31 January 2012

Pandora's Box 2.0: Opening proprietary code

Open source lies at the heart of Google – it runs a modified form of Linux on its vast server farms, and uses many other free software programs in its operations. This makes giving back to the open source community not just the right thing to do but enlightened self-interest: the stronger free software becomes, the more Google can build upon it (cynics would say feed off it).

On The H Open.

FIFA Orders Brazil To Overturn Ban On Selling Beer At World Cup Matches

One of the recurrent themes on Techdirt is the sense of entitlement the owners of various kinds of monopolies display, and their common belief that being able to maximize the profit from those monopolies trumps any other consideration. 

On Techdirt.

Newzbin Lawyer Struck Off For Posting Insulting Tweets During Case -- & Failing To Declare He Owned The Company He Defended

Well, this one's bizarre. Back in March 2010 we wrote about the UK Usenet aggregator Newzbin being found liable for the copyright infringment of its users. A year later, the ISP BT was ordered to block access to Newzbin2, its successor. What amounted to the UK's first Internet censorship order was upheld soon afterwards. 

On Techdirt.

25 January 2012

Paulo Coelho On SOPA: 'Pirates Of The World, Unite And Pirate Everything I’ve Ever Written!'

We've written about the hugely-successful Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho many times before, because he is a great example of an artist embracing piracy as a boon not a bane. So it's great to see him offering his thoughts on SOPA

On Techdirt.

Computing in Schools: The Great Ctrl-Alt-Del

After years of unforgivable inaction, the education world is finally addressing the continuing disgrace that is computer teaching in this country. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the UK Education Secretary Michael Gove's comments on this area, and now we have the Royal Society's report on computing in schools.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Subscribe To A Newsapaper, Get An E-reader Free

Well, this was bound to happen. Barnes & Noble is offering big discounts on its Nook e-readers to people taking out subscriptions to digital editions of magazines and newspapers: 

On Techdirt.

New Market Research: Music Streaming Services Halve Illegal Downloads

For a long time, the copyright industries have taken the position that they won't launch new digital music services until piracy is "solved" – or at least punished. The inevitable consequence of that position is obvious to everyone outside the copyright industries – people turn to other, unauthorized sources to satisfy their musical needs. Fortunately, a few startups have launched pioneering digital music offerings and some, like Spotify, look like they might succeed. 

On Techdirt.

SOPA Stopped: So Back to ACTA

So the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of copyright maximalist legislation, SOPA and PIPA, have been halted in their passage through the US legislative process. Of course, they're not dead, but are sure to return, zombie-like, either as modified versions of the current texts or new ones that turn out to be exactly the same as the old ones at their heart. However, the unprecedented action by the Net world to get the message across that these bills were not fit for purpose does mean that our attention can swivel back to somewhere else where bad things are happening: ACTA.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Blocking The Net 'Not The European Option' -- EU Commissioner Reding

One of the useful side-effects of the groundswell of protest against SOPA and PIPA is that a surprising number of people in positions of power have come out against their approach, notably in Europe. First, we had Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, who tweeted

On Techdirt.

Adding Your DNA To A Biobank Is A Noble Move -- But Is It A Wise One?

One new approach to teasing apart the complex relationships between genes and common diseases such as cancer, heart disease, asthma and diabetes is by creating huge biobanks of medical data and samples. The idea is that by tracking the health and habits of very large populations across many years, and then examining their DNA, it will be possible to spot factors in common. Here's a major biobank that is shortly opening up its holdings for research

On Techdirt.

The Pirate Bay Press Release On SOPA: We Are The New Hollywood

Given its general contempt for the repeated attempts to close it down, you wouldn't expect The Pirate Bay to be particularly worried by SOPA. But in its very own press release on the subject, it goes much further: it flings the ultimate insult at Hollywood by claiming that not only are the two of them spiritual kin, but that The Pirate Bay is the New Hollywood. 

On Techdirt.

Is Using A Piece Of Existing Music In A Film To Underline An Emotion 'Rape' - Or Just The Way Cinema Works?

"The Artist" may have won several Golden Globes, but there's at least one person who apparently hates the film because of some music it uses

On Techdirt.

20 January 2012

OK, So SOPA And PIPA Are Both On Hold: Where Do We Go From Here?

There is a rather odd atmosphere within the parts of the online community that fought so hard against SOPA this week – relief that all that work seems to have had an effect, mixed with a certain disbelief that for once the outside world sat up and took notice of the tech world's concerns. Amidst all the justified back-patting, there is a temptation to celebrate the fact that both SOPA and PIPA are "delayed", and to move on. 

On Techdirt.

EU Politicians Send Letter To US Congress Warning Of 'Extraterritorial Effects' Of SOPA And PIPA

Since SOPA and PIPA are US bills, the focus has naturally been on the US response to them – notably in the list of major sites that participated in the blackout, or who have otherwise protested against the proposed legislation. But it's important to remember that the whole rationale of these new laws is tackling copyright infringement outside the US. 

On Techdirt.

Welcome to the World of Open Source Domotics

Canonical pulled off something of a coup at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) when it announced its Ubuntu TV – inevitably dubbed "TV for human beings":

On The H Open.

19 January 2012

File Sharing Without The Internet: The Saharan Bluetooth Experience

A couple of months ago, Techdirt wrote about an EU politician's plan to build Internet surveillance into every operating system. As we pointed out then, this could easily be circumvented by using non-Net means for swapping files. It may not be driven by fears about spying, but it seems that communities in Western Africa are using Bluetooth connections between mobile phones to do exactly that: 

On Techdirt.

A 'Trustworthy' Social Network For The Occupy Movement: Even If They Build It, Can They Ever Trust It?

The role of technology in the wave of protests that swept the world last year is a matter of debate. While some claim that social networks and mobile phones allowed protesters to organize themselves with an unprecedented speed and efficiency, others have seen their role as marginal – or even counterproductive, since these same technologies also allow governments to monitor events with greater ease than in pre-Internet days.


Yet More Collateral Damage From SOPA/PIPA: Activism Through Satire

Among the many high-profile organizations that are joining the SOPA blackout today is Greenpeace. That's great, except that you can't read an important post on the Greenpeace UK web site about why it is opposing SOPA and PIPA (it should be available at 5 pm PST from the home page or here.

On Techdirt.

17 January 2012

Argentina Building Huge Biometric Database For Use With Police's Face Recognition Technology

One of the more unfortunate consequences of Moore's Law is that technologies that erode privacy are becoming cheaper every year – and hence more attractive to governments eager to spy on their own populace. The latest to heed the siren call of mass surveillance is Argentina. 

On Techdirt.

Two Fatal Flaws in the O'Dwyer Judgment

So the long-awaited verdict on the extradition of Richard O’Dwyer has finally arrived, and, as feared, it's ridiculous. There are many others better qualified than I am to comment on the detailed legal issues of the lop-sided extradition treaty that lies at the heart of the case, so I would like to concentrate on two aspects that I feel better able to comment on. Both touch on what I think are fatal errors in the judgment; either is enough undermine its arguments.

On Open Enterprise blog.

13 January 2012

Indian Judge Tells Google And Facebook To 'Check And Remove Objectionable Material' Or Be Blocked

A few weeks back, Techdirt reported on an Indian minister asking Internet companies to do the impossible: 

On Techdirt.

German Court: ISP Must Not Block Access To Foreign Sites, Even If They Are Illegal

Against a background where some European courts are telling ISPs that they must block access to certain sites (in Finland and the UK, for example), this news from Germany comes as a refreshing change (original German article in Der Spiegel): 

On Techdirt.

Why Apple Will Not Be Part Of The Real Tablet Revolution

You don't have to be a marketing genius or industry pundit to foresee that tablets will be an extremely hot sector in 2012. The launch of Apple's iPad in 2010 largely defined the category, just as the launch of the iPhone defined a new kind of smartphone in 2007; in 2012 we will probably begin to see Android tablets start to gain major market share just as Android smartphones have done this year.

On Techdirt.

12 January 2012

Is Microsoft Blocking Linux Booting on ARM Hardware?

Back in September last year, there was a bit of a to-do about Microsoft's UEFI Secure Boot technology in Windows 8, when a Red Hat engineer posted the following:

On Open Enterprise blog.

11 January 2012

"An Open-Source World"? Where's The Open Source?

If we are to believe the early signs, 2012 may well be the year that British schools finally start to address the continuing shame that is ICT teaching. As I and many others have noted, the current approach essentially consists of sitting people in front of Microsoft Word and Excel and making them learn a couple of commands on the menus. It seems that the message has finally got through to the powers-that-be:

On Open Enterprise blog.

10 January 2012

How "Throwing One Away" Makes Open Source Better

There's a wonderful line in Fred Brooks' book "The Mythical Man-Month", where he says that when writing a program, plan to throw one way - you will anyway. But that's a bit of a problem for conventional software development, because it's not clear when the best time is to throw that one away.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Jazz Pioneer 'Jelly Roll' Morton's Music Finally Free For Re-use In Europe -- A Hundred Years Too Late

A recent Techdirt post reminded us that thanks to its crazy copyright laws, the US won't be seeing anything new in the public domain for many years. But even in those "fortunate" countries that get to use cultural works a mere 70 years after the creator's death, the situation is still pretty absurd. 

On Techdirt.

09 January 2012

UK Government Betrayal of Open Standards Confirmed

Just before Christmas I wrote a fairly strongly-worded condemnation of what I saw as the imminent betrayal of open standards by the UK Cabinet Office. This was based on reading between the lines of a new Procurement Policy Note, plus my thirty years' experience of dealing with Microsoft. At the time, I didn't have any specific proof that Microsoft was behind this shameful U-turn, but Mark Ballard has, it seems:

On Open Enterprise blog.

07 January 2012

Why SOPA Would Be A Disaster For Scientific Publishing

One of the many dangerous aspects of SOPA/PIPA is that its backers seem to have given no thought to what the unintended consequences might be. In particular, there is no awareness that it might wreak serious damage in areas that are very distant from the core concerns of unauthorized copies of music or films – such as scientific publishing. 

On Techdirt.

06 January 2012

Will The Food Industry Ever Swallow Transparency's Bitter Pill?

A fascinating trend in recent years has been the gradual move from a presumption of secrecy to one of openness, transparency and sharing. This began with free software/open source, and has progressively spread to include areas such as open content, open access, open data, open science and open government.
Here's the latest field where people are advocating a more open approach:

On Techdirt.

05 January 2012

If Libraries Didn't Exist, Would Publishers Be Trying To Kill Book Lending?

Against the background of today's war on sharing, exemplified by SOPA and PIPA, traditional libraries underline an inconvenient truth: allowing people to share things – principally books in the case of libraries – does not lead to the collapse of the industry trying to sell those same things. But publishers really don't seem to have learned that lesson, judging by this article in the New York Times about the nonsensical attitude they have to libraries lending out ebooks

On Techdirt.

Is Monmouthpedia The Future Of Wikipedia?

One of the central questions the Wikipedia community grapples with is: What exactly is Wikipedia trying to achieve? For example, does it aspire to be a total encyclopedia of everything? What is the appropriate level of detail? 

On Techdirt.

German Court Decisions Make Everyday Use Of The Internet Increasingly Risky There

Perhaps there's something about the German legal system that encourages judges to push their interpretation of the law to the limit, without any concern for whether the results of that logic are absurd. At least that is the impression you might get from two recent cases whose judgments both make use of the internet by ordinary citizens increasing fraught with legal risks. 

On Techdirt.

04 January 2012

Of Open Source and the European Commission

At the end of last year I reported on the worrying signs of vacillation from the UK government over its support for truly open standards. At least it's relatively straightforward to keep tabs on what's happening in Blighty; Europe is another matter - I find the labyrinthine bureaucracy and its digital shadow pretty hard to navigate. So I was pleased to come across the following page, entitled "Strategy for internal use of OSS at the EC".

On Open Enterprise blog.

Beyond The Internet Of Things Towards A Sensor Commons

Already it's clear that one of the hot tech topics of 2012 will be "The Internet of Things" – the idea that even the most mundane objects will be hooked up to the Net and communicating over it. So far, pundits have concentrated on trivial applications like being able to check your fridge's contents from a browser, but potentially it could be much more than that if the "things" are groups of sensors whose data can be usefully aggregated. 

On Techdirt.

03 January 2012

What should free software do in 2012?

In my last column, I suggested that one of the best things that Mozilla could do in order to promote the Open Web and openness in general would be to support the battle for online freedom in more general ways. That's something it has already started doing, notably in trying to halt the passage of the awful Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that is currently grinding through the US legislative process.

On The H Open.