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.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Could cyber-trespass kill the net?

This is an interesting article in Wired from Jennifer Granick. The author claims that the growing number of cases that require users of other computers for permission before using it to access the internet may stifle innovation. The article starts with some amazing examples of websites coming together to help victims of Hurricane Katrina to find friends and family. But then the article makes a turn and warns that new cases against cyber-trespass threaten such examples. I must say that I did not follow the reasoning jump there.

Granick is correct in the assessment of the growing number of cases against cyber-trespass, used to regulate anything from unauthorised access to wireless networks to spam. Pamela Samuelson has a short article (registration required) with some of the cases. Dan Burk has another good article about this subject. Nevertheless, I think that some of the wider implications of the cases are being exaggerated, and thankfully, these cases may not have equivalent this side of the Atlantic, according to Professor Steve Hedley's paper "Do we need a tort of cybertrespass?", which I heard last week at the SLS conference.

This is an intriguing subject that requires more study.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Mobile payment system fails

This happened a while ago, but I just noticed (it has been a bit of a hectic summer). The mobile payment system SimPay was supposed to become the main manner to pay for stuff with your mobile phone. The idea was for a micropayment system that you could use to buy movie tickets, music downloads and the such. The system may have been doomed by the fact that many mobile companies already offer complicated payment schemes, it all goes to your bill at the end of the month.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

GMail trade mark dispute

GMail is Google's email application, right? Wrong! The name had been first used by Independent International Investment Research, a British firm that had a trade mark for Gmail. Google and IIIR have been negotiating but the UK company is sticking to its guns, they probably realise that they are sitting on a gold mine. They are even threatening to sue Google.

Monday, September 12, 2005

There ain't such thing as a free lunch

Yahoo has had to provide access to Chinese authorities to the details of an email account of a journalist accused of being a dissident. The journalist was then convicted and sent to jail for 10 years. The Chinese government exercises heavy control over the internet, with filters that block some domains from the entire Chinese mainland. Blogspot is not available in China.

This is a disturbing story, but it demonstrates the vulnerability of users online. We are all using all sort of free services, chances are you have one account with either G-Mail, Hotmail or Yahoo. Millions use Flickr and Blogspot. Companies are gathering a significant amount of information about us. Most of the times all that will happen is that you will be the subject of some direct marketing, but what exactly will happen when there is something really important at stake? The company will give your information as fast as possible, you are not a paying customer after all. There's nothing wrong with that, businesses have to diminish their liabilities.

Those concerned about the vast amount of information out there may have a point.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Porn is sinful, virus says

A new and bizarre computer virus (a Trojan actually) called Yusufali-A is attacking Windows machines everywhere. The virus will scan the title of the active window and look for the following words:


If it finds any, then it will display the message displayed above stating how Allah knows what you are doing. The message stays on the screen, but the user will be given an option to "Exit", when they try that, another box is displayed that screams "Oh! No I'm in the Cage". Hell perhaps? As if Windows hell was not enough. Anyway, the screen will remain and the keyboard is locked until the user logs out.

Quite an interesting use of viruses to preach and warn about the dangers of porn, but I am a bit puzzled by the choice of words. When did "teen" become a dirty word? I would also like to know what "jegger" means, but I'm afraid to ask.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I'm attending the SLS Conference today and tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Grokster and KaZaa don't matter

To emphasise the point that the Grokster and KaZaa decisions are irrelevant to file sharing, the latest statistics demonstrate that August has had the largest number of online sharing in history. Internet statistic company BigChampagne has calculated that there were 9.6 million file sharers at any given time.

KaZaa's market share has dropped to only 9%, while eDonkey is the clear winner at the moment with 50% of the market. This could be caused by the fact that eDonkey is faster than other networks because it is using Bittorrent.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

KaZaa loses case

Unsurprisingly, Sharman Networks has lost their case in Australia. The Australian Federal Court has finally ruled in the case Universal Music Australia v Sharman License Holdings [2005] FCA 1242. The Court has ruled that Sharman Networks "authorised" copyright infringement. From what I understood from the ruling, "authorising" is the equivalent of the UK's "providing means for making infringing copies" (s 24(2) CDPA), and it is the equivalent of secondary infringement in American law.

The music industry did not get all they asked for, but they got enough. Sharman networks will be liable for the infringement and has had an injunction to stop the infringement. They will also have to include copyright filters in their software. To me, this may very well spell the end of KaZaa, but it will all depend on the amount of the liability.

The thing is that this will not affect P2P networks whatsoever. KaZaa could disappear tomorrow and people will still be using the software, because the network exists independent of Sharman. There are old clients out there, and the software will operate the same without those, but then there are loads of KaZaa clones (such as KaZaa Lite) that also connect to FastTrack, their P2P protocol. And even if FastTrack was to disappear (unlikely), there are many other surviving protocols out there, such as Gnutella, eDonkey 2000, LUSerNet and Kademila protocols.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

MusicWorks 2005 Creative Commons debate

Last Friday I took part in a very interesting debate about Creative Commons at the MusicWorks 2005 Convention in The Lighthouse in Glasgow. The panel was moderated by Professor Simon Frith from the University of Stirling, and was attended by David Ferguson from the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers, Florian Koempel from British Music Rights, Jonathan Mitchell Q.C. from Creative Commons Scotland, Ashlyn Eaton from Fading Ways Music UK, and yours truly.

I thought that this was probably going to be a rather hostile crowd because the Convention was advertised as an industry event, but I was surprised that in the end it was not as well attended as I thought, and those present seemed to be less hostile than expected.

The event started with a foreword from Professor Frith, and then I presented a small introduction to Creative Commons. Not much to say about my participation other than the fact that I just gave my "CC for Dummies" presentation. My main point was that Creative Commons is a recognition that the internet has made it possible for everyone to become publishers, and that copyright is now something that happens to all of us, and not just to a few.

The next speaker was Florian Koempel from BMR. Florian did not criticise CC completely, but he said that he was concerned by some legal problems. The first one was that the licences are not "transparent" enough, and that they are not clear enough in the rights involved. He also complained that it was difficult to find the actual legal code on the licence, and that it took him two hours to find it. I was baffled by this, did he miss the clearly marked "Legal Code" link at the bottom of the Commons Deed? Most of his concerns were not warranted, such as the common FUD used against open source and free software licences that "they have not been tested in court". As far as I know, neither has Microsoft's EULA, but I don't see anyone complaining. The most valid point that was made was the potential problem with moral rights in civil law jurisdictions. This, in my view, was the only valid point in his presentation, but he did not really elaborate about it because he ran out of time.

Then followed David Ferguson. We knew that he was going to attack CC fiercely, he has been doing just that for a while, and his rhetoric has been vitriolic and over the top in the past. His presentation was indeed vitriolic, but I was more concerned by the fact that it was purposefully and completely designed to misrepresent Creative Commons in every way possible. The opening tirade was the same spiel about how "You and the band will never earn one penny in publishing royalties from your creation". This is not only untrue, it is mostly the fault of collecting societies, which have not considered CC in their models. Over and over we got the same attack, stating that using a CC licence is the same as "giving away your rights", equivalent to giving away your copyright. The presentation then took a turn into the surreal. Very cunningly, Ferguson started characterising Creative Commons as a personal attack against those who earn their living from copyright, a deliberate attack from academics and "amateurs". There was also a sublte equating of CC and piracy, of CC and file sharing, of CC and the copyfight. The implication was that this is an anarchic movement that wants to take away your right to make a profit, and that it must be opposed. Most interestingly still, David Ferguson used the event to launch his new sharing licence for musicians and composers from his organisation, drafted by a law firm in London. I have tried to find a link to this new licence somewhere in their site, but I have not found it, I will appreciate it if anybody has a link to it.

Then followed Ashlyn Eaton from Fading Ways. Ashlyn was precisely the type of person that can prove the likes of David Ferguson wrong, as Fading Ways is doing well as a CC label. Yet Ferguson and others kept insisting that you cannot make money from CC. Sigh! Nevertheless, there was a warning that CC still has some problems for musicians, particularly some problems with collecting societies.

The final speaker was Jonathan Mitchell. It was great that he was given the last spot, as he descended upon David Ferguson and Florian Koempel and tore them into little pieces. First by pointing out that it was bad form from Koempel to only read the Generic licence and not even care about the two British licences, to his sloppiness in not researching enough about how to find the licence. Then he attacked the many different inaccuracies from David Ferguson with applomb and by providing examples from his legal practice. I just sat there and grinned.

Some of the speakers had taken too much time (Ferguson and Koempel particularly), so the actual discussion was very short. We heard from a representative from collecting societies repeating the "giving away your rights" rubbish, and we had a couple of sympathetic questions.

What still bothers me about the debate is something that I have now witnessed in many discussions about copyright. Industry representatives are always keen on making two points. Firstly, there is the argument that the public domain is not free. They argue that the public domain takes money to be maintained. The fact that this is not always true, and that where it is true the maintenance is done with public money seems to elude them. Secondly, there is the strange argument that industry people always present themselves as "making their living from copyright", and that there is very clearly an "us and them" mentality. We are the true keepers of copyright, they tell us. We are the ones making a living, so you just shut up. David Ferguson made this argument several times. We are academics, and amateurs, they are professionals. The problem with this vision is that it is not only false, it is demonstrably false. Copyright does not exist solely as an economic right, it is awarded regardless of quality and/or commercial worth. This immediately destroys the argument that somehow only those who make money from their works should have a say on copyright. In the digital age, we are all creators, we are all publishers, copyright is no longer something that happens to other people. Whether they like it or not, my works have as much copyright as Mr. Ferguson's compositions.

Besides, what's wrong with being an hobbyist? An academic? Mr. Ferguson may have heard of some hobbyists. JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, Albert Einstein. Hobbyists and academics, I'd rather be in their company.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Update on "Stealing booty"

I was not able to attend the "Stealing Booty" event I advertsied last Friday, but some other copyfighters (am I a copyfighter now?) were able to attend and have given some very good reports. The first one comes from former student Jordan Hatcher, who wrote a very good article here.

The other report comes from music enthusiast Paul Harkins. Paul comments that:

"The lawyer on the panel talked about the protecting the value of IP and the representatives from PACT and the UK Film Council outlined the mechanics of the film industry and how those involved in making film lose income from counterfeit copies. They stressed that small producers are the ones who will suffer but an audience member made a good point that producers in Europe should be more concerned about the current stranglehold over distribution than piracy.

The most entertaining interventions were made by Nick Love, the director of The Business and The Football Factory. The latter was one of the most pirated films in the UK but took £1 million at the box office and sold 500,000 DVDs so his attitude to piracy was laissez faire to say the least. One of his mates who had seen a pirated copy had complained that it was too long to which he replied: 'that's because I've still got 3 months to edit it!'"

Thanks to Paul and Jordan for their emails.

The Commonistas Strike Back

Seems like Andrew Orloski of The Register is at it again. I don't know if he has a personal problem with Creative Commons, but he seems to be on a crusade against CC. This time he is reproducing some letters and continuing his comments against the global licensing movement. We see a repeat of many of the arguments posed before, and some new ones. The first thing that we get is a selection of letters in favour of Mr. Orlowski's views. Hardly surprising, but then he starts his article by stating that:

"The use of an irrevocable Commons license, which effectively ends any hope of the artist being compensated by the creative industries, doesn't seem fair or sensible for most readers."

We keep hearing this, but I see no evidence of such an assumption. The first thing to point out is that this assumes that most people create with profit in mind. This is of course, a ridiculous assumption, as the internet proves without a shadow of doubt. People will create for all sorts of reasons, including profit, but to assume that the licences are not sensible or fair because there may be no hope of future profit misses the entire point. It is also not true that the licences do not offer any hope of profit to artists. There is a growing number of successful examples of people who manage to profit even while using Creative Commons, such as the good people at Fading Ways.

In general, the entire article rests on that faulty assumption. Orloski repeats the mantra that people cannot profit from Creative Commons, with no hope of any evidence to support that assumption. The fact that the licences are irrevocable is not relevant whatsoever. If you release a work with a CC licence, the irrevocable nature only means that those who have acquired rights will retain those rights in the future. You can still change your mind and stop releasing the work with a CC licence if you want, and even remove the work from the internet altogether. You can also negotiate rights in the future for commercial uses (if you are using a non-commercial licence).

Mr. Orloski should do his research in the future. It is painfully obvious that, despite protestations to the contrary, he still doesn't get CC.