A brief history of copyright

Tyler Ochoa (law professor and two time “Jeopardy!” champion) writes an interesting post about the 300th anniversary of the first copyright law, called the Statute of Anne. Referring to the motivation behind the original law, Ochoa says “Although the Stationers were chiefly concerned with restoring and perpetuating their monopoly, they framed their petition to Parliament in terms of justice for authors.” In many respects, not much has changed since 1710.

What’s In A Name?

There is a relationship between what we call something (or someone) and how we feel about it. This relationship works both ways. We use names to convey feelings, but a name can also affect how we feel about something.

This leads to some interesting, and sometimes funny, names. For example, it leads to gimmicks like the authoritarian “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, and bug fixes called “updates” (or “stability improvements” as I saw recently).

Using a craftily devised name to project an image is not new, but I think the practice is abused to such an extent these days that the value of names has become worthless. Furthermore, all the good names are already taken. Therefore, I propose to abolish all names and henceforth use only GUIDs (or for the less democratically inclined, serial numbers issued by a central numbering authority).

Google killed the radio star

This post is inspired by a conversation I had with a nephew, and it hearkens to the same nostalgic emotions engendered by the first music video on MTV.

I was a young inquisitive child growing up in the 70s in an Amish household. Without access to modern technology, I struggled at age 11 to build an oscillator circuit by using sheet metal cut from an old stovepipe, a 9 volt battery fitted into a piece of 2×6 pine, dynamite wire scavenged from the nearby strip mine, and a speaker and 555 timer IC that I cut out of some electronic equipment dug out of the local garbage dump.

The achievement was incredible considering the circumstances, but thinking back, I have very little recollection of the actual consummation of the project. I assume I probably showed it proudly to my friends, who would have been awestruck, but completely ignorant of how it worked or why it was important to me. I simply don’t remember what I did with the project after it was complete.

What I do remember fondly is the struggle to achieve; the thrill of the hunt. I struggled to get information. I had obtained a prized 555, but I had to wait for weeks until the next trip to the city so I could stop by Radio Shack to get a pinout of the 555 along with circuit diagrams showing how to use it. Then I had to find components. I had long since built a treasure trove of capacitors and resistors that I had salvaged from discarded electronics, along with a pot full of potentiometers that I could use to adjust the oscillator frequency, but I still had to scavenge for some missing components.

The challenges of the quest made the final result more satisfying. It was the search for the holy grail that etched itself into my memory; I barely remember the grail itself.

Over the holidays during a family gathering, one of my Amish nephews was anxious to pick my brain. He explained that someone had told him that it’s possible to convert an electric motor into a generator, and so he set out on a quest to build a generator from an old electric motor and a small gasoline engine. The quest involved several letters mailed back and forth between people he knew that might have information about how to go about the task. He tried and tried, but could not get his generator to work.

I explained to him how he needed to remove the external circuitry from his motor so that it wouldn’t foul up the results; how he can add a rectifier and a regulator to generate direct current output. The excitement over this new discovery was written all over the young man’s face as he anticipated more adventure.

On the way home, I thought to myself that Google could quickly and easily have provided the answers that my nephew sought. But then it occurred to me that Google would also have deprived him of the struggle and adventure of discovery that motivates him to continue the quest.

I wonder how many young minds are missing out on the supreme adventure of discovery because we live in a modern culture where all the knowledge in the universe is seemingly already at our fingertips, just a Google search away.

Evil Banks

A lot of you are probably having to cut back on your expenses to make ends meet in this economic downturn. I’ve drastically reduced my discretionary spending, postponed the purchase of new office equipment, and investigated less expensive alternatives to a lot of my monthly expense items. I’ve also been streamlining and reorganizing my finances, which inevitably involves a lot of contact with banks.

Kean Walmsley’s post about his recent bank customer service issue motivated me to post about one of my recent bank experiences.

First of all, I’m here to tell you that banks do make mistakes. I’m sure that the vast majority of the time when your check book doesn’t balance, it was you that made a mistake, and not the bank. But if you are cursed like I am, then banks delight in creating phantom overdrafts and charging you exorbitant overdraft fees, then, when confronted with their error, apologizing and refunding the fees (after the damage is done and all those bounced checks have caused you to incur returned check charges from your creditors). That has happened twice to me in the past two months, with two different banks and two completely unrelated accounts.

In both cases, the bank eventually fixed the error, but I’m still out the returned check charges and whatever damage that has done to my credit rating.

One of the “returned” payments was a credit card payment. Of course, I did not get notified about this until the day after the payment due date, so it was too late to fix the problem in time to prevent another exorbitant late fee from being charged by the credit card bank.

Obviously the returned check triggered some alarms at the credit card bank, because I started receiving phone calls begging me to make a payment immediately. Irritated, I decided to make the credit card bank wait until the next due date before making the replacement payment. I figured my late fee bought me that extra time, so I might as well use it. My patience paid off: after a few futile attempts at collecting their late payment, the bank offered to refund the late fee if I made an immediate payment. That’s what I’m talking about!

What’s New in the AutoCAD 2010 EULA

Everyone else is discussing all the cool new features in AutoCAD 2010, so I decided to have a look at what’s new in the EULA (End User License Agreement). I compared the AutoCAD 2010 EULA for US/Canada to the AutoCAD 2009 EULA. I won’t divulge the process I used to automate the comparison, because the odds are pretty good that I violated the EULA somewhere along the way, and I want plausible deniability.

The first change I noticed is that the AutoCAD 2010 EULA contains more shouting. The 2009 EULA started out in a fairly mellow mixed case with a few shouts thrown in for effect, but the 2010 EULA dispenses with the lower case and launches right into a multi-paragraph avalanche of screaming block letters. Apparently nobody was listening, so they turned up the volume.

Substantively, there are a number of very interesting changes. The following was added to the preamble:


Next time you’re eyeing that used copy of AutoCAD 2010 on eBay, be warned that Autodesk is not obligated to permit you to install or use the software. They don’t come right out and say that they won’t allow it, so maybe they won’t mind — but then what’s the point of including this clause? Tim Vernor won’t be very happy about this change.

Moving along, I see that they added a definition for “Uninstall”, defining it as “to destroy or remove”. The definition of “User Documentation” was very slightly changed from “…after You acquire or Install the Software…” to “…when or after You acquire or Install the Software…”. Incidentally, did you know that Autodesk considers an AutoCAD reseller’s invoice to be “user documentation”?

Rounding out changes in definitions is a change in the definition of “You”. Yes, Autodesk has redefined “You” whether “you” like it or not.

I could go on and on about small wording changes, and while it would be interesting to contemplate why each change was made (and how many scheming lawyers it took to do it), we’d risk missing the forest for the trees.

Section 2.1, “License Grant”, contains ominous new language. The following has been added:

You may Access the application programming interfaces that may be included with or in the Software or otherwise available from Autodesk for use with the Software (“API’s”) to develop programs, modules, components or functionality that (i) are compatible with and are used and/or interfaced with the Software and (ii) contribute significant value-added functionality or enhancements to the Software (“API Modules”) provided You may Install and Access such API Modules solely on Computers where a licensed copy of the Software is also installed and further provided such Installation and Access is solely in connection with Your Installation and Access of the Software and solely for Your internal business needs. You may not redistribute all or any portion of an API Module.

Read that again. That’s right, you may not write any “programs, modules, components, or functionality” unless they “contribute significant value-added functionality or enhancements” to AutoCAD. Furthermore, if you do manage to write a program that adds significant functionality, you may not redistribute all or any part of it. What are those guys smoking out there in California?

Finally at the end of section 2.1, they changed “No license is granted under the terms of this Agreement if You did not lawfully acquire the Software” to “No license is granted under the terms of this Agreement if You did not lawfully acquire the Software from Autodesk or from a third party who has been permitted or authorized by Autodesk either directly or indirectly to supply the Software”. Take that Tim Vernor!

In another nod to the Vernor case, section 2.3, “Upgrades”, adds a new requirement to “destroy all Autodesk Materials relating to the Previous Version or, upon request by Autodesk, return all such Autodesk Materials relating to the Previous Version to Autodesk or the company from which they were acquired”. This is important language that could persuade a court to view an AutoCAD purchase as a license instead of a sale, thereby giving Autodesk the power to control the secondary market.

Interestingly, section 2.4, “Crossgrades”, requires that the previous software be uninstalled within 60 days, but has no requirement that it be destroyed. However, new language in section 2.7, “Termination”, which requires the software to be destroyed “upon termination of the license grant or this Agreement”, apparently covers both cases.

A funny change in section 3.2.3, “Transfers”, appears to close a loophole. The AutoCAD 2009 EULA disallowed transfers to “any other person”; the AutoCAD 2010 EULA disallows transfers to “any other person or legal entity”. Considering a license transfer? Make sure it’s to an illegal entity!

Section 4, “ALL RIGHTS RESERVED”, was rewritten. The rewrite introduced a grammatical error (“and You have not other rights”), but otherwise I don’t see that much changed. It still ends with the now familiar directive that “The Software and User Documentation are licensed, not sold.”

Finally, the infamous “audit clause” has been revised. Not the way you may have hoped, I’m sad to report. Luckily the change was a minor one that doesn’t make the clause any more overbearing than it already was.

Isn’t change wonderful?