Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Lycos Brings War Games to Your Desktop

Lycos Europe has recently released a screen saver as part of its Make Love Not Spam campaign. This screen saver sends out a request to a website that allegedly is a source of spam. If a large number of screen savers send requests to the same spam site at the same time, Lycos argues, its bandwidth will eventually be consumed, and the site overloaded and slowed down. To prevent the servers of the spam sites to completely stop working, which would constitute an (illegal) denial of service attack, a "health check" is build into the system.

The first reactions to Lycos' initiative have been quite negative. Ed Felten points to some obvious problems with the system:
  • It blurs the line between spammers and users, between the bad & good guys
  • It is a waste of recourses (bandwidth)
  • Attacks may be misdirected at innocent sources: either because they are erroneously on the used spamlist, or because they are innocents framed by the spammers, so called Joe Jobs
  • It is questionable if this tactic is legal
I can only underline the noted problems, but the screen saver does have some strange appeal. I've tried it for the past hours, and its graphics make you feel like you're part of some eighties nuke 'm game. It's War Games on your desktop! You see how the attacks generated by your computer are launched at spammers in foreign countries. Little red lines project the path of your attack on a world map, and statistics show its effect: a barometer depicting the bandwidth of the attacked sites decreases under the load of requests. Red line after red line, launch after launch, you get to feel part of Lycos' anti-spam army. This is not "Make Love Not Spam". This is making war on a global scale. As Felten points out, it is no game at all, and there may be more than a little collateral damage.

This is getting ridiculous: at the moment my screen saver launches its attacks right over the United States, up into space, not hitting any target on earth. A glitch in the server? Or are there any spammers on Mars? Intergalactic spam wars, not in my lifetime!

Update: This explains the attacks into outer space:
A bid by Lycos Europe to launch denial of service attacks on spammers by use of a screensaver has been met with a sharp response - the website which it set up for people to download the screensaver was defaced overnight.

The site, makelovenotspam.com, bore a banner which said "Yes, attacking spammers is wrong, you know this, you shouldn't be doing it. Your ip address and request have been logged and will be reported to your ISP for further action."

I guess I'm in trouble now. I'm sooo scared those spammers will come and get me.

Later: Here's more on the alleged attack.
And now Lycos denies it was ever attacked and says it was a hoax.
Even Later: When activated the screensaver goes black and displays "Stay tuned". A spam site has been redirecting the attacks to Lycos' own site. Now major internet backbones have blocked acces to the makelovenotspam site. And BBC Online reports that the "health check" system may not have prevented a DDoS attack from happening. War Games: game over & out.

Beyond The Great Firewall

BBC Online reports on the different methods that are used to bypass Chinese internet censorship: proxy servers, human p2p networks and encryption. But do the Chinese really want to look beyond The Great Firewall?

Later: A lengthy article on blogging in China at the New Scientists: The 'blog' revolution sweeps across China
Thru: BoingBoing

Monday, November 29, 2004

Smileless Passports on the Airwaves

The absurdity of some of the guidelines for biometric passports hits the mainstream. In a previous post I pointed out that we can keep on smiling in Holland for another year. In the US they aren't so lucky: a neutral look identifies best, so close that mouth, cover those teeth, and straight your face!

BoingBoing speaks of the "unhappiest passports on earth". Europe will follow the US soon in its misery, and could take an extra measure: fingerprinting. European Digital Rights has written a long, open letter on the issue to the European Parliament. It gives an oversight of the call for biometric passports and the privacy issues that may arise, especially by fingerprinting.

More privacy concerns are raised by an AP story that the US government plans to add RFID chips to US passports, starting next year. Ed Felten explains what the problem is with this idea:
The chips will allow the passport holder's name, date of birth, passport issuance information, and photograph to be read by radio. Opponents claim that the information will be readable at distances up to thirty feet (about nine meters). This raises privacy concerns about government monitoring, for example of attendance at political rallies, and about private monitoring, especially overseas.

I would certainly feel less safe in certain places if I knew that anybody there could remotely identify me as a U.S. citizen. I would feel even less safe knowing that anybody could get my name and look me up in a database or Google me.

If the no-smile mandate didn't, this might have taken the smile of your face anyway.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Filtering Saudi Arabia: God & Porn

God and porn, the essential ingredients for any good filtering cocktail. The Saudi government knows well, and serves them cold. A new study by The Open Net Initiative on internet filtering in Saudi Arabia
"indicates [that] the Saudi government is extremely dedicated to filtering pornographic Web pages - in fact, the ISU [Internet Services Unit] is often faster to block porn than the SmartFilter software updates are. [...] Overall, Saudi Arabia successfully blocks most pornographic Web content, and its rapid detection of new porn demonstrates the Kingdom's commitment to filtering this material."
While the crackdown on pornography and other sexual content is a nice benchmark for any dictatorial regime, the filtering of religious sites seems more troubling. The study lines out that the filtered sites seek to provide information about and a dialogue with other faiths than the Islam. From the report:
Saudi Arabia also concentrates on blocking sites that attempt to convert its citizens or to introduce them to other faiths, as demonstrated by significant local blocking by the ISU. We found 148 such sites locally blocked. This filtering echoes the Kingdom's earliest concerns about the Internet as a tool to proselytize Saudi citizens. The largest locally blocked group of these sites (22%) concerned relationships between Christians and Muslims. Blocked sites in this area are frequently available in Arabic, and also include sites ostensibly encouraging dialogue between the Christian and Islamic religion.
This underlines that the Saudi government is actively pursuing religious apartheid on the internet. Not much of a revelation, because it is a transposition of existing offline policy. But for a country that has some serious problems with religious terrorism, to squelch the dialogue between different faiths, is waiting for a pressure drop from above.

- - -
PDF version of Internet Filtering in Saudi Arabia 2004

Rip, Mix, Burn, Sue

Since it was only available in Windows format I didn't post on it yet: Ed Felten's lecture Rip, Mix, Burn, Sue: Technology, Politics, and the Fight to Control Digital Media. Now it's up at this page in several formats, and extending to more.
Felten concentrates on two issues: 1) the struggle for control over technology and the struggle for control how consumers are allowed to use recorded media and 2) the role of multi-use technology , technologies that have both legal and illegal uses.
I'm listening to it in audio, but Felten is making some PowerPoint jokes and has some explanatory graphics, so a video stream might be more useful.

Free Ride WiFi!

A call at The Technology Liberation Front to let your neighbours free-ride your WiFi connection. And, is this legal? Remains to be seen, but the WiFi battle for free municipal wireless heats up: incumbent providers put their best efforts in locking down the market and prevent the universal free ride. (Free ride as in tax paid internet services.)
In the meantime 58% of the private WiFi networks in Amsterdam are not secured (or "open"), according to a recent "war-drive" through the city by McAfee. Amsterdammers are generous people indeed.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Internet Surveillance & Privacy Reports

Two massive country-by-country reports with loads of information on internet surveillance and privacy:

1) Reporters without Frontiers
reports on worldwide internet surveillance. The Netherlands is one of the few states missing on the long list, not because there's no drive for surveillance here (see 2). To taste the tone of the report, the introduction to the United States:
The world's dominant Internet player, the United States sees itself as the champion of online free expression. But US legislation has increasingly trampled on the civil liberties of Internet users since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. And US senators, while launching a programme to combat Internet censorship worldwide, refuse to rein in US companies that help equip dictatorships with online surveillance and filtering equipment.
2) The Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) and Privacy International have released their annual global privacy study:

Privacy International's Director, Simon Davies, said the report highlighted a 'disturbing' trend toward greater state power. 'Governments are systematically removing the right to privacy. Surveillance of every type is being instituted throughout society without any thought about the need for safeguards.' 'The spectre of terrorism has at last become the device that any government can deploy to entrench the powers they always sought. The situation has become a dangerous farce,' he added.
A highlight for The Netherlands, again recognized for its leadership in wiretapping. Old news, but carried with pride:
A survey by the Dutch Ministry of Justice in 1996 found that law enforcement in the Netherlands intercept more telephone calls than their counterparts in the United States, Germany or Britain. According to a 2003 report by the German Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, Italy and the Netherlands are the wiretap champions of the Western world.

Pre-think: Blogging in China

Pre-think: think before you speak. The self-censorship that is pre-think is still necessary in China: "Before posting anything on a blog, he says, "people think first if it's dangerous." He is a Chinese technologist, quoted in Dan Gillmore's Mercury News column. Gillmore recently visited the land of The Great Firewall that "blocks so much useful and thought-provoking information from the people."

European journalist and blogger Fons Tuinstra writes on his own blog that "That much is not blocked, even the Mercury News that was blocked in the past, and circumventing them is dead easy." He refers to a fairly new proxy service that makes the Firewall far less effective.

Tuinstra also notes, this time in Gillmore's column again:
"that blogging software is just a tool, not a road to political or social paradise. The government's shutdown of blogging sites was "a sign of panic'' over a new kind of medium, Tuinstra says. The panic subsided, but few Internet sites are pushing any speech boundaries at this point, by most accounts. Several sites are said to be discussing China's endemic corruption problems; that's a step in the right direction."

Friday, November 19, 2004

Song & Soda

The Register has an interesting article on a UK vending machine manufacturer, who seeks to turn the regular juke box in a digital music download device and a coke machine at the same time. Get a soda while you download a song! The target audience is said to be impulse buyers, who see music as being more disposable.

There are some major barriers to overcome, as the article points out. Not only does the music catalog still have to be licensed, there's also a need for a "universal" DRM, offering the songs in all possible formats. The developer expects that the mobile phone market will be most likely to come with a cross-platform DRM solution. After that it will be only a matter of time before the Urban Digital Vending service, as the concept is called, will offer a cold coke and a song to go with it. Shortly followed by the first hacked coke machine, I guess.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Dutch: Security Above Privacy

The tension between security and (constitutional) rights has increased since the latest turmoil in The Netherlands. As might be concluded from a recent opinion poll the Dutch are leaning to security at the cost of privacy rights at the moment (Source-Dutch only). Some numbers:
Of the Dutch:
-65% do not fear that investigative methods of the AIVD (the Dutch CIA/FBI mix) will intrude with their privacy too much
-49% thinks that the AIVD does not have enough powers to fulfill its tasks
-35% thinks that the tracking and investigation of suspicious search engine entries is always acceptable (29% for websites)
-Less leniency towards monitoring private homes and mail: 47% finds this only acceptable when there's a concrete threat
-32% finds it always acceptable for the AIVD to search a private home with the knowledge of its inhabitants
-Generally men are more likely to accept search methods than women
I'm feeling a bit more feminine today. As after the U.S. elections, in which the majority of women voted for..., well, let's not go there. It doesn't surprise me that people have less problems with investigation of internet related activities than mail/telephone searches. Lack of personal experience, knowledge and, hey, that "new" medium is a grey, fluid place of smutty dangers-mantra still have their effect. Surprising is that one-third of the people find it always acceptable for investigators to ring your doorbell and take a good look in your house and whatever's in there. The poll underlines the difference between what's legally allowed and would be popularly accepted in the name of security. To fear is that this divide is closed from would be to will be and we may be searched with diminished (constitutional) restraints.

CoCo: Freedom of Speech in 2020

Jack Balkin contemplates on free speech issues in the year 2020, to be posted on the Constitution in 2020 blog. An interesting read, touching the importance of constitutional code in the future realm of culture, and thus free speech:
No one should for a moment believe that because the issues are technical and regulatory they do not involve constitutional values. The Constitution lives (or dies) inside the technological and regulatory designs of new media of mass communication.

Incompatible Virtual World

Michael Geist's blog points to a streaming of a debate on music file sharing he attended at the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law: Rocking in the Not-so-free Virtual World. Great! But they'd better rename it Rocking in the Not-so-compatible Virtual World. Provided by the Centre for Flexible learning, the streaming is hardly flexible: a PC, Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player are required. So, what does that say to the multimillion downloaders of Firefox? Or users or other browsers and non- WMP users, presumably many of whom are highly interested in this topic? Does this Centre for Not-So-Flexible learning miss a tipping point, or am I just on a rant here? Probably, but I streamed the Grey Video of DJ Danger Mouse's Beatles/Jay-Z mashup "instead". That is Rocking in a Free Virtual World.

Update: As expected the site for the Grey Video has gone down. BoingBoing points to mirrors and torrents...

Die Gedanke Sind Nicht Frei

I don't know how I could have overlooked this little gem: a stream of Eben Moglen's keynote at Wizards of OS: Die Gedanken Sind Frei: The Free Software Movement and the Struggle for The Freedom of Thought. The single time I met Moglen was when he gave a 45 minute redress to one of my papers, using its content as a springboard for unrelated, but brilliant propaganda for free software and WiFi.

Not surprisingly the message of this speech is much the same: Futopia now! WiFi will set us free. We've got the technical tools to realize true freedom of thought. Freedom not as some sort of utopian longing, but now, in this and the coming generations. How? Listen to nearly sixty minutes of pure eloquence from the Word Wizard of FOS.
Some sparks:
-Perpetuation of ignorance is the beginning of slavery.
-As dreams confront unexpected realities and the dreamer has little choice but to lash out to against the tyranny of fact.
-Ours is an ideology of change not of what might be, but what already is.
-Practical revolution is based on two concepts: Proof of concept and running code.
-Proof of concept + running code = revolution.
-Artists Will Rule
-We can eradicate ignorance at the cost of a few. We have to do it.
-Spectrum allocation is an evil who's time has come.
-Without the free exchange of ideas science is the servant of inequality.
And WiFi spreads on, now.

CFP 2005: Panopticon

The theme of the 2005 Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference is of more than a little interest to me, and consequently this blog:
The theme of the 15th CFP is PANOPTICON
Over time, and particularly recently, surveillance of ordinary citizens has increased to dramatic levels. Not only are governments watching more aspects of their citizens' lives, but those in the private sector are increasing surveillance of people as well. Often lost in the race to "increase intelligence" are discussions about different approaches to address problems like the threat of terrorism that are equally or more effective, but do not involve extensive and constant surveillance.
I missed CFP 2004 in Berkeley by a week, because I had a deadline on a paper dealing with this theme. Maybe I can make it this year. It would be my first. Recommended by Michael Froomkin, who gets a little nostalgic contemplating on past CFPs and the foresight of missing this one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has finally started filing lawsuits against file-sharers. Besides relying on the (legal) tools of fear, the MPAA has some old tricks in the bag:
As part of a larger effort to combat piracy, The Motion Picture Association of America also said it would soon make available a computer program that sniffs out movie and music files on a user's computer as well as any installed file-sharing programs.

The MPAA said the information detected by the free file-detection program would not be shared with it or any other body, but could be used to remove any "infringing movies or music files'' and remove file-sharing programs.
Remove file-sharing programs? Remove programs that are "merely capable of substantial noninfringing uses" and as such comply with the Betamax Doctrine? Remove when: when infringing files are detected on a user's PC?

This echoes the Berman Bill, that would have freed Hollywood from liability when hacking PCs in their effort to counter copyright infringement. A reversed echoe, because file-sharers are expected to remove infringing content and p2p programs themselves. Subtle self-censorship under the threath of legal action is on the rise, again.

Thru Techdirt

DRM & Digital Pricing

Something of a follow-up to yesterday's posting, the economic analysis of DRMs continues: Digital Rights Management and the Pricing of Digital Products by Yooki Park and Suzanne Scotchmer has been posted on SSRN. It gives little attention to the welfare issues Paul Petrick's paper underlined, as far as I could decipher. It has as its main conclusion that "technical protections can reduce prices for for digital content". The feasibility of DRMs aside, price reduction is something consumers may more than expect for content that is less valuable to them because of usage restrictions. Much on the costs of circumvention and the price dependency of content on the use of shared or individual protection systems. Here's the abstract:
Digital products such as movies, music and computer software are protected both by self-help measures such as encryption and copy controls, and by the legal right to prevent copying. We explore how digital rights management and other technical protections affect the pricing of content, and consequently, why content users, content vendors, and antitrust authorities might have different views on what technical capabilities should be deployed. We discuss the potential for "collusion through technology."

Monday, November 15, 2004

DRM: Lock Down Social Welfare

Paul Petrick, affiliated with Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, has a paper posted on SSRN: Why DRM Should Be A Cause for Concern: An Economic and Legal Analysis of the Effect of Digital Technology on the Music Industry. It reminds me that I really need to start working on the underdeveloped economic part of my frontal lobe. Here's the abstract:
In response to piracy and online file trading, the music industry has begun to adopt technological measures, often referred to as digital rights management (DRM), to control the sale and distribution of music over the Internet. Previous economic analysis on the impact of DRM implementation has been overly simplistic. A careful analysis of copyright law and the microeconomic principles governing the music industry demonstrates that commentators have failed to account for factors relevant to the measure of social welfare within the music industry. This paper develops a more refined economic model that is better suited to accurately assessing how legal or technological changes like DRM will affect the music industry.

Utilizing a refined economic model, the analysis suggests that the economic effects of implementing DRM technology are generally negative, albeit uncertain. While DRM implementation may inhibit piracy, facilitate price discrimination, and lower transactional costs, it will likely decrease social welfare by raising barriers to entry and exacerbating a number of existing market failures. Specifically, DRM implementation may facilitate the extension of monopoly pricing, decrease the amount of information available to potential music consumers, diminish the number of positive externalities, and raise artistic and informational barriers to entry into certain genres of music.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Bush Samples Raise Copyright Issues

Greenplastic reported that DJ Shadow's remix of Radiohead's The Gloaming was rejected by Radiohead's label due to sample clearance issues. And what were the samples then? Greenplastic:
The samples in question seem to be of George W. Bush saying words like "terrorists", "terrible weapons", "saddam hussein", "nuclear holy warriors", etc. (i.e. his usual speech) over and over again.


I'll leave it to you to decide whether "sample clearance issues" (their quote) or "political pressure from record label executives who refuse to issue anything bashing Bush" (my quote) was the real cause of this one. Keep in mind that this is currently unconfirmed, but we'll keep you posted.
I'd go for the latter cause, especially considering what the vinyl remix has turned out to look like. Yikes! Clearing Bush's words for copyright? This is must be a joke.

Later: Now the clearance of Radiohead's words raises a copyright issue. A writer that wanted to quote from lyrics of The Bends, Idiotique and I Might Be Wrong was confronted with a bill of $350 by Warner Bros.. Forget fair use, cough up the dough to the corporate moguls. Very much in Radiohead's spirit.

More at
p2pnet and Ars Technica

Virgin Bites Sour Apple

Back in August I posted on the attempt by VirginMega, Virgin's French online music venture, to get Apple to license their FairPlay DRM system. Apple has refused licensing so far, which leaves music formats such as WMA unplayable on their MP3 market dominating iPod. This refusal brought RealNetworks to develop Harmony, and VirginMega to complain to the French competition watch dog.

The path of technical code has proven to be more effective, now RealNetworks has been lauded as consumers' best friend, and VirginMega finds its complaint rejected, The Register reports:
The French government's competition watchdog this week dismissed a complaint brought by VirginMega, which alleged Apple's refusal to license FairPlay ran contrary to French anti-trust law.

The retailers complaint was ruled to be short on convincing evidence, the watchdog ruled. In any case, it said, Apple's refusal to license FairPlay was on no way hampering the expansion of the digital music download market - growth indicated by the huge number of rivals popping up to compete with the iTunes Music Store.


The watchdog admitted, however, that the lack of compatibility between rival music services and players did put consumers at a "disadvantage", but that fact was beyond the scope of its enquiry.

Micrsoft's New Search Engine & Filtering

Microsoft has launched its new search engine and the first reactions don't look very good. They had some problems with the launch, but then the search engine itself has a problem: it doesn't seem to offer any features to compete with Yahoo!, let alone Google. And some competition is needed, even if Google produces a "Do No Evil" declaration every single day for the rest of its ever dominating rule.

Something else bothered me about the MSN search. Maybe it's something that has to get bugged out, or to be added, or, .... I don't know, for some reason the image search displayed no (porno)graphic images, even with the SafeSearch filter turned off. Not as much a dirty mind, my interest was triggered by the filtering options that Google offers its European customers (google.fr/nl/de/etc.): noSafeSearch setting choice and some kind of, I guess, standardized moderate filtering. I haven't been able to turn up one single slightly sexual photo. What does that say of MSN's database? Probably nothing, maybe a lot.

And A Bottle of Rum...

P2pnet has a post on some nifty snooping technology that watches you at the movies: PirateEye. It localizes and registrates people who try to record the latest flick with their camcorder. The MPAA is presumably at war with parts of its public, so it's hardly strange that PirateEye exploits technology of a major U.S. defense contracter.

More at p2pnet
Later: Wired posted a News Article about it, which also considers some of the privacy concerns

Thursday, November 11, 2004

ACLU/EFF/John Doe v. Gonzales

Lou Reed's 1975 album Metal Machine Music has been called the greatest fuck off to the music industry ever made. Four sides of unlistenable white noise, produced, as Reed would later admit, while he was mostly stoned.

Now Bush has released his own Metal Machine Music: Alberto Gonzales. The current legal White House legal counsel is nominated to succeed John Ashcroft as Attorney General. It is Bush's own very special fuck off to America, not stoned, but high on his own pleasure ride and ready for four more years of touring the world with his band of blood brothers.

In retrospect Ashcroft may sound like sweet-sour gospel. Ashcroft had at least two lords to serve, down here and up there. Gonzales seems to be willing to serve just one: his long-time friend George Bush. Gonzales is the man who fabricated the infamous torture memos, put the middle finger to the Geneva convention and appeared to obstruct justice. A loyal disciple, with the potential to produce sufficient white noise to stifle voices of dissent.

And what Lou Reed has to do with this? Nothing. I'm just curious: playing Metal Machine Music to a prisoner of war, excuse all me, terrorist, would that constitute torture?
- - -
On the Case:

Obligatory liberal U.S. scholar round-up
Pink Bunny

How Appealing News article oversight

Newsweek on The Roots of Torture


Here's a link to the short film Submission, which presumably was the last push for a Muslim extremist to slaughter director Theo Van Gogh last week in Amsterdam. The Netherlands have gone through a crisis since, with both Muslim schools, mosques and churches being attacked and large-scale arrests yesterday with policemen being blasted into hospital by a hand grenade, snipers on roofs and a shootout with Marines on alert. And in the meantime our Prime-Minister says that we shouldn't behave so "un-Dutch". Guess this has been Dutch all along...
- - -
Thru BoingBoing

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Balkin on Brown & Constitutional Theory

Anyone interested in (American) constitutional theory should take a look at Jack Balkin's What Brown Teaches Us About Constitutional Theory. Here is the abstract:
This essay, written for the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, explains the key lessons of Brown for constitutional theory. Ironically, Brown has comparatively little to teach us about which normative constitutional theory is best, because almost every contemporary normative constitutional theory takes the correctness of Brown as a starting point. Rather Brown's key lessons concern positive constitutional theory - the study of how constitutional development and constitutional change occur over time.

Courts, and particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, tend, over time, to reflect the views of national political majorities and national political elites. Constitutional doctrine changes gradually in response to political mobilizations and countermobilizations; minority rights gain constitutional protection as minorities become sufficiently important players in national coalitions and can appeal to the interests, and values, and self-conception of majorities, but minority rights will gain protection only to the extent that they do not interfere too greatly with the developing interests of majorities.

Although Supreme Court decisionmaking tends to reflect these larger institutional influences, it is largely uninfluenced by normative constitutional theories about the proper way to interpret the Constitution. In fact, there is little reason to believe that the product of Supreme Court decisionmaking could regularly correspond to the outcome of any particular normative constitutional theory. This suggests that one important function of normative constitutional theory may not be giving advice to judges but rather offering professional legitimation for the work of the Supreme Court.

No King But Bush

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has resigned today. As an Attorney General-designate Ashcroft kicked off a controversy while receiving an honorary degree of the Christian right and anti-interracial dating Bob Jones University. There he shared his believes as a servant of a (still) secular government:
"We have no king but Jesus... When you have no king but Jesus, you release the eternal, you release the highest and the best, you release virtue, you release potential."
In the following four years Ashcroft has served the Kingdom Bush for the greater glorification of the Kingdom come. His resignation letter bluntly states:
"The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. The rule of law has been strengthened and upheld in the courts."
I'd like to differ, and I suppose the Guantanamo detainees, or some of the Patriot Act bearing, (sexual) dissent suppressed and even Intellectual Property task-forced Americans too. I wait for the reactions, and the speculation for a new prodigal son at the wheel of justice.

At least Ashcroft has a fine nose for the potential leakage of computer files:
"I have handwritten this letter so its confidentiality can be maintained until the appropriate arrangements mentioned above can be made."
Or is this just the latest security technique in the U.S.?
- - -
Later: Furdlog on possible successors and the Guantanamo legacy

RealNetworks' Harmony Awarded

Both RealNetworks' download service Rhapsody and its iTunes DRM hack Harmony have been awarded a Billboard Digital Entertainment Award. Harmony was proclaimed the 'Digital Music Innovation of the Year'. Richard Wolpert, the Chief Strategy Officer of RealNetworks, reacted:
"With Harmony, we knew that we were doing something groundbreaking. It is gratifying to see both consumers and the industry show us their enthusiasm and appreciation for Harmony and its ability to allow music fans to get the music they want and play it on any device they choose."
What RealNetworks should have been awarded is "Best Spin" award for its representation of a not-so groundbreaking technique as enabling consumer choice, while really seeking a gain in market share. As posted earlier, Jon Lech Johansen already offered the Hymn project to crack Apple's FairPlay DRM. And Harmony is mainly a technical solution to Apple's refusal to license FairPlay to RealNetworks.

The campagne that accompanied the launch of Harmony, Freedom of Music Choice, was extremely lame. An example of opportunism in name of the consumer. The connected website seems pretty much dead. Maybe this lame award will spark it again.

Legal Theory: Law & Technology

Arthur J. Cockfield's Towards a Law and Technology Theory has been posted on SSRN. I have yet to read it, but it is always a field of interest: the cross-section of law and technology. Here is the abstract:
This Article seeks to begin a discussion on the development of legal analysis that broadly considers the interplay between law and technology. Part I provides background on the need for the development of this theory, which could draw from and inform traditional legal scholarship that studies discrete areas of technology law like intellectual property law. Part II scrutinizes cases and policy decisions within three non-traditional areas of technology law - contracts, tax, and privacy - to show how legal analysis in light of technological change can be broken down into two broad categories: (1) a 'liberal' approach that is more sensitive to the ways that technological change affects interests, while often seeking legal solutions that are less deferential to legal precedents and traditional doctrine; and (2) a 'conservative' approach that relies more on traditional doctrinal analysis and precedents.

Part III elaborates on general principles of analysis that can be drawn from the liberal approach, which: (a) recognizes that the interplay between law and technology is complex and interactive; (b) requires flexible legal solutions when it is determined that technological developments are undermining interests ("law is technology"); (c) recognizes that the direct regulation of technology provides opportunities to indirectly regulate behaviour to promote optimal social policy ("technology is law"). In summary, the liberal approach scrutinizes whether, given current or anticipated technological settings, a legal rule will promote the attainment of policy objectives ("is the legal rule scientific?").

Part IV offers tentative observations on the ways that a law and technology theory can provide insight into the whole law by revealing that, for instance, during times of technological change the entire law adapts by becoming a more flexible and forward-looking system. A downside of this transformation is that the liberal approach destabilizes the law by undermining the usefulness of precedents, making it more difficult for lawyers to predict the outcome of cases for their clients.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Ashcroft Flogged in Court

Seth Finkelstein is keeping a close eye on Nitke v. Ashcroft, not in the last place because he provided testimony on geolocation software. This case challenges parts of the infamous Communications Decency Act (CDA), specifically the definition of obscenity and the meaning of "community standards". Both aspects were not addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Reno v. ACLU, and they might when this case goes to the USC. When, not if, because both Ashcroft (or his apprentice) and the challengers, notably the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), are prepared to go all the way.

Barbara Nitke is a fetish photographer, publishing images of SM acts on her website. Under the CDA the obscenity of these images are judged to the community standards of the place where the content is accessed. While a good flogging may do little in San Francisco, and less in Amsterdam, in rural Oklahoma its depiction might be considered obscene and thus verboten! Small problem with the internet is that it is impossible, if not extremely hard, to restrict publication of content to certain places. Geolocation techniques that might be used for this are questionable in effectiveness and prohibitively expansive for many groups and persons in use. There also may be a friction with privacy rights, as Finkelstein testified.

This case is not only of importance for a further crystallization and dismantling of the CDA and its legacy. It also provides insight in a subject that may be of growing importance in the future of the internet: the (feasibility of) territorialization of information through geolocation techniques. Of course its outcome, at a Supreme Court level, may also reset the scope of free speech on the internet. People with (sexual) preferences outside the mainstream may feel the religious rod of Ashcroft. Let's hope he will get the constitutional flogging.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Utility over Rights: Child Safety Manifesto

Internet filtering in the name of online children's safety tends to bring collateral damage for adults. For example, a default of access unless minor is often turned around to no access unless proven adult. In the UK the Children's Charities' Coalition for Internet Safety (CHIS) has published a digital manifesto: Child online safety (Report, Summary - PDFs). It contains some recommendations that show how a good cause can be easily overreached and how utility wins over rights:
  • 6. A cyber equivalent of the Indecent Displays Act of 1981 should be made law and consideration should be given to putting new duties on web publishers to rate their online content.
  • 9. The government should investigate the possibility of using tax incentives to encourage technology companies, computer manufacturers and retailers to develop new contributions to online safety.
  • 19. All computer manufacturers and retailers active in the domestic market should, on all new machines they sell, pre-install child protection software set to a high level of security.
  • 22. Clarification is needed of the civil liability of ISPs and other online service providers for legal minors who use their networks.
These recommendations reveal a tendency to increase the duties and liability of web publishers and ISPs, push the government to use financial bargaining power to stimulate the development of censoring techniques, mirror restrictive indecency law on the internet, and, less subtle, propose to mandate the pre-installation of filtering software on computers.

Over at BBC News Online analyst Bill Thompson has a subdued reaction to the manifesto, pointing out why government and industry should (not necessarily) give in to children's charities. I'm in a subdued mood, so let's go with that for now. Though, his recommendation to choose for net safety lessons on schools may bring some disadvantages of its own.

No Sale Doctrine

Karl Lenz discusses a proposal of European Digital Rights in their response to the EU Commission consultation on copyright. The proposal asks for a "use-it-or-loose-it" clause:
"13. EDRI therefore calls for a radical solution - a `use-it-or-lose-it clause' to be introduced into copyright law. If a work that has been once made commercially available, is not commercially available for three years, then it should be open to the work's original creator to resume the copyright from its current owner. If a work is not commercially available for five years, then all copyrights should expire, making it open to anyone to publish the work."
Lenz notes that German copyright law was a first mover in this area, which is not surprising for some reason. He also notes that comparable proposals have been made by himself, Lessig and Posner. Less radical, and thus maybe more effective. Read Lenz.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

INDICARE Article Flow

Out for some time, still worth the read: INDICARE Monitor, Volume 1, No. 4. Take your pick from this fresh flow, all available at www.indicare.org:
  • Mobile music is hot
  • Abstract: The first INDICARE workshop on “Business Models for Mobile Music and DRM”, took place in Berlin on September 30, 2004. There was huge interest in the event, which indicates that mobile music is currently an important topic in the industry. The workshop provided some interesting insights into the role of DRM and business model issues for the development of the mobile music market and into the understanding of consumer wants and needs by industry players.
  • Net music the Danish way: Locked down and easily cracked
  • Abstract: The ambitious Danish project Netmusik, which intends to make music available online for users of public Danish Libraries was launched September on 1st, 2004. However a week after the launch it was discovered, that the Digital Rights Management system could easily be circumvented. More importantly in the wake of that breach both the Danish Consumer Council and politicians expressed concerns regarding the chosen technical solution. It was criticised for being biased and leaving consumers with no choice.
  • Was it ever a right?
  • Abstract: The right to private copy has recently been denied in two court cases initiated by the music industry. In both cases, the consumer believed he had the right to this copy which is at least suggested by the acknowledgement of similar rights related to computer software. The article examines information to consumers provided with respect to their rights on record labels. Copying has only really become an issue since the widespread availability of suitable devices. Even then, it has at times been tolerated and only seriously been prosecuted when the economic health of the industry has waned. More systematic research is needed to explore the hypotheses based on visual evidence.
  • In search of Greg Koch
  • Abstract: This is a personal exploration of the online music service iTunes and some of its digital and tangible competitors. It deals mainly with the up-to-dateness and variety of products offered, in principal one of the key benefits of online music stores. The conclusion is, that iTunes is not as good as it could or should be, and in this case the surprising winner is a local branch of a big German media chain. These results are based on personal experiences. But a comprehensive test, done by German consumer journal “Test”, confirmed them quite well.
  • Approaching the DRM needs of the educational system in the UK
  • Abstract: DRM issues are increasingly reaching attention in the educational system and decision makers have started thinking about the strategy to adopt. In the UK the study carried out by Intrallect on behalf of the Joint Information Systems Committee is an interesting piece in this process. We will briefly describe the structure of the report and its main assumptions before we turn to the "use case methodology" applied to gain insights into the goals and actions of the different stakeholders in the educational sector - independent of technology matters. Knowing what people want is then the basis to define what the technical requirements are – in this case of DRM systems for the educational system. We regard the approach as very interesting, do however have mixed feelings with respect to the presentation of the outcome.
  • The music came to Berlin: Popkomm 2004
  • Abstract: The Popkomm music fair took place in Berlin this year from September 29 to October 1. In previous years, the ailing music industry had used the Popkomm to whine about decreasing music sales and to blame Internet piracy for its bad health. Which direction did the discussion about consumer’s acceptance of DRM, standardization, privacy concerns or DRM-related legal developments take at this year’s Popkomm? This article gives a summary of the discussions.
  • DRM and music: How do rights affect the download price?
  • Abstract: The aim of this article is to better understand the business models of online music providers by specifically focusing on the factors determining the download price for music and the role of rights in the price determination. For that purpose an empirical study was conducted. The results show that there is a huge price range for music downloads. Furthermore, the authors developed a regression model which can explain 88% of the download price. The study also shows that the downloading price is not only impacted by user rights such as the right to copy, burn and move to portable players, but also by other factors, such as the market segment of consumers in terms of geographical location or the music label of the song. Finally, the article provides possible indications for the success of iTunes, the most known and successful music provider so far.
  • Who protects the un-protected?
  • Abstract: Increasingly copies of journal articles and other academic content are made freely-available on the Web under an open access publication model. The benefits to readers, to authors and to society from toll-free access to research publications are being realised. Protection measures are still required to prevent abuse of authors’ rights through plagiarism or un-authorised changes to the content, even though such abuse may only occur infrequently.
  • It’ s not a right, silly!
  • Abstract: Not all consumers are willing to accept DRMs. This article tells the story of two consumers who were not, and who went before the courts to claim what they thought was their good right - the "right to private copying". It tells the story of their cruel awakening, and why it had to come like this.

Eminem: Deja-Vu

Eminem's new album Encore has been leaked to the Internet. It is there, allright. Such a leakage couldn't withhold his previous album from reaching no. 1 worldwide. Guess what will happen this time around?

Some thoughts on the subject by the man himself:

"Whoever put my s_t on the Internet, I want to meet that motherf_ker and beat the s_t out of him, because I picture this scrawny little d[_]ickhead going 'I got Eminem's new CD! I got Eminem's new CD! I'm going to put it on the Internet.' I think that anybody who tries to make excuses for that s_t is a f_king bitch.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Great Insulter

The Brazilian feel-good coffee I've been drinking for the last two weeks instantly turned cold and bitter the day I hit Dutch soil. Filmmaker and writer Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered in Amsterdam on Tuesday. Slaughtered by a radical Muslim for speaking his mind, through words and images. Gunned down, and a five-page death threat pinned to his body with a knife, after his throat was cut. The threat was for politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee who has experienced the brutality of Islamic male suppression first-hand. The short film Submission Van Gogh made about her experiences, cost him his life and leaves Hirsi Ali in terror for her own. As many in Holland it left me speechless...for about two seconds.

I don't feel like saying much on the murder and the feelings it has aroused. I don't think this is the proper place. I got out for a drink with some friends this night, and of course we came to talk about our own little Dutch Jihad. About the impossibility of a dialogue with fundamentalists. About a distaste for a dialogue with right-wing parties that feast on the murder. About how people may start to choose for Christian fundamentalism as the lesser, and more well-known evil. About your own heart moving a bit more to the right in your body. And especially about the total lack of humor of extremists, fundamentalists and other (religious) fanatics.

The only time I met Van Gogh was when I was an editor of the satirical student weekly Propria Cures (PC) (Dutch site). This little paper has a considerable reputation as a free haven for every insult to and ridiculisation of any person, group, religion or world-view. No rules, nobody is spared, riding the free word like hell in all its facets. This often resulted in mediocre articles, sick jokes at times, but also some literally sparks, and razor-sharp satire. In attitude and writing PC often very much resembled Van Gogh's own style of provocation for the provocation. Though it has done so since his famous grand-uncle cut of his own ear.
Van Gogh actually was a guest-editor of Propria Cures, supported it financially and over the years published articles in it that he could not get published elsewhere due to his status as an enfant terrible and persona non grata. I had one highly entertaining evening with him, which ended in a small brawl, to not much surprise.

This is all not to claim Van Gogh, as many do now and will do over the next months, and years. Nor to make some claim about freedom of speech, and how its throat was cut in Amsterdam this week. It is about how this religious fascism has slaughtered a mindset of my own past. How close it has actually come, and penetrated my present mindset and the mindset I want to be able to express in the future. And how pathetically safe I was laying in bed, when Van Gogh blew out his last smoke. Not expressing anything, that is what this is about, above all.