Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pirates of the Multiplex

(The article may require registration). Once again we are being warned that movies are in danger of becoming a thing of the past by internet pirates and DVD-copying rings. This is another article that warns that movies will become impossible because of pirates. I have many problems with the underlying assumptions here. The first one is that we have yet one more article that conflates DVD-burning and bootleg-selling to P2P and internet downloads. Then the movie industry claims that they have lost $3 billion USD in sales due to piracy. How do they calculate that? They keep assuming that a download or a person who buys a dodgy DVD would have purchased their product anyway, which is not proven.

We then get another serving of the horror stories of movies downloads. We are told once again how Star Wars Episode III was downloaded before it made it to the cinemas, but there is no mention that the movie earned $834 million USD worldwide in ticket sales. Then we are told that 100 thousand people downloaded "War of the Worlds" online ($570 million USD worldwide gross).

Then we are treated to a bizarre description of cammer rings, where people actually go to the movie and film it, then offer it online. The FBI is after them. Perhaps I am a bit naive about this stuff, but I really cannot see that a person will not go to a movie and will prefer to spend hours downloading a lesser quality picture. Have these people considered that people are still going to the movies, and downloading the work so that they can view it again before the DVD comes out?

Then we get to the real meat of the article, the bootlegs. I am amazed by the fact that the phasing between both activities is made almost without a glitch. They are both parts of the same coin. The fact that people in Peru cannot buy full-priced DVDs is not really mentioned.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Network Law: citations

I keep thinking that there may be a new subset of IT Law called Network Law, interested with the formation, regulation, and study of networks. An article in The Economist is making the usual rounds through the blogosphere describing an interesting paper by Seth Chandler of the University of Houston, where he maps the network of U.S. Supreme Court decisions and discovers that there is a scale-free topology at work. Apparently, some older cases about Federal Jurisdiction are the hubs on the network.

This is yet another interesting use of the mathematics of networks. I am sure that in the near future there will be many other applications for such studies in the law.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Silly Saturday post

So, the Llama song was a hit, so I will continue with the silly Saturday tradition. Here are the Ninja Kittens from RatherGood.com, the best site on the net. As contagious as the Ninjas are, my favourites are still the Angry Kittens, with the Viking Kittens following in a close second (there's something about a kitten wearing an axe and a viking helmet that always makes me smile).

Friday, August 26, 2005

P2P suits, chilling effects, and a last stand

So, the MPAA is filing 286 more "John Doe" suits against internet users from logs obtained from old bittorrent sites LokiTorrent and SuprNova. I am sure that those who paid money to LokiTorrent to mount a legal defence will be feeling a bit silly by now, and proves that those logs were indeed important, as we predicted back in February.

This could lend credit to those who claim that the effects of Grokster are starting to be felt. According to an article in The Guardian, the chilling effect of the Grokster ruling on technology may hinder the development of new digital advances. The argument presented is that venture capitalists are abandoning file sharing technologies and investing in safer ones. This may be an accurate picture of what is happening, but I think that it is too early to tell because a lot of the most innovative P2P technology has been developed by hobbyists (Napster and bittorrent for example).

On the other hand, there are some more positive shifts in the copyfight (positive for us, the pinko-leftie commies that is). First, there is the amazing report that a new UK ISP will allow its users to share files from the Sony BMG catalogue. And then there is the very interesting case of a New York mother that has decided to take on the industry and fight a suit by the RIAA. It will be interesting if the RIAA will fight this, it could turn out to be a disastrous PR exercise, but many of us fear that this has gone beyond PR. They are suing dead people anyway.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Piracy: Stealing Booty

This is an event at this year's Edinburgh Film Festival. From the event's advertising blurb:

"Why should you care about film and video piracy if you can get a DVD cheaper than the retail price? Film piracy is theft. Black market DVDs are not just terrible quality but deprive the filmmakers of millions in income each year. And unauthorised downloading and file sharing of films is illegal. Last year the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) confiscated almost 3 million pirate DVDs. Why should you care? Come and talk with the industry experts about film piracy can and see a popular feature film which looks so much better on the big screen than on any pirate DVD or download!"
I have some comments about the many mistakes and faulty assumptions in this paragraph, but I really don't like swearing in public.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Kill me if you can

This is the name of an amazing documentary shown last night on Channel 4. I could try to describe the circumstances that gave rise to the documentary, but The Guardian does a better job than I could, but I will try a very rough description.

Mark, a 16-year-old boy from Manchester logs into a chat room and meets a girl, he falls in love with her although they have never met, then the girl is kidnapped by a self-described gay stalker, then this stalker rapes and kills her, while posting his exploits on the chat room. Mark then meets a 44-year-old female ("but still very sexy") spy who is grooming him for the secret service, who asks him to play bodyguard to a 14-year-old boy named John, but who has the keys to a fortune located in the bottom of the Atlantic. He is then asked to kill John. Mark meets John and stabs him, but John survives. The problem is that Mark was being manipulated by John, who wanted to be killed and had been impersonating all of the characters in the play. In total, the police found that he had 193 personalities in the chat room.

Many interesting implications here. My main concern at the moment is that this is going to provide some fuel to those who believe that the internet is a sinister and evil place, filled with stalkers and paedophiles. Could this result in yet another failed attempt to regulate the internet?

Some other socio-legal issues are involved here. There is the anonymity element of the internet, which may prompt some people to behave in ways in which they would not behave in real life. There is also the fact that the internet is stressed always as a cause of crimes like this one. What took place in my opinion is that a disturbed teenager -with a deat wish met an extremely gullible kid. Gullible people populate the internet, but isn't it the same of real life? Online fraudsters and Nigerian letters are often online versions of real life scams. What the internet does is give people the power to hide their personality (sometimes), impersonate others and be able to entice victims through a wider net.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Linux® trade mark

Last week, Slashdot reported on a number of Australian companies that have received letters about their use of the trade mark "Linux". Linux is actually a trade mark owned by Linus Torvalds himself, and it has been sub-licensed to Oregon non-profit corporation named Linux Mark Institute. This post prompted one of the most acrimonious flame wars that I have read in Slashdot (perhaps with the exception of Trek v. Star Wars flame wars). The general feeling that I got from many people was that there was a feeling of betrayal. As one poster wrote: "Isn't this the kind of thing Free Software was supposed to be against? Anyone can distribute their own flavor of Linux and call it Linux without being threatened by lawsuits over trademarks?"

Pam Jones from Groklaw has replied many of the concerns with a measured post explaining the reasons why, and coming mostly in favour of the Linux trade mark. While I know nothing about trade mark law, I tend to agree that this is a step that should be taken at some point. Linus Torvalds should start defending his mark if he wants to keep some people from abusing it. At the moment, nothing stops Linux opponents from using the name Linux.

However, I can see this becoming yet another wedge between open source and free software.

By the way, it must be noted that Linus does not own the trade mark for Tux, the friendly Linux penguin pictured above.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

More silliness

The llama song has proven so popular that I have to add another silly Sunday post.

Remember, You can do anything at Zombo.com.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


Wikipedia is holding a donation rally asking for user support. As far as internet causes go, it doesn't get any bigger than this. Your donation can save a wiki article from ending up at the bottom of Google's cache, so please give generously.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Machinima: Is it legal?

So, Machinima has finally made it to the mainstream in a great article by games blogger chick Aleks Krotoski. Machinima, in case you are too bored to click on the Wikipedia article, is a new type of creative expression that uses 3D games engines to tell a story, produce a music video, or just have a little fun.

One of the best examples of Machinima is Red vs. Blue, which uses the Halo engine to generate an excellent serial. See for example their Public Service Announcement to tell us how real life is different to internet life. Other examples of Machinima can be found in, you guessed it, Machinima.com. My favourite is still this music video based on City of Heroes.

The growing popularity of the movement poses interesting legal questions. For example, does the use of a computer game engine to produce a new work give any rights to the makers of the engine? This would seem unlikely, it would be like Polaroid owning the copyright over pictures taken with their cameras. Yet, it is increasingly common to see online games providers claiming that they own copyright over content uploaded to the game, and often claim ownership of everything created within the game.

The question will have to be if these agreements are valid, and if they apply to Machinima. I personally don't think so.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

We love to wiki

Wikipedia is fast becoming one of those great internet ideas, something that helps to define the web, just as Google, Amazon and eBay have done in the past. But I think that Wikipedia is much more than a mere site, it is the living example that open source works. When somebody posts something in Wikipedia, it is open to the world to debate and argue about. True, it still has a lot of inaccurate information, but if you find some inaccuracies, then you should just change them!

Anyway, I have become hooked to collaborating to Wikipedia. For example, I was browsing for some information, and I found out that gender-baiting was not defined. This is a term that I like, so I decided to create an entry for gender-bait. This taught me a lot about the editing process in Wikipedia. I wrote a brief definition, and then noticed that the term had been provisionally deleted by another member on the basis that it was a neologism. Apparently, besides the mere mortals like myself who decide to collaborate, there is a class of super users looking over new entries. The decision was overruled by another super user, but there was a request to expand the article, which I did.

This is a form of anarchic organisation, something that I am reading about in Siva Vaidyanathan's excellent book The Anarchist in the Library.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

54 million Creative Commons pages

(Warning: this is unofficial data, please take it with a pinch of salt). Some few days ago the Creative Commons blog reported that there were 53 million pages linking to Creative Commons licences. It seems only yesterday that we were amazed by the fact that there were 16 million pages. I have checked the unofficial figures and there are now 54 million link-backs to Creative Commons!

What can account for such a meteoric rise? I think that blogs and sites like Flikr are largely responsible for a large number of links, but it would be difficult to know for sure without raw data about domains. Still, the data is a good indication of the mainstream online acceptance of CC as a viable movement.

Some other interesting figures. Most links are for the "Generic" licences, although the jurisdiction specific are rapidly gaining ground. Unsurprisingly, the most popular jurisdiction licence are the non-English ones: Spain, Germany, France and Italy, although the England and Wales licence has now surpassed the 80 thousand licences. It also seems like most people prefer the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licences, with 35%. Here is a graph describing the licence breakdown:

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Music CD burning is the real threat

One of my favourite phrases in English is "the more things change, the more they stay the same". When I was growing up, I used to get a lot of my music from tapes recorded from friends (and even from the radio). I didn't have money to buy records, and every purchase was treasured.

It seems like the availability of CD burning equipment has made this the choice for people exchanging music. Instead of going online, people have gone back to exchanging CDs.

What I found interesting in the report is that it claims that CD burning is affecting CD music sales, as the figures for this media are down 7% from last year. But at the same time, it is claimed that overall sales are up because of "legal" music sales. Wouldn't it be accurate to say that the largest threat to CD music sales are legal music downloads? Does the fact that a new media is more popular be met with such negativity from the industry? Perhaps the RIAA will tell us that this year tape and vinyl sales are down. Duh!

Anyway, it is almost certain that these figures will spell more DRM included in music. I still have a policy that I will not buy a DRM-protected album.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Microsoft v iPod? Not really

I have been reading many different reports over the weekend regarding a supposed patent dispute between Microsoft and Apple over the iPod. The more I read about it, the more confused I become, because this seems like one of those stories invented by bored journalists with nothing else to do during the silly season. It seems like it all began with a story in AppleInsider about a failed patent application by Apple, where the application failed because of another conflicting application by inventor John C. Platt from Microsoft.

This seemed straightforward enough, no conflict here, right? Not according to El Reg's Andrew Orlowski (infamous for his FUD articles). Orlowski wrote an article on Wednesday stating that there is a patent "tussle" between Microsoft and Apple over a software patent. Being The Register, it immediately got picked up by the blogosphere, and the story spread like fleas in a camel market.

The problem is that the story has been replicated without noticing that there is no such "tussle". Apple has had a broad software patent rejected because there is another broad software patent on its way, while there are at least 50 similar software patents protecting media players and playlists (see for example, U.S. patent 6,868,440). To me the worst thing is that the story then gets picked up by "journalists" in mainstream websites and news sources. ZDNet for example goes as far as stating that:

"While Microsoft has struggled to challenge the iPod in the market, the software giant's lawyers have managed to slow Apple's attempt to patent its digital music technology."
What? Where did they get that? Take regurgitated information from an originally badly researched article by somebody who doesn't know what they're talking about, and produce a conspiracy theory about evil Microsoft lawyers attempting to take our iPods away. Take other ill-researched articles, and you have an internet outrage. Thankfully, there are still some good journalists out there. Forbes has an article stating that this is all a big fabricated controversy, but it may just be that they are parroting the words from Microsoft's IP division about how great their patent is.

The fact is that this is all a great fabrication. Apple and Microsoft already cross-license their patents, and it doesn't matter who gets it first in the grand scheme of things. What's two more software patents in the market? What I find interesting is how bad information replicates online with such speed. Mainstream news sources are reproducing hogwash all the time, copying sources and paragraphs without displaying a scintilla of research. These people are the professionals, they get paid for doing this.

Is it any surprise that more and more people are getting their news from blogs?

Patent Commons project announced

An interesting piece of news via Axel Horn's blog. Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) is starting a patent project for Open Source. It will house a database containing information about patents and patent pledges for the benefit of the OSS community. According to the release from OSDL, the project will contain the following:

  • A library and database that aggregates patent pledges made by companies. The library will also aggregate other legal solutions, such as indemnification programs offered by vendors of open source software.
  • A collection of software patent licenses and software patents (issued and pending) held for the benefit of the open source community.
This will be a useful resource for OSS developers, particularly considering that software patents are going nowhere.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

And now for something silly...

Thanks to Burkard for the link. It's strangely contagious.

Friday, August 12, 2005

New DVD DRM revealed

DRM protection in DVDs is laughable at most. That is the reason why there is new protection being planned. Blu-Ray is just one of the competing DRM standards being discussed for DVDs. The protection will have three steps, content protection so that users cannot use the DVD in certain ways; counterfeit protection; and protection against player hacks. This is interesting because current DVD players are remarkably easy to hack, particularly with region protection.

My concern with this is mostly about region protection I will have to be convinced of buying a DVD that contains such protection.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Box Office is dead

(Via Copyfight). If asked about the main source of profits for the movie industry, you would probably assume that ticket sales are near the top, otherwise, why is there so much emphasis on ticket sale figures for the latest blockbuster? And why do we have to put up with the idiotic copyright warnings before watching a movie?

It seems like ticket sales are indeed at the bottom of the profit earners at $7.4 billion USD ticket sales worldwide. The top earner for movie studios is video market. In 2004, sales for video (includes DVDs) were $20.9 billion USD worldwide. But these figures are just for sales, so the actual profits are $13.95 billion USD for video.

The best profits come from TV licensing, because these are profits only, and the studios incur in no expenses. This produces $17.7 billion USD of profit.

This seems to tell us better why the movie studios are so worried about P2P. Ticket sales are not worries, but if people start downloading movies from the internet instead of watching them in Sky Movies, then the profits will decrease. IP is the big profit maker.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Spyware and identity theft

Spyware is back in the news with some chilling warnings regarding a vicious keylogger spyware application called CoolWebSearch. This program used to be mostly an annoyance, it is a browser hijacker, which installs dozens of bookmarks to porn sites, changes the home page and continually changes it back, which can slow the computer considerably.

The problem is that an anti-spyware firm has discovered that recent variants of CoolWebSearch are actually logging keys and sending them to servers operated by an ID theft ring. The information includes bank details, personal emails, eBay and PayPal accounts, and pretty much anything that you do in your computer. There is a claim that there are millions of machines infected with this.

You can get a free detection and removal tool here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Snaparazzis and copyright

(Picture from Flickr)

After the London bombings we are all becoming familiar with seeing snaps from passers-by using their increasingly sophisticated mobile phone cameras to take stills or even video of newsworthy events. With so many images out there - many of them with considerable commercial value - the question of who is handling the rights are being asked.

The first stopping place for would-be snaparazzis interested in making their historic pictures available online is to go to one of the many different online picture repositories, such as Moblog or Flickr. These two sites favur the publication of the posted images using a Creative Commons licence. This creates interesting questions, such as the type of licence that is used. For example, if an image of the London bombings is posted in Flickr under a CC non-commercial licence, then all non-commercial sites could post it, but mainstream news outlets could not (unless one considers the BBC to be non-commercial, my head hurts!). The only way would be to a news organisation to negotiate directly with the author to obtain the permission to use it in a commercial setting.

But now, there is another option. Scoopt.com is a Scottish firm that helps snaparazzis negotiate their pictures and videos with news agencies (insert joke about greedy Scots here). Apparently, their cut is 50% (ouch!).

Another rising phenomenon is the picture essay, or picture statement. As far as I know, it all started with the "We're sorry everybody" site, a collection of pictures of people saying sorry for the Bush election. Most recently, there is the "We're not afraid" site, a collection of pictures against terrorism. Here is my favourite (from Karine F):

Monday, August 08, 2005

CIE preliminary report

I just realised that I have not publicised this enough. The preliminary report of the study about the use of Creative Commons for the Common Information Environment(CIE) is now online. This report is asking whether the member institutions from the CIE can adopt CC licences. These institutions include Becta, the British Library, DfES, JISC and the MLA.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Technological adoption: Firefox

French research firm Xiti Monitor has released some data about Firefox's share of the market (if you haven't been using Firefox, what are you waiting for?). Global figures for Firefox remain low, while Europe is the continent with the highest percentage of Firefox users at 14%. Of those European countries, Finland is crazy for Firefox with 31% of all internet users browsing the net with it.


What I find remarkable about these figures is that they demonstrate the difficulty of shifting mainstream perceptions and technological use. In almost any measurable manner, Firefox is superior to Internet Explorer. But IE comes pre-installed with Windows, and people are remarkably reluctant to shift their usage patterns. People in general do not want to install new software, and to learn a new manner of doing things is not a priority. When the average users learns how to use something, they will stick with it, even if there is something much better in the market.

I think that this demonstrates some interesting policy implications. For example, I think that official efforts to push a specific technological solution are doomed to fail, because users will not always choose what's best for them.

Friday, August 05, 2005

IP Criminal Enforcement Directive

The proposed EC Directive on criminal measures aimed at ensuring the enforcement of intellectual property rights has been making the news and blogs recently. I have finally managed to read it, and it is scary. The Article 3 of the proposed directive states that:

Member States shall ensure that all intentional infringements of an intellectual property right on a commercial scale, and attempting, aiding or abetting and inciting such infringements, are treated as criminal offences.
Although I agree with the stated purpose of the directive – to send counterfeiters and criminal gangs to jail – I would say that the language is too broad. My worry, and that shared by many people, is that this can be misused by some unscrupulous IP owners to threaten potential competitors. This could make patent infringement into an entirely different field. Imagine a cease-and-desist letter, saying “comply or you’ll go to jail”.

It is true that many firms will not go to these lengths against users, but can we really be assured about that?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

On the net, nobody knows you're not a girl

Playing City of Heroes over the weekend I came across an odd conversation from two fellow players from Spain. They were talking about a female character who had admitted to them that she was a man in Real Life (RL is that place where players go to eat). They were shocked by the news, and wondered about the player's sexual preferences, amongst other things. I was thoroughly amused by this discussion. Call me cynical, but every time I see a female character wearing nothing but a tiny bikini and calling herself "Naughty Gal" or "Babelicious", I assume that the player is in fact a 47-year-old guy from Hull named Bob.

These musings were confirmed by the excellent Daedalus Project (via Terra Nova). The project is attempting to study the psychology of MMORPGs through the use of polls and qualitative research. The first results are now online, collected from World of Warcraft (WoW). Taken as a whole, some of the statistics are rather surprising. For example, male players tend to be in their 20s, while female players average 28-40 years old. About 60% of male players are single or single and dating, while 60% female players are married, engaged or separated. But some of the most interesting figures are the gender bending-ones. In WoW, 84% of players are male and 16% female. Of the total of those male characters, 23% play with female characters, while only 3% of all females play males.

It is difficult to know why exactly there is so much gender-bending online. I believe that some of it may be due to gender-baiting, a term invented by William Gibson to refer to males impersonating females online to elicit positive responses. Or the answer could be encapsulated by the words of Francis from PvP: "If I'm going to be staring at an ass in tights all day, it might as well be a nice ass!"

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

FFII domain taken down

After their success in bringing down the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive, the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) has managed to become one of the best examples of a powerful and influential civil society organisation that has managed to educate and inform the public with regards to a complex legal technical issue like software patents. But now FFII is under attack... from German spammers.

FFII had some examples of bad software patents on their site about the German company Nutzwerk. This company has been set as an example of a software company that profits from software patents. But Nutzwerk is also a well known web advertiser that profits from typo domains (see for example www.yaho.co.uk), and other practices such as Google spamming with link farms. Their complaint against FFII? That FFII has been damaging their reputation because of the high visibility of FFII's pages in Google. Nutzwerk has then been threatening people who are linking to FFII's information.

Now Nutzwerk has succeeded in threatening FFII's ISP in Germany to the point that they have taken down the site that they hosted. All of the pages on the domain ffii.org have gone, including swpat.fii.org, which had become the starting point for research in this area. The site is still available through FFII's own machine, which can be located at

This case is worrying for many reasons. Foremost is the use of the law to bring down a critic. I find it appalling that a company will go to these lengths to shut down a potential critic. The potential negative publicity that they could get from this should be enough to discourage some companies from taking such tactics, but I guess that link farmers are a different breed altogether.