by February 6, 2003 0 comments



The last couple of years have seen companies get over aggressive in protecting their rights and brands. And, their political muscle has sort of ensured that the (American) law is modified to suit their needs.

True, technology mounted the first challenge to the copyright owners . IT companies have for long been facing the music.

Outside of IT, MP3 was the first tech challenge to the copyright machine, on the music front. DivX served up a second one on the movie front. Add peer-to-peer services like Napster and Kaaza and you have a really potent situation.

The concerned industries could have worked out ways of using the emerging technologies to their benefit. Unfortunately, they choose the sledgehammer approach of trying to squash them. What followed was a spate of lawsuits and legislation. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, have attracted widespread criticism. 

The DMCA’s most visible application so far was when Adobe had Russian programmer Dimitry Skylarov arrested, jailed and tried for finding out holes in the way the Adobe e-book reader encrypts content. Luckily for Skylarov, the court threw out the case. Another significant victory against such strong-arm tactics came from Norway, where a court ruled that Jon Johansen
was not guilty of breaking the law when he created DeCSS, the DVD de-scrambling utility.

The actions of the copyright holders are perhaps understandable. They are reacting in very much the same way others have reacted when changes in technology (not necessarily IT) have challenged their basic business models. 

But surely they are not condonable.

As the pressures on the bottom lines increase, companies will resort to any which way to bring in more money. And, copyrights and old, long forgotten patents seem to be one port of last hope! 

The PCI Special Interest Group recently served a cease and desist legal notice on Jim Boemler, who has maintained the PCI device ID list, an invaluable assistance to developers and other software/hardware specialists. It does not help that the Special
Interest Group is mandated with enhancing the usage of PCI, not restricting it! Or take SCO Group, which has retained the services of David Boies of the Microsoft Antitrust trial fame to see whether any OS is infringing on the Unix copyrights it got from Novell, which bought them from Bell Labs.

In the past, many have tried to use such strong-arm tactics, and have failed. In the future, too, it is only reasonable to assume that many more would be tempted to tread the same route. Hopefully, they too will fail. 

Companies need to understand that business models have to evolve and that a copyright or a patent cannot forever hold back newer technologies or better products.

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