Category Archives: Legal

Are We All Thieves?

The history of advancing technology is long littered with accusations of copyright infringement along with charges of outright thievery.

The problem seems to stem from ever-changing definitions of what comprises a song, a performance, or a book. Back in the days when the player piano was invented, musicians themselves seemed to define a song as a live performance. Hence, the spreading invention of mechanical player pianos and reproduced sheet music would somehow destroy music itself.

Of course, what actually happened was that rather than being destroyed, music was promoted and ultimately became more popular.

Music is not the piano rolls, nor is it vinyl records, audiocassettes, or CD’s. These are simply physical transmission mediums. It could also be equally argued that MP3 or other digital file formats are not the actual music either, though they are heavily intertwined.

Can’t we as consumers be honest? How is it that so many of us can think nothing of illegally downloading media, yet wouldn’t think of stealing a physical object without paying for it?

Those who continue to rationalize that it’s “okay” to illegally download copyrighted music, movies and other copyrighted materials are thieves. Would you enjoy having your stuff stolen? Are excuses popping up in your mind why wrong is right and right is wrong? If so, you failed the test. If you have to make an excuse to yourself or anyone else to justify your behavior, you are wrong. If you find yourself the victim of a thief, how can you then turn around and complain? Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?

The solution to the problem is easy. Get what you want by legitimately paying for it. If you don’t want to pay for it, don’t be a thief by stealing it.

On the other hand, if you don’t like the less-than-stellar behavior of certain media-production organizations, the solution is equally easy. Don’t consume their products. Turn them off. Pull the plug. The world won’t come to an end. You will survive. The age we live in is filled to the brim with alternative entertainment and information sources that make it possible to reduce or completely eliminate the need to consume copyrighted material, if that is your wish.

USB 3.0 On It’s Way

Jeff Ravencraft from the USB Implementers Forum discusses the deployment of USB hardware interface standards, including USB 3.0 as well as wireless USB. So-called “Superspeed” USB, or USB 3.0, can operate up to 10 times faster than current USB 2.0 connections. USB 3.0 ports can supply up to twice as much power as USB 2.0 ports, which is important for charging many of today’s portable devices more quickly.

Mr. Ravencraft also discusses the certification process that USB devices and device manufacturers must go through in order to be able to legally display the respective official USB logos.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and Esbjorn Larsen of

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Google Acted Illegally in UK

Google LogoThe UK’s Information Commissioner today confirmed that Google breached UK’s Data Protection Act when the Street View cars captured personal data while collecting wi-fi network information.

As a result of this, Google will be required to sign an undertaking to take steps to ensure that breaches of the Act don’t re-occur.  Google will then be audited in nine month’s time to confirm that the required policies and training has taken place. Finally, once any legal obstacles have been cleared, Google will have to delete the personal data from the UK.

Currently, the Information Commissioner does not intend to fine Google, but will take further action if necessary

Information Commissioner's OfficeThe Commissioner, Christopher Graham said,  “It is my view that the collection of this information was not fair or lawful and constitutes a significant breach of the first principle of the Data Protection Act.  The most appropriate and proportionate regulatory action in these circumstances is to get written legal assurance from Google that this will not happen again – and to follow this up with an ICO audit.”

What’s interesting about this is that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had previously decided not to take action against Google because the sample data shown to the ICO was considered to be fragmentary and therefore unlikely to constitute personal data.

However, Google’s Alan Eustace admitted on Google’s own blog that, “A number of external regulators have inspected the data as part of their investigations (seven of which have now been concluded). It’s clear from those inspections that whilst most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords.”

The Commissioner then infers that because this happened in other countries, it happened in the UK, even if most of the data was fragmentary.  You can read the Commissioner’s letter to Google Inc here.

Personally, I’m pleased that Google is being held to account.  Far too often it seems that big business gets away with abusing our personal information.

13,000 Named in Adult Film Downloads

The names of thousands for BT & Sky broadband customers who had allegedly illegally downloaded adult material have been leaked on-line.  The lists appear to have been obtained from servers of a law firm ACS:Law by the notorious 4chan group.

ACS:Law had obtained the lists from ISPs Sky and PlusNet (owned by BT) and had been using the information to send out letters to the alleged copyright infringers demanding money.  Many of those accused have denied downloading any adult material.

Both PlusNet & Sky had been forced to hand over the information by a court order and sent the data by email.  It now transpires that BT failed to encrypt the data files during transmission.  However, it is believed that data was stolen by 4chan members after they accessed ACS:Law’s server and then posted on-line at the Pirate Bay.

In addition to the lists of users, confidential messages regarding the cases, money made and personal correspondence were also posted.  Reports vary in the total number named as the leaks keep coming but it appears to be over 13,000 people so far.

The UK’s Information Commissioner is now investigating ACS:Law for possible breaches of the Data Protection Act.  If found guilty, the Commissioner can fine organisations up to £500,000 ($750,000).  Christopher Graham said, “The question we will be asking is how secure was this information and how it was so easily accessed from outside. We’ll be asking about the adequacy of encryption, the firewall, the training of staff and why that information was so public facing.”

ACS:Law was already under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for its role and tactics when sending out the letters to the alleged filesharers.  PlusNet has an FAQ explaining its role in the debacle.

This story has been running for a couple of days, but it just gets worse and worse.

Pick a Name, Any Name

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal recently, Google’s Eric Schmidt suggested that teens will automatically change their name in order to disassociate themselves from the indiscretions of youth.  While this might seem to be a somewhat extreme action to take, how easy is it to actually change your name?

If you live in the UK, it’s actually very easy.  All you have to do is start using your new name.  As long as there’s no intention to deceive or defraud, that’s it.  Pretty easy.

If you want to make it it a bit more formal so that it’s on your passport and driving licence, you can use a “deed poll” to change your name.  You  fill out a simple form, get it witnessed and that’s it legal.  You then present the deed poll whenever you want to get your old name changed to your new name.  Job done.

One further and final step is to “enrol” your deed poll which then becomes part of the public record.  All of these deed polls are published in the London, Edinburgh or Belfast Gazettes and there is a charge for this service of around £50 ($75).

There’s a guide to changing your name by deed poll and enrolling it on Her Majesty’s Court Service.   If you do a quick Google, you’ll find plenty of websites (a) wanting to charge for the service and (b) testimonies of people who have done it for free.  I liked this one who changed his name legally to “Flash” because he was going to be forced to answer the phone with his real name.

It’s perhaps more common than you think.  I know one couple personally who, instead of the wife adopting the surname of the husband, they created a new surname that combined parts of both of their original surnames.  They took care with how it sounded and it worked out well.

So Eric Schmidt might be onto something if it’s that easy – the difficult part is going to be choosing a new name.

Usual disclaimer – I’m not a lawyer and the above doesn’t constitute legal advice.

Google WiFi – Wrong But No Big Deal

Information Commissioner's Office logoThe UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has issued a press release on Google’s collection of WiFi data that was obtained by the StreetView cars as they drove round.

In what appears to be a holding statement, the ICO says that it has reviewed samples of collected data at Google premises and confirms that the samples do not include any “meaningful personal details“.  Additionally, the information cannot be connected to an identified individual and it is unlikely to cause any harm.

However, the ICO confirms that collecting the information was wrong but there is nothing further in the press release to indicate if any penalties will be levied against Google.  Apparently the Information Commissioner will be taking a “responsible and proportionate approach.”

Is CNN Calling For Curbs On Free Speech?

On July 23, 2010, CNN anchors Kyra Phillips and John Roberts discussed on air the idea that bloggers should be somehow “held accountable” or perhaps regulated in some way. Here’s the video of that exchange.

It’s no secret that CNN and other so-called mainstream media outlets, both broadcast and print, have had for some time now an ongoing loss of viewers and readers. A number of traditional journalists from time to time have had and expressed an almost open hostility towards bloggers and the Internet. They perceive the Internet as a threat to their business models, and their vaunted self-appointed job as information “gatekeepers.”

If you look back over the past few years, almost every major story, particularly scandal stories, originated first on blogs. In many cases the mainstream media were dragged kicking and screaming into reporting stories. The clearly forged National Guard documents that ultimately ended up forcing CBS to fire evening news anchor Dan Rather comes to mind from a few years ago. Bloggers quickly picked up on the fact that the supposed National Guard documents had been typed up in the default template for Microsoft Word and then ran through a fax and/or copy machine a number of times to make the documents look dirty and/or old. The trouble was, Microsoft Word didn’t exist in 1973. If it weren’t for bloggers, this story would have likely never come to public light, and what is clearly a forgery and a made-up story would have passed into the public mind as the truth.

Should free speech be curbed? Should bloggers somehow be licensed or officially regulated in what is purportedly a free country? Should we be forced to get our news from “professional” or even “licensed” journalists?

PRS Publishes Paper on Filesharing

The Performing Rights Society (PRS), the approximate equivalent of the US’s RIAA, recently published a paper outlining a proposed approach to the compensation of rights holders based on the level of unlicensed material passing through an ISP.

 The paper, snappily titled Moving Digital Britain Forward Without Leaving Creative Britain Behind, was written by Will Page, Chief Economist, PRS for Music and David Touve, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at Washington & Lee University.

(I’m actually not sure that I can tell you about it, because if you follow the links from the press release, it says in bold letters, “It is provided for the information of the intended recipient only and should not be reproduced or disclosed to any other person without the consent of the PRS for Music PR department.  So if it was mentioned in a publicly available RSS feed, does that make me an intended recepient or not?)

Moving on, the paper proposes the following argument, and I paraphrase, because there is unlicensed media, the level of unlicensed media within an ISPs network should be measured and remedial action taken.

The paper offers three possibilities for the “remedial action taken” against the ISP.

  • Compensation, but it admits that it’s difficult to find a way to price it correctly.
  • Licensing or levy, although broadly similar in effect, are very different legally.  There’s a table in the paper showing the differences.
  • Traffic regulation, with penalties or fines paid by the ISPs.

All of this is against the ISP rather than the individual user of the unlicensed media.  Presumably they’ve given up going after the end user because it’s clear to everyone that there’s just too much filesharing going on and it’s going to be easier to go after the ISPs to get money.

However, to be fair, the last two pages of the paper discuss the pros and cons of the three options, none of which are perfect.  One paragraph points out, “We want to make it clear that neither of the above-mentioned options could be considered without accepting that some sort of market failure has occurred and that in consequence some form of regulation is required, and that regulation should seek to put incentives and structures in place so that a market-based solution to the value of media on networks can evolve.”

I’m in a bit of a dilemma over this.  On one hand, part of me has sympathy with the rights holders and believe that they should be compensated fairly (we’ll leave the arguments of whether the PRS and RIAA actually work for the rights holders out of this for now) but the other part of me, says that the success of digital music stores, such as iTunes and Amazon MP3, shows that if you offer fairly priced music and a slick user experience, then people will pay willingly.

Again, I would like to think that mature language and reasoned approach are about the music industry becoming a bit more grown-up and finding fair solutions, but actually it’s just fancy words about getting the ISPs to pay up one way or another.  Those of us who don’t engage in illegal file sharing will simply end up paying for those that do.

Is this the way forwards?  What do you think?

Secret Trade Agreement To Criminalise Copyright Infringement

According to La Quadrature du Net and based on both official and  leaked documents, secret trade negotiations for ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) by the EU Presidency includes negotiating criminal penalties for counterfeiters and copyright-infringers, bypassing the normal legislative system and significantly increasing the scope of “trade agreements”.

My understanding is that within the UK counterfeiting goods and copyright infringment are generally considered to be civil offences and imprisonment is not normally an option (cf OiNK).  However, criminal offences can be punished by imprisonment.  Of course, I’m not a lawyer and I’ve no idea what other countries do.

To be fair, the criminal part of the legislation is clearly aimed at large scale copying of goods and films as it mentions “commercial scale” in a number of places (article 2.14).  There’s a certain part of me that says criminal gangs and organisations need to be dealt with by criminal penalties which is arguably a good thing.

However, this isn’t the point.  ACTA is a trade agreement and should not be dictating legal penalties.  The ACTA agreement is negotiated between the US, EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland, so it’s impact will be widespread and is likely to be adopted into law with little or no debate from countries’ elected representatives.  While we might agree with criminal penalties for criminal gangs, what will it be next time?  Prison for file-sharing teenagers?

Fortunately, the UK Government does appear to have come out against the change in the legislation.  In an interview for ComputerActive, a spokesman for the UK’s Intellectual Property Office said, “These are not appropriate penalties for copyright infringement.  Acta should not introduce new intellectual property laws or offences. Instead, it should provide a framework to better enforce existing laws.  The UK is opposed to the creation of new criminal offences at UK or EU level through Acta.”

The latest round of ACTA negotiation finished last week in Lucerne, Switzerland so further news may be forthcoming.

Broadband Basic Right In Finland

From the beginning of July, a 1 Mbit/s Internet connection will become a universal service in Finland.  Simply, this means that anyone who wants an Internet connection must be provided with one at a reasonable price by one of the 26 telecom operators.

This makes Finland the first country in the world to make Internet access a basic right and it’s interesting to compare this with the UK and France which have both threatened to cut-off the connections of persistent copyright infringers.

From a technical perspective, it’s not a big deal.  There’s already about 96% connection penetration in the country already and this means that there are only about 4000 properties that would need to be connected to achieve full penetration.

Personally, I think this is great step forwards.  1 Mbit/s isn’t super fast but it’s adequate and over time technology and commercial pressure will up the data rate.  However, the key point is that it’s a universal service or basic right enshrined in law, which means that it can’t easily be taken away.

There’s additional coverage over at the BBC.