FCC Launches Spectrum Dashboard

The FCC has created a tool that allows people to quickly see how spectrum is allocated. You can use a map to find all the licensees in a particular county or state. All this is particularly interesting now as there is currently some interest in reallocating spectrum that was used for television broadcast and allowing more wireless broadband services.

FCC Spectrum Dashboard

HT to the CommLawBlog.

Gimme an iMark

Apple Loeses Battle for Control of the Letter I

The offending trademark was DOPi which is iPod spelled backwards, but otherwise doesn’t really sound like or look like Apple’s IPOD trademark. Interesting to note that Apple wasn’t the first or only user of the names “iPhone” or “iPad” either. As I type this on my MacBook, I wonder what was wrong with the iBook name?

Pink Floyd Wins and the Album Lives Another Day

Pink Floyd recently won a case in the UK against its record company EMI over the rights to sell copies of Pink Floyd songs as individual digital downloads. The contract which was signed in 1999 limited EMI’s ability to sell singles of the songs and Pink Floyd successfully argued that that should apply to digital downloads as well. This case raises a potential moral rights issue in the age of the digital downloads.

While albums were still the norm ten years ago, increasingly people are looking for their music by the track. Apple’s iTunes store prices by the album, but you are still left with individual files that are downloaded to your computer. Should artists like Pink Floyd be able to sell their music only in the form of an album? US Copyright law is distinctly economic in nature and the idea of “moral rights” or droit d’auteur play a very small role here. While artists in many countries can control how their works appear well after the works are sold; here in the US, artists are limited to rights granted under copyright law such as reproduction, public performance, etc.

Perhaps we will see more one track albums in the future. Or perhaps its time to move past the album, a format that exists largely due to the technical specifications of LPs (60 minute capacity) and to some extent Compact Disc (80 minute capacity). Not all music needs to be one hour divided into 10 songs. Digital downloads can be just about any size. The only effective limitations are what a person might want to listen to and what an artist feels is appropriate*. Perhaps now is a good time to rethink the album.

*There is at least one song that could cause problems for digital downloads. As Slow As Possible by John Cage has been performed since 2001 in Halberstadt, Germany and the performance is expected to continue for another 639 years.

Dot Anything?

Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) are .com, .edu, .org and so forth. There have been proposals before ICANN for a few years now to allow new gTLDs to be just about anything people want, such as .godfread. There are of course trademark and other intellectual property concerns and its not entirely clear how ICANN will address resolving the disputes that might arise when two parties both claim rights in a new gTLD. Nevertheless, it seems as though sometime in the not to distant future, we may see a whole new universe of domain names.
ICANN New gTLD Information Page

HT to Martin Schwimmer at the Trademark Blog

Sunshine Week is March 14-20

“Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.” See more information at www.sunshineweek.org
Your Right To Know

Minnesota’s Strange Start to Lawsuits

Minnesota has rules regarding starting a lawsuit that are a bit different than other states and may not be what you assume is normal. These rules have been given the quaint name of “pocket service.” Pocket service is the process for beginning a civil case in Minnesota. It involves serving on the opposing party a summons and complaint. What it doesn’t involve is filing anything with any court. This can and often does lead to confusion not just for out of state defendants but lifelong Minnesotans as well.

The reasoning for pocket filing is to encourage people to settle disputes privately. Which is a generally good thing. The problem is, someone who receives these strange documents might assume that because they are not filed in court, they don’t have do do anything. Big Mistake. Once you have been served, the clock is ticking. If you don’t reply in time, the plaintiff can go to court and file for a default judgment. That means they can get everything they asked for. Even if the lawsuit was a loser. Even if they don’t have evidence. You don’t answer, you lose automatically.

Moral of the story: Answer the Complaint. If you’re not sure how, contact an attorney.

Yelp! sued in class action over extortion

There’s even a blog about it. I use Yelp! only occasionally but I do rely on reviews on Google and elsewhere. This can be a touchy subject for many small business owners as they can and do find customers through online reviews.I found my barber through those reviews and I know he takes those online reviews pretty seriously. Its also ripe for abuse as small businesses may be tempted to put as many five star reviews up as the can. What this lawsuit alleges though is that Yelp! asked for money to make the bad reviews go away. Yelp! denies this and states that they only remove reviews that they believe are illegitimate.


TECH{dot}MN Podcast with Justin Porter

Jeff Pesek and I recently interviewed Justin Porter who works with the University of Minnesota Office of Technology Commercialization. The OTC harnesses some great innovation that comes out of the University and helps bring it to market by either licensing it, or finding the right people to help start a new company to develop it.

Check out the podcast here at TECH{dot}MN

Check out the University of MN OTC here.

Don’t Confuse Your Attorney With A Paper Dispenser

There are a number of sources of free legal documents and free or cheap legal document generators online. This is overall good news and should not in any way be a real threat to attorneys. But people often confuse a document for a solution to a legal problem. In order for the document to be useful, it has to say what you want it to say. You have to know what it is you want to accomplish with this document. Knowing when a document works requires a skill that a document generator cannot provide.

Software programmers would not insert any old code to try to accomplish a specific task. It takes a fair amount of skill to determine if source code can be reused from one program in another without causing problems. Blindly copying legal documents is not any different. If the document doesn’t do exactly what you want it to do, you might be in a worse situation. But like programmers, attorneys do reuse “code” and free and readily available documents help to do that. The “code” is on legal documents is English (sometimes barely recognizable). But the danger for the do-it-yourselfer is not knowing or not caring what the legal code on that document means.

For example, Legalzoom offers incorporation and trademark registration services. But Legalzoom doesn’t offer any advice on what kind of application to file, whether its necessary to file, how to get value from that piece of paper or how to make sure your newly formed company actually complies with state law. They basically guide you through the form and check spelling, which at any price is pretty expensive. A better value would be to buy a book by Nolo Press (which are for the most part really good) and gain enough understanding to do it yourself; or save up your money and hire an attorney. For both corporations and trademarks, obtaining the piece of paper is only a small fraction of the work. If you ignore the rest (compliance, usage etc.), the paper is worthless. Paper is cheap. Know-how costs extra.

Nevertheless, there are things that make sense to do yourself and not hire an attorney. For my own clients, if there are things that are routine, I may offer to advise them on a strategy and propose a form or policy that they can reuse. I also might suggest having them draft a document and then simply have me review it for potential problems. I would rather see them save some money on legal fees now and still be in business years later to hire me for matters that might demand more attention. The value in hiring an attorney is not to have access to a paper dispenser, but to have access to advice.

What is Theft?

I found this article by Chris Hartman amusing because the word “theft” is used so frequently outside of its literal legal definition. The article searches Google for instances when people write “_______ is theft” with the rankings shown below.

Its a brilliant example of how people distort the truth by using a vague or general definition of a word with a lot of emotional weight. Like “theft.” When you use a word like “theft” to mean any general sort of taking or use of a right, it ceases to mean theft. Its also interesting to note that publishers appear four times in that list, including the top spot, but in none of those cases do they mean actual theft. Infringement is bad, but its also hard to conceptualize. Theft is immediate and visceral.

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.