Internet Access : Finally A Fundamental Human Right according to UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue

Borrowing from the phrase of Armstrong: That’s one small step for the UN, one giant leap for the Internet!

Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression released his report (22 pages well worth reading) submitted to the 17th session of the Human Rights Council on the “key trends and challenges to the right of all individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through the Internet“.

His conclusions and recommendations are clear and call for no further argument. In a nutshell : Internet Access is a fundamental human right. Now maybe we can move on with the real discussions and issues on how to creatively address some of these global problems currently hampered by ridiculous territorially bound legislations that have been hijacked by lobbies and industry led pressure groups.

So long HADOPI, ACTA, Protect IP Act, etc. Long live the Internet ! and let’s get to work, we’ve got a responsible digital society to build… Time for Responsibility 2.0 : towards A new World Order ?

ISP Internet Filtering is Illegal : EU Court of Justice Opinion

Today, Advocate General’s Opinion in the case opposing Scarlet Extended to Société belge des auteurs compositeurs et éditeurs (Sabam) sounded like freedom and (public domain) music to my ears.

“According to Advocate General Cruz Villalón, a measure ordering an internet service provider to install a system for filtering and blocking electronic communications in order to protect intellectual property rights in principle infringes fundamental rights”.

If the verdict is confirmed, this is fantastic news and a step forward in the fight to preserve privacy and freedom of information.
It is also a major signal to the entertainment industry and their lobbies that they cannot carry on trying to force into law their obsolete business models. Maybe an opportunity for them to finally consider re-thinking a few things with respect to their industry and copyright. ISP will no longer be threatened and punished for refusing to spy on their customers. Let’s see how this evolves and the reactions it will trigger.

DECE UltraViolet: Eventually solving (half of?) the digital media entertainment business

As every year CES rolls out its share of news and new products in the consumer electronics business. Among them this year one that may well represent a significant step forward in the digital media distribution and rights management business : DECE’s UltraViolet design completion and deployment roadmap.

Basically, the idea behind UltraViolet is one that’s been floating around for a long long time now but was regularly shelved or discarded due to the inability of the market actors in and across the industry to reach any form of agreement and particularly to acknowledge the essential driver in this marker : The Users and the corresponding User Experience. So, the basic idea behind UltraViolet is the cloud based digital locker for content and rights licenses (check out a promotional video for UltraViolet)

Why might it work ? Well, the answer is fairly simple : DECE (Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem) which is a cross-industry consortium of over 50 companies (and growing) committed to make UltraViolet the next generation standard for rich media experience where the users will get the flexibility and user experience they’ve been denied for over a decade now. With UltraViolet, users will be able to download, stream, share and even get copies for use on physical media, basically covering a great deal of the average user needs in terms of interoperability and user experience.

So, all this sounds like a dream come true ! BUT this might actually only address half (if not less) of the issues. The two major problems in this industry were : User Experience (technical issue) and Business Models. Solving the former through a global (more or less, Apple and Disney are missing!) technical agreement on a common file format is a good start. But the business model side remains an open issue. And history has shown the poor ability of the entertainment industry to be creative in this space.

Moreover, UltraViolet has a pretty precise idea of what a typical user or household wants, uses, needs and is. UltraViolet accounts will be limited to 12 devices, 6 people households and 3 streams in parallel. This is insane !

Finally, and not of least importance is the whole anonymity issue. This approach, allowing for massive monitoring of usage will definitely benefit every actors of the ecosystem except probably the users. Or in other words, assuming such a service cannot offer anonymity for obvious reasons, how will the commercial actors value this in the business models for the users ? There’s a difference between knowing a given movie was or is being viewed and knowing that a specifically identified person is watching this movie and knowing nothing except a piece of content was bought on a given date. These three situations require different pricing ! How much do we value the information we release knowingly or not ? Not much I must say.

For these reasons, (and don’t get me wrong I’m very excited to see how this works out) I remain cautious on the actual solution. The above mentioned issues are important and will need to be addressed and fine tuned. The digital locker is definitely the right way to go for two reasons : technical interoperability (i.e., user experience) and Green IT issues allowing to reduce the amount of storage, waist of bandwidth and energy used for shifting around the world millions of copies of the same content.

At the end of the day, given the right business model and a decent user experience, users are likely to adopt many solutions and services. iTunes remains among the most notable examples of this. Preserving anonymity, complying with personal information regulations around the world and offering the users the ability to unilaterally claim their right to do something without being bothered by technology are key properties that still drive my own research in this fascinating domain. (Comments and reactions welcome 😉 

Additional material :

France to generate exclusion, discrimination and inequality with its “Music Card”

France has just released its order behind the “music card” as the public policy to accompany the so called “legal offering measures” for its three strikes approach to copyright infringement (HADOPI).

In a nutshell, I was deeply shocked by its implementation details. Not that I actually expected much out of it (Hey, it’s HADOPI related !), but sometimes you think / hope things can’t fail 100% of the time. Well, I hate to say but it’s actually much much worse than I expected (i.e., really ugly)

Basically I have three major point :

  1. Discrimination : The card is reserved for “youngsters” aged 12 to 25. Read : if you’re below 12 you should go ahead and figure out why you don’t belong to that category and consequently look for alternative options in the darknet or eventually consider filing a complaint for abusive age discrimination (something their parents should do given their young age). Likewise, up to 25 you should feel you belong to one of four stigmatized categories of youngsters as advertised in their ridiculous communication campaign videos : Rap / Electro / Rock and a Fashion junkie. Left me speechless!
  2. Inequality : The number of cards is maxed out at 1 M units per year! France has the largest population in Europe (65 M people) out of which (sorry I don’t have the breakdown for the age category 12-25 at hand, but…) I can reasonably assume there are much more than 1 M “youngsters” concerned, and by far. Moreover apparently this will be on a first come first served basis without actual age checking (self declaration based on honor).
  3. Exclusion : at a time when we’re talking about eInclusion and how to prevent exclusion, this initiative will only serve a handful of people excluding all the others. This is particularly corrosive considering it is instrumented by governments through public policies that cost actual hard worked tax payer dollars. But they are only buying themselves some good conscience, trying to legitimate their HADOPI law.

At the end of the day, there goes 50 M€ of public money down the drain through a public policy generating potential discrimination, exclusion and inequality. What a mess ! Adding up the public money spend through the years with DADVSI, HADOPI and this latest joke / waste of public policy, I just cannot refrain thinking it would have been much better spent educating our kids at school on these issue and others related to living in the Digital Age ! This has become as important as learning to read, write and count.

No intimidation and bounty hunter justice in Switzerland : IP address is personal data

Swiss Federal Supreme Court recently (Sept. 8, 2010) ruled against Logistep AG recognizing IP addresses as personal data, therefore subject to the Data Protection Act.
This much awaited and internationally watched decision is a clear signal that companies or industry groups cannot mandate private companies to substitute themselves to justice by intimidating or acting as bounty hunters in our society.
The second important outcome of this decision is the recognition of IP addresses as being personal information falling under the Data Protection Act. This is a step forward in the protection of privacy and personal information increasingly being discussed around the world.
This however should definitely not be interpreted as Switzerland being a piracy safe haven. Nor should it be considered to mean that pirating content is legal. It only recognizes this fundamental right to privacy in the digital realm and probably that copyright needs a major rethinking on a global scale (not in the traditional territorially based approaches (e.g., HADOPI in France), nor as highly controversial international treaties (e.g., ACTA).

At the end of the day and looking at the reactions of Logistep AG and other industry actors, it is sad to see that we’re still stuck in this old debate of an industry refusing to understand the world has changed, and consequently their business, looking at the issue as an opportunity rather than a threat. Dematerialized services are here to stay. We need to embrace this with the appropriate mindset allowing to accommodate all stakeholders. We have reached the limits of traditional legal approaches to such global issues. Join the conversation…

Call for Action – let’s unite to propose a “Grassroots DRM Day”

Today, May 4th, is “The Day Against DRM”. It’s a very sad day ! While I think DRM is fundamentally flawed by design we’re still stuck in this extremism debate going nowhere anytime soon. Apple has sold its 1’000’000th (1 million) iPad last Friday, 28 days since its launch, 12 million apps downloaded and 1.5 million ebooks. Let’s face the facts, compared to the number of signatures collected against the iPad this device is rocking its world despite the DRM issues. Basically, the user experience by far outweighs the problems. I’ve written an Open Letter to DefectiveByDesign.org about this here.

So, here’s my proposition for today. It’s a call for action: let’s unite to propose a “Grassroots DRM Day“, a day to co-creatively Rethink and Redesign DRM. Drop me a note if you feel like participating (I’ll setup a page in case there’s a critical mass of people who want to take action) (See LibrePlanet Wiki)

Open Letter to DefectiveByDesign.org

Dear Fellows,

As odd as it may seem, I’m both, a member of DefectiveByDesign and a researcher in DRM. Reading the post of the second 5’000 signatures pad sent to Apple recently triggered an irresistible need to write this open letter.

About 45 days for 10’000 signatures in Internet and Social Network times, is, and I’m sorry to say, nothing to be celebrated ! Comparatively, within a couple of weeks, iPad pre orders amount to hundreds of thousands. Some estimates even consider 10’000 pre orders a day ! In my world and according to my math, this suggests the benefits outweigh by far the point your want to make, however valid it may be. The reason lies simply in two things : User Experience and a Business Model that makes sense for the average user ! They did it with the iPod, did it again with the iPhone and the iPad will be nothing shy of its predecessors.

Sure DRM is defective by design and we ought to know better when it comes to respecting hard fought for and acquired rights (fair use, home copy, first sale, etc.) But who do we owe the current situation to ? The Media Industry who has relentlessly taken hostage the technology providers and lobbied for public policies considering the Internet wasn’t something they should consider in the evolution of their business.

So be it, but in the meantime we’re now stuck with totally bogus laws emerging around the world with Three Strikes progressive response approaches which needless to say are technically inapplicable as demonstrated by many researchers in the field.

So, what do we do ? We continue to fight along the extremes with DRM abolitionists (by analogy to Lessigs’ Internet cheerleaders) VS copyright freaks (MPAA / RIAA / ACTA / HADOPI, Digital Economy Bill and others around the world) who want to place a Digital Decency Probe in every home ? Decency as in “Thou Shalt Not Enjoy Thy Media Experience”. Imposing already useless monitoring and deep packet inspection through ISPs ? What’s next, a Global Registrar of false positives banned from the Internet ? We’ll soon all need to file for Internet asylum somewhere, waiting for the Internet to die from suffocation, strangled by too many incompatible territorial laws trying to regulate an inherently global media.

I’m sorry to say but we’re all going south with this ! Is this the information society we want our kids to inherit ? Definitely not, and we need to act before it’s too late. Larry Lessig in a recent talk at the Italian parliament has brilliantly pictured the situation arguing about the evil of the Extremes, challenging each and everyone of us to some humility when it comes to regulations (regulatory humility).

So, dear Fellows, this letter is by no means an attempt at saying you don’t have a point and I’m grateful to see activism does exist here too. But I urge you to bring the debate to a level where everyone can humbly participate in co-creative redesign of DRM outside the corrosive extremes. In doing so, I would suspect we would be able to gather orders of magnitude more signatures to more effectively counterbalance things that don’t make sense.

Hoping you won’t sack me from your database for this, I kindly urge you to join the conversation towards what one might nowadays call socially responsible design !

Jean-Henry Morin