Friday, May 11, 2007

HBO Exec Wants to Rename DRM

Ed Felten is not impressed at HBO Chief Technology Officer Bob Zitter's 'suggestion' that DRM should be re-named Digital Consumer Enablement, or DCE.

"The irony here is that “rights management” is itself an industry-sponsored euphemism for what would more straightforwardly be
called “restrictions”. But somehow the public got the idea that DRM is restrictive, hence the need for a name change.

Zitter went on to discuss HBO’s strategy. HBO wants to sell shows in HighDef, but the problem is that many consumers are watching HD content using the analog outputs on their set-top boxes — often because their fancy new HD televisions don’t implement HBO’s favorite form of DRM. So what HBO wants is to disable the analog outputs on the set-top box, so consumers have no choice but to adopt HBO’s favored DRM.

Which makes the nature of the “enablement” clear. By enabling your set-top box to be incompatible with your TV, HBO will enable you to buy an expensive new TV. I understand why HBO might want this. But they ought to be honest and admit what they are doing.

I can think of several names for their strategy. “Consumer Enablement” is not one of them."

Brown may review ID card plan when he becomes PM

According to the Guardian Gordon Brown's supporters are thinking of shelving the ID card system when Brown becomes prime minister.

Half a million kids' DNA on police database

The UK goverment have admitted that half a million kids' DNA is recorded on police database.

"Of those added last year, 90,919 were below the age of 16, it emerged in answer to a question tabled by the shadow home secretary David Davis. That was by far the most children added in any year since the database was set up by the Conservatives in 1995. A total of 521,901 are now on the DNA database."

LSE Identity project submission on ID cards

The good folks at the LSE have put together a submission on the government's harebrained and ifnancially out-of-control ID card scheme for the the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry into “A surveillance society?” It's only 9 pages and well worth a read.

One law for Man Utd...

According to the Guardian, it seems that Man Utd. tried the same trick that West Ham did with Carlos Tevez trying to prevent Tim Howard playing against them after he formally transferred to Everton at the beginning of the year. But then Utd. agreed to remove the clause from the contract provided they got "a gentlemen's agreement" that Howard would not in fact play against them. In the event, in one of the most crucial matches of the season, Eveton did not play Howard. ManU. were 2-0 down well iinto the second half and looking down and out when the substitute goalkeeper gifted them a goal and basically gave them the hope that got them back into the game, which they went on to win 2-4, as Chelsea were dropping a couple of points at the same time.

So when Mourinho and Wenger say it is one rule for Man Utd. and one rule for the rest tehy do have a point.

Guantanamo Rant

The Boston Legal Quantanamo rant has showed up on YouTube. Drama goes where politicians fear to tread.

Update: Whilst President Bush continues to think the ends (as so eloquently outlined by the Boston Legal writers) justify the means in his war on terror, at least one US general is prepared to make it clear that torture and "other expedient methods" are incompatible with true US values:

"Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy... Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods. They would be wrong... We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect... Leaders, in particular, ... need to set the right example and strive to ensure proper conduct."

DRM lawsuits just get dopier and dopier

DRM extremists continue to push the boundaries of surreality. Apparently drm vendors, Media Rights Technologies (MRT) and, have sent cease and desist letters to Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and RealNetworks, which declare that the compaines are in breach of the DMCA for not buying MRT and Bluebeat DRM!

They claim their drm is effective, so anyone who doesn't use it is selling products which could be used to circumvent copy protection devices. On that theory a scrapyard crushing machine could be used to crunch computers up such that they would be unable to circumvent copy protection technologies. So anyone selling computer hardware or software who doesn't tie the sale to the sale of a crushing machine, which automatically destroys the computer as soon as you get it home, is liable under the DMCA. We could sell the economy sledge hammer variety for the bargain hunting punter, with the prominently displayed warning that it would involved significantly higer personal input and effort on the part of the customer to achieve the same result of disabling the circumvention potential of the computer... hey the marker possibilities are endless...

Update from Ed Felten: apparently the company involved in this lawsuit was selling drm snake oil under a different name four years ago. And if you are prepared to take them seriously Ed has a bridge he's like to sell you, which he gives assurances that you are legally compelled to buy...

Free market media?

Robert McChesey sees a role for the governement in the future of media.

"The inaccurate assumption here is that the United States has always had (or should have) a natural "free market" media system... The free market should be left alone to work its genius unencumbered by bureaucrats.

The problem is that we do not have a free market media system in the United States. We never had one. We never will. What we have developed over the course of our history is a profit-driven media system—but it is not free market. And it is barely competitive in an economic sense of the term.

Our media system is not a "free market" because it is built largely upon extraordinary government subsidies. The government has been in the middle of building our media system from the beginning. Perhaps no other industry this size has anywhere near as much direct and indirect government support and involvement. Consider the value of monopoly licenses to radio and TV channels or monopoly cable TV franchises. Or consider the value of copyright protection, a government created monopoly privilege. We are talking tens of billions of dollars in annual subsidies. The list goes on and on.

I am not opposed to government subsidies. I think they are unavoidable. Like Madison and Jefferson, who instituted enormous printing and postal subsidies to spawn a vibrant press, I believe they are the price of building a democratic media culture. The problem in recent times is that the policymaking process has gotten so corrupt that the giants firms that dominate media and telecommunication give back very little in exchange for the bounty bestowed upon them. We hear a lot of PR hokum about brilliant entrepreneurs and free markets. But huge corporations like AT&T and Comcast were created based on government monopoly licenses. Their "competitive advantage" comes with owning politicians and regulators, not serving consumers... These firms would not know a free market if it kicked them in the butt."

Spot on!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mumnet libel case settled

Justine Roberts who runs mumsnet explains in the Guardian her reasons for settling a long running libel case out of court.

Tricking suspect into handing over DNA

The Washington Supreme court has ruled, in a divided opinion, that police acted lawfully in mailing a murder suspect an invitation to take part in a class action lawsuit to recover over-paid parking fines, and then analysing the seal on the letter he returned (which he had presumably licked) for his DNA. (For those interested in US constitutional law, the 4th amendment analysis starts on page 20 of the opinion).

I was interested in the dissents too, penned by justices Fairhurst and Chambers. Chambers for example says:

"Creative and inventive police work should be encouraged. But the police must work within the rule of law. I can say it no better than Justice Thurgood Marshall:

Good police work is something far different from catching the criminal at any price. It is equally important that the police as guardians of the law fulfil their responsibility to obey its commands scrupulously. For "in the end life and liberty can be as much endangered from illegal methods used to convict those thought to be criminals as from actual criminals themselves.""

Fairhurst is even more critical:

"The majority err's in thinking John Nicholas Athan's privacy interest is merely in his identity. It is not. Athan's privacy interests are in his bodily integrity and his genetic information. By mischaracterizing the privacy interest as one of identity, the court misapplies this court's established analysis... to the facts of this case.

The majority's applcation... is breathtaking in its sweep and impossible to reconciles other rulings of this court. Under the majority's holding the govenrment could analyze the DNA in anyone's saliva, however obtained, as long as it was not directly from the person's mouth, and use the information to construct a DNA database that incudes both felons and non felons. Because DNA holds the most intimate details about a person, I cannot agree with either the majority's holding or reasoning."

Dr Reid... meet Justices Chambers and Fairhurst. I guess, in defence of the majority, they did go through a process of reasoning which was neither superficial nor entirely politically self serving. Kudos to the detectives on catching a child killer but given the other evidence in the case wouldn't they have had enough to get a DNA sample through the conventional legal process? Do the ends justify the means if it leads to the rightful conviction of a child murderer? Can it ever be a rightful conviction if due process is not observed?

‘ContactPoint’ guidance

ARCH reports that:

"The draft guidance for ‘ContactPoint’ (aka the children’s information-sharing index) has been published, so no doubt the regulations will appear soon. Just to clarify: the guidance covers the procedures for operating the database - it’s separate from the regulations that will actually bring the database into being. The government appears to have dropped the ‘flags of concern’ idea altogether, and now says:

3.28 Where your involvement is separately recorded on a child record, this indicates to other users that you are taking some form of action with a child and that you may have important information to share.

Thank God for small mercies."

Putin Bush and the 3rd Reich

President Putin had a dig at the US and extremist factionalism in his Victory Day speech yesterday when he said

"We have a duty to remember that the causes of any war lie above all in the mistakes and miscalculations of peacetime, and that these causes have their roots in an ideology of confrontation and extremism.

It is all the more important that we remember this today, because these threats are not becoming fewer but are only transforming and changing their appearance. These new threats, just as under the Third Reich, show the same contempt for human life and the same aspiration to establish an exclusive dictate over the world. "

Banks put customers in Swift Catch-22

From the Register: Banks put customers in Swift Catch-22

"Bank customers wanting to make international transactions are being asked to sign a waiver to allow their personal details and financial records to be scanned by US anti-terror investigators."

The AT&T Whistle-Blower Tells His Story

There's a fascinating interview at Wired today with the AT&T whistleblower, Mark Klein, who exposed the blanket FISA-unapproved NSA spying on US citizens authorised by the Bush administration.

"WN: What made you decide to go public?

Klein: What got me back interested was The New York Times' story in December 2005. (Editor's note: The Times reported that the government had been secretly monitoring Americans' phone calls and e-mails that crossed the nation's border since shortly after 9/11 without getting approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA.)

The president admitted the program existed, but only admitted that part which had been exposed -- and he avoided talking about the part that wasn't, which was the internet.

The administration sent officials out to defend the program, including (Vice President) Dick Cheney, and they said they didn't think they had to obey FISA.... This was the defense of the indefensible. So I decided if they are going to perpetuate this fraud then I'm going to blow their cover."

Big Blue puts power-guzzling data centres on a diet

From the Register:Big Blue puts power-guzzling data centres on a diet

and the NYT:

"I.B.M. is beginning a $1-billion-a-year investment program intended to double the energy efficiency of its computer data centers and those of its corporate customers.

Many technology companies are trying to curb the runaway energy consumption of data centers, the modern engine rooms that power the Internet and corporate computing.

But I.B.M. is the largest single operator of data centers worldwide, and analysts say the company’s initiative, which is being announced today, is a significant step in deploying a broad range of technologies to tackle the problem."

This will be an interesting one to watch.

MPs push for copyright term extension

Apparently 52 MPs are calling for an extension to the term of copyright for sound recordings.

Thanks to Tom Cowlishaw via ORG for the pointer.

Scotland's democratic shame

Scotland's democratic shame Neal Ascherson's been venting his spleen on the subject of the recent Scottish elections at OpenDemocracy.

Follow the money stupid

Speaking of identity and appropriate policing methods, Ross Anderson was recently commissioned by the Federal Reserve to research and write a paper on fraud, risk and nonbank payment systems. Ross says:

"I found that phishing is facilitated by payment systems like eGold and Western Union which make the recovery of stolen funds more difficult. Traditional payment systems like cheques and credit card payments are revocable; cheques can bounce and credit card charges can be charged back. However some modern systems provide irrevocability without charging an appropriate risk premium, and this attracts the bad guys. (After I submitted the paper, and before it was presented on Friday, eGold was indicted.)

I also became convinced that the financial market controls used to fight fraud, money laundering and terrorist finance have become unbalanced as they have been beefed up post-9/11. The modern obsession with ‘identity’ - of asking even poor people living in huts in Africa for an ID document and two utility bills before they can open a bank account - is not only ridiculous and often discriminatory. It’s led banks and regulators to take their eye off the ball, and to replace risk reduction with due diligence."

Reid on ID cards

John Reid has been peddling the usual claptrap about ID cards over at the Guardian today.

"This is not about control, Big Brother or the loss of liberty.

It is about enabling the public to feel safe, secure and confident in their daily lives. As our society changes, so do our liberties...

Secure identity cards, incorporating fraud-proof biometric identification like fingerprints, will benefit every individual. They will make travel easier, proof of age more convenient and proof of identity more secure. And they will give you peace of mind when dealing with your bank or shopping online. They will protect that increasingly precious asset - our identity...

And for society as a whole, the prevention of crime, the pre-emption of terrorism and the protection of liberty will have untold benefits.

Every civilised country is recognising these benefits. Out of 27 EU member states 24 already have identity cards. If we do not take this step we risk exploitation, fraud and terrorism."

Give me strength! One more time - it is how a system fails that you need to be concerned about. How it fails naturally e.g. because the technology is unreliable (i.e. anything but fraud-proof) or people using it make mistakes. And how it can be made to fail by people with malign intent. It is also about needles and haystacks - you don't make it any easier to find the few plotters/criminals by drowning your police and intelligence services in mountains of useless and unreliable data on every member of the population rather than allowing them to focus their already limited resources on effective crime prevention and detection activities.

People like John Reid understandably drive people who do know about these technologies, like Kim Cameron, nuts.

"It drives me nuts that people can just open their mouths and say anything they want about biometrics and other technical matters without any regard for the facts. There should really be fines for this type of thing - rather like we have for people who pretend they’re a brain surgeon and then cut peoples’ heads open."

There's an idea - fine the Home Secretary every time he lies about biometrics.

Update: ID card costs rise above £5bn That's in terms of the government's own estimates. I guess this is why Dr Reid has been peddling ID snake oil at the Guardian and you'll notice they tried slipping the bad news out on the day Blair announces he's stepping down.

Further update from Kim Cameron:

"But on the news today I saw a story about a drug manufacturer showing the consequences of making false technical claims like those I objected to here in other walks of life:

NEW YORK ( — The maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma LP, agreed Thursday to a $600 million penalty as part of a plea deal with the Justice Department on a felony charge of misleading and defrauding physicians and consumers, the government said...

There should be accountability and penalties for those who consciously mislead people like the Marlin County school board, convincing them there is no risk to privacy by preying on their inability to understand technical issues. It should be mandatory, when selling technology with potential privacy implications, to explain the threats and mitigations in an objective and public way."


Melancoly Elephants

I hadn't appreciated that Melancoly Elephants was 25 years old. So Spider Robinson had penned this Hugo award winning (in 1983!) story about the destructive potential of perptual copyright long before the current chaotic IP wars were a twinkle in the eye of the RIAA or MPAA, as Robinson says hiomself — a year before the first TCP/IP wide area network in the world went operational — two years before the first Macintosh went on sale!

Edward O. Wilson's wish: the Encyclopedia of Life

When I mentioned the new Encypcolpedia of Life project yesterday I hadn't yet had the chance to take in Edward O. Wilson's talk at TED. Take 20 minutes and watch and listen to one of the great scientific communicators of the 20th entury. Inspiring (and that's something I rarely say these days).

More batty anti-piracy laws

In Florida it seems they have a new law allegedly aimed at CD piracy.

"New "pawn shop" laws are springing up across the United States that will make selling your used CDs at the local record shop something akin to getting arrested. No, you won't spend any time in jail, but you'll certainly feel like a criminal once the local record shop makes copies of all of your identifying information and even collects your fingerprints. Such is the state of affairs in Florida, which now has the dubious distinction of being so anal about the sale of used music CDs that record shops there are starting to get out of the business of dealing with used content because they don't want to pay a $10,000 bond for the "right" to treat their customers like criminals."

Shops in Florida now need a permit to sell used CDs. They also need to lodge a "bond" of $10,000 with the Florida department of agriculture. In addition they need to fingerprint and get copies of drivers' licences of anyone "selling" them used CDs. These sellers cannot be paid in cash - they can only have store credit. And the shop can't sell the CD for at least 30 days after getting it.

EDRI-Gram Number 5.9, 9 May 2007

The latest EDRI-gram has been published.

Notable stories include

"EDPS advises against new data protection framework decision

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has shown serious concerns in his opinion on the Commission's new Council Framework Decision proposal regarding the protection of personal data processed in the framework of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.

Although appreciative of the German presidency's efforts, Peter Hustinx advised the Council against adopting the proposal considering it failed to provide appropriate data protection."


"PNR deal ratification postponed by the Czech Senate

The ratification by the Czech Parliament of the proposed agreement between the European Union and the Unites States of America on the processing and transfer of passenger name record (PNR) data has been taken off the agenda based on the position of the Green Party MPs.

On 23 April 2007, EDRI-member Iuridicum Remedium - Czech Republic sent a written appeal to the members of the Green Party parliamentary club, recommending them to vote against the ratification of the proposed agreement between the European Union and the Unites States of America on the processing and transfer of passenger name record (PNR) data for the following reasons:

The scope of the agreement submitted for approval as parliamentary paper no. 162 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Transport has been (in comparison with the former agreement repealed by the European Court of Justice) "widened substantially (more data requested, considerable weakening if not complete elimination of the purpose limitation, sharing with more and unspecified agencies and countries, undefined retention periods, allowing for more frequent and earlier pushing of data, no guarantees for a definitive switch to the PUSH system, the virtual abolition of the joint evaluation) whereas the protection of personal data of EU citizens and means of legal redress are at best unclear, and probably weaker than under the previous agreement."

Further concerns were raised about the "precedent this agreement may set for future agreements with the US on PNR, or on other categories of data (such as bank account details as in the case of SWIFT, or records of telecommunications). The lack of democratic legitimacy regarding rules on the transfer of data must be remedied as a matter of urgency."

Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security has been using PNR data in the system called the Automated Targeting System, which violates both EU and US data protection laws. It uses passenger personal data for "risk assessment scoring" and retains the data for up to 40 years.

In January 2007, Privacy International and ACLU called for repeal of the EU-US agreement on data transfers on this basis.

Decision on the Agreement between the EU and USA passenger name record postponed by the Czech Senate (only in Czech, 25.04.2007)

EU original text of the PNR Agreement -submitted as parliamentary paper n.162 (27.10.2006)

EDRI-gram: Travellers privacy and European Union (30.07.2006)"


"Failure of the Scottish e-counting system

The electronic counting system used in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections on 3 May 2007 experienced problems as experts had warned and the Scotland Office announced an urgent investigation on the "serious technical failures" having delayed the announcement of results in several areas.

Several counts were delayed and about 140 000 votes (approx. 7% of the total votes cast) were not counted, probably due to confusing ballot design. Tabulation software problems also emerged in the e-counting system being used for the first time in Scotland.

The independent Electoral Commission, set up by the Parliament to monitor elections, had previously advised against running elections using two different voting systems on the same day. Nevertheless the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament chose to run the Scottish Parliamentary and Local Authority elections simultaneously on 3 May, potentially leading to further voter confusion.

In England some areas piloted early voting in person up to two weeks in advance, internet voting, touch-phone telephone voting or e- counting. Scotland only trialled e-counting.

In spite of assurances by government that the systems had been tested in advance (though no certification process was used), problems with the automatic counting system occurred caused the suspension of counting in several Scottish areas for some time. In England most of the e-counting pilots also experienced delays and e- voting pilots also encountered technical difficulties."

DRS Data Services, which supplied the electronic counting machines, stated to BBC that the delays had been caused by a "small issue" that their technical staff was doing efforts to solve. "The e-counting system has not crashed. This is a temporary interruption to one small aspect of the overall process," said the company spokeswomen.

However, the system was described as a fiasco by the thirty experts from North America invited to witness the new electronic voting system.

Robert Richie, executive director of US-based organisation Fair Vote, considered as "totally unacceptable to have so many votes spoiled" and stated: "We were also very concerned about the lack of uniform standards in judging what votes were rejected and which were deemed to be valid".

The Electoral Commission will perform an extended statutory review into the election. The Scotland Office spokesman said: "It is important that they look as a matter of urgency into delays in postal ballots, the high number of spoiled ballot papers, and the performance of the electronic counting machines."

E-voting policy review after Scottish ballot chaos (4.05.2007)

Inquiry launched into Scottish voting confusion (4.05.2007)

International experts slam ballot fiasco (6.05.2007),,2073641,00.html

Security fear over internet voting (2.05.2007),,2070296,00.html

Vote early, vote often (1.05.2007)"

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

We ignore RSS at our peril

My colleague, Tony Hirst, has been having a wonderful rant about rss in education or more pointedly not in education. We ignore rss at our peril.

"Blatantly disregarding the potential for using RSS feeds to revolutionise the way we syndicate content throughout our internal publishing systems is a risky strategy.

Blatantly disregarding the potential for using RSS feeds to expose and syndicate asset collections generated by mining our courses for those assets is a risky strategy.

Blatantly disregarding the potential for using RSS feeds to revolutionise the way we make content available to our students so that they can study it where they want it and when they want it is a risky strategy.

Laughing off RSS feeds as a technology that we don't understand is not an option."

Nice one Tony!

English 101

English 101. Lovely, neat and all on just one webpage.


Edward O. Wilson will be pleased with this.

"In a whale-sized project, the world's scientists plan to compile everything they know about all of Earth's 1.8 million known species and put it all on one Web site, open to everyone.

The effort, called the Encyclopedia of Life, will include species descriptions, pictures, maps, videos, sound, sightings by amateurs, and links to entire genomes and scientific journal papers. Its first pages of information will be shown Wednesday in Washington where the massive effort is being announced by some of the world's leading scientific institutions and universities. The project will take about 10 years to complete.

He's been calling for this kind of project for some time, though I reckon his estimate of 50 years, in The Diversity of Life will be closer to how long it actually takes to develop.

OECD finds piracy losses lower than claimed

From the FT :

"International trade losses due to product counterfeiting and piracy are much lower than estimated by business lobby groups, according to the most detailed global study to date."

Protect Harvard from the RIAA

Charles Nesson and Wendy Seltzer have spoken out against the RIAA's tactics in targeting Universities.

"Since its founding, Harvard has been an educational leader. Its 1650 charter broadly conceives its mission to include “the advancement of all good literature, arts, and sciences, [and] the advancement and education of youth in all manner of good literature, arts, and sciences.” From John Harvard’s library through today’s, the University has worked to create and spread knowledge, educating citizens within and outside its walls...

Yet “new deterrence and education initiatives” from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) threaten access to this vibrant resource. The RIAA has already requested that universities serve as conduits for more than 1,200 “pre-litigation letters.” Seeking to outsource its enforcement costs, the RIAA asks universities to point fingers at their students, to filter their Internet access, and to pass along notices of claimed copyright infringement.

But these responses distort the University’s educational mission. They impose financial and non-monetary costs, including compromised student privacy, limited access to genuine educational resources, and restricted opportunities for new creative expression.

One can easily understand why the RIAA wants help from universities in facilitating its enforcement actions against students who download copyrighted music without paying for it. It is easier to litigate against change than to change with it. If the RIAA saw a better way to protect its existing business, it would not be threatening our students, forcing our librarians and administrators to be copyright police, and flooding our courts with lawsuits against relatively defenseless families without lawyers or ready means to pay. We can even understand the attraction of using lawsuits to shore up an aging business model rather than engaging with disruptive technologies and the risks that new business models entail.

But mere understanding is no reason for a university to voluntarily assist the RIAA with its threatening and abusive tactics...

The University’s educational mission is broader than the RIAA’s demands. We don’t have all the answers either, but rather than capitulating to special interests, we should continue to search for fair solutions that represent the University’s mission, its students, and the law in a way that educates students to be leaders of the digital 21st century."

Well said.

Patents at SCOTUS

Arti Rai IP supremo from Duke University is guest blogging at Balkanization and has been commenting on the recent US Supreme Court patent case decisions KSR v Teleflex and Microsoft v AT&T.

"More so than other lawyers, patent lawyers believe that legal decision making can and should be made as rule-like as possible, with all of the attendant predictability that allegedly comes with rules. Indeed, patent lawyers’ convergence around the mantra of predictability led to the creation several decades ago of the Federal Circuit. The hope was that this specialized patent court would enunciate crystalline rules that could be applied precisely in many, if not most, circumstances.

As any scholar of the rule/standards debate knows, however, rules may lead to socially undesirable results. For example, the requirement of a written “suggestion to combine” meant that trivial combinations could be patented simply because no one had bothered to suggest the obvious combination in writing. Additionally, ostensibly crystalline formulations (e.g. injunctions to focus on the “plain meaning” of words in construing documents) may leave much room for interpretation and discretion. The algorithms created from time to time by the Federal Circuit to guide the lower courts in determining the meaning of words in patent claims don’t appear to have yielded much predictability. In fact, a favorite complaint of patent lawyers is that one does not know what a patent actually covers until the Federal Circuit has opined on the question.

At the end of the day, as the Supreme Court appears to have recognized, there are good reasons to think carefully in any given circumstance about whether rules or standards work best. For this reason, if for no other, the Supreme Court’s intervention is welcome."

Will Disney sue Hamas over Mickey Mouse

Having convinced the US congress to extend the term of copyright 11 times in 40 years and sued or threatened to sue numerous folks over the years on intellectual property grounds, I wonder how Disney will deal with the Hamas' efforts to use a Mickey Mouse like character to promote their cause amongst children?

Quotes of the day

"An evil exists that threatens every man, woman and child of this great nation. We must take steps to ensure our domestic security and protect our homeland." Given our war on terror, you might think that this was said by a talking head from the current US or UK government but the quote is a bit older than that and comes from Hitler's justification for the creation of the Gestapo.

"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds" Samuel Adams

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Vista CD burn test

A Richard Rasker at Groklaw decided to try his hand at testing out Microsoft Vista for burning CDs. Not a happy experience.

"Having heard that Vista's CD/DVD burn utility by default uses a nonstandard format, possibly as a result of yet another one of Microsoft's lock-in schemes, I decided to check things out for myself. That would also give me a nice chance to see what Vista was all about.

"The plan was simple:

1. Locate a Vista box,

2. Bring empty CD's plus some arbitrary files on a USB stick, and

3. Burn CD's in several ways while making screenshots.

As it turned out, the planning was the simplest part by far. The rest is best described as a tale of frustration...

For starters, I decided to check the boot time. And lo and behold, the Vista desktop shows up in a minute and a half. But alas, not in a functional state. It takes over two more minutes before the hard disk stops rattling and the machine becomes fully responsive. So nearly four minutes in all. This is a pretty sad figure, especially when compared to the 55 seconds Mandriva Linux 2007 takes on my Toshiba laptop...

oh, right from the start, popups started, well, popping up from the System Tray. Something about Blocked Programs or the like. And this minor annoyance quickly grew into frustration as it turned out that these popups would reappear with ten minute intervals. According to the owner, this had something to do with security settings, and he said he'd spent hours trying to fix it, but the only thing that would work was to disable User Access Control (UAC) completely -- at which point the System Tray would start popping up nag messages that security features were disabled. I was beginning to understand why he didn't like Vista. I decide not to change anything and ignore the messages."

Vista uses a good proportion of its energy monitoring the user to make sure she is not engaged in Microsoft-disapproved practices.

"Preliminary conclusion

I set out to check whether Vista tries to trick users into burning media in a format that is incompatible with non-Windows machines. Judging from the various dialogs, I'd say that this could indeed be the case, but in all honesty, I simply failed to burn even one disk, readable or not, and I couldn't get Vista to reliably do the same thing twice. Perhaps this was caused by the other installed burning tools, or perhaps I did things wrong (I hardly ever use Windows, so I guess there's a bit of a learning curve), but in the end, I got stuck with no results. And drawing conclusions from no results whatsoever may be in the finest tradition of politics and marketing -- it's a no-no in journalism. Or at least it should be.

Yet this turned out not to be the end of the saga ...

Final Conclusion

In my view, the final conclusion is quite clear. In several ways, users are pushed towards the Live File System (LFS) format, which is only compatible with Vista and XP. LFS is the format which is selected by default, and there appears to be no way to change this that I could find. In many cases, the user doesn't even get to see this selection, and following the easiest way to burn a CD or DVD will almost certainly result in an LFS format disk. Contrarily, in order to use the universally readable Mastered format, users have to select it consciously every single time, and still confirm this choice every single time. As far as I could see, LFS is some kind of unfinalized type of UDF -- with UDF standing for Universal Disk Format. Even if UDF is a universal format, LFS most certainly is not. I tried reading LFS format media on my Linux systems but failed, even though I installed udftools. Yes, K3b (a great Linux burning tool) could tell me that there was data on the disks, but it was unable to show the actual data itself. All other tools failed with the error message that the disk couldn't be mounted.

As for why Microsoft pushes LFS, I can't think of any good reasons. The only advantage of LFS over the Mastered format is the option to add files to an already burned disk later on. But there is already such a thing as multi-session, so this argument is largely moot, and besides, people actually expect to burn a CD or DVD in one go.

For all the rest, LFS has only drawbacks. First, it's confusing to the user, with no less than four versions, aimed at distinct Windows and Mac versions. Second, and most importantly, it will create compatibility problems in the world of creating CD's and DVD's – a world that at the moment features a near universal support and compatibility of available formats.

The only true reason I can think of for pushing LFS is that Microsoft attempts to lock its users once more into its products. Innocent users who use Vista's tool to save their photos, MP3 collection or back-ups in general may find that all of a sudden, they have no access to their own data any more, especially when abandoning Microsoft products."

The price is right

The Price is Right Ben Goldacre in the Guardian.

"But the big unreported intellectual property issue from science this week is in Thailand, where there are more than half a million people living with HIV, and 120,000 have Aids, requiring treatment. First-line Aids drugs are becoming ineffective, as the virus becomes resistant, and so people need the expensive new drugs like Kaletra, made by the US drug company Abbott.

Fighting HIV with drugs is an incredibly clever field. Some work by blocking the molecular machinery that produces virus DNA. Kaletra is a “protease inhibitor“, and it works by blocking the activity of an enzyme called protease which cleaves proteins into smaller chunks which can then be assembled into a functioning HIV virus.

Abbott has been charging $2,200 (£1,100) a year for Kaletra in Thailand, which is - by macabre coincidence - roughly the same as the gross income per capita. I am no economist, but it seems to me that if you charge people’s entire annual income for a drug like that, then your customers will die.

Don’t pharmaceutical companies need to charge high fees, to recoup their research costs, and develop new ideas? Yes, they do, so let’s be fair. And if we’re going to be really fair, we might also mention that they spend twice as much on administration and advertising as they do on research.

So in January the Thai government put their hands up and announced they were going to use Abbott’s idea, and make Abbott’s drug, only for the country’s poor, in their own factories, to save lives. Abbott has retaliated by completely withdrawing its new heat-stable version of Kaletra from the Thai market and withdrawing six other new drugs from the country for good measure. It has refused to bring its products back to the Thai market until the government promises not to use a “compulsory license” on its drug ideas. To some this might seem on a par with taking hostages (or making them say sorry “like they mean it”)."

Human directionals

Human directionals? That would be the people that hold up advertising signs on street corners.

"Street corner advertising on human billboards has existed for centuries, but Southern California — where the weather allows sign spinners to work year-round — has endowed the job with style.

Local spinners have cooked up hundreds of moves. There's the Helicopter, in which a spinner does a backbend on one hand while spinning a sign above his head. In the Blender, a spinner twirls the sign behind his back. Spanking the Horse gets the most attention. The spinner puts the sign between his legs, slaps his own behind and giddy-ups...

Aarrow keeps dozens of moves in a "trick-tionary," which only a handful of people have seen, said co-founder Mike Kenny. The company records spinners' movements and sends them in batches to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "We have to take our intellectual property pretty seriously," he said."

Get that? The way the guy on the street corner holds his advertising sign is now intellectual property.

Russian Head Teacher piracy case

Remember the case of the Russian primary school head teacher who was pursued by a prosecutor for pirating Microsoft software, even after the case was originally thrown out of court? Well the stubborn prosecutor has now succeeded in the re-trial. The head has been found guilty of using bootleg software, causing Microsoft $10,000 worht of damage and has been fined teh equivalent of about $200 (more than half a month's wages). An appeal is planned.

Privacy Interantional Big Brother Awards

Privacy International have announced the winners of their Big Brother awards for 1997.

"Most invasive company


* Google, for their retention practices and their purchase of Doubleclick, an on-line marketing and profiling firm
* Choicepoint, for their vast databases of personal data, sold to nearly anyone who wishes to pay
* SWIFT, the international banking co-operative for sharing personal financial transactions with the U.S. government
* Booz Allen Hamilton, the international consultancy, for taking the knowledge and contacts of their senior executives, mostly from U.S. intelligence agencies, to sell and share their experiences with firms and governments around the world

Winner: Choicepoint

Worst Public Official


* Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Britain, for his relentless work over ten years to expand the UK into the greatest surveillance society amongst democratic nations
* Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, for returning the surveillance policies of his nation to the age of the Cold War
* Stewart Baker, former general counsel for the National Security Agency and now undersecretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, behind and at the forefront of most disastrous U.S. surveillance policies, most recently the EU-U.S. agreement on Passenger Name Records transfers
* Alberto Gonzales, current Attorney General for the U.S., for pushing expansive interpretations of the U.S. Constitution in order to create new powers for the Bush Administration without Congressional authorisation and judicial oversight

Winner: Stewart Baker

Most Heinous Government


* China, for implementing even greater surveillance policies and continues its oppression of various groups, and moves towards the international stage with the Beijing Olympics with additional surveillance schemes
* The U.S., for leading the world down the path of greater surveillance and its disastrous influence on policy and technology
* The United Kingdom, for being the greatest surveillance society amongst democratic nations, rivaling only Malaysia, China and Russia as it also leads other countries across the EU down its same path
* Tunisia, for being stupid enough to have invasive and despotic practices even while hosting a UN summit on the information society, and then oppressing guests and groups from around the world while in the public eye
* The European Union, for pretending to be founded upon a bedrock of civil liberties and fundamental rights but then spending decades establishing invasive policies without any democratic oversight

Winner: The United Kingdom (for more information please see Taking Liberties documentary (off-site))

Most Appalling Project or Technology


* U.S. Border Policy, and most recently the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, for fingerprinting visitors from around the world while hoisting fingerprinting and ID card programmes upon citizens around the world, including Americans
* International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN agency, for implementing a variety of invasive policies behind closed doors, including the 'biometric passport' and passenger data transfer-deals
* India's Ministry for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions for requiring government employees to disclose their menstrual cycles on job appraisal forms
* the CCTV industry, for promoting a technologically 'effective' policy around the world despite all the evidence to the contrary

Winner: The International Civil Aviation Organization

Lifetime Menace Award


* The Biometrics Industry, for selling a limited technology to governments and public institutions around the world, promising much while delivering very little except for minimisation of personal privacy
* The Military Industrial Complex, for being behind almost every invasive surveillance policy around the world, where we showed the example of General Dynamics, contractor to a variety of governments, who own companies such as Anteon (UK) who in turn own 'Vericool' (UK) who is responsible for selling surveillance technologies to schools that want to fingerprint their students to verify class registries, library privileges, and cafeteria purchases
* The Intellectual Property Industry, for promoting and pushing invasive policies around the world in order to keep track of the habits of on-line users to pursue their agenda of 'protecting' content
* Communitarianism and the proponents of the 'Common Good', because every bad policy around the world is justified based on the philosophy that is good for society and the individual must sacrifice his or her selfish rights in favour of the needs of the many

Winner: The 'Common Good'"

Thanks to Glyn via ORG for the heads up.

Exporting I.P.

Exporting I.P. by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker. Recommended.

Cornering the market on Yoga

The NYT had a nice op ed yesterday by Suketu Mehta on the contrasting attitudes to knowledge in the US and India. In the US you commodify and sell it and in India you share it.

"I GREW up watching my father stand on his head every morning. He was doing sirsasana, a yoga pose that accounts for his youthful looks well into his 60s. Now he might have to pay a royalty to an American patent holder if he teaches the secrets of his good health to others. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued 150 yoga-related copyrights, 134 patents on yoga accessories and 2,315 yoga trademarks. There’s big money in those pretzel twists and contortions — $3 billion a year in America alone.

It’s a mystery to most Indians that anybody can make that much money from the teaching of a knowledge that is not supposed to be bought or sold like sausages...

The Indian government is not laughing. It has set up a task force that is cataloging traditional knowledge, including ayurvedic remedies and hundreds of yoga poses, to protect them from being pirated and copyrighted by foreign hucksters. The data will be translated from ancient Sanskrit and Tamil texts, stored digitally and available in five international languages, so that patent offices in other countries can see that yoga didn’t originate in a San Francisco commune...

...the very idea of patenting knowledge is a gross violation of the tradition of yoga. In Sanskrit, “yoga” means “union.” Indians believe in a universal mind — brahman — of which we are all a part, and which ponders eternally. Everyone has access to this knowledge. There is a line in the Hindu scriptures: “Let good knowledge come to us from all sides.” There is no follow-up that adds, “And let us pay royalties for it.”

Knowledge in ancient India was protected by caste lines, not legal or economic ones. The term “intellectual property” was an oxymoron: the intellect could not be anybody’s property. You did not pay your guru in coin; you herded his cows and married his daughter, and passed on the knowledge to others when you were sufficiently steeped in it. This tradition continues today, most notably in Indian classical music, none of whose melodies have been copyrighted."

And it is not just yoga that is affected here. Apparently about 2000 patents are issued each year for drugs based on traditional Indian medicines. That alone should make us question the rhetoric currently flowing virtue of the coffers of large pharmaceutical companies criticising Brazil over the decision to bypass an AIDS drug patent.

My very own integer

Courtesy of Ed Felten, and triggered by the AACS threats against people publishing a hexadecimal number which is part of the copy protection technology on high definition DVDs, I'm now the proud owner of my very own integer:

A3 73 7B 2F FB EF D8 8E 98 FA EE 24 D0 25 DC F8

Ed generated the random integer and then used it to encrypt his copyrighted senryu (a form of Japanese poetry). That means my integer is a circumvention device, capable of decrypting the senyru without Ed's permission. He has, however, granted me all the rights to decrypt the poem using my integer.

Should anyone else use my integer to decrypt Ed's senryu, however, they will contravene the Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 and the European Copyright and Related Rights Directive of 2001, since my integer has very few commercially significant uses other than to circumvent the encryption on Ed's senryu. (When Ed's then student Alex Haldermann demonstrated in 2003 that the shift key on a computer keyboard could be used to circumvent the then latest superdooper CD drm (SunnComm Technologies' MediaMax CD-3), the shift key and the keyboard avoided becoming outlawed DMCA cicumvention devices because they had many other uses).

Ed's post has already drawn 147 comments and presumably issued virtual ownership deeds to the title of even more randomly generated numbers.


Update: Fred von Lohmann has posted a very helpful legal primer on the posting of AACS LA's 09 f9 key.

Premier League sue YouTube

The Premier League in the UK has decided to sue YouTube and owner Google "to vindicate the rights of owners of copyrighted intellectual property, both large and small."

Naturally they are suing them in Manhattan.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Brazil bypasses patent on AIDS drug

Watch out for the imminent trade sanction threats over this one: Brazil bypasses patent on U.S. AIDS drug

Patently Obvious

The Economist has a nice report on the recent US Supreme Court patent decisions, KSR International v Teleflex and Microsoft v AT&T.

" How non-obvious an idea needs to be to qualify for a patent has long
vexed America's legal minds. The invention had to be “something more
than the work of a skilled mechanic,” the Supreme Court opined in 1850.
In 1941 it set the bar higher, requiring a “flash of genius”. In 1952
Congress loosened the standard, stating that the idea simply needed not
to be obvious “to a person having ordinary skills”.

This week's ruling provides the contours of a modern patent policy, by
implicitly stating that inventors ought to be familiar with practices
from other fields and that combining existing technologies is not
enough, says Dominique Guellec of the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development. It may thus end the boom in reviled
“business-method patents”, which often entail the application of
obvious things, such as shopping or auctions, to an online setting."