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August 28, 2007

More Jurisdiction [7:04 am]

Yahoo defends obeying Chinese lawpdf

Yahoo Inc. on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the Internet company by civil rights advocates, arguing that it had become unfairly ensnared in a political debate over free speech in China.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company is fighting efforts to hold it accountable for the imprisonment and alleged torture of two Chinese citizens after it disclosed their identities to government officials. Yahoo says its Chinese subsidiaries did so to comply with the Chinese government’s rules.

[...] This is a political and diplomatic issue, not a legal one,” Yahoo spokeswoman Kelley Benander said. “The real issue here is the plaintiffs’ outrage at the behavior and laws of the Chinese government. The U.S. court system is not the forum for addressing these political concerns.”

Now *there’s* an interesting question!

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August 27, 2007

You Have To Mean It If You Set It To Music [2:31 pm]

Unauthorized Enjoyment of Song Irks Law Firm

It sounds like the setup for a joke: a law firm picks a fight with a legal blogger over the leak of an internal song celebrating — well, itself.

First, the song: after the law firm Nixon Peabody was named to Fortune magazine’s 2007 list of the best companies to work for, the firm, which has 700 lawyers, commissioned a celebratory anthem with an infectious 1980s-style beat and a sing-along chorus, “Everyone’s a Winner at Nixon Peabody.”

The lyrics, sung in a kind of Earth, Wind & Fire style, include: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s all about the team, it’s all about respect, it all revolves around integrity.”

But what began as an innocent instance of corporate self-congratulation has turned into a minor Internet sensation and earned the firm a bit of a black eye, with bloggers poking fun at the song and criticizing Nixon Peabody’s response to its leak.

[...] Mr. Gerhard asked Mr. Lat to take down the song, but he refused, saying his playing of it fell under the fair-use provisions of the law. Though Mr. Gerhard said the firm did not “intend to let this thing lie,” Mr. Lat says he did not receive a cease-and-desist letter. By Friday, YouTube had removed the song, noting that it had received a copyright violation notice.

[...] But if Nixon Peabody had hoped to squelch the song’s spreading, it had acted too late. Scores of other blogs have since commented on the song and the firm’s response. Another YouTube user has created a second video, using only a minute-long snippet of the song and saying that his use was firmly protected by laws governing parody.

Like the video’s tagline says, “Fair use is a bitch.”

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OT: I Wonder What Changed His Mind?? [8:38 am]

Embattled Attorney General Resigns

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not announced immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.

Also Attorney General Gonzales resigns: official; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Resigns

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The Power of the Platform [8:15 am]

When demand and distribution meet, businesses either face up to the change or lose out: ‘South Park’ Creators Win Ad Sharing in Deal

To Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators and executive producers of “South Park,” Comedy Central’s most lucrative franchise, the clip ought to have been blazing its authorized way around the Internet, its flouting of social norms picking up ad revenue with every set of eyeballs. Instead, the clip was easy to find, but it wasn’t making any money for its rightful owners.

“If I’m overseas and have to get an episode right away,” Mr. Stone lamented, “you literally have to go to an illegal download site.”

Because of the slow entry into the digital realm of Viacom, Comedy Central’s parent, and an almost crippling deal point in Mr. Stone’s and Mr. Parker’s contract, the lewd, rude, crudely animated and mordantly funny series — one that began with a viral video before the term even existed — has barely had a presence as an avalanche of user-generated entertainment hit the Web. Meanwhile, sites like YouTube met the demand for free “South Park” clips without paying for the privilege.

Now, however, Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker and their bosses at Comedy Central, a unit of Viacom’s MTV Networks, are attempting to leapfrog to the vanguard of Hollywood’s transition into Web. In a joint venture that involves millions in up-front cash and a 50-50 split of ad revenues, the network and the two creative partners have agreed to create a hub to spread “South Park”-related material across the Net, mobile platforms, and video games.

[...] [The deal] also creates an entity called SouthParkStudios.com, to be housed in the show’s animation studio in Culver City, Calif., that is intended to be an incubator not only for new applications for characters the likes of Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny, but for new comedy concepts that could one day mature into TV series of their own.

All told, people involved in the deal confirm that it is worth some $75 million to Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone over the next four years. But what is likely to draw the most attention in Hollywood is not the richness of the pact, but the network’s willingness to share its advertising revenue.

Television networks have long maintained a wall between ad revenue and the compensation they pay the talent.

Later: Digital ‘South Park’

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Micropayments? [8:11 am]

This article makes a weird claim that I frankly don’t buy, but it is an interesting exploration of the rhetorical games surrounding the deployment of new technologies: In Online World, Pocket Change Is Not Easily Spent

The idea of micropayments — charging Web users tiny amounts of money for single pieces of online content — was essentially put to sleep toward the end of the dot-com boom. In December 2000, Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program, wrote a manifesto that people still cite whenever someone suggests resurrecting the idea. Micropayments will never work, he wrote, mainly because “users hate them.”

But wait. Amid the disdain, and without many people noticing, micropayments have arrived — just not in the way they were originally envisioned. The 99 cents you pay for a song on iTunes is a micropayment. So are the tiny amounts that some operators of small Web sites earn whenever someone clicks on the ads on their pages. Some stock-photography companies sell pictures for as little as $1 each.

“Micropayments are here,” said Benjamin M. Compaine, a consultant and lecturer at Northeastern University who specializes in media economics, “they just have not evolved in the way that everybody expected.”

If you say so, I guess. But it’s hard to argue that what’s discussed here is micropayments, unless we want to redefine the term entirely.

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A Jurisdiction Spat [7:59 am]

Humane Society Has Its Sights on Amazon.com

The online bookstore sells subscriptions to two cockfighting magazines, The Feathered Warrior and The Gamecock, even though cockfighting has been declared illegal in all states (until Louisiana’s ban takes effect next summer, the activity remains legal in parts of the state).

After trying in vain to persuade Amazon to stop selling the publications, the Humane Society filed a civil lawsuit in District of Columbia Superior Court asserting that the Web company violates animal cruelty laws and that the magazines, which run advertisements for blades that attach to birds’ legs, are effectively catalogs for illegal goods.

But Amazon says the suit amounts to censorship. “These materials are legal to sell, and we do not believe we should act as a censor because their message is objectionable to some people,” said Patty Smith, a spokeswoman for Amazon, adding that her company sells subscriptions to more than 90,000 magazines. “With our incredible selection of titles, we’re bound to sell something that someone will find objectionable.”

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SEO, Newspapers and Persistence of Memory (updated) [7:53 am]

When Bad News Follows You

A BUSINESS strategy of The New York Times to get its articles to pop up first in Internet searches is creating a perplexing problem: long-buried information about people that is wrong, outdated or incomplete is getting unwelcome new life.

People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up.

[...] Kraus’s situation is an unhappy byproduct of something called search engine optimization, which The Times has been using to make money by driving traffic to its Web site. Technically complex, search engine optimization pushes Times content to or near the top of search results, regardless of its importance or accuracy.

[...] But what can they do? The choices all seem fraught with pitfalls. You can’t accept someone’s word that an old article was wrong. What if that person who was charged with abusing a child really was guilty? Re-report every story challenged by someone? Impossible, said Jonathan Landman, the deputy managing editor in charge of the newsroom’s online operation: there’d be time for nothing else.

[...] Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, has a different answer to the problem: He thinks newspapers, including The Times, should program their archives to “forget” some information, just as humans do. Through the ages, humans have generally remembered the important stuff and forgotten the trivial, he said. The computer age has turned that upside down. Now, everything lasts forever, whether it is insignificant or important, ancient or recent, complete or overtaken by events.

Following Mayer-Schönberger’s logic, The Times could program some items, like news briefs, which generate a surprising number of the complaints, to expire, at least for wide public access, in a relatively short time. Articles of larger significance could be assigned longer lives, or last forever.

See also Rewriting history: Should editors delete or alter online content?; also Slate’s counterpoint: Blaming the Times for Your Bad Reputation; also Blaming the Times for Your Bad Reputation, Part 2

As I previously wrote, you may think reputation belongs to you, but it doesn’t. It lives inside the heads of other people, and now inside Google. It’s their possession. If you want to change it, do something to convince people and the Web that you aren’t who they think you are.

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August 26, 2007

The Mechanics of Testing Surveillance’s Legality [11:52 am]

Spying Program May Be Tested by Terror Case

Lawyers for Mr. Aref say they have proof that he was subjected to illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency, pointing to a classified order from the trial judge, unusual testimony from an F.B.I. agent and court documents concerning the calls to Syria.

If they are right, the case may represent the best chance for an appellate ruling about the legality of the N.S.A. program, which monitored the international communications of people in the United States without court approval. Unlike earlier and pending appeals disputing the program, all of them in civil cases, Mr. Aref’s challenge can draw on the constitutional protections available to criminal defendants.

In the civil cases, appeals courts have confronted significant threshold questions, including whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue.

“There are dodges available in civil cases that just aren’t available in criminal cases,” said Corey Stoughton, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has filed supporting briefs in the case. “This case might be able to put this issue to the test.”

[...] The case is significant in a second way, as a vivid illustration of a new form of pre-emptive law enforcement intended to stop terrorism before it happens, even at the expense of charges of entrapment.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation has an obligation to use all available investigative tools,” prosecutors wrote in a brief urging the court to impose harsh sentences in February, “including a sting operation, to remove those ready and willing to help terrorists from our streets.”

[...] Terence L. Kindlon, a lawyer for Mr. Aref, saw the matter differently.

“The F.B.I. case was a hoax that grew out of the Bush administration’s misuse of fear to turn our democracy into a dictatorship,” Mr. Kindlon said.

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A Look At Steampunk “Artifacts” [9:56 am]

The age of steampunkpdf

Steampunk has its roots in science fiction literature, where it describes a corner of the genre obsessed with Victoriana and the idea that the computer age evolved alongside the industrial. Steampunk stories, which started appearing with regularity in the 1980s, eschew clean and orderly visions of the future in favor of gas-lighted streets, steam engines belching toxic smoke, and dastardly villains inventing strange technologies. Dirigibles rule the air, and the upper classes employ clockwork servants to serve their meals.

In the past two years, though, steampunk has emerged in the real world, as Datamancer and a growing number of enthusiasts build steampunk objects and then share photos of them on the Internet. One of the first was the appearance last summer of a group of robots designed by the San Francisco Bay Area artist I-Wei Huang: They look like 19th-century locomotives with legs and are literally steam powered. This year alone has produced steampunk watches from Japan (bizarre assemblages of rusted brass, cracked leather, and antique watch faces) and a steampunk tree house (a steaming metal tree that houses a main room with all manner of secret compartments and drawers) at the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. There is even steampunk fashion, such as a combination dress/overalls adorned with gears and belt loops for every lady’s steampunk tools.

In their embrace of the toothy cog and the sooty pipe, this guild of steampunk hackers represents a rebellion of sorts against our iPhone moment. [...]

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A Reminder [9:48 am]

A nation of outlawspdf (for insights into American’s resolution of these issues, see Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism)

Politicians are belatedly putting China on notice. Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia delivered one of the more stinging counterattacks last month, warning that the United States “must be vigilant about protecting the values we hold dear” in the face of China’s depredations.

His anger reflects the mounting disgust with how recklessly China plies its trade, apparently without regard for the things that make commerce not only dependable but possible: respect for intellectual property, food and drug purity, and basic product safety. With each tawdry revelation, China’s brand of capitalism looks increasingly menacing and foreign to our own sensibilities.

That’s a tempting way to see things, but wrong. What’s happening halfway around the world may be disturbing, even disgraceful, but it’s hardly foreign. A century and a half ago, another fast-growing nation had a reputation for sacrificing standards to its pursuit of profit, and it was the United States.

See also A tragic lessonpdf

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August 24, 2007

iPhone Unlocked - For Now [2:44 pm]

NJ Teen Unlocks IPhone From AT&T Networkpdf

A 17-year-old hacker has broken the lock that ties Apple’s iPhone to AT&T’s wireless network, freeing the most hyped cell phone ever for use on the networks of other carriers, including overseas ones.

[...] The hack, which Hotz posted Thursday to his blog, is complicated and requires skill with both soldering and software. It takes him about two hours to perform. Since the details are public, it seems likely that a small industry may spring up to buy U.S. iPhones, unlock them and send them overseas.

“That’s exactly, like, what I don’t want,” Hotz said. “I don’t want people making money off this.”

He said he wished he could make the instructions simpler, so users could modify the phones themselves.

[...] Since the details of both hacks are public, Apple may be able to modify the iPhone production line to make new phones invulnerable. [...]

Later: With Software and Soldering, a Non-AT&T iPhone

“We’re a bit paranoid about privacy because we don’t know how things are going to evolve,” said one group member, who identified himself only as Jim in a brief phone interview.

His caution stems from the murky legal status of unlocking cellphones.

Last fall, the Librarian of Congress issued an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ruling that people can legally unlock their cellphones. But the ruling does not specifically apply to people like Mr. Hotz and the iPhoneSimFree group who distribute the unlocking tools.

Apple and AT&T could conceivably sue such distributors under the copyright act. The companies could also argue that people sharing modifications to iPhones are interfering with a business relationship, between Apple and AT&T and the customers.

[...] Mike McGuire, an analyst at the research firm Gartner, says that even though few consumers will try these sophisticated alterations, the iPhone modifications point to “the rather rapid erosion of the carrier control of handset distribution.”

“This has been going on for a while,” he said, “and this is the latest salvo.”

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College Roommates in the Internet Age [9:55 am]

College roomies meeting face to Facebookpdf

Colleges typically provide students with the name and e-mail address or phone number of their new roommate. Now students are able to find out much more by looking them up through networking Web sites.

In some cases, parents have called university officials to complain about their son or daughter’s assigned roommate based on an online profile. For the most part, though, such sites have helped students make friends before arriving on campus and figure out who’s bringing the minifridge.

[...] SPU has received a few phone calls from concerned parents who didn’t like what they saw on the profile of their child’s new roommate — a student who looked like she partied too much and another who made a joke in poor taste. The university never received such calls two years ago, said Kimberlee Campbell, director of residence life.

Officials caution students and parents against making assumptions or judging people based on their online profiles. Seattle University, in fact, specifically suggests during summer orientation that incoming freshmen call their roommates

“We explicitly tell them that they need to have a … conversation with their roommate,” said Romando Nash, director of housing and residential learning communities. “Facebook is not communicating. Talking to a person is still the best form of communication.”

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A Byzantine Tale [9:06 am]

Three Mo’ Tenors - Naked Boys Singing!

The endless line of people who have a notion for a new jukebox musical or television talent show is proof of a legal point: nobody owns an idea. But that doesn’t mean the battles over exactly who owns what aren’t some of the hairiest in the theater business.

[...] Actually, the need for such distinctions goes back several years to a heated dispute between the producers and the first three singers to appear in “Three Mo’ Tenors,” a conflict that has led to multiple lawsuits.

[...] But the producers drew up a series of agreements for Mr. Cook, Mr. Dixon and Mr. Young that, among other things, forbade them from using the name “Three Mo’ Tenors” once their time in the show was over and prohibited them from performing in a show with a substantially similar repertory. They signed, though Mr. Cook and Mr. Dixon said they had understood that a more formal contract would be negotiated later.

Then came enormous popular and critical success, and with it heated arguments and financial disputes. One of the show’s two producers, acting alone, drew up a new agreement in 2002 with Mr. Cook, Mr. Dixon and Mr. Young that would have let them perform together and describe themselves as the former “Three Mo’ Tenors” if they left the show. But things got uglier, with the producing team breaking apart and the three original tenors going off to perform the show on their own. Meanwhile, the trio and the people behind “Three Mo’ Tenors,” who had hired a new group of singers, both claimed the mantle of authenticity. Lawsuits were exchanged.

In 2005 a judge threw out the 2002 agreement and barred Mr. Cook, Mr. Dixon and Mr. Young from advertising themselves as having anything to do with “Tenors” but allowed them to continue their show, a version of their performance in “Three Mo’ Tenors,” as “Cook, Dixon & Young.”

That did not solve the problem.

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Courting the Technorati [8:54 am]

In Primary, Tech’s Home Is a Magnet

For presidential candidates campaigning in Iowa, the place to be is the state fair. Diners are popular in New Hampshire. But for those visiting Silicon Valley, it’s the Googleplex.

[...] Like auto factories a generation ago, Google is increasingly popular as a place to raise money and speak to a crowd, signifying the larger role that Silicon Valley is playing in presidential politics. Candidates passing through the Valley have never raised so much money so early. In the first half of the year, the computer industry contributed $2.2 million to all candidates in the primary, up from $1.2 million in the first six months of each of the last two presidential primary races.

[...] In a flip from the primary season for the 2000 presidential election, 60 percent of the contributions so far from people in the technology field here are going to Democrats.

Not really related, but funny — the “Ray Hopewood” campaign — Campaigning Not for Your Vote but for Your Dollar

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A Linguistic Tic [8:41 am]

This article on the pending release of Arthur Bremer from prison included a striking sentence that I couldn’t skip noting: Gunman Who Shot Wallace Is to Be Freed

Mr. Bremer has served 35 years of his original sentence, and managed, through credits for good behavior and steady job performance as a prison clerk, to earn an earlier release date, said Ruth A. Ogle, a program manager at the Maryland Parole Commission.

“The computer says he has never had an infraction,” Ms. Ogle said. “Arthur apparently figured out how to stay out of trouble.”

Oh, well, if the computer says he’s a good guy, of course we should let him go!

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You Knew It Was Coming [8:35 am]

A look into the minds of those who are “protecting” us: Role of Telecom Firms in Wiretaps Is Confirmed; Glenn Greenwald deconstructed this yesterday in Mike McConnell’s clear explanation of FISA

The Bush administration has confirmed for the first time that American telecommunications companies played a crucial role in the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping program after asserting for more than a year that any role played by them was a “state secret.”

[...] Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, said the interview “was quite striking because he was disclosing more detail than has appeared anywhere in the public domain.”

“If we’re to believe that Americans will die from discussing these things,” Mr. Aftergood said, “then he is complicit in that. It’s an unseemly argument. He’s basically saying that democracy is going to kill Americans.”

<sarcasm>
And I’m sure that all those Congressmen and Congresswomen who voted for the FISA revisions are going to take this into account. That’s what a representative democracy is about, right?
</sarcasm>

The El Paso Times’ transcript (pdf); also Telecom Firms Helped With Government’s Warrantless Wiretapspdf

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Web Distribution and “TV Entertainment” [8:22 am]

Is it really “TV” when it’s delivered over the internet and viewed on a web browser? The advertisers must be drooling with anticipation: TV takes step into ‘Afterworld’pdf

Now there’s “Afterworld,” an online animated series about a man who wakes up to find most of the world’s population has vanished.

Debuting on MySpace today, “Afterworld” marks one of the most ambitious Internet shows to date, underscoring the evolution of online entertainment from amateur videos to more polished productions.

Created by Santa Monica-based Electric Farm Entertainment, “Afterworld” spans 130 episodes, each lasting two to three minutes. The show’s roughly $3-million budget makes it the most expensive series of its kind to run on News Corp.’s social networking site, which draws more than 115 million active users worldwide each month.

“We’re confident this is going to be an enormous success,” said Jeff Berman, general manager for MySpace TV, which will release the first 10 episodes today. Starting Monday, new episodes will be released daily over the next several weeks.

The show is free and will be supported by advertising revenue, which will require it to sustain an audience to generate enough revenue to make money.

Related: Technology helps reinvent cell phone advertising - pdf

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Brinksmanship Continues in Webcasting Rates [8:15 am]

SoundExchange reaches Web royalties deal — pdf

SoundExchange Inc., an organization that collects royalties for musicians and record companies, agreed with a group representing Internet broadcasters to cap fees at $50,000 a year per webcaster.

[...] The royalties are disbursed to the record labels and the artists. Talks continue on rates for each play of a song. [...]

Another writeup: Music Industry Caps Fees for Webcasterpdf

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Expression [8:06 am]

In their own words — literallypdf

The world was overwhelming, and the thoughts that swirled through her mind in French, English, German or Esperanto echoed that.

So Kisa, 28, a student and translator in Toronto, decided to create her own language, something simple that would help clarify her thinking. She called it Toki Pona — “good language” — and gave it just 120 words.

Ale li pona,” she told herself. “Everything will be OK.”

Kisa eventually sorted through her thoughts and, to her great surprise, her little language took off, with more than 100 speakers today, singing Toki Pona songs, writing Toki Pona poems and chatting with Toki Pona words.

It’s all part of a weirdly Babel-esque boom of new languages. Once the private arena of J.R.R. Tolkien, Esperanto speakers and grunting Klingon fanatics, invented languages have flourished on the Internet and begun creeping into the public domain.

[...] As it turned out, creating the language wasn’t the hardest part. Like many successful conlangers, Brown struggled to maintain control over his creation.

He founded the Loglan Institute in San Diego in the 1970s to bring others into the project, but then was upset when they didn’t agree with his ideas.

Related: German even the Germans don’t likepdf

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August 23, 2007

Rambus Getting Slapped Around [7:58 pm]

With a nice neologism: EU accuses Rambus of ‘patent ambush’pdf

European Union regulators have charged Rambus Inc. with antitrust abuse, alleging the memory chip designer demanded “unreasonable” royalties for its patents that were fraudulently set as industry standards.

The EU’s preliminary charges, announced Thursday, come weeks after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission ruled the company deceived a standards-setting committee by failing to disclose that its patented technology would be needed to comply with the standard.

[...] This is the first time the European Commission has charged a company with a new type of antitrust abuse — called patent ambush — where a company deceives a standards body by keeping secret the fact that it holds patents on technology that all players will later be forced to license.

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