Saturday, February 26, 2005

Popularity of Creative Commons licences

One could easily comment that Creative Commons licences are becoming very popular on the internet as they are being linked often. It is now very common to find websites that link to a Creative Commons content licence, but just how popular is this model really? The CC blog has some raw data from Yahoo about how many people are linking to various CC licences, and the data is really interesting. Apparently, there are ten million links to the various CC licences, which are distributed like this:

It is really interesting to see that the most restrictive copyleft licence is the one that is the most popular with 37% (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike). With 10 million licences in use, this movement cannot longer be dismissed as a fad by silly liberal-pinko-commies.

Friday, February 25, 2005

What is everybody else reading?

Citeulike lets you browse what people are reading. You can list academic articles that you find interesting so that the community can read them. Another great resource to see what is new and to attempt to stay up to date in this difficult field.

Off to spam the list with entries from SCRIPT-ed.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

YAWN! Software patents. Again.

This is actually a very intelligent and coherent analysis of the problem of software patents and software copyright, but it fails in many levels. I know that the author does not claim to make an European software analysis, but why criticise the problem of European software patents with an American copyright analysis? The problem with this is that the argument may be true in the United States, but software copyright is a much less complicated issue in Europe, where the ridiculous filtration and abstraction test has been rubbished by English judges, while Continental copyright law is perfectly applied to software all the time. Few can doubt that there is a problem with American copyright law and software, but this is not the case in Europe. Without this argument, the pro-patent lobby has almost nothing else left to offer, and explains why the directive has been so unpopular in Europe.

Another problem with the pro-patent argument is that its proponents want to have double protection for software, as it is quite clear that they still want copyright protection to be able to prevent piracy. Their argument is to continue with copyright protection where it serves them, but also to add patent protection so that they can prevent others from misappropriating their ideas. The problem with this is that these ideas tend to be extremely broad, and are often the result of already existing ones. The history of software development is nothing but a long history of people adapting one idea and using it in their own program. But the protection of software ideas has another problem, and it is that in software there are usually not many different non-obvious ways of performing an action and producing an effect. Text editors must all look and operate like they do because there are not many other ways of doing it. If you were able to obtain a patent on text editors, then you could have an exceptionally forceful advantage over every other potential text editor maker.

The article also wants to make a case about patent quality, but it fails to stress just how important this is. If patents are being issued for obvious software inventions, then the entire application of the system should be looked at, as there is clear danger for the future of the entire field.

Ms Meeker also neglects to explain one very important point. Why are software patents needed in Europe? True, the EPO has issued some, but they have not been subject to the same level of enforcement than in the United States. I believe that this is because owners may fear that courts could easily strike them down, as it is obvious that they are strictly in contravention of the written word of the European Patent Convention. The low level of enforcement has made European software patents very weak indeed, and is the main reason why you have had the push by some sectors of the industry to obtain a directive. It is also clear that the European software industry is not suffering from the problems with software patents. On the contrary! Europe has a lot to win from curbing software patents. Software development in the United States has become such a toxic environment that Europe could become a beacon of new software innovation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

eBay to go open source

eBay is thinking about opening its source code under some sort of open licence to allow faster development. eBay currently has a proprietary/closed code software developer's kit(SDK) that they provide to programmers that want to create applications that interact with eBay's interface and enhances its current use. Currently, 42% of eBay's website has been produced by external developers, but this is done at a slower pace, and they cannot produce SDKs for different languages, or make them available to all would-be programmers.

This opening of source code also would make it easier for eBay to change their interface entirely, as it would allow developers to adapt their applications at a faster rate. If eBay goes open source, this will mean that most of the most innovative companies on the internet will be using this model (Amazon, Google and eBay). It seems like the success of open source as a viable business model is unstoppable.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

CA donates software patents to open source

John Swainson, the CEO for anti-virus and security products producer Computer Associates will announce a donation of some of its software patents to open source software developers. It will be good to see the shape that this offer takes. IBM's offer took the shape of a legally binding non-assertion promise of 500 of its software patents. Hopefully, CA's promise will unlocked more patents, which should go a long way towards creating an open source free environment.

Bullseye Consultants?

This is another variant of the Nigerian scam phishing letter that has arrived to my Inbox. It is more sophisticated than your average scam letter, and they have fixed some problems that it had earlier.

Bullseye Consultants:Private Investigators and Security Consultants is
conducting a standard process investigation on behalf of Halifax Bank of
Scotland,the international Banking conglomerate, and we will like you to assist with this Independent Enquiry.
My name is Pauline Coker. I am a senior partner in the firm. This investigation involves a client who shares the same surname with you and also the circumstances surrounding investments made by this client at HBS Republic, the Private Banking arm of Halifax Bank of Scotland.
The Halifax Bank of Scotland Private Banking client died intestate and nominated no successor in title over the investments made with the Bank. The essence of this communication with you is to request you provide us information/comments on any or all of the four issues:
1-Are you aware of any relative/relation who shares your same surname whose
last known contact address was Brussels Belgium?
2-Are you aware of any investment of considerable value made by such a person
at the Private Banking Division of Halifax Bank of Scotland PLC?
3-Born on the 1st of June 1927
4-Can you establish beyond reasonable doubt your eligibility to assume status
of successor in title to the deceased?
It is pertinent that you inform us ASAP whether or not you are familiar
with this personality that we may put an end to this communication with
you and our inquiries surrounding this personality. You must appreciate
that we are constrained from providing you with more detailed information
at this point.
Please respond to this mail as soon as possible to afford us the opportunity
to close this investigation. Thank you for accommodating our enquiry.

Pauline Coker
For:Bullseye Consultants.
Bullseye Consultants? Change "eye" for a word synonymous with post-digestive refuse, and you may be closer to the truth.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

$100 laptops to tackle the divide

(Warning: The link takes you to an article that uses the title "Bridging the digital divide"; how original!) How do you make sure that people in developing countries have access to information technology? By making it cheap. Very cheap. Famous technologist from MIT Media Lab Nicholas Negroponte and other associates are planning to produce a $100 USD laptop to give to children in developing countries. This is a very good development, hopefully the computers will be good and not only cheap. The laptops will be cheap because they will be a mesh network. The specs are quite impressive as well:

It will have a 12in colour screen and run Linux and other open source software. It will be Wi-Fi and 3G-enabled, with many USB ports. The laptops will not have lots of storage space, and will not be hooked up via a conventional local area networks, but will rely on mesh networks, where one child's laptop will act as the print server, one the DVD player, and another the mass storage device.

Can I get one? I am from a developing country.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Cyberstalking or office voyeurism?

Do office affairs matter? According to this article, they are on the increase, and may be posing some questions about office surveillance. Your systems administrator has the power to do check all of your email, and there are many other ways of surveillance. There are a growing number of complaints from employees, mostly women, about workplace abuse. I think that there are two ways to deal with the problem. First, workplace surveillance itself is a growing concern, but most of the times it is done within the law. The other problem is the actual abuse that ranges on cyberstalking. One could argue that people should attempt to keep their personal lives separate from their private ones, but this is increasingly difficult.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Virtual worlds and the law

There is growing interest about the legal implications of MMORPGs. Terra Nova has a good post about the growing trend to emphasize the technology and ascertain the inherent difference of virtual worlds when compared to real life. The questions are generally centred around American freedom of speech arguments (as most American discussions about new technology tend to do), but they can be boiled to this: some people want claim ownership over what they produce in increasingly rich worlds because these works have value, be it commercial or sentimental. Some MMORPG user agreements have clauses where users transfer all assignable IP to the company.

I tend to agree with the idea that these worlds are no different than any other worlds, and that therefore the legal questions should not differ to what we already have. However, I also think that there may be some new questions lurking in here, questions that have been missed by the freedom of speech arguments. If people spend hours and hours putting together a character and creating a viable online world, shouldn't that be recognised in some way? Could we argue that agreements that force users to give away their IP when they sign up to the game would be abusive?

Another person fired over blog

Mark Jen used to have a small technical-oriented blog read by a few people (much like your humble Technollama). Then he started working for Google and everything changed. He started using his blog ninetyninezeros to descibe conditions at Google. He wrote some candid posts about his short life with the company, something that did not sit well with the powers that be. Only eleven days after starting, he was fired.

When did Google join the Dark Side?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

European Parliament comes through

Seems like the European Palrliament has done the right thing and finally driven the stake through the heart of the malinformed software patent directive. The Commision may try something, but it seems that under the present political climate they will not try something for a while. I can hear thousands of European patent lawyers crying lost profits.

Is this the end of software patents in Europe? I don't think so, there is a lot of money involved, and a big political push from the giants in the software industry. India is suffering from similar underhand tactics to get software patents accepted. Let's just hope that they will be able to come through.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The drugs don't work? Sue!

This one practically writes itself. The Register reports that a man in the United States is suing the makers of a herbal penis enlargement pill for misleading advertisement. He says that the ads claimed that he would gain three inches, but that nothing happened. I wonder how they are going to collect evidence for this one. Is there going to be a discovery meeting amongst the parts?

So many jokes, so little time.

More about software patents in Europe

As the fight against European software patents heats up, we can find a lot of opinions about the subject. We have irony-filled pieces, like the one where Richard Stallman calls Bill Gates a communist. Then witness this debate between Karl Lenz and Alex Horns. The arguments are not about the law, which is clearly not in favour of software patents, but about protectionism and economics and the "declining European industry".

Funny that. Europe's manufacturing is in decline, mostly fuelled by the low dollar and some restrictive labour regulation, not because of the European patent system, which is one of the most sensible around. The knowledge economy in Europe is not declining, it is vibrant and full of innovation. This is why the supporters of software patents have to offer preposterous arguments claiming that the system is not working when it clearly is. So what if the American patent system has gone absolutely crazy? We should not follow them and copy their bloated and failing patent system. The only people set to win from software patents are patent lawyers.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Loki Torrent goes nuclear

Loki Torrent was one of the most popular bittorrent sites on the net. It had decided to fight and they were raising money from users to pay for their legal defense; apparently they had made about $40,000 US dollars from this, and leaves one to wonder how is it that people who will not pay for a CD will pay for legal fees of a P2P site. Anyway, it was quite evident that services like Loki would disappear eventually based on the fact that they were central services where links to the infringing material were kept, even if the infringing material was distributed in computers all around the world.

What is novel about this case is that Loki decided not to fight, gave up and allowed the MPAA access to their user logs and files, which means that the MPAA is threatening to sue the users by applying well-used RIAA tactics. Moral of the story? Don't use central services, use P2P services like eXeem that have built-in torrent capabilities. Others that do that are Morpheus and eDonkey.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Jurisdiction problems

Paraphrasing my colleague Lilian Edwards, where on Earth do things happen in cyberpsace? Techdirt has a small report about the latest case to muddle the question of cyberspace jursidiction. This case is Dow Jones & Co Inc v Jameel [2005] EWCA Civ 74 (note that link is only for the report of the injunction), and it involves the case of a Saudi Arabian national who sued WSJ for libel after they published a report that linked the claimant to terrorist funding. WSJ is published in New Jersey, but Mr Jameel sued in London because it has the strictest libel law (this is often called forum shopping). The court threw out the case (thankfully), but on the basis that not enough people had read the article in the UK, so it could not be assumed that it had been published here.

This opens an interesting new question about possible future cases. What constitutes publication on the "web"? Is the fact that somebody has made something available online enough to constitute publication everywhere? If so, can I be sued anywhere that has an internet connection?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Software patents latest

Next week should give us a better idea of what is going to happen with software patents. Earlier in the week, there were some reports that it was possible that software patents were going to be adopted next week. Since then, the Dutch Paliament has adopted a motion to block this in the European Council, and the Danes are also having second thoughts about the whole thing.

The problem with software patents is that they are not needed in Europe. The European software industry is doing really well without them (or with a very limited version of them), with a vibrant economy dependent on small and medium developers, who would be the worse affected by what is happening in the United States over patents.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Patenting lives

Technollama has spent some time in London at the Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute for the launch of the Patenting Lives project. This is pretty good project, we will keep an eye on it (and link to it often).

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Games in court

This is a column about the growing amount of litigation found in the United States related to computer games. We all know about the preposterous case brought by Marvel Comics against City of Heroes for allowing its players to dress up as *GASP* superheroes. Then there is the story of Blacksnow Interactive, which apparently sells virtual goods in the real world. How does that work?Blacksnow are supposed to have some virtual sweatshops in Tijuana, where poor Mexicans play MMORPGs every day to produce goods that can then be sold on eBay (although Terra Nova claims that the story's truth is doubtful). The column then asks whether we should regulate "virtual worlds". I feel déja vu, again. We've been here before. Take these words:

"We now have this technology that allows people to create their own place, their own rules," said Noveck. "We need to preserve it."
This sounds familiar, a lot like the much maligned Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. The problem is that it assumes that the space is something new created by its users. This is not true, the spaces are owned and maintained by the companies. True, it is possible to establish player-run servers, but these are the minority and most people prefer to play the proprietary environments.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

P2P traffic: the facts

There has been some talk recently about the possible death of P2P, particularly in the popular media. The argument is that P2P networks have seen a sharp decrease from the actions of the music industry and their lawsuits against users. A new study called "Is P2P dying or just hiding?" claims that P2P traffic is at its highest, if you know where to look. Another study from the OECD should give people more raw data about the actual figures involved.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Yet another bad software patent

Yahoo is suing small company Xfire for alleged patent infringement. Xfire provides a chat application that allows online gamers to chat with each other. However, Yahoo claims that it owns a software patent that protects precisely that, U.S. patent 6,699,125. This patent, applied for in 2001, claims to protect a novel system of having a games servers with games clients that will connect to a chat server and chat clients allowing intercomunication within the servers and the clients. Here is what the patent says:

A game and messenger client-server system is provided including a plurality of game clients, a game server, a plurality of messenger clients, and a messenger server. The game server includes logic to operate a multiplayer game using inputs from and outputs to an active game set of game clients, wherein game clients other than those in the active game set can join an active game by supplying the game server with a reference to the active game.
Wait a second, this sounds familiar! Microsoft's Gaming Zone predates 2001, and I am sure that I chatted with people there while playing Checkers or Chess. What about the many other game client sites? GameSpy Arcade anyone? I remember playing in the World Opponent Network back in 1999. I also played in KaliNet, which had chat capabilities, and I know that I am forgetting a lot more. By 2001, almost all game developers had their own online gaming server with chat capabilities. How can Yahoo claim that there was no relevant non-patent prior art?

Monday, February 07, 2005

"I sue dead people"

The RIAA has reached a new low in their tactics of suing P2P users. According to The Register, they have sued a dead woman. I love this line:

"An RIAA spokesperson said that it would try and dismiss the case."
Yep, nobody is safe from the RIAA.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

LL.M. in Innovation and Technology Law

This is a Distance Learning LL.M. we are going to start in Edinburgh. If you fancy spending a year (or two) studying Technology Law but can't be bothered to travel abroad, then we will happily make you feel welcome with the distance LL.M.

BSA: Such a class act

You want to get more money for your industry (which is already a very profitable one). What do you do? You ask people to turn in their bosses for software piracy after you leave the company. I was reading The Onion when I came across this ad:

Being The Onion, I thought that this was parody, but I clicked on the link and it takes you to BSA's rat page. Yup, accuse your employer of possessing unlicensed software, the ultimate parting gift. Is it just me or is this sleazy? BTW, when did unlicensed software become pirated software?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Downloading shows is the new MP3

(Registration required, remember to use Bugmenot). So, BitTorrent is making TV execs uneasy in the United States. It was meant to happen, as torrent technology is quite fast, but not as fast as the article would make us believe. I still cringe at the use of the word "stealing", the fact that I have downloaded the 5 episodes of Macross Zero does not mean that I will not buy the DVD as soon as it comes out. I am really bothered about the unimaginative copyright industry suits and their exaggerated claims, where any download is immediately translated as a lost sale, when the reality is much more complex.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Copyright law gone mad again?

Check this out. The Eiffel Tower's website specifies that the nighttime Eiffel Tower is protected by copyright, therefore all nighttime pictures of the famous tower that are not licensed are infringing copyright. I have done some research and it seems like the Société Nouvelle de la Tour Eiffel (SNTE) claims that the new light arrangement in the tower is a work of art, and therefore subject to copyright. Their FAQ states that:

Q: Is the publishing of a photo of the Eiffel Tower permitted?
A: There are no restrictions on publishing a picture of the Tower by day. Photos taken at night when the lights are aglow are subjected to copyright laws, and fees for the right to publish must be paid to the SNTE.

My guess is that they are really interested in the post card market, and it is just another way of squeezing money out of the tourists. I will infringe with the image to the left and see what happens. will offer DRM free music was one of the early pioneers of online music sharing. It started offering direct links to MP3s, which was shut down easily by the music industry. Afterwards, has been offering music from emerging groups that want to offer their music online. Now will open a novel music store, it will offer DRM free downloads.

I think that they are on to something. The only reason why I have not started using "legal" downloads is that the established players and sites use DRMs. If there is a DRM-free option, then count me in.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Open source in danger from software patents

Software patents are a serious problem for open source developers according to Linus Torvalds and other open source superstars, despite IBM's legally binding pledge not to enforce 500 software patents against OSS companies. This should not surprise anybody. With almost every single obvious element of software already patented in the United States, the only thing stopping a large-scale patent war is the fact that Novell and IBM own a good number of patents, and there may be fear that any action against open source would induce Big Blue's rage.

New search engine.

Teoma is a new search engine that follows a similar idea to that of Google Scholar, it tries to filter searches to give sources that have certain authority. It does this by producing searches that are linked to by pages with the similar topic. I have tried it with some vanity searching, and I must say that I was quite impressed. It allows you to search for some specific topics. When I searched my name it brought up the topics "data protection", "intellectual property" and "creative commons". Very impressive!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

More IP protection... WHY?

This is an excellent rant from Ed Felten's blog Freedom to Tinker, where he asks something that has been on my mind recently. Why is Hollywood complaining about the evils of movie downloading, when profits are at its highest levels ever. Why are we told that there is a problem when the money is coming in? People are still buying DVDs and going to the movies, I haven't met anybody who says "I think that I will download this movie and watch it in a crappy little screen instead of going to the movies". Let's face it, those who do that will almost certainly not go out anyway.