A Slight Shift

28 August 2009

Regular Ip’s What’s Up readers know that this blog has been searching for its proper place in the blogosphere ever since its inception nearly a year ago.  The Ipper’s have bounced around on many topics, from updates on new US laws and cases to happenings in Nigeria to software licenses.  Though we look back on all these posts with fondness, we have also come to realize that our past topic choices have not always been the best use of our resources or our readers’ time.

There are many, many good Intellectual Property blogs out there, as attested to by our massive (and hopefully helpfully organized) side bar.  Some of our topics fit better, and are usually covered, on other blogs.  If we notice something that doesn’t seem to be getting the type of coverage we think it deserves, we will still post about it here.  But, for the most part, we are shifting our focus to be more in-line with our sub-title text.  Ip’s What’s Up will first and foremost be “A Place Where IP and Your Daily Life Meet.”

In the future, look for more post about interesting IP sightings in everyday life, both in the three-dimensional world and online.  And remember, you can always check out our sidebar to see the most recent updates on a myriad of IP-related topics.

Santa Cruz, Japan?

18 August 2009

One thing the Ippers like to do on this blog is discuss strange IP sightings, things they’ve seen that look like they could include an intellectual property issue. This past weekend the Ippers had a splendid one!

Ipper dtrizzle and his friends take an annual camping trip to Big Basin Park, and for the past two years, goldenrail has been fortunate enough to go along. This weekend excursion always includes a Saturday afternoon spent at the historical Santa Cruz Boardwalk. In addition to the amusement park rides, sandy beach and cotton candy vendors, the Boardwalk features a large arcade. A large arcade with one of dtrizzle’s favorite games, Street Fighter II.

drummaniaWhile dtrizzle was busy proceeding through the game, destroying every opponent in his path, goldenrail was standing idly near by, occasionally watching, occasionally peering at other nearby games. Next to Street Fighter II stood a game called drummania 10th Mix. Similar to the drum set portion of Rock Band, the screen rolled through lists of “popular” songs from which the player could choose. The reason I say “popular” in quotes is because the game billed the songs as such but none of them were familiar. It soon became apparent why.

A young boy came over and plopped a few tokens into the game. As the game began its warm-up cycle, a license flashed on the screen, “This game for sale and use only in Japan.” (goldenrail wasted a dollar in tokens attempting to get the notice to reappear for a picture, but it did not. She already knew she is terrible at fake music games and did not need an attempt to play drummania 10th Mix to reconfirm this for her.)

japanese screenIt’s possible the game was sold in Japan, but it was certainly being used in not-Japan. This explained not only why the songs were not familiar, but why so many of them were in a mix of English and Japanese, and why the screen often flashed Japanese warnings. [If anyone would care to translate the warning to the left, the Ippers would be most obliged.]

There are several reasons a game like this might have such a licensing restriction on it. This Ipper thinks it most likely that the licenses obtained by the game owner for the music included in the game are not international licenses. International licensing in music can be very complicated, often requiring dealing with collecting rights societies in each country where the music will be performed. It is also quite common for different parties to own the rights to the same song in different geographical areas.

Another possibility is similar geographical restrictions on patents that might be part of the game. Or, perhaps there is an agreement between manufacturers and distributers that certain versions of the game only go to certain regions, or that only one distributor may sell in a given area. Maybe the licensing restriction has to do with delayed release dates, with the games first being made available in Japan and other countries needing to wait (similar to Hollywood movies in the US verses elsewhere.) These reasons are all speculation of course; the real reason for the licenses restriction is not clear from the license notice itself. One thing, however, is clear: that game does not belong in Santa Cruz, California.

Purchase your own drummania 10th Mix here.

Stop, Moon, Thief!*

07 August 2009

image The Solar and Intergalactic Atomic Association (SIAA) has filed suit against the Moon for copyright/patent/trademark infringement. It also accuses the Moon of reverse passing off, attempting to claim the Sun’s light as its own and calling it Moonlight.

Proponents of the Sun claim that the Moon has persisted in the willful infringement of the Sun’s product for too long, sometimes going so far as to completely block the Sun’s product from getting to its intended market.

According to the SIAA, the Sun makes its light by a very detailed scientific process; nuclear fusion is not something anyone can do. The specific shape of the Sun’s appearance, the shade and hue of its light and the intensity of its glow are all results of the Sun’s creativity in deciding how to render itself to Earth. The bright yellow/white spear and white light are symbols that clearly represent the Sun.

“The Moon not only steals the light from the Sun, it adapts it, and then distributes the adaptation, all for its own credit!” explained SIAA spokesperson H.E. Apollo, further explaining that the Moon is also attempting to benefit from the good will of the Sun by redirecting the Sun’s light for its own purpose. “In a case like this,” Mr. Apollo continued, “we can’t rely on trade secret protection. Earth scientists have already discovered how we create the beautiful glow and warmth that is our business. We must rely on copyright, patent and trademark to protect our product.”

Representative for the Moon, Diana Mawu calls the SIAA’s claims baseless. “The Moon is not stealing anything, and is very offended at being accused of such behavior,” she told reporters yesterday. According to Ms. Mawu, the Moon’s behavior is perfectly legal. “The Moon obtains its light from the Sun via a millennium-long agreement. If the Moon desires to share this light with others, it is the Moon’s right.” Even if the Moon did not have such a long-standing agreement with the Sun, the Moon’s behavior would still be protected, Ms. Mawu claims. “The Moon is transforming the Sun’s product into something new. A new product that is not attempting to replace the Sun’s but meet the needs of a market in which the Sun is not likely enter, Night.”

The SIAA argues that the Moon is not “sharing” its light in the true sense of the word because no matter how much light it gives away, the amount it has is not diminished. As for the transformation argument, Mr. Apollo claims that the use of the Sun’s product is hardly transformative; the Moon merely dims the Sun’s light. In addition, the Moon takes a substantial portion of the Sun’s work in making this so-called transformation, most of its light. “The Moon is trying to claim that it is doing good work by delivering light to those who cannot receive it from the Sun. It is not the Sun’s fault that some are not in a position to obtain the Sun’s product. All are welcome to make arrangements with the Sun to obtain light directly from its source instead of through this third-party infringement.”

Mr. Apollo expressed the SIAA’s position at a press conference earlier this week: “The Sun’s products highly valued on Earth. We all know that life as we know it could not survive without the hard work of the Sun. This work needs to be protected. I am confident that the law will prevail and not let such an important producer sit unprotected in the sky, free for anyone to steal its creation.”

Ms. Mawu also remains confident, but that the Moon will “succeed in thwarting this blatant extortion attempt.” “The Moon is doing nothing wrong!” she insisted. “Besides,” she added, “the Sun has failed to file any trademark or copyright registrations or applications for patents.”

*Hopefully it goes without saying that this report is fictional, but just in case, “this report is a fictional story used for illustration purposes.”

Image credits: Winter Moon in Red Oak Frame, cc-by-nc-nd, Ray Schroeder; Sun, author.

Hat tip to The Boondocks episode Riley Wuz Here for the line, "you know Riley, the moon steals its shine from the sun, and no one ever gets the two confused."

An Easy Way to Explore Software Licenses

03 August 2009

BurkasThis Ipper recently finished a new book by Douglas E. Phillips called The Software License Unveiled: How Legislation by License Controls Software Access. Although, as her co-worker quipped, it is quite odd to think of software licenses in burkas (and thus able to be unveiled), Phillips does a good job explaining the true meaning of most software licenses.

[right: 3 software licenses hurry into the darkness to avoid unveiling. Burkas by Roy Evans Miranda, cc-by-nc.]

Although I think Ipper Dtrizzle would have been a more ideal audience for this book, having a background in both law and computer tech, I still found the book very interesting and readable. Despite my stumbling through part of the tech details, I think even someone with no law or tech background could find a read through The Software License Unveiled quite rewarding. Anyone who’s clicked “I Agree” on their computer screen will find some interesting morsels in it.

The Best Parts

Phillips does a good job of providing a lot of background, especially when it comes to the history of software development, the Free Software movement and the expansion of restrictive licensing terms. [Indeed, this book saved me from much embarrassment by teaching me about Richard Stallman; his name came up several times in conversations at work soon after I read about him.] The discussion of Free verses proprietary software is nicely balanced. Phillips points out the good and bad sides of both types of licenses, as well as suggesting changes from which both types could benefit.

I especially liked the reading-level and grade-level analysis of various software licenses. Users of Microsoft Word may be familiar with the Flesch-Kincaid grade level system. - My sister and I often competed to see who could get the higher grade level. It wasn’t until her fiancĂ© was in med school that we even realized it went above 12. Dtrizzle prefers to compete for the lowest grade level. - Not only is it neat to understand how this system works, but it’s also very interesting to see how different licenses compare to each other. Let’s just say, there’s no way my sister could beat the standard Free Software license (esp. GPLv3), and no way any of the proprietary of Free licenses could beat Dtrizzle (except maybe the WTFPL).

Some Concerns

One of Phillips’ premises startled me a bit. He claims, throughout the book, that software licenses are fully binding between the user and the company. My law professors have constantly insisted otherwise, including my Intellectual Property Licensing professor who said the licenses were invalid adhesion contracts. At this point, I don’t know which side to believe. Phillips presented a few cases to support his claim, but I would have liked to see more. The book also had a few minor typos, but since it’s been a long while since I’ve read a book without any, I’m beginning to assume this is standard.

Go For It

In his conclusion, Phillips says: “This book has suggested that the proliferation of legislative licensing undermines the efficiency of both models and threatens to take the digital economy in the wrong direction.” If this was his goal, he has succeeded. Phillips has done a good job of explaining the problems caused by long, detailed, inaccessible and forced licenses. He discusses the damage these types of licenses do, no matter the type of software they are attached to, and expresses some hope for changes that bring growth to the software industry and power to the user. If you’re at all interested in privately made “laws”, technology and its legal framework or the history of the software industry, you’ll enjoy taking a gander at The Software License Unveiled.

Bibliographic Details: The Software License Unveiled: How Legislation by License Controls Software Access, Douglas E. Phillips, hardcover $85.00, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-53187-4. Less than 200 pages. Small and light. High ability to fit in laptop bag. Moderate risk of making you look like a geek in public (the cover’s got some techie looking pictures on it, inside of a computer, circuit thingy, guy with weird sensors on his fingers…).

Disclaimer: I was asked to read and review this book. I was not asked to like it.