Creativity and Timing

Like they say in showbiz, timing is everything — at least when it comes to IPR: Behind Every Great Inventor, Many Others Whom History Forgot

The reality is that the “Aha” moments of industrial creation are preceded by critical moments far less heralded. Behind and beside every big-name inventor are typically lots of others whom history forgot, or never knew. And it’s unusual that an innovation is created in a vacuum (including the vacuum, which itself claims several progenitors).

“It’s rare that you’ve got a major breakthrough that wasn’t developed by multiple people at about the same time,” said Mark Lemley, professor of intellectual property at Stanford Law School.

Exploring New Distribution Avenues

Hollywood Producer Set to Make Shows for Xbox

Microsoft, seeking to expand offerings on its Xbox 360 console, has reached an agreement with a company headed by Peter Safran, the veteran Hollywood producer and talent manager, to produce original shows for distribution on the system.

[…] Speaking by telephone last week, Scott Nocas, global marketing manager for programming of the Xbox Live entertainment service, said he expected similar deals to follow. “We definitely look at this as the first of many,” said Mr. Nocas.

In an interview at his office in Los Angeles last week, Mr. Safran said his first round of programs would all be scripted, as opposed to reality shows, and would probably run under 10 minutes. He said he planned initially to focus on genres, like comedy and horror, that appeal to the Xbox 360 audience, which is heavily concentrated from the ages of 14 to 34, and tends to be more male than female. The first shows are expected to be available to viewers by the fall.

[…] “The Xbox is unique. It operates at a level outside of what we generally consider Web entertainment,” Mr. Safran said, referring to the system’s tight demographic base, which is defined by the appeal of signature games like the Halo series.

Locating the Front Lines

City Subpoenas Creator of Text Messaging Code

These tableaus and others were described as they happened in text messages that spread from mobile phone to mobile phone in New York City and beyond. The people sending and receiving the messages were using technology, developed by an anonymous group of artists and activists called the Institute for Applied Autonomy, that allowed users to form networks and transmit messages to hundreds or thousands of telephones.

Although the service, called TXTmob, was widely used by demonstrators, reporters and possibly even police officers, little was known about its inventors. Last month, however, the New York City Law Department issued a subpoena to Tad Hirsch, a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who wrote the code that created TXTmob.

Lawyers representing the city in lawsuits filed by hundreds of people arrested during the convention asked Mr. Hirsch to hand over voluminous records revealing the content of messages exchanged on his service and identifying people who sent and received messages. Mr. Hirsch says that some of the subpoenaed material no longer exists and that he believes he has the right to keep other information secret.

“There’s a principle at stake here,” he said recently by telephone. “I think I have a moral responsibility to the people who use my service to protect their privacy.”

[…] It is difficult to know for sure who received messages, but an examination of police surveillance documents prepared in 2003 and 2004, and unsealed by a federal magistrate last year, makes it clear that the authorities were aware of TXTmob at least a month before the Republican convention began.

A document marked “N.Y.P.D. SECRET” and dated July 26, 2004, included the address of the TXTmob Web site and stated, “It is anticipated that text messaging is one of several different communications systems that will be utilized to organize the upcoming RNC protests.”

From the Txtmob site:

UPDATE: 29 Mar 2008
As reported in the New York Times, I have recently been subpoenaed by the City of New York in connection to several active lawsuits against the City that allege police misconduct during the 2004 Republican National Convention. I want to reassure all past and present TXTmob users that I take their privacy seriously, and that I am taking what actions I can to protect their civil liberties. I also want to publicly thank David Rankin (Law Office of David B. Rankin) and Matt Zimmerman (Electronic Frontier Foundation) for providing legal representation.

When Does Selling The Rights Not Mean Selling The Rights?

More headaches for licensees: Ruling Gives Heirs a Share of Superman Copyright

A federal judge here on Wednesday ruled that the heirs of Jerome Siegel — who 70 years ago sold the rights to the action hero he created with Joseph Shuster to Detective Comics for $130 — were entitled to claim a share of the United States copyright to the character. The ruling left intact Time Warner’s international rights to the character, which it has long owned through its DC Comics unit.

And it reserved for trial questions over how much the company may owe the Siegel heirs for use of the character since 1999, when their ownership is deemed to have been restored. Also to be resolved is whether the heirs are entitled to payments directly from Time Warner’s film unit, Warner Brothers, which took in $200 million at the domestic box office with “Superman Returns” in 2006, or only from the DC unit’s Superman profits.

[…] When Detective Comics bought 13 pages of work for its new Action Comics series the next year, the company sent Mr. Siegel a check for $130, and received in return a release from both creators granting the company rights to Superman “to have and hold forever,” the order noted.

In the late 1940s, a referee in a New York court upheld Detective Comics’ copyright, prompting Mr. Siegel and Mr. Shuster to drop their claim in exchange for $94,000. More than 30 years later, DC Comics (the successor to Detective Comics) gave the creators each a $20,000-per-year annuity that was later increased to $30,000. In 1997, however, Mrs. Siegel and her daughter served copyright termination notices under provisions of a 1976 law that permits heirs, under certain circumstances, to recover rights to creations.

See The Siegel Superman decision with comments and links to the opinion (local copy)

Democratizing Dataveillance

You say “social networks,” I say “CRM/surveillance.” Sure, the network allows the musician to disintermediate the process of selling her/his product, but to adopt the methods of the database marketers is a start down a very slippery slope: Musicians take social networking into their own hands (pdf)

More and more acts, from Kylie Minogue to Ludacris to the Pussycat Dolls, are launching their own social networks, which are becoming a sort of next-generation version of artist Web sites.

The social networking component gives fans a reason to hang out on a site and visit more often than they would a standard Web site. And artists can sell advertisements on their sites and offer downloads and merchandise for sale — options they don’t have on MySpace or Facebook. Plus, they own the content and data on how fans use their site, which they don’t get on other social networks.

“The thing that separates Thisis50 from MySpace is we control the e-mail database,” says Chris “Broadway” Romero, director for new media at G-Unit Records, which handles Thisis50. “We can e-mail members if we want to.”

Teaching an Elephant to Dance

Music companies take a new look at subscriptions (pdf)

After resisting subscription services out of fear they would weaken CD sales, music companies are considering the idea in an attempt to reverse plummeting sales and unabated illegal downloading of music from the Internet.

[…] Music executives say discussions are in the early stages and face several hurdles. Some consumers prefer to own music. Others might balk at yet another charge on their monthly Internet bill.

“If a music surcharge is mandatory, consumers are going to resist,” said Russ Crupnick, senior analyst for NPD Entertainment, a market research firm.

Warner hired former Geffen Music executive Jim Griffin as a consultant several months ago to help plot the label’s digital future. Griffin could not be reached for comment.

But he told Portfolio.com that “today, it has become purely voluntary to pay for music. . . . If I tell you to go listen to this band, you could pay, or you might not. It’s pretty much up to you. So the music business has become a big tip jar.”

A(n Optimistic?) Look At Wireless Telecom Trends

Big wireless carriers get set to free the phone (pdf)

It is a scenario rarely seen in todays technology market: Cellphone customers wander into any store, pick any device from a shelf, and connect it to any wireless network – one as open as the Internet.

But spurred by growing demand and a federal airwaves auction that closed last week, the major wireless carriers are stepping away from a model in which each cellphone is controlled by a single company that sells customers a device locked to their network, demands a lengthy contract, and limits the phones features.

[…] “We believe that as the two great megatrends of mobility and the Internet come together, the next wave of growth will come from a whole new generation of devices, applications, and services,” said Ivan Seidenberg, chief executive of Verizon Communications Inc., which owns 55 percent of Verizon Wireless. “No single company – whether you’re a carrier, a manufacturer, a software company, or anybody else – will be able to envision all these uses or meet all the needs on their own.”

Not to be outdone, AT&T launched a website the day before the conference, emphasizing its open network.

We’ll see, won’t we?

No BitTorrent Gatekeeping — For Now

Comcast to Stop Hampering File-Sharing (pdf)

Comcast Corp., an Internet service provider under investigation for hampering online file-sharing by its subscribers, announced Thursday an about-face in its stance and said it will treat all types of Internet traffic equally.

Comcast said it will collaborate with BitTorrent Inc., the company founded by the creator of the peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol, to come up with better ways to transport large files over the Internet instead of delaying file transfers.

Since user reports of interference with file-sharing traffic were confirmed by an Associated Press investigation in October, Comcast has been vigorously defending its practices, most recently at a hearing of the Federal Communications Commission in February.

Consumer and Net Neutrality advocates have been equally vigorous in their attacks on the company, saying that by secretly blocking some connections between file-sharing computers, Comcast made itself a judge and gatekeeper for the Internet.

They also accused Comcast of stifling delivery of Internet video, an emerging competitor to the core business of the nations largest cable operator.

It was not immediately clear what effect, if any, the move will have on the FCCs ongoing probe, but Net Neutrality groups remained skeptical.

Later:
Comcast Adjusts Way It Manages Internet Traffic and Comcast relents on Web video (pdf)

The Perils of Standards-Setting

A painful lesson, and another chapter in this ugly story: Chip Developer Wins Crucial Ruling in Patent Dispute

Rambus, the developer of memory chip technology, said Wednesday that it won an important ruling in a long-running patent lawsuit, sending its shares 39 percent higher.

The jury rejected claims by three large memory-chip makers — Hynix Semiconductor, Micron Technology and Nanya Technology — that Rambus deliberately misled the memory chip industry in the 1990s when new standards were being hammered out.

It’s Not Surveillance, It’s Marketing!

YouTube Feature Tells Video Creators When and Where a Clip Is Being Watched

In a move to provide better data to its users, YouTube formally announced late Wednesday that it had added a free feature that will show video creators when and where viewers are watching their videos. With this, the company hopes to turn YouTube from an online video site into a place where marketers can test their messages, Tracy Chan, YouTube product manager, said.