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By Chris Vallance
Reporter, BBC iPM


Pile of newspapers, BBC

Many newspapers take text and pictures from social network sites


The use of material taken from personal profiles on social networks by newspapers is to be the subject of a major consultation undertaken by industry watchdog the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

This comes in the wake of increasingly numbers of newspaper stories that include images and text taken from sites like Bebo, MySpace and Facebook.

But the subjects of press reports are not always happy with the use of content they have uploaded.

Tim Toulmin, director of the PCC, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 says the organisation was getting complaints from people about material, “that is being republished when they themselves are the subject of news stories”.

Mr Toulmin says it would be useful to establish principles to guide the press in their use of social network content.

“It’s down to the PCC to set the boundaries in a common sense way about what sort of information it is acceptable to re-publish,” he says.

To that end the PCC has commissioned research by Ipsos MORI into public attitudes.

The newspaper watchdog wants to discover if people are aware that material they upload could be used in newspaper reports.

It also wants to discover if people would change their behaviour if they knew that information about them could be published in the media.

Public or private?

There has been some public resentment of the use of social networks by the press.

Woman taking photo with mobile phone, BBC

People may post less information if they knew it journalists might use it

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech school shootings some felt that journalists had invaded what were essentially private online spaces. The behaviour of a few pushy reporters gave rise to the term: “digital door-stepping”.

More recently in the UK, media interest in the spate of suspected suicides among young people in Bridgend has lead some in that community to express concern about the way social network profiles were being used by journalists.

Bridgend Welsh Assembly Member Carwyn Jones, said: “It does raise questions of the sensitivity of publishing those photographs for the world to see.”

Local MP, Madeleine Moon went further saying that some in the community had complained of reporters posing as young people on social networking sites in order to obtain quotes.

Ms Moon, who has spoken with the PCC, stressed she had no evidence to substantiate these claims, but she did feel that there was a clear need for guidelines for the press.

But the wider issue of how reporters should use information taken from social networks is far from clear-cut.

Taking a photo from a social networking site is, some argue, a less traumatic way of obtaining images and personal detail, than a reporter visiting the home of a grieving family. Digital door-stepping can be much less intrusive than the real thing.

Mr Toulmin says the matter is one of degree: journalists do have a right to use publicly accessible content and the public have responsibilities when they post it.

And many who publish to social networks, in Mr Toulmin’s view, do not regard that information as private but actively want to share the information.

He said: “Half the charm is accumulating as many people as possible to be their friends…there will then be an argument about the extent to which you yourself are concerned about people knowing that information.”

Similarly if information is already in the public domain there would be little point in denying the press access.

Clear case

Mr Toulmin also believes any new guidelines should not prevent the press reproducing content clearly in the public interest to publish.

The PCC has already ruled to this effect. It supported the right of a local newspaper to enter an online community undercover and to republish an image found there, because the complainant, a police officer, was the subject of a criminal investigation.

Memorial service at Virginia Tech, Getty

Some papers covering the Virginia Tech shootings used information from social sites

Mr Toulmin says social network sites have a duty to educate users about the implications of uploading personal information to public, or semi-private spaces.

“They will I think be forced to go further in educating people,” he says.

Guidance from the PCC will only apply to newspapers.

With the most popular blogs surpassing the circulation of many local papers, and competing effectively for advertising revenue, this is not a small concern.

Mr Toulmin acknowledges this is important, but adds: “The press do have obligations over and above those that govern the online community.”

But not everyone in the media shares that view: Bob Satchwell of the Director of the Society of Editors thinks the press should be subject to no greater regulation than the public.

Says Mr Satchwell: “Traditional media is already regulated in various ways; broadcasting by the statutory regulation, the press by the PCC, so there are far greater constraints on traditional journalists and media than there are on the wider public, so called ‘citizen journalists’ and bloggers.”

However, there are some restrictions that apply to all who use social network content.

The British Journal of Photography in a recent article concludes that publication of images on social networks does not automatically grant rights to republish photograph elsewhere.

In the end copyright law may resolve part of this issue, if the deliberations of the PCC do not.

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ISPs could face piracy sanctions

Andy Burnham

The proposals are part of a strategy on the creative industries

Internet service providers must take concrete steps to curb illegal downloads or face legal sanctions, the government has said. The proposal is aimed at tackling the estimated 6m UK broadband users who download files illegally every year.

The culture secretary said consultation would begin in spring and legislation could be implemented “by April 2009”.

Representatives of the recording industry, who blame piracy for a slump in sales, welcomed the proposals.

“ISPs are in a unique position to make a difference and in doing so to reverse a culture of creation-without-reward that has proved so damaging to the whole music community over the last few years,” said John Kennedy, head of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

A spokesperson for the Internet Service Provider’s Association (ISPA) said that creating appropriate legislation would be very difficult.

“Any scheme has got to be legal, workable and economically sustainable,” the spokesperson told BBC News.

He also said that ISPs were already pursuing self-regulation, which was the government’s preferred route.

Privacy issue

“The government has no burning desire to legislate,” Andy Burnham, culture secretary, told the Financial Times.

However, he said that the proposals signalled “a change of tone from the government”.

Its intentions are outlined in a creative industries strategy paper called Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy.

The document is a broad ranging paper that sets out government support for the creative industries.

The document commits the government to consulting on anti-piracy legislation this spring “with a view to implementing it by April 2009”, according to the FT.

“We’re saying we’ll consult on legislation, recognising there are practical questions and legitimate issues,” Mr Burnham told the paper.

In particular, any legislation would have to take account of the 2002 E-Commerce Regulations that define net firms as “conduits” which are not responsible for the contents of the traffic flowing across their networks.

European laws on online privacy could also create problems for any new legislation.

Earlier this year it was reported that the government was considering a “three strikes” approach to tackling persistent offenders in the report.

But Mr Burnham denied this was the case and told the FT that the strategy had “never been in the paper”.

If the government goes ahead, the UK would be one of the first countries to impose sanctions.

“This is a sea-change in attitude and I believe it is now up to governments elsewhere in Europe and further afield to follow their example,” said Mr Kennedy.

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iTunes advert

The software will allow the sharing of music bought on iTunes

The release of software from a firm run by a notorious Norwegian hacker is likely to cause waves in the music and film download world. Jon Lech Johansen became the “enfant terrible” of the DRM industry when he released software which cracked the encryption codes on DVDs, aged just 15.

His firm, DoubleTwist, has now released software allowing users to share digital media files across devices.

It would allow songs bought on Apple’s iTunes to be shared on other devices.

At the moment, the only portable music player which can store content downloaded from the iTunes store is Apple’s iPod.

Users can copy downloaded songs to a CD and then copy the disc back on to the computer so that the songs can then be moved to other portable devices – but the quality of the music is affected.

In 2003 Mr Johansen distributed a program which bypassed Apple’s Fairplay system, the software that enforces this relationship between iTunes and the iPod. Since then he has had several other well-publicised run-ins with the firm.

Tower of Babel

The new software from his San Francisco-based company DoubleTwist will allow users to share both user-generated and professionally created music, photos and video clips between computers, mobiles and game consoles.

Media which lives on a computer can be moved to a variety of mobile devices by dragging and dropping the files to a desktop folder which then drops copies on the external device over the web.

Initially the system will allow file-sharing with Sony’s PSP games console, Nokia’s N-series mobile, Sony Ericsson’s Walkman and Cybershot handsets and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile smartphones.

The software converts media stored in one file format to those used by the other devices in a system that mimics the process of ripping a CD onto a computer.

One hundred songs can be converted in about half and hour, with a slight degradation in sound quality, according to the firm.

“With digital media such as video from a friend’s cell phone or your own iTunes playlists, it’s a jungle out there,” said Monique Farantzos, co-founder of DoubleTwist.

“The digital media landscape has become a tower of Babel, alienating and frustrating consumers. Our goal is to provide a simple and well integrated solution that the average consumer can use to eliminate the headaches associated with their expanding digital universe,” she said.

The company is confident there will not be any legal challenges from Apple.

“All we are facilitating are friends sending things to one another,” Ms Farantzos told the Reuters news agency.

The software is available as a free download from the company’s website.

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By JESSICA MINTZ, AP Technology Writer 

SEATTLE – Near-perfect knockoffs of 21 different Microsoft programs began surfacing around the world just over a decade ago.

Photo of Microsoft's logo.  Yahoo remained coy on Monday as Microsoft publicly touted the virtues of its 44.6-billion-dollar bid to take over the Internet firm and Google maneuvered behind the scenes to thwart it.(AFP/File)Soon, PCs in more than a dozen countries were running illegal copies of Windows and Office, turning unwitting consumers into criminals and, Microsoft says, exposing them to increased risk of malicious viruses and spyware.

The case began to turn in 2001 when U.S. Customs officers seized a shipping container in Los Angeles filled with $100 million in fake software, including 31,000 copies of the Windows operating system.

From there, Microsoft pushed the investigation through 22 countries. Local law enforcement officials seized software, equipment and records, and made arrests. A court in Taiwan handed down the last of the major sentences in December. Microsoft estimates the retail value of the software the operation generated at $900 million.

“That is a tremendous accomplishment,” said James Spertus, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who later led anti-piracy efforts for the Motion Picture Association of America. “There are only going to be a few cases like this a decade.”

Now Microsoft is eager to talk about the experience because taking down that operation — responsible for about 90 percent of the fake software the company found between 1999 and 2004, more than 470,000 disks — didn’t actually stop piracy. It just left room for more counterfeiters to rise. Microsoft hopes would-be pirates will think twice if they know how far it will go to protect the computer code worth billions in revenue each quarter.

The pirates mimicked complex holograms stamped directly onto disks and packaging materials embedded with the kind of tiny safety threads used in making money. In some cases, it took experts with microscopes to notice that disks printed with codes used by legitimate software factories lacked certain minuscule, unique smudges.

“The copies were so good, we went to tremendous forensic and scientific lengths to establish that the counterfeits were, in fact, counterfeits,” said David Finn, an associate general counsel at Microsoft.

Without a solid lead on the source, Microsoft continued to gather string. Members of its 80-person worldwide anti-piracy team made test buys to see if retailers were selling fake disks, knowingly or unwittingly, and worked leads back up the black-market supply chain.

The seizure of the container in Los Angeles led to Taiwan, where the Ministry of Justice raided Chungtek Hightech, recovering an estimated $100 million more in software and equipment. Months later, Taipei city police and the criminal investigations branch of the national police hit Cinway Technology, a related manufacturer in the same industrial complex, seizing another $126 million in phony software. Records found there led to a packing, storage and shipping center in China‘s Guangdong province, and back to distributor Maximus Technology in Taiwan.

Finally, in 2007, the owner and operator of Chungtek and Cinway, Chen Bi-ching, was sentenced in Taiwan to four years in prison, while her two co-defendants received jail terms of three years and one year. And the distribution outfit’s owner, Huang Jer-sheng, was sentenced to four years in prison. In China, the Public Security Bureau raided the packing and shipping company, Zhang Sheng Electronics, and Li Jian, the manager, was sentenced to three years in 2004.

Matching the Taiwanese counterfeits to copies found around the world, Microsoft gave law enforcement agencies ammunition for raids and criminal cases in the U.S., the U.K., Italy, Canada, Germany, Singapore, Australia, Paraguay and Poland. Dozens of big distributors, middlemen and retailers were convicted, including 35 people in the U.S.

One was Lisa Chen, who according to a Customs press release arrived at the scene of the 2001 shipping container bust with additional counterfeit software in her vehicle. Chen was prosecuted by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office as a major U.S. distributor of the Taiwan fakes and received a nine-year prison term in November 2002. She has since been released, according to her lawyer at the time.

Microsoft would not say how much it spent on the investigation or how many counterfeit copies of Windows, Office and other programs were found in use on consumer or business PCs.

Spertus, the former federal prosecutor, said the burden is often on the company holding the brand to travel the world collecting evidence, doing undercover work and coordinating with law enforcement agencies.

Few companies are willing to devote serious resources to anti-piracy enforcement, especially because the return is hard to prove. People who buy counterfeit software aren’t likely to have paid retail prices anyway, Spertus said. But a big bust adds significant weight to lobbying efforts for stricter international intellectual property laws.

After the Taiwan raids, the number of high-end Microsoft counterfeits dropped — but only for a while. A Chinese operation that stepped in to meet the worldwide demand for cut-rate software cranked out an estimated $2 billion in copies before it was brought down in July after a six-year investigation by the FBI and China‘s Public Security Bureau.

Today, sophisticated copies of Windows Vista and other programs continue to appear.

“I don’t for a minute think that the final chapters have been written,” Finn said

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