Sunday, December 11, 2011

Apple Just Keeps Getting It Wrong

Don't misunderstand, I think Apple is a great company and they sure do know how to innovate when it comes to personal gadgets. But they really need some improvement in the due diligence area. We've sued Apple a couple of times before because someone dropped the ball when they made a couple of television ads and didn't check to make sure they had the right to use some copyrighted works in those ads. Apple is a litigious company, so they blamed someone else and then fought the case on ridiculous grounds rather than just owning up to their mistake. Apple gets strong indemnification agreements whenever they make a television ad, so I don't think they really care how much it costs to defend the case. They just hate to admit they did anything wrong.
Now it's happened again. Apple began anonymously buying the rights to the "IPAD" trademark around the world. They did this in about 2006, just before releasing the iPad. Apple thought they got the rights in every country, but they missed one. They didn't buy the one that was registered in China way back in 2000 to a Taiwanese company. Oops. Now, Apple is suing the company that owned the mark 5 years before Apple even got interested. Why? Because Apple says it had a contract with the parent company to buy that mark too. Apparently they didn't do their due diligence again. Someone over at Apple missed the fact that the company they bought the IPAD trademark from in China didn't actually own it. Oops. Apple goofed. So in typical fashion for huge multi-national corporations drunk on their own money, they sued the company who owns it to try and get it. How medieval. Apple wants something, so they just go take it. Or at least they try. Sounds like the Chinese courts are less smitten with Apple than the general U.S. population. Ownership of the IPAD mark in China is still squarely in the hands of Proview, and they are not about to give it up. After mentioning that they have been having some financial problems, Proview has suggested that they might still be willing to part with the mark. But now that they know Apple wants it, the question is: "How much?"

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Email is Bad: Don't Use It!

It looks like Grooveshark Chairman Sina Simantob is learning a valuable but painful lesson about what should and should not go into email. Mr. Simantob committed a cardinal sin, he put a bunch of incriminating stuff in emails that he never thought anyone would ever see. I'm more than certain he regrets every word of every one of those email messages. And he's not the only one. There are countless examples of careless emails coming back to haunt people.
So what do you do? Stop using email.
Crazy, you say? Well maybe it's just crazy enough to work.
A French technology services company is banning email, at least internally. Atos has formally decided what I have long believed: email is so bad it should stop. Atos adopted a policy that it will no longer allow its employees to communicate internally by email. Instead, Atos employees will have to communicate face-to-face (imagine that) or by instant messaging. Collectively, employees will create work using the "wiki" style of collaborative document creation.
This is great. It appears to be catching on and getting positive feedback. Personally, I hate email. It's impersonal and prone to abuse or misinterpretation. You don't get any incidental feedback like you do when you talk to someone--like a smile that says "I'm joking." Sure, people have started to use those silly smiley faces, but that's just dumb. And horribly unprofessional.
So I will soldier on and continue to champion the death of email, at least as a primary means of communication. I would be happy if email just served the same purpose that formal written letters used to serve. People should stop thinking they can shoot off any and every thought that pops in their head in an email just because it's easy. It will come back to haunt you. Just ask Sina Simantob.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Software Copyrights Protect More Than Just Code

As I frequently say, software copyrights are the new thing. Since long ago, software patents were viewed as the only vehicle to protect your software against anything except actually selling unauthorized copies of your software. But most people don't remember that until the rise of software patents, which is a relatively new thing, copyright law was the vehicle of choice. Well I believe that choice is being made again, and it should be. Copyright protection has lots of benefits: it's easier to get, cheaper, lasts longer, and gives you more leverage if you have to file a lawsuit.
Oracle has been leading the charge on this front, scoring big wins for copyright infringement. But others are following that lead. The latest case is one filed by Zynga against a Brazillian company named Vostu. Zynga is the company that makes the popular games people play on social networking sites like Facebook. You may know about Mafia Wars or FarmVille. Well, Zynga also make a game called Cafe World. Apparently this game is fairly popular, so the Brazillian game maker Vostu decided they would knock it off. Now Vostu did not break in to the Zynga offices at night and steal the code, nor did they download "copies" of the game and start serving up their own versions. Rather, Vostu did what most software developers do who want to knock off a popular competitor: they wrote a new game that looked just like Cafe World. Vostu even called it Cafe Mania. No similarity there.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of the two games:
software copyrights protect user interface
Now you tell me, is Cafe Mania a copy of Cafe World? The similarities between the two games drastically outweigh any differences. Clearly, this is a knock off in my opinion. The copyright laws exist to protect exactly this kind of copying. I'm not saying only this kind of copying, but definitely this kind of copying.
The real difficulty in making money in software, and gaming in particular, has nothing to do with writing code. Anyone can write code. The difficulty in making money in software is providing users with an application that they like. People play games because they like playing those games. People don't play games because the games have well written code, they play games that have well-done user interfaces and inviting graphics. Software success doesn't turn on whether the end user likes your code, it's whether the end user likes what he sees on the screen.
Against that backdrop, isn't it most important to protect the part of your code that sells it? One of the most important considerations, at least for a fair use analysis, is how has your copy affected the original author's ability to make money on the original work. If all a software developer does is wait until its competitor comes up with the magic formula for a successful game, and then writes new code to mimic that game, that is copyright infringement. The expression of the code is what the user sees on screen, not the words that appear in source code. Copying the product of the software should not avoid copyright liability just because you used different materials to construct the same end result. Protecting the expression of the source code the same way you would protect the source code itself is the only way to provide meaningful protection to software developers.
This is not a novel concept. In the furniture industry, copyright protection is used all the time to protect furniture. In those cases, a furniture company comes up with a visually-pleasing design for a table or a rug, so someone else knocks that design off. Invariably, the knock off is made of inferior materials and workmanship. So what is being protected? Is it the underlying materials used to embody the artist's vision? Or is it the physical expression of that vision separate from the underlying materials? I would say it is the latter.
Copyright protection is supposed to protect the expression of the author's idea, not the particular medium used to express that idea. I say that software copyrights are an idea whose time has come. More software developers need to be following Oracle's and now Zynga's lead.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Copyright Piracy OK if You Spend The Money You Saved

Swiss OK copyright piracy so long as money spent in local theaters
The Swiss government has been considering additional legislation to address online copyright infringement. First, when you read an article about copyrights, you know which way the author leans by whether it's referred to as "copyright infringement" or "copyright piracy." The hardcore ones call it "copyright theft." The worse you make it sound, the more likely someone is to take your side. I expect to see "copyright murder" soon. But I digress.
The Swiss government was pressed to adopt some stronger online copyright protection laws, much like the U.S. is considering with SOPA. After reviewing several reports and studies, the Swiss government basically found that it would not be in the best interests of the Swiss people to enact stronger legislation. Apparently the justification is that people who download copyrighted content still spend the money they save on other forms of entertainment, like going to the theater.
That's nice, isn't it. The Swiss people are saving money by downloading American music and movies for free, but as long as they spend that money in the Swiss theaters, there's no need to address online copyright protection. I'm being horribly facetious, especially since I think we (the U.S.) already go too far trying to prevent online copyright infringement. Still, there is something oddly charming about the Swiss just putting it right out there like that.
On a completely unrelated matter, I'm thinking about organizing some support to soften the U.S. laws against chocolate piracy.