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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hubris, Cowardice, File-sharing, and TechDirt

Over at Digital Society, Jim DeLong's Filesharing in Underdeveloped Nations: Let's Take from the Poor and Give to the Rich does a fine job of ripping apart the latest round of nonsense from the economically challenged blog TechDirt. I won't spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that Jim shreds TechDirt "arguments" with casual ease.

Jim's piece also highlights a fundamental problem with TechDirt's childish, copyright-hating worldview: TechDirt brews its venom from an ugly blend of hubris and cowardice.

Continue reading Hubris, Cowardice, File-sharing, and TechDirt . . .

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 5:11 AM | Antitrust & Competition Policy, Copyright, IP, Internet, Trademark

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

TechDirt Errs Again: Copyrights Are the Definition of "Market Forces" in Action.

I just read the latest Deep Thought from the editor of the blog TechDirt, Mike Masnick, who must be the only person, other than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who often uses the royal "we" when expressing a personal opinion. In Pushing for More Stringent Copyright Laws Is the Opposite of Allowing "Market Forces" to Act, Masnick rants that granting legally protected private exclusive rights, (a.k.a., "private property rights"), to private producers of socially valuable resources like expressive works will thwart what Masnick calls "market forces":

[I]t's flat out wrong to say that copyright (or patents, for that matter) are about "allowing market forces" to act. By definition, copyright and patent laws are the opposite of allowing market forces. It's the government stepping up and providing monopoly rights because they believe (rightly or wrongly) that basic market forces don't work in those areas and, thus, the government needs to step in and "correct" some sort of imbalance.

This is all--as Masnick might put it--"flat out wrong...." Economists and the economically literate know that if we want "market forces" to encourage the consumer-driven private production of any resource (including expressive works) then we must grant exclusive rights to private producers of that socially valuable resource. In other words, property rights---government-granted, legally protected exclusive rights--are required to use "market forces" to encourage the production of any resource.

Continue reading TechDirt Errs Again: Copyrights Are the Definition of "Market Forces" in Action. . . .

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 11:10 AM | Capitalism, Copyright, IP, Innovation, Internet, Mass Media, Philosophy / Cyber-Libertarianism, Trademark

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wow: A Bipartisan, Legislative/Executive Call for Private Solutions to the Challenges of Internet Counterfeiting and Piracy

For the past twenty years, my life and work in Washington D.C. have let me both observe and contribute to the operation of what is surely one of the best governments in human history. The resulting perspective was sometimes inspiring, often perplexing, and sometimes depressing. But while the daily foibles of representative democracy may sometimes cause even its most ardent advocates to contemplate the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy, there are also those faith-restoring moments when principle unexpectedly trumps politics and common sense suddently prevails.

That happened this morning at a hearing held by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary entitled Oversight of the Office of the Intellectual Property Coordinator. Unless I am mistaken, this hearing produced something that I would not yet have predicted: a politically risky, bipartisan, Legislative/Executive-Branch call for private copyright owners, internet-access-service providers and payment processors to work together to devise private solutions to the challenges of curbing digital piracy and internet counterfeiting.

Continue reading Wow: A Bipartisan, Legislative/Executive Call for Private Solutions to the Challenges of Internet Counterfeiting and Piracy . . .

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 2:16 PM | Copyright, IP, Internet, Mass Media, Trademark

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Why Copyright Industry Costs-of-Piracy Studies Correctly Ignore the "Positive Economic Effects" of Criminal Racketeering

I just published a new paper called Punk'd: GAO Celebrates the "Positive Economic Effects" of Counterfeiting and Other Criminal Racketeering ("Punk'd"). It debunks efforts to claim that a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reasonably concluded that counterfeiting and piracy have important "positive economic effects" and that all copyright-industry estimates of piracy's economic costs are "bogus," "baseless" and "false." A few of the many examples of such nonsense include Content Industry Piracy Claims Are Bogus and GAO Concludes Piracy Stats Are Usually Junk, File Sharing Can Help Sales.

Punk'd explains why these backfiring claims are the real "bogus junk." This post summarizes some of its arguments.

Continue reading Why Copyright Industry Costs-of-Piracy Studies Correctly Ignore the "Positive Economic Effects" of Criminal Racketeering . . .

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 3:54 PM | Copyright, Cyber-Security, IP, Innovation, Internet, Trademark

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Friday, April 23, 2010

ACTA: USTR Was Right, and the Histrionics Were Wrong--Again.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) just released a draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). After spending several years at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, advising USTR on the copyright-related provisions of many proposed and enacted trade agreements, my review of the draft ACTA text confirms, (as well as any draft can), that ACTA is precisely what USTR has said consistently during both the Bush and Obama Administrations: ACTA is an efficiency-enhancing effort that can be executed as an Executive Agreement because it will require no change--repeat, no change--in existing U.S. law.

Indeed, this is why I rarely write about, blog about, or closely follow the ACTA negotiations. ACTA is an important efficiency-enhancing effort intended to facilitate international trade. But--by definition--it will not address any of the most important unresolved questions about how to reconcile the benefits of enforceable copyrights and the benefits of the Internet.

To the contrary, in the ACTA negotiations, developed nations that have already joined and implemented all of the major multilateral IPR-related international treaties--like the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ("TRIPS"), the Berne Convention, and the WIPO Copyright Treaty--are trying to see whether they can agree on what an good implementation of these already-ratified, already-implemented treaties should require.

While such an agreement could further trade among developed nations, it would be even more beneficial to developing and least-developed nations. Most developed nations, including the U.S., already require their preferred trading partners to fully implement the leading international IPR treaties, but each such developed nation now has differing ideas what an "good" implementation of these treaties requires. As a result, any country that wants to increase trade with developed nations in the Americas, Europe, and Asian must now separately negotiate with many nations about the efficacy of its implementation of existing IPR treaties, and it may have to revise its IPR laws repeatedly.

ACTA seeks to reduce or eliminate the resulting delay and duplication of effort. In effect, ACTA seeks to answer the following question: Given that many developed nations already require their preferred trading partners to complete a "good" implementation of the existing IPR treaties, shouldn't they try to reach as least broad agreement on what a "good" implementation of existing IPR treaties requires? If so, then any nation interested in updating its IPR laws in order to better protect its own creators and improve its trade relations could know what to do in order to facilitate trade with many of the world's most attractive trading partners. Consequently, developed nations that already incorporate support for IPR protections into their international-trade strategies could promote trade, reduce waste, avoid petty disputes, and better promote improved IPR protections if they could agree on what a really good implementation of the existing international IPR treaties should require. This is, perhaps, the critical benefit that ACTA seeks to achieve.

This is why the structure and the text of ACTA so closely resemble the structure and text of the IPR Chapter of many existing bilateral and multilateral U.S. Free Trade Agreements ("FTA")--none of which required the U.S. to amend its existing IPR laws. Those similarities are no coincidence. In effect, ACTA attempts to reach at least a general consensus on what the IPR chapters that many developed nations already incorporate into their trade agreements ought to contain.

Nevertheless, while developed-world IPR laws are so generally similar as to permit such consensus, they are not identical. Consequently, the ACTA negotiators must craft language specific enough to provide precise guidance, (as the IPR chapter of a developed-world trade agreement would today), while accommodating some of the differences in the national laws of developed, IPR-exporting nations--each of which is quite convinced that its laws already reflect a "really good" implementation of the existing multinational IPR treaties.

This is why the Internet teapot-tempest over ACTA merely confirms that USTR should be strongly commended for its longstanding decision to pursue ACTA as an Executive Agreement. For precisely the reasons just mentioned, the language of ACTA will almost certainly closely, but not precisely, track the language of the IPR Chapters in those many existing U.S. FTAs. This could have raised legitimate--as opposed to contrived--concerns that ACTA might change to U.S. law. But by negotiating ACTA as an Executive Agreement, USTR eliminated all such legitimate concerns. By definition, an Executive Agreement cannot require any change in existing U.S. law.

Moreover, by negotiating ACTA as an Executive Agreement, USTR not only eliminated any legitimate domestic concerns about ACTA changing U.S. law, it also put all other nations participating in the ACTA negotiations on notice: if the U.S. agrees to particular language, then that is because it has concluded that its existing domestic laws already implement that language. Therefore, should the ACTA negotiations conclude successfully, no co-party to ACTA can argue, credibly, that it could possibly have thought that existing U.S. law failed to implement the Agreement.

These observations are subject to a caveat: the released draft of ACTA is an early-stage draft consisting mostly of bracketed counter-proposals. Multiparty negotiations among many global leaders in international trade never proceed quickly. Nevertheless, the released draft suffices to confirm that ACTA is precisely what USTR has said it is throughout the past two Administrations, and that USTR should be commended for providing both domestic and international clarity by pursuing it as an Executive Agreement.

Finally, a word about ACTA and "secrecy." Negotiating drafts of ACTA have been no more and no less "secret" than negotiating drafts of any other proposed U.S. trade agreement negotiated in the last few decades. And such "secrecy" is perfectly sensible: negotiating nations do not published their negotiating drafts and strategies for the many of the same reasons that poker players do not "publish" the contents of their hands during a game--"transparency" is good; crippling your own negotiators is not. Nor is the resulting "secrecy" that secret: Any Internet reporter who wanted to review an earlier draft of ACTA would have had to do little more than sign a simpler version of the sort of nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that gadget reporters routinely sign in order to get an early look at the latest iWidget.

I may have more to say later about the shrill, dishonest, juvenile histrionics that have passed for most Internet "commentary" on ACTA. For now, I need only congratulate the shriekers for the success of their latest campaign to convince even more federal officials that most Internet commentary on almost matters relating to intellectual property rights, (other than those that protect technology companies or open-source software), will tend to consist of shrill, dishonest, juvenile histrionics.

Indeed, the histronics over ACTA recall the histrionic wailing that filled the Internet during the lead-up to the Supreme Court decision in Grokster. Back then, many of the same groups and individuals now shrieking about ACTA were shrieking that holding the most blatant commercial copyright pirates on the Internet liable for the intended consequences of their own actions would crush innovation and outlaw, (to cite but a few examples), iPods, transistors, Legos, broadcast radio, The New York Times, and--worsf of all--Silly Putty. Today's ACTA histrionics seem equally rational, balanced, informed, and thoughtful.

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 10:37 AM | Copyright, E-commerce, Global Innovation, IP, Internet, Trade, Trademark

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Choosing the Right Path to a Permanent Accountability Framework for ICANN

By Michael Palage & Berin Szoka

Over the next month, the ICANN Board will consider its options for ensuring that some framework is in place to ensure ICANN's accountability to the global Internet community after the approaching expiration of its Memorandum of Understanding and Joint Project Agreement (MOU/JPA) with the U.S. Department of Commerce. We analyze these options in our new paper, "Choosing the Right Path to a Permanent Accountability Framework for ICANN."

We urge the ICANN Board to allow the time necessary for the development of a permanent accountability framework in consultation with the global Internet community, as required by ICANN's Bylaws. The authors caution the ICANN Board against rubber-stamping a recent proposal to essentially make the MoU/JPA a permanent instrument as inadequate to ensure ICANN's long-term accountability. The alternative, simply ending ICANN's relationship with the U.S. Government, would raise serious legal questions concerning ICANN's ability to collect fees from registrars and registries and the transfer of property rights underlying the domain name system.

We conclude by calling on ICANN's new CEO Rod Beckstrom to exercise the kind of leadership he advocated in his 2005 book, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, which explains the advantages of decentralized managerial "nervous systems" ("starfish") over top-down hierarchies ("spiders"):

Instead of focusing on 'spider'-esque permanent instruments with a single government, Beckstrom and the ICANN Board should focus on more 'starfish'-like solutions that both continue the USG's stewardship role and involve more governments that want to participate in the unique private-public partnership known as ICANN--without compromising ICANN's guiding principles and commitment to private sector leadership. Only this outcome will ensure the long-term viability of ICANN as a global trustee of the Internet's unique identifiers.

Continue reading Choosing the Right Path to a Permanent Accountability Framework for ICANN . . .

posted by Berin Szoka @ 5:49 PM | Internet Governance, Trademark, e-Government & Transparency

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New gTLDs: Let the Gaming Begin (Part I - TLD Front Running)

A series of recent applications for national trademark rights in terms that correspond to likely strings for new top-level domain names, or TLDs, (e.g., ".BLOG") highlight just one way in which ICANN's new generic TLD (gTLD) application process is likely to be "gamed." But it is also a strategy to which some trademark holders may feel compelled to resort to defend their rights to that string. Unfortunately, it does not appear that ICANN is addressing these important public policy considerations. In fact, based upon some of the provisions in the proposed draft registry agreements, it appears that ICANN staff's actions may increase, rather than decrease, the ambiguity that opens the door to such gaming of the system.

Click here to download my latest paper on this subject (below), published by The Progress & Freedom Foundation, or click here to read more of my recent work at PFF.

Continue reading New gTLDs: Let the Gaming Begin (Part I - TLD Front Running) . . .

posted by Mike Palage @ 5:10 PM | Internet Governance, Trademark

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ClaimMyName: Self-Help Against Name-Squatting on Social Media Services

The proliferation of Web 2.0 social media services has magnified the old problem of cyber-squatting: Every new service represents the possibility that someone else might claim your name, or your organization's trademark, as a user name before you do! This problem is especially significant where user names correspond to vanity URLs, as with Twitter and, more recently, Facebook.

So I was intrigued to discover that the market is responding to this need: ClaimMyName (CMN) will take care of user registrations on 30 Web 20 services for $329 or on an astounding 300 services for $799. CMN is a "freemium" service offered by DandyID.com, a nifty free service that allows users to organize all their social media profiles for something like 390 services so that buttons for each service can easily be added to an author bio page on a blog, as we've done at the TLF. So if I really wanted to make sure that no one else registered http://<WEB2.0service>.com/berinszoka, or /techliberation or /ProgressFreedom, this service would allow me to do so with just a few clicks--at a price of either $10.97/service for thirty or $2.66/service for 300 services.

CMN is essentially a mini-MarkMonitor, the international company famous for protecting trademarks online--except that CMN facilitates self-help by users outside of trademark law: No registration is required; everything is done on a first-come-first-serve basis. Pretty cool.

posted by Berin Szoka @ 11:43 AM | Trademark

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

ICANN 3.0 Should "Refocus" on Original Purpose

Here are my comments (PDF) on the NTIA's recent Notice of Inquiry regarding ICANN's future.  

I have been an active participant within the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) process since its inception as an intellectual property lawyer and information technology specialist.  Over the last ten years, I have served in a number of leadership positions within ICANN, including a three-year term on its Board of Directors (2003-2006).   I applaud the NTIA for using the broad scope of this NOI to refocus the global Internet community on the original intent/focus of ICANN's MoU/JPA with the Department of Commerce (USG).  Unfortunately, over the last few years, ICANN has strayed from its narrow mission as the technical coordinating body originally envisioned in the 1998 White Paper, and has instead become a quasi-monopolistic regulator accountable to no one but itself.  This NOI provides the global Internet community the opportunity to deconstruct the current 

"ICANN 2.0" governance model and refocus on a successor "ICANN 3.0" governance model.  I submit that ICANN 3.0 needs to be a mix of getting "back to basics" (restoring ICANN's original mission) and implementing important "lessons learned" since ICANN's creation about how to make the organization more effective and accountable.  I discuss four broad issues:

  1. ICANN's Periodic Review of its internal operations and supporting organizations has failed, and has become nothing more than a "perpetual motion machine of public comments and documentation producing no meaningful results." Only a second Evolution and Reform Process can solve ICANN's current deficiencies;
  2. ICANN must hardcode into its policies and its contracts the principle that its policies cannot supersede national laws;
  3. ICANN must cease any operational role in technical infrastructure as required by its bylaws and focus instead on its mission as a technical coordinator; and
  4. Congress must avoid "kicking the JPA can down the road" and instead provide much-needed leadership by creating a solid foundation for ICANN 3.0 in legislation after proper consultation with the Government Accountability Office.

Continue reading ICANN 3.0 Should "Refocus" on Original Purpose . . .

posted by Mike Palage @ 6:43 PM | Internet Governance, Trademark

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Google's New Advertising Trademark Policy & Consumer Welfare

Google has announced that it will soon begin allowing U.S. advertisers to use trademarked keywords in limited circumstances in text ads, much as Yahoo! already does. Google currently allow advertisers to bid on trademarked terms as keywords that could cause an ad to appear, either next to Google search results or on a third-party publisher's website. That policy will not change, and is discussed here by my PFF colleague Sid Rosenzweig. The new policy is focused on the text seen by users in ads themselves and applies only if the "landing page" (to which the ad links) is used by a reseller, aggregator or parts supplier to sell only products that are relevant to the mark in question, or if the page is used to provide impartial reviews or other information about the trademarked product. The new policy does not apply to sites/pages that (a) facilitate the sale of counterfeit goods, (b) allow the sale of a competitor's goods, (c) criticize the trademarked good, or (d) do not provide substantial information or a purchase option. Despite these limitations and other safeguards, Google has been sharply criticized by some trademark holders and might even be sued (e.g., for contributory infringement).

I'll defer to the real trademark lawyers to figure out whether Google is correct that its new policy falls within the bounds of trademark law (particularly the "nominative fair use" doctrine). But since Adam Thierer and I have been involved in an ongoing defense of online advertising against those who would squelch it through regulation in the name of privacy concerns (not at play here), I think it's important to highlight the potential benefits to users from this seemingly arcane policy change-and to consider what this episode says about online advertising generally. I see three main benefits to consumers from the policy change that should be considered alongside the vitally important role that trademarks play in our economy in communicating reputational information.

First, Google's new policy will allow consumers to find products more easily because advertisers will be able to offer more descriptive and therefore informative ads, mentioning what they sell by name.

Continue reading Google's New Advertising Trademark Policy & Consumer Welfare . . .

posted by Berin Szoka @ 4:30 PM | Trademark

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Pepsi Challenge 2.0, Reputational Incentives & Genericide as a Check on Google's Brand Power

posted by Berin Szoka @ 9:59 AM | Advertising & Marketing, Googlephobia, Privacy, Trademark

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

ICANN's Implementation Recommendation Team for New gTLDs: Safeguards Needed

posted by Mike Palage @ 6:56 PM | IP, Internet Governance, Trademark

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  Hubris, Cowardice, File-sharing, and TechDirt
TechDirt Errs Again: Copyrights Are the Definition of "Market Forces" in Action.
Wow: A Bipartisan, Legislative/Executive Call for Private Solutions to the Challenges of Internet Counterfeiting and Piracy
Why Copyright Industry Costs-of-Piracy Studies Correctly Ignore the "Positive Economic Effects" of Criminal Racketeering
ACTA: USTR Was Right, and the Histrionics Were Wrong--Again.
Choosing the Right Path to a Permanent Accountability Framework for ICANN
New gTLDs: Let the Gaming Begin (Part I - TLD Front Running)
ClaimMyName: Self-Help Against Name-Squatting on Social Media Services
ICANN 3.0 Should "Refocus" on Original Purpose
Google's New Advertising Trademark Policy & Consumer Welfare
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