Monday, 25 October 2010

Changing channels

Google’s announcement this month, that its new online TV service will go live on 1 November, should be seen as an important day for the future development of television. On 4 October, the internet giant reached agreements with most major US channels - such as HBO, CBS, NBC and Cartoon Network - to broadcast their shows on Google TV. Under the agreements, NBC will provide news, HBO drama and comedy and Amazon Video on-Demand will offer access to around 75.000 movie titles.

Many experts see this move as television’s long-awaited online breakthrough. The time viewers just watched broadcasts passively could soon be over. Online channels allow viewers to interact and connect with many of their favourite web services, so it comes as no surprise that Boo-Keun Yoon, Vice President of Visual Display at Samsung, recently said that Google TV “is no doubt the future of TV".

For Google, the TV service is a new way to sell advertising, and television companies aim to capitalise on growing demand for content that combines internet features with TV programming. Selling products related to a popular show or its participants is a goldmine for advertisers.

With the global reach of the internet and behavioural advertising methods, online channels have the potential to change the TV advertising landscape forever, but it will have legal implications, too. It raises issues regarding the applicable law: is it that of the country where the server is based, where the studios are or where the shows are made? Operating from a foreign jurisdiction, for example, can have huge advantages for television businesses. What will OFCOM’s role in the UK be if most Britons watch foreign-based online TV channels?

And countries with a licence fee - such as the UK, Holland and Italy - will have to review their definitions if they wish to maintain the tax in such a new TV environment. Current UK laws require that viewers need ‘to be covered by a licence [to] watch TV online at the same time as it is being broadcast on conventional TV`. What if there is a delay of five minutes, or new online channels start broadcasting shows that are not shown on conventional (UK-based) TV stations at all?

As long as new online TV channels do not breach any copyrights, the influence of current UK legislation – such as the Digital Economy Act - is limited. Perhaps it is slowly time for the UK Government to start thinking about an ‘online TV licence regime’, with a key role for the national internet service providers who, after all, grant online viewers the access to watch. Conventional is suddenly so yesterday.

Published previously in E-Commerce Magazine, London, October 2010. Copyrights apply.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa

Today, it was announced that the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Arequipa-born writer, who once ran for President in Peru but lost the elections in 1990, is one of the most acclaimed writers in the Spanish-speaking world, a man of letters who also braved the violence and political divisions of Peru and had to courage the enter the political arena in a time that assassinations, kidnappings and disappearances were not uncommon. Some critics consider him to have had a larger international impact and worldwide audience than any other South American writer. Many of Vargas Llosa's stories are influenced by the writer's perception of society in Peru and his own experiences as a native Peruvian.

Years ago, I must have been in the summer of 2006, I read one of his best known books, The Feast of the Goat, and enjoyed every page of it. The book is set in the Dominican Republic and portrays the assassination of the Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, and its aftermath, from two distinct points of view: during and immediately after the assassination itself, in May 1961; and thirty years later, in 1996.

In my opinion, the Nobel Committee made a fantastic choice, and Vargas Llosa is one the most admirable Peruvians ever lived.

Picture: San Francisco Chronicle, copyrights apply

Industry divided over mobile payment plans in Holland

Industry experts have given a mixed response to plans by a consortium of Dutch banks and mobile phone operators to establish a nationwide mobile payments system by 2012.

On 9 September, Dutch banks ABN Amro, ING and Rabobank, and mobile phone operators T-Mobile, KPN and Vodafone signed a letter of intent to create a single, harmonised mobile payments system in the Netherlands. ‘It is technically and commercially feasible to introduce m-payments in the Netherlands. In 2012, it will be possible to pay at the check out [of shops] with your phone’, the consortium said in a statement.

“It is the first time that major banks and phone operators in a European country have all joined forces with regard to mobile payments”, said a Spokeswoman for ING Bank.

Quinten Kroes, Counsel at Allen & Overy, said: “With all three network operators and major retail banks on board, the new consortium has all the players needed to make m-payments really take off on the Dutch market”. Bart van Reeken, Partner at De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, added: “This puts the telecom providers on top of customer data. It facilitates targeted marketing, may transform operators into advertising partners and raises interesting data protection issues”.

Dag-Inge Flatraaker, of the European Payments Council, believes it is key to ensure cross-industry cooperation in the mobile payments area: “This initiative will contribute to an evolution towards a Single Euro Payments Area for mobile payments. The Dutch initiative must be seen as an important step in this direction”.

Many experts, however, believe success is not guaranteed. “I am sceptical about any announcement such as this”, said Trevor La Fleche, Senior Research Analyst at IDC Financial Insights. “Payment mechanisms in Europe need to be more or less universal. It would be a disaster for every country in Europe to develop its own mobile payments scheme.”

Security is another concern. “It will be interesting to see whether [the consortium] will be able to convince consumers and retailers of the security of the new system”, said Peter Eijsvoogel, Partner at Allen & Overy. “The conditions of the security risks involved will play an important role.”

But Andrew Newsham, Spokesman for Rabobank, insists that consumers have nothing to worry about: “The payment software itself is located in a secure part of the SIM-card. No payment information is sent over the mobile network”.

Michiel Willems 2010. Copyrights apply. Published previously in E-Finance & Payments Law & Policy magazine.

Monday, 4 October 2010

New round of tube strikes in London

Londoners on their way to work this morning - including me - were faced with another 24 hours of tube strikes. Millions of commuters were forced to look for alternative transport as most of the London underground tube lines were closed, suspended or delayed. Buses were packed, taxis in demand and many turned to bikes or went by foot. Below an impression of the morning spectacle at Waterloo station, together with Victoria, Euston, Kings Cross, Farringdon, Paddington and London Bridge the main hubs in the British capital.
Pictures: copyright Evening Standard and Daily Mail (2010).

Friday, 1 October 2010

Picture of the week

A cameraman tries to capture a shark up close and personal. 'Ocean of fear'. 
Copyright Doug Perrine / /, 2007

Industry sceptical about UK-China copyright agreement

The UK and China have signed an agreement that will see both countries work closely together on copyright issues. On 3 September, the UK Intellectual Property Minister, Baroness Judith Wilcox, signed the Memorandum of Under-standing on Strategic Cooperation on Copyright (MoU) with Liu Binjie, the Minister of the National Copyright Administration of China. Both countries agreed to seek coordination on copyright issues, exchange ideas and best practices, and improve IP laws.

Many experts are sceptical about the impact of the MoU, which defines itself as ‘a general framework for bilateral cooperation’. “I doubt whether the agreement will have any impact on copyright enforcement”, said Lewis Ho, Partner at Simmons & Simmons in Shanghai. “Websites in China blatantly make films and other copyrighted work available to the public. Some  websites even receive funding from venture capital and are seeking approval to float on the stock exchange.”

Rico Calleja, Consultant at Calleja Consulting, said: “UK companies should not expect an instant improvement in protection of their IP in China and should continue to take a cautious approach”.

But a spokesperson for the UK Intellectual Property Office, insists that “the MoU is binding for both parties and reducing online piracy is certainly a very important aspect [of the agreement]”. 

“Any initiative to improve the protection of IP through international cooperation in combatting counterfeiting and piracy must be welcomed”, said Andrew Tibber, Partner at Burges Salmon. “While there do not seem to be any concrete proposals as yet, a programme for raising awareness of the legal framework for protecting copyrights in China would give British businesses the confidence to expand into what is still perceived as a risky, but potentially lucrative arena.” 

With the MoU, China anticipates to improve its business image. “This is the latest in a series of developments helping to position China as a safe trading ground for innovators”, said Adrian Tombling, Attorney at Withers & Rogers. “In October last year, the People’s Congress announced amendments to its country’s IP regime, bringing it into line with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs)”. TRIPs was established by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1994 and sets minimum IP standards for WTO Member States.

In China, summer 2010


This article was previously published in E-Commerce Magazine, London 2010. Copyrights apply, also for Chinese