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.

Google Beats the Gecko, I Mean Geico

Google, the search engine company, won a federal court battle against Geico, the insurance company, today that allows the search engine to sell online advertisements tied to keywords that are also trademarked company names. Geico claimed that Google should not be allowed to display advertisements for rival insurance companies when the Geico name is used as a search keyword. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema disagreed.

[Read more…]

AT&T Released Details of Anti-Spam Filter, Hopes For Long-Term Benefit

AT&T received a U.S. patent earlier this month that will give intellectual property (IP) attorneys ground on which to stand when pursuing spammers.

The patent, number 6,643,686, grants AT&T IP protection for its system and method for circumventing schemes that use duplication detection to detect and block unsolicited e-mail (spam). What this means is that spammers can now be sued under the patent infringement laws for trying to defeat the anti-spam filters that run on mail servers.

In its patent application, AT&T provided significant details regarding how spam filters work and how they can be defeated, and this release of information has brought on a firestorm of protest from the e-mail security and anti-spam communities. However, AT&T anticipates that creating the legal grounds, however technical and specific, to pursue spammers will, in the long run, benefit the general Internet community more than the risks posed by releasing the details of anti-spam filtering systems.

Dave’s Opinion
AT&T is following a tried and true legal tactic of patent and then sue. These booby-trap or submarine patent suits are a staple of the legal profession, and in many cases they work well. I hope that AT&T shares its IP rights freely with those who want to put spammers out of business and are willing to pursue the legal process to do so.

Call for Comments
What do you think? Leave your comments below.

References
AT&T Patent

Ink Cartridge Manufacturers Get Legal Go Ahead

The U.S. Copyright Office ruled this week that a manufacturer of low-cost, third-party printer ink cartridges can continue to make and sell cartridges for Lexmark printers. This ruling will have broad impact on the printer consumable market as alternative brands of ink cartridges may now move from the black market to retail store shelves.

Lexmark International sued Static Control Components (SCC) for copyright infringement of computer code contained in Lexmark’s printer ink cartridges, charging SCC with violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) ban on circumventing digital technology that protects copyrighted material. SCC had reverse engineered Lexmark’s software and created it’s own brand of ink cartridges for Lexmark’s printers.

Dave’s Opinion
The Copyright Office took an tack, rather than considering whether SCC had violated Lexmark’s intellectual property protection, the office ruled that the DMCA does not restrict SCC’s actions. This means that software developers may not be free to reverse engineer code if the intention is to create interoperability with another’s computer application.

With this ruling in hand, I expect that there will be a flood of third-party ink cartridges for both Lexmark and Epson printers, the two manufacturers who are most frequently faulted for imbedding chips in their ink cartridges and forcing users to buy the more expensive primary brand consumables.

Call for Comments
What do you think? Leave your comments below.

References
U.S. Copyright Office Ruling (the interesting details start on page 172)
Lexmark International
Static Control Components
Epson

The Pot Calls The Kettle Black: Turning the Tables on Online Music Swapping

Sharman Networks, Ltd., owners of the KaZaA peer-to-peer file-sharing network, have sued entertainment companies for copyright infringement. Yep, that’s right, the company that makes it possible to swap bootleg digital music is suing the music companies.

The crux of Sharman’s argument is that the entertainment companies used unauthorized versions of the KaZaA software, called Kazaa Lite to find the users who were illegally swapping tunes. Kazaa Lite doesn’t include the advertisements that help pay for the authorized version of the product. Lawyers for Sharman also say that the music industries efforts to stamp out music piracy violates the terms of usage for the KaZaA network.

Dave’s Opinion
Some people get what they deserve while others make noise just to hide the truth. The recording entertainment industry says swappers violate copyright law, the file swapping network says the recording industry violates copyright law. What a cat fight!

We should all give up our next concert tickets in favor of a seat in this court room … I think this will be a better show.

Call for Comments
What do you think? Leave your comments below.

References
Sharman Networks
Kazaa Lite

Must Everything Be Free on the Internet?

Must everything eventually be available for free on the Internet? Steve Lohr, in an article in today’s New York Times, argued that all public digital data will eventually be free on the Internet, because it’s too difficult to protect the intellectual property (IP) rights of the authors.

Mr. Lohr presents an engaging argument for accepting the inevitable distribution and public acquisition of music, words, art, and other works protected by IP law. In facing this inevitable distribution of this collective corpus, we should rethink the protection we strive to afford creators of original works in a manner that recognizes and accepts the new technological environment in which we find ourselves.

An example of the misuse of Internet-related technology that has brings Mr. Lohr to his opinion is the wanton copying and distribution of digital music through file sharing services (i.e. Napster, KaZaA, Grokster, Morpheus), a violation of copyright law. In response, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) this week filed 261 lawsuits against individual users of file sharing systems, using their attempt to enforce current IP laws as a threat to the millions of other illegal music swappers.

Dave’s Opinion
Although, as Mr Lohr wrote, “[the Internet has] origins in the research culture of academia with its ethos of freely sharing information,” I can’t imagine that the early-adopter, circa 1960, academicians, scientists, and scholars freely shared all of their research and hard-earned scholarly writings. Having the technology to share data doesn’t require one to share the data. Having technical skill doesn’t grant one the right to acquire, let alone redistribute, data. I agree with Mr. Lohr that we must allow our approach to protecting the rights of artists to evolve in the face of technological advances; however, I don’t agree that it’s time to roll over and accept that dissemination of currently-protected works is inevitable and, therefore, shouldn’t be restricted.

Some things are inevitable: the sun will again rise and set,the net will continue to transmit data packets, and yes, copyright-protected music will be shared illegally. However, I judge that just because a task is difficult it is no reason to give up the fight. While I have no hard evidence at hand, my perception is that file swapping is most frequently done by young adults whose civil acumen isn’t matched by their technical skill. I think it’s reasonable that our file swappers are less practiced at critically thinking about the value of their civil responsibilities.

In handing over the reins of legal protection under the guise of accepting the inevitable aren’t we, the citizens who have had more opportunities to consider our responsibilities, failing to accept one of our primary civil responsibilities: raising the next generation to be upright, law-abiding citizens?

Call for Comments
What do you think? Leave your comments on the message center.

References
Message Center
Whatever Will Be Will Be Free on the Internet