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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

October 25, 2010

A Personal Puzzler - Who Owns This Audio?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

This is an actual problem I have, and I've been unable to figure out a good answer to it, so I turn to you, my readers, for pointers and advice.

Some time ago, I made an audio recording of an author reading her own book. The recording was made with the author's knowledge and (verbal) permission. At the time, no audio version of the book existed. Since then, the book has been reprinted and an audio version of the reprint is now being sold.

Question: is my recording of her reading more like a performance recording, or more like an audio book? I don't think I can (nor do I plan to) sell copies of my recording, but I have considered putting it online for others to share. I suspect I'd be violating some copyright or other law if I did so, but I'm horribly unclear on the relationship of recordings-of-live-performances versus staged recordings such as audio books.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use

October 21, 2010

WOFF Proposal Looks Set To Solve Web Font Issues

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I've written before about the way that intellectual property and sharing concerns have held back the use of different typographic styles on the Web. It looks like the long impasse may be about to end.

A Copyfight reader sent me a pointer to an entry in The Economist's Science & Technology section on a budding compromise in the font stalemate. The WOFF (Web Open Font Format) - a W3C working draft at this point - is a proposal mostly from Mozilla and a couple of font houses. The proposal avoids complicated cryptographic or other digital lock technology in favor of clear-text statements of ownership.

At this point it looks like all the major browser-makers will support this proposal either in current or near-future releases, and since the proposal comes from W3C it's likely to be completely compatible with the CSS rendering standards that browsers also support. In order to promote further compatibility, WOFF positions itself as a container (envelope, or wrapper) that can be put around the currently standard TrueType, OpenType and Open Font Format fonts. This means that existing fonts can be folded into the system with relatively little extra work, and the browser-makers don't have to write whole new decoders to handle WOFF-compliant font files.

In order to limit unwanted sharing, the WOFF spec says that the user agents (browsers, commonly) that implement the WOFF standard should not pull the fonts from other sites, unless explicitly allowed, and should not make the pulled font available to other programs on the end user's computer. That's slightly inefficient but probably the minimal compromise necessary to help font designers/publishers feel that they can trust their wishes will be respected.

As a matter of technology it's trivially true that a specification and plain-text metadata aren't strong protection. However, this practice follows the social conventions and customs used in things like Creative Commons licenses and given that it is in the interest of both the browser makers and most Web content designers to see this succeed I believe this is the right approach. It's much more important to make it easy for the good guys to do the right thing than to divert resources to stopping bad guys from doing the wrong things.

John Daggett has a nice summary and some practical examples over at the Mozilla blog. The image above was nicked from Stephen Shankland on CNET, who credits it to Erik van Blokland from LettError and Tal Leming from Type Supply, two of the major movers behind WOFF.

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

October 20, 2010

Canadian Scientists Take Their Case to the Public

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

In an attempt to get around what seem like heavy-handed rules from the Canadian government, the scientists' union has put up a Web site to publicize members' work.

The Globe and Mail has coverage of the issue, noting that there seem to be an increasing number of hoops for government scientists to jump through if they want to talk about their work to the media. The fear, of course, is that the intention behind all these new rules is to move away from science-based policy making. This is presumably because the science doesn't support the pet policies of those in power.

I've been a big supporter of direct-to-the-public science publication for as long as it has been available. More science available to more people is hands-down a good thing. So bravo to the Canadians here and let's hope more people take advantage of the work that - at base - their tax money was used to create.

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

Gene Simmons Has A Big Mouth

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

But then again, he'd need it to hold that much tongue. Except holding his tongue has never been his strong suit, has it.

The ex-KISS bassist has managed to get himself a personal Google headline

"Make sure your brand is protected," ... "Make sure there are no incursions. Be litigious. Sue everybody. Take their homes, their cars. Don't let anybody cross that line"

That, and some additional comments about "every fresh-faced, freckle-faced college kid who downloaded material" has attracted the attention of Anonymous who have responded by taking down a couple of Simmons-associated Web sites via DDOS attacks.

Audrey Waters noted for ReadWriteWeb that this is part of Anonymous' campaign targeting some of the most litigious "pay up or else" sites. Simmons' bluster about calling in the FBI and tracking down these crackers notwithstanding I get the feeling that this is really a tempest in a teapot.

Rich aged white rock dude makes stupid copyright lawsuit remarks, annoys people. See Metallica over in that old corner? Simmons can go sit with them. I don't expect any of them to catch on to the fact that suing your customers sucks as a marketing plan.

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

October 19, 2010

First-Sale Doctrine Under Fire

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

A notice of filing an amicus brief from the EFF reminded me that I had also meant to blog about Vernor v Autodesk, another crucial case that has received far too little mass-media press attention.

Technically the issue at the heart of the three-judge opinion issued last month is a technical point of copyright law. Practically, though, you could write a headline that screams "Decision threatens eBay, GameStop, and thousands of other used-product businesses." Bet that would get some attention.

OK, let's take it one step at a time. The basic idea, which has long been held to be valid copyright law, is that the legal buyer of a copyrighted product may resell that product within certain limitations. For example, I can't claim that a resold product is mine or otherwise commit fraud, but in general the legal sale of a legally bought copyrighted work is... well, legal.

Or it was until some software marketing weenie got the brilliant idea to stick a shrink-wrap/click-through license agreement on a pile of bits and claim that you didn't actually buy that program you think you bought. You're just leasing it. And since you're not a legal buyer you don't have the rights of a buyer, including the right to resell.

It will surprise approximately no one that the software makers and the MPAA all sided with Autodesk in this case. Ebay and the American Library Association sided with the defense. And, as I mentioned at the start, the EFF has asked for an en banc hearing on the issue.

The sad part is that once again the software makers are failing to understand their audience. People who buy used do so because they can't afford the full price of something. Even if it was possible shut down the entire legal resale marketplace (which it's not) the fact that someone can't find a legal resale copy is not going to make them suddenly able to afford the product in the first place. What will instead happen is that people will find something they can afford. Torrents are still free, last time I looked.

There's another interesting sidebar to this, which is that SCOTUS is set to consider a case this term - Costco v Omega - in which the question at issue is whether the fact that a product was created overseas has any bearing on the applicability of first sale doctrine.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations

October 18, 2010

Lego Loses EU Trademark; More Trouble Coming?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

This past weekend I attended the Media Lab's 25th anniversary celebration, which was great fun. Lego is a big sponsor of the Lab, and that reminded me I've been meaning to write about this.

Back in September, EU judges ruled in favor of Mega Brands and against Lego, canceling Lego's trademark on the brick. The ruling, which took out a trademark that had been in use since 1999, was deemed to create an unfair monopoly on a functional shape.

Greg Aharonian had a nice follow-up piece in PATNEWS noting that Lego also owns a number of related US design patents that might similarly be at risk. The challenge in understanding how this might fall out is in distinguishing 'ornamental' from 'functional' elements. For example, in a Lego brick the distinctive round pieces on top are ornamentation on a basic brick shape, but they're also key to the block's functionality as they are the part that plugs into the base of other bricks. In theory design patents are used to protect nonfunctional ornamentation - often called aesthetics or decoration. But in the Lego brick, separating ornament and function isn't so straightforward.

Rachel Gordon, in an Intellectual Property Brief posting for Washington College of Law, points out that Lego has been moving to protect its brand trademark, by working to separate the word "Lego" from the generic "plastic brick with studs on top." But this isn't going to help them recover their brick trademark, nor does it help with the question raised about the functional/aesthetic fuzziness.

Unfortunately, news stories on the topic have been nonexistent in the past month; anyone got any insights?

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

October 14, 2010

"Radical Extremists" and Canadian Copyright

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Also available for those who can't get enough reading about copyright (also free to download) is a collection of essays edited by Michael Geist and dealing with the Canadian Bill C-32, the debate over which back in June prompted Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore call opponents 'radical extremists'.

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

"Pimps and Ferrets" and U.S. Copyright

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Long-time Copyfight reader Eric Anderson has been working for years on the history of copyright within the U.S. with a particular focus on the 19th century. He recently sent me a note to let everyone know that he's put his book Pimps and Ferrets: Copyright and Culture in the United States, 1831-1891 up on under a Creative Commons license that makes it free for non-commercial use.

On a personal note, Eric mentioned that he's left academia and we wish him well in all his future endeavors.

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