Just a PUR pack of BS !

Coincidentally, as the report on Internet policy by Frank La Rue is just out, expressing “deep concerns” about “graduated response” and disconnecting users from the Internet (explicitly referring to France HADOPI and UK Digital Economy Act 2010), France is launching another communication campaign with a set of Pathetic clips going live this month and la new Label called “PUR” standing for “Promotion des Usages Responsables” (promotion of responsible uses).

I just don’t get it! Not only has the campaign cost over 3 M € for communicating on a law that is increasingly being recognized as going against a fundamental human right, but much worse : this is a deceptive message playing on negativity instead of the initially planed positive communication as pointed out by Numerama.

Several fun remixed deviated PUR labels have already appeared, check them out on Google Images among the original ones. Some are really creative!

There is urgency in addressing these global issues in a responsible and sustainable way.

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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 :

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)

Global Cacophony reigns over Three-Strikes Graduated Response

One step forward, two steps back. That’s the curent situation leading to a global cacophony on the Three-strikes issue.

Under the pressure of (among others) an EU parliament resolution (633 favorable votes, 13 against and 16 abstensions) to open the secret negotiations on the ACTA treaty, the text of a public draft was released April 21, 2010. Unfortunately the document doesn’t reflect individual countries positions (refering to square bracketed options in the texte). Interestingly, the April 16 press release following the Wellington 8th round ACTA negotiations explicitely mentions no governement will mandate a “gaduated response” or “three-strikes”:

” […] While the participants recognise the importance of responding effectively to the challenge of Internet piracy, they confirmed that no participant is proposing to require governments to mandate a ‘graduated response’ or ‘three strikes’ approach to copyright infringement on the Internet. […] ”

While this is good news in one sense, I cannot refrain from juxtaposing it to the growing body of countries enacting laws and ruling exactly in the opposit direction. In addition to France (HADOPI) we now have Great Britain who has rushed its Digital Economy Bill receiving royal assent (podcast here). Recently, Ireland has ruled in favor of such approaches dismissing concerns of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.

My point here is simple: this whole issue is going nowhere! Given the amount of controversy and the conflicting approaches and interests, it should be a clear sign that the legal Three-strikes approach is doomed no matter how it’s put. Internet access is globally recognized as a public good and as such its access is becoming a fundamental right. Whatever laws are or might be enacted in this direction are bound to be technically innapplicable. Last but not least, such laws being essentially territorial will innevitably lead to offshoring services in countries not having similar provisions or simply put in the cloud providing the services through encrypted channels.

So how do we move forward in a sustainable way ? Education to have people (kids and adults alike) understand that digital doesn’t necessarly mean free. If something has value for someone it’s probably because it’s creator is trying to make a living out of it and therefore deserves some form of compensation or credit. New business models making piracy not worth the effort over legit alternatives. And a bit of technology to get rid of the deceptive user experience thus reinstating the user in his role and rights. By all means : Deceptive laws won’t do the job! We need to pull ourselves together and have a real public debat about this, including in the loop espeially the Users AND public policies as a guiding framework for the greater good.

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