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June, 2019

Controversial copyright directive passes European Parliament

The Second Intellectual Property Enforcement Directive (IPRED2), which we last covered earlier this month, came another step closer to passage yesterday, as it was approved by the European Parliament. The final version of the legislation removed some of the most controversial provisions, but critics still questioned why it was necessary to criminalize an area of law that has long been handled by the civil court system. The new directive mandates that those violating copyrights, trademarks, or certain other rights "on a commercial scale" or "inciting such infringements" be subject to fines up to €300,000 and up to a four years in jail. HangZhou Night Net

"Today, 'inciting' is only criminal in some member states, and in exceptional cases such as hate speech. Elevating IPRs to the same level is a scary development," noted Jonas Maebe, an analyst with the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, in the wake of the vote. "The inciting clause is also reminiscent of the US 'Induce Act', which threatened to make MP3 players such as the iPod illegal."

The directive is ostensibly designed to crack down on commercial piracy and counterfeiting operations, but critics warned that, thanks to the vague terminology of the directive, it could apply much more widely. They note that no definitions are offered for the terms "incitement" or "commercial scale," opening the possibility that the courts could interpret them to include innovators building new media products. Those terms could be interpreted, for example, to hold ISPs liable for the infringing activities of their users.

Critics did succeed in removing some of the original proposal's most egregious problems. The final directive excluded patent infringement from criminal penalties. Given the murky and inconsistent state of European patent law, critics worried that entrepreneurs could find themselves facing jail time for accidentally infringing upon an obscure patent. An amendment was also adopted ensuring that fair use of copyrighted works would not be considered a criminal offense.

However, most other intellectual property rights in Europe would be enforced with criminal penalties. For example, the penalties could be applied to violators of geographic indication rights. That would seem to mean that a winemaker from outside the Champagne region of France could not only be sued but thrown in jail for selling his sparkling wine as "champagne."

Ren Bucholz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that the relatively close vote—374 to 278—points to growing opposition to the directive across Europe. The directive will now go to the Council of the European Union, which is made up of representatives of the governments of each of the EU's member countries. Several member countries, led by the UK and the Netherlands, have expressed concerns about the directive. Bucholz notes that if the Council disagrees with the Parliament's decision, IPRED2 would go back to the European Parliament for further consideration.

Net neutrality advocates thank AT&T CEO for shooting off his mouth

The SavetheInternet coalition turned one year old this week and celebrated with… a press conference. While not the single most exciting approach to birthday parties the world has ever seen, a press conference provided an opportunity to reflect on all that has happened regarding network neutrality in only a year. It also provided a powerful reminder of why CEOs like AT&T's Ed Whitacre need to watch their mouths. HangZhou Night Net

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), one of the driving forces behind the Senate's Dorgan/Snowe Net neutrality bill, joined the call to offer his thoughts on why a bill is needed. He recalled reading a quote last year from Ed Whitacre in BusinessWeek in which Whitacre complained about companies that used "his pipes" and did so "for free." That moment was illuminating for Dorgan. Even though he was raised in a small town (cue standard politician story about hardscrabble upbringing here), Dorgan said that "I can understand a pretty significant threat to the open architecture of the Internet." He thanked the coalition for its work, and said that he would seek hearings on the issue in the Senate Commerce Committee in the next few months.

Craig Newmark, who identified himself as the "customer service" person for Craigslist, took the microphone next. "The Internet has always been about playing fair," he said, adding that he hears from plenty of telecom employees who don't support what their bosses have said. Pretty much everyone is for net neutrality, Newmark said, except people running "fake grassroots campaigns and that sort of thing."

Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia who has been heavily involved in this issue, pointed out how much progress had been made in a year. We're now seeing a "sea change in telecom policy," he said, pointing out that Net neutrality has become an issue that people truly care about. It's become one of the first "third rails" in telecom policy, he said—any politician who comes near it gets "shocked by the electric reaction they receive from the public."

But perhaps most surprising was Michele Combs of the Christian Coalition, who claimed that Net neutrality had become a "true family issue." Who would have thought that standing up for traditional marriage and for unfettered access to Google would be two of the Christian Coalition's main issues in the upcoming presidential race? But that's exactly what's happening. Combs said that neutrality is "number two on our agenda" now, in large part because her group represents 100,000 churches, most of whom now use the web for everything from posting sermons to hosting online calendars to running e-mail lists. The churches fear that, without Net neutrality, it could get harder to access and distribute certain kinds of content.

The conference illustrated one of the movement's biggest successes, which has been its ability to assemble a truly diverse coalition that includes both the Christian Coalition and MoveOn.org, Craigslist and US senators. With Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) set to introduce a neutrality bill in the House shortly, the issue promises to get a thorough hearing during this session of Congress.

Adobe liberates Flex source code

Adobe revealed plans today to release the source code of the Flex SDK and compiler under the Mozilla Public License (MPL). Flex—a cross-platform compatible framework for developing interactive Flash applications with XML and ActionScript—allows developers to construct Flash programs using idioms that are less overtly media-oriented and better suited for conventional software development. HangZhou Night Net

Availability of the source code, which will make it possible for independent developers to modify and improve Flex, could potentially cause a community of third-party contributors to emerge around the platform. Source code availability will also make it easier for third parties to incorporate Flex support into existing development tools or build new tools based on Flex components.

David Mendels, senior vice president of Adobe's Enterprise and Developer Business unit, believes that allowing the open source community to participate in Flex development will promote innovation. "The definition and evolution of Flex has been influenced by our incredibly talented developer community from day one," says Mendel. "The decision to open source Flex was a completely natural next step. I am incredibly excited to deeply collaborate with the developer community on Flex, and further fuel its momentum and innovation."

This is yet another positive sign of Adobe's willingness to work with the open-source community in the service of common goals and interests. Last year, Adobe began to collaborate with Mozilla developers to create an open-source ECMAScript 4 implementation for Firefox based on the newly-opened source code of Flash's high-performance ActionScript Virtual Machine, described by Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich as "the largest contribution to the Mozilla Foundation since its inception."

Although the availability of the Flex SDK source code is a big win for users and developers who are already using Flex, it isn't guaranteed to attract the interest of the broader open-source community. Flex applications run on top of Flash or Apollo, which are both still proprietary runtime components. Many in the open-source community are already committed to XUL, which facilitates standards-oriented development with XML and Javascript and uses cross-platform compatible Mozilla technologies.

Some source code is already included in the Flex 2.0 SDK, but the process of completely opening the SDK, compilers, debugger, and other relevant components will continue gradually through the rest of the year.

Mozy beta for Mac OS X

Mac Mozy UI

Berkeley Data Systems is now offering online backup for Mac users with the Mac Mozy beta. The application and service provide 2GBs of free storage and the security of 128-bit SSL and 448-bit Blowfish encryption, with an unlimited option for $5 a month. Participation in the beta program requires name and e-mail, and a couple of survey questions you can lie about, but you really shouldn't. As someone who just signed up, I'm already impressed. The beta of Mac Mozy is what .Mac Backup could have been, if it hadn't been developed by the Punishment Group at Apple. HangZhou Night Net

Using Mac Mozy is pretty easy. After installing the client, the Setup Assistant guides you through the initial configuration, including choosing the encryption key. From there, it's simply a matter of choosing files, folders, and backup sets. Backup sets include items such as mail messages, contacts, bookmarks, keychains, and so on. Once you do that, it's just a matter of scheduling, which is pretty lean at this point, either an automatic setting based upon how long the computer is inactive, or daily at a set time. The application works in the background to perform incremental backups. A Menubar icon provides you with status of the update.

While Mac Mozy "just works," there are a couple of issues to be aware. First, the service only keeps a 30-day version archive, which may be an issue for the anal retentive. Second, you need to log into the website to restore files, which is kind of annoying. Access through the client would be nice. Finally, the Windows version has bandwidth throttling for uploads, something that will hopefully be coming to Mac Mozy.

Even with these caveats, Mac Mozy is nice, especially considering it's a beta. While it's probably not a good idea to do away with manual backups—especially with beta software—Mac Mozy has a lot of potential. As a beta, Mac Mozy is a free backup solution that puts .Mac and Backup to shame. Bring on the RC.

Jobs puts the kibosh on iTunes subscriptions

Before I say anything else about the possibility of an iTunes subscription service, keep in mind that for the purposes of this post, "subscription service" is referring to a subscription service for music only. A movie rental or subscription service for the Apple TV would be a massive selling point, so I suspect Apple is trying to cook one of those up. Music subscriptions are quite a different story, however. HangZhou Night Net

As you may or may not know, Apple will be renewing its iTunes contracts with the major music labels over the next few months. The music companies, always anxious for extra revenue, are hoping that iTunes will introduce a subscription model similar to that of Rhapsody or Napster. This would allow them to "rent" music for a monthly fee, and would lead to revenue boost due to the recurring subscription charges.

Despite recent rumors, Steve Jobs isn't having it. He has said that "the subscription model has failed so far," and has suggested that customers generally prefer the iTunes sale model to any type of subscription service. I'm probably not qualified to speculate on whether or not iTunes users would prefer a subscription service, but given the strong sales on the iTunes Store over the past few years, I don't see why Apple would want to offer more than one type of pricing. Two pricing schemes would dilute the user experience (which as we all know, Apple is a big fan of) and make it less consistent, which is one more reason we won't see music subscription any time soon.

The big reason, though, is that a music subscription service is against most of what Steve Jobs has been preaching lately. Apple already has a contract with EMi to distribute DRM-free music, so a change to any type of subscription service would be a regression in many ways. It also wouldn't make much sense for Jobs to push his anti-DRM agenda and then allow users to enter into a music delivery scheme that is in many ways more restrictive.

I'm hopeful that we'll see more record companies agree to sell their music without DRM as a result of the upcoming negotiations. Sales on the iTunes Store have been good and EMI has already succumbed to the Apple's pressuring, so I suspect Steve will be tightening the thumbscrews to try and achieve his stated goal of having "half the songs on iTunes" available as DRM-free. If what some music industry execs said recently regarding Amazon's rumored music store is to be believed, that day could be coming sooner than later.