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Posts Tagged ‘Piracy’

Ahoy There Pirates!

February 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Yes, this means you, you, and yes, you too. The only people exempt are those that can honestly claim to have had no contact with computing, Internet and mobile technologies, (and live under a rock for good measure), but even so I think they’d still struggle to prove their innocence on charges of file sharing.


Luckily the burden of proof usually lies with an injured party, or litigant, as is currently the case with the prosecution team in the ongoing Pirate Bay Trial in Sweden. This trial, in case you have been residing underground, was launched against the operators of Pirate Bay, (an online BitTorrent tracker website), who stand accused of contributory copyright infringement. If found guilty, the four defendants could each face a two-year jail term, and six-figure fines, just for starters. The case has attracted great public interest and media coverage over the possible outcome and implication for the global content industry (and for the unwashed hordes of ye olde file-sharing pirates & parasites. Arrrr!)

This is an interesting one to watch, if only for the unfolding drama, (I bet someone has already cornered the film rights), on which you can find further coverage here. The highlights, apart from this trial being the hottest ticket in town, include:

  • Defendants remain defiant and upbeat – you can even catch them on your favourite Web 2.0 channel e.g.: Twitter / Blogs / YouTube, etc.
  • Prosecution drops some charges – i.e. for outright copy-based infringement, but have retained the charges related to makingfiles available to the public
  • The IFPI website got hacked – Although the defendants have pleaded against such activities
  • Prosecution alters charges – apparently in a bid to ensure conviction
  • IFPI president has his day in court – and squarely blames Pirate Bay, and similar services, for damaging the music industry

I can’t wait to see which way the dice will fall on this trial, which just replays the never-ending and titanic struggle between the old and the new in their efforts to win hearts and minds.

Finally, and on a similar theme, a major ISP in Ireland has agreed to block users from accessing music swapping websites, at the instigation of the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA). Interestingly enough, this might well prove to be a more effective method for reducing casual piracy than the Pirate Bay trial. However, it also opens up a whole new battle ground between ISPs and their customers, as the latter might very well decide to change providers, and / or raise a huge stink about some violation-of-human-rights or other. Watch this space.

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Note: Originally posted on Capgemini’s Technology blog.  You can see the original post, including comments, at: http://www.capgemini.com/technology-blog/2009/02/ahoy_there_pirates.php

The ISP Dilemma (adapted)

February 11, 2009 Leave a comment

It seems of late that Internet Service Providers (i.e. ISPs) are facing some very difficult choices that could either completely change their business models at best, and / or undermine their ability to operate as independent, viable business entities at worst.


The biggest challenge by far is around the growing perception of ISPs as de-facto gatekeepers of the Internet, which effectively adds another layer of complexity to their traditional / core business. As a result, not only do ISPs have to deal with existing non-trivial issues (e.g. declining markets, convergent evolution via multi-play business models, and issues around increasing broadband / bandwidth consumption), they also have to contend with the fact that:

  • Content owners want ISPs to play a more central role in preventing, detecting, monitoring and punishing illegal file sharing (e.g. via schemes like the infamous three strikes proposal).
  • The Digital Britain interim report has called for the creation of a UK Rights Agency (to be funded by ISP Levy) that will monitor the activities of suspected copyright infringers.
  • There are also signs of lack of trust by ISP customers over service quality / charges, and potential invasion of privacy

These all add up to a severe headache for ISPs, both now and in the future, therefore some of the options they might want to consider in dealing with these challenges, includes:

  • Reduce costs – E.g. via opt-in targeted advertising schemes to help subsidise the cost of service (perhaps even extending to “free” access)
  • Stronger industry self regulation – Not easy to do, but would benefit the entire industry, and help address the pressure from content owners
  • Maximise network use / value – Invest in better ways to track, monitor and control network traffic, in order to deliver better quality of service, promote fair use, and support law enforcement
  • Partner with content owners – To explore new and more flexible content business models. E.g. a recent survey found that music fans actually prefer ISPs as their music supplier over others
  • Embrace innovations – E.g. IPv6 (or Internet 2.0), should help resolve the looming threat of insufficient IP addresses, and deliver improved quality of service.

Regardless of which options, (or combinations thereof), are considered, it is advisable for ISPs to bear the following three points in mind:

  1. Do not alienate or irritate the customer – protecting the customer relationship and keeping their trust will be key to future success
  2. Resist excessive external pressures – Content owners need ISPs as much as ISPs need them, and perhaps even more so.
  3. Take the initiative – ISPs should be more proactive in creating customer-pleasing, regulator-friendly propositions and business models (perhaps by working closely with content owners)

In conclusion, although there is no easy way to prevent what is ultimately likely to be the natural evolution of the Internet, ISPs need to understand that these current challenges also provide great opportunities to evolve and embrace their critical niche in the emerging digital access / content ecosystem.

Disclosure: The above is an adaptation of a soon-to-be-published article, by this author, in Computing magazine.

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Note: Originally posted on Capgemini’s Technology blog.  You can see the original post, including comments, at: http://www.capgemini.com/technology-blog/2009/02/the_isp_dilemma_adapted.php

And The Band Plays On.

November 6, 2008 Leave a comment

Certainly makes an apt title for the current and future states of the music business, because despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the recording industry and / or the credit crunch, and other similar tales of woe, it hasn’t all ground to a screeching halt, yet. So does this mean there is room for some optimism after all?

The following nuggets, and micro trend indicators, highlight just a few things that might lend further credence to this viewpoint:

  • Artistes are still producing stuff, lots of stuff, and they are using every conceivable media outlet available to expose their works. This is somewhat contrary to the widely propagated perception that piracy is killing the creative artiste. It is also often held that a “true” artiste is arguably one that creates things “because they must” and not necessarily because they are paid for it. Hah!
  • Music is far much easier to produce, remix and collaborate, thanks to digital technology. This supports the above point (i.e. by better enabling the creative process) and, perhaps sadly, the perception by some that music is of less value as a consequence.
  • The real music business of licensing and publishing is still doing great, and will continue to do so for some time to come; especially with the regular entry of other / new and innovative players into the game. There is still money to be made here, without a doubt.
  • The games and music combo is big, and will get even bigger. This is obvious given the explosive growth of music based games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band and other derivatives of the genre
  • Virtual worlds are going to be huge for the music industry – faint glimmers of this potential exist with the likes of Habbo virtual music festival, and other in-world, band-to-fan direct interactivity facilitators.
  • Oh, and don’t forget mobile music. The returns from mobile music can only increase along with the various; always connected, fully mobile, all-you-can-eat models, services and supported devices that could very well spell the end of iPod’s dominance.
  • Music usage and tracking technologies will play a major role in accounting, reconciliation and royalty distribution, among other things, and they could be used to lead the way towards a more robust method for implementing legal music-as-a-service propositions
  • Evolving online music distribution and pricing models – Nothing is off limits, not even Apple, because Artistes can now use iPhone Apps (wrapped around a track or album) to get around the 99 cent per track limitation on iTunes (i.e. just when you think you have it cracked, someone always finds a way to do it differently).

The current and future horizon of the music industry is replete with these and other, perhaps even more innovative, developments. Therefore I’ll boldly say that the future for music is indeed bright, (not necessarily Orange), but bright nonetheless. The main reason behind all this, in my opinion, is that music and technology have always been very closely intertwined; ever since the first acoustic instruments (e.g. sticks and stones) provided rhythmic accompaniment to the song and dance of our early cave ancestors, (perhaps in celebration of a successful hunt, with said sticks and stones), to the very latest ultra-techno-whizzo, uber-kool, online / in-world jam session simultaneously happening in both real and virtual worlds. Finally, technology innovation in music always brings great opportunities right alongside the more immediate and disruptive consequences, therefore a time invariably comes when the former exceeds the latter, and it appears that time is at hand for this particular episode.

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Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.

Pick Your Fight: Browser War versus ISP “3 Strikes” Battle

September 21, 2008 Leave a comment

It’s like a tale of two conflicts, where one tale concerns the renewed fight for browser supremacy (brought on by yet another brand new mega-hyped challenger); and the other deals with the never-ending tussle between music labels and illegal file-sharers (with Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, caught smack in the middle). It remains to be seen which battle will eventually come to be perceived as the good fight, but for now, which of the main protagonists would you rather be: the music label, the ISP or the web browser maker?


One key point of note, to my mind, is that both fights are intrinsically linked to the exceptional growth and ubiquity of the Internet, and ever-increasing bandwidth / connectivity for users and electronic devices. Both battles are also centered on the need, by some parties, to control access to certain resources (e.g. online information or media content), but that is where the similarity ends and the outcome / impact on the end-user begin to emerge.

On the one hand, this so called browser wars are ostensibly a good thing for the consumer, due to the beneficial effects of innovative companies trying to out-do each other for increased browser market share. The result is a win-win situation for both consumer and victor/s of the browser wars. On the other hand, when ISPs start monitoring, throttling bandwidth, and perhaps disconnecting, their users on suspicion of illegal content downloads, it becomes less clear as to who the likely winners and losers could be. Is it: the end-users, the ISPs, the record labels, or all / none / some of the above, (and to what degree do they win or lose anyway)?

It also makes one wonder if / how the lessons and outcomes of one battle can be applied to the other? For example, what if browser makers were forced to start targeting their users for possible prosecution, based on browsing habits and consumption of copyright-infringing content (e.g. illegal use of logos, text, images, videos and audio), will they really stand a chance in their particular battlefield? I think not, given the fact that user privacy, via so called private browsing mode, is now being touted as a must have feature by some of the major browsers makers. So what is the likelihood that future ISPs might seek to push privacy as a selling point for their services in order to attract those users who have been, or do not wish to be, stung by legal notices or prosecution? That would be most interesting to see.

In conclusion, it appears that one fight could help open up the field for competitive innovation, with great opportunities for both winners and end-users, while the other fight now seems more and more like a defensive rearguard action that could end-up stifling the more innovative go-to-market models necessary for survival in a changing environment. I leave it up to you to guess which is which.

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Note: Originally published in Capgemini’s Technology blog at: http://www.capgemini.com/technology-blog/2008/09/pick_your_fight_browser_wars_v.php

Moving from DRM to ISP-RM

August 3, 2008 Leave a comment

Last month the BBC news website reported that six major UK ISPS had reached an agreement with the music industry to tackle content piracy by monitoring and sending out warning letters to suspected illegal file sharers. Given other similar recent proposals (e.g. 3 strikes rule), and the dismal failure of media DRM, one can’t help but ask the question: is this merely a transition from DRM to “ISP-RM” and will it meet a similar fate?

This above voluntary agreement is centred around a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), drawn up by the UK Government department for Business and Enterprise Regulatory Reform (BERR), and will involve mass mailing of notification letters to suspect illegal file sharers (including download and upload), and subsequent bandwidth throttling for “hardcore” or persistent file sharers. Now this is all well and good until we start to think about the practicality and implications for various stakeholders (i.e. whose interests are best served by this initiative) based on the following top-of-head analysis of desirable outcomes:

  1. Creative Stakeholders (i.e. artistes and content creators – not necessarily rights owners. E.g. musicians, performers, producers etc.) – More economic benefits derived from their works as a result of reduced piracy directly from this initiative
  2. Technology Stakeholders (i.e. providers of content access and consumption services e.g. ISPs and device makers) – Reduced exposure to risk of legal threats / actions by content rights owners
  3. Commercial Stakeholders (i.e. content rights owners and their representative organisations e.g. BPI and MPAA) – Reduced piracy and a better return on investment from content IP
  4. Governance Stakeholders (i.e. lawmakers and enforcers e.g. the UK Government and legal practitioners) – A better more functional implementation and enforcement of digital IP / eCopyright system
  5. Consumer Stakeholders (i.e. consumers and end-users of digital content) – Assured quality of service from their Broadband provider and reduced risk of legal action by content owners for infringement

Hmmm…, everyone wins it would appear; but cynics might suggest that some stakeholders stand to win more than others (as usual) and they won’t be far wrong. However, the real question should be about which stakeholder group/s has the most power to derail the whole arrangement, and to what extent they have they been consulted / involved in this initiative.

And now a word from the Cylons:

On lighter note, I think the Cylons may have the best, albeit device oriented, philosophy and explanation / clarification of the problems with DRM and other digital content control mechanisms, as shown on the YouTube video.

I look forward to your comments on this one!

Copyfright system is set to die a horrible digital death…

July 3, 2008 Leave a comment

And aviator pigs will do a fly-by at the funeral. In this brave new digital world, many frustrated content owners have resorted to using copyright law as a club with which to beat up both professional content pirates and other, perhaps less criminal, users of such potential weapons-of-mass-infringement as broadband Internet, Web 2.0 applications, and certain file sharing networks. Surely the time has come to update this system globally, but where to start?

The increasingly strident calls to evolve existing copyright laws into something better suited to handle the emerging digital content economy has so far only managed to produce what seems an agonisingly slo-o-o-ow reaction and response from incumbent IP law makers, governments and creative industry players. This state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely, especially as the need for more capable digital copyright system and laws becomes even more apparent. This is easily illustrated in a recent DRMWatch article about the Associated Press’s use of text fingerprinting technology to identify and threaten bloggers; or by the recent court order to produce all YouTube User Histories in the ongoing Viacom vs. Google billion dollar law suite. In order to make significant and lasting change to the global copyright system’s ability to cope with the emerging digital content economy, certain key facts / principles must be taken into consideration as follows:

  1. Digital content is held in bits AND copyright does not apply individual bits – Yes we all know that copyright applies to the replication and distribution of creative works, but it also originated in a predominantly analogue world; therefore a digital version of copyright may be best applied to the experience of content and not necessarily to the carriage or container of that content, as in yesterday’s analogue world. A concrete example of this sort of thinking may be found in the Owner Free Filesystem (OFF), a distributed file system which stores content data in randomised blocks across a network known as a brightnet. This effectively decouples ‘content’ from its storage and transmission medium.
  2. In much the same vain, consumers cannot “own” content bits but they may own the player device – Consumers need to understand that bought digital content is not the same as thing as analogue or physical content. We need to be more aware that all digital content is ultimately at the mercy of its associated storage, transmission and rendering mechanism (i.e. failure of which may render the content inaccessible or unusable). This supports the view that, in its digital state, all content is ephemeral; therefore new digital copyright laws / systems may be better served in addressing the human–digital interface. Perhaps the push for blanket levies on devices could be the way to go after all, but only if there is an effective way to ensure it is both fair, (which may require transparent usage monitoring), and equitable for all players in the digital content value chain.
  3. Finally, all efforts to evolve a more suitable digital copyright system must think global – After all we inhabit just the one world, and the Internet transcends traditional geo-political boundaries. In fact, there really are no such things as virtual worlds, third world, middle earth, or any other artificially created worlds out there, and this is quite a hard lesson for the old school content economy to stomach given the key role played by geographical territories in the structure and nature of existing rights and licensing models. However, this looks all set to change as we continue to witness the declining use of technologies like DRM to impose and uphold restrictive models of old (the latest example, as reported in the Register, involves Real Rhapsody’s music without limits).

In summary, it is unlikely that a suitable digital copyright system will evolve without a fundamental shift in perception by all stakeholders, but the signs are becoming clearer that the time has got to be sooner rather than later. Your comments, suggestions and criticisms on this one are most welcome.

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Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.

The ISP’s dilemma

February 24, 2008 Leave a comment

It seems that this year might be quite a significant one for Internet Service Providers judging from the various headlines and articles relating to their future, or lack thereof.

The recent slew of ISP related articles in the blogosphere, as well as some news headlines and TV coverage, all seem to point to the fact that something is brewing in the world of the ISP and whether good or bad, it is bound to affect us all. Particular examples include:

  • Failure of the ISP business model – ISPs are being threatened by increasing adoption of legal download services like the BBC iPlayer. According to The Register this has meant increasing demand for bandwidth without additional income for the ISPs
  • Broadband Review – Another article in The Register also describes an imminent review of broadband adoption in the UK by the new minister for business regulation.
  • 3 Strikes Rule – The Times set this one rolling and it got quite a reaction from many parties as evidenced in the last DRM blog post and comments.

The obvious common thread to all of this is the increasing penetration of broadband and demand for bandwidth. It would appear that Internet access is becoming another utility service much like our water supply or energy; however the economics of “use more, pay more” does not seem to translate well in the Information age.

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Note: This post was previously published on the BCS DRM Blog. Here is a link to the original post and reader comments.

Three Strikes Rule for Illegal Downloads

February 12, 2008 Leave a comment

An article in the The Times has reported that we may soon see the introduction of a three-strike rule, aimed at stopping the illegal download of content, to be enforced by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This may sound like an excellent idea to some, but will it really work as intended?

The proposed regime could require service providers to adopt a three step protocol to deal with downloaders of illegal content as follows:

  1. Send a warning email to the suspected user account on the first offence
  2. Suspend the users’ account if they are caught again downloading illegal content
  3. Terminate the user’s account if they offend a third time

On the surface, this makes perfect sense, in a two plus two makes four kind of way, but early reactions to this proposal identify some fairly obvious obstacles like:

  • How can ISPs prove the Internet account holder is indeed guilty of illegally downloading content, (especially in the face of things like bandwidth stealing or wi-fi piggy-backing)?
  • Implementing the three strike protocol will undoubtedly bring some cost implication for ISPs, in addition to the negative PR associated with effectively targeting their own customers (much like the music industry)
  • Finally the suspended or terminated user could easily sign up with another ISP, unless there exists some shared national register of offenders (don’t get me started on the implications for personal privacy)

Disclosure: Yours truly just spent one of his allotted fifteen minutes-of-fame talking about this to Channel Five News. Suggested alternatives to the three-strike regime may include the pre-emptive adoption of a voluntary and self-regulatory process that is defined and agreed by the ISPs; or indeed the creation of better value propositions by content owners that can effectively compete with free or illegal content downloads (the BBC iPlayer is a prime example).

Overall, the three strike proposal may be yet another ‘solution’ (similar to past experiments with draconian DRM) that needs to be tried, tested and perhaps discarded on our never-ending journey towards attaining the necessary cultural shift, required by all stakeholders, to realise the potential of our connected world. Can anyone tell me otherwise?

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Note:  This post was previously published on the BCS DRM Blog. Here is a link to the original post and reader comments.

Free as in Free – Really!?

January 25, 2008 Leave a comment

More authors are now looking to give away free electronic copies of their works. Is it all just a gimmick or will the publishing industry be the first to ‘see the light’? Just what the hell[o] is going on?

Professor Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford professor and renowned author / advocate on Copyright and cyberspace, has just made his fourth book free to download under a Creative Commons license.

Now this may not sound like such a big deal given his enlightened stance on these matters, but it appears that the idea may be catching on. For example, in January 2008, Charles Sheehan-Miles, an author and Gulf war veteran, made his book ‘Republic‘ free to download (right alongside the Amazon.com order information and links) on his website.

Another author, David Parrish, has also made his creative business book, free to download from his website.

In both cases the authors rapidly came to the conclusion that they would rather face piracy than obscurity, and appear to have implemented this strategy with the underlying, and contrarian, hope that it could actually end up making them rich (now where have we heard that one before?).

However, concrete proof of this outcome may well exist in the shape of author Paulo Coelho according to thisslashdot article. This trend seems to be accelerating, and publishers (at least in the above examples) appear willing to give it a try.

Perhaps other content industries should borrow a leaf from them and give this model a chance. However, I do wonder what would happen if this became the norm. Will anybody still buy books, and how will publishers make any money in the meantime?

I would really love to get your comments on this, so get writing.