This Week In Techdirt History: May 8th – 14th

from the wasteland?-perhaps dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2011, the copyright maximalists were out in force. We saw complaints about new TLDs on the basis that they create “more space” for infringement while lobbyists sought to include special censorship capabilities in .net domains. A judge let US Copyright Group move forward with its huge shakedown operation over The Expendables, BMI tried to claim that a person listening to their own music via the cloud counts as a public performance, and the creators of some origami patterns sued a painter whose work was inspired by them. In Portugal, politicians were seeking to make Creative Commons illegal, while in Ireland there was a push for fair use laws that was somehow branded as “radical”. But of course the biggest news was the son of COICA: the hugely problematic PROTECT IP act that had a few good ideas undermined by all the bad ones and had the potential to gut the DMCA safe harbors. Senator Ron Wyden and Rep. Zoe Lofgren were not impressed.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2006, the trademark battle between Apple Computers and the Beatles’ record label came to an end with the judge siding with the former’s definition of iTunes as a data transmission service, not a music store. We saw an early push to make sure taxpayer-funded research is freely available, the dawning realization that video games are a really big deal, and a very silly squabble over the .xxx TLD. The big copyright topic was DRM, with one analyst presenting unconvincing multi-billion-dollar figures for the loss due to a lack of good DRM, even while Hollywood was being held back by its DRM obsession (and its apparent inability to understand BitTorrent). We debunked the idea that copy protection is somehow “necessary” and one of the few people who seemed to understand the problem was the CEO of RealNetworks.

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2001, things were settling into a new post-bubble groove in Silicon Valley, with people realizing that overhyped areas like B2B weren’t dead, they just weren’t exciting and had to be approached like any other business — an attitude that was emerging throughout the world of internet startups. There was even more grappling over new TLDs, an interesting glimpse into the FBI’s tactics against Russian hackers, and of course an ongoing glut of dot com documentaries. We also got some early bumps on the road to things that are much more common now: Microsoft killed off its subscription-based Office offerings with the apparent awareness that they would come back later, inflight WiFi was possible, but not coming to the US anytime soon, and we were clearly a bit too critical of Apple’s plan to start opening retail stores. Also, all the way back in 2001, people were already discussing the still-far-from-complete switch to IPv6.

Fifty-Five Years Ago

Back in 1961, the recently-appointed head of the FCC was Newton N. Minow, and on May 9th of that year he gave a famous speech entitled Television and the Public Interest, but better known as the “vast wasteland” speech. It was a call for creating more television content in the public interest, and contained some hard-to-argue assertions:

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials ? many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.

Fifty years later, he said that he never fully predicted the impact of television, but also that little had changed, noting that “too much deals with covering controversy, crimes, fires, and not enough with the country’s great issues”.

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