Digital Rights

Out of touch

We’ve been away and without connectivity for much of the last week. And what a week to choose. This summer will live in memory for its news and events. Some days, the real world is more like theatre than theatre is.

Through tools such as Reeder, and the many eyes and ears of Twitter, we just about kept abreast, snatching 3G, EDGE or feeble GPRS where location permitted, and quickly learning where towns and villages could give us WiFi. (A shout-out here for the excellent Toucan Café in Minehead, its good food and free wireless.)

Back home, I’ve caught up in detail on the accumulated reading. I wish it had been less dispiriting. It’s come to something when, as Euan said, Russell Brand is more credible than the Prime Minister.

Some of what I’ve been reading about the unrest in England, on Pinboard.


Every year when I teach our first years (Year 9) about ICT it’s often surprising what stands out as having changed. It’s life-as-we-once-knew-it, Jim, but now more or less of a piece with this digital stuff. We’ve made a new thing. Lots of new things.

But quick! Look after them! They’re vanishing even as we look.

Recent lessons have developed a focus around the web-and-culture, the web-as-culture. So, lesson 15 is all about the stuff James talked about at dConstruct last year: history, historiography, memory; archiving the internet; time, growth, loss, decay … hope. James’s talk is the focus.

Last Thursday, in the discussion about all that, I found other things suggested themselves and fell satisfyingly into place. I’ve added some of these to the lesson as a supplementary page: Lee’s deeply affecting talk at Reboot 9 about Kozarac; the Long Now’s Rosetta Project. But also things I haven’t put on that supplementary page: Yahoo! and Geocities (already in the original lesson 15) led on to Yahoo! and Delicious (I showed them Pinboard and we talked about backing up locally as well as in the cloud), and Yahoo! and Flickr (which Yahoo!’s CEO doesn’t use: ‘One of the most highly visible and trafficked Yahoo properties and you don’t even have an account there’).

That led on to a look at cloud-computing and the ways in which the Wikileaks story has made people readjust their view of providers (see my last post). It got me scrambling around to find this photo that I knew I’d squirrelled away on Tumblr a while back:

Jerry Yang at Congress

Gao Qin Sheng, mother of Shi Tao, a Chinese reporter sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets, cries as Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang (left) testifies before a congressional committee hearing. (Photo: Reuters) — The Sydney Morning Herald (2007)

Wikileaks, Egypt … let’s not forget these lessons about cloud-computing and the responsibilities of global communications and cloud-computing providers.

And, as I find myself thinking more and more about archiving, memory and the digital, I really enjoyed Euan’s recent pieces: One small step (‘Goodness - a usenet search just stumbled upon my first ever experience, in 1995, of the power of the internet to make things easier’) and My first blog post. I hope Euan is happy if I re-blog the latter here (it’s so pertinent):

I knew I started blogging around this time of year in 2001 but thanks to a server crash in December 2001 I had no record of my first blog post. I tried The Wayback Machine but couldn’t remember the original url. I had tried various searches on Google and using Devon Agent but with no success but then I remembered that Ev Williams, who started Blogger and now Twitter, had made me a “Blog of Note” on the front page of Blogger in 2002. A search for that got me my old url and The Wayback Machine then came up with the goods.

So my first ever blog posts are preserved here and I began on the 3rd of March 2001. On day three I said:

“I started feeling a bit uneasy about this blog today. Who will ever read it and what will those who do think?”

Ten years later I am still wondering …..

URLs, permalinks, archives … preservation. It all matters so very much.

I’ve been pointing out to my Year 9 pupils the Facebook setting that lets you download your material to a local drive (thanks to Michael for pointing it out to me) — Account > Account settings > Download your information:

This tool lets you download a copy of your information, including your photos and videos, posts on your wall, all of your messages, your friend list and other content you have shared on your profile. Within this zip file, you will have access to your data in a simple, browseable manner. Learn More about downloading a copy of your information.

So many memories are held in Facebook — for now. Will these teenagers be grandparents with few photos of their teenage years to look back on, show and share? Back up, back up, back up.

Steve Jobs: DRM

It's everywhere … very fast. And that's hardly surprising … Steve Jobs' statement on DRM needs to be read in its entirety, but it begins:

Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the “big four” music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI. These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world’s music. When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied. The solution was to create a DRM system, which envelopes each song purchased from the iTunes store in special and secret software so that it cannot be played on unauthorized devices.

And concludes:

Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music. 

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player. 

In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free  and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior, since the overwhelming majority of their revenues depend on selling CDs which must play in CD players that support no DRM system. 

So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies. 

Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries.  Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.  For Europeans, two and a half of the big four music companies are located right in their backyard.  The largest, Universal, is 100% owned by Vivendi, a French company.  EMI is a British company, and Sony BMG is 50% owned by Bertelsmann, a German company.  Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace.  Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.

Commentary/reaction/notable reports thus far: 

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs called on major music companies to stop requiring Apple and other companies to sell songs over the Internet with antipiracy software, calling the technology ineffective at deterring illicit copying of music. WSJ 

He calls it Thoughts on Music but it’s more like the Jobs Manifesto. I’ve never seen anything like this from him but Apple-ologists will know better.

Steve Jobs just shot a cannon ball across the music industry's bow.... Stunning! Somewhere Cory Doctorow is smiling! Jason Calacanis

(I'd love to have Cory's take on this.) 

In an open letter, the Apple CEO said his company is the wrong target for people who are concerned about DRM. "Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free", he writes. It is the record labels who insist on making Apple's iTunes store and other online stores resell their music encumbered with DRM - and yet ninety per cent of the music they sell themselves via CDs is free of restrictions, he notes. In recent weeks, Apple has come under fire from consumer groups and regulators in Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and France for its refusal to unlock the iTunes store so that its songs can be used on other MP3 players besides Apple's iPods. But Jobs thinks this is unfair: customers are served well in the current market, by competing manufacturers, each with their own "top-to-bottom" proprietary systems, he argues. As for consumer lock, the vast majority of songs on MP3 players are DRM-free. Only three per cent of songs on iPods have actually been purchased from iTunes, Jobs says. The Register

In effect (and Apple fans please don't get upset with this phrasing of words), this article is a piece of propaganda from Apple. The position is that Apple and Steve Jobs hate DRM just as much as you and I, so they will gladly support the abolition of DRM - if the big record companies choose to do so. Apple is positioning itself on our side, in the war against DRM. This is all very well, and a very commendable stance from Jobs and Apple. But I'm left feeling that surely there's more Apple can do to fight DRM than to simply give a hospital pass to the record companies? Apple is after all totally dominant in the online music industry, so it now has considerable power of its own. They are not totally at the mercy of record labels.... are they?! Because that's what this article from Steve Jobs makes it out to be. Read/Write Web 

The reason Jobs has taken this unusual step is, one assumes, because Apple is under increasing pressure from European and other governments to "open up" its iPod/iTunes system. There have even been threats to ban the system if it remains closed. Over the last few months, the stakes have gone up as antitrust lawsuits have been filed against the company in the US. For Apple, DRM's strategic costs have simply come to outweigh its benefits. So Jobs is formally whacking the ball into the record companies' court. It's their system, he's saying, not ours. One hopes that this may finally get them to realize that DRM is simply a millstone around the neck of their business. Nick Carr

Technorati tags: , , , ,

From the horse's mouth: Google's Global Counsel

Busy week last week, culminating with a trip to Brixton Academy on the Thursday to hear Pete Doherty and Babyshambles. There is musicianship and lyrical skill in there (I'm convinced of it! Some of my friends who are musicians are … less certain, shall we say), but this populist, narcissistic evening obscured most of that. (I found myself thinking how strangely reminiscent of Blair he is: needing to be loved, yet coming over so much of the time as considering himself … special.) We move on.

Friday afternoon and a quick trip to the where Andrew McLaughlin, Google's worldwide policy counsel, was speaking on :

Andrew McLaughlin is Head of Global Public Policy for Google Inc. Central policy issues for Google include privacy and data protection, censorship and content regulation, intellectual property (including copyright, patent, and trademark), communications and media policy, antitrust/competition, and the regulation of Internet networks and technologies. The leading countries for Google's government affairs activities include the US, Canada, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia, Russia, Germany, France, the UK, Israel, Egypt, and Ireland. Andrew co-leads Google's Africa Strategy Group.

Now that was a well-spent hour+. Some notes: 

Google faces a number of challenges: 

  1. Censorship: repressive regimes are what one immediately thinks of here and of these China is the only one to which Google has made any accommodation. User-generated content is highly sensitive to the powers-that-be in Saudi Arabia, China, Iran … (So that's blogs, then.) Less obvious forms of censorship include interpretations of what "has to go" because of concerns about child protection and issues to do with cultural protection. Pay close attention to the EC Audio-Visual Services Directive (formerly, ) — an effort to create content control — and the Online Content Directive (I think I got this down right, but I can't find anything about it online). 
  2. Copyright: without Fair Use rights, Google would not exist. Copyright must be revised so as to seek a better balance between the rights of creators (to whose benefit copyright law is currently skewed) and the rights of users. Andrew showed three videos which, in different ways, re-mix copyright material: , and . (BSB was, he said, a huge phenomenon in China.) Currently, no meaningful Fair Use rights exist in Australia. 
  3. Discrimination by carriers: network neutrality; quality of service. 
  4. Security. For example, Google Earth maps the world and you can swoop in on … a Chinese nuclear facility. The UK's attitude is 'no security through obscurity', but China, Russia, India and others are not so happy. So far, Google hasn't blurred or blocked a single image at the request of a government. During the recent war in the Lebanon, there was no real time coverage of the action (within Google's technical ability to do) and served images are, on average and approximately, 18 months behind the present, except during national disasters when all the stops are pulled out and images are as current as possible. (This is all to avoid any unhelpful clash with governmental agencies and consequent, restrictive legislation.) Finally, out of concerns about privacy, image resolution will never go so low as to allow identification of individuals.

Google chooses not to geo-target users by ISP address and then use this to enforce a government's repressive/restrictive laws. So, users can go to to search for what Germany requires Google to block on Google Deutschland. (Yahoo! was forced to implement a ban in France on accessing , but this was in a specific case and established no generic principle.)

maintains a database of Cease and Desist orders.

Some positive things to celebrate or look forward to:

  1. : one day IM chat in two different languages will be possible. Saudi Arabia doesn't like the service (it was being used to translate English > English, generating an unblocked — new — URL in the process). 
  2. Cloud computing. 
  3. Ubiquitous connectivity: mobile telephony; spreading wireless access; increasing deployment of fiber connectivity. 
  4. Other specific initiatives: eg, , .

After the talk, I asked Andrew about Google Desktop and, specifically, : 'The latest version of Google Desktop provides a Search Across Computers feature. This feature will allow you to search your home computer from your work computer, for example'. (To access this option in Google Desktop Beta Preferences, right click on the Google Desktop icon in the system tray > Preferences > Google Account Features.) I wasn't surprised to hear that the take-up of this has been limited. Many of us seem to be happy-ish with our email residing on Google's servers, but putting our documents there seems to cross some kind of psychological barrier. I suspect that this will change over the next few years as we slide into using more tools that work both online and off, but users haven't taken to this just yet.

By the way, I note that : Microsoft and Google have joined forces with the British Library in calling on the government to radically overhaul the intellectual property (IP) law.


My first thought when hearing of SpiralFrog? Same as Publishing 2.0:

You’ve got to pity the poor advertiser faced with figuring out how to allocate ad dollars across all these new media.

But I was also excited. Anything that appears to break the ridiculous status quo of the music industry is bound to set expectations going. However ... questions certainly remain.

BBC News reported:

'Vivendi Universal, the world's biggest music group, has signed a deal to make its music catalogue available on a free legal downloads service. Under the agreement, Spiralfrog will offer Universal's songs online in the US and Canada. New York-based Spiralfrog will launch its service in December and make its money by carrying adverts on the site. Spiralfrog aims to take on market leader Apple's iTunes service, which charges 99 cents per song in the US.'


The downloads could be played on the PC or transferred to a portable device, though notably not Apple Computer's iPod.

(The FT also has a piece.)

Nice to see Apple, iPod and iTunes under pressure, and it was easy to take Universal's move as heralding more of 'content … at no cost'. But there's cost and cost, and this does appear to cost — in DRM:

Spiral Frog will offer a desktop downloader for Windows Media Files (no iPods!) that can be listened to on one PC and two portable devices. Here’s the kicker - you must log in to the Spiral Frog service at least once per month, and see their ads, or your files will stop playing! The details aren’t fully set in stone, but it will be something like that. There will be links to third party sites of the record labels’ choosing if you’d like to buy your freedom to at least skip the ads. TechCrunch

I'm also wondering how SpiralFrog will deal with payment to artists, but more than anything else I can only second what TechCrunch says: 'It will be an exciting day if the major labels come up with something truly more compelling than piracy on one hand or coercion on the other - but I don’t think this is it'.

Technorati tags: , ,

Women and children first

March of this year and Wendy Grossman reports in the Guardian on the fingerprinting of children in UK schools:

Last week, news emerged that Primrose Hill primary school in north London had been fingerprinting pupils without their parents' consent. It seemed shocking yet should not have come as such a surprise. Micro Librarian Systems' Junior Librarian has been marketed in the UK since 2002 and is estimated to have fingerprinted hundreds of thousands of British children.

That so many schools have been happy to install such systems, often without thinking it necessary to consult parents, is a reflection of how this technology is infiltrating society. We can expect more of the same, for children and adults, should the ID card, debated once more this week in parliament, become reality.

May, and here's the Yorkshire Post:

A Yorkshire school is taking fingerprints from pupils – to keep a check on payments for school trips. The system, which means pupils can be instantly identified when they touch a scanner attached to one of the school computers, is expected to recoup the £2,500 cost of its installation by saving time on form-filling. If the experiment in "biometrics" works, it might be extended.

… The organisation of trips at Ilkley Grammar involves a turnover of £250,000 a year, mostly collected in £10 or £15 instalments. It means close to 20,000 transactions a year. The fingerprint recognition system means that when a pupil takes a payment instalment to the school office, his or her account can be called up automatically, with no question of any confusion between names.

Head teacher Gillian James said in an explanatory letter to parents that the system would store a number based on a fingerprint reading. No fingerprint images would be stored. The Information Commissioner and the Department of Education and Skills had said they had no concerns.

… 42 of the 1,532 current pupils, aged 11 to 18, had been kept out of the fingerprint registration process for one reason or another. One of the objectors is Christian White, a journalist who reports on Westminster for the BBC but lives in North Parade, Ilkley, and has a 14-year-old step-daughter at the school. He said yesterday: "Mrs James has effectively admitted this is not just a trivial bit of bureaucracy. It is the thin end of a wedge, the start of a process which could eventually enable the school to track our children every minute of the day. And it is a matter of proportionality. You do not give any organisation more intimate information than it needs to do its job and if my bank can manage my salary without getting my fingerprints, I don't see why the school cannot manage a couple of £12.50 payments from a 14-year-old for a trip to Lightwater Valley."

The Ilkley system was installed by Pinecone Associates of Carrington, Greater Manchester. Its marketing manager, Martin Parsons, said yesterday: "It is misleading to talk about fingerprinting children. The fingerprint is just a convenient shape to read to create an identity profile."

That last bit is priceless.

3 July. The Daily Mirror — back to school libraries and Micro Librarian Systems:

FURY erupted yesterday after it emerged an estimated 700,000 children are being fingerprinted at school. Systems in 3,500 primary school libraries allow pupils to take out books by scanning their thumb prints instead of using a card.

But campaigners warn the technology is a massive invasion of privacy and a step towards a "database state". With an average primary school size of 200 pupils, pressure group No2ID says at least 700,000 pupils are regularly having their fingerprints scanned. And there are fears schools having children's fingerprints could lead to the information being stored on government computers with DNA records and personal details. It is also seen as "softening up" resistance before people are asked for biometric data such as eye-scans to put on compulsory identity cards. …

Andy O'Brien, managing director of Micro Librarian Systems which makes the fingerprint systems, insisted there was nothing sinister about the new scanning technology. He said: "Ultimately, this is completely optional. If parents object because they don't like the use of biometrics their children can still use a library card or pin number. But this can make libraries a really cool place to go for children."

Another priceless moment in that last sentence.

Leave The Kinds Alone campaigns 'against schools fingerprinting our children'. ARCH supports 'equality, choice, respect and privacy for all children and young people'.  Thanks to ORG for some of the links here. No2ID is here.

I go back to the end of the Guardian article:

Stephen Groesz, a partner with the law firm Bindmans, has been consulted by parents from Charles Dickens school in Southwark, and believes the system is illegal on several grounds. "Absent a specific power allowing schools to fingerprint, I'd say they have no power to do it." Police legislation, for example, is specific about when, by whom and how fingerprints may be taken and what they may be used for. "The notion you can do it because it's a neat way of keeping track of books doesn't cut it as a justification."

Privacy advocates say these systems have a more subtle danger: habituation. Andre Bacard, the author of The Computer Privacy Handbook, said if he wanted to build the surveillance society, "I would start by creating dossiers on kindergarten children so the next generation couldn't comprehend a world without surveillance." But who needs dossiers when you have fingerprints?

Thank God for the news that it may be a while yet (not 2008!) before ID cards become reality — Sunday Times and BBC News.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

BPI gets go-ahead to sue AllofMP3

BBC report here:

The British recording industry has been given permission to sue Russian music website in the High Court. Members of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) want to prove the site, which offers downloads for as little as five pence, is illegal. They were given the go-ahead to sue the company last week, and say proceedings will be issued in Russia this week. The operators of deny the recording industry's claims that their site is not licensed to sell music.

Slashdot doubts the likelihood of this action sticking. WiredFire has an interview with with Matt Phillips, Communications Manager of the BPI. (These links all via ORG-discuss, the discussion list of ORG.) AllofMP3's press statement about recent developments (statement dated 6 June, 2006) is currently here. Earlier (also 6 June) BBC report about the BPI and AllofMP3 here.

I've posted about AllofMP3 before: bursting the mould? (4 January, 2006); Best on-line music site? (25 March, 2004).

Some thoughts from the WiredFire interview:

Whether the BPI action is likely to be that successful is open to widespread conjecture. On the surface they would appear to have quite a solid case under UK civil law, given that their site appears to be targeting English consumers. But enforcing any judgement overseas is going to be an altogether different issue – especially if can demonstrate that they have been complying with the laws of their own country and that their export market is incidental to their primary business model.

Perhaps the biggest clue as to their future intentions is detailed within their press release:

“On September 1, 2006 the changes to the Russian copyright legislation will come into force. Since January 2006 the site has been making direct agreements with rightholders and authors at the same time increasing the price of the music compositions and transferring the royalties directly to the artists and record companies. The aim of is to agree with all rightholders on the prices and royalties amounts by September 1, 2006.

We believe in the long term and civilized business based on respecting the law, considering the customers' demands as well as the interests of both national and international rightholders”.

Whatever the outcome, we feel that it is about time that the true cost of digital music is properly reflected in the retail price. Ridiculous statements such as those made by Mark Richardson that “the cost of distribution for downloads is actually higher than for CDs” do nothing to attract any sympathy from those of us who have spent not inconsiderable fortunes in amassing our modest CD and DVD collections. Whilst the BPI are to be commended for their more realistic approach to digital file transfers than their US counterparts, the RIAA, their curious choice of allies in the form of Mark Richardson of Independiente Records is certainly doing them no favours.

Also in the WiredFire interview:

Jamieson went on to criticise iTunes for their use of non interoperable DRM, calling on Apple to open up its software in order that it is compatible with other players. "We would advocate that Apple opts for interoperability."

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Every so often, there comes a wave of alarm that rolls its way across the web proclaiming that has gone down — for good. TechCrunch ran with the story yesterday, and I picked it up via Alex. The story had the appearance of this-time-this-could-be-true because of the news about the new lawsuit, and other sites weighed in.

As of tonight, the site is up but not accepting orders. I continue to think that AllofMP3 is a disruptive challenge to the music industry of great creative potential:

AllofMP3 is surely now so well-known and celebrated that it must represent a challenge to the RIAA, the BPI, the IFPI et al that can no longer be met just by drawn out legal actions across different countries. That's the dull reaction of retreating, defeated and dying armies. The more meaningful challenge is to the business model of the music industry and the blue ocean opportunity here is striking: 'We argue that beating the competition within the confines of the existing industry is not the way to create profitable growth' (with thanks to Tom Peters).

I was interested to read in the Register last Friday that:

According to XTN, Apple's iTunes Music Store accounted for 44 per cent of music download purchases in the UK last month. came in second, with a 14 per cent market share. That puts it ahead of Napster (eight per cent), Wippit (six per cent) and MSN (six per cent) among the nation's top-five digital music suppliers.

Technorati tags: ,

UK copyright law and the right to copy

National Consumer Council:

Over half of British consumers are infringing copyright law by copying their CDs onto other players they own, according to a new survey for the National Consumer Council (NCC). The YouGov poll reveals that the practice is common across all ages and social classes, highlighting the absurdity of current copyright law. Three in five (59%) thought copying was perfectly legal, despite the fact that current UK law does not provide a right to reproduce copyrighted material for private use - including CDs, DVDs and downloads. The findings back up NCC’s recent submission to the Government’s Gowers Review that the law is out of step with modern life and discriminates unfairly against consumers -putting unrealistic limits on their private listening and viewing habits.

Technorati tags: ,