from the looking-back dept
We were looking at what it would take to really reform copyright law thanks to a great paper from Jessica Litman. Meanwhile, one of our readers argued that there was actually a moral argument in favor of file sharing (I found it interesting, but didn't fully agree). Speaking of sharing, the White House was trying to claim that you couldn't modify its official photos, but that's not what copyright law says, since federal government works are public domain. In more bizarre government copyrighting, we discovered that Canada and Europe actually claim a copyright on the design of their currency. A court found that answers to textbook questions were a derivative work of the original, and thus potentially infringing.
The MPAA got some propaganda on 60 Minutes while we were wondering if any of this anti-piracy activity would actually make people buy. The MPAA was also claiming that if piracy wasn't stopped, the internet would die. And, of course, the FCC was looking at letting the MPAA break your TV and DVR because piracy. I was personally annoyed at Hulu for telling me I couldn't watch if I used my VPN.
In other news, Glenn Beck was not allowed to seize the domain name GlennBeckRapedAndMurderedAYoungGirlIn1990.com, despite his attempts. Venezuela was blaming video games for violence. A court said that using a domain registration privacy service was "material falsification and David Brooks claimed that mobile phones were destroying courtship (I wonder what he thinks of Tinder).
Comcast was sure that the solution to customer complaints was to change customers' behavior, rather than its own business model. Retailers wanted a law blaming eBay for shoplifters selling stolen goods. Germany was already looking for blame Google copyright laws to "save newspapers." Oh, and the Obama administration broke out its first attempt to use a "state secrets" claim to kill a lawsuit about warrantless wiretapping.
And finally, we posted some results on our first experiment with asking you, our community, to support us.
Ten Years Ago
Time shifting TV was just catching on while voicemail was dying. Also, AOL was losing customers by the millions, which was funny for those of us who remembered its frequent press releases about each new million signups. Qualcomm spent nearly a billion dollars on a special TV system for mobile phones that absolutely no one wanted. Meanwhile a price war was breaking out in the DVD-by-mail space (remember that?). Oh and the broadband guys were already doing everything possible to block muni broadband competition.
We were wondering if virus writers deserved jailtime while some spammers were getting many years in jail. Meanwhile the feds were trying to track down the fax.com spammers who had been fined many times and just ignored it over and over again.
Bad patents were a big thing, with some company claiming a patent on international e-commerce and another on product recommendations. It was also one of the first times we'd seen a lawsuit over a negative review (and companies still don't seem to realize you can't really sue over that). Oh, and of course, the MPAA was copying the RIAA's bad strategy of suing file sharers.
Fifteen Years Ago
A court ruled that Microsoft was a monopoly while Webvan -- one of the classic dot com bubble startups -- had its IPO right at the height of the bubble era, just as competitor, HomeGrocer raised $100 million. Another classic of the bubble era was the online pet store category. While Pets.com was the most famous there were half a dozen or so competitors. One of them, Petopia, raised $66 million before launching and claimed its "differentiating factor" was it had more money than everyone else. And then, fifteen years ago this week two other online pet stores raised much more money, each breaking $100 million for unproven businesses in a highly competitive market. Think about that when people claim we're in a bubble today. Over in Europe, some folks were trying to copy Silicon Valley's bubble with the infamous boo.com -- and it wasn't going well (for the investors, at least).
Back in 1999, Microsoft was already looking at ebooks while Barnes & Noble bought books.com, which had been an attempt to take on Amazon by Cendant (which, at one time, had been considered an up-and-coming internet company) as well as a big stake in a publishing on demand company.
Fifteen years ago was also the week when we got one of the first absolute nutty web-meme/internet celebrities with the rise of Mahir, the "I Kiss You!!!" guy. His original web page has been moved, but you can see it here, and for you young kids who missed the Mahir phenomenon, you may immediately notice the resemblance to the later Sascha Baron Cohen character Borat -- something that apparently angered Mahir.
Twenty Six Years Ago:
The infamous Morris worm was unleashed on the internet, by Robert Morris -- who was just trying to measure the internet. Instead, it ended up taking down much of the internet, and Morris has the unfortunate claim to fame of being the first person convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). This represented the first of many abuses of the CFAA law, which still is in desperate need of fixing, and which Congress still refuses to fix. On a somewhat related note, years later, Morris went on to cofound YCombinator. Also, in the very first YCombinator class, one of the entrepreneurs was Aaron Swartz, who (as you well know) went on to kill himself while facing criminal charges under the CFAA for downloading too many journal articles from a website he had legal access to. Today would have been Aaron Swartz's 28th birthday (yes, he was born two years to the day before the Morris worm), and there are a bunch of hackathons in his honor going on.