Saturday, September 27, 2008

How children learn

I see Cory Doctorow has been reading a couple of my favorite books, John Holt's How Children Learn and How Children Fail. Both should be compulsory reading for every teacher everywhere.

"Earlier this year, a reader sent me copies of John Holt's classic books on children's education, How Children Learn and How Children Fail and tonight, I finished the first of them (and will be reading the other next). It was one of the most profoundly moving books I've ever read, the truest account of how I remember my best learning experiences as a child and an adult.

Holt was a dedicated teacher and a very, very keen observer of children from babyhood up. Most of How Children Learn takes the form of notes from his diaries, his later reflections on his failures and successes, and letters and feedback from other parents and educators.

Holt's basic thesis is that kids want to learn, are natural learners, and will learn more if we recognize that and let them explore their worlds, acting as respectful co-learners instead of bosses. Practically speaking, that means letting them play and playing with them, but resisting the temptation to quiz them on their knowledge or to patronize them. Most resonant for me was his description of kids' learning unfolding from the natural passionate obsessions that overtake them -- it made me remember my best learning moments, like the time when I was 7 and my teacher Bev Pannikar found me reading Alice in Wonderland to myself in a corner of her classroom, and she just let me be, as I branched out from there to book after book, hiding out and falling in lifelong love with reading. Or the time that Brian Kerr found me afire with a passion for math and just let me go at it, working through workbook after workbook to the detriment of my other studies -- I think I was ten. "

Friday, September 26, 2008

Anger as NHS shares confidential health records with councils

From Computer Weekly: Anger as NHS shares confidential health records with councils

"An NHS patient has complained to the information commissioner after the health service placed her "private and confidential" health records on a database which could be accessed by staff at the local council.

Elizbeth Dove said she learned that the NHS had shared her medical details with the council without her knowledge after she contacted her GP about suspected depression.

The case highlights the widespread, but little known, practice of data sharing between the NHS and local councils through the local council social care systems."

Thanks to HJ Affleck via FIPR for the link.

Microsoft win MP3 patent appeal case v Alcatel-Lucent

From CNet:

"A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that Microsoft need not pay damages to Alcatel-Lucent in a long-running patent dispute in a case that could have opened up a broad range of litigation over the MP3 music format."

Olympic organisers want trademark on phrases from national anthem

From CBC:

"Two phrases borrowed from Canada's national anthem have been chosen as the mottoes for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and organizers have already moved to protect the commercial rights to the lines.

The lines "With glowing hearts" from the English version and "Des plus brillants exploits" from the French version will soon be emblazoned on Olympic merchandise and promotional material as a national campaign to promote the mottoes is rolled out across Canada this fall.

The phrases were recently trademarked by the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee in anticipation of the announcement, it was revealed Wednesday"

Oink police don't pay copyright fees

From the Register: BitTorrent crackdown cops fail to pay music copyright fees

"Cleveland Police, the force that will today bring six people to court for alleged involvement in the OiNK BitTorrent network, does not pay licensing fees to legally play music in its canteens, it has emerged."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Spore drm spawns class action suit

Also from CNet:

"Electronic Arts may have attempted to appease angry customers by amending its digital rights management policy on Spore, but the company's DRM troubles aren't over yet.

Earlier this week, a class action suit was filed in the Northern District of California Court on behalf of Melissa Thomas and all other Spore purchasers. The suit contends that EA violated the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law by failing to inform consumers that by installing Spore, they also inadvertently install a program called SecuROM. SecuROM is a copy protection program that limits the number of times software can be installed on a PC. In the case of Spore, that limit was set to three (and later upped to five)...

The copy protections associated with Spore have dogged the highly anticipated game since its launch earlier this month. The original restrictions placed on the game outraged many consumers, thousands of whom retaliated by posting negative reviews of the game on or downloading it illegally from file-sharing sites."

Bush administration oppose copyright cops

From CNet news: Bush administration opposes RIAA-based copyright bill

"The Bush administration has announced its strong opposition to a bill backed by the recording industry that would let federal prosecutors file civil lawsuits against peer-to-peer pirates.

In a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that amounts to a veto threat, the administration said it was "deeply concerned" that the proposal would divert resources from criminal prosecution to civil enforcement, and create "unnecessary bureaucracy." Currently prosecutors have authority to file criminal charges.

The two-page letter said that copyright owners already have plenty of legal methods to target infringers, including seeking injunctions, impounding infringing materials, recovering actual damages plus statutory damages, and, in some cases, obtaining attorney's fees."

Update: From Democratic Senator, Ron Wyden, Senate Drops Civil Enforcement Provisions from Intellectual Property Act

"Washington, DC— The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today removed provisions from S.3325, the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008, that would have involved federal prosecutors in civil copyright cases. The provision was removed at the request of U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore) who released the following statement:

“I am happy to announce that after substantial discussions Chairman Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee have agreed to remove provisions from S.3325 that would have resulted in a massive gift of scarce federal resources to Hollywood and the recording industry. I regret that the legislation still includes provisions that overzealous federal prosecutors could misconstrue to allow the seizure of important components of our Internet infrastructure. I will work with Senator Leahy to clarify these provisions in the future.

“I congratulate the committee on their strong efforts to improve enforcement of our anti-counterfeiting laws and hope those efforts will aid federal efforts to protect American producers and American jobs.

“The removal of Title 1 from the original version of S.3325 eliminates a grant of federal power that was not asked for, or desired by the Justice Department. It would have had the effect of turning our federal law enforcement personnel into collections agents for industries that are more than capable of taking care of themselves. The Justice Department has made clear that Title 1 would have resulted in the diversion of federal resources from important criminal actions into civil matters of questionable merit.

“Unleashing federal prosecutors on Internet communications and discourse would also have a chilling effect on both commercial activity and free expression. Both the individual desire to share ideas and creativity more broadly and the drive of business to expand their markets and reach new customers have been the engines behind the most dynamic and vital new industry in American history. This is why it is so important that unintended consequences not be allowed to tax, throttle, or otherwise inhibit those creative forces.

“With over 30,000 civil suits filed by a single entity against individual Americans it is clear that industry is more than able to enforce its intellectual property rights in civil courts without the contribution of taxpayer funds and busy federal prosecutors. I continue to urge the content industries to seek out distribution models that take into account, and profit from, the new technologies that have revolutionized the way Americans communicate, learn and share information."

The first ID cards

It's a big day for the Home Office, though it seems to be getting lost in the news cycle with all the panic about the banking system.

"The Home Office has unveiled identity cards to be issued to foreign residents in the UK.

Example of what a foreign ID card will look like.The plastic wallet cards show the holder’s photograph, name, date of birth, nationality and immigration status. A secure electronic chip holds their biometric details, including fingerprints, and a digital facial image.

First cards roll out in autumn

The first cards are scheduled to be issued 25 November. Within three years all foreign nationals applying to enter or remain in the UK will be required to have a card.

By 2014, 90% of foreign residents in Britain should have identity cards.

The introduction of national identity cards for foreign residents will be followed by the first ID cards for British citizens, targeting workers in sensitive roles - such as airports - from 2009.

Then from 2010 ID cards will be available to young people who want them.

From 2011, cards will be available to the general population."

There's the usual wild claims from the Home Secretary about how brilliant the cards are - as I said in my talk at GikIII yesterday, yet again we are to suffer the effects of scientifically and technically illiterate politicians having to make decisions about information systems they don't understand in depth.

The NO2ID folks are, needless to say, unimpressed:



Desperate to shore up support for the ID scheme, the Home Secretary this week brandished a new plastic card to be issued to some foreign residents from November, calling it an "ID card" for foreign nationals. This cynical branding exercise with its sly appeal to xenophobia should fool no-one.

Having failed to convince industry and employers, the unions and the public at large that ID cards are necessary or desirable, the government has resorted to picking on soft targets - anonymous individuals seeking marriage visas or education - those who have no choice but to keep quiet and comply. And if the statements of junior minister Meg Hiller at Labour Party conference are to be believed, they also intend to target children as young as 14.

Ministers try to give the impression that their National Identity Scheme is inevitable It is not. All the opposition parties are committed to scrapping it and, without the National Identity Register (the database at the heart of the scheme) and with the repeal of the Identity Cards Act we can - and shall - go back to being a free country...

What just happened?

Government spins ID scheme by re-announcing "ID cards for foreigners"

Today the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith closed the Labour Party conference by re-announcing "ID cards for foreigners". In fact a system of biometric visas is being introduced for some foreign residents from November but it is not really part of the National Identity Scheme which hasn't been built yet! This fact has not stopped the government using the words "ID cards", together with a sly appeal to xenophobia to drum up support for its unpopular scheme. It seems the BBC knows a thing or two - halfway down an item 'Foreign national ID card unveiled' on its website, there is a video box labelled "How an identity card will work". Knowledge-hungry surfers who clicked the little arrow were confronted with a black screen. It bore the words "This content doesn't seem to be working. Try again later."

NO2ID has an identity crisis at Labour conference

NO2ID's national co-ordinator Phil Booth was unable to get into a Labour Party conference fringe meeting this week because he couldn't get an ID card! Phil was due to debate the ID scheme with Home Office minister Meg Hillier but Labour's pass office in Manchester told him there had been a problem with his application and it would cost him £600 for a temporary pass to enter the conference for an hour! If this is how they organise ID for their own party conference it makes you wonder how the are they going to organise ID cards for 50 million people.

They're coming for your kids - Part 2

This week Meg Hillier told a Labour party conference fringe meeting (the one Phil Booth couldn't get into) that she saw no reason why ID cards couldn't be given to children as young as 14. The Identity and Passport Service has since denied that plans are afoot to lower the age from 16 (as laid out in the ID cards act). Hillier also hinted at attempts to fetter future governments when she said: "There isn%u2019t an easy way to unpick this [ID] scheme", and going on to claim, "quite rightly because it is invaluable". Meanwhile Action on Right for Children has put in a Freedom of Information request for the full security review of the government's children's database Contactpoint, following publication of the executive summary and the recent controversy over problems with "shielding" records of vulnerable (see last newsletter)."

So much of this falls into the "couldn't make it up" category that it makes you wonder whether we are actually living in an alternate reality.

Jammie Thomas granted new trial

The single mother who lost her copyright infringement case to the tune of $222,000 has been granted a new trial.

Alfred Yen at Mike Madison's blog says:

"The specific legal ground for the ruling was an erroneous jury instruction that merely offering a work on a peer-to-peer network is, in and of itself, infringement. Judge Davis has now concluded that without actual distribution, no infringement has occurred.

It’s hard to say whether this ruling would change the outcome if the case is tried again. If Thomas was offering songs over the Internet, there’s a pretty good chance she wound up actually distributing them to someone. At the same time, however, I wonder if the court is sending a message to the RIAA that it isn’t happy with how this case got resolved.

Judge Davis closed his opinion with a statement that Congress needs to change the statutory damages rule that resulted in the large award against Thomas. The judge asserted that the award was far out of proportion to the size of her offense, and that such large awards are really appropriate only against commercial infringers. "

Who wants ID cards

David Evans is wondering: Who wants ID cards?

Senators seek rights protections in FBI probes

Also via Findlaw: Senators seek rights protections in FBI probes

"Three Democratic senators are demanding civil rights protections for Americans who might be targeted in FBI national security investigations without any evidence of wrongdoing.

In a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the senators also urged the Justice Department to delay still-tentative rules that would expand FBI powers to seek out potential terrorists."

Can't imagine the Obama camp will be too pleased about that being raised at the moment.

Harri Puttar wins Harry Potter lawsuit

From AP via Findlaw: Bollywood's 'Hari Puttar' wins 'Harry Potter' suit

""Hari Puttar" is set to hit cinema screens this week after an Indian court rejected a Warner Bros. lawsuit claiming the name was too close to its Harry Potter series.
Click here to find out more!

The court said in its ruling Monday that people who have watched the Harry Potter movies and read the books would know the difference between that and an Indian Punjabi film called "Hari Puttar - A Comedy of Terrors."

The producers, Mirchi Movies, said the Puttar movie bore no resemblance to the famous boy wizard franchise. Hari is a common name in India and Hindi for God, while "puttar" is Punjabi for son."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

RIAA goes after the lawyer defending p2p cases

From Wired:

"The Recording Industry Association of America is declaring attorney-blogger Ray Beckerman a "vexatious" litigator. The association is seeking unspecified monetary sanctions to punish him in his defense of a New York woman accused of making copyrighted music available on the Kazaa file sharing system.

The RIAA said Beckerman, one of the nation's few attorneys who defends accused file sharers, "has maintained an anti-recording industry blog during the course of this case and has consistently posted virtually every one of his baseless motions on his blog seeking to bolster his public relations campaign and embarrass plaintiffs," the RIAA wrote (.pdf) in court briefs. "Such vexatious conduct demeans the integrity of these judicial proceedings and warrants this imposition of sanctions."

The RIAA's complaint is here. Beckerman's blog is Recording Industry vs The People

A Landmark Torture Trial

From Joanne Mariner at Findlaw:

" A landmark trial is scheduled to begin this week, in which a senior government official is accused of responsibility for vicious acts of torture committed in the name of fighting terrorism.

Alas, the defendant is not one of the many Bush Administration officials who so richly deserve their moment in the dock. But the trial does mark the first application of a federal law criminalizing extraterritorial acts of torture--a law that could someday be used to prosecute "war on terror" abuses.

Passport Fraud and Torture

The defendant in this case, Charles "Chuckie" Taylor, Jr., is the Boston-born son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, himself facing trial before an international court in The Hague. An American citizen, Chuckie Taylor was taken into U.S. custody in March 2006, when he attempted to enter the United States at Miami airport. He arrived in Miami the day after his father was handed over to the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone on charges of orchestrating violence in Sierra Leone's bloody civil war.

Chuckie Taylor was initially charged with passport fraud, for lying about his father's identity on his passport application. Later in the year, after pressure from human rights groups, he was indicted on charges of torture, conspiracy to torture, and using a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Subsequent indictments included an added count of conspiracy to use a firearm during a crime of violence...

The Taylor prosecution is important and encouraging. Yet one cannot help but wonder whether torture is only considered deplorable when carried out by African warlords and their thuggish offspring. Were the Justice Department to announce a case involving U.S. counterterrorism abuses, the values expressed in the Extraterritorial Torture Statute would seem more secure."

Will CDs be replaced by SD memory cards

In another attempted move into the 21st century the music labels are reportedly hoping that there is a new market in albums sold on SD memory cards. I'm a bit surprised it has taken a while for this possibility to open up, as I think there may actually be some mileage in the idea. In any case it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

Cheney's deadly lie

John Dean, not a big fan of the Bush administration, has been dissecting Vice President Dick Cheney's "deadly lie" which convinced Republican Majority Leader Richard Armey of Texas to support the war in Iraq.

Police drop BT-Phorm investigation

The police have halted their investigation into BT and Phorm over the illegal secret interception of communications during the adware trials. A police representative claimed there was implied consent from customers to the trials - how they work that out when they were deliberately kept secret I'm not sure. They also say:

"The matter is considered a civil dispute, and ... desire to elicit clarity around the wording of the relevant acts would necessitate senior Counsel involvement and it is thought this would be inappropriate for Police to use public funds to pursue civil issues where there is no suggestion that Criminal Intent exists."

It's a fair point to say it is inappropriate for Police to use public funds to pursue civil issues (pity no one told Congress this as they merrily continue to rubber stamp the latest piece of IP expansionism in introducing copyright police) but he should have stopped there. Going on to say there was 'no suggestion that Criminal Intent exists' is stretching a point a bit. The logical extension of finding no criminal intent here is to say that a city speculator engaged in insider trading was doing nothing wrong as long as he believed he was doing nothing wrong.

Nicholas Bohm from FIPR is unimpressed:

"City of London Police's response expresses massive disinterest in what occurred. Saying that BT customers gave implied consent is absurd. There was never any behaviour by BT customers that could be interpreted as implied consent because they were deliberately kept in the dark.

"As for the issue of whether there was criminal intent, well, they intended to intercept communications. That was the purpose of what they were doing. To say that there was no criminal intent is to misunderstand the legal requirements for criminal intent."

Thanks to Zoe Nolan via the ORG list for the pointer.

Monday, September 22, 2008

European Patent Office staff on strike

It seems European Patent Office staff are so worried about the low quality of the patents being granted that they have gone on strike over the issue.

"Patent examiners and other staff of the European Patent Office (EPO) demonstrated outside the European Commission offices Thursday, demanding a thorough re-examination of the EPO."

Thanks to Glyn at ORG for the pointer, especially since I'm so buried in other things at the moment I haven't had the opportunity to sift through my newsreader.