This time last year, Law Law Land joined the hackneyed proud tradition of legal blogs offering year-end lists of cases to watch in the coming year (though in our defense, we did try to mix it up by reviewing totally absurd cases as well as totally important cases). But “year in review” and “year to come” are cultural clichés that never held much appeal to me. “Where are they now?” on the other hand? That’s more my speed. (Maybe that’s why I always adored the last five minutes of every episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, where the program would show the artist in their current, everyday life and tease the inevitable “impending comeback.”) So what has become of those five big cases we told you to watch this year? And did we pick good ones or not? (Preview: Yes, we did. Oh shush, I don’t care if we’re biased.) Continue reading the full story . . . »
Posts In "Technology"
Free-to-play games are all the rage these days. Many people while away their days playing Angry Birds, or Words with Friends before going home to watch Monday Night Football. Nerds — and, increasingly, “normal people” — do the exact same thing, except instead of watching football, we play games like Super Monday Night Combat. This summer, the remarkable viability of the free-to-play business model gained extra attention when Forbes reported that the most-played PC game in the world is now a free-to-play game called League of Legends. For those of you struggling to understand the profitability part, just take a look at League of Legends character Teemo (pictured left). I mean, seriously, who can resist purchasing all the adorable “skins” for him?! (Clearly, not me.)
Nevertheless, the business world of free-to-play gaming is not without its dark, seedy underbelly, where even the cute and cuddly characters are forced to work in digital sweatshops and sell virtual drugs on simulated street corners just to make ends meet. Well, ok, maybe it’s not that extreme. But as a recent (and bitter) dispute between game makers Zynga and Kixeye demonstrates, the gaming business can be just as ugly (and fascinating) as some of the game battles themselves.
What do Avril Lavigne cover songs, Dish Network’s AutoHop feature, celebrity sex tapes, apartment hunting websites, and ad-serving browser skinning programs have in common?
Each of them is a window into how copyright, an 18th century concept, drafted into a 20th century law, impacts the products we use and the way we experience life in a 21st century world.
The Simplest, Most Complicated Law You Know
Non-lawyers usually think of copyright as a pretty simple and intuitive area of the law, and in many ways, it’s one of the easiest areas to break down into easy, digestible (if somewhat oversimplified) terms. What’s a copyright? The exclusive right to control and exploit creative works. How do you infringe a copyright? Copy or perform a work without permission/payment, or steal it to create your own new, too-similar work. Putting aside people’s chronic tendency to confuse copyrights and trademarks — helpful hint: copyrights are for creative works, trademarks are for brand name, logos, and slogans — copyright is an area of law that, at least initially, the general public can intuitively “get.”
Of course, when the breakneck speed of technological development meets the languorous pace of national lawmaking, things can get a bit more complicated. For example, when the copyright infringement case against file-sharing service Grokster finally came before the Supreme Court in 2005, the Court’s nine justices required three separate opinions and the invention of an entire new theory of copyright liability to explain why Grokster was illegal, but other, less offensive services might not be illegal. (Headline: “Supreme Court Rules ‘Unanimously’ Against Grokster 3-3-3.”)
To be fair, though, things started getting wacky long before the Internet was invented. For instance, most people know that any musician can cover any other musician’s song, without permission (for a small, statutorily-defined fee). Why? Because in 1909, Congress created a special “compulsory license” scheme to allow player piano roll makers to sell song rolls without having to separately seek permission from the original songwriters. Somewhere along the way, some clever lawyer figured out the law was drafted broadly enough to allow for unauthorized cover songs, and now we all have to deal with Avril Lavigne defiling John Lennon’s “Imagine” in the name of Darfur relief. (Miley Cyrus’s evisceration of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Celine Dion’s desecration of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” were, to my knowledge, only ever performed live, and so we have a different quirk of copyright law — the proliferation of blanket “public performance” licenses managed by performing rights organizations ASCAP and BMI — to blame for those abominations.) Continue reading the full story . . . »
People are constantly getting fired or sued for stupid things they say on Twitter. Last year, Aflac (which does 75% of its business in Japan) fired Gilbert Godfrey after he tweeted some insensitive jokes about the tsunami disaster in Japan, such as, “‘I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, ‘They’ll be another one floating by any minute now.’” That same month, Chrysler dumped one of its contractors who tweeted from the company’s official account: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to [expletive] drive.” And, of course, we all remember the greatest “–gate” of all, Weinergate.
But the really fascinating thing is that courts are starting to cite to stupid things people say on Twitter as relevant, substantive evidence. (Yes, that stuff you use to sue the pants off people or convict them of homicide!) These “Twitter” citations remind me of Dave Chappelle’s comedy routine about how our society pays too much attention to celebrity opinions. Or in this case, how a court could care about the opinions of Twitter users with names like “Dhat_Kid_DiCE” or “MrExclusive1990.”
I’m not saying the courts shouldn’t care. It’s just funny that they do. And since I know you’re already thinking twice about what you post on Twitter, here are some cases that might just make you think thrice.
Time to panic? The Internet is about to change dramatically.
Ever since Al Gore invented the Internet (or so I’ve heard), users have relied on a limited number of top-level domains, or “TLDs.” A top-level domain is the end portion of a web address — e.g., .com, .net, .org, .biz, .gov, or, everybody’s newest, favorite, and most scandalous TLD, .xxx. Last year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) — a non-profit corporation/venue for nerds to rule the world that manages most TLDs, IP addresses, and basically anything that involves the interwebs — approved the creation of new TLDs called generic top-level domains, or “gTLDs”. In announcing that move, ICANN cited the need to increase competition and choice in the world wide web (because we know that there certainly isn’t enough competition and choice in the entire Internet). Any legal entity may apply to create and manage a gTLD. And that’s why, as people are finally starting to realize, things might start getting a little crazy(er) on the Internet. Continue reading the full story . . . »
If you read the paper, watch TV, listen to the radio or use the Internet, it’s been tough to avoid SOPA recently. (If you don’t, well, you’re probably hand-writing angry missives in a cabin and not reading this.) What we’ve seen thus far are two widely-popular, well-funded industries passionately going toe-to-toe with one another, with one widely-unpopular but well funded group of politicians playing referee. After some low blows, eye gouging and hair pulling, the anti-SOPA team has prevailed, at least temporarily.
Unfortunately, after listening to both sides of the debate, I’m convinced the vast majority of the debaters and their audience lacked a strong understanding of exactly what SOPA says and what its true implications would be. Because we’re dealing with powerful industries with enormous soap boxes, the majority of the “discussions” presented to the public have been severely slanted by the presenter’s personal stake in the contest. As with most heated political topics, this is great for sound-bites and overbroad, black-and-white ways of looking at things, but not so great if you actually want to understand the proposed legislation. So as any good humanitarian should do, I’m going to attempt to sum it up from a relatively-neutral legal perspective. Even if SOPA itself is no longer on the table (for now), the fight it started can give us insight into the sides’ respective concerns and the future skirmishes we’re likely to see. Continue reading the full story . . . »