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Posted on Techdirt - 25 June 2011 @ 12:00pm

Richard's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week

from the favorites-favorites-and-more-favorites dept

This week's favorites post comes from Richard, who's from the UK, but will hopefully forgive my removing of the extraneous "u's" from the word "favorite."

This is the first time I've done the favorites post, so it is a bit of an adventure for me. I've decided to start with the "Good News" because there was actually quite a lot of it this week.

Firstly, on the legal front, there have been a number of good decisions in the courts. In an echo of what happened to ACS law in the UK earlier in the year Righthaven has been slapped down a number of times, and there is some possibility that this could go further than just losing the cases. There are (as I write) actually three Techdirt stories on this, but the biggest (and most commented on) is this one. The key point about this particular story is that the judge has not just rejected Righthaven for lack of standing, he has also indicated that even if Righthaven had standing they would still lose on grounds of fair use. Sadly the comments on this story are swamped with largely irrelevant arguments, but you can get it down to a small number of useful contributions by selecting only insightful comments.

My second favorite piece of legal good news came early in the week with the decision in New York that safe harbours can apply in pretty broad sets of circumstances. It is really important that the creep of secondary liability is arrested before it gets too far, and this ruling draws a useful line in the sand.

Another kind of good news is when someone who previously had a reputation for IP maximalism takes a new direction. This category contains the somewhat unlikely combination of J.K.Rowling and the Mexican Congress. The Mexicans have apparently decided to reject ACTA, which is surprising, given Mexico's extreme copyright length of life+100. J.K. Rowling's good news is a move into ebooks with no DRM. Given her previous history, this is something to be celebrated.

Of course, it can't all be good, and so I have decided to institute the "Victor Meldrew Award" (for those outside the UK or unfamiliar with the TV character, his catchphrase was "I don't believe it!" and the character saw himself as a "normal man in a world full of idiots"). Righthaven figures in this category too in the guise of a bizarre argument made by "Plessy Ferguson" that the Righthaven rulings somehow threaten Open Source licenses. Clearly the author of this argument didn't understand Copyright law, Open Source Licences or the Righthaven ruling because it makes no sense on any of these counts. Righthaven lost because they attempted to transfer the right to sue without transferring any other exclusive rights. Opens source licenses don't even attempt to transfer these rights. The copyright for each component of an open source system remains with its original author (unless explicitly assigned to someone else such as the FSF in a separate transaction). Finally, Copyright law does not require you to hold the rights to every part of a program in order to sue for a breach of the license. You only need to hold the rights to some of it. Sadly, many commenters didn't seem to understand these points either, so the comments were full of "educational material"!

On a side issue regarding Righthaven's dealings with Stephens Media, it seems to me that the transfer of the right to sue only enables one scenario, which is as follows. Someone infringes on the Copyright (still held by Stephens Media). Righthaven can't sue them (according to the court ruling) but what if Stephens media sues them? Well, they've transferred the "right to sue" to Righthaven - so now Righthaven can sue Stephens Media for infringement of their right to sue! The net effect of the legal knot created by the deal is thus to effectively put the original material into the public domain because no-one can exert the copyright! I'm pretty sure that wasn't the intention of Stephens Media when they set this scheme up...

Another bizarre argument was put forward by a small UK lobbying organisation, claiming that a lack of software patents was damaging the UK software industry. Well, apart from the fact that the UK does in practice actually have some software patents, the logic here was unbelievable and the evidence lacking.

Other Meldrew contenders this week included the Winklevii, yet again pursuing Facebook after only recently appearing to give up and our usual suspects Apple and Disney who seem to think that there should be (is?) one law for them and another for everyone else! Microsoft was caught playing the same game last week - but that's outside my brief! Those who are familiar with Victor Meldrew will remember that the show had its darker side, and indeed finished in that mode. This week saw a "dark Meldrew event" when a woman was arrested by police for filming them from her own property. The antics of the TSA are often in the same vein and would probably win this award quite frequently if it was run every week.

This leads us on to events that are worrying -- but not bizarre enough to be surprising. There's usually quite a lot of this unfortunately, often from Sony who seem to be determined to stop any creative use of their equipment from happening. Abuse of the patent system is another common cause for concern; in this case BitTorrent is being sued on the thinnest of pretexts. Then there is our old friend the copyright lobbyist. The UK variety is in the news this week with an attempt to set up web censorship behind the public's back. The minister concerned, in a move reminiscent of Pontius Pilate, seems to want it to go ahead -- but without (visible) government involvement, presumably so he can give the lobbyists what they want but avoid the blame from the public. US lobbyists have been active too, this time trying to shift the cost of the Herculean task of copyright enforcement onto the public purse. Of course international lobbyists have not been quiet either, trying to get a monopoly on the process of deciding the exceptions to copyright.

After all this negativity, I thought I would end on a positive note with my personal favourites from the "DailyDirt" postings. The sock sorting robot seemed appealing, until I realised that the video is hugely speeded up. So my personal selection here is the post on Open Source Hardware. I've long believed that Open Source software really needs to run on open hardware, but this video showed how the collaborative ideal is extending beyond computing into other fields. Have a look at it. It will cheer you up!

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