Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bad software patents again

Greg Aharonian has named the worst software patent of the year in his PATNEWS mailing list, and I must say that I thoroughly agree with his choice. Behold U.S. Patent 6,910,071, which protects a "Surveillance monitoring and automated reporting method for detecting data changes". Sounds impressive, right? Here is the abstract:

A surveillance monitoring and automated reporting method is used for detecting observable changes in data sources over a network, such as the internet, for accessing changing data, such as world wide web content data, and for providing scheduled change detection notifications and results through user defined search criteria for automated monitored search criteria matches on a recurring basis by user defined scheduling. The method extracts content data from the data sources and updates a master database, then detects changes in the content data within the search criteria. Upon detection, the user is notified using graphical interfaces, electronic mail messages, pager messages, or personal data assistant messages.
Wait a second. A patent for a system that detects changes in database and sends a notification? This is beyond obvious, any database worth its salt will come with such a notification procedure. Not only that, imagine that any sort of notification of changes already in existence will be infringing.

And they ask why so many people are opposed to software patents.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Creative Commons and real life

What happens when works licensed under Creative Commons hit real life? My theory is that CC is no different to any other type of licensing in principle, and that posting stuff online will always leave one open to abuse, be it with proprietary or non-proprietary works.

This is brought by the interesting case of the mobile phone pictures of the London Underground bombings in July, which travelled the world via blogs under a Creative Commons licence. This was a great example of the power of open licensing and the advent of the "citizen journalist". Now the pictures have appeared in Time's Pictures of the Year feature, but one image is credited to the author and Gamma, a wire-photo agency. The question is now, how can they claim any sort of ownership over the picture?

This comes at the same time that Lessig has expressed some concern about the incompatibility between copyleft licences.

Interesting times ahead.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

alternative wikipedia edited by experts

According to The Register, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger is to launch an alternative Wikipedia that combines the best of both worlds: wide public input edited by hired experts.

This is definitely something to be curious about and it will be interesting to see how this approach works out.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

SCRIPT-ed December issue now online

The latest issue of SCRIPT-ed is now online. Here are the contents:

- The Adelphi Charter; John Howkins.

Special Feature
- Intellectual Property, Competition and Human Rights: the past, the present and the future; Abbe Brown and Charlotte Waelde.
- Intellectual Property Rights, Competition Policy and Innovation: Is There a Problem? Paul A. Geroski.
- The Interface Between Intellectual Property Rights and Competition in Developed Countries; Valentine Korah.
- Human Rights and Competition Law: Possible Impact of the Proposed EU Constitution; Neil MacCormick.
- Towards Utopia or Irreconcilable Tensions? Thoughts on Intellectual Property, Human Rights and Competition Law; Hector L MacQueen.
- HUMAN RIGHTS-Relevant Considerations in respect of IP and Competition Law; E.S. Nwauche.

Peer-reviewed articles
- Socially responsible intellectual property: a solution? Abbe E. L. Brown.
- Of Otakus and Fansubs: A Critical Look at Anime Online in Light of Current Issues in Copyright Law; Jordan S. Hatcher.

Book Reviews
- Human Rights in the Digital Age; Mathias Klang and Andrew Murray (eds). Reviewed by Nicholas J Gervassis.
- The Data Protection Directive and Medical Research across Europe; Deryck Beyleveld, David Townend, Ségolène Rouillé-Mirza and Jessica Wright (eds). Reviewed by Jane Kay.
- A Handbook on the GATS Agreement; World Trade Organization. Reviewed by Christine Riefa.

Friday, December 16, 2005

What does Nature's Wikipedia study reveal?

This week Nature published a study on the reliability of Wikipedia in comparison to the Britannica encyclopaedia. 50 science articles were chosen from both encyclopaedias and send for "blind" peer review. The result from 42 returned usable reviews: Britannica turned up 123 errors, and Wikipedia 162.

In regards to this outcome, Nature titled: "Internet encyclopaedias go head to head."

This is definitely a big success for Wikipedia and many have seen it in this way. But others interpret the study in a different way. The Register for example puts it this way: "Wikipedia science 31% more croncy than Britannica's". It points out that "there are errors and there are errors" and that no one should draw firm conclusions without a closer look at the reviews. The Register also suggests that Wikipedia will probably prove more unreliable in the fields of social science and culture.

These are excellent points and it would be too hasty to celebrate Wikipedia's victory over Britannica. But the most staggering about this all is: why does Britannica turn out with 123 errors, an average of 3 errors per article? Does this mean Britannica is doing very bad, or does it only reflect that knowledge is difficult to grasp, constantly changing and more a matter of agreement than of cognition? If the latter would be the case, 162 "errors" in 42 articles wouldn't be that bad.

And another point to think about: Presuming that knowledge is a product of peer production in the broadest sense, an encyclopaedia based on peer production might be the perfect tool to represent this knowledge. If it will be able to attract more and more qualified authors and get rid of those who deliberately vandalise the articles, future headlines might be something like this: "Wikipedia far ahead".


Monday, December 12, 2005

Flooding peer-to-peer networks firm fails

A firm dedicated to flooding P2P file sharing networks with fake copies has been shut down. Overpeer was a company that started filling networks with copies that did not work in order to make it difficult for users to find music. They were initially paid by the music industry, but the networks never really suffered from the service because they were always available, and many included rating systems.

Friday, December 09, 2005

If you can't beat them, sue them

Creative is threatening to enforce a patent that they own on a system to navigate music on a digital player. Unfortunately the news source does not have the patent number. This seems like just another way of beating your competition. If their product is more popular, find a broad patent and sue them into submission.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Two studies on open source and public domain

WIPO has published a study entitled "A Primer on Open Source Software for Business People and Lawyers". Seems ineresting and I will read when I am back.

Another interesting report has been produced by the The Brennan Center, called "Will Fair Use Survive? Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control". Another one to read.

France is planning to enact strict copyright law soon

After taking time implementing the EC copyright directive 2001, France is now planning to force the copyright and neighbouring rights in the information society bill (DADVSI) through parliament using an emergency procedure. Due to heavy lobbying from the copyright industry, French copyright law may become the strictest in Europe (BoingBoing).

For the French copyright and neighbouring rights in the information society bill, click here.

For more information, click here.


Monday, December 05, 2005

UK Treasury to conduct IP study

(First seen on IPKat). A new study from the Treasury on the impact of IP to the UK economy has been announced. While this has to be welcome, it is worrying that the people who drafted the report on the website are unaware that fair use is an American legal term, and that it does not exist in the United Kingdom.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Costa Rica

I'm off on annual leave to Costa Rica. I will be posting as often as possible with technology news from tropical climates.

Creative Commons Scotland licences go live

Creative Commons Scotland licences are now available in the Creative Commons website. The licences are the end result of the outstanding effort and dedication of Jonathan Mitchell QC, who has drafted and pushed for the licences tirelessly. Jonathan must be applauded for making this launch possible.

This blog is now licensed under a CC-SCO BY licence.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Build your own web

(Thanks to Arne for the link) After the news that ICANN is to remain in control of the web (was there ever any doubt they would?), there are people out there asking whether this should be the case. There is an alternative, build your own root nameserver. The internet currently works with 13 root nameservers,which make up the backbone of the current domain name system. The root is distributed, but eventually the control is in ICANN. The current system allows only for the top level domains and country top level domains that we know and loathe (.com, .org,

Dutch company UnifiedRoot provides an alternative root system that allows for the existence of ad hoc domain names, such as parking.schiphol and news.cnn. They have already sold several names, but the question must be asked, is this feasible? The whole point of having a new internet is that they need to be updated in DNS servers around the world. To do this, ISPs will have to include a set of addresses into their tables. I tried with my home ISP and with the University of Edinburgh's, and neither recognise the set of UnifiedRoot addresses. I could do this manually by adding their DNS servers into my own server list, but this is cumbersome, and would require extra steps from the user. Besides, most DNS setting nowadays are set by dynamic settings.

This is a very interesting idea, but I am still a bit sceptical about it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Being innovative is dangerous

There have been hundreds of reports about the very real possibility that the BlackBerry will not survive this year because of the patent threats by a company called NTP. The BlackBerry case is perhaps the most evident example of the folly of the patent system as it exists in the information and telecommunications industries. NPC is a company that doesn't make anything, its only business is to profit from the patents filed by the company makers. BlackBerry on the other hand was created by innovators who took the market by storm and have provided a device for the workaholics and the incurably connected to check their emails everywhere. They were the real innovators, but the people who will profit from their innovation are going to be those who sit and prey on those who take the first step.

This is perhaps what is wrong with the present system. It is easier to file patents and see if somebody will actually build something, then sue them for all they have. Their only crime was to do what innovators are supposed to do. How long until we have no new BlackBerries?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sony DRM: The aftermath

So, what have we learnt from the Sony DRM fiasco? In internet terms, the scandal is old news, so the time may have come to have a look at how the item has affected the market.

The first lesson to be learnt is that blogs and online buzz have power once certain outrage threshold has been passed, and that the mainstream media listens to bloggers and may even incorporate some important net stories. Sony had to react to the perceived outrage immediately, asking for a recall and promising to remove the technology from future CDs.

The second lesson is that it is still evident that the mainstream doesn't care about DRMs. While this has been a big online story, Sony has not yet suffered massive losses on sales. There have been direct losses as a result however, as sales of a music CD mentioned in most news stories plummeted on Amazon and other online retailers. But other than that, Sony has not suffered sales losses, which may be an indication that most people do not listen to music on their computers, and they do not transfer music to their digital players (or do not own one). People's eyes glaze over when they hear about DRM and other technology, and your average music consumer will not care about what is inside the CD.

The third lesson is that despite the public's lack of action, the system will not stop music copying in any shape or form. Reports have already indicated many different ways in which the DRMs can be easily beaten. Hackers and those likely to share music online are not stopped by restrictive DRM technology, so why use it? It is a manner of control of the everyday user, nothing else.

And finally, there is a chance that artists may want to regain some power over their music. Whenever the music industry sells their newest anti-piracy crusade, they will parade an artist to plead to the public. But the artists have no power in the music business. Some artists have complained that they were never asked if the CD should be sold with some technical protection measure. Canadian singer Jane Siberry has taken a stand and started her own DRM-free store (thanks to Geoff Pradella for the link). To me this is the most interesting development. Could artists try to retake control from the big labels? Do we really need Sony BMG?

Monday, November 28, 2005

VI Computer Law World Conference

This is the call for contributions for the VI edition of the Annual Computer Law World Conference, which will take place from the 4-8 September 2006 in the School of Law at the University of Edinburgh. The conference brings together legal academics and practitioners from around the world to consider and debate all aspects of information technology law. Previous years’ conferences have fostered links between educational institutions and legal practices across the globe, reaching out to a wider international audience each year.

Call for Papers

Contributions are sought in all legal aspects of the information society. The following topics will receive priority:

  • Privacy
  • Innovation
  • ICT for Developing Countries
  • Traditional Knowledge and ICT
  • Virtual Communities
  • Gender and Technology
  • Cybercrime
  • Digital Economy
  • Online Creative Industries

Please send your abstract not exceeding 600 words in length. The abstract should also describe the paper and its relevance in the international arena.

Please attach a one-paragraph biographical detail, not exceeding 160 words.

Send your abstract to with the subject “Computer Law Abstract”.


The deadline for contributions is Friday 31st March 2006.

About the event

The World Computer Law Conference was created as a response to the many challenges presented by the dynamic environment known as the Information Society. The event was initiated by Alfa-Redi, a Latin American civil society organisation, and the previous five events have run successfully in Quito (Ecuador 2001), Madrid (Spain 2002), Havana (Cuba 2003), Cusco (Peru 2004), and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic 2005). In 2006 the event returns to Europe, hosted by the Research Centre for Studies in Intellectual Property and Technology Law at the University of Edinburgh.

The VI Computer World Conference will focus on the understanding that the Information Society is one of the most important technological developments of the present time, and as such it presents unique regulatory challenges that must be discussed by informed academics and proactive practitioners. The conference is centred on practical issues, but also it will analyse the most pressing policy problems seen through the strictest theoretical perspective.

Friday, November 25, 2005

All Your Google Base Are Belong to Us

Google Base is the newest project from our friends at Google (*cough*Evil Empire*cough*) to introduce a new consumer service (*cough*world domination*cough*). Google Base will allow people to host all sorts of information and content that will be indexed and picked up by the search engine. This means that if you have something that you want to share with the world, Google will host it. This could work as the world's classified section. Things that you can add into the service include events, publication details, news items, reviews, recipes, wanted ads, jobs, etc.

I am curious to see how popular this will become, but I can see the advantage of having something that will be instantly added to the Google index, and therefore it will be searched immediately by Google.

For those who don't know the "All your base are belong to us" reference.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

To boldly go where no patent has gone before

Now to one of my favourite blogging subjects, the broken American patent system. Every time I get comfortable and think that it could not get any sillier, a new patent comes along that is so mind-boggingly ludicrous that leaves me gasping for breath. Let me introduce U.S. patent 6,960,975, which protects a space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state. According to the abstract:
A space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state is provided comprising a hollow superconductive shield, an inner shield, a power source, a support structure, upper and lower means for generating an electromagnetic field, and a flux modulation controller. A cooled hollow superconductive shield is energized by an electromagnetic field resulting in the quantized vortices of lattice ions projecting a gravitomagnetic field that forms a spacetime curvature anomaly outside the space vehicle. The spacetime curvature imbalance, the spacetime curvature being the same as gravity, provides for the space vehicle's propulsion. The space vehicle, surrounded by the spacetime anomaly, may move at a speed approaching the light-speed characteristic for the modified locale.
The purpose of this patent eludes me, but even if we could ascertain its utility, I am left aghast by the lack of geeky knowledge displayed by the USPTO examiners. Any geek worth his salt will immediately recognise that this patent is describing Star Trek's warp drive system. In fact, there is a theory that describes the workings of the drive, which sound very familiar to the abstract.

USPTO examiners have lost some major geek points.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

BitTorrent maker against downloads

Bram Cohen, the inventor of BitTorrent, has come out in a press conference against movie downloads with the head of the MPAA. It would seem like the MPAA has made an offer that he could not refuse and he has had to agree to a number of demands, including the fact that the torrent search site that exists in will block links to infringing content. By doing this, Cohen has avoided litigation.

But nobody uses BitTorrent's site. The favourite site for looking for content is, located in Sweden. The interesting part of PirateBay is that they claim that what they do is legal, because they do not post the infringing content, but they post files that may contain information of where to get it.

Interesting arguments, for more on this subject you can read the excellent article in SCRIPT-ed by Bob Rietjens.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

WSIS: was it worth it?

The geek invasion of Tunis has moved on, all of the bloggers have gone home, and the WSIS has concluded. The World Summit of the Information Society has left us with two documents, the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society and the Tunis Commitment. After several years of preparatory meetings, conferences, reunions and enough paper to bury a small city, the question has to be, was it worth it?

The most important document is the Tunis Agenda. It is unfortunate that this is an "agenda", I still wonder if this was a wasted opportunity, such a massive effort should have ended in a full agreement, but that option was never on the table realistically. What we have is another wishy-washy document that sounds very good, but has very little in the manner of action. The financial agenda for ICT development is full of UN-speak with commitments like these:

"Multilateral, regional and bilateral development organisations should consider the utility of creating a virtual forum for the sharing of information by all stakeholders on potential projects, on sources of financing and on institutional financial mechanisms. [...]
Multilateral, regional and bilateral development organisations should consider cooperating to enhance their capacity to provide rapid response with a view to supporting developing countries that request assistance with respect to ICT policies. [...]
Encouraging increased voluntary contributions"
There is however a very good recommendation, and it is the last point of the financial agenda. It asks for the "debt cancellation and debt swapping, that may be used for financing ICT for development projects". This is a worthwhile effort that could be translated immediately into IT projects in developing countries, particularly after the unveiling of the $100 dollar laptop.

The documents also deal with the issue of governance, but it has already been reported that not much will change in that area, other than the creation of another international overseeing body.

Monday, November 21, 2005

South Park takes on Scientology

Besides having the support of Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology is famous for suing websites that distribute their holy scriptures (which you must have paid handsomely to obtain), and show people what they actually believe. If you don't know what Scientology is about, here is an example from Wikipedia:

"Hubbard describes a variety of traumas commonly experienced in past lives. He explains how to reverse the effects of such traumas by "running" various Scientology processes. Among these advanced teachings, one episode that is revealed to those who reach OT level III has been widely remarked upon in the press: the story of a galactic tyrant who first kidnapped certain individuals who were deemed "excess population" and loaded these individuals into space planes for transport to the site of extermination, the planet of Teegeeack (Earth). These space planes were supposedly exact copies of Douglas DC-8s except with rocket engines. He then stacked hundreds of billions of these frozen victims around Earth's volcanoes 75 million years ago before blowing them up with hydrogen bombs and brainwashing them with a "three-D, super colossal motion picture" for 36 days. The traumatized thetans subsequently clustered around human bodies, in effect acting as invisible spiritual parasites known as "body thetans" that can only be removed using advanced Scientology techniques. Xenu is allegedly imprisoned in a mountain by a force field powered by an eternal battery."
I bet that War of the Worlds now makes more sense, right? Anyway, now South Park has taken on Scientology by launching an episode called Trapped in the Closet. In this episode Stan gets a personality test and finds out that he's depressed. The Scientologists decide that he is the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard, and therefore the show presents the Xenu incident. Stan starts writing more doctrines, including that Xenu broke out of intergalactic prison and that they should stop charging people for tests, books and new levels. The Scientology president comes to talk to him and tells him that he must stop, and admits that it is all a sham. Stan gives a speech to the members and tells them the truth, to what they start shouting "You are so sued!" Everybody started joining in and talking about how he was going to get sued. So Stan starts shouting back "I'm not afraid of you, go ahead and sue me!" The episode ends with the credits, where everybody's name has been replaced with John or Jane Smith.

They are so sued.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Give them enough rope...

(Thanks to Nadja for the link) This has been a great week for copyfighters, digital advocates and other internet pundits who dislike, loathe, hate or plainly distrust DRM. The Sony DRM debacle has done more for the cause against DRM than any rousing speech. When people are faced with a potential threat to their computers, they will react negatively. Moreover, this has proven many people right about the reasons to mistrust restrictive copy protection measures. As if this was not enough, Sony has been warned by the American Department of Homeland Security no less.

One could be forgiven for sounding optimistic and declare the death of DRM. Consumers will never again trust such technologies, right? I would not be so optimistic. Firstly, the people who have made a stink about this are still the technocratic minority that inhabits cyberspace. If I ask a random person in the street about the Sony DRM scandal, they will probably just look at me as if I was speaking another language. Secondly, DRM products are still popular if they are non-intrusive, it seems like iTunes has not been affected whatsoever by the scandal despite the fact that they use DRM.

There is a lesson to be had here. Not all DRMs are the same. In the widest possible sense, a DRM is a technical measure that is used to "handle the description, layering, analysis, valuation, trading and monitoring of the rights held over a digital work." This includes pernicious control such as Sony, but it can be used for less damaging and more benign uses. When we are talking about Sony-like DRM, a more accurate description is to use the term Technical Protection Measures (TPM). Why is this? Because generally it is wrong to attack an entire technology just because of the potential malign uses that it may have. Many critics of the IP system have spent the last few years arguing that P2P technology should not be completely thrown out. Isn't this what some of these advocates are asking of DRM technology? It may have good uses.

Still, this event may prove to be a watershed in the development of DRM. The Sony scandal could be used to make regulatory calls against more restrictive DRMs, and perhaps even a re-think of the ludicrously unworkable anti-circumvention measures that exist in copyright legislations around the world. After all, if you remove Sony's DRM, you may be infringing those anti-circumvention measures.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

United States keeps the Internet

In the first agreement to come out of the WSIS, the United States has kept control of ICANN. At least that is what has been reported so far, there was never really any doubt that the U.S. would keep their control.

For those unfamiliar with this institution, ICANN "is responsible for managing and coordinating the Domain Name System (DNS) to ensure that every address is unique and that all users of the Internet can find all valid addresses. It does this by overseeing the distribution of unique IP addresses and domain names." It is an American corporation controlled in part by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Lately there have been considerable criticisms about this control, particularly after ICANN rejected the .xxx domain name by a veto from the DoC, prompted by American religious conservatives that oppose the existence of a porn domain. Lula DaSilva, the president of Brazil, went as far as to say that "Brazil, China, Russia, India and Venezuela, amongst other countries, challenge the complete dominion exercised by the United States over the Internet, and they proposed an inter-governmental body that will exercise that control."

But now the WSIS has "allowed" ICANN to remain, but there will be yet another toothless international over-seeing forum for internet governance.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Virtual Rights

I have been looking at a very interesting proposal from fellow Costarican Jaco Aizenman about something called "Virtual Rights". The idea is to create a set of rights that apply to all citizens, who will have the right to have (or to choose not to have) a virtual personality. This right would be enshrined in a constitution, and therefore it would be considered a new fundamental right of personality.

There is a move to amend the Costa Rican Constitution with the following text:

"Every person has the right to have or not to have a virtual personality, where its presence, content and projection are regulated by themselves. It can not be used for discriminatory ends harming its bearer. The State will guarantee that the information included in the virtual personality has the adequate security and legality; with the exclusion of third parties not authorized that pretend to obtain it. The State could use the content of the citizen's virtual personality, only with their previous authorization, and always if it is to their benefit and advantage."
Very interesting. This article seems to lift data protection and information self-determination to a constitutional right, much in line with how habeas data did (and does) in many Latin American countries.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Real life death of virtual characters

(Thanks to Jo Gibson for the link) The news wires are replete with stories of the death of a Chinese MMORPG player apparently due to exhaustion after playing non-stop for 3 straight days in World of Warcraft (the news has made it even to Metro). The story comes with calls from the Chinese government to regulate online gaming and impose some sort of cyber-curfew, or playing limits.

I am not sure about the veracity of the story of the virtual death, although it seems to be legitimate. If true, this is extremely sad story, but we must be honest and admit that this is an extreme case, perhaps deserving of a nomination for the Darwin awards. Should a government regulate an activity based on an extreme case? This happens all the time in other areas. Drug enforcement and legislation is usually bolstered after the public death of a young person. This should be no different.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Patenting Lives Conference


Law, Culture, Development

1-2 December 2005

London, United Kingdom

Clore Management Centre, 25–27 Torrington Square, London WC1

A 2 day international and interdisciplinary conference on life patents

An exploration of the ethical, cultural, social, legal, and scientific questions

1 December 2005

Opening Session: Tony Howard, UK Patent Office

Human Rights – Kathryn Garforth (McGill; Independent Consultant); Loyd Norella (Philippines) Adejoke Oyewunmi (University of Lagos)

Development and Innovation – Asolo Adeyeye Adewole (West African Network on Business Ethics); Arjun Mehta (The Science Ashram, India); Edson Beas Rodrigues (International Trade Law and Development Institute, Brazil)

Public Goods, Public Interest – Ashish Gosain (Advocate, India); Chris Hamilton (LSE); Loyd Norella; Reetu Sogani (CAC, India)

Agriculture – Jeremy de Beer (Ottawa); Diwakar Poudel (LIBIRD, Nepal); Dwijen Rangnekar (Warwick); Sangeeta Udgaonkar (Advocate, India)

2 December 2005

Keynote: Antony Taubman, World Intellectual Property Organisation

Traditional Knowledge – Patrick Juvet Lowe (University of Dschang, Cameroon); Chika Onwuekwe (Calgary); Daniel Robinson (UNSW, ICTSD)

Medicine and Public Health – Marion Motari (UNU, Maastricht); Luigi Palombi (Minter Ellison Lawyers, UNSW Australia); Angela Stanton (Claremont USA)

Ethical, Legal and Social Issues of Human Gene Patents – David Castle (Guelph); Richard Gold (McGill); Tim Caulfield (Alberta); Stuart Smyth (Saskatchewan)

Closing Roundtable: Dr Johanna Gibson (QMIPRI), Michelle Childs (Consumer Project on Technology), Dr Graham Dutfield (QMIPRI)

The 2005 DRM war

2005 will probably be remembered as the year of the Grokster and KaZaa cases, but there is something more important happening. It is the year of the DRM wars. Digital Rights Management has always been a controversial subject, with a very outspoken camp against it (and it has even been declared illegal in France). But now many claim that DRM is part of a dirty war, not against P2P and music downlaoders, but against the competition.

The problem is that Sony Music is releasing music CDs that are using a specific brand of DRM that cannot be played by iTunes and cannot be ripped into an iPod. This has upset a large number of iPod users, but most importantly, many claim that this is being done without the authorization of the artists. For example, read this amazing tale of one CD in The Big Picture blog. The most amazing part of the story is that the DRM company is willing to publicize the instructions to circumvent the DRM by email! These are:

"If you have a PC place the CD into your computer and allow the CD to automatically start. If the CD does not automatically start, open your Windows Explorer, locate the drive letter for your CD drive and double-click on the LaunchCD.exe file located on your CD.
Once the application has been launched and the End User License Agreement has been accepted, you can click the Copy Songs button on the top menu.
Follow the instructions to copy the secure Windows Media Files (WMA) to your PC. Make a note of where you are copying the songs to, you will need to get to these secure Windows Media Files in the next steps.
Once the WMA files are on your PC you can open and listen to the songs with Windows Media Player 9.0 or higher. You may also play them in any compatible player that can play secure Windows Media files, such as MusicMatch, RealPlayer, and Winamp, but it will require that you obtain a license to do so. To obtain this license, from the Welcome Screen of the user interface, click on the link below the album art that says If your music does not play in your preferred player, click here. Follow the instructions to download the alternate license. PLEASE NOTE: This license is only necessary for playing the copied songs in a media player other than iTunes or Windows Media Player. If you are just trying to use iTunes, simply continue with these instructions.
Using Windows Media Player only, you can then burn the songs to a CD. Please note that in order to burn the files, you need to upgrade to or already have Windows Media Player 9 or greater.
Once the CD has been burned, place the copied CD back into your computer and open iTunes. iTunes can now rip the songs as you would a normal CD."

To make the story worse, now there are claims that Sony's DRM is a rootkit, something akin to a Trojan Horse virus that can be used to gain access to the system.

From the amount of DRM-related stories in the tech press, I would say that Sony has a potential PR disaster on their hands. With trend-setters up in arms about the attack to their precious iPods, I cannot see how the music industry will be able to continue to make the case for DRM.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Patenting movies?

As if the patenting of software was not enough of a nightmare, the next step could be the patenting of movies. You would be wise to be sceptical of this claim, who in their right mind would think of patenting movies? Behold U.S. patent application 2005/0244804, an application for the " Process of relaying a story having a unique plot". I kid you not. The abstract says:

A process of relaying a story having a timeline and a unique plot involving characters comprises: indicating a character's desire at a first time in the timeline for at least one of the following: a) to remain asleep or unconscious until a particular event occurs; and b) to forget or be substantially unable to recall substantially all events during the time period from the first time until a particular event occurs; indicating the character's substantial inability at a time after the occurrence of the particular event to recall substantially all events during the time period from the first time to the occurrence of the particular event; and indicating that during the time period the character was an active participant in a plurality of events.
Unless I am mistaken, this is a patent application for some sort of plot involving memory loss and events occurring during said amnesia. Wow, I had never heard that before! Could I offer Memento as prior art?

Anyway, this represents something more serious, and is the fact that many patent lawyers in the United States do really believe that there's nothing wrong with trying to patent a movie plot. I can imagine a time when movie-makers are afraid that their plots may be infringing, with patent trolls accumulating movie patents to sue the largest movie blockbusters.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


There is a new licensing scheme for Spanish-speaking countries called
"ColorIuris: Colores de Autor", literary Author's Colours.

This page was created by a law firm in Spain under the assumption that all sorts of open licences (including Creative Commons) are incompatible with Continental traditions based on the droit d'auteur. This is a very common criticism that I have been hearing coming from critics of the licences.

Friday, November 04, 2005

EU top judges plea for patent court

Some of the top patent judges in Europe are pleading for a unified first instance European patent court. After all, there is a European Patent Office, but the patents must be enforced in the national jursidictions, which creates a patchy and unneven application of patent rules and produce the wildy ranging practice in subjects like software patents. Lord Justice Jacob is quoted as saying:

“There have been proposals for a European patent court since the 1950s and the latest proposals produced by the Commission were massively defective, so we need to sort this out for the sake of European industry.”
I thouroughly agree with a European court, but it will be difficult to campaign for this as the cause just does not lend itself to small and effective chants. "What do we want? An European Patent Court and an European patent litigation agreement! When do we want it? Now!"

Thursday, November 03, 2005

God speaks through Firefox, not IE

I was checking some links in a class that I teach for our LL.M. in Innovation, Technology and the Law through distance learning. I clicked on an article that was supposed to take the students to this page, looking for the article "What is the Future of the WTO Dispute Settlement?"

I must have copied and pasted the link incorrectly, and now the link directs people to the page http://3-21/ (3-21 being the range of pages of the article). If you have Internet Explorer in your computer, this link will take you to the standard "The page cannot be displayed" page. However, try the link in Mozilla Firefox, and you will get something amusing.

Perhaps this is the final proof that Microsoft is evil. It looks like God prefers to send messages through Firefox (insert smiley here).

P.S. I have been informed that other combinations will produce different results. For example, http://3-27/ will take you to another Bible website, while http://no_god/ will also produce interesting results.

P.P.S. Yet another helpful tip has arrived. It seems like Firefox treats non-url terms as search commands, and it will return a Google "I am feeling lucky" result, so http://failure produces a familiar page.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Viral videos

(via Boing Boing) The latest viral video to hit the Net is a video by the "Back Dorm Boys", two kids from Guandong Arts Institute, and that is making the rounds and wasting bandwidth around the world. My favourite is still the tremendously funny Numa Numa Dance.

There's no doubt that viral videos can bring fame, wanted or not. What makes a viral video? It has to make people laugh in some way, and make them want to forward it. In the age of the email, friends and family are a click away, and the Inbox becomes the spreading tool of the video, a principle that also works for malicious viruses.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The First World Trade War

(via Lenz Blog) Last March, the WTO's Appellate Body confirmed the ruling against the United States in the case of cotton subsidies (DSB 267). This case was brought by Brazil against the United States arguing that the cotton industry in that country is obtaining subsidies from the government that are contrary to trade rules included in the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM) Agreement, calculated at around $140.000 USD per farmer. The argument by Brazil and other developing countries is that the subsidies make it impossible for their agriculture industries to compete in the global market, as the subsidies bring prizes down. On the other hand, the other greatest subsidiser (the EU) supported the United States in this.

The U.S. lost the case, the subsidies were deemed to be in violation of international trade rules, and was therefore asked to stop them and bring their legislation into compliance. So far the compliance has not been forthcoming.

This is just the latest case in a series of rulings that have gone against the U.S. in international trade issues in which they are not implementing the ruling, such as the Canadian lumber case. This has prompted questions about the validity of the international trade mechanism, and allows other countries to ask the question of why they should comply. This is dangerous territory at a time that American copyright industry is trying to get China to comply with its TRIPS commitments and stop piracy.

This could open the door for a global trade war, with countries reverting to the protectionist principles before the WTO. Most importantly for the U.S. is the threat by Brazil that they might as well allow the massive copying of American movies and music, and to allow the production of patented pharmaceuticals.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Cybersex and MMORPGs

Someone once defined the Internet as a place where people complain about movies and exchange porn. They should have added that it is also used to play computer games. The definition should include that its other two main uses is the playing of games and dating.

It seems like the next big thing to hit the online gaming scene is the advent of adult-themed games. The always amusing "Sex Drive" column in Wired has been musing about the subject of cybersex and online games, pointing out the female appeal of titles like The Sims, and the existence of female gamers who go to MMORPGs for cybersex. This will open the market for adult-themed, cyber-dating or cybersex game titles coming to a retailer near you.

I am interested on whether this will translate into some sort of regulatory call against the game sex industry. After all, computer games are still seen as the realm of teenagers, when in fact a lot of games are designed with the more mature audience in mind. As gamers age, it is only fair that games will also mature and explore adult themes.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Software patents affect innovation

Two stories are highlighting the problem posed by software patents. The first is an article in Groklaw by Marten Mickos, the CEO of the popular open source database software MySQL. Mickos is concerned that there software patents have poisoned the environment for all sorts of developers. He comments that:

Many companies apply for software patents for defensive reasons, thinking that if someone challenges them with a patent, they can retaliate with their own patent portfolio. But today the software industry is seeing a new breed of companies - so called patent trolls -– that have no other business than acquiring patents and then extracting royalties from other businesses. No patent portfolio will help against a troll, because they have no production or sales of their own that you could threaten.
His comments come after the blogoshpere is outraged by the latest silly software patent claim, that of company Scientigo, which owns software patents 5,842,213 and 6,393,426, which describe a claim for a method for modeling, storing, and transferring data in neutral form. Scientigo claims that XML infringes these patents, and they are "in talks" with large software users. Office applications like Microsoft Office use XML, so I can imagine that Microsoft is afraid that it may be infringing. Of course, the claim by this company is preposterous, but they own the patent, and it will take a lot of money to either fight it in court or attempt to invalidate it. What will happen is that Scientigo will extort billions of dollars from software developers (proprietary and non-proprietary) through the licensing of XML. The fact that XML predates the patents seems not to bother Scientigo, who sounds smug and confident in this interview. The problem is that as far as I can tell, Scientigo does not produce anything, it seems to be just another patent troll.

Who loses in these cases? Developers, obviously, but also the consumer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cereal killers

It is official, the American patent system has gone bonkers. Take a look at patent application 20050160005, describing a method for "providing food, beverages, and associated goods and services in a retail environment". What does it consist of? This is a business patent for mixing cereals in the same bowl. According to Greg Aharonian from PatNews, the claim boils down to these points:

- displaying to customers retail-sale packages for multiple competitively-branded breakfast cereals, wherein the multiple competitively-branded breakfast cereals are manufactured by at least two different cereal manufacturers;
- receiving a request from a customer for a first portion of a first one of the competitively-branded breakfast cereals and a second portion of a second one of the competitively-branded breakfast cereals;
- in response to receiving the request from the customer, combining the first and second portions of the first and second competitively-branded breakfast cereals together in a carry-out container; and
- presenting the carry-out container to the customer in exchange for payment.
Free Culture has a page dedicated to freeing the cereal. I rather like Crunchy Nut with muesli.

SuSE Linux 10

A Linux distribution that is easy to use? I have started to download Linux SuSE 10, which seems to be the easiest Linux yet, although at 3.8 GB it is a very large download by any standard (you can still get the DVD, CD and manuals version).

Going through some of the features it seems like Novell has managed to get the balance right between usability and great looks. It comes with all sorts of goodies, such as Firefox 1.0 and Open Office 2.0 right out of the box (or the DVD in this case). As in many other SuSE installations, it includes a lot of proprietary software, which may not meet with the FS seal of approval, but for those of us without such constraints it is great to get some multimedia support out of the box. However, if you have objections to having non-Free Software on your Linux machine, then you can even try an OSS-only version of the download.

Could this be the distribution that puts Linux in the mainstream? Unlikely. After all, people will still refuse to install Firefox even if it is so much better than IE and it is very easy to use. Nevertheless, here is a very easy-to-use version of Linux for those brave enough to make the leap into the unknown.

I'm off to get geek points by installing it on my laptop, and then I will install it on a dead badger.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

EPIC 2015

A dystopian look at the future? The shape of things to come? This is a Flash movie that has been around for a while, but it just has been updated to include the latest from Google and Apple.

Enjoy. Or be afraid. Be very afraid.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Read The Flipping Licence

(Via Techdirt). It has become an internet cliché to point out that nobody reads click-wrap agreements. There is the now famous story of the anti-spyware software that included the promise to pay some money to the first person who emailed them. It took four months for somebody to email them, and they earned $1,000 USD for their troubles.

Nowadays, we are incessantlyy bombarded with click agreements, End-user Licence Agreements (EULA), licences and all sorts of legal documents. People tend to believe that just by clicking on the "I Agree" button, you must have entered into a contract and sold their soul, right? Pacta sunt servanda and all that.

Should people be worried by all of the clicking? Look at this article with a horror gallery of EULAs for spyware products. Claria (formerly Gator), has this beauty:
You agree that you will not use, or encourage others to use, any method to uninstall the Licensed Materials other than through the use of the Add/Remove Programs feature of the Microsoft operating system. Use of any robot, spider, other automatic or non-automatic manual device or process intended to interfere or attempt to interfere with the proper working of the Licensed Materials is prohibited.
In other words, don't make it easy for people to remove the spyware. Then there is this one from iTunes:
Apple reserves the right, at any time and from time to time, to update, revise, supplement, and otherwise modify this Agreement and to impose new or additional rules, policies, terms, or conditions on your use of the Service. Such updates, revisions, supplements, modifications, and additional rules, policies, terms, and conditions (collectively referred to in this Agreement as "Additional Terms") will be effective immediately and incorporated into this Agreement. Your continued use of the iTunes Music Store following will be deemed to constitute your acceptance of any and all such Additional Terms. All Additional Terms are hereby incorporated into this Agreement by this reference.
The question then is, are these terms legal? Fortunately, in Europe there is a well-developed culture of consumer protection that includes Unfair Terms legislation. One can assume that many of the more doubtful agreements will contain some unfair clauses. However, it is also clear that companies rely on the fact that the average consumer will not know of the existence of this legislation, and that they will comply just because they clicked "I agreee".


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Google in trouble?

Google Print continues to suffer from mounting opposition from publishers and authors. It has been reported that it was sued by the Author's Guild, but it is now also being sued by the Association of American Publishers, which includes some big names like McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education and Penguin.

In Europe the problem for Google Print is actually that it is attracting some competition from European governments. The French in particular are worried about the way the project is American-centric, and have vowed to initiate their own library digitisation programme unimaginatively called the "European digital library". However, this may take some time, as the European Commission responded to a proposal by leaders back in April, they have asked for comments, and may actually start to implement them next June.

The other problem in the horizon for Google is that there could be some potential issues with companies that are using Adwords. The problem is that Office Depot has sued its rival Staples over their misuse of the Adwords in Google. Office Depot has an online subsidiary for office supplies called Viking Office Supplies. Staples paid Google to redirect customers to their site if they looked for "Viking". Staples are being sued for trade mark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising and deceptive trade practices. This is most likely an isolated incident, but it could start an Adwords war that would decrease Google's main source of income.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Meet Google, the boy

The Google blog has the story of Oliver Google Kai, born in Sweden from two technology enthusiasts who, you guessed it, love Google.

Fortunately I do not have any offspring, otherwise there could be a little Wikipedia walking the streets of Edinburgh.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Adelphi Charter

I have finally managed to read the Adelphi Charter on Creativity, Innovation and Intellectual Property (formerly known as the IP Charter). The Charter was drafted by a distinguished panel of IP law experts, creators and activists (including Professor Hector MacQueen). Some other people assisted with the research process, such as fellow blogger Abbe at IPEdinburgh (her comment about it here).

I am terribly impressed by how relevant and concise it all is. Take for example article 9:

9. In making decisions about intellectual property law, governments should adhere to these rules:
* There must be an automatic presumption against creating new areas of intellectual property protection, extending existing privileges or extending the duration of rights.
* The burden of proof in such cases must lie on the advocates of change.
* Change must be allowed only if a rigorous analysis clearly demonstrates that it will promote people's basic rights and economic well-being.
* Throughout, there should be wide public consultation and a comprehensive, objective and transparent assessment of public benefits and detriments.
What? Policy based on actual evidence? You must be joking! Seriously though, I believe that this is one of the most important points in the Charter given the amount of inflated claims by all camps involved in the modern IP debate. Change must come only when necessary, not just because content owners want to continue lining their pockets at the expense of the public domain.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Opening lecture at Edinburgh

This year's opening lecture at the AHRC Centre for studies in IP and Technology Law at the University of Edinburgh was held last night. Professor Jonathan Zittrain, the new Chair of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, gave an excellent talk entitled "The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It".

The lecture took us through some of the most problematic aspects of the internet, namely the many security concerns about the network, and its often troublesome interaction with operating systems. Professor Zittrain commented that we are witnessing the death of the PC and the growth of purpose-specific net-aware appliances such as game consoles, BlackBerry and TiVos, and that the reason for this is the existence of network vulnerabilities.

This was a thought-provoking lecture, and a good opening to our public events year.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Google bombing at work

(received via the Cyberprof mailing list) Go to Google and type "Failure", then hit "I'm feeling lucky".

Then much fun ensues, and the people rejoice and giggle.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Access to medicines debate back to the table?

The nightly news are filled with stories about the bird flu and the prospect of a pandemic that will kill millions of people. But it has also brought one issue back to the table, the access to medicines debate. There are reports that there is only one antiviral drug that deals with the current strain of the disease, a drug by Swiss company Roche called Tamiflu. There is growing concern that Roche is the only company with a patent to produce this drug, and it is finally dawning on some people that this may not be such a good idea after all.

What to do? Some governments have warned that they will simply start producing the drug themselves, patent be damned. Whatever happens, it is clear that the access to medicines debate may be coming back.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Google 2084

No comment (thanks to Lilian for link).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

CIE Report on Creative Commons is out

The Common Information Environment (CIE) commissioned Intrallect and the AHRC Centre to undertake a report on the viability of using Creative Commons licences in the public sector. The report is finally out and can be downloaded here, with the appendices available here.

The study comes at a time when Creative Commons is gaining public recognition and spreading rapidly, but it has mostly been adopted by individuals. From the report:

The study concluded that many resources produced by CIE organisations could be made available under a common licence and that Creative Commons would allow a substantial amount of CIE resources to be made available for reuse. Other existing common licences, such as Creative Archive and Click-Use could be used if Creative Commons cannot be applied but their use should be minimised to avoid removing many of the key benefits of the Creative Commons Licences.
Congratulations to Paul Miller, Ed Barker and Charles Duncan for the amazing job that they have done to get the report out. Me and my colleagues from the AHRC Centre were delighted to participate.

Measuring "buzz" power in blogs

(Via IFTF) BlogPulse is a great tool for searching for the popularity of certain words and brands in selected blogs over time, which can serve as a "buzz-meter" tool. I have been having fun searching for some words. See for example the results for copyright, patent and trademark:

Copyright wins by a long shot, but this is hardly surprising as many blogs will have copyright notices. And what about international institutions? Look at the results for WTO, WIPO and WSIS:

I was surprised about the growing popularity of the WSIS. Cause for concern at WIPO?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

In the Public Interest

Professor Michael Geist has released what seems to me to be a landmark in academic publishing. His book "In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law" is a tome filled with opinions from Canadian copyright experts. That in itself is worthy of praise, but what makes this publication unique is that it has been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence. Something else of note is that each PDF can be downloaded only after accepting a click-wrap version of the licence, which is the first time that I have seen it.

Off to read...

NCC warns against criminalisation of IPR

The National Consumer Council (NCC) has spoken out against the music industry suing their customers, warning that this is heavy handed. Jill Johnstone from the NCC said:

"The European Commission must think again before bringing in new and tougher IP laws. Criminal sanctions for infringing copyright holders’ rights must be applied only to organised crime – not to individual citizens making use of new technologies.
‘Any new laws must be very clear on this point and must strike a balance between right holders’ interests in getting a fair return and the public and consumer interests of fair access and use, and the encouragement of innovation."
People may actually have discovered the insanity of the criminalisation of everyday users and that there should be balance in IP.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Modchips: Is the tide is turning?

I have finally managed to go through Stevens v Sony Computer Entertainment, the ruling from the High Court of Australia regarding modchips. In case you are too bored to check on Wikipedia, a modchip is a modification to a built-in technical protection measure in a computer game console (like PlayStation, Xbox or Game Cube).

In this case, Mr. Stevens sold unauthorised copies of PlayStation games, for which he was not sued. Sony initiated the case against him because he also sold modchips to circumvent the copy protection mechanism in the PlayStation. Sony alleged that this was in voilation of s 116A of the Copyrigbht Act as ammended by the Copyright Amendment Act 2000. This was one of the many legislations passed as a result of the WIPO Copyright Treaty, which states in Art. 11 that "Contracting Parties shall provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures that are used by authors in connection with the exercise of their rights..."

The case is long and a recommended read for anyone interested in this subject, particularly because it involves a primary ruling and then an appeal by Stevens at Federal level. There are two different interpretations of the legislative meaning of technical protection measure, sometimes with a tremendous care to distinguishing whether a TPM device inhibits copyright infringement or outright prohibits it. The High Court solves the apparent dispute by stating that the language in the legislation is ambiguous, something that has already been subject to criticism even in the European version of the legislation. The High Court then rules towards a more balanced definition of TPM than present in the law for these reasons:

209. If the definition of TPM were to be read expansively, so as to include devices designed to prevent access to material, with no inherent or necessary link to the prevention or inhibition of infringement of copyright, this would expand the ambit of the definition beyond that naturally indicated by the text of s 10(1) of the Copyright Act. It could interfere with the fair dealing provisions in Div 3 of Pt III of the Copyright Act and thereby alter the balance struck by the law in this country. [...]

211. Avoiding over-wide operation: There is an additional reason for preferring the more confined interpretation of the definition of TPM in the Copyright Act. This is because the wider view urged by Sony would have the result of affording Sony, and other rights holders in its position, a de facto control over access to copyrighted works or materials that would permit the achievement of economic ends additional to, but different from, those ordinarily protected by copyright law. If the present case is taken as an illustration, Sony's interpretation would permit the effective enforcement, through a technological measure, of the division of global markets designated by Sony. It would have the effect of imposing, at least potentially, differential price structures in those separate markets. In short, it would give Sony broader powers over pricing of its products in its self-designated markets than the Copyright Act in Australia would ordinarily allow[157].
This is an utterly refreshing ruling, and I'm sure that it will generate a lot of talk for those looking for balance in copyright legislation.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Hackers jailed

Two hackers from the international group THr34t-Krew (do you l33t?) have been sentenced by a Newcaste court for conspiracy to cause unauthorised modification of computers with intent, or in plain language, for writing a worm that did not even create a lot of problems, but had the potential for great harm.

Blog spam flood

I have been flooded with blog comment spam, perhaps the most pernicious problem affecting blogs hosted by Blogspot. The spammers use software that searches for keywords and generates some text that directs people to a website. I had a post about hardware and I got this spam:

Found a lot of useful info on your site about soldering - thank you. Haven't finished reading it yet but have bookmarked it so I don't lose it. I've just started a soldering blog myself if you'd like to stop by
What is a soldering blog? Does it give advice about how to solder properly? Anyway, I finally got tired of deleting spam, so I have implemented the word recognition feature for comments.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Playstation mods declared legal

The Playstation mod chip case has come against the games industry. A court in Australia has ruled that mod chips are not an infringement of anti-circumvention legislation as present in the European Information Society Directive, the WCT and the DMCA.

The full text of the ruling is not out yet, but it will be AustLII soon. I will comment more about this case next week.

Privacy concerns

Thursday is privacy day, and we have been presented with two contrasting presentations. First Carlos Gregorio from Argentina gave a very interesting presentation about privacy concerns in Latin America, making specific comments about the theoretical distinctions between certain terms, such is intimacy, privacy and information self-determinism. Then Lilian Edwards has given a fiery presentation with two caveats, she has firs dispelled the myth that there is no privacy protection legislation, but then sha presented a large number of privacy concerns, but these come from small players and also large companies and governments.

There is no Big Brother, there are a lot of Little Sisters. The Edinburgh Radical School strikes again.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

IP day begins

It is early morning here in Santo Domingo and the IP programme has just begun with a talk by Victor Vasquez from WIPO, with an interesting presentation of the work in WIPO regarding copyright in the digital domain. Amongst the work is the implementation of the WIPO Copyright Treaties, the recognition of open source and the agenda of copyright protection in the digital environment.

There was no mention of the broadcasting treaty, I will be asking about it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Conference report

Here I am in Dominican Republic enjoying a good conference (really). Yesterday we had a very interesting workshop dealing with policy issues, and today we are attending an interesting set of talks about internet governance. More details about the conference later.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Dominican Republic

I'm attending the V World Computer Law Conference all this week.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Shoplift, cheat and download

(via Techdirt). If you download music, you are more likely to shoplift and cheat on your exams, says a new poll by Canadian firm Pollara, which was unsurprisingly paid by the Canadian music industry. There is a reason why slippery slope arguments are a logical fallacy.

I'm off to steal some milk for my breakfast and plagiarise some stuff for my next article.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

DVD formats: Blue-Ray vs HD-DVD

There is a new format war brewing in consumer electronics that reminds people of the VHS vs Betamax battle. This brings two competing incompatible DVD formats against one another - Sony's Blu-Ray vs Toshiba's HD DVD. You may wonder why do we need a new DVD format. After all, DVD has just recently taken off, and we are just starting to fill our collections. One of the problems with the current DVD format is that its copyright protection is extremely vulnerable, and the industry wants much better built-in DRM. The other problem with current formats is storage space. It is also appealing for the industry to get us to buy new players that support one of the formats.

Technically speaking, Blu-Ray seems to be much better than HD DVD where it counts: storage and DRM. Blu-Ray supports 50 GB storage in one single disc, while the highest test in the lab has produced storage capacities of up to 100 GB. HD DVD only has capacity for 30 GB, with the highest test at 45 GB. Sony has also claimed that it has much better copyright protection because it allows for dynamic encryption. This means that if the encryption protecting the disc is cracked (as it happened with normal DVDs), then the entire system would not be compromised, as new encryption algorithms could be uploaded to the disc and the players.

The format battle is set to reach us soon. Sony is putting all of its considerable weight behind Blu-Ray, particularly by the fact that it will include it in the Playstation 3. HD DVD has received the support of Microsoft and Intel, which would seem to make it the favourite.

Will history repeat itself? Sony lost the video recorder war, while many people claimed that Beta was much better. Will they also lose the DVD war?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

WIPO Webcasting treaty

This is another amazing comment by James Boyle in FT regarding the WIPO Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organisations, also known as the Webcasting Treaty. Boyle's point is undeniably strong as usual. Why does the broadcast industry need a new right? Why is there need for further protection of a multi-million industry that is under no threat?

But what is the treaty? The broadcast right provides an extra layer of copyright protection by giving broadcast organisations a series of exclusive rights found under copyright (communication to the public, fixation, making available to the public, reproduction and distribution of the broadcast). This would generally seem fair enough, if an organisation broadcasts a drama, it will have several rights over their work. This would stop the fixation of shows in digital format and their online distribution through BitTorrent or other P2P services. The problem with the right is that it has the potential of extending copyright once more, as a work that is broadcast just before it is to enter the public domain could earn a new lease of life (50 years according to the treaty). This is unacceptable, and as Boyle points out, countries that do not have a broadcast right have not suffered from it.

Monday, September 26, 2005

IP can make you famous

(via Steve Hedley's news list). An interest in software patents and IP can make you famous. Florian Muller is the founder of, who successfully lobbied against the Software Patent Directive. Muller has been nominated in this year's Europeans of the Year awards in the "Campaigner of the year" category alongside Bono and Sir Bob Geldof. Michel Rocard, the raporteur in the European Parliament that spearheaded the campaign within the legislative body is nominated for MEP of the year for "turning the software patent directive into a fascinating debate about the future of technological innovation".

Next thing we know, famous cyberlaw professors will be portrayed on hit TV shows.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Oracle software patent: The little man falls!

The UK Patent Office has ruled on the patentability of application number GB 2385686 filed by software giant Oracle. This patent application is for a system that translates a language like SGML into markup language like HTML. The application was denied by the examiner, who had doubts about whether the invention was novel and involved an inventive step. This is of course accurate because there have been programs that do this for ages. The applicants did claim that theirs was better, but should patents be awarded for any program that does something slightly better than previous ones?

Nevertheless, the important part of the case was that the examiner did not believe that the application met the patentability requirements set out in the law and in recent cases. Particularly, the recent case of CFPH Application was particularly enlightening in attempting to set out a test for patentability of software in the UK. One of the hidden gems of the ruling is the "little man test". This test states that the software will be patentable if it fulfills all other patent requirements, but also if it can be performed by a little man inside the computer. As useful as this test is, it is not without faults, particularly in this case. As the Comptroller stated:
Not only is there no artifact or industrial process being controlled, but the application makes it clear that the purpose of the invention is to convert a document from one format to another in a few minutes without requiring manual input from a user, where previously it would have taken days— with or without the assistance of a computer.
Well said. The patent application was struck down, but I'm afraid that we may see this one come back in court. Will the little man get his day in court?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Online game plague tops BBC News

Some days ago the Terra Nova blog reported on the curious case of a plague that is killing thousands of players in the popular MMORPG World of Warcraft. Apparently, players that killed a new super-boss enemy were infected with a strange disease that started killing characters in the near vicinity. The reports are not clear on the details, but it seems like the goal of the disease was to affect only those who killed this boss. Ingenious players found a way to unleash it on near-by cities, so the plague spread, killing thousands of characters.

What is interesting is that there is no clue as to whether this was a planned event within the game, or if it was actually a random disease that exploited a bug in the system and allowed for the first documented online plague. It is also interesting that the story has been picked up by the BBC Technology news, which gives some clues as to the popularity of MMORPGs.

Bio-terrorism online?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Welcome to our new students!

A new year has started and a new batch of students is arriving to Edinburgh. If you are one of our new students interested in this blog business, welcome!

To entice participation, I have drafted a list of online resources that may be useful:


General resources
  • Databases (Lexis Academic Quickfind has both UK and American resources. Professional only has UK resources).
Scholarly Search
Papers online
Bibliographic styles and help
RSS, blogs and feeds

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Google Print sued

The Google Print Project has been digitizing books found in several libraries, and already some examples of the work can be found when you search in Google. You can also search Google Print and find words within their archive.

Some people believe that Google Print would fall under the fair use doctrine in the United States. I still think that this is a great idea, but it seemed to me that this was clear infringement, particularly because we don't have fair use. Nevertheless, the project was paused last month for fear of copyright infringement suits. Now three authors have sued Google with the assistance of the Author's Guild (the complaint can be found here). I have just browsed the complaint, but it looks serious. There is no doubt that Google has made digital copies of the works without the author's permission and that they are reproducing parts of those works online.

I wonder if Google will fight this. I believe that Google would benefit from a jury trial, as there is still considerable good will towards the company, despite grumbling nooises from many internet activists and fears that Google is going Microsoft on us. This is a case to watch.

The political economy of reading

(Received via the CC-UK list from Rufus Pollock). This is the text of the John Coffin Memorial Lecture in the History of the Book, given by William St Clair at the School of Advanced Study University of London. The lecture deals with property, copyright and the state of literature (and publishing) in the 18th and 19th century.

Girls are evil

Not at all related to work. I received this and I liked its elegance:

Finally, mathematical proof!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

KAPOW! Revenge of 'City of Heroes'

There is a new ruling in the impressive saga of NCSoft (City of Heroes fame) v Marvel (of Spider-man fame).

For those unfamiliar with the case, Marvel Comics sued NCSoft, the makers of the popular City of Heroes MMORPG game because the game character-design engine allows users to create their own versions of existing copyright (and trade marked) heroes such as Wolverine, Hulk and Spider-man. I have played the game and I must admit that I have seen some large-looking green giants with purple pants called "Hu1k", or imaginatively, "Big Angry Man". The claim by Marvel is that these acts of infringement by players is the responsibility of the game makers.

Needless to say, the case has angered many fans. Does Marvel really mean that people cannot dress in super-hero costumes any more? No, Marvel's argument is that they don't care about Halloween costumes; but if a company has had a great idea for a game that sure beats the games licensed by Marvel, then they will find a way to sue that company.

Anyway, Marvel created characters in city of heroes that resembled their own characters, and then sued City of Heroes using the characters that they had created as evidence. Now the game seems to be up and NCSoft are alleging that these practices have led to loss of goodwill and cancelled accounts. It is now up to Marvel to prove that this is wrong.

Off to dust my old Batman costume.

Monday, September 19, 2005

New issue of SCRIPT-ed now online

The September 2005 issue of SCRIPT-ed is now online. The contents of this issue are:

  • [Editorial] Patenting Lives; by Johanna Gibson.
  • Los contratos por adhesión en plataformas electrónicas: una mirada al caso chileno (Adhesion Electronic Contracts: A Look at the Chilean Case); by Iñigo de la Maza Gazmuri.
  • ‘Show me the money!’ An insight into the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) and its interaction with Higher Education Institutions; by Dinusha Mendis.
  • About Leechers, Seeds and Swarming – The copyright implications of BitTorrent; by Bob Rietjens.
  • Bloomsday: Copyright Estates and Cultural Festivals; by Mathew Rimmer.
  • ‘.XXX’ Sponsored Top-Level Domain - Is it a solution to curb child abuse due to Internet Pornography?; by Indranath Gupta.
  • Patents on Compatibility Standards and Open Source – Do Patent Law Exceptions and Royalty-Free Requirements Make Sense?; by Mikko Välimäki and Ville Oksanen.
  • [Review] Lawyers and Vampires –Cultural Histories of Legal Professions, W. Lesley Pue and David Sugarman (eds). Reviewed by John Blackie.
  • [Review] Genetics and DNA Technology: Legal Aspects, Wilson Wall. Reviewed by Michael Bromby.
  • [Review] International Investment Agreements: Key Issues (Volume I), UNCTAD. Reviewed by Joseph Savirimuthu.

Servers down?

It is interesting how you come to rely on the internet. The entire web at the university of Edinburgh seems to be down since yesterday. I haven't had access to my email since yesterday, and I feel isolated from the world.

Besides, today is the first day of the semester.

[UPDATE] Servers are back up.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Keyboards: The new security threat

A new security threat has been uncovered. The keys on a keyboard can be digitally recorded and used to determine what's been written. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley (where else?) have been using a computer program that can pick up more than 90 percent of key sounds and reproduce the text that has been written.

Expect new soundless and keyless keyboards to be released soon.