Posts Tagged 'policy'

2011: The Year of the Linux Desktop

2011 is the Year of the Linux Desktop

Hah! Not really.  I’ve been reading two posts, the first by Robert Strohmeyer, the second by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.  Both raise arguments about Linux on the Desktop and both point to mobile computing as being the future.

Ever since Android has come out I have assumed the growth path of Linux (and the ultimate strategy of Google) will be Android on phones -> Android on desktops.  My take on the Netbook episode is that, where customers returned Linux netbooks they returned them because they were unfamiliar.  With Android now in everyone’s pocket they won’t bat an eyelid at Android powered tablets (which I doubt were in Google’s game plan, but given that Android is open, others are  now able to fill that void), then Android netbooks and laptops and finally desktops.  With penetration of Android will come mobile developers and with them will come a large application suite.  Those applications will automatically run on an Android desktop.

On the mobile side of the world, I can’t see a mobile device replacing my desktop anytime soon.  However I wouldn’t be averse to a high level of integration between my mobile device and my desktop.   Indeed, as a user, and particularly as an IT Manager, I will probably see the benefit of having a consistent user interface across all my devices.  For this to happen either my mobile device could become Windows or my desktop could become Android.   I think the latter will be the easier transition, given that it is easier to move from an interface designed to cope with device limitations to a more capable device than to move in the other direction.    It is for this reason that I think it’s too early to write off Linux on the Desktop (LotD for Dohn Joe’s benefit ;-) [1].

The LotD Play is not one which anyone is used to.  There is no company betting it as a make or break decision, and even if there is (Canonical?), if they are broken, they are just part of the ecosystem, others will take their place.  That is to say, there is no lynchpin in the LotD ecosystem, without which it will fail.  This is what makes it different to the other operating system plays which have been out there.  If the guiding company couldn’t make its profit targets or satisfy its shareholders/investors/bank managers, it was curtains for the company, and by extension the technology.  Not so  LotD.  Like Obi Wan, should Vader strike it down, it will only become more powerful than he can possibly imagine (Linux on netbooks, for example, has become Android on phones, and need anyone forget the SCO debacle?).   If any LotD player falters others can take their place.  Moreover, they can take the benefit of the work already done and do not have to reinvent the wheel.

Finally, I think that another of the main difficulties faced by LotD is the lack of a level playing field.  The world over, legislatures (and history will judge them harshly for this) have been happy to pass laws which make people fearful of sharing.  Equally, governments have been particularly biased against open source offerings, although that bias is typically implicit in that they fail to implement open standards, or require open source to work within a procurement framework designed for closed source acquisitions.  Despite these obstacles the ecosystem which has the Linux kernel at its center continues to grow.  Governments are slowly removing bias from their procurement practices (some as a result of the pain of the GFC), and more and more agencies are independently implementing open source solutions.   LotD is the logical endpoint.

As I have argued elsewhere, I think there is a shift in the undercurrent which is pushing computing towards LotD.  I wouldn’t write it off now.  I wouldn’t write it off ever.

[Update (1 Nov): Overheard in a coffee shop this morning:

P1 (on phone, but to P2): What’s it called?

P2 (Beside P1): “HCC Desire”

P1 (to caller): “HCC Desire.  H… C… C…”

P2 (getting HTC Desire out of pocket): “Oh, H Tee C”

P1 (to caller): “Sorry, H Tee C – T for Tom.  It’s like an iPhone only better.  Can you get one? Ta.”


1. Although after watching 10 years of such predictions I am wary of saying it will happen in the immediate future.

Words in Copyright Act vs Time

Words in Copyright Act vs Time

I have run some numbers on how the size of the (Australian) Copyright Act has changed over the past century or so.  With one exception, these numbers were generated automatically from electronic versions of the legislation.   Before counting the words I stripped out the table of contents and everything from “The Schedule” on.  This is because a bigger Act automatically means a larger table of contents and an older Act means more notes about when sections came into force, were repealed etc.  The one exception is the Copyright Act of 1905, a word count for which was estimated by manually counting words on 3 pages, generating an average per page and multiplying by the number of pages. There are a couple of versions of the Act from between 1905 and the 1970s which are not plotted (as I don’t have access to a full copy of them) but everything I could find from 1970 on is there.

The Statute of Anne (1709) has about 2,500 words in it.  It took roughly 200 years to reach 7,500 (in our 1905 Act).  For your reference, the NSW Conveyancing Act 1919 No6 (which actually does deal with property) has about 82,000 words (ie about the number of words added to the Copyright Act in the last 10 years).  We might speculate whether there will be enough paper in the world to even print the Act in 20 years’ time.

Here is the period from 1992

And, for a laugh, the BSAA reported piracy rate (from the annual reports produced by IDC etc) overlaid.  I would not want to endorse the BSAA numbers as they don’t seem to me to be well founded and any variation in them can easily be explained by changes in IDC’s sampling procedures/calculation methods.  In addition, they are advocacy documents so need to be taken with a grain of salt.

It is hard to see any relationship between the amount of legislation and the reported rate of piracy (which seems to be in a long term, albeit slow, decline).  To the extent there is a relationship, the reported rate seems to lead changes in legislation.

Enemies of the People

Enemies of the People

James Purser has beat me to the punch on a story about copyright ideologues recommending that Indonesia be put on a Special 301 watch list for recommending the use of open source software.  The Guardian is reporting that the following representations were made:

“The Indonesian government’s policy… simply weakens the software industry and undermines its long-term competitiveness by creating an artificial preference for companies offering open source software and related services, even as it denies many legitimate companies access to the government market.

Rather than fostering a system that will allow users to benefit from the best solution available in the market, irrespective of the development model, it encourages a mindset that does not give due consideration to the value to intellectual creations.

As such, it fails to build respect for intellectual property rights and also limits the ability of government or public-sector customers (e.g., State-owned enterprise) to choose the best solutions.

The “special 301” procedure is a mechanism by which (essentially) the US imposes trade sanctions on countries if they think those countries don’t give sufficient monopoly rights to US companies.  In a sense the representation is laughable in that open source licenses are creatures of copyright.  If you don’t have copyright, you don’t have open source.  This is copyright ideology run amok.  Unfortunately, legislative and regulatory frameworks exist in a twilight zone where reality and common sense have no part to play.  Legislators and the executive, need to get the ideology of monopoly out of the heads and return us to the path of free enterprise and democracy – things to which the copyright lobby is implacably opposed.

The obvious observation here is that they clearly don’t respect the copyright owners of open source software, nor how they choose to deal with their rights.

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. 

Copyright and Confirmation Bias

Copyright and Confirmation Bias

Brendan Scott

see also: No Cost Too Great for Copyright

An old (2005) post about Napster was recently brought to my attention.   In it, Don Dodge, a former VP of product development at Napster  maps out what happened to the company, how they pleaded with the music industry to provide a better solution to them (which was more or less reinvented/reimplemented many years later by iTunes) and how the music industry had put itself in such a position as to be literally unable to act in its own best interests, or the interests of its artists.    Dodge estimates, based on internal Napster research, that Napster could have generated $3 billion per year for the industry, with minimal overhead.

I talk to people at copyright conferences and they will make some observation such as copyright has managed to support specific identified individuals and therefore it’s a good thing (most recently it was specific teachers whose retirement was funded by their textbook sales).   However, to rely on this sort of evidence in policy making is basic bad practice.  It seeks out only the evidence which supports the proposition, when it should be critically analysing it.  A proper analysis would look at how many people paid more than they ought to have for a book, and whether some people went without because the cost was too high.  Moreover, it would look at the also-rans who devoted much time to writing a textbook only to have it fail in the market.  It would look at the books which were substandard and were not improved because of copyright restrictions.  For every success there are orders of magnitude more failures.  Proper policy would be more circumspect in trying to entice, through the incentive of copyright, the unwary into the market.

Copyright costs the community.  That cost is never factored into any copyright policy – at least, so far as I have been able to tell.  Most recently, the prohibition on parallel importing of books is an obvious example.  The Productivity Commission put out a report which set out, in bare, incontrovertible terms, the damage that this particular aspect of copyright does to the community.  After a long period of merciless lobbying the proposals to remove the anti-consumer restrictions on parallel importing have been defeated (ironically, the report was criticised for being considered analysis, it was even expanded to cover some of the criticisms of it).

Copyright, and IP policy in general seems to exist in a twilight zone in which reality is not permitted to reach.   Copyright holders have express exemptions to the Trade Practices Act that property owners can only dream of.   They are funded by the government to lobby for more copyright and then, of course, use their monopoly profits to lobby for more funding.  They are allowed to sing the benefits while policy makers fail to even seek out evidence of the costs.   Despite the concept of natural rights of copyright being expressly repudiated by parliament and judiciary they are allowed to persist in their rhetoric of rights.  Despite the copyright monopoly having little in common with property, they continue to talk as if it does.

In the case of Napster, the copyright monopoly seems to have delayed the innovation we now call iTunes by a good part of a decade, and diddled musicians out of billions of dollars in the process, but copyright ideologues will not hear of it.

[Update: Professor Alan Fels (the former head of the Competition and Consumer Commission) is quoted as being critical of the parallel import decision:

Professor Fels said the decision to explicitly reject a recommendation of the Productivity Commission meant that ”every time one of our more than 10 million book readers visit a bookshop and pay more for books, the Government will be and should be held responsible”.

CAL’s 06-07 Annual Report

CAL’s 06-07 Annual Report

Russel Coker has published an article referencing some copyright related posts.  In passing he noted that the Copyright Agency Limited apparently doesn’t pay you distributions if your entitlement is below a certain threshhold.  His article prompted me to finish a blog post I had been meaning to do for some time – an analysis of one of CAL’s annual reports.   Every year CAL produces an annual report on their activities through the year (unfortunately CAL appears to have removed their 06-07 report from their website, so you’ll need to get a hard copy if you want to cross check these figures).  I thought it might be an idea to have a look at one of these reports to extract some information from it.


CAL’s revenue for 06-07: $116.4 million (@13)

CAL’s net income: $98.2 million (@13)

CAL’s expenditure is $18.1 million (@19 – a more precise figure for expenditure can be calculated from the tables in the  back of the report)

cal blog - diagrams incomevexpenditure

Distributions (ie amounts paid by CAL to members etc)

Amounts distributed by CAL to members in 06-07: $134.3 million (@11).  The report states this is unusually high because of some one-off accelerated payments (@39)

Category                            Paid     %
Authors:                           $10.9m    8.12%
Publishers:                        $95.3m   70.96%
Collecting Societies (Australian):  $1.5m    1.12%
Collecting Societies (Foreign):    $26.6m   19.81%


1. Almost 20% of the amount distributed was sent to foreign collecting societies.

2. Despite comprising only 36% of members (see below), publishers have received about 71% of the total distribution.

3. Given that Australian collecting societies comprise only 1.12% of the distribution it is probably not appropriate to give them too much weight.   CAL in its report makes reference to the fact that, including indirect members, CAL represents  28,000 rights holders.  Presumably the excess over the roughly 10,000 direct members are accounted for in this 1.12% figure.

4. A minority of the distributions were paid to authors (whether Australian or foreign – even assuming all of the money sent overseas went directly to authors and not 70% to publishers as in Australia).

As a graph:

Where the Money Goes

Where the Money Goes

Comparing CAL’s Admin costs to the Amounts it Pays to Australian Author Members

From above, we know that distributions to Australian Author members was $10.9 million, and that CAL’s expenses – ie the costs it incurs in operating/administering the scheme – were $18.1 million.  As a graph:

Admin Costs exceed Payments to Australian Author Members

Admin Costs exceed Payments to Australian Author Members

Overseas Collecting Societies

As per above, $26.6 million was sent to overseas collecting societies.  In return, CAL received $1.2 million from overseas collecting societies destined for Australian authors.

As a graph:

At least twice as much money is given to overseas authors than to Australian Authors

CAL pays foreign collecting societies more than Australian authors

Receipts from Overseas v Payments to Overseas

CAL paid $26.6 million to overseas collecting societies and received $1.2 million in return (@46).

CAL Pays much more to Foreign Collecting Societies than it Receives from Them

CAL Pays much more to Foreign Collecting Societies than it Receives from Them

Average Distribution Per Publisher, Author Members

Total distributions to Publishers: $95.3 million distributed among 3698 publisher members = $25,770

Total distributions to authors: $10.9 million distributed among 6574* non-publisher members=$1,658

* Note: the report does not expressly disclose the number of author members, but it is no more than the total number of members less the number of publishers.

Distributions per Author as Percentage of Average Adult Male Earnings

Average adult male weekly earnings in May 2007: $1,221 => per year: $63,528.40

Average distribution to authors = $1,658, or about  3% of average adult male earnings.

Average distribution to publishers = $25,770 or about 41% of average adult male earnings

As a graph:

cal blog - diagrams makingalivingoffcopyright

Making a Living off Copyright:

Based on these numbers, for an author member to receive average adult male earnings from CAL distributions roughly 33 other CAL author members would need to receive nothing.

How is Membership Broken Down (@23):

Publishers 36% (ie about 3698 members)
Journalists: 26%
Academics: 11%
Visual Artists: 7%
Other Authors: 17%
Surveyors: 3%

It is not clear how other collecting societies are categorised here.

As a graph:

How CAL Membership is Broken Down

How CAL Membership is Broken Down

Release of IFOSSLR

Release of International Free and Open Source Software Law Review

Today marks the (soft) launch of a new journal dedicated to Free and Open Source Software legal issues (a “hard” launch with printed copies is happening in London on Wednesday).   The  International Free and Open Source Software Law Review is an initiative of the freedom taskforce run  by FSF Europe.   I am on the editorial panel and am also happy to take credit for initially floating the idea of having a journal.  I am also happy to praise the enormous effort that has gone into putting the law review together by the other members of the editorial committee and to the sponsors for supporting it.

There is, I think, a great need for a journal like this dedicated to free and open source software related legal issues.  At the moment, these issues remain hidden among other more generalist law journals – and are likely to be country specific.  Moroever, such articles are unlikely to be appropriately licensed.  Authors who are supportive of free and open source software are put in the ironical position of having to forego their (and their readers’) freedom if they want to publish articles on the topic.  The IFOSSLR rectifies these problems.  It will allow relevant articles to be grouped in one convenient place.  It will allow exposition of the cross-jurisdictional issues which are particularly important for communities which are by  nature multi-national.  Finally, its publication policy requires that all of the articles be openly licensed. In  general this means CC BY or BY-SA – so go download yourself a copy and share.  I expect to see it at the top on the torrents soon…

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