I recently re-read the Eighth Circuit’s 2005 decision addressing online gaming, reverse engineering and interoperability (Davidson & Associates v. Jung, 422 F.3d 630 (8th Cir. 2005)). The case raises the usual questions regarding open- versus closed-system competition, but it adds a twist and it is that twist that I want to focus on. As usual, I will come out on the side of evil, or at least evil as most of the copyright world usually sees these things.
Blizzard produces a variety of war games, including StarCraft and WarCraft. In 1997, Blizzard created an online gaming environment, Battle.net. At Battle.net, you could test your WarCraft skills against other users. Today, this is a common move in the game industry taking what had been a freestanding product—a game DVD or CD—and turning it into a full-blown service and a multi-player environment.
Continue reading "Online Gaming as Copy Control" »
Chicago has made news by passing an ordinance requiring large stores that are part of billion dollar companies to pay a higher minimum wage than is applicable to other employers. Even the structure of the wage is compulsory; of the $13 required to be paid per hour by 2010, $3 must be in benefits. One conventional way to understand the legislation is that it serves the interests of a number of fairly well organized groups. These include groups that would prefer for Walmart and Home Depot to stay away. Meanwhile, it imposes costs on consumers who might be more difficult to organize and who find it difficult to assess the impact of such legislation on prices, on the level of service that will be provided when these stores do open within the city limits, and on the cost of traveling to stores outside the jurisdiction.
Continue reading "Chicago's Big Box Minimum Wage Plan" »
Lee Gomes’s Wall Street Journal column today discusses Chris Anderson’s new book The Long Tail. I should say up front I liked the book: it makes a serious point but remains quite accessible. Perfect beach reading. Gomes’s column suggests that he thinks that Anderson overclaims in the book; Anderson has a reply on his blog. And my former seminar-mate Tim Wu has a review at Slate. We should try to understand the core idea of the book and then consider the dispute.
Anderson’s focus is the unbundling of the shelf. Walk into a store and stare at a shelf. The shelf is both display—the way the products are visually presented to the consumer—and the fulfillment mechanism—you reach and pull the product off the shelf. Online stores unbundle the shelf: you see the product on Amazon’s web site and someone in a warehouse pulls the product off the shelf if you click and buy it.
Continue reading "Understanding The Long Tail" »
Perhaps you noticed an interesting confluence of events on Wednesday, July 19. On that day, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have authorized the expanded use of federal funds for stem-cell research, the House of Representatives voted to enact legislation depriving the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear any case challenging the constitutionality of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the House voted to purchase a municipal park in San Diego on which a 29-foot-high cross stands.
What these three acts have in common is a reckless disregard for the fundamental American aspiration to keep church and state separate. In vetoing the bill that would have funded stem-cell research, President Bush invoked what he termed a “conflict between science and ethics.” But what, exactly, is the “ethical” side of this conflict? Clearly, it derives from the belief that an embryo smaller than a period on this page is a “human life” – indeed, a human life that is as valuable as those of living, breathing, suffering children. And what, exactly, is the basis of this belief? Is it Science? Reason? Logic? Tradition? Morals? None-of-the Above?
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Brad Smith, Microsoft’s General Counsel, doesn’t look much like Moses, but he came down from Mount Sinai yesterday anyway to announce Microsoft’s new “Twelve Tenets to Promote Competition.” This is about the structure of competition in the economic space defined by Windows. We should take stock on where we are in the Microsoft antitrust cases and then assess how the 12 Tenets fit.
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Try this hypothetical. Writing a novel seems to be the thing for law professors to do these days, so I pen a law-and-economics thriller (how could it not be?). You want to read it but I have not released any copies but you know that I have one printed sitting in my bedroom at home. You break into my house, steal the novel, immediately read it, and blog a book review, which includes juicy quotes (“He had the supply, she had the demand, and in the heat of the moment they vertically integrated.”)
Where does this put us when the cops catch you? Do you go to jail? Can I sue you for copyright infringement?
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Apply the Golden Rule to al Qaeda?
When the Bush administration claimed in 2002 that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to al Qaeda, it advanced a legal argument -- but the decision was really based on a common-sense policy judgment. The U.S. obtained no advantage from obeying Article 3, because al Qaeda itself clearly had no interest in complying either. However we treat them, they will torture and behead our soldiers.
The legal argument was that the very terms of Common Article 3, which bans various kinds of ambiguously defined inhumane treatment, apply only to conflicts "not of an international character," and the conflict with al Qaeda was international. Since the Supreme Court rejected this argument in Hamdan, the Bush administration now says that, as a matter of law, common Article 3 does apply to al Qaeda.
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The Kaleidescape video jukebox is a pretty simple idea: 5.5 terabytes of storage hooked up to your television. Store your DVD collection on it—up to 825 DVDs—and watch each one in an instant. No messy search for DVD boxes, a sizable fraction of which turn out to be empty (do people actually put away DVDs in your house)? A real video iPod: hundreds of selections a few clicks away. Sounds good? Not to the DVD Copy Control Association which sued Kaleidescape in late 2004. (Updated info on the lawsuit is here.)
What on earth can be the problem with storing your DVD collection on what after all is nothing more than a fancy, large hard drive? The answer tells us a great deal about tricky issues of the real business of lawyers—institutional engineering—when we are dealing with copyright and technology.
Continue reading "The Next Video Machine?" »
This past Tuesday, July 11, 2006, I had the privilege of teaching a seminar on the morals and ethics of organ transplantation to the new group of clinical fellows at the MacClean Center of Clinical Medical Ethics, located in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Chicago. In the course of that discussion, some one raised the topic of what kind of screening and counseling should be given to those who are prepared to make a kidney donation gratis to stranger outside the donor’s immediate family. I was startled to hear in response that the sixty-four dollar question posed to these potential donors is this: “Do you know that if you make this particular gift that you will not have a kidney available for transplantation for your child if he or she should need it at some time in the future.?” If you can’t answer that question to the satisfaction of the suspicious interlocutor, then you may not get the transplant program to go along with this altruistic donation.
Continue reading "Altruism Made Difficult: More Adventures in the Organ Trade" »