Archive for December, 2010

Announcing Brendan’s Online Comparison Engine

Fed up with the absence of a decent diff engine I’ve started working on my own.  And it’s available through a web interface.  It does a decent job on even long (200 pages) documents, with no sync failures … at least none I’ve found so far :)

The engine has been designed to work with odt files and pdfs, but it at the moment the interface only works for web pages (and text extracts which are pasted in).  Comparison times are relatively slow (compare gpl to agpl takes about 8 seconds), but hopefully that can be improved with a bit of effort.  As I usually don’t care about format, no effort has been expended in preserving formatting.

Click here for the technology preview site

Try comparing:

Old URL:

New URL:

To see the difference between the gpl and the agpl.


CableGate shows Copyright as The Emporer’s New Clothes

CableGate shows Copyright as The Emporer’s New Clothes

As I mentioned earlier, the copyright lobby has been evolving information dissemination over the past 15 years or so off the back of expanded copyright law (expanded and propagated largely by the US Congress and State Department respectively).  The underlying premise of this legislation is (hopefully) not that it is solely an avenue for a medieval display of vengeance against individuals, but, rather, that the expansion of legal sanctions through the copyright law will (or at least can in theory) have the effect in practice of reducing the distribution of information.

Many people have commented that this outlook is out of touch with reality.  “Have they not heard about the Streisand Effect?” might go the argument. “Oh no,” comes the reply, “sure we might have a problem now, but that’s only because the Copyright Act isn’t ‘strong’ enough.  Financiers need more ‘protection’, that’s all.  Just make it illegal to decrypt our content, or make third parties liable for infringement or have customs strip search travelers at the border for us, then we’ll win the ‘war’ on piracy”  The beauty of this argument is that no matter what is put into the Act, you can always ask for something even more extreme next time. “Oh, that wasn’t enough, we need even more ‘protection’.” Well, that argument now will seem a little ridiculous, even to those who would have earlier politely suspended their disbelief.  Cablegate will be where the rubber hits the road as a very practical demonstration that it doesn’t matter how much power you have, you really, truly can’t control information.  In its wake who will be able to take seriously the proposition that copyright law will have the effect of reducing distribution?*

While Cablegate is yet to play out in its entirety, with the recent release of 500 700 (and growing) mirrors of the Wikileaks website, and the nuclear option of an encrypted unredacted tarball seeded to torrentland only the most hardened government would not give serious thought to throwing in the towel.  The coming weeks will tell.

In the course of a week an astounding array of extra-judicial force has been brought against Wikileaks with mind boggling swiftness:

  • they were kicked from Amazon
  • then kicked from their French hosting provider
  • then their paypal account was suspended
  • their mastercard payments have been stopped
  • their Swiss bank accounts have been suspended
  • Ecuador offered them asylum, then withdrew the offer (join the dots)
  • they were DDOSed
  • their domain name was revoked
  • a dead arrest warrant against their public face has been revived and re-issued
  • they’ve had death threats made against them and their legal team

This is a response truly worthy of shock and of our awe.  It is raw power being put to work, largely extra-legally.**  No court ordered Wikileaks off Amazon, it chose to kick them, albeit likely based on comments by US Senator Joe Lieberman and others and possibly by a tap on the shoulder from someone in the Executive.  The exercise of this power has been extremely effective, remarkably quick and unburdened by judicial oversight – it is the sort of response a copyright ideologue dreams of.***

How can anyone take the copyright proposition seriously anymore?  This is raw power, exercised by not just any old government, but by a very motivated Superpower – and one which is aided by other governments large and small who also have a joint interest is keeping diplomatic cables secret.  If this raw power can’t contain this information how could copyright holders backed only by a Copyright Act possibly do so?  How is it possible to argue for extensions to the Act other than on the basis of vengeance?


* This issue is independent of the view you take of the wisdom or advisability of the Cablegate leaks and, indeed, on whether Wikileaks itself survives.  I am taking some licence here in assuming that control of the cables will ultimately be unsuccessful.

**  The exception being being the Interpol warrant.  Hopefully you’ll forgive the assumption that this power is being exercised by the US Government.

*** As an aside, this form of exercise of power is one of the criticisms of communism in that a government which controls the economy can, if it choses, deny a livelihood to those out of political favour.

Apparently Someone Didn’t Get the Memo

Apparently Someone Didn’t Get the Memo


…  The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they’re being made, and whether their interests are being well served.

… For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.

To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand. But the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it. The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable. And I expect members of my administration not simply to live up to the letter but also the spirit of this law.

I will also hold myself as President to a new standard of openness. Going forward, anytime the American people want to know something that I or a former President wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the Attorney General and the White House Counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution.

Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.

Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know. And that’s why, as of today, I’m directing members of my administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans — scientists and civic leaders, educators and entrepreneurs — because the way to solve the problem of our time is — the way to solve the problems of our time, as one nation, is by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives.

The executive orders and directives I’m issuing today will not by themselves make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be. And they do not go as far as we need to go towards restoring accountability and fiscal restraint in Washington. But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country. And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people in the days and weeks, months and years to come. That’s a pretty good place to start.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Hat tip to Stephen Loosley

CableGate, Copyright Expansionism and Stopping to Think

CableGate, Copyright Expansionism and Stopping to Think

I wonder whether it has occurred to the US Government that copyright is the reason it is so hard to shut off the cablegate cables.  Not directly, indirectly through technology evolution in response to regulatory change.  Ever since the mid 90s the copyright industry has had the practical effect of energetically evolving new and better means of disseminating information.  Had the US Government not been so extreme in relation to copyright there would never have been the need for peer to peer services to emerge or to evolve in the decentralised manner they have (nor the pool of [angry enough, tech savvy enough] young people who resent them).

Through cablegate the US government also now appears to be responsible for evolving a competing p2p DNS system which will also be outside their control.

I wonder if it occurs to them to stop to think…

See also:

CableGate shows Copyright as The Emporer’s New Clothes

The Unexpected Benefits of a Hung Parliament

The Unexpected Benefits of a Hung Parliament

11:18 Bob Brown issues press release saying “Assange’s rights should be upheld: Brown”. I can’t confirm reports that Andrew Wilkie has said something similar  [- ah, here it is Radio National Breakfast this morning: “But I think what’s a bit more alarming for me is the way the Australian Government has been so quick to come to the support of the United States at the expense of an Australian citizen who’s not doing anything illegal.“]

12:16 ABC News posts a story saying that “[Attorney-General Robert] McClelland says Assange, who says he has been “abandoned” by Australia, is “entitled” to come home and could also obtain consular assistance overseas.”


Not Your Father’s Civil Society

Not Your Father’s Civil Society

Astounding reactions to Cablegate, summed up by some commentators:

Daniel Ellsberg (leaker of Pentagon Papers) is boycotting Amazon;

Supreme irony as Russian Newspaper пра̑вда (“pravda” = truth), which during the cold war seen as the mouthpiece of the politburo, lectures the US on the importance of freedom of speech.

Reporters without Borders condemns the attacks on Wikileaks:This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency.

Local boy Richard Ackland criticises it as well. What precisely is so damaging if citizens know some of the truth? If they know that there was a secret arrangement between US and British officials to subvert the plan to ban cluster bombs…

In the US public servants are being warned off reading the cables – ie one part of the executive is telling another part of the executive not to read publicly available (albeit still potentially classified) documents.  More bizarrely, university students are also being warned not to read the cablegate leaks for fear of never getting a job in the US bureaucracy. Note to bureaucrats: the reason it is classified is to keep it from foreign [you know, not US] interests, not your own citizens who, all other things being equal, have a right to complete transparency of what their agents (ie you) do on their behalf.  Further hint: if you want this memo to be of any value you need to send it to foreign public servants/nationals.

Republican Ron Paul talking sense on calls for special legislation to permit the prosecution of Wikileaks: “In a free society we’re supposed to know the truth,” Paul said. “In a society where truth becomes treason, then we’re in big trouble. And now, people who are revealing the truth are getting into trouble for it.”

I think perhaps the  most important quote is that from Hamid Dabashi (via CNN):

“When the ideals and aspirations of liberal democracies were conceived by the founding fathers of the Enlightenment — predicated on the American and French revolutions — the lives of ordinary citizens were supposed to be private and the operation of the state apparatus transparent.

Over the centuries, liberal democracies have, in effect, reversed that order. Today, the lives of individual citizens are subject to systematic state surveillance, while the states conduct their business in exceedingly secretive, if not dangerous, language and manners they have code-named “diplomacy.””

We are fast becoming a society in which the end justifies the means, where principles and individual freedoms are being suspended in favour of the interest of some group or other. This ain’t your father’s civil society anymore – действительно, мои товарищи.

William Patry: Copyright Wars

William Patry: Copyright Wars

About a month ago (on November 5 this year) I ordered four books from Amazon, including William Patry’s “Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars”.

About an hour and a half ago I was in Borders at the Macquarie Centre and saw some of the books I had ordered.  Had I bought them from Borders it would have cost me maybe 2 or 3 times the price I paid.

About half an hour ago I got home and found my books had arrived.

About ten minutes ago I had a look at Mr Patry’s – well, to be frank, I just skipped to the conclusion:

“The Copyright Wars must be understood as archetypal responses of businesses that are inherently non-innovative and that rely on the innovation of others to succeed.  I cannot think of  a single significant innovation in either the creation or distribution of works of authorship that owes its origins to the copyright industries.  Being forced to rely on others’ innovatoin creates a great sense of insecurity that is reflected in efforts to control innovators and consumers…

In other areas where a government monopoly… is blatantly abused over a long period of time, it is taken away.” @198-199


Oracle v SAP: Where are the Feds?

Oracle v SAP: Where are the Feds?

Throughout the news are many reports of a record damages award against SAP in a copyright lawsuit brought by Oracle (see also).  It stands to reason therefore that the infringements in question were done on a commercial scale.  However, nowhere can I find any mention of criminal charges being brought.  If copyright infringement is such an important issue to the US economy why haven’t law enforcement authorities brought charges based on this finding?

Is it just my ignorance?  Have charges been laid already?

Note here: I’m not talking about an (per Ellison) ‘“industrial espionage scheme” to steal Oracle software‘.  Rather, criminal copyright infringement.  There is speculation about charges, and that the DOJ has had “an interest in the case” since 2007 – but it is not clear whether they refer to unauthorised access or copyright infringement.  Apparently the DOJ are neither confirming nor denying.

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