Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Commons creative utopia?

It has been a good week for creativity based on open licences and Creative Commons. Firstly, there have been glowing reviews about the amazing creative display that encompasses the first "open" animation, a lovely little film called Elephants Dream (I know, it looks weird without the apostrophe). Then there is the amazing BloodSpell, a machinima animated series. I've watched the first episode, and all I can only say is WOW! Well done to the people at Strange Company!

Both works are distributed under Creative Commons licences, which serves to prove that creativity and free culture can co-exist. There are those who assume that the creative process only occurs if there is a promise of a fat cheque as a benefit. This is true of a lot of people, but not all. Some creators will share their work with no regard to profit, at least until the first industry executive makes THAT phone call and then you sell out for a limo and a mob of adoring groupies. But I digress.

More good news for the open movement is that the BBC has released more content online using the Creative Archive licence. I know that many people do not consider the Creative Archive a true open project because it is available only within the UK, but things like the amazing Open Earth Archive can only benefit the commons.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Firefox in the news

Get FirefoxThe Daily Telegraph has published an article on why Firefox is stealing market share from Internet Explorer. Being a sticker-carrying Firefox evangelist (yes, I also own a Firefox t-shirt), I am surprised at the growing importance of the browser. I believe that people are finally realizing that IE is very vulnerable to virus and security attacks, while Firefox is more secure.

Something that still bothers me though is the large number of websites that do not test for browser compliance. Firefox will simply not load some pages properly because their designers only check their functionality in IE, ignoring the growing minority of Firefox users. Thankfully, there is a Firefox plugin called IE Tab, which opens Internet Explorer as a tab within Firefox and allows you to view pages without having to open the other browser.

Firefox is not only a better product, it is seen as "cool"by the geeky techno-elite tribe. According to the article, Firefox is making a profit thanks to Google ad income (and I'm sure that they must be making some money from t-shirts). The profit aspect may affect Firefox's street-cred and coolness currency, something not lost on the team:

"We have a user base of 40m to 50m people, who use our product as their -primary way of participating on the web," [Mitchell Baker] says. "That means we have a set of responsibilities and activities that we must conduct to be a responsible vendor - whether it is cool or not."
The fact that the Telegraph has published this article may also steal coolness from Firefox. What next? Endorsement from the Daily Mail? *shudders*

Monday, May 29, 2006

Freedom of expression campaign online

Amnesty International is starting a campaign in favour of freedom of expression online. The organisation claims that there is growing governmental control over blogs, chat rooms and websites where governments try to re-assert their control over cyberspace, and more importantly, about criticisms exercised in the vast virtual world.

The best part of the campaign is that one can copy and paste a small applet into the site which will publish random censored material in one's work. The code can be found here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Is the EU scrapping software patents?

I have been surprised by the coverage given to a small comment by a member of the EU Commission with regards to a question with regards to software patents. The full answer from the Commission can be found here. Most of the press reports are inaccurate, as usual. Yours truly will endeavour to cut through the falsehoods to get to the heart of the story.

For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the European software patent debate, computer programs as such are not patentable subject matter in the EU, but the Board of Appeals of the European Patent Office (EPO) has repeatedly ruled that software which has a technical effect can be an invention, and therefore patentable. Many of the press reports have stated that the EPO Board of Appeals rulings with regards to software patents are not binding to member states of the EU. To me this is obvious because the EPO is NOT an EU institution, and the EPO board of Appeals rulings are binding only to the EPO. However, the Office's practice has been applied in several national cases, particularly by courts in the UK.

As far as I can decipher the comment by the European Commission, the status quo would not change with the establishment of a European Community Patent. There is a new European Regulation being discussed that will create a "Community Patent", but this new figure will be administered by the EPO. In my opinion, the new regulation would mostly "legitimise" the status of the EPO, it does not work against the existing system, but parallel to it. One of the important provisions of the existing Patent Convention (the one that gives power to the EPO), is that it has a provision which excludes patentability on some Fields of endeavour, software included (Article 52). From the comment, the Commission is only stating that the existing exclusion will be carried into the Community Patent Regulation. This was already on the cards as far as I'm aware, so I'm a bit surprised by all the excitement.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Machinima project under CC-Scotland

We have received this email from Hugh Hancock, forwarded by Prof. Hector MacQueen:

Just thought you might be interested to hear about what I suspect is the largest Creative Commons project in Scotland, if not the UK as a whole.

BloodSpell is an independent animated series, made using Machinima technology, which we're releasing entirely under Creative Commons. It's the product of more than 10,000 man-hours and three years of work, and will, when it's completed, be a feature-length animated project.

We're already getting a fair chunk of press attention for the project, too, including SFX, the Guardian, and CNN.

You can check it out at - hope you like it!
Excellent use of Machinima and CC! A marriage made in digital heaven.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Open Source in Europe report out

The Consortium for studying, evaluating, and supporting the introduction of Open Source software and Open Data Standards in the Public Administration (COSPA) has made available a series of documents and resource listings of open source, open data and open standards tools and projects in Europe. I'm in Spain this week but I will read as soon as I get a decent connection. This seems like an impresive resource for those interested in OSS in the public area.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Synthetic Biology webcast today

(Thanks to Jean-Pierre Wack for the link). This is a link to a conference taking place this week on synthetic biology. Arti Rai will from Duke's Centre for he Public Domain will speak on "Synthetic Biology: Caught Between Property Right, the Public Domain, and the Commons". It seems like this is webcast only and not a podcast.

Symantec sues Microsoft

One of the main arguments against software patents is that it reduces innovation and generates unnecessary litigation. Microsoft has been suffering considerably from software patent litigation, perhaps because they are the largest and juiciest target for patent trolls and for patent owners interested in reducing MS market power.

Symantec is suing Microsoft in order to obtain an injunction to stop development of Windows Vista, as they claim that Gates & Co are using Veritas storage technology, for which Symantec owns the patents obtained from tech company called, unsurprisingly, Veritas.

Hopefully, the software development scene will become so difficult to navigate that large companies will lobby for reform of the American patent system. If you want to have a look at the picture is in Europe, you can read this article here *cough*shamelss plug*cough*.

Friday, May 19, 2006

High-tech cheats

In my youth, cheating used to be done by whispers and written notes in cuffs (I'm aware that makes me sound ancient). Nowadays, cheats have embraced new technologies. There is the case of the student that loaded all the notes in their palm pilot. Another one that photographed the questions with their mobile phone, sent them to friends outside via MMS, and got the answers to the questions. In another test, a student dictated the notes into his iPod and listened to them during the exam.

If they spent the same time studying, they wouldn't need all the technology. They just don't make students like they used to.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Computer Law Conference registration

The site for the VI Computer Law World Conference has been updated. The registration is now open, and there is a list of accepted papers, some accomodation information and other assorted goodies.

Come to Edinburgh this September and enjoy a top level and truly global conference.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

WIPO Advisory Committee on Enforcement: Day 3

After two days of presentations by governments and industry the last day begins with discussion on how the ACE should proceed. Different groups take the floor to make suggestions for the next agenda.

CPTECH has taken the floor and offered a sobering message that there should be care with regards to what is considered "counterfeiting", and warnings against DRM.

Friends of development: Enforcement should be considered in the broadest sense and in light with development goals, seeking balance of rights. Development should be in the next agenda, particularly technology transfer.

European Union: Austrian representative speaks as they are holding the EU presidency. The EU is extremely interested in acting against counterfeiting.

Canada: Supports more empirical research about the effects on piracy and counterfeiting. Must fill methodological gaps, ACE could fulfill this role.

Brazil: Costs of enforcing IP in developing countries should not surpass the benefits of IP. Biopiracy should be included in enforcement.

Australia: Supports methodological research, and welcomes further discussion on the issue of border control.

Mexico: Again supports methodology efforts on how to measure infringement and piracy. Seems like we have unanimity!

Ecuador: Supports that ACE should look into biopiracy.

United States: So-called "biopiracy" does not fall into the mandate of enforcement. This is subject for the IGC and the Council of TRIPS.

OECD: They have been studying and researching on the eocnomic impacts of piracy and counterfeiting.

IFPI: Supports only border control measures.

It seems like a deadlock in the meeting, the U.S. and the Friends of Development cannot even agree on the subjects for the next event! Are all WIPO gatherings like this? After closed-door talks trying to get everyone together, it has been decided that the next ACE meeting will be an exchange of ideas and views on coordination and cooperation on international enforcement. This seems like a very bland compromise indeed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

WIPO Advisory Committe on Enforcement: Day 2

It may be because this is an enforcement meeting, but the feeling in the meeting is pretty much pro-owner. Seems like everybody is singing from the same sheet (with very few exceptions). The rhetoric seems to be quie stronger against all sorts of piracy. Some noteworthy comments:

Malaysia: Counterfeiters must end behind bars! Strong hand, Malaysian government practically equates piracy with counterfeiting.

Barbuda: IP enforcement is difficult because of lack of resources.

Brazil: Enforcement with a social face. Police enforcement is followed by concise education policies. A very cool-looking campaign against piracy has been followed by price-reduction, which has been well-received by the public.

Comments to the Brazilian efforts: A lot of favourable comments to public/private partnerships to reduce prices.

IFPI: Price reduction will not work because prices are set by markets, not by regulators or NGOs.

Interpol: Police intervention for cross-border smuggling of conuterfeits.

Spain: Two-pronged approach, spearating enforcement issues between copyright and industrial property. Piracy is not only what is illegal and/or criminal, it is the culture and attitude of infringement.

Australia: Copyright legislation is being reviewed, looking at exceptions to allow for time-shifting, on-site offences and more serious offences. Australia does a lot of work with industry. How do you measure the effect of infringement? Trying to unify methodology on this issue.

Switzerland: Counterfeiting is bad. Public-private partnerships work.

eBay v MercExchange ruling

The long-awaited U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding the patent dispute between eBay and MercExchange has finally been decided.

This case is of importance because it rules on the strength of the injunction power awarded to patent holders in the United States. In this particular case, MercExchange held business method patents with regards to software search agent and fixed-price listing patents, and tried to get licences from eBay. When this failed eBay was sued and was found to be willfully infringing the patent, and they were subjet to an injunction that threatened to shut down part of the service.

eBay is objecting to the patent, which I hope they get. I mean, how much more generic can you get than getting a patent on selling stuff at a fixed price? However, eBay petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide on the issue of injunctive power. In the States, patent holders have considerable power to shut down infringers through injunctions, something that became evident with the Blackberry case. eBay has just won the case, which will make it more difficult for patent trolls to affect established businesses. The ruling states:

The traditional four-factor test applied by courts of equity when considering whether to award permanent injunctive relief to a prevailing plaintiff applies to disputes arising under the Patent Act. That test requires a plaintiff to demonstrate: (1) that it has suffered an irreparable injury; (2) that remedies available at law are inadequate to compensate for that injury; (3) that considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity is warranted; and (4) that the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction. The decision to grant or deny such relief is an act of equitable discretion by the district court, reviewable on appeal for abuse of discretion.
Patent trolls beware.

Monday, May 15, 2006

WIPO Enforcement Meeting: Day 1

This is my first time at WIPO and Geneva, the experience as been extremely interesting, seeing at first-hand how an international organisation works. The place is very clean and sanitised, it does feel very multicultural, I have never heard so many languages spoken in hallways. Then there are the international organisations, the EU and right at the back there are the observers, NGOs and industry representatives. The first part of the meeting is for countries to make comments about their enforcement strategies. Here are some highlights from the interventions:

Nigeria: Serious problems in Nigeria with regards to widespread organised counterfeiting of drugs and pharmaceuticals.

Sri Lanka and Romania: Heavy governmental and official involvement in enforcement.

United States: Enforcement and development are intrinsically linked, and this should be recongised in the WIPO development agenda.

China: Moving forward in IP protection through education and serious police enforcement.

Lebanon: This is not a developing country issue, it is a global issue. Some price-reduction initiatives could help curb piracy! Investment and loss of revenues in developing countries are of relevance.

South Africa: Criminal enforcement has been the most important aspect of IP policy for the South African government.

Serbia & Montenegro: Heavy spending on enforcement does not equate a noticeable reduction in infringement and counterfeiting. Seems like some institutions are expecting too much from recipient countries, as there are no resources to implement some of the enforcement ideas. Resources should be allocated intelligently.

Chile: Responding to an assertion that real property and intellectual property stealing are hte same, the representative from Chile made an excellent comment that they are not because IP is non-rivalrous.

Brazil: This was the most interesting part of the day. IP should change to protect against other types of infreingment, such as biopiracy. There should be more social inclusion and WIPO should provide aternative manners of protection. So far, represive measures are implemented without any consideration to factual evidence, this is provided by the IP industries.
Setting "enforcement" standards would give "some" countries the power to indict others by their own interpretation of IP law.
Everybody knew what they meant, and at the end of the meeting the American representative stormed in to have a long chat with the Brazilians.

Saudi Arabia: question about internatinal enforcement of file-sharing. Which law applies? I almost raised my hand and went "I know! I know!"

European Commission: Proposed new directive on enforcement (some of us knew about that).

ALAI: Former representative of SGAE. Piracy is the greatest scourge to musicians and artists.

Now off to a reception to network.

WIPO Advisory Committee on Enforcement

I am representing Alfa - Redi at the 3rd meeting of the WIPO Advisory Committee on Enforcement. This is my first time at WIPO, and it is proving to be quite an interesting and eye-opening experience on how international institutions actually work.

I will be blogging more details as they happen. So far we have heard from representatives from Romania, Nigeria and Sri Lanka on their efforts to enforce intellectual property. Most of the enforcement efforts seem to be directed against counterfeiting.

Alfa - Redi has observer status, so I am sitting right at the back of the large room. First there are member states, then other international organisations, and then the observers.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Open Source Car

(Thanks to Burkard for the link). Do you ever ask yourself WWLD (What Would Linus Drive?) Meet OScar, the first open source car project. Can open source ideals be brought to design and eventually manufacture a car? The people at the OScar project think they can. They are bringing together designers, drivers and assorted technical people to create the first open source car. All the design contributions are from volunteers, and all the documentation is openly shared via the website. All aspects of the project are discussed in the forums, from the engine of choice to how many wheels should it have. It seems counter-intuitive to try to get a car designed by committee, but it could work.

I do have several questions being the unimaginative lawyer that I am. What licence will it be released under? Maybe a new licence is in order, what about the General Public Transport Licence? The Mobility Public Licence? Can the car be copyleft? Will it turn right? Will Stallman approve? After all, it is not the Free Software Car, is it?

Joking aside, this seems like a great idea and I wish them the best of luck. I don't own a car, but if I did, it would be an OScar.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Software and biotech patent reform

A report for the U.S. Congress takes on the problems present in software and biotechnology patents, and makes some recommendations for reform. The report concludes:

The multiplicity of patents involved in computer-related products has resulted in the extensive use of cross licensing in these industries such that one commentator argues: “licensing of software patents has become an industry unto itself.” Instead of promoting innovation, some experts maintain that the ownership of intellectual property has become an obstacle to the development and application of new ideas. The expansion in the number of patents associated with software is a consequence of the changes in patent law that make these patents easier to obtain, rather than an indication of increased innovative activity. There are indications, according to Bessen and Hunt, that patents are being substituted for increases in R&D. The substitution occurs in industries that patent strategically but not in other sectors. The propensity to patent software appears to be related to the utilization of the software by companies rather than to the R&D resources expended in developing the product. This is of interest because a rationale behind the patent system is that it provides incentives for the additional investments necessary to bring a product to the marketplace.
A breath of fresh air in patent policy?

Code Breakers

BBC World is broadcasting a two-episode documentary called Code Breakers about the use of open source software in developing countries to avoid becoming Microsoft client states and to help "bridge" the digital divide.

BBC World is simulcasted online (but it's not available within the UK), so if anyone know of a torrent available, just drop me a line. The episodes will be broadcast:

Episode One
Friday 12 May 16:30 GMT
Monday 15 May 01:30 and 07:30 GMT

Episode Two
Wednesday 17 May 19:30 GMT
Thursday 18 May 09:30 GMT
Friday 19 May 16:30 GMT
Monday 22 May 01:30 and 07:30 GMT

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Your console speaks

(via The Guardian). Big Brother is watching you. Actually, Microsoft is watching your Xbox 360, and getting all sort of gaming stats from their users about the amount of time they spend online, what games they are using and how much do they spend in each one. This information is then relayed to Microsoft in XML format as a "Gamer Card". Privacy rights advocates can pause here to have a heart attack.

What is perhaps scarier is that some people are using an online service to show this information to the world. is a blog created by the Xbox, telling the world what their owner has been up to. It can be sort of cute. Some Xbox posts:
- Overburdened didn't play any games yesterday... big loser...

- WhitePhantom87 likes to game, I like to game, this is a match made in heaven! It takes a gamer score like 4361 to be as cool as him. He played G.R.A.W., PGR 3, DEAD OR ALIVE 4, and almost cried with joy. I have that affect on people.

- Good thing I have access to Major Nelson's entire MP3 collection streamed off his computer. It keeps me busy on days like yesterday when he never shows up to game.

- Pick it, pack it fire it up, come along, lets get Karl89's gaming on! Gamer score is 2338. He played Battlefield 2: MC, and laughed with joy and glee the whole time. I like making people happy.
Weird? Creepy? The surveillance society gone mad? You decide.

UPDATE: The Xbox360 does have privacy settings.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Podcasters of the world, unite and take over

Creative Commons has released their Podcasting guide, which strangely enough, provides legal advice for podcasters. This guide applies only to American law, so its relevance for us outside of the land of stars and stripes will be limited, but it still contains some valuable tidbits and a lot of links to other resources.

One of the most useful resources is a link to the instructions on how to embed CC metadata to your mp3s. Only do this if you actually own the mp3, do not try this with pirated copies.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hack NASA, hunt for UFOs

Some people may remember Gary McKinnon, the British system administrator who was arrested in 2002 for hacking into NASA, the American Department of Defense and the U.S. Airforce. McKinnon has been convicted in absentia in the United States for those offenses, and he is back in the news as he is fighting his extradition and wants to be tried in the UK under the Computer Misuse Act. However, reports at the time failed to disclose his motives, why would anyone hack into NASA? In a new interview for the BBC, McKinnon finally answers the question: he was looking for evidence of the existence of UFOs.

Perhaps the most serious point of the interview is the fact that McKinnon was not that much of a hacker, he simply designed a PERL script that hunted for systems in NASA and the military that had blank administrator passwords, and allowed him to gain control over those machines. He claims to have found thousands of compromised machines in this way. It seems like this is a common vulnerability, and Windows XP Pro users are particularly open to certain attacks. After watching the interview, I checked my services, and lo and behold, my administrator password was blank, and my Remote Registry service was indeed turned on! My system could be a zombie and I would not know it.

Besides the interesting issues of computer security and defense intelligence, what we all really wanted to know was if he did find any evidence for UFOs. McKinnon claims he did find pictures of artifacts that could not be human (I never know how UFO believers can identify what is human and what is not). He claimed that he could not obtain any evidence of this because he was caught while downloading an image, and he did not think of hitting the PrintScreen button. Yes, you heard correctly, this masterful hacker is going to jail, and he forgot to printout his evidence.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Requiem for the sui generis Database Right?

(Via Andrew Adams) The long-awaited report on the European Database right has now been issued. The study provides some very strong evidence against the right, as it seems that database production in Europe has actually decreased since its implementation, while production in the United States for the same period, and without having a right, has increased. The report says:

"The second problem with the “sui generis” right is that its economic impact on database production is unproven. Introduced to stimulate the growth of databases in Europe, the new instrument has had no proven impact on the production of databases. According to the Gale Directory of Databases, the number of EU-based database “entries” was 3095 in 2004 as compared to 3092 in 1998 when the first Member States had implemented the “sui generis” protection into national laws. More significantly, the number of database “entries” dropped just as most of the EU-15 Member States had implemented the Directive into national laws in 2001. In 2001, there were 4085 EU-based “entries” while in 2004 there were only 3095."
The report offers four different policy options, and the arguments in their favour:

Option 1: Repeal the whole Directive
Option 2: Withdraw the “sui generis” right
Option 3: Amend the “sui generis” provisions
Option 4: Maintaining the status quo

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Digital Radio: nice idea, shame about the fees

This is an excellent article in The Guardian by Wendy Grossman. The problem of webcasting and collecting agencies is gathering momentum as there is a meeting this week in Geneva at WIPO, where member states are negotiating the inclusion of webcasting and simulcasting into a new treaty on the protection of broadcasting organisations. Robin Gross of IP Justice has written a look at the proposals; and Pedro Canut has a detailed blog report of the meeting (in Spanish).

This is a difficult issue because it deals with the already complicated landscape of collecting agencies, but it is further entangled by the international aspect of webcasts and simulcasts. In most countries, radio stations have to pay license fees for broadcasting over the radio waves, with the exception of the United States, where radio playtime is considered promotion (a system that I personally like). The problem with webcasts is that collecting agencies are national, while the data could be listened in countries where there is no agreement, and where the station may not be licensed to broadcast. This generates a complex regulatory situation where there is no agreement with regards to how to solve it at international level. WIPO believes that this can be fixed with an international treaty, but the disagreement shown at the meeting in WIPO would lead me to believe that this may not happen.

I think that this could be an area for self-regulation. The problem is about the many (and often competing) collecting agencies. Perhaps they should sort their own house first.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Deep linking. Again.

Are deep links legal? Deep links are outgoing hyperlinks that do not lead to the front page of the hosting website. You may ask, what is the problem? That is how the Internet works, right? Initially, you would be right, as deep links were defeated in earlier copyright cases such as Ticketmaster v Microsoft and the famous Scottish case Shetland Times.

While the issue of deep links seems to have been solved for many years, I have been noticing that there seems to be a resurrection of deep links threats by commercial operators. It seems counter-intuitive to believe that the Web can operate without hyperlinks, and that in a lawyerly heaven we all need to ask permission to link into a page. However, there may be cases where companies may want to argue that incoming links deep within their sites is copyright infringement in some way or another. Witness the case reported in The Register, where Apple objected to a link posted in an online discussion forum to the PDF of the MacBook Pro manual. Their reason? Their email explains that:

"The Service Source manual for the MacBook Pro is Apple's intellectual property and is protected by U.S. copyright law. Linking to the manual on your website is an infringement of Apple's copyrights. We therefore must insist that you immediately take all necessary steps to remove the Service Source manual and any other Apple copyrighted material from your site and to prevent further unauthorized use or distribution of Apple intellectual property."
How can Apple even claim that linking to their manual is infringing their copyright? The problem is that the law has changed since the young and naive days of Ticketmaster and Shetland Times. I'm afraid that Andrew Orlowski is yet again wrong (I'm losing count of the times he has misrepresented the law in his Register reports). The WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) created a "new" right given to copyright owners called "making available to the public". Owners will have the exclusive right of "making available to the public of their works in such a way that members of the public may access these works from a place and at a time individually chosen by them." Looking at some of the letters from owners, it seems like some lawyers believe that this right includes deep linking.

I completely disagree for many reasons. Firstly, the author has already made the work available to the public, what the referring page is doing is telling other people how to reach the work via a link; the work is already available online in a place and time chosen by the owner. Secondly, there seems to be a reductio ad absurdum in the argument against deep links, as it would render the internet inoperable, and almost every single website in the world would be infringing copyright, opening the gates for unlimited claims by everyone against everyone else. If this argument held, bookmarks, favourites and search engine results would be infringing as well.

There has been a successful deep linking case after the two mentioned, and this is the Danish case of Danish Newspaper Publishers' Association v Newsbooster. The case was that a news service called Newsbooster was linking and extracting paragraphs from Danish newspapers. This is different to the above argument for several reasons, but in this case the court ruled not under copyright, but based on the European Database right, ruling that the links consisted of unlawful extraction of data.

I think that this is still an open legal question, but I am highly sceptical of the copyright argument. By the way, the forum in the Apple case has changed the link since then, evidence that threatening letters work.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Virtual money in the real world

Complicated publicity stunt or new economic model? As previously reported, there is growing economic importance in virtual worlds and MMORPGs. Players make virtual money from selling loot and goods within game. The in-game economics can be complex and involve all sorts of new assumptions about value, and warrant studies on the phenomenon.

The next logical step for the growing online economy is to make a jump from virtual value into the real markets. Online players can acquire goods and currency from the game, and then these goods can be converted into "real" money via auction sites or specialised sellers. There is enough of a market that it has prompted "farming" of experience and items by virtual sweatshops in developing countries.

Now the game Project Entropia has gone one step further. Following a similar model to Second Life, the game can be downloaded and played for free, but you can only experience certain aspects of the game by spending online currency, and the easiest way of doing this is to purchase credits and online property with "real" money. People have spent up to $100,000 US Dollars (USD) for online property. The game allows advertising and selling of real world services, such as videos and music. But what makes Project Entropia different is that you can now obtain a cashcard to withdraw your online credit and spend it in real life! With the exchange rate running at 10 Project Entropia Dollars (PEDs) to 1 USD, this has real economic value. The game gives something called a PED card, which in theory can be used at ATMs around the world.

I would like to see details of the credit agreement. I have noticed that Mindark (the makers of the game) is a Swedish company, and that their end-user agreement is subject to Swedish law. Will Mindark have to apply to be considered an electronic money institution according to European Law?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Open standards, open source and open innovation

I have finished reading a report by the Committee for Economic Development, which has membership from representatives from IBM, GE and Citigroup (not precisely a group of leftie pinko liberals). Their report is entitled Open Standards, Open Source, and Open Innovation: Harnessing the Benefits of Openness. The report is considerably in favour of open standards in the information and communication technology field. They point out that open standards have proven themselves, with the largest and most important example being the Internet. "Closed" proprietary standards benefit a few and increase costs of entry into the market. The report is also in favour of open source software.

To me the most interesting concept is that of open innovation. This is not only software, but any sort of innovative process that operates by peer-development and online non-proprietary collaboration. The vast range of resources available online, be it Wikipedia, open access, open science, open courseware, provide a new collaborative environment that fosters innovation. The report recommends that such efforts should be publicly funded, but more importantly, they call for a limit to stronger IP protection. They say that "...the Council recommends that any legislation or regulation regarding intellectual property rights be weighed with a presumption against the granting of new rights. The burden of proof should be on proponents of new rights to demonstrate with rigorous analysis the necessity of such an extension, because of the benefits to society of further innovation through greater access to technology."

How refreshing.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Blogging for fun and promotion

(via Legal Theory Blog). I have been reading some of the reports by Lawrence Solum from the symposium Bloggership: How Blogs are Transforming Legal Scholarship from Harvard's Berkman Centre.

It seems like this was a very successful event, with an impressive arrange of thought-provoking papers about academy, lawyering and blogs. I have been reading Solum's excellent paper Blogging and the Transformation of Legal Scholarship, and I thoroughly agree that blogging has the potential to change the way in which legal research is done. American academics are definitely more open to the interaction between Google Scholar, blogs and SSRN to bring about a much more vibrant and updated type of scholarship. Here in the UK, legal and academic blogs seem to be the realm of a determined minority, while on the other side of the Atlantic you cannot be a cyber-professor if you don't have a blog.

Another paper that caught my eye is Blogging While Untenured and Other Extreme Sports by Christine Hurt and Tung Yin. Loads of fun, but it has a serious point. Blogging is a worthwhile effort for researchers, particularly if you blog in the same area in which you are researching. It has several advantages, such as finding out the latest legal developments as they take place, but it also serves as a networking tool. Having had some few invitations to give talks based on people stumbling this blog, I have to agree about the possibilities.

However, how many opportunities have I missed precisely because somebody read my blog?

Firefox awards fan videos

How do you promote an open source browser if you have no money for glitzy marketing? Organise a competition and let the fan's originality do the job. Firefox has awarded fan videos entered into their Flick competition. First prize went for Daredevil, an ad about a surfing 12 year-old. The second prize went to the popular "Wheee!"

By the way, the thrid browser is Safari, the OS X browser based on Konqueror code.