This Week In Techdirt History

from the lookin'-way-way-back dept

Five Years Ago:

An entertainment industry lawyer (who now works for the MPAA) tried to make the ridiculous argument that people disliked the RIAA because they hated the music business. We argued, in response, that it seemed a lot more likely that people hate the RIAA because of its actions, which included ripping off musicians and suing fans. But, you know, everyone’s got opinions. And, of course, the fact that the RIAA was getting million dollar plus awards against people sharing two dozen songs really endeared them to the public as well. Speaking of which, the DOJ went on record saying that awards of $80,000 per song for sharing a song didn’t seem all that oppressive or unconstitutional. We also had a story about how the Premier League’s fear of the internet was a perfect case study in what not to do. Five years later and it’s clear that the Premier League has learned… absolutely nothing.

There was some bad news on the copyright vs. innovation front as copyright was winning out. In a critical case, an appeals court overturned a lower court ruling and declared that a DVD jukebox backup system infringed on copyrights by breaking DVD DRM. This was the same week that a judge issued an injunction against another DVD copying product, RealDVD.

On the flip side, we had a story about copyright scholar William Patry pointing out the obvious: it’s not copyright that creates value, but people’s willingness to pay for something. This was also the introduction of Tom Bell’s wonderful Mickey Mouse Curve for copyright, which continues to show up in various debates on copyright terms. There was also a really good fair use ruling, involving a book of monster movie posters, with a court ruling that the use of the posters was fair use, even though it used the entire post images and the work was a commercial effort. That ruling remains a key one for fair use based on the work being “transformative.”

Guess what? The FCC was ignoring the public again. It had set up a bunch of “workshops” to discuss its national broadband plan, but nearly all of the speakers were associated with… big broadband players. Because, of course.

There were also a series of… just wacky things happening this week five years ago: Insurance company ICBC sued a website, saying it was infringing by telling people how to avoid having their claims denied. RSA threatened a guy with trademark infringement for daring to point out that the Navy Federal Credit Union website let people login from an unsecured page. RSA insisted that it was trademark infringement to claim the page wasn’t secure. Yikes. On the trademark front, we had Walmart trying to abuse trademark law to shut down a union website. Big pharmaceutical companies were abusing patent law to seize and destroy legitimate generic drugs while in transit. And a very angry patent-loving guy in Oregon, nicknamed the Patent Hawk (who stops by here on occasion to hurl insults) tried to file an amicus brief in a key Supreme Court case on software patents. For reasons that still don’t make sense, he filed the brief claiming it was on behalf of the entire state of Oregon, leading state officials to say they had no idea who he was and certainly didn’t authorize such a brief. Meanwhile, Encyclopedia Britannica tried to abuse some patents it had covering GPS functionality, but failed (thankfully).

Ending on some good news: a court in New Hampshire said that demanding a settlement after filing a bogus lawsuit was a form of extortion. It’s too bad more courts don’t agree just yet. And… it’s been five years since RECAP launched, saving us all a bunch of money on PACER, the electronic court docketing system — a system that still should be free.

Ten Years Ago

We were writing about giant patent troll Acacia using a bogus patent to threaten universities that streamed content online. Meanwhile, we noted that patent battles might slow innovation in anti-spam offerings. Ten years ago, eBay ended up getting 25% of Craigslist after an early employee sold his shares. That resulted in a rather nasty legal fight four years later.

A decade ago, we wrote about a good explanation for how innovation and intellectual property didn’t work well together, talking about how important it is to get ideas and information out into the world, rather than hoarding it. Also, there was a discussion by some who wondered if it could really be infringement to download TV shows that were broadcast over the air, since it would be hard to argue there was any harm at all. Of course, ten years later (in the wake of the Aereo decision and many other legal rulings) this argument seems fairly naive. But, still, there is a point there.

On the wireless front, people were arguing for much more open spectrum a fight that goes on today, while also speculating about whether or not Walmart might put wireless towers on each of its stores and create its own national wireless ISP (that didn’t happen).

Fifteen Years Ago

The billions that were sunk into the global satellite phone company Iridium went up in smoke as the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Search engine AltaVista (remember them?) tried to stay hip by offering free dialup access (remember dialup?). Red Hat had its IPO. We weren’t too sure about this concept known as “electronic books”, but we also weren’t very surprised that Microsoft Internet Explorer had been crushing Netscape, since Netscape had basically given up on improving its browser.

Seventy-two years ago

Famed actress Hedy Lamarr received US Patent 2,292,387 on a “secret communications system” that was basically spread spectrum frequency hopping — a concept that became a key part of many important wireless technologies, including WiFi, Bluetooth and some mobile phone systems.

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