Last year, we noted that one of the reasons why Psy's Gangnam Style video and song had become so incredibly popular was Psy's decision not to crack down on copies at all. Instead, he's mostly celebrated the copycats and parodies, talking about how awesome they were. But, of course, once a major record label gets involved... TorrentFreak reports that Universal Music is demanding $42,000 from four mayors in Denmark who teamed up to produced a video of the four of them dancing to the song.
The mayors have said that the use is clearly parody and covered as fair use, but Universal Music argues that because they're elected officials and there's an election coming up, they have to pay. I don't see how that makes a difference at all. Even more bizarre is that Universal's calculation seems to be that they should pay four times the "normal" license of $10,500 because there's four of them. But, as the mayors point out, they just used the song once, as it's all four of them appearing in a single video. And, making matters even more ridiculous, is that Universal gave them until today to pay up... or they claim that it will be "a real action for infringement... so the amount will be completely different."
Sometimes I wonder if Universal Music and the major record labels have just given up, and now are actively trying to make themselves look as ridiculous and out of touch as possible. In the meantime, the mayors have replaced the video with another one using... um... some sort of salsa music, which just comes across as somewhat creepy and weird.
There's been a big push around the globe to ramp up data retention rules, which require various online services to keep all sorts of data on their users for a long time, just in case it's possible that law enforcement officials might need that data at some later date. That this only adds to the pile of data, and often makes it more difficult to find useful data, is never discussed. That this likely puts more people's private data at risk of being hacked or accidentally revealed is never discussed. Also, almost never discussed: whether or not such data retention laws actually help solve crimes.
Over in Denmark, we have an answer, and that answer is an emphatic no. After half a decade of having strict data retention laws, the Danish police have announced that it has not helped them find criminals. And, as predicted, having all that data has made it unwieldy for law enforcement when they actually think they need some data.
“Session logging has caused serious practical problems,” the ministry's staffers write in the report. “The implementation of session logging proved to be unusable to the police; this became clear the first time they tried to use [the data] as part of a criminal investigation.”
This seems like a pretty damning point concerning data retention. Hopefully, at the very least, this example is raised whenever any other country proposes data retention laws.
In my recent post about the fragmentation of online television, there were a few aspects and details I left out because they seemed worthy of a separate, closer look. One is the oft-forgotten fact that HBO does indeed offer one lonely digital-only subscription service... to customers in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. That program was announced last year and seemed like a promising step for the notoriously cable-dedicated HBO—but the customer feedback is coming in, and the results are not encouraging:
A list of complaints include HD content is (was?) only available on Samsung Smart TVs, meaning you were only given SD quality when streaming through your computer or any other device. Same goes for surround sound and 5.1, which are only available through the Samsung TV app. Other complaints I've heard includes buffering problems with the Widevine plugin (at standard definition), and lack of Apple Airplay support. The product is available as iOS and Android apps, but Xbox and Playstation apps are still said to be under development.
The online UI is nice to look at but was poorly designed; initially HBO only allowed you to search for TV shows by alphabetical letter. The results were underwhelming and exaggerated how little content HBO was offering.
It should be noted that you're not given access to the full back catalogue, several classics are not available such as Deadwood and Oz, which apparently have some copyright restrictions.
Some might claim it's still a good deal at €9.95/month, considering most people can't access any of these shows legally without a full cable package. Of course, Netflix only costs €7.99/month in the region, and has a larger selection, which makes the price a little less impressive. Then there's the fact that HBO initially promised much, much more:
Every episode of all HBO series available online
All new episodes available within 24 hours of the US premiere, with local subtitles (dubbing is rare in the Nordics, foreign TV shows and movies are usually subtitled in the local language)
Works on practically all devices: smartphones, tablets (Android, iOS), computers (Windows, Linux, Mac), video game consoles (PS3, Xbox), Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players, and Sonera IPTV service
Full HD 1080p picture quality
Compare that to the list of complaints, and you realize HBO isn't doing a great job of living up to the expectations it created. Then there's the other truly insane catch: customers are locked into a 12-month contract, after which they must give 3-month notice for cancellation. Yeah. Moreover, the terms stated that simply logging into the service once waives your ability to cancel it because you're not satisfied (despite using the service being the only way to know if you are satisfied). After facing significant criticism for this move, HBO backtracked and offered subscribers the chance to use the service until the end of this month without a longer commitment—but only those subscribers who also signed up for the HBO Nordic newsletter. Classy.
It's no real surprise that HBO's first attempt at a standalone online offering is a disaster. HBO approaches the internet with extreme trepidation, but revolution requires gusto. Digital distribution—especially when it comes to competing with piracy—is a go big or go home endeavor. Or... go halfway, and watch your customers go elsewhere.
Daft trademarking stories are common enough, but it's always fun to come across new variations on the theme. Netzpolitik points us to this story from Denmark, where a Spanish-owned property site called HomelifeSpain.com ran into trouble because the word "home" was trademarked in Denmark by the Danish property site home.dk. This resulted in the rather incredible remedy of the website itself being banned entirely. As Netzpolitik notes, this is classic function creep: such web blocks were introduced to fight -- you guessed it -- child pornography, and yet here they are being applied in the rather less serious matter of trademark infringement.
Moreover, it's hard to see why such a common word as "home" was allowed as a trademark in the first place. It's true it's in English, rather than Danish, but even so, trademark examiners would surely have known that granting one company an exclusive monopoly of the common English word "home" in Denmark for certain domains was bound to cause problems somewhere down the line, given the globalized nature of business today. The fact that a Spanish company is now being blocked there because of a Danish trademark granted on an English word proves the point nicely.
We take antibiotics and their ability to kill practically all bacteria for granted. But scientists are increasingly warning that we may be about to leave what might come to be seen as a golden age for anti-bacterial drugs, and enter a post-antibiotic era. As the World Health Organization’s Director-General said, quoted in an article on the Citizen Vox site:
"A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill."
The problem arises from natural selection. The more we use an antibiotic -- especially if we use it carelessly, failing to complete the full course -- the more we select for bacteria that are partially resistant to it. Over time, those bacteria thrive, displacing bacteria that are unable to withstand the antibiotic. Eventually, bacteria that are completely resistant to that particular drug are likely to evolve -- a situation that can have dire consequences. For example, even five years ago, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) was killing more people in the US annually than AIDS.
The obvious way to mitigate this problem is to reduce the use of antibiotics, saving them for truly life-threatening situations, and that's what's happening to a certain extent in Europe:
To preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for human use, Europe banned feeding antibiotics to livestock for growth promotion in 2006. In Denmark, where such use of antibiotics had been phased out more than a decade ago, drug-resistant pathogens in livestock are down while industry output is up.
As the Citizen Vox article notes, a similar proposal to restrict the use of antibiotics has not gone very far in the US, partly because an alternative approach has found far more favor, for evident reasons:
the Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now, or GAIN, Act has piggybacked into the FDA bill reauthorizing user fees for drug approval. GAIN would provide five more years of monopoly protections for new antibiotics. Already receiving three to seven years of exclusivity, some antibiotics may receive up to 10 years of protection after market approval. This measure defies both the economics and biology of antibiotic resistance.
The reason for that comes down to the nature of patents. Since they are time-limited, their owners have a natural incentive to exploit them as fully as possible during their entire term, when they can charge elevated monopoly prices. For other kinds of patents, that might be regrettable from an economic viewpoint, but it's hardly a matter of life or death. For antibiotics it's more problematic.
The more holders of patents for antibiotics seek to maximize their profits by boosting production and selling them as widely as possible, the more antibiotic resistance is likely to develop -- especially if they are given to livestock as well as humans. That growing resistance is a classic negative externality -- it's not something the pharma company needs to worry about, since the cost will come later and be borne by the general population in the form of increased medical expenses, longer stays in hospital, more serious infections and higher mortality rates.
Antibiotics are perhaps the clearest example of how the interests of patent holders are not only misaligned with those of the public, but are diametrically opposed to them in some cases. Although, in the short term, patents may encourage more antibiotics to be developed, in the long term they undermine their effectiveness. Even more than for drugs in general, antibiotics are an area where we need different kinds of incentives to stimulate development of new drugs -- government-funded prizes, perhaps.
Today, Danish Minister of Culture Uffe Elbæk announced the death of Scandinavian-flavored 3 strikes plans that would force ISPs to issue warning letters to users suspected of copyright infringement. Instead he introduces eight new initiatives aiming at "strengthening the development of legal services" and "motivating users to go for legal solutions".
While disconnection was never part of the letter model, its passage looked like a foregone conclusion thanks to heavy lobbying efforts by IFPI and friends, the so-called RightsAlliance. (Yes, the bogus numbers folks we've covered before.)
Then, governments changed, and the new Minister of Culture (who's in charge of copyright, but, curiously, has no influence over ACTA) started listening to common sense. Elbæk's eight initiatives signal a sea change and, seemingly, an end to a symbiotic relationship with the entertainment industry lobby. As an example, former Head of Copyright Office Peter Schönning left the ministry after, conveniently, implementing an EU directive in a way that made DNS blocking of The Pirate Bay possible shortly before joining IFPI as chief prosecutor - and winning the precedence-setting case. Recently, Danish ISPs were ordered to block Grooveshark.
Instead of warning letters, a "positive" information campaign will teach the Danes about "the many good possibilities to legally access music, films and books". A task force will "proactively" inform users of illegal services about alternatives in comment fields and on social networks. An informal innovation forum for new, legal business models is also planned.
"I believe this is the right way to go," says Elbæk.
Interestingly, Elbæk, in an interview earlier today, gave credit to the demonstrations against ACTA earlier this year, which, "created a polical context which made the letter model nearly impossible".
Co-founder of the Danish internet think-tank Bitbureauet and ACTA-critic Henrik Chulu says, "We're pleased about the news, but there are still problems. First of all, this cements the problematic DNS-blocking scheme already in place. Secondly, it opens up for DMCA-style notice-and-takedown procedures. As we've seen in the US this inevitably leads to abuse because it sidesteps courts and privatizes enforcement."
One of the things we've noted for years is how the debate over copyright issues is dominated by (often questionable) numbers put out by the copyright industries themselves. They get especially questionable when it comes to talking about infringement and the impact of infringement... and apparently some folks are finally calling out those who blindly repeat questionable numbers. Over in Denmark, where the battle over copyright and ACTA has been pretty fierce (Denmark has been one of the strongest ACTA supporters), a group of supporters have been called out for their bogus industry numbers... and (amazingly) they're now confessing that they used misleading numbers (and even admitting that this weakens their argument for ACTA). You can see both the Danish Trade Minister and the head of a Danish music rights organization (and famous Danish musician) Ivan Pedersen appear on a TV show below (with English subtitles). On the show, a well-informed presenter focuses on how both of these ACTA defenders claimed that 95% of music downloaded in Denmark was unauthorized, and carefully shows how that's simply false -- and then gets both of the ACTA defenders to admit that the numbers were wrong.
What really appears to have happened is that the head of the rights organization used the (already questionable) IFPI report from three years ago that 95% of all music downloads were unauthorized. That number was widely attacked at the time, but even more important, that was a global number, not a Danish specific one. Furthermore, a lot has changed in three years. The TV presenter highlights a variety of research reports that show that actual infringement is almost certainly less than 50% and potentially much lower. And much of the reason why the number is low... is the rise of authorized services.
In other words: why are these people focusing on ACTA? What works is innovation and offering more legitimate services.
And that's actually really important, because it wasn't stricter laws that made such things happen: it was the rise of good, useful and convenient authorized services that effectively competed with the infringing offerings. If anything, those updated stats should raise even more questions about why new laws are needed. Instead, we should be asking why the legacy entertainment industry continues to make it difficult for new authorized services to get off the ground -- holding them hostage with ridiculous licensing demands, as well as demands for huge equity chunks. If they let innovation flow and authorized services grow, it seems like "infringement" as a problem would shrink tremendously.
It's nice to see these two pro-ACTA folks admit that they were wrong -- and even admit that it weakens their arguments, but both still argue for ACTA. They sort of brush off the wrong figure while both admitting that it was "given" to them by normally trustworthy sources. Of course, this really raises significant questions about how much they really understand what's going on vs. how much they're simply repeating the talking points handed to them by legacy entertainment industry conglomerates.
But, still, they can't back down on their support of ACTA. Pedersen says it's still needed because of "dramatic" amounts of infringement, while the Trade Minister is even more aggressive in claiming that ACTA is still needed. She says "it's unfortunate" that she had bad information and it's "a pity" that the 95% number is so wrong because now it makes her argument look bad. That it does. But she's not willing to let go or rethink her position. She immediately jumps into the ridiculous comparison of how it's "just like" the fact that "you may not steal an orange in the supermarket." The second anyone (especially a politician) argues that making a copy of a file is the same thing as physically stealing an object from a store, it shows that they have no business taking part in such a debate, because they clearly don't understand the issues at play. She then insists that no matter what the percentage of unauthorized downloads "it's still too many." If that's the case, then why even bring up the bogus 95% issue in the first place? And if any percentage is "too many" does she support shutting off the internet? Because that's the only way you stop all unauthorized downloads (though it won't stop infringement through other means). Bizarrely, after all this, when the TV presenter confronts her about the numbers again, she says "we need to have real numbers" in the debate, and that's "very important." Indeed. Kind of tragic that she didn't bother to actually bring any to the debate, isn't it?
Reminiscent of the mooo.com screwup in the US, where Homeland Security's ICE division "accidentally" seized 84,000 sites and plastered them over with a warning graphic about how they'd been seized by the US government for child porn, the Danish police similarly "accidentally" had 8,000 legitimate sites declared as child porn sites that needed to be blocked. Among the sites listed? Google and Facebook. Visitors to those sites, from ISP Siminn were greeted with the following message (translated, of course):
The National High Tech Crime Center of the Danish National Police [NITEC], who assist in investigations into crime on the internet, has informed Siminn Denmark A/S, that the internet page which your browser has tried to get in contact with may contain material which could be regarded as child pornography...
Upon the request of The National High Tech Crime Center of the Danish National Police, Siminn Denmark A/S has blocked the access to the internet page.
And people wonder why so many people around the world were so concerned about the threat of something like SOPA -- which would make DNS blocking at the ISP level a lot more common.
So how did this "accident" happen?
According to NITEC chief Johnny Lundberg, it began when an employee at the police center decided to move from his own computer to that of a colleague.
“He sat down and was about to make an investigation, and in doing so he placed a list of legitimate sites in the wrong folder,” Lundberg explained. “Before becoming aware of the error, two ISPs retrieved the list of sites.”
It would seem that there's a problem in this process. The fact that just one employee can change the list seems wide open to abuse. And the fact that the list seems somewhat automated beyond that is even more problematic. You know what would solve this problem? A little thing called due process. What a concept.
As a bunch of you have been submitting, TorrentFreak recently had the bizarre story of a Danish law school student and legal blogger who had been writing a lot about file sharing... and then was raided by police who were told he ran a private BitTorrent tracker by the local anti-piracy organization, RettighedsAlliancen. While the guy admits he downloaded some unauthorized content, and is a member of the site in question, he had nothing to do with running it, and worries that this is really more about harassment for his blogging. Rather than denying it, the anti-piracy group seems to delight in the fact the guy has a blog where he explains to people how to be anonymous online, saying "we can see that he teaches others to break the law and conceal themselves on the net." I had no idea it was against the law to conceal yourself online...
Want just a glimpse of the future under SOPA, should that bill pass? Over in Denmark, where the local anti-piracy agency Antipiratgruppen has been successful in getting courts to order ISPs to block access to sites like The Pirate Bay, it appears the group is now targeting Grooveshark for a similar blockade. Of course, Grooveshark functions no different than YouTube functions. It obeys the DMCA and takes down content when requested. Users do upload their own music, just as they do on YouTube, and Grooveshark has done some additional licensing deals -- such as with EMI. But apparently, rather than deal with the actual law, the group in Denmark just wants Grooveshark added to the country's blacklist. Apparently, the fact that there's tons of legal music on the site is meaningless, just so long as one group declares that the site is dedicated to infringement. That, of course, is exactly what SOPA will allow as well. Make an accusation and you can totally shut down a competitive startup. In fact, some have responded to this lawsuit by noting that it came after competitor Spotify (which is owned, in part, by the labels) entered the market, suggesting that the timing of the attempted blockade is no surprise, and that's it's really more about clearing the decks for the RIAA's own offering.