Friday, September 19, 2008

Google comments on ACTA

Google has submitted an interesting set of views to the US trade representative's call for comments on the Anti-counterfeiting trade alliance, ACTA.

"Google Inc. appreciates the opportunity to comment on the pending negotiations for the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). We have three areas of concern: (1) the scope of the issues proposed to be covered in the agreement and the competency of an Executive agreement to address such issues; (2) the alacrity with which the agreement is being negotiated and the need for transparency and openness to ensure a balanced agreement reflective of the balance in U.S. law; (3) specific substantive provisions affecting intermediaries, such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other innovative companies. We address these below.

I. The Scope of ACTA

The ACTA should not address issues beyond border and customs enforcement issues. Internet companies and other intermediaries, like Google, telecom companies and ISPs more generally, do not engage in counterfeiting and piracy; they are legitimate businesses critical to the U.S. economy. To impose potential liability and obligations on them, or to dictate terms of substantive intellectual property law that affect Internet intermediaries, is shooting at the wrong target, potentially contrary to U.S. law, and in any event not appropriate subject matter for an Executive agreement not submitted to the Congress.

U.S. law regarding ISP/intermediary obligations and liability is sensitive and carefully balanced; there are ongoing legislative debates and litigation in domestic courts that seek to balance the interests of right holders according to the Congressional policy of encouraging innovation. Indeed, a decision this summer from the Second Circuit (the Cablevision case) calls into doubt what prior U.S. FTAs had assumed was U.S. law on temporary copies. A trade agreement should not affect or freeze these developments (especially one that will not even be submitted to the Congress). For this reason, provisions on obligations and liability of Internet intermediaries, such as ISP safe harbors, technological protection measures, and statutory damages, have no place in ACTA."

Unsurprisingly they don't want to get caught in the mass IP sweep up. They go on to say that the ACTA negotiations should be transparent, that they contribute to the economy and it would be a mistake to upset that contribution. They also draw a line in the sand on temporary copies and drm (or tpm) warning the trade negotiators to stay away from them.

Who owns ideas?

Paul Kennedy at CBC radio did a show on Who owns ideas recently, interviewing a range of IP dignitaries from James Boyle to Cory Doctorow and taking in Jane Ginsburg and Michael Geist along the way. Recommended.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ACTA fact or fiction

From Wired: Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement: Fact or Fiction?

"There's been speculation for months concerning the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. If ratified, many suggest it would criminalize peer-to-peer file sharing, subject iPods to border searches and allow internet service providers to monitor their customers' communications.

Yet all we know for certain is it's a treaty (.pdf) about beefing up intellectual property protections being negotiated in secret by the European Union, the United Sates, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand.

Dozens of special-interests groups on Monday urged the trade representatives from those nations to disclose the language of the evolving agreement in a bid to end speculation on its contents and to assist in crafting its language."

Don't buy, download textbooks

From the NYT: Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free

"SQUINT hard, and textbook publishers can look a lot like drug makers. They both make money from doing obvious good — healing, educating — and they both have customers who may be willing to sacrifice their last pennies to buy what these companies are selling.

It is that fact that can suddenly turn the good guys into bad guys, especially when the prices they charge are compared with generic drugs or ordinary books. A final similarity, in the words of R. Preston McAfee, an economics professor at Cal Tech, is that both textbook publishers and drug makers benefit from the problem of “moral hazards” — that is, the doctor who prescribes medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and thus usually don’t think twice about it.

“The person who pays for the book, the parent or the student, doesn’t choose it,” he said. “There is this sort of creep. It’s always O.K. to add $5.”

In protest of what he says are textbooks’ intolerably high prices — and the dumbing down of their content to appeal to the widest possible market — Professor McAfee has put his introductory economics textbook online free. "

Radar would you believe it?

I came across a short piece about radar during World War II by Jevon MacDonald at the Fast Forward blog, when I was tidying up my talk on the same subject for the SLS conference this week.

"Radar was cheap, fast, and you could mash it in to existing process and workflow. Everything seemed rosy.

Those who worked on Radar each day, like Private Eliot at Pearl Harbor, came to trust their radar completely. They saw each and every aircraft coming and going within their range and often coordinated large influxes of aircraft. The problem, however, was that nobody else got to seem much of Radar in action. It was a few miles from Pearl Harbor itself and communicated by radio.

People couldn’t understand it, and they couldn’t trust it much either.

The 7th of December 1941, the Pearl Harbor Radar operator saw something new on his screen. It was filling up with dots. Little dots blinking on the radar screen.

This was the moment of crisis. 1 hour before the attacks would begin. Certainly enough time to move some ships and prepare some sort of defense.

When word came through that something was coming, nobody got very excited, until finally someone remembered that a group was flying from the mainland that day. The command was sent back that it was just friendly planes and not to worry, “you probably have your bearings off” or something like that.

Sure enough, Radar was right. It was a massive group of Japanese fighters coming to launch a full scale attack."

Monday, September 15, 2008

UN look into curbing Net anonymity

According to Declan McCullagh,

"A United Nations agency is quietly drafting technical standards, proposed by the Chinese government, to define methods of tracing the original source of Internet communications and potentially curbing the ability of users to remain anonymous.

The U.S. National Security Agency is also participating in the "IP Traceback" drafting group, named Q6/17, which is meeting next week in Geneva to work on the traceback proposal. Members of Q6/17 have declined to release key documents, and meetings are closed to the public"

He refers, in defence of anonymity, to the first amendment and the history of US jurisprudence, including the US Supreme Court decision in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission in 1995, where Justice Stevens who delivered the opinion, concluded:

"Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. See generally J. S. Mill, On Liberty, in On Liberty and Considerations on Representative Government 1, 3-4 (R. McCallum ed. [ McINTYRE v. OHIO ELECTIONS COMM'N, ___ U.S. ___ (1995) , 24] 1947). It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation - and their ideas from suppression - at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse. See Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616, 630-31 (1919) (Holmes, J., dissenting). Ohio has not shown that its interest in preventing the misuse of anonymous election-related speech justifies a prohibition of all uses of that speech. The State may, and does, punish fraud directly. But it cannot seek to punish fraud indirectly by indiscriminately outlawing a category of speech, based on its content, with no necessary relationship to the danger sought to be prevented. One would be hard pressed to think of a better example of the pitfalls of Ohio's blunderbuss approach than the facts of the case before us."

Commuter Flights Grounded Thanks To Bumbling TSA Inspector

From the Aero-News Network,

"Damaged TAT Probes On Nine Jets While Conducting 'Security Checks'

They're the government... and remember, they're here to help. A bumbling inspector with the Transportation Safety Administration apparently has some explaining to do, after nine American Eagle regional jets were grounded at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Tuesday.

Citing sources within the aviation industry, ABC News reports an overzealous TSA employee attempted to gain access to the parked aircraft by climbing up the fuselage... reportedly using the Total Air Temperature (TAT) probes mounted to the planes' noses as handholds.

"The brilliant employees used an instrument located just below the cockpit window that is critical to the operation of the onboard computers," one pilot wrote on an American Eagle internet forum. "They decided this instrument, the TAT probe, would be adequate to use as a ladder."

Officials with American Eagle confirmed to ANN the problem was discovered by maintenance personnel, who inspected the planes Tuesday morning... and questioned why the TAT probes all gave similar error indications.

One Eagle pilot says had the pilots not been so attentive, the damaged probes could have caused problems inflight. TSA agents "are now doing things to our aircraft that may put our lives, and the lives of our passengers at risk," the pilot wrote on the forum."

Thanks again to Bruce Schneier for the link. A classic example of how the rush to be seen to be doing something on security can be so dangerous.

Diebold Admits its Voting Machines Drop Votes

Via Bruce Schneier's Cryptogram, Diebold Finally Admits its Voting Machines Drop Votes

"Premier Election Solutions, formerly called Diebold Election Systems, has finally admitted that a ten-year-old error has caused votes to be dropped.

It's unclear if this error is random or systematic. If it's random -- a small percentage of all votes are dropped -- then it is highly unlikely that this affected the outcome of any election. If it's systematic -- a small percentage of votes for a particular candidate are dropped -- then it is much more problematic.

Ohio is trying to sue.

In other news, election officials sometimes take voting machines home for the night.
My 2004 essay on election technology:"

The utility of free

Jamie Love has been extolling the virtues of Ubuntu in particular and free software in general over at the Huufington Post.

"In general however, it will be important for individuals to switch to Linux, not only from Microsoft, but also from Apple. Today many free software proponents don't use free software themselves. Because of this, they often don't fully understand or appreciate the ways the platform works, the policies (by individuals, organizations, regulators or governments) that would make it work better, or the interesting ways that innovation is created and managed in an environment where knowledge becomes community property. I'd like to use analogies to better explain the difference between talking about free software and using free software, and I'm sure there are plenty -- is reading about sex the same as having sex? Can you really understand foreign policy without visiting foreign countries?
Because of the stakes, people should increasingly be thinking of free software as a social movement. It is not only about a small number of programmers and engineers. It is about everyone who cares about the future of knowledge ecosystems."

Another step towards copyright cops

The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act, which will require the Justice Department to do the legwork in civil copyright litigation, took another step towards the US statute books through the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a majority of 14-4 last Thursday.

Ars Technica bills the move an "enormous gift" to Big Content.

Once the US get their copyright cops, of course, the EU will be clambering for them too.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Apple's tennis shoes drm patent

Yep, in the words of Nicholas Carr, Apple declares war on sneaker hackers.

"Today, reports New Scientist, Apple has applied for a patent to - no joke - extend digital rights management to tennis shoes and other articles of clothing. "What is desired," the patent application says, "is a method of electronically pairing a sensor and an authorized garment." It continues:

As used herein an authorized garment is a garment sanctioned to be electronically paired with an authenticated (i.e., certified) sensor. Once the garment and sensor are electronically paired, the sensor can receive (and in some cases process) sensing information (such as garment performance data or user performance data) received from the garment. Since only authorized garments are configured to electronically pair with authenticated sensors, a user (or manufacturer) can be assured that the sensing data received by the sensor is both accurate and consistent with its intended use (a sensor designed for use with running shoes can not properly be used with dance shoes, for example).

Apple views tennis-shoe DRM as a way to head off what it sees as a potential plague of sneaker hacking. "