Monday, October 31, 2005

Cybersex and MMORPGs

Someone once defined the Internet as a place where people complain about movies and exchange porn. They should have added that it is also used to play computer games. The definition should include that its other two main uses is the playing of games and dating.

It seems like the next big thing to hit the online gaming scene is the advent of adult-themed games. The always amusing "Sex Drive" column in Wired has been musing about the subject of cybersex and online games, pointing out the female appeal of titles like The Sims, and the existence of female gamers who go to MMORPGs for cybersex. This will open the market for adult-themed, cyber-dating or cybersex game titles coming to a retailer near you.

I am interested on whether this will translate into some sort of regulatory call against the game sex industry. After all, computer games are still seen as the realm of teenagers, when in fact a lot of games are designed with the more mature audience in mind. As gamers age, it is only fair that games will also mature and explore adult themes.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Software patents affect innovation

Two stories are highlighting the problem posed by software patents. The first is an article in Groklaw by Marten Mickos, the CEO of the popular open source database software MySQL. Mickos is concerned that there software patents have poisoned the environment for all sorts of developers. He comments that:

Many companies apply for software patents for defensive reasons, thinking that if someone challenges them with a patent, they can retaliate with their own patent portfolio. But today the software industry is seeing a new breed of companies - so called patent trolls -– that have no other business than acquiring patents and then extracting royalties from other businesses. No patent portfolio will help against a troll, because they have no production or sales of their own that you could threaten.
His comments come after the blogoshpere is outraged by the latest silly software patent claim, that of company Scientigo, which owns software patents 5,842,213 and 6,393,426, which describe a claim for a method for modeling, storing, and transferring data in neutral form. Scientigo claims that XML infringes these patents, and they are "in talks" with large software users. Office applications like Microsoft Office use XML, so I can imagine that Microsoft is afraid that it may be infringing. Of course, the claim by this company is preposterous, but they own the patent, and it will take a lot of money to either fight it in court or attempt to invalidate it. What will happen is that Scientigo will extort billions of dollars from software developers (proprietary and non-proprietary) through the licensing of XML. The fact that XML predates the patents seems not to bother Scientigo, who sounds smug and confident in this interview. The problem is that as far as I can tell, Scientigo does not produce anything, it seems to be just another patent troll.

Who loses in these cases? Developers, obviously, but also the consumer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cereal killers

It is official, the American patent system has gone bonkers. Take a look at patent application 20050160005, describing a method for "providing food, beverages, and associated goods and services in a retail environment". What does it consist of? This is a business patent for mixing cereals in the same bowl. According to Greg Aharonian from PatNews, the claim boils down to these points:

- displaying to customers retail-sale packages for multiple competitively-branded breakfast cereals, wherein the multiple competitively-branded breakfast cereals are manufactured by at least two different cereal manufacturers;
- receiving a request from a customer for a first portion of a first one of the competitively-branded breakfast cereals and a second portion of a second one of the competitively-branded breakfast cereals;
- in response to receiving the request from the customer, combining the first and second portions of the first and second competitively-branded breakfast cereals together in a carry-out container; and
- presenting the carry-out container to the customer in exchange for payment.
Free Culture has a page dedicated to freeing the cereal. I rather like Crunchy Nut with muesli.

SuSE Linux 10

A Linux distribution that is easy to use? I have started to download Linux SuSE 10, which seems to be the easiest Linux yet, although at 3.8 GB it is a very large download by any standard (you can still get the DVD, CD and manuals version).

Going through some of the features it seems like Novell has managed to get the balance right between usability and great looks. It comes with all sorts of goodies, such as Firefox 1.0 and Open Office 2.0 right out of the box (or the DVD in this case). As in many other SuSE installations, it includes a lot of proprietary software, which may not meet with the FS seal of approval, but for those of us without such constraints it is great to get some multimedia support out of the box. However, if you have objections to having non-Free Software on your Linux machine, then you can even try an OSS-only version of the download.

Could this be the distribution that puts Linux in the mainstream? Unlikely. After all, people will still refuse to install Firefox even if it is so much better than IE and it is very easy to use. Nevertheless, here is a very easy-to-use version of Linux for those brave enough to make the leap into the unknown.

I'm off to get geek points by installing it on my laptop, and then I will install it on a dead badger.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

EPIC 2015

A dystopian look at the future? The shape of things to come? This is a Flash movie that has been around for a while, but it just has been updated to include the latest from Google and Apple.

Enjoy. Or be afraid. Be very afraid.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Read The Flipping Licence

(Via Techdirt). It has become an internet cliché to point out that nobody reads click-wrap agreements. There is the now famous story of the anti-spyware software that included the promise to pay some money to the first person who emailed them. It took four months for somebody to email them, and they earned $1,000 USD for their troubles.

Nowadays, we are incessantlyy bombarded with click agreements, End-user Licence Agreements (EULA), licences and all sorts of legal documents. People tend to believe that just by clicking on the "I Agree" button, you must have entered into a contract and sold their soul, right? Pacta sunt servanda and all that.

Should people be worried by all of the clicking? Look at this article with a horror gallery of EULAs for spyware products. Claria (formerly Gator), has this beauty:
You agree that you will not use, or encourage others to use, any method to uninstall the Licensed Materials other than through the use of the Add/Remove Programs feature of the Microsoft operating system. Use of any robot, spider, other automatic or non-automatic manual device or process intended to interfere or attempt to interfere with the proper working of the Licensed Materials is prohibited.
In other words, don't make it easy for people to remove the spyware. Then there is this one from iTunes:
Apple reserves the right, at any time and from time to time, to update, revise, supplement, and otherwise modify this Agreement and to impose new or additional rules, policies, terms, or conditions on your use of the Service. Such updates, revisions, supplements, modifications, and additional rules, policies, terms, and conditions (collectively referred to in this Agreement as "Additional Terms") will be effective immediately and incorporated into this Agreement. Your continued use of the iTunes Music Store following will be deemed to constitute your acceptance of any and all such Additional Terms. All Additional Terms are hereby incorporated into this Agreement by this reference.
The question then is, are these terms legal? Fortunately, in Europe there is a well-developed culture of consumer protection that includes Unfair Terms legislation. One can assume that many of the more doubtful agreements will contain some unfair clauses. However, it is also clear that companies rely on the fact that the average consumer will not know of the existence of this legislation, and that they will comply just because they clicked "I agreee".


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Google in trouble?

Google Print continues to suffer from mounting opposition from publishers and authors. It has been reported that it was sued by the Author's Guild, but it is now also being sued by the Association of American Publishers, which includes some big names like McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education and Penguin.

In Europe the problem for Google Print is actually that it is attracting some competition from European governments. The French in particular are worried about the way the project is American-centric, and have vowed to initiate their own library digitisation programme unimaginatively called the "European digital library". However, this may take some time, as the European Commission responded to a proposal by leaders back in April, they have asked for comments, and may actually start to implement them next June.

The other problem in the horizon for Google is that there could be some potential issues with companies that are using Adwords. The problem is that Office Depot has sued its rival Staples over their misuse of the Adwords in Google. Office Depot has an online subsidiary for office supplies called Viking Office Supplies. Staples paid Google to redirect customers to their site if they looked for "Viking". Staples are being sued for trade mark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising and deceptive trade practices. This is most likely an isolated incident, but it could start an Adwords war that would decrease Google's main source of income.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Meet Google, the boy

The Google blog has the story of Oliver Google Kai, born in Sweden from two technology enthusiasts who, you guessed it, love Google.

Fortunately I do not have any offspring, otherwise there could be a little Wikipedia walking the streets of Edinburgh.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Adelphi Charter

I have finally managed to read the Adelphi Charter on Creativity, Innovation and Intellectual Property (formerly known as the IP Charter). The Charter was drafted by a distinguished panel of IP law experts, creators and activists (including Professor Hector MacQueen). Some other people assisted with the research process, such as fellow blogger Abbe at IPEdinburgh (her comment about it here).

I am terribly impressed by how relevant and concise it all is. Take for example article 9:

9. In making decisions about intellectual property law, governments should adhere to these rules:
* There must be an automatic presumption against creating new areas of intellectual property protection, extending existing privileges or extending the duration of rights.
* The burden of proof in such cases must lie on the advocates of change.
* Change must be allowed only if a rigorous analysis clearly demonstrates that it will promote people's basic rights and economic well-being.
* Throughout, there should be wide public consultation and a comprehensive, objective and transparent assessment of public benefits and detriments.
What? Policy based on actual evidence? You must be joking! Seriously though, I believe that this is one of the most important points in the Charter given the amount of inflated claims by all camps involved in the modern IP debate. Change must come only when necessary, not just because content owners want to continue lining their pockets at the expense of the public domain.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Opening lecture at Edinburgh

This year's opening lecture at the AHRC Centre for studies in IP and Technology Law at the University of Edinburgh was held last night. Professor Jonathan Zittrain, the new Chair of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, gave an excellent talk entitled "The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It".

The lecture took us through some of the most problematic aspects of the internet, namely the many security concerns about the network, and its often troublesome interaction with operating systems. Professor Zittrain commented that we are witnessing the death of the PC and the growth of purpose-specific net-aware appliances such as game consoles, BlackBerry and TiVos, and that the reason for this is the existence of network vulnerabilities.

This was a thought-provoking lecture, and a good opening to our public events year.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Google bombing at work

(received via the Cyberprof mailing list) Go to Google and type "Failure", then hit "I'm feeling lucky".

Then much fun ensues, and the people rejoice and giggle.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Access to medicines debate back to the table?

The nightly news are filled with stories about the bird flu and the prospect of a pandemic that will kill millions of people. But it has also brought one issue back to the table, the access to medicines debate. There are reports that there is only one antiviral drug that deals with the current strain of the disease, a drug by Swiss company Roche called Tamiflu. There is growing concern that Roche is the only company with a patent to produce this drug, and it is finally dawning on some people that this may not be such a good idea after all.

What to do? Some governments have warned that they will simply start producing the drug themselves, patent be damned. Whatever happens, it is clear that the access to medicines debate may be coming back.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Google 2084

No comment (thanks to Lilian for link).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

CIE Report on Creative Commons is out

The Common Information Environment (CIE) commissioned Intrallect and the AHRC Centre to undertake a report on the viability of using Creative Commons licences in the public sector. The report is finally out and can be downloaded here, with the appendices available here.

The study comes at a time when Creative Commons is gaining public recognition and spreading rapidly, but it has mostly been adopted by individuals. From the report:

The study concluded that many resources produced by CIE organisations could be made available under a common licence and that Creative Commons would allow a substantial amount of CIE resources to be made available for reuse. Other existing common licences, such as Creative Archive and Click-Use could be used if Creative Commons cannot be applied but their use should be minimised to avoid removing many of the key benefits of the Creative Commons Licences.
Congratulations to Paul Miller, Ed Barker and Charles Duncan for the amazing job that they have done to get the report out. Me and my colleagues from the AHRC Centre were delighted to participate.

Measuring "buzz" power in blogs

(Via IFTF) BlogPulse is a great tool for searching for the popularity of certain words and brands in selected blogs over time, which can serve as a "buzz-meter" tool. I have been having fun searching for some words. See for example the results for copyright, patent and trademark:

Copyright wins by a long shot, but this is hardly surprising as many blogs will have copyright notices. And what about international institutions? Look at the results for WTO, WIPO and WSIS:

I was surprised about the growing popularity of the WSIS. Cause for concern at WIPO?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

In the Public Interest

Professor Michael Geist has released what seems to me to be a landmark in academic publishing. His book "In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law" is a tome filled with opinions from Canadian copyright experts. That in itself is worthy of praise, but what makes this publication unique is that it has been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence. Something else of note is that each PDF can be downloaded only after accepting a click-wrap version of the licence, which is the first time that I have seen it.

Off to read...

NCC warns against criminalisation of IPR

The National Consumer Council (NCC) has spoken out against the music industry suing their customers, warning that this is heavy handed. Jill Johnstone from the NCC said:

"The European Commission must think again before bringing in new and tougher IP laws. Criminal sanctions for infringing copyright holders’ rights must be applied only to organised crime – not to individual citizens making use of new technologies.
‘Any new laws must be very clear on this point and must strike a balance between right holders’ interests in getting a fair return and the public and consumer interests of fair access and use, and the encouragement of innovation."
People may actually have discovered the insanity of the criminalisation of everyday users and that there should be balance in IP.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Modchips: Is the tide is turning?

I have finally managed to go through Stevens v Sony Computer Entertainment, the ruling from the High Court of Australia regarding modchips. In case you are too bored to check on Wikipedia, a modchip is a modification to a built-in technical protection measure in a computer game console (like PlayStation, Xbox or Game Cube).

In this case, Mr. Stevens sold unauthorised copies of PlayStation games, for which he was not sued. Sony initiated the case against him because he also sold modchips to circumvent the copy protection mechanism in the PlayStation. Sony alleged that this was in voilation of s 116A of the Copyrigbht Act as ammended by the Copyright Amendment Act 2000. This was one of the many legislations passed as a result of the WIPO Copyright Treaty, which states in Art. 11 that "Contracting Parties shall provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures that are used by authors in connection with the exercise of their rights..."

The case is long and a recommended read for anyone interested in this subject, particularly because it involves a primary ruling and then an appeal by Stevens at Federal level. There are two different interpretations of the legislative meaning of technical protection measure, sometimes with a tremendous care to distinguishing whether a TPM device inhibits copyright infringement or outright prohibits it. The High Court solves the apparent dispute by stating that the language in the legislation is ambiguous, something that has already been subject to criticism even in the European version of the legislation. The High Court then rules towards a more balanced definition of TPM than present in the law for these reasons:

209. If the definition of TPM were to be read expansively, so as to include devices designed to prevent access to material, with no inherent or necessary link to the prevention or inhibition of infringement of copyright, this would expand the ambit of the definition beyond that naturally indicated by the text of s 10(1) of the Copyright Act. It could interfere with the fair dealing provisions in Div 3 of Pt III of the Copyright Act and thereby alter the balance struck by the law in this country. [...]

211. Avoiding over-wide operation: There is an additional reason for preferring the more confined interpretation of the definition of TPM in the Copyright Act. This is because the wider view urged by Sony would have the result of affording Sony, and other rights holders in its position, a de facto control over access to copyrighted works or materials that would permit the achievement of economic ends additional to, but different from, those ordinarily protected by copyright law. If the present case is taken as an illustration, Sony's interpretation would permit the effective enforcement, through a technological measure, of the division of global markets designated by Sony. It would have the effect of imposing, at least potentially, differential price structures in those separate markets. In short, it would give Sony broader powers over pricing of its products in its self-designated markets than the Copyright Act in Australia would ordinarily allow[157].
This is an utterly refreshing ruling, and I'm sure that it will generate a lot of talk for those looking for balance in copyright legislation.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Hackers jailed

Two hackers from the international group THr34t-Krew (do you l33t?) have been sentenced by a Newcaste court for conspiracy to cause unauthorised modification of computers with intent, or in plain language, for writing a worm that did not even create a lot of problems, but had the potential for great harm.

Blog spam flood

I have been flooded with blog comment spam, perhaps the most pernicious problem affecting blogs hosted by Blogspot. The spammers use software that searches for keywords and generates some text that directs people to a website. I had a post about hardware and I got this spam:

Found a lot of useful info on your site about soldering - thank you. Haven't finished reading it yet but have bookmarked it so I don't lose it. I've just started a soldering blog myself if you'd like to stop by
What is a soldering blog? Does it give advice about how to solder properly? Anyway, I finally got tired of deleting spam, so I have implemented the word recognition feature for comments.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Playstation mods declared legal

The Playstation mod chip case has come against the games industry. A court in Australia has ruled that mod chips are not an infringement of anti-circumvention legislation as present in the European Information Society Directive, the WCT and the DMCA.

The full text of the ruling is not out yet, but it will be AustLII soon. I will comment more about this case next week.

Privacy concerns

Thursday is privacy day, and we have been presented with two contrasting presentations. First Carlos Gregorio from Argentina gave a very interesting presentation about privacy concerns in Latin America, making specific comments about the theoretical distinctions between certain terms, such is intimacy, privacy and information self-determinism. Then Lilian Edwards has given a fiery presentation with two caveats, she has firs dispelled the myth that there is no privacy protection legislation, but then sha presented a large number of privacy concerns, but these come from small players and also large companies and governments.

There is no Big Brother, there are a lot of Little Sisters. The Edinburgh Radical School strikes again.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

IP day begins

It is early morning here in Santo Domingo and the IP programme has just begun with a talk by Victor Vasquez from WIPO, with an interesting presentation of the work in WIPO regarding copyright in the digital domain. Amongst the work is the implementation of the WIPO Copyright Treaties, the recognition of open source and the agenda of copyright protection in the digital environment.

There was no mention of the broadcasting treaty, I will be asking about it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Conference report

Here I am in Dominican Republic enjoying a good conference (really). Yesterday we had a very interesting workshop dealing with policy issues, and today we are attending an interesting set of talks about internet governance. More details about the conference later.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Dominican Republic

I'm attending the V World Computer Law Conference all this week.