Thursday, November 19, 2009

Google want to help us find the laws that govern us

Google want to help us find the laws that govern us.
"As many of us recall from our civics lessons in school, the United States is a common law country. That means when judges issue opinions in legal cases, they often establish precedents that will guide the rulings of other judges in similar cases and jurisdictions. Over time, these legal opinions build, refine and clarify the laws that govern our land. For average citizens, however, it can be difficult to find or even read these landmark opinions. We think that's a problem: Laws that you don't know about, you can't follow — or make effective arguments to change.

Starting today, we're enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar. You can find these opinions by searching for cases (like Planned Parenthood v. Casey), or by topics (like desegregation) or other queries that you are interested in. For example, go to Google Scholar, click on the "Legal opinions and journals" radio button, and try the query separate but equal. Your search results will include links to cases familiar to many of us in the U.S. such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, which explore the acceptablity of "separate but equal" facilities for citizens at two different points in the history of the U.S. But your results will also include opinions from cases that you might be less familiar with, but which have played an important role.

We think this addition to Google Scholar will empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all. To understand how an opinion has influenced other decisions, you can explore citing and related cases using the Cited by and Related articles links on search result pages. As you read an opinion, you can follow citations to the opinions to which it refers. You can also see how individual cases have been quoted or discussed in other opinions and in articles from law journals. Browse these by clicking on the "How Cited" link next to the case title. See, for example, the frequent citations for Roe v. Wade, for Miranda v. Arizona (the source of the famous Miranda warning) or for Terry v. Ohio (a case which helped to establish acceptable grounds for an investigative stop by a police officer).

As we worked to build this feature, we were struck by how readable and accessible these opinions are. Court opinions don't just describe a decision but also present the reasons that support the decision. In doing so, they explain the intricacies of law in the context of real-life situations. And they often do it in language that is surprisingly straightforward, even for those of us outside the legal profession. In many cases, judges have gone quite a bit out of their way to make complex legal issues easy to follow. For example, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court justices present a fascinating and easy-to-follow debate on the legality of internment of natural born citizens based on their ancestry. And in United States v. Ramirez-Lopez, Judge Kozinski, in his dissent, illustrates the key issue of the case using an imagined good-news/bad-news dialogue between the defendant and his attorney.

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of several pioneers, who have worked on making it possible for an average citizen to educate herself about the laws of the land: Tom Bruce (Cornell LII), Jerry Dupont (LLMC), Graham Greenleaf and Andrew Mowbray (AustLII), Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org), Daniel Poulin (LexUM), Tim Stanley (Justia), Joe Ury (BAILII), Tim Wu (AltLaw) and many others. It is an honor to follow in their footsteps. We would also like to acknowledge the judges who have built this cathedral of justice brick by brick and have tried to make it accessible to the rest of us. We hope Google Scholar will help all of us stand on the shoulders of these giants."

The most radical copyright proposal ever?

Cory Doctorow is very concerned at the latest plans from the UK government on copyright reform.
"A source close to the British Labour Government has just given me reliable information about the most radical copyright proposal I've ever seen.
Secretary of State Peter Mandelson is planning to introduce changes to the Digital Economy Bill now under debate in Parliament. These changes will give the Secretary of State (Mandelson -- or his successor in the next government) the power to make "secondary legislation" (legislation that is passed without debate) to amend the provisions of Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988).
What that means is that an unelected official would have the power to do anything without Parliamentary oversight or debate, provided it was done in the name of protecting copyright. Mandelson elaborates on this, giving three reasons for his proposal:
1. The Secretary of State would get the power to create new remedies for online infringements (for example, he could create jail terms for file-sharing, or create a "three-strikes" plan that costs entire families their internet access if any member stands accused of infringement)
2. The Secretary of State would get the power to create procedures to "confer rights" for the purposes of protecting rightsholders from online infringement. (for example, record labels and movie studios can be given investigative and enforcement powers that allow them to compel ISPs, libraries, companies and schools to turn over personal information about Internet users, and to order those companies to disconnect users, remove websites, block URLs, etc)
3. The Secretary of State would get the power to "impose such duties, powers or functions on any person as may be specified in connection with facilitating online infringement" (for example, ISPs could be forced to spy on their users, or to have copyright lawyers examine every piece of user-generated content before it goes live; also, copyright "militias" can be formed with the power to police copyright on the web)
Mandelson is also gunning for sites like YouSendIt and other services that allow you to easily transfer large files back and forth privately (I use YouSendIt to send podcasts back and forth to my sound-editor during production). Like Viacom, he's hoping to force them to turn off any feature that allows users to keep their uploads private, since privacy flags can be used to keep infringing files out of sight of copyright enforcers.
This is as bad as I've ever seen, folks. It's a declaration of war by the entertainment industry and their captured regulators against the principles of free speech, privacy, freedom of assembly, the presumption of innocence, and competition.
This proposal creates the office of Pirate-Finder General, with unlimited power to appoint militias who are above the law, who can pry into every corner of your life, who can disconnect you from your family, job, education and government, who can fine you or put you in jail.
More to follow, I'm sure, once Open Rights Group and other activist organizations get working on this. In the meantime, tell every Briton you know. If we can't stop this, it's beginning of the end for the net in Britain."
Update: The Guardian has picked up the story.

Ireland, the world cup and a disappointed young man

My younger son came charging into our bedroom early this morning full of excitement and demanding to know "Did they win, did they win?"

Sadly I had to disappoint him.  No Ireland had been knocked out of the world cup by France.  The slump from excitement to despair was instant.  Then to make it worse I had to tell him that a player he has idolised for years, Thierry Henry, had handled the ball before setting up the goal which put France through.  Football means a lot when you are ten.  To have your favorite team beaten because one of your favorite players cheated is really hard to take.

FIFA won't care.  They fixed the playoffs to avoid France and Portugal having to play each other and France and Portugal duly went through.  The manner of that qualification really doesn't matter to the organisation that stinks to the core, an organisation which will be active in sweeping this incident under the carpet as quickly as possible.  It's only Ireland.  They are not important.  It will all be forgotten about tomorrow.  It will certainly be forgotten about by the time France are playing in South Africa next year.

So what to you say to a 'gutted' ten-year-old?  Sometimes things go against you on the football pitch and in life.  You've gotta pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again, as the old song says.  You've also got to realise that that game from Saturday to Wednesday involved 310 minutes or so of football.  Ireland had several chances to put the game beyond France in the 120 minutes last night and we didn't take them.  In addition the best reaction to cheating is to go right down the other end and beat them legitimately within the rules. Ireland had a further 15 minutes to do that but didn't quite manage it.  For the sake of moving on don't feel sorry for yourself because of an incident of blatant cheating but by all means do go and work harder to ensure justice and to change the system to make it fairer; and do also redouble that determination to go out and beat the odds the next time no matter how heavily they are stacked against you.

At the last world cup, then 7, he enthusiastically supported France - well mainly Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane - all the way through the tournament.  Will he be rooting for France at the finals next year?  I doubt it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Apple edge ahead in the Psystar case

The WSJ is reporting that Apple has won a key ruling in the Psystar case.  Pamela Jones at the excellent Groklaw has the full story and is very blunt in her analysis.
"Psystar just got what's coming to them in the California case. Here's the order [PDF]. It's a total massacre. Psystar's first-sale defense went down in flames. Apple's motion for summary judgment on copyright infringement and DMCA violation is granted. Apple prevailed also on its motion to seal...
You're surprised? I told you, I told you, I told you. So, to those who feel crushed at the moment, there could be an appeal, I suppose. And if you want freedom for your code, you certainly can find it on Planet Earth. Look in the right direction. You'll be happy you did, because you can hack away to your heart's content, and it's perfectly legal. The court's message is clear: EULAs mean what they say; if you don't want to abide by its license, leave Apple's stuff alone.
We have the order for you as text.

On the first sale defense, you'll find it in the section on distribution right and Section 109:
Apple contends that Psystar has violated its distribution right by offering and selling Mac OS X on Psystar computers to the public. Psystar admits that it has distributed Mac OS X (Chung Exh. 17 at 4). But Psystar responds that its conduct is protected by the Section 109 first-sale doctrine. Section 109 provides that "the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord." 17 U.S.C. 109. This provision is a limitation on the distribution right. It applies only to an owner of a copy.
The parties spill much ink on whether Psystar was the owner or a licensee of the copy (i.e., the tangible copy) of Mac OS X that it purchased. Even assuming arguendo that Psystar was the owner of a copy, the first-sale defense fails here. Section 109 provides immunity only when copies are "lawfully made." The copies at issue here were not lawfully manufactured with the authorization of the copyright owner. As stated, Psystar made an unauthorized copy of Mac OS X from a Mac mini that was placed onto an "imaging station" and then used a "master copy" to make many more unauthorized copies that were installed on individual Psystar computers. The first-sale defense does not apply to those unauthorized copies. See Microsoft Corp. v. Software Wholesale Club, Inc., 129 F. Supp. 2d 995, 1006 (S.D. Tex. 2000) ("the first-sale doctrine does not apply to an admittedly counterfeit unit"); see also 2-8 NIMMER ON COPYRIGHT § 8.12 ("if the manufacture of a copy or phonorecord constitutes an infringement of the reproduction or adaptation right, its distribution will infringe the distribution right, even if this is done by the owner of such copy or phonorecord").
Catch that? Even if Psystar were the lawful owner of the copy, it still can't do what it did...
And to those who argue that all that matters is that open source is a better way to develop code, let this case be a warning message. Apple makes fabulous code. Of course, the BSD community did a lot of it for them, but Apple makes it all just work for end users, and they do that beautifully. So no one can argue that for end users it is not fabulous code. It is.
So here is my question: is that enough?
Or isn't the message of this case that what you really want with your fabulous code is freedom for the code? If you answer yes, I want freedom to do what I want with code on my home computer, then why use proprietary code? Proprietary vendors are happy to sell you the best code in the world, if they have it. But they won't sell you freedom to use it any way you want. That's not the business they are in.
So, if freedom matters to you, don't sell out the goal of a completely free operating system, without any proprietary blobs at all. There is a purpose to that goal, because proprietary blobs mean restrictions on use. That is a given. There are other negatives, but that one is the one this case highlights. So work for drivers that are not proprietary. Stay away from code that you believe has potential patent infringement claims. Why? Because a short-term seeming advantage can block the end result you want. It will provide a Brand X solution that takes you on a detour away from your goal. So when folks tell you that all that matters is that the code be open source or that end users should have the right to put proprietary code together with free and open source code if they want to, or that partnering with Microsoft will work out well, or that what matters is that end users use more free software by using proprietary-free mixtures, ask yourself, is that really true? No matter who says it, is it true? Look at the Apple v. Psystar case. Freedom matters. Some things are just obvious."

Monday, November 16, 2009

ACTA 101

Michael Geist recently gave a terrific 20 minute talk on 'Everything you need to know about ACTA but didn't know to ask'. Embedded below.

Minister promotes ID cards as useful for getting into clubs/bars

This is almost patheticially hilarious.  The foundation of the government's anti-terrorist, immigration control, crime fighting, benefit fraud detection etc. etc. strategies, the great all-conquering biometric ID card, is now being promoted by Home Office minister, Meg Hillier, as a 'convenient' way for young people to prove their age to get into nightclubs and bars.
I missed this from Phillip Virgo in Computer Weekly last week.  Thanks to Andrew Watson via FIPR for the pointer.
""The still calm voice that drives the strongest of men to panic". Today the Audit Commission  launched a discussion paper "Nothing but the Truth" to start "a discussion on how to ensure that data on local public services is fit for purpose". Read it. Think. Then be afraid. Because some of the data on the files of central government is much worse.

The paper raises profound issues regarding the quality of information used by Central and Local government for policy formation and resource allocationlet alone decisions affecting the lives, livelihoods, health, welfare and freedom of individuals.

The reasons why the base data is so bad include widespread and long-standing ignorance of the basic disciplines of information management not only across public and private sector but also among those selling "solutions" to them."