Rob Sama knows.
Inventors (and the companies that finance and support them) with legitimate patent claims should be up in arms about this stuff. Every time a nonsensical patent is issued it lowers the standing of the office and weakens the pre-litigation force of all other patents.
If nonsense patents are being issued left and right and a general assumption forms that anybody can get a patent for anything and IP rights can only be determined through litigation, then transaction costs and uncertainty will soar and technology companies and the economy as a whole will suffer. At that point the PTO will become a relic and a sad joke. Nobody wants that. It's time for somebody with a clue to take the helm at the PTO.
It's hard to watch the IP-related imbecility oozing out of the Senate these days and not feel like the Cartel has won that battle, too.
Today brings us the story of a new bill from Senate majority leader Bill Frist and minority leader Tom Daschle, aimed at reversing the California decision that held some file-sharing services legal. The latest idiocy would criminalize anyone who "induces" illegal copying. This would, of course, also make VCRs, PVRs, TiVos and similar devices illegal. Probably most PCs, too. Oops, more collateral damage.
Meanwhile, The Howard Stern Show has become remarkably interesting (for me) to listen to these days. The man is on the warpath because the unholy triumvirate of Clear Channel, the FCC, and the US Senate have come together to, well, not to put too fine a point on it... screw Howard Stern out of his livelihood.
A good starting point is Stern's own Web site:
There you'll get the dramatic rendition, but the basic facts are correct. In short, Stern is going off the air. He and his show are being subject to increasing, random, and undefined censorship. For example: why can't a show guest say she pinched her nipples? That got bleeped, but nobody can explain the rules for why.
He has also been sold down the river by his nominal employer, Clear Channel. The company cut a deal (after paying $1.75 million in fines) with the FCC to exempt all of its programming from retroactive review by the FCC (I thought that was illegal anyway?). All, except Stern's show, that is. He's been left exposed, essentially the sacrificial lamb for C.C. which comes off looking like it "did something". That "something" being handing over Stern, on a platter. Meanwhile, the 101 Stern imitators that C.C. hired and promoted continue to flourish.
The final member of this unholy triumvirate is the US Senate, led by the religious fanatic Sen. Brownback (R-KS). This goon -- who really does live in a church compound when he's in Washington, DC -- attached a rider to a Defense authorization bill. This rider would increase ten-fold the penalties for "indecency" on radio or television, and would hold individuals as well as their employers liable up to $3 million per day.
This joyous attack on the First Amendment passed the Senate by a stunning 99-1 margin. The House has already passed a similar measure, though with slightly different penalty numbers.
Witness how a "democracy" institutes censorship. The state doesn't tell you what to say. It simply allows you to be retroactively reviewed under an ever-changing and never-defined set of rules for a vague concept. If you fail this review you're sued into penury.
Aren't you all glad you live in a land that values freedom of expression?
Stern sure is. He's talking up Michael Moore's "Farenheit 911" and attempting to politicize his audience as best he can. Sadly, his audience are... well, for lack of a better phrase "frozen lamp-post-licking morons." Listening to them call in and whine about why isn't Howard funny anymore is a real education in where American priorities are today.
Who cares about all that boring "free speech" stuff? Give us more fart jokes. It's tempting to say that Stern is reaping what he has sown, both in terms of his audience and in terms of his delivery. Lord knows I can't manage to listen to more than five minutes of a "normal" Howard Stern Show. But the fact remains that he's an entertainer and depriving him of his livelihood in this manner is one of the most chilling things I've seen since the Copyright Wars began.
Yes, I'm aware that Howard's not really likely to go to the poor house anytime soon. He'll get a show on cable, or XM, beyond the (current) grasp of the FCC. He'll continue to do his act and draw an audience. And broadcast radio will continue to die the slow death it probably deserves, strangled in its own boredom and pap.
But that's not the point. The point is that artistic expression is supposed to matter. If you don't like his expression, change the damned channel.Posted by dr. wex on June 24, 2004 10:26 AM
Declan writes for CNET about the so-called "Pirate Act" - the latest imbecility to drift out of the Cartel's sock puppets in Congress. The idea is to use the Justice Department to sue (civil lawsuits) people who trade music, since the JD can do fun things like wiretap and subpoena directly. Presumably, the RIAA are tired of bad publicity and the perception of being at war with their customers. They are at war, but perception is a big part of this battle and they'd love to have someone else carrying this ball. (*)
As so often happens, you can tell how good these proposals are by how secretively they're handled. This one was submarined out onto the Senate floor without so much as a single hearing. I mean, who needs those messy hearings anyway? I mean, it's not like the public has anything to say, or there are alternatives that could be considered. Naaaah.
The Cartel are peevish because Justice, despite public prodding from Reichsfuhrer Ashcroft, has yet to initiate a single criminal prosecution for file sharing. Criminal prosecutions have a higher burden of proof than civil lawsuits and prosecutors recognized they had better things to do with their time.
Props apparently are due to Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) who has in the past slammed the RIAA for its jihad against consumers. No confirmation that he slapped a hold on this particular bill but it seems likely.
(*) There's an interesting bit of math I haven't seen anyone do yet. The RIAA are filing hundreds of suits. Most are settled, and we're told that the average settlement amount is $3000. I can't believe that the cost of researching and filing these things is less than a few thousands. I'm guessing $5000-10000 per. So that's a loss of a couple thousand bux per suit. Times several hundred and you're starting to look at a loss of significant magnitude - perhaps on the order of a quarter- to half a million dollars. No wonder they're looking to offload the costs onto someone else.Posted by dr. wex on June 9, 2004 07:20 AM
Eric Idle (yes, that Eric Idle) has given us a cute little ditty expressing his feelings towards the FCC and its post-Janet-Jackson's-booby rulings against the further use of any of Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words." Eric uses one of these words repeatedly, making the MP3 somewhat likely to startle as well as amuse nearby listeners. Use headphones if you're in an environment where that might not go over well.
Eric Idle's "The FCC Song"
(uses the song as a springboard to rail on the first anniversary of the FCC's decision to eviscerate ownership limits)
Once again, we see a battle between two tech business behemoths turn to the courts on a narrow issue. In this article about a quiet little patent infringement suit over a bid-for-ads system in state court in San Jose, we see yet another example of a market battle being paralleled by a court fight.
Like the far-flung proxy wars and border skirmishes between two superpowers, no individual legal battle will mean victory or defeat in the war, but the cumulative effect just might. At this point, everyone knows that legal battles are a fundamental part of doing business; executives in any sort of technology or IP-intensive industry are especially aware of this fact. But the best legal strategy for a high tech company in the 21st century is still unclear.
There's always the proven Microsoft strategy of taking over the market, in part through illegal means, while holding off the inevitable legal defeat until the other side's victory becomes pyrrhic. But it's sad if such a strategy is the only means to victory, and reflects rather poorly on both the companies and the lawyers involved.
As for the patent suit at issue here, I have no idea if Yahoo bought itself a lawsuit against Google and that was their specific business purpose (as some have alleged), and I have no idea if Google is infringing the patent at issue. All I know is that for the best interests of the industry and society as a whole, market victory should go to the company with the best, most useful, most effective search technology, not the one with the best lawyers. Yes, I say "should" because as a lawyer I know well the difference between how things should be, and how they will be. Accordingly, all prudent technology companies will understand and digest this one unpleasant rule: The legal battle is as important as the market battle.Posted by david on June 4, 2004 09:47 AM
People are now able to record home copies of digital TV content, including pay TV. The emerging method of recording is via digital devices - so-called PVRs in the form of TiVo or set-top box from cable companies. It's pretty clear that the next generation of these devices will include DVD burners. The cost of these burners is coming down along with other hardware, and they won't increase the cost of the PVRs much. Once a single company offers this feature, it will be recognized as a huge advantage and the feature will need to be copied by everyone.
One big problem now is that your pay TV content (e.g. HBO) is now available for record/copy/lend or P2P distribution with little or no effort on the home user's part. Currently it takes a bit of work and you often end up with a lower-quality product such as a VCD. The theory was that the cable companies, consumer electronics companies, and pay-TV services would sit down and hash out an agreement. That now appears to be... improbable.
Part of the issue is a desire to be able to circumvent the box/PVR and plug digital cable directly into the television. This would enable a much larger consumer audience to access (and be charged for) services such as video-on-demand, pay-per-view and specialized program guides. This is good for the suppliers of such services and for the cable companies - who usually get a percentage of these transactions. It's not so good for the consumer electronics companies (which would have to reengineer their TVs and would lose sales of set-top boxes) and for some other cable companies, which see the set-top boxes as bigger money-makers.
One curve ball here is that some content suppliers make a significant amount of revenue on selling DVDs of their own shows. If consumers get to make DVDs themselves, they see that revenue stream drying up. This is just dirt-sucking stupid, since the DVD market is so driven by 'extras' content that home users just can't duplicate. But I digress.
A second curve-ball comes from the fact that cable operator see satellite- delivered video as a major competitor and if they impose significant restrictions on consumer choice, then people may find it worthwhile to put up a dish.
Thus we come down to an odd situation where the red corner contains the tag team of HBO and Showtime, but the blue corner contains Starz! (the #3 pay-TV operator) along with most of the cable companies and all of the consumer electronics companies. This split is largely because HBO/ Showtime make original content and derive a lot of revenue from DVD sales; Starz! does not.
Starz! describes its preferred policy as "copy once" meaning that consumers would be allowed to record pay product once. HBO/Showtime want "copy never." CE companies wants "consumer choice" - which generally means unlimited copying.
Until this catfight settles down, it's unlikely the FCC will issue any rules anytime soon. When the masters squabble, the servants stay silent.Posted by dr. wex on June 2, 2004 02:47 PM