This Week In Techdirt History

from the back-again dept

Another week, another fifteen years to look back over.

Five Years Ago:

In the wake of the Jammie Thomas ruling, which we discussed in last week’s look back, Moby said the RIAA should be disbanded and Richard Marx (whose music was included in the lawsuit) apologized to Thomas. Meanwhile, the RIAA insisted that the ruling showed that the public is against file sharing. I think it really showed just how delusional the RIAA can be at times. Meanwhile, newspapers were accusing Google of being a “digital vampire” while judge Richard Posner was bizarrely suggesting that copyright law get a special extension just to protect newspapers from the likes of Google.

Comcast and Time Warner were working hard to limit your ability to watch TV online while ASCAP was insisting that when your phone rang in public, it was a public performance for which it should get compensated (that argument didn’t fly in court). A town in Connecticut, however, told ASCAP and BMI to take a hike when they tried to demand royalties from local establishments.

Amanda Palmer was in her early days of successfully experimenting with forms of crowdfunding, while Mythbusters Adam Savage was learning the horrors of insane international roaming fees for mobile phones. Tivo cynically bought a bull in Marshall, Texas in a weak (failed) attempt to influence a jury there in a patent trial. In a preview of today’s cab driver fights against Uber, cab drivers were screaming mad about free competition in Tampa.

Oh, and someone realized that if copyright law had been around in the time of Shakespeare, we’d probably not have a bunch of his classic plays today.

Ten Years Ago:

The MPAA’s Jack Valenti was trying to rewrite history to edit out his claim to Congress that the VCR would kill the movie industry. And, on cue, his buddy, Senator Orrin Hatch was pushing a pair of absolutely terrible copyright bills in Congress: the INDUCE Act to make inducement copyright infringement and the PIRATE Act to let the FBI work on civil copyright cases as the private police force of Hollywood. Thankfully both failed to become law, though the Supreme Court effectively made the INDUCE Act law with its Grokster decision not too long after that.

Ten years ago, SBC (which became AT&T) was promising to install fiber to the home. Amusingly, we just mentioned that again this week in highlighting how AT&T has a long history of lying about these things, as it did ten years ago. Thankfully, ten years ago we were pretty skeptical, noting that the company has a history of promising things and not delivering. Turns out we were right.

Tiffany sued eBay for not policing counterfeit goods, kicking off a years-long process that (eventually) ended in courts making it clear that eBay is not liable. Those rulings have been quite important, so I guess we should thank Tiffany for losing those cases.

Finally, ten years ago this week, SpaceShipOne became the first private space ship to break the space barrier, kicking off the private space race that is still underway today. This is one of those stories that still feels like it just happened recently to me… How time flies.

Fifteen Years Ago:

We were marveling over the idea of coupons sent to mobile phones and the brave new world of online banking. Some foolish people were still using analog mobile phones that were easily hacked, leading some enterprising hackers to rebroadcast calls they were intercepting via Shoutcast. If someone did that today, the DOJ would try to lock them up for decades. And, a study found that people were more truthful over email. I wonder if that would still be true today…

146 Years Ago:

Christopher Latham Sholes patented the typewriter, though he soon “disowned the machine and refused to use, or even to recommend it.” The patent (US 79,265) was sold off for $12,000.

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Comments on “This Week In Techdirt History”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I’m assuming that Sholes disowned the typewriter because the day after he got his patent, the US PTO started granting patents to other people for things like:

1. Assembling letters in a sequence to form a word “on a typewriter.”
2. Communicating ideas using narrative devices “on a typewriter.”
3. Making silly lists “on a typewriter.”

At least he didn’t have to deal with Amazon, who would’ve owned “Forming shapes using dark ink on a white background.”

zip says:

Re: Re:

By today’s standards, it’s amazing that something as useful as the typewriter would have only a single patent applied for. Any equivalent device today would probably need at least a thousand patents to cover every conceivable function, user interaction, and future product improvement.

Or would a mere thousand patents be enough in today’s market? I believe Apple’s iPhone has several thousand patents on it already — with more being added at a rate of about a thousand per year.

Interestingly, the US patent office has given up it’s 19th century habit of granting pseudo-science patents such as the ones involving perpetual-motion machines and other nonsense. (perhaps the only class of patents that have never stifled technological advancement or hurt commerce)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

the US patent office has given up…granting pseudo-science patents…the only class of patents that have never stifled technological advancement

I’d never thought of it from that angle before. Something is definitely bent (if not broken) when a system now does more harm by supporting the obviously useful than it used to do by supporting the obviously nonsensical. I’d rather see a patent for a “device facilitating communication with ghosts” than one for “one-click ordering.”

While it may be oversimplifying things, I still think Thomas Edison bears more than a little responsibility for the current state of patent practices. History tends to rewrite his words of wisdom: his most famous quote was actually “Genius is one percent lawyers and ninety-nine percent other people’s ideas.”

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