Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lucasfilm's Phantom Menace

Lessig in the Washington Post:

"In May, Lucasfilm announced plans to enable fans of the "Star Wars" series to "remix" "Star Wars" video clips with their own creative work...

A careful reading of Lucasfilm's terms of use show that in exchange for the right to remix Lucasfilm's creativity, the remixer has to give up all rights to what he produces. In particular, the remixer grants to Lucasfilm the "exclusive right" to the remix -- including any commercial rights -- for free. To any content the remixer uploads to the site, he grants to Lucasfilm a perpetual non-exclusive right, again including commercial rights and again for free.

Upload a remix and George Lucas, and only Lucas, is free to include it on his Web site or in his next movie, with no compensation to the creator. You are not even permitted to post it on YouTube. Upload a particularly good image as part of your remix, and Lucas is free to use it commercially with no compensation to the creator. The remixer is allowed to work, but the product of his work is not his. Put in terms appropriately (for Hollywood) over the top: The remixer becomes the sharecropper of the digital age."

Brown trying to look tough on terror

Gordon Brown is showing no signs of backing away from his predecessor's predisposition to do things that made look superficially tough on terror. He's pushing his demands to extend detention without charge period beyond the already very long 28 days and now he's keen to deploy a border force (originally a Conservative party plan) to look tough on immigration. They're all going to get uniforms you know.

In only November last year Immigration minister Liam Byrne was ridiculing the border force plan:

"The chaos of a damaging, distracting and disruptive reorganisation of three agencies on the front line into a single border force. That idea is outdated and is rooted in a concept of a frontier that is long past.

It is simplistic and dangerous in the disruption that it poses. The number of people who seek to come to this country might double in the next 10 to 15 years, and I simply cannot think of a worse use of time than to consume front-line staff in the process of reapplying for their own jobs in a reorganisation, the benefits of which we are already achieving by equipping different agencies with the powers to do each other's jobs"

I guess he didn't realise his soon to be leader liked the idea.

Senators to abandon '08 e-voting paper trail mandate

Anne Broache reports that

"Democratic senators on Wednesday made another push for banning electronic voting machines that lack paper trails, but they've backed away from doing so in time for next year's presidential election.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chief sponsor of a contentious bill called the Ballot Integrity Act that proposes such changes, said she fears requiring all states to employ so-called voter-verified paper records in their systems, with some primaries only six months away, "could be an invitation to chaos." Earlier this year, she called for enacting such changes by 2008."

This 'it will cause chaos because we haven't got enough time before the next election' argument has been bandied about round the evoting debate for a long time now. The US are always going to be within two years of a major election. The evoting infratructure and the other structural problems with the US electoral system are going to take longer than two years to sort out. Yes it is a major systemic mess that will need major surgery but the ultimate conclusion of the 'it's going to cause chaos' argument is that 'we can't do anything about it so we shouldn't try'.

A change of mind about evoting

David Evans has had a change of heart about evoting.

"In a recent article, I suggested that e-voting as it currently stands might be a bad idea. This also echoes an article from some time ago from Jason Kitkat, who is the in-house expert on e-voting for the Open Rights Group that goes a bit further.

However, I recant on my previous opinion. I've always thought it would be nice to be an MP. Decent salary, excellent pension, and if you do it right you could end up on the board of something cushy like a private equity company. The only issue is that wretched electoral accountability. It makes for rather a tough and demanding life; the MPs I've met have to work very hard, and it isn't easy.

With e-voting, it doesn't need to be this way. Every constituency can be a rotten borough. Every vote counts, and mine can really count! Rather than having to undertake a very high risk operation to change even a few hundred votes in a 50,000 vote election, I can do it all in software; untraceable, undetectable. The doors have been opened to electronic electoral success! Voter turnout at 200%, and may the best hacker win!"


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Behind-The-Scenes Look At How DRM Becomes Law

Cory: A Behind-The-Scenes Look At How DRM Becomes Law. Brilliant.

House of Lords on Children's Index

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments are very critical of the government's plans for the Children's Index database, now called ContactPoint, which was mandated by the Children Act 2004.

"Summary: We are in no doubt about the importance of these Regulations. They set out the details of the "ContactPoint" database which will hold basic identifying information on all 11 million children in England under the age of 18, and which will be accessible to over 300,000 users. The Government have shown a thoroughgoing commitment to preparing for the national operation of the scheme, through large-scale expenditure and wide-ranging engagement with all interested parties. However, the Government have not in our view conclusively demonstrated that a universal database is a proportionate response to the problem being addressed. While the Government have taken the need for security seriously, the scale and importance of the scheme increase the risk that any accidental or inadvertent breach of security, or any deliberate misuse of the data, would be likely to bring the whole scheme into disrepute."

EFF sues Universal over 'fair use' of song in YouTube video

Via Michael Geist: EFF sues Universal over 'fair use' of song in YouTube video Michael says:

"The EFF has filed a lawsuit against the Universal Music
Publishing Group after the company asked that a home video
be removed due to copyright infringement. The video features
an 18-month old Holden Lenz dancing to Prince's Let's Get
Crazy and runs for a total of 29 seconds. Following
Universal's complaint the video was removed by You Tube and
remained offline until recently."

The EFF say:

"Universal's takedown notice doesn't even pass the laugh test," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "Copyright holders should be held accountable when they undermine non-infringing, fair uses like this video."

Last May, UMPG's parent company, Universal Music Group, sent a baseless copyright takedown demand to YouTube for a video podcast by political blogger Michelle Malkin. That video was quickly reposted after Malkin fought back.

"Copyright abuse can shut down online artists, political analysts, or -- as in this case -- ordinary families who simply want to share snippets of their day-to-day lives," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Universal must stop making groundless infringement claims that trample on fair use and free speech."

The lawsuit asks for a declaratory judgment that Lenz's home video does not infringe any Universal copyright, as well as damages and injunctive relief restraining Universal from bringing further copyright claims in connection with the video.

This lawsuit is part of EFF's ongoing work to protect online free speech in the face of bogus copyright claims. EFF is currently working with Stanford's Fair Use Project to develop a set of "best practices" for proper takedowns under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

For the video (since reposted):

For the full complaint:

For more on DMCA abuse and free speech:

BBC Trust backs calls for Linux iPlayer

From the Register: BBC Trust backs calls for Linux iPlayer

"The BBC Trust met with the Open Source Consortium (OSC) yesterday to discuss the controversy raised by the BBC's iPlayer, which will only work on Windows XP.

The Trust expressed surprise at the strength of feeling raised by the issue and promised to take it up with senior BBC management."

Congress: P2P networks harm national security

From Congress: P2P networks harm national security

The Open Library Project

The Open Library project has opened its virtual demo doors.

"What if there was a library which held every book? Not every book on sale, or every important book, or even every book in English, but simply every book—a key part of our planet's cultural legacy.

First, the library must be on the Internet. No physical space could be as big or as universally accessible as a public web site. The site would be like Wikipedia—a public resource that anyone in any country could access and that others could rework into different formats.

Second, it must be grandly comprehensive. It would take catalog entries from every library and publisher and random Internet user who is willing to donate them. It would link to places where each book could be bought, borrowed, or downloaded. It would collect reviews and references and discussions and every other piece of data about the book it could get its hands on.

But most importantly, such a library must be fully open. Not simply "free to the people," as the grand banner across the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh proclaims, but a product of the people: letting them create and curate its catalog, contribute to its content, participate in its governance, and have full, free access to its data. In an era where library data and Internet databases are being run by money-seeking companies behind closed doors, it's more important than ever to be open.

So let us do just that: let us build the Open Library.

Earlier this year, a small group of people gathered at Internet Archive's San Francisco office to discuss whether this was possible. Could we build something so grand? We concluded that we could. We located a copy of the Library of Congress card catalog, phoned publishers and asked them for their data, created a brand new database infrastructure for handling millions of dynamic records, wrote a new type of wiki that lets users enter structured data, set up a search engine to look through it all, and made the resulting site look good.

We hooked it up to the Internet Archive's book scanning project, so that you can read the full text of all the out-of-copyright books they've made available. And we hope to add a print-on-demand feature, so that you can get nice paper copies of these scanned books, as well as a scan-on-demand feature, so you can fund the scanning of that out-of-copyright book you've always loved.

But we can only do so much on our own. Hopefully we've done enough to make it clear that this project is for real—not simply another pie-in-the-sky idea—but we need your help to make it a reality. So we're opening up the demo we've built so far, opening up the source code, opening up the mailing lists, and hoping you'll join us in building Open Library. It sure is going to be a fun ride."

Keen vs. Weinberger

Keen v Weinberger in the WSJ. Essential reading for Web 2.0 enthusiasts and detractors.

Given the clarion call in my book for access to knowledge and the need to get ordinary people involved in decision making process surrounding the development, deployment and regulation of large information systems I particularly liked Weinberger's closing comments:

"For example, you're right that we're in the middle of a disruption of the professional media "ecosystem," as you aptly call it. Some of our professional media are faltering before we have built their online replacements. It's frightening, especially if you're delighted with the existing mass media. But, the transition is hardly over. If these institutions have value, then providing that value on line is an opportunity that may well be addressed by the market (have faith, Andrew!) or by the new economics of cooperative social production expounded in Yochai Benkler's seminal "The Wealth of Networks" (which is available, of course, in its entirety for free online). Further, these newly fashioned mechanisms for delivering old-fashioned value will have their own advantages, as well as the weaknesses you note. Wikipedia, if nothing else, is more complete and current than printed encyclopedias -- and we can quote it at length without getting sued. iTunes enables some worthy musicians to find their own small audiences. Open access scientific journals have made far more research (including peer reviewed papers) available to scientists than ever before -- a good example of what I think of as the power of making information miscellaneous. In fact, amateurs and professionals are getting "miscellanized" so that their influence is proportional not to their status but to the value they contribute...and our understanding of the professionals is being enhanced by their revealing more of their amateur, personal side in their blogs.

Most of all, a serious discussion of amateurism has to be able to admit that it may have some benefits. For example:

(1) Some amateurs are uncredentialed experts from whom we can learn.
(2) Amateurs often bring points of view to the table that the orthodoxy has missed, sometimes even challenging the authority of institutions whose belief systems have been corrupted by power.
(3) Professional and expert ideas are often refined by being brought into conversation with amateurs.
(4) There can be value in amateur work despite its lack of professionalism: A local blogger's description of a news story happening around her may lack grammar but provide facts and feelings that add to -- or reveal -- the truth.
(5) The rise of amateurism creates a new ecology in which personal relationships can add value to the experience: That a sister-in-law is singing in the local chorus may make the performance thoroughly enjoyable, and that I've gotten to know a blogger through her blog makes her posts more meaningful to me.
(6) Collections of amateurs can do things that professionals cannot. Jay Rosen, for example, has amateur citizens out gathering distributed data beyond the scope of any professional news organization.
(7) Amateur work helps us get over the alienation built into the mainstream media. The mainstream is theirs. The Web is ours.
(8) That amateur work is refreshingly human -- flawed and fallible -- can inspire us, and not just seduce us into braying like chimps.

Yes, Andrew, we are amateurs on the Web, although there's plenty of room for professionals as well. But we are not replicating the mainstream media. We're building something new. We're doing it together. Its fundamental elements are not bricks of content but the mortar of links, and links are connections of meaning and involvement. We're creating an infrastructure of meaning, miscellaneous but dripping with potential for finding and understanding what matters to us. We're building this for one another. We're doing it by and large for free, for the love of it, and for the joy of creating with others. That makes us amateurs. And that's also what makes the Web our culture's hope."

Thanks to the Berkman blog for the pointer.

Facebook site faces fraud claim

From the BBC: Facebook site faces fraud claim

"Three founders of ConnectU say Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for the site while at Harvard.

Facebook has become a global phenomenon with about 31 million users, compared with ConnectU's 70,000.

A Federal case accuses Mr Zuckerberg of fraud and misappropriation of trade secrets, and asks for ConnectU to be given ownership of Facebook."

Bush Alters Rules for CIA Interrogations

From the Washington Post: Bush Alters Rules for CIA Interrogations

"President Bush breathed new life into the CIA's terror interrogation program Friday in an executive order that would allow harsh questioning of suspects, limited in public only by a vaguely worded ban on cruel and inhuman treatment.

The order bars some practices such as sexual abuse, part of an effort to quell international criticism of some of the CIA's most sensitive and debated work. It does not say what practices would be allowed...

Bush's order requires that CIA detainees "receive the basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care."

A senior intelligence official would not comment directly when asked if waterboarding would be allowed under the new order and under related _ but classified _ legal documents drafted by the Justice Department.

However, the official said, "It would be wrong to assume the program of the past transfers to the future."

A second senior administration official acknowledged sleep is not among the basic necessities outlined in the order."

Marty Lederman at Balkanization is not surprised and has an in-depth analysis.

Patent Pirates

From Forbes: Hedge funds and institutional investors are financing the latest wave of IP lawsuits.

"DeepNines is a tiny Dallas software maker that protects corporate computer networks from hackers and other threats. But in August it became an attacker, filing a lawsuit against McAfee (nyse: MFE - news - people ). The suit alleges that the security-software giant infringed on a DeepNines patent, one that combines an intrusion detection and prevention system with a firewall, in a single device. McAfee denies the charge, saying the patent relies on previously known technology, and is gearing up for a long and costly fight.

But DeepNines has found a way to fund its burgeoning legal bills. In January it sold an $8 million zero coupon note to Altitude Capital Partners, a New York City private equity firm, promising in return a cut of any winnings stemming from the lawsuit. The payout is based on a formula that grants Altitude a percentage that decreases with a bigger award.

This deal was dreamed up by Robert Kramer, who founded Altitude in 2005, raising $250 million from hedge funds and others to invest in intellectual property. So far Kramer has put $100 million to work in nine investments. He's got plenty of company in this new game. Coller Capital, a London private equity firm with a $2.6 billion fund, quietly formed Coller IP Capital with an eye toward investing $200 million a year. Rembrandt IP Management, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa. firm, has raised $150 million, and Northwater Capital, a $9 billion Toronto manager of funds of hedge funds, put together NW Patent Funding last year. Both exist solely to exploit patent lawsuits in the U.S...

Says Daniel McCurdy, a patent consultant in Warren, N.J., "They are the arms merchants in the new patent wars."

The threat of war is having an impact. Ebay subpoenaed Altitude in federal court in Virginia to figure out what Kramer is up to with one of his investments, MercExchange, whose main asset is a $25 million patent infringement verdict against the online auctioneer. The six-year-old suit claims Ebay's "Buy It Now" feature infringes on MercExchange's patents. Last year the case produced the Supreme Court decision that made it more difficult to get injunctions."
Gene Koo Director of Online Training at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School (and believer in the pedagogic value of podcasting) interviewed Elizabeth Townsend Gard recently about her experiment in using Second Life to teach first year students about property law. She notes

"All property is made up, and students came to understand how our property laws came into being through a combination of the laws of physics and custom. (For example, Second Life obviates the need for laws regarding misplaced property because it is coded to return your items to you after a set period of time -- a "law of physics" absent in our real world)."

The good professor and her research assistant Rachel Goda blogged about the experience earlier in the year at Terra Nova.

To begin, I should explain how I came to this project. This year I am a visiting assistant professor at Seattle University School of Law, teaching intellectual property and property. What this translates to is that my field is copyright, and as part of my teaching package, I was also assigned to teach a year-long first year property course for the first time. A bit daunting with the traditional concepts of first in time, adverse possessions, estates and future interests, landlord-tenant, communal property, easements, nuisance, eminent domain, to name a few. I knew I wanted to include some intellectual property concepts into the mix—our casebook already did in a small way. And I had been encouraged by some to rely on my European history background (a Ph.D. from UCLA) to focus on the historical links and connections that formed the common law traditions upon which property still rests. But, for me, I found the roots of history often made students feel even more disconnected from a subject—it made a difficult subject seem even less immediate. Then, while at the IP Scholars conference at Berkeley, I found the theme that would eventually take us on a journey involving an avatar named Fizzy Soderberg.

At one of the sessions, Tyler Ochoa from Santa Clara University’s School of Law was presenting on his recent work on avatars. A Berkeley student from the back asked a question about what laws govern property within the Second Life? Did property concepts translate into the new virtual environment? How did property and contract laws relate? It was a question I had been thinking throughout the presentation as well. I had been reading about Second Life and virtual property—in various news stories here and there. But I didn’t know much. What I did know, however, started to intrigue me—especially for my property course…

The imagined project took many forms over the Fall semester—I thought of having each student create an avatar. I thought of groups that would work with an avatar over the semester and interact with each other. I came, however, to choose a very different model. We have one avatar – Fizzy Soderberg (named by the first group) and fourteen groups of seven to nine students. We would have a pet hamster, so to speak. We would follow Fizzy’s journey through the semester. Each group would be given ONE week to explore Second Life with Fizzy, gather the latest news, and most importantly, research a key concept in property law. At the end of the week, the students record a screencasting in my office. The PowerPoint is prepared by the self-appointed group leader. Each student creates their own portion of the script. Then, the 15-20 minute presentation is presented to the class, as well as being posted at Fizzy’s Second Life ( and iTunes."

Managing IPRs in Digital Learning Materials

TrustDR and Managing IPR in Digital Learning Materials: A Development Pack for Institutional Repositories looks like an interesting set of resources I should spend some time on.

"The largest UK Higher Education funding council HEFCE issued guidance to the senior management of higher education institutions about IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) in e-learning. A key points was:

“Every HEI needs to establish a clear, preferably plain English, IPR policy and disseminate it widely across the organisation, including IT guidelines and codes of practice for staff and students.”

Intellectual Property Rights in E-learning Programmes: good practice for senior managers , HEFCE, 2006

The objective of this institutional development pack is to empower people to undertake this task and help them put in place the necessary supporting measures in their institutions. To do this we have been working across a very broad front that takes in educational factors, culture and organisational issues, technology, the law, the commercial environment and policy development.

Background to the production of this pack

This institutional development pack is part of the outcomes of the work of the TrustDR project (Trust in Digital Repositories) funded by the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) the UK government body responsible for supporting education and research by promoting innovation in new technologies and by the central support of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) services.

The TrustDR project was a partnership between the University of Ulster and UHI Millennium Institute and operated between June 2005 and August 2007 as part of the JISC Digital Repositories Programme...

The main part of the pack NB in Draft (Word - 1.5Mb)

This institutional development pack for managing IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) in e-learning is intended to support those who wish to update and clarify their institutional policies and infrastructures to help get the best out of using technology to support teaching and learning. Confusion, lack of awareness, poor practice, contradictory policy and risk aversion currently dominate thinking about this subject at all levels – particularly amongst senior management. This is presenting a major obstacle to the effective uptake of e-learning in our tertiary education system. In this pack we explicitly link the task of overhauling the IPR regimes in our institutions to the organisational and professional ‘process change' that is required to make effective use of e-learning – especially in relation to the introduction and extension of flexible learning delivery."

Joe Wilson's war

Long time Bush administration critic and former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean, has been reviewing the impact of the Valerie Plame affair. Worth a read for anyone interested in US politics. For those not familiar with the case, Bush administration officials leaked CIA operative Plame's identity to the press in apparent retaliation for her husband Joseph Wilson's public criticism relating to claims that Sadam Hussain had been importing nuclear materials from Niger. The only person who was prosecuted and convicted over the affair - and that for lying and obstructing the special prosecutor's investigation - was Dick Cheney's former chief of staff Scooter Libby. President Bush subsequently commuted his jail sentence so he didn't have to spend any time in jail.

"Former ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, lost their lawsuit seeking to hold a number of defendants responsible for the personal damage they caused when they revealed her CIA covert status, but they won the battle to get to the truth. Joe Wilson has exposed much more than the bogus claim underlying the efforts to justify an invasion of Iraq. In the larger picture, the ruling dismissing their lawsuit is of little long-term historical significance, compared to the information the Wilsons have forced to the surface. It is only unfortunate that the Wilsons had to pay dearly in order to speak the truth.

Dismissal of the Wilsons' lawsuit, in fact, illuminates yet another oft-forgotten truth: Officials like Vice President Cheney, his former top aide Scooter Libby, White House political adviser Karl Rove, and former State Department official Richard Armitage can easily escape civil legal liability for even highly irresponsible conduct. U.S. District Court Judge John Bates's ruling reminds us that the federal judiciary today, under the dictates of a conservative Supreme Court majority, has a remarkable array of technical rules it can invoke to prevent anyone from holding high-level federal officials civilly responsible for irresponsible or illegal behavior."

7 year old on terrorist watch list

Via Findlaw: 7-year-old Florida boy's name on terrorist no-fly list

"For the third time in his young life, a 7-year-old Florida boy recently had to check in with an airline agent before flying because his name is on the no-fly list.

Michael Martin appears to share a moniker with a suspected or known terrorist, a mix-up that has snared several other children around the U.S. as well as high-profile officials including California congresswoman Loretta Sanchez."

Remember these are the folks the EU is trusting with EU airline passenger data detailing everything from religion to sexual preference, home address and credit card numbers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

UK Government reject call for copyright term extension

Looks like the government has got something right for a change. According to the good folks at ORG, the government has rejected calls from the music industry and the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to extend the term of copyright on sound recordings. The full response to the select committee's 'Report into New Media and the Creative Industries Cm 7186' is worth a read (it runs to about 18 (12 substantive) pages of pdf). The relevant bit is the govenrment's response to item 28 right at the end:

"28. We recommend that the Government should press the European Commission to bring forward proposals for an extension of copyright term for sound recordings to at least 70 years, to provide reasonable certainty that an artist will be able to derive benefit from a recording throughout his or her lifetime. (Paragraph 236)

The Government appreciates the work of the Committee and the deliberation it has given to thissubject. As the Committee noted, the independent Gowers Review also considered this issue in detail and recommended that the European Commission retain a term of protection for sound recordings and performers of 50 years. The Review undertook a detailed analysis of all the arguments put forward, including the moral arguments regarding the treatment of performers. It concluded that an extension would not benefit the majority of performers, most of whom have contractual relationships requiring their royalties be paid back to the record label. It also concluded that an extension would have a negative impact on the balance of trade and that it would not increase incentives to create new works. Furthermore, it considered not just the impact on the music industry but on the economy as a whole, and concluded that an extension would lead to increased costs to industry, such as those who use music – whether to provide ambience in a shop or restaurant or for TV or radio broadcasting – and to consumers who would have to pay royalties for longer. In reaching such conclusions, the Review took account of the question of parity with other countries such as the US, and concluded that, although royalties were payable for longer there, the total amount was likely to be similar – or possibly less – as there were fewer revenue streams available under the US system.

“An independent report, commissioned by the European Commission as part of its ongoing work in reviewing the copyright acquis, also considered the issue of term. It reached the same overall conclusion on this matter as the Gowers Review.

“Taking account of the findings of these reports, which carefully considered the impact on the economy as a whole, and without further substantive evidence to the contrary, it does not seem appropriate for the Government to press the Commission for action at this stage."

The IFPI and BPI have responded by saying they'll now take their fight to the EU.

California test evote systems

Michael Geist also points to a report about California Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, facilitating "testing for vulnerabilities in touch-screen voting machines ... part of an unprecedented "top-to-bottom" review ... to ensure that the state's voting systems are secure - and whether they should be certified for use.

She is expected to report Aug. 3 - six months before the Feb. 5 presidential primaries, a timeline that is making election officials nervous.

Bowen is fulfilling what her supporters and voting security advocates consider to be the mandate she received from last year's election, in which she clashed with her predecessor, Bruce McPherson, over how much scrutiny the state's electronic voting and tabulations systems needed. She won in November amid a national outcry over fears of hacking, vote flipping and election rigging with suspicions squarely aimed at touch-screen voting systems.

"Voting machine companies are quaking in their boots," said Brad Friedman, the author of, which is devoted to voting security. "She's doing exactly what she was elected to do. I will be stunned if they find systems that don't have enormous, gaping vulnerabilities."

Three vendors - Diebold Election Systems of Texas, Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland and Hart InterCivic of Texas - are awaiting the outcome of the review, as are county registrars, who worry that any decertification could lead to chaos on Election Day."

Court clears law firm of hacking rivals via Internet Archive

Via Michael Geist: Federal Judge Clears Law Firm Accused of Hacking Opponents' Web Archives

"Although the archived pages were supposed to be shielded from public view, the protections failed and lawyers at Harding Earley Follmer & Frailey in Valley Forge, Pa., did not hack their way in, Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Robert Kelly Jr. ruled last week on summary judgment.

"They did not 'pick the lock' and avoid or bypass the protective measure, because there was no lock to pick," Kelly wrote in Healthcare Advocates Inc. v. Harding Earley Follmer & Frailey, No. 05-3524. "Nor did the Harding firm steal passwords to get around a protective barrier. ... The Harding firm could not 'avoid' or 'bypass' a digital wall that was not there."

The ruling, if it stands, wards off a potential judgment of $3 million in damages a patients' advocacy company sought from the firm."

Nobel laureates' letter to Congress on A2K

I learn from Peter Suber that 26 nobel laureates have written an open letter to Congress supporting open access to reports funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"July 8, 2007

Dear Members of Congress:

As scientists and Nobel laureates, we are writing to express our strong support for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees’ recent directives to the NIH to enact a mandatory policy that allows public access to published reports of work supported by the agency. We believe that the time is now for Congress to enact this enlightened policy to ensure that the results of research conducted by NIH can be more readily accessed, shared and built upon ­ to maximize the return on our collective investment in science and to further the public good.

As we noted in a letter to Congress urging action on this policy nearly three years ago, we object to barriers that hinder, delay or block the spread of scientific knowledge supported by federal tax dollars ­ including our own works. Thanks to the internet, we can transform the speed and ease with which the results of research can be shared and built upon. However, to our great frustration, the results of NIH-supported medical research continue to be largely inaccessible to taxpayers who have already paid for it.

Despite best intentions, the voluntary policy enacted by NIH over two years ago has simply not improved public access significantly. As active scientists, it does not surprise us that a request ­ with neither incentives nor consequences attached ­ to submit our articles so that they are freely available simply does not make the lengthy “to-do” lists of our colleagues. We firmly agree with NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, who indicated in his testimony to the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee this year that only a mandatory policy will be an effective policy. Requiring compliance is not a punitive measure, but rather a simple step to ensure that everyone, including scientists themselves, will reap the benefits that public access can provide. We have seen this amply demonstrated in other innovative efforts within the NIH ­ most notably with the database that contains the outcome of the Human Genome Project.

The public at large also has a significant stake in seeing that this research is made more widely available. When a woman goes online to find what treatment options are available to battle breast cancer, she will find many opinions, but peer-reviewed research of the highest quality often remains behind a high-fee barrier. Families seeking clinical trial updates for a loved one with Huntington's disease search in vain because they do not have a journal subscription. Librarians, physicians, health care workers, students, journalists, and investigators at thousands of academic institutions and companies are currently hindered by unnecessary costs and delays in gaining access to publicly funded research results.

Over the past three years, public access to work produced in other countries has been greatly expanded. Both government and philanthropic funding agencies in several nations, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Brazil, France, and Australia have outpaced the U.S. in advancing policies for sharing the results of their funded research, with rules that are more stringent than those now employed by the NIH. In the United Kingdom alone, 5 of the 8 Research Councils and the leading foundations that support science have enacted mandatory public access policies; it is now estimated that 90% of the biomedical research funded in the U.K. is covered by a mandatory enhanced- or open-access policy. Enhanced public access, will not, of course, mean the end of medical and scientific journals at all. They will continue to exercise peer-review over submitted papers as the basis for deciding which papers to accept for publication, just as they do now. The experience of dozens of publishers has shown that even with embargo periods of 6 months (or shorter), journals continue to thrive. In addition, since this policy will apply only to NIH-funded research; journals will contain significant numbers of articles not covered by this requirement as well as other articles and commentary invaluable to the science community. Journals will continue to be the hallmark of achievement in scientific research, and we will depend on them.

The NIH, with Congress’ direction, has the means today to promote enhanced access to taxpayer-funded research through the National Library of Medicine. NIH grantees should be required to provide to the NLM an electronic copy of the final version of all manuscripts accepted for publication by legitimate medical and scientific journals, after peer review. As soon as possible after the time of publication, NIH should make these reports freely available to all through their digital archive, PubMed Central (PMC).

We strongly encourage you to realize this overdue reform by adopting language in the FY08 Appropriations measure that requires the NIH Public Access Policy to be made mandatory.

Signed by 26 Nobel Laureates:

Peter Agre, Chemistry, 2003
Sidney Altman, Chemistry, 1989
Paul Berg, Chemistry, 1980
Michael Bishop, Physiology or Medicine, 1989
Baruch Blumberg, Physiology or Medicine, 1976
Gunter Blobel, Physiology or Medicine, 1999
Paul Boyer, Chemistry, 1997
Sydney Brenner, Physiology or Medicine, 2002
Johann Deisenhofer, Chemistry, 1988
Edmond Fischer, Physiology or Medicine, 1992
Paul Greengard, Physiology or Medicine, 2000
Leland Hartwell, Physiology or Medicine, 2001
Robert Horvitz, Physiology or Medicine, 2002
Eric Kandel, Physiology or Medicine, 2000
Arthur Kornberg, Physiology or Medicine, 1959
Harold Kroto, Chemistry, 1996
Roderick MacKinnon, Chemistry, 2003
Kary Mullis, Chemistry, 1993
Ferid Murad, Physiology or Medicine, 1998
Joseph Murray, Physiology or Medicine, 1990
Marshall Nirenberg, Physiology or Medicine, 1968
Stanley Prusiner, Physiology or Medicine, 1997
Richard Roberts, Physiology or Medicine, 1993
Hamilton Smith, Physiology or Medicine, 1978
Harold Varmus, Physiology or Medicine, 1989
James Watson, Physiology or Medicine, 1962"

Monday, July 23, 2007

EU US Passenger data sharing deal

The broadsheets have finally caught up with the new deal that has been done between the US and EU on the sharing of airline passenger data. The Observer report seems to suggest that the agreement taking the information sharing way beyond the current interim agreement (and the previous agreement which caused a few problems last year after the ECJ declared the transfer of the data technically illegal)

The Observer report doesn't mention that European negotiators have claimed to have strengthened protections for the data by including a provision in the agreement that any abuses could be challenged through the US courts under US privacy laws. Though as Simon Davies and Tony Bunyan say, if the Europeans have given the US authorities an absolute right to pass the data on to any third parties, then they have lost control of the data and can have absolutely no guarantees about how the data will be used.

Now I realise that this kind of thing is mainly of interest to civil liberties geeks since the average person in the street is not going to worry too much about it. But that's the thing about the erosion of liberties. It often doesn't appear dangerous to an individual until they become the subject of an injustice directly facilitated by the absence of a protection which no longer exists.