Saturday, March 31, 2018

While You See A Chance Take It

Apple and Google have one window in which to take down a company which will probably eventually be their biggest competitor (the delinquent Facebook has already trounced Google in ad sales).

Ban Facebook from accessing images, videos and contacts (naively, before recent revelations, I thought they did, only enabling access to content specifically uploaded) on iOS and Android devices and the whole world changes, well, for the Big Internet companies, at least.

And require Facebook to disclose to the user how they use their data at every step. This will be a legal requirement anyway in Europe from next month.

And on the issue of GDPR, there is a simple requirement that it should enforce. 

Users need to click on every clause of any terms and agreements. In other words, they need to read that forty page legal gobbledegook and agree to every provision, and not scan the tick off the whole caboodle. 

With regulators closing down on them, will Google and Apple take this opportunity? They are willing to be ruthless against small businesses, but will they eat one of their own ?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rights & Blockchain (Part 2)

After looking at some of the weaknesses of the current blockchain model in being applied to the rights industry, this part of the article looks at other considerations and put forward some technical approaches that may overcome these issues.

At Rights Tracker we have been working on these issues for over a decade and already have API and SSO solutions in place which can be used to develop blockchain type models for rights.

Before going into these technical solutions there are further issues that need to be considered.

Perhaps the most contentious of these is the accountability of blockchain. A distributed model has clear advantages, but a major element of this is hiding any transactions from relevant authorities. Over the past couple of weeks in the US, the IRS has been paying specific attention to cryptocurrency traders and it is likely, where they can be identified, some traders will be liable for significant tax bills (in the US cryptocurrencies are regarded as property and are therefore liable to capital gains taxes).

Another more sinister revelation that has emerged from an academic study of the Bitcoin ledger in recent days is that it contains child pornography. Yes, you read correctly: you can encapsulate URLs and even small files within the blockchain and, once there, is nearly impossible to remove.

And here's the rub. A decentralised, un-policed system is likely to result in bad people doing bad things with impunity.

As a result, we do not believe that a fully decentralised model is viable for rights management.

Rather we would propose an asynchrous two tier model made up of a distributed transactional model with a further certification network, made up of licensing authorities, law firms and other regulated and approved bodies.

This is not dissimilar to how internet security, such as SSL, is currently deployed with a network of certification authorities issuing licences to be used across a variety of applications.

This model could then be extended by using distributed blockchain to log usage. So, a musician could issue and manage their own contributions. After participating in a recording session, for example, they could sign the related blockchain and, assigning their rights and ensuring that these rights could then be tracked wherever the track was used.

If the track is subsequently used for a film soundtrack, the correct rights payment would filter back to the artist and could even be used for micropayments on a pay per play basis - something that is phenomenally difficult to track today as shown by the issues facing collection agencies.

As part of this there would need to be an agreed model for rights.

The model we have developed at Rights Tracker is a multi-tiered system with rights dimensions such as type, platform, window, language, territory, etc..

This can be used to ascertain the available rights and then construct a rights transaction.

The rights transaction would further contain details of any contributory rights, for example musicians or composers on a music track, and financial details.

Calculating the above takes considerable processing power, many, many times more complex than calculating cryptocurrency transactions. And, as has already been seen in the cryptocurrency world, a fully distributed model has given way to a specialised layer of processing (somewhat ironically called 'mining' in the funny money business) since the data processing is too much for an average home PC to tackle.

Rights Tracker already has a calculation engine and API for this model in place and we intend to commercialise this facility over the coming months offering both a cloud based, centralised processing facility and as a deployable model for organisations wishing to run their own processing.

We'd be delighted to hear from anyone interested in working on this with us.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Rights & Blockchain (Part 1)

There is nothing subject to greater hype than cryptocurrencies at the moment. Anyone seems to be able to make up their own funny money and see the value skyrocket.

Underlying this ability is a technology which is not new, but is very interesting, with a wide range of potential legitimate applications well beyond the ability to enable crooks to separate idiots from their money.

Blockchain works by using a distributed ledger, or copy, of all transactions held within its chain. So, if there are 10 Dits (I just made that up), then everyone will have a file telling them that there are 10 Dits.

If someone then buys something with 2 Dits, then this will be registered and there will be a record of the total plus this transaction (eg 10: 8-2). If someone then uses one of the 2 Dits they have been paid to buy something else, this will be added to the ledger (10: 8-2: 2-1). You get the rough idea.

Now cryptocurrencies bring in the ludicrous notion of ‘mining’. They do this by randomly rewarding one of the ledger holders for calculating transactions. (This has resulted in people behaviour such as hacking networks to use them as miners and setting up massively unproductive and hugely wasteful data centres to mine for ‘money’ that is not real.

By now you have probably realised that I am not a fan of cryptocurrencies: it will end very badly for those at the bottom of these Ponzi schemes.

But I am very bullish on the underlying technologies, albeit with many provisos.

I am especially keen to see it applied to the industry I am involved in, namely rights management.

Rights management is a catch all for a wide range of things, from how you make money from innovations and patents, to how you pay for using photos on your website or brochure.

Every business uses rights every day.

When you read this article you are deploying a massive number of rights, from those in the screen of your computer, tablet or phone to the processor parsing this data, to the browser that makes these words readable.

When you build a website for your business you are using platforms and code (which is often shareware or open source), words and pictures, all of which may be free, but you are using someone’s rights (those rights holders may be seeking to cover the costs of their rights through advertising or upselling if what you are using is currently free).

But most rights, from the components of pharma drugs to the OEM manufacture of a laptop carry paid for rights, and this is where blockchain become useful.
Rights are created, granted and used as part of a complex ecosystem (or chain), which suggests that blockchain is well worth exploring as a means to better manage this complicated, ongoing set of relationships.

So, let’s look at how blockchain might be used in the context of managing and paying for rights.

First of all, it’s worth pointing out that there is a built in dichotomy in rights.

Right sellers want to ‘slice and dice’ rights into the smallest offerings available, whereas right buyers want to buy as many rights as possible (as cheaply as possible).

This is the reason why sports coverage is often spread across several channels - as well as splitting rights by territory, language, availability window and type of rights, you can also offer packages of rights.

There are other complications, such as dependencies. One work may be the result of many rights: for example, a music track has a writer, performers, but also publishers and distributors. Add the track to a movie and you begin to see the complexities that arise.

Compared to this, using blockchain to buy and sell coffee, or even shares, is very simplistic, so the traditional model forms an initial building block, but is far from fit for purpose for rights management.

So, if blockchain is to be relevant to rights industries, the core challenge is to build a blockchain model that encompasses this complexity and builds upon current simplistic blockchain models. This is what we have been working on at Rights Tracker.

There are a number of specific issues to deal with: for example, transactions in the media world are often not absolute. The seepage in deals is tremendous due to the complexity, whereas blockchain by definition is absolute.

There is another issue. Value generation. Cryptocurrency models like Bitcoin have a theoretic absolute issuance (not the same as value) built into them. This has several potential weaknesses, including making the cryptocurrency either valueless or badly inflating its value if the mining period comes to an end (a bit like the death of an artist).
Indeed, the blockchain model currently adopted for cryptocurrencies is pretty shitty if you apply any kind of economic logic. Rights deals are highly fluid and are often derivated from other rights, eg a presenter may be paid an annual salary: how do you therefore allocate her contribution to a single TV show and pay accordingly ?

There are also fundamental technical issues with the current blockchain models. Currently a single ledger entry for Bitcoin stands at around 180GB and is increasing daily by several hundred MB. Pretty soon the ledger will be too big for most domestic computer hard drives and the cost of storing billions of copies of the same ledger is hugely wasteful of resources, although nothing compared to the wastage in mining Bitcoin and its ilk.

Therefore, it would make more sense to have a hub and spoke model with a centralised, but trusted registry. For example, distributing the licence rather than the data makes a lot more sense in processing and network terms.

Then there is the question of adoption. To build any market you need buyers and sellers and, as we pointed out above, the two really have conflicting objectives in the rights models they adopt. There are, by now, hundreds of cryptocurrencies based on nothing more than thin air and such a fragmented model would do nothing for the rights industry. For blockchain to be relevant to the rights industry the model, models and ecosystems need to be interoperable. Everyone will accept a dollar, few, even now, will accept a bitcoin.

Most current proposed rights blockchain models are simply about gathering revenue, so are ridiculously simplistic and would actually offer little value to artists - there are already collection societies to do this, albeit highly inefficiently.

There need to be three conceptual mechanisms in place: rules, policing and payment.

Building and setting rules based on an agreed model comes first. A viable model able to accommodate complex rights models with multiple rights dimensions within a rights chain would need to be established and agreed. This throws up unexpected challenges such as ‘what is a territory?’. This is the problem that we gave been working on at Rights Tracker for over a decade and we now have a tried and tested model in use by organisations as diverse as the British Library and Glaxo SmithKlein. We are currently making this accessible via an API accessible to any organisation, platform of system from a photo library to a marketing department.

Policing is not a problem we address. But in automating and using cloud based platforms, it is far easier to be accountable. You never know how often a TV station in Africa is showing your programme, but you can get detailed viewing stats from Amazon on who is watching your show on Prime, or from Spotify on who is listening to your track.

As delivery becomes more and more automated, it becomes easier to police. Of course, tracking how many people who were at a gig where a band played your song that you should receive payments for is a more complex problem, but we’re already seeing a network of startups and innovative companies who are likely to become part of this policing infrastructure and result in better data gathering and therefore more accurate payment distribution.

Payment is something that is, in our view, sorted. If a transaction has a value, you then need to calculate that value, terms and currency (and perhaps distribute any taxes or residual payments) and then trigger the release of the relevant payment.

If the model above was fully adopted and deployed across the creative industries (and even in manufacturing), blockchain could open up a hugely valuable new market for rights and break current monopolies such as Apple and Amazon. Any work might be available for anyone else to use - a sampled riff could be included in the blockchain of a derivative song, for example. You could use any image off the web and the photographer would receive a micropayment. The possibilities and opportunities are endless.

But there remain a number of important issues to address, including:

·       How would you validate who owns the original right; ie how would you create and maintain a register of rights ? We’ve been doing some very interesting work around this area with clients such as the British Library recently.
·       Would you use an uncertified model with the weaknesses described above, or create a hybrid model with some centralised certification authorities ?
·       How could you get everyone to buy into and to adopt such an ecosystem when it will clearly be in the interest of some parties not to do so ?
·       How would blockchain help a musician get more money from YouTube, for example (and why does YouTube pay so much less for rights than Spotify) ?

This is the first of two articles by Iolo Jones, Chairman of Rights Tracker and CEO of TV Everywhere on the subject of using blockchain for rights management. The second will look more specifically at how to tackle the technical challenges.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

GDPR (Gross Diabolical Preposterous Rubbish)

Just as you were thinking that leaving the EU was a bad idea, they come up with GDPR, a new 'data protection' directive that beggars belief.  Essentially, it's that cookie warning rubbish taken to the nth degree.

I believe that the idea was to stop US Big Internet from stealing Europeans' data. A commendable objective. The reality is totally different. As usual, when you get a bunch of utter morons with no understanding of technology coming up with consensus dogma, it's an utter mess.

The legislation is aimed at companies using consumer data, giving them the right to 'own' their data (something I have long advocated via the 'mybot' concept), but it has had dreadful consequences which potentially could render the internet in Europe unusable if the law was applied to its letter.

As ever with this type of badly drafted law, there is no clarity on how it should impact unforseen areas like, er... a workplace, or companies offering business to business services.

Meanwhile, consultants are rubbing their hands with glee, taking sharp intakes of breath at every opportunity whilst watching the $$$ signs roll in their eyeballs whilst lawyers are pouring another glass of burgundy in sweet anticipation of the riches this will bring them. A whole new class of litigation!

I have personally utterly ignored the cookie directive, happy to go to court to prove how totally stupid it is if necessary.

However, GDPR has had a far more profound impact on my businesses.

It has resulted in our biggest clients (and we work for many of the world's largest and most successful companies) issuing stupid audits, directives and contracts. No doubt encouraged by the parasitical industry that surrounds such stupid legislation.

We have had to redraft every document we use, from employment contracts to acceptable user policies; we have run training; we are still awaiting compliance from suppliers such as Microsoft (we had one client, one of the world's biggest brands, based in the EU, who required written sign off on their GDPR policies from every supplier. Try getting that from the likes of Microsoft...)

I remember Y2K audits, which invoked a similar level of hysteria in corporate land, stoked by fear and ignorance.

And that, dear reader, is what we get from Brussels.

I know that Google has shrugged its shoulders at this legislation, whilst I am scambling. Is that what the lawmakers in the EU intended - to handicap successful, global EU companies in favour of Big Internet ?

Once again, it's a massive argument for leaving the idiotic EU bureaucracy.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Recording The Cloud

When you chord cut you really don’t miss the ability to schedule recordings since pretty much everything is available on demand within a few hours.

Everything except sports, that is. BT Sports takes the best part of a month to get full games up online, Now TV doesn’t provide any catch up at all for sports.

As the rugby season gets into full swing I therefore find myself missing games, since rights are spread over several services (BBC, BT, Sky).

So, I set about seeng if I could set up a cloud recorder.

The first step was to find a way of grabbing a stream. This proved pretty simple using a box intended to record video gameplay. Plug in the HDMI input from my Roku 3 and the output to the TV and boot up in the right order. The box even comes with the ability to schedule recordings. I was able to record any content off the Roku and Fire TV stick (I have yet to get Chromecast to work, but I’m convinced it’s possible).

The next stage was to be able to control all of this when I’m away from the house.

The solution was to use Logitech’s Harmony system to remotely control all the devices (I have it set up with Alexa so that it understands voice commands). You’re able to concoct recipes such as “turn on Roku, the TV on input 3 and the sound bar and go to iPlayer”.

The next step will be to add some visual control, probably by VPNing into a PC in my home network. An alternative would be to use a security camera to see the TV screen.

So, finally, I can do everything that you can on a traditional TV STB, but using the cloud.

It just remains to debate whether this is legal. (The setup does nothing that a VHS did thirty years ago and that any STB will do now. I pay for all the services I’m recording and I only use the recordings for consumption in my home.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Talking To My TV

After installing a Logitech Harmony hub and linking it to Alexa I’ve found myself talking to my TV.

It switches the TV on and off and starts up services like Roku (although it did start playing “We Will Rock You” by Queen the first time I tried...). It also pauses and restart the telly on DVR and OTT.

This means that we can use Alexa (or can just use our mobiles or iPads) instead of five remotes and around twelve apps. Magic!

(As an aside, I’ve recently installed BT Whole Home mesh, which is utterly brilliant. We have nearly forty connected devices already to in our house - five Sonos, three Nest, seven PCs and Macs, four connected TVs, three Roku boxes, six tablets, a Fire TV stick, a transcoder and the Harmony remote and hub. Oh, and two or three mobile phones and some security devices to protect all of the above! (Plus, of course, a microwave operating at the same frequency as our wifi). A single router just couldn’t cope - now all the devices are getting at least 60Mbs, even down at the dock at the end of the garden it’s 25Mbs. Yes, for the first time on this blog I’m praising BT!)

You can also control and manage the devices remotely from anywhere in the world using the Harmony on your mobile, since it’s cloud enabled (easier than explaining how they work to your mum when she comes to stay - and a great way of entertaining the cat).

The next step, I guess, is to give programme makers and service operators instant feedback from Alexa. Forget Gogglebox, welcome to Alexabox...

Seriously, it does open up many new possibilities - playing along to game shows by voicing an answer (Pointless will never be the same again, and as for University Challenge...), even ordering items from commercials or calling up a web page. Imagine skipping through channels or UIs and telling your TV to ‘save for later’.

It also highlights how useless current remotes and their endless buttons are.

Forget 8K and curved screens, what TV manufacturers need to do is to integrate voice commands into their devices. It’s probably too late for them to develop their own, so expect Alexa or Google on your next TV.

And yet again, Apple are left behind. Siri remain a joke. Ask it the time and your garage door will open. It has not once ever understood a voice command for dialling or directions I have given it.

Until Microsoft release some cheaper products, the company whose business focus under Ballmer was to ‘own your living room’ are much better focused on their business and cloud computing efforts. Their voice assistant, Cortana, is a side show, although still much better than Siri in my experience.

Now that we’re rigged up, I’m pretty convinced that voice commands are the way to go for TV viewing, but it remains to be seen how Alexa will respond to my expletive viewing of rugby games at weekends.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

No IP in EU

You would think that the very first and most straightforward thing that the EU could have done was to introduce a unified approach to IP, patents and rights. Fifty years on they are hawking sticky plasters. Above is a map of the transferrability of IP rights - purple is good, red is bad, yellow is so so.

A ‘unified’ IP approach does not include Europe’s biggest pirates, Spain. It does include the country with most counterfeiting, Italy and the two biggest consumers of IP, Germany and the UK are only half ‘in’.

What a mess.