June 2006

I was catching up on some podcasts recently, and happened upon a very interesting one from Boston radio station WBUR’s “Here and Now” on “crowdsourcing“. While the phenomenon itself is not completely new, I found the approach to it intriguing.

This issue of “What is…?” describes crowdsourcing, looks at the origins of the term, and briefly considers some of the pros and cons of the practice. (more…)

Yahoo reports that the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by AA Milne’s granddaughter Clare to cancel a licence to the Winnie the Pooh characters from the estate of a long-time licensee so she could license them to Disney.

According to a scanned article on the website of the licensee’s lawyer’s firm, Disney was a co-plaintiff of Clare Milne’s at trial, but did not join the appeal. The estate of the licensee, Stephen Slesinger, won both the trial and appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from which Milne unsuccessfully sought certiorari. (more…)

Australia is not the only nation to be rethinking its media ownership laws — the United States Federal Communications Commission is also considering whether to lift the current restrictions on ownership of a newspaper and a radio or television station in the same market. (more…)

The Do Not Call Register legislation (previously noted on LawFont) was today passed in the Senate. There is no word on its date of commencement (and nothing on Senator Coonan’s home page yet either, although there is a release about government subsidising of internet porn filters that I noted noted the other day). Edited to update: ACMA now has a press release online stating that the register “is expected to be up and running in 2007”, and Senator Coonan also has a release stating that she “look[s] forward to being able to announce the start of the Register in early 2007”.

The text of the bill is also available online, and it looks to carry on the tradition of over-drafted and over-complex legislation. (more…)

IPLaw360 reports on a lawsuit by a Stanford researcher against the estate of James Joyce to use material to supplement a book she has written about the author.

According to the story, the researcher, Professor Carol Shloss, removed material from her 2003 book about the Irish author and his daughter in response to threats of a copyright infringement lawsuit by the estate. She is now suing in the Federal Court for the Northern District of California to obtain a declaration that posting the removed material on her website as a companion to the book would not result in copyright infringement.

Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society has a copy of the suit. There is comment on the case in The New Yorker, and it was also mentioned in a lecture given last year by Matt Rimmer.

What I wonder about is how much of this material is actually copyrighted, given that at least some of it seems to have predated (in the USA) the 1976 Copyright Act, and (in the UK) the 1956 Act. (It is not clear from the complaint when all the material complained of was created. It’s also not entirely clear whether or when copyright in material created by third parties was transferred into the estate.)

You may have noticed a few little changes to LawFont over the last week:

1. You can now click on an author’s name to see all posts by that author (I will soon make the underlining of the link a little more obvious)

2. There are now small buttons to help in bookmarking/submitting the URLs of our posts to various online sites. These are only visible in the view full post mode – for longer posts, you get there by clicking on “(more…)” or on the post’s title; for shorter ones, just the title.

I have also tweaked the comment spam filter – again, I don’t expect too many problems, but if you experience any, please contact me on lawfont at gmail dot com.

Any further feedback or suggestions also welcomed!

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the federal Government will soon announce that it will subsidise the purchase of internet porn filters. According to the report:

the plan will include subsidies for parents who buy pornography-filtering software for home computers and an injection of funding for NetAlert, the internet safety advisory body.

At an eBay convention in Las Vegas this week, the company announced that from Monday 19 June sellers of certain types of items will be able to add a “Skype Me” link allowing potential buyers to contact them through the VoIP service. This launch has been expected since eBay spent US$2.6 billion to purchase Skype.

The service will be available for 14 categories of (high-value) items, including real estate, cars and trucks, silver coins, and beds.

Who will win the race for Internet dominance? Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! are certainly the key finalists. At this point, however, Google seems to be ahead in creating the computing power necessary to win.

Google is building a massive campus on the shores of the Columbia River, on the Oregon side of the Oregon-Washington border. While the project is shrouded in secrecy, the data center will include two or three large buildings and two cooling plants (to keep all those servers running). The site is at least as large as two football fields. (See the article for an aerial photograph.)

According to The New York Times, this upgrade in computing power is in addition to what is referred to in the industry as the “Googleplex”, a global network of computers that distinguishes Google from the competition. (Strangely, the only references to “Googleplex” I found–with Google’s search engine–were to Google’s corporate headquarters, and not to its computer network.) In contrast to the estimated over 450,000 servers forming Google’s network, Microsoft has approximately 200,000 servers devoted to the Internet, which is expected to increase to 800,000 by 2011.

Microsoft is in damage control mode, after it has been revealed that their latest attempt to control piracy phones home to Microsoft every day. The extent of the daily communication appears to be just checking with a Microsoft server that the program should continue to run, and it does not appear to pass any information back to Microsoft other than your computer’s IP address.

However, this daily communication is not disclosed in the EULA displayed during the program’s installation–only the fact that it gathers information about your computer. The interesting question is whether, in initiating undisclosed communications back to Microsoft’s server, Microsoft has broken any laws — because this is very similar to the behaviour that malware exhibits (except that malware often transmits back other data about or from your computer). (more…)

There is an interesting thought piece in The Australian today about how the Australian digital broadcasting industry will be regulated relatively lightly, compared to the current analog environment.

According to journalist Mark Day, Senator Coonan has defended the current high-regulation regime as necessary because of the scarcity of analog broadcasting spectrum. But digital broadcasting does not have the same spectrum limitations. Accordingly, once the transition to digital broadcasting is complete, much of the current regulatory regime will disappear (including the anti-sihponing list, multi-channeling, and high-definition quotas). (Similarly, Senator Coonan suggested that the current regime would become “outdated” in her call for submissions on the Government’s digital media conversion. ) Where significant regulation is likely to remain is with respect to some content, particularly when that content furthers pornography or terrorism.

I found this article to be particularly interesting because of its overarching argument — namely that markets (and not regulators) are best-placed to select successful digital technologies.

Are Internet telephony companies a good investment? Perhaps not–or perhaps just not yet.

Atlanta-based law firm Motley Rice has filed a class action against Vonage, on behalf of shareholders who bought stock in the Internet telephony provider prior to its intial public offering on 24 May, and have already lost a great deal on their investment. Filed on Friday 2 June in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, the suit alleges that investors were mislead by the company, its officers, and certain underwriters of the IPO, when they were offered shares in the company. (more…)

The New York Times is reporting on a story by journalist Seth Mnookin that will appear in the forthcoming issue of Vanity Fair about author Lewis Perdue’s lawsuit against Dan Brown. I commented a couple of months ago on Perdue’s loss in the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The Vanity Fair article is not yet online, but the Times article gives an idea of what it will be about, and has some quotes. After introducing the procedural history, it states that “Mr. Mnookin’s article suggests that Mr. Perdue might have had a valid case, if not a strong legal one. Mr. Mnookin compares the two novels, finding that ‘The Da Vinci Code’ ‘contained a plot, pacing and structure that were very similar to “Daughter of God’s”‘ ,” and continues (more…)

CNet reports that the US Senate Judiciary Committee will be looking at patent system reform. The home page for the hearing on 23 May contains links to some interesting testimony. I have set out some extracts from the two most striking witnesses. (more…)

A few interesting developments on a number of fronts:

The Register has a story panning the trial judge’s decision in the Apple trade secrets vs blogging case. According to the story, “Judge Rushing cites Wikipedia as a source, a mistake which earns students an ‘F’ grade today. He talks about the need to disregard economics and sociology in favor of a ‘memetic marketplace’ – whatever that is – and allows himself some flights of technological rapture.”

ArsTechnica has an interview with the CEO of eMusic. You may not have heard of eMusic, but it is currently the number 2 seller of downloadable music, behind only Apple’s iTunes Music Store. And the interesting part: eMusic does not use DRM. (And its songs cost only about 25c each, from what I can see on its website). I wonder how Napster can complain about this one?

Finally, an interesting post claims that a newly-created lobby group for net neutrality is just a shill for telcos. And according to SourceWatch (run by the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy) the primary funder of the group is … AT&T.