Recommended reading, 10-16 January 2013

Well, the first thing with a new series is for it to happen more than once. Here are this week’s recommendations. Two lists, one for academic journals/conferences and another for blogs, newspapers and similar.

Action!

The BBC Trust is reviewing BBC Online (and BBC Red Button). Questionnaire or online form. Closes 24 January 2013. All the details here. No doubt the usual suspects will be telling the BBC Trust that they would just love to invest in web content but sadly can’t do so until the BBC cuts back on what it does. But anyone can – and should – take part in the consultation.

Academic publications

Stefan Bechtold, ‘The Fashion of TV Show Formats‘ (working paper, ETH Zurich, November 2012). This is terrific – a 50-page, multinational tour of the law on formats (which is a really interesting topic in its own right – particularly when it illustrates the ability to ‘monetise’ inside and outside of copyright law as we know it. Clearly informed by conversations with industry and standing as a neat history of the sector as well as a legal analysis. Hopefully I’ll be teaching this topic on a course in 2013/14; the last time I taught it, the literature was lively but fairly thin. So this is an excellent addition, even as a work in progress.

Martin Robins, ‘A Good Idea at the Time: Recent Jurisprudence Under the Service Provider Safe Harbor in Section 512c of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act’ (2012) 15 Tulane Journal of Technology & Intellectual Property 1. The first half covers the cases that safe harbourwatchers will know quite well, but the second half is quite interesting, including an attempt to draft advice for service providers in response to the Circuit Court decisions.

M Heller, ‘The Tragedy of the Anticommons : A Concise Introduction and Lexicon’ (2013) 76 Modern Law Review 1 (£). A revised LSE lecture by Heller (author of The Gridlock Economy and indeed of the phrase included in the title). Has the splendid final subtitle ‘towards a non-squiggly language’, which is reason enough to read it. It’s a review (lit review, theoretical review, overview, as you wish) of the ‘anticommons’ problem (“when too many people own pieces of one thing, nobody can use it”) across a very wide range of sectors, including some of particular interest to me and perhaps to you, e.g. communications technology, patents.

News, blog posts, etc

Eric Goldman, ‘Top Ten Internet Law Developments of 2012‘ (Technology & Marketing Law Blog 11 January 2013). An annual fixture from Prof. Goldman and well timed for the start of the new semester. As well as the top ten issues, there’s a list of other issues and of interesting cases. Start rewriting your syllabi now…

Randall Stross, ‘Im Losing Money. So Why Do I Feel So Good?‘ (New York Times 12 January 2013). Stross (a consistently interesting journalist and author) has a piece on gambling, technology and psychology. It’s prompted by a new book, Addiction by Design. I picked this up from the new books shelf in the library just before Christmas, but haven’t made much progress on it yet. The article by Stross gives a nice peek into its key concerns.

Ryan Tate, ‘California Decides App Crime Is a Serious Problem‘ (Wired.com 13 January 2013). Well-written piece on two of the latest developments in the management of the app store – Apple’s action against an approval scam (get an innocuous version approved, then change the details afterwards) and the ongoing interest of the California AG in privacy and apps. (Plug: the final – and much improved – version of my app stores paper is published later this year; I’ve sent off the final version, so the next stage is proofs and then it goes online in the International Journal of Law & IT.

Campaign for Freedom of Information, ‘Crunch week for FOI in Scotland as Parliament debates coverage‘ (UK FOI Blog 14 January 2013). A preview of the discussion of new FOI legislation in Scotland (a Bill amending the existing Act), which took place on Wednesday. The legislation was passed, although the important arguments made by the Campaign (primarily on the application of FOI laws to those carrying out public functions under contract, looking for some automatic designation or better monitoring of the designation power) were, in the most part, not successful. A pity. The parliamentary debate is available here.

Simon Hattenstone, ‘Arsenal ticket protest ban yet another blow to football fans’ free speech‘ (Free Speech Blog 15 January 2013). You might have noticed the fuss over the cost of away tickets at Arsenal v Man City at the weekend (62!!), and the reaction of stewards and police to attempts to highlight the problems with this level of charging. Hattenstone rounds up the coverage of the various protests, tracks down a fairly unconvincing justification from a club spokesperson (insert shoddy defending gag of choice)

FOI & Universities

(Welcome, Bad Science readers!)

A very interesting decision (download it here) by the UK Information Commissioner has been published. A request was made to the University of Central Lancashire for various things, including copies of course material (course notes, PowerPoint presentations, list of recommended textbooks, etc) circulated to students on the BSc in Homeopathy. This course is quite well known due to controversy surrounding the academic/scientific standards in ‘alternative medicine’ courses in higher education, and was closed to new students last year. Ben Goldacre at badscience.net has followed these stories for quite some time – I’d imagine the FOI request is inspired by or related to the criticism of the UCLAN and other degrees. Edit: David Colquhoun, the person who made the request, explains the background here.

The University made some very interesting arguments, most of which were entirely unsuccessful. These were that the information was covered by exemptions in the FOI Act because (my summary):

  • the information is reasonably accessible by other means (i.e. by registering as a student on the course) (rejected as paying 10k in tuition fees is not a reasonable method of access and in any event you do not normally do a course in order to get the materials)
  • disclosure would prejudice the University’s commercial interests, especially with regard to passing on materials to competing private colleges (rejected as the publicly-funded university may have a financial interest but not a commercial one in recruiting students; if it does, then students on the course already have access to the course materials and could as easily sell/distribute course materials in a damaging fashion, therefore disclosure no more likely to cause prejudice)
  • disclosure would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs, though the disruption and cost of numerous other applications under FOI (and copyright points again) (also rejected, no evidence presented that this would the case beyond the mere assertion of the statement)

However, the University did succeed in its argument that some materials (case studies prepared by lecturers based on their own patients/subjects/victims) should be excluded.

This decision may have an impact on universities (as well as those who criticise them) far beyond the question of homeopathy. Indeed, given the well-known exemption from both FOI and data protection of certain materials (such as exam scripts), will universities seek a specific exclusion here, encourage UCLAN to appeal the Information Commissioner’s decision, come up with better arguments against future requests, set fire to course materials – or all four?

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