GikII returns! Wait, we've tried that one before. GikII Strikes Back! Nah, George Lucas does not deserve it. Thy Geek Will Be Done! Better...
After three successful runs dealing with the legal implications of Harry Potter, tattoos, knitted Daleks, Buffy avatars (or was it Angel's avatar?), robots behaving badly, and MMOGs; GikII is back bigger and better. This year we are splitting in two camps, SoGikII in Sydney, and GikII 4 in Amsterdam.
So reserve the following dates in your calendar:
9 June, 2009
17-18 September 2009
IViR, University of Amsterdam
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Ireland has been suffering a bit of a copyright nightmare recently. Firstly, Eircom was sued by the music industry, and settled out of court conceding that it would implement some form of "three-strikes-and-you're-out" policy. As Sheldon from BBT would say "It is a sports analogy. Baseball to be precise".
Now it seems like Eircom will further bow down to the demands of an angry music industry by filtering out "pirate sites". This is such a far-reaching, disproportionate and blunt response that I am quite literally lost for words. It seems like the response from a panicked music industry is to revert Western ISPs to a type of totalitarian filtering state where only approved content can get through. Whatever happened to our dream of a free Internet?
What worries me the most is that strategies like these one tend to replicate across the globe. First it was New Zealand with its "guilt by accusation" legislation. Then it was Ireland thanks to a spineless Eircom. I am not a fan of slippery slope arguments, but it would not be an exaggeration to fear that something similar could happen in other countries. I am particularly concerned about potential official action following the Digital Britain report.
Here is an idea for a new business. Go somewhere sunny and set up a remote VPN company. What? Someone already wrote a book about such a thing? Drat!
Monday, February 23, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
An interesting development in the latest cybercrime trends has been a marked increase in attacks against online games and virtual worlds, as I have posted previously. One element that I have missed in the discussion about game hacking has been the methods with which cyber-criminals obtain login details and passwords in order to empty the virtual coffers of gamers around the world. I had generally assumed that hackers obtained passwords through a combination of means, including keylogger software, social hacking, guesswork and bad security on the part of the user. I was not aware of large-scale phishing attacks, so when I received my first WoW phishing message, I was both taken aback by its realism, and also in awe of how many people must be falling for this.
First some background. Last year I opened a US World of Warcraft account for occasionally playing when I am back in Costa Rica. I generally do not use this account, so it would be ripe for hijacking. Yesterday I received this message from what looked like a legitimate Blizzard account. I will reproduce it in its entirety only removing the actual link for obvious reasons:
Subject: Blizzard Account Administration------------
From: Blizzard [email@example.com]
Reply-To: Blizzard [firstname.lastname@example.org]
An investigation of your World of Warcraft account has found strong evidence that the account in question is being sold or traded. As you may not be aware of, this conflicts with Blizzards EULA under section 4 Paragraph B which can be found here:
WoW -> Legal -> End User License Agreement
To verify your identity please visit the following webpage:
[HTTPS link removed]
Only Account Administration will be able to assist with account retrieval issues. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and your continued interest in World of Warcraft.
This was a short and concise message that actually seems plausible, as it arrived to the email account with which my US WoW account is registered. It reads well, with no suspiciously dodgy English or ludicrous made-up names; it also points to the relevant legal documents and articles. Thankfully, I immediately checked the links, and rightly enough, the most important one did not direct to Blizzard, it led to ripside.com, which is a small website hosting service. I visited using Google Chrome (which is new enough not to have developed exploits), and this is what I found:
Which looks exactly like the Blizzard's own account management screen found here. Once I entered some meaningless login and password, I got a large page asking for all sorts of details, including name, address, email, and interestingly, the following:
In short, this is all that is needed for anyone to hijack an account, take all the money and items with them, and run. Every guild has stories of members who have been compromised, and from time to time one can hear the desperate cry of a poor sod in Trade chat who shouts "I'VE BEEN HACKED!"
It is important to stress that Blizzard seems to be taking this very seriously, so they have initiated a campaign to make sure users are aware of the security risks involving their account. There is also a procedure in place in order to reinstate money and items to the victims. However, what is not mentioned anywhere is that these actions constitute a crime, and I am concerned that this is precisely the reason why there is such an increase in hacking activities against gamers. As I have mentioned before, there seems to be some reluctance from crime enforcement agencies to respond to cybercrime in general, and game account hacking would seem to be even at the lowest end of priorities. So, a geek had his magic sword stolen? Who cares?
If hackers have moved towards sophisticated phishing attacks, then we are talking about an entirely new level of engagement. Banking phishing sites are usually taken down within hours of the attack through action from anti-phishing organisations. However, the offending site in this specific attack is still up and running 24 hours after the message was received. This seems to indicate that cyber-criminals are catching up to efforts to curb their scams, and are moving to easier pickings in the shape of virtual worlds. The fact is that virtual goods are worth real money, so the temptation for criminals to make some quick earnings through hacking must be the drive behind the growing number of hijacks. While a criminal will certainly get more money from hacking a bank account, it seems that they realise that hacking a virtual world account is less likely to result in prosecution.
The last element in the line of attacks is that according to the email headers, this message came from New Zealand and what appears to be a compromised Hotmail account. Hotmail seems to be a favourite of phishers and spammers, with Youtube videos explaining how to create fake Hotmail accounts.
Much as with bank phishing, there seems to be a toxic triangle that allows some of this to happen. Firstly, email services like Hotmail seem to make it easy for hackers to exploit the system to send fake emails. Secondly, law enforcement and anti-phishing authorities seem unaware and/or uninterested about the phenomenon. Thirdly, users are still falling for many of these attacks due to lack of care and lack of education.
I'm now off to install some anti-keylogger software. I don't want to lose my enchanted knives.
Friday, February 20, 2009
(via Jonathan Gray)
5th COMMUNIA Workshop: Accessing, Using and Reusing Public Sector Content and Data
when: 26-27th March 2009
where: New Academic Building, London School of Economics, London UK
Across the world there is a growing recognition of the social and commercial value of public sector content and data: be that the text of laws, the holdings of public museums, or the geospatial and environmental information collected by government agencies. Moreover, it is likely that better access to and use of such information is
central to improving governance and increasing democratic participation.
The 5th COMMUNIA workshop, co-organised by the Open Knowledge Foundation and London School of Economics, will focus on how we can unlock the huge potential of public sector material. It was also examine the current obstacles to doing this -- legal, technological and social -- as well as how they can be overcome. In particular, much
of the value of public sector material can only be realized if it is reused and interlinked -- both activities that are currently difficult for a variety of legal and technological reasons.
The workshop will bring together researchers, policy-makers, stakeholders and representatives from across Europe for presentations and discussions about projects, policies and practices aimed at disseminating, connecting and building upon public sector material.
There will be four main sessions focusing on:
* Social and economic value of public sector material
* Getting the rights right: law and policy
* Getting the right tools for the job: technology and communities
* Exemplars and Obstacles: case studies
Attendance is free, but advance registration is required:
The agenda is at:
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The PirateBay's copyright infringement trial has gotten under way in Sweden. The press has been promising that it will be the "internet piracy trial of the decade" (I guess Grokster is chopped liver), but as Mathias Klang astutely points out, the likely result will be an appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court regardless of the ruling. What seems certain is that this trial will be a media circus, when the Pirate Bay bus is parked outside the courthouse you can reasonably expect that jocularity will ensue.
The trial is expected to hinge on a specific legal question, what exactly is the role of Torrent tracker sites within copyright law? The four defendants are accused by the music and film industries of facilitating the distribution of copyright materials, while PirateBay still claims that it does not host a single infringing copy in its servers, and therefore it acts more like a search engine than anything else. When users visit the Pirate Bay and search for infringing content, what they find are torrent files. These files contain small snippets of information about who else may be sharing the file by telling the client where to find the tracker. The files will connect the Torrent client to a tracker site, which is like virtual meeting rooms where users around the world can connect, and then exchange parts of the file between each other. The Pirate Bay hosts the torrent files, but trackers are everywhere. So the 2-year-in-jail question is, what is Pirate Bay's liability?
PirateBay has scored first with only two days of trial gone. The prosecution has dropped half of their claims, embarrassingly the most damaging ones. So the case has shifted from the accusation of "assisting copyright infringement" to "assisting making available copyrighted content". This is a huge step-down, as it may imply that the liability will not be criminal but civil in nature. I still think that PirateBay will lose, but it certainly looks bad for the copyright industries.
Two things have struck me about the trial. Firstly, there is certainly a very American tone to the proceedings despite the trial taking place in Sweden. The MPAA and the RIAA have been heavily involved in the prosecution, and on the other side, Harvard Law students are aiding in the defence's efforts. To me it feels almost like a proxy war being waged.
Secondly, the analogies with pirate lore and myth are undoubtedly going to help PirateBay. The trial is being played in the blogosphere in "Pirates of the Caribbean" terms. PirateBay are easily identified with Captain Jack Sparrow, Keira and Orlando; while the copyright industry are clearly cast as the evil East India Trading Company. While this romantisation of the legal plot may be puerile, it is undoubtedly going to play to the public imagination. Everybody loves an underdog.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
And now back to our favourite sport, Microsoft bashing. Slashdot reports some unnerving built-in features in the new MS operating system:
"That Photoshop stopped functioning after we messed with one of its nag DLLs was not so much a surprise, but what was a surprise: Noting that Win7 allows programs like Photoshop to insert themselves stealthily into your firewall exception list. Further, that the OS allows large software vendors to penetrate your machine. Even further, that that permission is responsible for disabling of a program based on a modified DLL. And then finding that the OS even after reboot has locked you out of your own Local Settings folder; has denied you permission to move or delete the modified DLL; and refuses to allow the replacement of the Local Settings folder after it is unlocked with Unlocker to move it to the Desktop for examination (where it also denies you entry to your own folder). Setting permissions to 'allow everyone' was disabled!"Microsoft seems determined not to learn the lessons from Windows Vista. One of the reasons why Vista was such a dud was because it had a complex and draconian built-in DRM systems that meant a driver shortage, as well as being resource-heavy. Peter Gutmann published an excellent paper in 2007 unearthing Microsoft's flawed strategy, and he concluded:
"Overall, Vista's content-protection functionality seems like an astonishingly short-sighted piece of engineering, concentrating entirely on content protection with no consideration given to the enormous repercussions of the measures employed. [...] To add insult to injury, consider what this enormous but ultimately wasted effort could have been put towards. Microsoft is saying that Vista will be the most secure version of Windows yet, but they've been saying that for every new Windows release since OS security became a selling point. I don't think anyone's under any illusions that Vista PCs won't be crawling with malware shortly after the bad guys get their hands on them (there were already Vista exploits up for sale before the OS even hit the shelves)."The only lesson Microsoft has learnt is to try to tighten its grip on the media choke-points in order to make it impossible for people to copy video output from the internet, and to allow for an even more draconian grip by software developers. It seems like any modification of software in your computer will become reason for the program to stop working, and there is a visible downgrading in user experience.
In the end users will vote with their wallets. If Windows 7 is just as bad as Vista, then it is possible that it will suffer the same luck. Why should consumers migrate when Windows XP works nicely, and they can do everything they want with their own media?
Or maybe, just maybe, people will actually give up and switch to Linux? Unlikely, but then you could tell people that Kubuntu is actually Windows 7. How would they know?
Monday, February 16, 2009
Neil Gaiman has proved once more that he's One Of The Good Guys. He has posted an interesting comment about the new Amazon Kindle, and its reading-aloud capabilities. Apparently, his publishers think that this infringes their licensing agreement, as there is a profitable market for audio books. Gaiman says:
"When you buy a book, you're also buying the right to read it aloud, have it read to you by anyone, read it to your children on long car trips, record yourself reading it and send that to your girlfriend etc. This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly, and no-one's going to confuse it with an audiobook. And that any authors' societies or publishers who are thinking of spending money on fighting a fundamentally pointless legal case would be much better off taking that money and advertising and promoting what audio books are and what's good about them with it."Wise words, but I am sure that he is in the minority. I imagine there is going to be a keruffle over this when many authors try to squeeze more money out of distributors.
(thanks to PanGloss for pointing this out to me).
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
It seems like as soon as this blog's Technorati ratings go up, we start getting flooded by virtual gold sellers. I don't know if it's because of my earlier confession to having purchased WoW gold, or just random attacks. Last night's gold spammer was particularly prolific, leaving messages in 20 random posts. These bear reproduction merely for the almost poetic manner in which they include the link to the gold selling service. I dn't know abou you, but I find the phrase "the freedom of wrath of the lich king power leveling a bird in the open" has a certain elegance.
"Joy in warcraft leveling living comes wow lvl from having wow lvl fine emotions,wow power level trusting them,power leveling giving them power leveling the freedom of wrath of the lich king power leveling a bird in the open. wlk power leveling Joy in living can age of conan gold never be assumed as a pose,or put on from guildwars gold the outside as a mask. People who have this joy don not need maple story mesos to talk about it; they radiate it. wow gold They just live out their joy and let wow power leveling it splash its sunlight and glow into other lives as naturally as bird sings."The hyperlinks have been removed to protect the innocent.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The Bad Science copyright chill has seemingly reached an impasse. The offending clip is still not available on the blog, but it can be found in countless websites as bloggers all across the country have started infringing copyright in a show of solidarity for Ben Goldacre. The Streisand Effect Strikes Back. LBC's lawyers would be crazy to sue Dr Goldacre now.
Beyond the legal aspects of the affair, I have been fascinated by how this row has been played out in the blogosphere. The overwhelming reaction has been favourable to Bad Science, perhaps because the geeks consider him as one of our own. On the contrary, look at what has been happening the the blog belonging to one Ms Jeni "surviving in this business we so lovingly call 'show'" Barnett (I was going to add a snarky remark, but I shall endeavour to restrain myself; it's not fun when it's too easy). Ms Barnett opened her blog to comments, she claimed that even those negative ones. However, the blog was flooded with all sorts of attacks to her view, mostly thoughtful and based on science. She has now removed the comments, and has left this jewel:
"To all of you Bad scientists, who are SO angry with me, good luck with your research. Should you fall ill I will attend you as best I can with my motherly love. Should I fall ill, as a non paid up member of your club, will you administer to me? And should I refuse your drugs then what?"I am loath to use pop psychology here, but there is some serious passive-aggressive behaviour going on with Ms Barnett (finally explaining why she is both vulnerable and strong). Irresponsibly ignorant broadcasters tend to be vocal in their views because they rely on the belief that the public at large is just as ignorant as they are, However, when presented with a large number of intelligent and well-informed people, they easily cave in and resort to playing the victim. It usually takes the form of accusing their detractors of elitism. Ms Barnett just got a taste that there are more well-informed people than she thought.
A peripheral phenomenon that I have been paying attention to is that of the rising power of Stephen Fry's Twitter stream. In blogger terms, being slash-dotted or being boing-boinged used to be a sure sign that one had finally made it, as well as being the source of a barrage of traffic capable of bringing down servers (however, it is not as cool as being mentioned by Neil Gaiman). Apparently, the item was posted in the stream, bringing the Bad Science blog to its knees, but spreading sympathy for Ben Goldacre across the twittering classes. Stephen Fry has become the Grand Geek, the measure by which all geekdom shall be known. Hopefully, with that multitude of support, the Jeni Barnetts of the world do not stand a chance.
Monday, February 09, 2009
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Ben Goldacre is the author of the Guardian column Bad Science (and eponymous blog). Dr Goldacre is a champion of rationality in a world enamoured with sloppy thinking, uncorroborated anecdotes and dodgy statistics. For many years he has been at the forefront of the battle against the pernicious MMR vaccination scare that took a hold of the British media some years ago, a scare that has had negative health implications in the present time. As part of that campaign, Dr Goldacre posted a
20 44-minute clip from broadcaster Jeni "Vulnerable passionate, strong" Barnett (yes, there is a missing coma or hyphen between vulnerable and passionate; and yes, there seems to be a contradiction in terms between being vulnerable and strong). The clip came from a 3-hour live show in talk radio LBC (London's Biggest Conversation), and Ben included it as the perfect example of the anti-vaccination, anti-science agenda that prompted the MMR scare in the first place. However, this clip proved too much for LBC's lawyers, who sent a letter to Dr Goldacre demanding the immediate removal of the clip because it infringed the station's copyright. Dr Goldacre has since complied with the letter. Was LBC justified in their demand? Was Bad Science right to comply?
This is a straightforward fair dealing case. For those readers located in more enlightened copyright territories, the UK has an exhaustive list of non-infringing acts, commonly known as fair dealing. Other countries have a more open-ended approach, such as the fair use doctrine. Fair use allows for a much wider interpretation of what constitutes a non-infringing act, while fair dealing is considerably more restrictive. Nevertheless, s30 of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 allows for the use of copyright works for the purpose of criticism, review and news reporting. The relevant part of the section reads:
"30 (1) Fair dealing with a work for the purpose of criticism or review, of that or another work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement and provided that the work has been made available to the public."
To my mind, the question at the heart of this issue is one of balance between copyright, public interest and freedom of expression. Thankfully, there is an authority which deals precisely with this question, that of Ashdown v. Telegraph Group Ltd. In that case, former Lib Dem leader (and now Lord) Paddy Ashdown wrote some minutes from a meeting held with Tony Blair. A substantial part of those notes were published by the Sunday Telegraph, so Lord Ashdown sued for breach of confidence and copyright infringement. The Telegraph lost the case and appealed on the grounds of freedom of expression, and they lost that as well. While the final ruling did not favour the Telegraph's freedom of expression defence, Lord Phillips adopted a three-pronged test for cases dealing with the interface between copyright and criticism and reporting. The elements of the test are: 1) whether there is commercial competition between the parties; 2) the public interest and/or human rights implications; and 3) the amount and importance of the copied material. Using this test, I believe that Dr Goldacre may have received a positive ruling if he took this to court. Let's look at each one of the elements described:
1) Commercial competition. This evidently favours the Bad Science blog as the clip in question was not made available in the Guardian, it was published in a non-profit blog clearly for the purpose of criticism. While one could argue that Ben Goldacre makes a living out of the Bad Science brand (via books and his Guardian column), it is obvious that he is not in the same business as LBC.
2) Public interest. This part of the test also favours Dr Goldacre. There are few topics of more importance than that of health, and the health of children is of particular interest to society. The MMR vaccine scare has been a national shame for many years, one that has even led to an increase in the recurrence of measles amongst the relevant infant population. In my view, there is overwhelming public interest to continue to expose those who perpetuate the lie that there is something wrong with the MMR vaccine, and I strongly believe that any court would be forced to take this view in light of the evidence.
3) The amount and importance of the copied work. This is definitely where Bad Science has some problems, as by any measure the clip is quite extensive. It could be argued that a 20-minute extract from a 3-hour show is not too much, but this is definitely where the plaintiff's lawyers would have a better chance of success. Nevertheless, I still think that the previous two elements trump the length argument.
Beyond the strict legalities of the case, one has to feel that Bad Science has done nothing ethically wrong, on the contrary, the reproduction of the clip serves the public interest. Those who espouse the blatantly damaging view that MMR should be trashed, and worse, use their public standing to further such myths, should be held accountable. It is typical of those with indefensible positions to use, misuse and abuse copyright law in order to stifle debate (Scientology anyone?) Copyright law serves a clear purpose to society, but when it is used to censor and remove contrary opinions then the public interest should prevail.
Ben Goldacre has taken down the clip, which is understandable due to the forceful nature of the legal threat and the uncertainty in the law. Thankfully, this is the user-generated era, and nothing remains hidden for long. The clip is now hosted elsewhere, and there is even a transcript somewhere on the Interwebs. This should serve as yet one more example that the Internet does not take censorship lightly, and any attempt to remove information will have the exact opposite effect, and prompt its viral reproduction.
Friday, February 06, 2009
The programme for the upcoming SCRIPTed conference has been published, and it looks pretty interesting.
29 MARCH 2009
|Welcome Wine Reception (Playfair Library)|
30 MARCH 2009
|Registration (Raeburn Room Vestibule) (Posters Erected)|
Welcome & Opening (Playfair Library) (Chair: Prof Graeme Laurie, SCRIPT)
Keynote Address (Playfair Library) (Chair: Prof Hector McQueen, SCRIPT)
Parallel-1: “IP-1 – IP & Nanotechnology” (Playfair Library) (Chair: Jane Calvert, InnoGen)
Parallel-2: “IT-1 – E-governance” (Raeburn Room) (Chair: Burkhard Schafer, SCRIPT)
Parallel-3: “IT-2 – Internet & Security” (Playfair Library)(Chair: Burkhard Schafer, SCRIPT)
Parallel-4: “Med-1 – Stem Cell Governance” (Raeburn Room) (Chair: Ann Bruce, InnoGen)
|Coffee Break (Poster Event)|
Parallel-5: “Med-2 – New Issues” (Playfair Library) (Chair: Renate Gertz, U Glasgow)
Parallel-6: “IP-2 – Copyright” (Raeburn Room) (Chair: Smita Kheria, SCRIPT)
|Conference Dinner & Ceilidh|
31 MARCH 2009
Keynote Speaker (Playfair Library) (Chair: Prof Graeme Laurie, SCRIPT)
Parallel-7: “IP-3 - Patents” (Raeburn Room) (Chair: Prof Hector McQueen, SCRIPT)
Parallel-8: “Med-3 – Biobank Governance” (Playfair Library) (Chair: Ann Bruce, InnoGen)
Parallel-9: “IP-4 – ICTs & IP” (Playfair Library) (Chair: Andres Guadamuz, SCRIPT)
Parallel-10: “IT-3 – Internet & E-Usage” (Raeburn Room) (Chair: Burkhard Schafer, SCRIPT)
|Lunch (Poster Adjudication)|
|Keynote Speaker (Playfair Library) (Chair: Prof Lilian Edwards, SCRIPT) |
PROF DAN HUNTER, “Information Monoculture”
Parallel-11: “Med-4 – Health Data” (Raeburn Library) (Chair: Renate Gertz, U Glasgow)
Parallel-12: “IT-4 – Internet & Crime” (Playfair Library) (Chair: Richard Jones, U Edinburgh)
Thank You & Closing (Playfair Library)
You can register here.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Continuing with the coverage of the interim Digital Britain report, something has been bothering me since I read it, so I went back and browsed through it again until I realised what it was. According to the UK's chief technology policy-makers, we still seem to be living in the 20th century. Why? Several reasons: the only mention to Web 2.0 is in the glossary; some of the technologies being pushed are proved failures with the public; it believes DRM offers a solution to piracy; it blatantly ignores the content delivery revolution that is about to take place; but most importantly, it ignores user-generated content by insisting on the outdated view of the top-down content provider.
There are few things that can drive me to anger, but chiefly amongst those is the insistence by the copyright industry and regulators to ignore that nowadays content is much more diverse to what it once was. The first sign that the Digital Britain report has some very outdated ideas about content creation and distribution is the baffling emphasis it places on Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB). DAB radio is a broadcasting standard that replaces FM, offering better quality, larger amount of metadata, and more stations in the same spectrum.You may be thinking what is wrong with this? I'm quite fond of DAB in a way, I have a receptor in my kitchen, but what I object to is the fact that DAB has not proved popular with the public because it is what I call a mistimed technology, much similar to the DAT tape in the 90s. Mistimed technologies are those which are a clear improvement over their predecessors, but they come to the market almost at the same time as a much better technology comes along and renders the mistimed technology obsolete as well. There is therefore no incentive for users to upgrade to the inferior technology, so many stay with the older and inefficient one until they upgrade fully. In the case of DAB radio, most people still use FM radio, very few have bothered switching to DAB, and a large sector of the market, particularly younger audiences, are using online delivery instead. DAB is the new DAT.
But as I have already hinted at, the biggest problem when it comes to digital content is the fact that the interim report practically ignores the user-generated revolution. Yes, there is the obligatory mention to UGC and Youtube, but then the drafters have no idea what to do with it other than to mention that digital technologies lower barriers to new providers such as "the wide range of services now catering to ethnic minority communities and to specialist interest, the development of community services, of user-generated content whether on YouTube or on social networking sites". In one dismissing paragraph the UGC revolution is relegated to fringe status akin to Gaelic stations, World Music and train-spotting. So, UGC is on the radar, but the report makes sure that whenever it talks about content, it is talking about institutional content. In a Pratchean use of the word, it is clear that whenever they talk about traditional Content, we are supposed to read it with a capital C, while what the rest of us do can be written without pressing the shift key.
What I find disheartening is that the report insists that the solution to UK-based content creation is through more funding for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. We can then expect more failed digital channels from the BBC, as well as more publicly supported mind-numbing reality shows, when the real innovation lies elsewhere. BBC 6 Music struggles to top 300,000 listeners; BBC 3 struggles with similar viewing figures, while the high-brow BBC 4 has been criticised for not offering good value for money. In contrast, a live recording of DiggNation in London attracted ten thousand screaming fans; Facebook boasts 8.5 million UK users, Youtube has been visited by 20 million Brits in 2008, while Wikipedia had 9.6 million users last year. There is a generational shift that policy-makers seem to completely ignore. Their idea of digital content seems to extend to whether they can listen online to the Today programme on Radio 4. The turning of the century completely missed them.
It is perhaps unfair to compare hits between media, but this is a point that has to be made. The next generation of content users has no interest in the BBC and DAB, they want Youtube, Twitter and Facebook. It is about time policy should be drafted to reflect that nowadays the word content goes further than Radio 2.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
The Digital Britain parliamentary commission has presented its interim report, which has been met with the usual journalistic brouhaha and bombastic statements. The more progressive media has kept a distrusting tone, while the usual suspects at the Telegraph and the Mail have hailed it as going in the right direction because it attacks piracy. I imagine that Telegraph editors and journalists might go apoplectic at the thought of young people downloading MP3s.
What does the report say? Digital Britain sets the government's Internet regulatory strategy for the next decade. The report tackles four main topics: network infrastructure, content, universal access, and e-government. The latter two are not very controversial. The digital divide and e-government are not the type of topics that move the wired masses into action any more. In these topics, the interim report is quite uncontroversial. The government will continue to make inroads towards universal connectivity, continue its electronic literacy campaigns, as well as making sure that more government services are offered online.
As expected, the two topics generating more controversy are networks and content. Digital Britain intends to move the UK towards a faster broadband by upgrading its backbone. This is not particularly controversial in itself, but what I find laughable, and many people in mailing lists do as well, is just how timid the report is in its objectives and methods. While many countries in the Far East and cities in the US have made some large public-private joint ventures to push for faster broadband, the report proposes the type of non-solution that inefficient government is infamous for. For example, one of the recommendations is to "remove regulatory barriers" so that private enterprises can do all on their own. Another one tells us that:
"We will establish a Government-led strategy group to assess the necessary demand side, supply-side and regulatory measures to underpin existing market-led investment plans, and to remove barriers to the timely rollout, beyond those declared plans, to maximise market-led coverage of Next Generation broadband."Ugh. They might as well sit around in a room and have tea.
The content part of the report is not really much better. The section that has received most coverage is that of the way in which the government is going to tackle piracy. The interim report is seriously concerned about the widespread copying of copyright works, yet it seems to ignore that all of the legal solutions proposed in the last decade have not worked. They comment that in order to solve piracy, they intend to take the following action:
"By the time the final Digital Britain report is published the Government will have explored with interested parties the potential for a Rights Agency to bring industry together to agree how to provide incentives for legal use of copyright material; work together to prevent unlawful use by consumers which infringes civil copyright law; and enable technical copyright-support solutions that work for both consumers and content creators."Let's party like it's 1999! The solution to illegal downloading is yet one more government agency, and wait for it, more technical solutions! Would these be the same technical solutions that are being ditched by pretty much everyone? Not only that, the interim report is backing a specific technology called ACAP (Automated Content Access Protocol). Needless to say, ACAP has been criticised from the start for not taking the user into account.
To put the nail in the coffin of the report's credibility, the government seems to be pushing for a 3-strikes solution. The interim report states:
"Our response to the consultation on peer-to-peer file sharing sets out our intention to legislate, requiring ISPs to notify alleged infringers of rights (subject to reasonable levels of proof from rights- holders) that their conduct is unlawful. We also intend to require ISPs to collect anonymised information on serious repeat infringers (derived from their notification activities), to be made available to rights-holders together with personal details on receipt of a court order."The government seems to have realised its threat that it would enact legislation about notification to users if ISPs and content owners did not reach an agreement. It is worrying that a legislative solution to mandate the enactment of an ISP police is even being considered. However, it is noteworthy that the report has dropped the requirement of ISPs to cut out service, in favour of the more measured requirement to notify the user.
Unfortunately, the government seems to have drafted a technology report only listening to content owners and technophobes. Absent in the report is the plethora of bottom-up solutions that are moving the Internet forward, in favour of a centralised-yet-timid approach. The strategy is timid where it should be bold, and wherever it proposes firm action, it is only to benefit the copyright industry.
Too bad it is too early in the morning, I need a strong drink after reading this.