Technology law update 6 October 2010

Virtualised software licensing

Licensing virtualised software isn’t getting any easier:

Big picture: Software licensing for virtual desktops is incredibly complex, confusing and, in some cases, prohibitively expensive. “It’s like the tax code,” says Dave Buchholz, principal engineer at Intel’s IT unit

Like the tax code – ouch. This is not new, yet from a contractual point of view, licensing virtual software is relatively straight-forward. The complexity is not an inherent licensing problem, but simply a commercial consequence – partly due to the well-worn idea that complexity is good for business (think mobile phone plans), and partly due to vendors trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Besides piracy, studies show that even users who actively try to be fully compliant often cannot understand the licensing rules (and as the article says, even vendors can struggle to understand their own licensing). The reality is that in most cases, if there is money on the table that a licensing tweak could recover, those tweaks would have already been made. But while the practice of overly-complex licensing has perhaps lasted longer than expected, disruptive technologies such as usage-based cloud computing, and open source software and the increasing use of virtualisation itself, mean the trend will be toward simplified licensing and subscription models.

Name suppression laws to be tightened

The Government has announced changes to name suppression laws, following a number of high profile incidents, a prosecution, and a Law Commission report into the matter. Among the announced changes:

Introducing a new offence to capture New Zealand-based Internet service providers or content hosts who do not remove locally hosted suppressed information which they know is in breach of a suppression order, and who fail to block access or remove it as soon as reasonably practicable. [emphasis added]

This is an improvement on the Law Commission’s recommendation that ISPs and hosts “carrying” suppressed information should “block access” to it, which would have caused practical problems for ISPs (see my comments here). Having a requirement simply to remove locally hosted content is a simpler and more realistic approach. But it still remains an iffy matter – IT lawyer Rick Shera raises some pertinent questions here.

Coincidentally, on the same day as the Government’s announcement, a name suppression order forced a number of bloggers to remove posts that had previously the identity of certain individuals. By which time the information was already available in caches, syndicated posts, Twitter, etc – just another reminder of the difficulty of name suppression in the present day.

Who’s suing who(m)?

Another day, another US patent infringement claim. There are so many flying around, its hard to keep up. Fortunately the Guardian gives us this diagram. Expect to see a few more arrows added in the near future.

If you can’t beat ’em?

Minorly ironical: Ars Technica reports on antipiracy lawyers apparently pirating the legal forms of other antipiracy lawyers.