Wednesday Apr 15, 2009

Hadopi, a serious danger to French competitiveness

The last minute provisional rejection of the HADOPI law in France last week (it will go back for a vote on the 29th April), has given a new life to the debate here. The law, which is perhaps best explained on the French Wikipedia page, will give if passed, the power to Copyright holders to point out infringing ip addresses to a new higher authority (HADOPI) which will have the power to cut off internet connections after 3 warnings.

There are a huge number of privacy issues here, perhaps best illustrated by the possibility of someone using a p2p network to send themselves a copy of their legally purchased content. Furthermore as it is extreemly easy to infringe copyright - as the Baby dancing to Prince video case illustrates - this law will create a background atmosphere of fear which will have serious consequences on the ability to create new services.

This fear will lead outfits - cafés, libraries, hotels - that provide public access points to the internet, to demand some white list of acceptable content providers which they can allow their users access to without the danger of being cut off. The creation of such a list is extreemly expensive: certainly a lot more expensive than the profits the copyright holders may have gained by selling content to penniless teenagers. (Those of us that do have money, are happy to pay for the quality guarantees provided by pay for services. I'd rather pay a few $1 than be interrupted in the middle of a pirated movie by missing scenes, badly recorded music, or porn...). So there will be no justification to pour a lot of money into very complete white lists. Getting added to such lists will be a time consuming political game.

As a result startups that come up with new innovative services, being low budget idea driven companies, these will of course not have the money to play these advanced political games. Starting up in France will therefore be difficult or impossible. With much larger markets abroad - in the USA for example - the path to growth there will be clear. When these startups have then turned into billion dollar US companies, they will find it relatively easy to pay for the HADOPI political game and return to France. A loss to french entrepreneurship nevertheless.

This is not the first time this happened. Something similar happened with cryptography in the 90ies. France by severely restricting the strength of its keys, handicapped all of its ecommerce industry in the competition with the US, whose citizens were allowed to use any strength they wanted to. These laws were repelled in 1999 after much damage to its industry. Freedom is not just a cultural issue of fundamental importance. It is also the life blood of a dynamic economy.

Notes

  1. The above are my own opinions, and not those of Sun Microsystems.
  2. This article is published CC attribution, as all other articles on this blog. Please feel free to copy and translate. I do in fact read, write and speak french fluently, but my french spelling and grammar is just too rusty from lack of use, that I did not want to impose this on my readers

Monday Aug 11, 2008

No iPhone for me

image of the netshare app

It is five years now that I have not had a cell phone. I was hoping the iPhone would change that soon. But I just find the limitations imposed on these devices unacceptable. The latest such restriction: "thou shalt not use the iPhone as a modem to connect your computer to the internet". (see Christian Fauré's article in French). As a result Apple pulled the Netshare app, described by a recent WIRED article, from its iStore. I hear rumors that one can get this to work by hacking (illegally) one's iPhone, but why should I break the law? That would just be a way for me to pour energy into a system that I don't own. I have not become a Linux hacker to give up my rights that easily.

Why do they have this rule? In France for €50 a month, you get "unlimited service" with a small print restriction to no more than half a gigabyte per month of download bandwidth. Using your laptop to connect to a 3G phone would, unless you are very careful to close all applications that consume bandwidth, probably use up that limited space very quickly anyway. It can take an hour for Skype to use up 50MB of bandwidth I noticed. Perhaps that is why this rule is there. But that just indicates to me that 3G really is not ready for prime time yet.

Oops. I lied. I did get a cell phone I remember now, when I was in the US in May. For $15 I got a throwaway cell phone from Virgin Mobile. The price was right, and it saved me money making phone calls, and saved me wasting time looking for coin operated phones. Plus of course there were no roaming charges, as it was a US phone. And with Skype, I could just forward my calls to that phone, so I did not even have to give anyone a new phone number that would soon be out of date. Some people from Europe showing off their iPhones had some hefty roaming bills later when returning home. I even discovered that to change your SIM card in the US for such a phone could cost you $50! A sim card was more expensive than a cell phone!! Sound like Europe in the Middle Ages to me. Wherever you go you would have to pay some baron a fee for crossing his land. Security not guaranteed.

Wednesday Jun 18, 2008

Blue Rays

Sixteen years ago, as I was studying philosophy in London on an empty budget, very close to living on the streets - off Kings Road, it is true, as I had decided that if I had to live in extreme poverty I would do so with style - I had one of these weird conversations around a fire with an Irish unemployed actor, and a number of other fellow travelers of fate. Reminded of the great Edinborough theater festival I decided on the spot I was going to go there. For some reason the actor I was talking to decided that I was not going to go. This surprised me somewhat. So I restated my desire to go. He doubted the seriousness of it again. How could he tell me what I was going to do, I blurted out. I had decided to go, so I would. I might have no money to go there, but I had no money to be here, so what was the difference? I had no serious appointments here, so what would stop me? "You just won't", he stubbornly affirmed. Angered by sheer nerve of his remark, but keeping my cool, I decided to come to a compromise with him. I would go but would fail twice to get there, I affirmed. The third attempt would be successful. The compromise was strange enough, that everyone around the fire nodded, and he had to accept.

Months passed and towards end of July 1992 I was reminded of the start of the festival. This was lucky as at the time I did not have any seriously way of taking notes or reminding myself of a date. Pieces of paper could all too easily get lost. And I did not have enough appointments to justify having an agenda, and if I did I could easily have missed looking at it. This was before the World Wide Web. Before internet cafes. Before widely available email. Before I even could afford a computer. All we had were libraries at the time and newspapers for sources of information. TVs also existed of course, but you had to know when to look, which was a whole skill in itself. And of course the type of TV we had access to was probably a black and white 13 inch set with poor reception. As far as books were concerned, I was reading Gareth Evans' The Varieties of Reference, and it was not there that I was going to find purely accidental information I needed.
So reminded of the start of the theater season, I decided to immediately get on my way. Early next morning, I walked to the train station bought myself a ticket with the little money I had, stepped on the train and was on my way. 45 minutes later I discovered that this was not the train to Edinburgh I was on, but some other one. So I got off in a rush and took the next train back to London. This time I made absolutely sure I was on the right train. I asked a number of people, sat down, and prepared to enjoy the journey. The train started and ran for a while. I was on my way! Then the train stopped, and turned back. Some engineering problem it seems. We had to take another train. Life is weird like that.

So as I stepped onto the third train I was reminded of my compromise many months before. I knew in my heart then that I was going to get there now. And off the train went. I had a mini magnetic go set, and taught a girl this oldest of all games along the way.
Of course arriving in Edinburgh I had absolutely no place to stay. Organizing a trip with the minimal budget I had would have been impossible at the time, and I certainly could not have afforded to rent anything there. Prices during the theater season were sky high. Many locals rent out their flats for the season, and use it to finance their holidays in warmer climates. I can't remember at what time I arrived, and how I would have slept the first night there. Perhaps on a bench somewhere, as usual...

The next morning I walked passed the film festival section. I entered and watched a couple of very nice young creators shorts. There was a session on a new digital projection technique called High Definition, which I attended. The quality of the image we were told was equivalent to that of film, after a film had been projected a few times. New film might be better, but it soon accumulates scratches, which digital film does not. And indeed if the speaker had not told me that the film we had just seen had been projected digitally I would not have known better. Pointing to the huge projector in the room he then explained in more detail what technology it required in layman's terms. I had no money. But I was sold. My first TV would be High Definition or nothing. As an undergraduate I had agreed with my conversation buddy Mark Pitt, that watching films at anything less than the quality they were designed for was sacrilege. Films shown on TV clearly were just shadows of their real self.

So to finish the Edinburgh story, that afternoon I got to speak to an attendee of the festival. Having told him that I just arrived from London, and questioning him about the difficulty of finding lodgings - I had seen some flats where thirty or so people were staying together, reeking of the sweet smell of decomposing garbage and unwashed socks - he agreed with me. His wife had not at all liked the apartment they had found initially he told me, so they had moved to another one. And now they did not know what to do with the original one, which they could not give back. I suggested I could look after it for them. He accepted, gave me the keys, and that is how I spent a whole festival season in a clean apartment, with a nice view all to myself.

16 years later, after the explosion of the internet onto the global scene, after DVDs came and never really quite worked, after the world wide web frenzy, and the dot com bust, after web2, after a High definition formats war, finally High Definition Television and their television sets have come to be affordable and worth investing it - another proof that innovation happens slowly. So for father's day my parents bought a High definition 40 inch flat panel screen, and I convinced them to replace the broken DVD drive with a new Blu-ray reader. We brought it back home, installed it, and watched Planet Earth ("Un Jour sur terre" in French) an extraordinary documentary about life on earth, with gorgeous scenes such as that of the Polar Bear, which starts with a close up of him walking on ice, the camera zooming back slowly, revealing the beauty of all the shades of polar snow, revealing the blue water through the cracking sheets of ice, revealing the many sheets of cracked ice separating slowly, the polar bear now just a spot on one of them, in one stunning image of the melting polar cap under the blue rays of the fading summer sun.

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