The U.S. Postal Service hasn't been doing well for a while now. Even though it achieved its first revenue increase in five years, it still lost $5 billion in fiscal year 2013. This marks the seventh consecutive year of losses for the USPS, which lost a record $15.9 billion last year. Part of the reason is that people just aren't sending as much mail these days. Why send a physical letter when you can send a message online? The Postal Service's most profitable product, first-class mail delivery, has been going down -- mail volume peaked in 2000 and has decreased by almost a third since then. On the brighter side, it seems that people are buying more things online now, and the USPS's package volume has been on the rise. As the Postal Service struggles to survive, it will be interesting to see how it adapts to the changing economy in the coming years. Here are a few links to some things about the USPS that you may not know.
Sunday mail delivery used to be the norm. In 1810, Congress passed a law that required post offices to be open for at least one hour on Sundays (and when everything else was closed on Sundays, post offices became the local "taverns" where people would go get their mail and then stay on to drink and play cards). Then in 1912, Congress passed another law that forced post offices to close on Sundays. [url]
Sunday mail delivery is back! As part of a deal with Amazon, the USPS will begin delivering packages on Sundays again. Sunday delivery has already started in New York and Los Angeles, and the service should be extended to many more cities next year. [url]
If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.
One of the worst parts of the DMCA, of course, is the anti-circumvention clause, which is way too broad, and can make breaking a digital lock for perfectly non-infringing uses against the law. It also opened up the possibility of using pointless digital locks to try to lock users into certain hardware or software choices in an anti-competitive fashion. Thankfully, courts have rejected many of these attempts -- such as with garage door openers, third party repair service contracts and printer cartridges -- all of which were attempts to use copyright to stifle competition, not as an incentive to create. It looks like we've got another one to add to the list, though, like those previous rulings, the more ridiculous aspects of the anti-circumvention rules means that the court has to twist itself into painful contortions to make the ruling it wanted.
In this case, it involved uninterruptible power supply (UPS) offerings from a company named MGE, which required a hardware dongle and some software to handle repairs. Another company, PMI (acquired by GE), apparently found a way around using the dongle by using some unauthorized software. The question (one of a few, but the key one for this discussion) was whether or not routing around the dongle was infringing itself -- and the court found it did not, though did so in a convoluted way. First, it noted that bypassing the dongle doesn't actually lead to any unauthorized copying, and thus there's no copyright violations. Because of that, it finds no DMCA violation, since the dongle didn't serve to protect copyrighted material from being infringed.
The court also went further, and suggested that simply using already available software to get around a digital lock might not be infringing itself. In other words, it suggests that only those who modify software to get around a digital lock may have violated the anti-circumvention clause. This could be a really big deal if other courts recognize this (or, if this case is appealed and it holds up).
Moreover, the DMCA's anti-circumvention provision does not apply to the
use of copyrighted works after the technological measure has been circumvented,
targeting instead the circumvention itself.... MGE cites no evidence that a GE/PMI
employee or representative was responsible for altering the Pacret and Muguet
software such that a dongle was not required to use the software. Without
proving GE/PMI actually circumvented the technology (as opposed to using
technology already circumvented), MGE does not present a valid DMCA claim....
This doesn't mean, of course, that as long as someone else breaks the lock, you're home free. If you are still violating copyright, there are still serious consequences, and there may still be other issues. Also, this ruling only applies in the Fifth Circuit. However, it is an interesting ruling, and yet another one that pushes back on a company trying to abuse the DMCA's anti-circumvention clause for anti-competitive purposes.