January 15, 2012
Browsing On A Sunday: SOPA, E-book Loaning, and the Billable Hour
The White House released a statement yesterday in opposition to filtering the Domain Name System as a response to Internet piracy. Three of the administration’s top technology and IP officers issues a lengthy statement on the White House web server detailing the objections. Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at OMB, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff wrote that removing sites from the DNS system wouldn’t remove the illegal content and would drive consumers to use alternative DNS systems that could be unreliable and weaken security policy. They recognized that piracy is a serious problem and solicit comments from the public as to how to combat it.
It didn’t take long for Rupert Murdoch to react negatively. He sent five different tweets including “So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.” The Register pointed out the irony of this statement given the phone hacking scandal that closed News Corp property News of the World. Politicians sought Murdoch’s favor due to his ownership of significant media properties. His complaining about corporate meddling in politics is not very credible given some of the reports (here and here) out there. He might have saved some invective for Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the lead sponsor of SOPA. He said he will remove the DNS filtering provision from the bill after discussions with industry groups. One presumes technology companies such as Google gave Rep. Smith and others an earful to prompt the move.
The Washington Post (registration required) examines the tension between libraries as lenders of e-books and the publishing industry resisting that lending. The article covers the usual territory of publishers expressing their concern about piracy and libraries and their users frustrated at the lack of available content. What is interesting is some of the statistical material the article notes about demand for e-books in various Washington area library systems. Maryland’s entire library system has less than 10,000 copyrighted e-books with 266,000 checkouts in the last year. The trend over time is a rapidly increasing demand by a public expecting libraries to lend e-books with the same ease as physical books. Publishers would rather see sales rather than lending, and limiting what libraries can lend certainly helps the sales market. Perhaps the various government investigations into e-book pricing might make that sale alternative more palatable to the buyers.
Another article in the Post examines the pressure on the billable hour. It seems members of large firms who handle major clients start their own practices and taking some of those clients with them. The attraction is the trust in the attorney’s work and the attorney’s willingness to use alternative billing arrangements. These may include a lower hourly rate, capped or flat fees, and bonuses depending on the success of outcome in client matters. The article suggests that large firms are feeling the heat and are turning to similar arrangements to keep business. Law graduates take note: There will be less money coming in which means less compensation for jobs in the future. [MG]