Glyn Moody's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week

from the favorites dept

This weeks favorites are from Glyn Moody, perhaps one of the biggest sources for various stories here on Techdirt. If you're not reading his Twitter account, you're missing out. Sometimes I think I could fill Techdirt based entirely on stories he recommends.

One of the problems with a site like Techdirt is that there is so much good stuff appearing every day, it's quite hard to see the bigger picture, as post follows post in rapid succession. In looking back over the past week, I've tried to pull out some of the major themes that I've noticed.

One of the key ideas that Mike explores here is how intellectual monopolies like patents and copyright have drifted far from their original purpose, which was to provide an incentive to create new inventions and new works.

Patents, for example, are less a spur to innovation today, and more a way of blocking competitors from innovating in the same field. You could hardly wish for a better demonstration of that than the big story this week about Apple suing Samsung because it claimed the latter's Galaxy tablet looked too much like the iPad.

As a subsequent post listing the claimed infringements showed, these included things like "method and apparatus for displaying a window for a user interface," while elsewhere, Apple said that Samsung used a “similar rectangular design with rounded corners, similar black border and array of icons.”

When companies are claiming "rectangular design with rounded corners" as innovation that deserves a government-backed monopoly, you know the system is broken.

Needless to say, Samsung has fired back with its own lawsuit claiming that Apple infringed on its patents, thus ensuring that the patent thicket surrounding smartphones (and presumably tablets) becomes a little thicker. Interestingly, another Techdirt story indicated that even the ITC is getting fed up with the patent mess.

Sadly, Apple was not alone in abusing the patent system this week. Another major case saw Google being hit with a $5 million fine for infringing on a patent through its use of the Linux kernel. The big story here, of course, is that if the decision stands, many other users of GNU/Linux might also be liable.

This is all pretty ridiculous since the patent describes a basic and obvious programming technique that was probably in use for many years before the patent was filed -- I expect lawyers are busily assembling mountains of prior art right now. The deeper problem is that the USPTO allows patents on software at all.

Software routines consist of algorithms, which are just a series of mathematical and logical operations; they therefore represent pure knowledge, like any mathematical theorem. As such, they need to be excluded from patentable inventions, as is the case in Europe, for example (although there the waters have been muddied by the introduction of the vague concept of "computer-implemented inventions," which are sometimes patentable).

Just as patent law is increasingly used to extract money from competitors as a way for them to avoid litigation, rather than as a spur to further invention, so the other main intellectual monopoly, copyright, is being seen as a way of generating revenue through threats of legal action, not simply as an incentive to create something new.

Perhaps the best-known exponent of this approach is Righthaven, and the last week has seen a gratifying number of stories in which judges and the courts have slapped it down again and again and again. And as an added bonus, the same happened over in the UK, where ACS:Law was found to have "brought the legal profession into disrepute."

Despite this outbreak of good sense on both sides of the Atlantic, there were still plenty of other depressing stories of intellectual monopoly abuse. For example, this week we read about the Tolkien Estate forcing a summer camp to change its name, Summit Entertainment suing adoring fans who dared to tweet a few images from the forthcoming Twitlight instalment, and the UK Music Publishers' Association issuing a DMCA takedown to a public domain sheet music site (and then trying to get the takedown taken down....)

Against this background of patent thickets, suits, counter-suits and vague legal threats, a question that springs to mind is: how did we end up with in this ridiculous situation? A couple of recent posts went some way to offering an explanation, noting that often it is those who benefit the most from monopolies that get to write the laws granting them, and that even judges are being recruited from the ranks of the RIAA, which makes relying on the legal system to rein in abuses of intellectual monopolies problematic, to say the least.

One theme that constantly crops up on Techdirt is the hypocrisy of those calling for sterner enforcement of intellectual monopolies. Time and again we see that what they really mean is that they should be enforced to the hilt against the little people (you and me), but that important people like them shouldn't have to worry about such tiresome details.

A case in point was the Canadian Prime Minister, who was discovered to have used some video clips without licensing them properly. Hypocrisy on an even grander scale is to be seen in the US attitude to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, (ACTA). Apparently, the Obama administration believes that Congress and the courts will not be constrained in any way by ACTA: now imagine the howls of outrage from the RIAA and MPAA if any of the other countries taking part in the ACTA negotiations decided that they, too, could just ignore the result. The same asymmetry will probably apply to ACTA 2.0, aka the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, where the US will doubtless seek to impose binding obligations on everyone else but itself. Strange that.

But it's not just governments that can play the hypocrisy game. Here's Prince claiming that when someone covers your song, the original no longer exists...except, of course, when he does it. And then there's the MPAA VP, who asserts that "we must protect our culture," but isn't interested in protecting the kind fostered by the Creative Commons approach. So actually he wants to "protect" -- as in "enforce through that intellectual monopoly we call copyright" -- limitations on creativity, a rather different matter.

Finally, I should mention one other big story that came up on Techdirt in the last week, the realisation that the iPhone and iPad are recording your every move. It's still a little too early to come to any conclusions about whether Apple is to up to anything deeply nefarious here, and if other platforms like Android are doing something as bad, but I'm sure we'll be reading a lot more about this next week as the story unfolds.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Apr 23rd, 2011 @ 3:17pm

    Nice job

    Nice roundup, Glyn.

    There does seem to be an unclosed link in the fourth paragraph, though.

     

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  2.  
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    Glyn Moody, Apr 23rd, 2011 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Nice job

    Thanks - I've already passed this on to Mike, so I'm sure it will be fixed in due course...

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 23rd, 2011 @ 5:18pm

    100% complaints this week. Shocker.

     

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  4.  
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    DMNTD, Apr 23rd, 2011 @ 5:22pm

    Whether nefarious or not.

    If you buy an apple product and don't realize that your renting to own and under dictatorial control is by far open to interpretation on the fact of your "smrts". But really its an obvious affront to privacy, unless big red windows of the FBI warning type show up stating this is what your buying into? Nefarious in my 2 pennies.

     

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  5.  
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    harbingerofdoom (profile), Apr 23rd, 2011 @ 5:41pm

    Re:

    100% crappy comment.


    not a shocker.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 23rd, 2011 @ 7:31pm

    Re: Whether nefarious or not.

    Sadly, not many cell phones allow you full control of your device. For most of them, who controls your device is them, not you. For a device as personal as a cell phone (which for most people is something you take with you everywhere), this is troubling.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 23rd, 2011 @ 8:26pm

    IP maximists seem to believe this myth that Americans are somehow better at coming up with ideas than the rest of the world and therefore the rest of the world should just pay us for simply sitting around all day and coming up with ideas.

     

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  8.  
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    Jay (profile), Apr 24th, 2011 @ 1:43am

    Re:

    Too true. What's incredible is this bevy of information is evidence of a strong shift away from the need of copyright to stimulate progress. I'll be glad when the day comes that we can either abolish copyright or find a way to bring it back to a reasonable length.

    Sadly, Litman brings about some good points in the fact that copyright regulatory capture is not in the best interests of Senators, trade industries, or anyone that seems to believe that the money will stop flowing if copyright is abolished.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2011 @ 3:30am

    Re: Re:

    You know what's even more amazing is that the U.S. seems to be under the impression that persuading other countries to adopt IP laws is going to somehow benefit the U.S. As if the foreign adoption of IP laws is going to somehow result in other countries simply handing cash over to the U.S. It doesn't work that way. Foreign governments will make sure it wont work that way. To the extent that foreign countries do adopt IP laws, they will implement them in their own best interests. Governments will take every step necessary, and pass every law necessary, to prevent the U.S. from benefiting from these laws at the monetary or other expense of those other countries. So this "stopping piracy in China" won't result in Chinese citizens simply handing cash over to the U.S. The Chinese government will make sure of it.

     

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  10.  
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    sailhardy, Apr 24th, 2011 @ 5:13am

    patents

    The use of patents to block innovation has been going on for a long time. In high school, some fifty years ago, we studied United Shoe's use of patents to prevent others from making shoe manufacturing machinery. Probably things like that had been going on for quite a while even then. Nothing new, but our Congress, the best Congress money can buy, is not likely to do anything about it, probably ever.

     

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  11.  
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    charliebrown (profile), Apr 24th, 2011 @ 5:31am

    One thing that always gives me the you-know-whats (rhymes with "wit") when reading TechDirt is: WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THESE THINGS?

    Sure, I have a good laugh at some of the more ridiculous lawsuits and copyright holders who copywrong, but I would like to be able to DO something besides whinge about things here in the comments!

     

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  12.  
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    abc gum, Apr 24th, 2011 @ 7:35am

    Re:

    You could move to E. Tex and serve on juries, just don't buy the bull.

     

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  13.  
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    FatGiant (profile), Apr 24th, 2011 @ 7:37am

    Re:

    I do agree with you.

    Also, it should be applicable anywhere, not only in the US.

    We are all together on that boat. :)

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2011 @ 9:16am

    "Patents, for example, are less a spur to innovation today, and more a way of blocking competitors from innovating in the same field. You could hardly wish for a better demonstration of that than the big story this week about Apple suing Samsung because it claimed the latter's Galaxy tablet looked too much like the iPad."

    You, along with the entirety of TechDirt, have a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of copyright law. Evidenced by the fact this small blog can't gain any mainstream traction. Because the ideas being floated around here are completely ignorant of reality.

     

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  15.  
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    The eejit (profile), Apr 24th, 2011 @ 9:41am

    Re:

    Then riddle me this: what is the purpose of ccopyright law, if not to promote progress and the arts?

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2011 @ 10:34am

    Re: Re:

    It's to prevent a minority of artists from making art that the majority of artists feels is wrong, even though collage has been around for centuries.

    Sound collage, for example, is too expensive for some poor starving musicians and yet, if they just paid a much smaller fee, they could cover the entire song without fear of any reprisal but just take a little snippet and BAM!

    Illegal art.

     

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  17.  
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    abc gum, Apr 24th, 2011 @ 11:46am

    Re:

    "Evidenced by the fact this small blog can't gain any mainstream traction."

    The presence or absence of MSM coverage does not have anything to do with the veracity of content. But you knew that - right?

     

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  18.  
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    Richard (profile), Apr 24th, 2011 @ 12:36pm

    Re:

    Evidenced by the fact this small blog can't gain any mainstream traction.

    Evidently mainstream enough for you to bother posting - thus your comment, rather neatly, refutes itself by its own existence.

     

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  19.  
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    dombey (profile), Apr 24th, 2011 @ 1:26pm

    GLYN MOODY

    I agree. And,these issues are but a symptom of the almost total corruption of the political class that has managed to extract the value produced by the many, funneling all to the top 0.01%.

    Great job.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2011 @ 10:39pm

    Re:

    Why are you quoting text about patents and then talking about copyright?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2011 @ 10:47pm

    Re:

    So the founding fathers, when they wrote the constitution, were misguided about the purpose of IP. When they discussed patents and copy prevention laws, and why they put them in there, they were misguided about it. In the constitution, the founding fathers stated that these laws are to promote the progress of the science and the arts. But when the founding fathers wrote that, they were misguided about why they put that in there.

     

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  22.  
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    The eejit (profile), Apr 25th, 2011 @ 12:07am

    Re: Re:

    Jefferson and Adams actually came to verbal blows over IP. Jefferson thought it wqas an evil that was required in the short term, and was an abolitionist.

    So, yeah, you're talking out of your ass.

     

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  23.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 25th, 2011 @ 1:12am

    Re:

    You, along with the entirety of TechDirt, have a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of copyright law

    Weird that you would bring up copyright law when the paragraph you quoted talked about patent law.

    On top of that, what is it that we misunderstand about copyright law? It's doubly weird that you complain about us getting something wrong, but refuse to say what it is we got wrong. In my experience, people who do that usually don't have any basis for their complaint.

    Evidenced by the fact this small blog can't gain any mainstream traction. Because the ideas being floated around here are completely ignorant of reality.

    Interesting. We have one of the most subscribed to RSS feeds around. Over a million people read us every month. I don't think we're hurting for "traction."

    And I never thought that "mainstream" attention means much, but I'm regularly quoted in the WSJ, NY Times, CNN and many other sources. I also regularly am asked to speak at some of the biggest entertainment industry conferences. So, if I'm not getting any traction... well, I wonder what the hell "traction" feels like.

     

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  24.  
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    Longtime Techdirt Reader, Apr 25th, 2011 @ 6:35am

    Great Job, Glyn.

    Excellent writing. Your article offers wonderful value-ad to the links. I enjoyed your post very much. Nice pick, Mike.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    trish, Apr 25th, 2011 @ 7:11am

    the twit

    i have to assume 'twitlight' was not a typo.

     

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  26.  
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    staff, Apr 25th, 2011 @ 7:51am

    Please stop writing about patents

    It is not innovation that patents hinder, but the theft of.

    Not all competition is fair. When the courts permit a larger competitor to use an invention without the inventor's permission, it's like having a duel where your challenger has your gun and all the bullets. Think again...or just think!

    Please see http://truereform.piausa.org/ for a different/opposing view on patent reform.
    http://docs.piausa.org/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 10:13am

    saw this interesting article on kim komando's website, about a video from 1994 research lab showing tons of prior art and ideas on tablets, interfaces, ads, etc.

    Long (13 mins) but Interesting in retrospective:
    http://www.tvkim.com/watch/925/kims-picks-did-this-1994-video-predict-tablet-pcs

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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