☞ Changing Law

  • Groklaw has some useful extra information that helps cast light on the dynamics of the Novell patent sale.
  • I’ve been watching the impressive progress that copyright reform has been taking in Brazil for a long time. I had strong hopes that it would provide a template for reforms elsewhere in emerging societies and set in train a global wave of reforms. This appointment seems a major setback and I hope it will turn out that the (very smart) people driving copyright reform in Brazil will prevail.
  • I’m always very wary of new laws attempting to regulate the online world, as most of what happens there is just an analogue of what happens in atomspace and is thus well covered by existing law. However, it seems convictions have proved impossible in obviously unjust circumstances so maybe this one is justified. I hope California will be ready to tune it up when the bugs and unintended consequences emerge.

★ The Typhoid Mary of Three Strikes

Just before Christmas we saw the Spanish Parliament reject yet another attempt to introduce laws in Europe restricting Internet freedoms. There have been a rush of them this year, popping up in country after country, each national government calmly pretending it was their idea and they thought of it unaided and they think it’s a really good one, honestly. Yet many of us saw the mysterious pattern, like a fairy ring of mushrooms on a lawn, and surmised the empty centre wasn’t so empty after all.

Over the last year, we saw them spring up all over the world, notably in Australia and in France but also in many other countries. It seemed odd that so many legislatures should simultaneously feel the urge to create extrajudicial protection for mainly foreign – American – copyright holders, especially in a market where the emergence of alternative models favours local rather than imported talent.

Much of the fuss about Wikileaks has focussed on meta-issues. But there are interesting insights to be gained by correlating the information in the (carefully edited) diplomatic cables. So far I’ve seen nothing that wasn’t already the product of informed cynicism, but a useful confirmation casts light on “three-strikes”-style copyright-owner protection laws. Wikileaks has confirmed that the invisible something at the centre of them all is indeed what we thought it was – USTR, proxied by US diplomats.

About USTR

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) performs the task of protecting American business interests and is now soundly gamed by large corporations. In 2010 its “Special 301” list came to public notice for declaring open source software to be akin to an anti-American tariff barrier, and USTR plays many other roles, mostly more covert, in attempting to create business advantage for its favoured businesses through diplomatic channels.

While I was working with others on preventing software patents being uniformly available in Europe in the middle of the decade, one point of fascination was the presence of USTR in the process of pro-patent advocacy, as well as the way certain large companies appeared to have permanent staff at the US Trade Mission. So I had long suspected USTR would be connected with the outbreak of the three-strikes disease. Wikileaks reveals that the “Typhoid Mary” of three-strikes law – claiming innocence while spreading infection – is indeed USTR.

Cables released already show they have been “helping” a range of governments. Indeed, the unseemly rush to impose the Digital Economy Act without discussion in Britain with the connivance of all political parties spoke loudly of civil servants briefing every MP who asked on a top-secret imperative to obey the Americans or face the awful consequences. I’ve no doubt that we’ll find the data to support the conjecture that every instance of three-strikes legislation globally has their fingerprints.

Here are some of the traces of USTR’s activities reported in the cables so far:


What can we do about this? Truth be told, not much given a modern society where government largely ignores citizens instead of representing them, preferring the collective soothing explanations of professional lobbyists. But there are two things.

First, the Spanish experience sets an important precedent. No politician wants to champion a new law as their own and then have it disclosed that actually they are acting as an agent for a foreign power, as Sinde had happen in Spain (even if her film industry background predisposed her to act against the citizens she was supposed to be representing). So we now know to ask in every case whether these laws are the result of US pressure, creating a resistance in the future to the effectiveness of USTR’s malign influence.

Second, USTR’s magnum opus – ACTA – is still not a done deal. The Wikileaks cables confirm USTR is the driving force, and also confirm that European politicians are getting cold feet over some of the ACTA malarkey. Let’s keep up the public pressure, both individually and through bodies like ORG, FSFE and EFF. We may yet find that the collective voice of the Internet-savvy citizens becomes as effective for citizen freedoms as the lobbyists have become for commercial advantage.

[First published in ComputerWorldUK on December 23, 2010]

♫ Imogen Heap’s Missing Album

It really is time Imogen Heap released an album of B-Sides And Rarities. There’s some really good stuff out there uncollected on any album of hers. I’m maintaining a track listing for the album I’d like to buy, just in case she needs any help 🙂 – I’d welcome pointers to your favourite tracks I’ve missed here.

☝ OSI Refers Novell Transaction To Competition Authorities

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) Board of Directors announced today that it has taken the unprecedented step of referring the proposed sale of Novell’s patents to the CPTN consortium (led by Microsoft and allegedly including EMC, Apple and Oracle – unlikely bedfellows) to the German competition authorities.

Continue reading over at ComputerWorldUK

☞ Worse Before It Gets Better


  • Cute Christmas story.
  • It seems James Burke’s “Connections” series is available on YouTube – this page has links to the whole series.
  • Just found the motherlode of UK Amazon MP3 free downloads – seems there are a large number of large sampler albums for “TuneCore” on there. Busy downloading them, there has to be something good in there somewhere 🙂

☝ Your Rights Or Their Copyrights?

What crime do you have to commit where you live to be forbidden to walk on the streets? Removal of basic rights is a matter of criminal not civil law so moves to make “internet bans” easy are an unacceptable expansion into criminal law for something that was never even meant to affect ordinary citizens in civil law.

Read the rest of the article on ComputerWorldUK.

☞ Honest Dealing

☞ Delicious Fiction

  • As well as being a fellow digital rights activist, Cory Doctorow is one of my favourite authors and an entrepreneur too. His latest book, “With A Little Help”, is self-published and he’s trying every approach possible to make it succeed in the ways we’re both advocating for the new meshed society. This link will let you download – for free – the entire audio book. I am really looking forward to his experience report of this whole venture.
  • Back when he was my boss, Hal Stern expressed an interest in being introduced to Cory Doctorow. I arranged the introduction, and the result was a delicious blend of fandom and friendship that’s still persisting. Hal just took delivery of his limited edition copy of Cory’s new book, and the resulting book-porn makes a lovely read itself!
  • Whereas my US friends used to look in envy on the Doctor Who Christmas Special, it seems the BBC has got wise to demand and made it available through Amazon US almost immediately for on-demand viewing or DRM-ed-to-death offline viewing.

☞ Debunking Conventional Wisdom

  • Very interesting article (series of articles really) that asserts that the whole concept of using a “food pyramid” to direct nutrition is bad. Excellent proposal at the end.
  • “The fact of the matter is that banks are not like any other business. They run the payments system. That is one of the main reasons that governments protect them from failure with explicit and implicit guarantees.”

    Finally mainstream comment is realising that denying essential services without a court order is a problem, private company or not.

♫ Kids’ Nativity

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