Friday, December 11, 2009

ACTA timeline by Michael Geist

Michael Geist has very helpfully put together a dynamic ACTA timeline and committed to keeping it up to date. (Embedded below)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cory on audiobooks

Cory Doctorow is fed up with DRM on audiobooks.
I probably could have “pirated” the same audiobooks more quickly—after all, it's not hard to find cracked Audible titles on the Internet. This is why I can't understand why publishers or writers opt for DRM. It clearly doesn't stop real pirates from copying, and it locks good customers into the DRM vendor's ecosystem. I wouldn't sell my books through a bookseller who demanded readers only enjoy them on a chair from Wal-Mart; why would I sell my audiobooks on terms that insist my listeners only use devices approved by a DRM vendor?
So, RHA and I went to Audible and politely asked them to sell Little Brother without DRM. They turned us down flat. And because Audible is the only retailer who can sell on iTunes, that closed the door on the largest distribution channel in the world for audiobooks.
For my next book, Makers, we tried again. This time Audible agreed to carry the title without DRM. Hooray! Except now there was a new problem: Apple refused to allow DRM-free audiobooks in the Apple Store—yes, the same Apple that claims to hate DRM. Okay, we thought, we'll just sell direct through Audible, at least it's a relatively painless download process, right? Not quite. It turns out that buying an audiobook from Audible requires a long end-user license agreement (EULA) that bars users from moving their Audible books to any unauthorized device or converting them to other formats. Instead of DRM, they accomplish the lock-in with a contract."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mischief managed on data protection

In Harry Potter speak, mischief media managed: the government officials who briefed the Times columnist David Aranovitch, ahead of Justice Minister Michael Wills disingenous speech on data sharing, will be giving themselves a pat on the back over his rant criticising the authors of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust report The Database State.

The minister's speech and the Times article are so full of holes and dogma that it's hard to know where to start, so instead I will quote from William Heath's clinical dissection of the article:
"You’ve managed to work out Michael WiIls works for the government. But you’ve eaten up his chocolate-covered waffle without a sceptical glance.
Mr Wills also accepts that government must take blame for the poor level of debate because it has too often been “overly defensive and dismissive of criticism. Government believes it is acting benignly and legally and has not adequately recognised the fears of those who believe this is not the case.”
This is tripe. The poor level of debate on technology in public services isn’t because the government hasn’t been shoutey enough. It’s because the government is too assertive and indulges in groupthink, failing to take other views into account. At a shallow level they have a good intention, but they fail to realise the less desirable consequences of their ill-thought-out implementation.
I wouldn’t say there’s a deep underlying malevolence, but the poor manner in which they engage with others who have a different good intention is tantamount to malevolence. Your article illustrates this very well.
Central to this is their documented failure to listen effectively to the views of scientists (not that I claim to be one, but my co-authors are) and also of service users and front-line practitioners. This is why NHS CfH has failed, as even the government now admits, and why the ID Scheme and ContactPoint will fail."
In addition I'd can't help extracting one small sample from the minister's speech:
"ContactPoint was developed in response to a key recommendation of Lord Laming's inquiry into the tragic death of Victoria ClimbiĆ©: to improve the exchange of information between different agencies working with children. But I am aware that ContactPoint has attracted a lot of interest and given rise to some concerns – and some misunderstandings. So Delyth Morgan and I want to hear views about ContactPoint from users and practitioners and explore these in light of the facts about the directory and feedback received from early adopters."
The UK government has been informed repeatedly and in great detail by world renowned security, information systems and child protection specialists that you cannot secure a database with the personal details of over 10 million people, when more than a third of a million people need to have routine access to that database as a regular part of their jobs.  Yet they are still talking about ContactPoint attracting "a lot of interest" and giving "rise to some concerns" and wanting to "hear views about ContactPoint".  This government has made such an art of collecting views on multiple policy areas, systematically ignoring them and dogmatically and blatantly continuing to pursue their ill-informed agenda, that it should not be a surprise that they are rolling out the same claptrap again.  It must be seriously annoying, however, for professionals who have invested a lot of effort in engaging and informing the government of the realities of modern technologies, to be subjected to the kind of attacks we hear from ministers and have seen in the Times this morning.  I'm annoyed and I wasn't even involved in writing the Rowntree report. Like William Heath I don't believe there is any deep underlying malevolence on the part of the government - most of them originally got into politics with the aim of helping people and making a difference.  But there comes a point at which the almost theological devotion to being 'on message', and the cultivation of blind ignorance in shutting out any information that contradicts that message, comes to have a malevolent effect.  Malevolence, intended or otherwise, becomes an emergent property of the system.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Recording industry sued for $billions in copyright infringement suit

According to Michael Geist the Candian recording industry in facing a lawsuit for copyright infringement that could end up costing them billions of dollars.
"Chet Baker was a leading jazz musician in the 1950s, playing trumpet and providing vocals. Baker died in 1988, yet he is about to add a new claim to fame as the lead plaintiff in possibly the largest copyright infringement case in Canadian history. His estate, which still owns the copyright in more than 50 of his works, is part of a massive class-action lawsuit that has been underway for the past year.
The infringer has effectively already admitted owing at least $50 million and the full claim could exceed $60 billion. If the dollars don't shock, the target of the lawsuit undoubtedly will: The defendants in the case are Warner Music Canada, Sony BMG Music Canada, EMI Music Canada, and Universal Music Canada, the four primary members of the Canadian Recording Industry Association...
The class action seeks the option of statutory damages for each infringement. At $20,000 per infringement, potential liability exceeds $60 billion.
These numbers may sound outrageous, yet they are based on the same rules that led the recording industry to claim a single file sharer is liable for millions in damages.
After years of claiming Canadian consumers disrespect copyright, the irony of having the recording industry face a massive lawsuit will not be lost on anyone, least of all the artists still waiting to be paid."

Latest Microsoft dispute in China

A friend of mine in China tells me that this court case involving Microsoft and a dispute over fonts, which I haven't paid a lot of attention to, has been a really big deal over there.  Apparently it's been all over the media, court hearings televised live and watched by millions and Microsoft have not been faring too well in the PR stakes as a result.
"The US software giant must not sell versions of Windows XP, 2003, 2000 or 98 software in the Asian super-economy after a Beijing court ruled the products include Chinese fonts designed by a local company.
The court said Microsoft had violated its licensing agreement with Zhongyi Electronic, which designs character fonts.
Microsoft said it plans to appeal the ruling, adding it "respects intellectual property rights" and uses the intellectual property of third parties "only when we have a legitimate right to do so"."
Said friend also tells me that the average woman on the Bejing omnibus has no concept of the notion of people being able to "own" intellectual property.  They have shared ideas for millenia - that's how the world gets better - copy, refine, re-mix, rework, improve.  It doesn't exactly harmonise then with Microsoft allegedly breaching local intellectual property regulations but she reckons they are being lambasted by the public more for being a global US corporation than for the specifics of their transgressions.  As I said I hadn't paid much attention to it so it was interesting to get a local perspective.

My keynote at and some thoughts about WIPO

I'm the lucky beneficiary of some unexpected space in my diary today due to a last minute cancellation of a meeting, so I've finally got around sticking the slides from my WIPO keynote a couple of weeks ago up on Slideshare (embedded below).

I said at the time that I discovered some amazingly talented and dedicated people working within WIPO and likewise amongst their tutors from around the world. In the thick of all the complex politics and bureaucracy of the UN, these people have a really deep understanding of the issues and the importance of balance in international IP policy; and it was really interesting to hear, from the inside, of the energy underpinning the development agenda.

I should also thank Altaye Tedla and Caroline Storan at the WIPO academy who were very hospitable and do a tremendous job supporting 26,000 students all round the world.

Amongst the highlights of the workshop for me, in addition to the obvious opportunity to discuss IP policy with some deeply thoughtful and very well informed professionals from all across the globe - spanning the whole spectrum from IP expansionists to IP reductionists -  were Esteban Burrone's talk on evolving developments on the WIPO development agenda and Anotole Krattiger's session on the IP Handbook of Best Practices.

One of the biggest problems faced by the WIPO academy, their tutors and students is the issue of lack of access to educational resources:
  • Teaching resources
  • Case studies
  • Articles
  • Books
  • Teaching activities
  • Region/jurisdiction specific resources/tools
  • Library resources
  • Online databases
  • Primary legal materials
The WIPO academy produces generic courses which are taught globally but then the tutors struggle to get access to resources to be able to tailor the materials to the specific needs of their students across a wide range of jurisdictions for example.  Although they are working hard to find some compromise the WIPO library can't facilitate tutors' access to resources, as we do for our tutors at the Open University, because of copyright law and licensing restrictions, since the tutors and students are resident in so many different areas.

The irony of WIPO's mission to educate people about intellectual property being hindered by the state of copyright law and publishers' licensing restrictions was quite stark.

So it was good to learn, therefore, of a new, rich, open IP resource which I hadn't previously been aware of, the IP Handbook of Best Practices, which was released under a creative commons attribution share alike licence.  It's a terrific piece of work put together by Professor Krattiger with the help of over 200 experts and I'd encourage you to go and explore the website which is really well organised - not just restricted to the handbook but providing links to other publicly available materials such as IP database and search tools too.

Prof. Krattiger is very much the pragmatist, believing whatever the state of affairs in the battle between IP expansionists and reductionists and whatever the prevailing wind on the state of balance in the system, we have to make it work through making deals in the marketplace. If the rules don't suit you, draw up a contract that does and start negotiating hard, is his primary advice - we need to stop worrying about IP regulations and start focussing on IP management.  He advocates a high standard of ethical behaviour and professionalism in licencing neogtiations, particularly important in the agriculture and health sectors he has specialised in for many years.  Ethical stewartship of intellectual property is really important in the management of our knowledge commons.  Presumably the thinking is that with a wide portfolio of working deals in the market then the regulations will follow on.

I couldn't agree more that we need ethical stewartship of IP but I'm not sure there is a lot of evidence for this in the IP marketplace, which tends to be amoral.  I don't necessarily share Prof Krattiger's optimism that the intellectual property landscape will be rebalanced equitably through the market but we did agree on one aspect of the confusion surrounding patents.  Very often in public discussions about patents two things get confused
  • access and
  • incentive to innovate
He believes that if we disentangle the strategies for access to Aids drugs in Africa, for example, from strategies to encourage innovations in the development of further improved Aids treatments, we will make more progress, on access and development of improved drugs, much more quickly.  The system has not prevented the development of treatments - there are AIDs drugs but the problem in poorer countries is the lack of access to these drugs that could help the condition of millions of Aids sufferers.

It is a general feature of public debates on intellectual property that crucial and separate issues get confused in this way, sometimes deliberately to shape the agenda and sometimes through simple confusion.  But as long as the intellectual property regulations themselves continue to hinder access to knowledge in this and other areas, and the debate continues to get framed and disproportionately influenced by commercial institutions and lobbyists with a vested interest in particular outcomes, then the confusion is not going to get cleared up any time soon.

Thanks again to Altaye Tedla, Caroline Storan, Glyn Martin and Mrs Gao Hang for their hospitality and all the work they put into making the workshop such a success; and thanks to all the delegates for making an outsider so welcome (and for all your positive feedback).