Saturday, July 11, 2009

What does Tory plan to scrap ID cards really mean

John Lettice suggests in the Register that the Conservative Party are not being entirely straightforward when stating they are planning to scrap the government's ID card plans if they get elected next year.
"A future Tory government will cancel the ID Card Scheme - but, as The Register has asked several times, what does that mean? A broad commitment to abandon ID cards, even to cancel the National Identity Register database, leaves a certain amount of wiggle-room, particularly if - as is Tory policy - you're likely to be keeping plans for adding fingerprints to passports in place."

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Filmmakers speak out against management of web traffic

From the movie guide:
"Canada’s largest Internet providers are having a chilling effect on independent filmmakers by slowing down certain Internet technologies that enable producers to distribute movies and other programming online, federal regulators heard Wednesday.

Increasingly, independent filmmakers and television producers are turning to online peer-to-peer technologies as a primary means of distributing their creations in the face of rising competition for broadcast time from Hollywood studios."

Thanks to Michael Geist for the link.

Pirate party in the FT

Sweden's Pirate Party MEP, Christian Engström, has an article in the FT this week, unsurprisingly entitled Copyright laws threaten our online freedom.

RIAA object to Nesson recordings

I don't think I quite appreciated the depth of the RIAA's animosity towards Charles Nesson, the founder of the Berkman Center at Harvard, until very recently. It's well known that Nesson is defending Joel Tenenbaum in the case for p2p copyright infringement brought against him by the RIAA. He is also using it as a case for his students to observe the US legal system in real time, something the opposition attorneys are not too keen on. The latest development in the case is that the RIAA are reportedly asking the judge in the case to order Nesson to remove “unauthorized and illegal recordings” of pretrial hearings and depositions from the net.

I was prompted by the story to listen, for the first time, to Nesson's recording of Tenenbaum's deposition in September 2008 (available at the Berkman Center).

Right from the start it is clear the RIAA lawyer doing the main questioning is trying to deconstruct Nesson's involvement in the case, presumably to gather evidence for the courtroom battles to come. The emotion in the voices of both the RIAA supervising attorney and in-house counsel - and this is purely subjective perspective on my part - displays more than simple irritation with Tanenbaum and Nesson. The in-house counsel got particularly annoyed at one point when declaring that Nesson didn't seem to appreciate that many people were getting laid-off every year because of lost sales due to file-sharing and that was who he was fighting for. In fairness to him he seemed genuinely upset at the job losses and committed to his desparate attempts to stem the flow by pursuing file sharers through the courts.

But in spite of drm, draconian copyright laws, monster lawsuits, lack of interoperability, Apple's oliopoly on online music sales, electronic files are unlikely to get harder to copy and distribute because computers are continually getter faster, storage is getting cheaper and more compact and internet pipes are getting fatter. So the RIAA has to find a new strategy, beyond litigation, to work with the technology to monetize their wares - more competition in cheap, reliable, convenient, clean, comprehensive catalogue of online music sales. Convenient, clean and reasonably priced will beat free every time.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Pope criticises rich countries excessive zeal on intellectual property

The Pope has decided to get involved in the debate about the value of intellectual property. In section 22 of Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, he says:
"The world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of “superdevelopment” of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation. “The scandal of glaring inequalities”[56] continues. Corruption and illegality are unfortunately evident in the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries, both old and new, as well as in poor ones. Among those who sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers are large multinational companies as well as local producers. International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions both within the chain of donors and within that of the beneficiaries. Similarly, in the context of immaterial or cultural causes of development and underdevelopment, we find these same patterns of responsibility reproduced. On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care. At the same time, in some poor countries, cultural models and social norms of behaviour persist which hinder the process of development."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

JK Rowling heading for court again

From Fernando Barrio (something I missed at the time):
"The Australian Daily Telegraph brings the news that the estate of Adrian Jacobs is suing JK Rowling’s publisher, Bloomsbury, for copyright infringement and claiming £500 million. The suit has its origin on the allegation that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire contains the same concepts presented in Jacobs’ Willy the Wizard, a 36 page book of which 1,000 copies were made."
Fernando does a terrific analysis of the case. Highly recommended.

The web, copyright and enlightening discussion

This is an example of one of the things I like about the web. Barrister and computer forsensics expert, Alistair Kelman, wrote a short review of Music and Copyright by Ronald S. Rosen a little while ago.

Rosen, who defended John Williams when he got sued for copyright infringement over elements of his music for E.T., noticed the review and contacted Kelman about it. There followed an enlightening exchange about copyright law which is now available for anyone with a computer and a web connection to see.

Kelman had suggested that if some of the discussions about the specifics of the music in the book could have been recorded then it would make the arguments accessible to those not familiar with musical notation. Rosen agreed but noted that although he would have liked to record samples for the book and post an accompanying audio/video files on the web, the budget didn't stretch to getting the required licences for permission to do such recordings.

So to enlighten people about the intricacies of the arguments in the ET music case it would have been valuable to have illustrative audio and video samples. Yet to provide such samples (freely or commercially) would have laid the author open to a copyright infringement lawsuit (although he would probably be allowed to use such samples to illustrate his points in a courtroom) . Rosen, and remember he is a very experienced music copyright lawyer who knows the system better than most, hasn't given up hope of acquiring audio licences for a second edition of the book but this is complicated even if the music under consideration is in the public domain:
"If we are fortunate enough to publish a second edition, we might be a position to secure licenses for small portions of the sound recordings at reasonable rates. If, however, the current edition is highly successful, we may be able to get licenses for the second edition in exchange for crediting the record companies for the use of these extracts, if the composition is in the public domain. If, however, the music itself is also protected by copyright, we would need licenses from both the copyright owner of the sound recording and the owner of the copyright in and to the music. Looking over this paragraph, you will notice a lot of "ifs", which sums up the situation."
Interestingly enough the description of the book itself says:
"The highly topical area of copyright law, as applied to music, is widely misunderstood by lawyers, business people, and - perhaps most seriously - the federal judiciary. More than ever, there is a need to understand music infringement issues within the context of copyright litigation. In Music and Copyright , Ron Rosen provides readers with a practical and strategic roadmap to the music-infringement litigation process, beginning with the client's claim or defense and continuing through the selection and use of trial experts, discovery, motion practice, and trial."
If Rosen is right that music copyrights are so seriously and widely misunderstood (and I think he is) it is more than a little ironic that copyright law itself might be interfering with the ability to put a substantial dent in that unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Quote of the day

From Charles Nesson:
"If you see the United States in a competition with other nations in a digital world, and you think the best asset you have for the future are your own children, who will become the digerati, who think imaginatively in that environment, you will be against the idea that you use the law, the power of the state, to make those learners fearful of clicking on the Net."

Centocor v. Abbott: Biggest Patent Verdict Ever

The week before last a Texas jury apparently awarded the largest damages for patent infringement in history.
"Abbott Laboratories must pay $1.67 billion to Centocor, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, because its Humira arthritis treatment infringes U.S. Patent No. 7,070,775. The patent was developed at New York University and licensed exclusively to Centocor, which makes a medicine called Remicade that competes with Humira."

Jammie Thomas appeals again

Unsurprisingly Jammie Thomas, who saw jury damages for copyright infringement via KaZaa increased from $9250 per song to $80,000 per song on appeal, has decided to further appeal the latest award against her.
"Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the Minnesota woman found liable for willful copyright infringement of 24 songs last month, has asked a federal court for a new trial or a reduction in the amount of the $1.92 million damages she was ordered to pay.

Thomas-Rasset, who a jury found liable for willful copyright infringement, asked the court Monday to either alter or amend the judgment, remove or change the award of statutory damages to the minimum, or give her a new trial."
Update: I should of course have noted as Fernando does that "the claimants specialists could only link 11 songs to the defendant’s computer, so the actual tag is not U$S80,000 per song as the jury decided but U$S174,545.45 per song (for the other 13 songs even the claimant’s specialists recognized that they couldn’t probe that they had been actually shared)."

Comedian Bishop sees the power of YouTube?

A close friend has pointed me at American Irish comedian Des Bishop's new website. I find Bishop to be very funny but I guess you have to be Irish to get some of his material, especially the stuff on the catholic church in Ireland.

What's of interest to the b2fxxx sphere, however, is not that Bishop does Irish humour exceptionally well but that he actively points people from his website to freely available videos of his gigs on YouTube. He's been known to joke about the less well off members of the Irish diaspora in the US passing copies of his DVDs amongst themselves and not paying for them. Yet here he is on the web linking to free versions of the same materials.

Perhaps he subscribes to lesson 1 of Tim O'Reilly's notion of piracy as progressive taxation: obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy?

Monday, July 06, 2009

DOJ confirm official Google book settlement investigation

From John Paczkowski,
"The Justice Department probe of the Google Books settlement is heating up. On Thursday afternoon, the agency officially opened an investigation into the deal, which would allow the search sovereign to make millions of books available online.

“The United States has reviewed public comments expressing concern that aspects of the settlement agreement may violate the Sherman Act,” wrote William F. Cavanaugh, a deputy assistant attorney general. “At this preliminary stage, the United States has reached no conclusions as to the merit of those concerns or more broadly what impact this settlement may have on competition. However, we have determined that the issues raised by the proposed settlement warrant further inquiry.”"

Quote of the day: we like to learn...

One of my favorite pieces of advice about education is encapsulated in John Holt's simple philosophy:
"Basically... the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don't need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it."
Holt was an educator who worked within the education system and hoped for many years it could be improved but eventually decided it was so dysfunctional it could not be fixed and became an advocate of home schooling. He also came to the conclusion that the main reason children don't learn in schools is fear - fear of failing, fear of being laughed at, fear of not being able to tackle the tasks set by teachers, fear of not being good enough, fear of being teased by teachers and fellow pupils.