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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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August 18, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

'Blaggers' on Radio 5

Our very own Dr Ian Brown is going to be on BBC Radio 5Live, this Sunday 20 August. The Julian Worricker show will be running a feature on "blagging" personal information. Details are:

10:00 Worricker on Sunday Spend Sunday mornings with Julian Worricker. Three hours of award-winning investigation, breaking news, politics, and entertainment. Julian and guests will be reviewing all the top stories from the Sunday papers and looking forward to the week ahead. Have your say too - text 85058 [network rates apply]. Including the Five Live Report: Blaggers Just how safe are our personal details and files? A rape victim tells the Five Live Report of how her attacker - a convicted child rapist - hired a private detective to track her down. The private eye illegally obtained the victim's bank details, telephone and medical records after her evidence led to the rapist's conviction and a nine year sentence. Reporter Matthew Chapman examines dozens of cases where so called 'blaggers' put individuals at risk by illegally obtaining personal information for a living; and asks why are they receiving such small fines in the courts despite making in some cases over a million pounds a year.
Ian will be on air some time around or after 11am.

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August 17, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Belated Happy SysAdmin Day

OK, I know I'm several weeks late on this, but Electech and UKUUG's tribute to SysAdmins everywhere is well worth watching (and I'm not just saying that because it features our very own James Cronin, and the ORG logo). So thanks to all the SysAdmins, designers and other volunteers who keep ORG running!

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August 13, 2006 | Glyn Wintle

Freedom of Expression - China's Internet

The House of Commons' Select Committee on Foreign Affairs have published a report on East Asia that strongly critisices internet corporations working for the Chinese government to filter, censor and control web content. Back in February, American politicians did not pull any punches when they condemned Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco for "decapitating the voice of the dissidents" as part of a "sickening collaboration" with the Chinese government. Despite the British flair for understatement an equally gutsy sentiment is expressed by Parliament's report.

We conclude that the collaboration of Western internet companies in the censorship and policing of the internet for political purposes is morally unacceptable. We further conclude, however, that it is in the interests of Chinese internet users that as much information be available for browsing as possible. We recommend that the Government put pressure on the Chinese government to relax its censorship of the internet and its requirement for foreign companies to restrict the political content of their pages. We further recommend that the Government represent to the Chinese authorities the damage which is done to economic growth by continued restriction of the free flow of information. If you want to read more detail on this issue we highly recommend Amnesty International's Undermining freedom of expression in China.

The Foreign Affairs Committee report on East Asia (Paragraph 343)

Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google are each singled out for criticism in the report. Although they have defended themselves by claiming China's laws force them to censor internet material, it is significant that none of the companies has been willing or able to precisely specify which laws or legal processes oblige this censorship.

In a new development, and to the dismay of human rights organisations, several Western internet companies have recently adapted their products in order to gain access to the Chinese market, by developing technology which censors their web-browsers in accordance with government diktat. Particular criticism has been aimed at Microsoft, which last year launched a portal in China that blocks use of words such as ‘freedom’ in the text of weblogs (‘blogs’); Yahoo!, for identifying journalist Shi Tao at the request of the Chinese authorities, leading to his arrest and sentencing for posting on the internet an internal Communist Party minute; and Google, for launching a self-censoring version of its website in China. Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft submitted evidence to our inquiry. The argument they put forward, in various ways, was that the choice faced by foreign companies in China was either to comply with domestic legislation, or to leave the country, and that remaining in the country has the beneficial effect of offering Chinese internet users increased access to information and internet services. However, in June, Sergey Brin, one of Google’s founders, admitted that Google’s actions had compromised its principles.

The Foreign Affairs Committee report on East Asia (Paragraph 341)

This report is not, however, all doom and gloom. The undercurrent of optimism felt by many Chinese, in terms of long term reform, is picked up by the committee. It is hoped that economic imperatives are likely to lead to broader liberalisation in the long run. Lord Powell is quoted as saying, "can you ever have a properly functioning, really successful economy without much greater freedom than exists in China today? My answer is: no, you cannot." Amnesty, on the other hand, is less optimistic that simply engaging with China will nudge the state toward democracy and away from human rights violations. The short history of the internet in China has been one of rapid growth, but more particularly of increasing sophistication in censorship and control, facilitated and driven by American companies.

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August 12, 2006 | Glyn Wintle

Consultation on the Creative Economy Programme

Shaun Woodward, Creative Industries Minister, has launched a consultation on the Creative Economy Programme draft working group proposals. The CEP - a division of the DCMS - was unveiled in November 2005 as "the first step in Government's desire to make the UK the worlds creative hub."

Their draft recommendations are now open for public comment, so if you have a spare half hour then please drop them a note pointing out your preferences, especially those parts of the documents you don't agree with.

I particularly welcome the proposal to collect together in one place all publicly owned audio and audiovisual material so that it is easier to find and use.

The establishment of a programme to digitally link all publicly owned audio, and audiovisual archives, databases and collections, in order to provide: (i) A source of creative inspiration and reference for the creative industries; and (ii) Public value to UK citizens who will be better able to access publicly owned assets and data and collections.

The Creative Economy Programme - Technology

The Competition and Intellectual Property recommendations properly note that the law today offers less value to consumers of copyright materials than they have come to expect.

There also needs to be greater clarity for consumers and users on how they can locate, access and utilise creative content. These findings support the UK All Party Internet Group results of a consultation into proprietary protections on copyrighted materials and concerns among consumers. The report said: "There is a significant mismatch between what consumers believe they ought to be permitted to do with copyrighted material and what the law allows."

There needs to be a clear read-across from the recommendations of the Gowers Review to the work of Creative Economy Programme (not only this group, but as a whole). The fundamental competition/IP problem appears to be lack of clarity about who owns what and how users can do what and with which and to whom!

The Creative Economy Programme - Competiton and Intellectual Property

Less sensibly the document goes on to recommend using government money to encourage more businesses to use DRM. This proposal should be rejected because in the long run DRM is neither in the interests of business nor the public. The authors are correct in that locking consumers into a single source or outlet should be discouraged by recommending clear standards and interoperable systems, yet this approach does not necessarily require the use of DRM. Open standards are a good thing because they avoid dependence, allowing you to move from one provider to an other with out any extra costs.

For example, digital music providers use different file formats that are incompatible. If you buy a tune from Apple then it won't tend to work on a Microsoft product. Once a user has invested in a digital music collection with Apple, even if a competitor comes with a better bargain that user is motivated to stay with Apple because his investment will be lost if his collection can't be enjoyed through competing products. Open standards prevents this situation from happening. Its also worth noting that Microsoft normally profits from incompatibility, but in the specific instance of music files they advocate interoperability because Apple's iTunes dominates the market and prevents them competing on even terms.

Develop a mechanism to assist SME’s in purchasing and using a specific DRM solution (similar to the BBC's use of DRM for its online archive).

The development of clear standards, accessible trusted third parties and interoperable, transparent DRMs would encourage consumers to take-up legitimate new business models.

The Creative Economy Programme - Competiton and Intellectual Property

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