June 22, 2007
WIPO Broadcast Treaty Does Not Go Forward
Ars Technica is reporting that the WIPO Broadcast Treaty is dead. The treaty would touch on signal theft as its basis, but became controversial over its rights based approach. At one point, a draft would have given broadcasters new intellectual property rights in their signals. That approach was abandoned, though not without continuing debate. Consumer groups generally opposed the treaty as stifling existing consumer rights. Senators Leahy and Specter said the treaty would upset U.S. Copyright law and called on American negotiators to seek the minimal language to protect signals.
Details from Ars Technica are here. Variations of the treaty are here, here, and here, from the very difficult to navigate WIPO site. Google does a better job locating documents on the WIPO site than does WIPO.
June 21, 2007
Yahoo's Semel Steps Down, Murdoch Wants A Stake in the Company
Yahoo is at some sort of crossroad. Terry Semel has resigned as Chief Executive Officer, replaced by Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang. Semel worked at Warner Brothers for years and brought a media company mentality to Yahoo. That sent Yahoo down the road to being a content provider but didn't necessarily make the company more profitable. There's no doubt that Semel grew the company, adding billions of dollars in capitalization and expanding the reach of Yahoo. That growth, however, has to be measured against a context, and that context is Google. Despite the fact Yahoo is the most visited Internet site, it fails to make the kind of money Google makes. That's the paradox of Yahoo: a huge audience but less money-making.
Yahoo's mission is to connect people to their passions, at least that's what it is now. An article in Fortune magazine (via CNN Money) highlighted that Semel didn't know what the mission of Yahoo was beyond delivering value to customers and valuing them. That could describe any business, even those that are less successful. Brad Garlinghouse, a Yahoo senior vice president took issue with the company's lack of focus and decisiveness in his Peanut Butter Manifesto. The name comes from the notion that Yahoo spread its resources too thin, much like peanut butter on bread. There's a lot of truth to that, even for a casual observer.
Yahoo has been content to grow the company by acquiring this site or that, an integrating them in the fold. It bought popular photo sharing site Flickr but kept its own homegrown photo site running, essentially competing with itself. Only recently has it committed completely to Flickr, migrating all users to that site. Even Google knew the writing was on the wall for Google Video when it bought YouTube.
Yahoo usually pops up in rumors that sound like mega-deals. The company failed to buy FaceBook after Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace. Microsoft seemed interesting in either merging with Yahoo or creating some type of alliance as a counterbalance to the dominance of Google. It's hard to imagine Microsoft in that position, but they are even behind Yahoo when it comes to competing with Google. Yet, as close as Yahoo comes to pulling off a deal of real magnitude, it never seems to pull the trigger. It's as if Yahoo may be afraid of changing its culture, thus avoiding major ties to other companies. At the same time, the undercurrent seems to be that Yahoo will never be able to compete against Google by itself.
Now comes Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. with an offer to swap MySpace for 25% of Yahoo. With Yahoo worth about $37 billion, that would put MySpace valuation around $10 billion, give or take. Given that MySpace sold to News Corp. for around $600 million or so, that's a pretty hefty capital gain for Murdoch. The deal is attractive to some extent as Yahoo is seen as still missing a piece of the social networking pie. There is still the implication of what even a 25% News Corp. stake in Yahoo will mean to Yahoo operations. There isn't a lot of speculation in the press yet as to how this could play out. If it did go forward, it could mean major changes to Yahoo. Based on their track record, it's unlikely Yahoo could cut a deal that would insulate them from Murdoch's influence.
Yahoo has to figure out still what it wants to be. Is it a technology company? A media company? A search company? And while it's working that through, it should remember that Google and Microsoft are not standing still.
June 20, 2007
Microsoft To Change Vista Desktop Search To Accomodate Google
Microsoft will take two moves to settle Google's complaint about the desktop search function in Vista. Microsoft will allow users to select a desktop search application much as it now lets them select a default browser or media player. The company will share code with Google to make their desktop search work more efficiently with Vista.
Google had complained that Microsoft's desktop search feature could not be turned off and that it slowed down Google's product. The Justice Department had backed Microsoft in the dispute while various state attorneys general considered raising the issue in the court overseeing Microsoft's antitrust compliance. Google welcomed the change, which should be coming in a Vista service pack scheduled for beta testing by the end of the year.
6th Circuit Affirms Expectation of Privacy in E-mail Under SCA
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a significant opinion on Monday. The Court basically held that users have a heightened expectation of privacy in their e-mail. The government must either acquire a search warrant, provide notice to the target that the government is seeking their e-mail content, or show that the ISP agreement did not give the subscriber any expectation of privacy in their e-mail.
The case is Warshak v. United States, (No. -6-4092, 6th Cir., June 18, 2007). Warshak was under lengthy investigation by the United States for mail and wire fraud, money laundering, and related federal offenses. The government obtained an order (issued in March, 2005) requiring NuVox Communications to turn over various types of information pertaining to Warshak, including “[t]he contents of wire or electronic communications (not in electronic storage unless greater than 181 days old) that were placed or stored in directories or files owned or controlled” by Warshak; and (3) “[a]ll Log files and backup tapes.” The authority for the order was 18 USC § 2703, part of the Stored Communications Act.
The order was issued under seal. The ISP was prohibited from disclosing the existence of the order and what information it provided to the government until the Court directed. The SCA provision required notice to the target, though the Court delayed that disclosure for 90 days. The government obtained a second order on September 12, 2005 requiring Yahoo to provide the same kind of information. The government did not tell Warshak about the orders until May 31, 2006. "Warshak filed suit on on June 12, 2006 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and alleging that the compelled disclosure of his e-mails without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment and the SCA." (Slip Op. at 2.) The District Court granted relief and the government appealed.
The Court analyzed procedural issues raised by the government, such as whether the claim was ripe for adjudication, and whether the harm to defendant was imminent, and rejected those claims. The government also claimed that the content of the e-mail was not private as it was in the hands of the ISP, and employees could view its content in in the normal course of business. The Court rejected that view. It said that merely because the ISP employees could view e-mail content, that did not mean that the ISP regularly reviewed content. Therefore, Warshak had an expectation of privacy in e-mail content.
The government argued that ISPs scan email for illegal pornography or viruses and that destroys the expectation of privacy. the Court rejected that claim as well, stating that process was handled by technology rather than humans "and has little bearing on his expectation of privacy in the content." (Slip Op. at 13.)
June 18, 2007
Update on the Cyber Safety For Kids Act
The Cyber Safety For Kids Act (S.1086) was introduced in the Senate by Max Baucus (MT) and Mark L. Pryor (AK) on April 11th. This bill is a reaction to the injunction issued against COPA earlier this year. The bill, if passed, would require tags on all websites that would identify content harmful to minors. At this point the Act has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. There is yet to be a hearing on the bill, but there is plenty of time in this Congress for the bill to move.
Avvo Finds Itself in the Dock
The lawyer rating site Avvo has been hit with a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Plaintiffs claim unfair competition and deceptive acts of commerce under the Washington [State] Consumer Protection Act. Plaintiff's also seek class action status. Much of the suit is based on the apparent inconsistencies in ratings. Two Supreme Court Justices rate the same as an attorney who is serving prison time to defraud the government.
Details on the suit are in the Washington Times,and the Seattle Times. The latter has links to other information relating to the story. Good thing for Mike Nifong, recently disbarred prosecutor in the Duke rape case, that Avvo doesn't cover North Carolina. Who knows how high he would rank.