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Samsung v Apple: The fight goes on August 31, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Hardware, Software.
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Who would have thought that intellectual property law could suddenly become so interesting? Two of the biggest tech brands in the world – Samsung and Apple – are slugging it out in courts across the world.

An American court awarded Apple over $1bn in damages when it declared that Samsung had infringed several key aspects of proprietary software and technology design.

Subsequently a Japanese court awarded Samsung victory in a battle over the way their phones synchonise data with personal computers. It’s going back and forth as the giants argue over design issues and who is copying who.

Of course intellectual property needs protection, but the real loser at the end of all this is going to be the consumer. Take cars as an example. You can go out and buy a Ford, VW, or GM vehicle and be able to drive it immediately. You don’t need to spend a day learning how it all works before you are familiar with the controls.

Isn’t this analogous to mobile phones now? They are complex devices, but there are many basic controls that are the same; settings, web access, email, apps. I just moved from Android to an iPhone and it took me a couple of days to become familiar with the environment – even though I use several other Apple products. What if I move to an Android phone in two years? Will I have to learn everything again to get it to work?

We need phone companies to innovate and not just to copy each other, but the consumer will end up paying all these damages. It’s time the phone companies started talking to each other and pooling technologies in the same way DVD and similar technologies are shared between manufacturers.

A slight difference (phones)

 

Photo by Tomi Tapio licensed under Creative Commons

Fighting piracy requires carrots, not just a big stick May 10, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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The Pirate Bay (TPB) is a Swedish website that links to online copies of music, films, and software – anything that can be easily copied and distributed online. It is possibly the single largest library of illegally copied intellectual property in the world and has been resistant to the authorities for many years, largely because they don’t store the content themselves and the links use very strong cryptography to mask the exact location of copied material.

As the law enforcement authorities have failed to stop sites like TPB the UK courts (after an action raised by the British Phonographic Institute) decided to tell Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to just block access – preventing all but the most determined users from accessing them. This week, Virgin Media became the first UK ISP to stop their users from accessing TPB.

It did not go well. The Anonymous hackers collective attacked Virgin Media’s website and brought it down on May 9th for over one hour. Four other British ISPs have vowed to block access to TPB and BT is about to decide on their position.

The ISPs are in a difficult position as they are being forced to censor their service – preventing access to a particular site – yet they have always managed to stand aside from these debates in the past, arguing that they just provide the infrastructure and can’t be expected to police what people do online.

The bottom line for organisations like the BPI is that piracy will only end when the legal route to owning movies and music is easier than the illegal. Services like Spotify and Netflix are now making on demand legal renting of content far easier than searching for illegal copies. Perhaps they should be focusing on making the carrot, rather than the stick, a lot bigger, because banning access to a single pirate site is like putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

Pirate deck at Club Earl

Photo by Earl licensed under Creative Commons

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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Cyber-crime doesn’t (always) pay July 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services.
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If you have read the book ‘A few kind words and a loaded gun’ by former bank robber Noel ‘Razor’ Smith, you will understand how far the world has come from the days of blaggers charging into a bank branch with a shotgun and making off with a stack of cash.

Smith laments the amount of security measures attached to the movement of cash that now makes simple bank robberies almost impossible, and he notes that anyone carrying out such a crime today would be a fool. Cyber-crime offers the chance for greater riches without ever going near a gun.

All you need is a computer and some nous and you can commit various types of crime without ever leaving home. Fraud, organised crime, electronic espionage, IP theft, terrorism, activism, and even warfare can call fall under the wider label of cyber-crime and all can be perpetrated without much risk if you know how to cover your online tracks.

This all means that is it harder than ever to protect your company from criminals because there are now so many ways in which an attack can take place. Publishers may lose content to online thieves. Activists or terrorists may target your brand for attack with such tools as the dreaded denial of service attacks. Insiders can raid your company funds and misappropriate assets. The list goes on.

But the real point is that crime has now become virtual and hidden in the shadows. Mastering the technical skills of computer networks and the smooth-talking social engineering required to get passwords from the unwary now gives any unscrupulous hacker the keys to the vault.

Are we really prepared for this new era of crime?

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?