June 4, 2006

Skype, PCs and Telephony [7:43 pm]

Internet Phones: Please Wait for the Next Available Opportunity

THE telephone and the PC are ubiquitous desk mates, separated by a few inches and about a century.

How soon we can use our home phones to exploit the efficiencies of the Internet, where calling costs are too small to be worth metering, is a question of no small import for every telecommunications provider — and for every household with a phone.

The prospect of modernizing the telephone seems close because broadband services have solved the so-called last-mile problem, bringing relatively fast Internet connections from local switching centers and cable offices into customers’ homes. But connecting home phones to the Internet — spanning the last foot and a half — remains a problem, unless one subscribes to one of the new Internet phone services offered by cable companies here and there.

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One Online Exemption Means Universal Exemptions? [7:41 pm]

A look at eBay’s legislative clout: How eBay Makes Regulations Disappear

As the company has spread its innovative and influential wings across the Internet, it has also woven together a muscular and wily lobbying apparatus that spans 25 states. “It is a fast-moving train, and if you get in front of it you’ll get flattened,” said Sherrie Wilks, an official with Louisiana’s licensing agency, who is concerned that eBay flouts regulatory oversight by persuading state legislators to take the company’s side.

Regulators in other states also say that when they try to erect guidelines around eBay’s activities, they quickly encounter the realities of the company’s political power, raising anew the perennial questions about the proper balance among public policy, consumer protection and business interests. EBay’s lobbying tactics, meanwhile, illustrate the spoils to be won when a savvy, resourceful company combines local political persuasion and grass-roots rallying to get lucrative regulatory exemptions that allow it to safeguard its profits.

EBay’s efforts have been remarkably successful, and the company, which has worked tirelessly to cultivate its image as a friendly neighborhood bazaar even as it engages in hard-nosed lobbying, is not shy about boasting of its victories.

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Right of Celebrity? [7:37 pm]

So that’s how we get Paris Hilton?  Star power - pdf

But the right of publicity is not the right to be famous, it’s the right to control-and profit from-the commercial uses of one’s persona. According to Mark Lee, a lawyer who has represented clients like Tiger Woods, Barbra Streisand, and Sylvester Stallone in right-of-publicity and other intellectual property cases, the right of publicity is essentially a protection against “other people making money off of you without your permission.”

Although formally recognized in 28 states, including Massachusetts, publicity rights remain controversial. [...]

[...] If the question of who owns a batting average has a koan-like quality to it, that’s to be expected in right-of-publicity jurisprudence. Landmark decisions have involved Bette Midler’s voice, Vanna White’s letter-turning, the pitcher Don Newcombe’s wind-up, the phrase “Here’s Johnny,” and, in the sole Supreme Court right-of-publicity case, a human cannonball’s circus routine.

Despite the hint of the surreal, litigators and legal scholars take such cases quite seriously, since what’s at stake is the boundary between free speech and property rights. Some worry that publicity rights have already expanded too far, allowing celebrities unilaterally to dictate how the rest of us can portray them. Others respond that it’s simply the law’s reasonable recognition of the economic value of celebrity. The issues and arguments can be similar to those in trademark and copyright cases. In a unique way though, right-of-publicity disputes are also about fame-who owns it, and what it’s worth.

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