Thursday, March 31, 2005

Holy lawsuits, Winged Mammal Man!

I have been playing City of Heroes for a couple of days, and I wanted to make a comment about the ongoing case between Marvel Comics and NCSoft, the distributors of CoH. The world of CoH is great, vast and fast-paced action makes it an addictive environment. I spent last night hunting trolls with a large group of players from Spain. Something that has really struck me is the level of imagination and creativity exhibited by the players in the game. Every possible combination of spandex is explored in the game, and the users exhibit an amazing amount of imagination into the creation of the online personae.

Enter Marvel, claiming that their copyright is being infringed by players dressing-up as their characters. People dressing-up as super heroes? Perish the thought! But do they have a claim? Their complaint states that the character building engine constrains users into infringement. This is not the case, the options allow for an incredible amount of choices. I have only encountered very few heroes that resemble trademark characters. There was a large green tank called "The Angry Man", and I also saw a hero that looked like Storm, but that was it.

I must say that this is absolutely preposterous. What next? Will DC and Marvel sue Fathers for Justice?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Busy, busy, busy

Lack of updates. Yes, hmmmm... This is due to many different things. There is Easter, and then there is the fact that the World Model United Nations is in town, and then I am doing some research into MMORPGs.

If anybody plays City of Heroes, keep an eye out for Technollama!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Yahoo goes CC

Yahoo is now offering a search engine that looks for content bearing Creative Commons licences. This is a great source of reuseable content, and it is nice to see search engines embracing Creative Commons ideals, although it must be said that this may just be part of Yahoo's fight against Google. This developmentg takes place at the same time as the split between Creative Commons UK into CC-England and Wales and CC-Scotland is now official. The project will be officially launched next weekend when Lessig visits Edinburgh.

Largest mesh network in ... Cork?

Cork City can now boast the largest WiFi in Europe. The city centre will be coverd by a large wifi mesh network that will pbe offered through credit card payments. This is an interesting development which [rpves that the future is wireless.

Am I moving to Cork? NAH!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Podcasting in the news

This is a Beeb article that explains Podcasting. I don't follow any podcast shows myself, but it seems to be growing in popularity. Missing from the aticle is the issue of copyright and podcasting. So far, the movement has been untroubled by copyright concerns, many of the shows are not using , but there are music as well, and the concerns are there. The logical solution for podcasters is not to use music, or if they do, to use audio released with Creative Commons, such as the famous Wired CD.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Exterminate! Exterminate!

The person responsible for the leaking of the first Dr. Who episodes has been exterminated, I mean, has been fired. It is thought that the source of the leak was a peson who worked for a DVD transfer company.

BTW, the first episode of the new Doctor Who will be broadcast this Saturday. Life is good.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Has AFP won?

The blogosphere has been buzzing with the news that Agence France Press has sued Google for copyright infringement. This is because Google News displays results from different news sources, including pictures, links and headlines. Now Google has decided to remove AFP's content from their site as a direct response to the suit.

I must confess that I still have not made up my mind about this case, but I feel that Google News may be infringing the news sources. I must say that I assumed Google was paying the news service providers. Could AFP be fishing for licensing fees?

Hardware hacking workshop

I really wish that I could go to New York to this event. This is a workshop by artist Nicolas Collins, who is publishing a book called, oddly, Hardware Hacking. The description of the process sounds really good:

Basic soldering skills will be learned through building contact microphones and coils to sniff electromagnetic fields. The students will open up a range of battery-powered "consumer" technology (radios, electronic toys), observe the effect of direct hand contact on the circuit boards, experiment with the substitution of components, and listen to unheard signals running through the circuit. Knowledge acquired through this process will be applied to building circuits from scratch...
Sounds like fun. As I will be building my new computer this Easter weekend, I could use some of this knowledge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Google Print is here

Finally! Google Print is now starting to produce results for works in the public domain (but it appears to be working only through and not I googled Oliver Twist and got the entire book in the results (TIP: It is the icon with the books beside the link). I also was able to find The Count of Monte Cristo and Dracula.

But beware, the service is still in BETA, so most of the books are available as placeholder and provide a few pages and the table of contents. Still, this is a very exciting development, and it could prove to be a very good marketing tool for your writers, as you are allowed to advertise your own book with Google Print.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Wellcome Trust goes Open Source

Robert Terry, the Senior Policy Adviser of the Wellcome Trust, has written a paper in PLoS stating that the Trust will require the publication of all work that is funded by them through open access journals. This is a great boost for the open access movement, because it means that funding bodies are starting to require open access publishing as a prerequisite for researchers obtaining funding in the first place. The Wellcome Trust funds a considerable amount of research every year, which should mean that a sizeable chunk of high-quality research will go to open source journals. (thanks to Andy and Lilian for the link).

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Buzz Game: Measuring technology hype

This is a new game by Yahoo that allows you to measure the buzz level of a technology through share investment by players. You can play in diverse markets, such as which is the best Linux ditribution (Fedora seems to be at the forefront), the best MMORPG (World of Warcraft), Annoyances (Spyware), P2P (surprisingly, GNUtella over Bittorrent), and portable players (iPOD, duh).

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Creative Commons in the news

The Washington Post has an article about Creative Commons, featuring interviews with Lessig and Cory Doctorow. This seems to be the watershed that demonstrates that the movement has become mainstream. The article emphasises the many commercial uses of the movement.

Does this mean that Creative Commons is not cool any more?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Lessig on open access law journals

Lessig has claimed that he will never again publish in a journal that is not published through some sort of open access licence, preferably a CC BY-NC licence (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial.

This raises an interesting point. Why should we academics give away our copyright when publishing in "traditional" paper journals? We are not getting any money. The publishers prey on the desperate academic who needs to publish or perish. Academics should stand up for their rights and end this despotic state of affairs, publish in open access journals.

Viva La RevoluciĆ³n!

Hacking search engine rankings

Search engine optimisation is an art, and people get paid a lot of money to do it. There are now some firms that offer all sorts of services to make sure that your website can be found near the top in Google and other search engines. Why is it so important to get to the top? Because one study "concluded that sites that appear on the first page of results attract six times the traffic they did before landing there and earn double the sales." Being in the first Google page means big money, which creates an incentive to be there at whatever cost. This situation has created an economy of links, where getting links to your site enhances your Google rating.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Cybercrime is on the increase

An article in today's Guardian warns about the growing dangers of cybercrime. From phishing to eBay fraud, organised crime is increasingly using the internet to promote some criminal activities. Although this is a growing development, there seems to be a certain luddite stream running through these articles. It is almost as if the authors are telling us that these things are new because of the internet.

Nevertheless, these fears may be warranted to some extent. The online world brings a new scale to this issue, as criminals can have better chance of reaching more and more people, but it also allows access to otherwise inaccessible targets. Today's FT relates a case of cybercrime: hackers in Israel targeted a Japanese bank through their UK servers. Die Hard with computers. And no Bruce Willis. And no Alan Rickman.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

SCRIPT-ed new issue online

Here is the list of contents:

- Laureation for Honorary Degree of LL.D: Professor W R Cornish, Professor Hector MacQueen, p.1.

Special feature:
- Identifying Risks: National Identity Cards, Wendy M. Grossman, pp.2-17.

Peer-reviewed articles:
- The Significance of UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on the Human Genome & Human Rights, Shawn H.E. Harmon, pp.18-47.
- Evolution of Industry Knowledge in the Public Domain: Prior Art Searching for Software Patents, Jinseok Park, pp.48-82.
- Public Domain; Public Interest; Public Funding: Focussing on the ‘three Ps’ in Scientific Research, Dr. Charlotte Waelde and Mags McGinley, pp.83-106.
- The Shape of Things to Come: Swedish Developments on the Protection of Privacy, Rebecca Wong, pp.107-124.

- RegulaciĆ³n Para Mundos Digitales: El Mundo Comunitario, (Regulation of Online Worlds: The Community World), Erick Iriarte Ahon, pp.125-134.

Book Reviews:
- The International Political Economy of Intellectual Property Rights, Meir Perez Pugatch. Reviewed by Geoff Gregson, p.135
- Intellectual Property Law in Practice, Thomas E. Hays and Claire C. Milne. Reviewed by Christine Riefa, p.136.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Pharming the net.

Phishing, you ask? Phishing is soo 2004. Pharming is the latest craze amongst the trendy cybercriminals. Pharming is an attack that resembles a virus, it changes the host files in a computer - files that interpret the URL that you input in the browser. The site then takes you to a pharming site where you give your password and details, never even knowing that you were not in the actual site that you wanted to visit. An expert describes pharming as :

"Phishing is to pharming what a guy with a rod and a reel is to a Russian trawler. Phishers have to approach their targets one by one. Pharmers can scoop up many victims in a single pass,"
I'm phed up of those phlipping phools and their phorbidden pharming. Phie on you!

Scottish Universities agree on Open Access

The main Scottish universities have signed the Scottish Declaration on Open Access, organised by OATS (Open Access Team for Scotland; what a great acronym). Timothy O'Shea, the Principal at the University of Edinburgh, said that "The University of Edinburgh wants to ensure that its research is as visible as possible within Scotland, the UK and the world. This open access initiative provides an important route to deliver this."

So, we have joined the 21st century. It will be interesting to see if there is any money involved in promoting successful open access initiatives. *COUGH*give-us-money*COUGH*

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Virtual sweatshops

It seems like the story about virtual sweatshops is true after all. Romanian workers play computer games for 10 hours a day to produce virtual goods in MMORPGs which are later sold through eBay or through other websites such as Gamersloot. In those places you can buy powerful accounts, virtual estate or other goodies to satisfy your gaming needs.

What are people buying and selling? Well, on eBay you can buy an ethereal llama. I am jealous, I am just techno, I'm not even ethereal!

Observer article

(Warning: the article is entitled "Patently absurd", I had never seen that title before!) This is an article by John Naughton about software patents (yes, I know I promised that I would not write about software patents again, but I can't stop myself). Although the article is an adequate introduction to what took place, the item is much more complex than described, but the depiction is good enough to introduce the unwashed to the mysteries of the patent world.

However, what I really liked about the article is that it mentions US Patent 5,443,036. This patent claims to protect:

A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct.
The mind boggles.

Swedish servers raided, no bits harmed

Swedish police have raided servers belonging to the ISP Bahnhof Internet. They discovered 23 Terabytes of infringing content. Apparently, one of the servers in the ISP was the largest file serving machine in Europe!

This case highlights an interesting question about ISP liability. Apparently, two employees are now suspected of being responsible. Assuming that the company didn't know about the misuse of the servers and the employees are found responsible, would this be enough to limit their liability? In most legal systems, employers have certain responsibility for the actions of their employees (responsibility in eligendo). The thing is, how can a company keep track of what the system administrators are doing? Who keeps the keepers?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

City of Heroes strikes back

In the last episode, our hero NCSoft, defender of City of Heroes, had been caught by the evil ploy of Marvel Comics Lawyer-Man. The evil Lawyer-Man caught NCSoft in the cave of The Judge, where he alleged that our hero was guilty of willful secondary infringement. Lawyer-Man has all the powers of the Doomsday Machine Copyright Armament (DMCA). How can NCSoft escape?

But do not despair! The Judge has heard the pleas of NCSoft, and has declared that City of Heroes has considerable non-infringing uses. The Judge has also kindly destroyed several of Lawyer-Man's weapons. NCSoft has not escaped yet, but it seems like our hero might just pull through.

KAPOW! ZAP! ZOINK! Holy lawsuits, Batman!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Wireless for the digital divide

The wireless roadshow is a project that creates very cheap wireless solutions that use cans and cheap circuits, and takes it to developing countries, where they can be used to connect to remote communities to the internet at very little cost.

This I believe is the way of the future, developing countries will leapfrog copper wires and jump into the wireless domain right away.

Software patents go mainstream

I promise that this is the last software patent article for a while. The Guardian has a pretty decent article describing the state of affairs with the approval of the directive-that-shall-not-be-named. It is quite interesting to see that there is something happening that produces enough interest to allow this issue to be reported by the mainstream media. Who said that patent law was boring?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Guess the age

This is an exercise to test the patent described in the previous article (and infringe a silly American patent in the process). This is the full list of my purchases for the last two months with eBay and Amazon:

  • The Success of Open Source
  • Hack//Sign complete series
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • The Motorcycle Diaries
  • Cowboy Bebop complete series
  • Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II
  • The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source
  • Freedom of Expression: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity
  • Untitled Intellectual Property
  • Linux Suse 9.2 Professional Upgrade
  • Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusarders
If I were an AI system, I would guess that this profile is for a 21 year-old leftist open source advocate who rants against Microsoft but plays his games with an XBox.

And the prize for the silliest patent goes to...

Take a look at Amazon's US patent 6865546. This is a patent for a system that determines a buyer's age according to previous buying records. The patent states that:

One embodiment of the present invention is a system and method of determining the age of an item recipient, such as a gift recipient. The age range for the gift recipient is estimated based at least in part on a customer order history of gifts purchased by the customer for the gift recipient. At a first date, a customer order for a first gift for the recipient is received, where the first gift is associated with a first age appropriateness designation. At a second date, a customer order for a second gift for the recipient is received, where the second gift is associated with a second age appropriateness designation. An age range associated with the recipient is then estimated based upon at least the first age appropriateness designation and the second age appropriateness designation.
I would like to know the "age appropriateness designation" for my recent purchases. Let's see, I have purchased Cowboy Bebop, Hack//Sign, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II. I bet the system would say that I am a 16 year old geek.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

They did it, they actually did it!

Today, thousands of activists and open source developers in Europe must be shouting "Damn you all to hell". The European Council has decided to adopt the proposed text of the software patents directive (pardon me, the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive). The procedure seems to have been dodgy to say the least, with some inventive dealings from the Council's presidency to allow a text as an agreement that was anything but. The procedure is explained briefly here by Karl Lenz, and it seems to have prompted a documentation request by JURI, the Legal Affairs Committee.

So, what now? If there are any patent lawyers celebrating, they should not open the bottles yet. It is my understanding that this agreement still has to go back to the Parliament, where the shenanigans from the Council are likely to produce a serious backlash. Then there is going to be a long string of articles that attempt to tell people about what is really happening. This article for example actually does a good job of explaining why the directive may be bad for SMEs.

My take? There is no telling what will happen, but the dubious procedure will make this directive a prime target for some sort of review. I don't know enough of European Law procedures, but I would guess that this is something that could be reviewed by the European Court of Justice. Any good European appeal lawyers out there?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Long Tail economics

This is an old article, but I have just read it and found it quite thought-provoking. The article first discusses the economics of mainstream entertainment, which offers us low-quality works from the because of their proven economic return. Those with different tastes must look further and deeper to satisfy their taste. Enter the internet, and everything is turned upside down. The net gives us the chance to buy items that are not the average mass market stuff, which opens profit opportunities for a larger number of creators than the average market.

The way in which this is done is by exploding the Pareto Principle (which roughly states that only 20% entertainment works will be profitable and will fund the 80% that are not). The net has created a space where even the non-hits are profit-making, because there are many more buyers. The article explains that this is now being proven by legal download sites.

What is then the long tail? The fact that creative works may make income from little things accumulating through the mix culture. My hope is that Technollama will someday become a household brand and I will make tons of money from tie-ins and merchandising.

10 years of the web

Yahoo is celebrating its 10th birthday by launching an excellent little flash applet that celebrates the 100 most important net moments of the last decade. Yes, the visual net is now 10 years old, so we have a lot to reminisce about. There is Napster, ICANN, Jerry Garcia, Howard Dean's scream, The "I kiss you" guy, Peter Pan Guy, Blair Witch Project, Wikipedia, open source, NakedNews, Heaven's Gate, Hot or Not, and even flashmobs!

Ah, the memories.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Lessig on moral rights

There is an interesting argument between the BBC's Bill Thompson and Lessig. Thompson recently wrote a thoughtful paper about the great copyright debate, which amongst other things, criticised the lack of thought that Creative Commons has had regarding moral rights. Lessig has replied that moral rights are really important, but that CC licences do not deal with them and leave each jurisdiction to handle them as they may. Lessig says:

So yes, Creative Commons will not, at least in some jurisdictions, deal with moral rights. Nor will it cure cancer or end poverty. But if it is unclear to anyone, let's be clear about it: We don't therefore not "care" about cancer or poverty. We don't therefore "dismiss" those problems. We just understand -- as everyone should -- that the tools we're spreading can only do so much.
This is a false analogy, as cancer and poverty have nothing to do with copyright, but moral rights are an integral part of copyright in many jurisdictions. Therefore, dealing with moral rights is going to be integral to any adequate copyright-related licence. I can see why CC licences prefer not to deal with moral rights, as they are often seen to be directly in clash with many of the adaptation and derivative rights awarded in such documents. Bill Thompson argues that he may want to object Nazi groups from using his work, and this is where moral rights would be useful. I tend to agree with him, but I have also expressed elsewhere that the philosophy behind open source, free software and CC licences is to allow modifications of the work, and moral rights may be against those stated goals.

Nevertheless, it is nice to see that this issue is being taken seriously, and that people are willing to engage in some debate about the subject of moral rights.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Problems with open source licences

Lawrence Rosen cannot be accused of being an outspoken attacker of open source. He is one of the main advisors for the OSI, and has written a very good book on open source licences. However, he has recently expressed some lingering concerns about this licensing scheme. He describes some problems with the multiplication of open source licences, which poses a problem to developers as they will have to look at different documents to choose one that fits. This is the thorny problem of standardisation versus customisation of licences. Should OSS developers choose one of the existing OSI certified licences, or they should just draft one that fits their needs? This is an increasing problem because there is growing concern about the international validity of some OSS licences, particularly because most of them are American-centric licences. Rosen says that "It's a legitimate reason for submitting a new license if there is an aspect of your license that doesn't satisfy the law of your country". There is already a French GPL, but moves towards creating new licences may be stopped by the German case declaring the GPL valid.

This could be a good time to be smug and say "I told you so". I believe that there is nothing wrong with customisation because not all of us should be forced to consume American licences. Are we in danger of creating a McOSS culture?

State of Play papers available online

The papers from the ground-breaking conference State of Play are now online. This conference explores the interaction between the law and computer games. Readers may be tempted to think that this is just another excuse from academics to go to a city, have a conference and ingest large quantities of cheap crust-less sandwiches. Nevertheless, there are some good articles in there. Michael Froomkin, one of the best theorists of cyberspace regulation, writes a great article about the use of online games to test and experiment real rules.

Read them, if you can get away from your PS2.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Gratuitous llama pics

As part of an agreement with the good people at IPKat, we are going to include some pictures of llamas. I hope to make this llama famous, it was a particularly photogenic one:

Costa Rica to ban VoIP

I am not sure if I should feel ashamed of this piece of news. ICE, the Costa Rican telecommunications monopoly has done some good things ensuring that large sectors of the country are connected online, but now they are hoping to ban Voice over IP (VoIP). According to them, 1 out of every 5 calls to the United States are done through VoIP services. ICE has presented a bill to the Costa Rican legislature that will declare all unlicensed use of telecommunications networks a type of fraud, and those found guilty of providing the service could go to jail. Some critics have stated that this could include all sorts of chat services that use multimedia.

Could Xbox Live be banned in Costa Rica? I'd better stay here in Edinburgh.

Infamously famous: Should they have privacy?

Have you seen the Numa Numa Dance? It is strangely compelling, isn't it? But what of the guy in the video? According to this article, he is now in hiding and suffering from depression. It raises some questions about cyber-privacy, but it may have other implications. I wonder if the Romanian group has found some considerable financial advantages from their song being downloaded so much, and how one could go ahead and measure it.