Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The raise of the Machinima

Organized by the London Metropolitan Business School and the Open Rights Group, the world-first feature-length machinima, Bloodspell, will be shown on the coming 22 November (starting at 5:15PM), followed by a panel of specialists addressing the issues that this new film genre encompasses at the London Metropolitan University Graduate Centre (the Libeskind-designed building). For those new to the topic, machinima, in very basic form, involves the use of software that has been designed to create video-games to produce films with their own script and narrative. The word “machinima” was coined some time ago by Hugh Hancock, who has also written and directed Bloodspell. The event will be started with Hugh introducing what machinima is and the story behind Bloospell, to then sit back, relax and enjoy the full film. After the viewing, University of Southampton’s Professor Lilian Edwards, the queen of Cyberlaw, will chair the mentioned panel. This will include University of Edinburgh’s Andres Guadamuz, one of the most brilliant young legal scholars in UK, who will treat the legal issues around open content; Holly Aylett, managing editor of Vertigo Magazine and Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at London Metropolitan University will address issues of machinima as part of independent films and put into the context of broader film studies; and Internet and technology super-guru Ian Brown, from the Oxford Internet Institute will talk about the convergence of film and games through digital technologies.

An evening on the edge of what is going on in the use of new technologies for cultural production and if you around London, there is an event in Facebook where you can confirm your attendance...

The name of the "royal"

The world’s newslets are quite busy reporting about the irrelevant news that a “royal” (vg member of the British royal family) has been subject to an attempt of blackmail, and while the news itself is stupid and irrelevant, it raises several questions about how appropriate is the current law to deal with issues related to Internet and the potential liability of international actors due to an English court decision.
As many would sadly know by now (sadly because it is difficult to imagine a more stupid way to fill the time busy people have to receive information), a “royal” seems to have been subject to an attempt of blackmail and an English court has decided to impose a ban on UK media to publish the name of the alleged royal victim (technically a gag order) . Then, the name of the alleged victim has been widely made known in US and other countries’ media, and that media is available in UK via the Internet. So, does it make any sense to keep the ban? Is it realistic to even impose it in the first place? To impose a ban on the release of the name of a victim of blackmail is usual practice to protect the privacy and reputation of that person (protection that seems to increase proportionally with the wealth and fame of the person), but is it also a known fact that, once information has been made public without violating the ban (vg in a foreign country) but enters the common knowledge in UK (by import of the foreign media before and now could be argued through Internet), the ban or gag order becomes irrelevant and it is normally lifted, as decided by the House of Lords in the Spycatcher case. So, taking into account that the name is widely available, if somebody like me, who knows the name, decides to write it in this blog, would that be contempt to court? On the other hand, where would it be published? Here in UK where I am writing it or in the US where Google’s servers are and where this blog is hosted? The issue of the place of publication is important because if it is understood that the place where I am writing it is the place of publication, then when a reporter sends an article from the field, wherever he or she is, the place of publication would be that place and sometimes they report from places where freedom of expression and other rights allowing them to report what they are reporting are not existent making their publication illegal…So, in order to protect British journalists it is expected that the law would understand as place of publication the place where the publisher not the reporter is located, which in this case would leave us with the issue of whether I am the publisher,UK based, or Blogspot/Google, US based (a more important news would deserve the technical analysis, but for this one, asking the question should suffice). But, what happens with the place where the effect is felt? While the test established by the Australian High Court for defamation in
Gutnick v. Dow Jones refers to the place where the effect is felt as the one where liability arises, it is doubtful that the same test could be applied to a Court imposed gag order and here we can cite and paraphrase the UK case Buchanan v Rucker (1808) [English Reports, vol 108 p 546] and ask "can [a UK court] pass a law to bind the rights of the whole world? Would the world submit to such assumed jurisdiction?”. If the answer is not, it is time for UK courts to realize that we are in a different planet and that their rulings need to take into account current technology and that if they don’t do it, they risk to make the law an ass

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lord Puttman on virtual worlds

The famed movie-maker and now member of the House of Lords, Lord Puttman (film producer David Puttman) gave a key-note speech yesterday at the Virtual Worlds Forum Europe here in London. He addressed too many issues to write a proper commentary here, but one striking note was the impression that virtual worlds were unavoidable and that, in one way or another, real society was going to be deeply affected by them. A very interesting insight into the evolution of virtual worlds, but it would be better if you listen to him by yourself…webcast of the full speech available here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Non-harmonic harmony

For anyone that has had the dubious pleasure of listening to my classes, presentations or other instances of verbal incontinency, the fact that my academic and intellectual pursuit is dedicated to the search of regulatory harmonization in the international arena is well known. The portal towards the study of IT and IP issues took the form of my MA and PhD in International Cooperation at Nagoya University, Japan, within the area of the Legal System of International Cooperation, and from there the current endeavours into global IP, knowledge industries regulation in general and ICT law in particular, but even when dealing with some purely domestic very technical issue (technical as per legal technicality) the idea is to clarify it so to allow greater international harmonization, and the choice of IT/IP issues relates to the understanding that the only solution to effective, rational and market-enabling regulation in those areas rests on international agreements. However, today is one of those days that my quest seems to be stupidly naïve and unachievable: I am here waiting for my mother to hang-up with whoever is calling her, so I have my turn to tell her “Happy Mothers’ Day”, which I would have to say on the fourth Sunday in Lent in UK, second Sunday in May in the US and countries as close from Argentina as Uruguay, and a vast array of days if I were to move to other country (Wikipedia has a list of countries with its respective days). Can it be so difficult to harmonize a unique global Mothers’ Day? OK, the issue is irrelevant unless you live in one country and you have your mother, mother in law, and sisters in law who are mothers in three countries, but there are other more relevant examples to show that international harmonization is a very distant goal perhaps not a goal at all. Voltage? Although it is true that there have been some improvements in the collage of voltages used around the planet, mainly through successful regulatory harmonization, it seems quite odd that we are trying to harmonize very complex standards when something as simple (and relatively easy to convert) as voltage is still so different in many countries. You then go into the issue of the electric plugs and things go bizarre: there are 13 different types of electric plugs around the world, and no process of harmonization in sight.

So, if harmonising things as simple as how many blades and of what shape an electric plug should have seem to be impossible, you can imagine how incredibly more difficult is to harmonize regulation to anything because, in addition to the different ideologies and interests behind each kind of regulation, most regulatory changes have a cascade effect onto the rest of the legal system. If you harmonize regulation to privacy, that would have impact in banking laws, health care, contract law, and a long list of etceteras, and in the IP arena the impact is bigger and not easily quantifiable…so, today is one of those days that I think that it would be better to change the subject-matter of my intellectual journey towards something more productive and fulfilling as origami

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

ILAWS @ Southampton

I am inside the Turner Sims Concert Hall at the University of Southampton where the Institute for Law and the Web at Southampton, ILAWS, is formally been launched. After the words of rigour by Professor Natalie Lee and a welcome, explanation and introduction by Lilian, Professor Chris Reed has started his presentation. It seems that he will talk about doing business online (the business issues), the arising legal issues and then, unavoidably, Web 2.0 issues. After reminding people that those who are in business are there to make money not to care about legal issues, he embarked into demystifying some issues that people think about e-business issues in relation to law, as the "domain name pitfalls". There the message is that you don't need to bother so much about the domain name issues because most of those matters have been already dealt with and the topic goes beyond domain names into proper branding and business operations in general (is re-branding an option?). So, we move into search engine optimisation where, after recognizing that there are techniques to optimize the way your page ranks, there are some "potential legal pitfalls" as potential trade mark infringement and/or unfair competition through the use of competitors metatags. Proessor Reed then is moving towards explaining some aspects of early virtual enterprises, where the whole relation was based on a legal one (virtual companies not owning anything but facilitating trade through a particular technology and a unique legal architecture, therefore not really been involved in products' trade but in the provision of services (where the legal framework differs from trade of goods). Accordingly, the issue for lawyers it to guarantee that the proper level of services are provided, that the remedies for performance shortfalls are there and that there is a proper exit strategy. We then go the topic of the location in the virtual world. Most people (lawyers, teachers, scholars) have already forgotten that "regulation, taxation and liability are based in connections to the real world", but global compliance is not possible, what make risk avoidance is not achievable (so, it all about risk management). The techniques are varied that can be simplified in taking care where you do what and where do you physically go.
On the Web 2.0 side, and leaving apart the forthcoming semantic web, the topics on this "new" type of Internet open the door to many new possibilities to make money there. In addition to the non-obvious ways of making money that need certain skills and resources, the Web 2.0 seems to be wide open to new forms of marketing. Viral marketing and using the customers to promote things, but risking that others may use your marketing for competition or even costumers going beyond your business proposed image and potentially hurting it. Some issues refer to Second Life and the uses and abuses of marketing there and then all go down to how the law may or need to deal in Web 2.0, from the development of community standards to law and regulations based in behavioural norms going throw the need to have a crystal ball know what to do in forthcoming e-business arena.
Very interesting presentation and well managed to talk to people that normally deals with these issues and still surprise them!

Friday, October 05, 2007

From Mexico at the Iberoamerican Conference of Computer Law

I am writing from the Universidad Iberoamericana de Puebla, where the Iberoamerican Conference of Computer Law is taking place. I arrived late last night so I missed the first two days and today the day has started with my keynote speech titled "The Death of Web 2.0 and the Battle for its Inheritance", where I`ve dealt with the evolution from the current Web 2.0 towards a Web 3D and who will own content and data if the law remains unchanged. I`ve suggested that the law is ill-equiped to deal with issues of ownership of users`data and creations, and that the terms of service of the platforms currently using 3D technologies are not valid and lack of the precision needed to enable further development of the technology ina certain legal environment. I hope to finish the polished paper soon to send it for publication, but time is not a good that I find in abundance...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Effects of Weblogs on “Social Capital”

I received this as a comment few days ago and I think that it is better if published here...

Dear Friend,
A group of researchers at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, are investigating effects of Weblogs on “Social Capital”. Therefore, they have designed an online survey. By participating in this survey you will help researches in “Management Information Systems” and “Sociology”. You must be at least 18 years old to participate in this survey. It will take 5 to 12 minutes of your time.
Your participation is greatly appreciated. You will find the survey at the following link.
This group has already done another study on Weblogs effects on “Social Interactions” and “Trust”. To obtain a copy of the previous study brief report of findings you can email Reza Vaezi at

Monday, October 01, 2007

Is the Burmese military junta violating UK law?

The unfortunate recent events in Burma/Myanmar have shown to the world what have been happening there for a while. It is probably more unfortunate that in few weeks/days the media will find other source of sensational news and the people of that country will be left alone, again, to face whatever the government has for them. Whether gross violation of human rights are actionable in any court of the planet following the universality principle of jurisdiction in criminal cases, is still debatable (there are loads of publicists that would say definitively yes, and many cases would prove that, but the humans rights violations observed in the last few years for some super-powers seem to indicate that it all depends on politics and not law), but we know for sure whether certain activities are criminal in some jurisdictions, as England.
According to UK’s Computer Misuse Act 1990, Section 3, modified by the Section 36 of the Police and Justice Act 2006
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if—
(a) he does any unauthorised act in relation to a computer;
(b) at the time when he does the act he knows that it is unauthorised;
(c) either subsection (2) or subsection (3) below applies.
(2) This subsection applies if the person intends by doing the act—
(a) to impair the operation of any computer;
(b) to prevent or hinder access to any program or data held in any computer;
(c) to impair the operation of any such program or the reliability of any such data; or
(d) to enable any of the things mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (c) above to be done.
(3) This subsection applies if the person is reckless as to whether the act will do
any of the things mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (2) above.
(4) The intention referred to in subsection (2) above, or the recklessness
referred to in subsection (3) above, need not relate to—
(a) any particular computer;
(b) any particular program or data; or
(c) a program or data of any particular kind.
And since following ss.36 (6) the maximum term is 10 years in jail, the offence is an extraditable offence.
Going back to the situation in Burma/Myanmar, it has been widely reported that the military junta has created some time ago an advanced cyber-warfare department within its own secret police and that department has spread viruses before and during the current crisis. Since many dissidents live in the UK, by sending them those viruses it is clear that either the government or its agents are commiting the actus reus tipified in the now modified Computer Misuse Act 1990, but “[c]an a State commit a crime? Definitely, Yes!” asks and answers Alain Pellet. It can be argued that the concept of crimes committed by states refers to the violation of certain acts that has consequences in international law and not in domestic penal law as the CMA 1990 would be, but there is also an argument that states might be subject to the jurisdiction of domestic courts when acting not as states but as particulars, as decided in Republic of Argentina et al v Weltover, Inc, et al, 504 US 607, and it would be interesting to find the explicit justification for a state to create and disseminate computer viruses that can, and normally do, affect people beyond those originally targeted. Regarding the immunities that the agents of the state have by carrying out official acts, and without much attention to the International Court of Justice decision in the Congo v Belgium case, in England the recognition of universal jurisdiction in general and jurisdiction on criminal cases in domestic courts by striping state agents of their immunity for official acts was clearly established by the House of Lords in Re Pinochet. So, if we assume that in an information society spreading viruses constitutes either an international crime because of being a type of conduct considered criminal by the concert of nations or criminal at domestic level but committed by either states acting as persons or state agents deserving the lifting of their immunities, the Burmese/Myanmar’s junta would be liable for the crimes created by the CMA 1990.