Is the Internet Eden or Armageddon? (1,887 words)
On July 27, a federal judge in San Francisco shut Napster down. [Napster was back in business a day later thanks to a stay.] Alas, the entire camel is in the tent. Look for Napster—or its derivative—to set up a server in Afghanistan or Crete (both a local phone call away) to serve the worldwide audience of music thieves.
While some of us will continue to buy CDs, performing artists are going to have to deal with the new paradigm: their recordings—traded freely over the Internet—will simply be promotional vehicles to create demand for their live concerts, driving ticket prices up, enabling them to make the lion's share of their money from performances, rather than via CDs.
The industry in real trouble is Hollywood, which has to deal with DivS software that will compress a two-hour film into a file so tiny it can be transferred over broadband in minutes.
The Battle for Patents
Target Marketing's 1998 Direct Marketer of the Year was Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com and president of Walker Digital, which owns some 60 patents on "business systems" (including the blind bidding scheme on which Priceline.com is based) and 300 more pending. In October 1999, Walker filed suit against Microsoft for launching Hotel Price Matcher. That same year, Jeff Bezos forced Barnesandnoble.com to cease using a "1-Click Ordering" system because his Amazon.com held the patent. In the words of Lawrence Lessig, "The idea that 1-Click is so amazing that it deserves a government-granted monopoly is ridiculous."
It matters not one whit whether a rogue patent office is granting protection to every nutsy-fagan idea that comes down the pike.
Even if Walker and Bezos do spend the millions to defend their patents, like telemarketing boiler room scammers of old, copycats will simply close their doors and set up shop—not across the street, but in some other country where they are still just a local phone call away.