Commoditisation of copyright licensing and enforcement

2003-03-10

I've been looking into getting a licence together for the CDR Commons project, which is inspired by Wikipedia, among other things. Wikipedia uses the GNU Free Documentation Licence, with a couple of options enabled. Another choice is one of the Creative Commons licences. One's initial leaning is to go with GFDL out of deference to Wikipedia, much as Torvalds chose the GPL out of deference to gcc.

The problem here is that the GFDL is a parameterised licence. It's not like the GPL, LGPL or BSD licences, where a well-recognised bundle of legal rules is connoted by a collection of three or four letters. You may need to specify GFDL plus "no Invariant Sections", or one or two other options. Wikipedia does this, and it's clumsy. But the GFDL itself is under a copyright licence, prohibiting modification, for very obvious reasons. The GFDL and CC licences also presume they're applying to a single document or single work.

So I'm going to reverse engineer the GFDL and reimplement it with my preferred options enabled by default. Those familiar with free software licensing flamewars will spot the intense irony here. I'll take the opportunity to hack in features relating to wiki-style collaboration, or rather remove the assumptions relating to monolithic single documents.

As to commoditisation of enforcement, there exists a potential problem with regard to standing to bring a copyright enforcement suit. Only the copyright holder can do this, even if something is licensed as broadly as the GPL. It might be possible to create a legal entity to hold copyrights collectively, whose rules permitted any member willing to pay the legal costs to initiate copyright infringement proceedings against someone whom the actual authors of the software might not be prepared to pursue. This would be commoditised enforcement.

ECJ eschews Community jurisdiction over military affairs

2003-03-12

Case C-186/01. Another of those cases where long-standing practice may have been illegal and the Courts "need" to let it continue: German military service under the Wehrpflichtgesetz; favourite English example: boxing isn't sport, it's ABH.

A man claimed that Wehrpflicht was some form of gender-based employment discrimination. The Court decided that this was a military policy matter, and thus outside the scope of Community law. In previous cases, the Court has argued that where there is a conflict of competences, Community law must triumph so as to ensure the uniformity of Community law. The title of this blog article is how I'd headline this for the Daily Mail, but it makes the point: the competency and jurisdictional boundaries of Community law, which have been rendered meaningless by the Court's teleology of economic integration, have to be reasserted for political and legal reasons.

Link: A press release from the ECJ relating to this case

Spam

2003-03-14

I've started getting spam to one of my non-advertised addresses; needless to say it had leaked out onto the web. It is reported this week that 40% of email is now spam, a massive increase on the figures for 2001. Even more disturbingly, I have started getting Nigerian spam via phone to my second (unadvertised) phoe number.

I've always been an opponent of anti-spam excesses, and have been left behind by geekdom's march towards tougher anti-spam technology and (in some cases) legislation. What really motivates this is that I care about having an end-to-end Internet more than I care about the small, increasing and non-zero cost of manually filtering my email. Anti-spam is regarded by some as a bigger threat to the nature of the Internet than the RIAA; there's a good paper by Dan Burk (or Mark Lemley?) about this. Even JCN has considered intervening in email transit to block spam passing through machines it's involved in running, rather than leaving this at the option of the recipient. I'm still with John Gilmore on open relays, myself.

But I've been running SpamAssassin for a few months to tag my spam visually. It's has very few false positives (once I've whitelisted Robin Walker and Francesa Lowe, at any rate), and I'm quite close to having it hijack email and put it in a different Inbox. (note the use of the language of physical violence to describe what is really the act of determining which data file to append some text to).

Legislatively, we now have a European Directive dealing with spam, and strong public awareness of the issue. NTK is trying to whip up interest in the use of spam by respectable organisations (Ok, I don't respect British Telecom or whoever in the RSPCA "abused" faxyourmp.com, but hey). I just hope the solutions don't squash too much freedom of expression and freedom to receive rubbish.

You Know You've Been Using UNIX Too Long

2003-03-19

... when you find yourself writing the word "date" on a piece of paper when wondering what the time is.

The War on Children continues

2003-03-21

The conservative broadsheet press is reporting that children are involved in large numbers in demonstrations against the military action in Iraq. Of course, I only know this because the liberal broadsheet press has been sold out recently. The reaction against these demonstrations is interesting.

I've never been a big fan of the child protection lobby. I think this is because what I really feel is that children deserve to be treated with respect, which to me means largely treated like adults and taken seriously. This means being expected to know right from wrong at an early age, and I've had long arguments about it with people, especially Protestant people.

Children are subject to much arbitrary authority, that is to say, are expected to acquiesce in other people taking decisions about them without consulting them, and punished for disobedience. Parents and schools, in particular, are regarded as having such authority, and many people believe that this legitimises physical violence against children by such people. I fail to see why teachers who physically attack children should not be dealt with extremely severely indeed, rather than defended by the Daily Mail; the same newspaper whips up life-threatening hatred against others who attack children.

I am particularly concerned by the use of the authority of the State to impose third-party liability on the parents of rebellious children; I tend to loathe third-party liability wherever it is found anyway, but this is particularly pernicious. Parents are held to be responsible for the activities of their kids even when there's nothing they can do about it. Holding a parent liable for a child's truancy just creates an additional source of familial conflict, without achieving much else.

Apparently children can be arrested for truancy. Why on earth is this a matter for the police? It's a matter between the school and the pupil. And if this is to be a public law matter between the individual and the State, why is it additionally permitted to be a private matter between the student and the school's disciplinary authorities? Given that the truancy in question at the moment is related to political protest, there exists the danger that the nature of the political activity will improperly be taken into account when punishing the truancy (in the school's privately administered disciplinary system administered by a body which must determine whether it has itself been brought into disrepute by the accused). Precisely this problem contributed to the collapse of the King's Squatting case a few months ago.

We now read that the police in Leicestershire are prowling round schools to pick up truants. If any other group of adults tried it on prowling round schools, they'd be lynched.

Telegraph story link (needs registration)

King's discplinary case

SRCF Tooth-to-Tail

2003-03-25

A fact insufficiently often remarked upon is the "tooth-to-tail" ratio of the SRCF, and that anyone ever thinks about it. Briefly "tooth-to-tail" refers to a particular type of overheads: how much it costs to make a sale (e.g., there are advertising costs, calculating a quote for some services work may involve substantial expenditure, processing invoices takes time, etc).

When we were building the SRCF, there was an explicit goal of minimising the amount of effort required to add new users. What we did was gather together the various sources of information we had about the membership: the financial records, the system's password file, and the mailing list, and centralise them in one place. The cost of this operation was a lot of time investigating the archaeology of the SRCF's financial records and building scripts to manage the newly established database, but the payoff was a massive reduction in the amount of effort expended in respect of gaining each additional new member. There's no way the SRCF could have increased eightfold in size under the tyrannical Keegan-Busuttil administration had these transaction costs been much higher.

Nowadays the system is so efficient that some question why the system administrators need to be involved in user account creation at all; certainly CUSU is moving in that direction.