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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Knocking heads together: Creators and Consumers workshop on copyright, licensing and protection

Yesterday I attended a day-long workshop on copyright, licensing and content protection.

Some heavyweight individuals in the intellectual property arena took part (see the published line-up, pdf). Justice Richard Arnold, now famous in the digital community for his Newzbin ruling, chaired a session on enforcement; professor Lionel Bently of the University Cambridge Faculty of Law gave a keynote speech and Richard Hooper, leading a government feasibility study into a digital copyright exchange lead a group discussion.

The major difference between this and other workshops I've sat through recently was the inclusion of creators - as in the people who actually write words, play music or take photographs - and the absence, either through quirk or design, of the normal group of lobbyists who claim to represent these people.

This is an important distinction, as groups like the BPI and the Publisher's Association typically represent the corporate entities exploiting copyright for commercial gain and tend to have a disproportionate voice in the discussion.

The event was a chance to cut through the lobby-gloss and hear a wider range of voices, many simply representing their own views.

Blame it on the internet

Yet the revised mix of participants at the workshop didn't significantly alter the tone of much of the debate; there was still a lot of distrust of all that is digital: the internet in general, Silicon Valley and UK tech start-ups all came under fire for making often unrealistic demands, "wanting it all and wanting it now" and, in the process, disrespecting the rights of individual authors and creators who want control over their own work, distribution and pricing, etc.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

ACTA: Reding makes statement, EU now under immense pressure from within and without to find an exit strategy

There's now so much mud being slung that it's hard to keep track of fact from politicking regarding ACTA.

The position that no new EC Directives will be needed is credible, although I don't think many can say for sure without a thorough legal opinion.

And a legal opinion on compatibility with existing EC law is just what Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding called for this week:
"I therefore welcome the intention of several members of the European  Parliament to ask the European Court of Justice for a legal opinion to clarify that the ACTA agreement cannot limit freedom of expression and freedom of the Internet"
In her statement, Viviane Reding also firmly states that intellectual property (IP), whilst a fundamental property right under EU law, "is not an absolute fundamental right" and protection of IP must be balanced against other fundamental rights.  Therefore, she continues:
"Copyright protection can never be a justification for eliminating freedom of expression or freedom of information. That is why for me, blocking the Internet is never an option"  (and that's her bold, not mine).
Regardless of whether existing EU law needs to change in light of ACTA, there is a legitimate concern that it will lock EU countries into current laws that may otherwise need to change in future.

SOCA backtrack on alarming RnBXclusive takedown notice, serious concerns remain

A popular music blog was shut down by the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).  Visitors to the site yesterday were greeted with an alarming message that copyright violation carried up to 10 years jail time and a suggestion that a visitor's IP address had been captured and could be used to identify them.

The shutdown got worldwide attention and I spent yesterday afternoon in meetings with advocacy groups such as Big Brother Watch and the Open Rights Group discussing a coordinated response.  Open Digital and Big Brother Watch put out a combined statement.

Today, SOCA have backed down and revised the message on the site to a simple statement that it has taken control of the domain.

I have no problem with the police or rights holders taking targeted and proportionate action through the UK's criminal and civil court system against websites engaging in infringing behaviour.

But I have four serious concerns about this particular take-down.

SOCA Involvement

This site seems to be aimed at music fans. Having researched other similar sites over the last 3 years and judging by the look and feel of the blog on the Wayback Machine it looks unlikely there is any involvement of violent criminal gangs or other serious crime link, therefore I question the involvement of SOCA.

Other specialised police units such as the Met Police's Specialist Crime Division, which includes the Film Piracy Unit and specialist fraud teams, look far more suited to investigating this type of crime.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Talk Talk rolls over without a fight, court order granted to expand Newzbin block to third ISP

As Newzbin disappeared from a .com domain to occupy a new home last week, UK ISP Talk Talk became the third ISP subject to a blocking order under S.97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The block must be in place within 14 days of the order, which I believe was made on the 9th February by Justice Arnold, but I don't yet have a copy.

Whilst the internet community rallied against website blocking proposals in the Digital Economy Act 2010, a little-known amendment to copyright law introduced via a Statutory Instrument (SI) passed in 2003 brought web censorship provisions on copyright grounds to the UK.

The SI transposed EC directive 2001/29/EC into law (paragraphs 58 and 59 being relevant here).

Those concerned about over-reach of copyright laws should take note at the groundwork via the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty and the above EC directive, bringing much of what people are upset about today into law almost a decade ago.

In this particular case I'm concerned that Talk Talk apparently took no steps to fight the expansion of the blocking order despite me identifying concerns about over-blocking of the Internet Protocol (IP) address space.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Newzbin.com disappears at source

UPDATE: Feb-14 as comments point out, Newzbin has simply moved domain.

I've checked from four different ISPs in three worldwide locations. It appears as though Newzbin, subject of a blocking order against UK ISPs British Telecom and Sky, has disappeared from the newzbin.com domain.

Visitors worldwide are greeted with the message:
Closed 

The site is no longer at this location.
I'm not sure at this stage whether Newzbin has closed or simply moved domain. My money's on the latter, but cross-jurisdictional action brought against Megaupload execs and Richard O'Dwyer - all now facing extradition to the US on copyright charges - might just have worried the site owners enough to give up.

The closure raises interesting questions about the current blocking orders and the ongoing court action to force other ISPs to block Newzbin, if the site no longer hosts infringing content.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Compromised FBI conference call tips Anonymous to imminent arrests and prosecution details

In what must be a serious blunder by transatlantic law enforcement, hackers claiming allegiance to Anonymous have obtained an audio recording of what appears to be a conference call between the FBI and British law enforcement.

UPDATE 15:51: According to Sky News, FBI admit a call was "intercepted".

Contents of the call could have tipped two further Anonymous suspects to their imminent re-arrest.  Sensitivities over delays to a forthcoming UK criminal trial are revealed, with officers wanting to achieve a delay in a way that "didn't look too suspicious" to the defence. Sensitive details of part of the case against Cleary are also discussed.

The call additionally indicates a further younger British member of Anonymous arrested last year may have made a statement revealing details of at least one hack and named two associates.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Facebook IPO: YOU are the product - if we're not careful, market forces will conspire against YOUR interests

Over on the Open Digital Policy Blog I've started what should be a 3-5 part series on the economics of personal data.

Unless the public really start to view and treat personal data as a currency, the only customers in the market are advertisers, and market forces will conspire in the interests of advertisers - to the detriment of all internet users.

In my view we're faced with two choices: regulate to minimise the public harm, or modify the market in some way so that market forces conspire in the interests of the public.

The regulatory path has a couple of steep hurdles: ensuring regulatory bodies don't suffer capture and end up creating regulation in the interests of the few incumbents, and enforcement - how to enforce regulations when data is everywhere, at the core of so many businesses.

Will regulation work without the threat of overbearing enforcement actions and intrusive surveillance to ensure compliance?

And the free market path has equally steep hurdles. How to educate the public so they understand the currency of personal data? How to achieve clarity in the pricing so users can compare one service with another.  And how to maintain transparency and trust in the market, to ensure companies do what they say they do with our data.

Identonomics - the economics of personal data, audience and identity. Read part 1 now!

@JamesFirth