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14 February

Today, February 14th, the International Intellectual Property Alliance complained to the US government about Canadian copyright laws. The first tip that these guys may not be completely even-handed frank is the name of the ogranization, "the International PA" which (according to their own web page was formed "..to represent the U.S. copyright-based industries..." Their desire is to force Canada to come into line with US information control policies. This kind of effort is also being pursued via US pressure with GATT, which has led several countries to adopt regulations similar to the infamous Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) which goes as far as preventing people from fiddling with the internals of electronic devices (or media) they purchase and own.

I think there is a real need for the authors of "intellectual property" including books, music and movies to make money from their activities. In fact, these seem to be the predominant forms of value-generating activity left to North Americans in the 21st century. On the other hand, the regulations being pushed by the DMCA, GATT and the IIPA are aimed at concentrating wealth and power in the hands on companies (and people) who already have a lot of it. They reduce the extent to which information and creative output can move within society and, as a direct side effect, seem to stifle the ability to generate new creative content (since the old stuff remains equally valuable, and the intellectual tools to create new material are tied up and restricted).

In short, Canada needs to resist the efforts of the IIPA and form it's own policies as an independent country. Failing that, Canada should simply join the United States and be able to vote and have a say in the government that is controlling it's policies. This might have a genuinely helpful effect on both the Canadian and (optimistically) the US administration and economy. Either solution is probably good. What's bad is letting US interests control Canadian policy without having genuine representation with the government (potentially US) that determines the policies that effect Canadians.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
15 March

Background: Various groups track information flow by logging the URLs being exchanged when data is up- and down-loaded. An initiative is currently underway by the US Department of Justice, and already passed in Europe, to force internet providers (ISP) to log data transfers, and to retain these logs for a long time (despite the large amount of storage this requires). This is an ongoing effort and follows a
prior effort
in the same direction. It seems the objective is not to save the actual data, just the information linking the URLs that were used: where did you visit and what filename did you upload. Such information is already used for DMCA "take-down" requests and
the legal page
at the infamous Pirate Bay bittorrent tracker provides many (amusing) examples. It also represents a huge incursion into personal privacy which is threatening in many ways.

Utility?: While anti-terrorism is cited as one of the benefits of this plan, it seems unlikely that actual terrorists operate by uploading data to public sites. The initiative is more likely to be motivated by DMCA enforcement. Even the most trivial passwording and encryption by organzied groups (such as terrorists) gets around this measure. I suppose one still might be able to catch the a really foolish bad guy,
which sounds insignificant, but perhaps that not as irrelevant is it seems.

Related work:

Once such linkages between users and URLs are made, there are a lot of very interesting data mining possibilities. Google is surely looking at doing this right now for commercial purposes (e.g targeted advertising). This is very close to work we are doing (abstract)
(pdf) to unravel the positions of robots or sensors deployed in space. The connections one might get can be insigntful, but also very misleading at times, and this is worrisome. It means, in principle, that you could get into trouble for using certain goodle search words, without even download anything. This is akin to patrolling people's thoughts.

In the case of web traffic and DMCA enforcement, however, it seems like this effort to simply log traffic can be easily circumvented or obfuscated. A current practice is to pursue people if an upload of theirs has been download "too many" times. If the data provider simply uses cryptric URL's and rotates them often, as illustrated below, then the logged data becomes almost useless. The URL doesn't tell you anything and surely doesn't prove much. (i.e. the URL for this article might be
blog/41 now, but tomorrow it becomes blog/21111). This makes permanent links tricky for the user, but many such links already lead only to index pages that provide the connections between the URL's and the description of the content they provide. Of course, one could log that too, but then it becomes much much more complicated since doing it would human intervention involves producing (essentially) a snapshot of the whole internet on a regular basis. In short, this proposal seems fraught with problems, but from a technical standpoint as well as with respect to personal privacy.

Try it: URL content changes after a few clicks.

The simple example shown here illustrates a URL (for the picture) that delivers different content at different times. Note that this is not the same as just changing the images linked into a page, because the actual URL of the image itself doesn't change, but the content it points to changes. The first time you click it you get an image of "secret" troop deployments (that might violate the DMCA). If you reload the same URL a few times, you get something more benign. Hence, knowing who accessed the URL doesn't provide any information, unless you actually store the data too (which isn't practical). (Approximate source code for above example here.)

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
15 May

The US Attorney General has proposed some astonishly harsh changes to the already Draconian and repressive copyright legislation in place in the United States. As described at CNET, the new laws would criminalize merely "attempting" to infringe copyrights and add additional penalities (to the existing 10 year maximum) for "intended" copyright crimes that had not taken place.

In general I think the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is already too strong, with its prohibition on taking apart devices you personally own. For a person who came to like science and engineering by figuring out electro-mechanical things we had at home, this is an awful prohibition. It also inhibits the creation of devices that leverage existing technology.

Just to be balanced, I think the the DMCA does have some redeeming features. The safe habour component that stipulates how to deal with copyright material placed on public web sites is quite reasonable.

At any rate, if you're in the US this new proposal deserves comment and oppsition.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
07 September

A while ago I made some comments on the impending stronger copyright laws facing Canada. I think the proposed legislation remains inappropriate and unbalanced. Michael Geist is a regular commentator on this issue and has produced a nice movie/slide show on one aspect of the issue.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
24 October

Free TV will be gone by 2020. Technical flaws with HD over the air, combined with new laws, assure this.

For some time I had been dismayed at how the USA has mandated the termination of regular analog TV as of 2009, but was relieved that Canada had not done the same thing. I just learned that the CRTC in Canada has mandated that as of 2011 no further analog (regular) television will be broadcast in Canada either. In addition, the situation for HDTV over the air, no matter where you live, is much worse than I had realized.

Canada decided (a few years back) to use the ATSC digital TV system, used only by the USA and a couple of other countries, as opposed the the DVB-T standard that was adopted world-wide (including all of Europe). As a result, ATSC devices are going to be more expensive than DVB-T, less compatible with assorted devices, and slower to come to market. Oh, and ATSC doesn't even work as well as DVB-T; nobody really knows yet how to make it work well with mobile devices.

Oh, and more frustrating yet, if you want to receive a full selection of digital TV broadcasts over the air (which is the only non-subscription choice), then in many (most?) you need a complicated set of one or more outdoor antennas, which may have to be to be directed using a rotor! Among other things, that precludes rapidly switching channels (I guess broadcasters love that). Ugh! Antennas on the roof! Wires, cables!

This just amounts to a not-so-slow and ugly death for over-the-air television. How many people are really going to mount an outdoor antenna, or a set of antennas. With rotors! What about those whose home or apartment faces the wrong way? Broadcast TV, and hence free TV, will be gone by 2020 as a result of this move. As the number of viewers shrink, so will the available programming, and prices will go up. That's a death spiral for sure.

Instead, we'll have televison you have to pay for, and for which there is steady feedback to the broadcasters regarding who watched what, and for how long (as already exists with most cable TV devices).

Background information

While standard definition remains the dominant viewing choice the world over, HDTV is already making gradual and progressive inroads. When color TV was introduced, it was developed to be backwards compatible and it gradually forced out black and white TV by being more appealing. In contrast, within the United States, Canada, and several other countries legislative action has been taken to force analog television off the air and replace it with terrestrial HDTV broadcasts. Satellite or cable broadcasting can remain with non-HDTV formats.

The primary reason for this is that digital broadcasting makes more efficient use of the available bandwidth, so if analog broadcasting is replaced by digital, the spectrum space is made available for other uses such as cellular phones or additional channels. More cynical explanations include the fact that forced adoption of digital technology closes the what the rights holding industries called the "analog hole", meaning the ability of home viewers to record or event distribute programming they received.

In the North America at least, digital television occupies largely the same portion of the electromagnetic spectrum as traditional analog television. Due to its digital nature, if the packets making up a program are too badly degraded, no signal whatsoever will be viewable. As a result, in locations with poor reception digital television may not function whereas analog television might still deliver a degraded signal.

On final concern about HDTV broadcasting in Canada, in particular: it doesn't accomodate disabled people properly. For years, there have been legistative requirements re. closed captioning of regular broadcast TV to assist those who are hard of hearing (or vision, since closed caption narratives can be transformed into audio fairly easily -- know any older people?). Quoting from Joe Clark's long article on this subject: "There is no requirement that Canadian HD devices receive, decode, or display captioning. Of course the U.S. has a requirement and we usually get the same equipment, and of course captioning is included in the ATSC specification, but there is no legislative guarantee that caption-capable high-definition equipment actually make it into Canadian homes." (... or that broadcasters insert captions into HD content.)

Well, good riddance. Maybe we'll read books instead.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (2) or Leave a comment |    
Rate item 83: Rating: 29.1/10 (8 votes cast)
29 November

A new proposal regarding Canadian copyright legislation is coming. It will have serious implications for computer data in
particular, as well as lots of other issues related to information exchange. Canadians need to consider it and speak out (against it).

[ Update: Dec 12, 2007: The law was not introduced as expected and will be deferred until at least January 2008. Let's hope was due to popular expression of dissent. This is the time to contact your MP. ]

(Shortcut: Email letter generator form here, but read on for tips on how to draft and where to send a more-effective real paper letter.)

Oh, Canada

Quoting from a recent article in the Globe and Mail newspaper:
"A new copyright law is coming.
Ottawa copyright circles are buzzing with hints that the government is preparing its new revised copyright bill, and will be tabling it soon, perhaps as early as next week.
And the buzz is that the new law will basically be a copy of the controversial U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)" There are also rumors that the Canadian proposal is worse than the DMCA as it omits some of the exceptions in the DMCA, as well as leaving out some positive aspects of the DCMA as well.

Full article here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/ servlet/story/RTGAM.20071127.WBcyberia20071127170629/ WBStory/WBcyberia/

prohibits not only the downloading of commercial music files, but also allows web sites to be served "take down" notices with minimal procedural overhead, and prohibits the exchange of information which could be used to circumvent digital rights management (even if it has other
uses as well).

The DMCA has generally been regarded as being bad for consumers, bad for science and bad for freedom of expression, but aimed at serving the interests of large media conglomerates. Interestingly, it seems not even to have helped them, in terms of actual revenue generation. See the documents Unintended Consequences: Seven Years under the DMCA [eff.org] to hear about the experience in the USA (including the chill on free expression and scientific research, and the way it impedes innovation and education).

One of the very bad aspects of the DMCA is the anti-circumvention clauses. These restrict technologies that could be used to circumvent (defeat) anti-copying mechanisms, and these clauses can be interpreted quite broadly. This includes a prohibition of exchange of information that could be construed as promoting circumvention, and seems to extend as far as prohibiting you from opening up your own devices (in hardware or software) that might be used for copy protection. If I can't get my HD-DVD player to put high-quality pictures on my old TV set, but I post a trick that explains how to do it, I'd be in trouble since the manufacturer presumably didn't want me to be able to do this. In fact, I'd be in trouble for doing it even in the privacy of my own home, even if I didn't tell anybody. [This is just an example, I don't actually own any HD-DVD or high-def video gear.] There are worse examples yet, but they get more technical.

Michael Geist, the Canadian law professor & CRC Chair also
has an interesting discussion of several issues [michaelgeist.ca]

and suggests: "There is every indication this legislation will be a complete sell-out to U.S. government and lobbyist demands" which is pretty consistent with what I have heard personally from an Intellectual Property expert who is a personal friend (who may give a CS colloquium here next term).

( full reference http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/2419/125/ )

One good aspect of the DMCA is that it circumscribes the responsibility of
operators of sites where arbitrary people can post material, rather than making the operator personally responsible for everything that gets posted. Let's hope this pro-freedom-of-expression aspect of the DMCA makes it into the Canadian legislation
as well (to be announced soon), but the rumor and my inference
is that it is absent.

The problem seems to be part of an ongoing and pernicious erosion of the public information rights in Canada (as well as the USA). Margaret-Ann Wilkinson (lawyer, ethicist) observes: "... following the appearance of the Charter of Rights for Creators, groups representing user interests were persuaded that copyright reform was being packaged as a two-phase process. The first phase was to be Bill C-60 which, when enacted in 1988, created the amendments to the Copyright Act that largely favored copyright owners. A second phase was promised, which was to focus on the needs of information users and intermediaries. The promised second phase, however, failed to appear in a timely manner." [from "Filtering the Flow from the Fountains of Knowledge"]

Personally, despite this erosion, I have been proud and relieved that we didn't have legislation like the DMCA here. Furthermore, even the US DCMA allows limited forms of
duplications of a work in order to create a parody. Canada's law does not even include that exception, nor other
important exceptions like being allowed to record a television program for subsequent playback.

If this interests you at all, you may want to browse the links above and then make your voice heard. Personally, I think legislation is a terrible and disastrous move.

If you think this is problematic, as I do, Geist has been generous enough to post a list of 30 things you can do to express your distaste for this initiative.

The link is

http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/1447/273/ (30 Days of DRM: 30 Things You Can Do)

There is another interesting post regarding the action of the CAUT in this regard. See the blog from Howard Knopf [blogspot.com].

( I've been told this issue was also mentioned is Slashdot recently. )

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
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