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September 23, 2006 | Glyn Wintle

Software Patents - back like a bad smell

More than a year has passed since the European Parliament’s historic rejection of the Commission’s and Council’s software patent bill. Now this zombie legislation is shambling through parliament again: on October 11 or 12, the EP is set to vote in Brussels on two competing motions for a resolution on future European patent policy. Next week, internal market commissioner McCreevy will speak in the EP in Strasbourg and outline his patent policy plans, which have already come under fire.

The European Patent Litigation Agreement would impose an integrated judicial system and appeals process across Europe. It would do this by taking the power to rule on patents from national courts and putting it into the hands of a court made up of European Patent Office (EPO) members. This is really just a cunning way of making software patents enforceable across Europe. The law as it stands now states that software patents are illegal in Europe, but the EPO tends to ignore that and grant patents for software anyway. This has not been much of a problem as they are unenforceable — whenever someone tried to enforce these patents they had to do so in an particular national court. These courts would then say 'you cannot patent software' and rule against them.

Commissioner McCreevy proclaimed blissful ignorance about the consequences of the European Patent Litigation Agreement. In a series of six non-answers to Members of the European Parliament, the Commission failed to comment on cost, judicial independence, jurisprudence and treaty-related concerns. Meanwhile McCreevy keeps praising the virtues of said draft agreement.

A joint proposal of three groups — PES, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL — calls for “balance between the interests of patent holders and the broader public interest in innovation and competitive markets”. The motion criticizes McCreevy’s preferred measure, the European Patent Litigation Agreement, for weakening EU democracy, compromising judicial independence, increasing litigation costs and “exposing SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] to greater risks”. The proposal also warns against the effect the European Patent Litigation Agreement would have on the scope of patentable subject-matter, and a decision of the European Patent Office to uphold a Microsoft software patent (on clipboard data formats) is mentioned as an example.

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September 15, 2006 | Michael Holloway

Broadcast Treaty will stifle tech innovation, freedom of expression and access to knowledge

There are two distinct concerns connected to the proposed WIPO Broadcast Treaty, one is structural / organisational - in terms of a lack of democratic accountability - and the other relates to an unprecedented expansion of protectionist legislation.

Two years on from the proposed 'Development Agenda at WIPO', member states, NGOs and technology firms remain unhappy at this global legislative body's evident lack of democratic accountability. WIPO officials this week paid little attention to objections from India, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa or even the United States: “Despite WIPO’s claim that it is ‘member-driven’ and ‘consensus based’ in its decision making, SCCR [Standing Committee on Copyrights and Related Rights] Chairman Liedes unilaterally decided it would be the recommendation of the Committee to the WIPO General Assembly to convene a diplomatic conference in July 2007 to finalize the treaty,” said Robin Gross, Director of IP Justice.

As for the specific content of this new legal code, Boing Boing reports it will "give webcasters the right to steal from public domain, Creative Commons and GPL." We are yet to consider the proposals in detail so have no firm policy, however the creation of broad, new IP rights without empirical certainty of their economic, social and cultural benefit is quite clearly mistaken.

We are very keen to hear your opinions on these concerns.

The UK Podcasters Association have a petition to WIPO against the proposed legislation.

Further information / links on our Broadcast Treaty wiki page

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September 14, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Digital Rights Ireland challenge data retention laws

Digital Rights Ireland has started a High Court action against the Irish Government challenging new European and Irish laws requiring the retention of telecoms and internet traffic data retention.

ORG campaigned strongly against the Data Retention Directive, particularly when the music industry said they wanted a piece of the action, but once the Directive was passed, there's been little to do here in the UK but sit and wait for government implementation. Although Germany's Bundestag have voiced serious doubts that the Directive could be implemented "in a constitutional manner", it has already been established that their constitution is subordinate to European Law. It's therefore unlikely we'll see a challenge from that direction.

This means that DRI's action is profoundly important for everyone who values their privacy, because if they win, it will mean an end to data retention in the UK and Europe.

You can read more on the DRI blog, and press release.

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September 09, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

The reason we do this

If anyone wondered why we - as individuals or together - fight the copyfight and why we support Creative Commons, and whether it really makes any difference: this is the reason why and the difference it makes. It really is great to hear that making things available under a CC licence can genuinely improve the quality of someone's life.

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September 08, 2006 | Michael Holloway

Spam all you want, but don't crack DRM!

As revealed in detail by Bruce Schneier, Microsoft this week rushed a patch out the door, well ahead of their usual once-a-month Patch Tuesday.

Included in this 'security patch' is code designed to break a utility called FaireUse4WM a program designed to remove the DRM from Windows Media Files.

More disturbing of course is that it's being called a security patch in the first place. While technically it is making *someone* more secure, but that someone is not you. Of course, you still need to spare the bandwidth, system downtime for restart, and far more importantly, the inherent risk of system-damaging errors that come from installing a patch to give those other people their security.

Given that system-threatening security holes are regularly made to wait for a fix until said Patch Tuesday by Microsoft, but this minuscule threat to their DRM is addressed almost immediately, it's not hard to see what priorities are at work here. Breaking DRM will bring immediate action, but turning your computer into a spam-spewing component of a bot net? Well, those kind of holes in your system will just have to wait.

(My sentiments exactly, but not my words, they came courtesy of Ryan Alexander)

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August 29, 2006 | Michael Holloway

Come support the Open Rights Group in Scotland!

As part of the Gikii workshop leading up to the VI Computer Law World Conference, the Open Rights Group will be sponsoring an open reception for everyone to get to know ORG. This is a HAPPY HOUR with free wine and snacks!

We are especially looking for interested lawyers and academics for the new ORG advisory body, ORG-Law. But don't be afraid if you simply just want to come by and check us out. Come out, meet other people interested in bringing fairness and balance back into the debate over intellectual property law and internet law!

When: 5 September from 18:00 to 19:00 Where: Lorimer Room, Old College, Edinburgh

While you're in Edinburgh, don't forget, the Computer Law World Conference is open to the public! Programme includes Creative Commons general counsel Mia Garlick, famed cyberlaw professor Michael Geist, and tons of great lectures on cybercrime, privacy, and file sharing!

Register here for the conference.

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August 25, 2006 | Glyn Wintle

Denial-of-Service attacks

A Denial of Service (DoS) attack involves deliberately flooding a server such as a web or email server with information until that server collapses, causing difficulties to users, system admins and others dependent on the service. Techies, users, lawyers and even politicians all agree this activity should be illegal, but the law has for some time now been in need of clarification. For example, a judge last November cleared a teenager of charges arising from his sending 5,000,000 emails to a former employer.

In light of this absurd result amendments were introduced to the Computer Misuse Act 1990 by the Police and Justice Bill 2006 with the intention of clarifying the illegality of DoS attacks, these amendments are expected to reach the Statute book in the Autumn. Yet even more absurdly, this amendment was originally drafted so as to possibly outlaw linking to a site from a very popular site (such as Slashdot or BoingBoing), thereby generating a huge spike in traffic. Thankfully Lord Northesk removed this possibility by introducing a test of recklessness during the Lords Committee stage. Lord Northesk really does deserve a hearty pat on the back for all his hard work over many years trying to improve UK computing law.

And just to tidy things up, the disgruntled teen-employee's case was recently considered at the Court of Appeal, where it was decided that the lower court was wrong to throw out the case. The defendant subsequently pleaded guilty to breaking the Computer Misuse Act and was sentenced at Wimbledon Youth Court to a two month curfew. Somewhat ironically, he must also wear an electronic tag.

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August 23, 2006 | Michael Holloway

27th August - Copyfighters Drunken Brunch & Talking Shop with Dr Ian Brown

The next Copyfighters’ Drunken Brunch and Talking Shop will be held on Sunday 27 July, and it will be chaired by Dr Ian Brown. We will meet upstairs at the Mason’s Arms, 51 Upper Berkeley Street, Marble Arch at 12noon for brunch. The Mason’s Arms is on the corner of Berkeley Street and Seymour Place.

Once we are suitably lubricated (at around 2pm) we will, en mass, go to Speaker’s Corner and orate on the subject of copyright, DRM, the weather — whatever. Speaking isn’t mandatory, but it IS highly encouraged.

Photos from past events are on Flickr.

Please let me know if you are coming by signing up on the ORG wiki page so that I can get an idea for how much food to order.

Nearest underground station is Marble Arch. Turn right at the top of the escalators, then right as you leave the station, then right down Great Cumberland Place, then left down Upper Berkeley Street. The Mason’s Arms is on the corner of Seymour Place and Upper Berkeley Street.

Any problems, please call Mike on 020 7096 1079 (which redirects to my mobile).

Hope to see you there!

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