Intellectual Property Issues
Survival of the biggest: Concern about the clout of the internet giants is growing. But antitrust watchdogs should tread carefully
The four giants of the internet age—Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon—are extraordinary creatures. Never before has the world seen firms grow so fast or spread their tentacles so widely. Apple has become a colossus of capitalism, accounting for 4.3% of the value of the S&P 500 and 1.1% of the global equity market. Some 425m people now use its iTunes online store, whose virtual shelves are packed to the gills with music and other digital content. Google, meanwhile, is the undisputed global leader in search and online advertising. Its Android software powers three-quarters of the smartphones being shipped. Amazon dominates the online-retail and e-book markets in many countries; less well known is its behind-the-scenes power in cloud computing. As for Facebook, if the social network’s one billion users were a country, it would be the world’s third largest.
The digital revolution these giants have helped foment has brought huge benefits to consumers and businesses, and promoted free speech and the spread of democracy along the way. Yet they provoke fear as well as wonder. Their size and speed can, if left unchecked, be used to choke off competition. That is why they are attracting close scrutiny from regulators.
Digital Rights Activists Gather in Auckland, New Zealand Next Week for the 15th Round of TPP Negotiations
Next week, the 15th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) negotiations will begin in Auckland, New Zealand. Hundreds of delegates and private representatives from the now 11 participating nations will gather at a luxury casino to discuss this multi-faceted trade agreement. EFF, KEI, and the Stop the Trap coalition will also join dozens of other public interest groups to sound the alarm over the TPP’s intellectual property (IP) chapter that could likely prompt countries to enact restrictive copyright enforcement laws that would have huge ramifications for users’ access to digital content and information. As we mentioned previously, countries continue to join the negotiations with no end in sight.
Another fair use victory for libraries
We knew some time ago that the second complaint filed in the copyright infringement case brought against UCLA by the the trade association AIME over streamed digital video had been dismissed. But last week Judge Consuelo Marshall filed her order that explained the grounds of that dismissal (PDF). What we have learned is that this case is a slight victory for fair use in libraries. On the specific issue we do not have clear guidance, just an affirmation that fair use arguments for streamed digital video are not unreasonable or obviously wrong. But it is helpful to see this ruling as part of an overall picture, one in which all three cases claiming copyright infringement by academic libraries which were defended on the basis of fair use have now been decided at the trial court level and NO INFRINGEMENT HAS BEEN FOUND.
Senate Passes Amendments to Shed Light on Contractor Misbehavior
The Senate has approved several amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3254), which will bring greater transparency and accountability to federal contracting. The amendments would strengthen whistleblower protections for federal contractors and grantees, require the Defense Department to publish its "revolving door" database of senior department officials who seek employment with defense contractors, and require the Defense Department to conduct an annual study on defense contracting fraud.
Scientists Seek New Credibility Outside of Established Journals
The Open Access movement continued gaining steam in 2012. A third iteration of the Research Works Act was quashed, the number of universities adopting official open access policies continued to grow, dozens of new open access journals were launched, and a petition calling for public access to all federally funded research gathered enough signatures to get the attention of the White House. But Open Access is only one part of a larger shift taking place in the academic world—particularly the sciences—says Richard Price, founder and CEO of academia.edu. Price argues that academia is moving toward a system where the credibility of research, publications, and ultimately researchers themselves, is gauged not by the prestige of the journal in which works are published, but by the usage, citations, and professional feedback that the works generate online.
United Nations Development Programme opens data on over 6,000 projects in transparency drive
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today launched a new online portal allowing open, comprehensive public access to data on UNDP’s work in 177 countries and territories, fulfilling a commitment to full transparency by 2013 above and beyond international standards. The new portal, open.undp.org, comprises comprehensive programmatic information – from income and expenditures to activities and results – on more than 6,000 active UNDP projects, as well as those that financially closed in 2011, along with more than 8,000 outputs or results. Users can sort projects by focus areas, funding sources, and locations and extract detailed data related to budgets, implementing organizations, and targeted results in areas from governance and rule of law to crisis prevention and recovery.
Heart Gadgets Test Privacy-Law Limits
The small box inside Amanda Hubbard’s chest beams all kinds of data about her faulty heart to the company that makes her defibrillator implant. Ms. Hubbard herself, however, can’t easily get that information unless she requests summaries from her doctor – whom she rarely sees since losing her insurance. In short, the data gathered by the Medtronic Inc. implant isn’t readily accessible to the person whose heartbeat it tracks. The U.S. has strict privacy laws guaranteeing people access to traditional health files. But implants and other new technologies – including smartphone apps and over-the-counter monitors—are testing the very definition of medical records. At the same time, companies including Medtronic are pushing to turn the data into money. The company is contemplating selling the data to health systems or insurers that could use it to predict diseases and possibly lower their costs. At a July industry event, a senior Medtronic executive, Ken Riff, called these kinds of data "the currency of the future."
NASA Suffers More Data Breaches
NASA has announced that the theft of an unencrypted laptop has compromised the personal information of a "large number" of NASA employees and contractors. A similar theft earlier this year exposed the data of thousands of Kennedy Space Center employees. The federal agency said that by the end of the year all NASA laptops must have full-disk encryption. The recent developments follow a 2010 United States Supreme Court case, NASA v. Nelson, in which a federal contractor challenged NASA’s overly broad collection of personal information. EPIC filed an amicus curiae brief (PDF) in support of the contractor Robert Nelson, arguing that there were insufficient legal protections and that NASA’s systems are vulnerable to data breaches. Robert Nelson is among the employees and contractors who this week received a notice from NASA about the data breach. For more information, see EPIC: NASA v. Nelson and EPIC: Privacy Act.
Leahy Reaffirms Strong Support of Warrants for Content
Senator Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has released a manager’s amendment (PDF) that reaffirms the underlying premise of the legislation that the Judiciary Committee will mark up on Thursday: Law enforcement officials need a warrant in order to access the contents of electronic communications. (A section-by-section summary of the manager’s amendment is here.) If the manager’s amendment is adopted the Leahy bill will establish a clear, consistent, easy to apply warrant rule. It will protect consumer privacy, remove the uncertainty law enforcement currently faces, and foster the growth of U.S. cloud computing companies, which will be able to promise their clients that the information they store in cloud will be as secure against government access as information stored locally.
Building a Digital Public Library of America
The Boston Public Library, America’s first publicly funded municipal library, will host a celebration in April, 2013 to launch the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA): an ambitious, broad-based effort to establish a new library platform for our digitally-mediated age.
In its first iteration, the DPLA will bring together digital resources that are today distributed around the country and make them easily accessible and useful. Today, digital library materials are scattered in ways that no single librarian or patron could find them all. It would be prohibitively expensive for the DPLA to bring together materials from every single library, archive and museum in the country. Instead, the DPLA plans to connect existing state infrastructure to create a system of state (or in some cases, regional) service hubs, each offering standardized digital services to local institutions, including digitization and metadata services, and serving as an on-ramp for all by aggregating metadata and data from local institutions to feed into a new DPLA network.
Syrians Use Old and New Tools to Stay Online During Internet Shutdown
Information coming out of Syria has slowed to a trickle in the wake of Thursday’s country-wide communications shutdown, which included nearly all Internet traffic and intermittent cellular network and landline outages. Earlier today, Renesys reported that the last five networks that had survived the initial outage were off the air. In the meantime, experts have cast a skeptical eye on the Syrian Ministry of Information’s claims that the outage is the result of sabotage by "terrorists," a term that the Assad regime has frequently used to describe the opposition.
Even under these adverse conditions, some Syrians have found ways to get online, stay in touch with family and loved ones abroad, and keep the world appraised of events on the ground at a time when fighting has escalated and reliable intelligence is scarce. Dlshad Othman, a Syrian activist and IT specialist, estimates that the number of people online in Syria at the moment is probably "less than 1,000," yet Global Voices reports that videos of protests are still finding their way online.
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The Intersect Alert is a newsletter of the Government Relations Committee, San Francisco Bay Region Chapter, Special Libraries Association.