Friday, September 29, 2006

Shiny Happy People

What makes people happy? This is a difficult question, particularly when one considers that there is a growing trend in some policy circles to emphasise happiness as a goal, instead of concentrating efforts on making people richer. The BBC even broadcast a series looking at the new science of happiness.

So, if happiness is entering the realms of scientific research and policy-making, we have to determine how we can measure happiness, or even trying to determine if such thing is possible. Do you simply ask people? Organise surveys? Measure happy thoughts?

The Happy Planet Index attempts to do just that. While it doesn't measure absolute happiness, it "shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens". The top countries on the list are:

1 Vanuatu
2 Colombia
3 Costa Rica
4 Dominica
5 Panama

Vanuatu? This is a country famous for being a tax haven, hosting KaZaA and being the online pharmacy capital of the world. Internet hosting haven equals happiness? Well, maybe. Costa Rica is number three, and we are a gambling website hub.

Of course, I'm a bit depressed about these news, because while all my fellow Costa Ricans are having a happy time, I'm stuck in cold Edinburgh.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Limewire Strikes Back

LimeWire has replied to the RIAA suit against them with a countersuit. LimeWire has issued its answer to the plaintiff's claim, and have counter-sued. The document makes an interesting argument against the RIAA's anti-competitive practices. The main claim is that the RIAA has been operating as a cartel by promoting iMesh, which has been sanctioned as the only "legal" P2P service. As many other services, iMesh began life as the average illegal P2P service, but it is now one of the RIAA's most valued possessions. According to LimeWire, the music industry representatives operate as a competition-busting cartel, whose sole existence is to remove potential competitors from the market.

While the argument seems rather weak to me, I admit that I do not know enough of American anti-trust law to make an educated comment, so I am reduced to mindless cheering. Go LimeWire, Go!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Security breach in Second Life

The BBC reports on a serious security breach at Second Life, the popular virtual environment game thingy. According to a bulletin by Linden Labs, the makers of the game, they have expressed that: "Linden Lab reported today that it is notifying its community of a database breach, which potentially exposed customer data including the unencrypted names and addresses, and the encrypted passwords and encrypted payment information of all Second Life users. Unencrypted credit card information, which is stored on a separate database, was not compromised."

This is a serious development that could threaten the rapid rise of this game, particularly because Second Life is emerging as one of the most important virtual economies in the world, with a growing and vibrant market where people create and exchange all sorts of virtual content, from music to virtual clothing. It has such potential that it has even been featured in several business magazines, such as Business Week.

250 Linden Dollars (L$) will get you one US Dollar ($). Hey! That's a better exchange rate than the Costa Rican Colón!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Zune and Creative Commons

Some further news about the Zune and Creative Commons DRM discussion, which has caused quite a stir in the circles that get stirred by this sort of tune.

Just a brief recap. The Zune Insider blog broke the news that Zune would have a new interesting feature to transfer files through wireless device so that friends could share music. The problem with the feature is that it only allows the recipient to keep the song for three days. "Foul" cried all sorts of people! Our songs are being infected by viral DRM! Zune Insider then posted a correction, stating that Zune would not infect the file with DRM restrictions, but that it would simply not play it again. I must admit that I do not see the difference, as the end result is that you cannot play the file.

The problem that many people are having with Zune's DRM-that-may-not-be-DRM-but -has-the-same-effect is that it could eventually have implications for music released under a Creative Commons licence, but some people did not buy the argument. See for example LawMeme and Slyck News, where the authors argue the many possible angles of infringement. James Grimelmann in LawMeme particularly reasons some interesting points about the absurdity of some of the original claims regarding Zune and CC, particularly in regards to fair use doctrine.

My problem with the extremity of the case made against Zune is that I simply do not see this as a problem for CC nor Zune users. I am trying to imagine a case where a Creative Commons song would be affected by Zune, and I cannot imagine any situation where this would take place. As i have mentioned several times, I have several CC-licensed songs in my iPod. Imagine that I decide to sell it and purchase a Zune. Would I ever send these songs to another Zune user? Very unlikely. After all, these songs are already available online, such as the Wired CD. If I were to transfer these songs, I would not infringe my CC licence, as I would not distribute the content to the public, it is a private copy. However, in the UK we don't have private copying, but this sharing is allowed under CC licensing.

I will not be buying a Zune any time soon, and I am guessing that the device may not find favour with the public. However, I cannot be concerned about the potential DRM problems of wireless sharing service that could be easily bypassed. Burn, rip and share, I say.

Update: Ashley Theunissen has emailed me this interesting note. Seems like Amazon has not realised that Zune is made by Microsoft:

Monday, September 25, 2006

Behind BIOS - Interview with Richard Jefferson

Richard Poynder has emailed me a link from an interview with Richard Jefferson, founder of the Biological Innovation for Open Society (BIOS), an Austrlian initiative on the use of open source licensing and principles in the biological sciences. There is a longer version of the interview available under a Creative Commons licence.

This is an excellent look at the field of biotechnology patents and open access.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

GPL upheld in Germany. Again.

Groklaw has the story of yet another court victory for the GPL in Germany. This is the second such court ruling in Germany, which I find ironic as I was once involved in a heated argument with a German law professor who assured me that open source licensing in general, and the GPL in particular, were invalid under German law.

GPL violations brought the suit in Frankfurt against wireless device manufacturer D-Link, who apparently had been infringing parts of the Linux kernel, which is licensed under the GPL.

Yet another victory for open source, and further erosion of the old FUD "the GPL hasn't been tested in court".

Friday, September 22, 2006

EU Software Patents: The Sequel

There seems to be a new software patent conflict in the European air as a result of the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA). The EPLA is a project by the members states of the European Patent Convention, and it is being organised by the European Patent Office. The EPLA will create a European Patent court, which would be in charge of the enforcement of European patents. This job is currently performed by national courts, and to a lesser degree by the EPO Board of Appeals.

While the simplification of the process could be benefitial, activists against software patents are concerned, and FFII has already been actively posting these worries on their website. One of the main problems with the EPLA and the new courts is that there appears to be a steep increase in the cost of patent litigation in Europe, which would make it more difficult for SMEs and open source projects to fight software patents. There is also a danger that the court will become extremely pro-patent owners, as is the case with the American Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit.

To complicate matters, the European Union has been looking at establishing a separate system with the Community Patent, which would have its own judiciary process. I've looking at the documents and it seems like the proposal is stalled. If any reader knows more about this, I would be willing to hear from them.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

SSRN Revolution

For those unfamiliar with SSRN, it is one of the most important research resources that I use to find articles that are otherwise not easily available online. SSRN relies on authors making their articles available in PDF format. Why should anyone make their articles available online? Because SSRN uses the most important non-economic incentive there is: recognition. Most academic authors are not economically rewarded for their articles, you publish because you want to advance in your career, publish or perish and all that. SSRN's killer feature is that it has a counter, so you know exactly how many people have read your articles, which gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling on cold mornings.

These articles are supposed to be made available for everyone to download without restrictions. However, Dan Hunter has blown the whistle on a disturbing new feature on SSRN, some authors have noticed that their articles can only be accessed after the viewer registers with SSRN, which goes completely against the "open" concept. The reason given by SSRN seems to be that this is done to stop authors "gaming" the count by repeatedly downloading articles.

Hunter's revelation has caused a storm in the Cyberprof mailing list. Some solutions have been suggested, such as self-publication, or taking our papers elsewhere. I must admit that I'm reluctant to take stuff elsewhere, as I would lose my paper count. I know, it is a bit sad, but reputation and bragging rights are as palpable as currency in academic circles.

The most popular idea is to start a collective article with as many co-authors as you can, and post it on SSRN with all of the links, which would offset their results. There is even a blog to continue the collective article created by Orrin Kerr. What we need is a wiki...

I know what you may be wondering. What about my articles? I've broken into the 300 most downloaded legal authors in SSRN (299). And if you were not wondering, I've told you anyway.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

There be pirates, matey!

Thanks to Ilanah at IPKat for reminding me that today is "Talk Like a Pirate" day. Avast me hearties, arrrgggh!

As a devout Pastafarian, I keep taps on all things pirate. For example, did you know that Patafarianism teaches us that there is direct correlation between global warming and the decrease in pirates? So, if we all become pirates, then global temperatures will fall. Faultless logic there.

Yo, ho, ho and a a bottle or rum!

Zune out of tune?

Both the techie press and blogospheres have been filled with stories on Zune, Microsoft's new digital player and best hope to cripple Apple's hold on the market. Zune follows Redmond's long tradition of arriving late to a market and trying to take on the early innovators, but I digress. Something that has been rather clear in a lot of the stories is that there is considerable confussion on exactly what is happening with the Zune DRM, and most importantly, with interoperability and interaction with other services.

What has raised a few eyebrows (and prompted derisive snorts, caused rolled-eyes and originated several other facial clichés) is the fact that Zune has had to create a new music store that can compete with iTunes. The problem with this is that Microsoft already has a music service used in other legal download stores such as Napster, Rhapsody and Yahoo! This service is called PlayForSure, and it is a subscription-based DRM system that allows the user to play music as long as they remain under subscription, but that will stop playing the moment the service is discontinued. However, Zune will not play PlayForSure content, prompting many to point out the idiocy of technological protection measures.

Moreover, there have been grumblings regarding Zune's viral infection of tunes with their own DRM as soon as the content is shared through a wireless service, and how this may infringe content under a Creative Commons licence. This made me pay attention, as I have 87 CC-licensed songs in my iPod. Microsoft's idea here is that as soon as you share music with friends using Zune's wireless service, the player will "infect" the songs with a DRM that will delete the song after three days. This would contravene CC licences that do not allow content to be shared with a TPM, and it would place restrictions in songs that are shared less restricively.

Although worrying, I must admit that I do not share the concerns of most of the techie blogosphere, perhaps because DRM does not make my blood boil as it does some other people. My problem here is that although I spend a large percentage of my money on the copyright industries (websites, books, DVDs and music), I have not yet found a single TPM protected work that I could not circumvent. Perhaps I'm not an average user, but that is precisely my point. What is the reason behind restrictive DRM, if they can be so easily circumvented by techno-geeks? Imagine a technically-challenged person who purchases a DRM protected CD and cannot play it in his/her computer. This person could just live with it, or phone her nearest geek friend, who will break the protection and allow her to enjoy the content. In fact, this seems to be what's happening with existing DRM. As Stan Beer points out, there are 60 million iPods in the market and 1.5 billion iTunes, which translates into 25 iTunes tracks per iPod. This actually matches my own calculations (I've only bought close to 20 iTunes).

Where has all the other content come from?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

SCRIPT-ed September 2006 issue

The September 2006 issue of SCRIPT-ed is now online. In this issue:

- From child porn to China, in one Cleanfeed; Lilian Edwards.

Peer-reviewed articles:
- Affidavit Evidence and Electronically Generated Materials in Nigerian Courts; Andrew I. Chukwuemerie.
- Parasiteware: Unlocking Personal Privacy; Daniel B. Garrie and Rebecca Wong.
- Regulating the Digital Television Infrastructure in the EU. Room for Citizenship Interests? Eliza Varney.

- Markets in Tradition – Traditional Agricultural Communities in Italy and the Impact of GMOs; Johanna Gibson.

Book Reviews:
- On the Origin of the Right to Copy: Charting the Movement of Copyright Law in Eighteenth-century Britain (1695-1775); Ronan Deazley. Reviewed by Ross Gilbert Anderson.
- CODE: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh (editor). Reviewed by Colm Brannigan.
- Art and Cultural Heritage: Law Policy and Practice, Barbara T. Hoffman (editor). Reviewed by Simon Stokes.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Copyright implications of the social web

Several sites are reporting that Doug Morris, CEO of Universal Music, has been complaining about rampant copyright infringement in websites such as YouTube and MySpace. Mr Morris stated that: "We believe these new businesses are copyright infringers and owe us tens of millions of dollars. How we deal with these companies will be revealed shortly." Expect a horde of corporate lawyers to descend upon the infringing sites and start hacking them into tiny pieces with large axes and very thin watches.

It's not difficult to read these comments and snort derisively. Universal and their ilk are dinosaurs, or more accurately, they resemble coelcanths, living fossils if you may. They may survive, but their business models are proving to be increasingly at odds with the rapid movement of what we now call cyberspace. Wikipedia, Blogger, MySpace and YouTube have exposed what some call the democratisation of the means of distribution of content. In a world where everyone with an Internet connection can be a publisher, the old distributors and intermediaries are looking preposterously old-fashioned. By claiming that they still control the means of distribution through copyright infringement suits, it seems like they are trying to fight the new models with old legal tools.

Does Universal have a case? As I have mentioned before, YouTube's legal status seems to be very strong, which makes any sort of litigation an uncertain matter for the plaintiff. As IPKat has commented as well, it is difficult to fathom what is the claimed lost revenue from a person posting a low-quality music video in YouTube. The potential for bad PR amongst the technocratic elites should not be underestimated either. Angering the geek masses can be a very bad idea, as Metallica found to their detriment after the Napster fiasco.

The geek shall inherit the earth. Get over it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Virtual personalities

The blogosphere (or more accurately, the vlogosphere) has been mourning the sad fate of one of its main stars, Lonelygirl15, whose video blog had achieved cult status for its mix of intriguing storyline and all-round appeal of a shy and lonely, yet cute teenager. However, Lonelygirl was not the homeschooled 16-year-old girl named Bree, but an actress playing a part in a video scripted by some young filmmakers. From the New York Times to BoingBoing, going through CNET, everybody's talking about it.

I know that this may sound like 20/20 hindsight-ism, but I was never taken in by the whole lonelygirl craze. It must be that I'm immune to fabricated cuteness, or that I'm an old cynic, but I just didn't get why people were raving about the show. Some have called her the Mona Lisa of YouTube, and there may be something to be said about her hypnotic appeal to the geek masses. I also think that there is something to be said about the growth of a new art, or the recognition that blogs, vlogs and YouTube offer new opportunities for viral and fad marketing. The Long Tail of Internet fads?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

eDonkey throws in the towel

There have been several signs recently that eDonkey would join the legal download market. It seems like this is the road to be taken by commercial clients, which will continue to fall or be taken out by litigation.

eDonkey have now paid the RIAA $30 million USD to avoid litigation. Similarly, the domain seems to be down. However, this is of little importance if the network is still running. I had an old eDonkey client saved in my computer (for research purposes only of course), I have installed it and the network seems to be working fine. I know that I always repeat this, but a client is not the same as a network. Interestingly, I came across a site called When you visit the page, you will get a scary message that is not the old site, and not even a mirror. The site brings up an IP address message that reads:

"The eDonkey2000 Network is no longer available.
If you steal music or movies, you are breaking the law.
Courts around the world -- including the United States Supreme Court --
have ruled that businesses and individuals can be prosecuted for illegal
You are not anonymous when you illegally download copyrighted material.
Your IP address is and has been logged.
Respect the music, download legally."
My IP address has been logged? What for? Am I guilty of browsing the web? Will the police knock down my door for looking at a website? It seems like someone wants to scare people, who might that be? According to the Whois database, the "" domain is still registered to Jed McCaleb, who is the lead programmer for Overnet, the owners of eDonkey. So, it is not a spoof site. Has McCaleb given the keys to the RIAA?

What's the large picture? This does not affect the P2P market, mostly because in the days of BitTorrent people are simply downloading entire albums and 500 song collections.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

SCRIPT-ed books for review

Would you like to be a book reviewer for SCRIPT-ed? You get a free book if you agree to write a review for us. The books available for review are:

If you're interested email me at:

Friday, September 08, 2006

Confessions of a conference organiser

I believe that in the future, when I look back on this week, the first image that will spring is one of bone-crunching tiredness. Of course, this is mostly self-inflicted, but I digress. I had been warned by people more experienced than me that this was to be expected.

So, how did the conference go? In my own biased view, despite relative low attendance due to the "liquids on a plane" scare, and one self-deprecating joke too many, the conference has proceeded well, particularly content-wise. I measure conferences on participation and the amount of questions raised by the presenters, and from the very start we had excellent questions and a good amount of discussion, so much that I had to bring the conference to a close when people still wanted to keep talking at 6.15 on Friday night!

There have been very few disappointing presentations, and the vast majority have been interesting, good or even ranging on brilliant. I was able to attend most of the presentations, and I've been very happy about the level.

Update: There were several bloggers present at the conference, so you may want to look at their unbiased take on the workshop and conference. Nic Suzor has complete coverage (including photographic evidence that I can still dance); Abbe Brown; Ian Brown; Fernando Barrio; Pedro Canut; Andrew Adams; Daithí Mac Síthigh; and Thomas Otter.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


This has been an awesome start to the VI Computer Law conference, although I don't know if I'm allowed to say this as one of the organisers, so take my praise with a pinch of salt. The first Geek Law workshop had a bit of everything geek: killer robots, SETI, the Matrix, Power Rangers, virtual property, MMORPGs, anime, manga, porn, thermodynamics, Harry Potter, 1984, and more references to Monty Python than the Holy Grail's special edition DVD. We also discovered that Disney and Beckham are geek too.

My highlights? Anime, anime, anime; a MIDI rendition of The Girl From Ipanema; feeling that gaming is OK (or not if you want a social life); and a limerick that ends with "De minimis non curat lex".

Paraphrasing Lilian Edwards, "this was like a normal conference, but without all the boring papers".

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Late BlogDay 2006

I'm posting my BlogDay list very late this year. I can only use as an excuse that I've been rather busy with the Conference to do the BlogDay its deserved favour. Without further excuses, here is the list (in no particular order):

Terra Nova: Blogging, MMORPGs and gaming, what's there not to like? Most interesting is the academic look and serious discussion of new worlds. While it tends to be quite WoW-heavy, I always enjoy learning about the latest game-related research.

PatentingLives: Jo Gibson's scholarly and most excellent blog.

IPKat: The best IP blog out there. Fun to read, informative and full of cats. Jeremy and Ilanah do a splendid job with this amazing resource, a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in IP in the UK.

Machine Envy: Becky Hogge's new blog has become one of my must-reads, particularly because I enjoy her articles in openDemocracy, and it offers a deeper look into the writing process and how some of her ideas come about.

: Ian Brown's blog. The best name ever.

I also like Lilian's blog (the blog formerly know as Blogscript); Oso, Moreno, Abogado; Quemarlasnaves; and carobotero.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Close Wikipedia!

Excellent article by Bill Thompson on the problems of accuracy in Wikipedia. Bill says that:

If Wikipedia can find a way to combine community participation with greater oversight, perhaps by encouraging every registered user to check changes and edits instead of leaving it largely to the central cabal of administrators, then they may be able to make the new approach work.
Perhaps we should all be asked to check one random page for every ten or twenty we look at, giving our time to make the site work in return for better content?
It is true that there is a serious problem with giving power to users to edit, as exemplified by Stephen Colbert's take on the entry for Wikipedia and elephants. However, there is already a two-tier system in Wikipedia, with IPs (unregistered users) who generate minor edits, and registered users who are supposed to be more responsible and a part of the community.

As someone who has had some frustrations with Wikipedia, I agree with Bill's take on this subject. Maintaining the vibrant nature of the site, while making sure articles are accurate, should be the desired balance.