google open sourcing vp8 codec

Interesting but perhaps not surprising news that Google will make the VP8 video codec open source. You can read in more detail by following the link but here’s a quick rundown: Many companies have decided to support H.264 for video streaming, including Google, Apple and Microsoft. Others, like Mozilla (the creator of Firefox), have not, as they are concerned about adopting, as a standard, proprietary technology that may one day require payment of royalties. Instead, they have chosen to support Ogg Theora, an open source codec based on a much earlier version of VP8. Making VP8 open source will remove this divide and will likely encourage the adoption of VP8 as a standard in place of either, as VP8 appears to be technically superior to both H.264 and Ogg Theora (which was developed from a much earlier iteration of VP8) and presumably would be free of potential licensing issues (and fees) associated with proprietary solutions such as H.264.

Perhaps not surprising given Google’s approach in mobile (i.e. the Android open source platform). Though it is worth noting that Google isn’t enchanted with all things open source, as evidenced by the hubbub about it and the Affero GPL a few years ago…

privacy vs the news (us version)

Interesting case summarized by Loeb and Loeb. A guy bitten by a killer whale sues someone for broadcasting the tape showing the incident without his consent. The guy claims, amongst other things, infringement of rights of privacy. Interestingly, the court held:

…that the plaintiff did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a video that he had previously licensed for broadcast on national television. The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that once-public facts could become private again and held that, even if the video were considered private, its broadcast
was protected as a newsworthy event.

What I find particularly interesting is the very last part, which seems to suggest that if it’s newsworthy, that somehow trumps the right to privacy. I can imagine that this would likely not be the case here in Canada. One example of where the courts here have done in directly the opposite direction is with respect to the horrific crimes of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, where a wide ban was imposed on materials related to the murders of two young women in order to protect the victims and their families.

I wonder how such a statement (albeit something that could very well be considered obiter) might be applied in other circumstances involving the victims of accidents or crimes, to the detriment of those victims…

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…

Belgian Court Slaps Google News

The short story: a Belgian court has ruled that Google must remove headlines and links posted on its news site for which it did not obtain permission to post, based on copyright law.

Rather unfortunate, I think. Sure, there are cases where some links and even partial reproduction should be prohibited, but in the context of what Google was doing its difficult to see the harm. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that the content owner would have pursued the claim. Google’s take:

“We believe that Google News is entirely legal,” the company said in a statement. “We only ever show the headlines and a few snippets of text and small thumbnail images. If people want to read the entire story they have to click through to the newspaper’s Web site.”

Google said its service actually does newspaper a favor by driving traffic to their sites.

But the court said Google’s innovations don’t get exemptions from Belgian data storage law.

“We confirm that the activities of Google News, the reproduction and publication of headlines as well as short extracts, and the use of Google’s cache, the publicly available data storage of articles and documents, violate the law on authors’ rights,” the ruling said.

If Google News violates authors’ rights, there will be a lot more that does as well. Tons. It will be interesting to see what happens on appeal as it could have rather far-reaching implications – at least in Belgium.

Thoughts on Quantum Computing

Interesting article in Wired News where they interview David Deutsch who they refer to as the Father of Quantum Computing. He has a kind of low key but interesting take on the recent demonstration of a real, live 16 qubit quantum computer by D-Wave, a Canadian company based out of Vancouver.

Low key insofar as he doesn’t seem particularly enthused about the potential of quantum computers, other than perhaps their ability to be used to simulate quantum systems and of course encryption:

Deutsch: It’s not anywhere near as big a revolution as, say, the internet, or the introduction of computers in the first place. The practical application, from a ordinary consumer’s point of view, are just quantitative.

One field that will be revolutionized is cryptography. All, or nearly all, existing cryptographic systems will be rendered insecure, and even retrospectively insecure, in that messages sent today, if somebody keeps them, will be possible to decipher … with a quantum computer as soon as one is built.

Most fields won’t be revolutionized in that way.

Fortunately, the already existing technology of quantum cryptography is not only more secure than any existing classical system, but it’s invulnerable to attack by a quantum computer. Anyone who cares sufficiently much about security ought to be instituting quantum cryptography wherever it’s technically feasible.

Apart from that, as I said, mathematical operations will become easier. Algorithmic search is the most important one, I think. Computers will become a little bit faster, especially in certain applications. Simulating quantum systems will become important because quantum technology will become important generally, in the form of nanotechnology.

(my emphasis). Interesting thought about being retrospectively insecure. Particularly given spy agencies have, in the past, been sufficiently bold to transmit encoded messages on easily accessible shortwave frequencies.

I imagine the spook shops already have their purchase orders in for quantum crypto stuff (or have developed it already internally). Was a bit surprised by the statement above regarding existing technology for quantum computing. I had heard of some demos a while back, but didn’t realize that there are actually several companies offering quantum cryptography products.

A Real Quantum Computer – This Week!

Sorry, been off sick. One very quick entry from Techworld, about a BC company, D-Wave, that will be debuting a real Quantum computer this week!!

Twenty years before most scientists expected it, a commercial company has announceda quantum computer that promises to massively speed up searches and optimisation calculations.

D-Wave of British Columbia has promised to demonstrate a quantum computer next Tuesday, that can carry out 64,000 calculations simultaneously (in parallel “universes”), thanks to a new technique which rethinks the already-uncanny world of quantum computing. But the academic world is taking a wait-and-see approach.

If it turns out to be true, this will be revolutionary news. I mean, truly revolutionary. If it works, well, say goodbye to most of the cryptography industry, as a quantum computer should easily be able to defeat the most sophisticated encryption methods currently known by simple brute strength. Amongst other things. This is nearly unlimited computing power in a box. Stunning. Assuming, of course, it actually works.