30 April 2012

How Microsoft Fought True Open Standards III

In my first two posts about Microsoft's lobbying against true open standards, I concentrated on a document sent to the Cabinet Office in May 2011. Here, I'd like to look at another, sent in October 2011 (available in both html and pdf formats.)

On Open Enterprise blog.

27 April 2012

EU Liberals To Vote Against ACTA; Conservatives Want To 'Fix' It

We reported last week that the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament had decided to vote against the ratification of ACTA; now the Liberals and Democrats are following suit

On Techdirt.

'Almost Anybody Can Have An Idea' -- Linus Torvalds

A constant theme here on Techdirt is that it's not the idea that's crucial, but the execution. Here's someone who seems to agree

On Techdirt.


Even though most of the focus around here has been on the UK government's Open Standards consultation (I do hope you've managed to reply by now - time is running out), the ACTA monster is still slouching towards Bethlehem. Things have gone better than I expected, with the ACTA rapporteur recommending against ratification, the socialists confirming they will vote against it, and rumours that the liberals will also vote against it. But it's important to emphasise that it's not dead yet.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Norwegian Security Service Wants Details Of Citizens' Web Comments Retained For Six Months

Governments around the world are seeking to monitor more and more of their citizens' online activities -- and it's not just the most obviously repressive regimes doing this. In the US, there is CISPA, while the UK is drawing up the Communications Capability Development Programme. Thomas Steen alerts us to a further escalation of this desire to spy on the public, in Norway. The secret service there (known by the acronym PST) want details about comments posted on all Web sites retained (via Google Translate): 

On Techdirt.

ACTA 'May Interfere With Fundamental Freedoms' -- EU Data Protection Supervisor

The dramatic announcement that the EU's rapporteur on ACTA, David Martin, would be recommending that the European Parliament should reject the treaty was made at the end of a morning conference on the subject organized by Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. One of those speaking in favor of ACTA at that meeting was Helienne Lindvall, a professional songwriter and musician, who has now blogged about it

On Techdirt.

Interview with Charles-H. Schulz on Open Standards

As you may have noticed, open standards are a hot topic currently. One person who deals with them all the time in a variety of ways is Charles-H. Schulz.
That's because he's one of the leaders of The Document Foundation, home to the LibreOffice fork of the ODF-based OpenOffice.org, and he's also on the board of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). The following is an interview exploring his views about standards - open and not so open.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Kenya's High Court Rules Anti-Counterfeiting Law Is Unconstitutional Because It Threatens Access To Generic Drugs

Back in 2009, Techdirt wrote about an interesting challenge to a then-new law against counterfeits in Kenya, on the grounds that it might be used to stop perfectly legal generic variants of drugs being imported into the country. That matters, because around 90% of drugs used in Kenya are generics, which means that blocking them would have serious implications for healthcare in that country. 

On Techdirt.

The Serious Business of Open Source, Inc.

One of open source's great strengths is that it is not a company. This means that traditional methods of nullifying its threat – such as buying it or causing it to go bankrupt – simply don't work. This is one reason why traditional software companies have had such a hard time getting their heads around free software and coming up with a sensible response.

On The H Open.

Open Access And The Art Of Contract Hacking

Open Access continues to gain momentum, as more and more researchers seek to make their work freely available online. One way of doing that is by modifying the contract that academic publishers routinely send to potential authors, inserting a clause that allows digital copies to be distributed. 

On Techdirt.

London 2012 Olympics Win Gold Medal For Cluelessness By Banning Video And Photo Uploads To Social Media During Games

As Techdirt has reported, the London 2012 Olympics bring with them a range of "special" measures guaranteed to make London a place for lovers of freedom to avoid this summer. But it seems that the organizers wish to ensure that anyone attending will also have a rather miserable time

On Techdirt.

Does Microsoft Office Lock-in Cost the UK Government £500 Million?

In may last column, I wrote about Microsoft's efforts last year to derail any possible adoption of ODF. That's very telling, because in a way it's quite separate from the issue of open standards, and it shows that one of Microsoft's chief fears is losing the extremely lucrative office suite business. But just how lucrative is it? An email from Microsoft that is apparently circulating around the Treasury department sheds some interesting light on this. Here's what it says:

On Open Enterprise blog.

Tim Berners-Lee Says UK's Net Spying Plans Would Be 'Destruction Of Human Rights'

Not content with inventing the Web and then giving it away, Tim Berners-Lee remains highly active in warning about the threats the Internet and its users face. Most recently he has taken on the British government's disproportionate plans to store information about every email sent and Web page visited in the UK: 

On Techdirt.

Italian 'Blog Killer' Law Rises From the Grave

As if Italians didn't have enough problems, it seems that their government is trying to sneak through a proposal supposedly designed to provide those who are libelled online with an automatic recourse, which activists thought they had managed to kill off five months ago. Here's the plan: 

On Techdirt.

Chinese Copyright Proposal Would Allow Compulsory Licensing Of Music After Three Months

As China continues to climb up the economic rankings (it became number two last year, in case you missed it) its domestic policy begins to have wider implications for the rest of the world. A case in point is this news from Slashdot about proposed changes to China's copyright laws. Two sections in particular are proving controversial

On Techdirt.

18 April 2012

How Microsoft Fought True Open Standards II

In yesterday's post about Microsoft's lobbying of the Cabinet Office against truly open standards based on RF licensing, I spent some time examining the first part of a letter sent by the company on 20 May last year. The second part concentrates on the issue of open standards for document exchange. This touches on one of the most brutal episodes in recent computing history - the submission of Microsoft's OOXML file format to ISO for approval. 

On Open Enterprise blog.

Is TPP To Blame For The Continuing Delay In Passing New Zealand's 2008 Bill That Excludes Software Patents?

As Techdirt reported a couple of years ago, a hard-fought campaign in New Zealand to prevent software patents being granted there seemed to have paid off, with a Patents Bill explicitly excluding them that came with the following commentary: 

On Techdirt.

BSA Wants Business Software Licences To Be Checked in VAT Audits

In my last post, I wrote about my Freedom of Information request to find out how Microsoft had been lobbying against true open standards that mandated RF licensing. In fact, I made another at the same time, asking a similar question about the Business Software Alliance's contacts with the Cabinet Office. There turned out to be only two meetings, and one email, so clearly the BSA played less of a role than Microsoft in this area.

On Open Enterprise blog.

ACTA Rapporteur's Recommendations: Reject Treaty, But Ask European Commission To Come Up With Replacement

Last week, the EU Rapporteur on ACTA, David Martin, announced he would recommend that the European Parliament reject the treaty. He has now made good on that promise in his report, available in draft form (pdf): 

On Techdirt.

What One Line of Code can Teach Us

Light Blue Touchpaper is a blog written by researchers in the Security Group at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory (don't miss the explanation of the blog's rather witty name). It's normally full of deep stuff about computer security and vulnerabilities, and is well worth reading for that reason.

On The H Open.

How Microsoft Fought True Open Standards I

Regular readers may recall that I was not a little taken aback by an astonishing U-turn performed by the Cabinet Office on the matter of open standards. As I pointed out in a follow-up article, this seemed to bear the hallmarks of a Microsoft intervention, but I didn't have any proof of that. 

On Open Enterprise blog.

ACTA Closer To Death: Remaining EU Supporters Contemplate Rejecting It

Last week we saw the Socialists and Democrats, the second-largest bloc in the European Parliament, turn against ACTA. Combined with the stated position of the Green party there, that means ACTA is closer to being thrown out when the vote for ratification takes place in Brussels this summer. 

On Techdirt.

US Judge Forbids Motorola From Using German Injunction Against Microsoft

Here's an interesting development in the legal battle between Microsoft and Motorola in Germany that we discussed recently. It seems that Microsoft is worried that the German court might award Motorola an injunction against it, and so has asked a US judge to stop Motorola from using it in that case -- and he agreed: 

On Techdirt.

As ACTA 1.0 Lies Dying, Are G8 Countries Already Working On ACTA 2.0?

As we recently reported, ACTA has been dealt a serious blow by the EU Rapporteur's recommendation that the European Parliament should reject the treaty. In a fascinating leaked document (pdf) obtained by EDRI, it seems that even the G8 countries have accepted that ACTA is probably dead -- and have started working on a successor

On Techdirt.

Another Reason Why DRM Is Bad -- For Publishers

As a way of fighting unauthorized sharing of digital files, DRM is particularly stupid. It not only doesn't work -- DRM is always broken, and DRM-less versions quickly produced -- it also makes the official versions less valuable than the pirated ones, since they are less convenient to use in multiple ways. As a result, DRM actually makes piracy more attractive, which is probably why most of the music industry eventually decided to drop it. 

On Techdirt.

Russia Takes SOPA-Like Approach In Encouraging ISPs To Spy On Their Users

Something that's proving popular with politicians running out of ideas for tackling unauthorized sharing of copyright materials online is to make ISPs and Web sites responsible for the actions of their users -- even though nobody would think of doing the same for telephone companies. SOPA was one of the best-known examples of this approach, and now it looks like Russia wants to join the club

On Techdirt.

EU Rapporteur Deals Major Blow To ACTA: Recommends Rejection By European Parliament

At the end of a morning of discussions about ACTA organized by the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, the Rapporteur for ACTA, David Martin, has recommended that the European Parliament should reject the treaty, saying: 

On Techdirt.


What an extraordinary ride ACTA is proving.

When I first started this series of ACTA Updates back in February, I didn't hold out much hope that we would be able to stop it simply grinding through the European approval process. But over the last two months I've detailed some amazing events that have had a huge impact on ACTA's chances of being ratified. And yesterday, those amazing events culminated in the following statement from the European Parliament's rapporteur for ACTA:

On Open Enterprise blog.

As Germany Becomes Europe's East Texas, Microsoft Moves Its Distribution Center

Just as companies often try to file their patent lawsuits in East Texas, so Germany is emerging as a favorite forum for patent litigation in Europe -- and for precisely the same reason: 

On Techdirt.

11 April 2012

Open Textbook Startup Sued For Allegedly Copying 'Distinctive Selection, Arrangement, and Presentation' Of Facts From Existing Titles

The Boycott Elsevier movement discussed here on Techdirt several times was born of a frustration at the high prices of academic journals. But another area arguably afflicted even more is that of textbooks for higher education: 

On Techdirt.

Another Billion-Dollar Open Source Company: Instagram

Earlier this week I wrote about the first company based on open source to reach a turnover of one billion dollars. But of course, there are lots of multi-billion dollar turnover companies that are based on open source - Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. - it's just that they don't make money off it directly.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Unhappy With Even Minimal Scrutiny, US Removes Last Pretense Of TPP Transparency

One of the central problems of ACTA has been its lack of transparency. TPP has also been negotiated behind closed doors, but unlike ACTA has permitted at least one small opportunity for public groups to engage with the negotiators through the use of stakeholder forums, where organizations and even individuals were permitted to give short presentations about aspects of TPP. This has allowed points of view other than those of industry lobbyists to be heard by negotiators. 

On Techdirt.

Of Microsoft, Netscape, Patents and Open Standards

I still remember well the day in October 1994 when I downloaded the first beta of Netscape's browser. It was instantly obvious that this was a step beyond anything we'd had until then, and that it was the dawn of a new Internet era.

On Open Enterprise blog.

If Piracy Is So Devastating, Why Are We Seeing An Unprecedented Outpouring Of Creativity?

One of the favorite tropes of the anti-piracy crowd is that all this unauthorized sharing is killing culture, pauperizing artists and generally making the world go to hell in a handbasket. The only pieces of evidence adduced in support of that position are the market reports put together for the copyright industries that (a) say the sky is falling and (b) base that analysis on the industries' own unsubstantiated claims. 

On Techdirt.

Red Hat's Billion Dollars And the Power of Free

Recently, there was some justified excitement that Red Hat had finally done it, and turned in annual sales of over $1 billion. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post here on Computerworld UK wondering why there were no companies based around open source that had managed to achieve such billion-dollar turnovers, and suggested that the key reason was one put forward by Red Hat's CEO, Jim Whitehurst:

On Open Enterprise blog.

Just Because It's Now Cheaper And Easier To Spy On Everyone All The Time, Doesn't Mean Governments Should Do It

Rick Falkvinge has another of his fascinating posts up on his Web site, but this one's slightly different from his usual insights into the dysfunctional nature of copyright and patents. It concerns some little-known (to me, at least) history of how Sweden went from being a beacon of freedom to a country under comprehensive surveillance

On Techdirt.

06 April 2012

Where TPP Goes Beyond ACTA -- And How It Shows Us The Future Of IP Enforcement

ACTA and TPP have much in common. That's no coincidence, since they are both born of a common desire to move away from multilateral forums like WIPO that are relatively open to scrutiny, to invitation-only groups negotiating behind closed doors. That lack of transparency has allowed all kinds of extreme measures to be proposed without any countervailing arguments being heard about why they are neither fair nor sensible. 

On Techdirt.

Polish Government Funding 'Full Set Of Educational Materials' Available Under CC-BY

One of the fields that is ripe for disruption by open digital technologies and business models based on abundance is education. That's already starting to happening with growing successes in the areas of open access and free textbooks. Now here's a major win for open educational resources in Poland (via Slashdot): 

On Techdirt.

A Copyright First: Bogus Copyright Takedown Leads To Australian Court Awarding $150k Damages

We're so inured to hearing about unjustified claims of copyright infringement going unpunished that's it's good to come across a case where extensive damages were awarded for the harm caused. It concerns a film that the Australian artist Richard Bell made in New York, with the help of an assistant called Tanya Steele: 

On Techdirt.

What Quilting's Legal Battles Can Teach Us About Copyright

Last year Techdirt wrote about Leah Day, who was trying to introduce a free model to quilting -- apparently a bold thing to do. Sadly, it seems that the ownership mentality is nonetheless spreading in her field, as she reports in this really excellent new blog post entitled "Copyright Terrorism"

On Techdirt.

German Scriptwriters Attack 'Greens, Pirates, Left-wingers And Internet Community' For Daring To Have Different Views On Copyright

The German series "Tatort" ("Crime Scene") has been running since 1970, and remains one of the most popular programs on German television. Given this venerable position, it's perhaps not completely surprising that its scriptwriters -- 51 of them -- have written an open letter complaining about the supposedly negative attitudes of some groups to copyright (German original). But what is noteworthy is the tone and content of the letter. 

On Techdirt.

05 April 2012

Our Imminent Summer of Digital Discontent

As you may have noticed, the weather is rather confused in the UK at the moment – one moment sweltering, the next freezing. But I predict this summer is certainly going to be hot, judging at least by what's going on in the world of digital rights.

First of all, there's ACTA. In a surprising but welcome decision, the INTA committee recommended that ACTA be voted on in the European Parliament, rather than referred to the European Court of Human Justice, as the European Commission is doing:

After an eventful process where a minority of pro-ACTA MEPs used procedural arguments to delay a decision, the EU Parliament's "International Trade" committee refused to refer ACTA to the EU Court of Justice. Such a referral would have delayed for 18 months the final vote on ACTA.

Respecting the original timetable, the rapporteur David Martin (S&D, UK) will now present a draft report to his colleagues on April 25th, 2012. This draft report will form the basis of the INTA committee's final recommendation to the rest of the Parliament on whether to consent to ACTA or to reject it.

The INTA committee, as well as the other committees working on opinion reports, will also resume their works on this illegitimate agreement.

That means we will need to contact our MEPs before the vote to make sure they understand why ACTA is a bad idea and should be rejected in the vote. Once that happens, the judgment from the ECJ will be irrelevant: ACTA will be rejected by Europe. And without Europe, ACTA as a whole is dead – hence the importance of convincing MEPs.

Still on the European front, there is the imminent revision of the “Intellectual Property Rights” Directive (IPRED). Although it's a little hard to know how the European Commission will play this in the light of the turbulence around ACTA, there's no reason to think that it will moderate its plans, which are pretty bad. Here's La Quadrature du Net's take on them:

the EU Commission released a communication on the digital single market covering most EU policies related to the Digital Agenda1. As this document suggests, the Commission is working on combating illegal gambling websites, which could take the form of censorship measures such as those implemented in France and other Member States2. Hypocritically, and probably to please the banking industry, the Commission does not even consider attacking illegal businesses' financial streams, which would be an effective way to tackle them. Instead, the Commission paves the way to censorship measures at the core of the network.

In the area of Copyright, the EU Commission sticks to the dangerous notion of “illegal content”, which doesn't mean anything by itself, except that the network will be programmed for enforcement. It is also pushing for extra-judicial “cooperation” between Internet actors, payment providers and entertainment industries, mirroring the very controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), currently discussed in the US Congress.

Again, just because SOPA and PIPA are on hold does not mean that there won't be further pushes to get them or something like them through the US system. Indeed, just recently the US Copyright Czar (what a ridiculous job title) has released her annual report on copyright and its enforcement, and from that it's clear the US will be pushing for more SOPA-like laws.

Meanwhile, back in the EU, we have more bad ideas: making "the production or sale of devices such as computer programs designed for cyber-attacks, or which find a computer password by which an information system can be accessed, would constitute criminal offences."

That's daft because, of course, many legitimate security tools can be used to discover computer passwords, so this would instantly criminalise those. The obvious solution would have been to allow an exemption for research, but the people in the European Parliament don't seem to understand what they are doing (just for a change).

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, we have even more worrying stuff if this report from James Firth is to be believed – and unfortunately, his sources are generally pretty good – about the imminent Communications Bill Green Paper:

I'm told ISPs would become responsible for deciding what is and what isn't copyright infringement on their networks and blocking infringing content without intervention from a court.

Notice and takedown would be expanded so that a whole website or domain could be taken down on a mere allegation from rights holders that the domain was used "substantially" for copyright infringement.

And search engines would be asked to police results, maintaining both a blacklist of whole domains which would never appear in search results and a whitelist of preferred purveyors of e-entertainment who would always appear at the top of the search results.

Again, this is seriously clueless stuff – breaking the Internet search engines and allowing arbitrary site blocking at the drop of a hat. It's really extraordinary how Western governments are happy to introduce levels of censorship today that a decade or so ago would have been unthinkable.

Finally, just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, we have total, police-state surveillance being planned for the UK:

The government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK under new legislation set to be announced soon.

Internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications on demand, in real time.

The Home Office says the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism, but civil liberties groups have criticised it. 


A new law - which may be announced in the forthcoming Queen's Speech in May - would not allow GCHQ to access the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant.

But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited.

Clearly, this is extreme stuff: every communication that we make would be recorded and accessible by the UK's intelligence services. Or rather, the supposedly intelligent intelligence services, for this kind of blanket surveillance is born of incompetence and laziness, the last resort of people unable to do their job under democratic conditions.

Instead, they use the usual cover of "terrorism" to justify these unprecedented measures, which they used before to introduce blanket CCTVs around our cities. Weren't they supposed to solve the problem? They didn't, and mass surveillance of communications won't either, which will then lead to yet more erosion of civil liberties in this countries. That's why we must stop this rot before it goes any further.

The good news is that the widespread outrage that has greeted this extreme proposal seems to have caused the coalition to pause in its plans, if only to regroup, with some mixed signals emerging about whether there will be a consultation before bringing them back. We need to be prepared to make cogent submissions to that if it happens, and to fight for it if it doesn't.

So, it's looking like it's going to be a long, very hot summer. Get those knotted handkerchiefs ready...

01 April 2012

Urgent: Defend a Balanced UK Approach to Copyright

Copyright consultations seem to be like buses: you wait for years, then several come at once. In the wake of the Hargreaves report, and the follow-up UK government consultation, we have another one, albeit rather different in emphasis.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Open Standards Licensing: Apple's Key Evidence

As regular readers know, there is a struggle going on between the free software community that needs open standards to be RF (strictly speaking "restriction-free", but usually called "royalty-free") and traditional companies based on proprietary software that are pushing for FRAND - Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory - not least because it will allow licences like the GNU GPL to be excluded. The argument is that RF means that any claimed patents within a standard must be made available at zero cost - and that, the proponents of FRAND insist, is unworkable, since companies will not be prepared to "sacrifice" their patents in this way.

On Open Enterprise blog.

ACTA Update XI

Although I've not written about ACTA here for a few weeks, things are still bubbling away in Brussels. Here's a good summary of what's going on from La Quadrature du Net, probably the best source of information on ACTA:

On Open Enterprise blog.

If ACTA Is So Great, Where Are All The Supporters Extolling Its Virtues?

One of the striking features of the ACTA debate is the deafening silence from those who are in favor of it. Maybe that's down to the SOPA effect: companies and organizations are frightened of being associated with such an unpopular idea. Of course, it could just be that even its most fervent supporters can't really come up with any plausible justifications for it. That's certainly the impression you get reading a rare attempt to raise the ACTA flag from the Institute for Policy Innovation, entitled "Acting Out on ACTA." 

On Techdirt.

UK Publishers Association Outraged It Wasn't Consulted Ahead Of The Public Over Open Access To Publicly-Funded Research

While the global boycott of Elsevier by academics continues to gain momentum and signatures – at the time of writing, the number is approaching 9000 – there's an open access storm in a teacup brewing in the UK. 

On Techdirt.