Theft! A History of Music —Part 3: If I could turn forward time...

Imagine a 20-year-old musician publishing his work today. Let's pretend he's living the fast and reckless life of a rock star and will die young at 45. Because the copyright term has been ratcheted up to life of the author plus 70 years (or 95 years from publication for corporate works), you won't be able to sample his work without permission (for your heartfelt tribute song, of course), until 2105. But since you're not living his rock star lifestyle, maybe you can hang on another 95 years to grab your chance. » Read more

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Theft! A History of Music—Part 2: Copyright jams

Our society and its lawmakers are notoriously bad at predicting the effects of new technologies. I think of the ongoing battles over new distribution formats, like the assumption that "the VCR [would be] to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." Jennifer Jenkins, one of the authors of Theft! A History of Music, has an even more basic and older example: musical notation. » Read more

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Theft! A History of Music—Part 1: Plato and all that jazz

Why did Plato argue that remixing should be banned by the state? What threats did jazz and rock 'n roll pose? And what does all of that mean for the conflicts between artists and copyright today? » Read more

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Is software too abstract to be patented?

The serious problem of proliferating bad software patents was not solved by the Supreme Court's Bilski decision, but now it's looking like it may be part of the solution. The early case law applying Bilski is much more encouraging than expected. The new Bilski test focuses on whether an application attempts to patent “an abstract idea.” That new test has already been applied to reject applications for quite a few bad software patents, and with more lawsuits, it could invalidate a lot more.  To advance on this, we need to figure out out better ways to explain what software is and show when it is an unpatentable abstract idea. » Read more

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License compliance is not a problem for open source users

License compliance is a major and costly issue for proprietary software, but the license involved in that case is an End User License Agreement (EULA), not a source license delivering extensive liberties. When we compare like-for-like, we discover open source software has no such issues. End-users do not need to have a license management server, do not need to hold audits, do not need to fear BSA raids. Open source is so much easier! » Read more

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TEDx branding: A legal point of view

My friend and former colleague Chris Grams recently wrote a great article on the topic of extending the TED brand by allowing anyone to organize their own TED conference under “TEDx” branding. Chris posits that trademark law may be standing in the way of successful branding in today's business environment, where brands and brand affinity are built through community engagement rather than through top-down, owner-driven brand strategy.

I couldn't agree more. » Read more

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The PTO addresses Bilski and software patents

When the Supreme Court decided the Bilski case, it didn't speak directly to the issue of software patents.  But the Bilski majority  emphasized that abstract ideas are not patentable, and recognized that allowing patents for abstract ideas could hinder innovation.  Thus there's still room for discussion of the legal standard for when, if ever, there should be patents on software.  » Read more

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On copyright aggregation

A collaborative activity dubbed Project Harmony is now under way between corporate and corporate-sponsored participants in the free and open source software communities (not to be confused with the Apache Java project of the same name). The project seeks to harmonise the various participant and contributor agreements – collectively termed “contributor agreements” by some – used by many open source projects. » Read more

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Can programming language names be trademarks?

Can–or should–a programming language name be a trademark? The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the administrative board within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that adjudicates whether trademarks can be registered, recently decided that the word “Lua” was not a generic name for a programming language, but rather that the term referred to a particular proprietary language. Is it right though, that someone is allowed to exercise proprietary rights over a programming language name? » Read more

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Lawrence Lessig's new journey (part two)

I think I was as surprised as anyone when I heard that Larry Lessig was stepping away from Creative Commons. It seemed like a sudden change of direction, because Lessig has been a vocal advocate for freedom and choice for so many years. But as I hear Lessig describe his journey from Creative Commons to Change Congress, I’m reminded of Daniel Okrent’s history of the prohibition movement in the United States, "Last Call". » Read more

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