This Week In Techdirt History: September 20th – 27th

from the a-week!-a-week! dept

Five Years Ago

We sort of foreshadowed this last week, but five years ago this week, we had our little dust-up with singer Lily Allen — something I still can’t quite understand. It started with Lily posting a bit of a rant against file sharing, which we felt was a bit misguided. Then, Lily decided to double down and set up an entire blog entitled “It’s Not Alright” in which she apparently planned to discuss how copying and file sharing was simply “not alright.” Except… her very first post happened to be her copying an entire Techdirt article (without credit or a link). The copied article was about 50 Cent’s more enlightened view on copyright. Lily reposted our entire article and then slammed 50 Cent. We noted that we have no problem with anyone copying our articles, but it sure seemed strange for Ms. Allen to create an entire blog post about how “it’s not alright” to copy, and then copied our entire article (again, without credit).

Allen then updated her website with an semi-apology to me, while still insisting that she thought it was “quite obvious” that she “wasn’t trying to pass off those words” as her own. Of course, that wasn’t the concern. Very little copyright infringement is about plagiarism (which is about passing off someone else’s words as your own). Our point was merely that perhaps her views on copying being “not alright” weren’t entirely well thought out when she, herself, clearly copied our words without a thought. But then it got stranger. That’s because someone alerted us to the fact that part of the way Lily became famous was distributing mixtapes, which mixed in her music with lots of other famous recording artists. Now, lots of musicians do this. It’s considered pretty common these days, but it doesn’t make it any less infringing. Even more bizarre was that these mixtapes were being distributed off of Allen’s official website, which had a big copyright notice on it, courtesy of her label, EMI. So, for someone speaking out about how it was “not alright” to copy others, she sure didn’t seem to take heed of that herself.

Lily responded by “answering some questions,” but it really just repeated her claims about it’s “not alright.” She didn’t address the hypocritical nature of her own copying (and distributing) of others’ works. She also insisted that music couldn’t be free. We asked her some questions that we hoped she’d actually answer, including about her own use of free, while slamming the concept of free. Following this, she put up a big blog post that tried to respond to my questions, but which we felt missed the mark. Her post was only up for a few hours, and as I was writing about it, she not only took the post down, but the whole blog down, never to return. The next day she showed up at an event, and suddenly people were claiming that there were horrible attacks online against her leading some people to accuse me of attacking her for merely pointing out inconsistencies in her statements and actions (a recording industry lawyer insisted that I lead “my army” of internet “hackers” to attack her — which is all sorts of hilarious). A few days later, she claimed she was quitting music altogether, something that almost no one believed to be true, and which wasn’t true. She did, eventually, release more music, including a song attacking internet trolls. It was quite a week.

It wasn’t all Lily Allen that week. This was also the week that a bank screwed up and sent confidential info to someone’s Gmail account, leading a judge to order Google to kill the entire account — a reaction that seemed a bit on the extreme side. Meanwhile, Mark Helprin, who wrote a book about how awful the internet was (spending way too much time dissecting anonymous Techdirt comments), blamed the plethora of bad reviews of the book on the fact that publishers asked the people he insulted (all of us internet shut ins, of course) to review the book (or, maybe, the book just sucked). Meanwhile, an author in New Zealand claimed that libraries were engaging in grand theft by loaning books.

CAFC was being CAFC and said that you could patent medical diagnostics in the Mayo Clinic case, setting up an epic smackdown from the Supreme Court that set the framework for future epic smackdowns, including the most recent in the Alice ruling. Texas Instruments was angry at calculator hackers and some ridiculous Canadian professor tried to insist that an injunction that would stop the sale of Microsoft Word due to a questionable patent infringement claim would be good for society because patents patents patents. Speaking of patents and craziness, a ridiculous SLAPP suit against Rick Frenkel, who had blogged anonymously as the “patent troll tracker” was set to begin, though it settled quickly (after all, the goal was really just to out Frenkel).

In other news, DMCA safe harbors are super important, people aren’t that interested in paying for news and DRM doesn’t enable business models. Oh, and I still love this story about a clothing firm pirating their own clothes.

Ten Years Ago:

Judge Baer tossed out part of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act that said selling bootlegs was copyright infringement, saying it basically granted perpetual copyright. Unfortunately, the appeals court overruled him later. Patents were in the news: patents were piling up in search and in WiFi, foreshadowing some patent troll fights to come. Someone claimed that merely offering internet access in public spaces was patented. Netflix was taking tentative steps towards offering downloadable movies while people were already suggesting that the price of music downloads needed to drop.

The 9/11 Commission Report was both public domain and available totally free — and yet was a massive best seller. And yet some people still insist that you can’t make money off of free or without copyright? A UK newspaper felt that if it pulled some of it content off the web that would make more people buy the paper edition (wonder how that worked out). Meanwhile, electronic voting machines continued to mysteriously lose votes.

In the telco world, people were talking about the insanity of phone bills that had more unadvertised fees than the official “cost” of the service. Telcos were still fighting back against muni-broadband and broadcasters were still resistant to freeing up spectrum. Some things never change.

Fifteen Years Ago:

Still in the heart of the dot com bubble, NetZero, the free ISP went public at a $3 billion valuation. Speaking of free, a new registrar was launching that would offer you free domain names, but you had to run their ads on your site. Virginia was claiming that it was the “Capital of the Internet” which never made much sense. Yahoo was setting up its own taxis in San Francisco. It could have been Uber! We were talking about an early music storage locker and predicting a day when your phone could stream your music from the internet no matter where you were (not a bad prediction).

The NY Times, in its typically curmudgeon fashion, was bothered by the idea of people using instant messaging at work. And, yes, there was patent trouble, as NCR was claiming that Netscape violated its patents.

Four Hundred And Thirty Four Years Ago:

Sir Francis Drake finished his circumnavigation of the globe, the second trip to do so. Of course, since Drake is widely considered to be a pirate, I’d have to say this marks the first ever “global pirate scourge.”

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Comments on “This Week In Techdirt History: September 20th – 27th”

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Anonymous Coward says:

i read the part about Lily Allen with a smirk on my face. like all people who have found fame, she thinks she is exempt from whatever laws she doesn’t like. copyright infringement only counts when it’s an ordinary, unwealthy person who has been charged with committing this most despicable of crimes. when it is a studio, an artist, a member of Congress or Parliament or a member of Law Enforcement, the copyright infringement is ignored at best or the permission is magically given with no charges levied! this makes it to me not a case of copyright infringement but a case of class discrimination! ie, the haves can have this as well for free while have nots can be screwed into the ground, just because they are only ordinary people, the fans who actually made the famous what they are!!

Anonymous Coward says:

The Lily Allen fiasco was epic. Watching that self-ordained prima donna of such arrogance and hypocrisy get ripped to shreds by Mike and others made for some great entertainment. She was even slammed by fellow singer Joss Stone as a talentless plug.

But alas, it was somewhat tragic to see Lily Allen reappearing on a promotional blitz recently, after staying quiet for so long that some people might have wondered if she was actually planning on keeping her promise to quit the music business permanently (sadly, no such luck).

ryuugami says:

injunction that would stop the sale of Microsoft Word due to a questionable patent infringement claim would be good for society

To be fair, he was probably right, if for wrong reasons. Imagine the influx of users OpenOffice/LibreOffice would get if this happened! While I don’t have qualms about using closed-source software (hell, I’m on Win7 at the moment), I despise closed formats. Many, many years of developer time were wasted reverse-engineering MSOffice file formats so you could read and edit them without paying the Microsoft tax, and it still only somewhat works, often screwing up the formatting.

This wouldn’t be half as bad if MS Office wasn’t a defacto standard for all kinds of official documents, thus forcing you to pay. You hear that, universities and agencies around the globe? DO NOT FORCE ME TO BUY SOFTWARE I DO NOT OTHERWISE NEED, just so I could send you a correctly formatted document that could have been written in notepad for all the bells-and-whistles advanced MSWord features it does not use.

Sorry for the rant.

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