Vivendi Universal has announced that it will offer its music catalogue for free in a legal download site in exchange of advertisement. This could be a tremendous hit for other legal download sites. This may be an indication that some music executives could be throwing in the towel in their War on Piracy. It also means that the P2P business model of web advertisement does indeed work.
Although I think that iTunes has achieved enough market power and brand recognition to be safe, this move may spell doom for smaller struggling download services, and it could even dent some P2P networks, which are still as strong as before the RIAA and IFPI started suing users.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Wikipedia has millions of articles, but what do people actually read? The recently created Wikipedia charts may give us a rough idea of user's real interests. As of today, the top articles are:
Gaming and anime are doing really well in Wikipedia: Wii (7), Pokémon (9), Fable (20), Sasuke Uchiha (25) Final Fantasy VII (35), Red-Haired Shanks (39), Son Goku (Dragon Ball) (85) and Dragon Ball GT (92); just to mention a few. Unfortunately, wrestling is also very popular (why, oh why?).
What about technology law? The highest possible legal-tech-related article is BitTorrent at 95. Yes, nobody cares about the law...
The most disturbing articles? I'm trying to decide between the high popularity of Beverly Hills, 90210 (73), or the World Wrestling Entertainment roster (18). However, Priyanka Chopra (13) restores my faith in humanity.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Friday, August 25, 2006
I have been enjoying watching the Dragon's Den on BBC2. This is a TV program where inventors pitch their ideas to a group of potential investors. The combination of wacky inventions, nervous pitches, colourful personalities and some memorable put-downs make this a quite enjoyable program. Last night's winner was one Mr. Ian Chamings, a former DJ and now a patent attorney. His pitch was for a website called MixAlbum.com (the site seems to be under construction at the moment). The site is an iTunes for dance music, with the supposed novelty that it can automatically mix two songs and sell the result. Mr Chamings obtained £150,000 GBP from two Dragons for 40% of his company. One of the elements that swayed the investors was the fact that Mr Chamings has a patent on his work.
Needless to say, as soon as I heard the word "patent" my interest was piqued. Doing some research, I have found that this software is indeed patented as a "computer aided music mixing system" under UK patent GB2370405. I'm really surprised that this product was able to get a patent in the UK! The abstract and the patent clearly are describing an algorithm for software. This is not a computer implemented invention in the sense of the defunct European Directive, and most certainly it is not under any conceivable manner a computer application that has a technical effect, as required by European and UK patent practice and case law.
Furthermore, mixing software is not a novel idea, and the prior art is extensive, as there has been mixing software in the market for years and years, (MixMeister and MixVibes just to mention two of them). The patent application discusses some of the prior art, but claims novelty on the grounds of being an automated system, and because it performs the mixing more efficiently than its predecessors, which in itself should not warrant a patent.
This is further evidence of the insidious creep of software patents in the UK and Europe, as if further evidence was required, considering the wealth of examples of already patented software.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Apple is settling a patent dispute with Creative, the makers of rival digital player ZEN. According to reports, Apple will pay $100 million USD to Creative in an amicable solution to the patent infringement suit. Creative Technology owns U.S. patent 6,928,433 which protects an "Automatic hierarchical categorization of music by metadata". The patent covers:
"A method, performed by software executing on the processor of a portable music playback device, that automatically files tracks according to hierarchical structure of categories to organize tracks in a logical order. A user interface is utilized to change the hierarchy, view track names, and select tracks for playback or other operations."This patent can clearly be used by Creative against other portable players. It seems like Apple did the right thing in settling this potentially costly litigation.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Two comedy items received through the Cyberprof mailing list, one intentional and one not (we hope). Behold the Campus Downloading video, a release by the RIAA to scare students into not downloading music on campus. I bet that this video will acquire cult status only equaled by Reefer Madness, due to its over-the-top scaremongering and use of threatening tactics.
The video includes all the rhetoric that we have come to expect from the RIAA, including the use of "stealing" at any opportunity; it also reminds us that there are criminal penalties for downloading music, so you can end up in jail. We also meet Derek, who in a surreal interview tells us about how he was taken from class by the police, had an FBI agent talk to him about copyright law, how he "works 40 hours a week" just to pay for legal fees, and how downloading has ruined his life. Call me cynical, but I think that his settlement with the RIAA included appearing in this video. We then hear about a computer expert who talks about how people can catch viruses from P2P, with shots of the guy fixing the inside of the computer because "the hard drive has been destroyed by the virus". It also probably eats your food, and steals your girlfriend while it's at it.
I propose the following IMDB tagline for Campus Downloading: "Cautionary tale features a fictionalized and highly exaggerated take on the use of the Internet. A trio of P2P programs lead innocent teenagers to become addicted to downloads, wild parties, and jazz music."
If you feel your sanity slipping away after watching the RIAA video, then do have a look at Weird Al Jankovic's new song: Don't Download this Song. The lyrics are nothing but inspired:
Once in a while,By the way, you can download this song.
maybe you will feel the urge
to break international copyright law;
by downloading MP3s,
from file-sharing sites,
like Morpheus, or Grokster, or LimeWire or KazAA.
But deep in your heart,
you know the guilt will drive you mad,
and the shame will leave a permanent scar;
'cause you start up stealing songs,
then you're robbing liquor stores,
and selling crack,
and running over school kids with your car.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
This is a thorough yet slightly panicky report from the New York Times about online paedophile chat rooms and fora. We are told about the strange world of the paedophile support groups online, where participants exchange stories, fantasies, technology tips and discuss job offers. Some experts are called to give their opinion about the dangers of such sites, such as the fact that it reinforces their own twisted views that what they do is not illegal. They also share "paedophile propaganda" designed to ensnare children. They also discuss political activism and ways to change the status quo (apparently, there is a paedophile party in Holland).
The article is perhaps obviously explosive, and almost designed to send worried parents into paranoia. When describing the types of jobs that paedophiles hold, it listed children's parties DJs; paediatric nurses; piano teachers; an employee at a water theme park and a paediatrician specializing in gynecology. But most worryingly, the paedophile's preferred job seems to be teaching, while the most common method of accessing minors was through their own families.
While the article makes an excellent point about the power of reinforcement that online communities have, I must admit that this type of technophobe moral panic is a pet-peeve of mine. The story weaves both online and offline behaviours into a seamless continuum, always hinting that the problem has been exacerbated by the Internet. If one were to go by articles such as this, it would be logical to believe that the online world is teeming with criminals, crooks and perverts.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Milton Keynes is set to be the first UK city to be covered by a WiMax network. Telecoms firm Pipex is planning to join Intel to roll out the network on the unsuspecting Milton-Keynesian public. With 3G sales lagging, WiMax could still try to corner the hi-speed wireless network market.
At least there is going to be one reason to move to Milton Keynes.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
I love phishing and Nigerian scam letters. I love receiving letters from the late wife of the former president of Burkina Faso, when they cannot even spell "Burkina Faso" correctly. There is something to be said for human stupidity and greed. I've just received a new scam letter. It is better written than other similar letters, so I will reproduce it here with my comments in blue (red was a bit annoying):
UNITED NATIONS ORGANISATION
IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND
WORLD BANK FACT-FINDING & SPECIAL DUTIES OFFICE
[Impressive name-dropping here. UN, IMF and the World Bank, all in the first three lines!]
Office of The Director Special duties.
London, United Kingdom
[First mistake. We are asked to believe that this UN worker is sending this message from his MSN account. The phone number is a mobile phone number. Don't they have offices at the UN-IMF-WB?]
Special duties reference
UNO/WBF - UK
DIPLOMATIC BOX 55KG
[That sounds impressive, we have a code!]
To the Beneficiary,
[Another typical scam flag, you are never addressed by name]
The World Bank Group, Fact Finding & Special Duties office In conjunction with the United Nations Organization, has received part of your pending payment with reference number (LM-05-371) amounting to US$ 5Million (Five Million United State Dollars) out of your contractual/inheritance funds from our ordering contractor Bank quoting reference to UNO/WBF LM-05-371, the said payment is been arranged in a Security-proof box weighing 55kg padded with synthetic nylon. According to information gathered from the bank's security computer we were notified that you have waited for so long to receive this payment without success, we also confirmed that you have not met all statutory requirements in respect of your pending payment.
[Why would the UN and the World Bank handle inheritance boxes? Are the funds contractual/ or inheritance? This is tailored for people who have no idea how the UN works]
You are therefore advised to contact our Payment Clearance Department to obtain necessary information to the Security Courier Service Company that is specialized in sending diplomatic materials and information from one country to another, which also has diplomatic immunity to carry consignment (Box) such as this.
[Where to start with this one? Why does anybody require diplomatic immunity to carry consignment boxes? ]
This office has met with this Security Courier Service and concluded shipping arrangement with them,therefore shipment will commence as soon as we have your go ahead order,the diplomat who will be bring in this Consignment(Box) to you is an expert and has been in this line of work for many years now so you have noting to worry about.
[They could at least try to get their grammar right]
After all arrangements we have concluded that you must donate Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars (USD500,000.00) to a charity organization we designate to you as soon as you receive your money. To this effect, in your response you should send to us a promissory note promissing to donate the stated about and also with your address where you will like the Box to be delivered. Please maintain topmost secrecy as it may cause a lot of problems if found out that we are using this media to help you. Therefore you are advised not to inform anyone about this until you received your money.
[Finally! Here is the hook. They are making you a favour by bringing this in, but you will have to do something in order to get it.]
The above requirement qualifies you for final remittance process of the received sum. Please confirm message granted with "GO AHEAD ORDER" on mail:
[Yeah, sure. You can steal my DVD collection while you're at it as well.]
Friday, August 18, 2006
Some news from LinuxWorld, which is taking place in San Francisco. When Larry Lessig began by calling open source to arms, the tone for the meeting was set as a defining event for the community. One of the goals of open source developers has been to produce a user-friendly Linux desktop that can be used by the non-techie public, which has not been achieved in the past. Every year we read articles promising that this is going to be the year of the Linux server, but the promise continues to prove elusive. While Linux distributions like SuSE and Ubuntu are advancing as excellent desktop solutions, but they are not ready for mass consumption.
When non-technically inclined people ask me about whether I think Linux they should switch to Linux, my advice is generally that they should still wait. In my own experience installing Linux takes a long time, and getting everything running when you are not a developer can be frustrating, particularly if you are not familiar with command prompts, installation and compilations. Although latest versions are much better, I think that Linux is still not ready for the mainstream.
It seems like people at LinuxWorld agree. A panel of top open source names included some comments with regards to Linux usability. Eric Raymond commented that younger users are concerned about games and multimedia (yes, people do like graphic user interfaces, it's not the 80's anymore). According to Raymond, the top question he gets from people under thirty is "will it work with my iPod?" Raymond claims that there is a golden window of opportunity for Linux before Windows Vista hits the market, and Windows users will be looking for alternatives to buying and installing the DRM-laden monstrosity.
I'm going to try to run my iPod with the new SuSE installation. I just hope that my music survives. Who know? Migration may be closer than I thought.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
It seems that as the blogosphere grows, one of the themes that keeps fascinating bloggers is all about readership. Who has it, who does not, and how do you get more links. The blogosphere is buzzing about the latest post that takes a look at the great readership divide. In the words of Nicholas Carr:
"Once upon a time there was an island named Blogosphere, and at the very center of that island stood a great castle built of stone, and spreading out from that castle for miles in every direction was a vast settlement of peasants who lived in shacks fashioned of tin and cardboard and straw."
Looking in from the shacks, it is amusing to see the amount (and vitriol) of replies this comment has gotten (and here I am adding to the hype). The Guardian's Technology Blog has linked to some of the responses.
This is a topic close to my own interests, I have repeatedly stated that the blogosphere clearly displays the behaviour of power law distribution, as explained by this article. Blogs follow clear link-ratio behaviours, where older players are rewarded with more links, and it becomes increasingly difficult for new blogs to reach wider recognition because they inhabit the long-tail.
The way out of the freezing cold is to be linked by the top bloggers, but this happens rarely. I don't think this will be the last time we hear about this topic.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
It is interesting to notice what happens when things go horribly wrong with your computer. I have a Windows system at home and a dual-boot laptop. Over the weekend I installed SUSE 10.1 on the laptop, and I have to say that this is the best Linux release yet. Fast installation, seamless and easy-to-follow instructions, and for the first time in my experience, everything works out of the box (well, almost everything, you still need to implement DVD support for legal reasons). I had several questions about installing and running certain components, but I was able to find answers in the online documentation and in the impressive network of online forums where knowledgeable Linux users will provide friendly advice and suggestions.Contrast that experience with what happened yesterday when I tried to re-install Windows XP. The Windows machine has been giving me some problems for the last month, so I decided to reformat and reinstall. This is pretty straightforward process most of the time, as Files and Settings Transfer usually allows me to hit the ground running after an installation. Big mistake. I made copies of my files and settings and saved them into my iPod (yet another great use for the trusty player), and I encountered my first support problem. My first chore was to generate a bootable CD of Windows XP SP2 to make installation cleaner and to have a native SP2 system instead of an update. This can be done supposedly by following instructions from Microsoft's TechNet, but their articles were incomplete, and they left you hanging at the worst time. In the end I had to use a third party application to build the CD.
After this, I reinstalled Windows, when I discovered to my horror that Files and Settings Transfer would not work! There are several problems with the application, and some patches from Microsoft, but the instructions in TechNet were completely misleading, and they ignored what I found online to be a huge problem. Several forums had a lot of users with the same problem. What to do then? I browsed and the first thing that struck me was the different level of user support offered in Windows forums. A lot of users were rude, and their suggestions were not that useful, sometimes even condescending. Needless to say, Microsoft's own solutions were useless.After several hours of browsing and beating my head against the wall, I found an obscure reference to the fact that this could be caused by files being Read Only. I went into the Windows Command Prompt and used "attrib" to get rid of the protection. It worked! How hard is it for Microsoft's support to write a small article with this short and useful information?
Anyway, after reinstalling the files and settings, my computer started behaving exactly as before. I am guessing that there is something wrong with the Windows settings transferred into the new Registry, as the system worked perfectly before installing the settings. I am now unto the 2nd installation, with almost no sleep, hoping that the system will be ready some time in the future.By the way, I'm writing this from Linux.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
I am testing Microsoft Live, Redmond's answer to Google's Internet domination. Microsoft Live offers a search engine, picture folder, blog hosting, Map editor and a convenient WYSIWYG text editor that allows you to edit blog posts offline, and separate from the clunky Blogger editor. The editor reads your blog's style, so you will really know what the post looks like before you submit it. Microsoft Live is also the reply to many online favourites, such as Flickr and Myspace. Users will be able to place their blog, pictures, files, maps and other assorted information in one single space. Live is also part of a strategy to attack other Google tools, such as Google Desktop and other desktop integration programs.
This seems to me to confirm Microsoft's reputation as a catch-up company. Others will make the real trailblazing and innovation, and then Microsoft will descend with its possibility to generate a market lock-in by implementing their new features into Windows.
Just beware that this is a beta and it does not work too well.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Thursday, August 10, 2006
(via Jordan Hatcher) Blackboard, the maker of educational software applications, has managed to patent e-learning. At first I thought that this was an exaggeration, nobody could claim such a broad patent as to cover e-learning, right? Behold U.S. Patent 6,988,138, which protects "Internet-based education support system and methods". The title is worrying enough, until you read the abstract:
"A system and methods for implementing education online by providing institutions with the means for allowing the creation of courses to be taken by students online, the courses including assignments, announcements, course materials, chat and whiteboard facilities, and the like, all of which are available to the students over a network such as the Internet. Various levels of functionality are provided through a three-tiered licensing program that suits the needs of the institution offering the program. In addition, an open platform system is provided such that anyone with access to the Internet can create, manage, and offer a course to anyone else with access to the Internet without the need for an affiliation with an institution, thus enabling the virtual classroom to extend worldwide."Has the patenting system come down to this? This is so broad that I cannot imagine any sort of situation in which an e-learning programme could not find itself infringing. This covers methods, virtual learning environments (VLEs), discussion forums, delivering classes via webcast or podcast, and just about everything else. To make matters worse, the patent has also been awarded in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, and Blackboard has applied for a European patent (which I hope will be sent back to the fiery chasm from whence it came).
Unfortunately, Blackboard are suing competitors Desire2Learn, which also manufactures educational software. I had a look at their products, and they would seem quite straightforward. VLE software, educational repository, and chatroom applications. Unfortunately, given the broad nature of Blackboard's patent, it seems to be clearly infringing the patent claim as drafted. I wonder if Blackboard will be tempted to sue Big Blue; after all, IBM produces software like Lotus Virtual Classroom, and Lotus Learning Management System, which are clearly infringing the patent. However, IBM has such a large number of software patents that it I believe it would prove to be a costly enterprise.
On the lighter side, there is a great parody of the patent in CogDogBlog, where we learn that Socrates already patented education methods at an earlier date. I wonder if I can obtain a patent for using PowerPoint in class. Given the sorry state of the USPTO, I think that I might just get it.
Monday, August 07, 2006
LimeWire, the popular Gnutella P2P client, has been sued by music industry giants Sony BMG, Vivendi Universal, Warner Music and EMI Music. This new case will be the first to try the inducement test introduced by MGM v Grokster, as the music companies will claim that LimeWire is "actively facilitating, encouraging and enticing" copyright infringement within their network.
Will this be the end of LimeWire? Highly unlikely. As it happened with the KaZaA deal, legal action against P2P networks attack specific clients, not the actual network itself. LimeWire is just one of the clients in the Gnutella network, one of the oldest and more resilient P2P networks out there. While Gnutella traffic has been up and down through the years, it has seen a resurgence since 2004 with the demise of FastTrack and the growing popularity of clients such as LimeWire and BearShare. In 2004 the Gnutella network barely made a blip, but by 2005, it had achieved 21% share, and the network seems very robust. However, although it has overtaken FastTrack, Gnutella is still not as important as BitTorrent and eDonkey. There is the fact that even if LimeWire loses the case, its open source brother, called FrostWire, is already prepared to carry the network forward.
What about the legal case against LimeWire? I believe that one argument that will be made by the P2P client's lawyers is to state categorically that the Gnutella network has proved to provide considerable non-infringing uses, with companies such as BadBlue using the network to provide "legal sharing" for large enterprises. It is also obvious that inducement will be the greatest issue. I wonder if the music industry lawyers have obtained some sort of information about LimeWire that will ensure them to obtain an inducement ruling. In my experience with LimeWire, they seem to be operating a tight ship. When you download the client, you are asked to click on one of these two options:
- I might use LimeWire BASIC for copyright infringement.
- I will not use LimeWire BASIC for copyright infringement.
There are other similar warnings against infringement within the software. However, at many different stages, people are prompted to download LimeWire Pro, which is advertised as containing the following features (amongst others):
- Faster downloads than ever
- Downloads from multiple hosts
- Auto local network searches
- Better search results
- Turbo-charged download speeds
- Connect to more sources
Nevertheless, this is going to be the biggest legal test for the music industry so far. They will have to spend a lot of money once again to try to get another potentially phyrric result (which is in no way guaranteed), and even if they win, they will have given LimeWire the biggest advertising that it would ever desire. This will eventually strengthen the other Gnutella networks, and if LimeWire ceases to exist, there is a long line of replacements out there. The music industry cannot win this battle with lawsuits alone.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
(Thanks to Jordan Hatcher for the link). A London law firm will be sending a murder of lawyers to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to train comedians on how to protect their intellectual property. No, this is not a cheap joke. Apparently, joke stealing is a serious problem at the Fringe, so the lawyers will be releasing their briefcases and thin watches to the service of the average struggling comedian.
I have to wonder, just how are jokes protected by copyright? I think that the best claim for protection is to write down the jokes. The original work will immediately have copyright, and then you would also have rights over the performance of the jokes and against the unauthorised fixation, reproduction, retransmission and communication to the public of said performance. But what if your act is not original? Will we have a new breed of legal hecklers in the audience?
"Hey mate, that joke goes against the Berne and Rome Conventions!"
"You're so bad that I'm willing to claim moral rights against you!"
"Will you be having fair dealing with that?"
Friday, August 04, 2006
Phishers appear to be growing more imaginative, perhaps as a sign of growing consumer sophistication about their tactics. I have just received a phishing email that seems to play on phishing scam fears by asking users not to give information away, but then directing them to a website where they have to log in their personal banking details. The scam reads:
"Be on your guard - beware of fraudsters! Ensure that you are logging onto a genuine Barclays site and not being duped by scam emails. Take a look at Online SecurityInnovative or dumb? Still, there are statistics claiming that phishing is catching some users, so there may be people out there who fall for this.
to find out more.
Dear Barclays customer,
Like other UK based banks, we are currently seeing very large numbers of "phishing emails" in circulation. Many of these look as if they are from Barclays, typically encouraging you to click a link and type in your logon details. Such attempted frauds only work if you click that link, and you then type in your full security details and contact information.
Please remember: We never ask you to enter your Credit Card information and contact information on the Internet or over the phone. To learn how to protect yourself against "phishing" and other "identity theft" attempts, please spend a few minutes to upgrade to our latest security: CLICK HERE TO BEGIN
We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for you co-operation."
Thursday, August 03, 2006
This is a very interesting article about the growing practice of plagiarism online, particularly fueled by the blog explosion. More and more people are joining the bandwagon and creating a blog, writing their thoughts and opinions for the world to read (or more accurately, for their reluctant and suffering friends and family to read). The problem is that the increase in quantity is in no way an indication of an increase in quality, and some of the new bloggers are finding out that writing is not as easy as it seems (at least I have the excuse that I'm not a native English speaker). What to do then? Give up on your dream to have a blog and an audience? No, just copy and paste what somebody with talent has written. Who will find out? What really struck me about the article is that a lot of people, when confronted with their offence, will just shrug it off and walk away.
I'm just glad that nobody has found out yet that my posts are a clever mish-mash of paragraphs from Boing-Boing, IPKat and Groklaw.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is a worthy project to combat the digital divide (if somebody utters the word "bridge" I will scream). The project has managed to design $100 USD laptops, which is considered affordable enough to provide children in developing countries and remote rural communities with their first introduction to information and communication technologies.
While the Indian government has refused to participate in the pilot projects, Brazil, Argentina, China, Nigeria and Thailand have agreed to get some in order to analyse the viability of the project.
However, being the realist that I am, I fear that this may be one of those projects that have an air of innevitable failure about them. This is a worthwhile and grand project that could do a lot of good in developing countries, but I'm afraid that as soon as something goes wrong, the press will turn on it and it will be scrapped.
Still, I wish them the best of luck.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Two pieces of news exemplify that IP maximalism is alive and well, and that the copyfight has just begun (cue Imperial March). The first is a piece in The Times regarding the term extension of sound recordings. The article informs us that those poor struggling artists, Cliff Richard and The Rolling Stones, may suffer in the UK because sound recordings are only protected for 50 years, instead of the suggested 70. How will Sir Cliff survive? The article informs us that:
The singer, whose wealth is put at £40m by The Sunday Times Rich List book, has described copyright payments as a “pension” for musicians and said: “Every three months from the beginning of 2008, I will lose a song.”My heart weeps for Cliff's loss.
The second piece of news is that the Council of the EU has released a document justifying the plans to produce a new Enforcement Directive. The directive plan proposes to impose and harmonise criminal sanctions for IP infringement. Although the plan is directed towards commercial pirates and counterfeiters, there is serious concern that this could translate into the criminalisation of everyday practices.
The EU better stay out of my iPod.
(Thanks to Jan for pointing out an error in the post)