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About this weblog
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.

What Does "Copyfight" Mean?

Copyfight, the Solo Years: April 2002-March 2004

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Monthly Archives

November 27, 2006

No "Sergeant Pepper" Law in the UK?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Ars Technica is blurbing a BBC story that pre-leaks some results from the UK's Gowers Review. This review is actually a commission set up to suggest reforms to the UK's Intellectual Property laws. One of the big issues before the review is the length of copyrights for sound recordings. Currently that's 50 years, but there have been pushes for longer terms such as 95 years or life-plus-70.

The pushes have come from big names, including the U2's Bono and the British Library, but if the leak is true then it appears Gowers will reject these proposals. What that would mean is that the first of the Beatles' music would enter the public domain in the UK in 2012 or thereabouts. It would not be public domain in the US because of recent term extensions here (the so-called Mickey Mouse law) and part of the push on UK laws has been to "harmonize" them with the US laws.

As Nate Anderson points out in the Ars piece, "harmonization" has been a remarkably one-way process in the past, with the nod always going to the more restrictive set of rules. Thus, Bono et al might have been hoping for a Parliamentary Sgt Pepper act to extend ther monopolies. They may get it anyway, since Gowers is a recommending body, not a legislating one. Or maybe the public domain will win one.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations

What Does IP Have To Do With Who Directs "The Hobbit"?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Forgive me, this is a little bit convoluted. I don't really follow the entertainment news, but I do read comics. So when a popular Web comic like Dork Tower goes out of its way to lambaste a particular bit of pop news I figure I should see what all the foofawrawr is about.

Near as I can make out, Peter Jackson was expected to make a movie of The Hobbit for New Line Cinema. No big surprise there - he made a kajillion dollars (about USD 3 billion, from public reports of the global box office take) doing fabulous movies of the three Lord of the Rings books. He is particularly beloved by many fans who felt it only natural he be brought back to direct The Hobbit, a prequel to the LOTR story. So far, so good.

Then on the 19th of this month Jackson's letter was posted on a major fan Web site indicating that he would be off the project that potentially involves both The Hobbit and another prequel movie. Apparently this is due to the ongoing dispute between Jackson and New Line Cinema over income from merchandising on the LOTR films. It makes a certain kind of sense - you don't want to get into another complex and long business arrangement with someone that you're going to court against.

So what does all this have to do with IP? Well, it turns out that New Line don't actually own the rights to make these films. Those rights are held by an entity called "Tolkein Enterprises", a company formed in 1976 by producer Saul Zaentz. That company leased the rights to New Line, and lookee lookee, that lease runs out in less than a year.

This may matter because Zaentz himself is a Peter Jackson fan. Some weeks before this all erupted he gave an interview in which he is quoted as saying that The Hobbit "... will definitely be shot by Peter Jackson." Although he hasn't commented recently, fans are interpreting his remarks to mean that he would not be willing to re-lease the rights to New Line if Jackson was not involved. My guess is that the contract probably has some clause that says the rights will auto-renew if the movie is in production.

So this is how the dominos fall: New Line is under pressure to start production on the movie due to rights, but doesn't want to settle quickly with Jackson on the merchandising suit. So they'll probably start production with another director and piss off 80% of their fan base.


Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use

November 22, 2006

Are We Really Smarter Than Me?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Under the tagline "we are smarter than me", an online collaborative book project has opened itself to public participation.

The draw involves asking people to collaboratively write a book with "authors from MIT, Wharton, and thousands of professionals from around the world." Visitors are invited to become authors in the Creative Commons-licensed project.

The project's goals are lofty - to incorporate the experiences of a potentally large distributed set of contributors. As someone who has edited a conventional book (in which selected authors are each invited to submit a chapter) I can say the amount of overhead this is going to involve will likely be huge. Automated tools (from email/chat boards on up) can help only so much. To some degree this is mitigated by appealing to potential co-authors from a likely limited and dedicated set:L MIT Sloan and Penn Wharton faculty, students, and alumni. To help further the book project is relying on a technology (wiki) and structures of organization surrounding that technology that have shown some past success. The project has a publisher (Pearson) lined up, and a plan to distribute any royalties as charitable donations to organizations selected by the authorial community.

My sense is that in terms of community, infrastructure, and process, this effort is unlikely to break any new ground. The real question, as posed by the site's FAQ, is: "whether a community of authors can write a compelling book better than individual experts." That's an interesting question to test and I wish them success.

(Full disclosure: way back in the dark ages, Sloan Professor Thomas Malone, one of the organizers of this project, worked on some projects to which I minorly contributed.)

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use

November 13, 2006

See What Pirating Books Leads To?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

This was on the Quote of the day list today:

"It grieves me now that I cursed them (in the matter of book piracy), because I perceived that my curse is working and that their speech is be-coming a horror already. They delude them-selves into the belief that they talk English--the English--and I have already been pitied for speaking with "an English accent." The man who pitied me spoke, so far as I was concerned, the language of thieves. And they all do. Where we put the accent forward they throw it back, and vice versa where we give the long "a" they use the short, and words so simple as to be past mistaking they pronounce somewhere up in the dome of their heads. How do these things happen?

"Oliver Wendell Holmes says that the Yankee school-marm, the cider and the salt codfish of the Eastern States, are responsible for what he calls a nasal accent. I know better. They stole books from across the water without paying for 'em, and the snort of delight was fixed in their nostrils forever by a just Providence. That is why they talk a foreign tongue to-day."

- Rudyard Kipling, in American Notes, explaining the divergence of American spoken English.

For those not up on the history: America used to be very... what's the word... "relaxed" about recognizing foreign copyrights. Much like, say, China is today. Turnabout and all that. Pretty ironic in light of the current jihad being run by the Cartel.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Humor

Is Painting Still Like Photography?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

In the days before photography permitted instant capture of a scene, arists would be paid to sketch or paint an event or scene and copies of that rendition would appear in broadsheets and other newspaper predecessors. Even today we have sketch artists on courtrooms where photographers are not permitted.

So the question, then, is this: if a painter depicts an actual event or scene is that creative work protected in the same way as a photograph of the event would be?

This is the question being asked by painter Daniel A. Moore, because he is being sued by the University of Alabama which claims that his paintings of Alabama football game scenes violate the University's trademark "crimson and white color scheme".

Moore has been painting football scenes for years, so it's not clear why he's being sued now. He claims to have made millions from paintings and reproductions of them; the University won't comment but seems to have taken umbrage at Moore's move into more merchandise-like things such as mugs and calendars.

Moore doesn't stand on the gridiron sidelines and paint as the action happens - he works from photos and his own experience of the event. One of the contentions raised by the University is that this means his paintings contain no (or not enough) original content to be protected by separate copyright.

Just about everyone in the Times story seems to think this is a dumb lawsuit but mostly on social grounds; it's not clear to me where this falls out from a purely legal standpoint.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse

November 10, 2006

CNN Remixes Itself

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

The questions of copyright and "official" versions just keep getting funnier.

This time we have CNN attempting (apparently successfully) to force YouTube to take down as copyright violation the original broadcast version of a show. But they have no problems with YouTube copies of an edited version, which they themselves showed.

Confused? Me too. Here's what I can piece together:
Bill Maher guests on Larry King Live. This show is shown live to parts of the US (East Coast) but rebroadcast from tape for later time zones (West Coast). On the live version, Maher made some remarks suggestiong that RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman is gay. My hipper gay friends tell me this is an open secret. He's closeted and all that, but yeah he's gay. OK, whatever.

Except CNN doesn't seem to like those remarks so when Maher's appearance gets rebroadcast for the later showing those comments are edited out. Of course people notice (duh, CNN really doesn't get it) and people who recorded the original version post it to YouTube. People also post the edited version. CNN sent a copyright violation letter to the person who posted the original, unedited version, and then edited its online transcript of the show to match what was later shown.

Here's the Americablog entry, which contains both the cease-and-desist letter and a link to the Huffington Post blog, which has the entire video and the screaming headline "CENSORED BY CNN".

Way to publicize a controversy and make yourselves look like idiots, guys.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse

November 7, 2006

White House Remixes GWB

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Really amateurish attempt by White House VJs...err, spin doctors to alter the President's infamous carrier-deck speech video. Obviously they're trying to cover up some inconvenient history, but I'm sure my readers can point me to much better remixes. RX where are you when we need you?

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Humor

November 6, 2006

NTP Crosses Palm

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

After beating RIM in a long and drawn-out court case, NTP are going after Palm for its wireless email widgets. The news accounts I've read on this are a bit confused, but it seems likely that Palm's Treo line is the primary target. Treo isn't quite as popular as the "Crackberry" but it's still a significant market share and a big revenue source for Palm. As is typical in these cases, NTP has started by asking for a preliminary injunction on sales as well as damages. I don't think it's any more likely that a judge will grant the injunction than in the Blackberry case; on the other hand, NTP's settlement with RIM may provide a template for a much quicker resolution here that would give Palm protection and allow it to continue business uninterrupted.

Alternatively, Palm might try to drag things out, given that the USPTO has already rejected claims in some of the patents on which NTP is basing its case. If Palm can get favorable rulings out of the Patent Office it may be able to tell NTP to take a flying leap, and save itself potentially hundreds of millions in expenses.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

November 2, 2006

People Really Frelling Unclear On The Concept

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Mark Frauenfelder is reporting in boingboing that some idiot is trying to claim copyright in the Principia Discordia. If you don't know why this is nearly the height of absurdity I probably can't explain it very much. Suffice it to say that the volume is one near and dear to the hearts of certain elements of what used to be called the counterculture, as well as being a religious text for pagans who worship the goddess Eris. And that the book was clearly released into the public domain by its original 1965 authors.

The new book has a new title, new layout and some new text, all of which are being roundly derided by devotees of the original work. Boingboing also has links to scans of the original work and various text editions. Help yourself!

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse

Remove Test Data Prior To Publication

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

As noted by, among others, Eugene Volokh, a patent application has been filed with an obvious "test data" claim. The claim reads:

9. The method of providing user interface displays in an image forming apparatus which is really a bogus claim included amongst real claims, and which should be removed before filing; wherein the claim is included to determine if the inventor actually read the claims and the inventor should instruct the attorneys to remove the claim.

So on the one hand it's funny both in its text and in that it got through. The complaints about abysmal patent quality and absurd patent claims in the software arena have come from all corners and as some have said at least this one is forthright in admitting its bogosity.

On the other hand, I have a lot of sympathy for the point made by "Tony2" in the comments, to the effect that the rendering of technical inventions into patents is the semantic equivalent of translating them into a foreign language spoken only by a specialized community. Bogus claims or not, I find as a technical person I can't make a lot of sense out of patent language. It's completely understandable that the inventor on this patent wouldn't be fluent in this foreign language and would trust that people paid hundreds of dollars per hour - the application-drafting lawyers - would in fact do their jobs.

So, yeah. Funny. And also kind of sad.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Humor