SFLC Blog Archive: 2012[RSS]

Software patents and data mining are the major ecological issues confronting technologists today. Startups' prevailing business models have predictable consequences that pollute the environment for innovation and endanger users. Companies that elect these models, either by design or by default, no longer have the luxury of ignoring their inherent ethical problems. We have to start designing for sustainability. If we don't, we're selling out the future of software and the rights of actual human beings.

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Twin Peaks Software, Inc., which makes proprietary data replication and cloud storage software, sued Red Hat and its subsidiary Gluster for patent infringement back in February. Last week, Red Hat filed a counterclaim in that litigation, alleging copyright infringement by Twin Peaks in misappropriating GPL'd software. Today SFLC begins an investigation of Twin Peaks' products, to ascertain whether any of our clients' rights are being infringed through the violation of FOSS licenses.

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The recent curbs on social networking websites in India demonstrate the unpredictability of the legal environment, both for businesses and the citizens. Whether its the Government of India's (GoI) insistence on getting access to corporate emails and text messages sent via BlackBerry devices, or changing stances on "pre-screening" user generated content, the authorities seem to be doing a tap dance around legal issues. The implementation of rules seems surreptitious as they are bent conveniently in the name of "security".

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In yesterday's New York Times, Ellen Ullman argued that we need artificial intelligence, not more testing, to prevent high-volume trading catastrophes like the one at Knight Capital. But artificially intelligent market watchers are an expensive and possibly unworkable solution. Instead, by collaborating on an open infrastructure for high-volume algorithmic trading, firms could reduce errors, improve stability, and possibly avoid expensive regulation.

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At the beginning of December, we warned the Copyright Office that operating system vendors would use UEFI secure boot anticompetitively, by colluding with hardware partners to exclude alternative operating systems. As Glyn Moody points out, Microsoft has wasted no time in revising its Windows Hardware Certification Requirements to effectively ban most alternative operating systems on ARM-based devices that ship with Windows 8.

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In his keynote from the 28th Chaos Communication Congress last week, Cory Doctorow outlines the primary threat to software freedom in the 21st century: that as our lives become more dependent upon general-purpose computers, the attempts of industry and government to control computing will fundamentally endanger our personal liberty. Using the now-familiar history of digital rights management—its rise, its failure, and legislative efforts to enforce it—Cory illustrates how those threatened by technology will inevitably seek to cripple it. But the so-called copyright wars waged by content owners, he says, were only "a skirmish."

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