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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.

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Monthly Archives

September 23, 2010

George Lucas Pirated Chewbacca's Image

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

...but that's OK. This is the conclusion of a long essay in The Binary Bonsai blog. The blog has extensive source material but the gist is that the visual representation of the character we saw on-screen as Chewbacca in 1976 was taken quite directly from an illustration for a George R R Martin story that was published the previous year.

This is an age-old debate that periodically pops up in this blog as well: if we're going to protect the creations of artists and others it's important to understand the sources and methods that go into those creations. Do I think Lucas and his film team "stole" Chewbacca and should be punished? No, of course not. But I do think they should be more up-front about the ways in which their creations are based off the work of others, and be a lot less hostile to the derivative works created by fans and others who've taken from the film's material, in much the way that Ralph McQuarrie did.

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

September 14, 2010

Russia Uses Microsoft IP to Suppress Dissent

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Microsoft caught in bed with the Russian FSB; this stuff just can't be made up. The NY Times reported this weekend that Russian authorities are making bogus raids on NGOs. The supposed purpose of these raids is to find pirated copies of Microsoft software and NGOs are reporting their computers are seized and not returned. Of course, anyone who can search the Web knows that Russia is a haven for copiers of all sorts and you can just as easily find copies of Microsoft products on .ru Web sites as you can find copies of movies and MP3s of music.

None of that seems to bother the authorities, somehow. Instead, according to Cliff Levy's article, the Russians have made "dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers." Suspicious much?

Microsoft comes in for criticism is that it has apparently known about this for months and done nothing. Levy further notes that human rights groups in Russia have been trying for months to get Microsoft to act. According to self-proclaimed cyber-cynic Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in ComputerWorld, Microsoft has even gone so far as to provide information to support the police actions, though Microsoft claims those are just local lawyers it hired and apparently failed to supervise adequately.

It seems that the light of publicity is finally spurring action, though. Today's update to the story comes from Fred Weir at the Christian Science Monitor: Microsoft is offering, essentially, a shield license for journalists and NGOs. These organizations and individuals would be able to have free legally licensed copies of Microsoft products, which would end any IP-related pretext for the police raids. In addition, Microsoft are supposed to be setting up a legal assistance program to help NGOs who have already lost their computers prove that they had legal licenses to the Microsoft software on the machines.

In a sense, this is a "better late than never" kind of sad story. It's also a lesson in how real journalism can spur public outcry that can still move mega-corporations to action. As we watch the disintegration of the 20th century modes of creating and distributing investigative journalistic work, let's try to figure out how we can hold onto the good stuff, like Levy's story.

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

September 10, 2010

NY Times Weighs in on Plumpy'Nut

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Back in April I had a pleasant exchange of views with M. RĂ©mi Vallet of Nutriset, who responded to my original posting pointing out that the ready-to-use therapeutic food marketed as Plumpy'Nut was another situation in which the interests of intellectual property and protection of commercial profits was coming into conflict with clear lifesaving needs.

Now Andrew Rice of the New York Times has a magazine article focusing on the company, its product, and the controversies around it. As I noted back in April there are no simple and easy answers to this tension. In Haiti, Rice finds one company that is making its own version of a peanut-based food, while another has become a franchisee of Nutriset.

Rice also touches on the issue raised by Vallet in his response to Copyfight, which was the vast gap between the billions of dollars that would be needed to manufacture any RUTF and the actual dollars that are delivered to Nutriset and its franchises to do actual manufacturing. There are continuing accusations of anti-competitive behavior, and as with any business it's hard to break in where one company totally dominates the market.

For me the most interesting thread in Rice's story isn't well developed, but it's in there. In effect Rice and the people he interviews are suggesting that the real solution is not an either/or proposition but some combination of three contributors: commercial development, charitable work, and grants by major aid agencies and governments. The big unknown is who or what would coordinate such an effort.

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