“Free” Books

Via Lifehacker, legal cost-free books under copyright from Wowio. This is a great idea, and I give it even odds for being the future of books. (Or at least, part of books’ future).

What is WOWIO?
WOWIO is a new kind of online bookstore that enables readers to download ebooks for free, using commercial sponsorships to compensate authors and publishers. Readers get free ebooks. Sponsors get a powerful new channel to communicate their message to precisely the people they want to reach. Publishers get a new means of distributing their books, expanding their readership, and monetizing their intellectual property.

Does WOWIO use any kind of digital rights management (DRM)?
Since anyone can defeat the most “sophisticated” DRM with the print screen button, we believe that technology-based DRM is essentially a fraud. Our approach takes the market incentive out of misbehaving, rewards people for doing the right thing, and tries to stay out of the way of honest users. To help keep everyone honest, however, readers must authenticate their identity and agree to a licensing agreement when they set up their account. Then, each ebook is serialized with the reader’s authenticated name and a unique serial number, as well as other less visible markers. WOWIO will immediately terminate the account of anyone caught illegally distributing ebooks, and will prosecute serious offenders.

[Tags]Wowio, Books, DRM, Digital Rights Management, Copyright[/Tags]

The biggest thing in their life is word of mouth

Spot-on profile of Rick Rubin and the future of music in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (probably already much blogged about):

The kids all said that a) no one listens to the radio anymore, b) they mostly steal music, but they don’t consider it stealing, and c) they get most of their music from iTunes on their iPod. They told us that MySpace is over, it’s just not cool anymore; Facebook is still cool, but that might not last much longer; and the biggest thing in their life is word of mouth. That’s how they hear about music, bands, everything.

That last point is key. If any new business model will thrive, it will be one that is built around the social graph.

[Tags]Social graph, Rick Rubin, Music, New York Times, Facebook, Myspace, iTunes[/tags]

Lessig Shifting Gears

Highly newsworthy: Larry Lessig is changing channels.

Ed Felten on Cablevision

As usual, Ed Felten offers a well-conceived analysis of the Cablevision decision from a technologist’s perspective (for a lawyer’s perspective, see William Patry). The money quote:

The question, in other words, was who was recording the programming. Was Cablevision doing the recording, or were its customers doing the recording? The customers, by using their remote controls to navigate through on-screen menus, directed the technology to record certain programs, and controlled the playback. But the equipment that carried out those commands was owned by Cablevision and (mostly) located in Cablevision buildings. So who was doing the recording? The question doesn’t have a simple answer that I can see.

This general issue of who is responsible for the actions of complex computer systems crops up surprisingly often in law and policy disputes. There doesn’t seem to be a coherent theory about it, which is too bad, because it will only become more important as systems get more complicated and more tightly intereconnected.

Agency, intent/scienter, and responsibility are indeed tricky issues with software and the law. I’ve experienced the problem in my own practice. Although it arises particularly frequently in copyright disputes, it is also common in patent and trademark cases (and of course contract disputes inasmuch as clickwrap-type agreements are implicated). I don’t have any coherent theory to propose, but a more uniform framework would certainly introduce some predictability into these sorts of cases (and thus perhaps avoid litigation).

Update: Mike Madison also has some interesting comments on the case.

More Espresso Art

Via Jamie, an interview with an amazing espresso artist. As I’ve wondered before, it would be interesting to know if anyone has ever attempted to protect their copyright in espresso art. On further reflection, I think espresso art should meet the “fixed in a tangible medium” requirement, at least as much as ice sculptures which also tend to lose their form over time. I assume ice sculptures can be protected, although could not find an example in a quick search. I suspect the copyright office would accept a photograph as “identifying material” for the purposes of a registration deposit on a cup of espresso, as in the case of sculptural works.

Be sure to check out the embedded video — it eliminates any concern that the espresso art photographs might have been digitally enhanced.

Silent Copyright

Via the Trademark Blog, My Cage — digitally generated silence for cellphone:

My Cage (Silence for Cellphone) dispenses with performer, piano and auditorium, instead utilizing a continuous stream of silence produced on a computer, and compressed to ringtone format.

While noting that Mr. Keats doesn’t have a cellphone of his own, and may be less-than-qualified to make global pronouncements about them, the CEO of the company that distributes the ringtone believes that “My Cage” may be a platinum hit. “People want a respite,” he says, “and not everybody has the time or money to go to a spa. The virtues of silence are unsung.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Keats is careful not to take credit for silence in general, and hopes that people will bootleg his creation, just as he was inspired by John Cage. Mr. Cage, who died in 1992, could not be reached for comment.

I hope the IP professors in the crowd are preparing a hypothetical for the next round of exams.

Absurd Copyright Law Case of the Day

I’m visiting my parents’ house in Vermont, where they finally got cable after the provider agreed to dig up the ground and run a mile or so of cable to their house in return for a two year subscription agreement. (I think after two years the cable company will almost have broken even on the cost of the installation).

Having been absent myself from the cable world for some time, I am impressed by the variety of interactive and “on demand” options. My parents’ low-end package includes dozens of free on-demand movies and music videos, as well as built-in easy-to-use tivo-like functionality. The on-demand music videos show one brief ad before the video — it seems the tradeoff is that if you are really going to watch the ad, they can get more money and show you fewer ads. (Or, maybe I’m wrong — if it’s one ad per video, I suppose that would be more ads, but it feels like fewer because of the “on demand” nature. I guess it’s a perceptual trick.)

Anyway, getting to the title of this entry. Anybody in the field of intellectual property these days has got to find Weird Al Yankovic’s music video for Don’t Download This Song (warning, myspace page, authorized by Weird Al!) (or, here) (warning, YouTube page, also authorized by Weird Al!) at least a little amusing. If you haven’t watched it, see it now.

The opening verse goes like this:

Once in a while maybe you will feel the urge
To break international copyright law
By downloading MP3s from file sharing sites
Like Morpheus or Grokster, or Limeware or Kazaa
But deep in your heart you know the guilt would drive you mad
And the shame would leave a perminant scar
Cuz you’d start out stealing songs, then you’re robbing liquor stores
And selling crack and running over school kids with your car

On the cable video-on-demand channel, however, the names of all the filesharing services (Morpheus, Grokster, Limewire, and Kazaa), are all replaced with beeps, as if they were vulgarities unfit for broadcast. Or cable.

If you had never seen the video online, you’d actually be likely to think this was another Weird Al joke — that he can’t even sing the names of (the mostly now defunct) filesharing services publicly. But I’m pretty sure the video was censored by the cable provider or distributor and the irony is wholly unintended.

There are a couple of possibilities here. One is that the distributor was trying to avoid inducement liability under the Supreme Court’s decision in MGM v. Grokster. Could a funny song about filesharing actually meet the inducement standard? I sure hope not.

The other possibility is that the distributor just found the references too abhorrent to leave in — basically the equivalent of the seven dirty words banned from broadcast TV and radio.

Either way, if Weird Al were dead, I’m sure he’d be spinning in his grave. We’re lucky he’s still kicking.

(“case” is kind of a misnomer for the title here, but is included for consistency).

In Defense of Piracy and Openness

Interesting commentary by Chinese documentary filmmaker Hao Wu on Marketplace. Wu explains that it is not possible to obtain most films in China except as pirated versions, and when there are official legal releases they are edited and censored by the government. If the United States is successful in getting China to devote substantial police resources to enforcement of international copyright law, a perhaps unintentional side effect is that access to information and openness will be squelched.

This raises the question of whether it is really in Hollywood’s long term interest to crack down on piracy in otherwise repressive regimes. It’s at least an interesting perspective to bring to the issue that I hadn’t really considered.

Elektra Entertainment Group v. Patricia Santangelo Transcript

I just came across a transcript of a hearing in the Elektra v. Santangelo lawsuit, one of the Recording Industry file-sharing lawsuits that didn’t settle immediately. Santangelo is a single mom who is representing herself (thus far) in the lawsuit. She asserts that the file sharing perpetrator was not her or even her children, but rather one of her children’s friends. Moreover, the accused computer is no longer in her possession, making it quite difficult to research the Recording Industry’s claims.

The judge is quite sympathetic to Ms. Santangelo, and the transcript is worth reading:

MS. SANTANGELO: I realized when I looked at this that the downloads, I guess they call it Exhibit B, the screen name that this Kazaa was under doesn’t belong to anyone in my family. And that’s most likely why I was never notified by AOL or any of my — the companies that I have online service with that my children had downloaded anything. Apparently, it belongs to a friend of my son, who is now 14.


MS. SANTANGELO: And I didn’t know about it. And I really don’t know where to go from here. And so I’m a little dumbfounded by the whole thing.

THE COURT: Yes, I know. I keep saying I live in — although I’ve read the riot act to my own kids a hundred times —

MS. SANTANGELO: Oh, yeah, now I have.

THE COURT: — I live in perpetual fear that something I don’t know my kids are doing is going to come back and bite me in the butt. And the difference between you and me, Ms. Santangelo, if it happens to me, it will be in the headlines of the New York Post.


THE COURT: Okay. Well, I think it would be a really good idea for you to get a lawyer, because I would love to see a mom fighting one of these.

Linux at the Supreme Court

I believe Justice Breyer’s concurrence in the Grokster case is likely the first time Linux has been mentioned in a Supreme Court opinion. That’s some kind of milestone.