Donna Wentworth
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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 29, 2007

Burst, Apple Settle - Nobody Notices?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

As I wrote a couple months ago, Robert X Cringely has something of a significant interest in the ongoing demise of Burst. The company has gone from being a tech innovator to a shell that's suing major players in an attempt to recover something. A couple years ago, Microsoft bought patent licenses for $60 million. Apple, potentially a much bigger violator, decided it would rather fight.

Apple and Burst couldn't come to license terms and Apple sued. Last week, carefully hidden in the pre-Thanksgiving rush, the two sides announced a settlement for a mere $10 million. Cringely's 22 Nov column covers the settlement from his own particular angle.

Cringely points out that the timing of the settlement is odd and seems to have been intended to make the story go away quietly. He may be right. I did a quick check of sites like ars technica and CNET, which have covered the Burst story in the past. None have stories up about the settlement, even though I gave them a couple days to catch up.

The next question is why such a small sum - given Apple's dominant position in the digital media selling business it might have been possible to sue them for hundreds of millions in claimed infringement. Cringely also points out that it's odd for companies to downplay a settlement to this extent. Usually at least one side wants to claim public victory.

One possible clue may be the decision earlier this month to dismiss 14 of the Burst patent claims on the basis of "obviousness." Patent lawyers are still trying to figure out what to make of these new standards and Burst may have feared that even though the judge was willing to let the case go forward on the remaining 22 claims, those claims might have been knocked out on various appeals leaving the company not only with no settlement but with no valid patents.

In essence, litigation is always a risky maneuver and Burst may have decided the risk was too big so now was the time to walk away with what they could get.

Cringely's theory is that Burst is trying to clear the decks for its next move, which will depend on issuance of patents covering DVR technology. Burst agreed not to sue Apple on the basis of those patents, which makes TiVo the obvious next target. I guess we'll have to wait for those patents to see what use can be made of them.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use

November 22, 2007

Prince & Fan Sites in Copyright Settlement Talks

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

The Reg reported this week that Prince and a trio of popular fan sites are in talks to settle copyright issues. As I noted a couple months back, the purple one has been spraying around takedown notices, aimed primarily at big sites like eBay and YouTube but also catching fan sites.

Insulting one's fans is not much of a smart move, not that the Cartel would ever care. Hopefully Prince will take a more enlightened path.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Interesting People

November 18, 2007

An Industry of Excess

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

If you have a few minutes to spare, you could do a lot worse than to read Demonbaby's "When Pigs Fly..." rant. It's a history of the digital music part of the Copyright Wars, written from the point of view of someone who began as an industry insider (CD designer) and ended up mad as hell at the Cartel that crushed Oink.

There's nothing terribly new or revolutionary in the essay, but it does span the period nicely, in ranterrific fashion.

From personal experience I can tell you that the big labels are beyond clueless in the digital world - their ideas are out-dated, their methods make no sense, and every decision is hampered by miles and miles of legal tape, copyright restrictions, and corporate interests.

Yep, pretty much what I've been saying for (dear lord is it really) eight years now.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts

November 16, 2007

Getting Paid is the Name of the Game

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Some guy who is not Jon Stewart but could be, and some guy who would have tried out for Monty Python's Flying Circus had he been able, explain the basic contention of the writer's strike:

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

November 15, 2007

Pimps & Ferrets: Work on Early Copyright

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Copyfight reader Eric Anderson wrote to tell me that he's put his dissertation online under a Creative Commons license. The topic is "Copyright and Culture in the United States, 1831-1891."

The work (which I confess I haven't read yet, at 231 pages) may some day appear as a book but is free to read online now. I'll let Eric speak for himself:

Although generally forgotten today, the nineteenth century US was absolutely rife with copyright-related controversy and excitement, including international squabbling, celebrity grandstanding, new technology, corporate exploitation, and ferocious arguments about piracy, reprinting, and the effects of copyright law.

Then, as now, copyright was very important to a small group of people (e.g. authors and publishers), and slightly important to larger groups (e.g. consumers and readers). However, these various larger groups did have definite ideas about copyright, its function, and its purpose. Many of these ideas are relevant today.

If other readers are doing scholastic work on copyfight-related issues please do send me info and links.

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

A Writer's Perspective on the Strike

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Lots of writers are blogging during and about the strike. Emma Bull pointed to this post from Kay Reindl. The bit that is most relevant to Copyfight is where she expresses her indignation that the studios don't want to share download revenue with the writers:

When you illegally download something and the network doesn't get any money for it, they call it piracy. But when you download something or watch streaming video with commercials and the writers don't get any money for it, the networks call it promotion. DON'T LET THEM GET AWAY WITH THIS. Steal from the networks. You KNOW how much they hate it. But we're not supposed to hate it if they steal from us. (emphasis in the original)

I'm not particularly keen on a recommendation to steal, even from the Cartel thieves, but it definitely captures the spirit of what this debate is about. Kay Reindl has been on the outside and on the inside long enough to know what matters to writers, and it sure isn't the Cartel's view on what matters.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Interesting People

November 9, 2007

The Hollywood Writer's Strike, in Under Four Minutes

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

United Hollywood, the unofficial blog site of the writer's strike, has put out a video explaining residuals and how low they are. It's very direct and folksy.

Frankly I had no idea that the writers are only get 4 cents on a USD 20 DVD sale. I do know that the Cartel wants to give the writers nothing for Internet (re)transmissions. No great shock there.

The blog is interesting if you care about the minutae of the strike. They've got picket line videos (giant blow-up rat anyone?), good quotes and reader responses, and content that generally gives you a view into the human beings who are out on the picket lines. Whether or not you agree with the strike, I think it's worth understanding their position.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

November 5, 2007

Shared Free Science

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Every so often I like to prop for various online sites that are trying to open up scientific content. PLoS, the Public Library of Science, is probably the best known.

Today I want to point you to "Many Eyes", an IBM-sponsored site for the free sharing of data visualizations. Data viz is a long-standing hobby of mine. As an interaction designer, much of the problem space I work in comes down to getting people to notice the right things at the right time, usually from a visual representation.

Many Eyes is still labeled "beta" but they appear to be trying to do a whole lot of things, including providing community features and tools for participants to create new visualizations that are organized into topic hubs. They list their goal as

to "democratize" visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis.

(Full disclosure: one of the main forces behind Many Eyes is Fernanda ViƩgas, whom I knew back the Media Lab days.)

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use