Friday, July 06, 2007

Beyond the blockbuster

The Economist seems to think that the pharmaceutical industry is changing its business model.

"LIPITOR is a drugs company's dream. The cholesterol pill made by Pfizer, an American pharmaceuticals giant, is the world's best-selling drug. Last year it earned over $13 billion in revenues. Other hugely successful drugs include GlaxoSmithKline's Advair, an asthma remedy, and Plavix, a blood thinner, which is sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis. Both enjoy billions of dollars in annual sales. Despite such rewards, however, pharmaceutical companies are reconsidering their pursuit of blockbuster drugs, as new technology permits the creation of niche remedies that target rare ailments or sub-populations of people suffering from common diseases."

Cameron: Term extension in exchange for being nice

The Register has a nice take on David Cameron's offer to the BPI earlier this week to extend the term of copyright in sound recordings in exchange for censoring artists who the Tory leader believes promote anti-social behavior through their music.

"A Tory government would only make the necessary representations in Europe if the industry agreed to invest in projects which further his take on what a healthy society should be. Speaking directly to middle England, he fingered family breakdown, rates of teenage pregnancy, rates of substance abuse and rates of criminal activity as symptoms of popular culture's demonic influence on The Kids...

Riffing on the current music scene, Cameron said: "It's an anti-learning culture where it's cool to bunk off, it's cool to be bad, it's cool not to try." Modern beat combos of the 1950s obviously weren't required listening at Eton."

You know Cameron gets more like Blair every day.

Latest EDRI-gram published

The latest edition of the excellent EDRI-gram is available. Sample:

"Final agreements between EU and USA on PNR and SWIFT
4 July, 2007

After a long and difficult period of negotiations, on 28-29 June 2007, final agreements were reached between EU and USA on the data regarding European financial transactions operated by Belgian consortium SWIFT and on the passenger name records (PNR) issue respectively.

Regarding the access to financial data from SWIFT, the US has committed to use any data received from SWIFT exclusively for counter-terrorism purposes, the data retention period being of 5 years.

SWIFT is also bound to "adequately" protect the privacy of data according to EU principles as laid out in 2000 and further more, from now on, all banks using SWIFT will have to inform their customers about any transfers of their data.

According to a spokesman for Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini, an "agreement had been reached on the substance of the new Passenger Name Records (PNR) system, with only technical details and EU national parliaments' opinion still to be resolved". The agreement will replace the interim agreement due to expire at the end of July 2007.

Both sets of negotiations resulted in the EU having obtained the power to inspect US investigators' use of European data. The EU has insisted on this, considering that US privacy laws would not protect European citizens' data from being abused. However, according to Gus Hosein from Privacy International, the EU won only limited oversight over the US use of PNR data.

The PNR agreement reduced the number of pieces of data that can be collected by the US authorities from 34 pieces to 19, including name, contact information, payment details, travel agency, itinerary and baggage information, but excluding sensitive data such as ethnicity.

The US will be allowed to store the data for a seven year period under an "active" or "operational" regime and can extend this period by 8 years for "dormant" data which would be accessible under stricter rules. This means a 15 year storage period in total as compared to three years as previously agreed. The EU officials however state that the agreement has more safeguards than before.

In a letter to the German interior minister Wolfgang Schauble, the European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx has still shown concern believing that the privacy rights of air passengers between the EU and US will be threatened by the agreement struck on 29 June.

A good point is that, for the first time, EU citizens will also be covered by the US Privacy Act which means they can enforce their rights in US courts. The new PNR system deal must be ratified by national parliaments before taking effect as expected at the end of July 2007.

But the PNR data started to look interesting also for the European officials. Just a few days after the car bomb attack in Glasgow and London, the commissioner Franco Frattini announced that he would propose in October a new draft containing anti-terrorism measures, including creating a European PNR system. In this way, the airlines flying to the EU would be obliged to share passengers private data with Europe's secret services. It is not clear yet if the scheme will cover intra-European flights.

Draft text - PNR Agreement (28.06.2007)

EU-US data-sharing deals renew privacy concerns (29.06.2007)

EU legitimises US travel and bank data snoops (28.06.2007)

US gives in to EU demands over data (29.06.2007)

Europe's banks must inform customers of US snooping (27.06.2007)

New PNR Agreement with the United States of America - Peter Hustinx letter to the German Minister of Interior (27.06.2007)

Air passengers to face EU anti-terror screening (4.07.2007)

EU plans air passenger data exchange system (3.07.2007)"

Boyle on the inefficiencies of freedom

James Boyle has been making a lot of sense, as usual, on the subject of copyright over at the FT.

"Sometimes, freedom can just come to seem inefficient. Old-fashioned. Something that can be subcontracted away. That is the time to worry. Or so it seemed to me when I read about a new license that the Copyright Clearance Center is offering American academic institutions. The centre is a non-profit organisation. Its worthy purpose is to act as a central clearance center for permissions requests. If you are a teacher who wants to assemble a course-pack of readings for your students, the centre will clear the permissions from the copyright holders and collect licensing fees for them, allowing you to do your job without hiring a law firm for each batch of homework. Some of you may be surprised that such a process is even necessary. You may remember that the American copyright act explicitly declares the making of “multiple copies for educational use” to be a “fair use” – a privileged freedom statutorily removed from the monopoly Congress has granted the copyright holder. If no permission is required, why is such a centre even necessary?...

It is bad for the goals of copyright – promoting expression, culture and the dissemination of ideas – if every use of copyrighted works is controlled. Parody, satire, criticism – all of these depend crucially on fair use. So does education and scholarship even when, perhaps especially when, the person whose works you are copying does not want you to do so. The gaps in copyright – areas of freedom the statute explicitly outlines – are as important as the rights given to the author. In a world where we “solve” uncertainty about the extent of fair use by blanket licenses, the actual area of that freedom will atrophy. This makes fair use sound like a muscle – use it or lose it? But that is the reality...

Teachers and students may come to understand their freedom to make educational copies as granted by license, not law. That may not be of much concern for wealthy colleges that find it easier to just pay a flat fee rather than educate their students and teachers about fair use. But it is a great concern for poorer institutions and for the rest of us. What about an individual teacher who needs to reproduce copyrighted works in order to teach her students about a controversial and litigious religious sect or the internal operations of a company that makes voting machines – and finds herself sued for her pains? Or teachers of art, music or film who need material not covered by the license?"

Digital data ticking time bomb

From the BBC:

"The growing problem of accessing old digital file formats is a "ticking time bomb", the chief executive of the UK National Archives has warned.

Natalie Ceeney said society faced the possibility of "losing years of critical knowledge" because modern PCs could not always open old file formats."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bush commutes Scooter Libby's jail sentence

President Bush has issued an order of executive clemency in favour of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, Scooter Libby:

"WHEREAS Lewis Libby was convicted in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in the case United States v. Libby, Crim. No. 05-394 (RBW), for which a sentence of 30 months' imprisonment, 2 years' supervised release, a fine of $250,000, and a special assessment of $400 was imposed on June 22, 2007;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, pursuant to my powers under Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, do hereby commute the prison terms imposed by the sentence upon the said Lewis Libby to expire immediately, leaving intact and in effect the two-year term of supervised release, with all its conditions, and all other components of the sentence.

IN WITNESS THEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand and seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.


Libby was convicted of perjury in the investigation relating to the the illegal leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to the press. Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had been publicly critical of the Bush administration claims of Saddam Hussein's sourcing of nuclear materials in Africa. It has widely been believed that Plame's name was leaked by the administration in retaliation. Libby wasn't convicted of leaking the name but of lying and obstructing the investigation into the leak. He was within days of having to report to prison, since efforts keep him out of jail until an appeal was heard had failed; but I guess Dick Cheney had no intention of seeing his friend going to jail, especially since it was the result of him taking the heat for the political machinations of the White House.

It would be interesting to know whether this has created a rift between the president and vice president since I suspect Cheney and Libby would have preferred a full pardon rather than a commuted sentence? Then again maybe the pardon will come just as the president leaves office at the beginning of 2009?

No charges have yet been brought against anyone for leaking an active CIA agent's name as far as I know. Something doesn't seem quite right there.

I suspect there will be some thoughtful commentary over at Balkanization on the matter soon.

Update: Edward Lazarus is one of those who thinks there is no justification for the President's decision

"Bush's failure of justification is damning. Commutation, especially in a high-profile and politically-charged case, is a serious undertaking. It is an unreviewable act that has the extraordinary effect of exempting a single individual from the usual application of the law.

Here, the presiding judge, a Republican, deemed the evidence of Scooter's guilt to be overwhelming. Moreover, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals, including two Republicans, has concluded that Scooter has no substantial issues on which to base an appeal.

Against this backdrop, Bush bears the burden of showing that his act of commutation served an aspect of fairness and justice that would be otherwise slighted in Scooter's case. Absent such a rationale, the commutation must be seen as one of three things (or some combination of any of three): a decision simply to substitute Bush's sense of justice for that of the court's; an act of political and personal loyalty; or, more nefariously, an attempt to insure Scooter's silence.

To varying degrees, all three possibilities point to an Administration that considers itself above customary legal constraint - a consistent and dangerous theme for this Administration. Since I write this on July 4, it seems only fitting to describe this as un-American - or at least hostile to the America we desire to be."

Russia shuts down

From the Times: Russia shuts down

Monday, July 02, 2007