Thursday, July 21, 2011

Entertainment Industry's New Copyright Alert System May Create New Form of Evidence in Copyright Infringement Lawsuits & Lead to Higher Damages

It was big news earlier this month when many of the big entertainment companies entered into an agreement with Internet service providers (ISPs) regarding efforts they will take to self-regulate and self-police copyright infringement. The name of this plan is the "Copyright Alert System."

According to the Wall St. Journal and the Center for Copyright Information, the plan has six steps, from the mildest (in issuing warnings), to the intermediate (in requiring users to acknowledge that they received notice), to the most severe (in slowing down the speed at which alleged infringers may access the Internet).

As a copyright lawyer who goes to court to resolve disputes, I am most interested in the intermediate step. It strikes me that if users are forced to acknowledge that they have received a warning that their conduct may constitute infringement and yet they proceed forward anyway, the fact that they acknowledged such warning may be used against them in a copyright infringement action. The ISPs will not be releasing the identity of these users voluntarily. But a court can always grant permission to subpoena material showing that they took this intermediate step. This new policy may be opening up a whole new world of evidence of willfulness that can be used against people who knowingly infringe on others' copyrights. And willful infringement entitles copyright plaintiffs to increased money damages.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Always On," Consumers Expect Businesses to Embrace Technology Even More

In this new iPhone world, where consumers can download an app at the press of a button, businesses must embrace technology or risk being left behind.  When I say embrace technology, I'm not talking about just having an Internet presence or just using social media for marketing.  I mean using technology to create new apps, tools or games that let you instantly connect and engage with your customers.

Brian X. Chen, a writer for Wired Magazine, was recently interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air from WHYY.  Here's a link to the story and the interview.  In the interview, he discussed his new book, Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future -- and Locked Us In

From a business perspective, the most fascinating part of the book is Chen's comment on how consumers' expectations have changed in light of the way the iPhone lets them unlock worlds of knowledge in the swipe of their phone screen.  In an excerpt from his book, he writes: "The iPhone changed our standards for what we expect from technology, and as a result, businesses are being forced to give us more for our money. We don't want seven pieces of hardware to perform seven different tasks; we want a single gadget capable of doing anything-anytime-anywhere. Soon, manufacturers will no longer be able to sell single-function gadgets lacking an internet connection because those gadgets will soon be obsolete. Consequently, a large number of companies and industries find themselves threatened because a downloadable app can easily replace nearly any dedicated, single-use product."

How is your business using technology to satisfy consumer expectations?  What app could you develop to keep your customers engaged?  Are you thinking from the mindset of a customer who owns an iPhone, and who expects information immediately? No matter your industry -- entertainment, publishing, banking, technology, professional services, arts, health care, environmental -- customers want more from you, and they expect it in the form of instantly accessed technology.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Privacy? Anyone Remember What That Is?

Does privacy really exist any more?  Sure it does, but sometimes it's easy to forget. 

Take the story's in today's Tennessean: "Nashville Residents Take on Google Wi-Spy, Join Privacy Lawsuit."  Google is accused of tapping into wireless networks while it drove by individuals' houses to capture a copy of their homes for placement on Google Earth.  According to the article, the wire tapping had nothing to do with capturing images of the homes; rather, it was done to improve Google's LBS -- location based services.

What's LBS? It's new technology that allows us consumers to get more accurate information at our fingertips when we log into a new app.  For example, when you go to TripAdvisor's App, if you allow it to track your location, it can send you a map showing you restaurants, parks, hotels, and music venues -- all tailored to your location.  When I go on vacation this fall, I can open up my iPad, tap on the app, and it will move with me, knowing I'm in another location, and providing me with the same instant information -- I don't have to key in the location, because the app does it for me. 

Are there privacy concerns in this?  Of course there are.  And that's ignoring Google's alleged wire tapping.  The concerns are that we give up some privacy when our smart phones know our location.  Who else knows our location?  Surely someone's finding a way to sell that information and make money -- this is called "monetization."

As I explained while recently speaking on a panel at Lipscomb University, our free Internet, and our incredibly tech savvy tools, are not truly free, even though they appear to be.  They come at a price and, as a society, we're just beginning to see what that price is: our privacy.

The lawyers at Covington & Burling have compiled a great summary of privacy bills pending before Congress.  As Congess wades through these bills, it is faced with the same tensions we all face: how much privacy are we willing to give up in exchange for the luxuries of information technology?  To protect our privacy, we may decide it's time to pay to protect ourselves, and we may begin to realize that things that seem too good to be true (an Internet without a price tag) really might be.