Tag Archives | Legal Issues

Why History Needs Software Piracy

Amid the debate surrounding controversial anti-piracy legislation such as SOPA and PIPA, our public discourse on piracy tends to focus on the present or the near future. When jobs and revenues are potentially at stake, we become understandably concerned about who is (or isn’t) harmed by piracy today.

I’m here to offer a different perspective, at least when it comes to software piracy. While the unauthorized duplication of software no doubt causes some financial losses in the short term, the picture looks a bit different if you take a step back. When viewed in a historical context, the benefits of software piracy far outweigh its short-term costs. If you care about the history of technology, in fact, you should be thankful that people copy software without permission.

It may seem counterintuitive, but piracy has actually saved more software than it has destroyed. Already, pirates have spared tens of thousands of programs from extinction, proving themselves the unintentional stewards of our digital culture.

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Who’s Suing Who? A Cheat Sheet to the Mobile Patent Mess

So Apple is suing Samsung, accusing it of imitating Apple products with its Galaxy phones and tablets.¬†The most startling thing about the news may be that the two companies weren’t already in court with each other. Over the past few years, the mobile industry has been so rife with suits and countersuits that if every complainant¬†managed to sue every subject of its ire out of business…well, there’d hardly be a mobile industry left.

I had trouble remembering the precise details of the umpteen cases that have made headlines–as well as some related relationships, such as Microsoft’s licensing agreements with Amazon and HTC–so I decided to document them with a handy-dandy infographic, as much for my own edification as anyone else’s.

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Google and Verizon's Network Neutrality Negotiation

The rumored deal between Google and Verizon over Network Neutrality issues isn’t a deal–it’s a joint proposal to the FCC. It recommends rules that would prohibit the favoring of certain traffic over other traffic on the wired Internet. But Dan Gillmor, who knows way more about this stuff than I do, isn’t thrilled with the companies’ suggestions. And the proposal is pro-Network Neutrality only for wired traffic, not wireless data. Isn’t that a little bit as if it had advised for consumer-friendly regulations for dial-up–but not for broadband–in, say, 2000?

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Copy Protection: A Good Sign (Maybe) for Consumers

Don’t get too too excited just yet, but a New Orleans circuit judge has ruled that General Electric didn’t violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act when it worked its way around the security dongles on some power supplies it owned in order to fix the power supplies. The judge says that GE is in the clear because the action it was trying to undertake–fixing its own property–isn’t illegal.

Until now, the notion has been that any attempt to override copy protection violates the DMCA–which means that the DMCA itself essentially overrides the notion that consumers have the right to make copies of content they’ve bought for personal use. Here’s hoping that this new ruling proves to be influential; the fact that a judge thinks it’s okay to defeat copy protection in certain circumstances is kind of shocking, in a good way….

[RELATED GOOD NEWS: The Copyright Office has declared that it’s legal to jailbreak and unlock phones, as well as override other security measures imposed on consumer electronics gadgets in certain circumstances.]

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Supreme Court Leaves Software Patent Issues Unanswered

Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down a long awaited decision on a patent case that could have changed how or whether software patents are granted. Ultimately, little changed, except that the Court’s decision was at odds with 150 years of patent law, says a legal expert.

The Court’s Bilski v. Kappos decision could have invalidated many software patents had it accepted a Federal circuit court’s “machine or transformation” test for what is patentable. Proponents of the lower court’s decision had hoped that the high court would finally bring an end to excessive patent litigation and eliminate questionable patents that they say can slow the pace of innovation in technology.

The Bilski case involved a patent claim for a business method for hedging risks in commodities trading. The Justices affirmed the lower court’s decision that the Bilski patent was too abstract and therefore un-patentable. However, it did not accept the machine or transformation test, thus failing to provide any guidance to government patent examiners, defendants, or patent filers.

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