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Against Monopoly

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Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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Business Method Patents

The political economy of IP is very revealing. In Steal This Idea, I described how the US support for copyrights shifted when the US became a stronger producer from being a stronger net consumer.

When the economy weakens, IP is often used as a means to ratchet up profits.

As far as business methods are concerned, it began with State Street -- a banking patent. Now that others are able to challenge the financial moguls, finance turns against protection.

The rank opportunism of IP and the political hacks who support the various interest groups is appalling.

Why is homeland security enforcing the nation against music downloads?

"In what appears to be the latest phase of a far-reaching federal crackdown on online piracy of music and movies, a number of sites that facilitate illegal file-sharing were shut down this week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Department of Homeland Security."

Sisario, Ben. 2010. "U.S. Shuts Down Web Sites in Piracy Crackdown." New York Times (27 November). http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/27/technology/27torrent.html?hp

Copyright Madness

Even the Wall Street Journal is stepping in -- even if it is the Weekend Journal.

Woodlief, Tony. 2010. "Curse of the Greedy Copyright Holders." Wall Street Journal (9 July). http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704608104575220551906611796.html?mod=ITP_weekendjournal_6

"When I asked to use a single line by songwriter Joe Henry, for example, his record label's parent company demanded $150 for every 7,500 copies of my book. Assuming I sell enough books to earn back my modest advance, this amounts to roughly 1.5% of my earnings, all for quoting eight words from one of Mr. Henry's songs. I love Joe Henry, but the price was too high. I replaced him with Shakespeare, whose work (depending on which edition you use) is in the public domain. Mr. Henry's record label may differ, but it's not clear that his interests -- or theirs -- are being served here. Were they concerned that readers might have their thirst for Mr. Henry's music sated by that single lyric? Isn't it more likely that his lyric would have enticed customers who otherwise wouldn't have heard of him?"

Thoughts on the hacked climate change e-mail

One of the problems is that science has become politicized. Industries hire hacks (including scientists) to attack any science that does not meet their needs. Think of the Chamber of Commerce's recent call for economists to write a paper that will attack health care.

Under constant attack, scientists may feel the need to "play defense." Just like a football team that keeps its practices secret to prevent opponents from learning their plans, scientists may well become insular.

In this way, industry destroys good science, which should depend on sharing of information.

Warm and Fuzzy about Windows 7

The National Security Agency testified that Microsoft let the agency "enhance Windows 7."

From NSA Information Assurance Director Richard Shaeffer's testimony to the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security:

"Working in partnership with Microsoft and elements of the Department of Defense, NSA leveraged our unique expertise and operational knowledge of system threats and vulnerabilities to engance Microsoft's operating system security guide without constraining the user's ability to perform their everyday tasks . All this was done in coordination with the product release, not months or years later during the product's lifecycle."

link here

"Cybersecurity: Preventing Terrorist Attacks and Protecting Privacy in Cyberspace" Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security (17 November).

This isn't new, Whitelaw explains, because the NSA has been collaborating with Microsoft since 2005. link here

Schaeffer said that the NSA is also working to engage other companies, including Apple, Sun, and RedHat, on security standards for their products. The agency also works with computer security firms such as Symantec, McAfee, and Intel.

link here

How Digital "Piracy" Creates Value

EBay just sold a large portion of Skype after a long legal dispute with Skype's founders. What interested me was the Skype's code evolved from the founders' earlier venture, the file-sharing system, Kazaa. In effect, the experience with the "illegal" Kazaa allowed the founders to develop technology that had a great value, especially for people communicating internationally.

The founders, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, blocked the sale for a long time on the grounds that EBay violated an agreement not to tamper with the code without their approval. In effect, Ebay acted like a pirate, while the pirates became anti-pirates.

Perhaps someday someone will catalog all the other benefits that that the pirates developed.

I don't know how to break off the post to keep from taking up the entire screen,so here is some background information:

http://michaelperelman.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/how-digital-piracy-creates-value/

The Authors Guild

I wonder how many authors selected the Authors Guild to be there representative. Am i part of something like a class action suit where my representatives oppose my own interest.

Intellectual Property vs. Global Warming

The damage done by intellectual property goes well beyond the prevention of the downloading of music. Yesterday's story about a Goldman Sachs employee downloading proprietary information was not exactly an example of a violation of intellectual property laws, but rather a theft of trade secrets -- perhaps a distinction without a difference.

Below, is a story about Toyota, supposedly benign force in the green economy by virtue of the Prius. Here is another side of the story in which Toyota is using intellectual property to make competition difficult.

One might be sympathetic to Toyota you were selling socks or toothpaste, but global warming seems to be too important to be gamed by such shenanigans.

Murphy, John. 2009. "Toyota Builds Thicket of Patents Around Hybrid To Block Competitors." Wall Street Journal (1 July): p. B 1.

"The Obama administration's tough new fuel-efficiency standards could pose problems for some car makers, but Toyota Motor Corp. is hoping to benefit. The Japanese company is betting the rules will give an advantage to its expanding lineup of hybrid vehicles, and it also aims to boost revenue by licensing to other car makers the patents that protect its fuel-saving technologies. Since it started developing the gas-electric Prius more than a decade ago, Toyota has kept its attorneys just as busy as its engineers, meticulously filing for patents on more than 2,000 systems and components for its best-selling hybrid. Its third-generation Prius, which hit showrooms in May, accounts for about half of those patents alone. Toyota's goal: to make it difficult for other auto makers to develop their own hybrids without seeking licensing from Toyota."

Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research.

This excellent New York Times article describes how the licenses for GE seeds are preventing scientists from studying them.

Pollack, Andrew. 2009. "Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research." New York Times (19 February).

"Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry's genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists. "No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions," the scientists wrote in a statement submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. The E.P.A. is seeking public comments for scientific meetings it will hold next week on biotech crops."

"The researchers, 26 corn-insect specialists, withheld their names because they feared being cut off from research by the companies. But several of them agreed in interviews to have their names used. The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes. So while university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say. Such agreements have long been a problem, the scientists said, but they are going public now because frustration has been building. "If a company can control the research that appears in the public domain, they can reduce the potential negatives that can come out of any research," said Ken Ostlie, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, who was one of the scientists who had signed the statement."

"The companies "have the potential to launder the data, the information that is submitted to E.P.A.," said Elson J. Shields, a professor of entomology at Cornell."

"The growers' agreement from Syngenta not only prohibits research in general but specifically says a seed buyer cannot compare Syngenta's product with any rival crop. Dr. Ostlie, at the University of Minnesota, said he had permission from three companies in 2007 to compare how well their insect-resistant corn varieties fared against the rootworms found in his state. But in 2008, Syngenta, one of the three companies, withdrew its permission and the study had to stop. "The company just decided it was not in its best interest to let it continue," Dr. Ostlie said."

"Mark A. Boetel, associate professor of entomology at North Dakota State University, said that before genetically engineered sugar beet seeds were sold to farmers for the first time last year, he wanted to test how the crop would react to an insecticide treatment. But the university could not come to an agreement with the companies responsible, Monsanto and Syngenta, over publishing and intellectual property rights. Chris DiFonzo, an entomologist at Michigan State University, said that when she conducted surveys of insects, she avoided fields with transgenic crops because her presence would put the farmer in violation of the grower's agreement."

"Dr. Shields of Cornell said financing for agricultural research had gradually shifted from the public sector to the private sector. That makes many scientists at universities dependent on financing or technical cooperation from the big seed companies. "People are afraid of being blacklisted," he said. "If your sole job is to work on corn insects and you need the latest corn varieties and the companies decide not to give it to you, you can't do your job"."

Google Monetizes Public Libraries?

With public libraries reeling under expanded budget cuts, Google's new deal with the publishers seems to threaten public libraries, which offer Internet service.

Karen Coyle's warning about Google's new plan is short enough that I need not summarize it. Google's response seems disingenuous.

Keep in mind that the major university libraries supplied books that were subsidized by public money.

Whatever happened to "do no harm"?

link here

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