Tuesday, February 28, 2006

D&D online

Online gaming is still making headway into the mainstream by the release of Dungeons & Dragons Online, the new version of the popular pen and paper game. It seems like the online gaming market is heating up, with other large role-playing games set for release soon in order to compete with market leaders World of Warcraft. But what does it all mean for the law?

Online trading is just one of the legal issues involved, with people selling some of their virtual goods at different market places. Online game intellectual property is also an interesting avenue to explore in the future, with some companies claiming ownership over the IP assessts created in-game. I believe that other legal issues will start to emerge soon, but one thing that has struck me is that the popularity of games has not prompted more legal suits or legal issues.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Attack of the patent trolls

The world's favourite patent troll, NTP, is back in court trying to bump Blackberry makers RIM Ltd. out of the market. Welcome to the wacky world of the American patent system, where innovators are punished for being first in the market while a patent shell company gets all their profits.

And if you think that is bad, consider U.S. Patent 7,000,180, a patent for "Methods, systems, and processes for the design and creation of rich-media applications via the internet". The abstract reads:

Rich-media applications are designed and created via the Internet. A host computer system, containing processes for creating rich-media applications, is accessed from a remote user computer system via an Internet connection. User account information and rich-media component specifications are uploaded via the established Internet connection for a specific user account. Rich-media applications are created, deleted, or modified in a user account via the established Internet connection. Rich-media components are added to, modified in, or deleted from scenes of a rich-media application based on information contained in user requests. After creation, the rich-media application is viewed or saved on the host computer system, or downloaded to the user computer system via the established Internet connection. In addition, the host process monitors the available computer and network resources and determines the particular component, scene, and application versions, if multiple versions exist, that most closely match the available resources.
In other words, this patent is so broad that it covers all sorts of rich-media formats that already exist online, such as Flash, Flex, Java and other rich internet applications. My concern is not only about the blackmail potential bargaining power awarded by this patent, but that it could affect some open source rich applications such as LZX.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

CAFTA safe?

I had previously commented that the result of the Costa Rican elections was close. After a recount of the votes, it seems like pro-CAFTA candidate and 1989 Nobel Peace prize winner Oscar Arias has won the election with a 1.1% margin. The final result has not been announced due to legal challenges about irregularities in some precincts, but it is almost a foregone conclusion that Arias has won.

Arias still faces a tremendous challenge to pass CAFTA ratification in congress, as he will not have complete majority in the legislative. Costa Rica is the only country not to have ratified CAFTA.

I am split in this. On the one hand I think that Arias is definitely the best candidate and should be president, and I think that CAFTA could be beneficial to the Costa Rican economy, but I am against the IP provisions in CAFTA, as I think that they will affect the generic market in Costa Rica and affect the public health system.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Copyright and access to knowledge

A new report on access to knowledge and the implementation of IP legislation in developing countries. The report is very critical of the adoption by developing countries of restrictive IP legislation, and it also criticises WIPO's draft legislation. The summary says:

Copyright and Access to Knowledge discloses that Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Thailand have all expanded the scope of copyright protection (i.e. the works to be protected and the rights accorded to copyright owners) beyond what is required by the international copyright treaties they have acceded to. In addition, they have not incorporated all the available limitations and exceptions that would have opened up access to knowledge.
More insidious however, is the legislative advice being provided by multi-lateral agencies such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). WIPO's advice to developing countries contained in its Draft Laws on Copyright and Related Rights does not take full advantage of all the flexibilities available under the various international copyright treaties.
One to read.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

GPL v4?

(Thanks to Raffaele for the link). With the development of the GPL v3 underway, an enterprising soul has launched a GPL v4 website to preempt the debate and allow Free Software enthusiasts to conduct proper flame wars on the subject of DRM and software patents. The site offers some amazing insights into the drafting process. For example, we are told that "[GPLv4] finally removes the word 'suckers' and is totally written in leetspeak." N347. We are also informed that the new licence will contain the ultimate software patent retaliation clause: "If somebody sues you, you [...] just hire a hit-man to whack the stupid git." The working draft of the new licence reads:

1. Thou Shalt Smite Thy Microsoftie
2. Thou Shalt Bow To Thy Benovolent Leader RMS Thy God And Have Ye No Other God Before Him
3. That Shalt Not Take the Name of GNU/Linux In Vain
4. Thou Shalt Mod Down the unholy SlashDot Troll, For He is an Abomination unto Thee
5. Thou Shalt Not Click on false Gmail Links
6. Thou Shalt Not Fall to the Evil Seductress BSD, for She is an Unrighteous Whore Unto Thee
7. Thou Shalt Close Thine Ears Upon Hearing the False Testimony of the SCO, the Lies of TCO, and the injustices of the CMDRTCO.
8. Thou Shalt Moderate this Post to the Heavens, That All The Earth May Know of the Great And Fearful GPL.
I'm not entirely sure about clause six, it's a bit harsh on BSD developers, and it makes compatibility difficult. I also prefer to keep the word 'Abomination' out of licences, it makes enforcement a matter of stoning people to death, and tends to involve lakes of fire and such.

Felten on CD DRM

Ed Felten has written an extensive report on the use of DRM on CDs. The report's conclusions are worthy of reproduction:

First, the design of DRM systems is driven strongly by the incentives of the content distributor and the DRM vendor, but these incentives are not always aligned. Where they differ, the DRM design will not necessarily serve the interests of copyright owners, not to mention artists.
Second, DRM, even if backed by a major content distributor, can expose users to significant security and privacy risks. Incentives for aggressive platform building drive vendors toward spyware tactics that exacerbate these risks.
Third, there can be an inverse relation between the efficacy of DRM and the user’s ability to defend the computer from unrelated security and privacy risks. The user’s best defense is rooted in understanding and controlling which software is installed on the computer, but many DRM systems rely on undermining the user’s understanding and control.
Fourth, CD DRM systems are mostly ineffective at controlling uses of content. Major increases in complexity have not increased their effectiveness over that of early schemes, and may in fact have made things worse by creating more avenues for attack. We think it unlikely that future CD DRM systems will do better.
Fifth, the design of DRM systems is only weakly connected to the contours of copyright law. The systems make no pretense of enforcing copyright law as written, but instead seek to enforce rules dictated by the label’s and vendor’s business models. These rules, and the technologies that try to enforce them, implicate other public policy concerns, such as privacy and security.
I tend to agree that non-transparent DRMs are a tremendous risk to the public. I am also highly sceptical that they work at all, those who are more likely to make copies will find it easier to circumvent the protection.

Monday, February 20, 2006

PowerPoint woes

I've just come back from an interesting conference at Windsor organised by Queen Mary Intellectual Property Institute, and part of European Intellectual Property Institutes Network (EIPIN). Some of the presentations got me thinking about the use of PowerPoint. I'm always using slides, and while I admit that I tend to use them on my own benefit, they can be over-used, or mis-used. In the words of Prof. Roger Brownsword, "Power corrupts, PowerPoint corrupts absolutely".

I plead guilty of torture by PowerPoint then, and inducing what is known as PowerPoint Poisoning.

Friday, February 17, 2006

No ripping says RIAA

(via IPKat) Put yourself in the shoes of an RIAA lawyer. What is it like to be you? The money must be good, but every check arrives with the certainty that everybody hates you. You are probably the type of person who goes to a dinner party and asks the host if their music collection is legitimate. Any burnt CDs? Wait, I'll get the FBI.

Now imagine the inner thoughts of this poor lawyer (figuratively speaking of course). The Grokster and Kazaa cases are over. You repeat to yourself that you've won, you're suing all those kids after all. Ahhh, life is good! But something is wrong, you have not been in the headlines recently. And what about all of those iPods? Everybody has an iPod! People are enjoying their music! How dare they? People should feel guilty for listening to music. What can you do? How can you make them feel guilty again?

First you declare that selling iPods without deleting all the files infringes copyright. Never mind exhaustion of rights. But that is not enough. You must now declare that ripping your own CDs so that you can upload them into your iPod is also infringing copyright if it is done without authorisation. Everything is better now.

Seriously though, it is good that the RIAA only has dominion over the United States, many other countries in the world allow private copying (even in an imperfect form). Yet another reason to move to Canada?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Windows Vista: DRM v security

More details about Windows Vista are coming out. While many aspects seem to be rather good, there will certainly some worries about some of the bundled features in the new version of Windows. One of the technologies that is making the blogosphere is the proposed BitLocker Drive Encryption. This seems to be hardware-based security solution that will allow users to lock their drives if they get lost. This would allow more security for business travelers from losing their laptops.

But the concern about this is that this may be used as the mother of all DRMs. Some of the security involved could be eventually used to lock access to certain software in the computer if the user does not produce adequate keys and passwords purchased from the vendor. This would mean ultimate control for content providers.

Would you choose better security for decreased control over your system?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Grid studies climate change

Distributed networking or grid computing has proven to be an excellent method of using idle processor time in computers around the world in order to crunch large chunks of data. This allows projects that would have to spend millions in buying top of the line computers to distribute the load with volunteer machines.

A new project is now being advertised by the BBC. This will look at climate change, and the potential effects of human action in the vastly complex global climate system. The system will appear in your computer as a screensaver.

Of course, the most famous grid computing project is SETI@home, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Google feeling the Chinese heat?

(Via Lenz Blog). Yet another web campaign against Google for their concession to the Chinese government. It seems to me that the technocracy has definitely fallen out of love with Google, and that Google-bashing is now as fashinable as hating Microsoft. I haven't fallen out of love with the search engine, but I will not be installing any software from them.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A blogger's family life

Latest issue of JIPL&P out

The latest issue of the Journal of Intelectual Property Law & Practice is now out, with an article from yours truly. Amongst the contents:

  • Jeremy Phillips - Delicate balance or creative conflict?
  • Rowan Freeland - Disclosure and enablement: the House of Lords clarifies the law on novelty
  • Nicola Isaacs - Should the UK adopt a European system for the registration of trade marks?
  • Sheldon H. Klein - Geico and Google settle trade mark/keyword advertising lawsuit
  • Julia Meuser -Lost opera, lost copyright
  • Andrew Fuller -Money for nothing and your MP3s for free
  • Marius Schneider and Olivier Vrins -The EU offensive against IP offences: should right-holders be offended?
  • Arnaud Folliard-Monguiral and Giuseppe Bertoli -Inter Partes Proceedings and the Reform of the Community Trade Mark Implementing Regulation
  • Jeremy Drew -Declaratory relief: don't be afraid to ask
  • Andrés Guadamuz González -The software patent debate
  • Alden F. Abbott and Suzanne Michel -Exclusion payments in patent settlements: a legal and economic perspective
  • Pat Treacy -Settlement Agreements: The European Perspective

Monday, February 13, 2006

WTO and GM

Biotechnology news now. A dispute panel at the WTO has ruled that European restrictions on GM imports contravene global trade rules. This dispute was initiated in 2003 by the United States (DS291), Canada (DS292) and Argentina (DS293), but I find it amusing that the press only is commenting how this is a victory by the United States. Read "America's masterplan is to force GM food on the world". What about that for a Guardian headline?

Anyway, the normal process started, consultations were followed by the setting up of a three-person dispute resolution panel. The panel was supposed to produce a report for the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) by March 2005. However, the report was continuously delayed, until it was announced last week that the EC had lost the dispute and that the report is favourable to the U.S., Canada and Argentina. The full report is still not available in the WTO site, so it is difficult to ascertain the arguments used. The EU still has the possibility to initiate an appeal, so this subject is far from over.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Beware of Google Desktop

EFF is asking computer users not to trust Google Desktop. In case you have never used it, Google Desktop is an application that allows you to use Google's indexing algorithms in your computer, letting you search your files and emails. It is a very useful application, particularly when you want to navigate large number of files and emails to find information. However, I have always been concerned about who has access to the files. With new features, some of the indexes will be stored in Google. This is indeed worrying. While I cannot think of anything in my computer that I would deem sensitive, the idea of my emails and files stored in Google's servers makes me uneasy. What stops them from searching through the files to make direct marketers aware of my tastes?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Linux could still adopt GPL v3

In an interesting twist to the GPLv3 story, Richard Stallman has mentioned that Linus has no say in what happens to the Linux kernel, and that the kernel developers are the ones who will decide over the licence. According to Linux-watch, the developers are split over the point. Another interesting point made in the article is that the problem is not really about DRMs, as previously reported, but that the problem is about the provision of making private keys available, present in paragraph 1 of the draft.

I must say that I am a bit surprised by the statement. As far as I know, Linus owns the trade mark to Linux, and he also owns the copyright of the Linux kernel, even if there are plenty of developers who work on it. After all, the GPL can only work if someone owns the copyright. This would pose an interesting question, what if the majority of kernel developers decide to move to GPLv3, and Linus does not? He can impose his view as he owns the copyright. Would developers release their own GPLv3 kernel? Would some of them sue Linus because they have contributed to the kernel?

I do not like what is happening. In my opinion GPLv3 has made things worse by splitting the non-proprietary community.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The future is digital

Several interesting news coming from the digital front. According to p2pnet, another study from media company Big Champagne indicates that P2P networks now boast over 9.6 million users, experiencing a steady increase despite RIAA and IFPI suits. The level of animosity against the music industry because of these actions is reaching a high level. But what makes things worse is that the RIAA is not targeting the largest sharers, they target normal people. The uber-hackers can mask their presence by the use of proxies and offshore VPN.

Similarly, legal downloads are on the increase. According to Big Champagne, more people buy music online than they do CDs. This is a tremendous shift in purchasing patterns, as more and more people rely on their iPods and digital players. Will the CD go the way of the tape?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

CAFTA in peril

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is today in problems as the Costa Rican elections are on a virtual tie. With 88% of the votes counted, the difference between pro-CAFTA candidate Oscar Arias and anti-CAFTA candidate Otton Solís is only 3250 votes, with Arias narrowly on the lead. It is thought that the result will be announced in two weeks, but analysts think that Arias is likely to win as the remaining districts are mostly in the peripheral provinces (Limón, Puntarenas and Guanacaste), where Arias has a clear advantage. Arias is also going to have a majority in the Legislative, but not a total majority.

CAFTA is of interest because it is considered a TRIPS-plus agreement, one of the bilateral trade treaties negotiated by the US that enhance the protection of TRIPS in the contracting parties. This protection includes more restrictive anti-circumvention procedures, limitation of patent exceptions, erosion of compulsory licences, and generally more rather than less IP.

Although I do not like CAFTA's TRIPS-plus provisions, the agreement is needed in order to maintain the important American trade market open. It is unfortunate that IP is included in these treaties.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Standing up to the RIAA

Bringing infringing suits against consumers is a bad idea. This seems to be the message of Canadian music publisher Nettwerk. 15-year-old Elisa Greubel's dad got sued by the RIAA for having 600 songs in their computer, alleging specifically infringement for 8 songs. Elisa contacted some artists, where she mentioned that "I'm not saying it is right to download but the whole lawsuit business is a tad bit outrageous." Hear, hear.

Anyway, Nettwerk artists Avril Lavigne and MC Lars were contacted, and Nettwerk got involved, they will pay the legal fees as well as the fines if the Greubel family loses the case.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

IP Comics

"By day a film maker... by night she fights for Fair Use!"

This is 'Bound By Law', a new comic book by the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University. It is drawn by Keith Aoki and written by James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins. In the comic, our heroine Kaiko fights the "Rights Monster" and learns about copyright and fair use.

The comic is designed to appeal to documentary filmmakers and help them to navigate copyright law and fair use doctrine in the United States in easy to use snippets. Boiling down complex jurisprudential issues in three lines. It sounds like a challenge!

I would like to see something like this in the UK, but picking an adequate topic would be tricky. Software patents perhaps? Tobby the Patent Troll versus the valiant Armoured Penguins? Big Blue and Big Mic attack the EPO Fortress?

I guess that Marvel Comics won't be knocking on my door anytime soon.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Return of the Lara

One of Britain's most iconic copyright exports is back. The new Lara Croft game will be released soon by British gaming giant EIDOS.

How much of Britain's economy relies on Lara? Perhaps not much on Lara specifically, but the UK is increasingly relying on copyright exports. 5% of all of the UK's exports originate from the creative industries, while they make 4.5% of the economy. The success of games like Tomb Raider are vital for the economy. The creative industries pay well and help the international trade balance. So go out (or in actually) and game for your country!

However, I am rather worried about a new wave of Lara cosplay. Unfortunately, any rise in Tomb Raider's popularity is always followed by sightings of people emulating Lara Croft. There are the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Intrigued by cosplay? This video may provide some education. Gamers having fun.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Linux kernel will not use GPLv3

It seems like the final break between open source and free software is about to take place. Linus Torvalds has declared that the Linux kernel will not be released using GPLv3, but that it will continue to use version 2. The dispute is the controversial prohibition on the use of Digital Rights Management found in section 3 of the licence. Linus has commented that the new GPL would require people to give control of their private keys, which he will not do.

This should come as no surprise to those who follow open source debates. Back in 2003 Linus had already expressed that he thought some DRMs were useful. I believe that he was talking about the distinction between DRM and technical protection measures. There are already open source projects like Authena that intend to allow artist control, while at the same time provide users the tools to use DRM to monitor and track their works. Remember, DRM is a very broad term, and things like licence management can be considered in that light.

A line has been drawn. Will DRM be the end of the GPL? That would be ironic. I tend to be more on the open source side, I've never been a Stallmanite, and I believe that there are serious problems with the existing draft.