Archive for the 'Politics' Category

The Biggest Threat to Cyber-Security is Surveillance

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

The biggest threat to cyber-security is surveillance. Or rather the will, ability and legal status of organisations who prioritise surveillance and active attack abilities above defence and security.

The point is, that surveillance does not mean passive wire-tapping. It means attacking infrastructure where the data you want is available unencrypted, or infrastructure through which the message or data travels. Infrastructure which might not be under control of the entity trying to gain these surveillance-capabilities. For instance it might target the sender or the recipient of an encrypted e-mail or instant-messenger message. Or an intermediary, in order to know who communicates with who in the first place. All these actions are not comparable with passive wire-tapping, in fact, these attacks are indistinguishable from hacker-attacks aimed towards any other goal, like the enactment of botnets; and they also enable the attacker not just to eavesdrop, but to do whatever else he pleases, from launching man-in-the-middle attacks to denial-of-service, ransomware, attacking somebody else and so on. So surveillance is an attack as any other.

The problem now stems from the fact, that in order to attack somebody, you need knowledge of insecure systems, vulnerabilities, on their part. Typically, what you use are exploits, and if they’re not published yet, they’re called zero-day-exploits. Now, as long as you don’t tell anyone, these vulnerabilities don’t get fixed. They might be found by somebody else, and published or not. As soon as they get published, they loose their value for attack. Now, during that period when you have a zero-day-exploit on your hands, you might mitigate that vulnerability on your systems. But you actually can’t mitigate them on all systems of your allies, because then the secret would go out. So you don’t. Which leads to one outfit having knowledge of vulnerabilities leaving every other outfit at risk.

In a practical example, 2013 a server was hacked, that was used by the NSA as staging system for attacks. The Shadow Brokers hack was made public only in 2016, and it turned out, the NSA had stashed a load of zero-day-exploits there, some of which were still zero-days in 2016, but the majority of them had already been made public. Now, not only illustrates this that independent researches will find these “secret” vulnerabilities eventually, but also something much more sinister: The NSA had actually put every other US-agency, including FBI and DOD, the government, critical infrastructure (including power plants, water supply and hospitals) and finally all its own citizens at risk.

With all the secret services world-wide, and often also police-units (For instance, the Zürich Police bought surveillance software from Hacking Team containing three zero-day-exploits) involved in ramping up their cyber-attack-capabilities, most often with the goal of surveillance, we can see an extreme effect on creating a market for zero-day-exploits. Where fifteen years ago no noticeable market existed at all, we now have one whose prices start at USD 40’000 and go up to USD 500’000 per exploit, as evidenced by the price-list published by Zerodium In other words, secret services and police are actively undermining the security of everyone on this planet, friend and foe alike.

The trouble is, highly technological societies are much more vulnerable to this. For guerillas, insurgents and terrorists the benefits of being able to exploit vulnerabilities is much greater, and they don’t really have to defend any friends from such attacks. So the ones that suffer the most, are the people and governments of exactly the same nations and states whose secret services and police are actively undermining their security. This is a grave situation, as most governments have not even realised what it is they have their secret services and police doing, and are actively trying to destroy their own security with initiatives that call for weakening of crypto or for government back doors. Or at least, trying to explicitly legalise these practices as seen with Switzerlands NDG, which of course will have a very much adverse effect of security.

The solution is surprisingly simple, the only impediment is, as usual, the widespread incomprehension of the problem itself. Since every vulnerability that is made public eliminates the exploitation of it for everyone, the only solution is to make every vulnerability public as soon as possible. The usual, and in fact “best practice” of the computer industry, is called “responsible disclosure”, where the manufacturer of a software or product is informed a few days or maximum weeks in advance, so he can fix the vulnerability, before the issue is made public. And in the end, it’s the only solution that will really make us more secure.

On Ebooks and pricing

Monday, November 17th, 2014

I’m an avid reader. And I’ve got quite a collection of books. But apart from some pdfs I bought at rpgnow and some I’ve got from humblebundle, I bought exactly one ebook on the internet.

One reason for this is DRM. I can’t stand it, and I vote with my boots. I will never support such a completely consumer-hostile scheme, not with my money, and I even try to boycott the most egregious abusers of it by not buying their other products as well. Amazon for instance. There are of course some other abuses producers can indulge in which might want me to boycott them, like lobbying for extensions of copyright or ripping of the academic communities with journals and other such rent-seeking activities. But I won’t go into detail here; if buying a book is not as easy as can be or the book has antifeatures like DRM, you can stop right now, you’ve already lost.

Another reason is price. I’m very well aware that producing an ebook has a lot of the same fixed costs as one on paper has, but still, ebooks are much, much too expensive. The one thing that most people seem to forget, is that while ebooks have the same fixed costs (basically the writer and the editor; see Charlie Stross‘ Blog for details) there are practically no costs associated with the individual file you sell. So that base price of the individual unit which came beforehand from printing, stock and distribution, falls away, what remains is the amount for writer, editor, marketing, etc. which can be spread out over as how many units you like.

The question is, where actually is the “right” price for ebooks (and movies, by the way, which also seem to be much too expensive)?

The facts to keep in mind are: Budget and time are constrained on the buyers side. For most books, the things that tell stories are the immediate competition: Movies and computer games, But basically everything else that entertains people is competing with books, like forums and blogs and other places of discourse on the internet. And the public domain will also compete with newer books. Also, while people can (and will, no matter of copyright) share books with their friends they can’t actually resell them and recoup some of the money they spent. So the price needs to be rather low, to compete with all the other offerings, with public domain books, and with used books on paper.

Now, I’ve noticed from my behaviour regarding computer games, that I actually bought a lot of games I already had again, at or steam. Why? Mostly because they were cheap. With some autumn- summer- and christmas-sales, I’ve just about re-bought all the computer games I’ve already had.

This leads me to the conclusion of what the “sweet price” for ebooks is: The price where I can re-buy all the books I’ve ever had on paper or ever read within the space of maybe a year or two. In my case, that’s probably around 2000 books, some of which I’ve gotten for SFR 1 at garage sales, some I lent out from libraries, some I bought at retail price. The price for all of them should probably be below SFR 10’000; and with the SFR 1 paper ones as measuring stick, probably not a lot more than that. Say between SFR 1 and 4 (one swiss franc, by the way, is slightly more than a dollar nowadays).

Of course, you won’t want to make every book this price; you might want to put prices of popular ones more towards SFR 4 and unpopular ones more towards SFR 1, and of course, for new releases you want to have prices rather towards the prices of the paper version, SFR 15 maybe. Still, even new releases should have prices markedly lower than the paper version, since you really don’t have to take any logistics into account. Plus, you might want to have sales with huge discounts, and bundles, like “all the works of Isaac Asimov for SFR 30”. Take a look at around christmas, and you’ll see what I mean.

Exactly the same thinking can of course be applied to other digital goods, like movies and television series. I suspect the prices there could be a bit higher, maybe something around SFR 3-10 for movies, and maybe SFR 1-4 for single episodes, or SFR 10-20 for whole series. And again, newer ones priced above that, And bundles (“all the James Bond movies for SFR 50”).

The main point here is: There is a price that is so low, people will buy these things just to have them (or even fear that “it will cost more after this sale”), regardless of whether they even get around on reading or watching them. Just for the sake of collecting. Because they remember them, or because they’ve heard about that author and plan on reading something of him some time in the future. It doesn’t even matter if they already have gotten that book from a friend, for free. And, most importantly, it doesn’t matter if they will even find the time to read it; or even expect to find the time.

Swisscom Peering Policy Perversions

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Was ist ein Peering?

Wenn man von einem Internetprovider Daten zu einem anderen schicken will, dann geht das an erster Stelle über einen Upstream, einen grösseren Internetprovider an dem andere Internetprovider angehängt sind. Diesen Upstream bezahlt man.

Ein Peering ist nun, wenn man eine direkte Leitung zum anderen ISP einrichtet, und allen Traffic vom und zu diesem ISP (aber nur den) direkt darüber leitet. Dies geht relativ kostengünstig wenn man bereits im selben Datacenter Infrastruktur hat, und es gibt Vereine, hier die SwissIX welche die gemeinsame Infrastruktur (die Switches) in diesen Datacentern betreiben.

Mit einem Peering sparen nun beide Seiten Upstream-Kosten, und die Kunden profitieren von kürzen Pfaden, also schnellerem Zugriff. Es ist also in den meisten Fällen eine Win-Win Situation.

Es gibt vereinzelt Fälle wo der eine Partner mehr profitiert als der andere, typischerweise profitiert dann der der mehr Daten saugt als er liefert.

Swisscom saugt

Die Swisscom ist einer der grössten Endkunden-Provider der Schweiz, und damit auch einer der grössten Empfänger von Daten. Man würde nun erwarten dass die Swisscom ein sehr grosses Interesse daran hat zu peeren, speziell mit Providern deren Kunden bei Swisscom-Kunden beliebte Seiten anbieten.

Stattdessen verlangt die Swisscom eine monatliche Miete. Mit anderen Worten, die Swisscom spart Upstream-Kosten, die Kunden der Swisscom haben besseren Zugriff auf Webseiten, und die Swisscom lässt sich das auch noch bezahlen.

Der andere ISP spart etwas Upstream-Kosten, und drückt dann stattdessen gleich wieder Geld an die Swisscom ab. Finanziell kann das nur bei sehr grossem eingespartem Datenvolumen funktionieren; wenn die Einsparungen grösser sind als die monatliche Rente an die Swisscom.

Der einzige Grund weshalb das funktionieren kann, ist dass die Kunden anderer ISPs, die Webseiten anbieten, ein Interesse daran haben dass ihre Seiten schnell bei den Swisscom-Kunden ankommen. Und dieses Interesse haben sie, weil die Swisscom einen Grossteil aller Endkunden bei sich angehängt haben. Ein sehr deutlicher Missbrauch einer marktbeherrschenden Stellung.

Tatsächlich haben sich auch schon Provider in der Schweiz dagegen gewehrt, z.b. hat Init7 einen Teilsieg gegen die Swisscom errungen. Aber dass die Swisscom immer noch für Peerings Geld verlangen kann, zeigt deutlich dass da von Wettbewerb keine Spur vorhanden ist, und die Swisscom nach wie vor bereit ist ihre Kunden, und die Qualität deren Internetverbindung, gegen kleinere Internetprovider auszuspielen.

Die Verlierer dieser Monopolrentenpolitik der Swisscom sind die anderen Internetprovider, deren Service anbietende Kunden, und die Kunden der Swisscom.

Die Überwachung und der Skandal

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Spätestens seit den späten 80er Jahren ist bekannt dass die NSA alles überwachen möchte, namentlich wurden da Details über das ECHELON Projekt, welches Funksignale auch in Europa z.b. via den Abhörstationen in Menwith Hill (UK) oder Bad Aibling (DE) abhört bekannt. Der Spiegel berichtet 1989 darüber: NSA: Amerikas großes Ohr.

Nicht nur der Funk wurde abgehört, sondern schon damals war es ein offenes Geheimnis dass die NSA in Frankfurt “in unmittelbarer Nachbarschaft der Postzentrale” hunderte von Telefonleitungen betrieb. Und in den 90ern war bekannt dass die NSA im selben Gebäude wie der DE-CIX ein Büro unterhielt, später dann aber nach gegenüber umgezogen sei (Scheinbar ist das nicht ganz korrekt: Die NSA hatte offenbar ein Büro über dem Hauptpostamt, aber das war vor der DE-CIX Zeit. Was aber nichts daran ändert dass die NSA später in unmittelbarer Nähe vom DE-CIX Büros unterhielt).

Dass die NSA versucht im Ausland alles zu Überwachen war also schon in den 90ern klar, und wem sich dafür interessiert hat auch bewusst. Auch klar war dass da mindestens eine Billigung durch entsprechende Behörden in den UK, Deutschland und anderen Ländern vorhanden sein musste.

Was weder mir noch der Öffentlichkeit klar war, ist das Ausmass in dem die NSA, zumindest im 21. Jahrhundert, damit erfolgreich war.

Der Skandal in den USA

Der eigentliche Skandal ist aber ein anderer. Einerseits hat den die USA selber: Die Überwachung der eigenen Bevölkerung war weder Auftrag der NSA, noch legal. Die versuchte Rechtfertigung mit “National Security Letters” und esoterischer Gesetzesauslegung sind nicht mehr als ein Feigenblatt, um die Verfassungs- (und eigentlich auch Gesetzes-)widrigen Machenschaften der NSA und der Regierungen Bush Jr. und Obama zu decken. Aber das ist erstmal das Problem der US Bürger.

Der Skandal hier…

Andererseits haben wir auch einen Skandal. Nämlich wie die Taten der NSA durch lokale Geheimdienste und Regierungen gedeckt wurden. Ja, die USA dürfen nach ihren eigenen Gesetzen bei uns spionieren. Aber nicht nach unseren. Und während die meisten Europäischen Geheimdienste, im Gegensatz zu den US-Amerikanischen, auch die eigenen Einwohner bespitzeln dürfen, so dürfen sie eines nicht: Daten über die eigenen Bürger an fremde Mächte weitergeben. Und statt Spionage-Abwehr zu betreiben haben wohl einige europäische Geheimdienste, darunter ziemlich sicher der BND, wohl genau das Gegenteil getan und ihre eigenen Bürger verraten.

..und der Skandal wie damit umgegangen wird

Und der dritte Skandal an der ganzen Sache ist wie die betroffenen Regierungen damit umgehen. Statt sich sofort hinter die eigene Bevölkerung zu stellen und die Übeltäter im eigenen Land vor Gericht zu ziehen, der NSA die Dependencen zuzumachen und den Datenfluss abzuwürgen übt man sich in lahmen Verleugnungen (“es gibt keinen Skandal”), Relativierungen und Rechtfertigungen.

Klar, einige Leute in den Regierungen wussten vermutlich etwas zuviel, aber das ist weder ein Grund nicht sofort die Geheimdienste an die Leine zu nehmen oder zuzumachen, noch ein Grund die ganze Sache herunterzuspielen. Und für die Parlamente ist das schon gar kein Grund nicht sofort Gesetze zu erlassen die so eine Massenüberwachung in Zukunft verunmöglichen. Stattdessen gibt es immer noch Politiker die die Vorratsdatenspeicherung fordern, was schlussendlich nichts anderes ist als die Bereitstellung von Datensammlungen für fremde Geheimdienste und Kriminelle. Ebenfalls ist es unerklärlich weshalb nicht sofort die Staatsanwaltschaften gegen die Beteiligten zu ermitteln anfangen.

Und dann haben wir noch die Presse, welche sich vor allem in den USA als NSA-Apologet hervortut und statt die Missetäter anzugreifen den Überbringer der Botschaft mundtot machen will.
Aber auch in Europa ist die Reaktion noch moderat, und statt Köpfe rollen zu fordern wird abgewiegelt.

Ja, wir haben einen Skandal, aber der ist nicht dass die NSA alles abhört, sondern dass sie dabei von Kollaborateuren in unseren Ländern unterstützt wird, und dass unsere eigenen Regierungen nichts dagegen unternehmen.

(Der Grund warum der Artikel nicht mehr auf die Schweiz eingeht ist dass hier noch sehr viel offen ist, und eine mögliche Zusammenarbeit von Schweizer Geheimdiensten mit der NSA noch nicht wirklich untersucht, und auch nicht derart offensichtlich wie beim deutschen BND oder beim englischen GCHQ ist).

Closed Data

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Es scheint als ob es zu dem Thema keinen griffigen Titel gibt, es sei denn so ein halbseitiges Untertitel-Ding, welches im 18Jh beliebt war:

“Closed Data, oder wie die Öffentlichkeit dem Staat Forschung und Datenerhebhung finanziert, und wie dieser uns für die Resultate nochmals bezahlen lässt; oder wie er die Daten an Dritte verkauft die sie dann wiederum an uns verkaufen”

Na, immerhin, damit ist gleich gesagt um was es geht.

Wir Bürger eines Staates finanzieren eine ganze Menge wissenschaftliche Forschung über die Steuern, und selbst da wo der Hintergrund nicht wissenschaftlich ist, sondern ganz einfach begründet in Verwaltungstechnischer Notwendigkeit — Zensus, Vermessung, Steuern, Rechteausübung, Justiz — fallen Daten an die wissenschaftlich interessant sind.

Strassen-, Zonen-, und Katasterpläne, Höhenmodelle, hydrographische Modelle, demographische Daten, meteorologische Daten, kriminalstatistische Daten und so weiter. Und dadurch dass diese Vorgänge schon seit längerem laufen, auch historische Daten. Für alle diese Daten haben wir bereits einmal bezahlt, in dem wir ein Bundesamt oder eine Kantons- oder Stadtverwaltung damit betraut haben, und es dafür mit Steuern bezahlen.

Bildungs- und medizinische Einrichtungen produzieren nicht nur Daten, sondern forschen auch wissenschaftlich in sämtlichen Bereichen. Auch solche Institutionen werden aktiv vom Steuerzahler unterhalten. Der Forscher wird bezahlt, dafür dass er für sein Institut, und schlussendlich für die Allgemeinheit Forschung betreibt.

Ein kleiner Teil dieser Daten sind Datenschutztechnisch relevant: Daten die sich auf lebende Personen beziehen: Steuererklärungen, medizinische Verläufe, etc. Bei diesen ist der Halter zu Geheimhaltung verpflichtet, so dass bei allfälliger Veröffentlichung oder Weitergabe nicht auf die Person geschlossen werden kann. Diese Daten haben aber ebenfalls wissenschaftlichen Wert, wenn sie in passend anonymisierter Form vorliegen, z.b. um Gesundheitsrisiken statistisch auswerten zu können.

Damit ist eigentlich klar, dass hochauflösende Karten zu jeglichem Thema, anonymisierte Personenbezogene Daten, Umweltdaten jeglicher Art, und wisschenschaftliche Forschungsergebnisse der Allgemeinheit gehören.

Möchte der Bürger nun aber Zugriff auf diese Daten, so stellen sich ihm plötzlich Hürden in den Weg:

  • Historisch gewachsene Bürokratie. Daten müssen manchmal ausgewertet (z.b. zusammengestellt, anonymisiert, katalogisiert) werden bevor sie veröffentlicht werden können, und historisch gesehen war die Veröffentlichung selbst mit nicht geringen Kosten für Druck, Kopie oder Sendung verbunden. Dies hat dazu geführt dass Institutionen ihre Daten als prinzipiell “intern” angesehen haben, und jeden der zugreifen wollte als Bittsteller, welcher bitte zuerst warten und dann die Veröffentlichungskosten tragen sollte.
  • Finanzieller Druck. Institutionen, seien es Ämter oder Forschungseinrichtungen, stehen unter einem finanziellen Druck von oben. Die Betrieber möchten möglichst wenig Geld ausgeben, und so erscheint es am einfachsten sich nicht nur die externen Kosten der Veröffentlichung bezahlen zu lassen, sondern da auch gleich Einnahmen zu generieren. Sobald die Publikationskosten gegen Null tendieren, was seit Grössenordnung 1995 mit dem Internet der Fall ist, dann sieht man plötzlich wie eine Institution Geld verlangt, für etwas was schon lange bezahlt ist. Weshalb genau kosten Schweizer Karten 1:25’000 in elektronischer Form SFR 14 pro “Blatt” [1]?
  • Propaganda. Der Schritt von “für die Publikation müssen wir die Unkosten der Veröffentlichung selber erstattet haben” zu “für die Publikation wollen wir die Unkosten der ganzen Forschung erstattet haben” ist ein kleiner, aber sehr relevanter. Plötzlich sind die Daten nicht mehr der Öffentlichkeit, sondern zum Rechtsgut derjenigen geworden die sie erstellt haben (auch wenn die Öffentlichkeit sie dafür eigentlich bezahlt hat). Es werden Copyright-Vermerke draufgeknallt, und man versucht die ganze Verwertungskette zu kontrollieren. Gefördert wurde dieses Denken durch die wachsende Propaganda seitens privater Rechteverwerter seit den 1980er Jahren, die es auch geschafft haben, das Urheberrecht seither nicht weniger als X mal zu verschärfen — jedesmal auf Kosten der Öffentlichkeit. Auch hier wieder als Beispiel die Swisstopo, respektive deren Lizenzen [2].
  • Rentensuche. Noch wildere Blüten betreibt das Geschäft mit den Öffentlich finanzierten Daten im akademischen Bereich. Hier haben sich einerseits wissenschaftliche Verlage etabliert, die die Aufmerksamkeit und Reputation Ihrer Leser an potentielle Autoren verkaufen, welche dann nicht nur die Publikationskosten in einem Journal bezahlen, sondern auch noch Reviews der Arbeiten anderer Autoren gratis durchführen damit schlussendlich die Verlage das Journal den Bildungseinrichtungen zu horrenden Abonnementspreisen wieder zur Verfügung stellen können. Eine komplett parasitäre Einrichtung welche eigentlich nur via Bildungsbudgets von der Öffentlichkeit eine Rente bezieht.
  • Futterneid. Die Daten die die eine Institution oder der eine Forscher hat, die sollen andere entweder nicht haben, oder nicht benutzen können ohne dafür zu zahlen. Und natürlich ohne zu berücksichtigen dass die Daten eigentlich schon von der Öffentlichkeit finanziert wurden. Auch hier spielt wieder das Urheberrecht mit, oder wenigstens die von den obig erwähnten Rechteverwertern geprägte Weltbild. Aber noch viel interessanter ist hier ein anderes System, dass es erlaubt allen anderen die Benutzung von eigenen Ideen zu verbieten (Nota bene: Es erlaubt nicht die eigenen Ideen selber zu benutzen; es ist ein reines Veto-Recht gegenüber anderen). Das Patentsystem. Während akademische Forschung früher das früher zur Privatsache erklärt hat, ist es durch das Zusammenspiel der hier erwähnten Faktoren zum Usus geworden als Einrichtung Patente zu fördern, so dass schlussendlich die Öffentlichkeit eine Erfindung die sie bezahlt hat, nicht einmal mehr Nutzen darf ohne Lizenzgebühren zu bezahlen.

Diese ganzen Mechanismen machen es schwierig für Bürger die Daten die mit ihrem eigenen Geld erhoben wurden zu bekommen. Als ich 1996 im Rahmen einer soziologischen Arbeit [3] Daten gesucht habe, konnte ich die in der Schweiz nur entweder auf Papier oder sehr teuer “einzelne Anfrageresultate” auf Diskette bekommen; schlussendlich habe ich stattdessen US-Daten verwendet.

Ich bin nicht der einzige der schlussendlich irgendwie ausgewichen ist. Das Projekt besteht aus Daten die von Leuten ehrenamtlich per GPS gesammelt wurden, obwohl genau dieselben Daten schon in Grundbuchämtern und den Topografischen Institutionen vorhanden gewesen wären.

Wie hingegen die Welt aussieht wenn Bürger und interessierte Stellen Zugriff auf solche Daten haben, das sieht man in den Beispielen auf Schlussendlich ist die Summe eben grösser als die Anzahl ihrer Teile; und was alles aus irgendwelchen Daten entstehen kann können wir uns im vornherein nicht wirklich genau vorstellen, also ist die einzig sinnvolle Reaktion eben den Zugriff auf diese Daten möglicht vielen Leuten zu ermöglichen.

[1] Swisstopo
[2] Swisstopo: Lizenzen
[3] Attitudes towards Victimless Crimes, Peter Keel, 1996

Patents on Bronze Age Technology

Friday, May 10th, 2013

This here is from Apple’s Slide-to-Unlock patent, which is currently being invalidated.
Slid to Unlock Patent
However, the question remains why this could be granted in the first place. Laziness? A case of “it said computer, so I turned off my brain”? Or job-blindness “I couldn’t find any prior art in the patent database”?

Because the amount of prior art is actually staggering. This here is one of the earliest I could casually find:
 Abydos King List. Temple of Seti I, Abydos
Yes, it’s hieroglyphs, and they’re from roughly 1290 B.C. The topmost hieroglyph is a “z” (or hard “s”), and the symbol is that of a door bolt. And since hieroglyphs are rather old, and Seti I. by no means one of the early pharaohs, this means there’s most probably much older evidence out there for “slide-to-unlock”.

And I’d wager there’s so much more of this crap out there. Chances are very slim that this is an isolated case, this is most probably endemic, system inherent.

Voices against the patent system: The Economist 1851

Monday, April 1st, 2013

When considering modern political debates, it always makes sense to go back, and consider where these laws come from. And with patents, it turns out, just about everything said today by critics of the patent system was already voiced more than 150 years ago.

I managed to find the archive for this piece here, OCR’d it and corrected it manually. the spelling and rather weird placement of semicolons and double quotes has been preserved from the original.

1851.] THE ECONOMIST. 811


THE measure for amending the Patent Laws, which is about to be
discussed in the House of Commons, was very fully described by Lord
Granville when he moved the committee on the bill on the 1st inst. It
will abolish useless offices, and by requiring accurate specifications,
will prevent many frauds now practised ; it will give protection from
the date of application by a provisional registration, abolish the
system of caveats, and make all patented inventions easy of access
to the public. It will make one patent valid for the United Empire,
instead of requiring, as at present, one for England, one for Scotland,
and one for Ireland, and reduce the number of offices now concerned in
granting patents from eight to two — the Great Seal Patent Office, and an
office to be created of the nature of the Record (Attorney-General’s)
Office. The petition for a patent must be left at the Great Seal Office,
accompanied by a specification, in order to avoid the evil now very
common of schemers petitioning for a patent, and spending the six months
allowed for making the specification in appropriating some inventions to
themselves of which they have heard or got a glimpse. On depositing the
specification and paying 5£, the patentee will obtain complete protection
for six months, so that the merit of the invention may in that time be
tested. Good inventions will find a market, and less time and money than
at present will be wasted on worthless schemes. By abolishing caveats,
fraud will be avoided. At present schemers enter caveats when there is a
great probability that something useful is about to be brought forward ;
claim priority over the real inventor, and harass him or cheat him out
of his expected reward. Instead of inviting by such means an envious or
a designing man to oppose a modest and successful inventor, an invention
will be referred to scientific examiners, the title of the patent will
be advertised, and those who object to its being granted will have an
opportunity of stating their objections. Between them and the claimants,
the examiners will decide. To give a remedy against any injustice
committed by the examiners, an appeal will lie to the law officers of
the Crown.

Another improvement in the present law is to distribute the payment
for the patent, now required to be paid at once, over a period of
seven years. One payment of 20£ fees and 5£ stamps is to be made at the
commencement of the patent ; another of 40£ fees and 10£ stamps at the
end of the third year ; and at the end of the seventh year, 80£ fees
and 20£ stamps. If the invention should turn out useful, the larger
sums required at the second and third periods will be readily paid ;
and if it should not be useful, the failure to pay the second and third
instalments will void the patent, the pockets of individuals will not be
emptied to their disadvantage or ruin, and the accumulation of useless
patents will be prevented. By another clause in the bill, the publication
of an invention in a foreign country or in one of our colonies, to which
the patent laws are not extended, is considered as publication at home,
and to have a similar effect in preventing the grant of a patent. The
mere importation of an invention will not give a claim to monopolise
its advantages. Such are the leading features of the new measure,
which will be a great improvement on the existing law.

Only one of the many witnesses examined before the select committee
to which the bill was referred, advocated the present system, and he
is interested in its continuance. Some of them wished the measure to go
further but as far as it goes all the other witnesses approve of it. They
were chiefly persons connected with patents, and favourable to the
principle of the old and the new law. Before the committee no witnesses
were called, according to custom, on behalf of the public, though patents
are described as bargains between inventors and the public.
For a knowledge of their inventions, it consents to give them a monopoly
for a certain period. How its interests can be represented before such a
committee, who is at once wise enough to know the interests of the public,
and is sufficiently confided in to be its witness, we are not aware, and
the public interest was left, of course, to the care of the committee,
having, as the rule, no other evidence placed before it by such an
inquiry than that of partial and interested persons. In running over
what they said, nothing strikes us more forcibly than the many tricks
and frauds to which the patent system gives rise. Besides the caveats,
by which one man attempts wrongly to appropriate to himself the bounty
which the State gives for invention and which properly belongs to another,
the granting patents “inflames cupidity,” excites fraud, stimulates men
to run after schemes that may enable them to levy a tax on the public,
begets disputes and quarrels betwixt inventors, provokes endless lawsuits,
bestows rewards on the wrong persons, makes men ruin themselves for the
sake of getting the privileges of a patent. Patents are like lotteries,
in which there are a few prizes and a great many blanks. Comprehensive
patents are taken out by some parties, for the purpose of stopping
inventions, or appropriating the fruits of the inventions of others,
&c. Such Consequences, more resembling the smuggling and fraud caused
by an ill-advised tax than anything else, cause a strong suspicion. that
the principle of the law from which such consequences flow cannot be just.

We read, therefore, with great pleasure, Earl Granville’s manly
declaration, that ” he had gone into the committee
” with some doubt, and he was sorry to say, such was the
” obstinacy of his nature, that all the evidence in favour and
” against had sent him forth confirmed in the belief that it
” was inadvisable for the public, of no advantage for the inventor,
” and wrong in principle, to have any patents for inventions at all.”
That conclusion is not less remarkable than correct ; though we
are inclined to be somewhat sceptical as to the following
assertion by the Noble Earl, that “if the whole country were polled, the
great mass of the people would be in favour of the Patent Laws.” Such a
conclusion is naturally inspired by living for the moment in an atmosphere
of inventors and patent agents ; but believing, like the Noble Lord,
that the principle of such laws is erroneous, we have confidence in the
intelligence and reason of the community, and cannot so readily admit
that which. appears to us to be obviously wrong is generally approved
of. What the community requires is, that inventors be rewarded ; that
skilful men who contribute to the progress and improvement of society
shall he well paid for their exertions. The Patent Laws are supported
because it is erroneously supposed that they are means to this end. It
is only necessary to show, as Earl Granville and the inquiries of the
committee have shown, that they completely fail to answer this purpose,
to disabuse the community of the prejudice in their favour. To poll
the community on such a question, the arguments pro and con should be
placed before it, and from them it would ratify Earl Granville’s view,
and decide against all Patent Laws.

From Mr Ricardo’s evidence before the Lord’s committee, they would
learn, whatever attributes imagination may subsequently have given to
the grant of patents, that it was intended at its origin merely to
raise a revenue. To encourage inventors and promote invention were
after and secondary considerations, more like pretexts to justify a
wrong than the real grounds of the measure. That taxing inventions can
tend to promote them is not agreeable to the common understanding of the
influence of taxation. James the 1st raised 200,000£ a year by granting
patents. At present about five hundred patents are taken out every year;
the expense of each patent is about 350£, or a tax of about 175,000£
is annually levied on the grant of patents. To encourage invention it
is very heavily taxed. Only a few patents are very profitable, not more
probably than 1 per cent.; and by the Patent Laws inventors are annually
mulcted, independently of the sums they are obliged. to disburse for
specifications, &c., &c., of upwards of 170,000£. The State in return
for this confers on inventors nothing but what they. actually before
posseseed — the right to use their invention., and recover by its use
from the bulk of the community, if they can, the cost of their invention,
and the money the State has taken from them. All that the State does and
can do, is to promise that no, other person than the inventor shall put
his invention into use; but the State. as we know from experience, cannot
fulfil its promise, and cannot with its utmost power ensure an inventor
a return of one sixpence for his disbursements. The power to recover
them from the rest of the community depends entirely on the utility of
the invention, which exists wholly irrespective of any guarantee from
the State. It is, therefore, one of the delusions greediness fostered
by the Patent Laws, to suppose that the State can ensure an inventor,
by a patent, a certain reward for his invention.

From the evidence of other gentlemen the public will learn that patents
are artificial stimuli to improvident exertions ; that they cheat people by
promising what they cannot perform ; that they rarely give security to
really good inventions, and elevate into importance a number of trifles ;
that they much more impede than promote invention ; that most great
modern improvements, such as mule-spinning, lighting streets with gas,
travelling by railroads, and adapting steam to ocean navigation, like
the inventions of arithmetic and
printing in ancient times, were introduced independently of the influence
of patents ; and that patents impoverish, not enrich inventors. In fact,
the whole of the evidence lands us in this conclusion, that patents
are, as Mr Brunel states, productive of
” unmixed evil to every party connected with them, those for the benefit
of whom they are given and the public.” The advocates of the patent
system — the societies which are getting up all the agitation on the
subject, admit this — they complain of it. The only difference between
them and Mr Brunel, Lord Granville, Mr Lloyd, and others is, that they
attribute all the evils, which they acknowledge, to our peculiar Patent
Laws, and they suppose that by some improvement in the law these evils
would be avoided.; while the other gentlemen justly suppose that the evils
are inherent in the system itself, and cannot be got rid of by any change
in the terms and form of the law. That the Patent Laws, as they exist,
cause immense mischief to inventors and the public — that they are prolific
of expense, litigation, and fraud, all are agreed; and it is quite proper
therefore to amend the laws, that further experience of an improved law
may demonstrate to the most sceptical the real source of the evil. That
kind of practical conclusion will alone satisfy the inventors and
public. With Lord Granville, therefore, we think that the improved law,
such as the inventors and the societies and the public demand, or is
supposed to demand, should be passed ; at the same time we agree with
the Noble Lord, and the very respectable authorities he referred to,
that the principle of the law is erroneous, that the system of patents
is altogether wrong, and that no possible good can ever come of a Patent
Law, however admirably it may be framed.

The principle of such a law is to bestow on. one individual the exclusive
use of some particular instrument or object which he claims to have
discovered or invented. As long as he uses the invention himself or
for his own gratification, no interference is required ; it is only
asked for to prevent some other persons from using his invention. An
essential part of such a law, therefore — its main principle — is to
impose restraints and restrictions on all others than the inventor. On
him it confers nothing positive, it only imposes restrictions on others
for his presumed advantage. To them it does a certain injury ; on him it
confers only a contingent and doubtful benefit ; and before any such law
ought to be passed, a rigid inquiry is necessary in every individual case,
whether the probable benefit to the individual will outweigh the certain
injury to society. When patents are granted for the purpose of raising a
revenue the case is different. But when they are granted for the advantage
of individuals, such an inquiry is absolutely necessary. Accordingly,
under the old law a reference was made to the law officers of the Crown
for this purpose. Caveats were allowed and a host Of regulations were
adopted to ensure the preliminary examination. Under the new law the
duty is to be performed by a board of examiners.

A preliminary inquiry of this kind is adopted in the United States,
in Prussia, and in Austria ; but in France, where the grant of patents
is regarded only as a matter of revenue, any man may have a patent for
any thing he chooses, on paying a certain stipulated sum, leaving the
question of the validity of his claim to the invention to be settled
by a contest with his fellow-citizens before the ordinary tribunals,
should any one question his patent. In England, too, the inquiry has
been, in practice, limited to ascertain whether the new patent claimed
infringed on some previous patent. But the right of patentees are only
thought of as part of the rights of the general public, and it is against
the whole public that the privileges of every individual patentee are
guaranteed, as well as against other patentees. The principle involved
in the inquiry is the propriety of granting the claims of the inventor to
the exclusive use of his invention as against the whole society. Before
granting his claims an inquiry into them is indispensable, and the new
law, in order to secure a full inquiry, appoints a tribunal of appeal,
should the examiners not satisfy the claimants.

This circumstance shows that what is called the right of property
in inventions — the right, namely of an inventor to exclude every other
person from using his invention after it has been made known — is different
from most other rights of property. It resembles, certainly, some other
exclusive uses created by Government, but they constitute only a small
part of the property of all the individuals of a nation; are, in all
cases, more privileges than rights; and even in them it is sufficient to
establish the right that the individual is in possession. No previous
inquiry is necessary to confer it on him, and inquiry only becomes
necessary if an adverse claim be made.

It is the very nature of knowledge and skill, totally distinct from most
kinds of property, to be improved and extended by being imparted. To
limit the exclusive use of knowledge and skill to one person, as is done
in degree by the Patent Laws, is, in fact, to take measures to stop their
growth. Before the privilege to use exclusively any particular species of
knowledge and skill, which by mere inspection can be acquired by others,
be conferred by a law on any individual, a strong case must be made
out that the exclusive use is more for the advantage of society than a
free participation in it for all. If a right to such exclusive use were
a natural right of property, like the right of the savage to own the
game he has run down and begun to cook, no considerations of fancied
expediency would lead us to oppose it. But it is no such
right, and those who clamour for the exclusive use, and those who bestow
it, are the persons who fancy an expediency that experience proves not
to exist. Far from there existing in any individual a natural right,
or even power to confine to himself exclusively any knowledge or
skill, by using which he may convey that knowledge to other persons,
or enable them to acquire the skill; there exists, on the contrary,
a natural right in every individual to use any knowledge or skill he
acquires from beholding it in others ; and there is, moreover, a strong
desire implanted in most men for the wisest of purposes, as a means of
promoting the general improvement, to imitate and use any knowledge or
skill they acquire by inspection or observation. We deny, therefore,
that the claims made by inventors to the exclusive use of inventions
is a right of property ; and we deny, on the broad general principle,
that the utmost diffusion of knowledge is advantageous to society,
that it can ever be expedient to bestow patents on individuals for the
exclusive use of inventions.

The only doubt that can arise springs from the supposition, that an
individual may discover something of such pre-eminent importance
that society will be injured if he be not encouraged by a Patent Law
to make his discovery known — to inform the public of his secret, and
receive in return, as one of the witnesses expressed it, protection
from robbery. Such a statement reminds us of the “Long Range” of Captain
Warner ; but the conclusion to be deduced from that case, and probably
all similar cases is, that it was of no real importance, and that society
would not be in the least injured though all such secrets died with their
possessors. It is more conclusive, because more general against all such
suppositions, that nearly all useful inventions depend less on any
individual than on the progress of society. A want is felt, as stated
by one of the witnesses ; ingenuity is directed to supply it ; and the
consequence is, that a great number of suggestions or inventions of a
similar kind come to light. ” The ideas of men,” said Mr Ricardo, ” are
set in motion by exactly the same circumstances.” So we find continually
a great number of similar patents taken out about the same time. Thus the
want suggests the invention, and though the State should not reward him
who might be lucky enough to be the first to hit on the thing required,
the want growing from society, and not from. the individual or from the
Government, would most certainly produce the required means of gratifying
it. The notion, therefore, that any individual discovers secrets which
it would be very advantageous for society to know ; that if he were
not artificially rewarded for discovering them that they would never be
known — that society would for ever want his peculiar kind of knowledge ;
and that, because it does not reward the possessors of such secrets,
it will lose a great number of such valuable pieces of knowledge, are all
delusions. The progress of knowledge, and the progress of invention and
discovery, like the progress of population and the progress of society,
have their ordained and settled course, which cannot be hastened,
though perhaps it may be retarded, by Patent Laws.

We say thus much in support of the very enlightened views which Earl
Granville has taken on this question, and which are shared by the Lord
Chief Justice of England, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, the
Master of the Rolls, Mr Ricardo, Mr Brunel, Mr Cubitt, Mr Lloyd, and a
number of gentlemen of the highest eminence, who have taken the trouble to
study the subject. We have already discussed it at considerable length
on Dec. 21, 1850 and Feb. 1, and we can only be gratified at finding our
conclusions against the presumed rights of inventors supported by such
very high authority.

The source is The Economist Historical Archive, but apparently it now requires a login. So much about “Open Access” and “preserving history” or even “respecting the public domain”. So it’s altogether more important that I post this here.

I also made the two respective pages available as PDF from the original scans: The Economist, June 26, 1851

The copyright-status of this is of course public domain.

The New Robot Patent

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Just like the old Robot Patent (by Emperor Joseph II) this is of course all about rent-seeking.

As we’ve noted in The Moby Dick Support Device, some egregiously stupid patent-officers started accepting patents based on the un-reasoning that a computer running a program makes it a different computer, just as a bookshelf which is used to store copies of Moby Dick is an entirely different thing than an ordinary bookshelf.

Now comes the second chapter, enter the robot. Yes, they’re not doing much right now, but watch the flurry of all-new bogus patents rolling in as soon as they will get more useful. Everyone and their lawyers will start patenting everyday actions, coupled with the phrase “with a robot”.

saulgoode writes at Techdirt:

If the bobble heads at the Patent Office continue on the path they are currently following then we can certainly expect a rush of patents on all kinds of human activity with the caveat of it being done “with a robot” — e.g., dig a hole with a robot, change a tire with a robot, build a swing set with a robot — just as “with a computer” seems to justify patents being issued on things such as getting feedback from a buyer or scrolling through a document.

Ah, Arkham Asylum Patent Offices, home of the criminally insane. How could one ever, with this concise list of non-patentable matters: EPC, Art. 52, come to such a ridiculous interpretation? (Same in the USA, see The Moby Dick Support Device).

Whining about copyright violations? Shut the fuck up!

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

A world fragmented

I recently got “upgraded” from google android market to “google play” which supposedly lets you also buy movies, music and books apart from android apps. Guess what?

We’re sorry. The Google Play music player is currently only available in the United States.


We’re sorry, the document you requested is not available in your country.

That’s when I started to realize that I’m probably not the only one, that Switzerland is probably not the only country, and google play is probably not the only service that experiences this. Indeed, it’s what happened to the webmaster of Depeche Mode too. With the same predictable reaction.

I find it rather strange that anyone on this planet can cope with the “content industry” blaming the results of their distribution mess onto “dearth of copyright enforcement”; including some morons of legislators which seem to believe it and start rows upon rows of new copyright-toughening. Don’t they see an industry producing a total fuck-up in their attempt to fragment the market in order to sustain their obsolete business-model?

You do realise what happens in the world of “things” if you try to do the same? Yes, smuggling and black markets develop.

And, didn’t anyone notice that I can very well fly to the USA, buy CDs, DVDs and books there, and take them home? I can even order CDs, DVDs and physical books via the internet, and they will deliver it. Across borders. With the same content they don’t want to sell me in digital form? (We’ll ignore those ridiculous region-codes for now)

Does not work here

The stupidity does not end there. Maybe, maybe somebody in your or some other country, will actually want to sell you something. But then, this happens:

Our eBooks are AdobeDRM protected. That means that your eBooks can only be read on devices which support the DRM protection (certain eReader, iPad-Apps, programmes on PC/Mac etc). Please beware of the following limitations:
* You need the Adobe Digital Editions and an AdobeID to unlock and read the eBooks.
* Up to 6 devices can be authorized with the same AdobeID.
* You can not print out eBooks.

You’re kidding me? You deliberately made it impossible for me to read my books on the platform and operating system of my choice? In the above case, that means not on Linux. Since 2007, by the way.

Obviously, this is a blatant attempt to control the market of media-players and book-readers to the detriment of the customers. Why didn’t consumer-protection and antitrust-law already step in? Instead, which morons let this kind of monopoly-making practice even be given protection by law?

And, in reference to the title, what do you think will happen if you couple your content to some specific player? The customers will happily buy both content and player, change their operating system, not use their hardware they already have, and submit to the whim of arbitrarily instituted restrictions like “no printing”? No, they won’t. They’ll just get their movies, media and books from somewhere else.

We locked it up again

Now with that situation of deliberate or accidental market fragmentation and institutionalized incompatibility, you might want to avoid the whole mess altogether, and decide that you do not want to participate in that market. Instead, you might want to read, watch or listen to something older.

Foiled again! The very same industries managed to retroactively expand the duration of copyright again and again. When Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote “Tarzan”, he could expect 28 years of copyright protection after publication. The last “Tarzan”-Novel was theoretically out of copyright in 1972. But that’s not what happened. 1976 this was extended retroactively, and 1998 extended again; so it was placed under copyright again and will only be out of copyright in 2020. Unless someone expands it again.

Obviously if you’re going to disfranchise the public via lobbying in copyright extensions, you do not exactly foster the respect for said copyright.

Instead, what happens is what Thomas Babington Macauley predicted 1841: “And you will find that, in attempting to impose unreasonable restraints on the reprinting of the works of the dead, you have, to a great extent, annulled those restraints which now prevent men from pillaging and defrauding the living.”

To recap

So you’re whining about the public violating a law (you extended in scope and duration by factors) refuse to sell some media in some countries (because the distribution system you installed doesn’t allow it) in a format everyone can use (with a system you put into place to control the players market)? Well, just shut the fuck up!

The End of the Patent System

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

There is a thing I’m pretty good at, and that’s playing Cassandra. I’ve got a knack on realizing what “unforeseen” impact and unwanted side-effects legislature will have. And usually after the shit hits the fan I can tell you “I told you so”. So this post here is to make sure I can say “I told you so” in a few years ;).

Well, this is what the patent system will look in the end. Essentially, we’ve got two possibilities:

  1. Finish the bugger off. Abort it. Ditch those government-granted monopolies for good, so innovation can prosper once again.
  2. Continue as before. Pump more money and resources into a machine for corporate-warfare.

The patent-system is a relatively modern law; some countries adopted something like it in the early 18th century, but most followed up only at the end of the 19th century, often on foreign pressure (well, it’s not easy to explain why you should pay patent-holders in e.g. France if you want to export there, while not having the same stick to punish French imports into your country, see? Incidentally, that’s what patent law boils down to…).

There had been lively debates about it then, with the gist of it being “we can very much do without it and it doesn’t help innovation, but if the other country is doing this to us, we should do the same to them…”.

Of course, all these debates and the evidence that a patent-system as such has profoundly NO impact on innovation have been forgotten long ago. The patent-system has found its proponents, first of course among lawyers, which swayed the public opinion around to “it’s necessary and it’s needed for innovation” (a propaganda produced superstition).

Only in the last few decades, patent-proponents made a land-grab in widening ever more the definitions on what’s patentable: processes instead of just products, software, business-processes and genomes. And with that finally tripped onto the toes of people which until then had nothing to do with patents, and who started to realize that there is something wrong with patents. And some others noticed too, how nicely patents can be used to kill their competition.

Nowadays, with the patent-wars in the mobile sector, it’s plain to see that there is something fundamentally screwed about patents. And if we don’t stop the whole mess, it’s also quite clear where this will lead to: The patent tax.

Simply put: Everyone producing anything (apart from art) will need patents. These might be patents one owns, but these won’t be enough. Since patents do not grant a positive right (If I have a patent, it does not grant me the right to make something, since this something could be covered by other patents as well; it only grants me the right to withhold someone else from making it without paying me) but only a negative one, everyone will need to license an arbitrary number of patents from everyone else.

There is (or will be), from a macro-economic point of view, absolutely nothing to be gained from patents. For the inventors neither, they will only get some small cut for their patents back, from what they will have to pay for licensing all those other patents. In fact, the only winners in this game are the patent offices themselves, and the lawyers.

There are estimates that about 20% of the cost of any mobile phone are patent costs even now. This will, or already has, spread to all other possible devices and patentable matter: computers, cars, planes, finance (business methods!), housing, agriculture, health-care and so on. And of course, you can expect this percentage to rise. In the end, what we will have is at least a 20% lawyers-tax on everything.

Do you really think this is a prospect for a sustainable society? All entities producing anything of value having to pay taxes to lawyers? A strange world indeed..