Archive for the ‘Intellectual Property’ Category

Internet Hysteria – Are We Losing Our Edge?

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Scott Wallsten and Amy Smorodin

From Anthony Wiener’s wiener to the FCC’s brave stand on Americans’ shameful inability to turn down the damn volume by themselves, 2011 has been a big year for tech and communications policy. But how has one of the Washington tech crowd’s most important products—Internet hype—fared this year?  In this post, we seek to answer this crucial question.

The Internet Hysteria Index

The Internet is without doubt the most powerful inspiration for hyperbole in the history of mankind. Some extol the Internet’s greatness, like Howard Dean, who called the Internet “the most important tool for re-democratizing the world since Gutenberg invented the printing press.”[1] Others fret about the future, like Canada’s Office of Privacy Commissioner, who claimed, “Nothing in society poses as grave a threat to privacy as the Internet Service Provider.”[2]

Sometimes the hyperbole is justified. For example, thanks to Twitter, attendees at this past summer’s TPI Aspen Summit were privy to a steady stream of misinformation even before the DC-area earthquake stopped.[3]

In the same spirit, we present the Internet Hysteria Index (IHI). The IHI, which the DOJ and FCC should take care not to confuse with the HHI, is the most rigorous and flexible tool ever conceived for gauging the Internet’s “worry zeitgeist”. It’s rigorous[4] because it uses numbers and flexible[5] because you can interpret it in so many different ways that it won’t threaten your preconceived ideas no matter what you believe.

The IHI has two components. The first tracks fears of an unrecognizable, but certainly Terminator-esque, future Internet. We count the number of times the exact phrases “the end of the internet as we know it” and “break the internet” appear in Nexis news searches each year since 2000.

Figure 1: The End of the Internet as we Know It!


Figure 1 shows that 2011 produced a bumper crop of “break the internet” stories, mostly related to the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. The spike in 2006 reflects a wave of Net Neutrality stories after AT&T’s then-CEO proclaimed that “what they [content providers] would like to do is use my pipes free, and I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it.”

As our research illustrates, the “End of the Internet” hyperbole shows a healthy, generally upward trend, reflecting the effectiveness of our collective fretting and hand-wringing. Our data do not allow us to identify[6] whether the trend is due to clever Washington PR, lazy hacks retreading old lines, real concerns, or collusion among interest groups simply ensuring they can all stay in business by responding to each other.

The second component of our index measures the incidence of hand-wringing regarding the state of broadband in the U.S. In particular, this measure counts the number of times phrases suggesting lagging U.S. broadband performance show up in Nexis since 2000.[7] Figure 2 shows the results of our analysis.

Figure 2: The Grass is So Much Greener on the Other Side of the Pond: U.S. Broadband Sucks


The big spike in 2010 is related to release of the National Broadband Plan. The prior high, in 2007, saw stories focusing on the OECD rankings, broadband mapping, and the beginnings of broadband plan discussions.

Unfortunately, 2011 was not a good year for misinterpreting shoddily-gathered statistics. Figure 2 shows a dramatic drop-off in bemoaning the dire state of U.S. broadband, possibly after everyone just got really, really tired of talking about the National Broadband Plan. We’re extremely concerned that as a result, the U.S. may have fallen dramatically in the OECD worry rankings. In fact, in a warning shot across our bow, on December 14 the BBC reported that “the UK remains in danger of falling behind when it comes to next-generation mobile services” and superfast broadband.[8] We’re hopeful American fretting will pick up once analysts actually read the FCC’s USF order that was promulgated under the cover of 23 days between approval and publication. On the other hand, there is a risk that the sheer volume of the Order—the equivalent of more than 4 million tweets—might dissuade people from talking about it ever again.

For generations, Americans have taken a back seat to nobody on the important issue of Internet hyperbole. Let’s hope the inside-the-beltway crowd pulls itself together and breathes some life back into the speech economy. Happy New Year.


[1] http://motherjones.com/politics/2007/06/interview-howard-dean-chairman-democratic-national-committee

[2] http://dpi.priv.gc.ca/index.php/essays/the-greatest-threat-to-privacy/

[3] Picture from Funny Potato, http://www.funny-potato.com/blog/august-23rd-2011-east-coast-quake.

[4] It’s not.

[5] In other words, “probably pretty meaningless.”

[6] Actually, they do, but we don’t want to do the work.

[7] Specifically, the search is ((“U.S. falling behind “OR “U.S. lagging”) AND broadband) OR ((“United States falling behind” OR “United States lagging”) AND broadband).

[8] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16174745

Farewell to Limewire?

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Last week, a federal court found Limewire guilty of intentionally inducing widespread copyright infringement.   Some reports claim the Limewire suit was a futile exercise if the goal is to stop the rampant copyright infringement that occurs on p2p networks. However, Limewire Group has found itself at the center of many dramas over the past few years and the possible shuttering of the company has been a long time coming.

 The history of Limewire is not pretty, involving inadvertent filesharing, identity theft, Congressional hearings, and even leaked national security secrets.    Filesharing first came to Congress’ attention in 2003 when two high-profile hearings were held on the subject.  Distributors of peer-to-peer filesharing software responded to the criticism heaped upon them by launching a trade association, P2P United, of which Limewire was a founding member.   The organization drafted a code of conduct, in part addressing inadvertent sharing, to which members promised to comply. 

In 2007, the USPTO issued a report calling out Limewire for continuing to include features in its program to induce users to inadvertently share files on their computers.  One could assume that this perpetuation of inadvertent sharing could be in order to make more popular –and probably copyrighted – media available to other users, thus making Limewire more appealing to users.  This report led to yet another Congressional hearing, reactions of shock from the head of Limewire, and promises to do more to correct the problematic features identified.  Again, Limewire proved itself to be untrustworthy, failed to fix the problematic features and, as a result, again was the source of more highly publicized instances of inadvertent sharing.  The outcome?  Another Congressional hearing in 2009 and the introduction of a bill to ban p2p software on government computers.

My list above is surely not exhaustive but it should give the reader a taste of how those at LimeWire Group have a solid track record of thumbing their nose at those who have the power to make life quite difficult for the company.  And, while this certainly isn’t the end for online filesharing, it could mark the end of one very bad actor in the p2p sphere.  Maybe the recent court ruling will give those who distribute p2p software pause regarding how their operations are run.

(For a more thorough analysis of Limewire and how it actively perpetuated inadvertent filesharing, see “Inadvertent File-Sharing Re-Invented: The Dangerous Design of LimeWire 5,” authored by my former coworker, and co-author of the above mentioned USPTO report, Tom Sydnor.  Tom’s testimony at one of the Congressional hearings is also worth a read.)