Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's all about the data, stupid!

Electronic evidence and data gathering are becoming an important part of modern litigation. When Viacom requested data from Google pertaining their massive litigation, they did not just ask for all the usage information related to their own content, they requested everything. All information about every single video uploaded to YouTube ever, and they got it, together with all removed videos. That is a lot of information (reportedly, the user database itself is 12TB worth). Now some poor sod at Viacom is going to have to go through that...

Welcome to the Terabyte age: gazillions of data stored in servers all over the world. What is useful and what is not? Is this even a relevant question any more? Chris Anderson, of Wired and Long Tail fame, thinks that the deluge of data heralds the end of theory as we know it. All of our preconceptions should be re-written in order to cope with an increase in storage and processing power that will not peak any time soon.

He uses Google as the typical example of where things are headed when you have seemingly unlimited storage space. Google gathers 1 Petabyte of information every 72 minutes, an amount so humongously large, so mind-bogglingly huge, that all comparisons break down. No individual can sift through that amount of data to find useful information about it, so Google relies on "intelligent" sorting software in order to go through the data and answer questions about it. Google then doesn't need to have people reading web pages in order to know what they contain, all it needs is indexing and sorting software that will correlate one set of data with another. So, Google "knows" that this blog is probably related to some vague legal issues not because they have read the small blurb on the blog, or because I classified it as such, but because there is a high incidence of certain words, as well as the tags I use. This also allows the reasonably accurate allocation of AdWords and other paid search material.

All of the wealth of data means that we are finding it more and more difficult to write theories that account for all of the stored facts. Physics has become a statistical science where cats can be alive and dead at the same time. Biology has become a statistical science of billions of combinations of DNA. Our theories are simply not general enough to describe reality any more, only statistical approximations of reality. Anderson claims that all of the above heralds the end of theory:

"Petabytes allow us to say: "Correlation is enough." We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot."
This may sound awfully reductionist. Can we forget about analysis, and simply look for correlation about everything? If it works, why not? Think of how we study the law. Most of our legal theories work on the assumption that human beings are rational individuals acting on the pursuit of social/selfish/rational goals and interests. But what if what we are is simply a collection of responses that can be mapped and correlated at statistical level? We are increasingly leaving trace of how we think, not on what we write, but on what we click.

It is my reductionist claim that once we start going through the average clicking path of a person through a day, we will discover some unsavoury truths about our own nature.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

SCRIPTed Conference

An International Interdisciplinary Conference hosted by SCRIPTed
March 29-31, 2009
University of Edinburgh

The conference will focus on evolving and emerging technologies and new-technology-driven practices and their impact on the overlapping fields of (1) healthcare, (2) information technology and (3) intellectual property, each of which are increasingly important in the post-genomic and post-AI world, with its heavy reliance on new technologies and their distribution.

Confirmed speakers

Stream 1 ‘Medicine and Healthcare’:
Professor Bartha Maria Knoppers, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada
“Population Biobanks: International Collaboration and Access”

Stream 2 ‘Information and Communication Technology’:
Professor Dan Hunter, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
“Information Monoculture”

Stream 3 ‘Intellectual Property’:
Dr Francis Gurry, Deputy Director World Intellectual Property Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
“The Future Direction of the International Patent System”

Call for Papers

Those interested in presenting a paper at the “Governance of New Technologies” conference should email Authors should identify the conference title in the subject line of the email.

Abstracts should be attached to the email as a Word document. Abstracts should:

  • identify the author’s name, institutional affiliation, and the stream within which the author believes the paper most appropriately falls;
  • specify their audio-visual requirements; and
  • contain a 300 word outline/summary of the paper.

We are accepting abstracts from now until 15 November 2008. Early submission is recommended as places are limited.

Paper Presenters will have to register in the usual manner.

Monday, July 28, 2008

More silliness in the name of content owners

While some people are innovative with their content, others keep physically prompting the deceased equine by insisting on making ISPs do their enforcement for them. Pangloss has pretty much said anything there is to say in this topic, but I just have to add my little voice to the outrageous plans to send letters to thousands of families threatening them with slower connections.

For my next trick, I shall procure a VPN in another jurisdiction as to avoid all of this nonesense. Let's not go to Camelot, 'tis a silly place.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Virtual Policy '08 Conference

I've just attended Virtual Policy '08 in London, organised by BERR and the Virtual Policy Network. This has been a different event because it has brought together regulators, industry, educators, developers, economists, and academics to explore current and future policy issues involving virtual worlds. The wide number of sectors represented has produced an interesting combination of papers (and wide range of dress styles). You can catch some discussion of the policy issues at this week's Guardian's Technology Podcast with Aleks Krotoski and Ren Reynolds.

One of the highlights of the event for me was to hear Professor Richard Bartle, who I had heard before at last year's State of Play. Richard Bartle is an entertaining speaker, and he made some interesting points about regulation, demographics and entertainment. One of the things I really enjoyed was how he explained the popularity of games like WoW or Age of Conan by explaining it as part of Joseph Campbell's heroic archetypes. There is also a very clear split between the gamers and the Second Lifers in this area of study, and Richard Bartle broke the truce and mentioned that SL is only a small part of virtual worlds (5 W0W servers worth), while the largest number of players are in game-oriented worlds. I almost stood up and cheered.

Other highlights for me were the IP panel in which yours truly participated. David Naylor gave an excellent introduction to some of the most pressing infringement issues, while Andreas Loeber gave a very good introduction to some of the potential issues in avatars and personality rights.

We also had a very good panel on Financial issues, where former student Simon Bradshaw gave a cracking presentation on the question of whether virtual currency is electronic money.

This was a very good event, so I will not be posting any doodles from it.

Monday, July 21, 2008


It's that time of year, and xkcd nails it again...

(Disclaimer: if a supervisee happens to read this, I AM an expert in your field. Honest).

Friday, July 18, 2008

World of Lawcraft: Breach of EULA is infringement

(via B2fxxx and Terra Nova) Back in March we reported on an important suit involving World of Warcraft and software developers MDY (I don't know why I'm using "we", it's only me writing this). The suit involved cheating autopilot exploit which allows a player to gather gold automatically by using intelligent agents and bots to control an avatar. MDY distributes software advertised specifically to serve as an exploit, which represents a serious problem for WoW developers Blizzard Entertainment because it affects legitimate players who put time and effort into levelling and gathering gold.

Blizzard's Terms of Use (ToU) clearly prohibits such practices, by stating that:

"You agree that you will not (i) modify or cause to be modified any files that are a part of the Program or the Service; (ii) create or use cheats, bots, "mods", and/or hacks, or any other third-party software designed to modify the World of Warcraft experience; or (iii) use any third-party software that intercepts, "mines", or otherwise collects information from or through the Program or the Service. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you may update the Program with authorized patches and updates distributed by Blizzard, and Blizzard may, at its sole and absolute discretion, allow the use of certain third party user interfaces."
MDY's actions seem to be unequivocally a breach of these terms and conditions. However, it must be stressed that the above is not the licence itself. WoW's End-User Licence Agreement (EULA) is a separate document which grant the user the right to perform actions which otherwise would be infringing, in this case, install the program into a computer. Under normal circumstances, a breach of licence usually translates into the termination of the agreement, and therefore, the termination of the licence to use the work, but it does not immediately translate into copyright infringement. Breach of licence will normally herald the termination of the permission to use the work, and further uses would be infringing. Does a breach of the Terms of Use mean that the licence has also been breached? Blizzard's EULA clearly states that the user must comply with theToU, but nowhere does it say that breach of those terms will translate into a breach of the licence! Similarly, it seems clear to me that the licence was drafted to accomodate the theory of termination described above, as it sets out the effects of termination:
"Blizzard may terminate this Agreement at any time for any reason or no reason. In such event, you must immediately and permanently destroy all copies of the Game in your possession and control and remove the Game Client from your hard drive. Upon termination of this Agreement for any reason, all licenses granted herein shall immediately terminate."
Blizzard sued MDY for selling the exploit, but not for breach of Terms of Use, but for copyright infringement. This is why I believe that this case is so important. Blizzard's lawyers are claiming something that rests at the heart of the interaction between contract and copyright law. Does breach of licence mean copyright infringement?

The United Stated District Court of Arizona has just decided on the case of Blizzard Entertainment v MDY, and it's a doozy. As explained above, the heart of the question is whether a breach of terms of use constitutes copyright infringement. Blizzard argued to the court that it does, and presented two cases that supported this assertion. MDY on the other hand argued that even if it is in breach of the TOU, this would not constitute copyright infringement because MDY's actions are not an exclusive right protected by copyright; there is no right not to cheat in a game. MDY presented Storage Technology v Custom Hardware Engineering as a relevant authority that explicitly recognises that there cannot be copyright infringement on rights that do not exist, but the court dismisses this claim. Similarly, the court agreed that existing licensing law in the United States admits that granting a licence usually innoculates users against copyright infringement claims. The Court cites Sun Microsystems v Microsoft:
“Generally, a copyright owner who grants a nonexclusive license to use his copyrighted material waives his right to sue the licensee for copyright infringement and can sue only for breach of contract. If, however, a license is limited in scope and the licensee acts outside the scope, the licensor can bring an action for copyright infringement.”
Similarly, this case is not only about MDY, it is about all MDY users. Blizzard's argument is that each user who is installing MDY's cheating software are in breach of their ToU, therefore in breach of the licence, and therefore are infringing copyright. MDY therefore is guilty of contributory and vicarous copyright infringement, akin to Grokster and other P2P providers. The District Court of Arizona therefore ruled in Blizzard's favour, and therefore MDY will be held liable accordingly.

I must say that I do not like MDY, and my initial reaction was to wish Blizzard the best. However, this is a diabolical ruling. The actual effect of the court's argument is that if any user is in breach of the Terms of Use, they will also be liable for copyright infringement. To put this in other terms, if I let you into my house, I am giving you a permission to enter. I cannot just decide to revoke my permission unilaterally (which is what Blizzard's EULA says), and while you're inside call the police alleging that you broke in. No wonder EFF have flipped over the story (although I do not agree with their provoking title). William Partry is also befuddled by the strange decision.

So, next time I see someone misbehaving in Ironforge's bridge, I can say in the chat box: "Pardon me chap, but are you aware that your actions may constitute copyright infringement?"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

User-Generated advertising, double standards and memes

Radiohead has continued going where no band has gone before, and in another ground-breaking innovative marketing and licensing strategy they have released their latest video under a Creative Commons BY-NC--SA licence. House of Cards is part of the already seminal In Rainbows, and it was a video recorded with 3D rendering techniques, no camera was used. What's more interesting is that the data for the video has been made available to the public, so that they can make their own variation of the code and add it to a YouTube group showing user-generated versions. This has already resulted in more than 20 videos and an iPhone applet.

In the cynical age we live in, it would be easy to be sceptical of Radiohead's efforts. After all, Radiohead is an established band with an almost cult-like status and a loyal following that ensures success in almost anything they do. It helps that they are practically the definition of geek cool (they were in the cover of Wired). I will leave my cynicism aside and declare that whatever they're doing, it's working. Radiohead have tapped into the user-generated phenomenon and recognised that the old paradigm is dead, long live the new paradigm. In the age of YouTube, it pays to advertise through YouTube. Paying for commercials in Channel 4 is no longer productive.

I have been thinking a lot about the new media environment as I was watching yesterday the trailers for the upcoming E3. No prizes for guessing which online video delivery intermediary was used to stream the trailers. So, while posting and distributing these trailers is copyright infringement, you will never see a single video developer complaining about all the free publicity they're getting, the buzz they are generating, and the list of comments that follow each YouTube posting. PanGloss often makes the point in her Web 2.0 liability presentations that content owners are extremely keen on viral advertising and copyright infringement when it serves their needs, or when somebody posts something about an obscure show that needs the attention. After all, the one thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, as Oscar Wilde said.

This is what angers me about the Viacom litigation more than anything else. Content owners are simultaneously using viral advertising, and also suing the intermediaries. User-generated marketing has become the norm in many areas such as gaming, music and TV. Why pay for an expensive advertising campaign when you can let the fans do it for you? Target the outlets smartly, and watch them flock to your content. Every week I get at least one request from video game developers to upload trailers in exchange for cash, not to mention offers by gambling websites to include links to their sites which will be paid. Apparently, this blog has been identified as a potential outlet where gamers hang out (whatever gave them that idea?)

I believe that both the traditional model and the online meme model will survive, I cannot see the old guard giving up that easily their stranglehold on income revenue streams. Nevertheless, traditional outlets will continue to look like dinosaurs, while innovators like Radiohead will continue to rake in the cash and the almost-universal praise.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Evidence Vista may be in trouble

(via Future Lawyer) Continuing with this week's theme of looking at the lighter side of IT, here is further evidence that users are uninstalling Vista in droves. Yes, when someone goes to the trouble of advertising a downgrade, you know your OS is in trouble.

My own copy of Vista is gathering dust somewhere.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lost in translation

(via Burkhard Schafer) I'm feeling rather silly this week, so no serious stuff from me. This is a wonderful reminder of why we should not rely on automated translation systems:

Wonderful stuff from the Language Log.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Llama que llama

(via Andrea Matwyshyn) The internet was made just so I could watch these ads from Argentina.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dell involed in massive pricing error

(via Fernando Fernández and Claudio Ruiz) One of the risks for retailers engaging in electronic commerce is the dreaded pricing error. The relatively short history of the internet is paved with such mistakes, for example, when Kodak sold a £329 GBP camera for £100; Amazon sold a £192 handheld PC for £7; or Argos sold a £299 TV for £2.99. The usual solution for retailers is to allege that an error has been committed, and not to fulfil the orders awaiting legal action by the buyers.

Computer manufacturer Dell has found itself in trouble due to a massive pricing error in its Latin American website. One of Dell's main features is the possibility of configuring computers by adding, removing or upgrading components. On 27 June 2008, this feature went wrong, and started subtracting money for an upgrade instead of adding it. This resulted in a specific configuration consisting of selecting the base Dell Inspiron 1525 system and upgrading it to a Dual Core processor, which would normally cost roughly £300 GBP, but due to the upgrade being subtracted instead of added, the total cost was £77. Apparently, some people in Chile found the mistake, and this being the Web 2.0 universe, left messages in Facebook and blogs advertising the gaffe, which allowed users to get a laptop that would normally cost $298,997 CLP (Chilean Pesos), and instead cost $77,739 CLP. This resulted in an astounding 66% times increase in sales in that day for Chile, and apparently thousands attempted to get the exploit (unofficially, 15 thousand laptops!). Needless to say, Dell did not fulfil the orders, and offered the affected customers a 15% discount in future sells. In many other places, this action would have gone unnoticed, but in Chile this has been the subject of legal threats involving the consumer protection ombudsman, and talk of the largest class action suit in Chile's history.

There is a very interesting legal discussion about this topic in Claudio's always excellent blog "Quemar las Naves". Without knowing any of the particulars of Chilean consumer law, this seems to me to be a basic case of contract formation. Contract in civil jurisdictions is concluded through an invitation to treat, offer and acceptance. The first legal question here is whether Dell was under contractual obligation to fulfil the orders, or if the contract had not been perfected. Firstly, to me it is clear that the website is the invitation to treat, the customer placing the order is the offer, where is therefore the acceptance? Dell did not send any confirmation and did not charge for the laptops, so to me there was no acceptance. Even if there was a contract, most Latin American countries share similar Civil Codes as a result of the efforts of Venezuelan lawmaker Andrés Bello, who spent 20 years drafting the Chilean Civil Code, which would be the basis for most of Latin American versions. Brushing up on my Private Law, I remember that error can be the basis for the nullity of contract. In some systems, there is a distinction between error in the subject of the contract and error in the price. Either way, error could be amended, or it could result in declaring the contract void if the error was such that the contract would have been otherwise disallowed. Furthermore, ill intent (dolo) can also be a contractual vice that could result in its annulment. It is clear from reading some comments in blog entries that most buyers were aware that this was an error, and that they were purposefully exploiting an innocent mistake. There are people claiming that they purchased 20 laptops.

There are legal precedents in Common Law systems to deal with this area. In DSG Retail Ltd v Stockton on Tees Council, the High Court ruled against an advertised price promise because it dealt with two items that were not identical. In the California case of Donovan v RRL, the court found that obvious mistake voided the contract. Similarly, the Electronic Commerce Directive sets out the order confirmation email as a requirement in electronic commerce transactions. While this is not a contract formation step, many e-commerce retailers have taken such as confirmation email as their acceptance. for example, explains that there will be an acceptance of the offer (order) thus:

"That acceptance will be complete at the time we send the Dispatch Confirmation E-mail to you. Any products on the same order which we have not confirmed in a Dispatch Confirmation E-mail to have been dispatched do not form part of that contract."
This is an elegant legal solution, and I believe that most e-commerce retailers should have similar clauses.

Regardless of the legal issues, one has to look at the morality of the transactions. Claudio Ruiz has written adequately that he is distraught at what he sees as a culture that rewards cheating and exploiting errors. There was a similar case in Chile last year, which leads one to believe that this may be endemic to the culture. Consumer protection laws exist to protect consumers from legitimate abuses, not to protect obviously fraudulent exploitation of an honest mistake.

We will see how this one develops, but I hope Dell wins.

Update: I have fixed some figures based on Dell's own figures, thanks to the anonymous commenter for the heads up.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Europe not so bad after all?

After yesterday's rant against European democracy, I've had some of my confidence revived by a reply sent by Alyn Smith MEP (SNP), who has taken the time to answer to many of us who sent messages expressing our concern about the commission. Kudos to Mr Smith (is there an honorary for MEPs?) for actually answering a reasonably informed reply to our concerns.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

European woes

Given the fact that the amendments to Telecoms regulation have passed, I have been thinking about Europe. I am not a European citizen, I cannot even vote, but this year it will be 10 years since I have been living this side of the Atlantic, and paying taxes that go to support European institutions, so I feel a bit justified in having a moan about democratic engagement (and lack of) in the European Union.

As a Latin American, I have always been a fan of the ideals of the European Union. I think that many Latin Americans share my own sense of awe at the achievements of the EU, and many people who share Bolivar's ideals of a united Latin America see Europe as a paragon of progress, and dare I say, we share some envy at the scope of the undertaking. However, the EU suffers from several structural problems that make it a largely undemocratic body, filled with technocrats, bureaucrats, and obscure institutions mired in tokenism and pointless politicking and nationalistic anachronisms. The way in which European institutions operate is still a mystery to me, even after making an effort to navigate my way around the Byzantine mesh of committees, commissions and funding bodies.

The current crisis of passing ISP liability and copyright reform almost by stealth is just an example in a long line of regulatory and harmonising attempts that lack transparency. European citizens are often baffled at the Directives coming out of Brussels and Strasbourg, which goes a long way to explain why Ireland has voted negatively against the Lisbon treaty, thus throwing the Union into disarray. The EU cannot expect to continue with this monstrous top-down condescending approach.

Still, there are many good things about the EU. It has risen as an alternative against mindless consumerism, taking the lead in some important and worthwhile issues such as open source software, public sector information, and data protection. But there really needs to be some sort of reform to the institutions. European citizens can only stare in awe at the vibrant political process taking place in the United States. Think of it what you may, but the electoral process in the States has proved that politics can be both exciting and meaningful.

Now I will climb down from my soap box before it breaks, I'm not used to this.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Virtual Policy Network conference

VPN Virtual Policy '08: A conference on innovation and governance in virtual worlds.

22- 23 July: BERR, 1 Victoria Street, London, UK

Virtual Policy 08 is set to be a land mark event focusing on global virtual worlds sited in a European legal and regulatory context. The key policy themes for this year's event are:

• Intellectual property rights

• Financial transaction

• Child online & education

• Governance frameworks & Innovation

The event is targeted at industry representatives, legal scholars, policy makers and regulators from around Europe and the rest of the world and is a unique opportunity to interact directly with key stakeholders.

Virtual Policy is organised by the Virtual Policy Network (tVPN: ) in conjunction with The Department of Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform with New York Law School providing program support.

Conference Schedule (subject to change):

22nd July

09:30: Registration opens

10:00 – 11:00 Optional: tutorial session on virtual worlds - part 1

Ren Reynolds – the Virtual Policy Network

11:00 – 11:15 COFFEE & NETWORKING

11:15 – 12:00: Optional - tutorial session on virtual worlds - part 2

- Dave Taylor – Imperial College

12:00 – 13:00: LUNCH

13:00 – 14:15 Conference Opening

- Leigh Jackson - BERR
- Ren Reynolds – the Virtual Policy Network

14:15 – 15:00: Conference Key Note

- Richard Allan: European Director of Government Affairs CISCO, Chair: Cabinet Office Power of Information Task Force

15:00 – 16:00 Education, Learning & Virtual Spaces

- Dr Andrew Burn - Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media
Institute of Education, University of London

- Anna Peachey - The Open University
- Andy Powell – Eduserv

16:00 – 16:15: COFFEE & NETWORKING

16:15 – 17:00 Innovation & Virtual Worlds

- Dr Jim Purbrick – Linden Lab
- Ian Hughes - IBM

17:00 – 17:30: In Conversation

- Professor Richard Bartle: Inventory of the first virtual world MUD & author of Designing Virtual Worlds

17:30 – 18:30: Networking & expo

19:00 – 21:00: SOCIAL EVENT - at Industry in Shoreditch

23rd July

08:30: Registration opens

09:00 – 10:00: Policy Issues & Virtual Worlds: An Overview

- Chris Francis - IBM

10:00 – 11:00: Intellectual Property

- David Naylor – Field Fisher Waterhouse
- Dr. Andreas Lober - Schulte Riesenkampff (Germany)
- Andres Guadamuz - SCRIPT, Edinburgh

11:00 – 11:30: COFFEE & NETWORKING

11:30 – 12:30: Kids & Virtual Spaces

- Patrice Chazerand - secretary general, Interactive Software Federation of Europe

12:30 – 13:30: Finance

- Professor Bryan Camp - Texas Tech School of Law (USA)

13:30 – 14:30: LUNCH

14:30 – 15:30: Governance Frameworks

- Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson – CCP / EvE Online (Iceland)
- Jessica Mulligan

- Kerry Fraser-Robinson – President / MD, Red Bedlam (UK)
- Dr Matthew Williams – Cardiff University, Crime & Justice Research Group

15:30 – 16:30: Closing address

- Christian Renaud - CEO, Technology Intelligence Group

16:30 – 17:00: Conference Closing

For more information and press enquiries contact the Virtual Policy Nework:info AT virtualpolicy DOT net

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Stealth copyright reform, act now!

A bit early on Sunday morning to try to organise an uprising, but this is what Lilian Edwards is doing this weekend. On Friday she wrote a long and detailed post about the way in which the 3-strike rule is going to be introduced by stealth this Monday July 7 2008. Yes, that is tomorrow.

Many of us thought that 3 strikes was on the way out, as this week saw Virgin Broadband look rather embarrassed when it attempted to send letters to people, and the effort backfired. But removing online connections to users who use file-sharing is the copyright industry's top of the Xmas wish-list, so it is not surprising that they should try and try until they can get it written into legislation. This Monday the European Parliament will vote for a set of four directives dealing with obscure telecommunication regulation. Buried deep in those directives, are several measures that deal directly with ISP liability. Most worrying for me, internet service providers will be obliged by law to "co-operate" with content industries. As PanGloss points out, " EC speak , this is a euphemism for being required to put in place a system akin to a 3-strikes regime."

Legislation by stealth is not new. The dearly departed Software Patent Directive was at some point subjected to the same tactics, when they tried to pass it in a Fisheries committee. The fact that this proposal is being sneaked through like this speaks volumes of the confidence that some of the proponents have on the strength of their argument. For more detailed look of the reforms, read this report by Monica Horten, or check out the Mobilisation Paquet wiki.

What to do? Write to your MEP if you're in Europe. You can find your MEP if you are from the UK here. Blog about it. Shout about it. Join the Facebook event. Hugh Hancock, of Machinima fame, has done an emergency video on the topic. So, promote the video.

I love how he uses a Rogue as the evil character, as a Mage I hate Rogues.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Llamas FTW!

The always excellent Pangloss has pointed out that we have been nominated for a blogging award! Computer Weekly has short-listed ten UK IT-related blawgs in the category IT Law and Governance, so here is my bid to fame and Web 2.0 fortune:

The nominees are:To be honest, I don't stand a chance, although Lilian thinks that I do as a result of the Doctor Who stories. Surely, IPKat will win by a landslide, although everyone knows that llamas are much better than cats.

Voting ends July 31.

Music industry chasing its own tail

The British media has been covering heavily the the news that the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and Virgin Media have sent its first batch of threatening-yet-polite letters to some of its customers. The move seems to have backfired a bit, as inevitably a disgruntled student has come out claiming that the letter was sent to the wrong person. Will McGree (20), is accused of downloading Amy Winehouse, which from his worried tone seems to be a much more insulting claim than being directly accused of "stealing" music. This latest campaign is part of the new strategy by the music industry to curb infringement (previous coverage of Virgin's letter campaign here).

I have to say that I do not get the music industry. One minute they are complaining how digital technologies and digital downloads are destroying their livelihood, and the next they start claiming that things are going well, and the challenges are being met. This should come as no surprise, after all, the BPI has to send a message to the public that their precious artists are an endangered species, while they must also send a message to investors and shareholders to reassure them of future profits. The fact is that the very same BPI has now released a new set of figures which demonstrates that alternative business models and digital downloads are proving to be an excellent source of income, while providing evidence that CD sales have not slumped as they often complain.

So, here is my set of recommendations to the BPI. I do not know why, I'm just feeling a bit generous today (and they are not likely to read this, are they?):

  • Get your message straight. Is the digital environment good or bad? Are you suffering or profiting?
  • Ditch DRM. Even those who seem willing to buy into the whole "stealing music" propaganda do not like DRM. In fact, I think that it is the most important stumbling block for further growth of digital music.
  • Sending letters to customers is a bad business idea. They will switch to another competitor who does not send letters.
  • Give Broken Records a contract.
There, that advice will see safely you into the next decade; no need to thank me though, this one's on the house.

(Further discussion at the IPKat, but I disagree entirely with their take on it).

Update: Becky Hogge speaks out on the subject in

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Firefox: The public face of open source?

It is now official. The much publicised Download Day has set a new Guinness World Record for the single-most downloaded file in a single day with 8,002,530 unique and complete downloads during the day, an impressive figure whichever way you look at it. Firefox 3 has now been downloaded more than 28 million times, and it is climbing fast in the charts. Firefox now commands 19% of the browser market, and it should pass the 20% mark soon. Firefox 3 alone has reached the 5% market-share mark, a similarly astounding achievement considering that it was officially launched less than two weeks ago. The "Spread Firefox" campaign has been an extremely successful viral exercise, with nifty little gimmicks like giving every person who downloaded the software a personalised certificate, or encouraging blogs and fora to spread the news.

This success is good news for open source in general. As a person who presents on open source licensing issues at different venues, one of the things that always strike me is the problem explaining open source to members of the public outside of the techno-elites. There is a vast majority of everyday users who do not care one bit about software development. However, I have been noticing that few names and brands are recognisable to the mainstream. Apache used to be the best example offered, but outside of IT rooms, nobody knows about web server software. One used to offer Google as another large corporate user of open source, but again, explaining large Linux server farms is not something that interests main users.

Like it or not, the new face of open source is Firefox. It is hip, it is functional, it is free, and it is fast. It is scalable, customisable and works much better than IE7. It is time then for the open source community to make their support of Firefox a much more important part of public engagement.

By the way, 52% of TechnoLlama readers use Firefox. Nice.