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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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Category Archives

« Privacy | Rumor and Gossip | Speech »

March 5, 2014

Did the Director-General of WIPO Steal Employee DNA Samples?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

According to a whistleblower complaint the answer is "yes" (PDF document at that link).

Apparently this is part of an ongoing row between Francis Gurry, who is now the Director-General, and staffers at WIPO. Gurry, at the time Deputy Director-General, was accused of sexual harassment and "financial improprieties". The accusations were made in anonymous letters, and Gurry sought permission to collect DNA samples that would permit him to out the anonymous whistleblower. The request was denied and so (according to the complaint filed with the International Labour Office Administrative Tribunal) Gurry conspired with one of the WIPO security officers to swipe things like lipstick and dental floss that could then be analyzed for DNA.

The victims of the theft found out - like you do - and Gurry allegedly retaliated. Like you do, if you're a douchebag. The whole matter then got hauled before an internal "Audit and Oversight" division, which promptly decided not to do anything. So here we are with one Ms. Miranda Brown, having been forced to resign from WIPO, bringing the complaint linked above.

This is all sort of car-crash-as-spectator-sport-level hilarious except when you have to keep in mind that these fine specimens of humanity are supposed to be in charge of the international regulation of intellectual property and associated agreements. If half of this is true I wouldn't put them in charge of a kid's lemonade stand.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Rumor and Gossip

July 23, 2013

Will Steam Be Sued Over Game Resale?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Rumor is floating around the game blogs that Valve, owner/operators of the massively popular Steam digital game store/platform, will be sued in the EU (specifically Germany, according to this story on over their refusal to allow people to re-sell games bought on Steam. As we've discussed in the past, First Sale and similar doctrines do not apply to electronic media like games.

Companies like ReDigi have tried to make used marketplaces work for electronic goods partly by wrapping additional technology around the digital object in order to prevent more than one copy existing at a time. Clearly making a copy and selling that without the owner's permission is theft, but if you never make a new copy then perhaps it should be legal to re-sell your copy once you've legally acquired it.

Steam are in a somewhat unusual position here in that they are a major (in some markets dominant) service and platform for gaming. Valve does make some games - probably most famously Portal/Portal 2 but also several shooters like Half-Life and Counterstrike as well as the popular multiplayer Dota. But most of Steam's service and presumably revenue derives from its use as a sales and registration platform for third-party games. You can buy games directly through Steam, you can use game keys bought elsewhere to get a copy of a game off Steam, and you can even register your desktop-resident games with Steam. Steam provides automatic cloud backup for games and saved games, and gives you the ability to access your games from multiple machines - though only one at a time.

Steam has also developed a very light touch with DRM that has made it popular with players. If you are online, the game touches base once at launch with Steam to confirm everything is kosher; if not, it will warn you but generally not prevent you from playing solo.and it strongly encourages people to do the right thing with not spoofing multiple logins, rather than imposing harsh penalties (shades of The Art of Asking).

So in theory, Steam could set up a system that allowed people to transfer their Steam-purchased games from one account to another, effectively creating an online used-games market. In theory, that's a good thing, but practically it might not end up benefiting the people who would like to benefit from it.

Among its other functions Steam is also a massive online gaming store. We've just come through the annual Steam Summer Sale, which is a week-long event featuring dozens of titles offered at steep discounts. (I think I only bought five or six things this time; last year I kind of binged.) These discounts are made possible, in part, because Steam and the publishers do not have to compete with a used market. If you could always find a cheap (used) copy of a title what would be the incentive for the publisher and Steam to put it on sale? Remember these are digital goods - the cost of carrying "inventory" of these games is the cost of keeping a database of valid license keys, which is to say effectively zero.

Right now Steam competes with other online stores such as Green Man Gaming, EA, Origin, and Amazon. Adding a consumer-resale component to that would undoubtedly drive prices down but practically it might mean that fewer copies of games would be available at lower prices. When Steam puts something on sale cheap it does so with a large supply of license keys in hand - pretty much everyone who wants the game cheap can get it. In a used marketplace you'd be limited to the number of cheap copies offered by resellers - first buyers would get things for less money but everyone else would end up paying higher prices.

As TotalBiscuit called it in his commentary today, it is likely to boil down to principles versus practicality. In principle I agree there ought to be a market for used games - I see no reason why First Sale doctrine ought not to be extended to digital goods, provided we take reasonable steps to ensure no illegal copying occurs. But practically I don't see this meeting any existing market need. Steam and other retailers are doing a good job of offering lots of titles at really cheap prices, meeting consumer demand. Practically, I'm also a believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and I'm wary of situations like what happened with the e-book price fixing settlement where I feel the solution to the problem created an even worse problem.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Rumor and Gossip

January 22, 2013

Is "Six Strikes" A Trojan to Kill Free Wi-Fi?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

A meme circulating in the free-culture lists I read is suggesting that the latest round of punitive measures taken by Verizon and other ISPs (sometimes called 'six strikes' - more info here on Boingboing and reference to Torrentfreak) is actually aimed at choking off free wifi.

The big ISPs have never been fond of free net access providers of any sort, moving strongly to block things like municipal-provided town-level wifi. However, along the way many businessess from my local sandwich shop up through big international chains such as McDonalds have begun providing free net access.

Given A and B above, it's striking to note that Verizon has confirmed its plan to apply "six strikes" to businesses, not just individuals. So if six random customers sitting in a Starbucks are accused of downloading a copyrighted item, suddenly the Starbucks wifi may stop working, or may stop working so well? That would be ... um, terribly unfortunate so very sorry but we have this POLICY you see. And, again according to the theory, if businesses can no longer provide free wifi, presumably people will pay (more) to the big ISPs to get things like personal roving data plans, individual dongles, and so on.

Verizon, of course, will insist this is not their true objective. See the petition on for a bit more info. And bear in mind, this is (at the moment) just a rumor.

(It's been a long time since I got to use the "Rumor and Gossip" category tag on this blog, so a quick reminder: if what you're forwarding me is a rumor that's OK, but please identify it as such.)

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Rumor and Gossip

August 15, 2011

First Comes the Rumor

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Everyone is talking about Google's purchase of the formerly Motorola Mobile division in terms of protecting their Android hardware platform, or in terms of the patent portfolio they'll acquire. Both valid points, but I just want to note that this is also the division that makes the DVR high-def set-top boxes. Google owns YouTube. Anyone think 1+1 != 2?

(h/t +Harry Hawk for the pointer.)

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August 9, 2011

Any Mac Users Out There? (OS X Lion Video DRM)

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I've not been able to find any news outlets that are covering this story, but the word among my Apple friends is that if you play a DVD with Apple's built-in DVD player you are no longer able - as of the Lion release - to capture a movie frame.

Dan Gillmor pointed to this small FAQ from Ambrosia software, but that's all I could find online.

Anyone got a fuller/better story?

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Rumor and Gossip

April 29, 2010

Cartel Thinks Child Porn "is Great"

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

No, really. I can't make this stuff up. Back in June of last year Sweden elected an MEP (Member of the European Parliament) from the Pirate Party. The party's platform included a focus on protecting copyrights from over-regulation and abuse.

The MEP, Christian Engström, now has published on his blog site comments from the Danish anti-piracy group lawyer Johan Schlüter at a Stockholm meeting a couple years ago. According to this blog post, Schlüter thinks ”Child pornography is great" because authorities can be talked into blocking Web sites that host child porn, and therefore will be more amenable to blocking file-sharing sites. Never mind that the one thing has nothing to do with the other. This is what the Cartel thinks is clever strategy.

I'm reminded of Bruce Sterling's 2002 remark about the "Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse." Child pornography is a universally reviled evil; no one can be in favor of it. Therefore, you just need to link the thing you think is bad (file sharing) somehow to child porn and presto you taint that thing with the same scourge. Assuming, of course, that your audience is gullible. Or morons. Or both, which is apparently what the Cartel thinks of its audience.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Rumor and Gossip

March 14, 2008

Did IP and Hollywood Shenanigans Sink New Line?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

File this under "rampant speculation." The headline is that New Line Cinema, maker of the Lord of the Rings movies, is calling it quits, with top execs out and assets being snapped up by Warner Brothers. Question: did the ongoing legal problems over those movies sink the studio?

End of last year it looked like New Line was in the clear, having finally settled its long-running legal battles with Peter Jackson, and green-lighting two "Hobbit"-based movies. But just about four weeks ago trouble broke out again with the Tolkien estate suing New Line for... well let's call it "cheating them blind."

Ironically, just about the time this suit was filed I pointed to an LA Times piece on how Disney had screwed over a naive young author. The Tolkein estate isn't young and it has lots of money to hire lawyers. Their primary claim seems to be the same, though - given the massive grosses taken in by the Rings movies they've been paid, um, let's see here... NOTHING.

I can't figure out from the various news stories whether WB is taking on all of New Line's debts and obligations or whether those will be shed the way New Line's 600 employees will be. Assuming that WB still wants to see the Hobbit movies made (on the "we will make another kajillion dollars this way" theory) then they'll probably come up with some kind of settlement that leaves them in clear control of the rights.

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January 14, 2008

File Under "That'd Be Nice"

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Or maybe just "wishful thinking."

Relaying heavily from a Variety Magazine piece, Nate Anderson at ars technica asks whether the RIAA could go away, at least in its present form.

The base of the problem is that the RIAA isn't solving the music industry's problem - plummeting sales - and is costing it millions of dollars. From a pure cost perspective, it would make sense to jettison this loser. However, only one of the four big record companies is even making any noises in this direction and that one, EMI, is the smallest of the four. So long as the RIAA enjoys over 75% support I don't see any major changes on the horizon.

Two factors might change that: Variety reports that all four major labels are pushing the RIAA for change; EMI is just the loudest because it has been bought by a private equity firm that is likely much more cost-conscious. Also in the works is a rumored IFPI reorganization. That body represents 1,400 record companies in 75 countries according to Variety. If IFPI is indeed reorganized, it might make sense to fold in the RIAA at the same time.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Rumor and Gossip