Archive for December, 2009

R18+ Games and Internet Censorship

R18+ Games and Internet Censorship

The Federal Government has decided to go ahead with Internet Censorship in Australia. At much the same time, the Government has also announced an intention to consult on whether an R18+ classification should be introduced for video games.  I would guess that these two are related, because the absence of an R18+ classification means that (to quote from the AG’s discussion paper on the R18+ classification):

Computer games that are unsuitable for a minor to see must be classified Refused Classification (RC).

Which would mean that a non trivial number of computer games available overseas would be classified RC in Australia (anything which would exceed an MA 15+ rating), so accessing them (or to websites selling them) will presumably become illegal (?)

It seems like an R18+ classification for games is already a done deal because its absence would cause terrible trouble for the proposed internet censorship regime.  Or maybe this is just co-incidence and access to your overseas computer game store might be suddenly cut off just before the next election.

Rene comments on a mailing list (click link for full email):

However, I don't agree with your conclusion that:
	"It seems like an R18+ classification for games is already a done deal 
because its absence would cause terrible trouble for the proposed internet 
censorship regime." 

Imo, it is not a done deal because there is no way SA A-G Atkinson is going 
to agree to R18+ for games just because the Cth wants to introduce 
mandatory blocking. 

More Busybox Suits

More Busybox Suits

Received an email from the SFLC today.  It seems that Best Buy, Samsung, Westinghouse, JVC and Western Digital are all defendants to a busybox based lawsuit initiated through the SFLC.  Complaint is here.

Probably buying another MiniDV Camcorder

Probably buying another MiniDV Camcorder

A while ago I wrote about the death of my last camcorder, and that I was wondering what to replace it with.  With Christmas impending I am going out and getting a replacement – most likely the Canon HV 40.  This is a high definition camcorder which uses MiniDV as its media.  MiniDV is now extremely rare in consumer level camcorders.  However, MiniDV seem to be standard in high end video recording, so there is likely a fair degree of life left in the medium yet.   It seemed the most likely to be appropriate for long term storage of the original medium – with some people suggesting unused Flash memory may go “off” after comparatively short (36 months) periods of non-use.

There is another factor, which is that the compression used for other formats (AHCHD – an implementation of H.264)  is much more aggressive (albeit smarter).  It is also apparently much more closed, with editing tools only having become available in the last year or so.  Aggressive, closed compression makes me nervous that if anything goes wrong with part of the file/medium, a disproportionate amount of the recording may be lost.   I am also concerned that the recording format may be unreadable after a time (eg 10 years, and that I won’t realise until after it’s too late).

Unfortunately, HDV also uses compression (MPEG-2).  However, this is much more well known and more widely implemented, being used for DVDs.   Further, the camcorder outputs through a hardware interface, and I have more faith in that interface being continued to be supported long term – compare HDD and flash drive storage in which raw data is transferred over USB, or potentially by the flash drive being inserted into the computer.  My point being that the data transfer in these later cases is abstracted as a generic data transfer over a generic interface, rather than an output of audio/video over an interface designed for it.

I guess finally there is also the issue of failure modes.  In some cases compressed files and/or filesystems can fail catastrophically, with the whole, or a large part of the medium being rendered unreadable.  I felt Mini-DVs were not likely to suffer this failure mode (although I have had a tape not record because a problem with the transport…)

I am leaning towards HD rather than SD, on the assumption that more definition is by definition better and that  processing HD will only be painful for the immediate future.  I may end up investing in lots of HDD storage though…

Westpac = Bananas?

Westpac = Bananas?

Apparently scarred by recent criticism of its decision to lift its interest rates by more than the Reserve Bank has, Westpac has apparently sent a video to its customers by email. This seems to me to be bananas from a security perspective.  Surely you don’t want to condition your customers to open videos sent to you by email from someone purporting to  be you?

Record Company Piracy = $6bn Losses

Record Company Piracy = $6bn Losses

How ironic.  Major record companies in Canada are facing a lawsuit for copyright infringement.  Apparently, these companies have a long standing practice of including songs on compilation CDs without paying the authors for doing so.  So, Michael Geist is helping them sue CRIA in Canada.   The record companies have successfully lobbied for excessive copyright damages to be enshrined in legislation.  Now they are potentially on the receiving end of them – at $20,000 per song for 300,000 songs, gives $6e9 (ie $6 billion Canadian dollars).  To use their (incorrect) rhetoric, they have ‘stolen’ this money from artists.   Presumably the cut and thrust of this sort of action would result in the parties reaching a settlement for a sum substantially less than this.  It will be interesting to see whether record companies argue that the full amount of such penalty damages should only be awarded for individual file sharers who do not profit from their infringement and not in the case of the organised infringement for profit that they have apparently been engaging in.   That would qualify them as unethical, as the essence of ethics is to not make an exception of yourself.

Further, of course, if there were any justice, then the Attorney General should be bringing criminal actions against them, since commercial infringement for profit typically brings with it criminal sanctions.  I suspect this won’t happen either.  Should the State pursue individuals at the record company’s behest, but fail to prosecute them in worse circumstances, that would be corruption.   What happens in Canada will determine whether or not widespread cynicism about copyright is justified.

No Cost Too Great for Copyright

No Cost Too Great for Copyright,

Brendan Scott

How timely.  Soon after my post on confirmation bias in copyright came two examples of it in action.

First, the Coshocton Tribune reports that, a public service wifi system has been shut down because a single (unidentified) person  is accused of illegally downloading a single movie over it.  According to the report, the service had apparently been put in place five years ago and provided free wireless Internet access in the city block around the local courthouse.  Further, Sony Pictures sent an infringement allegation to the ISP running the service, who on forwarded it to the county.  The county decided to shut the service down as a result.   The report does not disclose whether the county just took Sony’s word for it, or whether the infringement was proven with any degree of rigor.  Second, CNet reports that a pub in the UK was ‘fined’ £8,000 (probably a settlement rather than a fine as the article refers to it as a civil action) because someone downloaded copyright material over the pub’s open WiFi network.

The whole issue here is one of the climate of fear which the legislature (aided somewhat by the courts) have created around copyright and copyright infringement.   This climate of fear creates extreme risks for honest, law abiding citizens who find themselves in a copyright dispute.   In theory, Sony ought to have had to prove: that copyright subsisted in the movie, that the copyright was held by Sony, that Sony had not granted an exclusive right over the copyright, that the movie was copied, that copying was an infringement.  What happens in practice is that people receive one of these notices and realize that because the legislature has vastly inflated the consequences of copyright infringement that they must err exceedingly on the side of caution.  Presumably that happened in this case, with the county shutting down a wi-fi network which served up to 100 people a day during its peak times.

There is a ‘solution’ – acquire a filtering solution for $3000 ish up front, and $1000 ish per year.  These sorts of costs are prohibitive in the context of a small initiative like that in Coshocton.  Morover, they add nothing to the service – indeed, they put a drag on the service by requiring traffic to pass through the filter.   This lost innovation is an enormous cost to the community in order to protect a $20 movie.  The provision of a free Internet wi-fi service is a valuable local innovation.  It provided a substantial contribution to the administration of justice (police parked nearby and filed incident reports over it) and to commerce (with vendors using the network for processing payments during festival times).   It is just the sort of local innovation by the aggregation and propagation of which our society advances.  Once you start imposing such large costs on innovation, you cut its throat.  You also destroy the benefits which flow from it.  Outcomes such as these may well spell the death of open WiFi for example, yet no one mentions this category of cost when discussing taking further rights from citizens under the copyright law.

Of course, we should also ask whether this corresponds in any reasonable manner with our ordinary everyday lives.  Imagine for example, if someone unidentified got off a bus outside some department store, went in, shoplifted and then left.  The store, analogously to Sony here, could well send a letter to the bus company complaining about authorising the shoplifting.  They have, after all, clearly provided the means for the person to access the material which was taken.  The bus company could easily put in place measures to prevent this sort of thing happening.  They could easily prevent known shoplifters from riding on the bus, for example.  What’s stopping the drivers from having a list of faces in the cabin?  Or from having a face recognition system?  Or requiring the use of electronic tickets which uniquely identify the passengers? Passengers could be required to wear clothing with few, small pockets. Sure, these things may be a little expensive, but we’re talking about stealing here – don’t you care about property rights?

None of these things are impractical in the sense that a bus operator could implement them if they had to.  The only question would be the cost, and the inconvenience that would be involved.  In the real world we give credence to the costs which we impose on innocent third parties even when they are carriers of or faciliators of law breakers.  Indeed, I don’t believe people would change their view even if the store had repeatedly been the subject of shoplifting by passengers of the bus company, or if the store had told the bus company about the shoplifting and/or the possibility of the shoplifting by its customers.  Despite the fact that connecting the bus operator with the shoplifting done by a passenger would be considered by many to be, well, frankly insane, courts have been particularly willing to engage in a form of cognitive dissonance and think it completely rational to make this connection as between ISPs and their customers.

Presumably courts are more willing to ping ISPs because they are perceived as having more capacity than a bus company to control the actions of their passengers, but this is an illusion.  A bus company has much the same ability to control its passengers, as an ISP does its users.  The difference however is that courts respect the rights of passengers, but don’t respect the rights of users.  The bus company’s passengers have a right not to be subject to a demeaning search by the bus company and courts are happy to respect that right.  However, courts do not afford the same respect to passengers when the fire up their internet browser.  They ought to.

Liberals = Right Wing Extremists?

Liberals = Right Wing Extremists?

That’s how the Labor party is going to be smearing the liberals from here to the next election.  The SMH is reporting that Tony Abbott has won the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Update: I posted this at 10 am and hopped in the car at 10:30 – “extremist” was one of the first things I heard Penny Wong say in parliament, I heard her repeat the phrase an hour or so later on my way back.

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