Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hunt for Gollum

Have you heard about the new 'Hunt for Gollum' movie?
What you think from a film perspective and from the IP perspective?
NPR mentioned that the EFF is supporting it.
- Dad 


I saw a blurb about it on Slashdot. It is my understanding that it is a "fan movie"...similar to various Harry Potter/Buffy the Vampire/Twilight/You-Name-It fan fiction works that have been released on-line.  

Larry Lessig pointed out in 'Remix' what a mess the legal battle between J.K. Rowling and a creator of a fan fiction site (she was 14 years old) quickly became.  

In the end, I think authors (or in the case of this particular movie, the copyright holder to Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien's estate?)) should embrace fan created spin-offs, instead of attempt to quash any creative output based upon their fictional creations. Of course, there is a line, capable of being crossed, where fan-fiction works could become infringing. For instance, where the fan-fiction cease to be derivative, and borrows so extensively as to practically be a copy of the work. Or, where a series has not yet ended, an author can validly argue that any widely distrusted, fan published work could preempt any storyline or plot idea that the author would potentially utilize, thereby prospectively depriving the original creator opportunities to develop a work. Additionally, where the fan-created work is exclusively for a commercial purpose, the "line" should slide toward protecting the original creator.  

Yet, here, I would believe that whomever makes money off of the Lord of the Rings books, movies, action figures, tee-shirts, memorabilia, etc., etc., should not feel legally threatened by the "Hunt for Gollum" to they point where they would result to initiating prosecution (so long as it is well-done, and does not cast any characters in an outrageously unfavorable light, e.g. Samwise Gamgee kills Frodo in his sleep...LOTR fans cringe).  

While they won't make any money directly off of the release of the movie, this release will certainly drive sales of products that they do profit from.  

And besides, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery....

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Time Warner's Bandwidth Caps Hit Home

Time Warner Cable has announced that they will institute an "experimental" tiered-level Internet service, offering various service plans that cap monthly bandwidth at various levels (1, 5, 10, 20 40, 100 GB/month).  TWC plans to introduce its bandwidth cap testing in Austin and San Antonio, TX, Greensboro, NC and in my hometown, Rochester, NY. 

The premise seems simple and straightforward...the more Internet you use, the more you have to pay.  TWC seeks to justify the new pricing levels as a means to cover the rising costs of infrastructure, although this argument may be a nonstarter, as providing upgraded speed and service may not be as expensive for Time Warner as they purport (see this article from ars technica).

I contend that widespread adoption of lower bandwidths caps, as TWC's tiered-level plan will provide, are extremely detrimental for consumers. They potentially set the entire ISP industry upon a very slippery slope, or a race to the bottom, if you will.   ISP competition could lead to lower limits on bandwidth use across the board.  For instance, what is to keep Comcast from lowering its current cap of 250GB/month? 

Instead of saving customers money, a tiered-level bandwidth service plan could increase confusion and costs regarding monthly Internet usage.  Overage charges would quickly aggregate, as bandwidth caps are exceeded.  Parents will have to monitor not only what their children (and themselves) are using the Internet for, i.e. what content is being accessed, but how much Internet they are using.  

Such monitoring will not be easy, because bandwidth use can be deceptive and is not a straightforward function of time.  For example, surfing "traditional" html websites and checking emails, for hours at a time will typically not consume as much bandwidth as one half-hour TV show streaming from hulu (especially if you want to watch that show in Hi-Res).  

Needless to say, the burden should fall on the ISP to provide customers a quick and easy way to meter bandwidth consumption.  Obfuscation of bandwidth use should not be tolerated.  

Additionally, many individuals will foreseeably opt into higher-level, or unlimited plans, simply because of the freedom such plans offer.  Fearing overage charges, people are likely to overestimate (better safe than sorry) and end up paying for a higher tier than needed.

It would be refreshing to see an ISP step-up and move in the opposite direction.  By offering an unlimited service, at a reasonable price, a provider could distinguish themselves from the TWC's of the world, and target customers with all-you-can-eat bandwidth as a major selling point. 

Hopefully, ISP bandwidth caps do not become a de facto DRM for the Internet (as suggested here...).  It will be interesting to see how Time Warner's tiered-level trial pans out, and what effect it may ultimately have on the future of the Internet.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Obama Gives the Gift that Keeps on Infringing

The 'big news' coming from Huffington Post (and myriad other news sources...) earlier this week, was that President Obama presented the Queen of England with one of America's most significant contributions to society, the ubiquitous iPod.  Mr. Obama's staff was considerate enough to pre-load the device with about 40 classic show tunes. 

Today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation questioned whether or not the President, with this seemingly innocent gift, had inadvertently violated existing copyright laws.

You can read their entire averment here.

Perhaps the most alarming point raised by EFF, is that it remains unclear whether or not you actually "own" a song or CD you purchase from Amazon or the iTunes store. Are you licensing the song, or are you buying the music, along with accompanying ownership rights that would normally be included in the purchase of say, a CD? 

iTunes' 9,000 word EULA conveniently never settles upon a definitive answer.  And Amazon's  user license agreement is purportedly even more consumer-unfriendly, in that it grants even less "traditional-purchase" ownership rights (I use "traditional-purchase" in reference to the arguably doomed longtime music industry business model, the in-store CD purchase).  

These latent ambiguities present in current digital content licensing agreements only open the door for possible claims of copyright infringement. 

Another troubling contention from EFF, is that the "first-sale" doctrine has been ostensibly eroded by the advent of digital content that is copied and distributed at a increasingly diminutive cost.  I'd agree with EFF that Obama's gift should be perfectly appropriate under the doctrine of "first-sale" (I buy a CD and gift it to my sister; Obama buys 40 show tunes and gifts them to the Queen).  However, does it matter whether or not the staffer who loaded the songs onto the iPod deleted them after transfer? (I no longer have the CD after I give it to my sister) 

EFF raises the important question...Should it matter? 

The destruction of the doctrine of first sale is even more evident when considering the DRM laden Kindle e-reader. The option of re-selling an old book, or even donating it to a local library, is, sadly, non-existent. 

EFF's rhetoric reiterates the assertion that copyright is a broken system; it is in desperate need of amendment and clarification. 

The Foundation sums it best..."[N]one of us should want a world where even our leaders--much less the rest of us--can't figure out how copyright law operates in their daily lives."