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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?

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Monthly Archives

October 28, 2008

An ASCAP for Books

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Pending approval by the court, it appears that Google has worked out a deal with US book publishers. Google published an announcement of the deal in its blog and the story has been in most of the major media.

The deal is primarily focused on books that are still under copyright, but no longer in print. Books that are in print are still to be sold as before; books that are out of copyright are still free for anyone to use.

For the big chunk in the middle, John Timmer of ars technica points out that the settlement seems to have something for everyone. Libraries get free access to the entire contents of such books. Big users and private individuals can now pay fees to get online access to individual books.

Google itself becomes a huge book-seller, with the fees from these online accesses, as well as USD 125 million in start-up money, flowing to a new entity, the "Book Rights Registry." This entity would in turn remunerate part of the fees to copyright holders, in much the way that ASCAP handles rights payments for musical works. In effect, copyright holders will make money on books that they aren't publishing, which is strangely like getting paid not to grow crops because many of these publishers deliberately let these books fall out of publication and never bothered to digitize them, even as they sat on the rights.

This also bears on orphaned works since the existence of the Registry and its potential as a cash source should cause people to step forward and reclaim abandoned copyrights. Definitive copyright ownership is a boon to many people; for example, those who want a simple way to find such rights holders and negotiate other forms of reuse.

All parties in the settlement seem to be at pains to emphasize the benefits to individuals - readers - who will be able to build their own libraries of books that otherwise they'd have to spend hours scrounging for on places like Abe Books. In addition, the large-scale digitization of such works might give a boost to print-on-demand enterprises.

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

October 23, 2008

Lala Land?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Lala music service logo
My brother sent me an invite to sign up for the music streaming service "Lala". According to their promotion it's all kosher with the Cartel. You play a stream in your Web browser in a Flash plug-in (like Pandora and

I'm not terribly inclined to sign up for another service and was wondering if anyone had any experience with these guys?

They apparently have software that scans the music on your disk and adds songs it finds there to your online collection so you can stream them from the lala site into any browser. They claim to have licenses for about 6 million tracks, which is a pretty small sample when you consider the universe of all songs, but hey they're new.

You can also pay to add more songs. It appears to cost 10 cents for unlimited streams and if you buy the MP3 that 10 cents is credited toward the price of the download, which they claim is 89 cents and all DRM-free. They also have links to get you to purchase conventional CDs that they're reselling from labels and artists - prices on those are variable, as you'd expect.

There are the usual sorts of social features, where you can see and play samples from other peoples' song lists. They are also promoting the Twitter-like notion of "following" another person and discovering new music by watching what the followed person adds to his or her collection. There's also a points system for getting new people to sign up, getting them to follow you, and so on. Right now the points seem to be a pure popularity metric (they call it "influence") and don't seem to translate into anything beyond ego-boo.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

October 22, 2008

PvP vs The Cartel

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

PVP Comic logo
The PvP comic usually centers around gaming and related topics (the characters work at a game-reviewing magazine) but today's strip shows they didn't learn the lesson Deborah Gregory learned the hard way.

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

Law Enforcement Seizes Biker Gang IP?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I'm tempted to file this under "weird IP stories you don't expect to read" but I don't have a category for that.

Buried at the very bottom of the AP story on the Feds busting up the Mongols biker gang appear the following paragraphs:

U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien has asked for an injunction that would seize the Mongols' trademarked name. If the order is approved, any Mongol would no longer be able to wear a jacket displaying the gang's name or emblem.

"It would allow law enforcement to seize the leather jackets right off their back," O'Brien said.

I suppose, in the sense that a trademarked logo is a tangible asset with some value, it could be seized in a law enforcement action. But, really, do you want to be the guy assigned to take a biker gang member's jacket off his back?

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations

October 20, 2008

October 17, 2008

October 16, 2008

Maybe Art Isn't A Business

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Seth Godin has a post on his blog warning that maybe art should be - or must be - for its own sake, or for the sake and enjoyment of the artist creating it.

Godin is arguing against the idea that you should take what you love and turn it into a business. This love-into-business notion is circulating in a couple of forms now, all of which proposing to tell you how to spend your time "monetizing" your blog or hobby or avocation, whatever it happens to be. If you Google the phrase "fire yourself" you get over 1.2 million hits.

I'm torn - on the one hand I think Godin has a point. Most people aren't going to make a penny off of whatever it is they love. There just aren't that many people wandering around with cash in their hands looking for unemployed bloggers to "monetize." On the other hand, I think it's critical that we do come up with new business models and have people testing them out because it's so screamingly clear that current models are BA-ROKEN.

(Interestingly, Godin's blog entry from today is about the evolution of marketing, a key component of monetizing one's art. And apparently he's got a new book coming out on the topic.)

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

21st Century Business Models for Artists

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

A friend who is trying to figure out how to make something like a living as an independent writer/creator pointed me to the first entry in what promises to be a blog series.

The authors are somewhat known as authors and creators themselves, and the series will culminate in a business-model paper. Both the paper and the blog entries are released for noncommercial use under a CC license.

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

October 13, 2008

Steal This Comic

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Randall Munroe, author of the xkcd comic, and one of the few people I know who is making a living through his Web comics, has had enough of DRM.

His most recent published comic contains a simple four-step "you will be a pirate anyway" argument. Or, if you don't like it, demand DRM-free content in the first place.

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

October 9, 2008

Apple Gets a Dock Patent

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Apple was finally granted a patent, for which it first applied in 1999, on the user interface construction that has come to be called the "dock".

The patent calls it "a userbar" but Apple's own documentation calls it a dock (this image also comes from Apple's site) and that's the term it's generally come to be called. Including all the multitude of reimplementations of the concept. I'm aware of dock implementations for Windows and for Flash applications and there are probably others. Yahoo even has a "widget dock" (on which it has a patent).

Not everyone loves the dock, though. Ex-Apple human-interface guru Bruce Tognazzini published a column way back in 2001 harshing on the dock's (lack of) usability. Still, the widget remains fairly common in a lot of interfaces. The question is whether that'll still be true after Apple decides what it wants to do with this patent.

Given the early filing date it's not going to be trivial to find prior art if people want to challenge this patent. The amount of non-patent prior art cited is small, but there are an impressive number of related patents cited. (Including, to my great surprise, my own patent.) Scanning those it appears that Apple has at least touched on all the related work I can recall from back then.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

October 8, 2008

Rowling Wins Against Lexicon

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

In a not-at-all-surprising decision, Judge Patterson has ruled to block publication of the print version of Steven Vander Ark's "Harry Potter Lexicon."

The judge's decision noted that the proposed Lexicon

copies distinctive original language from the Harry Potter works in excess of its otherwise legitimate purpose of creating a reference guide.

Some reports note that there may be an appeal of the decision, or the publisher may use the decision as a guideline for which material was objectionable and could be excised to result in a Lexicon that could be published and stand up under fair use scrutiny.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

October 3, 2008

Royalties on Digital Tunes Stable Through 2012 - DRM in Doubt

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I've been so busy with the mess on Wall St that I totally missed Apple's threat to close down iTunes if royalty rates went up. There were several proposals on the table, including one to lower fees, which are formally known as "mechanical royalty rates". Jacqui Cheng on ars has a nice summary of the various posturings that went into this.

So, in theory, everything stays the same through 2012. At least in the US. Things in Europe may be a bit more unsettled. According to a PCWorld story, Apple is facing a challenge to its use of DRM to encumber downloads in the first place. At the moment, this move only affects a small country (Norway) that isn't really significant to Apple's revenue. Even if they lose the current court case they could simply stop doing business there. The question is whether the rest of Europe get behind this idea.

If Apple gets a ruling it doesn't like that applies across the entire EU that could force some kind of change, with likely echos on this side of the pond. I don't really expect that, but also lost in Monday's news was the story about Wal Mart shutting down its own music download service.

The problem is that they didn't just take down the service for buying new music - they're shutting down the DRM servers. So if you bought music locked into Wal Mart's electronic box you are out of luck. You may be able to burn your tunes to a CD and then re-rip them, but probably only if you do it before October 9.

Cory makes the point emphatically when he points out that the current scenario is, roughly: buy DRM-encumbered music legally and get screwed; acquire illegal but unencumbered copies and life is good.

My guess is that if download services continue having these problems, Apple will have a lot to worry about before the next royalty rate review rolls 'round.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies