Donna Wentworth
( Archive | Home | Technorati Profile)

Ernest Miller
( Archive | Home )

Elizabeth Rader
( Archive | Home )

Jason Schultz
( Archive | Home )

Wendy Seltzer
( Archive | Home | Technorati Profile )

Aaron Swartz
( Archive | Home )

Alan Wexelblat
( Archive | Home )

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

a Typical Joe
Academic Copyright
Jack Balkin
John Perry Barlow
Blogbook IP
David Bollier
James Boyle
Robert Boynton
Brad Ideas
Ren Bucholz
Cabalamat: Digital Rights
Cinema Minima
Consensus @ Lawyerpoint
Copyfighter's Musings
Copyright Readings
CopyrightWatch Canada
Susan Crawford
Walt Crawford
Creative Commons
Cruelty to Analog
Culture Cat
Deep Links
Derivative Work
Julian Dibbell
Digital Copyright Canada
Displacement of Concepts
Downhill Battle
Exploded Library
Bret Fausett
Edward Felten - Freedom to Tinker
Edward Felten - Dashlog
Frank Field
Seth Finkelstein
Brian Flemming
Frankston, Reed
Free Culture
Free Range Librarian
Michael Froomkin
Michael Geist
Michael Geist's BNA News
Dan Gillmor
Mike Godwin
Joe Gratz
James Grimmelmann
Groklaw News
Matt Haughey
Erik J. Heels
Induce Act blog
Inter Alia
IP & Social Justice
IPac blog
Joi Ito
Jon Johansen
JD Lasica
Legal Theory Blog
Lenz Blog
Larry Lessig
Jessica Litman
James Love
Alex Macgillivray
Madisonian Theory
Maison Bisson
Kevin Marks
Tim Marman
Matt Rolls a Hoover
Mary Minow
Declan McCullagh
Eben Moglen
Dan Moniz
Danny O'Brien
Open Access
Open Codex
John Palfrey
Chris Palmer
Promote the Progress
PK News
PVR Blog
Eric Raymond
Joseph Reagle
Recording Industry vs. the People
Lisa Rein
Thomas Roessler
Seth Schoen
Doc Searls
Seb's Open Research
Shifted Librarian
Doug Simpson
Stay Free! Daily
Sarah Stirland
Swarthmore Coalition
Tech Law Advisor
Technology Liberation Front
Siva Vaidhyanathan
Vertical Hold
Kim Weatherall
David Weinberger
Matthew Yglesias

Timothy Armstrong
Bag and Baggage
Charles Bailey
Beltway Blogroll
Between Lawyers
Blawg Channel
Chief Blogging Officer
Drew Clark
Chris Cohen
Crooked Timber
Daily Whirl
Dead Parrots Society
Delaware Law Office
J. Bradford DeLong
Betsy Devine
Ben Edelman
Ernie the Attorney
How Appealing
Industry Standard
IP Democracy
IP Watch
Dennis Kennedy
Rick Klau
Wendy Koslow
Elizabeth L. Lawley
Jerry Lawson
Legal Reader
Likelihood of Confusion
Chris Locke
Derek Lowe
MIT Tech Review
Paper Chase
Frank Paynter
Scott Rosenberg
Scrivener's Error
Jeneane Sessum
Silent Lucidity
Smart Mobs
Trademark Blog
Eugene Volokh
Kevin Werbach

Berkman @ Harvard
Chilling Effects
CIS @ Stanford
Copyright Reform
Creative Commons
Global Internet Proj.
Info Commons
IP Justice
ISP @ Yale
NY for Fair Use
Open Content
Public Knowledge
Shidler Center @ UW
Tech Center @ GMU
U. Maine Tech Law Center
US Copyright Office
US Dept. of Justice
US Patent Office


Monthly Archives

February 29, 2008

Go Get Your Free Book

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

A couple weeks ago I blogged about Neil Gaiman's work with his publisher to put up one of his books for free download. At the time, the fans voted on which book they wanted put up for free. Well, it's up, and last night Gaiman blogged this:

For the next month, your free copy of American Gods is waiting for you at

Feel free to spread the link as widely as possible around the web. If it works, and people read it, then a) we may be able to put up another book and b) sooner or later they'll simply let us give away the book in electronic form....

Yes, that's what he said. A privilege of success on the scale of Gaiman's is that you can think in terms of just giving your books away. But it's still true that other authors of comparable stature and success haven't publicly stated this as a goal. So excuse me if I boost signal for Gaiman a little bit.

Also, if you think Gaiman is being naive or doesn't understand what he's doing, you might want to hop over and read today's blog entry titled "The nature of free". You may or may not agree with him, but I don't think anyone can accuse him of going into this unknowingly.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Interesting People

February 25, 2008

Copying in Political Speech

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

"I see that politicians have a way of borrowing from each other."

On I found a video of a Meet the Press segment that begins by addressing the issue raised by Mrs. Clinton of whether or not Mr. Obama had plagiarized some political speech lines.

The discussion is partially about political views, but it's also got a few things to say about originality and 'plagiarism' in political speechwriting. As with so many other creative endeavors, this kind of writing does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, it sits within a stream of history, an awareness of what has worked earlier and what has failed, and it copies from the successes of the past. In some sense, speeches are copyrighted works, owned by the creators. When performed (spoken) they're also recognizable works, with added rights beyond the written texts. And yet, it makes no sense to build rigid regimes of ownership and limitation around them - doing so would weaken political discourse. But our conversation around copyright and ownership of IP has become so constrained of late that I don't see people generally willing to acknowledge this. As Obama says, we've "entered the silly season".

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

February 21, 2008

Get Your War On, Cartoonists

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

A friend of mine blogged about a talk by David Wallis, whose book "Killed Cartoon" catalogs political cartoons and photographs that have been killed by newspaper and other print publication editors because of being anti-war.

The logical question, not answered by Mr. Wallis, is why not take this material on line? For me the definitive online anti-war cartoon was always "Get Your War On" which never pulled any punches. On the other hand, it never made any money that I'm aware of - according to Wikipedia, the print book version's royalties were donated to landmine clearing organizations.

Could it just be that there's no established revenue model for taking independent cartoon work online and getting paid for it? I certainly read a lot of Web comics but beyond the occasional Paypal or donation drive by the cartoonist I don't pay for any of them. Like e-zines, about which I blogged earlier this month, online comics have been around for enough years that one would expect a reasonable set of business models to have emerged.

What's holding things back?

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

February 20, 2008

Could BitTorrent Be Disabled Automatically?

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

This is being painted in the context of net neutrality and copyright enforcement; I see it as a way to automate attacks on any particular users of any information. There's no reason this technique couldn't be used by, say, the Chinese government to disable access to Web sites it finds objectionable. Or paint your own picture.

The story starts with an announcement by AT&T that it's going to police all traffic it carries for copyright violations. That's both stupid (legal liability anyone?) and practically impossible. Packet volumes and encryption render this a nonstarter. The volume of lawsuits alone would be staggering even at AT&T's size.

But let's apply a little intelligence to the problem. Assume you don't need to examine every packet - just the highly visible and highly accessed sources of copied material. Torrents are the prime example of this. Nicholas Weaver wrote in his blog last month of a hypothetical method that would permit AT&T, in cooperation with a copyright-holding entity like the MPAA, to disable torrent downloading.

The plan involves examining a torrent to see if it has material the MPAA doesn't want sent around, then selectively disabling pairwise communication between providers of the torrent and would-be consumers. The torrent identifies participants, so they can be blocked and Weaver describes a fairly clever scheme that disables pairwise communication without harming general network communication. The system has significant advantages to its users, not least of which are that it's completely automated and scalable. It also means AT&T gets out of the content-examination business and avoids the associated liability. The copyright holder (MPAA or other) is examining the content and assuming liability if legitimate content is blocked. This is the same situation we have now with DMCA 'takedown' notices.

The system isn't perfect - I can imagine counter-strategies - but it would certainly disable general P2P networks as they presently operate.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts

February 15, 2008

As the Cartel Turns

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Hometown paper the LA Times runs an extensive piece on the complete screw-over that studios give to writers. To say that they lie, cheat, and defraud doesn't begin to cover it.

In this case the victim is one Deborah Gregory and the villain is Disney but the same story could be told hundreds of times - just change the names and it's the same again and again. In this case Gregory started as a successful but naive author, then signed with Disney for 4% of net. After two movies, millions of CD and DVD sales, and god-knows-how-much spin-off merchandising, Gregory has gotten exactly nothing for any of this. In fact, Disney won't even give her statements showing revenue and expenses that would allow her to pursue her share of the profits.

As the Times piece points out Hollywood has been using shady accounting and unfair contract terms to screw people for decades. They have all the power, especially when dealing with newcomers, and they use it shamelessly. Keep that in mind the next time they cry about how much money they're losing to "piracy"; I'm not a big fan of theft, but I sure do love schadenfreude.

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

February 14, 2008

Like YouTube for Business Documents

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Earlier this week I had a chat with Jason Nazar of The company had contacted me a while back suggesting the chat. They're a beta-level software startup dealing with professional, legal, and business documents.

I was initially dubious that there was a Copyfight angle to this story. As Nazar himself pointed out, there's not a lot of illicit traffic on the P2P nets in business content, particularly when compared to the volume of entertainment-oriented content (music and movies primarily). That said, docstoc does have some points of interest for this blog, particularly in thinking about new business models that could be built around sharing.

First, back up a few steps. Docstoc is a hosting, sharing, and community site. Like YouTube it produces no original content bur rather holds and shares content (documents) uploaded by people. There's no membership fee and anonymous uploading is allowed. If you want to download a document, then you have to have a site login.

Since the point of the site is to share documents, everything placed on the site is in some sense free. Docstoc takes advantage of several Creative Commons licenses so when you upload files you can specify varying degrees of free - free to view and free to download being the two most popular I saw. The site uses a proprietary Flash program to embed the content for viewing, which allows them to encapsulate most of the popular business document formats (PDF, Word, Excel, PPT, and so on) in a uniform UI. In addition, they allow the player itself to be embedded; for example, here is a TechCrunch blog entry on WikiMedia's financials that contains an embedded docstoc player. Paradoxically, their use of an encapsulating player may both protect documents from casual copying while thwarting automated scanners like Attributor, which attempt to detect reposting of private content.

Docstoc is what I'd call a 'data cloud' play. Like Google Documents and other applications, there is an appeal to upload your content and access it from anywhere you have a net link, not just the hard disk on which the document currently resides. Like YouTube it also has nascent community features, including ratings, view counts, and personal blogs. Though these seem to be de rigeur in today's apps I'm not sure of their value here.

So, if everything is free, how does anyone make money? Well, from an individual point of view, docstoc is at worst free advertising. Many small companies and sole proprietorships put free samples, white papers, and other business-related downloads on their sites, which then languish in obscurity. These same files, uploaded to docstoc, become indexed and searchable both on the docstoc site and on major search engines that crawl the docstoc pages. When Google searches start to return hits into docstoc's cloud there's a good chance the uploader is going to see higher SERP placement than he could manage on his own.

Docstoc itself has to figure out how to make money on this and so far they don't have a solid model in place. Obviously there are advertising possibilities. As with any kind of targeted search, docstoc has the chance to generate high-quality sales leads to advertisers. There's also an option to partner with high-end paid content providers. These providers (think Gartner Group) are never going to put up their expensive paid research on docstoc. But they could put up teasers and previews, then kick back a piece to docstoc for sales leads and link referrals.

Finally there's the idea that documents + service are more valuable than just documents alone. This is similar to the open-source notion that software+service is better than only raw code. If I've just downloaded a business plan template it might behoove me to sit down with a consultant in my area to flesh that plan out. Again, docstoc is positioned to know what I've downloaded and possibly where I'm located so they can hook me up with a service professional, taking a small slice of the business referral revenue.

It's an unproven model, but that's true for most anything you can say about trying to make a legitimate business around freely sharing information. I don't know if I'm convinced enough that I would invest my own cash in the business, but I'll probably upload some documents and see how they fare.

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

February 13, 2008

February 12, 2008

How Much Potter Does Rowling Own?

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Dave Langford's February ANSIBLE (a fanzine for fantasy/SF readers and authors) has a commentary from Steve van der Ark relating difficulties encountered in producing a print edition of a "Harry Potter Lexicon."

For some time there has been an online Lexicon, which has been criticized for both using and linking to large chunks of Rowling writing. Many of the critics feel that the online Lexicon goes beyond the bounds of fair use. In an attempt to avoid this, van der Ark rewrote, cited, and reduced the use of original material. He claims to have "received assurances from several copyright and intellectual property experts that the book we were creating was legal."

Except now there's a lawsuit. Warner is suing the Lexicon's intended publisher in an effort to enjoin the book as a violation of both copyright and trademark protections. The book's author and publisher are vowing to fight, noting that Rowling doesn't have "the right to completely control anything written about the Harry Potter world."

Intuitively I'd tend to agree with that assertion, but IANAL and it's not at all clear to me which way the judge is going to go in this case.

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

February 11, 2008

It's More Complicated, And More Interesting

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Neil Gaiman has been blogging online for seven years now. If you go to that link you'll find a poll asking you to vote for which of Mr. Gaiman's books is to be put online for free for a month to celebrate the event.

Gaiman's blog entry today also quotes from a New York Times story on this contest. In that Times piece Gaiman admits that he didn't buy every book he read growing up. He borrowed them from friends, from libraries, found them, and so on. Eventually he grew up into a normal book-buying adult.

The point, he says, is not just that, it's that

...there's not and there has never been a simple one-to-one relationship between the books you read and way you find authors and the books you buy. It's more complicated than that, and more interesting. It's about the way that it's assumed that books have a pass-along rate, that a book will be read by more than one person. If the people who read the book like it, they might buy their own copy, or, more likely, just put the author in that place in their heads of Authors I Like. And that's a good place for an author to be.

Gaiman has previously confronted questions of people free-trading his stuff and he's consistently sided with the fans. So it's not surprising that he'd point out the truth that our relationship to authorial work, and by extension copyrighted work, is complicated. Simply throwing around dramatic labels like 'piracy' isn't just wrong - it completely misses the point.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Interesting People

Can E-Zines Succeed?

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Bloggasm is a thoughtful collection of entries from Simon Owens that focuses on media and journalism. In yesterday's entry he reviews the troubled history of e-zines, particularly those focused on SF/F and speculative fiction in general.

E-zines in this field are at least 10 years old now and one would think they'd have had time to establish a field. Instead what we see is a vast graveyard of virtual corpses and nobody with a sustainable business model. That's kind of sad but perhaps we're still in the infancy of this market and someone will figure out a good content model soon.

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

February 7, 2008

Bye Bye (Buy?) Baidu

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Baidu, the Chinese search powerhouse was on the receiving end this week of a lawsuit by three of the big four record companies. They are asking that Baidu be ordered to stop linking on its music-delivery service to copyrighted tracks. Separate suits were filed against Sohu and Yahoo! China over related infringement charges.

The Chinese market for media is hot and growing fast. recently published a piece advising that Baidu was undervalued. This is interesting considering the site's earlier posting advising people to get out of investing in the music business. Baidu has much larger businesses in search/online advertising than it does in music so they may agree to go along with these suits in order to keep their core businesses untouched. Or they may just ignore any decision, as they have in the past.

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

February 5, 2008

Qtrax Backtrax

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Oops, not so fast. Yesterday I blogged about Qtrax, a company with big claims to be providing ad-supported music downloads. An alert reader sent me a pointer to a Guardian Unlimited story in which UMG, Warner and EMI all said "No deal". Qtrax appears to be admitting to some overblown claims in announcements (wait - a software company announced vaporware?! I'm SHOCKED.) but their Web site still contains the "25 million" claim.

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

February 4, 2008

Political Remixing & Cultural Copyright

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

If you've been around politics since the last US Presidential election you might remember some of the popular parodies such as JibJab's "This Land Is My Land". I haven't seen a comparably memorable parody yet this season, but I have seen "The Yes We Can Song" (warning: page has a plug-in that auto-plays on load).

This mashup takes one of Barack Obama's New Hampshire stump speeches and remixes it with contributions from over 35 artists. The motivating forces behind this appropriation - the campaign doesn't appear to have authorized or endorsed it - include Jesse Dylan (son of Bob Dylan) and of the group Black Eyed Peas.

I'm familiar with this kind of overlay/remix/mashup (I'm still not completely clear on the appropriateness of the terms) being used with things like popular music, but I've never seen it done before with a contemporary political speech. As in the NIN case, the "Yes We Can" remix is being used to support the original cause - I think these two projects arise from much the same sensibility though they're in different spheres.

I'm reminded of the point Cory Doctorow made in his latest piece for the UK Guardian Unlimited. In this entry in his "Digital rights, digital wrongs" series Doctorow argues for a tuning of the sensibilities of copyright law. In particular, the law doesn't distinguish between the reuse of a copyrighted work for a mass commercial project such as a blockbuster movie and the reuse of a copyrighted work for personal and noncommercial use.

Doctorow argues that "folk copyright" use existed for a long time prior to the net, but

Now you have billionaire media empires behaving as though parents should get a licence for a Prince song before they upload a YouTube video of their adorable toddler dancing to it.

The idea that individuals need lawyers to negotiate their cultural personal material space shows how broken current copyright handling is. Doctorow would "stop shoe-horning cultural use into the little carve-outs in copyright" and instead create a new copyright regime that treats small-scale copying differently.

Doctorow names (but doesn't point to) A2K, the Access To Knowledge project around reforms to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties. A2K is trying to make this new copyright regime happen, but WIPO is a huge thing, dominated by big companies... err, excuse me, countries doing the work of big companies such as the US carrying the banner for the Copyright Cartel. Any change through this method will be many years in the making.

Meanwhile we have an election coming whose outcome just might change what positions the US chooses to defend at WIPO and in related forums.

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

Two Big Digital Music Service Moves

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I tend to avoid most digital music stories not because they're not Copyfight-able but because I find them boring. After eight-going-on-nine years of the Copyright Wars there's very little new in the trench warfare. So excuse me if I gloss over a lot.

First up, Yahoo has announced that Rhapsody America (Real + Viacom) will now handle its digital music subscription service. The current customers will probably end up paying a few bucks a month more for more or less the same thing. Yahoo dumps a dragging business and one hopes focuses more energy on revitalizing itself. If that fails and it gets bought by Microsoft then customers will probably have to choose between switching outright to Rhapsody and whatever Zune service Microsoft is pushing at the time.

By the way, I keep hearing persistent rumors that Microsoft is having to fork over $1 of every track sold on Zune to the Cartel. Truth? Anyone have a good source?

Also, yesterday I heard about a new online music service, Qtrax. Yawn, another service, right? Well, hold on, this one is "free." That's 'free' as in 'ad-supported', but they're claiming to have over 25 million tracks available (for PC at the moment - Mac version coming in March).

How is this possible? Ad revenue goes to the Cartel, natch. And you download their player, which means you lock into their DRM scheme though they make a big point of claiming no adware, spyware, or spoofing. Because, you know, the Cartel would NEVER put stuff like that on your PC, nope nope.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get an activated account to check it out - anyone had first-hand experience with it?

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