Volume 13, Number 1 (2015)
Tragedy of the Regulatory Commons: LightSquared and the Missing Spectrum Rights
Thomas W. Hazlett and Brent Skorup
Date posted: 12-24-2014
The endemic underuse of radio spectrum constitutes a tragedy of the regulatory commons. Like other common interest tragedies, the outcome results from a legal or market structure that prevents economic actors from executing socially efficient bargains. In wireless markets, innovative applications often provoke claims by incumbent radio users that the new traffic will interfere with existing services. Sometimes these concerns are mitigated via market transactions, a la “Coasian bargaining.” Other times, however, solutions cannot be found even when social gains dominate the cost of spillovers. In the recent “LightSquared debacle,” such spectrum allocation failure played out. GPS interests that access frequencies adjacent to the band hosting LightSquared’s new nationwide mobile network complained that the wireless entrant would harm the operation of locational devices. Based on these complaints, regulators then killed LightSquared’s planned 4G network. Conservative estimates placed the prospective 4G consumer gains at least an order of magnitude above GPS losses. “Win win” bargains were theoretically available, fixing GPS vulnerabilities while welcoming the highly valuable wireless innovation. Yet transaction costs—largely caused by policy choices to issue limited and highly fragmented spectrum usage rights (here in the GPS band)—proved prohibitive. This episode provides a template for understanding market and non-market failure in radio spectrum allocation.
Topic: Media & Communications
Reasonable Expectations of Privacy Settings: Social Media and the Stored Communications Act
Christopher J. Borchert, Fernando M. Pinguelo, and David Thaw
Date posted: 1-5-2015
In 1986, Congress passed the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) to provide additional protections for individuals’ private communications content held in electronic storage by third parties. Acting out of direct concern for the implications of the Third-Party Records Doctrine—a judicially created doctrine that generally eliminates Fourth Amendment protections for information entrusted to third parties—Congress sought to tailor the SCA to electronic communications sent via and stored by third parties. Yet, because Congress crafted the SCA with language specific to the technology of 1986, courts today have struggled to apply the SCA consistently with regard to similar private content sent using different technologies. This Article argues that Congress should revisit the SCA and adopt a single, technology-neutral standard of protection for private communications content held by third-party service providers. Furthermore, it suggests that Congress specifically intended to limit the scope of the Third-Party Records Doctrine by creating greater protections via the SCA, and thus courts interpreting existing law should afford protection to new technologies such as social media communications consistent with that intent based on individuals’ expressed privacy preferences.
The Death of Fair Use in Cyberspace: YouTube and the Problem With Content ID
Taylor B. Bartholomew
Date posted: 3-3-2015
YouTube has grown exponentially over the past several years. With that growth came unprecedented levels of copyright infringement by uploaders on the site, forcing YouTube’s parent company, Google Inc., to introduce a new technology known as Content ID. This tool allows YouTube to automatically scan and identify potential cases of copyright infringement on an unparalleled scale. However, Content ID is overbroad in its identification of copyright infringement, often singling out legitimate uses of content. Every potential case of copyright infringement identified by Content ID triggers an automatic copyright claim on behalf of the copyright holder on YouTube and subsequently freezes all revenue streams, for all parties, regardless of the legitimacy of the underlying claim. Using the plight of one video game reviewer known as “Angry Joe” as a paradigmatic example of the problems that Content ID can create, this Issue Brief argues that in its present form, Content ID has had disastrous consequences for the doctrine of fair use, YouTube itself, and ultimately, the very spirit of copyright law. By shifting the neutral presumption accompanied with fair use against the uploader, Content ID effectively overrides judicial precedent.
Topic: Copyrights & Trademarks
Date posted: 3-31-2015
In light of the growth of data breaches in both occurrence and scale, it is more important than ever for consumers to be aware of the protections afforded to them under the law regarding electronic fund transfers and alternative payment services. Additionally, it is important that agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), charged with the protection of unsuspecting and often defenseless consumers, are carefully monitoring these protections to ensure they keep pace with the technological evolution of the payment services they regulate. Alternative payment services, such as PayPal, are conducting an enormous number of payments and providing an extremely beneficial service in the era of e-commerce. This Issue Brief argues that, as currently written, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, implemented by Regulation E, does not adequately protect consumers using these alternative payment services. Regulation E is insufficiently specific and provides circular language in its key definitions, including those for the terms “financial institution” and “account.” These deficiencies could leave consumers engaged with alternative payment services in the unique position of facing unlimited liability for losses resulting from unauthorized electronic fund transfers from their alternative payment service account. Thus, this Issue Brief argues that in order to ensure that Regulation E is written broadly enough to apply to all the functions of PayPal, the CFPB should clarify its language.
What's It Worth to Keep a Secret?
Gavin C. Reid, Nicola Searle, and Saurabh Vishnubhakat
Date posted: 5-29-2015
This article is the first major study of protection and valuation of trade secrets under federal criminal law. Trade secrecy is more important than ever as an economic complement and substitute for other intellectual property protections, particularly patents. Accordingly, U.S. public policy correctly places a growing emphasis on characterizing the scope of trade secrets, creating incentives for their productive use, and imposing penalties for their theft. Yet amid this complex ecosystem of legal doctrine, economic policy, commercial strategy, and enforcement, there is little research or consensus on how to assign value to trade secrets. One reason for this gap is that intangible assets in general are notoriously difficult to value, and trade secrecy by its opaque nature is ill-suited to the market-signaling mechanisms that offer at least some traction in other forms of valuation. Another reason is that criminal trade secret law is relatively young, and the usual corrective approaches to valuation in civil trade secrecy are not synonymous with the greater distributive concerns of criminal law. To begin to fill this gap, we examine over a decade of trade secret protection and valuation under the U.S. Economic Espionage Act of 1996. From original data on EEA prosecutions, we show that trade secret valuations are lognormally distributed as predicted by Gibrat’s Law, with valuations typically low on the order of $5 million but reaching as high as $250 million. There is no notable difference among estimates from various valuation methods, but a difference between high and low estimates on one hand and the sentencing estimates on the other. These findings suggest that the EEA has not been used to its full capacity, a conclusion buttressed by recent Congressional actions to strengthen the EEA.
Topic: Patents & Technology
Date posted: 7-5-2015
The technological and electoral landscapes have changed drastically since the turn of the century. While it once might have made sense to view voting online as unconstitutional, as opposed to merely impractical, the expanded range of Internet access for minority communities has made that argument tenuous at best. While there still may exist practical and political reasons to avoid Internet voting, the Constitution no longer stands as an effective wall against the practice. Furthermore, the primary statutory obstacle to the implementation of Internet voting on a local level, the Voting Rights Act, has been greatly weakened by the recent Supreme Court decision in Shelby County. As such, now is the perfect time for state-level experimentation in the field of Internet voting.
Topic: Media & Communications
Date posted: 7-6-2015
Compulsory licensing in music has paved the way for a limited class of new noninteractive services. However, innovation and competition are stifled in the field of interactive or otherwise novel services due to high transaction costs inherent in direct licensing. While the creation of a new compulsory license available to a wider array of services may facilitate growth and diversity in new markets, it is unlikely that the legislative process can deliver a new compulsory regime in time to serve relevant interests. Furthermore, the risk exists that legislation written in response to contemporary technology will likely fail to recognize the diversity within the music industry, and therefore will underserve both artists and potential licensees. As such, this brief argues for the creation and adoption of a new standardized protocol for artists and labels to announce the availability of new content with attached standardized licensing terms for automated integration into the catalogs of new or existing digital music services. Such a protocol would allow for automated systems of pricing, distribution, and tracking to reduce transaction costs, increase market transparency, and commodify user participation.
Topic: Copyrights & Trademarks
Date posted: 8-10-2015
The tension between an extremely barebones Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Form 18 for patent infringement lawsuits and Supreme Court case law through Twombly and Iqbal has made it difficult for courts to dismiss frivolous patent litigation at the complaint stage. In this article, I look at the Federal Circuit’s treatment of Twombly and Iqbal, empirically evaluate 12(b)(6) motions from various district courts, and summarize local patent rules from the Eastern District of Texas. I conclude that the biggest likely impact of statutorily heightening and defining patent pleading standards through the proposed Innovation Act would be to provide much-needed uniformity in the endeavor of gatekeeping weak lawsuits, without serious adverse impact.
Topic: Patents & Technology
Date posted: 8-17-2015
One of the greatest problems facing the current patent administration is a long patent pendency period. This study focuses on Request for Continued Examination (RCE) practice, and its effects on the current patent application backlog problem. RCEs are used to continue prosecution after a patent examiner has issued a final rejection. However, now that RCEs are placed on an examiner’s special docket, some examiners may pick up prosecution one to two years after the last action. Accordingly, there are great inefficiencies that may be created by this delay, such as relearning issues and questions from the previous action, diminished value of examiner interviews, and a higher likelihood of transfer to a new examiner. This study suggests that the RCE problem may be much worse for some art units compared to others. Specifically, the RCE problem is unevenly distributed between certain art units with technology center 1600 (biotechnology and organic chemistry) suffering the most from unexamined RCEs, while technology center 2800 (semiconductors, electrical and optical systems and components) remain unaffected. This RCE backlog can result in a delay of approximately three years for some art units. Possible solutions to the RCE problem include creating a two-track examiner specialization program: one track focusing on drafting office actions and a second track focusing on finding relevant prior art. Another possible solution would be to create a new type of request to reopen prosecution after final to allow applicants to enter new narrowing amendments or add new declarations without adding new arguments. A final solution may be to place the RCE back in the examiner’s normal docket and not in the examiner’s special new docket.
Topic: Patents & Technology
Date posted: 8-21-2015
The evolution of technology has drastically altered what it means to be a reporting company in the eyes of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Technological development has also played a large role in the shifting trend from periodic reporting to continuous reporting, as is particularly apparent in the evolution of the Form 8-K. It is true that the increasingly technological world of continuous reporting does not come without disadvantages. This issue brief, however, argues that despite the increased risks and challenges of continuous reporting, its net effect on disclosure, and the investing community generally, is positive. With that benefit in mind, this paper further suggests four new amendments to the Form 8-K.
Topic: Technology and Financial Reporting