Gina Keating, author of Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America’s Eyeballs, discusses the startup of Netflix and their competition with Blockbuster.
Keating begins with the history of the company and their innovative improvements to the movie rental experience. She discusses their use of new technology and marketing strategies in DVD rental, which inspired Blockbuster to adapt to the changing market.
Keating goes on to describe Netflix’s transition to internet streaming and Blockbuster’s attempts to retain their market share.
Timothy Ravich, a board certified aviation lawyer in private practice and an adjunct professor of law at the Florida International University School of Law and the University of Miami School of Law, discusses the future of unmanned aerial system (UAS), also known as drones.
Ravich defines what UAVs are, what they do, and what their potential non-military uses are. He explains that UAV operations have outpaced the law in that they are not sufficiently supported by a dedicated and enforceable regime of rules, regulations, and standards respecting their integration into the national airspace.
Ravich goes on to explain that Congress has mandated the FAA to integrate UAS into the national airspace by 2015, and explains the challenges the agency faces. Among the novel issues domestic drone use raises are questions about trespass, liability, and privacy.
Earlier this year, Ryan Radia and I spilled a lot of ink on these pages critiquing the various “cell phone unlocking” bills that were introduced in reaction to a successful White House petition. Our assessment of these bills was that they ranged from timid to unhelpful. Their biggest vice was that they were generally band-aids and temporary fixes aimed solely at cell phones and not the underlying problem of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision.
Today, I’m happy to see Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill that would not only fix cell phone unlocking, but also goes a long way in addressing the DMCA Section 1201’s fundamental problems. Quite simply, the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 makes the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions applicable only in cases where the person circumvents a digital lock in order to infringe copyright. So, ripping a DVD in order to distribute a film without permission on BitTorrent would still be illegal, but ripping the same DVD in order to watch the film on your iPad would be OK. This is good sense and good policy.
The bill also would allow the manufacture, sale, and import of anti-circumvention tools now prohibited under DMCA 1201. Sounds nefarious, but in reality what this means is that, for example, Linux users may for the first time get a legal way to play DVDs on their computers. And making tools that help the blind read ebooks won’t get you in trouble with the FBI.
Finally, the bill requires NTIA to conduct a study and publish a report looking at whether the economic impact of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions, and to look at whether Section 1201 should be further amended or even repealed. Yes folks, this bill uses the word “repeal” in its text.
Congrats to Rep. Lofgren and her bi-partisan co-sponsors, Reps. Massie, Eshoo, and Polis, for showing that common sense still has a shot on the Hill.
Over at Freedom to Tinker, Steve Schultze has a response to my Reason article about Craigslist suing its competitors. Steve expresses some surprise that I would suggest that we might want to recognize a new property right since I have been so critical of the excesses of our current IP regime. Let me take a stab at reconciling that seeming paradox.
First, I should say I’m sympathetic to Steve’s position, which he shares with many others, and which may well be right. I wrote the Reason article more than anything to provide some balance to what I saw as a knee-jerk reaction in the blogosphere to the Craigslist ruling. I really didn’t see anyone giving Craigslist’s claims a fair shake (probably because the company is acting hypocritically given the public profile they have cultivated). That’s why in the article I’m ambivalent about whether Craigslist should have any remedy, and why I don’t make the case that trespass to chattels is the right approach. The point is that neither am I convinced that it’s clearly the wrong approach, or that Craigslist should clearly not be waging this suit.
That said, let me suggest that my thinking on this is not at odds with my thinking on copyright. Steve chides me for saying that maybe there’s something to Craigslist’s claims because what its competitors are doing doesn’t “sit well.” He says that “the notion that something doesn’t ‘sit well’ is not necessarily a good indicator that one can or should prevail in legal action,” and he’s right, which is why I don’t make that claim in the article. He goes on to admit that “to be sure, tort law (and common law more generally) develops in part out of our collective notion of what does or doesn’t seem right.” And that was my point. The fact that what Craigslist’s competitors are doing doesn’t sit well, I suggest, should give us a hint that this isn’t as open-and-shut a case as some have made it out to be, and that perhaps we should take a closer look.
I’m glad Steve brings up the common law. One of the central critiques I have made about copyright as a property right is that it did not develop at common law, and is instead a creature of statute. The fact that copyright is created by politicians guessing about the future (and influenced by special interests), rather than courts deciding actual cases and controversies, is what in large part leads to its excesses. I am much less skeptical of property rights that emerge at common law over time after an evolutionary process of trial and error, and as Steve points out, this process usually begins when a court is presented with a novel question that doesn’t “sit well.”
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Over at Reason I take a look at the recent controversy around Craigslist suing some smaller competitors who have been using its listings data without permission. While I agree with most commentators that neither copyright nor CFAA claims make sense in this case, I depart from what seems to be the conventional thinking in arguing that it’s not so clear that Craigslist should have no remedy:
[I]t’s pretty easy to see why Craigslist should care that others are building on top of and extending its service. What makes the company so valuable is its strong network effect. People go to Craigslist because that’s where the people are. If it loses that, it loses its business.
PadMapper aggregates and presents listings not just from Craigslist, but from other apartment listing sites as well, including Apartments.com and Rent.com. This is great for users because they only need go to one site to browse all the listings across multiple databases. It’s bad for Craigslist, however, because it makes it less of a focal site. Such aggregators make it less important that an apartment be listed at Craigslist specifically as long as it is in the aggregated list.
PadMapper also offers listings of its own listings through its PadLister service. This means that PadMapper relies on the network effects that Craigslist has developed in order to draw in an audience, and then promotes and sells its own listing service to that audience. While that business model is certainly innovative, and may not violate copyright, it doesn’t sit well, either.
Craigslist disrupted the newspaper industry by decimating traditional classifieds. It did this by offering a better alternative to its competitors that attracted consumers away from newspapers. Craigslist didn’t copy newspaper ads to jumpstart its operation, just as Facebook didn’t jumpstart its network by copying over MySpace accounts. That’s true innovation: taking command of the network effect by offering a superior product. So shouldn’t we expect the same from new entrants in the classifieds space?
Check out the whole thing here.
W. Patrick McCray, author of The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future, tells the story of these modern utopians who predicted that their technologies could transform society as humans mastered the ability to create new worlds.
Believing that the term “futurist” was too broad, McCray coined the term visioneers to describe those who not only had ambitious visions for future technology, but who carried out detailed and extensive scientific and engineering work to bring those visions into fruition, and who actively worked to promote their ideas to a wider public.
McCray focuses on the works of Gerard O’Neil and Eric Drexler, detailing their early contributions as visioneers and their continuing impact particularly in the fields of space colonization and nanotechnology. He also identifies modern-day visioneers and their work.
Alex Tabarrok, author of the ebook Launching The Innovation Renaissance: A New Path to Bring Smart Ideas to Market Fast discusses America’s declining growth rate in total factor productivity, what this means for the future of innovation, and what can be done to improve the situation.
Accroding to Tabarrok, patents, which were designed to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, have instead become weapons in a war for competitive advantage with innovation as collateral damage. College, once a foundation for innovation, has been oversold. And regulations, passed with the best of intentions, have spread like kudzu and now impede progress to everyone’s detriment. Tabarrok outs forth simple reforms in each of these areas and also explains the role immigration plays in innovation and national productivity.
Paul J. Heald, professor of law at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, discusses his new paper “Do Bad Things Happen When Works Enter the Public Domain? Empirical Tests of Copyright Term Extension.”
The international debate over copyright term extension for existing works turns on the validity of three empirical assertions about what happens to works when they fall into the public domain. Heald discusses a study he carried out with Christopher Buccafusco that found that all three assertions are suspect. In the study, they show that audio books made from public domain bestsellers are significantly more available than those made from copyrighted bestsellers. They also demonstrate that recordings of public domain and copyrighted books are of equal quality.
Since copyrighted works will once again begin to fall into the public domain starting in 2018, Heald says, it’s likely that content owners will ask Congress for yet another term extension. He argues that his empirical findings suggest it should not be granted.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote that bitcoin’s valuation doesn’t really matter for the currency to effectively function as a medium of exchange. Now comes word from none other than the proprietor of the notorious Silk Road encrypted black market that indeed the recent wild volatility has not affected the transactions on his site. As Andy Greenberg reports:
In a rare (and brief) public statement sent to me, the Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR) said that despite Silk Road’s reliance on Bitcoin, commerce on the site hasn’t been seriously hurt by Bitcoin’s wild rise and fall. “Bitcoin’s foundation, its algorithms and network, don’t change with the exchange rate,” the pseudonymous site administrator writes. “It is just as important to the functioning of Silk Road at $1 as it is at $1,000. A rapidly changing price does have some effect, but it’s not as big as you might think.”
Silk Road’s customers, after all, aren’t generally interested in Bitcoin’s worth as an investment vehicle, so much as in how it makes it possible to privately buy heroin, cocaine, pills or marijuana. They use Bitcoin because it’s not issued or stored by banks and doesn’t require any online registrations, and thus offers a certain amount of anonymity. …
Silk Road has built-in protections against Bitcoin’s spikes and crashes. Although purchases on Silk Road can only be made with Bitcoin, sellers on the site have the option to peg their prices to the dollar, automatically adjusting them based on Bitcoin’s current exchange rate as defined by the central Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox. To insulate those sellers against Bitcoin fluctuations, the eBay-like drug site also offers a hedging service. Sales are held in escrow until buyers receive their orders via mail, and vendors are given the choice to turn on a setting that pegs the escrow’s value to the dollar, with Silk Road itself covering any losses or taking any gains from Bitcoin’s swings in value that occur while the drugs are in transit. So while Bitcoin’s crash last week from $237 to less than $100 means that the Dread Pirate Roberts was likely forced to pay out much of the extra gains Silk Road made from Bitcoin’s rise, most of his sellers were protected from those price changes and continued to trade their drugs for Bitcoins despite the currency’s plummeting value.
What this shows is that Silk Road is separating the “unit of account” function of money from the “medium of exchange” function. Prices are denominated in dollars (as a unit of account) but payments are made in bitcoin (as a medium of exchange). Hedging is used to smooth out volatility.
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Marc Hochstein, Executive Editor of American Banker, a leading media outlet covering the banking and financial services community, discusses bitcoin.
According to Hochstein, bitcoin has made its name as a digital currency, but the truly revolutionary aspect of the technology is its dual function as a payment system competing against companies like PayPal and Western Union. While bitcoin has been in the news for its soaring exchange rate lately, Hochstein says the actual price of bitcoin is really only relevant for speculators in the short-term; in the long-term, however, the anonymous, decentralized nature of bitcoin has far-reaching implications.
Hochstein goes on to talk about the new market in bitcoin futures and some of bitcoin’s weaknesses—including the volatility of the bitcoin market.