Weird Law Day: Big Time Jewel Heists and MS Word Enjoined

Yesterday I saw an article about a jewelry heist in London where two men in nice suits got away with $65 million of merchandise. The weird part to me was that the store had a similar event in 2003 where 23 million pounds worth of jewels were taken, and more recently in 2007 a branch suffered a robbery again with well-dressed, and this time chauffeured, men stealing 10 million pounds in gems. So that makes me wonder whether the rich really do trust those who seem rich (i.e. Madoff types) and then get ripped off. In addition, who is insuring and/or protecting these stores? Right now neither can be happy. Still that is small compared to the Microsoft news.

Ah, Texas! Or to be more precise the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, home to patent fun like no other place in the country (although I recall someone is showing how other district courts are now competing with E.D. Texas for the patent crown). It seems that Mighty MS and its Word program has been found to violate a patent. According to CNET “In Tuesday’s ruling, Microsoft was also ordered to pay an additional $40 million for willful infringement, as well as $37 million in prejudgment interest. The order requires Microsoft to comply with the injunction within 60 days and forbids Microsoft from testing, demonstrating, or marketing Word products containing the contested XML feature.” The order allows MS to take two months to appeal, settle, or work around the patent problem.

I wonder whether the injunction would require deauthorizing the sold versions? In addition, with the Blackberry case I think there was a carve out for the government because it relied on the system so much. Given Word’s dominance, I would hope that any court order that might threaten how people use already purchased software considers the impact that would have on millions of people. I am not saying that such a result is in the works or required by the current injunction. But if an injunction requires cutting off support or features, people may find that lose access to their works. Again whether the technology at issue would require such a result is unclear to me. Then again, as I argue in Property, Persona, and Preservation, as we move into a world where software and technology providers can update or cut-off access to one’s creations, such a result is not as impossible as it sounds. Can you say Kindle?

Did You Clean Out Your Locker?: Yahoo Shuts Its Online Storage Service

Yahoo! is closing its online storage service Briefcase. According to CNET the service started about ten years ago. Now Yahoo! is telling customers that they have until March 30 to “to retrieve or delete their documents.” As some of you know, I have been writing about who owns material stored online. My piece, Property, Persona, and Preservation, argues that the creator of such material owns the work and that storage services do not. That being said, an online storage company should be able to provide a healthy amount of notice and then close its service as Yahoo! is doing here. The one thing that makes me wonder what Yahoo! is thinking is the word “delete.” Would Yahoo! claim that failure to retrieve or delete material means that Yahoo! owns the work? It might. Would the work stay around forever at Yahoo!? I doubt that. I think the best practice for Yahoo! is to encourage people to retrieve and delete their material and then state that after X date, all material will be deleted.

On a business note, Briefcase offered 30MB and Yahoo!’s statement about the closing–“usage has been significantly declining over the years, as users outgrew the need for Yahoo Briefcase and turned to offerings with much more storage and enhanced sharing capabilities,”–seems to support the move. Yet, the article also stated that Microsoft’s SkyDrive offers 25GB and the Google (yes the Google) is close to offering a similar product called GDrive regarding which the file text claims “provides reliable storage for all of your files, including photos, music and documents [and] allows you to access your files from anywhere, any time and from any device – be it from your desktop, web browser or mobile phone.” So why hasn’t Yahoo! offered a free upgrade? Is the Briefcase brand that weak (or non-existent)?

Put differently, if cloud computing, or as I call it, technologically mediated and stored creation persists as the way we create, why is Yahoo! moving away from this area? In addition, regardless of Yahoo!’s change, Microsoft and Google are pushing for this approach. That is part of why I wrote Property, Persona, and Preservation. A huge amount of our work continues to be outside our control. There are some great benefits to that change, but some serious problems with it too. The paper tries to look at how these changes affect access to knowledge and how we understand ownership of creations. If we don’t pay attention, we may find we lost our work because we forgot to clean out our locker or that someone cleaned it out for us.