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 Repubblica.it, 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.

 

Street Photography, Right to be Alone and the Challenge of the Reasonable Privacy Expectation

Question: what does  street-photography has in common with Google’s indictment in the Mosley suit?

Answer: both challenge the balance between reasonable privacy expectation and the right to be informed.

There is a widespread attitude acknowledged by some European courts – namely, Italy and France – that grants legal protection to this alleged “right to be forgotten”. This is a rather dangerous attitude because following this path leads to the deletion of the collective memory of a culture: if Catilina were alive today, he would have had merit in asking his conspiracy to be deleted by the chronicle. Agreed, not everybody is a Catilina – or a public person whatsoever – but there is a shared principle in Western legal systems that separates what is public and what ought to be private. As soon as something falls in the former, there is not – or  there shouldn’t be – a reason to delete the information of its existence.

To provide an example of the absurdity of the enforcement of this alleged “right to be forgotten” on the freedom of (online) press I can quote a fact I’ve witnessed in person, professionaly. An online magazine has been targeted by a threatening letter from a law firm, asking to remove from its server an article talking about an acquittal – yes, acquittal – of a Mr. Somebody. The basis of the claim is not a falsity or an exaggeration – that would have been illegal, indeed – but the simple fact that this Mr. Somebody “didn’t like the news to be online.” Only the future will tell whether this case will end in settling new censorship’s standards, or if the Justice – once and if the issue will be taken in Court – will decide in favour of the freedom.

As per the relevant case law, after a couple of lower court decision that enforced this “right to be forgotten”, a Supreme Court decision ruled that there is no such thing as “right to be forgotten” when freedom of press is involved and the news is correct. The concerned person, nevertheless, has the right to ask the online newspaper to update the original news in case of some further development of the story.

With a rather unusual sense of balancement – when dealing with the Internet – the Supreme Court issued a reasonable decision that should stop any further attempt of erasing the History.

 

Net-neutrality, Trojan Horses

In Italy the Codice delle comunicazioni elettroniche legally bind ISPs to guarantee the functionality and security of the network (both from a physical and logical perspective). This means that if traffic shaping is needed to handle traffic overload this can be done with no specific provision.
Every proposal of nailing down traffic shaping options is a trojan horse because – for instance – copyright lobbies might whistleblow that P2P is creating an international emergency thus forcing ISPs to violate the net neutrality “for security sake”.

On Apple’s Adobe Flash Ban(g)

So, according to MacRumors, Apple’s explanation for the ban over Adobe’s Flash-to-Iphone compiler is deadly simple: Apple doesn’t want to loose its grip on the users. They invested monies in creating product, capturing a market and now want to raise fences to prevent other eating on theyr own dish (or, better, hunting in the same hunt-resort.

Adobe’s supporters – on their side –  shout fire accusing Apple of being unfair, etc. etc. etc. …

Well, I might agree with those criticism against Apple, were the accusation coming from the open source community (where Mac OsX is supposed to come from?) but honestly I can’t accept that an hyper-proprietary company such Adobe (member of Business Software Alliance, among other things) might complain against a business strategy that is entirely into the “mood” of this industry sector. This is the market, catch-it or leave-it.

This is not to say that I do like or approve Apple behaviour.

Preventing user from having multiple choices, liberty in other words, is by definition an unfair move. I think Apple should learn from Google, whose “power” stays firmly in users’ hands.

One may think that this is wrong too. Maybe, but between a leaving in a golden cage (as soon as you can afford it) or be free in the wild I would go for the latter.

Italian Antitrust to storm on Google News?

Yesterday  the Italian headline news announced that the Italian Antitrust, following  claims by FIEG (Federazione Italiana Editori e Giornali – Italian Federation of Publishers and Journals), opened an investigation against Google, “charged” with discriminating against those publishers who had denied the availability of their content in Google’s News platform.

As I’ve pointed out in an interview by ANSA, this claim seems to stand on very weak legs.

As first, people use Google simply because it works. As soon as a (not necessarily new) search engine will prove to be more efficient, people quickly discharge Google.

Secondly: Google is not, by far, the only search engine to provide news search. People are not affected by a “locked-in syndrome” like in the operating system field: in other words, nobody has put a gun on the users’ temples to use Google.

Thirdly: the Internet economy is based on a quid pro quo, and the search engine sector doesn’t behave any differently. Publishers have contents, Google the technologies to make these contents available. If they join forces, publishers get traffic (i.e.: advertising), Google its part of the cake. If they don’t, they loose traffic and advertising revenues. That’s the Internet, honey!

Fourthly, let’s admit – for the sake of the discussion – that Google actually does what it is charged with. So what? As soon as the law is abided, Google is a private company, and the only people who can complain about its business strategies are the shareholders. I don’t see any reason whatsoever to force Google to look for specific content.

A final note: this situation is a typical demonstration of how “innovation” is “awarded” in Italy by the content industry. Instead of trying to unleash the power of new tools, the reaction of the traditional powers is to break it. It happened with software, it happened with music and video, and now with the Internet.

The Pirate Bay war. Does something changes for ISP’s liability?

The new episode of the Pirate Bay war leads to think that something is changing in judges’ mind in re: ISP liability. In the recent Swedish preliminary order neither is the final user the final target of a legal action, nor the ISP. The focus is on the sole and only possible defendant: the one who actually shares illicit contents (apart from the merit of the specific TPB case.) The ISP who provided the housing service for TPB torrent search engine has been ordered to “disconnect” the machine from the network and not, as in the previous episodes, to hijack users’ attempts to reach The Pirate Bay.

It is important to remark that in this trial the ISP is not involved as (contributory) defendant, but only as subject whose cooperation is – de facto – necessary to obtain the compliance to a court order. Thus, we face a situation where:

  • rights of innocent end users are not endangered by the activity of the copyright majors,
  • ISP’s role is not portrayed as those of an accomplish, supporter, or contributory violator,
  • the target of the legal action is focused on the (alleged) culprit.

Again, I don’t want to enter in the legal quarrel about TPB responsibility. What I want to stress is that – should the Swedish approach be confirmed – a step toward and actual respect of legal principles set by dir. 31/00/CE is made.

Corporate liability for copyright infringements in Italy?

Among the measures to fight the economic crisis announced by the Italian Government, sect. 15 para 1 lett. c) of the Anti-Crisis decree deserves a special mention: to put it short, the provision asserts corporate liability (under legislative decree 231/01)  for copyright infringement committed by top management.

Although it may seems that the new law is of a little impact on corporate life (is highly unlikely that a top manager has time to waste doing file sharing) a second glance prove this first opinion not entirely correct.

The inclusion of copyright infringements into the list of crimes implying specific corporate liability forces a company to revise its (mandatory) prevention model to reflect new changes; thus – de facto – establishing a specific set of controls aimed at downloads, website surfing and file sharing. Failing to do so might lead some zealous prosecutor to think that the company actually allows copyright abuses.

A side effect of this regulation – when it will come into full force – is that workplace privacy will get another heavy blow. For the sake of copyright abuse prevention, indeed, all of employees’ Internet activity will be deeply inspected.

So long, Mr. Data Protection Commissioner…

Why “Olivennes Bill” wouldn’t work in Italy

Olivennes Bill” (named after the French lobbyist who proposed it) on copyright protection has been blocked by the French Parliament a couple of days ago (but there is little doubt that French Government will try to have it approved ASAP.) If  (better, when) passed, this bill would have enforced a “parallel indictemnt system” handled by an “independent” authority called HADOPI acting as an actual Justice Court, that is given the power to decide, without a fair trial, whether a person deserves to be disconnetted by the Internet after being warned twice by copyright holder through the concerned Internet Access Provider.

Entertainment Industry lobbyists like this approach very much and are pushing hard to have Italy enforce it too. “The Problem” is – fortunately – that Olivennes Bill Italian version’s  would be affected by serious legal and Constitutional flaws, thus making it impossible to pass, for a number of reasons.

First, Italian Code of electronic communication (L.259/03) sect. 4 para I letters f) g) and h) make network neutrality mandatory. To impose over Access Providers’  shoulder filtering duties or any other technological activity limiting the way Italian Public Network (rete pubblica di comunicazioni) works, would be what the Code calls “discrimination among specific technologies” and “forcing the use of a particular technology against others”.

Second, the Access Providers would be forced to report the Public Authorities their users’ criminal behaviour by fault of cross-combination between legislative decree 70/2003 1 and sect. 171 bis et al. of Law 633/41. 2 Legislative Decree 70/2003, in fact, makes Access Provider non-automatically accountable for its users’ actions, provided that he doesn’t willingly become part of it. Furthermore, the Decree says that the Access Provider must report to the police forces any criminal misconducts as soon as he’s been given sound evidence of a criminal behaviour committed by an Internet user, thus forcing the prosecutor to start a criminal investigation. All this, is possible because Italian Copyright infringement provisions are “designed” to be mandatory investigated by the Public Prosecutor. 3Then, should Italy enforces an Olivennes-like legislation, there would be a “double trial” for the same (alleged) fact: the first – real – under a Court scrutiny, the second – “mock” – run by an “independent” authority, leading to a conflict of public powers.

Third, as a side question, nobody told Mr. Olivennes that his bill is oddly similar to ancient Western Europe Barbarian laws, where didn’t matter who the actual culprit was, because the victim had the right to retaliate against any other culprit’s family member. This is what Mr. Olivennes proposes: to seclude a whole family or company from the Internet, for the (alleged) wrongdoing of a single member.

Not bad, as an exercise on democracy.

  1. enforcing EU directive 31/00 on e-commerce and access/content providers online liability
  2. Italian Copyright Law
  3. Italian Penal Code contains two “kind” of crimes: the first one is composed by very serious misconducts such as homicide and money laundering – to name a few – that must be investigated no matter if the victim ask for it. Second one is composed of serious crimes too, whose investigation begininnig is in victim’s own hands. In other words, if the victim of a theft doesn’t ask the public prosecutor to start investigating the crime, nothing happens, even if a policeman or a magistrate knows that the fact actually happened.

Italy to ban on-line anonimyty?

A contribution for ALCEI.ORG
There is a disturbing, arising trend in Italy, of former showpersons now MPs of Berlusconi’s party to propose free speech and anonimity regulation “to protect minors” (but fact shows that they’re mostly concerned of copyright.)
Between January and March 2009 Luca Barbareschi (actor) and Gabriella Carlucci (anchor woman), proposed two draft laws whose declared intent was to enforce copyright protection by shutting down civil liberties.
To be clear:
Mr. Barbareschi’s Proposal is aimed at create a “single point of cultural control” by granting the Italian State backed royalty collecting agency, the role of exclusive gateway between artists and market. Furthermore, Mr. Barbareschi’s draft law contains so loose statements about ISPs liability that the Government is allowed to do
basically whatever he wants.
– More dangerous, if possible, is Mrs. Carlucci draft law that wants to ban anonymity from the Net, refusing even to consider intermediate forms such as “protected anonymity” (where the ISP act as trusted third party).
Mrs. Carlucci want to establish a committee under the Communication Authority with power of interpreting Internet-related law (in Italy, only magistrates and the Parliament is supposed to), receiving “confidential notice” of infringement, acting as Alternative Dispute Resolution provider, counseling magistrates about the enforcement of preemptive activities ruled under rule of evidence code, like searches and seizure, termporary jail rescrition etc.)
If approved, these (draft) laws will cause the concentration of power in goverrment’s hands, by weakening the possibility (or the right) to defend ourselves in Court.
Another step toward the ethical state?