Apple vs FBI: A Disturbing Option (for Apple)

Although PGP is widely spread and used since 25 years, after the first, early complaints nobody heard a single hiss from the FBI and its siblings about the  IOS-like “problems”. Maybe this is because of the open source license attached to PGP that allows whoever has enough brain, power and money to find ways to crack it. In the past, for instance, the FBI has been able to crack a Truecrypt password belonging to a suspect.

To balance people rights with the needs of the investigation, Apple might just go open source or, at least, disclose to the law enforcement community the IOS source code, thus allowing the “good guys” to develop long-term tools for forensic purposes.

Of course, to Apple, this is an absolutely nonviable option, nevertheless the point stays: should a government be entitled to access each and every source code of critical software?

To put it short, the Apple vs FBI quarrel involves the role of proprietary copyright and has about nothing to do with the “we protect our customer rights” claim.

Volkswagen’s Dieselgate and The Danger of Closed Source Intellectual Property

The not uncommon practice in the ICT/Mobile business of “doctoring”products to look good on benchmarks has find its way into the automotive (and God knows into how many others) business.

Volkswagen, though, isn’t the only to blame because, true, they cheated, but no public supervising authority  ever glimpsed at the software ran by its vehicles, only focusing on “hardware” tests. And – I guess – even if the controllers would have thought of examining the software, they would have been prevented to do so by “the need of protecting Intellectual Property” that – as the “National Security Excuse” – is a buzzphrase to stop any further investigation on controversial matters.

Volkswagen’s Dieselgate shows once more that (a certain way to think of) Intellectual Property – as well of Privacy – has neatly changed its role from being a tool to protect legitimate interests into a shield for wrongdoings.

Were the Volkswagen software released under an open source licensing model, the fear of being exposed would have forced the company to play by the book and would have allowed a true and thorough check by the competent authorities, avoiding a major damage for the industry, investors, employees and citizens.


Apple Patent on File Sharing to Infringe EU Copyright Law?

After having obtained a patent on a system to control the sales of “used” digital goods, according to Apple

has been awarded a patent that would allow users to share music, video, and pictures directly with each other – without having to worry about piracy.

This patent is based on the idea that a user should be allowed to download an encrypted song from a legitimate owner and purchase a less costly license by Apple thus “squaring the circle” of the file-sharing legalization.

This patent, nevertheless, could hardly be enforceable within the EU.

The royalties of copying a digital copyrighted work are covered by the levy imposed on the blank media and storage (including those that aren’t destined to contain copyrighted stuff.) This means that once the user has purchased a USB dongle, a DVD or whatever the support, he has already paid for the right to use the digital content.

By imposing a further, though less costly, license, Apple is saving bandwidth and IT infrastructure costs turning these costs on the ISP’s shoulders and getting paid two times for the very same thing.

True, one can say that as soon as the user agrees with the license there wouldn’t be a problem. Nevertheless it is a fact that this patent clashes with the “first sale” doctrine that leaves to the user the right of re-sell, (legally) copy and (legally) lend a copyrighted work.


Apple’s New Security Policy: Just a PR Stunt?

Apple announced not to be able anymore to hack into IOS8-based devices because of its “privacy-by-design” development strategy. Thank to this choice, according to Tim Cook, quoted by The Washington Post,

it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.

Since the fantasy of both lawyers and judges knows no limit, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear, in the next future, about some claim for “contributory criminal activity” filed against Apple based on the deliberate choice of giving “unbreakable weapons” to terrorist, paedophiles and copyright infringers.

When this scenario will become real, it will be interesting to see whether Apple remains stuck into his “libertarian” position risking a trial for contempt of the court, or negotiates over its users with the powers-that-be.

Then, and only then, we will be able to check if this “privacy commitment” was a genuine attitude or just the next marketing trick.

Coca-Cola And The True Meaning Of Copyright

The new Coca-Cola marketing campaign in Italy puts on its bottles quotes from popular Italian songs. Of course this has been previously negotiated with the copyrights holders but not with the single artists that sold their song to the music label.

Technically speaking, Coca-Cola did nothing wrong and its activity is perfectly legal. But one of the featured singers, Caparezza, didn’t like his songs to be exploited the Coca-Cola way.

Under Italian Copyright Law, Caparezza and – broadly speaking – an artist have no actual protection in such case since once the tune has been sold to a music label, the musician only retains the “moral right” (mainly the right to be credited as the author, and the right to oppose any mutilation of his work.)

So the question is: whose interests copyright is supposed to take care of?

The Italian Copyright Levy To Legalize Digital Piracy?

The Italian Minister of culture, Franceschini (Democratic Party) issued the decree – effective by July 17, 2014 – that makes the copyright levy skyrocket up to 30 Euros per multimedia storage device. This levy (technically called “fair reward”) is supposed to compensate in advance the authors for the copy made by a user of a copyrighted content. Even those contents – so long, entertainment industry – shared through the Internet. But the authors who don’t belong to SIAE (the Italian Royalty Collecting Agency) will never get paid for the (ab)use of their works.

So, how is it possible that online sharing isn’t illegal? Here is the catch: nothing in the Italian Copyright Law says that the copy must come from an ORIGINAL or legally owned content. The consequence is that if I download or share something through the Internet I’m not infringing somebody else’s copyright because of the preemptive payment made through the levy.

More than legally correct, this conclusion comes from common sense: the “fair” compensation exists way before the Internet and was designed in the VCR-era to allow copyrighters to get some money from the privately made TV broadcast recording. Of course somebody who recorded a movie didn’t have a “right” over this content that allowed him to put it on a video-cassette and this is where the levy jumps in. The equation is simple: pay your fee in advance and get the right to keep your favourite show at home.

As odd as it may sounds, this equation works for the Internet too but the entertainment industry refuses to even talk about the issue, claiming that the levy is designed for legally-owned content only. While – again – there isn’t such provision clearly stated in the law, this statement is counterintuitive since is a fact that as soon as a content is stored on a levy-burdened media, the author compensation’s has already been paid.

Instead of complaining, the entertainment industry should be happy of this unjust levy because it gets money from a huge quantity of Terabytes used for backups, business continuity and private storage that don’t contain copyrighted works and that – nevertheless – are still burdened by the “fair” compensation.

The only that have the right to complain are all the unknown authors whose works (music, words, pictures) are routinely abused (not only) on the Internet and that will never get their share of “fair” reward. Yes, because all the monies we pay fall into the SIAE  that shares the cuts among its members.

Is this “fair” reward actually so?


The Italian Data Protection Authority to start a code reviewing investigation

Better late then ever: a press release from the Italian Data Protection Authority  advertises the data-protection oriented review of a certain number of apps.

This initiative should be a major concern for the (yet unaware) software industry, whose intellectual and industrial property might be endangered by a deep peep into its well protected secrets. Neither are clear the criteria that will lead to the app selection, nor whether or not the DPA will asks the developers for source code access.

Unless this IDPA investigation is just an empty PR stunt, it should be carried on by accessing the source code or reverse-engineering the executables: but doing so without signing NDAs and/or provide guarantees of non exploitation is an approach that the industry will likely reject.

Furthermore, if the software check will target only a certain kind of companies, leaving the other players of the same market safe from the scrutiny, this might be held as an unfair alteration of the market dynamics. And things might be much worse if the targeted companies are the smallest one, instead of the big fishes in the pond.

Mind, the lack of data-protection compliant programming isn’t a new or unforeseen issue – as the history of software can witness – but the IDPA never actually cared that much. For instance, it didn’t move a finger when back in 2002 ALCEI (a civil-rights Italian NGO) asked in vain the IDPA to check the claims of the existence of hidden features of a certain series of Telindus routers that posed significant threats to the users’ data protection.



Apple’s idea’s patenting pitch finding its way

Apple’s (wrong) idea of giving ideas a “patentable” status keeps finding its way into the media’s mind. Whether this is a direct consequence or a side effect of a spin doctor’s devised strategy, doesn’t change the fact the the more and more journalists fell into this trap.

The latest example is a Vanity Fair column that accounts for the Samsung vs Apple patent trial. At a certain point the columnist writes:

Bit by bit, the new model for a Samsung smartphone began to look—and function—just like the iPhone. Icons on the home screen had similarly rounded corners, size, and false depth created by a reflective shine across the image. The icon for the phone function went from being a drawing of a keypad to a virtually identical reproduction of the iPhone’s image of a handset. The bezel with the rounded corners, the glass spreading out across the entire face of the phone, the home button at the bottom—all of it almost the same.

While, from a patent infringement’s perspective, the similarities of the physical appearance between the devices have some merit, the fact that both phones shared similar or even the same functionality has none. You can’t protect a software functionality as such, because only the relevant source code can: this is clear for legal scholars, not so for the outsider of the legal community.

But this lack of knowledge helps planting into the people’s mind the seed of the “give-idea-a-patent tree”. Once grown into politician’s mind (notoriously not so versed in the legal subtleties), this tree will likely offspring a poisoned fruit in the form of some new (case) law that will finally give Apple what it aggressively looks for: power over thought.

Apple’s disturbing notion of “intellectual property”

According to MacRumors, Apple commented the favourable trial verdict in the case against Samsung by stating:

We are grateful to the jury and the court for their service,” Apple told Re/code. “Today’s ruling reinforces what courts around the world have already found: that Samsung willfully stole our ideas and copied our products. We are fighting to defend the hard work that goes into beloved products like the iPhone, which our employees devote their lives to designing and delivering for our customers.

This statement is the latest iteration of a disturbing notion of intellectual property that Apple is pushing since the days of the notorious “trashcan trial“: ideas can and must by “owned” by somebody.

Neither patent law nor copyright law say so. On the contrary they clearly state that ideas as such cannot be legally protected. Nevertheless, by planting the “our ideas have been stolen” meme Apple is trying hard to make courts stretch the letter of the law until it can be enforced to ideas as such.

I am astonished by the inertia of the rest of the ICT companies (at least those companies who relies on Open Source components to design its products) in connection with this issue. True, there are more actual and urgent matters to deal with, but on the long term when Apple will finally succeed in having a court stating that ideas as such can be “own”, then it will be too late to complain.

The Content Filtering Hysteria… again

According to the Italian online newspaper, the UN-appointed expert Frank La Rue expressed concerns about the effect of an upcoming copyright-related regulation announced by the Autorità per le comunicazioni (AGCOM an independent, State-appointed body superseding the broadcast and telco secondary regulation) on of free-speech. AGCOM is trying since longtime to enforce the French HADOPI model in Italy to “fight copyright infringements”, pushing to self-assign the power to delete copyright infringing contents available on the Internet. With a rather while understandable (from a political standpoint)  convoluted prose Mr. La Rue said what a lot of people is saying: copyright is not a “gold right” and has no title to be given  an absolute stand over free speech and the other fundamental rights. But this is only a third of the story.

Second third: since, in Italy, copyright infringements are a criminal offense, only a magistrate can order both a content’s filter or removal. By letting the AGCOM act as a parallel “prosecutor and  judge” would means to invade the attribution of the judiciary system and endanger the the “due process” principle.This is not allowed by the Constitution.

Third third: copyright doesn’t only belong to broadcast companies, music labels and movie producers. Every Internet user who publishes a photo, a movie, a song or a text has the right to not be stolen of its intellectual property. The AGCOM proposed regulation doesn’t address clearly this issue so only two options are possible: either the regulation only cares of the big companies and that would be non acceptable, or, on the contrary, will be open to protect everybody – i.e. will become useless, since there will likely be a tide of claim.

The end of the story is that, whatever the power belonging to AGCOM, it can’t invade the prerogative of the Court, notwithstanding the supporting opinion received by the AGCOM from some legal scholar maybe not much familiar with the intricacies of the Italian criminal procedural code.