Category Archives: Legal

Apple, Samsung and a Third Way for Patents



Samsung LogoWhen I heard the verdict on the Apple v. Samsung case, I was angry. Angry with Samsung for copying, angry with Apple for suing, angry with jurors for naivety, angry with the legal system for letting itself be a pawn. Over the weekend, I’ve mellowed a little but I’m still concerned about the impact it will have on consumers.

Apple is not a great first inventor. It didn’t invent the PC, the GUI, the digital music player, the smartphone or the tablet: I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to educate themselves as to who did. Apple is great at design, marketing, timing and extracting value from suppliers, partners and customers. Absolutely no doubts there and they have the bank balance to prove it.

Android LogoThe word on the street was that Apple was looking for a $30 licensing fee to cover the use of the patents. As a consumer, I think that’s a rip off when compared to the overall price of the device. None of those patents are intrinsic to the device and I would happily have a phone or tablet that doesn’t have those features. Multitouch and pinch-to-zoom is over-rated generally, and as for the bounce-back, it’s a waste of CPU cycles.

Obviously there are two possible outcomes from an Android perspective. Either the patents are circumvented and Android users get an arguably lesser experience or the manufacturers stump up the licensing fees.

But there is a third way…Wouldn’t it be great if, as an Android consumer, one could choose whether to avail of certain patents or not? You could accept the Apple licensing and pay the extra $30 or else decline and get the non-infringing version. How brilliant would that be and it would let the market decide which patents are valuable and which aren’t.

Of course, the chances of it happening are slim but remember Google and Samsung, you read it here first.


Apple Fires First Salvo Back at the DOJ Ebook Antitrust Suit



DOJThis week Apple responded to the DOJ e-book antitrust charge by throwing down the gauntlet. Basically they ripped apart each and every one of the DOJ charges against Apple.  Their first shot was directed against the DOJ contention that before Apple entered the e-book market it was a market with a “robust price competition”. Apple was quick to point out in their response that at the time Apple entered the market Amazon sold 90 percent of all e-books. This, according to Apple clearly shows there was no pricing competition in the e-book market prior to their entry.

Apple had no problem throwing the publishers under the bus when they stated if there was any conspiracy by the publishers, Apple had nothing to do with it and in fact had no knowledge of it. Apple said that the DOJ is concentrating too much on the increase in price and does not give enough credit for the growth in the number of e-book titles, and the types of e-books that are now available since Apple entered the market. The introduction of the iBook allowed for features such as color pictures, videos and audio innovations that were not available through the Amazon Kindle. Apple said that the DOJ offers no proof that the agency model that Apple uses harms the consumer. That there was and is nothing illegal about this model and that it has been around for quite a while.

Now that the first salvos by both sides have been fired, it is clear that this maybe a long battle. The US District Court has refused to throw out the class action suit brought by 31 states in a case similar to the DOJ. Apple continues to stand its ground and all indications are that it has no intention of backing down. Apple clearly has the money and the will to fight the case as far as it will go.  This is one case where the consumer could end up losing no matter how the case goes.  There is no doubt that the introduction of the iBook has forced the e-book market to innovate.  However this same innovation has also caused the rise in the price of ebooks.


All Your .com Are Belong To US



In the latest cyber moves by the Dept of Homeland Security against a Canadian on-line gambling outfit, it’s been confirmed that if it’s a .com domain, it falls under US jurisdiction, regardless of where the servers are, where the company is incorporated or who the domain registrar is.

Strangely for the “Land of the Free”, Americans aren’t allowed to gamble on-line but this didn’t stop Bodog, a Canadian-based on-line gambling site with the domain bodog.com, from aggressively marketing its services to US citizens. As a result, Bodog’s four owners have been indicted (pdf) on various internet gambling charges.

Almost everything to do with this organisation was out of harm’s way in Canada – the company, the owners, the servers, the domain registrar – so the DHS took the step of forcing Verisign into doing the dirty work. Verisign manages the .com infrastructure and they removed (pdf) some of the key linking records to the bodog.com domain, thus putting the domain off the net.

In this instance, it can be hard to feel any particular sympathy with Bodog as it appears that they did what they did knowing that it was illegal. Regardless, though the point is now made that a .com can be taken off the internet pretty much because the US doesn’t like it. Selling holidays to Cuba – you’re gone. Trading with Iran – you’re off-line. Evolution is a fact – you’re history.

If you or your organisation has a .com, you’re now under US jurisdiction, and if you think this is bad, imagine what it would have been like if SOPA had been enacted.


UK to Rewrite Copyright?



Channel 4 News is reporting that the British Government will put forward changes to the UK’s archaic copyright laws on Wednesday. Format shifting for both music and video is expected to become legal as will sharing  with family. Parody works will gain protection.

The proposals will be announced by Vince Clarke Cable, Business Secretary on Wednesday, and while file sharing using peer-to-peer and similar technologies will remain illegal, the legalisation of format shifting will allow companies like Amazon and Google to offer online music services which store copies of the owner’s music collection. This is currently illegal under British law which is why none of the current offerings are available here.

The protection to parody works (spoof music videos) is also good news as several popular songs such as Newport State of Mind have struggled to stay on-line in the UK where parody doesn’t have the protection it might in the US.

Overall, very welcome news for consumers in the UK and fingers crossed that the proposals don’t get too watered down before they become law. More news on Wednesday.


Are We All Thieves?



The history of advancing technology is long littered with accusations of copyright infringement along with charges of outright thievery.

The problem seems to stem from ever-changing definitions of what comprises a song, a performance, or a book. Back in the days when the player piano was invented, musicians themselves seemed to define a song as a live performance. Hence, the spreading invention of mechanical player pianos and reproduced sheet music would somehow destroy music itself.

Of course, what actually happened was that rather than being destroyed, music was promoted and ultimately became more popular.

Music is not the piano rolls, nor is it vinyl records, audiocassettes, or CD’s. These are simply physical transmission mediums. It could also be equally argued that MP3 or other digital file formats are not the actual music either, though they are heavily intertwined.

Can’t we as consumers be honest? How is it that so many of us can think nothing of illegally downloading media, yet wouldn’t think of stealing a physical object without paying for it?

Those who continue to rationalize that it’s “okay” to illegally download copyrighted music, movies and other copyrighted materials are thieves. Would you enjoy having your stuff stolen? Are excuses popping up in your mind why wrong is right and right is wrong? If so, you failed the test. If you have to make an excuse to yourself or anyone else to justify your behavior, you are wrong. If you find yourself the victim of a thief, how can you then turn around and complain? Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?

The solution to the problem is easy. Get what you want by legitimately paying for it. If you don’t want to pay for it, don’t be a thief by stealing it.

On the other hand, if you don’t like the less-than-stellar behavior of certain media-production organizations, the solution is equally easy. Don’t consume their products. Turn them off. Pull the plug. The world won’t come to an end. You will survive. The age we live in is filled to the brim with alternative entertainment and information sources that make it possible to reduce or completely eliminate the need to consume copyrighted material, if that is your wish.


USB 3.0 On It’s Way



Jeff Ravencraft from the USB Implementers Forum discusses the deployment of USB hardware interface standards, including USB 3.0 as well as wireless USB. So-called “Superspeed” USB, or USB 3.0, can operate up to 10 times faster than current USB 2.0 connections. USB 3.0 ports can supply up to twice as much power as USB 2.0 ports, which is important for charging many of today’s portable devices more quickly.

Mr. Ravencraft also discusses the certification process that USB devices and device manufacturers must go through in order to be able to legally display the respective official USB logos.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and Esbjorn Larsen of MrNetCast.com.

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Google Acted Illegally in UK



Google LogoThe UK’s Information Commissioner today confirmed that Google breached UK’s Data Protection Act when the Street View cars captured personal data while collecting wi-fi network information.

As a result of this, Google will be required to sign an undertaking to take steps to ensure that breaches of the Act don’t re-occur.  Google will then be audited in nine month’s time to confirm that the required policies and training has taken place. Finally, once any legal obstacles have been cleared, Google will have to delete the personal data from the UK.

Currently, the Information Commissioner does not intend to fine Google, but will take further action if necessary

Information Commissioner's OfficeThe Commissioner, Christopher Graham said,  “It is my view that the collection of this information was not fair or lawful and constitutes a significant breach of the first principle of the Data Protection Act.  The most appropriate and proportionate regulatory action in these circumstances is to get written legal assurance from Google that this will not happen again – and to follow this up with an ICO audit.”

What’s interesting about this is that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had previously decided not to take action against Google because the sample data shown to the ICO was considered to be fragmentary and therefore unlikely to constitute personal data.

However, Google’s Alan Eustace admitted on Google’s own blog that, “A number of external regulators have inspected the data as part of their investigations (seven of which have now been concluded). It’s clear from those inspections that whilst most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords.”

The Commissioner then infers that because this happened in other countries, it happened in the UK, even if most of the data was fragmentary.  You can read the Commissioner’s letter to Google Inc here.

Personally, I’m pleased that Google is being held to account.  Far too often it seems that big business gets away with abusing our personal information.