Friday, April 27, 2007

Not an IP Day post

Because I have the strong psychological urge to be different (or at least different-ish), I'm trying to make today the "Non-IP Day", seeing as yesterday was "World Intellectual Property Day".

We need a snazzy name though.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Social networking, one month on

It's been a month since I decided to take the plunge into the dark and mysterious world of social networking by joining LinkedIn and Facebook. My initial motivation was to join in order to conduct research, I'm one of those old-fashioned academics who prefers to experience first-hand what they're talking about (not always advisable, as academics conducting research into hyena mating practices could tell you).

The first thing I did was to research social networks available. I had some recommendations from colleagues Nicolas Jondet and Colin Miller, but I also wanted to look at other alternatives. MySpace was out of the question, as I'm not a band (check out Malpaís and Broken Records), I'm not a popular podcast, nor an unruly teenager. Also, I have read about the 10 ways in which Myspace can ruin your life. Other sites did not offer what I was looking for, so I decided to go for the two recommended to me.

LinkedIn is serious networking, you fill in your professional details, hook with other like-minded people, and share their contacts. You can also write recommendations, and virtually introduce one of your contacts to another. I'm almost certain that I will keep using it, although the contact build-up has been slower than I expected, but the site fits well with my research into network theory.

However, Facebook is an entirely different kettle of fish, and I'm not sure what to think of it yet. At first glance, the only difference between Facebook and MySpace is that the former is directed to older audiences, and it seems particularly popular with University students. It also offers a range of "privacy" settings, which allow users to share information only with selected friends, or to the world. I've found it well-designed and easy to use, and I've been immersed into the wealth of snippets into other people's lives.

Facebook is very popular with Edinburgh students and with some members of staff, which has created a conundrum for me. Should I join a network dominated by students? If so, everything I do or say in the environment will be open to scrutiny. How much information should I make available? Can I relax and be myself, or should I adopt a more professional outlook? Should I use the privacy settings or be open about it?

I've found the network useful, and I've decided to go for an open approach, but I'm still experimenting with the settings. One thing is sure, I can already see some interesting legal implications with social networking. There are a lot of avenues for research on defamation, intermediary liability, copyright and privacy that require further exploration.

Then again, I could just relax and post kitten pictures. Everyone loves kittens, right?

Update: I've just read this article on The Guardian. BNP in Facebook? Perhaps there's a new Godwin's Law for social networking, once the BNP moves in, the site is over.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Attack of the killer robots

The BBC Technology News and the Today programme have been talking today about the great robot debate. Experts, academics and other assorted folk will discuss tonight about the potential threats arising from increasing numbers of robots, a discussion organised by the Dana Centre and the Science Museum. While at first I thought this was going to be a mirth-inducing exercise, reading more about it has prompted me to explore the issue further.

The debate will discuss a foresight report entitled Robo-rights: Utopian dream or rise of the machines? commissioned and conducted by the DTI's Chief Scientific Adviser. The report concludes that:

"As computers and robots become increasingly important to humans and over time become more and more sophisticated, calls for certain rights to be extended to robots could be made. If artificial intelligence is developed to a level where it can be deployed widely -- a development some argue is likely in the coming years -- this debate may intensify."
Robot Liberation Army, here we come...

Nevertheless, experts present at the debate are going to argue about more worrying problems arising from robotics. The threat will not come from conscious androids asking for their right to vote in the next European election, nor will it come from human-looking automatons. Experts are concerned about something more worrying, they believe that the threat comes from dumb automated robots, highly independent machines involved in decision-making that has little or no oversight by humans. One particular area of concern seems to be the military use of drones and other independent mindless machines, where the potential for things going wrong would increase. I have to agree somewhat, hasn't the military ever seen a science fiction film? Everybody knows that military robots always go bad.

Seriously though, I tend to be sceptical about these claims, as they seem to me to respond to scaremongering technophobic fears. Automated machines have been with us for decades, and they still have not decided to take over the world. Similarly, military drones making mistakes are similarly dangerous to military personnel making mistakes. Even less so, if the appropriate checks are built into the system's architecture. Fears of robots are entrenched in culture, but they tend to ignore the fact that we have been living with vending machines, VCRs, AIBO and factory assembly arms for years now. When was the last time that you saw a Coke machine kill a person? (actually, people have been killed by vending machines).

Anyway, a discussion of robots is not complete without Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Monday, April 23, 2007

State of Play Academy

The State of Play Academy begins today, and will offer classes until June 2007. SOPA will be teaching law and technology classes from an impressive array of experts on a wide range of topics. SOPA is taught through Unfortunately for those of us on this side of the Atlantic, the classes are held in Pacific Time, which means that to attend I will have to stay up late. I may do it tonight, where David Post will talk about the Viacom-YouTube case.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Canadian lawyer needed

You may have read about the CC Canadian enforcement case reported earlier. David Wise, the photographer involved, has left a comment stating that he may actually go to court over this.

If you know of a pro-bono Canadian lawyer, please email David.

Friday, April 20, 2007

WiFi thieves?

(via Trey Roberts) Reuters and the BBC are reporting on two arrests made in Worcestershire for wi-fi piggybacking, but where released under caution.

Wi-fi leechers are a growing phenomenon, as more and more houses have wireless devices and routers, the number of unprotected networks also increases. A leecher will conduct wardriving to find unprotected hotspots, and then connect to the unsecured network. The intentions of the piggybacker may be honest, the person may just want to get a free wireless connection to check his/her email. But there is a more sinister side to wardriving. For example, it has been reported that some people are using piggybacking in order to engage in illegal activities, such as infringing file-sharing, or child pornography. One can see this as an attractive proposition for criminals, as it would lay the burden of proof entirely on the person with an open access point.

The solution to the problem is to make wardriving and piggybacking illegal. In the UK there is enough legislation to prevent piggybacking and to allow the police to intervene. Firstly, the Computer Misuse Act 1990 could be applied, as section 1 reads:

"1.—(1) A person is guilty of an offence if—
(a) he causes a computer to perform any function with intent to secure access to any program or data held in any computer;
(b) the access he intends to secure is unauthorised; and
(c) he knows at the time when he causes the computer to perform the function that that is the case."
However, this would be subject to interpretation, as a wardriver may not fulfil the type. The Communications Act 2003 is clear with regards to the prohibition, as it establishes an offence of up to five years for dishonestly obtaining electronic communications services. Section 125 reads:
"(1) A person who-
(a) dishonestly obtains an electronic communications service, and
(b) does so with intent to avoid payment of a charge applicable to the provision of that service,
is guilty of an offence."
Other legislation that could apply is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers, as it establishes an offence for intercepting communications.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


The blog has now reached forty thousand hits since I started counting, and most days we get more than one hundred individual visitors (not counting those reading through RSS).

Thanks to all regular and non-regular readers for making the early mornings worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virtual prostitution or virtual prank?

This seems to be an urban legend or prank, but I found some of the potential legal implications quite interesting. Supposedly, a female gamer from New York placed an advert on Craigslist stating that she would have sex in exchange for 5000 gold in Wolrd of Warcraft so that she could buy an Epic Flying Mount in game. The listing was allegedly removed from Craigslist, but someone managed to make a screen-shot.

As you can imagine, the item generated considerable amounts of discussion in its own thread in the WOW forums. The story culminated, according to WOW Insiders, with the player posting again on Craigslist to advertise the fulfilment of the transaction, and share an image of the epic mount (the beastie, not the act).

Besides the very strong possibility that this is some kind of prank, and leaving aside some of the unsavoury and misogynistic comments in some of the forums, I've wondered about the potential legal issues here. Firstly, there is the self-regulatory element of Craigslist removing posts that advertise or make offers of selling sex. Would this act be considered prostitution? Does it make a difference that the payment is in a currency that can only be accessed in-game, to make virtual purchases? Does it matter that the exchange is in virtual goods?

Similarly, I have been wondering at the amount of social regulation taking place here. Most of the forum participants have expressed their disapproval or disgust as this type of practice. Why is this? Is it just that it seems a little sad? Isn't this just another commercial transaction involving virtual goods? Should we care what two consenting adults get to in their own time?

I will leave the most lurid details out of the discussion, but perhaps we will have to start thinking of virtual pimping, virtual brothels and such soon. Reading Wired's Sex Drive column is always quite an education on what some people do with their online existence.

I guess I'm just too boring, all I do with my online time is blog.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Creative Commons enforced in Chile

(via Erick Iriarte) The Chilean NGO Derechos Digitales has successfully issued its first cease and desist letter to enforce a work released under a Chilean Creative Commons licence (read the original story in Spanish here). The image (pictured on the right) is the work of young designer Armando Torrealba, and it was part of a promotional campaign of Chilean rock group Marlou. Torrealba wanted to distribute the image in a way that would allow fans to remix it and reuse it, so he released it under the Chilean CC.

However, the picture was picked up by department store Falabella and used in their own Internet advertising campaign. Torrealba contacted Derechos Digitales, who decided to help the designer enforce his work against the commercial use by drafting and sending a cease and desist letter. The missive was successful and Falabella has taken down the picture.

Congratulations to Claudio Ruiz and his team in CC-Chile for their work, which demonstrates that Creative Commons licences can be enforced in Civil Law systems. This also shows that a support system is required in order to properly enforce open licences, as evidenced by the power wielded by organisations such as Chile is lucky to have an excellent team behind the licences, and similar support can be found throughout many jurisdictions.

Legal issues aside, am I the only person who thinks that the panda is particularly cool-looking? The Sex Pistols meets WWE meets Andy Warhol. Nice.

Friday, April 13, 2007

ORG raffle winners announced

The winners of the ORG Raffle have been announced in the ORG blog. They are:

  • A signed copy of Lawrence Lessig’s Code 2.0 goes to Kimberley Gahramt
  • A signed copy of Bruce Schneier’s Beyond Fear goes to Karen Molden
  • A signed copy of the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property goes to Grant Slater
  • Neil Gaiman’s signed keyboard goes to Ben Goldacre
  • £90 of O’Reilly vouchers goes to Laurie Rich
  • £60 of O’Reilly vouchers goes to Zach Robinson
  • The 12 CD Beatpick compilation goes to Lawrence Lessig
  • And the chance to be written into Cory Doctorow’s next book and receive a signed author’s galley goes to Graeme Sutherland
I will not deign to comment on the fact that I did not win anything at all. Or that a certain Professor won some CDs. Or that the Bad Science columnist won the much-coveted keyboard. Nothing. Zilch. Zip. Nada. I will not make a comment. Not that I'm bitter about it. Not at all. I'm OK. Really I am. No problems. Truly. I'm all right. I never win anything anyway. No skin off my back. Really.

Anyway, pictures from the event are shown here for all who care. I do not, but I just point out in case anyone does.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Will patents kill the MP3 format?

Recently, Microsoft lost a case filed by Alcatel-Lucent with regards to patent infringement of MP3 technologies owned by the later. In Lucent Techs. Inc. v. Gateway, a jury awarded 1.5 billion in damages to the plaintiff and against Gateway, Dell, Microsoft and other defendants for using patented technology without a licence. Alcatel-Lucent owns two patents, US 5,627,938 and a reissue of the same. Alcatel's claim is for "Rate loop processor for perceptual encoder/decoder". The abstract for the patent reads:

"A method and apparatus for quantizing audio signals is disclosed which advantageously produces a quantized audio signal which can be encoded within an acceptable range. Advantageously, the quantizer uses a scale factor which is interpolated between a threshold based on the calculated threshold of hearing at a given frequency and the absolute threshold of hearing at the same frequency."
Defendants claimed that they had already licensed technology from the Fraunhofer Institute, which was perceived to own the patent. However, this ruling seems to establish that all MP3 licensing should go to Lucent, and therefore many companies may be getting nervous, as they could be sued next.

The case have prompted some to imagine the much advertised demise of the MP3 file format. I usually get a distinct feeling of deja-vu when reading such comments, as I have been reading about the demise of MP3 since 1997. True, the patent may prove too cumbersome for some companies, but I'm afraid that the issue is not one for the developers, it's one for the users. Consumers use Mp3, it's the standard format, therefore, it will continue to be used until they can convince millions of people to convert their music to other formats. The closest the market will get to change is through built-in formats in other systems. iTunes and Windows Media Player already use their own proprietary systems, but they have not even dented MP3's prevalence. The first thing I do when installing iTunes is to change the ripping settings to save files into MP3.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Blogosphere's code of conduct?

(via Wiebke Abel and other sources) The blogosphere has exploded once more in collective cries for or against a proposed code of conduct for bloggers. Tim O'Reilly has made a call for the imposition of a self-regulatory set of rules that bloggers will post under. The proposed code is:

  1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
  2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
  3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
  4. Ignore the trolls.
  5. Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.
  6. If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.
  7. Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person.
Rather sensible rules that I would otherwise follow, but I would never label the "abuse toleration" level, or something like that. However, the reply has been quite amazing, from the reasoned to the trollish shouting and gnashing of teeth. "O'Reilly wants to take away our freedom!" you can hear the thousands of keyboards shouting in unison.

While I think that a code of conduct is superfluous, I'm rather amused by the response. The blogosphere, new as it is, is finding its own way, establishing rules and social norms. I think that it has worked reasonably well so far, with all levels of content available, with a similar range of opinions on offer. I don't think that I need a label to know that certain blogs are distasteful, I will just move on and never come back. However, even the suggestion of such a rule is anathema to the libertarians that see the blogosphere as the last refuge of the politically incorrect. To some of these people, even a kind suggestion that they are being a bunch of tossers smacks of repression and oppression. It's political correctness gone mad!

The bottom line for me is, the Internet is full of people. People do stupid things from time to time. Get over it.

"Ye can take away my keyboard, but ye cannae take away my FREEDOM!!!"

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

YouTube's content is mostly user-generated

The New York Times comments on a report by about the popularity of user-generated content prevalent on YouTube as opposed to content owned by the creative industries. The report concludes that of the most popular videos, only 9% had been removed due to DMCA take-down requests, while those potentially infringing videos had generated less than 6% of all views.

This is quite a remarkable study, but it confirms my own experience with the site. I never visit YouTube to watch potentially infringing content, I visit to watch some amazing user generated content, such as this brilliant explanation on the genetic evidence for evolution.

The implications of the study are clear for Viacom v Google, as it seems to remove potential inducement arguments made by copyright owners.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Social network me that neutral Web 2.0

I never thought I would say this, but I've actually read something written by Andrew Orlowski which has not prompted me to throw things at my computer screen in anger. In an article on Net Neutrality, he has actually uncovered something that has been worrying me since I first heard about the debate. The big problem is, how do you define the term? You can get five different definitions from Wikipedia alone.

But this is not a post about net neutrality, I don't know enough about the subject to comment intelligently on it. However, this is a Monday morning rant against easy sound bites and complacent application of terms just because they sound good. Web 2.0 is one of those terms, similar to social networking and other neologisms prevalent in technology writing.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Piracy rates prove Pastafarianism

(via Jordan Hatcher) Ben Muse recently linked to an International Chamber of Commerce report on high-seas piracy. Apparently, sea piracy is on the decrease as pirates find it more difficult to collect plunder from their victims. There were 239 piracy attacks during 2006, while 2005 saw 445 attacks in total. That is an astounding drop in all things that go "Argh", but what does it all mean?

As a devout Pastafarian, this only serves as further proof that we have been touched by His Noodly Appendage. After all, one of the main tenets of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is that global warming is caused by the decrease in pirates. It's all proven by this useful chart:

This however, spells doom to all of us. If piracy rates continue to decrease, we're all going to fry. I've often wondered if online piracy rates can help to alleviated global temperatures, but alas, the Gospel of the FSM does not make any mention of that. I'm firing up BitTorrent just in case.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

ORG party and raffle

Becky Hogge from the always excellent Open Rights Group has reminded me that their support ORG party will take place next Wednesday 11 April. Details about the venue, how to get there, times and other questions can be found here.

Becky also has reminded me of the most excellent raffle they're running. What's in display is an astounding range of geeky goodies, including the chance to be written into Cory Doctorow's next novel, a keyboard signed by the one and only geek god Neil Gaiman, a signed-copy of the Gowers Review for the law geeks, signed copies of Lawrence Lessig’s Code v2 and Bruce Schneier’s Beyond Fear, and other nice goodies.

I've bought four raffle tickets already because all prizes are tremendously appealing to me, but I'm particularly hoping to win the signed copy of the Gowers Review. Yes, I'm THAT sad...

CC Canadian enforcement case

(via Michael Geist). A Canadian photographer posted some pictures in Flickr and licensed them under a Creative Commons ShareAlike licence. According to one Mr Spatial Mongrel from Kamloops BC (no real name is given, but you have to love the nick), one of his pictures was used for political propaganda by Betty Hinton MP, who has been the subject of previous IP-related incidents as I recall.

I have written an analysis of the case, but I am now aware that this is rather moot as I'm not sure what was this picture licensed under, as it now shows as "All Rights Reserved" in Flickr. I will base the analysis under the assumption that it was licensed under a CC-BY-SA Canadian licence and not under the old generic one.

The first element of analysis is one of mere breach of the terms of the licence. As the original picture was licensed using a CC Attribution Share Alike 2.5 licence, then the derivative is in breach because it did not attribute and it did not share the derivative under a similar CC licence. To me this would be enough to warrant a suit if the author feels slighted.

However, the author claims that the use of the licence is done by someone with whom they don't share political views. This is irrelevant to the existing licence for several reasons. Firstly, the Canadian CC licence is the only one that waives the moral right of integrity. The current language reads in section 3:

"Except as otherwise agreed by the Original Author, if You Use a Work or any Derivative Works or Collective Works in any material form, You must not do anything that would offend the Moral Rights of the Original
Author, including but not limited to:
1. You must not falsely attribute the Work to someone other than the Original Author; and
2. If applicable, You must respect the Original Author's wish to remain anonymous or pseudonymous.
All other moral rights are waived. This means the Original Author is not reserving the ability to prevent downstream creators from engaging in material distortion or modification of the work, including, but limited to, associating the Work with a particular product, service, cause or institution."
This clause made the Canadian licence incompatible with other jurisdictions where moral rights could not be waived (Continental Europe, Latin America, etc.). This prompted changes and version 3.0 will be ported to remove this clause and to leave integrity rights intact. This is the solution we use in Scotland at the moment, where our licence asserts the moral right of paternity, but does not waive the integrity right. The new Generic CC Licence 3.0 contains this in section 4.d:
"You must not distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which would be prejudicial to the Original Author's honor or reputation."
Similarly, s 4.c now has specific no-endorsement language:
"You may not implicitly or explicitly assert or imply any connection with, sponsorship or endorsement by the Original Author, Licensor and/or Attribution Parties, as appropriate, of You or Your use of the Work, without the separate, express prior written permission of the Original Author, Licensor and/or Attribution Parties."
Even if the author was using this licence instead of the Canadian one, I would still be sceptical of making an integrity claim. This is because you'll notice that the language is quite strong. The derivative must "distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action", and this must be prejudicial to the author's honour and reputation. In my opinion, the mere use of the picture in political advertisement does not fulfil the language. In the UK, I believe that the right of integrity has not produced a lot of case law because the bar is set too high.

And even if the author is not using the Canadian version, his best case is to allege breach of licence. I do hope we get a case out of this, as it would be interesting for many different reasons.

So, in other words, "fight, fight, fight!"

Update: Spatial Mongrel is called David Wise.

Further update: Jordan Hatcher has pointed out that Flickr uses CC 2.0 Generic.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

SCRIPT-ed March Issue out

The March 2007 issue of SCRIPT-ed is now live. In this issue:

The internet and security: do we need a man with a red flag walking in front of every computer? Lilian Edwards.

Peer-reviewed Special Issue - Creating Commons:

  • Introduction to the Special Issue, Graham Greenleaf.
  • Finding and Quantifying Australia’s Online Commons, Ben Bildstein.
  • Simplification and Consistency in Australian Public Rights Licences, Catherine Bond.
  • Business Models to Support Content Commons, Roger Clarke.
  • Creative Commons – The Next Generation: Creative Commons licence use five years on, Jessica Coates.
  • The Future Of Fair Dealing In Australia: Protecting Freedom Of Communication, Melissa de Zwart.
  • Creating commons by friendly appropriation, Graham Greenleaf.
  • Cooperative Intellectual Property in Biotechnology, Dianne Nicol.
  • An Electronic Health Record for Scotland: Legal Problems Regarding Access and Maintenance, Renate Gertz.
Book Review:
  • The WTO, The Internet and Trade in Digital Products: EC-US Perspectives, by Sacha Wunsch-Vincent. Reviewed by Katia Bodard.

Nothing to report on EMI

As I mentioned yesterday, the EMI and iTunes DRM deal did happen, and it was not a joke. I have nothing else to add, as it seems like everyone and their mothers have been talking about it. The demise of DRM? The beginning of the end? The rise of iTunes? I have no idea, but this feels like one of those "turning of the tide" moments. The entire geeky blogosphere is shouting "We were right, and they know it!".

Just check Techmeme's coverage of the subject, their algorithms must be going crazy.

Monday, April 02, 2007

April's Fools roundup

Another good April 1st has gone by, with some beautiful stories. Google sits on top of the April's Fool list, as usual. This year everybody's talking about Google's TiSP, a convenient ISP that comes through your toilet, and whose tag is "Want WiFi around? Just Flush it down!" The service works like this:

Finally! They've found uses for their many PhD students!

But my favourite this year is Google's explanation of their ranking system. Did you think that Google's ranking had anything to do with the popularity of links? No! It's all done through millions of pigeons tapping away on computers (as pictured above). Google's patented PigeonRank™ is so succesful because it "relies primarily on the superior trainability of the domestic pigeon (Columba livia) and its unique capacity to recognize objects regardless of spatial orientation. The common gray pigeon can easily distinguish among items displaying only the minutest differences, an ability that enables it to select relevant web sites from among thousands of similar pages."

In other sites, NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the first space quidditch match. In other items, Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab has announced a penguin adoption programme (just in case of doubt, there is such a thing as Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab, it's not part of the joke).

Interestingly, at first I thought that this story about EMI dropping DRMs was also a joke, until I saw it replicated everywhere. This goes to show that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.