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Ahoy There Pirates!

February 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Yes, this means you, you, and yes, you too. The only people exempt are those that can honestly claim to have had no contact with computing, Internet and mobile technologies, (and live under a rock for good measure), but even so I think they’d still struggle to prove their innocence on charges of file sharing.


Luckily the burden of proof usually lies with an injured party, or litigant, as is currently the case with the prosecution team in the ongoing Pirate Bay Trial in Sweden. This trial, in case you have been residing underground, was launched against the operators of Pirate Bay, (an online BitTorrent tracker website), who stand accused of contributory copyright infringement. If found guilty, the four defendants could each face a two-year jail term, and six-figure fines, just for starters. The case has attracted great public interest and media coverage over the possible outcome and implication for the global content industry (and for the unwashed hordes of ye olde file-sharing pirates & parasites. Arrrr!)

This is an interesting one to watch, if only for the unfolding drama, (I bet someone has already cornered the film rights), on which you can find further coverage here. The highlights, apart from this trial being the hottest ticket in town, include:

  • Defendants remain defiant and upbeat – you can even catch them on your favourite Web 2.0 channel e.g.: Twitter / Blogs / YouTube, etc.
  • Prosecution drops some charges – i.e. for outright copy-based infringement, but have retained the charges related to makingfiles available to the public
  • The IFPI website got hacked – Although the defendants have pleaded against such activities
  • Prosecution alters charges – apparently in a bid to ensure conviction
  • IFPI president has his day in court – and squarely blames Pirate Bay, and similar services, for damaging the music industry

I can’t wait to see which way the dice will fall on this trial, which just replays the never-ending and titanic struggle between the old and the new in their efforts to win hearts and minds.

Finally, and on a similar theme, a major ISP in Ireland has agreed to block users from accessing music swapping websites, at the instigation of the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA). Interestingly enough, this might well prove to be a more effective method for reducing casual piracy than the Pirate Bay trial. However, it also opens up a whole new battle ground between ISPs and their customers, as the latter might very well decide to change providers, and / or raise a huge stink about some violation-of-human-rights or other. Watch this space.

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Note: Originally posted on Capgemini’s Technology blog.  You can see the original post, including comments, at: http://www.capgemini.com/technology-blog/2009/02/ahoy_there_pirates.php

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About the Economy, Piracy, Privacy (and Facebook’s Face-ache)

February 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Last week was certainly hectic in the ever-dramatic world of online digital content and personal privacy. Highlights include some events in London; the ongoing Pirate Bay trial; and a major about-face for Facebook. So where to begin…?

A week is a long time in politics, and digital content, (so much so that I’ll be proposing a name change for this blog to better reflect its breadth of coverage, but more on that later). Below are just a few of the stuff that went down last week

1. Events galore – Some rather interesting events took place last week in London, and I was fortunate enough to attend the following:

  • First Tuesday at the British Library (Tuesday 17th) – This focused on how to raise money for new ventures even in a recession. Founder and VC, Julie Meyer, spelled it out to attendees in a live interview by FT’s enterprise correspondent, Jonathan Moules.
  • Computer Hacking at BCS London (Wednesday 18th) – In this sold out event, SANS security expert, Jess Garcia, broke down the latest trends in computer hacking and the implications to individuals and businesses.
  • Broadcast Video Expo at Earls Court (Thursday 19th) – ETV’s Adrian Swift noted, in his conference session on emerging media, that the path to the future lay in adopting hybrid models which combine the strengths of both existing and emerging media to reach the target audience.
  • Power of Personal Information at BCS London (Thursday 19th) – In this excellent event, Tom Ilube (Founder & CEO of Garlik), painted a stark picture of just how vulnerable people are with respect to personal information. He encouraged everyone to exercise their rights by making “Subject Access Requests” for all personal information held by organisations with which they have / had some relationship (e.g. energy, telecoms, travel and even the grocery stores with loyalty card schemes)

2. The Pirate Bay trial begins (and IFPI website got hacked) – To some, this is about “piracy on trial”, with promise of major global repercussions, but it is probably more a rerun of the age-old struggle between old & new: mindsets / cultures / business models (i.e. transition & change in general). This one is still ongoing, but it hasn’t disappointed with the expected drama. Check out Wired’s blog for regular updates on the trial.

3. Facebook’s about-face – This is now old news / so yesterday, but one major point of interest is how users can make a very rapid and visible difference to web2.0 services like Facebook. To be fair, Facebook now has a track record for responsiveness (remember the Beacon affair?), but perhaps they really should stop trying to annoy their users in the first place, but what do I know?

4. The ISP’s Dilemma – My latest article, published in last week’s edition of Computing magazine, looks at the potential impact of Digital Britain on UK ISPs

So there you have it, an eventful week indeed. As mentioned previously, I hope to rename this blog to something more in line with its topical coverage of current / emerging trends in content protection, copyright and personal privacy. DRM Blog is just so…, *ahem*, restrictive, so watch this space, and any suggestions are welcome.

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Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.

The ISP Dilemma (adapted)

February 11, 2009 Leave a comment

It seems of late that Internet Service Providers (i.e. ISPs) are facing some very difficult choices that could either completely change their business models at best, and / or undermine their ability to operate as independent, viable business entities at worst.


The biggest challenge by far is around the growing perception of ISPs as de-facto gatekeepers of the Internet, which effectively adds another layer of complexity to their traditional / core business. As a result, not only do ISPs have to deal with existing non-trivial issues (e.g. declining markets, convergent evolution via multi-play business models, and issues around increasing broadband / bandwidth consumption), they also have to contend with the fact that:

  • Content owners want ISPs to play a more central role in preventing, detecting, monitoring and punishing illegal file sharing (e.g. via schemes like the infamous three strikes proposal).
  • The Digital Britain interim report has called for the creation of a UK Rights Agency (to be funded by ISP Levy) that will monitor the activities of suspected copyright infringers.
  • There are also signs of lack of trust by ISP customers over service quality / charges, and potential invasion of privacy

These all add up to a severe headache for ISPs, both now and in the future, therefore some of the options they might want to consider in dealing with these challenges, includes:

  • Reduce costs – E.g. via opt-in targeted advertising schemes to help subsidise the cost of service (perhaps even extending to “free” access)
  • Stronger industry self regulation – Not easy to do, but would benefit the entire industry, and help address the pressure from content owners
  • Maximise network use / value – Invest in better ways to track, monitor and control network traffic, in order to deliver better quality of service, promote fair use, and support law enforcement
  • Partner with content owners – To explore new and more flexible content business models. E.g. a recent survey found that music fans actually prefer ISPs as their music supplier over others
  • Embrace innovations – E.g. IPv6 (or Internet 2.0), should help resolve the looming threat of insufficient IP addresses, and deliver improved quality of service.

Regardless of which options, (or combinations thereof), are considered, it is advisable for ISPs to bear the following three points in mind:

  1. Do not alienate or irritate the customer – protecting the customer relationship and keeping their trust will be key to future success
  2. Resist excessive external pressures – Content owners need ISPs as much as ISPs need them, and perhaps even more so.
  3. Take the initiative – ISPs should be more proactive in creating customer-pleasing, regulator-friendly propositions and business models (perhaps by working closely with content owners)

In conclusion, although there is no easy way to prevent what is ultimately likely to be the natural evolution of the Internet, ISPs need to understand that these current challenges also provide great opportunities to evolve and embrace their critical niche in the emerging digital access / content ecosystem.

Disclosure: The above is an adaptation of a soon-to-be-published article, by this author, in Computing magazine.

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Note: Originally posted on Capgemini’s Technology blog.  You can see the original post, including comments, at: http://www.capgemini.com/technology-blog/2009/02/the_isp_dilemma_adapted.php

So Just How Much Privacy Do You Really Have / Need Online?

February 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Sounds like one of those trick questions, but like with so many things the answer really depends on your point of view, (and perhaps on what you can get in exchange for said privacy). The real question I think ought to be: “what is your privacy really worth to you”?

Last month saw the BCS launch of a new book on privacy called “Virtual Shadows” by Karen Lawrence Oqvist. This event included a talk, by the author, on the topic of privacy and the information age, and it provided much food for thought / discussion for the attendees. Some key messages include:

  • Vast amounts of your personal information are already available online, (e.g. from your Internet activities, transactions and interactions, as well as participation in Web 2.0 social networking), so get over the idea of any online privacy by default. My favourite quote: “…remember that anything posted online becomes public immediately and remains in cyberspace indefinitely”
  • Government databases and other such repositories of personal information hold a lot of sensitive data about individuals, but the manner in which it is collected and used may also be eroding some individual rights to privacy. (Read more in this recent article by The Register)
  • Children are particularly at risk from commercial and other forms of exploitation. Period.
  • There’s still no such thing as free: especially for some of the “free” online services which typically work by offering something of value (e.g. content / search results / social network) in exchange for your personal information (e.g.: age / sex / location / income / online habits) or attention to adverts.

It is patently obvious that the ways in which we perceive and use personal data is changing very rapidly; because where typically an individual might expect to have some claim on personal privacy, (perhaps even as a fundamental human right), the signs point towards a future where such quaint notions of privacy might well end-up a historical artifact in our relentless march towards information nirvana. Why else do we have inane reality TV shows for every topic under the sun, and moon? Aren’t we really trying to de-sensitize ourselves to a future where lack-of-privacy is the norm? The online / mobile social networking services are slowly evolving into minutiae-based, stream-of-life feeds that, in extreme form, could effectively strip away any semblance of individual privacy. This in itself is not necessarily an issue, as long as people are allowed the power / means to manage (but not necessarily control) their own private information. The real battle remains over which party should have overall control of personal information: is it the individual, the service provider / counterparty, or a third party (e.g. government or even employers)?

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Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.