Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate


Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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Open Source at the Freeman

If you are interested in how open source produces great software without the benefit of copyright/patent protection, Michele and my article on the Freeman is now available.

Who lives by the sword

... may get seriously hurt by the sword. Today, a California court ruled that Microsoft infringed a couple of Alcatel-Lucent patents on compression of MP3 files and awarded a $1.52 billion damage payment from MS to A-L.

This will not kill MS, but is may teach it a lesson or two. Maybe Bill will wake up from his monopolist's sleep rediscover the value of competing by inventing. Maybe he will recall his earlier statements about the software industry that would have never happened if copyrights and patents had been enforced back then, and he will donate a nice billion to a new Foundation working to free the world of one of the most dangerous man-made viruses, IP.

While we wait for the miracle to happen, let's smile at MS misfortunes and laugh at the following statement by the A-L's lawyer "We invented it, and everybody else is making money off of it."

Yup, someone invented reading and writing, my dear, and we are all making money out of it. It is called progress.

The power of Bill Gates

An earlier post asked if IP is affecting significantly income inequality. I do not have hard data to answer either way, and I guess it will take a long while before we get any. Still, my intuition says "yes", and probably significantly. But it takes a lot of "ifs" and "assumes" to argue it, so better leave it for a future date.

What IP certainly does is to increase the personal political power of IP monopolists beyond anything we had ever seen before, even in the "good old days" of the robber barons.

Today we learn that Bill Gates has the power of freeing or keeping people in jail for years in countries as far away as Russia. The press worldwide is reporting that Mikhail Gorbachev has pleaded with him (BG) to spare some obscure school teacher in the Ural region 5 (five) years of Siberian labor camp. When will a court of miracles open up in Seattle for the worldwide roi thaumaturge of the globalization era?

Host By Your Own Petard Award

Via Slashdot we find IBM suing Amazon for patent infringement. One of the downsides of the patent system is that people genuinely think they invented something new (Amazon) so they think they should be entitled to sue anyone who does anything vaguely similar (Barnes and Noble) - and they are outraged that anyone would suggest (IBM) that maybe what they invented wasn't really so new. People tend to be very proprietary about their ideas, rarely recognizing the extent to which the build on and incorporate other ideas. Is it utopian to suggest that instead of IBM sues Amazon, sues someone else, sues IBM - maybe we should just get rid of patents? Shifting money around in circles doesn't enhance incentives to innovate, and the court system has not proven a very effective method of resolving disputes over intellectual credit.

Supreme Court To Rule On Software Patents?

The issue of software patents, particularly in regards to open source software, is increasingly contentious. According to Information Week,

The opponents of proliferating software patents who see them as a threat to open source software may finally get their day in court--the U.S. Supreme Court.

The critics have been itching for this opportunity for years. But the Supreme Court rarely reviews patent cases, which usually are decided by federal appeals courts. The top court, however, has agreed to hear three patent cases this fall, though only one relates to the impact of patents on open source software.

The full Information Week article can be read here

And stay tuned.

Congress Readies New Digital Copyright Bill

From CNET News.com:
For the last few years, a coalition of technology companies, academics and computer programmers has been trying to persuade Congress to scale back the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Now Congress is preparing to do precisely the opposite. A proposed copyright law seen by CNET News.com would expand the DMCA's restrictions on software that can bypass copy protections and grant federal police more wiretapping and enforcement powers....

The 24-page bill is a far-reaching medley of different proposals cobbled together. One would, for instance, create a new federal crime of just trying to commit copyright infringement. Such willful attempts at piracy, even if they fail, could be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

It also represents a political setback for critics of expanding copyright law, who have been backing federal legislation that veers in the opposite direction and permits bypassing copy protection for "fair use" purposes....

But one of the more controversial sections may be the changes to the DMCA. Under current law, Section 1201 of the law generally prohibits distributing or trafficking in any software or hardware that can be used to bypass copy-protection devices....

Smith's measure would expand those civil and criminal restrictions. Instead of merely targeting distribution, the new language says nobody may "make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess" such anticircumvention tools if they may be redistributed to someone else.
The bill would permit wiretapping in investigations and civil forfeiture penalties. The full article is here.

Are Software Patents Evil?

A talk by Paul Graham at Google about whether software patents are evil. One concern he has is whether in a world where patents are legal firms should patent things. Like Graham I would have a hard time advising anyone not to take advantage of the law as it exists - especially since if you don't take out defensive patents you are a potential victim. The talk is hardly a ringing endorsement of patents as a matter of public policy, though. First, he provides some insight into what sort of companies file patent lawsuits (as opposed to filing patents)
A company that sues competitors for patent infringement is like a a defender who has been beaten so thoroughly that he turns to plead with the referee. You don't do that if you can still reach the ball, even if you genuinely believe you've been fouled. So a company threatening patent suits is a company in trouble.

When we were working on Viaweb, a bigger company in the e-commerce business was granted a patent on online ordering, or something like that. I got a call from a VP there asking if we'd like to license it. I replied that I thought the patent was completely bogus, and would never hold up in court. "Ok," he replied. "So, are you guys hiring?"

The main case against patents is that they don't work terribly well in encouraging innovation - the reason for having them in the first place. Graham apparently agrees
In the software business I know from experience whether patents encourage or discourage innovation, and the answer is the type that people who like to argue about public policy least like to hear: they don't affect innovation much, one way or the other. Most innovation in the software business happens in startups, and startups should simply ignore other companies' patents. At least, that's what we advise, and we bet money on that advice.

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Killing people with patents SYSSY

IIPA thinks open source equals piracy rerwerwerwer

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