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.

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…

“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?

chrome a windows killer? i doubt it

Read an article in eWeek that left me scratching my head a bit. The nub below:

Then later:

And that would spell doom for Microsoft. It’s one thing to squeeze Microsoft out of the Internet game by dominating search and Web services. It’s another entirely to come after the software giant’s core operating system business, wielding the Web as your platform.

Must admit I have a lot of trouble seeing that, as I would have thought in order to supplant Windows, it would need to be gone, and to go from a browser that sits on an o/s to replacing the o/s seems to be a rather large leap. A huge leap, actually.

What they’re suggesting might happen is already a possibility today. There is definitely something that can supplant Windows altogether, and provide access to all the web-oriented apps, etc. that Google offers. Its cheap (sometimes free), stable and has pretty good UIs – in fact, a selection of UIs and different flavours. Its called Linux. However, for a variety reasons, it hasn’t kicked Microsoft’s ass yet (at least on the desktop – there are a few areas where it definitely does, such as web and other server functions).

To suggest, then, that, because Google has come out with a browser, that that will lead to the supplanting of Windows seems, IMHO, to be a bit far-fetched. I’m not suggesting that Google wouldn’t have the wherewithal to try to go after the desktop. They may do so. Though I’m not sure if they’d want to – they have a pretty good business model already…

Anyway, if and when they do something like that it will be so much larger an undertaking than Chrome that the links between that and Chrome would be tenuous at best, other than possibly bundling Chrome within whatever o/s they create.

Even possibly on the application front, I can see Google putting some pressure on MS, and how this might tie with Chrome. But not the o/s on which the whole thing runs.

So I think for the time being, Bill and Steve probably don’t have much to worry about with Chrome’s introduction, at least when it comes to the o/s business (IE on the other hand, is another matter altogether…).

conversion of data (and not the conversion you’re probably thinking of)

Very interesting piece from Duane Morris on a case in New York. My ultra short summary of the summary: Insurance company leases computer to agent. Agent puts all his business and personal data on it. Insurance company terminates agency, takes back the computer and all data on it, and refuses to give the agent access to any of it. Agent sues, loses, but then wins on appeal.

The interesting part is the basis on which he won, which was a claim under “conversion”. Not necessarily incredibly groundbreaking, as other cases have dealt with conversion as applied to intangibles previously, but, as the folks at Duane note:

Under the merger doctrine, a conversion claim will apply to intangible property, such as shares of stock, that are merged or converted into a document, such as a stock certificate. Accordingly, conversion of the certificate may be treated as conversion of the shares of stock represented by the certificate. More recently, the court ruled that a plaintiff could maintain a cause of action for conversion where the defendant infringed the plaintiff’s intangible property right to a musical performance by misappropriating a master recording, a tangible item of property capable of being physically taken.

Thyroff was the Court’s first opportunity to consider whether the common law should permit conversion for intangible property that did not strictly satisfy the merger test. Recognizing that it “is the strength of the common law to respond, albeit cautiously and intelligently, to the demands of common sense justice in an evolving society,” the Court decided that the time had arrived to depart from the strict common-law limitation of conversion.

Interestingly, in their analysis of the decision, they conclude that:

This decision provides a powerful remedy for New York employers to bring a cause of action against employees who steal company information or [intangible] property. Unlike claims for breach of fiduciary duty or misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion may be easier to plead than other claims because it does not require that the employer establish willfulness or wrongful conduct.

Hmmm. Not quite sure I’d agree – after all, the “conversion” itself would need to be established. Also, I’m not sure that a rogue employee who takes a copy of his or her employer’s confidential information but leaves the original copy with their employer, would be the basis for a cause of action under conversion, which, if I understand the case correctly, has more to do with depriving someone of property that is rightfully theirs. Absconding with confidential information does not deprive the owner of that information of the data, but rather the value the owner of the data can realize by virtue of the fact it can only be used by that owner. That situation seems somewhat different than the one in Thyroff – the analogy there would be if insurance company did not deny the agent access to his information, but rather took a copy of it and used it in a way they weren’t supposed to. It would be interesting to see whether the court would extend a claim of conversion to deprivation not of the intangible information itself, but rather value of the rights to exploit it exclusively. Alternatively, it may be that the ruling could be read broadly enough to already take that into account.

I also wonder what sort of effect this might have on those who might have otherwise leapt at the opportunity to become an agent for the insurance company…

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.

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…