Friday, June 06, 2008

UK Intellectual Property Advisory Board

The UK's 'Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property' has officially come into being this week. Here's the announcement from the IPO in full:

"Launch of Intellectual Property Advisory Board

Increasing the evidence base for intellectual property (IP) policy is vital for the Government to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex and globalised IP environment, the head of the new Strategic Advisory Board for IP (SABIP) outlined last night (June 5 2008).

Joly Dixon, Chairman of the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property, set out his vision for the organisation at a reception in London to mark SABIP's formal establishment:.

Mr Dixon said:

"We live in a knowledge based economy in which economic prosperity and social wellbeing increasingly depend on our wise stewardship of intellectual property. Globalisation, technological change, and changing economic and social structures are challenging many of the past relationships between intellectual property rights and innovation.

"SABIP will work strenuously to increase the evidence base for policy by offering well-researched and independent advice to Government."

The UK's first Minister for Intellectual Property, Baroness Delyth Morgan, welcomed the establishment of SABIP:

"I want SABIP to drive the thinking on emerging IP issues in this country. Its research programme will be vital in creating a firm evidence base for policy making.

"Members of the SABIP have broad experience of IP issues. That will help ensure they can deliver advice of the quality and independence that I expect.

Notes to editors

* SABIP was officially established on June 2 2008. This follows the appointment of SABIP chairman Joly Dixon on March 7 2008 and the appointment of five members to the SABIP board on May 2 2008.

* SABIP is a Non-Departmental Public Body with the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK-IPO) as its sponsor department.

* Its role is to advise Ministers and the UK-IPO Chief Executive on the development of intellectual property (IP) policy. In formulating this advice, SABIP will provide an overview of IP policy, provide independent input into Government policy-making, and advise on the UK's stance in international negotiations."

This is a very important development for the IP landscape in the UK and I wish them well in gathering a sound empirical evidence base to underpin policymaking in this crucially important area.

Update from Michael Holloway at ORG: "Speech by our first IP Minister, given on IP day (25 April)"

Investigating P2P Enforcement

The University of Washington has just published a new report on the processes being used by the entertainment industry to track down and prosecute file sharers on P2P networks. The authors purport to be surprised by their findings. They suggest:
  • Practically any Internet user can be framed for copyright infringement today.
    By profiling copyright enforcement in the popular BitTorrent file sharing system, we were able to generate hundreds of real DMCA takedown notices for computers at the University of Washington that never downloaded nor shared any content whatsoever.

    Further, we were able to remotely generate complaints for nonsense devices including several printers and a (non-NAT) wireless access point. Our results demonstrate several simple techniques that a malicious user could use to frame arbitrary network endpoints.

  • Even without being explicitly framed, innocent users may still receive complaints.
    Because of the inconclusive techniques used to identify infringing BitTorrent users, users may receive DMCA complaints even if they have not been explicitly framed by a malicious user and even if they have never used P2P software!
  • Software packages designed to preserve the privacy of P2P users are not completely effective.
    To avoid DMCA complaints today, many privacy conscious users employ IP blacklisting software designed to avoid communication with monitoring and enforcement agencies. We find that this software often fails to identify many likely monitoring agents, but we also discover that these agents exhibit characteristics that make distinguishing them straightforward.

While our experiments focus on BitTorrent only, our findings imply the need for increased transparency in the monitoring and enforcement process for all P2P networks to both address the known deficiencies we have exposed as well as to identify lurking unknown deficiencies.

More details about our findings and our experimental methodology are available in our online FAQ. A more thorough treatment is available in our technical report."

Brad Stone at the NYT says:

"The paper finds that there is a serious flaw in how these trade groups finger alleged file-sharers. It also suggests that some people might be getting improperly accused of sharing copyrighted content, and could even be purposely framed by other users.

In two separate studies in August of 2007 and May of this year, the researchers set out to examine who was participating in BitTorrent file-sharing networks and what they were sharing. The researchers introduced software agents into these networks to monitor their traffic. Even though those software agents did not download any files, the researchers say they received over 400 take-down requests accusing them of participating in the downloads.

The researchers concluded that enforcement agencies are looking only at I.P. addresses of participants on these peer-to-peer networks, and not what files are actually downloaded or uploaded—a more resource-intensive process that would nevertheless yield more conclusive information.

In their report, the researchers also demonstrate a way to manipulate I.P. addresses so that another user appears responsible for the file-sharing."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Adverse affect of formal child protection systems

The excellent ARCH blog has drawn my attention to this letter from the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) to the government’s Chief Medical Officer. It covers the kinds of effects that the mass data collection and suspicion-by-default mindset amongst the child professionals are having on children and families.

"When instructions went out to all staff in contact with children to report concerns about risk, this seems to have been done with little prior thought, without consultation, and without provision for training. The result was the post-Climbie cover-your-back syndrome: 'when in the slightest doubt, report to social services.' We see a huge variety of standards, misunderstandings, prejudices, ill-informed interpretation of risk factors, cultural incompetence and even racism, in the initiation of cases from health visitors, teachers, midwives, nurses, doctors and others. Quite apart from the damage to families, each one of these reports pre-empts resources and often leads to substantial, and unnecessary, cost. Ironically, the basic, simple help or real support families would like, is unavailable because resources are lacking, that is not the focus of social work activity, and anyway nowadays many parents are afraid to ask because any contact with social services is too risky.

Community information grapevines work, and effectively circulate information about what people see as the growing risk of being investigated or labelled as a dangerous parent after contact with medical care. The risk is not merely perceived: it is real, and the consequences are devastating. Damage to the whole family structure (sometimes the extended family network and its support structure), to parental confidence and self-esteem, to children's sense of security and safety, and their sense of security that their parents can and will protect them - these are very serious adverse effects. Often we find it is the most sensitive parents, to whom family life means everything, who are most damaged. We also have many concerns about damage we have seen to authority of black parents vis-a-vis their children, many of whom are already coping with multiple racial prejudice problems. As we have pointed out to NICE as stakeholders in their consultation of diagnosis of child abuse, such potential for harm must now be considered, and it is long overdue. The sheer cultural incompetence of many social workers has to be seen to be believed."

Recommended reading about what happens in practice when mass surveillance is substituted for effective targetted support of professional services. A case in point: Logging on to Beat the Bullies

"The approach Bexley chose was to deploy Vantage Technologies’ Sentinel Anti-Bullying software. This solution allows staff to report bullying incidents securely over the Internet into a central database, which is managed and monitored by Bexley. This web-based approach allows our schools to monitor bullying and racism incidents in real-time, providing effective support for all pupils.
The launch of this new initiative was announced at Bexley’s Southern Anti-Bullying Conference earlier this year. Two Bexley services were the driving force behind the proposal."

So instead of getting the head teacher and other talented teachers who are good with child behaviour out in the playground and dealing with it on the spot at source, they buy a piece of software and create a massive reporting system which schools can consult to see what's going on in their school! Bizarre when you put even the slightest thought into it.

SCOTUS backs free speech over IP in baseball data case

Earlier this week the US Supreme Court denied petition for a writ of certiorari in MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL, ET AL. V. C.B.C. DISTRIBUTION & MARKETING. This relatively technical legal decision may have important implications for the conflict between intellectual property and free speech involving the use of sports statistics.

The folks at IP Justice seem to think that this is a big win for free speech advocates in this context in a world where there is an increasing level of commercialisation of the data associated with sports; including situations where journalists get thrown out of sports stadia for live blogging what's happening on the field.

A 10-year old's copyright questions

My ten year old was examining the back of the box of one of his (currently) favorite CDs when I got home yesterday. After a repeated and thorough inspection he told me he didn't think the CD was copyrighted because it didn't have the © symbol. He was pleased because he's been thinking about doing a re-mix of some of the tracks.

I explained that just because the copyright symbol wasn't on the box did not mean the CD was not copyrighted...

"Ok then dad. How do I know if something is copyrighted or not?"

"Good question. And funny enough it's not too easy to answer. There is nowhere - no single place anyway - we can go to check up on whether something is covered by copyright or not. Usually if something is recently recorded you'll find it is protected by copyright, even if it doesn't have the © symbol."

"But how do I know if it is not copyrighted?"

"Well. It might have a notice on the box saying it was released under a creative commons licence." (We had the CC talk a long time ago)

"What about if it is not CC?"

"Well then it depends on when the copyright-protected thing was made up and how long the copyright lasts. So Mozart's music which was created hundreds of years ago is not protected by copyright."

"How long does copyright last then?"

"Ah... well for an author or a music composer it will last for the life of the author/composer plus seventy years. So it runs out 70 years after the author dies."

"Hmmm... is it really that long? That seems a lot."

"Yes it is quite a long time but it also depends on what is covered by the copyright. So the copyright in a sound recording only lasts fifty years."

"What? What's a sound recording when it comes to copyright?"

"What's on your CD is the sound recording. So the person that wrote the music gets copyright in the composition until 70 years after they die. And the person who sings the song or plays the instruments in a recording studio gets 50 years copyright coverage for recording the song. Or often it can be the company that owns the studio where the song was recorded that gets the 50 years worth of copyright protection."

"Hang on. You're saying there are lots of different copyrights in the same thing? Is that right?"


"That's a bit complicated isn't it. Lots of copyrights for lots of people and companies. 50 years, 70 years after someone dies. So copyright can last for 140 years or more? Isn't that really a bit too long."

"Lots of people think so. You know when copyright started in England in 1709 it only lasted for 14 years. The author could ask for it to go on for another 14 years after that but the basic cover was 14 years."

"Now that's much more sensible."

So it would seem that Jack has come to the same conclusion as Cambridge economist Rufus Pollock. Is it that because, like Phillip Pulllman's Lyra Belacqua and her alethiometer, he is just able to see things more clearly now and when he reaches adulthood he'll have to engage in detailed and arduous research to attain the same understanding at a deeper level? Or is it because the copyright system is so out of synch with what it should be that even (or maybe especially) a ten year old can tell it needs fixing?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Government education policy is damaging its own objectives

Letter to the Independent today from respected education experts:

"Government education policy is damaging its own objectives

Sir: We are specialists with considerable experience collectively in the different phases of education who have come independently to the same conclusion; that government policy is no longer the solution to the difficulties we face but our greatest problem.

We have the same objectives as this Government in wanting to offer a first-class education and training to all and, in particular, to narrow the attainment gap between the most and least advantaged. We have, however, become increasingly dismayed by ministers who are intent on permanent revolution of every aspect of the education system: in so acting, they demonstrate a deep lack of trust in the professional education community.

It is not only the torrent of new policy that rains down on each sector, the constant changes in direction and the automatic rubbishing of any discomforting evidence by ministers: it's also the failure of successive ministers to appreciate that reform has to be accompanied by continuity if the stability of our educational institutions and the high quality of their courses are to be preserved.

For example, despite its rhetorical advocacy of lifelong learning, the reality of government policy is that there are now 1.4million fewer adult learners in the FE sector, broadly defined, than there were two years ago. Similarly, the new policy in HE of withdrawing funding support for all those learners studying for an equivalent or lower qualification (ELQ) to that which they already possess, will reduce dramatically the numbers of adult learners in the system. These policies are being pursued despite near universal condemnation – the Select Committee report on ELQs was particularly damning.

Despite significant, additional investment in education since 1997, our research shows that government policy is now working against the government's own intentions and that the current frenetic pace of change must slow down to what is pedagocially (and structurally) possible.

We need a more consultative, democratic and inclusive way of developing and enacting policy for all the public services. The one change we need above all is for government to consult the professionals and learners before it announces policies which will damage the objectives that we all share.

Emeritus Professor Frank Coffield Institute of Education, University of London

Professor Richard Taylor Director of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning, University of Cambridge,

Professor Sir Peter Scott, Vice-Chancellor, University of Kingston,

Professor Stephen Ball Institute of Education, University of London"

And so say all of us!