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Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.


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HR 3699

Kudos to Kevin Zelnio, who shoots down the self-serving rationales behind the so-called Research Works Act recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Darrell Issa and Carolyn Maloney. This piece of legislation would reverse the National Institute of Health's open access policy, which requires that all tax-payer funded research be available to the public for free. Kevin's piece appears in Scientific American's blog, and is well worth the read.

"Another bad day in the mobile software patents war"

Via ZDNet yet another example of why we need to get rid of patents on software.

Too big to fail is too big

Exquisite Irony

Sometimes a picture really is worth the thousand words that appear in the actual op-ed.

The irony of asserting that Shakespeare would have had any use for copyright is rich. The bard routinely stole other authors stories, characters, and conflicts, and remade them (remixed?) into the plays and language that we still read and perform today. And there is no evidence whatsoever that Shakespeare ever appealed to the copyright law of time (the so-call Royal Charter of 1557) to protect his own work. There is ample evidence that he took steps to keep his work from being stolen -- by making sure that no printer or scribe saw a full manuscript, and limiting actors to only the material they needed to properly learn and perform their parts. But copyright? No. I also suspect that were Shakespeare alive and working today, he would have been appalled by the Sonny Bono Mickey Mouse copyright extension act.

Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it

There is an interesting article in today's Business Section of the New York Times that asks the question of whether Apple's business culture with respect to the iPhone is taking it down the same path it went down with respect to the Macintosh which saw it eventually lose out to Microsoft in the market for home computing. This question refers, of course, to Apple's culture of control over the market for apps on the iPhone, which is reminiscent of its demands in the 1980's and '90's that application developers wishing to write code for the Macintosh had to apply for and pay for licenses from Apple before Apple would release the necessary application program interface code to the developer.

It would seem natural to conjecture that the openness of the Android operating system could eventually lead to the same kind of market tipping phenomenon that saw the Mac lose out to the PC for business adoption. That said, it isn't clear where the needed network externalities are coming from in this case, since wireless communication technology is pretty standard.

Against Monopoly

Reposted with permission from Creative Commons:

ASCAP's Attack on Creative Commons

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has launched a campaign to raise money from its members to hire lobbyists to protect them against the dangers of "Copyleft." Groups such as Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are "mobilizing," ASCAP describes in a letter to its members, "to promote 'Copyleft' in order to undermine our 'Copyright.'" "[O]ur opponents are influencing Congress against the interests of music creators," ASCAP warns. Indeed, as the letter ominously predicts, this is ASCAP's "biggest challenge ever." (Historians of BMI might be a bit surprised about that claim in particular.)

As a founding board member of two of those three organizations, and former board member of the third, I guess I should be proud that a 96 year old organization would be so terrified of our work. And I would be if there were anything in this fundraising pitch that was actually true.

But there is not. Creative Commons, Public Knowledge and EFF are not aiming to "undermine" copyright; they are not spreading the word that "music should be free"; and there is certainly not yet any rally within Congress in favor of any of the issues that these groups do push.

I know Creative Commons best, so let me address ASCAP's charges as they apply to it.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit that provides copyright licenses pro bono to artists and creators so that they can offer their creative work with the freedom they intend it to carry. (Think not "All Rights Reserved" but "Some Rights Reserved.") Using these licenses, a musician might allow his music to be used for noncommercial purposes (by kids making a video, for example, or for sharing among friends), so long as attribution to the artist is kept. Or an academic might permit her work to be shared for whatever purpose, again, so long as attribution is maintained. Or a collaborative project such as a wiki might guarantee that the collective work of the thousands who have built the wiki remains free for everyone forever. Hundreds of millions of digital objects from music to video to photographs to architectural designs to scientific journals to teachers lesson plans to books and to blogs have been licensed in this way, and by an extraordinarily diverse range of creators or rights holders including Nine Inch Nails, Beastie Boys, Youssou N'Dour, Curt Smith, David Byrne, Radiohead, Jonathan Coulton, Kristin Hersh, and Snoop Dogg, as well as Wikipedia and the White House.

These licenses are, obviously, copyright licenses. They depend upon a firm and reliable system of copyright for them to work. Thus CC could have no interest in "undermining" the very system the licenses depend upon copyright. Indeed, to the contrary, CC only aims to strengthen the objectives of copyright, by giving the creators a simpler way to exercise their rights.

These licenses are also (and also obviously) voluntary. CC has never argued that anyone should waive any of their rights. (I've been less tolerant towards academics, but I have never said that any artist is morally obligated to waive any right granted to her by copyright.)

And finally, these licenses reveal no objective to make "music free." Nine Inch Nails, for example, have earned record sales from songs licensed under Creative Commons licenses.

Instead, the only thing Creative Commons wants to make free is artists free to choose how best to license their creative work. This is one value we firmly believe in that copyright was meant for authors, and that authors should have the control over their copyright.

This isn't the first time that ASCAP has misrepresented the objectives of our organization. But could we make it the last? We have no objection to collective rights organizations: They too were an innovative and voluntary solution (in America at least) to a challenging copyright problem created by new technologies. And I at least am confident that collecting rights societies will be a part of the copyright landscape forever.

So here's my challenge, ASCAP President Paul Williams: Let's address our differences the way decent souls do. In a debate. I'm a big fan of yours, and If you'll grant me the permission, I'd even be willing to sing one of your songs (or not) if you'll accept my challenge of a debate. We could ask the New York Public Library to host the event. I am willing to do whatever I can to accommodate your schedule.

Let's meet and address these perceived differences with honesty and good faith. No doubt we have disagreements (for instance, I love rainy days, and Mondays rarely get me down). But on the issues that your organization and mine care about, there should be no difference worthy of an attack.

Meanwhile, you can read more about Creative Commons here, and support its response to the ASCAP campaign here.

Goldman's Somali Operation

Check it out on the Borowitz Report

Our government makes up data?

Via Afterdawn, the U.S. Government Accounting Office has issued a report that indicates that the FBI, Federal Trade Commission, and the U.S. Border Patrol have simply made up numbers about losses the entertainment industries have incurred due to internet piracy. And, of course, the RIAA and the MPAA have happily passed these numbers along.

American Broadband

Scientific American has a gloss in this month's issue on the decline of U.S. broadband access over the first decade of the 21st century (no link provided because access is limited to paying subscribers):

At the turn of the millennium, the U.S. had some of the best broadband access in the world. It reached more homes, and at a lower price, than most every other industrial country. Ten years later the U.S. is a solid C-minus student, ranking slightly below average on nearly every metric.

Just how the U.S. lost its edge and how it plans to get it back are the issues before the Federal Communications Commission as it prepares to launch the most significant overhaul of network policy since the birth of the Web. As part of last year's stimulus package, Congress provided $7.2 billion to expand broadband access to every American. It also required the FCC to outline a plan for how to make that happen. The outcome of the FCC's deliberations, due February 17, could determine not just control over the broadband infrastructure but also the nature of the Internet itself.

The reason for this decline can be traced the the FCC's decision (under the stewardship of Bush administration appointees) to exempt the telecoms and cable companies from the open access provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which forced the local telephone monopolies to grant access on reasonable terms to any and all long-distance telephone service providers. The result of this act was a dramatic reduction in long-distance phone costs, and a corresponding decline in profits for the telecoms.

The exemption the FCC put in place for broadband services has had the direct effect of putting the U.S. in a distinctly inferior position on broadband access across a variety of metrics, most notably download speeds and cost of service. But Verizon and Comcast love it. With the FCC now under new management, it looks as though it is poised to rescind the previous rules and bring open access back to internet services.

David and Michele Op-Ed

In the Christian Science Monitor

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Most Recent Comments

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Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

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