This Week In Techdirt History

from the looking-way-way-back dept

Five Years Ago

We were wondering if it would ever be possible to implement an evidence-based approach to copyright law, rather than a faith-based approach, as there is today. It especially didn’t seem likely when a top UK politician was wined and dined by entertainment industry’s one week, only to propose criminalizing file sharing the next. We were also looking way, way back to the 6th Century for what was arguably the first copyright trial involving Colmcille, who might be described as the very first “book pirate.” It involved arguments about whether or not one could own the words in a book and whether or not harm was done in copying it. In more modern times, we were discussing how the courts were trying to figure how to divvy up Superman’s copyrights after a big copyright termination fight.

Meanwhile, we couldn’t understand why everyone was so up in arms about literary homage in which someone wrote a “sequel” to classic works and wondered if it was even possible for their to be a fair trial around file sharing when so much of the language around it was inherently biased.

In the world of intellectual property abuse, Reddit was being pressured to censor news of a simple URL hack on the website that suggested it sold grills for cooking babies, research giant Gartner was telling reporters they couldn’t mention its research without permission, and book publishers were jacking up the price of ebooks, because they could. On the patent front, trolls were swooping in to patent anything and everything related to “clean tech” so they’d later be able to demand payment from the companies who did the actual work.

Finally, over in the UK, the IFPI was insisting that the Pirate Part shouldn’t even be allowed to express doubts about copyright law.

Ten Years Ago:

Ten years ago this week Google went public and the long national nightmare of the bursting of the original dot com bubble was officially considered closed. Meanwhile in the big Grokster v. MGM case, Grokster won at the appeals court, agreeing with the district court that, like the Betamax, a file sharing app was just a tool, and shouldn’t be blamed for infringement done by users. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court later reversed that decision by making up (out of thin air) the idea of an “inducement” standard for copyright law. Speaking of inducement, Congress was having trouble passing a law to make “inducement” a violation of copyright law (you’d think the Supreme Court would have noticed this…) and proponents of the law had handed it off to the copyright maximalists at the Copyright Office to see if they could come up with a “compromise.” That compromise never came, and Congress refused to make inducing copyright infringement a form of infringement. The Supreme Court then ignored Congress and created the inducement standard by itself soon after.

There were also a whole lot of bad ideas to ban things going on ten years ago. The US was trying to ban advertisements about gambling websites, Australia was trying to ban access to online porn, the Olympics were trying to ban athletes from talking about their experiences at the Olympics online (?!?) and stores were trying to ban customers from using camera phones lest they make use of them for comparison shopping. That seemed to work out well…

Fifteen Years Ago:

One of my absolute favorite stories of the absolute insanity that was the dot com boom/bubble was when fish oil company Zapata, which was founded by George H.W. Bush, tried to totally reposition itself as an internet company known as The company just seemed to believe if it bought up enough early websites it could become a dot com giant of its own. 15 years ago this week, it announced plans to buy Echo, then a well known NY-based online community. Meanwhile, it appears fifteen years ago was also the first time we wrote about Elon Musk, except we were so confused we called him Elton. Sorry about that, Elton.

Fifteen years ago, we were already concerned about the rise of business method patents. We were also a bit surprised to see AT&T sue Intel over an unpaid $5,000 phone bill.

We were talking about the instant gratification economy thanks to the launch of — an idea that was apparently 15 years ahead of its time. Meanwhile, we were also quite amazed at this crazy idea of letting people broadcast MP3s from their computers to stereo speakers. The future was apparently on the way…

One Hundred And Twenty Six Years Ago

None of us were alive, but William Seward Burroughs received a patent on what was considered to be the first working “adding machine,” kicking off some of what would eventually become the computer revolution. Burroughs had formed the American Arithmometer Company, which later became Burroughs Adding Machine Company, and then just Burroughs Corporation… before eventually merging with Sperry to form Unisys. Burroughs, of course, was also the grandfather of another William S. Burroughs, known for being one of the most well known beat generation writers… who named one collection of his essays The Adding Machine.

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