August 2002

Real World
Web-wide World
Wired World
Wireless World
Hard World
Soft World

Real World

  • The European Copyright Directive (EUCD) was passed by the European Union (EU) in the May of 2001, its aim being the "harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the Information Society". As a member of the EU, the United Kingdom (UK) is required to enact local legislation implementing the EUCD, and this month the first draft of such legislation was produced and made available for feedback.

    As with the United States' Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), the heart of the EUCD is the protection it offers to copyright-enforcing mechanisms. As well as making it illegal to circumvent such mechanisms, it also becomes illegal to distribute the means to circumvent them. So, for instance, posting DVD-decoding algorithms on your website probably becomes actionable.

    Because current copyright law does allow the right to copy material in certain circumstances (including 'fair use' scenarios), the EUCD contains certain exemptions supposed to support such use. But critics of the UK's implementation of the EUCD make the complaint - amongst others - that the UK's incorporation of these exemptions is flawed. For example, it seems that were you to wish, for teaching purposes, to broadcast a small piece of music that was copy protected, then your only recourse would be to write to the Secretary of State for permission.

    For further criticisms of the UK's proposed legislation, see For guidelines to effective opposition, see Note that the deadline for feedback on the proposals is the 31st October.
  • The E-Commerce Regulations 2002 (the UK implementation of the EU E-Commerce Directive) came into effect earlier this month. It affects, inter alia, those who sell goods and services over the Internet, and those who advertise on the Internet or via email. By late October, trading standards bodies will be able to take action against those who fall foul of its requirements.

    The Directive, along with guidelines and other resources, may be found at But to whet your appetite in advance of the feast of legal information, here are a few quick nibbles.

    'Commercial communications' (including websites) must contain particular information about one's business, including things like name, geographical address, VAT registration number, etc.

    Advertisements either on the web or via email must be clearly identifiable as such. In particular, unsolicited commercial email (spam) must be identifiable as such so that it can be deleted unread.

    Entering into contracts online must satisfy certain informational and functional requirements. For instance, the customer must be able to review and amend information they have entered before finalising the contract; receipts must always be sent on completion of an order.

Web-Wide World

  • For some time now, BT has been pursuing an absurd claim in the US that it owns a patent covering website hyperlinks. This month the court unsurprisingly ruled against the claim. According to a spokesman, BT is now considering its options - one of which is surely to stop pursuing pointless court cases and to start wiring up more of its exchanges for ADSL.
  • Another day, another security flaw found in Internet Explorer. This one relates to IE's treatment of digitial certificates (which underpin the browser's support for Secure Sockets Layer connections). The flaw is somewhat technical, and exploits would be hard to stage, but perhaps the principle is the important thing. More details of this flaw can be found at:

    To be fair, the same problem was also found to afflict the open source browser Konqueror. But then again, in Konqueror the problem was fixed by helpful hackers within days of the flaw's announcement. Microsoft has yet to address the problem, and it is not addressed in the latest, just-released cumulative service patch for IE (available at:

Wired World

  • There has been a lot of discussion this month about the political future of the Internet. This was kicked off by Internet journalist Bill Thompson's article "Damn the Constitution: Europe must take back the Web" (, in which he promotes the prime heresy of a 'a closed European network'.

    Thompson's critique of the Internet falls broadly within the anti-globalisation movement. The thought in this case is that the political ideals embodied and promoted by the Internet permeate the global Internet, without being subject to effective control by local (national) entities. Furthermore, due to the disproportionate power and influence in world affairs of the United States, these political ideals reflect to a large extent the ideals of the US. Thompson does not like the ideals promoted by the US, however, and thus suggests partitioning the web to give power back to nation states.

    Thompson makes various criticisms of the US in his article, some of which are pretty juvenile. But the main line of political US culture that annoys him is its strong streak of anti-government liberalism. We can see this ideology as having two important, somewhat opposed effects. On the one hand, it has promoted 'freedoms' across the Internet which non-US societies might reasonably wish to suppress (for instance, in relation to racial extremism, pornography, etc.). On the other hand, it has allowed global corporations to dominate the market, and these are now trying to lock down access to digital media (see, for instance, the DMCA, EUDC, Palladium, etc.)

    Ironically, perhaps, the technological advancements that Thompson sees as enabling his vision of the partitioned Internet are just those that are currently being promoted by corporations to control digital media. In order to control the distribution of media files, the big media companies are currently working to create 'trusted networks', in which all data within the network is authenticated by them. But Thompson points out that once this technology is available, such networks could be set up under the control not of the big media corporations, but rather nation states.

    Thompson also argues that we are generally led astray by the common metaphors for talking about the Internet, such as 'cyberspace', which suggest a distinct and homogeneous realm, entirely apart from physical boundaries. Instead, however, it is the case that:

    "... William Gibson was wrong: cyberspace is not another place, it's just part of this space... the laws and regulations that govern the Net, whether they are legal, social, architectural or code-based, will all come from the real world, where judges, lawyers, programmers, politicians and - in some way - citizens get to decide how our online activities and our real world lives mesh and are linked."

    It is possible, of course, to share some Thompson's criticisms of the Internet without adopting his solution. For instance, Thompson feels that closed networks are inevitable, so we should seek to subvert them for our own use. But others - proponents of what is being called the 'Stuckist Net' - are more optimistic about retaining open networks despite the efforts of the corporations (this kind of optimism goes hand-in-hand with optimism about the success of Open Source software).

    And so the debates continue.
  • Occasionally there are reports in the press warning of a 'cyberterrorism' sufficient to bring down the Internet. Sometimes these are admissions by hackers of their own fell and mysterious abilities; othertimes the fingers are pointed at the month's favourite fiend - Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, etc. But what kind of credence should we give to these claims and warnings?

    According to a report carried by online news site The Register (, the answer to this question is: not much. The report provides details of a wargame described as a 'digital Pearl Harbour' run by the US Naval War College, in which teams of security and telecoms experts devised ways to bring down the telecoms infrastructure of the US. The report on this wargame is quite long, and goes into details of the mischief that might be caused. But the conclusion of the exercise contains the following claim:

    "..while local attacks are possible, it's virtually impossible to bring off any lasting, nationwide horror. The stereotypical scenario of a crew of hackers bringing down the national infrastructure is quite ludicrous..."
  • A couple of companies have this month started to offer ADSL packages for around 19 pounds a month, inclusive of VAT (which is about as low as such prices can go, given that BT's wholesale price for ADSL is 15 UKP / month). Unsurprisingly, each company offers a 'no-frills' service, with limited support as well as extra charges for installation and hardware. But if the price is to your liking, then check out and for more details.

    And while we're on the topic of ADSL, we should note that a number of users of BT Broadband (an ISP) have received warning letters from BT after using file-sharing applications like KaZaA. The idea, apparently, is that because such P2P applications are *capable* of swapping illicitly copied material, then those who make use of them must be doing so.

Wireless World

  • We're sure that there were many fascinating and uplifting stories this month relating to events in the world of mobile telecommunications. Sadly, however, the only ones that have taken our eyes have been those about premium-rate line scams.

    Firstly, a company named Moby Monkey has been handed an unprecedented 50,000 UKP fine by the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS). The strategy of the petty-minded gits behind Moby Monkey was to entice people onto premium-rate phone lines via highly misleading text messages with offers of cash prizes that turn out to be nothing of the sort.

    Secondly, Japan is currently in the grip of a scam known as "wangiri". This involves setting up a computer to ring random mobile phone numbers and then cut off after one ring. When people use the stored number to find out what the phone call was about, they are, of course, connected to a premium rate line which tries to keep them on as long as possible.

    Thirdly: picture the scene. A knock on the door. A woman, distraught about some recent tragedy, asks to use your phone. She makes her call, spends three anguished minutes on the phone, thanks you profusely, and is on her way. But when your next phone bill arrives you discover that she has called a premium phone line she has set up to charge 50 pounds a minute, and you are out of pocket to the tune of 150 UKP.

    Luckily, however, this last scam is just a hoax that's been doing the rounds recently. We first saw it as the lead story on the local Federation of Small Business newsletter (we can only assume that they denounced the whole 'check your facts' part of journalism as evil red tape perpetuated by anti-efficiency communists), and it seems to have been endorsed along the way by a hapless police spokesman. But you just can't set up premium rate phone lines with that kind of cost: according to ICSTIS the rates always fall between 10p and 150p per minute.

Hard World

  • This month saw AMD take the performance lead over its main rival Intel, with the release of the Athlon XP 2600+. But only five days later, Intel released its Pentium 4 2800 chip, which the benchmarking tests at Tom's Hardware ( show to take the performance crown. Of course, as has been the case for some time now, the AMD chip still provides the best value for money.

    Intel and AMD are set to continue their P4 /Athlon duel (which for some reason the Tom's Hardware site likes to compare to a road race between a Ferrari and a Mercedes), and the respective chips should be pushing the 3GHz / 3GHz equivalence mark around Christmas. But these chips are 32 bit, and the future is 64 bit ...

    ... but what does this mean, and why does it matter? Well, CPUs are at heart binary number crunchers. 32 bit CPUs crunch numbers made up of 32 bits (the integers 0 -> 4294967295) whereas 64 bit CPUs crunch numbers made up of 64 bits (the integers 0 -> very big number). Now, crunching 64 bit numbers gives you some fairly obvious processing advantages: you can do more processing at a time, or else more exact processing. But another advantage of 64 bit CPUs is that 32 bit CPUs are restricted to using 4Gb of memory. This might seem like a whole lot of memory, but for high-end systems (eg. those used for extensive computer aided design) it really isn't. With 64 bit CPUs, however, a system can use at least a squillion bytes of memory.

    Intel's 64-bit architecture is called Itanium, and it is aimed primarily at high-end servers. One reason that it is not aimed at desktop systems is that it is not backwards compatible with x86 chips like the Pentium, hence the average user could not run his present software with an Itanium chip.

    AMD's 64-bit architecture is called Opteron (previously Hammer). Unlike Itanium, however, Opteron chips can run in 32-bit mode, and thus can support the average user's current software. AMD hopes that it will be able to use this feature to gain market share when the average user is on the verge of the transition to 64-bit processing. With rumours of Intel producing its own hybrid architecture, AMD is also hoping that this transitional age will come sooner rather than later.

Soft World

  • Last month we discussed Ogg Vorbis, the open source alternative to the popular MP3 audio format. This month, the interestingly-named challenger to the MP3 crown received something of a boost from no less than Thompson Multimedia, the licence holder for the MP3 format. The boost comes from a recent change to Thompson's stated 'policy' towards MP3, which in times past included the phrase:

    "no license fee is expected for desktop software mp3 decoders/players that are distributed free-of-charge via the Internet for personal use of end-users."

    On the current royalty page, however, this phrase is conspicuous by its absence. True, it hasn't been replaced by anything else, but this omission has been enough to raise hackles in the open source community.

    STOP PRESS: A Thompson spokesman has now confirmed that the old policy remains in play, and has moaned about the publicity that Ogg Vorbis (that name again: Ogg Vorbis) is reaping from it.

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