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 23, 2011

You Didn't Think You OWNED That E-Book, Right?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Over at Boingboing, Cory has a post up about the latest round of e-book land-grabbing in this case a dispute between Penguin and Amazon about terms related to sale and lending of e-books. The two companies are spatting and, as usual, it's the end readers (in this case, mostly library patrons) who are getting shafted.

You can follow the Boingboing post and its link to the ALA site for the latest sand-throwing childishness. I thought it was ironic to read this Boingboing post right after I read a comment here from reader Dan T on yesterday's item, where he points out that putting bits on one's own disk can have significant advantages over cloud-based music systems. Sadly, even if you do buy electronic products in download form, if those bits on your disk are wrapped in someone else's DRM you're still at their mercy.

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

November 21, 2011

Two New Fights in Online Music

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I've been somewhat deliberately avoiding writing about online music of late because it's all still depressing me. Still, I wanted to note in passing two stories that aren't yet formally connected but soon may be.

First, there's a breezy guide from Dan Kantor on Gigaom on how to buy music now. As I noted some time ago, the ability to stream music to wherever you are from 'cloud' music services is taking over from the purchase of downloadable tracks, just as those downloads took over from the purchase of plastic platters.

Kantor's guide focuses on issues such as format, chiding Apple for still selling AAC, and on what mobile device you use, with distinctions for nerds and non-nerds. Still, the core message is: buy something to stream, not to drop on your hard disk.

Not that you're necessarily going to get everything you want from these services, though, particularly if you want things that aren't released on major labels. In fact, if you use Spotify, you just lost access to over 200 indie and minor record labels' catalogs. The problem, as Matt Lynley lays out in that column, is that the cloud services are paying... um, in my tribe we call it "bupkis".

In addition, the streaming services like Spotify are seen as cutting into the outright purchases you are being advised to make on the other cloud services. Spotify, in its response statement, claims (sole) responsibility for getting people to stop illegal downloading. Epic achievement there, guys. Can you convince the Cartel to stop suing people for downloading now that, you know, you've stopped all illegal downloading?

In fact, according to another Gigaom piece, part of the problem is that the Cartel owns a chunk of Spotify and is thus absorbing some of the revenue that might otherwise flow to these indie labels from Spotify.

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

Openness as the Default

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Kevin Smith of Duke University has a pointed and poignant essay up on his blog about "The Unexpected Reader". The essay talks about how models of openness have become the norm in at least academic and scientific information access.

Smith notes that open access has more than proved its worth, both anecdotally and in repeated tests. The value of publication is not just in reaching those for whom the publication was intended; the value is in being read by a wider and wider audience, many of whom are unexpected readers who can make unexpected connections and derive surprising results and new value from openness.

With the US Congress moving to shut down many of the basic open principles of the Internet, it's nice to have some thought leaders arguing more forcefully for greater openness.

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

November 12, 2011

Tattoos as Speech

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

A bit ago I poked at the issues surrounding the copyrightability of tattoos. One possibility is that a tattoo is a purely expressive design element, which might appropriately be covered by something like a design patent or a copyright; though, as I blogged last time, there are a raft of unanswered questions as to how that IP protection would be read. In addition to artistic design, tattoos can do much more : they can contain messages as words, and they can convey messages by their choices of symbols, images, or even colors. The question then naturally follows: is a tattoo a form of speech?

According to the decision in Coleman v City of Mesa, yes. However, as Eugene Volokh notes, this decision follows Ninth Circuit precedent, which SCOTUS loves to overturn, and disagrees with decisions in other states/circuits. Should someone decide the case is important enough I could see one of these arguments going all the way to the Supreme Court.

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

November 7, 2011

Two More Modern Business Copyfight Models

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Time again for me to tie together two things that start out looking different but that I see through the same lenses.

First, an article published last month on Boingboing by new novelist Bill Barol. In his piece, Barol describes how he came to give away his first novel, Thanks for Killing Me. He discovered that regular publishers didn't want it, and self-publishing isn't all it's cracked up to be. For example, CreateSpace sets a minimum price - he could self-publish there for about USD 8 and take home 30 cents per copy sold.

The discrepancy is interesting. You can go to Amazon and think you're paying eight dollars for a book that its author feels he is essentially giving away, not to mention all of the work he has to do in promotion and marketing, since he has no major publishing house to handle that. Barol talks of the book as a "loss leader" - shades of Megan Lisa Jones - but unlike Ms Jones he doesn't seem to have a plan for follow-on work. His goal is just to get noticed. It is, as he admits, a pretty crazy plan but in an era when traditional business models are collapsing, one worth trying.
(Edit: Barol noted in a comment response that he does have a follow-on plan, which I failed to parse correctly from the Boingboing piece. Mea culpa.)

The second story appeared on NPR this morning, and describes a program at Arena Stage to foster new playwrights. The Copyfight-interesting thing about this program is that it's using a grant for new plays in a wholly different way. Instead of making one-off work-for-hire items that would then be owned by Arena Stage, the facility is instead using the grant money to pay playwrights like employees. They get a salary of about USD 40,000/year, housing assistance, benefits (including all-important medical insurance), and some money to do research for their new works.

In return the playwrights produce plays that are performed at Arena Stage, but can also be produced at any other theater around the country. The story doesn't describe the precise rights arrangement, but the director of the program, called American Voices New Play Institute, is quite clear about it being a different ownership model:

Normally, you commission a writer, you own that writer's play to a certain degree. And we're trying really a very different model.

In a way, this is still a patronage model, since the program uses money from a large grant. And I still think that patronage is not a scalable model. But it's interesting to me to see this mash-up of patronage and employee models, with a more liberal set of ownership and use permissions on top. The long-term goal of the project is to nurture new playwrights, a creative type we haven't talked much about on this blog. I will try to keep track and see how their model-bending works out.

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