Tech law update 3 September 2010

Throwing the ‘book

Facebook is attempting to assert ownership over use of the word “book” in domain names, by filing a lawsuit in the US against unrelated site Teachbook.com. It has also been reported that Facebook is attempting to claim the word “face” as well. The “book” complaint alleges:

Misappropriating the distinctive book portion of Facebook’s trademark, defendant has created its own competing online networking community in a blatant attempt to become a Facebook for teachers.

It is not uncommon for trade mark owners to take action to stop “similar” names being used by another party, even where the other is innocently using them in an unrelated manner. A recent local example being designer Trelise Cooper’s unsuccessful attempt to stop another New Zealand designer from registering her own actual name, “Tamsin Cooper” as a trade mark. Facebook will not succeed in gaining a monopoly over either “face” or “book”, but may be seeking to force a lesser-resourced start-up into a settlement. Teachbook has said it will fight the suit.

ISP or not to ISP

Computerworld reports on ongoing concern over the very broad definition of “ISP” in the Copyright Act (see my post here). Submitters have suggested that the definition be modified to only apply to organisations that allocate IP addresses. While that would be a significant improvement, it would still leaves some organisation as unintended or unwilling ISPs. For example the University of Auckland has submitted:

The University currently controls a range of 65,534 unique IP addresses which it allocates to access points in the University and to halls of residence… The University thus has serious concerns about its status and the definitions of an ISP as drafted in the Bill. It will be apparent from the information provided that the University has essentially all the characteristics of an ISP and will be the entity that is contacted if illegal file sharing is alleged.

Government Open Access and Licensing

The Minister of State Services recently announced the release of the NZ Government Open Access and Licensing Framework – a series of Govt-approved licensing models that advocate the use of liberal Creative Commons licenses. The policy is available here. It applies to all public service departments and Crown entities, except (somewhat curiously) for tertiary institutes.

We called out for another drink, the waiter brought a cease-and-desist

Can you copyright a cocktail? The Atlantic reports on a Manhattan bar that may yet find out. For the record, a recipe can be copyright, but for heaven’s sake can’t they just settle it over a Long Island Iced Tea?

Open Government and the legal profession

The Government recently called for freer access to state data. This was promptly followed up by the release of the draft NZ Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework. It endorsed the view of the NZ Council for Humanities:

“Now more than ever is there a very present need to bring information the Government holds on behalf of its people into the public domain so that it may be used in ways that stimulate innovation, generate cultural creativity, social interaction and dialogue, while also kick starting economic growth.”

Amen. Last month Tim O’Reilly put the question succinctly: “can government become a platform?… the real secret of success in Government 2.0 is thinking about government as a platform.”

He elaborates:

“Rather than licensing government data to a few select ‘value added’ providers, who then license the data downstream, the federal government (and many state and local governments) are beginning to provide an open platform that enables anyone with a good idea to build innovative services that connect government to citizens, give citizens visibility into the actions of government and even allow citizens to participate directly in policy-making.”

The legal profession should be at the forefront of this process, but it has a history of lagging in such matters – even in the United States, as reported here following September’s Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington DC:

“Unfortunately, the legal profession was missing from the proceedings, convicted in absentia for being part of the problem instead of part of the solution.”

Let’s hope that as this process moves forward, through Government programmes and the efforts of those such as Open New Zealand, the legal profession and justice system is a full participant, and able to be part of the solution.

described the “Facebook generation” as having “a culture where the rapid and often uninhibited exchange of information is the norm… The younger staff generation of MoD staff are not inculcated with the same culture of protecting information as their counterparts from previous generations”