This Week In Techdirt History

from the looking-back-back-back... dept

Five Years Ago:

This was the week of the original Joel Tenenbaum trial, one of the only two (out of tens of thousands of people sued) that the RIAA actually took to court for file sharing. As we’ve explained, both Tenenbaum and the other defendant in the other case, Jammie Thomas Rasset, were horrible defendants who should have settled. The Tenenbaum case was a total disaster as it turns out that he flat out lied (don’t do that). Even worse, his legal team was a complete trainwreck that seemed to have little real strategy. They appeared to bet the farm on a fair use defense that was always a ridiculous long shot (and I’m a big believer in fair use). When the court rejected the fair use argument right upfront, Team Tenenbaum appeared to have no real Plan B, leading to a total disaster of a trial, in which they failed to do the most basic things, like have an economic expert on hand to testify about the (lack of) damages. Given all that, it was no surprise that Tenenbaum lost and lost badly, being tagged for $22,500 per song, or a total of $675,000. The case went through various appeals, all of which failed. It was a bad case from the start and it never should have gone forward.

Meanwhile, we had a fun guest post from Amanda Palmer about how fans want to support artists. The family of a (deceased) artist in Denmark went after a town in Michigan that put up a statue very loosely based on the artist’s own statue… which itself was based on a Hans Christian Anderson story. Oh, and Barnes & Noble claimed that it had to put DRM on public domain books to “protect” the copyright on them. Got it?

We had some misguided lawsuits. A company in France sued Google because Google Maps is free, and that was unfair competition. Taser, makers of the famed stungun technology, sued Second Life because someone had created a virtual Taser. Speaking of misguided: AT&T apparently blocked parts of 4chan. That’s generally not a good idea.

On the patent front, this was our first mention of someone trying to claim a patent on podcasting. And we discussed how the failure of Segway to take over the world was a good demonstration of how people overvalue ideas and undervalue the execution (or, overvalue the invention and undervalue the innovation).

Meanwhile, Barry Diller declared that “free content is a myth” and so we declared that he was a myth, noting that both claims were equally accurate. And, on that note, professional troll/reporter Dan Lyons argued that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube should all start charging. Because obviously that would have helped their business models.

Ten Years Ago:

People were expecting the iPhone… but they’d have to wait three more years. Instead, they got… a really crappy Motorola phone with a slimmed down version of iTunes. You may not remember it now, but it was a big deal the day it was announced, when they thought it was a fabled “iPhone.” And then everyone realized it sucked. And the carriers killed it. And then everyone waited three more years. Speaking of mobile operator idiocy, we were telling them to stop locking down their phones. Seems relevant this week, seeing as President Obama officially signed into law (just yesterday) a bill to legalize (for now) phone unlocking.

Meanwhile, people were just getting used to this whole texting business, leading some to fret about how it was ruining family trips because kids spent the whole time texting. Of course, these days, texting on vacation can be kinda handy to keep tabs on folks. We were curious about the foolish people who respond to spam. An off duty cop decided to mace a couple in a movie theater for answering their phone. And the website JibJab was threatened for doing a parody of “This Land is Your Land,” despite the fact that Woody Guthrie famously explained his view of copyright as follows: “This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”

Fifteen Years Ago:

Universal Pictures was threatening a site called for linking to their site. No joke. The site still has the rather incredible communications exchange between the two. Here’s my favorite line from a lawyer at Universal:

As other Universal representatives previously explained to you, you are not permitted to link to other sites that contain our copyrighted material without our authorization. Not only is this activity another violation of our intellectual property rights, it also violates your internet service provider’s terms of service.

Movie-list, for what it’s worth, helped promote movies, posting their trailers and linking to the movies’ own websites. Universal first demanded all the trailers be removed (which the site complied with) and then sued over the links. Perhaps even more ridiculous was the guy’s ISP, who apparently freaked out when Universal contacted them. Check out this email his ISP sent to the guy who ran movie-list:

You are not a registered search engine, therefore you cannot consider yourself under the same guidelines. Universal HAS contacted us at this time. The situation is now that you must abide WHATEVER Universal insists upon. If not, we will have no choice but to suspend your site. We are bound to do so legally. Please comply with them IMMEDIATELY

Yes, back 15 years ago, it was the age when many people still thought that “deep linking” was illegal. It took until the following spring for a lawsuit to finally make it clear that linking is not infringement.

Meanwhile, this was the middle of the dot com bubble era — and one startup was trying to IPO before it even launched because its entire business model was based on giving away its stock to users (uh, yeah). Even those crazy days, people who jumped head first into the startup game were discovering it isn’t as easy as it looks. Meanwhile, Microsoft was kicking off an effort to become more well-liked in Silicon Valley (this was back in the bad old days when I didn’t write very complete articles, so I never named the guy whose job it was to make Microsoft likeable, and the original article appears to be gone). Oh well.

Oh, and because some things never, ever change, we also wrote about the US government offering tax incentives to companies to provide backdoors in the encryption schemes they used.

Twenty-Five Years Ago:

We weren’t publishing yet, but Robert Morris was ridiculously indicted for the Morris Worm this week. While it did take down the internet, it was never meant to be a malicious attack. Yet Morris was indicted under the (then relatively new) CFAA, becoming the first person indicted under that law. He was eventually sentenced to 400 hours of community service, 3 years of probation and a $10,050 fine — all because his attempt to measure the size of the internet went haywire. He was the first victim of idiotic prosecutions under the CFAA, a law that still hasn’t been fixed despite many others facing bogus charges. Morris went on, of course, to help found YCombinator, though he’s remained mostly out of the public eye. Either way, this should be yet another reminder that it’s time to reform the CFAA.

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Comments on “This Week In Techdirt History”

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Androgynous Cowherd says:

That Microsoft schmoozer

Meanwhile, Microsoft was kicking off an effort to become more well-liked in Silicon Valley (this was back in the bad old days when I didn’t write very complete articles, so I never named the guy whose job it was to make Microsoft likeable, and the original article appears to be gone). Oh well.

His name was Larry Cohen. to the rescue.

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