Thursday, August 17, 2006

Forever or a day?

Forever or a day?

Some Americans dislike the Constitution. Some dislike parts of it. Former senator and Musician Sonny Bono was one of the latter. Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution says, basically, that it is Congress's job to promote progress through the securing for limited times to authors, exclusive rights to their writings, or in plain english, Congress has to provide a system of copyright for a short period of time, in order to 'promote progress'. I believe this is known amongst Constitutional scholars as the “Progress Clause'. Sonny Bono, former member of Congress, and more famously, musician (after all, who's not heard Sonny and Cher singing “I got you babe”?). Shortly after his death, his widow, Mary Bono, said the following in a statement to congress:
“Sonny wanted the term of copyright to last forever. I am informed by staff that such a change would violate the constitution. I invite all of you to work with me to strengthen our copyright laws in all the ways allowed to us. As you know, there is also Jack Valenti's [then head of the MPAA] proposal for a term to last forever less one day. Perhaps the Committee may look at that next congress” (144 Cong. Rec. H9946 9951-2 , 7th October 1998 )

So, whilst Sonny's proposal has been dismissed as unconstitutional, lets look at Mr Velenti's. He's a shrewd operator, and headed the MPAA through some of its more tumultuous times, VCRs, cable TV, and the initial widespread growth of p2p filesharing. As such he should clearly know his subject. Lets examine his proposal then, and see how it would actually work. Of course, much would depend on how it would be applied. Would it only apply to new material, or be retroactively applied? It would probably be educational to look at both.

1. Retroactive application.
First, lets analyse the less plausible option of adding it onto all material. Thus, everything in the United States will be copyrighted, unless and until those rights are comprehensively waived by the appropriate parties. And there is the first stumbling block. Who will be the appropriate party? Who, for instance, will have the copyright over Shakespeare, or for that matter, the Bible, to say nothing of the likes of Dickens, Clemments, or Lincoln. With the bible copyrighted (and try and find someone appropriate to waive that, obviously the Pope is potentially a giver, but Queen Elizabeth II would have a much stronger claim for the King James edition, since it could be considered crown property, or maybe you'd need to find an actual descendant of the House of Stuart) there goes freedom of Religion, and possession of a Bible whose printing was not approved by the rights holders would be guilty of copyright infringement. The likes of Barnes and Nobles, or would have to cease trading immediately, literature classes and courses would have to stop
We rely on public domain material constantly, for education, business or pleasure. What's more, neither bookstores, nor educators, couldn't just continue with materials that were already under copyright. As is widely (or from discussions with ordinary people in the street, possibly not widely) known, the large film, television and music companies started and grew much of their wealth from what was then in the public domain. Books did, and in many cases do likewise. Disney's Hercules, Little Mermaid, or Cinderella for instance. All of that sort of thing would be copyrighted, and without the appropriate rights being negotiated, they would be infringements. A canny rights negotiator could conceivably wipe out the likes of Disney either through exorbitant licensing fees (a practice much favoured ordinarily by the large movie companies) or through the courts using the damages system also lauded by the same people.

Clearly then, that option is out. It' does no-one any good at all, certainly wouldn't produce any progress, except in lawyers fees, and that is what, the constitution says, is the raison d'être for copyright, in the US. So, does the second option, applying this term to currently existing copyrights, do this?

2. Extension of current term
On then to this, the second option, the extension to near-infinity of all currently existing copyrights. This one, unlike the first scenario, doesn't have the inherent problems of redefining what is and isn't copyrighted, it does, however, bring into contention a form of 'why'. Why is it that works more recent than 1923 are so much more valuable than those that were made earlier? In what way does the extension of copyright terms for these more modern works promote progress?Why should a book written in 1922 get 75 years of protection, and one written in 1924 get 1,000,000,000 years? (or at least 95 years now, and longer if the term is extended before its expired)
If anything, thanks to the new technologies, increased mediums, the growth of populations and the conglomeration of the production companies, is it now cheaper and easier to produce the copyrighted material and distribute them than ever before, and yet the desire amongst those is to provide for ever longer terms. This is not providing progress. With it now being so easy to recoup initial expenses through multiple mediums, glib in-house marketing, and star appeal, but primarily through quality, copyright terms should be reduced, not extended. Indeed, as we have seen recently in the UK people did some work, and then stopped, to live off their copyright royalties. Now those terms are about to expire, and they're upset, because they're about to lose their income, they've known about it for years, but because of the then-perceived length of the copyright term, they didn't feel the need to attempt more progress in the field. These are examples of copyright inhibiting progress.

Of course, at the end, it all depends on how you define 'progress'. I personally define it as a way in which things are made better over time. Disney releases its 'classic' movies periodically on VHS/DVD, for short time periods only. The adverts go something like “now from the Disney vault, we've finally put snow White onto DVD, and its yours to own for a limited period. You loved it when you were a child, now you can finally buy it, since we've kept it locked up for years. Hurry up and buy it before we stop selling it and lock it up for another 20 years, until your children's children are around. How is that progress? It might well have been a storytelling masterpiece, and an animation tour de force, but that was then, not now. It has made much more than it ever cost to make. They've had their rights, they made a high quality film and profited greatly by it, now let it go.

Indeed, that does bring up another point against the extension of terms. With a much shorter term, the average quality level will steadily rise. A film, generally recoups its investiture in proportion to its quality. A high quality, well made film will bring in a set about (say $100Million) faster than a low quality film. Of course, a highly publicised film will also tend to make money, but its not so certain. Nor, for that matter do high quality films have to be expensive, or star many big names. The film cube was, to my recollection made for far less than $500,000 and has made far more than that in just the decade or so since its release, as well as being successful enough to have two 'sequels' (hypercube and Cube Zero). With shorter copyright terms, it would seem that in the drive for profitability, there will tend to be a rise towards more quality oriented movies, rather than big-name bonanzas and special effects thrown in willy nilly. There will be some, of course, but if you wait long enough, even a tiny stream of revenue can build into a large volume of water. With the current no-end-in-sight policy of copyright extensions, even if every bad movie ever made only makes pennies a week, they will eventually become profitably. Even if its through such means as being sandwiched two-or-three to a disc, and sold in dollar stores, as has happened with some, I'm lead to believe.

As i explained at the start, the whole point of copyrights, according to the US constitution, is to promote progress. At this point extending copyright any further is not going to do that. Indeed its not clear how the last extension did that. If the extension from 75 to 95 years didn't facilitate progress, how can any extension to eternity, less a day manage it?

Anyone for Monopoly

Most people in the world have probably played monopoly, spent many an evening in cut-throat negotiation, setting up payment arrangements, and trying to amass the most money possible, at the expense of everyone else. Great idea for a game, but its lousy in real life.

In the US, and indeed the UK, there is at least one industry, where monopoly is not just a game, or a practice, its a legally recognised business method. That industry, is the cable companies. In the UK, there is Telewest/blueyonder, or NTL, you can only have one, not the other. In the US, its Charter, Comcast, Time-Warner, and one or two others. No two of these companies competes directly against another, at the local level. Nationally, they bite at each other with packages, and deals, but the flat out truth is, to the consumer, there is no competition. If you live in a Charter area, you can't get Comcast, If you're in a NTL area, no Blueyonder for you. The end result is that consumers lose out, especially in the US.

If, in the US, you live in an urban area, but not near a large city (say a small town of 10,000-30,000 people) or if the town is in a hilly region, standard broadcast TV is out. Your choice then is between either satellite, or cable. Many places however won't allow dishes, or find them impractical (if you have nowhere to mount a dish to face the correct way, you've got no chance of picking up the signal). In those situations, cable is your only choice. In that case, doesn't matter if they lie, deceive, or follow illegal business practices, you have to deal with them, and they can charge what they want. I spent some time recently, with a friend of mine who was ill. He lived in a small town, and used Charter for his TV and internet. He wasn't a long time user, having only had it installed around Easter, but already the complaints and problems are astronomical.

Problems range from mis-selling goods and services, workmen arriving late, and telling stupid lies as to why, repeatedly inaccurate bills, customer services that don't reply to communications, often tell you you're not even in their 'service area' (exclusive/monopolistic sales area) you get someone with all the brains of an aspidistra.

In any other industry, even one of those would often cause customers to switch to a rival, but cable companies know that can't happen. You're in their service area, so you're in no-one else's. The only alternative is to pay a large sum of money, and go to satellite. If you can't, or are unwilling to, they have you over a barrel.

Currently, the EU is fining Microsoft extensively for its anti-trust practices, several similar investigations into them were carried out in the US. Other companies have been investigated similarly, and yet, all too often, the focus is backwards. A monopoly is where one business have over-reaching dominance in the market, and all too often that's interpreted as nationally. Two companies competing across the country is very different from two companies exclusively serving half the country each. The point of antitrust laws is to help the consumer by allowing them the choice to decide between competing products. If anti-trust accusations are levelled, its usually at the dominant company, by its competition.

If, however, you want something done about this, to whom do you complain? In the US, it could come under the FTC, the FCC, the DOJ, the state prosecutors office, and a number of others. In the UK, your best bet is probably OFCOM. Will they return your calls, and take you sensibly, however, that is another matter all together. The windows media player hullabaloo might seem important and 'protecting customers' for other media player companies, but does it really affect the consumer? I use windows, and I use Media player Classic, or, for DVDs, PowerDVD. In no way has my copy of windows with the media player attached, substantially affected my freedom to choose other competing products.

Of course, if anyone can point me to somewhere, in either the US or UK, where someone has the choice between two cable companies, then by all means drop me an email – address, as always, is at the top right –

Ben jones

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Not around

Sorry for the lack of material. I'm on a job which gives me almost no access to a computer system to post. Doing this via a friends phone. Not sure when I'll be back


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Copyright is right

I recently sat down for a discussion with a young man about his views on copyright. His views were somewhat extremist, but are becoming more and more common amongst netizens as a wave of backlash strikes out, over certain industries perverting copyright usage into perpetual licensing rights. In short, he wanted to abolish copyrights and patents entirely.

It is of course easy to see how the view has come about, to quote the fellow, who we'll call 'Gape',
“The copyright, patent, and trademark laws prop up the big houses. it's why they lobby for them, and lobby for even stricter enforcement and stricter rules on them. If they thought for one moment that eliminating copyright, patent, and trademark laws would be to their benefit we'd see massive campaigns against them.”

Who would benefit from abolition of these things then? Lets look at, say, a music CD.

First, you have to write the songs, or since there's no copyright, you can cover them. However, you'll need to rent a studio, and equipment, and a sound engineer. That costs money. Eventually, you have your recording. Now, to release it, you just have to put it out there. You could try selling a download, or burning your own CDs, but these big labels, and indeed all the companies, could take your work and release it themselves. Additionally, since they have only had to pay for a copy of the music, and then only have the distribution costs to cover, and since the big record companies can afford to produce thousands of a CD if they think it'll do well, its cost per CD will be low. So low that they will easily be able to undermine the price of the contents producer. So they will get all the sales, and the musicians will just have a large hole in their pocket, and CDs that cost more to make than their competitors can sell at a profit. How many people would voluntarily spend thousands on music that they will never recoup?

What about they get a record contract then, you are possibly thinking. Well, in short, they won't exist. The point of a contract is to sign over exclusive rights for the distribution of music to a company. With no copyright, there is no exclusivity. It's a lot cheaper for the record company to spend $20 buying a copy of a CD, and release that, than spend say, $20,000 on the music in the first place.

Patents are the same story. If I were to design a new type of engine, ideal for ooh, mopeds and scooters, and other small personal vehicles, how would I get it to market? I've sunk £150,000 into development and testing, and prototyping of this new engine design. Without a patent, as soon as I release the engine design to try and recoup my costs, a big company, be it Black and Decker, Honda, or Briggs+Stratton could buy a single example, and mass produce copies much faster and cheaper, and to greater tolerances than I could, meaning they will also be more reliable. Where its costing me £200 in raw material (metal, springs and so on) and then £100 in energy costs to make the engine 9power for tools, heat to melt/bend metal etc), and I can make one every 3 days, Honda can spend £30,000 and set up a small production line, use their existing CNC machinery and produce engines for a cost of £120, and make 5 an hour at first. They could sell an engine for what I'm paying for the raw material and still make a profit. Meanwhile, I've sold a total of 20, because by that time Honda, and everyone else, is in production, and their cheaper engines, based on my design, are on the market. The increase in supply also means that i can't even charge a premium for rarity now. Even if those 20 were each sold for £1,000 each I've only had £20,000 back, and those have cost me £6,000 to make, so I've made back £14,000 of my £150,000 outlay, and now I can't sell any more.

I, the inventor, or the musician, have done all the work, spent all the outlay, and everyone else gets to profit from it, with the bigger you are in the field, the easier you will make profit. The equation simply boils down to if you create something new, you're going to take a heavy financial loss for it. With that kind of incentive, its hard to justify spending time and money on anything creative or innovative. You might as well take the money you would have spent and burn it.

Abolishing copyright and patents is not the answer. That way leads to eternal stagnation, as no-one can afford to take the financial loss that will come from being creative. Eventually, a new form of copyright will form, between whatever big players are left, gentleman's exclusivity agreements, that will reduce competition between rivals, and bring us back to the status quo.

Eventually, over a period of many years, things would stabilize and rectify itself, but until then, any country stupid enough to abolish copyright and patents would find itself quickly ostracised from the world of intellectual property. Goods embargoed, restricted sales of items and so on. It'd be just like the Cold War all over again, and in what way can that be good for anyone?

Ben jones

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

If piracy is Stealing...

...then speed kills.

I was driving home with the family, after visiting some friends, and a sign caught my eye. It said simply “speed kills”, and it got me thinking. You see, I, like many people, know that speed is not the 'major cause of death' or indeed any cause of death. You go at something like 550mph in an airliner, and you don't die. Andy Green has driven Thrust SSC at speeds of over 700mph (with a peak of 771mph) at least a dozen times. He's still alive and well. I myself have gotten a speeding ticket in the past, for doing 112mph, on the M57 around Liverpool (by the time the police offer had caught me, I'd pulled off to join the M62, so my average speed was in the high 90s, and so that's what my ticket was for). I was speeding, did I kill anyone? Of course not. If I had, it would have been more than £40 and 3 points on my license. However, whilst the sign did cause me to check my speedometer, to double-check the speed at which I was going, it didn't make me slow down. What it did do was make me think about piracy adverts.

Obviously, it's not speed itself that kills, but that speed can be a contributing factor. At 100mph, you're carrying four times the energy as you would travelling at 50mph, which naturally increases your breaking distance, and additionally means you cover twice the distance in reacting. That's fundamental, and for international readers, in the UK you're required to learn the stopping distances for a 1965 Ford Anglia at speeds of 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70mph, by standardised thinking and braking distances, for the driving test. The biggest factors, however are the environment, and surroundings, and the mechanical components. If the master cylinder for your brakes goes, you're very likely to have a crash at 50 or 100mph. If a tyre hits a shard of metal on the floor, and explodes, its still as likely to cause an accident, at 50 or 100mph, differing only in the potential severity. I've had two tyres explode on one car, both times around 80mph – turned out to be a pair of faulty tyres, no injuries, no accident, and the second time, I was on my way again in under 10 minutes.

Yes, speed is a factor in many accidents, and indeed deaths. Yes, speed can magnify minor injuries that would otherwise be suffered. NO, however, speed doesn't kill. Speed applied inappropriately and in unsuitable situations and conditions maybe contribute (in my speeding ticket situation above, I had no cars in front of me at any time - even the cop car was not on the motorway, but parked off behind a bridge- it was a clear dry Sunday lunchtime, and my vehicle was mechanically sound. In that situation I judged my speed was as safe as the 50mph crawl around the M25 is, if not more so) BUT it requires a least another factor. Driver error, poor judgement, mechanical problems, a freak weather incident (If someone's hit by a blown over tree, it could be argued that had they driven slower they might have survived, was 'speed' a contribution to their death? Clearly not, Its all a matter of situation, experience, awareness and equipment.

So it is with all these “piracy is stealing”, “downloading is theft”, “copying CDs costs the industry billions” and so on. If I download a copy of, say, Monsters Inc. have I stolen anything? Well, since I have the DVD within sight, I'm not likely to buy another copy, so to call my download a loss of income is hardly accurate. Lets try another example. My kids, especially the younger two (4 and 2) love the Blue Man Group. A year ago, or so, we thought about getting the DVD of the complex tour as a Christmas present for them. I got a VCD (low resolution) copy to look at, see if it would hold their attention (I was very skeptical) and I was surprised to see it would. So I bought it. I went from a probably not, to a full purchase. That's a GAIN of a purchase, and not a loss. The VCD is for in our van, for playing on our in-car DVD player, when we're on long journeys (cars are very unfriendly places for CDs, with heat, vibration, fingering for slot-loaders etc)

As with speeding above, and its lethality only as a contributory factor, downloading of content in contravention of current copyright regulations only causes a loss in certain circumstances. Of course, doing so would reduce the size and 'impact' of such loss figures, which companies can show to government officials to get laws they favour, or to shareholders to show why the growth wasn't as big as they'd expected. So, next time you see a claim for monies lost to “piracy” or “downloading” and see how fast the figures have grown over the years, remember one thing – Speed Kills.

Ben jones

Monday, July 03, 2006

Media Crazy

It has become common in in the US it seems, to protest and feign moral outrage over something trivial. The recent MySpace débâcle (here or here) is a prime example – A parent lets her child have unfettered access to the internet, meets someone on a site, arranges a real life meeting, and then the girl (of 14) is attacked. Now the parent who allowed her daughter to use this website, is suing the site. It has become common in this modern day and age for many parents to give their children free reign, and then when something happens, for them to blame someone else. Who was it that allowed a 14yo free reign on the internet? Was it MySpace? Who was it that let that same teenager go out and meet some person she'd just met? The website? The plaintiff's lawyer justified the $30M lawsuit by saying that 21 state attorney generals had warned MySpace that the site's security measures were ineffective and urged the site to adopt age-verification systems. I've been around and about for a while, but I know of no method to verify someones age, short of having the person provide government issued documentation, in person, to the verifier. Adult websites have been stuck with this issue for many years, and their best solution is to use a credit-card, which only verifies that the named cardholder is over 18 - were the girl in the case to get hold of her parents credit card info, and use it for age verification, would anything have changed? There were only two people that could have prevented that attack – the parents and the victim herself.

Of course, this is not the only example of lawsuits going awry, in the hopes of big money. In 2003 two teenage boys decided to take pot shots at cars from a bridge over the I40 motorway using a .22 rifle. They killed one and injured another. They claimed they were bored, and decided to emulate their favourite game – Grand Theft Auto. Who did the family of the victim choose to sue? Why the person with the deepest pockets, the publishers of the game. Not the kids for shooting the gun, not the kids parents for allowing them access to the gun, or even the state that allowed such unfit parents to own a firearm, but the game the kids claimed they were copying. I'm only surprised they didn't also decide to sue the state for having a bridge set up so such a shooting was possible or the gun manufacturer for making a gun a teenager could fire (although that was the underlying plot in the film adaptation of John Grisham's “Runaway Jury”). Those two are equally as culpable as the litigants targets, if not more so. Prevent anyone from being able to fire off a bridge, and it couldn't have happened. Can the same be said if the game had never come out? Similarly, if the girls parents had been on the ball, it couldn't have happened – if Myspace didn't exist, it could, and would have happened using any one of a thousand other similar methods, from IRC, emails, IMs and so on.

Other cases abound – in Oakland, California (on the other side of the Bay Bridge from San Francisco) there were a group (five men and a woman) who called themselves 'Nut Cases' apparently played violent videogames night and day, before engaging in random robbery and murder. Their favourite, they say, was Grand Theft Auto. (sources here and here)

That brings me to modern day. There has been a lot of controversy over the latest incarnation of that game in the last year, San Andreas. For anyone who's kept clear of any and all news relating to videogames, let me recap, anyone else can skip to the next paragraph. It, like its previous 4 incarnations, is a game where you play a villain, and throughout the game you have to perform tasks such as armed robbery, assassinations, carjacking, bombings, and so on and so forth. Nothing at all dissimilar, in fact, from what you did in all the previous games, (and the first one was released in 1998), so why the stink? Well, there is a background aspect of the game where you get a girlfriend, and take her on dates. If they go well, you will be eventually invited back in 'for coffee'. This mod unlocked some visual footage which was removed from gameplay. So instead of exterior shots of the house whilst suggestive sound effects are played, you get to see it happen.

The deal then is that sexual activity between two consenting adults is not suitable whilst murder, mutilation and dismemberment of non-consenting adults is fine, as is wholesale destruction of personal and private property. 81 year old Florence Cohen, from New York even sued Take Two over it, saying that she had bought it for her grandson, aged 14 (the game is rated 'Mature' in the US, meaning suitable for ages 17+) "without knowing it contained hidden, sexually explicit scenes”. Hillary Clinton also jumped on the bandwagon, demanding a Federal Trade Commission investigation. Of course, what both Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Cohen are neglecting to point out is that the acts they are protesting against are, if not the same, then at least very similar, to acts they themselves have performed at times in the past. I do however hope that they have not performed any of the games acts with which they don't have a problem, such as killing someone (curious as to why we haven't heard from Laura Bush then).

It would be nice to think that this is a recent anomaly but it's not. If you were to look at the TV guide for around lunchtime in Atlanta, for instance, you'd notice that on one of the major networks (Atlanta based TBS) they have Lethal Weapon 2 on, starting at 10:30am, and finishing at 1pm, right before the local baseball team's game comes on. Some of the closing scenes of that movie have a South African shooting Mel Gibsons character, and laughing shouting 'diplomatic immunity' before being shot in the head. What a lovely sight for any kids that have turned over for the Braves game a little early. The USA network no cable has Terminator 2 starting at 12:30pm, nice bodycount, so clearly wholesome family viewing. TNT meanwhile decided to show the Martin Lawrence/will Smith film “Bad boys” at 10AM (MPAA rated R for intense violent action and pervasive strong language.) and AMC went with a 7:45am showing of The Godfather, part III. These movies all have something in common – recreating some of the scenes in these films will have you sitting in a cell on death row in many states, and staring at the inside of a jail cell for the rest of your life in the others.

Lets take sexual content now. If we were to look at a film based heavily around consenting sexual action, and nakedness, just as those films above are based around violence and murder – lets take Showgirls. In the US, even if you were to watch it broadcast at 11pm (when all impressionable children who would be so tainted by the sight of breasts should be in bed) it is very likely that you will see anything that could even be remotely described as lewd conduct. There is actually a version of the film, for broadcast, where the 'sex scenes' are cut out, and and nudity fixed by digitally painting on clothes. Double standards?

How about another example. Superbowl 2004 for instance. In the half time show, Janet Jackson's nipple was briefly exposed, and there was national uproar, - FCC chairman Michael Powell was watching the event with his two children, and called it 'outrageous'. Would there have been such an outcry if a blank gun and bloodpack was used instead to give the illusion of her having been shot? One might also assume that Mr Powell's children **satire alert** never exposed to the disgusting, indecent and morally reprehensible act of breast-feeding**satire alert**

“What has all this to do with peer2peer?” You have probably been wondering. What each of these cases highlights is the dangers of a worldview the US is heading for. In a country where revealing of a breast on television is punishable by a $325,000 fine, but films featuring scenes of torture are acceptable Sunday lunchtime family viewing. Where atrocious parenting decisions are glossed over because of a sexual angle, real or implied. Only in such a society, where common sense is sorely lacking, and any sense at all is rare it seems, are laws like the DMCA passed, is copyright extended to 95 years, stifling creativity rather than encouraging it as was its intent. Only in that atmosphere are copies of a film deemed important enough to interfere in another countries democrat progress, and laws, are the reproduction rights treated as being almost as important as military secrets.

Land of the free? More like land of the lunatic.

Ben jones

Friday, June 30, 2006

Design Differences

The word design has many connotations in the English language. It can be a noun, or a verb, but more importantly, it can refer to both artistic works, technical works, and the creation of either.

The differences in the title allude to the differences in protections afforded to artistic works, and technical works. An artistic work falls under copyright, whilst a technical work goes on to become a patent – or more often doesn't. It is this in particular that is the point.

If I draw a picture, it's automatically copyrighted. This writing, since its held on a US server, is considered to have been published in the US, and is automatically copyrighted. What's more its copyright term is until I die, plus 70 years. So, even if I get hit by a truck tomorrow, it's copyrighted until 2076. It has taken no great effort to write this. I had a basic idea, my associate does some assistance with the research, and I write it. He edits it for clarity, and then its published. No great creative effort is needed. I haven't slaved over a tablet for three or five weeks, writing this. Get a patentable device completed this quick, from first concept to public release, and you're some sort of super-designer.

Both I, and my associate are engineers. If I design a device, its not patented automatically. I have to register it. What's more a patent only lasts for 20 years, and is territorial. In other words, if I want my patent in the US, and the UK, I'd have to apply for a patent in both countries

Why are there these differences? A good technical invention is hard to do (although some might claim the same of good artistic works) and involves a lot of work. Of course, the biggest difference between the two is the restrictions on what is patentable. The UK patent office lists them as
1. Has to be new – never been made public before the patent is filed for
2. Be an inventive step – not an obvious adaption of something existing which anyone can see
3. Be capable of existence – if its some sort of perpetual motion machine, its likely to be deined.

There are also more exclusions, but you can read them on the site. All in all, what qualifies for a patent is a narrow field a small percentage of technical output. In some 10 years as an engineer, I've assisted in developing one patent, I've assisted in hundreds, of copyrighted works.

Both copyright and patent were designed for the same thing to reward work in the artistic and scientific/technological/mechanical fields, by allowing the materials creators to profit from their work. The difference is, Patents are for 20 years, copyright can be 50 in the UK, up to 95 or even (considering I personally aim to live another 60 years) 130 years in the US. Then there are all the protections for copyright now. Patents have none of this. If one group infringes another groups intellectual property, in the form of a patent, one group files a civil lawsuit against the other. If it were a copyright infringement, the litigant can similarly file a civil suit, or get the FBI (if in the US) to arrest and seize material. Copyrights have methods now to, it is claimed, protect them from being infringed. Do patents carry these methods? Your computer carries patents in its hardware. Can you take a look at that hardware design – sure you can. Can you then take that, and use it to build your own patent? Well, if it involves an innovative step, and is separately developed, its fine.

DRM, is a new thing in copyright, that has a lot of fans with the copyright crowd. Lets apply it to a patent, lets say a nice new plasma TV. Imagine if you were restricted in the number of people that could watch it at a time, or told that over its lifetime, or until the patent runs out, you can only have the TV in a total of 3 rooms. And of course, you're not allowed to sell or otherwise give away your TV now you've 'purchased' it. It sounds absurd, but these are commonplace restrictions for music. Of course, trying to get around any of these would be a breach of the 'license' you bought the TV under, would be against the law.

The differences do not stop there, however, enforcement is probably the biggest difference between the two. In internal conflicts between the two, in the US, for instance, copyright infringement would often take the form of lawyers initially, or if its major, federal law enforcement; meanwhile patent infringement is just a civil lawsuit regardless – palm and Xerox in their $22.5M fight for instance. In international matters, we have seen in recent statements the US position on it – forcing national economic sanctions against nations for a site, or having quiet words with another nation's government. When it comes to patents, though, There is no government interaction, No wild and lurid statements, or accusations, press releases filled with wild speculation and rhetoric. A New Zealander is challenging the validity of the 1-click patent holds (or at least that's his aim, its not certain it'll even be looked into). Meanwhile, Intergraph, a US company that specialises in surveillance and security systems for military and civilian agencies, is suing NEC, Toshiba, and Fujitsu. Odds are that there will be no government involvement there either, certainly no intimidation or governmental suggestions of arrests.

Why this difference? Why are people so interested in copyright, and the patent left as the poor relation? Patentable material is harder to create than copyrighted material. Patents advance our culture and civilisation, copyrights merely minutely enhance culture. When it comes to world change, was it the jet engine, or “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band that changed the way of life? Microchips or music? The VCR, or the content of the videos played on them?

The reason is clear, copyrighted material is easy to make. The idea then, is to maximise the revenues derived from the works, before they're passed into the public domain. Of course, the public domain is Bad for content producers monetarily – as Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull put it , songs in the public domain “becomes instantly devalued”. For the good of all, however, their value is greatly magnified.

As is stated extensively, patents and copyrights are for creators to be able to profit from their creativity, be it artistic or technological, and thus increase creativity. If patents were to last as long as copyrights, cars would still be a new thing, and they'd cost a million or so, air travel would be as common as space travel is now. Clearly not a good thing. If copyright lasted as long as patents, would there be any difference? Well, there would be greater creative artistic works. When you can receive payment from your works for 50-95 years, where is the impetus to create? Additionally there would be more material to base new works on. Samples, lyrics, melodies, film clips musical scores, cheaply.

It appears, as with many other things, the money aspect has wiped out the reasoning in the first place – creative stimulation. How anyone can see that as anything but bad is a mystery, since it only requires the application of a little common sense.

Ben jones

Thursday, June 29, 2006

UK copyright lobby discredits MPAA study pt 2

First, if you haven't read part 1, I would advise you to.

There have been a number of enquiries come in, as to what the conversation has said, and more than once, there has been the allegation that the story is not true. Its been a busy week, but here at last, the emails.

From: B Jones
Sent: 20 May 2006 00:15
Subject: request for clarification of data on

Dear sir/madam

I am sending this email to ask for a clarification of some of the data on your site, specifically its with reference to the second paragraph on the page

My problem is that the figures given vary (between 7-13%, depending on exchange rate) with the figures published by the MPAA in their Lek study ( - page 4). the ITFIPA figures for lost VAT only matches the MPAA figure if the US/UK exchange rate is $1.62=£1 - a rate that has certainly not been seen in the past 12 months.

Thus the question is, how can two organisations with much the same membership, express figures purporting the same thing, yet have such a radical difference in values. how were such values calculated, and how were they checked to be sure they were either accurate or representative.


Ben jones
cc: MPAA

On Tue, 23 May 2006 12:58:00 +0100 , "Stefanie Riese-McCartney" wrote:
In reply to your query on the MPA/LEK study findings, please see the attached. 

This information is so old now (research done in 2004) that I’m afraid it’s lost its currency, which is why we haven’t used it.  The apparent anomalies between our locally produced consumer research and the MPA study are due to the fact that the methodologies employed were completely different. The figure quoted in the MPA research is not a consumer spending loss figure and it is not a loss figure to the industry worldwide -  it is only the revenue loss suffered by the MPA member companies.  So it is a different calculation from the industry loss figures we are talking about locally.

I hope this clarifies things.

Kind regards

Stefanie Riese-McCartney

(On the behalf of the Industry Trust for IP Awareness)

From: B Jones
Sent: 24 May 2006 00:02
To: Stefanie Riese-McCartney
Subject: RE: request for clarification o data on

Dear Ms Riese McCartney
I'm afraid I have to send you another email. Your response did not answer my points, perhaps down to a miscommunication. In my question (kept below) I asked about 'lost VAT' of £108.5Million, on a page copyrighted at 2006. Therefore, I can only assume its a recent figure, after all, if its an old figure with no currency, why is it still on the site, let alone updated. Indeed the only timeframe reference on the page . Additionally, the figure I had put it in comparison to was not "a loss figure to the industry worldwide" as you so succinctly put it, but then, neither is it "the revenue loss suffered by the MPA member companies". in fact, the figure to which I referred you (again, on the lower half of page 4) there is a table showing "Tax Loss Estimates (USD$M)" and listing the UK at '176', or roughly £99.1million. Your VAT estimate is £9.4million over.

The other thing that puzzles me is your statement that the methodologies employed were completely different, which explains the disparities in figures. So, which method is the more accurate and correct? Incidentally, what was the method used to determine your figure. Thank you for your time

Ben jones

On Thu, 1 Jun 2006 09:28:02 +0100 , "Stefanie Riese-McCartney"   wrote:
Dear Ben

Sorry for the delayed response but I have been out of the office until today.

To further clarify our answer to your enquiry regarding the amount of 'lost VAT', the figure of £108.5 million was taken from IPSOS research commissioned by the British Video Association, carried out in November 2005 - the most recent research available. It is based on 17.5% of the cannibalised DVD sales the study identified due to all copyright theft in over 12 months. Differences between this figure and the MPA's can be explained by the time elapsed between studies and the different methodology used. The IPSOS research was done using face-to-face interviews with 2,000 members of the public in GB of 15 years+. 

In carrying out research to determine losses caused by crime, no study will be 100% accurate but we have to use the best information available. The figure is used on the piracy is a crime website to make the point that piracy is making a huge impact on many levels, not just losses to copyright owners.  Although it's certainly important to be accurate, we have a common aim with the MPA and other organisations to raise awareness of the harm done by piracy.  We are using a transparent and up-to-date model to generate evidence to prove our point.

MPA members comprise the Hollywood majors.  The members of the Industry Trust for IP Awareness include UK distributors such as representatives of British TV companies, specialists in non-film entertainment and also the key video manufacturers and retailers in this country.

If you have any other information that is pertinent, statistically viable and up to date, please do let us know as we welcome any information that contributes to our insight into this vexing issue.

I hope this helps but please let me know if there's anything else you would like clarified.

Best regards


Stefanie Riese-McCartney
(On the behalf of the Industry Trust for IP Awareness)

Additionally, I have now re-sent requests to the MPAA and the BVA (whose study is referred to) to get their comments on it. We shall see if they reply.

Ben jones

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Journalism, or press release 2 - the reply

10 days ago, I wrote a letter to the Washington Post, in response to an article they'd written. (you can read it here) I said I didn't expect it to do much good, nor did I expect a reply. I did, however, get one.

As it states right at the top here, N2N is all about BOTH sides of the argument, so I feel duty-bound to post the reply from Frank Ahrens

Greetings, all:

Allow me to apologize for the mass reply, but this story generated a lot of
discussion, to put it mildly, and I wanted to get back to everyone who
wrote, even those who accused me of not knowing my asshole from my elbow
(which, by the way, is one of my favorite phrases).

The story was meant to shine a light on the U.S. government's increasing
involvement with U.S. entertainment industries and their joint efforts to
influence foreign governments to strengthen copyright laws--to the
satisfaction of U.S. companies--and crack down on what the U.S. government
and industries see as piracy.

It was not an endorsement or condemnation of the practice. It was not meant
to debate copyright law and whether rightsholders have their rights for too
long. That's a fine debate that reasonable people of both sides can
disagree on and perhaps a story for another day.

Early in the story, I incorrectly referred to as a
file-sharing sight. That was my oversight on final edit--I of course
realize it operates like iTunes--and I'm sorry I did not catch it. I
realize that factual errors can undermine a thesis but I hope you will not
devalue the story--which is about the activities of the U.S. government and
entertainment industry--because of this mistake.

As for The Pirate Bay, perhaps the Swedish authorities conducted a
ham-fisted raid and perhaps the dissemination vs. receiving of copyrighted
material debate is ongoing in Sweden. But in characterizing TPB, I relied
on the opinion of the Swedish minister of trade and economic affairs, who
called it illegal, and the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled
last year that the administrators of file-sharing networks may be held
responsible for ciminal activities of their users, which is clearly guiding
the Swedish authorities. As for the BitTorrent argument, saying that the
network does not carry copyrighted works but seeds to where those
copyrighted works reside strikes me as saying it's not illegal if you chop
up the Mona Lisa into 100 pieces and then tell people where those pieces

Finally, the Swedish police believed TPB was illegal enough to raid. If the
Swedish law of last year is overturned, then that's newsworthy to me down
the road.

As for, not only does the RIAA and MPAA but the MPA
(international) and IFPI (international) believe that even though it may
claim it is licensed by Russian authorities, that license and its guiding
authority are shams in the Wild West bazaar of Russian commerce. I tend to

As for the potential losses suffered by the music and movie industries
overseas, those are of course estimates but not without some empirical
evidence. I pressed both bodies on their calculations, which they compute
but surveying the market to find out what percentage of counterfeit
material is being sold and estimating the corresponding market value, i.e.,
what the music and movie companies would have made from those sales if they
were not pirated goods. A report from the Russian government earlier this
year, for instance, estimated that 70 percent of all CDs and DVDs sold in
Russia are counterfeit.

This is a large, growing and complex problem. I am not infallible but make
every attempt to make my stories as factually correct as possible, to get,
as a former colleague once said, "The best available version of the truth."
The ongoing conversation with readers through the Web greatly helps my
reporting and makes it smarter, as there are tons of readers who know more
about most topics than I do.

So I hope to keep up the dialogue and please allow me to encourage everyone
to keep it civil. Just as you say a mistake in one of my stories can cause
you to devalue the entire story, if someone starts off an e-mail to me by
calling me a name, or several, then I'm likely going to skip the rest of
your e-mail, possibly missing valuable information.



Frank Ahrens
Media and entertainment industry reporter
The Washington Post
Phone: 202.334.5158
Fax: 202.496.3815

Friday, June 23, 2006

UK copyright lobby discredits MPAA study

The MPAA's recent LEK study into intellectual property theft has been dismissed by the UK's Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness (ITfIPA) as inaccurate and out of date.

The dismissal came after discrepancies between that report, and figures the ITfIPA itself publicises were highlighted. Stefanie Riese-McCartney, spokesperson for the trust, said of the Lex study “This information is so old now (research done in 2004) that I’m afraid it’s lost its currency”. She then went on to say that a British Video Association study from November 2005 was more accurate as it was more recent. The study consisted of “face-to-face interviews with 2,000 members of the public in GB of 15 years+”. The MPAA were contacted, but did not respond.

Apparently, though, there is some confusion as to what the actual public line should be, since at two points Miss Riese-McCartney defended the differences in values (£108.5M for the BVA study, $175M/£98.5M for the MPAA study) as “due to the fact that the methodologies employed were completely different.” Although how they can use two different methods to measure the same thing, have a 10% difference, and still believe either to be accurate beggars belief. Unless, then, there has been a schism in the nature of reality, one, or possibly both, figures are wrong. Fortunately, the ITfIPA does also give a 3rd reason in the same set of statements.

“The figure is used on the piracy is a crime website to make the point that piracy is making a huge impact on many levels, not just losses to copyright owners.  Although it's certainly important to be accurate, we have a common aim with the MPA and other organisations to raise awareness of the harm done by piracy.” - in short, whilst accuracy is nice, getting our point across is nicer.

However, this is not the first time the ITfIPA has revealed information that has broken with the broadly established copyright agency gameplan. In December 2005, the ITfIPA let slip that they considered public domain material copyrighted.

Ben jones

**UPDATE** - 29/06/06
Now read part 2

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Journalism, or press release - the $250Billion question

Some of you may have noticed this article in the June 15 edition of the Washington Post. I was, and still am, quite unhappy, so I sent the following letter to the editor.

Dear Editor,

As a journalist, you are supposed to have written what is happening,
the facts, and then depending on the type of piece, some possible
conjecture or inference. However, in the piece entitled "U.S. Joins
Industry in Piracy War" you give few facts, and alas, many more
outright lies.

Possibly the biggest error is the claim "The intellectual property
industry and law enforcement officials estimate U.S. companies lose as
much as $250 billion per year to Internet pirates" When making that
estimate, did that take in account that that is 5x more than the
worldwide box office figures, AND the worldwide record industry
revenues combined?

As for Russia's "unauthorized file-sharing site", would that be - a site which makes payments to its local rights
collection organisation, and who's only real crime is being
successful, and competing with the likes of iTunes (the fact that
prices are roughly 10x cheaper, and feature no rental-like DRM explain
why an unadvertised Russian site is competing with a site that spends
millions in advertising and has a locked feeder product in the shape of
the iPod. Imagine if roles were reversed, and China threatened to veto
the USA's entry to the WTO unless it shut down the Washington Post.
Its the same thing. One country trying to abrogate the democratic
process through external government interaction in order to further
the interests of business. Imagine the international condemnation of
the US if it pressured Cuba to burn all its tobacco or else, due to
lobbying from the tobacco industry. Its the exact same thing.

Of course, other errors in your piece include terming The pirate Bay"
as "illegal file-sharing Web site". The files it shares are torrent
files, which contain no copyrighted data. Of course, under a ruling
(made based on precedent) last May, such sites are legal in the US as
well, a fact that they are not keen to publicise. Indeed many of those
that participated in the raid are expected to lose their jobs, possibly
including the Justice minister.

I have seen both sides of the argument. In the early 90s I was one of
those self-same pirates (they're not new, indeed gamers in the UK
probably own more original copies of games now, than they did 15 years
ago) and in the late 90s, I was a copyright enforcer, including the
time of the Napster boom.

The problem is, of course, that to many people (including artists
themselves), its the media companies that are doing the stealing.
However, the companies are the ones with the money which pay
lobbyists. Its due to this lobbying that laws are being proposed which
give a heavier maximum sentence for copyright infringement (10 years)
than for stealing the CDs (7 years) - financial loss is easy to prove
with the second, but with the first not only is there no proven actual
loss of revenue, it may actually lead to a gain. These same laws would
make it illegal to use a sharpie on a CD, or to make the kind of
investigation that discovered the Sony rootkit.

The example of what is wrong with copyright law that I often quote is
the song "Happy Birthday". I am sure it is one you are familiar with.
This 25-note ditty was written in 1896 by one sister, the words (good
morning to you, good morning to you, good morning dear children, good
morning to you) were added by another, and the song eventually
copyrighted in 1936 by the third (and at that time, only surviving)
sister. That song is still under copyright now, and will be until 2020
in the US, and in 2002 earned more than $2,000,000 in royalties. Can
you tell me how, 90 years after the songwriter died, keeping it in
copyright is helping foster any sort of creativity?

Stringing assertions made in press releases from an extremist
pressure group (the MPAA is no different from Greenpeace or the NRA,
except Charlton Heston was never a Cabinet Secretary, and the MPAA
represents a handful of companies, not a segment of the population)
is bad journalism. stating as fact assertions from a group which has
not, to my knowledge, EVER published HOW they determined those facts.
There is a similar lobby group in the UK (called the Industry Trust
for IP Awareness) and their claims for sometimes the same things, can
differ by 15%. What makes this clear its a sham, is that the ITfIPA
comprises the same main members as the MPAA, along with some video
rental groups.

Lobby groups, like PR groups, have one aim. That aim is to promote
their agenda. Their agenda is to strengthen copyright laws and the
enforcement of them, to increase their moneyflow. It is government
sponsored monopolistic business, seeking to institute and enforce
unconstitutional copyright terms to the detriment of all other links
in the chain - be they artists or consumers.


Ben Jones

Of course, I don't expect it to do much good, but I still made the effort. Until more people start comming out, and publicly decrying these sorts of actions, can we start to get some sort of change.

Ben jones

**UPDATE** - 28/06/06
The reply by the Washington Post can be found here

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Pirates Ahoy!

Its always the way, it seems. I go away for a week, and all hell breaks loose

Biggest news, of course, is the raid on PirateBay. Its knocked my follow-up on the inconsistencies of various groups and theier statistics into the background.

Little bit of background.

Piratebay is a tracker and torrent indexing site hosted in Sweden. It offered torrent files, with a comments system to garner feedback on a particular download, which coupled with its open tracker (as in, anyone could use it, not just certain registered members) meant it grew. What really made its appeal grow, however, was the section it entitled 'legal threats'. Mainly this consisted of companies/lawyers emailing them to have torrents removed. Depending on the tone of the initial letter, the reply's could become somewhat 'colourful', but all along the general lines of 'such and such's laws do not apply in Sweden, Swedish law does, and under appropriate Swedish judicial rulings, the items in question are currently legal'.

That attitude, plus its claim of being 'the biggest bittorrent tracker' is almost certainly what has raised the ire of many. Couple that with its recent windfall from the Swedish gameshow 'Top Candidate' (to the tune of some $4,656) and the aims of its political arm, Piratpartiet, to get elected probably accelerated things. Nor, for that matter, can the date be all that coincidental. Initial reactions were “is this another hoax”, as last year at the start of June, Piratebay pretended to have been shutdown, as a prelude to their new upgraded site.

This has been quickly dispelled by a plethora of sources, on both sides. Everyone from the MPAA on in fact. Which brings me to a small point. This raid was clearly pre-planned, with the knowledge of the MPAA. Its press release was released too quickly, with too much accompanying material, for it to have been done on the spur of the moment. I'm not saying its not possible, it just doesn't seem likely. After all, “A lie can get around the world before the truth has got its boots on” - something I for one like to keep in mind.

Lets go by what is known. A search warrant of some kind was served on the host, by the National Criminal Investigation Department. A number of servers were then taken, not all of which belonged to 'The Pirate Bay', but some which belonged to other customers. One of them was the UK/Swedish company 'Gameswitch'. “Our hardware was severed from the internet at approximately 12 noon Swedish time today without notice or explanation and currently is believed to be in the possession of Stockholm Police, although this cannot be confirmed; we have thus far been unsuccessful in attempts to seek information from both the Police as they hold their silence and our contacts at our service provider, PRQ (most of whom had been taken in for questioning)” says GameSwitch Director, Christopher Adams, “As a result of this seemingly irrational and disproportionate move by police, our entire business, in effect, has also been seized.”

Hardly the best public relations exercise for the Swedish police, nor it may seem, the most legal. Admittedly, I'm no expert on law, but I have the impression that a search warrant can't be used to cart off anything and everything they feel like. Imagine, if you would, having your car impounded, just because it was in the same car park as a car the police were interested in.

As for anything else, well, we'll have to see. The only other fact anyone's been able to determine is that at least two people, possibly those going by the aliases 'anakata' and 'tiamo' have been detained by the police. Rumours, on the other hand, are rife. One that is quite interesting, however, is from SVT – apparently, they've had unnamed sources telling them that its down to media interests pressuring the Swedish authorities. Again, this is all unconfirmed, only time will tell.

The big question is, what about the other people, The businesses hurt by it. The MPAA et al. claim to be financially hurt by the actions of sites like these, but as yet have not produced any (and I really do mean any) evidence of this. Studies, yes. Hypothesis, yes. Evidence, no. An estimation based on assumptions doesn't have any factual relevance. If I made an assumption about how many more years I'll live, based on my lifestyle, general health, etc. It might be a very nice estimate, very pretty, comforting and so on. If, however, I go and get hit by a truck tomorrow, or get the Bird Flu, it won't matter how accurate the assertions are that made up the lifespan estimation, because in the end, the facts (how much longer I actually did live) didn't bear it out. That is something the media has yet to understand, or distinguish. For Gameswitch, no estimation is needed. Their business is shut down. They are losing money and who's the people behind it?

Whoever ordered this raid, and whoever was the on-scene commander, is probably going to be out on their backside after this fiasco. If you're going to do a job, don't do one that's got world-wide interest, and then mess it up so grievously. Not if you want any sort of public respect left. This is right up their with the Michael Brown/FEMA emails from Katrina.

B jones.

GameSwitch press release here
[Editors note: again, thanks to kdsde for the correct party name]

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The non-piratable game

Is it possible? Can you have a game that no-one can copy, 'steal' or duplicate. how about one that doesn't require a purchase, yet can still gain revenue. How about one that's new, cutting edge, and doesn't require you to have spent £300 in the last 6 months on a video card to play. It does exist. So, a big YAY from those people who, like me, play games for the GAME and not the fancy visuals.

Part 1 - the personal Rant
For the most part, game makers seem to be following Hollywood's modern formula
  1. Don't worry about the story [gameplay], worry about the visuals. That's the important bit.
  2. If possible, make it a sequel, or as near identical as possible, to a pre-existing game, the more successful the better.
  3. promote the game as much as you can, advertising, merchandising, tie-ins, contests - enacting.

Thus we have games where gameplay is abandoned in favour of looking good. My own personal test of a game is to play it on the very bottom graphical settings and judge it by that. A good game should be unaffected by it. It is, after all, a game you play, not a game you watch. I've been playing games on computers for 20 years (well, 1 month shy of 20 years) when the resolution was less than 1/4 that of a standard TV, and we felt lucky to have 8 colours. This meant that game companies had to make the games good. With the increase in processing power, especially graphical processing, gameplay seems to have taken a back seat to visuals. Doom3 or Quake 4, for instance, are functionally the same games as doom and Quake, but you won't be able to run the new versions on a P100 like you could the old ones. The new Heros of Might and Magic game requires a graphics card with better specs than the entire computer needed to run the games in the series. Over time, have these games really added anything new? I used to play a game called Delta Force 2 online. It was graphically acceptable, had voice talk, you could play a 32 player game online using a dialup modem, and in single player mode the computer reacted to any noise you made. That was in 2000. Apart from an increase in graphical resolution, what has changed in the last 6 years for FPS games? Absolutely nothing, and yet you'll see adverts and reviews saying 'this is new, exciting and better than before. The amount of innovation in the games industry is low. Some put this down to piracy, or 'its what the gamers want'. Piracy isn't an issue, because people tend to want to buy good games. People don't have a problem with supporting games where the gameplay comes first (see previous N2N piece about GalCiv2). Moreso if the game is unique, and had a lot of time and effort put into it. look at how popular "The Sims" has become.

Part 2 - the point
Sorry, but I really have no patience for the mass-produced samey junk that passes for games. Instead, I came across one this weekend that is both fresh and unique, has no copy protection, and no absurd system requirements. Instead, it's a website based game, involving the Internet itself. in that respect, its similar to the in memoriam (aka missing since January), where you have a set of puzzles, and you have to actually find the answers. missing could still be copied, however, and played, and as time went on, doing the requisite searches didn't lead to the same pages they once did, hint/solution pages would be google-bombed above them, or just the way pages are indexed and ranked might change. Thus we come to the next development, and the point of this piece, Perplex City.
An online game, played out in stages for the last year or more. special time-centric tasks, and a real sense of community. websites and game-blogs updating at random times through the say, with new stories, info and data. These may lead to IRC chats, or meets at certain places. There Might be a program released that only works on a certain type of computer (running OSX and having inertial sensors) or an online AND real life treasure hunt around Clapham Common.
I hear you thinking and wondering how its paid for then, since this sounds quite expensive, especially when you hear there's a £100,000 prize at the end of it. Answer is there are cards, and that's the second half of the game. there are 256 cards, being sold in 4 release groups. They're in packs of 6, and each has a puzzle on it. Scratch off a silver bit (like a lottery ticket)- and enter that code and the right answer to the website. The cards, when combined, make up a map, and have some other puzzles on them. Its a very unique system, and its very nice to see someone taking some time to bring some ingenuity, effort and real flair to the games market. The amount of work in just creating the story, let alone running it is staggering (if you factor in that many of the characters in the game have email addresses which they will reply to you from) makes you wonder if it is just a game, or actual really real.
I guess why this sort of game is called an 'alternate reality game' (or ARG). This is the first time I've encountered one (excluding the aforementioned In Memorandum) and is a type of game I can only see growing. The problem will be, however, being overly saturated with them. Meanwhile, other companies will release Unreal tournament 17, and blame piracy for it not selling well, whilst other people make games you want to play, want to spend money on (and will doubtlessly spend more money on than 2 high priced regular games). Mind candy 9the company behind this game) are doing as others should. They're 'thinking outside the box'. by funding via puzzlecards, instead of the traditional subscription method, they're enabling all levels of finance to play, you can spend as much as you want and play. the only physical items are the cards, and each has a 12-digit ID which can only be used once, so copying is out, and since it works via the web, that P2 gathering dust is up to the job. From all the game players who play for the games, I and others thank you for being able to play a game with no copy protection worries.
Perplex City Wiki, for all the info about the game

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Traveling Pirates

MPAA claims to be losing billions, but its figures, in comparison to other amounts of money lost thanks to the internet - this time to public coffers - don't stack up as being so big after all. Online travel firms cost some cities 1/3 as much per person, as the MPAA claims it lost to 'piracy'.

I know this subject was only just talked about, here but in the last two days, I saw two stories involving the internet and public money that caught my eye. The first was that the prosecution of 6 men for 'internet piracy' cost the UK taxpayer £18.4 Million ($34.3M) in legal aid fees, and another £750,000 (roughly $1.4M) for the cost of prosecution. This was, the court case stemming from what is known as "Operation Blossom". Admittedly, this case was in the 2004-2005 judicial cycle, but was brought up in a letter between two Labour MPs.

Meanwhile, another story that hit my eye was concerning online travel firms in the US, and how they're doing cities out of tax. A federal suit filed by the city of San Antonio (thats in Texas) claims online hotel booking agencies, including Expedia and Travelocity, has, according to city lawyer Michael Bernard, "shorted the city about $10 million (£5.36M) since 1999." Nor is San Antonio alone in this as Los Angeles and my second favourite US city, Atlanta, are amongst other cities filing similar suits.

An important thing to remember is that in these two cases, it's not a company that's lost money, its the people living there. Additionaly, the amounts are real, calculable, and are being produced with records for, or by, court, whereas the MPAA's loss figure is an estimation in a study it itself paid for, where an inflated figure is beneficial. All 3 cases show ways in which people are (allegedly in some cases) losing money thanks to the internet. The question is, just how much is everyone losing?

If we look at it as amount lost per citizen, we get some very surprising results. Of course, we also have to remeber that the $10M San Antonion amount is over the last 6 years. (pop figures from CIA world factbook and US census data 2000)

Table of losses expressed per-person

Anyone else notice that online travel are apparantly duping San Antonians for 1/3 as much as the MPAA losing, per person, per year. how many stories have you seen on the hotel tax evasion? How many people sued, threatened, homes raided over it? Anyone predicting the end of the world unless it stops, and lobbying for new laws to make sure it does? To the people of San Antonio, its a large lump of change, but they're not pressuring anyone to have their rights revoked. As for the UK, £18M is about the estimated annual running costs for the New Law hospital (source) - a brand new fully equipped hospital in Scotland.

When you think about who is losing what money, do the unsubstantiated (alnd almost certainly inflated) figures put out by the MPAA seem that bad? Lets be glad the cities lawyers have kept their head and common sense, and not thrown acusations about, sent threatening letters, letters to expedia's hosts full of false and unsubstantiated claims. Good to see some people can use the law in an internet related case, and not act like a scene from Monty Python.

Ben jones

External links
San Antonio sues
Operation Blossom costs
Exchange rate used £1 = $1.86432

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blocklist Balderdash

Use a blocklist? Think it makes you safe, allows you to share with impunity? Think again. I will say this now, up front, and clearly.

The amount of overall protecton given by a blocklist is minimal at best.

Oh, don't get me wrong, for certain things, IP blocks are usefull, but for most things, they're not. Why, you might ask, and the answer is simple. If you wanted to read the news site The Register, you would go to, you wouldn't go to, which is its IP. Or rather, which is currently its IP. And there we have it. IPs CHANGE, that's why we have domain names. Certainly, some places will have fixed domain names, but only those who've actually bought their groups of IP addresses. Home users are not what we'd call fixed IP.

Well, what does this mean? It means that anyone can use a home connection pretty safe in the idea that these blocklists won't affect them at all. This might not seem like a big deal, but its their major weakness. There is absolutely nothing at all, stopping the head of anti-piracy for some company going home, and using the DSL connection he has there. he can log there as easily as he could at work. There is, after all, no rule saying copyright enforcement can only be done on a corporate network. Heck, he could even then charge the ISP costs to the company, citing it for work. Doesn't grab you? Why don't they then use the other common resource in a busy office building - telephone lines. They can easily get some dialup modems and use them in the office. A free AOL CD or two, and they have a connection. Doesn't matter that dialup is slow, its not the transfer of data they're interested in, its who's doing it.

Think I'm joking - take a look at the people connected to you next time you are using your favourite P2P app.
It may well say on port 6356 (an IP picked at random from a knoppix DVD torrent) - that comes out to be a user, but who is that person, and who do they work for? Can you be sure that the AOL peer in your list is not an investigator for the BPI, MPAA or any other such body? They all know the tricks and the limitations of such software as well as anyone, if not better (it is their job, after all, to know about them). Don't be mislead by the actions, and press releases, their technicians and loggers are very competant, and advanced - its the lawyers and PR people that give the impression of a eunoch running a family planning clinic.

Indeed, in some cases using lists can work against you. After all, who uses such lists, is it the kid downloading the very occasional song, or the hardcore downloaders? Why, the latter of course, the slight/casual user doesn't know, or worry about it that much. So, the ones that download heavily are the ones to target. Alas, theres no way to tell from a torrents userlist which group, light or heavy, they are in, since every torrent is seperate from each other. Solutions? Well, you could scan every torrent out there, and look for recuring IP addresses, but that has two drawbacks.
1) its very time consuming, and resource intensive. and
2) we're back to the dynamic IPs again - without a court order to the ISP, theres no way to tell if the same person was using the same IP on both monday and thursday. They might have had a power cut on tuesday night, and their modem obtained another IP.

Thankfully, blocklists to the rescue!. The easiest method is use the blocklists themselves to identify the heavy users. Its very simple and uses two groups of systems (doesn't have to be a group, can be just one system in each). One group uses IPs on the blocklist, the other doesn't. Collect peer data from both, and after a while, compare lists. the major differences will be the blocklist computers will be on only one list. Voila, IP addresses obtained. Your 'protection' has been turned into identification.

Of course, that's just the main disadvantage of the system. There is a second one, and thats best described with the old computing acronym - GIGO. In other words, the quality of the list is only as good as the person thats compiled it. Any personal bias, or other skew will similarly skew the list into ineffectiveness. I wrote about a fine example of this just over 2 months ago.

Well, thats the big minus points in such a system, there are some advantages however. Such lists, used as a hosts file, for instance, can stop annoying and irritating popup ads. They can also prevent some of the torrent poisoning that goes on, although most torrent clients should manage to deal with that on their own. These are only minor pluses, however, and not really much of a benefit.

There is one simple thing to remember in general. If something is publicly downloadable, like a blocklist, it's effectively useless. Can you see, use and edit the blocklists? What stops copyright enforcement people getting the same lists and altering their strategies to work with these lists? Absolutely nothing. A high speed connection might be usefull for downloading, but a dialup connection is all that's needed to log people infringing copyright. The only way a blocklist can be effective, is if it blocks all potential 'snitch' IPs. Alas, that means blocking every single ISP in the world, and then you've blocked yourself from any sort of transfer anyway.

Just as a side note - I remember discussing the merits of the comparative method back in 98, when I was a copyright enforcer. That was 8 years ago, if you still think blocklists are a good idea, and worthwhile, you go right ahead, and can I also interest you in this fine bridge?

Ben Jones

[Editors note: Thanks to kdsde for pointing out some of the typos in this piece]

Friday, May 12, 2006

Study a Study!

In the last week, there have been two 'loss statements' made by two prominent industry bodies. On May 3rd, the MPAA issued a press release saying they lost $6.1billion in 2005 to 'pirates' whilst on the 10th, the ESA's Chunnie Wright, senior anti-privacy council, announced that the videogames industry had lost more than $3Billion.

Staggering figures – some $9 billion dollars (£4.8 billion) lost, stolen, if you will, from their coffers. Was it though? How was that figure arrived at? These we don't know. The problems are three-fold
  • how the figures are calculated – I've never found the determination of the number of units given in any one of these press releases, citing loses, and costs to this industry, or that industry. With no conclusive determination of the global units distributed in all mediums, you can't get anywhere near a reasonable determination of total units. The segment you use might be representative (ie average) and so can be scaled up to match the world, or it could be non-representative, either quieter than the norm, meaning the study is understating, or they've gotten a particularly high concentration of infringement in their sample, which makes their study overstate the case.
  • How the cost price is given. DVDs, movie tickets, computer games, CDs, they all cost different amounts. A Star Trek box-set can cost $99 whereas a store like Walmart will have other DVDs on sale for $5.50. There is also the different pricing between US and UK, just for the same film. On the DVD is available for £9.09 ($16.96) whilst on the UK site, its available for £11.96 ($22.30) – that's more than $5 difference for the same film, by the same company in different areas. So when calculating the lost price, is it all the at highest price, the lowest price, or are they just assigning an arbitrary value for these discs.
  • Thirdly, the assumption that a download is a lost sale. This isn't the case, and has never been. Its a cost analysis. If I (or anyone else) like a movie, TV show, or game, we will pay for it and own it, providing and here's the rub, the cost isn't greater than our interest in the product. Add that into the quality problems and that of of product compatibility, you have a large problem. Its hard to find objective reviews of a film, tv series, game or application nowadays. If it were a car, I would be able to go to the place i was buying, test drive one, see if its what I want, and if not, look at something else. Then when I buy it, if I'm not satisfied with it, I can refuse it and get my money back. If are considering Mission Impossible 3, what have you to go on – the advert/trailer (which only shows the best bits of the film, and sometimes bits not even in the film) a review featuring as much personal relevance as the reviewers medical most times. And nothing else. If I then pay my money and see it and am not happy with the film, finding it a turgid rehash of previous films with sub-standard plot, can I get my money back? Nope. Such trial methods can be successful in software, but has become more of a lost art in games, and a downloaded copy, can be as much a validation that is not what was wanted (a potential lost sale, depending on level of initial interest) or if it was a potential buyer encouraged by what they saw to buy it (or a sale creation, rather than one lost)

That, in a rub, are the main problems facing the movie, music and software industries and their studies at present. We don't get to see the studies. We don't get to see how these facts, as ascertained by the study's commissioners, are arrived at. A friend of mine (the my editor and sometime proofreader) is a fan of military vehicles of all types. If I then said to him that I could make a new tank gun for only £200 that would defeat any amour out there, he'd ask him for proof of his claim. Heck, if I said I could do one for £200,000 he'd still ask to see how I arrived at my determination. There's been a big fuss in the US over the last few years, about the WMDs in Iraq. People are asking to see Bush's evidence now, and questioning the blind assentation. Questioning statements of fact (and sometimes statements by FACT) until sufficient proof has been rendered is the basis of progress, and civilisation. Fermat's last theorum was an assentation without proof, and people fussed over it for hundreds of years.
So, what's to be done? Well, I've done all that can be done, and sent a request t the MPAA asking if I can see how LEX came by their report's conclusion. After all, a 1½ page report, mostly filled with quotes is hardly informative. Until then, use your brain, and trust the facts that they can actually substantiate with proof.

“But Wait!” I hear the MPAA say, The data is released – and what good data it is too. Let me summarise it for you in much less than 1½ pages.
Pg1) Statement by Dan Glickman, a statement that the data is to be used to prod governments in a direction for lawmaking, a statement that previous studies were incomplete, and that one other study made an estimate of some losses, and finally, 31 words as to how the study was conducted and its comparison to previous studies
Pg2) Another Glickman statement, a summery of the findings of the study, and a graph showing the US percentage, and the MPAA's definition of terms (including that they consider fair use copies to be 'illegal'
Pg3) 'Chart of calculated losses in countries, to both MPAA members and non-MPAA members. Then another raph, this time showing the study's estimation of the market lost to piracy.
Pg4) Another graph showing MPA members and their estimated losses, with a caveat that different markets were analysed differently, and then a table showing guesses for losses in tax revenue in certain countries to different reasons.
Pg5) The really weird stuff. Their profile of a pirate. Basically, they identify the most common trends in the data they collected, by age, by gender, and then by a mathematically incomplete graph about college students.
Pg6) A timeline showing certain selected MPAA enforcement activities. This is followed bya list of 'education' programs which have almost without limit, bent and twisted the truth.
Pg7) Certain (again selective) highlights of litigation and legislative efforts, plus a list of new rights enforcement methods that are being looked into

that's it. Not a single explanation of how ANY data was actually collected, information about sample sizes, statistical variation, or grouping. Two interesting things to note though. On page 4, it was noted that some of the 22 countries were surveyed in different ways (which I would generally think means its non-comparative). Its nice to see them actually having the guts to remark that some of their data is nonsense, even if it is in passing, and then ignored. The second is an inference of mine based on what's written on page 5. It seems to be that they say you're more likely to pay to see their films, if you're not at college. Are they drawing some sort of link between a persons education level, and the perceived quality and value of a movie?

Ben jones

External links
MPAA's press release statement on the study 78kb PDF
MPAA's summery of the study, as described above 118kb PDF
report of ESA's speech at E3

(Footnote – the currency conversion used was the rate of 1 GBP = 1.86432 USD as given by for May 10th)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Talk to me

Here at N2N, we're trying to keep a fair balance between being excessively pro-copyright enforcement, and pro-user ideals. It's a hard tightrope to walk, and sometimes we don't always manage it. We have sevreal people working on this, of course, you only see me, ben writing, but we have an editor, and a proof-reader (usually)

It can be hard sometimes to come up with topics and stories to write about, and sometimes its hard comming up with the effort to do so. There is, as you might have noticed, a comment system on this setup, which is nice, but sometimes things don't fit neatly into a repnose to a psot, so there's an email link at the side.

this also goes for any news tips or stories you would like to suggest I write about, or, and especially, if you have recieved some sort of notification from your ISP, or a media representative. I am always on the lookout for interesting, ambigious or illegal DMCA notices, and suchlikeThe law is the law, fair enough, but it shouldn't be abused or mis-represented.

Please note I cannot give legal advice, nor would you want it as I am not a lawyer.

There's a mail link at the side there ----------->
or you can send an email to All correspondance is strictly confidential, and i or anyone else, wlil not print a word about anything confidential without first getting your permission.

Ben jones.

FedEx wants to sniff your Disk

Ok, I'm not usually one to blow my own horn (I'm more of a string and percussionist, rather than brass) but in the words of the great Stephen Colbert *ahem* I CALLED IT!

Let me explain if you will. About 2 weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how the struggle for copyright protection and enforcement is resembling the war on drugs to a greater and greater extent. It was with great amusement and a correspondingly large amount of incredulity that I get a message early (for me) on a Saturday morning from one of the guys over at slyck and p2pforums. What was it about? Why a sniffer-dog for counterfeit DVDs of course. You can't run a good war on anything these days, without a cute quadruped utilizing their great olfactory sense to deter crime.

This is great, but also worrying. Its great that so much money has been spent on such a novel solution (and that not having such outlandish ideas would give me nothing to write about) but it's worrying about what this means in actual practice. After all, what is a DVD when it comes down to it. Some Lexan, some aluminium, some die for a re-recordable. Lexan and aluminium are no good for sniffing - you'd get all sorts of other stuff (from watches, to safety glasses0 so it'd have to be the dye. So, you've got a disc, you've sniffed it out. Sadly (to some peoples thinking) possession of a (re)recordable DVD is no offense at all. its only an offense depending on what's on it, and, lest we forget, copyright infringement is only a civil offense.

So, they got a DVD-recordable, found in a package, then what? Does it have to be of a movie, or game? Could it not be some video footage I filmed at my kids birthday party, and are sending to some family members that can't get there? Is there anything wrong with my disc? well, Its been opened, and accessed, for no good reason. Or, lets go with situation number 2 - there's some footage on there that appears to be of a copyrighted show or movie or piece of software. Is that bad. well depends, you see. does the person sending have the rights to copy and send them to the package recipient.

There's the rub. That's why its a civil offense. i, for one, have some copyrighted material to which I have distribution rights. If I choose to send that material, in a DVD to someone, there's no offense or infringement, criminal or civil. It appears copyrighted through, and how will the dog handlers know if I'm authorised to distribute said disc? Will they, on detecting it, hold it as 'evidence', meaning that my legitimately made and legitimately distributed disc has been seized and confiscated because someone else has decided its not, and that's the problem. Its not such a far-fetched scenario either. i personally do some beta-testing for certain pieces of software. Luckily most of the data and applications are small, on the order of a 5 minute transfer, but if they weren't, I'd get them sent to me on a DVD-r (or CD-r). It'll look like a 'pirated' disc, filled with 'stolen' software, when its no such thing. ditto anyone's personal, fair use backups, when moving, or travelling, or just being put into storage. This action affects lots of different people, in all aspects of business, and the only people it benefits are a small number of large media conglomerates. Lets reiterate what the FACT press release says, as well, eh.

They were amazingly successful at identifying packages containing DVD’s, which were opened and checked by HM Customs’ representatives. While all were legitimate shipments on the day

FedEx UK managing Director Trevor Hoyle

If you are still unsure just what I'm talking about, let me try an analogy, and borrow a little bit from the media conglomerates. Lets simplify things and step back ooh, 20 years. There's no widespread net usage. modems are those big clunky boxes with the rubber cups you put the telephone handset into. The communication system is being used for criminal purposes still. this time its the ransom note, the blackmail letter, the posted threat. not only are they a major threat to people, they're easy to identify. Everyone knows such messages are made by cutting letters from newspapers and gluing them onto a backing sheet, giving no handwriting 9must be true they were all like that, because Hollywood has said so). So, they've had a great idea. Lets get a pair of sniffer-dogs to recognise the smell of 5 most popular paper glues, and of course, Sellotape, and have them stiff for it in the post. After all, only such messages use adhesive materials, don't they. ooops, along with all the collages demanding '$5 MILLION OR THE KID GETS IT' is the collage demanding that the sender loves their grandmother so much shes sending this picture. Or how about, instead of glue and tape, they sniff out photos, I mean, ONLY criminals would send photos through the mail, wouldn't they, so they can prove they have someone/something, without being caught.

Its clearly idiotic to open packages because there's a recordable disc in there. not when not only is possession legal, but the legality of any content found on it is impossible to determine at the time. Drugs, yes, they're illegal to posses, having drugs at all is bad, unless you've a valid transportation certificate, and in which case, you'd not be sniffed anyway. its time for some common sense, and what's more, its time for a little bit of actual thinking, both by the organisations involved, and by our elected officials. Corporations don't vote, people, ie you, do.

Ben Jones

External link
FACT news page about the operation.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hong Kong Phooey

In the last few days, scout leaders in Hong Kong have qualified as Scout "Respect for Intellectual Property Rights" Instructors, according to he Information Services Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. A nice title, but what does it mean? Its not easy to find out, but it appears to be about how the best way to use something, is to pay fees to someone to rent it.

To this end, the special administration has organised a fun fair, titled the “Respect for Intellectual Property Rights Fun Fair” (catchy, eh). Singing performances were held at this fair, and local creative people shared creativity experiences. There was even a competition, where 10 scout teams fight it out for "Best Intellectual Property Game Booth Design. My word, I've been to seminar's less topic-focused than this.

The highlight has to be the statement by the Intellectual Property Department of Hong Kong's Director, Mr. Stephen Selby.
Ideas are unique, and creative work takes tremendous time and effort. Creativity will disappear if we continue to plagiarise and "steal" the creative works of others. The public must stop any illegal uploading or downloading of music, movies or other copyright works from the Internet," Mr Selby said.

Ideas maybe be unique, although ideas are also cheap. I've had 30 ideas since I started this paragraph. Some of them are VERY unique, but I doubt any will come to anything. Well respected author Neil Gaimen wrote a childrens book in an afternoon, and Andy Kim says “ I also wrote I Forgot To Mention with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies. Writing with Ed was a magical moment. We wrote it in an afternoon and as with most things that are meant to be, it went really smoothly." Time is a substitute, in many cases, for creativity.

You also have to love the line about 'stealing the creative works of others' – thing is, if you ask almost any musician about that, they'll point to the record labels as the thieves. Courtney Love's speech to the Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference, given in New York on May 16 2000 is a real eye-opener if you've had no experience with the music business (transcript) It may be almost 6 years old, but nothing has changed. Indeed, if anything, things have gotten worse.

If I take a song, say, ooh, “give peace a chance” (got to take a local boy's song, even though I can't stand this song), how exactly is any form of plagiarism, or even stealing of this song going to affect creativity? Is it like the fabled butterfly's wings, where my copying a single here, stops a creativiton from striking John Smith's brain in Podunk, Idaho. Maybe it'll stop the artist from being creative – oops, Mark Chapman beat me to that 25 years ago. The only one it could possibly hurt would be EMI, and that's hardly affecting creativity.

Indeed, stifling creativity has been the name of the game for years. Ask Angie Aparo how hard it was to get his songs distributed. Go to any technological news site and see the wrangling between companies over this patent, that trademark, so-and-so's copyright.

Is the answer training scout masters to be copyright enforcers in Hong Kong? Phooey!

Ben Jones

External link
Hong Kong government press release