July 2007 Quick Links, Part I

By Eric Goldman

Search Engines

* According to this study, up to 40% of search queries are “re-finding queries” (i.e., the searcher is trying to re-find previously viewed information). The implication: “Because people repeat queries so frequently, search engines should assist their users by providing a means of keeping a record of individual users’ search histories, perhaps via software installed on the user’s own machine.” As I’ve said before, search engines necessarily will need client-side software to see more consumer behavior if they want to improve relevancy for consumers. HT Greg Linden.

* People are spoofing the Googlebot.

* Hal Varian, a first-rate scholar at Berkeley’s SIMS, is now Google’s chief economist. I don’t know how many other Internet companies have economists-on-staff, but I could see this as a growth area.

Intellectual Property

* Prediction: at least one person will go to jail for prereleasing the new Harry Potter book. It’s just too conspicuous for the feds to ignore. Indeed, at this point, it seems unavoidable that every launch of an eagerly anticipated copyrighted work will also involve criminal prosecutions for unauthorized prereleasing (see, e.g., this post). Meanwhile, BusinessWeek is marveling at how many websites are now cooperating with copyright owners rather than fighting them.

* Capitol Federal Sav. Bank v. Eastern Bank Corp., 2007 WL 1885134 (D. Kan. June 29, 2007). Kansas TM owner lacks jurisdiction in Kansas over New England bank allegedly committing TM infringement, even though the New England bank bought keyword ads on the trademark (but, those ads were geo-targeted to Massachussetts). Along the way, the court (as usual) cites to Zippo but rejects the “website doing business” prong, instead requiring the plaintiff to show that the website was doing business in the forum jurisdiction.

* Masterson Marketing, Inc. v. KSL Recreation Corp., 2007 WL 1975425 (S.D.Cal. April 13, 2007). Oh man, what a crazy lawsuit. Freelancer takes product shot of hotel and licenses photo to hotel. Hotel then provides photo to third party websites (such as Expedia) as a way of promoting the hotel. The freelancer claims the hotel breached the license and proceeds to sue what seems like every website in the travel industry. This case is now going on 5 YEARS…over a product shot. (Disclosure note: I worked a little on the case when I was affiliated with Epinions, which is one of the defendants. Yes, it’s that old). This ruling deals with the hotel’s attempt to recreate the product shot with a different photographer. The court grants SJ to the defendants on the copyright infringement of a recreated shot (per ETS-Hokin). The court also makes it clear that the plaintiff isn’t going to get any of the plaintiff’s profits, which I assume means the plaintiff is going to get bubkus damages (plaintiff isn’t eligible for statutory damages).

* From the NY Times: Mr. Skin is a website that provides subscribers with access to pictures and videos of naked actresses taken from movies. Mr. Skin doesn’t normally get permission from copyright owners, seemingly making it a prime target of a business-ending copyright lawsuit. It tries to justify the wholesale republication of clips and stills under the guise of fair use because it claims to be a movie review site, but I doubt that many judges would find that argument very persuasive. However, movie studios have realized that promotion via Mr. Skin increases demand for the movies (“sex sells”), even if Mr. Skin is already showing the “money shot” on its site. As a result, instead of getting lots of C&D letters, Mr. Skin gets lots of promotional copies from movie studios.

* Microsoft is trying to patent what Ars Technica describes as the “mother of all adware.” Microsoft is also trying to patent a system for tracking people to deliver relevant advertising. People may find these patents a little creepy, but I see them as both inevitable and ultimately a good thing.

* Washington Post: a new website is trying to position the purchase and resale of exclusively branded fashion items (e.g., Birkin purses) as an investment. And to stabilize the investment decisions, the website screens out the knock-offs and certifies authenticity.

* Domaining to become a $4B/year industry?