On Twitter: @JamesFirth and @s_r_o_c (post feed)

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Monday, 30 January 2012

Sublime threats and ridiculous consequences as the works of 3 great English writers enter the global public domain

Copyright enforcement may be seen as a global problem, but drafting new obligations like ACTA via the back door of a "trade agreement" in secret and outside of the world bodies responsible for overseeing global intellectual property treaties and the trade in copyright-protected works risks overlooking the complexity of the problem.

When global music companies talk about piracy they're imagining systems to block the spread of Lady Gaga, oh how I wish this could be achieved.

But it's not simple. Forget well-known works of famous musicians, how is an internet service provider supposed to distinguish between songs smaller bands have chosen to release for free, and those being pirated?

In fact forget music all together. Let's have a look at a few works from three famous 20th century English writers to highlight the intricacies of enforcing copyright in a global domain.

Two great books about flawed economic and social models

Two books by one English writer together offer an allegory about a flawed economic model and the overbearing social consequences of the price of intrusive monitoring and enforcement.

Although documenting Stalinism, the lessons in Orwell's Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four could apply equally to copyright.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

MSM: Only Anonymous hates ACTA! If you want to change public opinion, revenge attacks are generally unhelpful

RTL France (part of Europe's second-largest TV and radio group), report on multiple protests against ACTA across Fance yesterday using the headline (translated to English):

The "Anonymous" marched across France

There are very legitimate concerns about ACTA. The MEP acting as the European Parliament's special rapporteur on ACTA quit in disgust at the way the treaty was negotiated - even the BBC covered this resignation, such was the significance. 

But it's worrying how legitimate protest against a treaty is now being reported in the mainstream media.  Activists and campaigners, many of whom are moderate in their views on Intellectual Property, are being linked to a group known for direct action - many of this action both illegal and unethical. 

- And being linked to a group the public fears.

Yes, the general public are scared of Anonymous.  I'm not saying this glibly or with any irony intended.  I've spoken to police sources who believe making Anonymous a high priority target is a worthy public duty in the fight against e-crime; they're protecting the public.

People are scared of what they don't understand, and they're scared of a group of people who appear to control the internets with no apparent democratic control or oversight.

Of course the issue of what is and what isn't democratic is debatable for a group who rely on mass participation to achieve their aims, but claiming Anonymous is democratic neatly brushes over one well-documented consequence of anarchy: the weak end up living at the mercy of the strong.

Yes, there are also documented cases of mob rule acting in the interest of the weak and vulnerable, but the hot-headedness and lack of due process, checks and balances introduces a clear problem with mob rule: mob justice isn't always just.

Frustrations with governments not listening

I wrote in The arrogance of the echochamber how and why the emerging views of the great democratic Think Tank that revolves today [mainly] around Twitter (and around Usenet Newsgroups in the early days of the web)  don't necessarily reflect wider public opinion.

Even when that emerging view is, on most levels of analysis, rational and correct, it can still take over 15 years for mainstream news sources and hence governments to start to listen to that view.  

Yes, this will shift over time, but the aggregated view of a majority of online contributors does not yet translate into the opinion being piped into homes across the world via TV, radio and mainstream newspapers.

For years mainstream news sources have simply ignored the copyright debate. Intellectual property is simply not a sexy subject. 

Referring to the over-used - and, incidentally, disputed - Gandhi quote: first they ignore you...


Now comes the laugh at you, and the actions of some in revenge of e.g. the Megaupload take down make life easy for those in the mainstream media to ridicule those fighting for a fair and appropriate balance to copyright law.

An emerging trend of some mainstream news sources owned by people who have a vested interest in pushing copymax policies is to link opposition to new, stricter copyright regimes to Anonymous, e.g. Fox Business: Reddit sides with Anonymous.

The aim of this ridicule is to turn the public against the activists, the irony being that most moderate activists have wanted public debate around these issues for years; now we've got the debate, mainstream media are more than happy to portray all opponents as extreme, even if many of us feel very strongly that we represent the middle ground.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Opening the doors - want to write about digital policy and related issues on SROC?

Want to write on this blog?

I started SROC nearly 2 years ago as a successor to Software Pysche after my posts got less about software and more about digital policy - and politics in general.

Since then I co-founded the Open Digital Policy Organisation and spend a lot more of my time working on digital policy issues in various settings.

The upshot - I have less time to blog on here.

Since the site now averages around 20k page views a month it seems rude not to use the audience built up over 2 years in some way.

So if you're interested, send me a pitch (eg link an example of your writing, tell me about your interest in net policy etc) via email to editorial@slightlyrightofcentre.com


User account: if I like your pitch, get a Blogger account and I'll grant contributor rights; it's as simple as that. You can then post what you want, when you want, within the guidelines below.

Legal/editorial: since my company is legally responsible for the blog I will retain editorial control by way of post-moderating any posts which raise serious legal issues, but I promise not to interfere in style. Please avoid risking libel until the UK's libel laws are fixed. If you think an issue could have legal implications I'd be grateful if you check before sending it live.

Topic, style and quality: I don't think personal confrontation achieves much by way of value so if you're wanting to write in order to launch a forthright attack at a person or organisation then thanks, but no thanks.  Criticism is of course fine but it must be reasoned and add value.  If a post is seriously bad, dull or way off topic I reserve the right to pull it.  Occasional off topic is fine but I'd like to stick to a digital policy theme.

Adult content: I have no problem with tackling any relevant issue but please avoid gratuitous use of language.   In discussing issues around porn I've faced an uphill battle keeping this blog off adult content block lists and it doesn't help my case if posts are riddled with inappropriate strong language.  If you need to do so for a direct quote that's fine.

Copyright: you retain the copyright in your contribution (but note this blog is currently published under a Creative Commons 3.0 unported license, CC-BY. If you have issues we could look at this).  You can withdraw posts at any time.  Yes I know copyright law is an arse but please do not infringe other people's copyright by way of posting images etc without legal justification (fair dealing under UK law).

Profit share(!): the blog doesn't carry advertising, but that's not a hard rule. In the unlikely event it ever makes money I'll divide the profit made in any period by the number of page views, then pay cash pro-rata on your posts in that period.

In the extremely unlikely event the blog is ever sold HuffPo style (I can dream, can't I?) I'll divide the profit through by the all time number of page views and pay cash pro-rata on your contributions.

 - If either of the last too unlikely events occurred I reserve the right to ask you to think about donating a portion to worthwhile digital causes!!


Friday, 27 January 2012

A close examination of the US claim of jurisdiction in the O'Dwyer extradition

Last few times I raised this it caused a storm on Twitter from people telling me Richard's legal team had to focus on dual criminality.  

I am only trying to augment - not dilute - the discussion.  I know and understand there are various angles of defence.

It is very important to make clear I have not been party to any information not already in the public domain.

I am aware of sub judice implications and have carefully considered these points. I am discussing only the application of the Extradition Act 2003 and related proceedings which do not involve a jury, and this in itself could not possibly prejudice any UK trial of Richard on charges under the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988.

Please also note I am not in full possession of all the facts.  My analysis is limited to the apparent claim by the United States to jurisdiction over all websites hosted on subdomains of .com and .net.  There may be other factors in the extradition I am not aware of that affect this analysis.

The claim under S.137(2) of the Extradition Act 2003

The arrogance of the echochamber

There's a certain arrogance in the echochamber and, fresh off the back of a well-deserved win against SOPA/PIPA, it could get worse.

At least part of the history of the SOPA/PIPA win were seeds sewn over 15 years ago in a different echochamber (newsgroups).

Discussions which helped normalise thinking that copyright infringement isn't always bad and protecting rights holders isn't always good (and in some cases is outright dangerous) took place over many years.

It's only in the last couple of years, as the message from the echochamber solidified into a clear and unambiguous message that seeped into the mainstream were politicians prepared to risk allegations of supporting criminal activity by arguing against internet censorship.

Yet today I see an arrogance. Twitter censorship? We'll just use another service... The people have power. Governments have to listen to us now! We'll just work around the censors.. etc, etc.

Whatever consensus emerges amongst the online community, it rarely reflects a contemporary majority view, and therefore politicians can ignore the "vocal minority" with impunity.

In fact with regards to censorship there's an important relationship between minority and majority I'll discuss later.

As for political influence, this might change slightly after the SOPA debacle. Politicians might be driven by their own fear of a backlash on this scale, but until the online thought leaders can regularly influence a majority of voters this is unlikely to be the case.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Dual criminality requirement of the Extradition Act 2003

This blog post has been voluntarily removed for legal reasons.

SOPA/PIPA blackout: here's what Google should do on blackout day, Jan 18

My proposed Google Doodle to celebrate blackout day
What should Google do tomorrow for the January 18th SOPA/PIPA blackout? Maybe their front page should look like this, with a doodle to celebrate Wikipedia joining Reddit, Cheezburger and a host of other websites (including this blog and the Open Digital website) to protest legislation that fundamentally shifts the liability of websites hosting user generated content in a way I feel will severely damage the internet as we know it.

SOPA and PIPA attempt to protect relatively small revenues from old media industries at the expense of innovative and disruptive media businesses emerging across the internet.

The legislation embodies a dangerous level of over-reach disproportional to the problem it attempts to address, and to top it all off the media companies pressing for the legislation are also the gatekeepers for traditional TV news and own mainstream newspapers, putting them in a position to control public debate around these vitally important issues.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Open Digital PAC votes unanimously to join global protest against copyright anti-piracy overreach, Weds 18th Jan

The following is posted on the Open Digital blog:

Today our Policy Advisory Council voted unanimously in favour of Open Digital joining a global protest against two US bills to tackle copyright infringement that we feel go too far.

The motion was simply "should we join the protest?" All six members voted in favour.

Here's what I told PAC members when I proposed the blackout:

Web giants like Reddit and Tucows will lead a pack of websites going dark for 12 hours on the 18th January to protest two bills - the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Propect IP Act (PIPA) - working their way through US congress.  UK educational technology charity Raspberry Pi will be amongst UK websites joining the protest.

Whilst over the weekend it emerged SOPA's most controversial measure, DNS blocking, has been removed and the White House has urged congress to ensure measures strike a good balance for civil liberties, the bills still contain significant over-reach that will impact the liability of website operators worldwide.

Measures in both bills are disproportionate to the problem and threaten companies around the world operating any website which features user generated content.

Friday, 13 January 2012

McKinnon vs O'Dwyer

A case I've been following since it broke in the Sheffield Star is that of Richard O'Dwyer, who faces extradition to the US on charges of criminal copyright infringement for a links website he hosted in the UK.

Several aspects of this case are deeply worrying.  Merely linking to infringing content has not so far been shown to constitute infringement here in the UK.

But the most worrying aspect is also the main difference between the O'Dwyer case and that of another British citizen facing extradition, Gary McKinnon.

The McKinnon case raises its own set of issues, but there is at least a clear victim - the US Department of Defence - linking the case to US territory.

But the O'Dwyer case does not have a US "victim".  Before you cry "but the American film studios and US recording artists" you must consider that copyright protection is granted by the jurisdiction in which the potential infringer resides.

Richard O'Dwyer is alleged to have committed copyright infringement whilst resident in the UK. He was therefore at the time subject to UK copyright laws, and any UK offence can only be determined by UK courts.

But I hear that's not the angle US authorities are claiming.  I spoke to a contact over summer who claimed the US authorities were pushing for jurisdiction because at least one of the sites O'Dwyer is alleged to have run was hosted under a .com, .net or (possibly) .org suffix.

Why? Because these domains are overseen by US bodies, and US authorities are now claiming anyone who hosts a website under a top level domain (TLD) managed within US jurisdiction submits themselves to US law. Peter Walker of the Guardian verified my source when he spoke to Erik Barnett, assistant deputy director of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

So where does that leave UK-based website owners running service potentially illegal in the US, e.g. gambling etc? Who knows. I wrote more about it in Sovereignty Creep and Elastic Jurisdiction.

Note .org, whilst manager by the Afilias registry headquartered in Ireland, is overseen by US-based Public Interest Registry.  .com and .net are managed by US company Verisign.


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

AMP v Person's Unknown misreporting. Prosecuted for breaching an injunction you didn't even know about? Not likely!

The Daily Mail has gone to town on a story which broke 21 days ago.  Their reporting could leave the reader under the impression that the law is once again an ass and that ordinary internet users could find themselves accidentally on the wrong side of an injunction.

The problem here? The law is not an ass and the injunction makes a lot of sense (yes, I did write that and no, my blog hasn't been hacked).

The case is quite nuanced.  Professor Andrew Murray has an excellent description of the facts of the case on his blog.

In summary, a lady had her mobile phone stolen and the phone contained sensitive personal pictures. Since there is no public interest whatsoever (the lady is not famous in any way) the judge ruled her identity can be kept secret, hence she's known as AMP in all court papers.

The lady was allegedly harassed, threatened and blackmailed in relation to the pictures.  The pictures were removed from certain websites.  The pictures eventually ended up on a torrent.

The court found the stolen pictures circulating were both a breach of the lady's ECHR Article 8 rights to privacy plus could also be restricted under the harassment claim. Again, read this directly from Andrew Murray's blog.

Instead of attempting to block the torrents (not practical IMO), the court took advice from an expert witness (Murray) and decided to go after the seeders (uploaders).  And from my reading of the ruling this won't be done in heavy and ham-fisted fashion since the uploaders could be forgiven for not knowing the pictures were stolen and subject to an injunction.

Yet the Daily Mail coverage leaves the reader under the impression that the mere possession of the pictures is a criminal offence:
"... anyone who downloads the explicit images using a BitTorrent ‘peer-to-peer’ file-sharing service could face prosecution."
(my bold)
"Unlike other injunctions, which require lawyers to go back to court to serve a contempt of court order againt those who flout the rulings, downloaders face immediate arrest."
(my bold)

What happened when a police force commissioned a neighbourhood policing app? Find out on 25th January

Open Digital are proud to sponsor this month's Digital Surrey with a fascinating talk from Surrey Police's Chief Superintendent for Neighbourhoods Gavin Stephens.

Book your free place here 

Gavin will be introducing the Surrey Police App, currently available for iPhone (and soon to be available for Android) and will be joined by Angus Fox,  Director of social collaboration software firm Multizone who developed the app.

We will hear about the commissioning and deployment of the Surrey Police App, which connects residents to their neighbourhood police teams, as well as a range of topics from government issues to the social impact on neighbourhoods and public concerns such as privacy.

The University of Surrey will be hosting the event with sponsorship from the Open Digital Policy Organisation.

Unfortunately space is limited and previous demand has been considerable. Please let us or the organisers know if you have to drop out for any reason - this also helps Digital Surrey keep such events free to attend.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Blackbusters: does Ed Miliband even type his own tweets?

People are already speculating about what might be on the mind of the leader of the opposition after a mistyped tweet appeared on his Twitter stream this afternoon.  The tweet (since deleted) read:
"Sad to hear that Bob Holness has died. A generation will remember him fondly from Blackbusters."
.. When of course he meant Blockbusters. Since 'a' and 'o' are at opposite ends of the keyboard speculation is rounding on two theories.  Whoever typed the tweet had black on the mind after the Diane Abbott controversy from Wednesday, or some spell checker has auto-corrected the tweet.

Taking a closer look at @Ed_Miliband's twitter feed shows all the twitter updates I studied were submitted "via web".  This indicates Ed Miliband or whoever updated twitter did this via the website and not via an app on e.g. a mobile phone, in which case it would say something like "via Twitter for iPhone"

Firstly this almost certainly rules out spelling auto-correct.  It just doesn't happen on most web browsers.

But also it took my mind back to the 2010 General Election when I did some investigatory work on whether MPs and candidates updated their own Twitter or got staff to do it.

I spoke to the campaign offices of several MPs and studied the twitter streams. By far the vast majority of candidates willing to admit to having shadow tweeters had their updates submitted "via web".  No idea why but it just was.

Those who updated their own usually did so via a mobile twitter client of one form or another.

In fact I put it to the office of my local MP Jeremy Hunt, and was told Jeremy updates his own twitter with occasional updates by his office staff, and confirmed the updates "via web" were done by his office.

A busy man like Ed Miliband surely has to tweet on the go, via his phone?

Of course if Ed Miliband uses an iPad or similar tablet he might just prefer the web interface to an app.  But having used a tablet this way myself it's far more convenient when e.g. uploading pictures taken on the tablet to use an app.

Ed Miliband is a man on the move, yet I could find no updates via any kind of phone or mobile device.  Again he could just about navigate Twitter on a tiny phone screen; I've tried it - it's not convenient. Far better to use the mobile version of the Twitter website, in which case the update would say "via Mobile Web" (see this test tweet here) - not the case for Ed Miliband's tweet stream (from the sample I studied this afternoon).

And then there's the photos - pictures obviously taken by a third party whilst out and about but updated "via web".  See herehere and here and for examples.  How inconvenient to transfer from a camera or camera phone and update via the web interface of an iPad, mobile phone or laptop whilst out and about.   Why not use an app? Or does Ed Miliband have an assistant typing all hist tweets?

Circumstantial I know but it must be worth a punt on Ed Miliband not being personally responsible for #Blackbusters.


Thursday, 5 January 2012

Was there an ulterior motive behind the GCHQ cyber challenge _Can you crack it?

From the "a moderate dose of paranoia is a good thing" department:

Last month I posted a solution to the GCHQ cyber challenge _Can you crack it?

The challenge was purportedly part of a recruitment drive to attract talented software engineers and cryptologists to apply for a job at the secret government communications agency.

But is this the whole story behind the challenge, or could the competition actually form part of a strategy to flush out skilled ringleaders and experts in hacker and hacktivist communities in order to study and observe these groups?

This strategy wouldn't depend on anyone actually applying to join GCHQ because there's enough uniquely fingerprintable aspects of the challenge to allow government agents to remotely observe those solving the challenge.

Additionally, completion of each of the three stages required connecting to a website assumed to be under the control of GCHQ, thereby giving away one's IP address at each stage.

Would anyone tackle it simply for the bragging rights?  I've found many hundreds who seem to have done just that.  The challenge acted like a barium meal fed to the hacking community, lighting up areas of activity where hackers congregate to discuss solutions.

Code snippets and other signatures from the challenge can be found across the internet from pastebin to twitter.   Some videos posted on YouTube solving the challenge have amassed nearly 35,000 views, indicating strong interest in the code.

Benefits as a recruitment tool