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Archive for February, 2009

A Response to the DET Student Laptop Plan after reading the Tender

February 20, 2009 Leave a comment

I recently wrote an article about the Government’s Draft Consultation Paper on “Digital Economy Future Directions”. The paper brought up the concept of “media literacy”. Well as I said this comes with experience and interacting with media. Today (actually a week ago because I took so long to write this post) I have myself learnt something about media literacy. You see there had been a lot of talk about the Government’s plan for laptops in schools in the media. I even commented on this in a post here. What I failed to do was investigate and make judgements properly. I read the news web sites and that was it. But now once I’ve read the governments media release and the actual tender (zip) I get a totally different view of the situation that makes a lot of my previous arguments invalid.

The tender document goes into a lot of detail and explains things a lot better that the other media outlets that I originally got my information from. The document states,

“Typically, DET takes responsibility for the lifecycle of the standard access computers in its system, rather than assigning the machines to individual users. Inevitably, this leads to higher costs, as users feel no particular responsibility for any specific machine. This cannot work for the learning device – the machine will be the responsibility of the student or teacher to whom it is provided, and therefore attractiveness and a sense of ownership are important. In turn, this will only work if the machine provides a compelling ICT experience.”

I find it hard to see how the machine can provide a compelling ICT experience when it is a) locked down in its functionality and ability to install other software (as noted in the tender), and b) DET’s internet access is severely over-regulated. The tender also says,

“For example, it is likely that the machines will need to be turned on and off many times during the school day – so “near instant on” will be a requirement. A student cannot afford to wait several minutes for the device to prepare itself for use – that is to say, DET will require a device that returns itself to a “ready state” within five seconds.”

And then it talks about user security,

“It is very important that possession of the device does not put children or other users at hazard of being a target of theft. To mitigate this risk, the device needs to be locked to the DET network, only allowing access to internet services via DET’s network infrastructure (either from within the school or from any other location). The machine will not work unless the user has a DET username and password.

Vendors are invited to propose additional features that would improve the security of the device, either in hardware or software. These might include, but not be restricted to:

  • reporting the device’s identity and use to the DET network when it connects to any network
  • the device may be programmed to be unusable after a certain number of off-network sessions (that is, the device needs to authenticate to a DET directory once in every, say, five sessions, with the ability to adjust the grace period for holidays or special cases)”

In my original argument this was one of my main criticisms. But I should understand that there is nothing they can do to prevent theft entirely, and even then some things do fall outside their scope. The above extract from the tender details that low risk can be possible if these measures are built into the hardware, because if not then wiping the hard drive would remove any software protection measures. However it only just occured to me that they may use solid state drives (in fact latter on in the tender it says “The device must have no removable parts, other than the battery”, and then “…DET wishes to move to a fully solid state design…”) which I’m guessing would be difficult to “flash” with new data. This will not eliminate the value of these items to criminals but it would probably decrease enough not to be a big issue.

At the end of the day they will need to provide some backdoor to flash the device. If you secure the machine so much that other operating systems cannot be installed, what if there is a virus or whatnot that renders them useless. They would be foolish to provide no means to flash the machines.

All extracts and quotes have been used in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) for the purposes of criticism, review and the reporting of news.

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My Set of HSC Study Notes

February 16, 2009 9 comments

This is old news but I’ve been meaning to write at least something about it.When I did my HSC back in 2007 I found that there were no comprehensive notes for my subjects that suited me. That’s no surprise to me, in fact I think most people would find that they to have not found a set of notes that already exists and suits them perfectly. So I wrote my own. I used as many different and variety of sources that I could find and I merged these together into a set of notes that I could understand and reread if I ever forgot.

I made them available here, http://andrew.harvey4.googlepages.com/, or here if you prefer a simple directory listing.

Initially I released them as “all rights reserved”, with a disclaimer allowing reproduction for non-commercial use. Since then I’ve licensed them under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.

One thing I did when I was studying and writing my notes was to build upon the works of others. However this was difficult with the current copyright laws and the licensing of most of the material I used. So I had to change it enough to be new works that were not derivatives. Hopefully under this licensing of my notes I will save some others the trouble and allow them to take works that already exist such as my notes and change them or take extracts or add to them to produce and publish a set of study notes that suite their needs, without the need to be breaking the law and risk legal threats.

The license is one thing, but it’s still hard to add to my notes to make your own derivative version if I only supplied a PDF version. So to fix this problem I’ve released the source document (Microsoft Word, sorry but this is what I started it in) so that anyone can easily build upon my work.

Out of all the rights that the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) grants me, there are at least two that I think all copyright owners should not waiver (most of the time). Those being two moral rights from the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (part IX, division 2-3), the right of attribution of authorship, and the right not to have authorship of a work falsely attributed. I agree these should definitely be part of the act I’m glad they were recently added.

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EFA lodges it’s submission to DBCDE Future Directions consultation.

February 15, 2009 Leave a comment

A few days ago EFA lodged it’s submission to DBCDE Future Directions consultation.

http://www.efa.org.au/main/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/20090211-efa-dbcde-futuredirections.pdf

I agree with the arguments of EFA, so it will be interesting to see what The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy does next.

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Two Parliment Videos

February 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Two parliamentary videos I thought I would share…

Remark 1. It seems that from the offical source you can only stream live, you cannot download past videos.

Remark 2. On another note I checked the licensing of the official parliamentary videos.

“This work is copyright. You may download, display, print and reproduce this material in unaltered form only (retaining this notice) for your personal, non-commercial use or use within your organisation. All other rights are reserved. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Secretary, Department of Parliamentary Services, Canberra ACT, 2600 or Webmanager@aph.gov.au.http://www.aph.gov.au/legal/copyright.htm

I’m interested if “[y]ou may … reproduce this material in unaltered form only…” grants you the right to reproduce it as part of a larger derivative work, whilst not altering the copied segment. I think it should, but this is not clear enough in my opinion. Secondly “personal use” is a bit ambiguous. There are no references made to “personal use” in the Copyright Act 1968, so I’m wondering if this implies that one cannot republish this material for others to use. Again I think this should be allowed but it is unclear.

Categories: law, politics Tags: ,

Good Things May Soon Come: Government Considering Open Access to Public Sector Information

February 6, 2009 2 comments

I was only just made aware of the Government’s Draft Consultation Paper on “Digital Economy Future Directions” recently. The first consultation topic is “Open Access to Public Sector Information”. At least they have expressed interest. So I went over to see what EFA had drafted for their submission,

“The Commonwealth should endorse a default set of licensing conditions for intellectual property which it owns that foster re-use of information. The standard licences provided by the Creative Commons project provide an example of how this can be done in a manner which is both (relatively) simple and clear. Standardising these licenses across government not only makes clear that a liberal attitude towards intellectual property re-use is encouraged, it also lowers transaction costs incurred by consumers of the information in understanding the licensing conditions.

The Commonwealth is not a business – it should not be producing information which does not have an intrinsic public benefit, and so there is no imperative to recoup the cost of production of the information (although recouping the marginal costs of sharing the information, which will almost always be very low, may be justifiable). Allowing Australian companies and individuals to further develop intellectual property produced in the public sector can help to stimulate innovation in Australia’s digital economy.”

Electronic Frontiers Australia. http://wiki.efa.org.au/doku.php?id=digital_economy:2009-digital_economy_future_directions_consultation&rev=1233789400, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 (Australia) licence.

I could not agree more. I particularly agree with a set of (or even just one) government licenses named appropriately. This would simplify things greatly both for the government and the consumers of the material that would be licensed under the licenses terms.

I can’t say I completely agree with the the whole of the consultation paper, but at least they are looking the right direction for open access to public sector information. Lets hope they go along the lines of EFA’s suggestions (as per the wiki). I’m particularly concerned about their plans for ISP filtering, but that’s another story.

The consultation paper also talks about so called “media literacy” which it defines; “Media literacy is a step beyond digital literacy and refers to the ability to critically consume, comprehend and create media in all its modern forms…Media literacy equips school children with the skills to effectively research online … and gives people the capabilities to create their own diverse content and contribute to online communities such as forums and social networking sites”.

I have my own interpretation of “media literacy” but its hard to explain, but I think its something you can only get better at by experience. It says that “media literacy equips school children with the skills to effectively research online”, but this notion conflicts with the systems that are currently in place in NSW. A public school student in NSW using the Internet at their school will never be able to effectively research online. This is because the DET filters the Internet so vigorously that you can no longer research, and when you can find some relevant information you are only getting one side or opinion because the other side is likely blocked (eg. blogger.com & wordpress.com are blocked). The other contradiction is that, at least for NSW public school students they will find it extremely difficult to “create their own diverse content and contribute to online communities such as forums and social networking sites” simply because most forums and social networking sites out there are (or were when I was at school) blocked (MySpace, Facebook, Youtube, along with many other similar sites are all blocked). What makes this worse is that the DET does not publish a list of blocked web sites, there goes accountability and transparency. So the federal government needs to work with the state governments, and then the state governments need to work with school systems such as the DET.

The paper states, “The Digital Education Revolution, a major part of the Australian Government’s Education Revolution, is a vital step in developing the digital literacy of Australian students.” which if I’ve interpreted it right, they are heading in the right direction, they just need to get the DET on the same side.

EFA’s draft submission on their wiki emphasises that current Australian copyright law is stifling innovation, something that I very much agree with. Hopefully the government will not ignore the EFA’s submission.

Categories: politics Tags: , ,

A Question about The Legal System with regard to Precedents

February 4, 2009 2 comments

I know very little about law, but there is something I mustn’t understand because if things were as I understand them to be the legal system is just plain wrong and unfair, something that it defiantly should not be.

Consider this. Entity A sues entity B over something X. Now entity B may be poor and have no time so when the case goes to court they fail to provide any argument or reasoning at all as to why they should win the case. Entity A has heaps of time and money and comes up with lots of arguments and reasons as to why they should win. As a result the judge rules in favour of entity A. Then another entity C comes along which is doing the same thing as entity B, however this time they have taken the time and effort to come up with arguments of why they should win the case. Now lets assume that under the law entity C’s arguments are valid and prove that entity C should win. However because the case is the same as A vs. B, A will win in A vs. C because of the legal precedent set by A vs. B.

I am curious (I’m from Australia so I’m not sure about other legal systems) about what part of the above argument is incorrect, or is it correct and is the legal system really corrupt like this? Please leave your comments.

Categories: law

FairPay

February 3, 2009 3 comments

Many have suggested it in the past, many are currently doing this, but its really struck me now. What I’m talking about is a system where the content industry (by this I mean industries that develop products that can be distributed in digital format, which are conventionally protected by copyright laws, mainly the products, software, books, motion pictures and music.) allows consumers the freedom to legally download, redistribute, remix, share and so forth content. Say either an individual author, or songwriter/singer/band or a cooperate company that produces films, imagine if all their content was free to the world – For one this would probably open up whole new methods and technologies for distribution and staring of content, methods that aren’t always in strife with big companies and their lawyers trying to sue you.

This model would allow both the poor and the rich access to the same content giving them both the choice of how much or how little they want to pay. There would be very little piracy where a third party takes consumers money, as sane people would access content using the unregulated free, or very cheap methods of distribution that would presumably come with this model.

So how would all this be paid for? A donation. Consumers of the content could donate as little or as much money as they want to the creator. If they just watched a film but they thought it was terrible they may choose to pay nothing; if they loved it they may pay more than what the provider may have traditionally been willing to sell it for. Now wouldn’t this be a great society? It gives consumers the power and freedom, not the corporations.

One down side I see is that big corporations may abuse the system. Though allowing the payment process to be transparent when requested could help solve this.

What separates digital content, or “intellectual property”is that you are always taking copies. When you download an audio track you are not demolishing the number of audio tracks there are available to be distributed. Ignoring the distribution costs once you have produced say a film it costs you nothing to give it to the whole world, whereas its costs you more than nothing to distribute the whole world with TVs when you only have one. I say “ignoring the distribution costs” because use of P2P technologies reduce the cost to zero.

I would have no problem with giving an amount of money that I can afford and I think is reasonable to the creator. If anything it would increase the amount of money I give to content creators. For example I may want to see a particular film that is available for $30 on DVD. I think that is too much, so currently the creator gets nothing from me. If the FairPay model I’ve proposed here was in place, I would watch the film and if I liked it I would at least give more that $0 which is what they are currently getting from me.

This is not such a radical idea. The other day there was a story on a current affairs program where a restaurant is allowing customers to choose how much they wish to pay for their meal. SBS’s Insight ran a program about illegal downloading of music on Tuesday, 3 Jun 08 which gave another example of this model;

“SAM McLEAN: …One of the great models that have come out of bands is Radiohead’s model of releasing their music for free and saying, “Look, pay us what you think it’s worth,” and they made tonnes more money off that.
JENNY BROCKIE: They made a lot more money from that than anything else they’ve done.
http://news.sbs.com.au/insight/episode/index/id/19#transcript

Sure there are probably a lot of problems with this model that I have not thought of, I have not given it full consideration though it certainly deserves it.

I’m sure this is probably a very controversial idea. It certainly appears to be a great model for both consumers and society as a whole. So I hope in the future more and more creators explore this idea, and I hope I get a chance to try it out.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, I am in no way saying this should be compulsory. I am mealy expressing that I wish people and the majority of content creators used a method of distribution more along these lines. It is in my view a plasible solution to copyright infringment and piracy.

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