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Is Facebook copying Google? September 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services, Software.
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For a long time now, Facebook has offered users a way of sharing content selectively. You can construct lists of your friends, to divide them up into friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for example, allowing the possibility to share personal information only with your family.

But it was always clunky and took a lot of time to sort users into the correct lists, very few people ever actually used it, preferring instead to just trim their friends. Not any more.

Facebook has just launched an improved system called smart lists, helping to automate the process of grouping your friends together, but Google is not happy. Google launched their Google+ social network in June and one of the key features of the network was called ‘circles’ – easy to define social circles that allow you to group your contacts by how you know them.

Google is crying foul and suggesting their idea has been copied and Facebook is responding by saying that they have just improved existing functionality. Who is right and how can intellectual ideas be protected?

There are laws around intellectual property, most people know about copyright, patents, and trademarks, but it feels as if our current raft of laws are archaic and out of step with the online world.

If there really was a legal challenge over the concept of grouping your friends separately to your colleagues then it is likely that a legal battle could rumble on for years and be entirely irrelevant by the time any judgement is passed. And if that’s the case then there really is very little to protect ideas – any company that wants to succeed will ride the wave and take a chance – or face failure because of a desire to comply with pre-Internet laws.
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Managing IPR in a digital age August 22, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Outsourcing.
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So you have a dilemma.

You may well already use an outsourced or managed service environment and it all works well, but then the supplier calls and offers to start doing some extra parts of your supply chain. Moving up the value chain as the expression goes.

That’s great too, provided it’s a supplier you know and trust. Why not ask them to take on more work if you know you can trust them to deliver?

But the thing that often worries clients is how they can outsource higher-end work without losing control of their intellectual property.

It’s a dilemma, because the boundary of the organisation is constantly shifting, but where contracts are concerned, someone needs to take a decision so services can be defined. But when are the key parts of the relationship to check on if you are going to extend a process outsourcing relationship?

  • First, is to ensure you have all your IP protected anyway using tools such as trademarks or copyright. You need to have your own house in order first.
  • Second, is to review the contract with your supplier. Can you ensure that you retain IP rights even if the supplier creates value and possibly even invents new processes for you?
  • Third, be aware of your own limits. There is always a pragmatic limit about what can and can’t be protected, so make sure you have also considered the difference between what the law says and what you really can do in the event of a breach.
  • Fourth, review all practical security measures that can be taken  around the relationship, hand-offs, and the delivery site so that confidential IP cannot be removed from site.
  • Fifth, identify where the supplier may be working for your competition and so-called ‘Chinese walls’ need to be extremely strong.

In most cases, if you have a great supplier at one level, then they will be able to scale up to the next level. It is usually beneficial for the supplier (more business) as well as the client (more services provided by a trusted and already proven partner) so this should not be considered a dangerous strategy.

In fact, it’s going to be essential for most firms to turn to trusted partners more and more, just to achieve the kind of performance expected of a twenty-first century business.

Ensuring you can work with an ecosystem of partners whilst still protecting your valuable IP is all just a part of doing business in a globally connected environment.

When is technology really yours? June 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Software.
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Can you remember the furore caused by Amazon two years ago when their system automatically deleted copies of books by George Orwell on remote Kindle devices? That’s right, books that were already bought and paid for and loaded onto a reading device were remotely deleted because of a rights issue with the publisher. How ironic to find Orwell’s 1984 subject to such a scandal.

Yet the news today that Apple has been developing technology to control when and where you can use the video function in an iPhone seems even more controlling.

The idea is that it is illegal to video most events such as live music concerts because of the potential copyright infringement. So Apple will offer artists and theatre owners the ability to send an infrared signal to all iPhones in the vicinity of the live show, switching off the video function.

Apple has stated that they have filed patents related to this technology and the idea is possible, but it may be many years before we see it as a commercial product.

So that’s all right then.

This raises many more questions than answers though. Many artists want their music to be recorded and shared online, even if their publishing or record company does not and the recording a live music experience does not automatically imply that it will be shared and broadcast.

But perhaps when we start getting to the point where theatres are going to start controlling how and when you can use the phone in your pocket, it’s time to start asking if the copyright laws creating the need for this corporate behaviour are in fact flawed and of another time?

Wikileaks – the legality of a website for leaks August 11, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government.
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The Wikileaks website is back in the news again, this time because it is alleged that a US serviceman has leaked thousands of confidential diplomatic messages to the services. The US military is angry, claiming that troop lives can be endangered by leaks of this nature. Many in the media argue that the freedom to criticize government should be a right for all citizens to enjoy.

Wikileaks describes itself as “WikiLeaks is a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public.” The site distributes data across several servers located in several countries, therefore not subjecting itself to any one jurisdiction. There are also hundreds of web addresses that will take a reader to the Wikileaks site too, just in case your current jurisdiction bans it.

But consider for a moment how free comment could be abused using such a system.

If it is possible to make any comment about anyone or any organisation using a service such as this then the national protection of libel surely no longer exists?

Wikileaks is proving to be a vital tool in giving whistleblowers a safe mechanism for reporting corporate or government fraud and wrongdoing, but once a reporting mechanism answers to nobody, how can the claims be verified and reputations protected?

We want a digital economy, but is the digital economy act working? April 19, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services.
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Further to my last blog here, how things have changed in such a short space of time. On the day the Digital Economy bill was due for further debate in parliament, the general election was called. When an election is called, the parliament will only sit for a few more days in what is called the ‘wash-up’ period.

This is really just a few days of work tying up any legislative loose ends before everyone gets down to the business of election campaigning. It means that any new bills due for discussion can either be unceremoniously dropped, or pushed through parliament extremely quickly without extensive debate. The Digital Economy bill was pushed through with less than two hours of discussion. It’s now about to be better known as the Digital Economy Act 2010.

This is a real shame. It’s an act that could determine the digital future of the nation and it deserves more than this. There are many admirable parts of this act, such as the intention to deliver universal broadband Internet across the UK, but there is a lot that needed more debate before the act ended up on the statue book.

The most controversial part of the same act was around file sharing, in particular the assumption that the owner of the Internet connection is responsible for any illegal activity. There really needed to be more discussion and debate on this critical point. The UK is awash with free wifi connections at pubs, cafes, and train stations. Are those connection owners really going to accept liability if the connection users break the law, or will we see a mass switch-off as public Internet becomes impossible to locate due to a fear of this new act?

Because of this new act, the government is now able to block websites, cut off users, and fine connection owners for activity they may not have been responsible for. Surely this act needs further debate and refinement?

Digital Economy bill – who is right on copyright? April 6, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government.
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The House of Lords have approved the Digital Economy Bill. The second reading in the Commons is due to take place today.

That’s going to be when the real debate kicks off in earnest. And this is a controversial government bill that affects every consumer of music, art, film, or culture. The telecoms giants are lining up on one side of the argument with the creative industries on the other.

The most contentious aspects of the bill are around the intertwining of copyright owners and Internet connections. The bill is proposing that where a copyright owner complains that their material is being made freely available on an unauthorised basis and therefore contrary to their right, it is then the responsibility of the ISP to close the Internet connection of the organisation or person offering the offending material. Rights holders will be going to court seeking injunctions to block websites.

But many in the industry feel this is the old world of copyright smashing into the new world of online media. In a world of peer-to-peer connections it is very difficult to determine exactly where copyright material resides, so how can a website be blocked by a court injunction? The government is already seeing an extensive online reaction, with people using the online social networks to organise real petitions and protests.

Will they push the bill through as it stands or do the protestors have a clearer vision of the digital future for Britain, and the creative community?

Does Apple’s new iPad raise more concerns for copyright? February 16, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services.
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Apple recently launched their new product, the iPad, to a mixture of frenzied fan worship and questions about exactly what function the new device fulfils. It’s typical of Apple to lead the gadget market to a new place, as they did with the iPod, but there are some who believe that the iPad is about to fundamentally shake up the publishing industry in the same way the iPod changed music.

But how can a plastic device rock the foundations of an entire industry, built on the foundation of decades of experience? Well, one might ask how the recorded music industry has changed so much in the past decade. It was not the creation of the device itself that changed the vista, we had hard discs back in the nineties and the ability to load music files on them. What changed was the creation of a true community, iTunes.

Once consumers could easily start loading music, video, and radio programmes onto your device and participate in a music community where favourite content is just automatically pushed to you, and other content is just a search button away then the old ways just seemed, well, old.

And so despite an ongoing love of books and paper, and the failure of dozens of supposed electronic book readers, will the Apple iBooks service now start changing the market?

The authors already think so. They want their royalties redefined to take into account the ease of distributing electronic files, rather than physical books. Booker prize winner Ian McEwan has signed a deal with Amazon.com where they get exclusive rights to his back catalogue.

Amazon reported that during Christmas 2009 they sold more eBooks than physical books. This is leading to a fundamental shift in the way books are produced and distributed. Amazon is even planning a publishing service, offering a royalty of over 70% to authors who cut out the publisher entirely and allow Amazon to publish and retail the book.

The publishing community Lulu has already explored this idea with some success. Lulu offers a publishing tool that allows an author to publish their book to all recognised retailers using the standard ISBN registration, but with one major difference. The book is print-on-demand, Lulu only prints and binds a copy when a customer clicks on the book on a site such as Amazon. Lulu offers 80% of profits to authors, after the cost of production.

These royalty rates far eclipse standard author rates of 15 to 20%. But as we move to a brave new world of electronic book distribution are there also unanswered questions about the content ownership? If I own a book, I can easily lend it to a friend. If I have downloaded the electronic version to my reading device, I am probably not able/permitted to beam it to a friend’s device, my friend needs to download again, or borrow my reading device.

The issue of author’s rights and royalty fees remains unresolved with Google’s book deal presently postponed by the US courts and forcing a rethink.

The iPad and iBooks service has the potential to completely change publishing, copyright, newspaper, and magazines. And those who think this view paints too dramatic a picture might want to stop and think about the last time their kids went to a branch of HMV to buy a CD single. Exactly.