Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Computers in movies

I've just read an excellent article about cinematic depiction of computer use in The Guardian. This is a topic of endless derision from techies and geeks all over the world. The article mentions that the balance can be tricky. In one hand we have the most realistic depiction of computers in film, Antitrust, which is a stinker of a movie. I mean, open source is not really the stuff of emotionally charged thrillers, is it? (to be fair, Revolution OS is a pretty good documentary).

On the other hand, the most ludicrous computer plot device in history, Independence Day, did very well at the box office. I mean, who in their right mind could believe that we would ever devise a computer virus that could infect an alien computer system? From a Mac? Try opening Mac or Linux files with your Windows OS and see your PC explode! Hey, maybe the aliens were using Macs. That would explain a lot... but I digress.

Computer expert Jakob Nielsen has come up with the top ten computer usability bloopers in film (the links are mine):

1. The Hero Can Immediately Use Any UI. "Break into a company -- possibly in a foreign country or on an alien planet -- and step up to the computer. How long does it take you to figure out the UI and use the new applications for the first time? Less than a minute if you're a movie star."

2. Time Travelers Can Use Current Designs. "An even worse flaw is the assumption that time travelers from the past could use today's computer systems. In fact, they'd have no conception of any of modern technology's basic concepts, and so would be dramatically more stumped than the novice users we observe in user testing. Even someone who's never used Excel at least understands the general idea of computers and screens."

3. The 3D UI. "3D is for demos. 2D is for work."

4. Integration is Easy, Data Interoperates. "In movieland, users have no trouble connecting different computer systems. Macintosh users live in a world of PCs without ever noticing it (and there were disproportionally more Macs than PCs in films a decade ago, when Apple had the bigger product-placement budget)."

5. Access Denied / Access Granted. "Countless scenes involve unauthorized access to some system. Invariably, several passwords are tried, resulting in a giant "Access Denied" dialog box. Finally, a few seconds before disaster strikes, the hero enters the correct password and is greeted by an equally huge "Access Granted" dialog box."

6. Big Fonts. "In addition to the immense font used for "Access Denied" messages, most computer screens in the movies feature big, easily readable text. In real life, users often suffer under tiny text and websites that add insult to injury by not letting users resize the words."

7. Star Trek's Talking Computer. "The voice-operated computer in Star Trek is an even more egregious example of designing an audience interface rather than a user interface. Spoken commands and spoken responses make it easy for the audience to follow the action, but it's a very inefficient way of controlling a complex system."

8. Remote Manipulators (Waldo Controls). "In practice, there's a reason we use steering wheels to drive cars instead of joysticks, touchpads, or push-buttons. The steering wheel is an excellent input device for fast and accurate specification of directionality."

9. You've Got Mail is Always Good News. "In the movies, checking your mail is a matter of picking out the one or two messages that are important to the plot. No information pollution or swamp of spam. No ever-changing client requests in the face of impending deadlines. And you never overlook information because a message's subject line violated the email usability guidelines."

10. "This is Unix, It's Easy". "In the film Jurassic Park, a 12-year-old girl has to use the park's security system to keep everyone from being eaten by dinosaurs. She walks up to the control terminal and utters the immortal words, "This is a Unix system. I know this." And proceeds to (temporarily) save the day."
Any other examples?

Friday, December 22, 2006

To snowclone or not to snowclone

I'm generally not into New Year's resolutions, but I believe that this year I will promise to write less snowclones. A snowclone, according to Wikipedia, "is a neologism used to describe a type of formula-based cliché which uses an old idiom in a new context. The term emphasizes the use of a familiar (and often particular) formula and previous cultural knowledge of the reader to express information about an idea." An example is this post's title: the well-known formula of "to X or not to X" is a snowclone.

The term was coined by linguist Glen Whitman, who noted that a new word was needed to describe the journalistic practice of calling things "the new black" (the snowclone is "X is the new Y"). The name comes from the famous urban myth that Eskimos "have X number of words for snow" (the range goes from 10 to 30). This is one of those lazy bits of common knowledge that nobody ever checks, but that is completely wrong, just as the myth that humans only use 10% of their brains. These lazy common knowledge adages can be the source of the snowclone, but the largest source is found in popular culture. Some of the best known snowclones are from movie tags ("In space nobody can hear you X"; "May the X be with you", "I, for one, welcome our new X overlords").

You too can become a snowclone hunter. Just go into Google and search using a snowclone template replacing the X for an asterisk. So, if you can find all instances of "All your X are belong to us", or "Have X, will travel".

Previous snowclones that I have been guilty of? All your Googlebase are belong to us; To bolbdly go where no patent has gone before; Limewire Strikes Back. How depressing.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Music industry sues

Several recording companies have sued Russian site for copyright infringement. The site is not precisely a P2P sharing network, it is more analogous to "legal" download sites where users purchase individual songs and albums at amazingly low prizes. The problem is that the site does not pay royalties to the music industry.

I think that the copyright legal issues in this case are quite straightforward, even if one considers the quirks of Russian copyright law. It seems to me like AllofMP3 are engaged in direct commercial infringement of protected works. However, what may prove to be a very relevant piece of litigation is the fact that this case may prove to be one of jurisdiction and long-arm enforcement of IPR. This is because Mediaservices, the Russian company that owns AllofMP3, has been sued in New York. This is definitely a case worth following.

I never though I would say this, but I hope the music industry win this one. I must be growing soft in my old age.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Halliburton loses appeal on software patent case

(via IPKat). Halliburton has lost its appeal on its case against Smith international with regards to software for designing drill bits. The software patent involved in Halliburton v Smith protected a software simulation program for designing the drill bits. Halliburton sued Smith, claimed it held patents in both the drill and design software and that Smith was using similar software to produce comparable results. Smith questioned the patents’ validity. The design software patent contained a long technical description of drills and drill bits, plus a description of the algorithm used to design the software. The instructions to the person skilled in the art were extremely detailed and could only apply to that particular desired result. This seems precisely to be the type of patent that has a technical effect, however one defines it. Pumfrey J agreed that there was nothing wrong with the patent per se and that it fulfilled the requirements of technicality . The problem with the patent is that it did not have adequate disclosure to ensure that an average skilled person would be able to work the patent.

In the appeal, the main point discussed was that of disclosure. Art.83 of the EPC provides that an application "must disclose the invention in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art". Jacob J stressed how important this is for an application, and repeated the earlier judgement that there is nothing in the description of the software that would allow a person skilled in the art to work the patent. He said:

"Patents are meant to teach people how to do things. If what is "taught" involves just too much to be reasonable allowing for all the circumstances including the nature of the art, then the patent cannot be regarded as an "enabling disclosure." That is the basic concept behind the requirement of sufficiency and one that lies at the heart of patent law [...]. The setting of a gigantic project, even if merely routine, will not do. Moreover the analogy with genetic engineering and pharmaceutical inventions is not apt. The work that goes into bringing them to market relates to testing efficacy and safety – not in actually making the invented product."
I truly believe that there is a new UK doctrine based on the latest UK-based software patent rulings. We are getting rational policy advice and rational cases. What am I going to complain about?

Monday, December 18, 2006

SCRIPT-ed December 2006

The latest issue of SCRIPT-ed is now online. In this issue:


  • Alastair Kent, "Patients and IP – Should we care?"
Special Issue on Privacy:
  • Lilian Edwards, "Introduction to the Special Issue"
  • When personal data, behavior and virtual identities become a commodity: Would a property rights approach matter?, Corien Prins
  • Andreas Busch, "From Safe Harbour to the Rough Sea? Privacy Disputes across the Atlantic"
  • Judith Rauhofer, "Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you: Legislative developments in relation to the mandatory retention of communications data in the European Union"
  • Caroline B Ncube, "Watching the watcher: recent developments in privacy regulation and cyber-surveillance in South Africa"
  • Ralf Bendrath and Rikke Frank Jørgensen, "The World Summit on the Information Society – privacy not found?"
  • Miranda Mowbray, "Implementing Pseudonymity"
  • Andrea M. Matwyshyn, "Penetrating the Zombie Collective: Spam as an International Security Issue"
  • Philip Leith, "Squeezing Information out of the Information Commissioner: Mapping and measuring through online public registers"
Peer-reviewed articles:
  • Philip Ruthen, "Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) - The imposition of ‘truth’?"
  • Aurelio Lopez-Tarruella Martinez, "Licences for Use of Digital Works: The Difficult Balance Between Right-holders and Users"
  • Ana María Delgado García & Rafael Oliver Cuello, "The Spanish Tax Administration and the Internet".
  • Nicolas Jondet, "La France v. Apple: who’s the dadvsi in DRMs?"
Book Reviews:
  • Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, Joseph Feller et al (editors). Reviewed by Andres Guadamuz
  • Copyright and Other Fairytales, Helle Porsdam (editor). Reviewed by Maureen O'Sullivan
  • Xenotransplantation: Law and Ethics, Sheila A. M. McLean and Laura Williamson. Reviewed by Jessica Wright.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bridging the Costa Rican digital divide

Continuing the series of stories from Costa Rica, the Costa Rican govenrment has started to implement a series of measures to reduce the digital divide between the information haves and have-nots.

Starting in February, the government will be offering computer and internet connections at affordable prices. For as little as ¢12,000 CRC per month (about £12 GBP, or $24 USD), users will lbe able to lease the computer and the internet connection. For ease of use, the payment will be added to the phone bill.

This is an excellent proposal, and I hope that it will prompt many of my fellow countrymen to join cyberspace.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Commission green-lights CAFTA in Costa Rica

The Commission on International Affairs of the Costa Rican legislature has approved CAFTA amidst strong opposition from students, intellectuals and union leaders. The vote in the commission was 6-3 in favour of sending the agreement to the plenary for it to be voted. As mentioned earlier, some of the less controversial surrounding aspects of the treaty are now under discussion, including IP reforms that will implement DMCA-like provisions into Costa Rican law.

I must admit that I'm still torn. While it is clear that the agreement is good for the Costa Rican economy, I'm disgusted by the storng IP enforcement clauses that ave been included into the treaty.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Inventor kills lawyer over idea for portable toilet

(via Patentingart list) It is true that to many of us IP is a source of income, but is it a matter of life and death? One man in Chicago thought so. Truck driver and sometimes inventor Joe Jackson murdered patent lawyer Michael McKenna and two other people at the offices of the Chicago firm Wood, Phillips, Katz, Clark & Mortimer.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Jackson invented a portable toilet for truckers, and went to McKenna to have the invention patented. However, Jackson became convinced that McKenna had stolen his idea and had registered the toilet for himself after researching on the Internet. I conducted a search on the USPTO on published applications and issued patents for Michael McKenna, but did not find anything. The search terms "joe jackson" and "toilet" did not produce any results either. According to family members, McKenna told Jackson that he could not patent the invention because it was already invented.

Jackson eventually snapped, and murdered the patent lawyer.

Tragic as the event is, I found something quite interesting in one of the articles detailing the unfortunate events. The Chicago Tribune describes the other lawyer killed as "an expert in the arcane legal field of intellectual property." Arcane?

I'm off to make some incantations and read some entrails.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Musician revolt?

I may be the only UK-based technology and IP blogger that has not yet mentioned the Gowers report. Because I'm in Costa Rica, I've been tempted to ignore writing about the report because so many people have already commented intelligently on it. Perhaps my only take is to stress again future. For too long have that I believe we may be witnessing a turning of the tide when it comes to IP policy. The fact that the Gowers review has managed to conduct its affairs with transparency and by looking closely at the actual evidence truly makes me feel optimistic about a more balanced IPIP owners gotten away with a one-sided push towards more protection. Public acceptance of the report so far seems to be decidedly favourable.

However, I have been prompted out of silence by the spectacle of ageing musicians pleading for copyright extension in a page published in the Financial Times. Under the title "Fair Play for Musicians", the ad contains 4,500 signatures of poor struggling acts such as U2, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Cliff Richard and Sir Simon Rattle. I was astounded that this has been picked up by the mainstream press at international level. I heard the story on the radio while I was driving, and I almost crashed from shock. Copyright extension has become a hot topic, worthy of making the entertainment news in Costa Rican radio.

Nevertheless, despite the considerable star power wielded by the British Phonographic Industry, I think that this tactic will backfire and it will be a turning point with the public. There is nothing worse than a bunch of wealthy ageing rockers pleading for more money. It smells of greed and desperation (and somehow, it also smells of mothballs and dusty electric guitars, but I digress). Lessig has published a rebuke in FT, and I'm sure that widespread derision to this tactic will simply serve to expose what this is all about, earning a few more bucks.

By the way, David Berry has circulated a message pointing out that some of the signatories are actually dead. Lonnie Donegan (2002) and Freddie Garrity (2006) are deceased, no more, ceased to be, bereft of life (you know the rest). This makes me think that the BPI must have some mighty mediums in their ranks, or perhaps the ghosts of musicians past never leave the premises and hang around looking after their royalties. I don't know about you, but the image of a ghostly Mick Hucknall fills me with dread.

UPDATE: This article by Marina Hyde is a must-read.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bush and Arias talk CAFTA

Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace laureate Oscar Arias Sánchez met in the White House with George W. Bush to talk about debt, democracy in Latin America, and of course CAFTA. As mentioned in earlier posts, Costa Rica has yet to ratify and implement the agreement.

Bush was briefed about the legislative process to approve CAFTA, and while he did not put any public pressure for the approval, he did mention that trade is one of the most important elements for development. Costa Rica is the largest economy in the CAFTA treaty, and its absence in the agreement would a tremendous blow for the free trade zone.

Bush also mentioned that he may look into condoning $104 million USD in debt that Costa Rica has with the USA in exchange for investment in health and education. Bush stated that those countries which invested in education and not in weapons should be rewarded in some form.

I must admit that when I heard that my irony meter broke and I could not continue listening to the press conference, so I don't know if something else of importance was mentioned.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Spanish café loses case on "free music"

A Spanish court in Pontevedra has ruled in favour of the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE) against a café named Direccion000. SGAE initiated action against the cafe to claim royalties for de public performance of music in the locale, while the owners claimed that they did not have to pay because they were only using “free music” under Creative Commons licences.

The café lost the case in first instance and appealed on the basis that the locale has several signs claiming that they had permission to play free music in the establishment under the terms of CC licences. However, SGAE was able to prove that the music selection included artists under their representation.

Perhaps the most worrying paragraph from the case is that which describes the legal validity of CC licences presented as evidence. According to the court:

“…it is worth to point out that the document presented by the defendants-appellants as a licence for free use of music does not constitute anything other than a mere informative leaflet about its own content, lacking any form of signature, and therefore bereft of legal value whatsoever”.
I find this worrying because it seems to imply that CC licences are invalid without a signature, which would spell trouble for their legal validity in Spain. I would hope that the court was shown the human readable deed, and not the licence as such.

I do not have sympathy for the café owners as it seems to me that they were playing commercial music while advertising that the locale only played “musica libre”. Still, I am greatly concerned about wider potential implications with regards to CC contract formation (or licence formation where applicable).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

When the Internet breaks

In the age of broadband, Blackberries, 3G and wireless, we have come to expect 24/7 online access all the time. But what happens when the Internet breaks?

Costa Rica and the rest of Central America are connected to the Internet through two fibre optic cables: Maya-1 and most importantly Arcos-1. The former runs from Puerto Lempira in Honduras to Punta Cana in the Domenican Republic (some maps here). Since last Sunday, the Arcos-1 cable has been down, which has meant that the Internet is either very slow, or not available at all.

This has made me think back on some digital divide issues and the fact that large part of the Internet relies on complex inter-connection agreements for the lease of bandwidth, and that when one of those connections is unavailable, the Internet suffers. If such an event takes place in developed countries with vast inter-connected fibre optical networks, the impact is considerably smaller. However, with countries that rely heavily on one or two main cables for connection, any shortages hit very hard indeed.

The national telecomms company ICE and RACSA, the monopolist Internet Service Provider in Costa Rica, have mentioned that they are likely to sue if the faults where caused by negligence.

By the way, this message reaches you thanks to some other cables, such as the Antilles Crossing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Troubled CAFTA in Costa Rica

The Central American Free Trade Agreement is the multilateral treaty signed between the United States, the Domenican Republic and several countries in Central America. As it happens with most free trade agreements negotiated by the Bush administration, there is a requirement to impose heavy protection of intellectual property rights in the signatory countries. In most instances, the protection seems particularly unnecessary for developing countries. Why are strong anti-circumvention provisions required in the text? Why the emphasis on implementing criminalisation of IPR infringement?

Anyway, the road to CAFTA has been extremely difficult in Costa Rica. Firstly, the agreement hung in the balance last February at the local elections when anti-CAFTA candidate Ottón Solís almost defeated pro-agreement candidate and now president Dr. Oscar Arias Sánchez. The agreement has also been the subject of heated popular demonstrations from university strudents and intellectuals.

CAFTA (or TLC in Spanish) is now in process of being voted in not in a bulk legislative package, but it has been broken up. IP provisions are now being considered by the plenary, including reforms to the existing IP law, and a new trade mark legislation. It seems to me that the Costa Rican government is trying to sneak some of the least controversial issues such as IP protection before sending the treaty to vote. Let's face it, IP issues do not send people to the streets (unless they are protesting software patents).

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Costa Rica

I'm on my way to the land of Imperial, gallo pinto and lovely beaches. I will still be posting regularly from home.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Time to be mildly optimistic about IP policy?

This week the IP and Technology blogosphere has been set aflame by the report from the BBC stating that copyright terms for sound recordings will be left as they are. From IPKat to Copyfight, everyone seems to find this is a delightful outcome to the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property (see the submission from IP academics on this topic).

I find this latest development quite remarkable, as I am sensing a turn of the tide, a swing of the pendulum, a change of wind (select your cliché), with regards to IP policy in Europe. From the report on the database right, to the defeat of the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive, I believe that policy-makers in Europe are becoming more attuned to the copyfighter argument against unchecked expansion of intellectual property rights. We could be faced for the first time to a policy body actually refusing to listen the the considerable rhetorical weight andcelebrity appeal of those intellectual giants, Mick Hucknall, Bono and Sir Cliff Richard (please note the heavy ironic tone).

While many of us have been in the sceptical bandwagon for the duration of the present century, it is quite nice to see that politicians may be catching on.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gifts for geeks

(via Lilian Edwards) What do you give to a geek who has everything? Why not try ideas from the Open Source Gift Guide? From tools for building your own robot,through Ubuntu distros, to a device that will turn your iPod into the loudest player in the world, you can have a look at the very innovative gift ideas for those who hate Microsoft, Apple and all things proprietary.

My favourites? It's a toss-up between Free Beer and the MAKE Warranty Voider. I also loved the PortableApps Suite. I'm installing it into my iPod!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Copyright is socialism?

Mick Hucknall, of Simply Red fame, has written an unintentionally comical apology of copyright extension for sound recordings. Mr Hucknall tells us that copyright fulfills socialist ideals because anyone can create something and obtain a property right over their creation. It seems like 50 years of profits are not enough for some musicians, so they want to extend this protection to 95 years. Mr Hucknall reminds us that opposing such move is "retrogressive and misconceived". He says that "Copyright is not a monopoly restricting the free flow of ideas. Allowing valuable sound recordings to pass into the public domain does not create a public asset: it represents a massive destruction of UK wealth, and a significant loss to the UK taxpayer as exploitation moves offshore or into the grey market." This is quite indicative that the article is all about profits and not about socialism, or distribution of wealth. Indeed, it is all about tax returns and the ability to squeeze profits for a bit longer.

Needless to say, I believe that many of the underlying assumptions in this article are wrong. Firstly, there seems to be an unsupported claim that longer copyright periods will serve as an incentive to creators. There is no evidence whatsoever that this is the case. On the contrary, when was the last time that you met a struggling musician who expressed their desire not to record a new song because of limited copyright extension terms? Secondly, the argument that extending copyright terms for sound recordings will have an effect on the government's coffers is also not supported by evidence. Thirdly, Mr. Hucknall claims that copyright is the sole economic foundation of the knowledge economy. It seems like this person has never heard of user generated content, Wikipedia, blogs, podcasting and all sort of content that does not rest on copyright.

The problem here is that some people seem to continue to be enamoured in their entrenched idea that copyright owners are somehow special people, and that the rest of us should consider ourselves lucky if we are granted the right to purchase content produced in the short head. However, the knowledge economy actually rests on the short tail, that vast majority of people who have found out that the creative process is not only a monopoly of a few writers and musicians. We are all copyright owners, and we are not all interested in earning profits from our works.

The Guardian has published a couple of replies to Mr Hucknall here and here. Andrew Brown's reply is particularly well-written.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Internet is NOT for porn

Common sense tells us that the Internet is for porn, but latest research does not reflect this. A report from Berkley statistician Philip B. Stark on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that only 1% of websites searchable by Google are porn, and that search engine filters manage to block 87-98% of sexually explicit content.

The report comes from the trial stage of the case American Civil Liberties Union vs Gonzalez (formerly ACLU v Reno and ACLU v Ashcroft), which is underway. The case was brought by the ACLU against the U.S. Department of Justice to declare the Children Online Protection Act (COPA) unconstitutional because it violates freedom of speech. The report will not help the case by the DoJ, as it is clear that filters are working, and little children are not always exposed to porn the moment they log into their computer.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Another online libel and ISP liability case

The Californian Supreme Court has ruled on the case of Barrett v Rosenthal. The case was brought by two doctors who operated a website that exposed health frauds. The defendant is one Ilena Rosenthal, who hosts an online forum and discussion group. The two plaintiffs alleged that Rosenthal and others committed libel by maliciously distributing defamatory statements in emails and forum posts. The defendant claimed that the posts were protected by freedom of speech, but also that some of these boards are part of the "Wild West" of the Internet, where it is impossible to exercise any editorial or policing.

One of the important parts of the ruling is that it revisits the famous ISP liability case Zeran v AOL. Distributors and ISPs have for long been awarded some form of immunity from liability for libel and defamation, mostly based on the fact that the sheer volume of information that passes through servers makes all form of editorial oversight impossible.

What is novel about this case is that Rosenthal is not an ISP in the traditional sense, but an individual who administers a forum. The question then is whether individuals are to be awarded immunity. Rosenthal won the case in first instance and in appeal. The Court of Appeals went as far as to consider that there is no operational difference between individuals and ISPs. The California Supreme Court has rejected this line of thought by making a clear distinction between individuals and large enterprises. They argue:

"Individual Internet “users” like Rosenthal, however, are situated differently from institutional service providers with regard to some of the principal policy considerations discussed by the Zeran court and reflected in the Congressional Record. In particular, individuals do not face the massive volume of third-party postings that providers encounter. Self-regulation is a far less challenging enterprise for them. Furthermore, service providers, no matter how active or passive a role they take in screening the content posted by users of their services, typically bear less responsibility for that content than do the users. Users are more likely than service providers to actively engage in malicious propagation of defamatory or other offensive material."
However, while there seems to be a distinction between individuals and ISPs, the California Supreme Court had to conclude that the language in the legilegislation does not make a distinction, and therefore even idnividuals would be awarded blanket immunity. They however recommend the plaintiffs should not pursue the intermediary, but to sue the publisher of the defamatory Internet publication.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Microsoft splitting open source community

We have already written about the agreement between Microsoft and Novell, in which the open source developer has obtained a patent infringement "get out of jail free" card from the Redmond company. As expected, this has now created several replies from the free and open source community.

Firstly, Samba developers have requested Novell to reconsider because they think that this is a tactic that will separate commercial and non-commercial users of open source software, and therefore will balkanise the community. They say:

"The patent agreement struck between Novell and Microsoft is a divisive agreement. It deals with users and creators of free software differently depending on their "commercial" versus "non-commercial" status, and deals with them differently depending on whether they obtained their free software directly from Novell or from someone else. The goals of the Free Software community and the GNU GPL allow for no such distinctions."
And piling on the pressure on Novell, Eben Moglen has now stated that GPL v3 will be redrafted in order to make clear that this agreement will be in violation of the GPL. Moglen says that "GPL version 3 will be adjusted so the effect of the current deal is that Microsoft will by giving away access to the very patents Microsoft is trying to assert."

I think that this is further evidence of the widening split in the Free and Open Source movement. GPL v3 is becoming more and more restrictive, up to the point where it seems clear that its definition of "free" is anything but. Microsoft seems to be playing the split quite well, much like a predator picking the slower wildebeest from the pack (or dare I say, picking the weakest gnu?)

My main concern is that some of the language being used is redolent of the Cold War/War on Terror Manichaean rhetoric of "us versus them". Read this statement from Moglen, then exchange the word Microsoft with "Soviet Union" or "Iran", and you will see what I mean:
"I would not be advancing the course of discussions if I made any statement about who we are talking to here in specific terms. I will only say that it is my experience that Microsoft has never been in any hurry to identify itself as in direct negotiation with the free world.... In general, it is better at this point to say that all lines of communication that I think are necessary in order to resolve this situation peacefully are open, that we have not been unable to reach any parties that we thought it would be prudent or productive to talk to."
Da, comrade.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Microsoft's grand DRM plan to take over the world

(Cue organ music and evil laughter). The first Zune players have now been released in the United States. Microsoft's answer to the iPod has been controversial from the start, not only because it follows on Microsoft's well and tested method of coming late into a market and using its comprehensive weight to grind its competitors into submission. However, they may be taking on more than they can chew with iPod, which seems to have considerable brand recognition and general zeitgeist. The Zune is offered in three colours (including the ugliest brown in the world, I mean, what where they thinking?).

Most interesting has been Zune's DRM strategy, which is incompatible with Microsoft's own PlaysforSure TPM format. It seems like Microsoft wants to create two separate markets, one for third party stores and devices, such as Yahoo! Music, Napster, Creative and Philips; and the other market for its own players, software, store and devices. This includes a strategy to bring together Zune, Windows Vista and XBox as the next generation of entertainment environment for the digital consumer, all locked in a nice and tidy technically protected zone handled and controlled by Microsoft.

Where is the store? Zune has its own Zune Marketplace (read iTunes rip-off), but it seems to me that the overall strategy will be to bring all marketplaces together, such as Xbox Live's Marketplace, as it already allows people to download games, upgrades, and will soon offer movies and video shows. Add to this equation Windows Vista, and you start seeing how Microsoft expects to lock its customers into Xbox-playing, Zune-listening, Vista-using robots. And I don't even want to mention the wireless sharing feature, which will expire after three plays or three days.

I'll keep my iPod, thank you very much.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Survey on privacy expectations of bloggers

Karen Mc Cullagh has requested that I publicise this survey on privacy expectations of bloggers. If you blog, click on the link and take the survey. Karen says:

What this study is about…?

I'm conducting an online survey to explore the privacy attitudes and expectations of bloggers as part of my PhD research, which is sponsored by the ESRC and Office of the Information Commissioner, UK.

If you participate you will be asked to answer questions anonymously about your blogging practices (i.e. what kind of information you write about on your Blogger, Bebo, Myspace, LiveJournal, Xanga, Facebook, Friendster etc.) and your expectations of privacy when publishing online.

What will happen your answers...?

All answers will be stored and analysed on a confidential basis.

The responses will be used to inform academic and policy discussions on blogging practices and attitudes towards privacy.

Link to the survey:

Please take part in the survey:

Finally, could you please encourage other bloggers to participate in the study.

It takes less than 5 minutes to complete the survey!

Further information:

For further information on my research please visit

Many thanks,


Saturday, November 11, 2006

GPL wins case in the United States

The GPL does not contravene American antitrust law, according to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal case is Wallace v IBM, Red Hat and Novell, in which one Mr Daniel Wallace claimed that he would like to compete against the Linux operating system by selling derivatives or writing an operating system from scratch, but that this was not possible because Linux is offered for free. According to Mr Wallace, the GPL is part of a conspiracy because it makes software free forever, and it is impossible to compete against free products. Someone should have explained to Mr Wallace that free is not free as in beer, but free as in freedom.

Mr Wallace lost the case in the first instance because he could not prove that he had suffered an antitrust injury. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals did not buy Mr Wallace's arguments either. Judge Easterbrook delivered an excellent decision, which is worthy of reproduction:

"Software that is not maintained and improved eventually becomes obsolete, and the lack of reward may reduce the resources devoted to maintenance and improvement of Linux and other open-source projects. If that occurs, however, then proprietary software will enter or gain market share. People willingly pay for quality software even when they can get free (but imperfect) substitutes. Open Office is a free, open-source suite of word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software, but the proprietary Microsoft Office has many more users. Gimp is a free, open-source image editor, but the proprietary Adobe Photoshop enjoys the lion’s share of the market. Likewise there is a flourishing market in legal treatises and other materials, plus reference databases such as LEXIS and Westlaw, even though courts give away their work (this opinion, for example, is not covered by copyright and may be downloaded from the court’s web site and copied without charge). And so it is with operating systems. Many more people use Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X, or Sun Solaris than use Linux. IBM, which includes Linux with servers, sells mainframes and supercomputers that run proprietary operating systems. The number of proprietary operating systems is growing, not shrinking, so competition in this market continues quite apart from the fact that the GPL ensures the future availability of Linux and other Unix offshoots."
Hear, hear! This lays to rest one more FUD attack on the GPL. Let's hope that SCO v IBM will finally produce the desired result.

Friday, November 10, 2006

UK denies Denial of Service attacks

(via Out-Law) The Police And Justice Act 2006 has been passed yesterday. This new Act contains criminal sanctions for those who access a computer with the intent of impairing its operation, to prevent or hinder access to any program or data held on it, or to impair the operation of any program or data.

This is obviously intended to attack the implementation of technological attacks to a computer in order to criple it, and includes Denial of Service attcks, because they will hinder the operation of an internet server.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

10 years of the WCT

I'll be attending a symposium next Friday at Case Western Reserve Law School in Cleveland entitled "The 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaties: 10 Years Later". There will be a webcast of the event for those interested.

Copyright industry exaggerates piracy

According to an article from Oz, the Australian Institute of Criminology will soon publish research that warns that piracy figures quoted by software, movie and music industries are absurd, inflated, and what they call "self-serving hyperbole". Really? Colour me surprised! A quote from the yet unpublished report says:

"It is inappropriate for courts and policy-makers to accept at face value currently unsubstantiated statistics. Either these statistics must be withdrawn, or the purveyors of these statistics must supply valid and transparent substantiation."
Very well said. I often criticise piracy reports that seem to equate each pirated copy to a lost sale, when no amount of research has ever proven this to be the case.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Defending your reputation online

As we spend more and more time online, we are (wittingly and unwittingly) leaving behind vast amounts of personal information. Dodgy poems, bad pictures, posts in the Pokémon forum, that Céline Dion fan website... you may have several things rattling online of which you're not particularly proud. Personally, I do not find this too problematic (after all, I have a picture of a llama in my weblog, my embarrassment threshold is rather high). However, employers, education authorities and members of the public are increasingly practicing background Googling before meeting someone (come on, admit that you've entered people's names into Google as well). What if your future employer or your next date finds your picture dressed like a Klingon? Could you live with the shame?

Reputation defender is here to help. The company promises to pursue internet service providers and web designers in order to remove embarrasing material through "proprietary" methods. They will also provide a monthly reputation report.

Now, if only I could remove some of my earlier journal articles from circulation...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Microsoft waives patent enforcement against SuSE

(Thanks to Amy Terry Sheehan for link) Microsoft and Novell have signed an agreement by which the software giant will not assert its software patent rights for technology that can be used in SuSE Linux distributions. The agreement also provides Microsoft users with the possibility of obtaining support for dual-boot systems that contain both operating systems.

As a person who has both SuSE Linux and Windows in his laptop, I think that this is great news. There is going to be further incentive for corporate enterprises to adopt Linux without fear of SCO-like litigation for potential patent infringement. This agreement also recognises that there is a growing number of people who are more than willing to bypass all of the ideological baggage involved with open source, and take the pragmatic approach of using whatever works and is easier to use. I believe that this is further evidence that Microsoft has changed its tactic with regards to open source software, and that the relationship with large parts of the community have been thawing.

However, I'm still a bit concerned about what Microsoft is getting out of this agreement. It's clear that this is very good news for Novell, but what's in it for Bill Gates? (cue eerie conspiracy music)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Criminal Enforcement Directive Workshop

Free Public Workshop - 13 November 2006

The first in a series of free public workshops is to be held Monday, 13 November 2006, 6pm (followed by drinks).

Criminal Enforcement Directive and Patent Law
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime?

The workshop will be held in the seminar room of the Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute, at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London , Charterhouse Square (map).

The first in the series will examine the proposed European Directive on criminal measures aimed at ensuring the enforcement of intellectual property rights (Criminal Enforcement Directive). This workshop will look at the possible implications of the Directive specifically in the field of patentable technologies and patent practice.

Expert Panellists

Gwilym Roberts, Partner, Kilburn & Strode Patent Attorneys

Julian Heathcote Hobbins, Senior Legal Counsel, FAST (Federation Against Software Theft)

Phillip Johnson , Barrister and DTI Legal Adviser to the UK Patent Office

(Chair Johanna Gibson , Director of Patenting Lives Network, Queen Mary)

The meeting is free and open to the public, but places are limited, so please register by email to Johanna Gibson.

Details of forthcoming workshops will be announced on this website and the Patenting Lives Blog.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

More on Aerotel's ruling

I've finished reading Aerotel v Telco Holdings, and I have to say that I have been impressed with a lot of the excellent reasoning displayed by Lord Justice Jacob in the ruling. I have selected some quotes:

"[...] despite the fact that such patents have been granted for some time in the US, it is far from certain that they have been what Sellars and Yeatman would have called a "Good Thing." The patent system is there to provide a research and investment incentive but it has a price. That price (what economists call "transaction costs") is paid in a host of ways: the costs of patenting, the impediment to competition, the compliance cost of ensuring non-infringement, the cost of uncertainty, litigation costs and so on. There is, so far as we know, no really hard empirical data showing that the liberalisation of what is patentable in the USA has resulted in a greater rate of innovation or investment in the excluded categories. Innovation in computer programs, for instance, proceeded at an immense speed for years before anyone thought of granting patents for them as such. There is evidence, in the shape of the mass of US litigation about the excluded categories, that they have produced much uncertainty. If the encouragement of patenting and of patent litigation as industries in themselves were a purpose of the patent system, then the case for construing the categories narrowly (and indeed for removing them) is made out. But not otherwise.

In our opinion, therefore, the court must approach the categories without bias in favour of or against exclusion. All that is clear is that there was a positive intention and policy to exclude the categories concerned from being regarded as patentable inventions. We must simply try to make sense of them using the language of the Convention."
In one of the most interesting parts of the ruling, Jacob J asks the EPO Board of Appeals for clarification with regards to their application of Article 52 of the European Patent Convention. This has been commented as a non-decision, but I completely disagree. It is clearly a decision because the ruling already talks about Macrossan's patent application. What is done here is to ask for clarification, although it is not the time and place to do it. Jacob J asks based on opinions by the parties and the British Comptroller of Patents:
"(1) What is the correct approach to adopt in determining whether an invention relates to subject matter that is excluded under Article 52?
(2) How should those elements of a claim that relate to excluded subject matter be treated when assessing whether an invention is novel and inventive under Articles 54 and 56?
(3) And specifically:
(a) Is an operative computer program loaded onto a medium such as a chip or hard drive of a computer excluded by Art.52(2) unless it produces a technical effect, if so what is meant by 'technical effect'?
(b) What are the key characteristics of the method of doing business exclusion?"
I would very much like to know the answer to those questions as well.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

YouTube blues

"If you upload a video to YouTube you are a legitimate target for legal action in the same way the music industry is suing MP3 users [...] Most of the clips uploaded to the site will be infringing copyright in some way."

That is an inaccurate statement. While most of the TV and movie clips loaded to YouTube are infringing, it's not true that users are legitimate targets for legal action. Users will NOT be sued by the TV and movie industries, at least in the near future. Who made such a ridiculous statement? Well, according to Metro and the Evening Standard, I did! My first misquote, I feel like an important career step has been reached.

In other news, YouTube has been sued by Universal Tube and Rollerform Equipment Corp; proud holders of the domain name The problem for the tube manufacturer is that millions of people log into their site while looking for YouTube, which knocks down the servers. The suite then is one of trade mark confusion, not one of copyright infringement.

After all, the Internets is a series of tubes...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Costa Rican online gambling still working

There are 200 gambling websites operating from Costa Rica employing a calculated 10,000 people. There was serious concern that the sites would be seriously affected by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. I will not be ashamed to admit that I'm considerably worried about the law's impact on Costa Rican economy, but according to sites based on the United States, the law will not affect them.

I've been hoping for Costa Rica to join Antigua's WTO dispute against the United States on online gambling (DS285), but there has been no action yet.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Report urges copyright law reform

The Institute for Public Policy Research has published a report asking for a reform of UK copyright law to accommodate the digital age and the MP3 generation. The problem pointed out in the research is that the UK does not have any private copying provision in its legislation, and there is no broad right such as fair use in the United States. This means that millions of users infringe copyright every day when they rip their CDs and copy them into their iPods.

I count myself as one of those who knowingly infringe copyright law every day, with my iPod, so any calls for reform must be welcome. What good is legislation that is flaunted every single day by commuters everywhere?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Court of Appeals rules on software patent appeal

The England and Wales Court of Appeal has decided on the case of Aerotel Ltd. v Telco Holdings Ltd & Ors [2006] EWCA Civ 137. This seems to be one of those decisions that splits opinions, or rather, unites them into a negative opinion regardless of the side of the software patent debate in which you stand. I've heard negative comments from both advocates of software patents and critics.

The case deals with two separate appeals and two different patents. First is the Aerotel Appeal with patent number 2,171,877; and Macrossan's Appeal, with patent application number GB0314464.9. The question at stake here is the application of Art. 52 of the European Patent Convention regarding patentable subject matter. The Aerotel patent is for a telephone pre-payment system where a user obtains a code, and their credit amount and code number would be stored in memory in a special exchange. Macrossan's patent is for an automated method of producing the documents necessary to incorporate a company.

The ruling, deliver by Lord Justice Jacob, allows the Aerotel patent, but invalidates Macrossan's application. I have only browsed the decision, but I find the fact that the Macrossan application was not allowed quite heartening, particularly because the case relies heavily on other recent cases to reach this decision, particularly Haliburton v Smith, CFPH's Application and Shoppalotto''s Application.

In my opinion, this enhances the latest trend to allow limited patentability of computer implemented inventions, but not allowing software patents that do not present any substantial advancement to the prior art.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New York, New York

I'm off to speak at the conference Impact of Technological Change on the Creation, Dissemination and Protection of Intellectual Property, organised by Albany Law School, and taking place at the Cornell Club, New York.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Copyright Activity Patch

I used to be a Boy Scout. There, I've said it. One of the things I loved about Scouting (besides the camping, gaming and learning about knots of course) was badge hunting. The merit badges I remember obtaining were Backpacking, Knots, Forestry, Swimming, Electricity, First Aid and Astronomy. Had I been a Scout in California, I could have obtained the newest activity patch: Respect Copyright. Yes boys and girls, you can now display your loyal and kind respect for copyright law with a patch that will tell your friends that you're a good consumer, and also that if you catch them using P2P you will turn them in to the appropriate authorities.

How can you obtain this badge? According to the Washington Post:

Scouts will be instructed in the basics of copyright law and learn how to identify five types of copyrighted works and three ways copyrighted materials may be stolen. Scouts also must choose one activity from a list that includes visiting a movie studio to see how many people can be harmed by film piracy. They also can create public service announcements urging others not to steal movies or music.
I have been struggling to come up with snarky remarks to the above, but alas, I have failed. Nothing beats the comedic value of the original.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Regulating YouTube?

It seems like after YouTube has been purchased by Google, it has managed to attract a large number of news stories, particularly with calls to regulate the site.

The first news item comes from a potential crack-down of YouTube in the UK, as it has been noticed by ministers that the site is used for cyber-bullying, posting violent attacks on the streets, and to humiliate teachers. While the use of the site's upload capabilities to promote violence are abhorrent, one has to ask whether it is possible to regulate the practice only within the UK. Perhaps YouTube can fulfill better policing and editorial functions, but that would leave them more vulnerable to liability.

There are other stories about copyright concerns. The BBC reports that YouTube has had to remove 30,000 infringing clips from Japanese media companies, and then that an independent company has been placing Premiership goals on the site. I believe that what has been taking place has been prompted by the increase in publicity, but also by the fact that YouTube will increasingly become a target for litigation.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Patenting movies? The MPAA says no

I had reported last year about a patent application in the United States that tried to obtain protection for a movie plot. The application is by one Mr Andrew Knight, who believes the USPTO should be granting patents for unique and inventive movie ideas. His website contains a brief explanation of his reasoning:

"A Plot or Storyline Patent application seeks to patent the underlying novel and nonobvious storyline of a fictional story. Such protection is to be contrasted from the copyright protection of one of millions of possible expressions of an underlying storyline. The field of possible applications is broad, and may tentatively be split into an entertainment-advertisement dichotomy. The epitome of an entertainment application is an original, thought-provoking, often shockingly unique movie plot. Several potentially patentable features may have been found in the plots of, Memento, The Thirteenth Floor, Being John Malkovich, Butterfly Effect, The Game, Fight Club, The Matrix, Total Recall, The Truman Show, Minority Report, The Village, Groundhog Day, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, to name a few."
Readers who are familiar with my line of thinking about patents will probably imagine that at the moment of reading such a steaming pile of post-digestive bovine refuse my blood-pressure has reached dangerous levels and I am about to go into a rant of some sort. Rest assured, I must admit that I'm not particularly surprised by this line of reasoning, it is a logical progression from what is already happening with the patently absurd idea that you can patent anything under the sun.

Mr Knight has put together a legal argument, which he has been pushing in his own website and on several journals. You can read a critique of Mr Knight's ideas in an article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology. In my opinion, there are several problems with the patenting of movie plots. Firstly, copyright law is doing quite well, thank you very much. Secondly, the idea-expression dichotomy serves a purpose. You can come up with a novel idea, what really matters in the creative and entertainment industries is the expression of that idea, the uniqueness of the end-result. If somebody takes too much of your expression, then there is copyright infringement. We also have a form of societal protection of unique ideas. Why would anyone want to copy the plot of Memento or The Matrix? The result would not be the same, it would be a derivative of lesser quality, a rip-off. Copyright doesn't preclude you from producing your own variation of the story, but copy too much and you infringe. The third problem is one of resources. Can you imagine poor patent examiners comparatively looking at movie plots?

The MPAA has issued a comment to the USPTO on this very subject, where they state that they oppose patent protection for movies. They state:
"The MPAA notes with some alarm a trend toward claiming inventions related to the creative arts using claim steps that recite events that are conveyed through an artistic expression (e.g., the actions a character in a story may perform). It is neither appropriate nor practical to evaluate the novelty and non-obviousness of a claimed invention through an assessment of the “quality” or “merits” of an artistic expression. Such claims are properly addressed through the application of the substantive requirements for patent eligibility."
What would you know? I agree with the MPAA! The weather report for Hell reads: "Decidedly chilly, expect blizzards".

By the way, for those who think that this is of no importance in Europe, remember that the EPO has a bad record on keeping patentable subject matter in reign. The words "computer implemented invention" come to mind.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Microsoft goes into open access territory

Microsoft has announced that it will be digitising books in what will be called Live Book Search. This service will include a partnership for publishers to provide books to Microsoft, and they will scan them for free to make portions of them available online through something called the Windows Live Book Publisher Program. Microsoft will also scan books that are out of copyright and make them available online.

Does this sound familiar? It should. Live Book Search sounds suspiciously similar to Google Book Search. For those not familiar with the project, Book Search allows publishers to submit books for scan, and also provides entire scans of out-of-print books from selected libraries.

Microsoft, the we-didn't-think-about-it-first-but-we'll-produce-our-own-version-anyway company.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Virtual worlds hit the mainstream

In an unprecedented move for a large media organisation, Reuters is reporting that it will be reporting directly from Second Life. One should expect new reports on market values, the price of customised badger avatars and the latest gig in the Second Life archipelago.

I find this piece of news as further evidence that online gaming is becoming more prevalent in the mainstream. South Park's episode "Make Love Not Warcraft" is now officially the most viewed machinima in the world (although whether South Park is to be considered "mainstream" is arguable).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Patenting food?

With the rise of the celebrity chef and the increasing amount of money spent on recipe books and all things food-related, I guess that it should not come as a surprise that intellectual property protection would not be far behind.

One would believe that the possibility to protect culinary creations is rather limited. Recipes (and books of the same) are protected by copyright law, and that should be the extent of the protection. Or should it? The purpose(and commercial value) behind a book of recipes is that buyers can replicate the recipes and cook them in their own homes. But what happens when the one using the recipes is a competitor? What if another chef is stealing your livelihood? Some chefs are fighting back by using more IP protection.

Infoworld has the great story of a restaurant in Chicago where a food writer received the following note in edible cotton-candy paper:

Confidential Property of and H. Cantu. Patent Pending. No further use or disclosure is permitted without prior approval of H. Cantu.
So many things to analyse in such a small (and may I say, transient) licence. Since when did cotton-candy become the medium of choice for food-related licensing? Could we have a new wave of eat-wrap contracts? I would truly like to see the patent application, but alas, USPTO searches have failed me so far. Mr Cantu could have applied for a design patent, many examples of artistic designs are protected in that way (see Greg's Patenting-Art database for some). Could some food be protected as a business method? Sillier patents have been issued, so that would not be beyond the realm of feasibility.

However, there could be something analogous to the copyright/patent dichotomy in software protection. Recipes are the same as code, they protect the literal elements, and both are adequately protected under copyright. But food (and software) are more than code, they have a functional element where literal copyright protection could not apply. Would patenting do? At least not in Europe, although I can envisage a similar argument to the technical contribution test in software. I will not even try a guess what is the state of the art in the United States, I gave up a long time ago trying to understand it. Perhaps protecting some food as a design could be a better option.

Or maybe chefs could try an even stranger concept. Cook well, write recipes and get people into the restaurant. Silly me, that's been tried by the likes of Jamie Oliver. Must try harder.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Malware installation email

We should all now be aware of messages with requests to input your bank details. But what about messages asking you to install updates? I have received the following from (links removed to protect the innocent):

Internet Explorer 7 downloads
Get downloads for Internet Explorer 7, including recommended updates as they become available. To download Internet Explorer 7 Release Candidate 1 in the language of your choice, please visit the Internet Explorer 7 worldwide page.
Internet Explorer 7 Release Candidate 1 is pre-release software. Please view the support page for troubleshooting and feedback options.
When you click on the links, it takes you to this page (click to enlarge)

The page looks like the real thing, but it's located in a .info domain. I did not try to download the application, but it's very likely that it will try to install a trojan or keylogger.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Fox goes the weasel

IceWeasel is a GNU browser (new, GNU, geddit?) based on Firefox distributed with Debian and Ubuntu Linux. Why does Ubuntu need a new browser, you may ask? As with so many things that have to do with the Free Software Foundation, it all comes down to their definition of free and to ethics. Apparently, Firefox has been included in Debian distributions as a fork not maintained by the Firefox Foundation. Firefox is fine with this, but they are not willing to have that fork identified with the Firefox trade mark. Fair enough, but this means that Firefox has had to enforce their trade mark against Debian. Because Ubuntu is a commercial distribution of Debian, it seems like this have prompted the popular Linux distro to switch to IceWeasel.

Unsurprisingly, this has prompted yet another free software v. open source blog flame war, with both sides making statements about the issue. I tend to be mostly on the open source camp, so I guess that I favour Firefox on this. I agree with some comments that accuse Debian's stance as hypocritical. Debian and Ubuntu both have trade marks, and they must know that you must defend your trade mark if you want to keep it (at least that's my understanding of American trade mark law).

Save the fox!

Friday, October 13, 2006

New internet defamation case

A woman in Florida has won $11.3 million USD (¢6 billion Costa Rican colones) in an online defamation case. Sue Scheff has a company called Parents Universal Resource Experts, which provides assistance to troubled teenagers. Scheff filed a defamation lawsuit in her State against a Louisiana woman who posted a message in an Internet message board for parents of troubled teens. Bock accused Scheff and her company of being "con artists", "crooks" and "frauds" who "exploited families" and placed them in "risky" and "possibly abusive" programs.

It seems like Bock presented no defence, so the punitive damages may be illusory. Should you care what you write on message boards? I doubt it, this seems to be an exceptional case. However, be careful next time you start a flame war, or decide to go trolling on a board.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Broken Net

Dire warnings about the future of the Internet from Nitin Desai, chair of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). According to Mr Desai, the web could be splintered in the not-so-far future into national firewalls, high-speed fiefdoms and limited consumer choice.

We have become used to the world-wide network where everyone supposedly has access to all resources, but if some national regulators and private enterprises have it their way, then the open web will not survive the next five years. Regulators in countries like Pakistan and China already have in place firewalls that filter all manner of content (including your truly's). Then there are the efforts by some telecommunication companies to have a two-tiered web via higher subscription charges. And to make things worse, news sources have started applying country-specific filtering to some news items that may initiate litigation.

John Perry Barlow's Independent Republic of Cyberspace looks more like an utopia than reality.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Google buys YouTube's lawsuits?

Unless you are living under a rock (or don't care about these sort of things), you will know that Google has purchased the popular video website YouTube for a staggering $1.65 billion USD (about £880 million GBP in real money).

Only The Guardian has picked up on one of the interesting implications of this purchase. Google may also be buying the very large copyright liability concerns that seem to follow YouTube. Back in July a journalist sued YouTube, a case that is ongoing. Analysts have indicated that YouTube's copyright position is quite strong, as it takes down content after complaints, and it also offers plenty of advice to its users on uploading copyright material. Despite these warnings, YouTube is filled with infringing material, from the latest clip from The Daily Show to commercials, news reports and documentaries. However, YouTube has managed to avoid litigation because it has yet to make any money, despite getting 100 million videos served per day. Now that Google owns it, it would be possible that copyright owners will be encouraged and file suits based on the fact that they may get some return.

Talking of the Daily Show, have a look at this clip on net neutrality.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Interoperability at work: Firefox and Vista

Ars Technica has a summary of the visit from a group of brave Hobbits (Firefox developers) who visited Mordor (Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond) to have a look at potential interoperability issues between The One Ring (Windows Vista) and Narya, one of the three Elf rings (Firefox). You can also find the entire account of this brave trip in There and Back Again, A Hobbit's Tale (Vladimir Vukićević's blog).

Boring technical stories are so much more fun with Lord of the Rings.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Game software patent upheld in Europe

(via Video Game Blog). The Board of Appeals of the European Patent Office has allowed a number of claims in a European patent application by games firm Konami (EP20060013875). The application is for a "Video game system and storage medium for storing program for use in the video game system". Not broad enough for you? I have read the abstract and some of the claims, and as far as I can make it, the claim is for a football game where the player can assign and store commands to pass the ball to the nearest available player, and the passing system can assign and display passing commands on screen. The claim is a triumph in patent gobbledygook, for example:

"...said guide displaying means further displays a pass guide mark (G3) accompanying another player character (P2) which belongs to the same team as said player character (P1) keeping said game medium (B) and to which said game medium (B) can most easily be passed from said player character (P1) keeping said game medium (B),"
So, passing the ball in-game is patentable. The application had been refused initially, but Konami appealed the decision and has won some claims. Firstly, the Board has agreed that there is no prior art for this application (I'm sure gamers reading this can come up with some examples). Secondly, the aspect of the technical nature of the "invention" is fulfilled by the fact that this is a solution to the limitations of gaming GUI, namely the fact that available players may not be visible as the player with the control plays the game normally. The Board believes that there is indeed a problem solved by the claim, namely:
"The aforementioned difference implies an enlarged size of the guide mark which avoids any risk of the mark being concealed by a neighbouring player character. Making a possibly concealed indicator clearly visible on a display screen to the user of an interactive video game does not exclusively address a human mental process (i.e. it is not exclusively determined by the cognitive meaning of the information presented) but contributes an objective technical function to the display. The functional quality is not cancelled by the fact that the visualised information will also enter into a decision of the user interacting with the video game displayed on the screen."
Words truly fail me. Aren't patents like these not supposed to be granted in Europe? Where is the technical effect in larger marks for football games?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Copyleft manual

Erick Iriarte from Alfa-Redi has forwarded a link to the Spanish book called "Manual del Copyleft". I have oly browsed its contents, but it looks quite impressive. It can be downloaded directly and it's released under a CC BY-SA licence (Reconocimiento-CompartirIgual 2.5 España).

Excellent online resource, particularly because there has been a marked absence of good reading material on open licences in the Spanish language.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

iTunes DRM cracked

Norwegian DVD Jon (aka Jon Lech Johansen) has done it again. While he had already cracked earlier versions of Apple's FairPlay DRM, there had not been releases for recent versions. His early crack, called FairKeys, was a crack that was used by Apple crack software such as JHymn, but it only worked on iTunes version 5 or earlier.

Now Jon has "reverse engineered" the current version of FairPlay, and according to several reports, he has been licensing the reversed engineered version to allow interoperability between players. This could potentially earn him a free trip to France, but I'm more interested in the potential legality of his actions, particularly considering that he now lives in the United States.

The DMCA (section 1201(f)) actually offers an exception for reverse engineering. This exception permits circumvention by a person who has lawfully obtained a right to use a copy of a computer program for the sole purpose of interoperability with other programs. Similar provisions exist in other legislation, such as the UK's CDPA, and of course in the 1991 European Software Directive. The question is then if Jon has obtained permission from Apple to reverse engineer Apple's DRM. If he has not, he could be in trouble as he would have circumvented an effective technological protection measure.

Thhis is good news for interoperability, but it could be bad news for DVD Jon.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Don't bet on online gambling

The U.S. Congress has voted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, the latest piece of legislation that attempts to put a leash on objectionable internet behaviour. As far as online regulation goes, this bill looks like the real thing. The Act makes sure that some existing criminal activities apply to ICTs, such as the internet and mobile device gambling. The problem as I understand with American gambling legislation is that it is strictly a state issue, but with the internet, the possibilities for inter-state online gambling increases. In short, this act tries to ban inter-state gambling through wireless devices.

While it has always been argued that it is difficult to regulate the international and inter-jurisdictional nature of the internet, the new Act tries some novel ways of achieving enforcement. If you cannot possibly attack the transactions as such, and if most providers are online, how can you stop the activity? Stop the payments! The Act prohibits "persons engaged in a gambling business from knowingly accepting credit, electronic fund transfers, checks, drafts, or similar financial instruments or the proceeds of any other financial transaction in connection with unlawful Internet gambling". By placing this prohibition, banks and credit card facility suppliers can block unlawful transactions, and they are awarded civil immunity in cases they block such a transaction.

I wonder how will banks know which transactions to block. My guess is that online gambling sites will start trying to mask their names in some ways. While I'm sceptical of the efficacy of this legislation, I beleive that this is the next generation in Internet regulation. Goverments of the world will indeed take heed of this move.

However, I found some parts of the legislation quite telling. The new Act excludes from the gambling definition activities such as securities exchanges. Gambling with cards is not kosher, but gambling with the stock market is OK.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Curious worm virus email

I have received a rather curious virus in my Inbox. The email reads:

Mail server report.
Our firewall determined the e-mails containing worm copies are being sent from your computer.
Nowadays it happens from many computers, because this is a new virus type (Network Worms).
Using the new bug in the Windows, these viruses infect the computer unnoticeably.
After the penetrating into the computer the virus harvests all the e-mail addresses and sends the copies of itself to these e-mail addresses
Please install updates for worm elimination and your computer restoring.

Best regards,
Customers support service
The file has an attachment, which I assume will contain the real virus. There are several elements that leads one to believe this is not real: the painful English, the dodgy zip attachment, the fact that it comes from, etc. However, I can imagine a better drafted email that would catch more people.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Shiny Happy People

What makes people happy? This is a difficult question, particularly when one considers that there is a growing trend in some policy circles to emphasise happiness as a goal, instead of concentrating efforts on making people richer. The BBC even broadcast a series looking at the new science of happiness.

So, if happiness is entering the realms of scientific research and policy-making, we have to determine how we can measure happiness, or even trying to determine if such thing is possible. Do you simply ask people? Organise surveys? Measure happy thoughts?

The Happy Planet Index attempts to do just that. While it doesn't measure absolute happiness, it "shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens". The top countries on the list are:

1 Vanuatu
2 Colombia
3 Costa Rica
4 Dominica
5 Panama

Vanuatu? This is a country famous for being a tax haven, hosting KaZaA and being the online pharmacy capital of the world. Internet hosting haven equals happiness? Well, maybe. Costa Rica is number three, and we are a gambling website hub.

Of course, I'm a bit depressed about these news, because while all my fellow Costa Ricans are having a happy time, I'm stuck in cold Edinburgh.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Limewire Strikes Back

LimeWire has replied to the RIAA suit against them with a countersuit. LimeWire has issued its answer to the plaintiff's claim, and have counter-sued. The document makes an interesting argument against the RIAA's anti-competitive practices. The main claim is that the RIAA has been operating as a cartel by promoting iMesh, which has been sanctioned as the only "legal" P2P service. As many other services, iMesh began life as the average illegal P2P service, but it is now one of the RIAA's most valued possessions. According to LimeWire, the music industry representatives operate as a competition-busting cartel, whose sole existence is to remove potential competitors from the market.

While the argument seems rather weak to me, I admit that I do not know enough of American anti-trust law to make an educated comment, so I am reduced to mindless cheering. Go LimeWire, Go!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Security breach in Second Life

The BBC reports on a serious security breach at Second Life, the popular virtual environment game thingy. According to a bulletin by Linden Labs, the makers of the game, they have expressed that: "Linden Lab reported today that it is notifying its community of a database breach, which potentially exposed customer data including the unencrypted names and addresses, and the encrypted passwords and encrypted payment information of all Second Life users. Unencrypted credit card information, which is stored on a separate database, was not compromised."

This is a serious development that could threaten the rapid rise of this game, particularly because Second Life is emerging as one of the most important virtual economies in the world, with a growing and vibrant market where people create and exchange all sorts of virtual content, from music to virtual clothing. It has such potential that it has even been featured in several business magazines, such as Business Week.

250 Linden Dollars (L$) will get you one US Dollar ($). Hey! That's a better exchange rate than the Costa Rican Colón!