Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Being innovative is dangerous

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sony DRM: The aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2005

VI Computer Law World Conference

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

Call for Papers

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

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

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

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

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


The deadline for contributions is Friday 31st March 2006.

About the event

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2005

All Your Google Base Are Belong to Us

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

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

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

Thursday, November 24, 2005

To boldly go where no patent has gone before

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

USPTO examiners have lost some major geek points.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

BitTorrent maker against downloads

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

WSIS: was it worth it?

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2005

South Park takes on Scientology

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

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

They are so sued.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Give them enough rope...

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2005

United States keeps the Internet

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

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2005

Virtual Rights

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

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

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

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Real life death of virtual characters

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

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

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Patenting Lives Conference


Law, Culture, Development

1-2 December 2005

London, United Kingdom

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

A 2 day international and interdisciplinary conference on life patents

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

1 December 2005

Opening Session: Tony Howard, UK Patent Office

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

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

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

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

2 December 2005

Keynote: Antony Taubman, World Intellectual Property Organisation

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

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

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

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

The 2005 DRM war

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 07, 2005

Patenting movies?

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

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

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

Saturday, November 05, 2005


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

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

Friday, November 04, 2005

EU top judges plea for patent court

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

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

Thursday, November 03, 2005

God speaks through Firefox, not IE

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Viral videos

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

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

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The First World Trade War

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

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

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

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