Copyright Dwarves

We all know about Patent Trolls, the damage they cause, and the hope that maybe this time there will be action to fix the patent system to once again encourage and reward innovators. Given today’s Supreme Court hearing on Aereo versus the Broadcasters, today’s topic focuses on a slightly different issue: Copyright Dwarves. Trolls spring from under the bridge at unsuspecting innovators. Evil Dwarves chop you off at the knees.

The Aereo business model uses antennae to collect over-the-air broadcasts, and then retransmits them to subscribers. As the Washington Post article puts it: “Quite simply, Aereo takes copyrighted material, profits from it and does so without compensating copyright holders,” said Gordon Smith, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters. Ah, there’s an interesting hook.

In the short story “The Library of Babel”, Jorge Luis Borges updates an ancient idea by describing a vast expanse of rooms containing all possible books, both true and false, fiction and non-fiction. As with most libraries, the majority of books are filed, never to be read again. But wait! Information technology helps solve this “long tail” problem by indexing the content in an easily searchable way. Suddenly the obscure is discoverable again, and even the research now supports the power of the internet in this regard.

And so, full circle back to the Copyright Dwarves. Depending on the type of content, Google or Netflix or Twitter function as the Universal Index, providing easily searchable access and monetizing significant value from the content. To paraphrase Gordon Smith, “Quite simply [Google] takes copyrighted material, profits from it and does so without compensating copyright holders”. The Aereo case should be interesting, no matter the outcome!


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