Five Years Ago
This week in 2012, the public got a terrifying glimpse of the extent of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities thanks to some excellent journalism, which put the agency on the defensive trying to downplay its powers. While this was going on, Senators Wyden and Udall were pressing the Obama administration to open up about its secret interpretation of the Patriot Act.
In the fallout of the Megaupload indictment, a restraining order on Kim Dotcom was rendered void by a procedural error, the MPAA was trying to get the site’s data retained so it could sue the users (though it quickly tried to backtrack), and scammers were targeting Megaupload users by masquerading as copyright trolls sending settlement letters.
This was also the week of a major ruling in the patent world: the Supreme Court effectively rejected the concept of patenting medical diagnostics in Prometheus v. Mayo.
Ten Years Ago
This week in 2007, even as the RIAA was trying and failing to escape paying legal fees in a doomed lawsuit against an indebted mother of five, the agency was continuing to defend its practice of suing college kids and trying to get their schools to help — which irritated one university so much that it demanded the RIAA pay up for all the time that was wasted with onerous requests. Meanwhile, NBC Universal and News Corp. were making waves with their YouTube competitor, which you might notice has not become a lasting pillar of the internet, as plenty of people suspected at the time. But this was interesting since Viacom was just revving up in its lawsuit against the real YouTube, which Lawrence Lessig argued was made possible by the Grokster decision, and which was leading to some ironic situations with the company’s own star content creators.
Fifteen Years Ago
This week in 2002, the world was being buried under a rising tide of spam, but at least society was beginning to accept that internet dating is normal. Not from work, of course, as offices were ramping up their efforts to block various internet activities in a misguided panic about productivity. Of course, some were over-ambitiously predicting that fully half of us would be working from home by 2007, in which case that would presumably cease to be a problem. It was a different time, when Stephen King was selling his novel in phone booths and the UK’s Times Online was trying to charge web subscriptions to your phone bill (and, of course, trying to patent the technology). Most importantly, though, we saw an early victory for safe harbors when AOL was found not liable in a copyright lawsuit filed by Harlan Ellison over a Usenet posting.
Thirty-Eight Years Ago
If you care about US politics, you know it: it’s the TV station you watch slightly less than you say you do and much less than you probably should, and this week was its birthday. That’s right: on March 19th, 1979, C-SPAN was unveiled to the country, offering an unprecedented window into the House of Representatives. It opened with a speech by Al Gore, though at the time only 3.5-million homes were capable of receiving it. The Senate would not follow suit and allow itself to be televised for another seven years.