Friday, June 27, 2008

Icann? Yes we can!

The large meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in Paris has produced a ground-breaking overhaul to the domain name system the likes of which have not been seen before. The main step taken was to internationalise the domain name system to allow for non-Romanic characters, such as Cyrillic, Arabic and Asian scripts. It has also allowed the creation of generic top-level domain names, which will allow companies and individuals to create their own top level domain name, instead of relying on com, org and many of the others we have come to love and hate.

I do not have much to add other than the fact that this is a step in the right direction. It is often easy and even fashionable to criticise ICANN when they get things wrong, or to criticise the fact that this is a private corporation with strong ties to the American government. However, this time they have gotten things right, and the domain name overhaul seems like the right thing to do.

OK, a post without cynicism? I must be getting soft in my old age.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Company rulez

Company Rulez is a video mocking Microsoft's Game Content Usage Rules made with Halo 3, or as it says, that game with helmeted dudes and aliens produced for that console by that company that Bill Gates founded.

While I have praised the Game Content Usage Rules previously, I can see how some of the criticism explained in the video is warranted. Particularly, the rule on no earnings seems harsh. OK, I cannot keep calling the licence the Game Usage Content Rules indefinitely, so let's just refer to it as The Rules. The Rules state that:

"You can’t sell or otherwise earn anything from your Items. We will let you have advertising on the page with the Item on it, but that’s it. That means you can’t sell your Item, post it on a site that requires subscription or other fees, solicit donations for your Item of any kind (even by PayPal), use it to enter a contest or sweepstakes, or post it on a page you use to sell other items (even if those other items have nothing to do with Game Content or Microsoft)."
This seems a particularly harsh version of non-commercial elements present in licences such as Creative Commons. However, the video is wrong when it talks about competitions.

Other items criticised are issues such as the fact that you cannot licence the work using Creative Commons ShareAlike licences, which is indeed a problems with the existing terms and condition of The Rules.

I have been thinking recently that solutions suc as The Rules can indeed be the way forward to companies wanting to allow fans to make their own versions of the content without fear of copyright infringement. I think that this acts to enhance the brand and/or content, as it keeps the fans on the side of legality, while it also helps fans to know what they can and cannot do. Otherwise, things like these may happen.

Friday, June 20, 2008


It's Friday afternoon. Are you bored? Are you feeling down? Are you tired after a hard week?

This will cheer you up.

It's 80s music. It's Star Wars. It's dancing wookies. It's made my day.

Where have all the spambots gone?

As an update to the WoW gold spamming story I wrote earlier, I have noticed that in the last month the spambots have gone. There is still some spam, but I could swear that SpamMeNot has been reporting less and less spam recently. I have also noticed that the corpses have gone from Stormwind's Auction House.

I have been searching official forums for an explanation, but so far I have found none. It is interesting that forum moderators are ordered to delete spam-related threads immediately, so I have not found any mention of this. I can only see one of these options as the reason for the reduction of in-game spam:

  • Spammers have given up after the many thousands of deaths, and moved somewhere else (unlikely).
  • Gold websites have disappeared (even unlikelier).
  • Blizzard has recognised this as a serious problem, and have implemented a technical solution that gets rid of most of the problem.
I vote for option 3, but I do not know how this has been achieved.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Using anti-hacking law to punish cyberstalking

(via The Guardian) An interesting case is taking place in the United States. Megan Meier was a 13-year-old girl from Missouri who had a MySpace page and an active web presence. She received a friend invitation from a 16-year-old called Josh Evans (16), and they exchanged messages and flirted for several weeks. At some point, Josh told Megan that he was leaving town, Meier expressed her love for him, but his messages grew darker. At some point he commented that "The world would be a better place without you". She killed herself one hour after receiving that message.

Sounds like a tragic story of teenage love gone seriously wrong, but this one has a twist. Josh Evans was actually Ms Lori Drew (49), Megan's next-door neighbour. The mind boggles at the mindset that makes someone act so callously, but as someone said, being mean online is not a crime, or is it? In principle, Ms Drew's actions, as reprehensible as they are, do not seem to fall into any criminal type, so her cyberstalking (or cyberbullying?) had gone unchallenged in the courts. However, prosecutors are bringing Federal charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act on one count of conspiracy and three counts of "accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress". Each count carries a maximum five years in prison, and the case is being heard in the Central District of California because MySpace is based in Beverly Hills.

The legal reasoning behing the indictment is disturbing for various reasons. How can legislation designed to curb hacking and illicit access to a computer be used to accuse a person who has used an online persona to inflict emotional distress? The reasoning from the U.S. Attorny making the charges state that:

"The indictment alleges that Drew, along with others, registered as a member of MySpace under the name “Josh Evans.” Drew and her co-conspirators then used the Josh Evans account to contact M.T.M. and began what the girl believed was an on-line romance with a 16-year-old boy. In taking those actions, the indictment alleges, Drew and her co-conspirators violated MySpace’s “terms of service” (TOS) that prohibit users from, among other things, using fraudulent registration information, using accounts to obtain personal information about juvenile members, and using the MySpace communication services to harass, abuse or harm other members."
This implies, strike that, this clearly states that lying in application forms and therefore violating terms of service is a crime. Say what? This practice is used every single day by thousands and thousands in discussion boards around the world! The prosecutors seem to be stretching the law to breaking point on this one. Specifically, I have read the relevant sections in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the legislation is clearly geared towards hacking and unauthorised access. Since when is breach of TOS equivalent to hacking?

This case is part of a growing line of murders and suicides where online annonimity, play-acting and misidentification have played a part. There was the strange case of an online suicide pact, or the bizarre case of IM deceit that led to a murder in upsate New York. Therefore, there may be some justification about enacting legislation to protect teenagers against cyber-bullying and cyberstalking, something that U.S. legislators appear to be keen on doing. However, tragic the case is, abusing anti-hacking law to try to punish some reprehensible actions is excessive.

On a semi-related note, it is strange reading some of my old posts. I sound rather unsophisticated!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Domain name dispute over Narnia

A family in Edinburgh has been the recipient of a WIPO domain name complaint as a result of their purchase of a Narnia domain name. Richard and Gillian Saville-Smith purchased the domain name as a gift for their son so that he could use it as his email address. However, C.S. Lewis' estate has filed a complaint using WIPO's domain name dispute resolution mechanism (case D2008-0821).

The value of the domain name is quite evident, as Disney and C.S. Lewis Ltd will certainly be thinking of using it to further promote the popular franchise of Narnia books. Given WIPO's well-documented track record to support the trade mark holder, I am guessing that the result of this dispute could be a foregone conclusion.

This story has internet meme written all over it. Corporate greedy interests, Disney, and unscrupulous estates plot together against hard-working family who want nothing more than to give their son a birthday gift. C.S. Lewis is "rolling in his grave" according to the family. I may surprise some people here, but I have to say that I do not have any sympathy for the parents in this case, even if they are from Edinburgh. Domain name law is clearly moving towards trade mark, and a domain name can be a valuable commodity. If that is the case, what sort of right can this family claim over the domain "" other than the fact that they registered early? The C.S. Lewis estate holds the trade mark, so it is perfectly valid to assume that they would have a better claim over the domain name than a random family from Scotland.

I would like to own the domain "", but it ain't gonna happen, is it?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Suicide 2.0

Here we go again, the Daily Mail broke a story on Wednesday that blames social networking site Bebo for the tragic death of a teenager. What is amazing to me is that other news sources have picked it up. The Guardian has a less strident treatment, as does The Independent, but the Australian site starts with the headline "Bebo blamed for 13-year-old boy's death". Drawing conclusions much?

We have been here before, and there seems to be a trend to look at teenage suicides and find any link to social networking sites. Back in February we saw a similar phenomenon with regards to the series of suicides at the Welsh town of Bridgend. As then, the assumption behind most of the pieces is clear: suicide > bullying online > therefore the blame lies with internet. This is lazy journalism at best, and purposeful technophobe scaremongering at worst. There is no way to know what was the role played by online bullying in this instance. Isn't it more likely that the poor kid suffered old-fashioned bullying as well? There is plenty of evidence that Goth and Emo teenagers suffer from constant verbal and physical abuse. The very same Daily Mail that feels so sorry about the death of this teenager, was warning parents not so long ago that Emo music is a cult, hence helping to stigmatise those who dress differently. Shouldn't we then blame the Daily Mail's 'war on Emo' as the culprit, instead of attacking social networks?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Book publishing under Creative Commons

I have been granted sabbatical leave for the academic year 2008-2009 in order to write a book. The topic is related to my research into networks, and it will expand some of the ideas I've had in this area. One of the things I really wanted was to publish the book under a Creative Commons licence.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to publish a book under "some rights reserved" licences, some high-profile examples in academia and in fiction have proved that it can be a successful strategy. The number and quality of legal academic writing under CC is becoming quite impressive: Lessig's Code 2.0, Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, and Zittrain's The Future of the Internet are all released under a CC licence, and are selling as well as specialist Cyberlaw books sell, if not better. The Wealth of Networks can be found online in its entirety in a large number of formats, it can be downloaded as a PDF, and even read in HTML. Traditional proprietary thinking would tell us that a book which has been made available online would not sell, why would anyone buy a book that you can get online for free? But people are buying it, and buying it in droves. The book is ranked at an astounding 13,928 in's book sales rank. This is impressive when you compare it with other successful books in the area. Goldsmith and Wu's excellent book Who Controls the Internet (not released under CC) is ranked 181,050, while William Fisher's Promises to Keep is ranked 176,007. Not only have sales been positively affected by CC publication, overall impact is also enhanced. If the value of an academic book is measured on how many people read it, then these books are runaway successes.

But publishing is still a business, and success in academia is not only measured by how many people read your work. We are also required to show something tangible to promotion boards and heads of school. Having a successful blog and large number of downloads on SSRN does not equate promotion. Metrics and deliverables are the name of the game, and nothing gives as much academic kudos as a monograph printed by an established and reputable publisher. In the age of information overload, publishers are still seen as gate-keepers, providing a much needed seal of quality to the written word.

This brings me to the question asked by anyone who wants to release under a CC licence, but who also may want to publish commercially. How do you reconcile both worlds? How do you make sure that the CC strategy does not affect the commercial strategy?

I have been pleasantly surprised by the willingness from the publishers to talk about CC licensing. The publishers (which shall still remain nameless until everything is signed) has been open to suggestions on how to publish my book under Creative Commons, and how this would fit into their commercial interests. This would be a first time for them, and they have taken the chance precisely because I have been a vocal proponent of CC, it would seem hypocritical not to practice what I preach. For now, this is a one-off experiment, so no pressure on me then...

The first question for me was which licence to choose, and I have gone for the CC-Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence. I know that non-commercial licences have many detractors, but to me their value is in allowing dual licensing strategies that allow commercial exploitation. I have also chosen to go for non-derivatives as I do not see the point of anyone remixing a book and releasing it with share-alike provisions, but I may be wrong here. Once the licence was chosen, the next step was to redraft the boilerplate agreement from the publishers in order to make it CC-friendly. The publishers were again very willing to let me look at the contract and make the adequate changes. I put my drafting hat on and started working on it.

The first thing is that I added a clause which specifies that the work is licensed under a CC licence:

"This work will be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported licence, hereinafter called "the Licence". The full text of the Licence is appended to this agreement. "
Then came the tricky part of dealing with exclusive rights. All publishers ask you to grant them with an exclusive licence to publish the work, which could be incompatible with CC, as there would be a number of publications that are not exclusive. For example, a person in Costa Rica decides to photocopy the work and distribute it in class. This would be keeping with the CC licence, but it would seem to infringe exclusive rights. What I have done is added "commercial" before the grant of exclusive rights, so that it now reads "the Author grants the Publisher the sole and exclusive right and licence to commercially produce and publish the work" (I am rephrasing slightly to protect the publisher's agreement). This allows the publisher to retain all of their exclusive commercial rights, while keeping all non-commercial uses protected by the CC licence intact.

I then turned to enforcement. Most publisher agreements have sections where they promise to sue infringers. I left that as it was, but added the following clause:
"In case of breach of the Licence, the Author assumes the sole responsibility for its enforcement. The Publisher may jointly bring suit if it believes that the breach infringes its exclusive commercial rights. "
This leaves the door open for the publisher to sue against infringers that affect their commercial exclusive rights directly, but it leaves all responsibility with regards to the enforcement of the CC licence up to me. Finally, most publishing boilerplate agreements also have a list of exceptions, fair use/dealing provisions, and circumstances where royalties will not be charged. I added the following to a list of free copies, that is, copies which will be exempt of licence and/or royalty:
"Copies of the Work which comply with the terms and conditions of the Licence."
There were a couple of other minor tweaks, but that was it. Now, I just have to write the bloody thing!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Edinburgh University studentship

SCRIPT - a law and technology research centre at the University of Edinburgh, School of Law - is seeking to recruit a suitably-qualified candidate to undertake a fully-funded PhD studentship. This is a full-time, full maintenance, three-year position sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which also supports the Centre. The area of research will fall within the "Open Science Business Model" strand of the Centre's activities and the successful candidate will be supervised by Professor Graeme Laurie and Andres Guadamuz, Co-Directors of the Centre.

This studentship will benefit from collaboration with Roslin Cells Ltd, a not-for-profit company associated with the Roslin Institute which produces high-quality embryonic stem cell lines for research and clinical application. Roslin Cells, which is interested in issues of Open Science and wishes to develop a suitable open licensing strategy, will serve as a case study and this is expected to form a central part of the thesis.

This studentship is being fully funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council and candidates must be eligible to receive such support. Further details of the eligibility criteria are available from

Queries relating to this studentship can be addressed to Professor Graeme Laurie, Director of SCRIPT at or on 0131 650 2020.

An application form is available from the SCRIPT Administrator via

The closing deadline for application is 09:00 Friday 13th June 2008. Interviews will be held on the afternoon of Friday 20th June 2008.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Virgin ISP to issue letters to file-sharers

If you can't beat them, send them a polite letter. This seems to be the latest strategy from the BPI. As the three-strikes policy seems to have failed, several outlets are reporting that the BPI has reached and agreement with Virgin Broadband to issue letters to its customers if there is a suspicion that someone may be illegally file-sharing in that household. The letter itself is quite interesting. It does not directly accuse the account-holder, but it states that:

"We have information that someone – and it may not be you – is using your Virgin Media internet account to access music illegally. However it happened, it is illegal. We therefore need you to take steps to stop it from happening again. The steps you can take are set out in the enclosed ‘What To Do Next’ section. You should know that if you don’t do this and the problem happens again, then you could face legal action."
This could definitely act as a deterrent, but it may also alienate customers and get them to switch providers. The other problem with this approach is that monitoring is not perfect, and it may produce false positives. The EFF has publicised an interesting study where innocent devices have prompted DMCA cease-and-desist letters just by being connected to BitTorrent.

This has been stated many times before, but it is worth repeating. If the music industry spent as many resources trying to change its business model to respond to the new realities in the digital environment, then they may have found ways of benefiting consumers, musicians and secure profits, while not alienating their customers.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The failing three-strike strategy

I've been reading Danny O'Brien's excellent post on troubled French three-strikes-and-you're-out law. Nick Jondet at French Law also informs us that the controversial piece of legislation will be presented later this month. This has left me wondering whatever happened to three-strikes here in the UK?

Those inclined to follow this story might remember that the year began with warning from the UK music industry that it would pursue a policy of allocating responsibility for online copyright infringement upon Internet Service Providers. The British blogosphere was up in arms (or more literally, up in thumbs) about the thought of having ISPs police internet piracy. Similarly, the European Parliament thought that this was a bad idea, as did just about every person with more than two working neurons. The thing is this, by removing access to the internet for an entire family, you are exercising punishment that goes beyond the offence. Not only that, in the digital age access to the internet has become an important part of everyday life, and removing it via an administrative decision violates every principle of justice that I can think of.

The three-strike policy seemed like the natural next-step escalation on the War Against Piracy. Suing the clients failed. Suing the users failed. Bribing college kids failed. So let's sue the ISPs! Or get them to enforce copyright for us! Funnily enough, I believe that the music industry may have realised that the decision has become unpopular. The BPI threatened to sue Carphone Warehouse if they failed to make the necessary appeasing sounds, an ultimatum that failed to materialise. Meanwhile, the music industry may be shelving their three-strike plan because of the prompt action by advocacy groups and the European Parliament. Some bad copyright policy may have been averted. Am I being too optimistic? Only time will tell.

On a related note, I was going to name this post "Whatever happened to... three-strikes?" but when I googled the title I realised that it had been used already by Andrew Orlowski. Ugh. I am deeply disturbed by that, I need to go and take a shower.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bean counting

The month of May has been rather crazy time here at TechnoLlama. With knit-gate and the killer totems of Stormwind, readership figures have risen like the beacons of Minas Morgul. Technorati now has me at 72 incoming links, which means that I have finally broken into the top 100,000 blogs in the world (ranked 90,243). Subscription figures to the RSS are also healthy, and for the first time the number of subscribers has broken the 300 mark, with 245 as average. Direct visits are down from a high 870 visits in one day courtesy of the coverage in the knitting saga, but they are up to a healthy 150 unique visitors per day, this despite the fact that I have not been posting as much due to all the travel.

Once again I must thank the habitual reader for their continuing support, you make blogging worthwhile.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Aerotel patent repealed

While I was away presenting on software patents in Brazil an important decision took place last week. Aerotel v Telco is one of the most important cases in this area, and the patent that originated it has now been repealed because of obviousness. Aerotel is an Israeli patent troll that provides no services and does nothing but engage in patent infringement suits all over the world defending their patent. The patent protects a method of making pre-paid telephone calls.

Fysh QC delivered the reasoning, and it makes for interesting reading (for those inclined to be interested in software patent litigation that is). Fysh QC states that:

"Even if it is proper to pose the first question in this context, the answer must I think, be this: the general idea of either post or pre-payment charging for telephone calls would unhesitatingly have been present in the mind of a skilled worker at the priority date. These were the alternatives. A telephone company must of course be paid and both methods of payment were not just well known but were the norm. [...] Thus, assuming it to be a relevant consideration, the idea of requiring payment in advance for telephone calls is in my judgement, completely obvious."
Hurray! One of the points that I make when talking about software patents is that there may be scope for some protection of computer implemented inventions, but that the implementation has been atrocious. In my opinion, most software patents fail in obviousness, prior art and disclosure. The problem is that patent litigation is expensive, and defending yourself even against a bad patent may cost a fortune.