it.can presentation on open source

I gave a speech, along with Thomas Prowse (Genband) and Fred Dixon (Blindside Networks) at the IT.Can Annual Conference (PDF) in Montreal last week. The following is the paper that went along with the presentation, for whatever it’s worth. Not particularly earth-shattering but an approach that is a little different than user/purchaser centric approach I usually see about the topic in other papers and presentations, at least within the realm of those addressed to lawyers. Also in Word format: IT.Can 2010 open source (paper) v2.

Many other great presentations as well, by some of the leading IT practitioners in Canada. Not a member? Consider joining. Well worth it.


by David Ma[1]

1.                  INTRODUCTION

This paper will: (a) review some of the more common business models used to exploit intellectual property; (b) describe, in brief, what open source is; and (c) identify characteristics of open source licenses as they pertain to those business models.

It is oriented primarily to owners or developers of intellectual property that are contemplating the alternatives available to them in the commercial exploitation of that IP. The general context on which this paper focuses is the development and exploitation of software. However, some or all of the principles described below may be applied in other contexts, and we describe some of these briefly toward the end of the paper.

The intent of this paper is not to advocate open source business models as the definitive way to undertake such a venture. Rather, it is to familiarize the reader with the underpinnings of what is becoming an increasingly prevalent approach to exploiting IP which warrants serious consideration as an alternative to more traditional methods – namely, a proprietary licensing model which emphasizes the treatment of underlying source code as a trade secret. It may well be that the particular circumstances of a business undertaking do not lend themselves to such models. However, it would be, in the author’s opinion, inadvisable not to give them due consideration.

Read more it.can presentation on open source

flash intro pages – a useful analogy

Just a short one today before I get back to work. Completely unrelated to law.  If you’re building a website, and thinking of using flash, and, moreover, thinking of having a flash splash page, you may want to consider this sage advice:

Jared said, “When we have clients who are thinking about Flash splash pages, we tell them to go to their local supermarket and bring a mime with them. Have the mime stand in front of the supermarket, and, as each customer tries to enter, do a little show that lasts two minutes, welcoming them to the supermarket and trying to explain the bread is on aisle six and milk is on sale today.

“Then stand back and count how many people watch the mime, how many people get past the mime as quickly as possible, and how many people punch the mime out.

“That should give you a good idea as to how well their splash page will be received. That’s the crux of it.”

MarketingSherpa: Uproar over Anti-Flash Intro Survey Results by way of The Oatmeal.

“Anonymized” data really isn’t—and here’s why not – Ars Technica

You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.

So spoke Scott McNealy more than a decade ago. At the time he made this statement, he received a fair amount of criticism. Turns out, he might very well have had a point, though perhaps for reasons he might not have foreseen.

A recent paper highlights the issue of the “reidentification” or “deanonymization” of anonymized personal information. However, the issue goes beyond anonymized information to the very heart how one should define personal information that is or should be protected under privacy legislation.

“Anonymized” data really isn’t—and here’s why not – Ars Technica.

Canadian privacy legislation simply defines personal information as “information about an identifiable individual” (excluding certain information about someone in their capacity as an employee). However, what does “about an identifiable individual” mean? Does it mean that the person collecting the particular nugget of information can associate it with a person’s identity? Or, perhaps more disconcertingly, does it include data that has the potential to be associated with someone by analyzing that particular bit of information, which alone (or even in conjunction with all the other information collected by a given organization) could not be linked with a particular individual, with information available from other sources?

regrettable absence

Apologies to all ten of my loyal readers for the absence. It has been a very, very busy summer and, unfortunately, when it comes to relative priorities, getting work done for clients, playing with my 2 year old, sleeping and then blogging take priority, in that particular order. I’ve also been surprised so far by some of the informal comments I’ve received (not on the blog but in person), most of which have been negative or have negative implications. I must say that has also played a bit of a role in my absence. So who knows, this little blog may not be around much longer. Still giving it some thought.

In any event, a brief quote from one of my colleagues that you may find amusing: “The practice of law is very much like a pie-eating contest where the prize for winning is more pie.”

taking the fun out of blogging

As a lawyer, I understand the need for policies, procedures, practices, etc. when running a business, managing vendors, employees, etc. Of course. Sure. That’s part of work – both my work and the work of my clients. But when I see an article entitled “Blogging Policies and Best Practices for Lawyers and Law Firms” well, gotta say, my eyes start glazing over.

Not that there’s anything particularly bad or wrong about the article. In fact, it offers some good advice on avoiding “ethical minefields”, creating “powerful marketing tools” and ensuring you realize a good return on your “investment”.

Ugh. To be perfectly honest one of the primary reasons I blog is not to realize a return on investment, or to create a powerful marketing tool, but rather just to offer casual observations (or ruminations) on my work or things related to my work. In other words, its a bit of fun, as compared, for example, to writing a formal research paper, journal article, or a 100 page outsourcing contract. For those types of writing, there are many, many rules, requirements and policies to remember and adhere to, amongst other considerations. And relatively speaking, its not quite as much writing that stuff as it is posting what are ostensibly meandering ramblings about the next new thing. Don’t get me wrong, its certainly interesting and challenging work, but its not the type of thing one typically does to relax.

I guess what I’m getting at is along the same lines as the previous post about making blogging part of someone’s job. Its kind of like saying that its part of your job to chat up your friends at work on a regular basis. Its kind of like saying that there should be internal policies governing who you go to lunch with, and what you talk about over lunch. In other words, to me, it seems to take all the fun out of it. It makes it seem like work. It puts you in the mindset that it is work. And, to be perfectly honest, I think it makes it less interesting, because you’re too worried about the time being put into it. Too worried about whether you’re writing for your “target market”. Too worried about “visualizing and addressing your market”. Too worried on making your blog sound “informal and conversational”. Too worried about this, that and the other thing, none of which have much to do with the subject matter of what you’re writing about.

Of course, this is just my take on blogging and what I hope to achieve (or perhaps rather not to achieve) by doing it.


This one isn’t quite law related or quite technology rated, though it sort of touches on both. Just wanted to share something quite remarkable I saw this evening.

I was riding home in a cab with my wife and young son, going down Bay St. at about 8 pm this evening. While stopped at the lights, I casually noticed a gentleman, sitting in the car beside us, obviously very preoccupied with something, looking at his Blackberry  with some degree of concentration and furiously typing away with his thumbs It was quite easy to see given the backlight of his BB was very bright.

After a few seconds the light changed, he sped onwards, and so did we. And he continued to type, with some degree of vigour, apparently fully preoccupied with his urgent e-mail.

So, you ask, what is so remarkable about this, you ask? Surely this isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone tapping away on a BB in a cab, right? And the answer to that would be no. Definitely see it all the time. In fact, do it myself sometime. Great time saver.

So what’s the big deal? He was the one driving! Certainly understand perhaps taking a quick peek at your BB when stopped at the lights. But amazingly, this fellow that I saw simply continued to tap away busily while pressing the accelerator and speeding away. Neither of his hands were on the wheel, and it was quite clear to me that his vision was focused on his BB and not the road (though admittedly he did see the light turn green). I couldn’t tell if he perhaps was guiding the wheel with his elbows.

The stretch of Bay St. we were on is fairly straight, so I imagine someone could just take their hands off the wheel for a stretch and continue relatively unscathed. But do so, and at the same time also try to write an e-mail to someone? What sort of e-mail could possibly be so important to worth risking your life (and the lives of those around you)? Moreover, what kind of person would be so pressed for time that the could not let the e-mail wait a few minutes until they pulled over somewhere to compose it? I can’t imagine that he did a very good job at either.

While nothing much happened this time (he managed to make his left a bit later – too out of range to see what happened to his BB (but obviously with at least one hand off of it) I do wish him the best that karma may have in store for him.

silly lawsuit of the week

OK. Short version of the story in InformationWeek: Woman puts up a website. She puts a “webwrap” agreement at the bottom – i.e. basically a contract that says if you use the site then you agree to the contract. Still some question as to whether such a mechanism is binding, but anyway…

So the Internet Archive of course comes along and indexes her site. Which apparently is a violation of the webwrap. So she sues, representing herself, I believe. The court throws out everything on a preliminary motion by IA except for the breach of contract.

InformationWork observes that “Her suit asserts that the Internet Archive’s programmatic visitation of her site constitutes acceptance of her terms, despite the obvious inability of a Web crawler to understand those terms and the absence of a robots.txt file to warn crawlers away.” (my emphasis). They then conclude with this statement:

If a notice such as Shell’s is ultimately construed to represent just such a “meaningful opportunity” to an illiterate computer, the opt-out era on the Net may have to change. Sites that rely on automated content gathering like the Internet Archive, not to mention Google, will have to convince publishers to opt in before indexing or otherwise capturing their content. Either that or they’ll have to teach their Web spiders how to read contracts.

(my emphasis).

They already have – sort of. It’s called robots.txt – the thing referred to above. For those of you who haven’t heard of this, its a little file that you put on the top level of your site and which is the equivalent of a “no soliciation” sign on your door. Its been around for at least a decade (probably longer) and most (if not all) search engines

From the Internet Archive’s FAQ:

How can I remove my site’s pages from the Wayback Machine?

The Internet Archive is not interested in preserving or offering access to Web sites or other Internet documents of persons who do not want their materials in the collection. By placing a simple robots.txt file on your Web server, you can exclude your site from being crawled as well as exclude any historical pages from the Wayback Machine.

Internet Archive uses the exclusion policy intended for use by both academic and non-academic digital repositories and archivists. See our exclusion policy.

You can find exclusion directions at exclude.php. If you cannot place the robots.txt file, opt not to, or have further questions, email us at info at archive dot org.

standardized methods of communications – privacy policies, etc. – more. Question is, will people be required to use it, or simply disregard and act dumb?

Fair Use and the DMCA

An article in Wired News with the dramatic title of “Lawmakers Tout DMCA Killer” describes the most recent attempt to: (a) water down the protections afforded to content owners by the DMCA; (b) ensure the preservation of fair use rights on the part of users. As is usual, each side has its own rhetoric to describe what is happening, so in fairness I took the liberty of offering to readers of this blog the two alternative descriptions above. The nub:

The Boucher and Doolittle bill (.pdf), called the Fair Use Act of 2007, would free consumers to circumvent digital locks on media under six special circumstances.

Librarians would be allowed to bypass DRM technology to update or preserve their collections. Journalists, researchers and educators could do the same in pursuit of their work. Everyday consumers would get to “transmit work over a home or personal network” so long as movies, music and other personal media didn’t find their way on to the internet for distribution.

And then of course on the other side:

“The suggestion that fair use and technological innovation is endangered is ignoring reality,” said MPAA spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg. “This is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Osterberg pointed to a study the U.S. Copyright Office conducts every three years to determine whether fair use is being adversely affected. “The balance that Congress built into the DMCA is working.” The danger, Osterberg said, is in attempting to “enshrine exemptions” to copyright law.

To suggest that content owners have the right to be paid for their work is, for me, a  no-brainer. That being said, I wonder whether the DMCA and increasingly more complex and invasive DRM schemes will ultimately backfire – sure they protect the content, but they sure as heck are a pain in the ass – just my personal take on it. For example, I’d love to buy digital music, but having experienced the controls that iTunes imposes and suddenly having all my tracks disappear, I just don’t bother with it now. Not to mention the incredible hoops one needs to go through to display, say, Blu-ray on a computer – at least in its original, non-downgraded resolution – why bother with all of that at all?

I wonder whether this is, in a way, history repeating itself in a way. I am old enough to remember the early days of software protection – virtually every high-end game or application used fairly sophisticated techniques (like writing non-standard tracks on floppies in between standard tracks) in attempting to prevent piracy. Granted, these have never gone away altogether, particularly for super high end software that needs dongles and and the like, and of course recently there has been a resurgence in the levels of protection that have been layered on in Windows, but after the initial, almost universal lockdown of software long ago, there came a period where it seemed many (if not most) software developers just stopped using such measures.  At least that’s what seemed to happen. I’m not quite sure why, but I wonder if this same pattern will repeat with content rather than software. I suspect not. But hey, you never know.

In the meantime, off I go, reluctantly, in the cold, cold winter, to the nearest record shop to buy music the old fashioned way…

ALPR is….

short for Automatic License Plate Recognition. Sometimes I find mention of the most interesting things in the most unexpected places. Like this brief article on how police in British Columbia are currently using a system that can easily and quickly scan license plate numbers as they drive along that I saw in bookofjoe. Surprised I didn’t see see it anywhere else, oddly enough, particularly given the implications for privacy, etc. Not necessarily that there are any – after all, license plates are there so that they can be seen by the public at large and police officers. That being said, I find it interesting how the application of new technology (optical recognition) to old technology (license plates), significantly alters the implications of how the old technology is perceived.

Sure, its one thing to have police on the lookout for a particular license plate on a car with a known felon who is escaping, but it seems to be quite another for a police car to scan and process thousands upon thousands of license plates while driving around the city.

Wikiality – Part III

Bit of an elaboration on a previous post on the use of Wikipedia in judgements. I cited part of a New York Times article, which had in turn quoted from a letter to the editor from Professor Kenneth Ryesky. The portion cited by the NYT article suggested that Ryesky was quite opposed to the idea, which wasn’t really the case. He was kind enough to exchange some thoughts via e-mail:

In his New York Times article of 29 January 2007, Noam Cohen quoted a sentence (the last sentence) from my Letter to the Editor published in the New York Law Journal on 18 January 2007. You obviously read Mr. Cohen’s article, but it is not clear whether you read the original Letter to the Editor from which the sentence was quoted.

Which exemplifies the point that Wikipedia, for all of its usefulness, is not a primary source of information, and therefore should be used with great care in the judicial process, just as Mr. Cohen’s article was not a primary source of information.

Contrary to the impression you may have gotten from Mr. Cohen’s New York Times article of 29 January, I am not per se against the use of Wikipedia. For the record, I myself have occasion to make use of it in my research (though I almost always go and find the primary sources to which Wikipedia directs me), and find it to be a valuable tool. But in research, as in any other activity, one must use the appropriate tool for the job; using a sledge hammer to tighten a little screw on the motherboard of my computer just won’t work.

Wikipedia and its equivalents present challenges to the legal system. I am quite confident that, after some trial and error, the legal system will acclimate itself to Wikipedia, just as it has to other text and information media innovations over the past quarter-century.

Needless to say, quite a different tone than the excerpt in the NYT article. Thanks for the clarification, Professor Ryesky.