28 February 2012

The Struggle Between Copyright and the Internet

January 18, 2012 may well go down as a pivotal date in the history of the Internet – and of copyright.  For on that day, the English-language Wikipedia and thousands of other websites were blacked out or modified to protest against two bills passing through the US legislative system that were designed to fight copyright infringement.  To understand why that unprecedented action took place, and what it means for the future of the Net, it’s necessary to review the history of copyright briefly. 

On Stir to Action.

UK Open Standards Consultation Submission

Somewhat belatedly (apologies), here is the second part of my analysis of the UK government's Open Standards consultation. As well as a quick look at the remaining two chapters, I include my responses to individual questions at the end.

On Open Enterprise blog.

WURFL: a cautionary tale

A few months ago, I wrote about the library management program Koha, and how the irruption of money into the previously tranquil world of open source led to some painful arguments. Sadly, that's not a unique example, as the recent case of WURFL demonstrates.

On The H Open.

25 February 2012

UK Labour Party: Let's Just Get On With Kicking People Offline Over Copyright Infringement

As Techdirt reported at the time, the UK's Digital Economy Bill was rammed through Parliament, without proper scrutiny or even much democratic process, in the dying hours of the previous government. Since then, the implementation of the Digital Economy Act has moved forward relatively slowly. That's partly because there have been a series of legal challenges from ISPs concerned about its legality (and likely cost for them). In addition, it made sense for the current UK government to wait for the completion of the Hargreaves report on copyright in the digital age before proceeding. 

On Techdirt.

Why Ebook Portal Library.nu Differed From Other Filesharing Sites

A couple of weeks ago the popular ebook portal Library.nu was shut down, apparently voluntarily, after a coalition of book publishers obtained an injunction against it and a similar site. As an excellent post on the kNOw Future Inc. blog points out, Library.nu was significant in a number of ways

On Techdirt.

One More Copyright Infringement, And HADOPI Must Disconnect Itself From The Net

The governmental body that oversees France's "three-strikes" law, HADOPI, has already been caught once infringing on the copyright of others -- by using a logo designed with unlicensed fonts. Now it's been spotted using photographs without respecting the so-called "moral rights" of the photographer, which include the right to attribution (French original), absent on HADOPI's site. Such moral rights are taken very seriously in France, where they are automatic, perpetual and cannot be waived (unlike in some other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom.) 

On Techdirt.

Trademark Lobby Wants To Help European Court of Justice Forget About EU Citizens' Rights

It was only yesterday that the European Commissioner Karel de Gucht made the surprise announcement that the European Commission would be referring ACTA to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) "to assess whether ACTA is incompatible -- in any way -- with the EU's fundamental rights and freedoms." Just a few hours after that, there are already signs of panic among ACTA's supporters that the treaty may indeed be incompatible -- and thus dead in the water as far as the European Union is concerned. 

On Techdirt.

Do You Need Permission To Take A Photo With A Chair In It? You Might In France...

The British Journal of Photography (BJP) brings us yet another story of aggressive assertion of copyright wreaking harm on artists -- the very people it allegedly empowers. It concerns some photos in Getty Images' stock library that have chairs in them. Because a few of those chairs are "famous" in the sense that they were produced by a couple of designers that worked with the architect Le Corbusier, the heirs of those designers, together with the Le Corbusier Foundation, have sued Getty Images in France for copyright infringement -- and won: 

On Techdirt.

22 February 2012

European Commission Suggests ACTA's Opponents Don't Have 'Democratic Intentions'

Last week, we had a story about the IFPI (the international equivalent of the RIAA) saying that the ACTA protests were trying to "silence the democratic process". You might have thought that was bad enough, but here's worse. 

On Techdirt.


One of the widely-recognised problems with ACTA is the lack of transparency surrounding its negotiation. Since I have addressed this issue at length elsewhere, I won't repeat myself here. But it occurred to me that there is another way of looking at transparency, and that is in terms of consultation. In a sense, it's the flip side of transparency.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Twitter Suspends Four Accounts Critical of Sarkozy: Is This What He Meant By 'Civilizing' The Net?

Nicolas Sarkozy, who hopes to be re-elected as French President this year, seems to have little love for the Internet. At best, he regards it as a "Wild West" that needs taming. Despite that, Sarkozy joined Twitter last week -- you can follow him @NicolasSarkozy. Posts are mainly written by his re-election team, although there seem to be a handful of personal tweets (marked "NS"). But at least he's finally engaging with the new medium on its own terms. 

On Techdirt.

Open Season on Open Standards

The increasingly heated debates about the traditionally dull area of computer standards is testimony to the rise of open source. For the latter absolutely requires standards to be truly open - that is, freely implementable, without any restrictions - whereas in the past standards were pretty much anything that enough powerful companies agreed upon, regardless of how restrictive they were.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Shining Light On ACTA's Lack Of Transparency

One of the key problems with ACTA is the lack of transparency during its negotiation. That this is becoming a big issue in Europe is shown by the fact that the European Commission has tried to dispose of the question twice -- first in its "10 myths about ACTA", which I discussed recently on Techdirt, and now with a page entitled "Transparency of ACTA negotiations": 

On Techdirt.

Australian Government Holds Secret Anti-Piracy Meetings; The Public Is Not Invited

As Techdirt noted recently, policy-making behind closed doors is no longer acceptable. Until the end of the 20th century, it was hard for the general public to make their views heard, and so governments didn't really bother asking them. But that's no longer the case: the Internet has blown government wide open, and there is now no excuse for not consulting as widely as possible -- including the public -- before passing legislation or signing treaties. 

On Techdirt.

DMCA Takedown Service Tells Copyright Companies: 'Adapt Your Business To The New Digital World'

Although DMCA takedown notices figure quite frequently here on Techdirt -- especially abusive ones that use the system to remove material covered by fair use or even in the public domain -- the industry that has grown up around them remains somewhat in the shadows. That's what makes the site with the self-explanatory name "Takedown Piracy", found via the 1709 Blog, so fascinating: it offers a glimpse of the world of DMCA takedowns as seen from the other side. 

On Techdirt.

17 February 2012

SOCA's Frightening New Approach to Music Piracy

Yesterday I wrote about the unusual aspects of the Serious Organised Crime Agency's take-down of the music site RnBXclusive. As I noted then, there are still lots of questions to be answered here, but another piece of the puzzle has been given to us in the form of the following statement on SOCA's Web site:

On Open Enterprise blog.

Would Steve Jobs Have Approved? Artist Offers His Apple Monologue, Performance Rights, For Free

As sales of its products soar, and its share price continues to climb, Apple has come under increasing scrutiny because of the working conditions in the Chinese factories where its iPhone and iPad are manufactured. This has led Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, to announce recently that the Fair Labor Association will be conducting audits of Apple’s final assembly suppliers, including Foxconn factories in China. 

On Techdirt.

Portuguese Artists Association Struggles To Get Even 100 Members On List In Favor Of Exorbitant New Private Copying Levies

Few ideas display a sense of entitlement better than that of private copying levies. For they assume, by definition, that artists' representatives have a right to money from the public simply because there is some kind of storage that could be used to hold digital copies of copyright files, and that every time such a file is copied, money must be paid (never mind if you are just making backups or transferring your holdings to bigger storage sizes.) 

On Techdirt.

Serious Organised Crime Agency Takes Down Music Site

One of the positive outcomes of the debate that has raged around SOPA/PIPA is that more people have looked at the facts, rather than listened to the rhetoric, surrounding piracy. In particular, the copyright industries' hitherto unchallenged claim that piracy is destroying their business is finally being challenged – not least by reports like "The Sky is Rising" that consolidate industry figures to show that things are really looking pretty good across the board. 

On Open Enterprise..

How Do We Know That Piracy Isn't Really A Big Issue? Because Media Companies Still Haven't Needed To Change As A Result Of It

One of the positive outcomes of the debate that has raged around SOPA/PIPA is that more people have looked at the facts, rather than listened to the rhetoric, surrounding piracy. In particular, the copyright industries' hitherto unchallenged claim that piracy is destroying their business is finally being challenged – not least by reports like "The Sky is Rising" that consolidate industry figures to show that things are really looking pretty good across the board. 

On Techdirt.

UK Publishers Pretend To Embrace Copyright Reform... In Order To Kill Copyright Reform

One of the bolder ideas in the UK's Hargreaves report was the suggestion that a Digital Copyright Exchange should be set up. The idea here is to promote innovative uses of digital content by making it much easier to acquire the necessary licenses from rightsholders. So it's interesting to see the UK Publishers Association (PA) backing the idea

On Techdirt.

Head of Mozilla Says ACTA Is 'A Bad Way To Develop Internet Policy'

One telling sign of the widespread concern about SOPA/PIPA was that the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, which oversees the open source Firefox and Thunderbird projects, abandoned its non-interventionist policy, and came out strongly against the bills. It first signed a joint letter sent to the key sponsors of both bills, and then modified its home page, pointing to further information about SOPA. That, in its turn, linked to a post entitled "PIPA/SOPA and Why You Should Care," written by Mitchell Baker, the Chair of the Mozilla Foundation. 

On Techdirt.

ACTA Update VI

Yesterday, a disturbing story appeared on the German taz.de site:

EU MPs have received thousands of emails from ACTA opponents. But no more: the Parliamentary authorities have decided that all ACTA emails will go straight into the spam folder.

On Open Enterprise blog.

The World Of Open Textbooks Just Became A Little More Crowded -- And A Little More Open

Open e-textbooks are hardly new: Techdirt has been reporting on the pioneer in this market, Flat World Knowledge, for several years now. But a new entrant called OpenStax College is noteworthy for a number of reasons: 

On Techdirt.

Dutch Government: Make European Copyright Exceptions More Flexible

Well, here's a turn-up for the books. At a time when the European Commission is insisting that the copyright ratchet should be tightened up a few notches by bringing in ACTA, with its perilously vague terms that potentially criminalize even low-level acts of online sharing, here's the Dutch government planning to go in the opposite direction

On Techdirt.

Debunking The EU Commission's 'Myths About ACTA'

It's a sign of the European Commission's increasing desperation over ACTA that it has been forced to send out a document entitled "10 Myths About ACTA" [pdf] that purports to debunk misinformation that is being put around. Unsurprisingly, the EC's document is itself full of misinformation. Here are just a few of the more outrageous examples. 

On Techdirt.

13 February 2012

ACTA Update V

The European Commission's defence of ACTA has essentially two prongs. The first is that "ACTA changes nothing for Europeans"; I discussed why that was simply not true in my previous two updates. The other is: "we need ACTA to protect our economies from counterfeiting." Leaving aside the sleight of hand that blurs the distinction between physical counterfeits and digital copies - something I've noted before - I want to show why this claim too is false.

On Open Enterprise blog.

'The Economist' And 'Financial Times' Already Writing Off ACTA As Dead

In the last few days, we've seen an extraordinary wave of announcements by governments in Europe, particularly its eastern part, that they would not be ratifying ACTA immediately. That sequence of events, culminating in today's news that Germany, too, would be holding off, has suddenly made lots of people sit up and take notice.

But even against that tumultuous background, few of us would have expected that two of the most serious business publications in Europe, The Economist and Financial Times, would both go much further than simply noting the problems the treaty now faces, and declare that ACTA is pretty much dead. 

On Techdirt.

Do The Differences Between Software Piracy And Media Piracy Matter?

Danah Boyd (or danah boyd as she prefers to be called) is widely recognized as an authority on privacy, identity and social networks. A couple of weeks ago, in the context of the fight against SOPA, she wrote a blog post where she made an interesting distinction between different kinds of piracy

On Techdirt.

09 February 2012

ACTA Update IV

This is a continuation of my previous post examining the European Commission's attempt to dispel what it calls ten "myths" about ACTA [.pdf]. I'm commenting only on the most egregious attempts by the Commission to talk away the issues - it would be too tedious to go through every point in detail.

On Open Enterprise blog.

08 February 2012

Publishing 2.0: Content Is Marketing, Profits Come From The Packaging

Publishers find themselves confronted by a difficult dilemma at the moment. On the one hand, they might want e-books to succeed, because digital devices represent a huge new market to which they can sell their back catalogs. On the other, they might want them to fail, because e-books will cannibalize sales of traditional books, and it's not yet clear how low the price of e-books will have to go in order to avoid the kind of piracy problems the recording industry exacerbated through persistent overcharging.

On Techdirt.


It's a sign of the European Commission's increasing desperation over ACTA that it has been forced to send out a document entitled "10 Myths About ACTA" [.pdf] that purports to debunk misinformation that is being put around. Unsurprisingly, the EC's document is itself full of misinformation; over the next few days I'll be going through some of its most egregious attempts to obfuscate and generally explain away the deep problems of ACTA.

On Open Enterprise blog.

USPTO Says Copies Of Academic Articles Submitted As Prior Art Are Covered By Fair Use

With all the heat that publishers are starting to feel from the academic community, you might have thought that they'd avoid upsetting anyone else. But it seems that some publishers have decided to go after lawyers who make patent applications that include copies of academic articles as prior art. As the PatentlyO blog explains

On Techdirt.

We Don't Have A 'Wild West' Internet Now, But We Will If SOPA Or Similar Is Passed

Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, has the sad distinction of being in the vanguard when it comes to really bad ideas concerning the Internet. On his initiative, France became the testing-ground for the three-strikes approach of throwing people off the Internet upon multiple accusations of copyright infringement, without the need for proof or a court order, known there as HADOPI. He also helped put into circulation a view that is much in vogue at the moment

On Techdirt.

07 February 2012

What The Curebit Saga Teaches Us About Copyright, Plagiarism And Reputation

The startup Curebit brought something of a firestorm down on its head recently. Here's how VentureBeat broke the story

On Techdirt.

04 February 2012

Is The US Meddling In Polish ACTA Voting?

With the immediate threat from SOPA/PIPA on hold, people have started to turn their attention to the long-running saga of ACTA. While it was being negotiated behind closed doors, few people knew about it, and protests against it were muted. Now that it has finally emerged into the open and begins its last dash towards the finishing line of ratification, the pace of anti-ACTA activism is beginning to pick up quickly. That's especially true in Europe, where everything hinges on the result of the European Parliament's vote on the treaty later this year. If it rejects it, ACTA is dead. 

On Techdirt.

ACTA Update II

Although ACTA is billed as a global treaty, there are only two participants that really matter: the US and the European Union. If either of those dropped out, it would be completely ineffectual. 

On Open Enterprise blog.

If Politicians Pushing SOPA/PIPA Want To Create Jobs, They Should Support The Internet -- And Stop Treating Copyright Companies As Special

A key element of the political rhetoric around SOPA/PIPA was the idea that it was about jobs, and that jobs are so critical in the current economic climate that safeguarding them overrides any other concern the Net world might have about the means being proposed to do that. But then the key question becomes: who are really more important in terms of those jobs - the copyright industries, or companies exploiting the potential of the Internet that would be harmed if the Net were hobbled by new legislation?

On Techdirt.

Why Piracy Is Indispensable For The Survival Of Our Culture

Last Year Techdirt wrote about the case of the huge collection of historic jazz recordings that had been acquired by the US National Jazz Museum. The central problem is that even if the recordings can be digitized before they deteriorate, very few people will hear them because of their complicated copyright status. 

On Techdirt.

02 February 2012

Estonia Next In Line To Receive US 'Encouragement' To Adopt Harsher Anti-Piracy Laws

Numerous Wikileaks cables have highlighted the pressure that the US has brought to bear on several foreign governments behind closed doors in an attempt to get the latter to pass maximalist copyright laws. But it's worth noting that plenty of arm twisting takes place openly. Here, for example, is a letter (pdf) from the American Chamber of Commerce in Estonia addressed to the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications of that country: 

On Techdirt.

ACTA Update I

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or identi.ca, or on Google+ will have noticed something of a crescendo of posts about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) recently. There are two reasons for this.

On Open Enterprise blog.

iPhone Data Debunks Recording Industry's Report On How French Three Strikes Law Increased Sales

The annual Digital Music Report (pdf) of the International Federation for the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) is a curiously conflicted production. On the one hand, it must celebrate "a healthy 8 per cent increase in our digital revenues in 2011 -- the first time the annual growth rate has risen since records began in 2004 "; on the other, it must continue to push the party line about how the industry is being destroyed by piracy. 

On Techdirt.

The End Of The Global Internet? Google's Blogger Starts Using Country-Specific Domains To Permit Local Censorship

Twitter has taken quite a lot of heat for putting in place the capability to block tweets on a geographical basis. This begins to look a little unfair in light of the fact that Google quietly adopted a similar policy before Twitter. That's shown by the answer to a question on Google's Blogger site about blogs being redirected to country-specific URLs, which at the time of writing was last updated on 9 January 2012. Here's what it says: 

On Techdirt.

Another Reason We Need Open Government Data: To Avoid Information Asymmetries

Can the future aggregate actions of people be predicted from relevant sets of data that describe them? That, of course, is what Isaac Asimov's invented mathematical discipline of psychohistory was supposed to do. Some Japanese researchers claim to have made some progress towards that goal

On Techdirt.

Will Academics' Boycott Of Elsevier Be The Tipping Point For Open Access -- Or Another Embarrassing Flop?

It's now widely recognized that the extreme demands of SOPA/PIPA catalyzed a new activism within the Net world, epitomized by the blackout effected by sites like Wikipedia on January 18. But as Techdirt has reported, SOPA and PIPA are not the only attacks by the copyright industries on the digital commons: another is the Research Works Act (RWA), which attempts to remove the public's right to read the articles written by tax-funded researchers in open access journals form. 

On Techdirt.