March 23, 2007
Oracle Sues SAP
Oracle and SAP are two fierce rivals in enterprise software that rely on heavy use of databases for corporate information. SAP is a German company with the largest share of the market and Oracle has a respectable but definitely second place share of the same market. Oracle sued SAP on Wednesday claiming wholesale downloading and copying of support programs and documents for various Oracle products. Essentially, using customer ids, a subsidiary of SAP, SAP TN located in Bryant, Texas, allegedly logged into Oracle servers and downloaded more or less all of the various Oracle support libraries. SAP TN is engaged in supporting PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards software. Both of these companies were independent until purchased by Oracle. The PeopleSoft purchase was particularly acrimonious for customers and shareholders alike. Oracle accused SAP as it traced IP addresses in its server logs back to the SAP TN office.
One of the points raised by Oracle in its complaint is that customers are only entitled to download software that works with their purchased products. SAP TN used login IDs and passwords associated with customers whose support contracts were about to or had expired. SAP TN was in competition to acquire the product support for these customer's Oracle products. What Oracle has not done is sue these customers whose IDs were allegedly used. These include (from the complaint) Abbott Laboratories, Abitibi-Consolidated, Inc., Bear, Stearns & Co., Berri Limited, Border Foods, Caterpillar Elphinstone,Distribution & Auto Service, Fuelserv Limited, Grupo Costamex, Helzberg Diamonds, HerbertWaldman, Honeywell International, Interbrew UK, Laird Plastics, Merck & Co., Metro Machine Corp., Mortice Kern Systems, Inc., National Manufacturing, NGC Management Limited, OCE Technologies, B.V., Ronis, S.A., Smithfield Foods, SPX Corporation, Stora Enso, Texas Association of School Boards, VSM Group AB, and Yazaki North America. There is probably no suit against these people as Oracle would not want to jeopardize retaining them as customers.
It's hard to believe that SAP would do something as dumb as this. I'll speculate that it was probably a rogue operation that wasn't sanctioned by the parent and Oracle is using this incident as a way of playing gotcha as much as protecting their intellectual property. Let's see what happens when this one goes to trial, if it gets there at all.
March 22, 2007
COPA Enjoined Permanently on Remand
Judge Lowell A. Reed, Jr. has issued a permanent injunction on Wednesday against the enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), 47 U.S.C. §231. This was Congress' second attempt to ban the distribution of sexually explicit material to children under the age of 17. The Supreme Court upheld the preliminary injunction in 2004 (Ashcroft v. ACLU, 535 U.S. 564) and remanded the case to the District Court to update the factual record and to account for new technology in the area that would affect the legal issues. That trial took place between October 23, 2006 and November 20, 2006.
This is the case where Google fought a Justice Department subpoena for raw search data from its archives. The other major search engines rolled over with bellies exposed. Google was finally ordered to turn over data, but the amount was limited and the data scrubbed to some extent. The aggregate search information was used in a study conducted by one of the experts hired by the Justice Department to examine how much sexually explicit material was available through search engines. This study was one element of the evidence that the Judge considered.
The opinion is long, 84 pages in slip opinion form. There are 186 findings of fact and 52 conclusions of law, although the Court recognized that some of the conclusions combine elements of law and fact. Judge Reed was fairly methodical in organizing the opinion. He described the parties; their experts; the types of web sites the plaintiffs represented and their issues relating to potential prosecution; A description of how sexually explicit materials that are organized and available on the web including how much comes from overseas; Internet filtering software; the legislative history of COPA; statistics on obscenity prosecution; the affirmative defenses available via COPA; and the conclusions of law. These all lead to an analysis that justifies the permanent injunction.
Based on some of the studies presented to the Court, it found between 275 million to 700 million pages are sexually explicit (about 1%). This is out of a total of an estimated 25 to 64 billion pages available per the expert testimony.
One of the Court's findings is that filters work. They are cost effective, flexible, and easy to use. Filters are also updatable and suppliers can strengthen them against hacking by children by monitoring developments. They can also restrict content that comes from foreign sources, which is more than half of the free sexually explicit material available. Many filtering options provided by ISPs are either free or part of the subscription while others are inexpensive. Filters blocked between 87 and 99% of sexually explicit web pages depending on the filter provider. The Court even noted filtering software built into Microsoft Vista, even though the software has been available to consumers for about two months.
The Court turned to other arguments, such as the requirement that there be some type of adult verification system such as credit or debit cards. Children actually have access to credit cards in one form or another which defeats this aspect of the law. Sites that don't sell access to pornographic materials but do include reference to sexual materials may be burdened by having to implement such a system.
Essentially, Judge Reed found that the the U.S. government failed to carry its burden that COPA was the least restrictive option in keeping sexually explicit material from children compared to the First Amendment rights of adults.
The slip opinion is here. Expect an appeal at any moment.
March 20, 2007
Law Professor Tackles NFL Copyright Claim
Ars Technica has a nifty story on Brooklyn Law School Professor Wendy Seltzer and her copyright tussle with the NFL. She posted a clip on YouTube consisting of the copyright notice aired during the Super Bowl. Her point is that the notice excludes fair use rights and shows how media property owners are expanding their own rights to the detriment of fair use. The NFL issued a takedown notice, and the clip was removed. Professor Seltzer issued a counter notice and the clip was replaced. The NFL issued another takedown notice. Professor Seltzer's argues that the clip is fair use in an educational setting.
The second takedown notice was the wrong procedure on the part of the NFL as sending the second takedown notice constitutes knowing misrepresentation that the clip is infringing, at least according to section 512(f)(1) of the DCMA. The NFL's option should have been to go to court, which may be the only option they have at this point. However, the governing section of the DMCA makes them liable for all court costs, including those of Professor Seltzer.
Fair use of media in educational settings is well established. The real question is whether YouTube, accessible to the entire world, is considered an educational setting. Is it possible that the clip could have been restricted to sites at Brooklyn Law School accessible by students and not the entire world. This should be fun if it gets as far as a court.
March 19, 2007
Scoble Says Microsoft, Uh, Underperforms at Internet Stuff
Does Microsoft really suck? Lots of people have opinions one way or the other on that one. Read any software or hardware forum when researching computer problems and there will always be a background noise thread debating the point.
When the S-word is thrown about by Robert Scoble, eyes and ears perk up. Oh? You say? What's all this, then? Scoble is famous for his Scobleizer blog which gives an inside view of Microsoft. Scoble generally gives a fair picture of Microsoft, not as an evil empire but as a company successfully doing business. He's not shy When Microsoft is worth criticizing, and on March 16th he unloaded. He says that Microsoft should stop deluding itself about competing with Google and actually work towards something better rather than talking about it. My interpretation, but here's the actual statement:
I don’t think Microsoft is. The words are empty. Microsoft’s Internet execution sucks (on whole). Its search sucks. Its advertising sucks (look at that last post again). If that’s “in it to win” then I don’t get it. I saw a bunch of posts similar to the one on LiveSide coming out of the MVP Summit. I didn’t post any of them to my link blog for a reason: All were air, no real demonstrations of how Microsoft is going to lead.
Microsoft isn’t going away. Don’t get me wrong. They have record profits, record sales, all that. But on the Internet? Come on. This isn’t winning. Microsoft: stop the talk. Ship a better search, a better advertising system than Google, a better hosting service than Amazon, a better cross-platform Web development ecosystem than Adobe, and get some services out there that are innovative (where’s the video RSS reader? Blog search? Something like Yahoo’s Pipes? A real blog service? A way to look up people?) That’s how you win.
This was motivated in part by Steve Ballmer's trash talking about Google (a lot of their products are cute, Ballmer says, meaning their interesting but useless) and Microsoft's executives claiming they were in the search fight to win. The statements ring hollow with news reports that Microsoft is trying to grow market share by bribing corporations to use Live Search.
Microsoft may have bundles of cash to thrown around but this latest move is kind of pathetic considering that the market place has essentially ignored this Microsoft product. Buying a technology company to get products that add functionality to the Microsoft line is one thing. But buying users? Scoble is right in that Microsoft hasn't come up with a compelling product. As unfocused as Yahoo may be, they can compete with Google. If Google is a one-trick company as analysts claim, at least they do that trick very, very well. Microsoft should learn the lesson of very, very well if it wants to conquer the web. A sharp Google or Yahoo is way better than a bland Microsoft.
The Google Phone is Coming
Google is working on a handset device. Rumors to that effect have circulated for some time now. One Google executive from Spain basically admitted as much while others said the company talked about the device at the CeBIT conference in Germany. It's supposed to be a mid to low-end device that will bring Google to the mobile masses and not aimed to be the fashion statement of an Apple iPhone. Yes it gets Google, but will it make phone calls.
There's long story about the phone in the Times Online.