Techdirt

by Mike Taylor




Mike Taylor's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week

from the shiny-digital-future dept

Mike Taylor here, and it's my pleasure to be your Posts Of The Week host. By day I'm a computer programmer, working for Index Data, the world's tiniest multinational software house, with a portfolio mostly made up of free software. At night, I transform into a palaeontologist. I study sauropods, the biggest and best of the dinosaurs. I'm an associate researcher at the University of Bristol, UK.

Along with Matt Wedel of Western University, USA, I co-write the palaeontology blog Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week, or SV-POW! for short. Over the last few years, we've found that blog naturally mutating into being 50-50 about sauropods and open access. Lots of our thoughts on the appalling mess that copyright abuse has got scholarly publishing into can be found in the Shiny Digital Future section of our blog.

Saturday brought a welcome reminder that we need to get the basics of copyright right. It's not good enough just reforming bits and pieces in an ad-hoc way -- a change of term here, an orphan works ruling there. We need to start from a proper understanding of what copyright is for (it's right there in the Constitution, folks!), with a recognition that there's no clear Creator/Consumer dichotomy now (if there ever was), and a realistic perspective on how technology is irrevocably changing the field. These aren't new insights -- far from it, they're Techdirt perennials -- but they're worthy of revisiting repeatedly. These should be the foundations of our laws, not afterthoughts.

Sunday gave us a Funniest/Most Insightful Comments post touching on last week's story on how anonymous NSA officials want to murder Edward Snowden. I mention this really as a sneaky excuse to link to my own Martin Luther King Day post, Snowden-haters are on the wrong side of history, where I note the similarity of the rhetoric between Hoover's FBI against King and Clapper's NSA against Snowden. Ever notice how we don't have a J. Edgar Hoover Day?

(In a similar vein, later in the week, see Before Snowden, Nixon Admin Pioneered Evidence-Free 'Russian Spy' Smears Against Daniel Ellsberg.)

Monday ... was quiet.

Tuesday saw confirmation that the Department of Homeland Security yanked a guy out of a movie and interrogated him for hours because they didn't like his glasses. This was a man who wears Google Glass as his regular spectacles with prescription lenses, and who of course had them turned off as he watched the movie. Apparently that gets you a grilling from the federal government now. As the DHS helpfully explains on its own web-site, "The Department of Homeland Security has a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face. [...] Our duties are wide-ranging, but our goal is clear - keeping America safe." Safe from men wearing spectacles.

(See also ICE Takes To Twitter In Ridiculous Attempt To Defend Interrogating A Man In A Movie Theater For Wearing Google Glass.)

Better news on Wednesday as the Supreme Court reaffirmed something lower courts seem insistent on getting wrong: that in patent cases, the burden of proof is with the patent holder. This is good news because patents, originally intended as an incentive for innovation, far more often turn out to be impediments. The idea that the accused party is guilty until proven innocent is pure gravy to patent trolls, and it's encouraging to see anything that helps to bulldoze them out of the path of the Future Train.

And more good news on Thursday, from a most unlikely source. Microsoft have traditionally been Bad Guys, the owner-operators of a monopoly operating system that's modeled all that's bad about proprietary software, and taught a generation of people that daily crashes are normal, and a new computer can be expected to function well for about a year before it starts mysteriously slowing down and generally not working. It's well documented that Microsoft have abused their monopoly.

But today they're the Good Guys. All of Microsoft Research's papers will be published open access, free for the world to read. Their actual policy is not particularly detailed -- crucially, it says nothing about what license the papers will use -- but we can expect to see that firmed up, and hope that they will use the minimally restrictive Creative Commons Attribution license that's favored by major open-access players like BioMed Central, The Public Library of Science and PeerJ because it allows the freedom to re-use as well as to read.

"Many are the strange chances of the world", said Mithrandir, "And help oft shall come from the hands of the weak when the Wise falter." -- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Rounding off the week, Friday showed us that while copyright abuse is common and patents hardly seem to have any other use but abuse, trademarks are perfectly capable of holding their own when it comes to the Unholy Trinity of abused intellectual properties. King, who make the popular game Candy Crush, have somehow managed to obtain a trademark on the word "candy". Not the phrase "candy crush", you understand -- which would make some sense. But the word "candy".

Frankly, this one baffles me. I can understand the motivation of patent trolls: they hope to leech free money out of society by coercing productive citizens into buying licenses for their patents. I can understand why copyright holders abuse their rights to squeeze more money out of customers. But I just don't see where the revenue stream is in this kind of trademark abuse. It's not possible to sell a license to use a trademark, so what's in it for King? I just don't get it.

Finally, and speaking of abusing a right, I'd like to take the opportunity of abusing this platform to draw attention to a speech I heard about this week. It was given by Labour MP Michael Meacher on 13 January in the House of Commons (UK): poverty in Britain. Admittedly, this isn't a techie issue; but it's relevant to Techdirt readers because Techdirt readers are human beings:

There are at least 345 food banks [...] Emergency food aid was given to 350,000 households [...] The Red Cross is setting up centers to help the destitute, just as it does in developing countries.

This in a country with the 6th highest GDP in the world. This would be appalling even if it was just an unavoidable consequence of the global economic downturn; but as Meacher's speech shows, it's largely the result of deliberate government policies, particularly benefit sanctions. Horrifying, disgraceful and shameful. We have to find a better way.

Sorry to sign off on such a negative note, but this is important and needs to be widely known. Let's hope next week brings better news.


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2014 @ 5:37pm

    Re: Re: "Google is voluntary." -- Now there's a good brazen LIE.

    "Blue has always insisted that it's easy to just go without media that you can't acquire legally"

    it does not matter what is "easier" or not, 'easier' is not a defence for theft. The point is YOU WANT IT, therefore you value it on some level (if you did not value it you would not want it) legal or not, you feel if you value something (but are not willing to pay for it) you have 'the right' to acquire it illegally, with the excuse its "easier" to not pay for it, or to acquire it.

    so you want it, you consider it of value to you, so you want it (demand), and you value it (value), but because you have to pay for something you want and value and you have an 'easier' way to acquire it you feel you have the right to take what you want and value for free, that is simple theft.

    If it has value for you (even if you would prefer to steal it) then it has far more value to the person or group who created it, and enough value for honest people to accept that value and pay for it, in turn maintaining its value of it to the person who made it.

    Its clear if you did not want it and you did not value it you would not want to steal it.

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