Category Archives: Legalese

Please make it okay for KITT to drive itself around

Driverless vehicles are coming. A clear legal framework will make them come all the sooner, and there’s an opportunity to make autonomous vehicles as safe as passenger aircraft.

Don't drive a car like a smuck, get the car to drive you!

Don’t drive a car like a smuck, get the car to drive you!

Make the manufacturer(1) solely responsible for all liabilities incurred by the vehicle, driverless or not. Transfer this liability to anyone who modifies the vehicle without manufacturer approval(2) – covering up sensors, adding systems, modifying software etc. While autonomous, fines for driving infractions are the responsibility of the manufacturer; demerit points are treated as unidentified and the fine for failing to identify the driver is payable by the manufacturer. Annual vehicle registration fees(3) remain payable by the vehicle owner, but third party insurance costs – personal and property – are remitted to the manufacturer, who could be expected to pay you to… not drive the car – if you drive the car, that creates an uncontrollable liability, but if the car drives itself then the risks are only those that are those due to the product, which presumably would lead to product improvement to decrease crashes and injury.

How would you force owners of cars that are the liability of someone else to properly maintain them? Simple; you make the manufacturer cover maintenance costs too – tyres, servicing etc. So now we’re getting to the point where we ask: what are people paying for cars that they only have to cover the running expenses for? How does the manufacturer recoup the cost of maintenance? Doesn’t really matter, but I think you’ll see that driverless cars will only be able to be leased, or hired, or rented, or some other such model. They’d basically be taxis – paid for by time and distance.

Every driverless crash will be investigated by a federal body – the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. To aid investigations, vehicles will be required to detect crashes and refuse to function after them; extensive data logging like on aircraft will be mandated. Because of the lack of humans involved, crashes come down to systems failure and the crash rate should be highly controllable.


Fly, KITT, fly

(1) Autonomous vehicle manufacturers might baulk at these plans to make them directly fiscally responsible for their products. Fine; they could instead put an insurance/finance company in as the responsible entity, but whomever is responsible would have to prove to the government their capability to meet their contingent liabilities.

(2) That is, you can hack your car if you want. But if you do, you wear the (potentially quite substantial) risks associated with having done so. Find an insurance company that’s willing to cover you (ha!).

Have you played thePopulation: Tire game? If not, you haven't lived.

Have you played thePopulation: Tire game? If not, you haven’t lived.

(3) Why do we charge registration fees? Owning a car doesn’t impose any costs on society. Driving it does; parking it does. There ought to be taxes on… tyres. The consumption of tyres by a vehicle is roughly correlated to the wear and tear on infrastructure and other externalities. Motorbikes, two tyres; semis eighteen or more. There are already taxes on fuel, again because of externalities – and presumably, because they’re easy-to-levy taxes that are hard to avoid. But infrastructure wear is not a function of fuel consumption, but it is a function of using tyres. The problem with a tyre tax is that people will naturally buy tyres that last a long time, rather than other considerations – for example braking efficiency; to address this some wear factor ought to be applied too.

Australian electoral fraud

An undamaged security cable tie

If the security cable tie isn’t pulled tight engaging the teeth, it can be pulled right off. If it was secured, it would have been damaged while being removed (with scissors).

I did scrutineering at the last Victorian state election, and apart from the shocking level of informal voting and above-the-line voting, there was another shock.

Electoral fraud – or the possibility of it.

The nice thing about living in Australia is that we take our democracy seriously, and we balance being able to prove that what the outcome was with ballot secrecy. Nobody, no level of government or industry, no individual, will know how you voted without you telling them. Yet at the same time we can have confidence that our electoral system is not being rorted; our governments change back and forth, and each time it does representatives of both sides keep a close watch on the activities of the employees of the AEC and VEC, eyeballing each individual vote and knowing that they are all distinctly different from the others in spite of being a collection of handwritten marks on a slip of paper.

To minimize the risks of ballot box tampering, at the start of voting the ballot boxes (just big cardboard boxes here in Australia) are sealed shut with serialized cable-ties. An independent somebody witnesses this when an Electoral Commission employee does this (typically the first voters who wandered into the polling station), and their details are recorded (by details, I think that means signature, but it could be actually enough to track the person down afterwards) and they sign the form that records the sealing of those particular ballot boxes.

So how come they use cable ties that can be “done up” and yet the teeth don’t engage – thus leading to an unsealed ballot box? Is it too much to ask for a cable tie with teeth on both sides?

I should have kicked up a fuss, but it was a safe booth in a safe seat, and who needs the hassle?

Anyways, the reason I relate this story is that I’ve been seeing comments along the lines of “this is the 21st century, why they hell are we using pencil and paper?”  Because, dickwads, computers don’t leave a fucking audit trail.  There’s no scrutineering of electrons.  How the hell are you meant to verify that Clive Palmer didn’t in fact get 98% of the vote?  You can’t.  Interesting that Clive Palmer owns the company that supplied all of the (suspiciously cheap) voting machines to the AEC, but that hasn’t got anything to do with it. And the cost! Pencils are 10c each, paper is about a cent a sheet.  A shitty computer is $500, and requires a bunch of electricity. “Do it on the Internet, or use smart phones!” I hear you say. No, because while nearly everyone can move a pencil around, significantly fewer can use their computer to vote. And there’s no connection between how you voted, and the counting of votes. The announced result could be anything, and there’d be absolutely no way of proving it wrong.  So, yes, computers are shiny and clearly the best way of implementing a voting system, if you want an electoral system you can’t actually trust.

Grumpy Duck has a nothing

There was some massacre in the US (again) and the pundits are trying to explain why the perp did it. Closest they got is “well, he did like violent video games. Said it was like he was actually there, doing it”. I predict calls to ban violent video games. I’ve reached the point where I’ve given up caring about massacres in the USA; I’ve researched why they can’t make laws controlling gun ownership and it turns out the Supreme Court has taken a very pro-gun interpretation of the US Constitution in some recent key cases. The decisions made have cast gun availability in stone, so to alter that in any way now it’s a simple matter of changing the constitution if they want safety. Which they’re not going to do, so screw ‘em. Massacres are the price the USA pays for having those laws of its land.

If you’re not going to change your laws, quit whining.  Either you love gun massacres and stay in The Greatest Country On Earth, or you sod off to a proper country. Why not celebrate these massacres as a beacon to the rest of the world, a sign that your country loves freedom – and that the occasional mass killing is just a timely reminder of how valuable those freedoms are?  Besides which, those shot in mass killings deserved it – they failed to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. Increase your personal safety and that of those around you – go buy a gun, right now!  Buy two: one for each hand.

Kids in the USA get Grumpy Duck has a gun.

Aussie kids get Grumpy Duck has a nothing.

The Roast can be seen on ABC2 at 19:30 three weeks out of four.

2Clix backs down… maybe

There’s uncertainty about whether or not 2Clix has dropped its action against Whirlpool. While the Sydney Morning Herald reported it earlier today, Whirlpool commented that they haven’t had any official notification.

Meanwhile quotes 2Clix MD David Morgan as saying that the case had been dropped and Turnbull and Co had been notified.

But Whirlpool’s legal people haven’t yet seen the notice of discontinuance, and have been unable to contact 2Clix’s legal people, and have therefore concluded that until they see it formally in writing, and it’s still in the court records, it’s not over. Indeed, there’s speculation from sources close to Whirlpool that it might just be a ploy to make them let down their guard.

Watching with interest.

2Clix sues Whirlpool for forum posts

Software company 2Clix has decided to sue Whirlpool (an Australian online news, forum and community site), for “false and malicious” forum posts about 2Clix’s software products.

Essentially it appears Whirlpool’s users have been critical of 2Clix in various threads, with such gems as:

As a user of 2Clix for over 2 years, and the primary IT support person for my company – I would advise you to AVOID this program at all costs.
We installed 2clix and ended up throwing it out two weeks after going live. This company has many problems and I would strongly recommend that any potential users look else where.

While 2Clix had a go at defending themselves on the forum, it seems they’ve also decided to sue the forum’s owners. Maybe they got angry that one of the threads is the top hit in Google. If the case gets anywhere, it could obviously have repercussions for other online communities, so it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

Update Thursday: This story has hit the MSM.
The Age: Firm sues forum to silence critics
ZDNet: 2Clix scores own goal with Whirlpool case
Computerworld: 2Clix sues broadband forum for “false and malicious” threads
…and and more

Update Wed 2007-09-19: Media reports that 2Clix drops the lawsuit, but it’s not official yet.

Spreading it

A reader on my personal blog left this comment:


It’s a set of numbers that’s being spread around by a few people at the moment. According to this post:

…it is the HD-DVD processing key for most movies released so far, published on the net by the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) a couple of days ago by mistake.

…and the legality of even publishing it, at least in the US under the DMCA, is apparently in doubt.

This page quotes a Wikipedia article about it which, intriguingly, has been deleted from Wikipedia itself. It’s also caused a ruckus at Digg.

Interesting stuff. Though it’s not like 99.99% of people would have any idea how to apply the number to anything… though I suppose that could change rapidly.


Google Inc today lost a copyright fight launched by Belgian French-language newspapers which demanded the web search service remove their stories, claiming it infringed copyright laws. … They complained that the search engine’s “cached” links offered free access to archived articles that the papers usually sell on a subscription basis. It was unclear if Google would have to pay a fine.

— Wire story: Google loses case against Belgian papers

That’s just stupid. You don’t need to go around suing search engines to stop your stuff getting into their databases. Every web developer who knows anything about this knows you just need to drop a robots.txt file onto your web site and it stops all search engines and archivers stone dead.

To ignore that, and send the lawyers in instead just looks like you’re not looking for a solution, you’re looking for money.

iPod pricing

Have you noticed that iPod pricing is suspiciously consistent across retailers?

The Trade Practices Act prohibits price coercion, doesn’t it?

How are Apple getting around this?

I suspect that there’s next to no margin on the iPods themselves, but the accessories are high margin. So there’s no room to discount, but the profit comes from the impulse upsell. But this theory doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me, unless Apple’s making their money on iTunes rather than the iPods.

Google vs soft pr0n

Regarding the case of soft pr0n merchant vs Google Images, can someone explain to me why they didn’t just put a robots.txt file in to stop Google picking up their pics, and be done with it?

Or could it be that [gasp] they were after a big payout and/or the publicity?

Mod chips legal

That’s it, ladies and gentlemen, it’s over: the High Court has ruled that mod chips for video game consoles are legal. All six judges of the High Court held that widely used mod-chips are legal and that playing a game on a consumer’s machine does not constitute an illegal copy.

This effectively clarifies that using mods to get around regional coding is legal — something important to consumers of video games and with clear ramifications for DVDs.

Pirated games, of course, are illegal. But mod chips are a legitimate technology.

Full judgement