FBI v. Apple — can doesn’t mean should obey.

FBI v. Apple — can doesn’t mean should obey.

The FBI investigates a grizzly murder. You are a bank president. The murderer stored his phone book in your bank’s safety deposit box, the code for which is encrypted with copyrighted proprietary software, before he committed the murder. The FBI demands that you provide it with the master code for the box, which can be used to unlock other boxes, too. You can give the FBI the code, but should you? Apple CEO Tim Cook is asking himself the same question, his answer is rightly “no.”

On February 14, 2016, United States Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to provide the FBI the means to circumvent the iPhone 5c’s encryption technology. That way, the FBI can obtain Mr. Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone contacts to see who else, if anyone, conspired with him on the December 2, 2015 killings. So the FBI’s endgame is understandable, justified, and a matter of public safety. At the same time, Judge Pym’s February order is constitutionally questionable, for these reasons.

First, there are less invasive and more reasonable means of obtaining the evidence. While the February order is ostensibly based on the “All Writs Act,” it was issued to give effect to a warrant directing Apple to give the FBI “reasonable technical assistance.” If the February order permits the FBI to unreasonably search and seize Apple’s property, it is constitutionally defective under the Fourth Amendment. Whether the ordered search is unreasonable depends on if there are other less invasive means of gathering the evidence.

Here, there are at least three other less invasive methods. First – the FBI could back its way into Mr. Farook’s contact list by getting from Verizon, his cell phone carrier, phone calls, texts, or e-mails to or from his phone. Second — Apple can provide the FBI the desired information from the Mr. Farook’s iPhone. This would be akin to you, as the bank president, copying the murderer’s phone book and providing copies to the FBI. Third – have the court review Mr. Farook’s phone information in camera, that is behind closed doors, and cross-reference that information with the phone records around the time of the killings to determine relevance. Once that is done, some or all of the phone’s information can be produced to the FBI.

Second, there is a strong presumption in federal copyright law against allowing circumvention of encrypted copyrighted software. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) forbids devices from being made, imported, or marketed to the public which are primarily designed to circumvent technology that controls access to copyrighted content, such as Apple’s software. Because Apple manufactures the phone, and owns the copyrights to the software located within, Apple is free to circumvent it’s own technology under the DMCA. But Apple shouldn’t be forced to so by the FBI. That’s because the DMCA shows how important copyright encryption is to content creators like Apple, to Congress, and the consuming public. As a result, Apple’s interest in protecting the integrity of its iPhone 5c — and potentially other generations of iPhone – isn’t mere “marketing strategy,” as stated by the FBI.

Third, there is no telling how far the government will go if the February order stands without being overturned. According to Apple, the FBI has sought to access to 11 other iPhones since September, and states attorney generals are biting at the bit to do the same. Given this rising tide, the elephant in the room is a lack of trust in what the government will do with the new path it is foraging. While some 51% of Americans apparently side with the FBI on the unlocking of Mr. Farook’s iPhone 5c, American trust in the federal government in general is at an historical low of 19%, according to NPR.

Seen more broadly, the magistrate judge’s February order can be the first rock in an Orwellian rockslide where the government requires all phone makers to make such backdoors to the encrypted software as a matter of policy. The unstated and yet real concern with such a domino effect is that executive agencies will not only use this information for criminal investigation purposes, but to violate the Constitutional and privacy rights of Americans. These concerns aren’t academic. Nor are they paranoid. President Richard Nixon used the Internal Revenue Service go after American citizens he deemed to be his enemies, which led to his articles of impeachment. There is no telling what another Nixon would do with such unfettered power. Thus, Mr. Cook’s concern about the magistrate’s order setting “dangerous precedent” should not be taken lightly.

In the end, it is a shame that Apple and the FBI didn’t partner up outside of court to craft a mutually beneficial solution that would maintain the integrity of Apple’s iPhone 5c and also give FBI the evidence it needs. But amicable solutions like this won’t happen as long as executive agencies like the FBI downplay legitimate concerns of corporate citizens like Apple as “marketing strategy,” and then pursue heavy-handed discovery tactics not because they should and need to – but because they can. It is up the judiciary to stop them by ensuring that the government’s right to know is balanced against citizens’ legitimate intellectual property and Constitutional rights. In the meantime, just because Apple can obey the likely unconstitutional February order doesn’t mean it should. Instead, Apple should get a higher court to overturn and limit it.

Google is moving to Moscow!

Google is moving to Moscow!

Google is moving to Moscow! Not really. But Mr. Sergey Brin, the founder of Google, was born in Moscow. How does Russia ensure that Sergey 2.0 will stay in Moscow – and not flee to Mountain View? You should care. Russia’s economy is over leveraged in the energy market. When oil prices drop, the Kremlin will be all the more desperate to do unwise deals for arms, among other things, to fill its coffers at the risk of longer term Russian — and American — stability. To keep Sergey 2.0, the Kremlin should take the following steps.

1. Encourage entrepreneurial risk taking

Who likes failing? Nobody does. But failing is a necessary part of being an entrepreneur in the tech space, and can be like compost for future successes. Numerous players, including Steve Jobs, failed miserably before they succeeded. He started Apple, was kicked out, started NeXT, that failed horribly, and created America’s largest capitalized company. There is a lesson to be learned from success stories like Apple for the Kremlin, whose oil and natural gas sales accounted for almost 70% of exports in 2013.

By failing to diversity its economic portfolio into the technology sector, Russia’s economy remains overly beholden to the volatile energy market. When oil prices drop, as they have recently, the Russian ruble suffers. This also makes the Russian economy subservient to good short term but bad long-term deals. To make Russia more economically robust in the long term, which ensures that America has a stable trading partner (Ford currently has a factory in Saint Petersburg), Kremlin policy makers should encourage more entrepreneurial risk taking among its inventive youth. This will make it more likely that a Russian version of Google will arise, employing numerous Russians and giving the country an alternative revenue source alternative to energy. This means going backwards and dismantling some of the centralized state control apparatus — whether under the Czar or under the Bolsheviks — that dominates Russia’s history.

Going backwards isn’t always bad. As any tech entrepreneur will tell you, including Mr. Jobs if he were alive, oftentimes you need to go backwards before you can leap forward. That’s why those who risk more get more. But most cultures – including Russian – look upon failing as being weak. While I am a California boy hailing from the City of Angels (Los Angeles), I have been living in New York City for twelve years now. And I can tell you first hand that the mentality here is less failure forgiving than in my Los Angeles birthplace, where, according to artists like Moby, there is “freedom to fail.” This explains why most of the top 50 venture backed companies in 2011 were located in California.

Like Californians, Russians are inventive, too. That’s why they were first to the moon, are the top rated chess players in the world, and are number 14 on Bloomberg’s list of most innovative countries in the world. But, as MIT points out, there is a difference between inventing and innovating. It’s one thing to invent something, like new ways of training for hockey, as recounted in Red Army, a documentary about the Soviet Union’s invincible Red Army hockey team. It’s another to take that invention and make it an innovation by packaging and marketing as a product that will disrupt the market. Part of the reason why there isn’t more innovation – as opposed to just invention – in Russia is the fear of commercial failure, as I have seen with Russian clients.

To temper this fear, Kremlin policy makers should encourage schools to teach Russian children about the benefits of trial and error so that they know that the risky path less taken isn’t necessarily the wrong one.

Otherwise, the world wouldn’t have Apple, Microsoft, or Google.

2. Create tech incubators

Some say “isolation is required” for creativity to flourish, as the famed Russian physicist Isaac Asimov says in his essay On Creativity. Others say that creativity is collaborative, as recounted in The Innovators by Walter Isaacson in telling about the starting of companies like Texas Instruments by a team of mavericks. Like with most things, the truth lies somewhere between these two poles.

Even Mr. Asimov says that cross-fertilization of ideas happens best when creative types are able to collaborate in an environment that encourages “ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness.” That’s because “the world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object.” This means Russia needs to develop incubators and co-working spaces where collaborative creativity can thrive.

The benefits of such collaborative creativity can be seen throughout the United States. It can be seen in California or even New York skate parks, where kids make up new moves on their own, but try them in front of others to receive applause, pointers, or thumbs down. It can also be seen in tech incubators and co-working spaces located in both states – and in places like Cambridge, Massachusetts – where start-up companies work on their own inventions, but then can have practice pitch sessions in preparation for venture capital showdowns with other start-ups.

By mixing the collaborative and individualistic aspects of creativity, these innovators are able to get better feed back on their minimum viable products — a sample of the larger product to test — in preparation for either venture capital pitches or launching into the marketplace. This type of feedback is impossible in pure isolation. It would be like me testing out one of my new novels on a maple tree in Maine. The tree makes for an obedient audience, but I don’t want that when trying out new work. I want the good, bad, and ugly comments – stomach punches! – so that I can perfect my work for the real world.

The same type of culture can be encouraged in Russia by funding incubators or shared work spaces where entrepreneurs can find the environment they need to prosper.

3. Keep public hands off private intellectual property

Some products are produced and developed with government – taxpayer — money, and others with private money. To the extent I am developing a product using public money, then it is to be expected that the government – taxpayers – will own the the fruits of my labor. In that case, public copying isn’t theft. If, however, I receive private money for my development project, then the government should have less of a stake in the pot of intellectual property gold at the end of my entrepreneurial rainbow. In such a case, public copying is theft.

This risk reward relationship is one of the main drivers of innovation. Of course, some creators will make things regardless of the economic benefit. But these folks are usually hobbyists, not professionals. Those who seek to take a new product to market with their own — or borrowed private — money will expect to receive the financial spoils, and to have the state enforce their intellectual property rights, whether they be copyright, patent, or trademark. To the extent that the Kremlin is able to take away this pot of gold at the end of the rainbow from law-abiding citizens — not tax cheats — as a form of redistribution or retribution for challenging centralized power, then Russians like Mr. Brin will continue to flee to the West. This will further leverage the Russian economy into energy, and make job creating private tech innovation a pipe dream.

However, if the Kremlin makes the next Sergey Brin firmly confident that the gold at the end of his tech rainbow will not be seized, or otherwise taxed at 99%, then tech innovation will boom in Russia.

4. Ensure legal stability

Finally, there needs to be regulatory stability in Russia. This means that before I launch a new tech gadget product, the law might be settled concerning the patentability of a piece of hardware I developed, or copyrightability of source code. However, if the government is able to be lobbied by a larger competitor so that the law can swiftly change via regulatory diktat, smaller tech entreprenerus can no longer rely on the law being principled, which is what many smaller entrepreneurs in the U.S. feel about the legal system. Further regulatory uncertainty is created — which isn’t not good.

Such uncertainty is one of the biggest obstacles to creating and fostering an environment that encourages innovation. Sudden regulatory changes create a new factor that may go wrong after launching a product, or in the process of research and development. These types of regulatory changes also add another barrier to entry. In the United States, it makes it more costly for products to be developed by cash strapped start-ups without having expensive regulatory lobbying might in Washington D.C. so as to protect against well-connected competitors. This explains why so many companies from Silicon Valley now have lobbyists in the Capitol, whereas they didn’t before. The Kremlin can learn from Washington D.C. what to do — and not do — to enhance tech innovation in Russia.

Don’t be surprised to see a Silicon Moscow in the coming years. This will be beneficial to Americans since it will make it less likely that the Kremlin will do short term desperate arms deals that will be injurious to longer term Russian — and world wide — security and stability. It will also give American companies another fertile market in which to do business. And yet to get to this tech motherland, Russia will need to create the right type of environment. If it does, watch out for Sergey Brin 2.0 in Moscow.

Devil’s in the details? Good news!

Devil’s in the details? Good news!

The Devil is in the details. Good news! This means picking a trade name for your new business venture will involve a great deal of planning and detail oriented thinking about your launch plan, and the market you serve. This will only serve you in good stead down the line.

Take, for example, a company called “Designbook.” According to a recent article, Established Firms Fight Startups on Names, they are a fledging upstart who is seeking entry into the now crowded social networking market. In attempt to gain a nationwide monopoly on their name, Designbook filed an application to register it’s name with the federal government’s Patent and Trademark office.

Guess who opposed the application? Facebook. According to the networking giant, Designbook’s use of “book” in it’s name is confusingly similar to the “book” used in “Facebook.” Of course, if Designbook was a pen manufacturer, Facebook’s claim wouldn’t likely have merit.

However, as applied to the social networking market, “book” has gained a worldwide reputation as being associated with “Facebook.” So the mammoth’s argument about confusingly similar use has merit — in this instance. Imagine if the market became saturated with “Desginbook,” “Loobook,” “Cokebook,” “Gangabook,” “Pornbook,” and so on? Such uses give the impression that the companies are affiliated with Facebook (as in the case of “Designbook” or “Lookbook”). Otherwise, the tradenames dilute the “Facebook” name (as in the case of “Cokebook,” “Gangabook,” and “Pornbook.”). Unlike confusion, dilution doesn’t require that folks think one brand is affiliated with the other, but merely that that the new brand — i.e. “Cokebook” — makes the famous brand — “Facebook” — less unique.

That being said, assume “Pornbook” launched a website, not in the social networking realm, but as a new humorous online publication by evolutionary biologists like E.O. Wilson for the study of sexual practices among Rhesus monkeys, in addition to other non-human mammals, throughout history. In that case, Facebook would be hard pressed to bring a claim. “Book” is a generic word. Facebook doesn’t own it. So the question becomes, how do you, as a new venture backed company, pick a good name to enter into an otherwise crowded market?

Be original. While “Designbook” describes, in some ways, what the company does, the trade name “Nike” does not. If you didn’t know that “Nike” referred to the shoe company, you’d otherwise think it may apply to a Greek God for victory — it does. All this means is that a company like “Designbook” needs to pick a more original — “fanciful” — name that doesn’t describe, in anyway, what they do. They then can make a splash in the market — like Nike did after Mr. Jordan helped revamp the brand. (Remember those Spike Lee/Michael Jordan commercials?) In the end, an original name can actually help “Designbook” gain more market share instead of merely being a “me too” Facebook.

Only by respecting the Devil and his details will you arrive at a sustainable, attention grabbing, name.

Copernicus wouldn’t have had any Facebook likes — that’s because he was right.

Copernicus wouldn’t have had any Facebook likes — that’s because he was right.

If Facebook likes existed at the time of Copernicus, he would have been considered a loser, just like he nerds in Revenge of the Nerds. Like them, nobody would have given Copernicus a “like.” But, in the end, Copernicus ended up being right — and the nerds won out. And yet recent press in The Wall Street Journal has indicated children are being taught from a young age to heed likes on Facebook as a proxy for the value of their art work. Is this a good thing for innovation?

As the Copernican revolution shows us, innovation doesn’t always give us answers that make us feel warm and cozy inside in the short term. When Copernicus came out with his theory that the sun — and not the earth — is the center of the universe, he was considered a heretic. That revolution shows us that being ahead of the curve isn’t only lonely — it is sometimes downright unpopular.

No doubt, Steve Jobs felt this way, at times, when he was CEO of Apple. The board of directors thought he was nuts for wanting to put so much time, money, and energy into the design of the personal computer when others in the market, such as IBM, were doing just fine without such bells and whistles. In fact, the board temporarily ousted Jobs for pursuing his idea of making personal computers not only easy to use — but lovely to look at.

Look at where Apple is now.

At the time, Jobs wouldn’t have had any likes on Facebook among the board. And yet he continued. The point isn’t that to be a innovator, you always need to be unpopular. Sometimes thinking of a new great technology product and testing it in the market is the way to go. But, in other cases, it makes sense to trade off short term unpopularity in exchange for a longer term innovative bang.

Giving too much respect to short term popularity on Facebook or on any other social network will have a powerful chilling effect on the next Copernicus — which can kill innovation.

What would Jimmy do?

What would Jimmy do?

In 1994, Congress extended copyright protection to foreign works of art that were not previously protected by the Copyright Act. You say: “so what?” Well, in so doing, Congress made it so that you have to pay to use certain works, such as “If I Had My Way,” which were previously in the public domain. The debate has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where arguments were heard last week in Golan v. Holder on whether Congress has such power under the Constitution. Congress likely has such power, and there are good reasons why Congress would expand copyright protections to such works.

The legal issue before the Court in Golan is whether Congress has the power to grant copyright for the very first time to works that were not previously copyrighted at all. The plaintiffs in the case argue that if the works were not protected by copyright at the time, they cannot now be retroactively subject to copyright by Congress under the Constitution.

Congress has broad power under the Constitution to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Aerts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” As such, Congress does not have unfettered right to bestow copyright protection for however long it wants. In the plaintiff’s view, the 1994 law extends the term of copyright, which is the life of the author plus 70 years for works created on or after January 1, 1978, beyond that currently allowed.

However, there are good reasons why the passage of the 1994 law “promotes the Progress of Science and useful Arts” by extended the protective shroud of — and not the term of protection under — the Copyright Act. Under the Berne Convention, American artists get reciprocal protection for their works overseas provided their foreign artist colleagues are protected here, too. As Solicitor General Donald Verilli is quoted in Copyright Law Challenged, the 1994 law amounted to “the price of admission to the international system.”

It seems that, if Mr. Jimmy Hendrix were alive, we would likely have been in favor of the 1994 law. (Justice Roberts referred to Mr. Hendrix in oral argument.) An avid traveler to places like Essaouira, Morocco, Mr. Hendrix would have wanted his works to be protected overseas, even if that meant his foreign compatriot’s works would be provided protection here, too.

Why not just distribute content online?

Why not just distribute content online?

Last week, we attended the opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival and thought an apt question to address is: why not just distribute content online?   Recent press shows that independent authors and filmmakers are now choosing to bypass traditional offline distribution middlemen by distributing online.   While this is a good thing for independents and for consumers, there may be some unwanted collateral damage.

We recently read in Cheapest E-Books Upend the Charts that independent writers like Louisville businessman John Locke were able to penetrate Amazon’s top 50 digital best seller list with books that are priced sometimes as low as 99 cents, as opposed to the $9.99 normally charged by other successful authors. By self-publishing and distributing online, authors like Mr. Locke are able to reduce publishing costs and directly reach readers with lower priced content. Now more highly priced authors that distribute through traditional publishers have to show that their content is ten times more valuable than the books that Mr. Locke writes. The same is true in the film world. IMDB reports that the biggest names in Hollywood have been protesting Video on Demand (“VOD”), which has placed major films online in but weeks after they appear in brick and mortar theaters. The theaters are fighting back by taking distribution into their own hands. The Los Angeles Times reports that AMC and Regal recently unveiled a new distribution company called Open Road Films, which will focus on developing and distributing independent films, presumably both on and offline. Any author or filmmaker now has to seriously consider self-publishing or independent distributing online, respectively, as an alternative to traditional distributorship. At the same time, the collateral damage may very well be the disappearance of traditional book stores and movie theaters, which is traditionally where people took their dates or socialized with their fellow neighbors. The disappearance of these fixtures may tend to further erode our social fabric.

Google can learn from Mr. Jeff Spicoli.

Google can learn from Mr. Jeff Spicoli.

“Luckily for us, surfing isn’t an organized sport,” Travis Ferre explains in the May 2011 issue of Surfing Magazine. That is a good thing because it has kept the surfing industry diverse and authentic. Google, which has gotten so bureaucratic that good ideas come to market too slowly, can learn from the surfing industry’s more disorganized and yet innovative ethos.

As Mr. Ferre explains in his article, surfing is not an “Ocean Pacific ad anymore,” since the waves are now full of “tight denim modsters, dreadlocked carvers, trained competitors, soloists who wander alone, flannel-clad grizzly bears that love the cold, sandy groms, ex-cons, teachers, chicks.” There has been press lately that Google has gotten so big and organized that it now takes too long to innovate. A good idea has to be passed through several layers of committees, like in the picture to the left, before the idea comes to market. The problem is, by the time the idea comes to market, a competitor has already beaten Google to the punch. Of course, Google, and others companies like it, are too big to be as disorganized as the surfing industry — or Mr. Jeff Spicoli, the surfer played by Mr. Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But being too organized can be maladaptive, too. As evidence: Larry Page, one of Google’s founders, has taken the reins from former CEO Eric Schmidt in order to “streamline decision making.” In so doing, Mr. Page wants to bring some cutting edge ethos back to the spirit of the giant company. As such, Google can learn from Mr. Spicoli. Because he didn’t have a committee to govern each step of his behavior, he was the only student to think of having a pizza delivered to class.

Loneliness isn’t good for business

Loneliness isn’t good for business

Industrialization has brought us immense wealth and free time. But at what cost? University of Chicago professor John Cacioppo explores the hidden costs in his book, Loneliness, which is featured in The Nature of Loneliness.

As is more fully set forth in the article, we are mammals. We need physical connection with others as much as we need oxygen. And yet while we have become more virtually connected in today’s globalized economy, we have also become more physically isolated. People date online, do business online, and virtually live online. We have moved from the country, to the city, to the internet. Mr. Cacioppo has some very provoking thoughts about the costs of such virtual connectivity — and isolation — on our health. Workplaces who foster more physical networking and collaboration among the team often increase productivity. Perhaps that is why internet companies — such as Google, Facebook, and the like — are so successful. By collaborating with one other, their members feel more like part of the team that has a common purpose.