Monthly Archives: April 2010


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German Court Says Google Image Search Doesn’t Infringe On Copyrights

Over in Germany, a court has ruled that Google does not infringe on the copyright for images when it displays thumbnails of those images in its image search. This is, obviously, quite a good ruling. If it had gone the other way, it would have effectively killed Google’s image search. While there are some similarities to the court rulings against Perfect 10 (who has sued various search engines for displaying thumbnails) in the US, there is one major difference. With Perfect 10, the complaints were mainly about search engines indexing images copied/scanned by others. In this German case, the artist was upset that Google showed images that she, herself, put on the website. It seems that this particular point made a strong impression on the judge, who noted that “The plaintiff made the content of her site available without using technical tools to block search engines from finding and displaying her works,” and because of that, Google “was allowed to interpret the plaintiff’s behavior as agreeing to use her works in image searches.” Always nice to see a reasonable ruling.

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Apple Bought Lala To Shut It Down?

I’ve been a pretty harsh critic of Lala over the years. The company was long on hype and short on substance with its ever changing business model. First it was a CD swapping service. Then it was a free streaming music service. Then it was an iTunes-in-the-cloud. Still, the final product was decent, and with a bit of work could take on Spotify in the market. When Apple swooped in and bought Lala late last year, many people got excited over the possibility of Apple creating its own streaming music service that really could be seamless.

Instead, it looks like Apple bought Lala to shut it down. Just five months or so after purchasing it, Apple has announced that Lala will be closing at the end of May, pissing off lots of users. Now, it’s entirely possible (or even likely) that Apple is timing the shutdown with a launch of a totally new streaming iTunes-in-the-cloud type service, but it does seem weird to buy a company and shut it down so quickly, and raises questions of whether or not the purchase was really about building out Apple’s offerings, or about shutting down a nascent competitor just before Apple launched its own version. Also, if the plan is to launch its own version, why “shut down” Lala? Why not just transfer them over to the new service?

In the meantime, Spotify still hasn’t launched in the US, but you would think that now might be a good time to step in and sign up disgruntled Lala listeners — before Apple really enters the market…

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USTR Announces What Countries Have Been Naughty When It Comes To Intellectual Property

Every year, the USTR puts out its “Special 301” report, which tries to name and shame countries whose intellectual property laws and enforcement don’t live up to some mythical standard. The report is not objective. It’s not based on data. It’s basically based on the entertainment industry and the pharma industry telling the USTR which countries they don’t like… and the USTR taking their words and putting them into a report. It’s become something of a running joke to pretty much everyone outside of the USTR or the entertainment and pharmaceutical industries. Last year, at a conference on copyright issues, I even heard people from the US Copyright Office making fun of the USTR’s Special 301 report. When even your own country’s copyright office is mocking your report on copyright issues, you know you’ve gone too far. Hell, even ACTA supporters are mocking the Special 301 report as being “petty.”

What made the Special 301 report just slightly different this year, was that the USTR was just ever so slightly more open in listening to the public, rather than just industry, concerning who should be on the list. So lots of folks, including myself sent in comments. Apparently, they had little effect.

The USTR has released the list again (pdf) and it’s basically the same deal as in previous years. No methodology. No real interest in hearing concerns of consumers or about the rights of individual countries to make their own laws. About the only thing that the public consultation did was allow the USTR to say in the report that it “enhanced its public engagement activities.” It notes that there were 571 comments from interested parties, which is a lot more than in the past. But there doesn’t seem to be much in the actual report that reflects the concerns raised by myself and many others.

About the only point that the USTR backed down on (and even so, it was marginal), was that it’s willing to admit that there are concerns in public health circles that heavy handed enforcement of pharma patents in some countries creates significant harm. However, it still says it wants to “monitor” countries that do compulsory licensing of patents. Of course, as Jamie Love points out, these days, there’s a fair bit of compulsory licensing in the US as well, which the USTR fails to mention. Oops.

While the Free Software Foundation notes that the industry’s request to shame countries that advocate for open source software usage in government didn’t make the list, that’s not really a huge surprise. That was clearly an extreme position, which did a nice job highlighting how the industry was using the 301 report to be anticompetitive, not pro-copyright.

Finally, there’s the Canadian situation. The punchline of the joke that is the Special 301 report is that Canada gets included every year, despite its strong enforcement of intellectual property laws (despite what the industry claims). Once again, the USTR report appears to ignore the reality in Canada, and simply make stuff up, entirely based on things the entertainment industry falsely claims about Canada. Of course, these days, Canadian politicians have returned the favor by telling the US that it “does not recognize the 301 watch list process” because it “lacks reliable and objective analysis.” Of course, as Michael Geist notes, 4.3 billion people live in countries that the USTR finds problematic. Perhaps, he points out, the problem is with the US, rather than those other countries.

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Did Video Professor Spend Too Much On Lawyers And Not Enough On Its Product?

Video Professor, a company well-known in these pages for its penchant for suing both its critics and message boards that hosted its critics, not to speak of trying to suppress competition by misusing trademark law, has apparently hit hard times, a TV station in Denver is reporting:

A person with knowledge of the situation told the 9Wants to Know investigators that Video Professor’s approximately 50 employees were called to a meeting Monday and told they were being placed on unpaid furlough.

Phones at Video Professor’s corporate office and customer service center were answered Thursday by an automated message notifying callers the offices were closed for the day and to call back at a later time.

A call to Video Professor’s CEO and pitchman, John Scherer, drew a return call from a company spokesman who would not answer questions or elaborate beyond a one-sentence statement: “The company is going through a reorganization that involves some temporary furloughs.”

Of course, every time it filed one of these cases it just drew more attention to consumer complaints about its sales practices, and stimulated journalists to look into the company. Video Professor rarely found such attention flattering, even in his hometown media.

Is there a lesson here? Did Video Professor spend so much on legal fees that it couldn’t improve its product sufficiently to satisfy the market?

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Activist groups launch new Facebook privacy offensive and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are both campaigning against new modifications at Facebook that change how it handles user data.

Originally posted at The Social

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SCO Says Jury Didn’t Really Mean What It Said… And Judge Should Order Novell To Hand SCO Unix Copyrights

SCO really is quite the zombie of a company, isn’t it? It just never dies. It’s been a month since getting smacked down yet again and having a jury declare that Novell still owns the Unix copyrights, and they were never transferred to SCO (after a judge had already said the same thing). And yet, as Slashdot alerts us, SCO has now told the judge he should order Novell to hand over the copyrights anyway. Talk about getting desperate. When will SCO finally be put out of its misery?

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Veoh’s Legal Fight Against Universal Continues… With Mystery Funder

Last fall, you may recall, there was a very important — and very well argued — ruling against Universal Music in its attempt to sue video site Veoh. The court found that Veoh was clearly protected by the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions. The ruling was important on a few different points, especially since the entertainment industry has been working overtime to try to change the definition of the DMCA’s safe harbors to make them effectively meaningless. Thankfully, the court put a stop to that. However, things got complicated in February, when Veoh declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy. We wondered what would happen to the appeal that Universal Music was filing, and Eriq Gardner answered:

If Veoh declares Chapter 7, a bankruptcy judge would issue an automatic stay in the case. UMG would likely file a motion with the bankruptcy court seeking relief from the stay to perfect its appeal. The trustee would engage legal counsel and make financial arrangements to cover the costs of defending the case before the 9th Circuit.

However, that’s not quite what happened. The case is moving forward (with the same lawyers for Veoh — even though the company doesn’t exist), but the company never actually filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Joe Mullin has the latest details, which don’t clear up much. Instead of filing bankruptcy, at the last minute, it sold its assets to an Israeli company, Qlipso — but the lawsuit liabilities were separate. So, basically it’s a bit of a mystery who’s funding the ongoing lawsuit:

On Thursday, Elkin confirmed to Corporate Counsel that he will represent the Veoh side on appeal, even though Veoh has ceased to exist as an operating company. Elkin said he is being paid to continue handling the case, which he says has consumed him for the past three years, but declined to comment on who is paying him. He said he and his team are “working mightily” to prepare their reply brief, which is due May 20.

Just weeks before Veoh went out of business, I’d been told that the company was about to secure new funding solely to prop it up to fight this legal battle. So it’s interesting that there does appear to be funding, even if no one’s saying where it’s coming from. Of course, it wouldn’t be too hard to come up with a pretty short list of probable funders…

That said, Mullin’s piece also goes through UMG’s appeals filing, and it’s a doozy. It effectively says that the DMCA’s safe harbors don’t exist, because Universal Music finds them inconvenient. I’m not kidding:

[UMG] must incur the enormous expense of constantly monitoring Veoh’s internet site to identify infringing content and request its removal in order to protect their property. And the task is not limited to monitoring Veoh alone. Rather, it is geometrically larger since thousands of comparable websites must also be monitored. The task is ultimately Sisyphean; because Veoh’s site, like others’ is dynamic and changes day-to-day or hour-to-hour [and] as users upload more material, the task of identifying and sending notifications requesting the removal of copyrighted works would amount to an unending version of the children’s game of “Whack-A-Mole.”

What Universal fails to point out is that if the process is hard for it, it’s actually infinitely harder for Veoh, and that’s because Veoh has no way of knowing for sure if content is infringing or not. As Mullin points out, Universal’s argument is effectively the same one that Tiffany has made over and over and over again against eBay — losing every time. It’s the argument that because it’s too inconvenient for rightsholders to police their rights, the courts should arbitrarily force service providers to do so — even as they have no insight into what’s really infringing and what’s not. In fact, you could argue that Tiffany had a stronger case, in that there aren’t safe harbors when it comes to trademark issues. Universal has a huge uphill battle here.

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Patent challenge looming for open-source codecs?

An e-mail from Apple CEO Steve Jobs, if authentic, could be the start of a patent offensive against open-source video codecs such as Ogg Theora.

Originally posted at Relevant Results

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Irish Collection Society Wants Music Bloggers To Pay Up To Promote Music

After recently covering how an Irish performance rights society wanted to charge hotels for public performance fees because people could listen to music in their rooms, comes the news (sent in by eoinmonty) that a different Irish music organization, the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO), is demanding popular music blogs throughout Ireland pay up to keep promoting music — even when that music is sent to the bloggers by the record labels and musicians directly for the sake of promotion. They apparently have already hit up some of the most popular Irish music blogs, even though some of them make no money at all (have no ads) and are done purely for the love of the music.

The issue, of course, is that IMRO covers the songwriting/composition rights — like ASCAP or BMI in the US — rather than the performance/recording rights. So, in IMRO’s short-sighted view, it doesn’t even matter if the musicians and labels want the music playing for free on those blogs, it has to collect for the songwriters. Apparently, no one has stopped to realize that in demanding hundreds of pounds from some popular hobbyist sites that those sites will likely go away, and the songwriters will get significantly less exposure for their music.

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jQuery UI’s Position Function (plus, MagicZoom from scratch)

Knowing how to position things where you want them is one of the most important tools in a web designer’s toolbox. Understanding page flow, understanding everything is a box, understanding floats, etc. Once the basics are learned, a common question for an intermediate designers is how to position elements relative to other elements. The standard […] Continue reading

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