White House in favor of phone unlocking

I got an email a little while ago from the White House, saying that the Obama administration agreed with a petition I'd signed arguing that the recent ban by the library of congress on unlocking your phone so it can be used on different networks should be overturned.  (More accurately, as the official response explains, the Librarian of Congress has the power to create exemptions from the DMCA, and recently chose to rescind the exemption for cell phones that is otherwise implied by the law.) From the official response:

The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties. In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It's common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers' needs.

I waited to write about it, though, until at least one professional source commented on it, because the petition came out in favor of phone unlocking, but also admitted that there was very little the administration could do about it.  Slate covered it about an hour and a half ago, and brought up the context I was most interested in:

Skeptics of the petition, which Slate first reported on in January, have pointed out that Obama might not have the power to overturn the Library of Congress' fiat even if he wanted to. But the White House works in mysterious ways. On the same day that the administration released its response, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also came out in favor of legalizing unlocking, and the Library of Congress itself released a statement agreeing that the unlocking rule "would benefit from review and resolution" in the context of telecommunications policy.

That doesn't mean the Library of Congress will necessarily reverse its October decision to remove the exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that had made unlocking legal. But there's a chance it could lead to something a lot of techies, libertarians, and consumer advocates would appreciate even more: reform of the controversial copyright act itself. The cellphone unlocking restrictions could turn out to be an excellent demonstration of the many ways in which the act overreaches the goals of legitimate copyright protection.

The Patent Office Lies

(via Boing Boing) So apparently the guy in charge of the Patent office, thinks he's doing an awesome job.  He recently gave a speech defending the policies of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, arguing among other things that the ridiculous amount of patent litigation going on at the moment is evidence that patents are working -- that it's good that they spark so many lawsuits, because it means companies care about defending their patents.

Ars Technica tears this argument apart:

This argument ducks the central question in the software patent debate: do patents, in fact, provide a net incentive for innovation in the software industry? Many entrepreneurs say that just the opposite is true: that the disincentive to innovation created by the threat of patent litigation dwarfs any positive incentive effects created by the ability for a firm to get patents of its own.

Empirical evidence backs this up. For example, in a 2008 book, the researchers James Bessen and Michael Meurer found that for nonchemical patents, the costs of patent litigation began to exceed the benefits of holding patents in the 1990s. Software and business patents were particularly prone to litigation.

Earlier in their article, Ars quotes David Kappos, the aforementioned boss, saying "Our patent system is the envy of the world."  Which isn't true.  And it's symptomatic of the problems all over America right now -- we're not the worst country.  But we're not the best, and we're slipping further and further behind in every category trying to hang onto the belief that we're #1.

America is great at pioneering -- we had one of the first post-industrial economies.  We invented the assembly line.  We invented the nuke.  We invented the internet.  We're awesome at that stuff.  But we're really, really bad at being the best at stuff after it catches on everywhere else.  The rest of the world takes our ideas and improves and perfects them, and we rest on the laurels of whatever thing we last invented.

SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith taking another shot at the internet

(via Boing Boing) Unlike SOPA, though, this one's a cheap shot.  Part of SOPA's functionality was to appoint "IP attaches," government officers whose job would be to pressure other countries into adopting SOPA-like regulations.  Smith's new bill, called The Intellectual Property Attache Act, seeks to replicate that function on its own.  At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow points out that this method has been used before, in a long-game of changing US regulations:

The new bill, [...] will create a class of political officers who will see to it that all US trade negotiations and discussions advance SOPA-like provisions in foreign law. And as we've seen with other trade deals, one way to get unpopular measures into US law is to impose them on other countries, then agree to "harmonize" at home. (Emphasis mine)

 TechDirt.com points out,

The specifics of the bill appear to go further than the version in SOPA. It is clear that the bill itself is framed from the maximalist perspective. There is nothing about the rights of the public, or ofother countries to design their own IP regimes. It notes that the role of the attaches is:

to advance the intellectual property rights of United States persons and their licensees;

It looks very much like Doctorow and Clay Shirky were right, that SOPA, PIPA and ACTA, beyond not being the first, will certainly not be the last attacks on intellectual freedom on the internet.