Monday, 5 December 2011

Too many lobbyists in Brussels?

BRUSSELS - The European Payments Council (EPC) has fiercely criticised the influence of lobbyists in Brussels, who, according to EPC Chairman Gerard Hartsink, are 'fabricating issues'.

Hartsink cited figures that suggest there are up to 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels and added: "Anyone who feels that the EU decision-making process is at fault is certainly free to challenge the EU institutions on the matter, however, they should refrain from fabricating a 'SEPA governance issue'." Hartsink stressed that the SEPA inititative is shaped in accordance with EU law and policies and that "it is not driven exclusively by the banking industry". 

EPC Board Member Javier Santamaria said: "There is no 'SEPA governance issue'. On the contrary, the debate regarding this particular initiative has been extensive and open to all interest groups at every juncture of the process."

Following a complaint, the European Commission started an anti-trust investigation in September into whether the EPC has abused its standard-setting role in the European payments and banking industry to block new entrants to the payments market.

Published previously in E-Finance & Payments Law & Policy, CPP (c) London 2011. Copyrights apply. Picture: EU
 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

UK Govt to work with leading businesses on data sharing

The UK Government announced on 3 November it is teaming up with 26 banks and businesses to create a new personal identity system for making transactions and payments on the internet.

The 'Midata' initiative is hailed as 'an online replacement' of the abandoned UK national ID card scheme. The organisations involved - including Google, RBS, Lloyds, British Gas, Visa, MasterCard and the UK Cards Association - are all 'endorsing the key principle that data should be released back to consumers', according to a statement by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on 3 November. Regulators OFCOM, the Office of Fair Trading and the Information Commissioner's Office are also on board.

Consumer Affairs Minister Edward Davey said on 3 November that "[Midata] is the way the world is going and the UK is currently leading the charge". He also claimed that the US and the EU "are showing real interest in the programme" and Midata will deliver "economic benefits".

Others, however, are more skeptical. "It sounds great to be able to ring up my bank and ask them for a spreadsheet containing all of my transactions for the last seven years, but in practice if you think about what would have to happen to pull together the data, format it, validate the relevant security issues and then deliver it, it won't happen overnight", said Dave Birch, Consultant at Hyperion. "I'm more interested in the bank providing an open application programming interface so that my data can be 'mashed up' by other applications with my permission."

Published previously in E-Finance & Payments Law & Policy, CPP 2011 (c) London. Copyrights apply.
 

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Radio reports

Some affairs and events I covered in recent weeks for Radio 1 in the Netherlands.

Bin Surfing - also known as dumpster diving or bin raiding - is an upcoming phenomenon in the UK. Click HERE for my item - Starts at 00:57:04 - in Dutch


Ever heard of the London Smog Disaster, December 1952? Click HERE for my radio report about a foggy month in history - Starts at 00:38:08 - in Dutch

Click HERE for my update on the Leveson Inquiry into phonehacking and unethical journalism - Starts at 01:02:25 - in Dutch


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Make up your mind

Ever since the US Department of Justice cracked down on a number of gambling operators back in April, it seems clear what should happen with businesses that attempt to offer online gambling services to US citizens: arrest and prosecution.

However, a few months down the line, the US landscape seems more fragmented than ever. While the Irish operator PaddyPower is in the final stages of obtaining a licence to start offering gaming services to mobile phone users in the State of Nevada, on the other side of the country one-time Australian internet gambling high-flyer Daniel Tzvetkoff is still in the FBI's witness protection programme in order to testify against the indicted operators. Further south, in Florida to be precise, there are plans to introduce an online gambling Bill as pro-gambling lawmakers felt hugely encouraged after an appeals court in the Sunny State ruled on 5 October that lawmakers can authorise slot machines anywhere in Florida, a decision that, many experts think, could open the door for a further liberalisation of gambling activities - online as well as offline - in Florida.

There is a similar initiative in Illinois, and with the financial climate in the back of their minds, many legislators are more than willing to explore any possibility for new sources of income. And over in New York, entrepreneur and billionaire Donald Trump, who briefly considered running for the 2012 Presidency only a few months ago, said he would launch a poker room in partnership with hedge fund manager Marc Lasry if the US decides to regulate.

So, with pro-gambling initiatives taking place all over the country and the debate on regulation far from over, many feel the three indicted operators are receiving a harsh treatment. Many lawmakers as well as lawyers, feel uncomfortable with the 'Black Friday' arrests and current proceedings.

For an outsider, it is almost impossible to get a clear picture of what the American gambling market currently entails, or in fact, what it does not. It seems the US can not seem to make up its mind. Therefore, the current situation is far from stable: although there is a federal ban on online gambling activities, many Americans continue to gamble online and individual states are aggressively pursuing their own policies.

The full article was published previously in World Online Gambling Law Report, CPP, London 2011. Copyrights apply.

Monday, 21 November 2011


Two Radio 1 reports from last week - in Dutch

Laura Merts, or Laura van Egmond? A Dutch 'unarmed combat' spy in the UK is exposed.
Click HERE - starts at 00:06:14.


The latest developments in the phone hacking scandal: the James Murdoch Commons' Hearing.
Click HERE - starts at 01:01:11

 



www.radio1.nl



Monday, 14 November 2011

Hollow Words

The USA, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand and Singapore recently signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The agreement should be 'a major tool in the battle against infringements of IP rights', the representatives of the signing countries explained, in particular against counterfeiting practices around the world. It contains mechanisms to improve cooperation in the enforcement of IP rights, including on how to combat infringements in a digital environment and how these measures should be enforced.


Shortly after the signing ceremony, on 3 October, the US Chamber of Commerce released a statement applauding ACTA as 'a big victory for the American business community'. Although ACTA should undoubtedly be considered as (another) step in the right direction by creating a more concrete and efficient level of IP enforcement, and is based on the standards of the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, it does make you wonder: 'a big victory for the American business community'? Really? This statement seems to lack any substance.

Firstly, representatives from the EU, Mexico and Switzerland did attend the ceremony and confirmed their 'continuing strong support' but they did not sign. Why not sign if you support the agreement? Secondly, the agreement was not discussed with the World Intellectual Property Organisation, public interest groups or the tech industry, and was not subject to a public debate. 

ACTA also no longer supports elements of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which came into force in 1998 and made it a crime to unlock a DVD to copy it. ACTA contains a loosely worded ban on tools used to unlock 'digital rights management' (DRM) technologies, and, in a footnote, the signing countries agreed that manufacturers and developers won't be required to ship products with DRM restrictions. 

If this was not enough, ACTA does not require countries to hold an ISP responsible for copyright infringements committed by its users. Perhaps that explains why some EU countries, like the UK where the Digital Economy Act proposes such a regime, did not sign. 

But the real flaw of the ACTA is the fact the main actors are not on board. It might be a bold attempt to create a global copyright system, but without the world's main infringers being involved, such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, it makes you wonder what the real value of ACTA is: just hollow words and political show seems the appropriate answer.

Published previously in the October issue of E-Commerce Law & Policy magazine © 2011 Cecile Park Publishing Ltd, London, UK. Copyrights apply at all times. Pics: thefashionrow.com and spotcounterfeiting.com



Wednesday, 9 November 2011

'Frustrated' EC launches anti-trust enquiry into EPC


The announcement by the European Commission (EC) to open an anti-trust investigation into whether the European Payments Council (EPC) has been blocking new, mostly non-bank, players from entering the European online payments market has not taken the industry by surprise.


"The fact the Commission has opened an investigation indicates that there is reasonable evidence to suggest that the standards may be distorting competition in the market", said Louisa Penny, Senior Associate at Taylor Wessing.

Suzanne McDonald, Partner at TLT, said she understands some of the concerns because "while delivering many benefits, any standardisation process involves competition risks. One common concern is that where industry standards are developed by a limited group of powerful market players, the results may not be suited to everyone in that market and may subsequently hinder their ability to compete".

The EC announced on 26 September that, following a complaint, it is going to investigate whether the EPC has developed such a standardisation process for the online payments industry in Europe that it has become very difficult, if not impossible, for new players to enter the market. The EC said in a statement its investigation is to make sure 'competition is not unduly restricted, for example through the exclusion of new entrants and payment providers who are not controlled by a bank'. The EC believes such restrictions would lead to higher prices for merchants and consumers.


Published previously in the October issue of E-Finance & Payments Law Policy © 2011 Cecile Park Publishing Ltd. Picture: EU

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Radio 1 reports


Some recent reports I did for Radio 1 in the Netherlands:
 
·      New charges brought against Vincent Tabak, click HERE
·      Vincent Tabak convicted to 20 years in Bristol, click HERE
·      The iconic Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill to close, click HERE
·      Funderal of the riots' hero, click HERE 


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Online banking fraud losses in UK fall again

LONDON - Online banking fraud losses have fallen for the second year in a row, according to new figures by the UK Cards Association. Total fraud losses on UK cards fell to £169.8 million between January and June 2011, 9% less compared with losses in the first six months of 2010.

Although card fraud and online banking fraud both fell, cheque fraud and phone fraud losses are on the rise. Fraudsters increasingly turn to low-tech scams 'as [high-tech] initiatives continue to drive down fraud', the UK Cards Association said. However, the number of phishing websites targeting UK users has increased.

"While these numbers look encouraging it is important to recognise the price customers have to pay for safe online banking", said William Beer, a Director at Pricewaterhouse Coopers. "Two-factor authentication has now become common, with customers having to carry a keyfob or other device in order to log into their bank accounts. While this has lessened the risk of fraud, it has introduced an element of inflexibility into the system and should not be seen as a silver bullet."

Published previously in E-Finance & Payments Law & Policy, October issue, London, 2011. Copyrights apply at all times.
 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Destination Wales: Aber Falls

Last weekend some friends, my other half and I headed over to the north-west corner of the Welsh country. On Sunday, with energy in our legs and some sunshine in the air, our destination was one of the most majestic sights of the Welsh mountains, Aber Falls, or Rhaedr Fawr, as they are called in Welsh. These imposing works of Mother Nature can be found in the foothills of the mountain range Caerneddau.

The closest town is a tiny Welsh village with a name impossible to pronounce, Abergwyngregyn, some 90 miles (145 km) from the English-Welsh border and around 260 miles (420 km) from London.
  
Once we entered the Coedvdd Aber Nature Reserve, we parked our car and embarked on an uphill hike to the Falls. When you commence at the car park, at Bont Newydd, simply follow a narrow path through a small area of woodland. Emerging from the forest, you follow a clear trail through a charming, green valley. At some point the course splits, offering a choice of routes. Either you continue the path through the valley, or a higher trail through a conifer-cultivated area can be taken. Either way, both end up at the Aber Falls. Along the way you run into ponies and beautiful plants such as wild angelica and lady’s mantle, which are predominantly present in the rock crevices around the cascade because of the continuous moisture. 
 
Once you have reached the waterfall and the massive waterworks lie in front of you, you cannot avoid being impressed by the streaming masses of the Afon Goch waterway, the actual river, which drops down around 125 feet (40 meters) onto the rocks below.

Apart from the fact that I was impressed and the place gasps tranquility and serenity, it made you feel far away from the chaotic London crowds and crazy south English traffic.  While descending  the hill and making our way back to the car, I could not help detecting a feeling of cheerfulness and satisfaction; we had made a memory.




Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Facebook criticised over post-logout cookies & data sharing

The social networking website Facebook is under attack in the US over allegedly tracking users' online behaviour after they have logged out and a practice known as 'frictionless sharing'.

On 28 September, Chicago-based law firm Perrin Aikens Davis filed a lawsuit against Facebook, asking a California court to end the use of 'post-logout cookies' on the grounds of alleged violations of federal wiretapping and computer fraud. Facebook has admitted it uses cookies that remain active even after logging out, but said 'it does not store or use [that] cookie data for tracking'. A statement industry experts find hard to believe. 

Nik Cubrilovic, the Australian technologist who exposed Facebook's use of 'post-logout cookies', said: "With my browser logged out of Facebook, whenever I visit any page with a Facebook like or share button, or any other widget, the information is still being sent to Facebook." Some members of the US Congress have urged the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Facebook's use of these cookies. 

In the same week, on 29 September, a collection of advocacy groups asked the FTC to outlaw 'frictionless sharing', a practice in which apps from services and publishers can publish users' activity to their wall, without asking for permission for every post. Mark Rotenberg, Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, called the practice a 'massive invasion of privacy'.

Published previously in the October issue of E-Commerce Law & Policy, London 2011. Copyrights apply at all times.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Domestic dining in suburban Tokyo

During a recent visit to Japan I was invited by the Suzuki family to share a meal with them at their home in Musashi-Kosugi, a suburb of Tokyo in the prefecture of Kanagawa, around 50 mins by train from Shibuya station.


I expected sushi and noodles to dominate the menu, just like it does in most Japanese restaurants overseas, but that could not be further from the truth. The Suzuki's did prepare an extensive range of dishes and snacks, unworthy of the word 'meal' and which classified more as proper 'dining'.



Apart from the fact that everything was freshly prepared and home-cooked, prepared just hours if not minutes before we arrived, there was a number of dishes I had never heard of, prepared with ingredients unknown to me, which resulted in trying a few flavors I'd never tasted before. Among other dishes, the meal included fresh sliced raw fish, sashimi, fermented soybeans, natto, Japanese home-cooked staple and pork cutlets.

Yankee Marley, from California, Alex (a Taiwanese-Canadian) and I could not keep our fingers of the endless range of dishes, bowl after bowl, plate after plate. The Suzuki's hyperactive kids could not stop (nor they were made to) running around the kitchen and constantly jumped up and down the couch, while an enormous television played a surreal gameshow in the background.

While chewing my natto, I came to realise that the Japanese are not only extremely friendly and polite, they simply know how to give you a good time. When I headed back to Central Tokyo later on that night, with tickled tastebuds and a smile on my face, I could only come to one conclusion: Jummy Japanese, you taste like more.


Friday, 30 September 2011

AT&T’s plans to become biggest WiFi player in US put in question

WASHINGTON - The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has announced it has filed an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T, the second largest US mobile phone operator, to block its intention of merging with T-Mobile. The DoJ fears the combination will dominate the market too heavily, resulting in ‘higher prices, fewer choices, and lower quality,’ sending AT&T’s plans to become the country’s biggest WiFi player into turmoil.

Experts in the industry believe the main drive behind the merger, considered by many to be a takeover of T-Mobile, is AT&T’s desire to expand its wireless internet capabilities. 

Although AT&T bought the WiFi operator Wayport in 2008 and is the biggest WiFi hotspot provider in the US - in places such as Starbucks and McDonalds - it does not yet offer WiFi calling capacities. By acquiring T-Mobile’s WiFi calling services, it could also reach those customers who make WiFi calls from home - approximately 40% of all WiFi users. The merger would also make AT&T the biggest phone operator in the US, since it would control over a third of all wireless subscriptions in the US.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has been investigating the merger for several months now, has not released its finding as of yet.  “The [DoJ] has done its job. Now the FCC should do its job, follow the law, and reject the takeover of T-Mobile,” said Harold Feld, the Legal Director of Public Knowledge, a US public interest advocacy organisation.

Published previously in the September issue of E-Commerce Law & Policy, London 2011, copyrights apply at all times. Picture: Mobile.huddler.com


Monday, 19 September 2011

Gambling Commission and IOC to exchange data on match fixing

LONDON - The UK Gambling Commission has plans to start sharing information with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on suspicious betting activities and match fixing, the Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) has announced. The legislative changes needed are ‘to come in ahead of the 2012 Olympic’, the DCMS said in a statement on 17 August.

Under the current regime, the Gambling Commission (GC) can only share information if the governing body is specifically listed in the Gambling Act 2005. The DCMS’ statement read that ‘it is planning to amend [the Gambling Act] in order to add the IOC [to the list] and we are also consulting on whether any additional sports bodies should also be included’. 

John Cloke, an Associate at DLA Piper, remarks that “the existing list has a domestic focus but DCMS has recognised that it would also be appropriate to include international bodies, in particular the IOC, given the 2012 Olympics in London”. 

However, Andrew Danson, Senior Associate at K&L Gates in London, said that “it is curious that  the consultation presents the proposed changes as updating an outdated list. I don’t think that explanation stacks up - the governing bodies originally in the Act are all UK-based whereas the proposals to extend the list all relate to international governing bodies based overseas. It’s not an update, it’s a change of approach”. Danson also stressed that “data protection law is an obvious issue, particularly as the GC may now pass personal data overseas”.

The DCMS consultation closes on 9 November.

Published previously in the August issue of World Online Gambling Law Report, CPP, copyrights apply at all times, London 2011. Picture: liberalfair.com

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

PayPal joins battle against copyright pirates

LONDON - PayPal has announced it has agreed a partnership with the City of London Police (CoLP) and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the trade body that represents the music industry, to cut funding to websites deemed ‘illegal’ by the IFPI and CoLP. 

Although PayPal has always banned the use of its services for items that infringe or violate any copyright under its Acceptable Use Policy, the partnership is expected to bring an end to thousands of illegal websites - many operating from Russia and the Ukraine - that sell music illegally on the net.

The partnership follows the announcement, in March, that payment processors Visa and MasterCard also agreed to withdraw their services from copyright infringing websites. “We knew that when illegal  services could no longer take payments from credit cards they would try to work around the restriction”, said Frances Moore, Chief executive of IFPI. “That is why we and the CoLP approached PayPal.”

The partnership is an indication the payments industry is moving further against pirate websites  by cracking down on the way they are funded. Brett Rowland, Counsel at Sidley Austin, called the agreement “a significant development”, while Rohan Massey, Partner at McDermott Will & Emery UK LLP, thinks PayPal’s move is “a step in the right direction”. 

Dawn Osborne, Partner at Palmer Biggs Legal, said PayPal’s decision is “in line with the trend that intermediaries are expected to help against all forms of illegality”. Massey also recognises the “trend to try and limit unlawful behaviour by applying pressure to payment providers”.  

However, Consult Hyperion’s Director Dave Birch thinks PayPal’s decision “is a dangerous precedent. I assume PayPal will now stop Saudi consumers from buying alcohol and French shoppers from buying fake Chanel perfume.”

Forcing payment processors, auction websites and online retailers to follow PayPal’s example by law would be “wrong”, said Birch. “How is eBay supposed to know whether my Rolex is real or fake? How is PayPal supposed to know whether I'm actually in the US or not?”

Therefore, Osborne said “it is refreshing to see Paypal volunteer rather than be brought to the table  kicking and screaming. Presumably, they would prefer to negotiate the terms on which they will help rather than be forced to accept terms imposed by the authorities.”

Published previously in the August issue of E-Finance & Payments Law Policy, CPP, copyrights apply at all times, London 2011. Picture: PayPal.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

FOX first major US network to charge for catch up content online

NEW YORK - Fox is to become the first major broadcast network in the US to put its content behind a paywall. Fox Networks and Fox Broadcasting – owned by News Corp – have announced that from early September  new episodes of Fox shows – such as the hugely popular ‘Glee’ and ‘Family Guy’ – can no longer be watched for free on the broadcaster’s website. 

Viewers will have to wait eight days after the show has been aired to continue to watch the content for free or they should subscribe to a participating cable or satellite service if they wish to see shows the day after they have been aired. ‘It will be interesting to see how consumers in the US respond to Fox's proposal and whether it really drives subscriptions to the partner pay-TV services”, says Helen Anderson, a Senior Associate at SNR Denton in London, in a response to Fox’ announcement. “The move may end up fuelling the illegal piracy that the media companies are so keen to prevent.”

Martin Kratz, a Calgary-based Partner at Benett Jones, thinks “it remains to be seen if the 8 day delay is sufficient frustration for the internet savvy viewer to encourage them to seek out the immediate pirate version”. He thinks Fox made a brave decision because “once customers get used to free content on the internet how can you get them comfortable with paying for it?” Kratz believes that in this case Fox has sought a “compromise position” by making the programs available for free after 8 days, and “for those viewers who absolutely cannot wait, the program would be available immediately, on a subscription based service”.

Fox’ move is closely watched by other major broadcasters in the US, such as ABC, NBC and CBS. Erecting a paywall is considered to create many new commercial opportunities, but is also seen as possibly undermining the companies’ traditional advertising and subscription revenues. Fox’ decision “reflects a move away from pure advertising towards a hybrid advertising/subscription revenue model”, explains James Johnston, Partner at Davis & Gilbert LLP in New York City. “Fox complained the pure ad model was not generating sufficient revenue. The advertising/subscription hybrid one creates two potential revenue streams”.

Kratz, believes Fox’ “move may also be seen as a way to drive traffic to the television show itself as the free internet versions can affect the ratings which affect rates for advertising”.  

Although other US broadcasters are expected to follow if the Fox format turns out to be successful, Anderson does not think “it is likely [the Fox model will] translate to the UK catch up services” because of a difference in approach. “Fox sees the commercial opportunity to be the ‘first-view’ window immediately after broadcast and then allow longer free access, the UK sees the commercial opportunity to be more a free taster window followed by pay services.”

Copyrights apply at all times. Published previously in E-Commerce Law & Policy, August issue, CPP, copyrights apply at all times, London 2011. Picture: castofthousands.com.
 

Editorial comment: German fixture lists

BERLIN - Drafting the new Interstate Treaty on Gambling (ITG) in Germany has - so far - not been a smooth process. Only last month the European Commission rejected the draft text of a new ITG, stating it was not compatible with EU law. This was followed by a decision of the leaders of the German Federal States to postpone a final decision on the new legislation until October, which means that it becomes even more unlikely a new regulatory framework will be in place before the current ITG expires on 31 December. 

On top of that, the federal states still have to deal with enfant terrible Schleswig-Holstein. Germany’s most northern state is still campaigning for its own, much more liberal online gambling regime, a scenario that is out of the question for most other states. The State, however, did announce on 22 August its intention to postpone its draft legislation. If that is not enough, the process of market regulation is being further frustrated - and probably further delayed - by the emergence of a new player.

The Bundesliga, the German federal sports body for football, has joined the gambling debate by threatening to charge betting operators for the use of their fixtures lists - the lists with competition times and places, which are subject to copyright, according to the Bundesliga. This way, operators will be prevented from using the Bundesliga’s fixtures lists free of charge, making sports betting impossible without transferring large sums of money to the sports body. 

However, if the Federal States agree to open up their sports betting markets to more competition, the sport body will drop its intellectual property demands - it is, therefore, a blatant attempt to influence the current legislative process. And the Bundesliga’s copyright claims did not fall on deaf ears within Germany’s sports community. A new, potentially lucrative, revenue stream was instantly recognised, so it did not come as a surprise that the national handball, basketball and tennis federations have announced they will follow the Bundesliga’s lead.  

Germany’s football federation’s unexpected move has raised legal questions. Firstly, sports organisations as such are not part of the ITG. The fact that they can use fixture lists is automatically presumed and not explicitly mentioned. Secondly, does a copyright claim on fixture lists actually exist? German lawyers seem unable to agree but the sports organisations certainly think so. Luckily, as it seems, legal experts still have some time to answer this question. 

Published previously in the August issue of World Online Gambling Law Report, CPP, copyrights apply at all times, London 2011. Picture: globalfirepower.com.

Friday, 26 August 2011

London riots radio reporting

Please find below some of the radio reports and commentaries I did for Radio 1 in the Netherlands during the London riots, an impression of the events that took place in the British capital and which sent shock waves through the nation. - in Dutch.
  • Riots have broken out and youths are looting in north, east and south London, click HERE
  • The first arrests are being made but the situation is still not under control, click HERE
  • Arrests and prosecutions are in full swing and order has been restored on the streets of London, click HERE
  • The riots are followed by a fierce political debate and the judiciary is working overtime, click HERE
  • A week after the riots: No mercy for the arrested looters, are the sentences too stiff? Click HERE


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Severe weather warning for London

LONDON – You would think the hordes of noisy summer tourists and the many delayed tube lines - due to summer engineering works - are enough reasons to stay around the house, but if you are planning to spend Tuesday at home, you could not have picked a better day. 

On top of the crowded West End streets and the transport saga, the Met Office has issued a severe weather warning for the London area. The UK's national weather service announced this morning that it expects ‘torrential rain’ and said ‘there is a risk of localised flooding’. 

A Spokeswoman of the Meteorological Office told the BBC: "A yellow alert has been issued to highlight the risk of localised surface-water flooding".

Jim Knighton, of the London Fire Brigade, advises everyone to stay indoors as much as possible, and assured me that the Fire Brigade is "ready and waiting to help people who might be hit by flooding”. He added that “keeping people safe is our top priority but flooding can also devastate people's properties and possessions, so wherever possible we use sandbags to keep water out of people's homes". Clearly, London is on standby and ready to be drenched.

With street vendors at every corner trying to talk you into a cheap umbrella and the black cabbies doing great business today, another advantage of this typical English weather is, in light of recent events, hard to ignore: surely there won't be any looters out today.

Please find the Met Office's weather forecast HERE

Picture: dailymail.co.uk

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Read if you dare

LONDON - The UK Court of Appeals ruled on 26 July that users of news clippings' services must obtain a license from publishers if they wish to click legally on links that take them to the newspaper websites in question. If not, they might be infringing the publisher's copyright.


Most publishers have no objection if an article is looked at for non-commercial purposes, but when it comes down to 'clippings' services, it is entirely a different issue.

The Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision that clients of a news clippings service, Meltwater - relating to marketing and PR firms - must be in possession of a license in order to look at articles on newspapers' websites, through Meltwater. The Court held that only those who look at these sites for nonprofessional purposes are not breaching any rights, which means that professionals who browse through articles at work - and with their clients in mind - are likely to break the law.

The Court of Appeal did not specify what ' commercial /non-commercial use' is, but perhaps should have done so: when are you looking at a newspaper article 'as part of your job'? Publishers' terms and conditions usually contain a paragraph that states that an article can only be accessed for 'personal and non-commercial' use: does this mean that only someone who reads certain articles at home for his own interest, is not breaking the law? What if that information later on goes to be used in the course of work, one way or another?

Some websites, including those of the Financial Times and the free business daily City AM, are nearly exclusively visited by professionals who want to keep themselves up-to-date with developments in the industry. Not because they want to, but because their job requires them to do so. So it is hard to implement the Court's decision: in many ways, every day, millions of people are possibly breaching publishers' copyrights on a daily basis.

As a result, the Court has - probably unwillingly - put the online publishing industry into turmoil. Surely, newspapers would not want to forbid people from reading their free online editions? Their advertisers would get nervous and the value of the site as a whole would go down. And certain pages could be scrapped if professionals are not allowed to pay them a visit. Undoubtedly, the Court wanted to protect publishers' copyrights and highlight the issue of unique content protection, but if a news service is offered freely and openly to all, you should be able to read its content without having to fear you are breaking the law.

Picture: www.123rf.com

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Madeleine McCann India 'sighting'

INDIA - The ongoing search for the missing British girl Madeleine McCann - who disappeared in May 2007 during a family holiday in Portugal - took a surprising twist last week after a young girl matching Madeleine's description was spotted at a market in northern India. A British tourist noticed a girl 'bearing a remarkable likeness to Madeleine' in the Indian city of Leh. Madeleine, who vanished just before her fourth birthday, would now be eight years old. I reported this incident for Radio 1 in the Netherlands. To listen to the broadcast, click HERE - in Dutch

Picture: www.telegraph.co.uk

Monday, 15 August 2011

Visa is losing grip on the Asian market

SEOUL/BEJING - South Korea’s largest credit card firm, BC Card, is considering legal action against payment processor Visa, the Chinese press agency Xinhua has reported. “BC Card plans to file a complaint against Visa with the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) over its unfair transaction activities”, an official at BC Card told Xinhua

The official claims that Visa has recently imposed fines of up to $100.000 on BC Card for not processing international transactions through the VisaNet payment system, a requirement Visa has for local partners wishing to carry out international transactions. BC Card claims Visa has withdrawn $50.000 from its settlement account as BC Card used China UnionPay instead for international transfers. Another fine of $50.000 was because BC Card used Star Network – a USpayments network – to process international transactions. 

Experts have stressed these latest incidents are another sign Visa is losing grip on the region and China UnionPay’s influence is growing in Asia. China UnionPay is the sole bankcard processor in China and its overseas presence has grown significantly in recent years.

Picture: closingamericasgobjap.com

Thursday, 4 August 2011

eBay liable for your fake Gucci or Prada

Luxembourg - The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that eBay - and similar online marketplaces and auction sites - may be liable for trademark and copyright infringements if their users offer and sell counterfeit goods on their websites. 


In a case brought by the French cosmetics giant L’Oréal, Europe's most important Court has ruled that online marketplaces should not be exempted from liability if they have indications that suggest that certain online sales are unlawful, and they do not remove such items or block the sale of these products on their websites. For years, it has been common practice that fake products have sold under luxury brand names such as Armani, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Richemont and Burberry.

The Court of Justice for the EU also said that under European law operators of online marketplaces can be ordered by national courts to take measures to prevent counterfeit goods being sold on their sites. This means courts in the UK, Germany, France, Italy or other European Union countries can step in and obstruct the sale of fake bags, scarfs, clothes, shoes and other common luxury goods. 

Online marketplaces are, however, not liable for copyright infringement if they merely allow customers to display signs of trade marks next to their goods, but there are no signs the actual goods are offered as such.

Kirsten Gilbert, a partner at the London law firm Marks & Clerk, said in a response: "EU trade mark law has been straining under the pressure of dealing with the internet age. The rise of online commerce has created a host of scenarios never envisaged when our laws were drafted. Today's ruling will give national courts guidance on how to approach just one of these scenarios”.

Published previously in a London based publication, August 2011. Copyrights apply. Picture: welfordmedia.co.uk


Monday, 1 August 2011

US accelerates crackdown on online gambling

Washington/New York - Authorities in the US are stepping up efforts to enforce the country’s strict online gambling laws.   

On 23 June, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized ten dot.com domain names, among them doylesroom.com and bookmaker.com. Ann Marie Puig, of bookmaker.com, as well as Darren Wright and David Parchomchuk, of BetEd owner ThrillX Systems, have been indicted on counts of alleged money laundering and operating an illegal gambling business, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland announced.

On the same day payment processor Bradley Franzen, one of 11 people indicted on Black Friday, last April, admitted to helping PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker to circumvent US laws that prohibit the processing of payments from online gambling websites. 

Franzen pled guilty to criminal charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison, although he has entered a guilty plea deal that recommends leniency at his sentencing which is scheduled for 26 August.

Michiel Willems 2011, published previously in a London based publication. Copyrights apply at all times.
 

Radio 1 reports - in Dutch

Some items I did for Radio 1 in the Netherlands in the last few weeks.

For my radio broadcast from the world premiere of the last Harry Potter movie click HERE

For my radio broadcast about former News International chief Rebekah Brooks click HERE

For my radio broadcast about the beginning of the British phone hacking scandal click HERE




Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Australia addresses match-fixing in sports

AUS - Sports Ministers in Australia have taken a united stand against corruption in sports by signing an agreement to address match fixing in sports betting. 

New laws would make it compulsory for ‘sports organisations and betting companies to share information,’ and funding for sports organisations is going to be ‘contingent on sports implementing appropriate anti-match-fixing and anti-corruption practices,’ it was announced last week. 

The laws will be implemented at state-level and a new watchdog, the National Integrity of Sport Unit, is set ‘to oversee the national arrangements’, Federal Sports Minister Mark Arbib said in a statement. 

"This is an outstanding result for sport. I am pleased that all Australia’s governments are presenting a united front against the scourge of match-fixing," Senator Arbib explained. "Sport is vulnerable to organised crime, to launder money and conceal illegal activity. The most important thing for Australian sports lovers is to have confidence that our sports are played fairly and that all players are giving their best."

“[The deal] demonstrates a growing interest of the Federal Government to get involved in gambling,” concluded Bill Brown, partner at Landers & Rogers in Melbourne. And Cheng Lim, a partner at Mallesons Stephen Jaques, sees the agreement as “a positive first step in developing a national response,” which is needed since “the laws that regulate sports betting have not been able to keep apace with developments in the betting industry, particularly the growing popularity of online betting”, Lim said from his Melbourne office.

The agreement provides ‘sports with a right to veto bet types’, according to the Sports Minister's statement. Although no formal requirements are yet in place, “steps have already been taken to ban some ‘exotic’ in-play betting perceived to be prone to corruption within the sport,” said Jamie Nettleton, partner at the Sydney law firm Addisons.

Although the Interactive Gambling Act has banned most online gambling activities since 2001, online sports betting is legal in Australia, with many state-licensed betting companies in operation.


Michiel Willems, 2011. Published previously in a London based publication. Copyrights apply. Picture: Fridaymash.com


Monday, 25 July 2011

German deadlock

Anti-gambling organisations in Germany are outraged with their politicians. This might come as a surprise, since the Interstate Treaty on Gambling (ITG) largely outlaws online gambling in Germany. The anti-gambling movement is furious because it is looking beyond tomorrow. Unintentionally, their valued e-gambling ban is at stake.

The current ITG expires at the end of this year, on 31 December at midnight, and in recent weeks it has become evident that German politicians will most likely not be able to have a new Treaty approved and implemented before New Year’s Day. Theoretically, this means the market would be fully open on 1 January.

Many gambling experts wonder how German lawmakers managed to get themselves in such an incredible position. Only last April, the Heads of the German Federal States - except for Schleswig-Holstein - agreed on a new Interstate Treaty (NIT), which was subsequently sent to the European Commission (EC) for approval. The EC has three months to raise any concerns (the so-called standstill period), which means that, by 10 July latest, the EC has to make public whether it has any objections to the draft NIT and whether it is convinced the text complies with EU legislation. So far, the timing was right and the German gambling monopolies seemed to be safeguarded after 31 December.


That was before 13 June, when Germany’s Federal Prime Ministers decided to delay their final decision on the NIT until October; they indicated they will need more time to come up with a legal framework that can be supported by all 16 states. Two issues, however, make the October deadline unrealistic. Firstly, the northern State of Schleswig-Holstein has proposed its own gambling Bill, which has more in common with Atlantic City than the restrictive, monopolistic approach of the 15 other states. Under Schleswig-Holstein’s draft Bill, which was approved by the EC on 9 May, there are no limits as to the number of licences that can be granted and all forms of casino games would be allowed. It will be a huge challenge to come to some sort of agreement that can carry the support of all 16 German Federal States.

Secondly, it is a safe bet to say the EC will reject the NIT in its current form. The NIT would allow online lotteries but solely those that are organised by the state lottery providers, and online sports bets for which a maximum of seven concessions shall be issued. In the past, the EC has made it clear it does not tolerate such monopolies and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) basically crushed the German framework in September 2010 when it said that ‘Germany’s state monopolies could not be justified under European law’. The NIT has failed to address these issues.

Approval in Brussels
But even if the other states manage to get Schleswig-Holstein on board and all of them will agree on a final text in October, the final Treaty still needs to be sent to the EC for approval. This means that another standstill period of three months will commence, so the EC’s endorsement could be given in early January at the earliest, after which the adoption and approval processes in all 16 federal parliaments still have to begin. Legislative processes that can easily take up to a year. And that is just the most positive scenario. More realistic is that the NIT will be rejected by the EC in July and Schleswig-Holstein will not give up so easily on its liberal draft Bill. Experts predict the NIT will never see the light of day, at least not in its current form, simply because it does not comply with EU legislation. It clearly needs to be amended for EC approval.

Pushing for a NIT that does not respect EU principles seems to be a refusal to acknowledge reality. It is becoming more and more likely the current ITG will expire without a new one replacing it in time, which means the market will be fully open, at least for some time. Conservative lawmakers being unable to regulate - for operators it must be a dream come true.


Michiel Willems, 2011. Published previously in a London based publication. Copyrights apply. Pictures: US State Department, state.gov.

 

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

New association to self-regulate Chinese payments

The Chinese Government has launched the China Payment and Settlement Association (CPSA), a payment clearing association set up to develop China’s payments industry. 

The Ministry of Civil Affairs and the People’s Bank of China (PBC) - the country’s central bank - have given the CPSA the powers to develop industry standards, and regulate the payments and settlement industry. The CPSA’s aim is to encourage industry self-regulation and the management of payment services as well as competition in the market.

The CPSA has also been given the authority to distribute licences to third parties, such as payment providers and processors, to operate on the Chinese market. No licences have been distributed as of yet, but experts expect that to happen soon.

Online payments are growing rapidly in China, but, to date, there has been little regulation of the industry. In June 2010, the PBC decided that non-financial institutions involved in payment services should obtain third party payment licences. Although 32 companies have applied so far, no third party has been granted a licence yet.

Michiel Willems, 2011. Published previously in a London based magazine. Picture:  newsroom.sebgroup.com

UK Payments Council works on new mobile account-to-account scheme

UK banks are developing a system that would allow British customers to transfer money between accounts from different banks by using their mobile phones. 

The UK Payments Council (UKPC), which represents the UK banking industry, has started “to explore how a mobile can help customers make a payment from one account to another,” said Gary Hinock, Acting Chief Executive of the UKPC.

Whether British customers will embrace this system depends on “whether or not there is demand for mobile payments,” said Samee Zafar, Director at Edgar Dunn & Co. “I believe there is, but if you look at the history of consumer products there is hardly anything that can be compared to the growth in m-devices.”

“For industry wide adoption to work effectively, we need a unified solution on both the front and the back ends,” said David Divitt, Consultant at ACI. “Most issues with the adoption of new systems arise because they are not designed with the end user as the primary focus.” 

Zafar added that “consumer acceptance is never achieved with great technology alone. It requires critical mass investments in raising awareness, marketing, consumer education, and incentives, and let us not forget merchants, who are equally important and will need to be fully on board.”

Hinock stressed that “security is a priority for us,” but  predicts that, ultimately, “the wallet might drop off its top spot in the not too distant future”.

Michiel Willems, 2011. Published previously in a London based magazine. Pciture: Lloyds TSB.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Less porn and violence for most Australians

Australian ISPs to block more than 500 sites

Two of Australia’s largest internet service providers (ISPs) have agreed to block over 500 websites, it was announced. Telstra and Optus - by far the largest ISPs in Australia - as well as smaller ISPs itExtreme and Webshield, have decided to block all websites listed on the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s ‘Refused Classification’ (RC) list of offending websites. 
Websites that are put on the RC list contain material that is banned for ‘sale, hire or public exhibition,’ because the content contains ‘matters of sex, drugs misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standard of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults’. 

The Australian Government has made a number of failed attempts to introduce internet filters in order to fight child pornography, extreme violence and illegal gambling. This latest move by Australia’s largest ISPs means that ‘most Australian internet users will have their web access censored,’ the Australian news website news.com.au wrote.


Some recent radio broadcasts for Radio 1 in the Netherlands - in Dutch. If you click on the links, my items start straight away.



www.radio1.nl
www.bnntoday.nl




Saturday, 2 July 2011

Tickets for the London 2012 Olympics

My radio 1 broadcast from last week, about the Olympic tickets uproar in the British capital - in Dutch. 
My section starts straight away. Click HERE
www.radio1.nl
 

Monday, 27 June 2011

On the internet, everyone has got a name

What’s in a name?
If you want to circumvent a so-called ‘super-injection’ - a UK gagging order to prevent certain information from becoming public - it seems the internet has become the place to be. Many legal experts, judges and lawmakers are struggling with this dilemma after a confusing month in which a former model and a well-known football player made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

On 29 May, The Sunday Times reported that only six hours after football player Ryan Giggs had obtained a super injection - to prevent his extra-marital affair from becoming public - a bank worker named James Webley had tweeted ‘so if Ryan Giggs wanted to cover up a hypothetical affair with Big Brother’s Imogen Thomas would that be a super-injunction or a regular one’. Within hours, this was ‘re-tweeted’ by thousands and the footballer’s name was out.

Theoretically, Webley can be accused of contempt of court. He could be fined, his assets seized or even face jail time, but more than seven weeks after he tweeted his message, on 14 April, officers have still not knocked on his door and experts believe it is not likely that is going to happen. Thousands of Twitter users - among them famous names like journalist Piers Morgan and singer Boy George - have mentioned the footballer in their online messages and it would be an impossible task to prosecute them all. On top of that, Member of Parliament John Hemming mentioned Giggs in Parliament and it did not really come as a surprise when Prime Minister Cameron said he felt ‘uneasy’ about super-injunctions and believed judges were developing a privacy law without Parliament's say so.

But it works both ways. While hiding your dirty laundry might have become nearly impossible, remaining anonymous on the net is also increasingly difficult. The Superior Court of California recently forced Twitter to hand over the personal details of a number of its account holders who had allegedly posted libellous statements about South Tyneside Council. The UK Council went to the California Court - who has jurisdiction over US-based Twitter - to find out who was behind an account called ‘Mr Monkey’.

Apart from the question whether tax money should be spent on defending the reputation of a few local councillors, the ruling has paved the way for many from outside the US to identify anonymous bloggers. Experts believe this ruling can have huge implications for users of social networking sites and many wonder whether this verdict signals the end of anonymous blogging, because if it works with Twitter, why not with (US-based) Facebook, Blogspot, MySpace or any other website where people can publish public messages on a daily basis under a fake name. Experts fear many US lawyers will try to find out the names behind anonymous posts so they can sue the bloggers on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. 

When the internet emerged, many praised - and feared - the new medium for the fact that on the web ‘no one knows who or where you are’. This no longer seems to apply. Whether you are a famous ‘adulterous’ footballer or just a critical voter in a sleepy town, everyone’s got a name.


Michiel Willems, 2011. Published previously in the June issue of a London based magazine. Copyrights apply at all times. Image 1: blogs.lessthandot.com. Image 2: itsessential.ca