"For instance, in a world where literally any place can be a classroom, we have to unlearn the comforts of four walls that we’ve become accustomed to."

I understand what he's getting at here and can concur to the degree that we can and should exploit the release from the single mode of delivery the technology offers; but (there's always a 'but' with me when it comes to ed tech evangelism) the possible underlying assumption that the new will automatically be better doesn't stack up, in my opinion.

"When we can share our work with wide audiences, we need to unlearn the idea that student writing and projects are simply ways to assess what they know."

On this one I'm back in step with him again and he goes on to provide a list of 10 things we need to unlearn, most of which I mostly agree with (note again the hesitant qualifications of the academic, as I hedge my bets on whether Richardson's definitions might coincide with my own etc. etc.). Each of the 10, however, sits on top of a plethora of complications and the practical implications of each on its own could require a complete re-structuring of the existing education system in schools and colleges. That, unfortunately, is not something that is going to happen at least within the kind of timescale that would benefit my own children.

Pharmaceutical patents bad for developing countries

David Levine says :

"The American Economic Review has published a careful study by Chaudhuri, Goldberg and Jia which is a case study of a particular pharmaceutical product in India, Quinolones (a key molecular ingredient of several antibiotics). They estimate...the loss to India is estimated to be 7-9 times the gain to the (rich) Western exporters. The reason for this is quite striking: CGJ consider in addition to the effect of increased price, patents will cause the products to become less available and accessible. It turns out that lack of availability induced by patents has very significant costs.

Whatever ones overall view of the patent system, it is hard to defend the portion of the system that taxes a poor country $7-9 so that a rich country may earn an additional $1.

The American Economic Review version of the paper is not available online, but there is a working paper version available here."

Internet voting comes to Estonia

Reuters is reporting that:

"The Baltic state of Estonia plans to become the world's first country to allow voting in a national parliamentary election via the Internet next month--with a little help from the forest king.

E-voting will be introduced for a parliamentary election on March 4, for the first time after it was used in more limited local elections in 2005. It is a fresh sign of Estonia's strong embrace of technology since it quit the Soviet Union in 1991.

The e-voting system was tested earlier this week, including the chance to choose the "king of the forest". Voters could pick an animal from 10 candidates, including moose, deer and boars."

Michelin Man v speech

I learn from Ariel Katz (University of Toronto), via a fascinating discussion on the Cyberprofs list on the nature of intellectual property, of an interesting 1996 Canadian federal court case. Michelin successfully sued the Canadian Auto Workers Union for copyright infringement. The union had produced promotional leaflets for a recruitment drive, which featured a picture of the Michelin man (also called "Bibendum") stamping on a non union worker.

The court sided with the company since the union had copied the Michelin man and the copying did not qualify as parody or fair dealing since they had ridiculed the Michelin man. The union had also argued that if they were guilty of copyright infringement the Canadian copyright laws must be unconstitutional, since they undermined the union's freedom of expression. On this last point the court ruled that the Michelin man was the company's private property and just as the union had no right to trespass on someone's land to protest against them, they were “not permitted to appropriate the Plaintiff’s private property—the “Bibendum” copyright—as a vehicle for conveying their anti-Michelin message.”

A classic case of the conflict between intellectual property and free speech getting resolved in favour of the former. I suspect there would be a clear blue line between union sympathisers and employers on whether they felt the decision was right or wrong.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Say everything

New York magazine has an interesting article on young people's attitudes to privacy in the digital age.

"Kids today. They have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs, fame whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their phone numbers, their stupid poetry—for God’s sake, their dirty photos!—online. They have virtual friends instead of real ones. They talk in illiterate instant messages. They are interested only in attention—and yet they have zero attention span, flitting like hummingbirds from one virtual stage to another...

Clay Shirky, a 42-year-old professor of new media at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, who has studied these phenomena since 1993, has a theory about that response. “Whenever young people are allowed to indulge in something old people are not allowed to, it makes us bitter. What did we have? The mall and the parking lot of the 7-Eleven? It sucked to grow up when we did! And we’re mad about it now.” People are always eager to believe that their behavior is a matter of morality, not chronology, Shirky argues...

...there is another way to look at this shift. Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones. For someone like me, who grew up sealing my diary with a literal lock, this may be tough to accept. But under current circumstances, a defiant belief in holding things close to your chest might not be high-minded. It might be an artifact—quaint and na├»ve, like a determined faith that virginity keeps ladies pure. Or at least that might be true for someone who has grown up “putting themselves out there” and found that the benefits of being transparent make the risks worth it.

Shirky describes this generational shift in terms of pidgin versus Creole. “Do you know that distinction? Pidgin is what gets spoken when people patch things together from different languages, so it serves well enough to communicate. But Creole is what the children speak, the children of pidgin speakers. They impose rules and structure, which makes the Creole language completely coherent and expressive, on par with any language. What we are witnessing is the Creolization of media.”

That’s a cool metaphor, I respond. “I actually don’t think it’s a metaphor,” he says. “I think there may actually be real neurological changes involved.” ...

Right now the big question for anyone of my generation seems to be, endlessly, “Why would anyone do that?” This is not a meaningful question for a 16-year-old. The benefits are obvious: The public life is fun. It’s creative. It’s where their friends are. It’s theater, but it’s also community: In this linked, logged world, you have a place to think out loud and be listened to, to meet strangers and go deeper with friends. And, yes, there are all sorts of crappy side effects: the passive-aggressive drama (“you know who you are!”), the shaming outbursts, the chill a person can feel in cyberspace on a particularly bad day. There are lousy side effects of most social changes (see feminism, democracy, the creation of the interstate highway system). But the real question is, as with any revolution, which side are you on?"

Blair adds whole UK to police suspect list

John Lettice, one of the few journalists who has demonstrated an understanding of the serious implications for society of the UK government's identity card scheme, has been analysing the Prime Minister's latest pronouncements on the plan.

"The National Identity Register will allow police to add the entire adult population of the UK to their suspect list, giving them the opportunity to check fingerprints left at scenes of crime against those collected from ID card and passport applicants, says Tony Blair. Nor are fingerprints in other EU countries necessarily safe - the introduction of biometric technology, he adds, will "improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

Blair made the pledge to collar the lot of us, and some, as part of a rag-bag of warmed-over, half-baked, misleading, and just plain untrue claims issued in an email to the near-28,000 signatories of the Downing Street petition calling for the scrapping of the ID card scheme. The notion of the police having access to the NIR fingerprint data in order to tackle unsolved crime is not entirely new (the Home Office document Identity Cards Scheme - Benefits Overview tentatively suggested this could happen a couple of years back), but it's not something that has previously been pushed by senior ministers...

Logically, in Blair's Wonderworld of Criminal Justice, police showing up at scenes of crime will as a matter of course scan it (um, with what?) for prints, and then compare the images with the NIR in real time (er, how?) in order to discover... Yes, that this particular set of fuzzy images unearthed at Anwar's Doughnut Bar might have been left by any one of several thousand of the 60 million people on the NIR. The Boys in Blue are going to love this gear, which doesn't even exist yet (mobile fingerprint readers do, but these are for taking prints off real people).

We shouldn't leave this demented scheme without noting that the production of matches that will pass muster in a court of law will still require the presence of the traditional fingerprint squad at the scene of the crime. And if police do start to make routine automated checks at scenes of crime then we're going to need a lot more traditional squads to chase down the leads, so more specialists would be needed at this end of the process as well."

Monday, February 19, 2007

27 000 sign petition v ID cards

By the deadline date of 15th February, 27,946 people signed the petition asking the Prime Minister to scrap the ID card legislation. The PM has responded to the petitioners:

"While I certainly accept that ID cards will not
prevent all terrorist outrages or crime, I believe they will make
an important contribution to making our borders more secure,
countering fraud, and tackling international crime and terrorism.
More importantly, this is also what our security services - who
have the task of protecting this country - believe."

Actually the security services believe no such thing. Senior members of the security services have stated on the public record that the ID scheme could make their jobs more difficult.

"Terrorists routinely use multiple identities - up to 50 at a time... ID cards... will make this much more difficult."

Nope. The government scheme is so full of security holes the scale of fraud that potential system attackers could engage in would be scary.

"Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing
problem of identity fraud."

No. There is a very high probability the UK government's approach to ID cards will make the problem of identity fraud worse.

"I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police
bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice...Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity
of offenders...

The National Identity Register will also help improve protection
for the vulnerable, enabling more effective and quicker checks on
those seeking to work, for example, with children...

...role to play in preventing illegal immigration and illegal working...

Firms across the world are already using fingerprint or iris recognition for their staff...

The introduction in 2006 of British e-passports incorporating facial image biometrics has meant that British passport holders can continue to visit the United States without a visa...

These then are the ways I believe ID cards can help cut crime and

the majority of people favour compulsory ID cards... improve access to services...

In many cases, these estimates deliberately exaggerate the cost of ID cards
by adding in the cost of biometric passports. This is both unfair
and inaccurate."

It's the usual spin, obfuscation and tired old claims, repeated over and over in the hope that people will believe him if he says it often enough, packaged in sufficiently attractive language.

Translation of Macrovision’s Response to Jobs on DRM

John Grubber has done an hilarious translation of Fred Amoroso's (Macrovision CEO) response to Steve Jobs' open thoughts on DRM.

Quick review: Jobs has finally apparently decided we would all be better off without any drm. Amoroso, not surpisingly since his business is building drm, disagrees.

"While your thoughts are seemingly directed solely to the music industry, the fact is that DRM also has a broad impact across many different forms of content and across many media devices. Therefore, the discussion should not be limited to just music.

We recognize that if getting rid of DRM works for the music industry, it’s going to open the eyes of executives in other fields, and it could unravel Macrovision’s entire business.

DRM increases not decreases consumer value

Up is down. Black is white.

I believe that most piracy occurs because the technology available today has not yet been widely deployed to make DRM-protected legitimate content as easily accessible and convenient as unprotected illegitimate content is to consumers.

I have, to date, succeeded in convincing the entertainment industry that DRM can stop piracy...

Well maintained and reasonably implemented DRM will increase the electronic distribution of content, not decrease it.

I am high as a kite."

It's a hoot and well worth reading in full. Thanks to Phillipe Aigrain for the pointer.