Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill
policy-making, technical standards development, and technological
innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we
know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property
conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of
copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying
and the law, and more.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.
Music Business for 21st Century Independent Artists
Dave Kusek, who used to teach music business at the Berklee Music School here in Boston, has teamed up with music marketer/manager Rick Barker to create a video training series for new artists looking to make it outside the major label system. They're advertising it as a "free video series" (I got one of their ads) and it looks interesting. My guess is there's some hook to help pay for the work Kusek and Barker have done - if you try this thing, write and tell us how it went.
If you do want to submit a comment, there are many sites that will help you do that. Here's one from The Nation, which is urging people to get their comments in before the September 15th deadline for public comment.
In his column, Doctorow points the finger at DRM as a force that will continue to shape things long after the present debate is settled. In particular, Audible (Amazon) has locked up all the e-books (90% of the e-book market) with the willing accommodation of the publishers. Hachette therefore cannot ask its readers to move their e-books off Amazon's infrastructure (store, Kindle, reader apps, Audible) without entirely re-purchasing their e-book library. It can't even (legally) offer a tool to help users do that because that would be circumventing DRM which, say it with me, is technically illegal.
The fact that Hachette (along with all the other big publishers) has been a huge proponent of DRM since Day 1 is an irony to be savored, though we readers will end up paying for it in the end.
Hasbro is, of course, the giant toy-making conglomerate and Shapeways is advertising itself as "fast and affordable" 3D printing - a marketplace for people to make, buy, and sell 3D-printed products that range from jewelry to complex devices to, well, toys.
Last month the two companies put together a joint-venture site, superfanart.com which they are trying to position as the "app store" of 3D fan art/toy making. The site has a submission and approval process (like most app stores) for 3D printed designs and has a revenue-split model, again like most app stores. According to the article it's about 10% to Hasbro for licensing, about 20% to the artist, and about 60% to Shapeways for costs of materials and manufacturing. The initial launch included the "My Little Ponies" intellectual property line; now they've added "Transformers"-inspired fan material.
That's a much lower percentage than you get for a pure software app, but in my mind the actual number is less important than the concept. Someone else might come along with a better deal to lure artists to its site, and Hasbro could just as easily license to multiple manufacturers. Some might offer the company a higher percentage for a limited or exclusive license. Et cetera - I'm sure you can think of other interesting permutations.
The other interesting thing is that this appears to be a true effort by a big-name holder of properties to embrace the fan community. Hasbro controls a number of things that people will be wanting to make fan art from and if there are legitimate ways to do that, it's a far better situation than corporations screaming "piracy" and suing everyone in sight.
An interesting note in a 7th Circuit case, M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. & Assocs., Inc. v. Strabala shows how judges are continuing to apply the standards of physical property to intellectual property. In this case a dispute arose over the authorship (if you will) of a building. The Seventh ruled that "design" is a form of creation of intellectual property creation equivalent to building or selling physical good. As such, it's subject to various regimes of ownership, trademark protection, and so on.
The rest of Scalzi's entry dissects Amazon't continuing use of bad/biased math, not to mention hyperbole in its arguments. He argues that this is another ham-fisted move by Amazon which has been remarkably inept at the PR side of this dispute. They may be trying to fight too many battles at once, as you can see from the news headlines: "Dispute Erupts Between Amazon and Disney" for example.
Our friends at ISRI pointed out to me that some mobile companies are now promoting the idea of a "kill switch" that would be under the control of someone other than the user. Such kill switches are supposedly for consumer protection - disabling stolen devices - but end up being a way for manufacturers, phone companies, etc. to keep devices off the second-hand market. Kill switches per se are not bad - they just need to be under the control of the person who purchases the device so they can be legitimately disabled. Like other such technological locks, kill switches are probably under the DMCA umbrella that prevents legitimate disabling or circumvention.
Amazon appears to be making a numerically based claim, in two forms. First, it is arguing for a 35 (author) / 35 (publisher) / 30 (Amazon) revenue split. It points out that 30% is what Apple and its co-conspirators wanted Amazon to take. Second, it argues that its data show a price point of USD 9.99 is better for an e-book in that it leads to more copies being sold. The number of additional copies sold is high enough to more than make up for the revenue lost on each individual sale.
This is pretty transparently an effort to recruit authors to Amazon's side. Big-house authors generally get around 20 or 25% on e-book sales and Amazon would much rather have authors complaining to Hachette about "why am I not getting 35%" than complaining to readers that Amazon is making it hard to get the authors' books.
Amazon’s assumptions don’t include, for example, that publishers and authors might have a legitimate reason for not wanting the gulf between eBook and physical hardcover pricing to be so large that brick and mortar retailers suffer, narrowing the number of venues into which books can sell. Killing off Amazon’s competitors is good for Amazon; there’s rather less of an argument that it’s good for anyone else.
Furthermore, their math about selling more copies might be true for Amazon itself, but there's no evidence that it holds up for any other retailer. Making Amazon prices so cheap that other outlets can't afford to match them is, again, good for Amazon but not necessarily good for anyone else, including those authors Amazon is trying so hard to influence.
My favorite design podcast, 99% Invisible, did its episode this week on "Duplitecture". That starts out being about the vast cities in China that are conscious re-creations of architecture from elsewhere in the world, and delves into the long history. For us Americans it's worth remembering that many of our most famous building designs (the White House, Jefferson's State House for Virginia) were themselves copies of older building ideas. The podcast's host, Roman Mars, comes out strongly in favor of "mindful iteration" as a valuable form of copy-inventiveness.
The piece estimates that "almost half the drugs approved in the United States from 1981 to 2010 would have been rejected under these guidelines". While I am still concerned about overpriced medicines and their consequences, it's still likely that in the absence of some form of protection these medicines would not have been developed. It's possible that the Patent Office will implement less draconian interpretations, but even so I cannot see an easy way out of this thicket.
Our friends at ISRI sent a note saying that Congress had gotten its act together to pass the bulkily named "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act" which includes provisions allowing companies and individuals who recycle and refurbish electronics to unlock them as part of their business.
This should serve to remind everyone that while the Internet is perhaps the most amazing commercial platform yet invented, it's also an information access mechanism for schools, for libraries, for communities, and for the public. As such it needs not to have "paid prioritization" and it needs rules that allow us to choose what we get, not the cable companies. The Internet has a public, an educational, and democratic imperatives that are every bit as important as its commercial imperative and don't you forget it.
The Canadian government has been sued by Eli Lilly to the tune of $500 million, based on similar provisions in NAFTA, because the corporation objects to a Canadian Supreme Court ruling rejecting the patent for two of its blockbuster drugs. As a result, Canadian law could be overturned by a ruling made in a secret, private arbitration proceeding.
As before I feel I should note that I am a long-time donor to MSF, but have no other affiliation with the organization.
The show is largely based on a paper published by two economists, Michele Boldrin and David Levine in which they argue against patents from an economists perspective. The very first sentence of the paper states baldly that "there is no empirical evidence that patents serve to increase innovation and productivity." In fact, they argue, the opposite is happening. Innovation and productivity in their view happen most from competition and being the first to be able to get something to market (first mover advantage).
As with many grand theories in economics, the proposed changes would include losers and risks. The losers are individuals and small enterprises who now make money from licensing. In their view such people should just go work for big companies that would pay them to do the same innovative work.
The risks come from things like medicine or nuclear power where the idea of patent protection contributes to companies making billion-dollar investments. Boldrin and Levine argue that it would be more efficient for the government to create a system of incentives whereby multiple companies could compete for the work in return for paybacks that would cover their investment. Given how massively inefficient government contracting can be today I'm highly dubious this would increase efficiency in the IP space.
Their "modest proposal" however, seemed like a good idea, which was just to reduce the terms of patents. Presently patent protection is 20 years, so turn that down to 18 and see if it makes any difference. If you get more productivity with less patent protection you could shorten the term still farther. Eventually either you'd find that less patent protection was not increasing innovation or you'd find that you'd reduced protection to zero while increasing innovation in measurable steps along the way.
We music people know payola when we see it. And what we see in Chairman Wheeler’s proposal doesn't give us any confidence that we won’t end up with an Internet where pay-by-play rules the day. We've heard this song before, and we’re frankly pretty tired of it.
Thousands of us have already told the FCC that losing an open Internet would be disastrous to the music community, and we suppose there's no harm in telling you again. But this time, we really hope you'll listen. We may not be telecom lawyers, but we get this issue pretty clearly. You have the legal authority to prevent discrimination and paid prioritization online. You only need to exercise it.
The thing he's offering is, nominally, is himself making potato salad. Yes, really. He's raising a few bucks to make potato salad. Why, then is he getting tens of thousands? Ferret's answer is, basically, "entertainment." The potato salad concept is silly and as the campaign has grown, more silly and goofy things have been added, like "a bite of the potato salad". Clearly that's not something you'd normally pay three bucks for, but so far over 600 people have thought it was funny enough to do that.
And there's the trick: make your campaign about "how you make the donator feel" and you can be more successful than trying a serious approach, especially if what you're pitching is something potentially desperate or depressing. By making this potato salad silliness feel like fun, it became something people wanted to feel involved with.
The lesson about Kickstarter or Indiegogo or any donation drive is that you get what you give
Therefore, he argues, anyone doing business with them needs to treat it as a business arrangement. If you are an author and Amazon is doing well by you, then that's great - continue doing business with them. If you are a reader and are unhappy that Amazon is making it hard to get certain books then take your business elsewhere. But whatever you do, treat it as a business proposition, not a personal/emotional proposition.
I'm sure there will be plenty of analyses flowing, and lots of people commenting on the implications of this decision. It seems like a small area of the law, but it's possible that this ruling will be used against a wide variety of nascent businesses, despite Breyer's apparent intention that the decision be read narrowly. The decision seems to go to great lengths to say that Aereo is (like) a cable company and thus should be subject to the copyright restrictions. Breyer specifically calls out a position taken by the US Solicitor General
that “[q]uestions involving cloud computing, [remote storage] DVRs, and other novel issues not before the Court, as to which ‘Congress has not plainly marked [the] course,’ should await a case in which they are squarely presented.”
That's a good theory; let's see how it shakes out in practice. My cynical side thinks the Cartel will still see this decision as a green light to go after cloud storage companies in general.
The archives have revoked the Beacon's access to the archive, on the grounds that publications in the Beacon used audio recordings from the archives without permission. In a written statement, the Archive says:
The University, however, does not tolerate the blatant and willful disregard of its intellectual property rights and policies.
This is a tricky matter, from a policy standpoint. Libraries often maintain various controls over different collections as well as enforcing copyrights held by authors of material in the library.
However, when those rights restrictions impede conversation about a controversial public figure we start adding in questions of what's in the public interest. This is the core of the Beacon's response to the Archive - the claim that their investigative reporting serves a general public interest. Which is, we should all remember, the reason copyright was invented.
Mike Masnick's piece on Alice v CLS Bank more or less follows the lines I'd expect. However, he points out that Thomas's opinion, rejecting the Alice patents because of generic computer implementations, doesn't give good guidance because the same argument could be made about any computer program. In essence, Masnick argues, SCOTUS is continuing to pretend that some software is patentable and some is not, while refusing to give examples or guidelines for drawing that distinction.
A reader pointed me to a blog entry over at the Library of Congress discussing animated gifs. The posting describes a little of the ubiquity of these Internet-spawned forms of communication and then asks the question: what about copyright? The answer seems to be that copyright claims don't arise because animated gifs rarely attribute authorship to their creator and because they often use tiny fragments of previously published media in a society where we generally understand the creative reuse of small samples to be fair use. RIAA excepted, of course.
The case, conventionally known as Alice Corp v CLS Bank dealt with challenges to patents held by Alice Corporation. I've read through the decision once and I expect better analyses will enlighten things in days to come, but what I see is that the Supreme Court is still swimming about in murky §101 waters. In particular, SCOTUS agreed with the CAFC that Alice Corp's patents were invalid because "...they are directed to an abstract idea." As such, they're not proper subject matter for a patent.
Thomas's opinion is pretty short and if you don't agree with the previous line of SCOTUS reasoning then you're not going to like this opinion either because it goes to great pains to trace how those past decisions require the present conclusion. Thomas reviews the reasoning in Mayo, and relies on that decision and Benson to argue that the patent claims construction "merely require generic computer implementation" and that this doesn't make the underlying ideas eligible for patent protection.
I was not aware that five Native American individuals had brought a case before the USPTO requesting that the mark be cancelled because it disparages Native Americans. This morning, the Office issued its ruling, finding that a series of marks must be cancelled because they were derogatory terms at the time of issue.
The idea is simple: you (the consumer) pay to get ad-free videos from labels who have also paid to be on the service. YouTube profits, everyone else loses. As a business model, it beats the hell out of thin gruel ad-supported, which is what the Google service has now. They want to be competing with Spotify et al, and they have the billions of yearly viewers to do it. All they need is providers (major labels) to pony up, and people to go along meekly. Because that's what you can do when you've gathered up enough eyeballs and browser clicks.
YouTube is pretty clearly aware of how much power it holds - witness how it forced G+ on everyone who used to comment on videos. Even today if you search "youtube comments" the top hits are "Youtube comments not working" or "Youtube comments not loading" and the like. But they just sat back calmly and weathered the storm. Now everyone thinks this is just fine and people still post their videos there. I expect exactly the same thing to happen with music videos; when you have little or no choice, complaining about it doesn't broaden your choices.
“We would not want someone to mimic our car in such a way to deceive customers into whether it is a Tesla,”
which sounds to me like he's talking about design patents or trademark infringements.
Don't get me wrong - I think Musk's intentions are good and this move is going in the right direction, even if it's largely symbolic. But I don't think it's nearly the big deal it's been hyped to be, and it's definitely not a giveaway.
The CoC posted that "A fair use of a work is an infringement" which is directly contradicted at 17 U.S.C. § 107, which states that a fair use is not an infringement.
To be fair, the distinction is somewhat subtle, because it turns on the notion of how fair use is invoked, as a defense against a charge of infringement. To be charged with a crime is to require a defense against that crime; if your defense is accepted then by definition you did not commit that crime. So it is with fair use - it acts to defend users of material against infringement charges and if their fair use defense is sustained, then they did not commit an infringement.
Subtleties aside, though, you'd expect an organization like the Chamber, which is purporting to lecture people on "5 Copyright Terms We Need to Stop Using Incorrectly", to get its basic facts correct.
The first one that appealed to me is for aspiring writers to practice pitching, particularly pitching ideas that stretch the author's capabilities. It's easy to write what you know and find yourself repeating what's already out there; pitching slightly newer, different, or even riskier ideas may catch publishers' attentions. She also advises not trying to monetize one's blogging, but rather to use the for-free writing as resume, and as a way to garner attention on social media.
There are two stories grinding their way along, most of the action being out of sight. The first being Oracle v Google arguing over the APIs for the Java language, and the second being Amazon and Hachette arguing over (probably e)book pricing. I haven't said anything about either case because there wasn't a lot going on that wasn't repetition of the basic points. I found a couple pieces that did raise good points, so let me cover them.
Masnick notes that the case started out as a patent issue (which is how it ended up at the CAFC) but they somehow morphed it into a copyright decision. To do that they had to reverse completely the original finding that the API is not the software. I'll admit this isn't readily apparent to people who write code and like other writers I have to reach for analogies. Part of that is because software isn't like most things in the world - software on its own doesn't do anything, but it controls anything that can be built to do any task we can manage within the limits of physics. An API is a way of giving instructions, not the instructions themselves. You might argue that there's a patent issue here, and I promise not to re-open the "is software patentable" debate, but seriously, guys, it's not copyright(able).
Masnick's piece makes the important point that many other news outlets have not - this is far from the end of the line. Google can, and should, appeal this disaster of a ruling either to the en banc CAFC or straight to the Supreme Court, which some argue is on a roll of smacking down CAFC overrreach. He rounds up some good opinion pieces from folk like Tim Lee and the EFF on why this decision is a roiling disaster, if it's allowed to stand.
Hachette for its part has joined forces with other retailers such as Walmart and B&N to discount and promote the things that Amazon is hiding. However, given that Amazon is a monopsony, there's not a lot that a small publisher like Hachette can do. In his blog piece Shatzkin lays this out in step-by-step detail and points out that the avalanche has begun and it is too late for the pebbles to vote.1
Shatzkin seems to think that the only thing that can keep Amazon from continuing to use its dominant position to the detriment of everyone else is outside (read "government") intervention. I think that's a nice fantasy but given the current Administration it's, well, fantasy. Honestly, I don't have any better ideas. At best I can see Amazon's behavior driving further consolidation in the publishing marketplace until there are only 2-3 publishers to deal with, who may have enough leverage and deep enough pockets to stand up to Amazon.
1 Yes, I am a giant SF nerd. You're all surprised I'm sure.
In particular, Rantanen takes issue with how the EFF appears to be keeping score. By noting that the CAFC has lost decisions unanimously, Vera Ranieri of the EFF claims that the CAFC is now "0-45". Well, yes, but. Rantanen points out that SCOTUS denies more cert petitions than it grants, and frankly it's rare for SCOTUS to take a petition if it's just going to uphold the decision. Overall, he calculates the SCOTUS reversal rate at 72%. I suspect that in this respect the CAFC is better than the 6th or 9th Circuits, both of which have a long history of having their decisions overturned.
And even if we restrict ourselves to petitions that were granted, Rantanen further notes that:
out of the 13 patent cases arising from the Federal Circuit since Bilski v. Kappos, the Supreme Court has affirmed the outcome in whole or part 7 times
That's not a bad rate, really, so maybe the EFF should tone it down a notch.