Great recap of significant developments in US IT/e-commerce law from the folks at Skadden. Well worth the read if you’re into such things.
Great recap of significant developments in US IT/e-commerce law from the folks at Skadden. Well worth the read if you’re into such things.
As a lawyer who has drafted his fair share of EULAs, I found this incredibly funny.
Not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Probably only catching up on things as its been quite busy and alas this blog is unfortunately low on the list of priorities… Anyway, I was stunned to read in Variety that
The government of Antigua is likely to abrogate intellectual property treaties with the U.S. by the end of March and authorize wholesale copying of American movies, music and other “soft targets” if the Bush administration fails to respond to proposals for settling a trade dispute between the two counties, according to the lawyer representing the Caribbean island nation.
The history is quite interesting. Apparently Antigua has prevailed several times at the WTO in respect of US trade practices related to offshore gambling sites which are hosted in Antigua but the US has taken no action. After roughly five years of proceedings, apparently Antigua is now looking to this course of action as a retaliatory measure. The WTO has to some extent, blessed this course of action. From the article:
The most recent victory was in December, when the WTO ruled that Antigua could exact damages by ignoring IP agreements with the U.S. should a negotiated settlement fail.
Somewhat surprising but the ruling can be found at the WTO site (note – link is to a 74 page PDF) and awards Antigua:
6.1 For the reasons set out above, the Arbitrator determines that the annual level of nullification or impairment of benefits accuing to Antigua in this case is US$21 million and that Antigua has followed the principles and procedures of Article 22.3 of the DSU in determining that it is not practicable or effective to suspend concessions or other obligations under the GATS and that the circumstances were serious enough. Accordingly, the Arbitrator determines that Antigua may request authorization from the DSB, to suspend the obligations under the TRIPS Agreement mentioned in paragraph 5.6 above, at a level not exceeding US$21 million annually.
I’m surprised this hasn’t gained more prominence, since the implications could, needless to say, be huge, particularly given other trade disputes that the US has with the EU and others (and in which it has taken a similar course of action). I did not an article that mentioned that Slysoft, the company which broke Blu-Ray’s DRM system, is based in Antigua.
Then again I have been living (or rather working) under a rock lately so may just be late to tune in to this news.
Very interesting piece from Duane Morris on a case in New York. My ultra short summary of the summary: Insurance company leases computer to agent. Agent puts all his business and personal data on it. Insurance company terminates agency, takes back the computer and all data on it, and refuses to give the agent access to any of it. Agent sues, loses, but then wins on appeal.
The interesting part is the basis on which he won, which was a claim under “conversion”. Not necessarily incredibly groundbreaking, as other cases have dealt with conversion as applied to intangibles previously, but, as the folks at Duane note:
Under the merger doctrine, a conversion claim will apply to intangible property, such as shares of stock, that are merged or converted into a document, such as a stock certificate. Accordingly, conversion of the certificate may be treated as conversion of the shares of stock represented by the certificate. More recently, the court ruled that a plaintiff could maintain a cause of action for conversion where the defendant infringed the plaintiff’s intangible property right to a musical performance by misappropriating a master recording, a tangible item of property capable of being physically taken.
Thyroff was the Court’s first opportunity to consider whether the common law should permit conversion for intangible property that did not strictly satisfy the merger test. Recognizing that it “is the strength of the common law to respond, albeit cautiously and intelligently, to the demands of common sense justice in an evolving society,” the Court decided that the time had arrived to depart from the strict common-law limitation of conversion.
Interestingly, in their analysis of the decision, they conclude that:
This decision provides a powerful remedy for New York employers to bring a cause of action against employees who steal company information or [intangible] property. Unlike claims for breach of fiduciary duty or misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion may be easier to plead than other claims because it does not require that the employer establish willfulness or wrongful conduct.
Hmmm. Not quite sure I’d agree – after all, the “conversion” itself would need to be established. Also, I’m not sure that a rogue employee who takes a copy of his or her employer’s confidential information but leaves the original copy with their employer, would be the basis for a cause of action under conversion, which, if I understand the case correctly, has more to do with depriving someone of property that is rightfully theirs. Absconding with confidential information does not deprive the owner of that information of the data, but rather the value the owner of the data can realize by virtue of the fact it can only be used by that owner. That situation seems somewhat different than the one in Thyroff – the analogy there would be if insurance company did not deny the agent access to his information, but rather took a copy of it and used it in a way they weren’t supposed to. It would be interesting to see whether the court would extend a claim of conversion to deprivation not of the intangible information itself, but rather value of the rights to exploit it exclusively. Alternatively, it may be that the ruling could be read broadly enough to already take that into account.
I also wonder what sort of effect this might have on those who might have otherwise leapt at the opportunity to become an agent for the insurance company…
Apologies to all ten of my loyal readers for the absence. It has been a very, very busy summer and, unfortunately, when it comes to relative priorities, getting work done for clients, playing with my 2 year old, sleeping and then blogging take priority, in that particular order. I’ve also been surprised so far by some of the informal comments I’ve received (not on the blog but in person), most of which have been negative or have negative implications. I must say that has also played a bit of a role in my absence. So who knows, this little blog may not be around much longer. Still giving it some thought.
In any event, a brief quote from one of my colleagues that you may find amusing: “The practice of law is very much like a pie-eating contest where the prize for winning is more pie.”
As a lawyer, I understand the need for policies, procedures, practices, etc. when running a business, managing vendors, employees, etc. Of course. Sure. That’s part of work – both my work and the work of my clients. But when I see an article entitled “Blogging Policies and Best Practices for Lawyers and Law Firms” well, gotta say, my eyes start glazing over.
Not that there’s anything particularly bad or wrong about the article. In fact, it offers some good advice on avoiding “ethical minefields”, creating “powerful marketing tools” and ensuring you realize a good return on your “investment”.
Ugh. To be perfectly honest one of the primary reasons I blog is not to realize a return on investment, or to create a powerful marketing tool, but rather just to offer casual observations (or ruminations) on my work or things related to my work. In other words, its a bit of fun, as compared, for example, to writing a formal research paper, journal article, or a 100 page outsourcing contract. For those types of writing, there are many, many rules, requirements and policies to remember and adhere to, amongst other considerations. And relatively speaking, its not quite as much writing that stuff as it is posting what are ostensibly meandering ramblings about the next new thing. Don’t get me wrong, its certainly interesting and challenging work, but its not the type of thing one typically does to relax.
I guess what I’m getting at is along the same lines as the previous post about making blogging part of someone’s job. Its kind of like saying that its part of your job to chat up your friends at work on a regular basis. Its kind of like saying that there should be internal policies governing who you go to lunch with, and what you talk about over lunch. In other words, to me, it seems to take all the fun out of it. It makes it seem like work. It puts you in the mindset that it is work. And, to be perfectly honest, I think it makes it less interesting, because you’re too worried about the time being put into it. Too worried about whether you’re writing for your “target market”. Too worried about “visualizing and addressing your market”. Too worried on making your blog sound “informal and conversational”. Too worried about this, that and the other thing, none of which have much to do with the subject matter of what you’re writing about.
Of course, this is just my take on blogging and what I hope to achieve (or perhaps rather not to achieve) by doing it.
This one isn’t quite law related or quite technology rated, though it sort of touches on both. Just wanted to share something quite remarkable I saw this evening.
I was riding home in a cab with my wife and young son, going down Bay St. at about 8 pm this evening. While stopped at the lights, I casually noticed a gentleman, sitting in the car beside us, obviously very preoccupied with something, looking at his BlackberryÃ‚Â with some degree of concentration and furiously typing away with his thumbs It was quite easy to see given the backlight of his BB was very bright.
After a few seconds the light changed, he sped onwards, and so did we. And he continued to type, with some degree of vigour, apparently fully preoccupied with his urgent e-mail.
So, you ask, what is so remarkable about this, you ask? Surely this isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone tapping away on a BB in a cab, right? And the answer to that would be no. Definitely see it all the time. In fact, do it myself sometime. Great time saver.
So what’s the big deal? He was the one driving! Certainly understand perhaps taking a quick peek at your BB when stopped at the lights. But amazingly, this fellow that I saw simply continued to tap away busily while pressing the accelerator and speeding away. Neither of his hands were on the wheel, and it was quite clear to me that his vision was focused on his BB and not the road (though admittedly he did see the light turn green). I couldn’t tell if he perhaps was guiding the wheel with his elbows.
The stretch of Bay St. we were on is fairly straight, so I imagine someone could just take their hands off the wheel for a stretch and continue relatively unscathed. But do so, and at the same time also try to write an e-mail to someone? What sort of e-mail could possibly be so important to worth risking your life (and the lives of those around you)? Moreover, what kind of person would be so pressed for time that the could not let the e-mail wait a few minutes until they pulled over somewhere to compose it? I can’t imagine that he did a very good job at either.
While nothing much happened this time (he managed to make his left a bit later – too out of range to see what happened to his BB (but obviously with at least one hand off of it) I do wish him the best that karma may have in store for him.
A story in the the Daily Record. The phrase “the thing speaks for itself” (which is one of those handy latin phrases I learned in law school but almost never use, except of course in blog posts – res ipsa loquitur, for you latinphiles out there…) seems to be appropriate for this:
That same day searches on Google and MSN search engines, were conducted on such topics as `instant poisons,` `undetectable poisons,’ ‘fatal digoxin doses,’ and gun laws in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Ten days later, according to allegations by the state of New Jersey, McGuire murdered her husband, William T. McGuire, at their Woodbridge apartment, using a gun obtained in Pennsylvania, one day after obtaining a prescription for a sedative known as the “date rape” drug.
As a married man, it also makes me wonder what exactly is it about divorce that is really so bad that people resort to the apparently more preferable alternative of brutally murdering their spouses (as I delicately knock on wood…).
OK. Short version of the story in InformationWeek: Woman puts up a website. She puts a “webwrap” agreement at the bottom – i.e. basically a contract that says if you use the site then you agree to the contract. Still some question as to whether such a mechanism is binding, but anyway…
So the Internet Archive of course comes along and indexes her site. Which apparently is a violation of the webwrap. So she sues, representing herself, I believe. The court throws out everything on a preliminary motion by IA except for the breach of contract.
InformationWork observes that “Her suit asserts that the Internet Archive’s programmatic visitation of her site constitutes acceptance of her terms, despite the obvious inability of a Web crawler to understand those terms and the absence of a robots.txt file to warn crawlers away.” (my emphasis). They then conclude with this statement:
If a notice such as Shell’s is ultimately construed to represent just such a “meaningful opportunity” to an illiterate computer, the opt-out era on the Net may have to change. Sites that rely on automated content gathering like the Internet Archive, not to mention Google, will have to convince publishers to opt in before indexing or otherwise capturing their content. Either that or they’ll have to teach their Web spiders how to read contracts.
They already have – sort of. It’s called robots.txt – the thing referred to above. For those of you who haven’t heard of this, its a little file that you put on the top level of your site and which is the equivalent of a “no soliciation” sign on your door. Its been around for at least a decade (probably longer) and most (if not all) search engines
From the Internet Archive’s FAQ:
How can I remove my site’s pages from the Wayback Machine?
The Internet Archive is not interested in preserving or offering access to Web sites or other Internet documents of persons who do not want their materials in the collection. By placing a simple robots.txt file on your Web server, you can exclude your site from being crawled as well as exclude any historical pages from the Wayback Machine.
Internet Archive uses the exclusion policy intended for use by both academic and non-academic digital repositories and archivists. See our exclusion policy.
You can find exclusion directions at exclude.php. If you cannot place the robots.txt file, opt not to, or have further questions, email us at info at archive dot org.
standardized methods of communications – privacy policies, etc. – more. Question is, will people be required to use it, or simply disregard and act dumb?
An article in Wired News with the dramatic title of “Lawmakers Tout DMCA Killer” describes the most recent attempt to: (a) water down the protections afforded to content owners by the DMCA; (b) ensure the preservation of fair use rights on the part of users. As is usual, each side has its own rhetoric to describe what is happening, so in fairness I took the liberty of offering to readers of this blog the two alternative descriptions above. The nub:
The Boucher and Doolittle bill (.pdf), called the Fair Use Act of 2007, would free consumers to circumvent digital locks on media under six special circumstances.
Librarians would be allowed to bypass DRM technology to update or preserve their collections. Journalists, researchers and educators could do the same in pursuit of their work. Everyday consumers would get to “transmit work over a home or personal network” so long as movies, music and other personal media didn’t find their way on to the internet for distribution.
And then of course on the other side:
“The suggestion that fair use and technological innovation is endangered is ignoring reality,” said MPAA spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg. “This is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Osterberg pointed to a study the U.S. Copyright Office conducts every three years to determine whether fair use is being adversely affected. “The balance that Congress built into the DMCA is working.” The danger, Osterberg said, is in attempting to “enshrine exemptions” to copyright law.
To suggest that content owners have the right to be paid for their work is, for me, aÃ‚Â no-brainer. That being said, I wonder whether the DMCA and increasingly more complex and invasive DRM schemes will ultimately backfire – sure they protect the content, but they sure as heck are a pain in the ass – just my personal take on it. For example, I’d love to buy digital music, but having experienced the controls that iTunes imposes and suddenly having all my tracks disappear, I just don’t bother with it now. Not to mention the incredible hoops one needs to go through to display, say, Blu-ray on a computer – at least in its original, non-downgraded resolution – why bother with all of that at all?
I wonder whether this is, in a way, history repeating itself in a way. I am old enough to remember the early days of software protection – virtually every high-end game or application used fairly sophisticated techniques (like writing non-standard tracks on floppies in between standard tracks) in attempting to prevent piracy. Granted, these have never gone away altogether, particularly for super high end software that needs dongles and and the like, and of course recently there has been a resurgence in the levels of protection that have been layered on in Windows, but after the initial, almost universal lockdown of software long ago, there came a period where it seemed many (if not most) software developers just stopped using such measures.Ã‚Â At least that’s what seemed to happen. I’m not quite sure why, but I wonder if this same pattern will repeat with content rather than software. I suspect not. But hey, you never know.
In the meantime, off I go, reluctantly, in the cold, cold winter, to the nearest record shop to buy music the old fashioned way…