Monday, January 29, 2007

Copyright, copywrong..

February 16th Is the Copyright Comment Deadline

Let's look at how government plans to change our copyright laws, and how those changes might affect us.
New Zealanders have until next Friday to set out your views on the proposals and submit them on-line to the Select Committee. The details of the proposals are here.

has organised public meetings in Auckland on Wednesday 14th, and Wellington Tuesday 13th with an impressive list of speakers.
You can see the programme at I certainly plan to be there.

We need to take a close look at these proposals to see how they will affect us - and to ask how does any of this make life better for New Zealanders, and if it doesn't why are we doing it?

For me some of the main issues are:

1. The attempt to introduce aspects of the US DMCA law to New Zealand, specifically those provisions that make criminal offences out of de-scrambling or undoing any 'technical protection measure' (TPM) that has been included in the product.

This section also criminalises 'conveying information about means to overcome TPMs, which makes it a crime punishable by disproportionately high penalties merely to tell someone how to make a copy. My concern is that this is moving one step back from the unwanted copying, and extends the reach of copyright much further than it should be allowed to go.

I accept that copyright owners have a right to control copying of their material - but not for my private use in my house. Our copyright law is deficient compared to the US law in that it has no 'fair use' provision. We need to argue for such a provision if we are not to see the heavy hand of the content industry dropping on harmless family and hobby activities as it has in the US and Europe.

The TPM clause as it stands is a direct attack on traditional Kiwi ingenuity - the "Number Eight wire" mentality, that believes you can fix anything with a length of the lengendary farm fencing wire. Kiwi icon Burt Munro would not have been allowed to re-manufacture his World's Fastest Indian if that law had been in force back then. Sony would not have been allowed to reverse-engineer Telefunken's patents and create the Trinitron TV picture tube. It's an attack on after-markets - it encourages manufacturers to include some non-essential trivial aspect in the product specifically to prevent it being reverse-engineered.

It's telling parents to say to their kids that ask 'How does that work':
"I don't know and I can go to jail even for talking to you about it".

2. The grudging grant of the right to shift formats - which everybody's been doing since the first cassette tape came out - but shackled with the pathetic and ludicrous 'sunset clause' that gives people the right to format shift, but only for two years unless the Governor General signs an extension for another two years, ad infinitum. This needless time limit is clearly there to please RIANZ and APRA, and just as clearly needs to be taken out whether it displeases them or not. It will do them no good, and it needn't be there.

It's against public policy to pass laws that are unenforceable, and try to micromanage peoples' lives as this draft does. There should be quite simply a permanent right to format shift material you already own. Not sell it, not trade it, not even give it away, but to copy it from a format that plays on one machine to a format that plays on a different machine, for your own purpose.

A related issue, not addressed in the draft, is archive material recorded in formats that aren't any longer supported - like 78 rpm and 45 rpm disks and 8" and 5.25" computer floppies. I suggest there should be an automatic right to transfer any and all recordings in these and any other disused and obsolete formats to more durable current formats. Transferring the content should confer no additional inherent right of ownership or trading, just the right to continue to be able to enjoy content already paid for.

There should also be a blanket exemption for copying material whose copyright ownership is unknown and cannot be established after reasonable inquiry - so-called 'orphan works'.

3. There should be no protection for TPMs applied to material that is already in the public domain or has been issued under a permissive licence such as Creative Commons or the GPL. There have been several cases of public domain and other freely available material being infected with DRM by MS Zune players.

Similarly there should be no protection for TPMs that have become public knowledge, such as the CSS code used on DVDs.There has never been a successful prosecution for its use anywhere in the world, and it is now used by the DVD Alliance merely to restrict and restrain trade, and particularly to try to limit functionality of the Linux operating system as compared with Microsoft and Apple products.

4. New Zealand has accepted the value of parallel importing, and has already rejected the imposition of 'region codes' on DVDs. I propose a new clause stating simply that no offence is committed by anyone that bypasses, unscrambles or decodes any TPM, part or all of whose purpose is to restrict functionality of a product according to geographical location, to the extent needed to bypass tbe region code restriction.

This is proposed in light of a recent Philips patent for a system of encrypting region codes along with the program material, so that the mere act of descrambling and reading them would be unlawful under the DMCA, and the NZ Draft. Having refused region codes at the front door, we do not need to let them in at the back.

Our lawmakers are generally responsive, and it is not too late to press for changes. What changes we can get will depend how forcefully we can press - and how vigorous is the opposition lined up against us.

Opinions and suggestions welcomed.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Vodafone the Champion Gouger

What is it that costs $50 in New Zealand, and $10 000 to $30 000 in Australia?

The ahnswer is 1 gigabyte of data downloaded by an NZ Vodafone 3G user in Australia, or UK, or anywhere outside NZ - like places you would go to do business.

Bearing in mind that Vodafone is the same company worldwide.

Is this the extreme of telco gouging? I know nothing worse...


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Broadcasting From Home

Rude, Crude and Lewd

it seems that some blogs have built in censors, in case writers whould post a Bad Word.

I noticed this lately on Bruce Simpson's Aardvark, one of our oldest and most respected blogs, which replaced the fairly common, and vulgar, "shit" with a pathetic US network-style *beep*.

Bruce will no doubt say what he will about the need for nanny software like this in a blog that increasingly rails against the controls of "nanny state" and other limits on free expression.
So I thought I'd try a little test.

I typed the US FCC bad words list into Aardvark, together with a few of my own:


Aardvark deleted all the variants of 'fuck', together with 'nigger'. A curious set opf choices.

Overnight Aardvark's resident nanny, someone called Greg, removed the list from that blog - which they have a perfect right to do, because it's their space, not mine.

But I wonder what other words are not allowed to appear over there...

Monday, September 18, 2006

How Our Politicians Let Us Down

What a load of squabbling schoolkids.

The row over who is rooting whom, who is watching, which end they are rooting from, who is talking about it, and who couldn't care less just gets worse.

If this is the measure of the men and women that say they can govern our nation, Gawd help us.

Helen Clark appeared on the interview shows on both main tv networks on Monday. She argued her case with middling conviction, but let herself down completely in her admission that this is all a slanging match with National - "if they stop we will stop".

Nobody in the National party could be found to speak - perhaps not surprisingly because they are not the issue. I don't believe that anyone seriously in a position of responsibility in the nation's main Opposition party, and the probable next government of our nation, is feeding this "Peter Davies is a homo so ya boo sux" bullsh to the grubby press.

I think we are much more likely not a million miles away from the man on a bicycle who grabbed the plans to regulate the loathsome Telecom monopoly and gave them to another man on another bicycle that worked for Telecom - who had the good sense to say "I shouldn't be seeing this" and sent it back.

Some scungy nerd with a beer belly, bad breath and thinning pubic hair that hangs aboutWellington caf├ęs favored by National and ACT and United Future without being a member of any of them will be behind these "leaks". May his bum drop off and roll around in the gutter with the journalistic low-life that is Ian Wishart. Wishart and his Investigate rag are the longdrop of New Zealand journalism: way down low and full of shit.

The Prime Minister is right to complain about National's use of the word 'corruption' when they complain of the election spending.

It's not corruption - that implies deliberate and wilful criminal action. There wasn't any. There may have been wrongful appropriation of funds. The PM maintains that the Auditor General changed the rules after the event - that he held, post facto, that what he said was legal in 2002 was no longer legal in 2005. I would like to see that claim tested in Court. But this is not corruption. Corruption would be if the Auditor General was bought off, or changed his view for improper reasons.

I would like to see the whole issue taken to court so the nation can observe the argument, and hear a clear legal opinion, and let the parties concerned abide by it. Politicians are supposed to uphold the rule of law..

Don Brash has a small, rather undermined pinnacle of the high ground: he sent his Caucus an e-mail telling them to taihoa on the personal attacks. Yeah, right. Coming from a man that enjoys adultery so much he's done it twice, that has less resonance and force than it would have if it had come from, say, John Key or Bill English.

Enough is enough. Judge Judy could do better than this. Let's take the real disputes to Court, and let's see our politicians behaving with respect to their opponents.

Right now, the biggest shortage we have in New Zealand is of statesmen and stateswomen - people with the experience and mana to lead our nation, and behave in such a way that they command our respect for their office and for themselves as temporary occupants..

Shame on the politicians for letting things get so bad.

Wishartful thinking

What a nasty man

Ian Wishart, a self-styled "journalist" has published another edition of his Investigate magazine, in which he says he does not claim that Dr Peter Davies, long time husband of the Prime Minister, is homosexual. All he's done, he says, is print a picture of Dr Davies and Dr Ian Scott in a hug on election night last year. Ian Scott is openly gay, and is also a long-standing friend of Dr Davis and Helen Clark. Wishart tries to suggest that the picture should make us suspect all kinds of things, nudge nudge wink wink.

But he doesn't claimn to tell us why the private life of the PM's husband for the last 28 years should be of any concern to anyone outside their marriage.

In fact there's a long list of things Wishart doesn't claim, which may well include honour, journalistic credibility, mana and more.

It would be interesting to explore his connections with the loony religious right, not least the nauseating Exclusive Brethren whose corrupt interpretation of Christian dogma is an affront to human rights and family values. I bet he never writes a word about it.

It is all gossip and tittle-tattle, and reflects Wishart's unhealthy obsession with what other people do in bed.

Perhaps that is where Wishart's problems really lie.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Cutting Loose from Telecom's shackles

Deregulation or what?

David Farrar writes about his presentation to the Select Committee on telecoms re-regulation. He has, perhaps predictably, drawn a response from supporters of the Libertarianz and ACT claiming that it's a bill of attainder and an attack on property rights. I disagree, and have posted there in these terms to say so:

The problem with the Libertarianz view is that it elevates property rights above the national interest, and proposes the concept of the joint-stock company as superior to the elected government of the land.

I think both propositions are wrong.

Our property right in New Zealand is effectively guaranteed by the Crown. My bit of the Bay of Islands, someone else's suburban quarter-acre. the next man's strata title on Wakefield Street in Auckland or Courtenay Place in Wellington, are all ours because the Crown creates a legal and social framework that grants us that right and empowers us to defend it against all comers.

I hold my land in fee simple from the Crown - but I'm not immune to the Crown's right of eminent domain, legislated in NZ as the Public Works Act. Our law holds property as important, defensible but not sacred or immutable.

Let's look at the property owned by Telecom - a mix of real estate and easements that allow them to string their wires across other peoples' land.

No-one, not even the most devoted Telecom critic, is suggesting that Telecom should have to give up either its real estate or its easements. The company will, at the end of regulation, still own every square metre of ground, every centimetre of wire, that it owns now.

What is proposed is simply that others should also be able to pay a fair market price to access the equipment, and the data carrying capacity, of the company.

There is no suggestion that those seeking access to the local loop, or the DSLAMs, will not have to pay Telecom a fair price for that right.

There is no diminution or devaluation of Telecom's legal property. Rather, the regulation being proposed increases the value of Telecom's physical assets because it creates a working market for their use.

An effective data network is part of our nation's development infrastructure. As InternetNZ rightly suggested in their submission, nation building is not something that can be left to the unregulated private sector.

We know already that both Maurice Williamson and Lockwood Smith would prefer to see Telecom left alone, to "get on with it". But the evidence over ten years is that the incumbent telco won't.

Left alone, they have demonstrated that they will deliver the worst value in the world: charging Kiwi businesses $2400 a month for a limited throttled service worth $28.

Left alone, they have demonstrated that they will impose ludicrously small data caps on Internet use - not because they have to but because they can.

Left alone, they have demonstrated that they will favor their subsidiary ISP above all others, so cheating the market and distorting the outcomes.

Telecom has had ten years to demonstrate its willingness to work with New Zealanders to deliver the services New Zealand needs to be competitive in the world market.

They have used those ten years to overcharge, to rip off the country's business community, to offer a bicycle track onto the data highway and charge for it as if it were the fast lane.

By their deeds shall ye know them - they've had their chance and now they need to be regulated, controlled and compelled to set New Zealand users free of their Telecom-imposed shackles.

That is why I would be deeply worried to see Maurice Williamson or Lockwood Smith involved in IT policy or telco regulation in the next National Government.

They have demonstrated beyond doubt that they would be better employed in some other area - perhaps as back bench MPs looking after their constituents.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Airport Security Theatre

And so the mad people are in control

Have a look at this:

JK Rowling, one of the world's most successful writers, instantly recognisable and showing her passport, is threatened with being separated from her handwritten Harry Potter script by airport "security" goons playacting that they are doing something worthwhile.

How about we call a halt to this bullshit. Since September 11th 2001, exactly how many terrorists have been caught and imrpisoned as a result of airport security theatre?

I'd really like to know.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Don Brash Affair

Lots of silly words being written about this - including a surprisingly clumsy piece by Aardvark's Bruce Simpson in which he manages to raise what for him is clearly the spectre of a possibly gay Prime Minister, and a torrent of pieces of such silliness that David Farrar deleted the lot of 'em and imposed temporary moderation on his readers.

And they say MPs are badly behaved.

Most of the comment I've seen doesn't address what for me is the real issue: not that Dr Brash enjoys adultery so much he's a repeat offender, but the fact that this is distracting attention away from National's effective campaign about Labour's presumed misuse of public money for its campaign.

Gerry Brownlee's excellent performance on National Radio on Tuesday afternoon, during which Pete Hodgson flatly, and I think improperly, asserted that Labour would not be repaying anything while Brownlee sensibly addressed the whole issue of party funding, now falls by the wayside in favor of a media feeding frenzy concentrating on what Dr Brash has done, when and where, with which of his lady friends.

I think it's sad that his relationship has deteriorated to the point that he doesn't feel like telling his wife where he is and who he's seeing.

But I'm not all that interested in the minutiae of another man's life, and I think it's a shame that it's been allowed to divert attention from the good things that National members have been saying lately.

If I were Brownlee, or Bill English, or Simon Power or any of the other National members, I would be seriously pissed off about the latest revelations. It's almost as if Dr Brash has single-handedly walked across the House to lift the Labour front bench off the hook over Taito Phillip Field, off the hook over the pledge card funding, off the hook over the latest disaster in the health system and even off the hook over their summary dismissal - err, refusal to renew the contract - of the Electricity Commissioner.

Copyright, copywrong

Bruce Simpson over at Aardvark taises the question of copyright in New Zealand - with the example that our laws effectively make most uses of an iPod illegal, though I've not seen that tested in court so far.

Which prompts me to think about what we really should have in our copyright law.

The copyright laws in NZ are outdated amd need revision - but they should not follow the draconian rules imposed in the US under the DMCA, which effectively criminalises even knowing how to defeat DRM (see the case of Dmitry Sklyarov, arrested and held in a US jail for knowing how to view an Adobe e-book on a different computer).

We need a copyright law that gives reasonable protection to rights owners for a reasonable period - not the 95 years voted for by US congress members who were and are richly paid off by the members of the RIAA and MPAA.

We need a copyright law that grants exemptions for fair use, including an absolute right to make and market mashups and parodies, an absolute right to make copies for backup and to listen or watch on other devices in their own homes, an absolute right of first sale, meaning you can legally sell anything you have bought, even if it pretends be only a licence to use, and an absolute right to investigate, explore, study, dis-assemble, change, tinker with and break any computer device or code that comes into your posession.

We need a copyright law that requires any company applying DRM techniques to its products to provide permanent and irrevocable unlock keys to libraries and educational institutions.

We need a copyright law that recognises copyright as a time limited licence to exploit, that rejects attempts to extend the length of copyrights and recognises that all creative achievemnent should end up at the end of the copyright period in the public domain.

All of this would give us a fair and reasonable copyright system, and would not breach our obligations under the abysmally drafted TRIPS agreements at the WTO.

We also need to beware of Americans bearing gifts in the form of Free Trade Agreements, which are all too often used as a way to impose unwanted American regulations on citizens of other countries, and in particular to force other countries to pass the same draconian copyright laws as the DMCA. You can watch this process happening right now in Canberra. It makes you wonder who really governs Australia - the Federal Government in Canberra or the Office of the US Trade Representative.