French National Front woos internet pirates

February 20th, 2012

The leader of the French National Front party, Marine Le Pen, wants Hadopi scrapped and replaced with a blanket licence to compensate creative industries. The extreme right party’s freetard-friendly gambit has caused the Socialists, who also oppose Hadopi, to rethink their policies.
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The angry internet runs on Pseudo Masochism™

February 10th, 2012

A mob that’s filled with self-righteous fury isn’t very discriminating.

In 2000 an angry crowd attacked a paediatrician after he was mistakenly named as a paedophile. Last year the Olympic cyclist Chris Hoy was abused by football fans who mistook him for match referee Chris Foy. And last month, a small Scottish farm certification agency, SOPA, received torrents of abuse from ‘digital rights’ campaigners who were upset about the United States’ proposed Stop Online Piracy Act.

Once it’s got its blood boiling, the mob needs new targets. Now it’s set its sights on ACTA, an international treaty to combat counterfeiting and piracy. Rallies will take place tomorrow. ACTA lost its digital copyright provisions long ago, but the mob hasn’t noticed. Many of the claims made for ACTA are completely false.

Even Ars Technica, which fomented the anti-SOPA campaign, has felt obliged to correct the anti-ACTA myths that are circulating on social media. The website recently lamented that the internet is “awash in inaccurate anti-SOPA”, busting the myths of the anti-ACTA crusaders.

ISPs are not obliged to monitor traffic, Ars points out. ACTA contains no web-blocking provisions or graduated response regime. It won’t block generic drugs.

In fact, as I pointed out at the time, ACTA is a non-binding agreement that doesn’t, in any case, apply to countries such as the UK, which have their own IP enforcement initiatives. The passage of the Digital Economy Act in 2010 made the entire discussion moot.

I recently asked the Dark Side what they hoped to get from ACTA.

“Nothing. The trademark and counterfeiting people really need it. There’s nothing in it for us, or for any copyright holders,” one entertainment industry lawyer told me.
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Don’t shoot the Blackberry Messenger

February 9th, 2012
BBM does things no web social network can do… it mirrors the flexibility of real life

RIM’s fortunes have taken a catastrophic, Nokia-style nosedive in the past year – but it has a chance of pulling up. Admittedly, the odds are long, but this week the Canadian company began its fightback.

It’s certainly right up against it.

Fewer enterprise customers are dependent on RIM’s email servers. The trend to ‘bring your own’ device to work, one that works well enough with Exchange or IMAP, is accelerating.

There is now a range of consumer deals that offer large bundles of texts, so the BlackBerry no longer has the singular attraction for teenagers, and other chatty prepay customers, of incurring no incremental charges for messaging. That was an overlooked factor in the BlackBerry’s success. And qwerty keyboard devices just aren’t very fashionable any more – glitzy touch tablets appear to offer so much more. And because soft keyboards are considered to be “good enough”, that removes BlackBerry’s unique selling point, that it made the best physical keyboards you could find on a phone Some of this may change later this year – assuming RIM can finally ship some attractive devices with its QNX-based BlackBerry 10 OS.

But the reason I think it’ll return for one last bout is that RIM runs the only social network in the world that comes in hardware. And this social network has a flexibility than no web rival can match.

Don’t shoot the BlackBerry Messenger When I wrote, two years ago, that analysts, pundits and gadget fans overlooked this little thing called BBM at their peril, it was our most voted story ever. I thought then that BBM it was the best user interface ever put on a mobile communicator, something that made voice and messaging flow in a very natural way. Few agreed, but then very few had seen it in action – it was like trying to describe yodeling.

It’s probably fair to say BBM only really became noticed last August, and then for the wrong reasons, during the riots. This doesn’t say much for how well we mix, socially, or even geographically. But go to any major northern city and find me somebody under 21 who doesn’t use a BlackBerry. And almost all of these avid users are so devoted because of one application: BBM.

At some point, after the value of BBM became appreciated, the conventional wisdom developed that the value of RIM was almost entirely in BBM. RIM added a lot of developer options to the platform this week, including Qt, but none are as important as how well BBM can be ported over to the new platform.

Back to the future

BBM does things no web social network can do, but that online conferencing users were doing twenty years ago with systems such as the Cosy software on which Bix and Cix were based. On these systems you can create private ad hoc groups. Now trying doing that with Twitter or Facebook.

Twenty five years on from the zenith of BBS systems, we don’t have anything with the same flexibility. The imperative of the Web 2.0 companies is to make everything on their social networks public. It’s the only way they really know how to make money. The thought of users spending their time in private, closed groups horrifies them. But this isn’t a problem for RIM.

These informal, easily created and easily dissolved groups actually mirror real life much more closely than Twitter or Facebook can. RIM has also been extremely clever in how it has integrated music into its social network – again, geared towards promiscuous users whose tastes shift. You can grab anything from millions of songs, but freely cross-play 50 songs in your group. And BBM is proving far stickier than most web social networks. Once you’re in, you want to stay in. No rival can quite offer anything like it. There’s no doubt RIM knows what an asset it has. But is it wise to be the sole provider of the BBM social network to the market – or to license it judiciously to, say, Sony – or even Apple itself, in cutdown form? ®

"Daddy, what’s a Press License?"

February 7th, 2012

It’s 2020, and a young girl is doing her homework…

“Daddy, what’s a press licence?”

“Oh, that. Well a press licence allows you to call yourself a journalist and get into official events, for official journalists.”

“What for?”

“Well you get into events held by the government or a company, or for example a football club, and can then write about them.”

“So it’s like a parking permit. But I don’t understand. Everybody is writing about everything anyway. On the internet. Why would I need a press licence?”

“Well, sometimes you need to ask somebody a question in person.”

“What for? Will they tell you the truth, then?”

“Probably not.”

“So they can give you official version of something.”

“Can’t they use the internet to do give out that official version of something?”

“Er, yes. And they do.”

“Hmm. So what if you have a question they don’t want to answer?”

“Well… I suppose you can hear the answer they don’t give you in person. Although usually that is never reported, except when it’s a really silly question and everyone has a big laugh together. That’s how we hold people to account – it’s a very important job.”

“So can people who ask awkward questions not attend?”

“Not anymore, I’m afraid.”

“I don’t understand why you need a permit? How did it happen?”

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Five ways to rescue Windows Phone

February 2nd, 2012

 

Windows Phone might be the most impressive bit of software Microsoft has produced – but it isn’t setting the world on fire. The iPhone and Android go from strength to strength – the latter proliferating so widely even Google doesn’t know how many Android systems are out there. (It can’t count the Chinese forks which don’t use any Google services and don’t phone home.)

This discrepancy puzzles people. Reviewers like WinPho a lot – it’s clean, fast, functional and forward-looking. The social media integration is very clever. Operators have a soft spot for Nokia and WP7 too, because – if for no other reason – they dislike and distrust Google and Apple even more. So what’s the problem?

Three weeks ago I raised the prospect that there may never be a third smartphone ecosystem – something upon which Nokia has bet the company. Many markets only have room for two leading players – and in the technology platform world, many have only one. On the margins the niche players are little islands. No matter how impressive WP is, if the needle doesn’t move, then it too becomes a marginal player. Ecosystems can perish more rapidly than they arise. If Windows Phone is to avoid the same fate as WebOS then the dynamic has to change.

But what might this be?

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Furious freetards blitz the wrong SOPA

January 23rd, 2012

Angry copyfighters barraged a small Scottish food certification agency with abuse last week – in the belief they were protesting against hated US anti-piracy legislation.

The Scottish Organic Producers Association – whose website is at sopa.org.uk – was perplexed when it found itself on the receiving of dozens of nasty and illiterate emails.

Remarkably, nothing about the site’s design – including pictures of sheep, vegetables, Angus cattle and fruit – did anything to suggest to the furious freetards that they’d got the wrong SOPA – or that something might be not quite right.

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We can ditch the laws when the Valley’s snotty web teens grow up

January 17th, 2012

stop-sopa

I am going to propose something that may sound radical, but really isn’t. Legislation like SOPA ideally isn’t necessary in an ideal world, and this idea comes about through voluntary agreement. The Stop Online Piracy Act was proposed because of a tragic impasse, a lack of agreement between two powerful and deeply entrenched sides. Although one side has moral force on its side, being ‘right’ doesn’t mean it’s going to ‘win’. Like a classic game theory tragedy, both sides are losing.

To understand why I shall tell you a story. If management sages and internet gurus annoy you – it’s a story you might enjoy.

When he died in 1903, the prolific Victorian journalist and author Herbert Spencer was thought to be one of the cleverest people in the land, and England’s greatest philosopher. Such was his reputation, there was a clamour to bury him in Westminster Abbey. But in reality, Spencer was a hard-working clot, whose reputation fell more sharply and quickly than that of a disgraced fraudster.

Spencer knew all the right buzzwords, but was loathe to read past the first chapter of a book. Spencer even carried ear-plugs in case he was exposed to interesting new ideas, as he feared intellectual stimulation might keep him awake; he often inserted the ear-plugs midway through a conversation. He masked all this, and his books were phenomenally popular, because he stuck to opaque but calming generalisations. Rather than resolve a matter, his generalisations allowed him to waffle around it. (He also heaped on masses of detail to sidetrack the reader). When the novelist George Eliot complimented the old man on the lack of wrinkles on his forehead, Spencer replied that he’d never encountered anything that ever puzzled him.

Spencer may have been the Victorian Malcolm Gladwell, or Tom Peters, or Tim O’Reilly. Generalisations are a great way of avoiding looking at what’s really going on, and tackling a subject with arguments from first principles. Social media has turned this kind of showy avoidance of reality into a massive multiplayer game. Twitter is an ocean in which armies of cliches swim pass each other. You can even badge your avatar to remove any doubts in the audience about nuances in your position: ‘STOP SOPA’ being the most recent. SOPA has indeed been stopped, or fatally gutted.

While the legislation is now moribund, the underlying concerns behind SOPA haven’t gone away. No amount of bloviating is going to resolve this. The main provision of SOPA (and PIPA) is website-blocking, which has no friends here at El Reg. But SOPA will return next year, and the year after, until the issues have been tackled head on. The STOP SOPA stickers will return. It’s all avoidable and getting quite tedious.

The internet has a problem

In the Panglossian worldview of Silicon Valley, everything is perfect on the internet, it’s the best of all possible worlds, and any tinkering with this robs humanity of its last Utopian hope. This is a view of the world that actually owes much to religion, or the desire to recreate the certainty of religion. It’s faith-based, and isn’t a view grounded in reality, especially the reality of doing business. On the internet, fame may arrive quickly, but financial reward doesn’t follow. It’s the only area of business where this is true.

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Perhaps there’s no ‘Third Ecosystem’?

January 11th, 2012
There’s a whiff of something – it isn’t desperation, more like earnest exasperation – around Microsoft’s phone business these days

Humiliatingly, Nokia was forced to deny rumours last week that it was planning to break up and sell its crown jewels to Microsoft. Normally a company can remain impervious to Twitter-born gossip, particularly from a known antagonist.

Acknowledging the rumour simply gives it a chauffeured ride around the internet. But not this time: the ‘Microsoft buys Nokia’ story fulfils so many conspiracy theories, thousands of people wanted it to be true.

And the notion of Microsoft buying a hardware company and ripping up its licensing business has become much less outlandish after Google’s acquisition of Motorola’s phone business. Ah, but that was desperation, I hear you say; the Chocolate Factory had miscalculated its IP strategy catastrophically, and it had to grab what patents it could at almost any price.

But there’s a whiff of something – it isn’t desperation, more like earnest exasperation – around Microsoft’s phone business these days. Redmond has got an excellent product, for the first time, and people who have a Windows Phone love using it. But there just aren’t many of those folk around. The phones aren’t shifting. Christmas has come and gone, and while we wait for some reliable channel figures, Nokia’s flagship seems to have made almost no impact on the UK market. It’s the phone that leaves no footprints.

 

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Parody is illegal, say barmy bureaucrats

December 19th, 2011

put_that_parody_downThe IPO chose Office Party Friday last week to unveil 15 more proposals on intellectual property reform. This is traditionally the most alcoholic workday of the year – and ministers might need another stiff drink as they digest the surprises that ideologically fanatical bureaucrats have been preparing for them.

 

Among the proposals is the suggestion to make copyright opt-in, which means the UK will be breaching European and international law, and the strange notion that parody and satire are illegal in the UK. Traditionally the civil service is not supposed to set policy, but carry it out. The advice they give ministers is expected to be dispassionate and weighted. But this is the Intellectual Property Office. It’s carjacked the policy bus and is driving it at the UK’s creative industries, freelance sectors and creative amateurs too. These fifteen documents fully reveal the IPO’s hand.

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BT’s gift to Google: A patent war over ads and Android

December 19th, 2011

It’s open season now. BT is the latest company to sue Google, alleging patent infringement, but this latest barrage extends beyond Google’s Android software – it touches to other Google services too. These include maps, music, social networking and its advertising services, including Adwords, claims BT. Read the rest of this entry »