Month: August 2006

Free music

I’m always reading about people being threatened with legal action by the record industry, particularly in America and it always annoys me. Fine, downloading music that you’re not supposed to be is illegal and it’s fair enough that the industry is trying to make a point but they never seem to be interested in offering a decent alternative. The question that is at the heart of the problem is why pay for something when you can get it for free?

There are plenty of reasons why I might pay for something even when I can get it for free. These include wanting to support the company/individual who produced the item, wanting to get guaranteed support when you need it (in the case of software) or because getting it for free is too much hassle. The last of these applies most in the case of stealing items or going to the effort to finding workarounds to protection.

But the deciding factor why I might download music rather than pay for it would be that the music I download is good quality, fast to get and I can play it anywhere. If I paid and downloaded a track from the market leader, iTunes, I would be restricted by the DRM and my MP3 player might not even play the track (although I do actually have an iPod). The record industry cites reasons for not downloading is viruses and poor quality, but that is not the case – everyone should have anti virus software and the music from places like Allofmp3 is at least encoded at 128kbps. I pay to use Allofmp3 but it is very quick, easy and they have a brilliant back catelogue of everything I could ever want.

What’s the solution then? The industry needs to offer a comparable free service that can make it worth me using for extra services with added value than P2P or Bit Torrent. Or they need to provide a paid service that provides those extras that I might want to buy – bonus tracks, videos, interviews i.e. content that I can’t get anywhere else.

The first option seems like a good one but how do they make money from providing tracks for free? What about advertising? How many websites do you pay to use? And by “use” I mean read content from…Very few, if any. So how do they make money? Advertising. But not just any advertising – very specific context sensistive advertising. I have clicked on adverts before that are relevant to the content I’m viewing. This is where Google have made their money with their search and website advert services.

Considering the number of (clever) people in the music industry, it has taken a long time for a service like this to appear. And even when it has, it is not from any of the major labels…although the BBC reports that it is now being backed by Universal. Great! A free service that I can download music from. I would be happy to use that and might even click the ads because they will be relevant.

Unfortunately Spiral Frog will be US & Canada only when it launches in December.

Until then I shall stick to Allofmp3 and buying the albums of a select few favourite bands.

 

The Law vs. The People #1

Here’s a scenario: I’m a normal person and I want to save as much money as possible. Especially since I’m a student – I’m not a solicitor charging £stupid just yet. A new album has come out from one of the bands I like, but not enough to warrant paying £15 or so for the actual disk. I can also use a computer and I know about Bit Torrent. What do I do? Or more importantly, what do I want to do?

Of course I want to launch my Bit Torrent client, browse for the album and then wait an hour whilst it downloads. There are no viruses because I have protection. The quality is just as good as if I had bought it. The only thing I do not have is the satisfaction of adding the case to my collection shelf. What have I lost? Nothing really.

But I have just broken the law.

Is that fair? No, of course it’s not fair but then hard luck – life isn’t fair. What I should be asking is why is the law like that in this case? I don’t like that particular law. It doesn’t benefit me in any way. Laws that make it illegal to murder or steal are important and might affect me. They definitely affect someone every day.

Yet the law still exists. It exists not to protect me. Not even to protect the majority of the population. Not even to protect MPs. But to protect a small number of artists; or more likely their record label. They want to get as much money as possible from poor students like myself to fund their fancy hats and their fancy chairs. And when it comes to the USA, they even go after dead people!

Maybe laws should only exist if they benefit the majority of the populatation.

Woah. Hold on. That’s not a good idea at all. How many people fall foul of the law that prevents you from having sexual relations with an animal? Very few. Should it still be illegal. Yes. It’s sick. And if anything it protects animals.

Ok, so what about laws that only exist to generate vast amounts of revenue for huge faceless corporations. Nobody likes them do they? Well, may be…but people work for them. They need money to go on holiday just like the rest of us. And since the companies are based in the UK (or at least get taxed to some extent in the UK) they do help you indirectly because the tax revenue goes back into state services.

Hmm. The record companies can be real bastards at times when they should be trying to convince people that it’s worth spending £15 on an new album rather than suing them. But dispite this, the law is there for a reason. It might not help you now. It might not help you ever. But it will help someone at some point. And so it should. That law is there for a reason – to get as much money from you as possible to protect helpless artists from the evils of internet downloading.

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UK Patent Office sets the example

Unlike it’s US and European counterparts, the UK Patent Office is pretty good when it comes to following it’s own rules. Ok, I didn’t mean that about the USPO. They are legally allowed to patent software and computer implemented inventions unlike the EPO which just ignores that fact that software cannot be patented and grants them anyway. But I digress.

Today, Out-Law reports that:

Sony cannot patent inventions in the UK that remove the anonymity of the peer-to-peer user experience and put social networking at the heart of file-sharing. The Patent Office ruled last week that the inventions are not eligible for patents

This is good because it means that the UK yet again sets an example for the rest of the world showing how computer implemented inventions really should not be patented. When it comes to software it is important for competition and innovation that patent protection is not allowed because as we have seen in the USA, software patents are far too general.

The key is that an idea should have an inventive step that requires (or required) effort to achieve. Normal patents, say for a mechanical device, are different because it might be a unique way of doing something – and as such that should be protected by patent (because metal parts cannot be copyrighted). But when it comes to software patents to get the same kind of thing you would have to describe how the code works to such an extent you might as well just copyright it.

So we can logically and reasonably say that copyright is sufficient. Why are so many people saying this yet EU parliament members continue to ignore the people it will affect most? Oh yes, they’re being “sponsored” by companies who want the patents. Silly me. I throught the MEPs were supposed to represent my views. I guess I’m not paying them enough. Or at all.

 

To Google (not a vb.)

Google is a great company. They provide excellent services, mostly for free, and despite being huge with vast amounts of money they still manage to maintain a sense of humour even when it comes to protecting their brand:

When Washington Post reported that “Google” had entered the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, it observed that the word has become a descriptor for its sector. Google wrote that it must avoid “genericide” and provided a list of appropriate and inappropriate uses of its name.

Among its examples was this appropriate use: “I ran a Google search to check out that guy from the party”; and this inappropriate use: “I googled that hottie”

The Out-Law article I took the above quote from provides an interesting editorial on one of my favourite areas of law – internet/computer related intellectual property law. The internet has changed a lot of things and IP law is one aspect of law that has had to change quite drastically.

The risk for Google is that it ceases to become a brand altogether. If it becomes generic, the brand can be struck from the register of trade marks, leaving the owner without rights. This has happened before: escalator, aspirin, pogo, gramophone and linoleum were once registered trade marks that became victims of genericide.

One case that comes to mind is the fight over sex.com. This domain was stolen from it’s owner due to a con man tricking Network Solutions, the .com domain registrations agency. A lengthy legal battle ensued and to cut a very long story short, the law was changed to recognise a domain name as an object of property that can be sold and that can have value. A great deal of value in the case of sex.com.

Old people complain

An interesting story appeared today whereby people who had phoned or texted Big Brother to vote out certain contestants complained because those contestants were brought back into the show.

The majority of the complainants believe that they have been misled as they were under the impression that they had voted to evict the contestants permanently

said ICSTIS in the statement.

I’m not sure where these complainants stand legally because when you make a phone call are you actually entering into a binding contract of service with the provider? What if, as in this case, the provider is acting on behalf of someone else? Is it then the providers responsibility to ensure that their client acts correctly?

We all know that only people who have nothing better to do send complaints to TV companies. And people who have nothing better to do are usually old people who are at home watching TV all day. Just like those who complain about Jeremey Clarkson’s comments on Top Gear or Have I Got News For You. Really. Get a sense of humour. Luckily for them they have E4 and can watch people making fools of themselves 24 hours a day on Big Brother. They don’t even need to get up out of the comfy chair. They can sleep when the contestants do – makes it more interactive.

But really, 2500 complaints?! I didn’t know that many people actually watched Big Brother.

 

Statute Law Database

I’m proud to be British. It is my opinion that we are the best country in the world and have some of the best organisations running the country (don’t confuse this with my liking of the current Labour government) with some of the best services available to ordinary citizens. For example as an internet user in the UK you have a vast amount of information available at your fingertips. Should you wish to, via the government or other organisation websites you can:

  • Book your driving theory and practical tests online and change them as you wish
  • Check car MOT certificate validity
  • Initiate a small claims proceeding, track and manage it
  • Watch and listen (live) to any event in Parliament
  • Keep track of what your MP is saying, what their voting record is and write to them for free
  • Look up details for any public company and get financial records about them
  • Pay any parking fines
  • Renew your library books

And the list goes on. Fair enough, the sites might not be standardised and there are some problems, but that is to be expected with such large systems. Improvement will come with time.

The one thing that is more difficult to do is find out about specific laws and legislation. There are lots of guides and leaflets that can be printed off, ordered and read online for different things such as company law, health and safety and traffic law, but the actual text of the legislatation itself is more difficult to find.

As a law student the law library is a very useful place to find this information, but it is more often than not in book form and when citing sources it would be a lot easier to provide a URL than a book name and page number. It is also easier to copy/paste small sections from a website to back up certain points in an essay.

Hansard, DCA and HMSO provide a useful resource on their respective websites but the documents tend to be scattered around and in a non-standard format. What would be useful is a single database that could be searched and kept up to date with the very latest documents.

Enter the Statute Law Database.

This has been in development and testing for some time and it is only now that it is finally getting ready for public use. I have obtained an account for the Phase 3 testing which will give me access to the database near the end of September to provide my feedback into what I expect will be a valuable resource for students, practicing lawyers and the general public.

Like any government service this has to provide a return to the Treasury and seeing as it is most likely to have cost a considerable amount to create, I will be interested to see how they recoup their costs. I can imagine a detailed search system like is provided with the Census available only to paying users but a “skimming” service to perform basic search available to everyone. I can also see a subscription model for businesses and universities who would want continual access.

What actually happens remains to be seen but you can be sure that if I am allowed to, I shall provide information about the service here once I get access. I bet that I’ll be one of few students who do have access and I intend to use that my advantage.

 

Wilbur Parry

Mr Bumble once said:

the law is an ass

What he really meant was

the law is an amazing subject that is infititely interesting and fun to study

and he’d be right. I think….

Moving on, I’m Wilbur, I’m 6’1″ tall, have brown eyes, slightly long, messy, black hair and I’m studying Law (LL.B.) at an undisclosed university in the UK.

There are plenty of blogs online that discuss the law and what’s going on within it. I thought it’d be fun to jump onto that bandwagon and do the same. Unfortunately after I got on it turned out that there weren’t any seats and seeing as I don’t really like standing, I decided to get off and buy a huge stagecoach with horses.

Several months later and at a cost of hundreds of thousands of yen, I present to you Law andstuff. The idea behind this blog is to provide an interesting view of the law, the study of the law, life as a law student and other irrelevant stuff. It will provide me with an excuse to write about the subject I’m studying in an uncensored and unrestricted manner and so my aim is try to add some humour to what can sometimes be a dry topic and provide opinion wherever I can stir up some controversy.

Should you wish to contact me, my e-mail is wilbur at lawandstuff.net

And so there you have it. This is Law andstuff. And I’m Wilbur.