Today, during the Apple-Samsung patent trial case, a blast from the past was resurrected by Apple. During final statements before a Jury would consider damages in a rehearing of the massive patent infringement suit, Apple attorney Harold McElhinny channelled the spirit of MPAA honcho and copyright maximalist Jack Valenti.
One of the more famous phrases in copyright history comes from former MPAA president Jack Valenti. In his 1982 Congressional testimony on VCR’s he famously uttered “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” It was not, however, his only argument at that hearing, as he made four main arguments in his speech. Of these one talked about how strong Intellectual Property enforcement must be made, or else, and it’s this that McElhinny reiterated.
According to MacWorld:
As he was wrapping up his closing arguments, Harold McElhinny of the law firm Morrison Foerster, told the jury that, “when I was young, I used to watch television on televisions that were made in the United States.”
He then named several brands, such as Magnavox, that manufactured their TV sets in the U.S. and had enjoyed a large share of the U.S. TV market.
“But they didn’t protect their intellectual property,” he said. “There are no American TV manufacturers today.”
This echoes Valenti, who in 1982 urged Congress to ban the VCR saying:
Here is the weekly Variety, Wednesday, March 10. Head1ine, “Sony Sees $400 Billion Global Electronics Business by the Decade’s End,” $400 billion by the decade’s end. In 1981, Mr. Chairman, this United States had a $5.3 billion trade deficit with Japan on electronic equipment alone. We are going to bleed and bleed and hemorrhage, unless this Congress at least protects one industry that is able to retrieve a surplus balance of trade and whose total future depends on its protection from the savagery and the ravages of this machine.
Thirty years on, and Valenti’s claims never came to pass. Instead every single one of his claims has turned out to not only be false, but to be the exact opposite of reality (and people wonder why we should ignore the doom and gloom prophecies of the legacy entertainment industry) and yet in court, Apple has decided to try and resurrect it.
The problem is that it’s as false now, as it was then.
Sure Zenith (the big US TV manufacturer at the time of Valenti’s statement) is now owned by LG, but there are US TV manufacturers now, such as ViewSonic, Vizio, and Sceptre (in fact Vizio became the largest TV seller by volume in the US in 2007).
And Magnavox? That’s been part of Dutch company Philips since 1974, hardly an American company, eh?
This fantasy that copyrights and patents must be protected at all costs is based on nothing more than self-protection, and has little to do with the alleged wider damage (which doesn’t happen). Indeed it’s actually more amusing as Apple’s flagship devices are (in)famously manufactured in China, while hiding their taxes through Ireland.
The idea that businesses are failing because of a lack of protection is both amusing and ridiculous, as business failings are mainly because of bad business deals, and an overreliance on idea-monopolies and not on customer focus, or product development. This is expressed quite clearly in the latest TPP leak.
Of course, we remain to see if the jury sees this argument for the unmitigated crap that Congress rightly felt it was – Judge Koh seemed to think it would have little effect anyway. However, the court case that was incredibly messy already, just got a little dirtier. The sooner we stop allowing basic software ‘ideas’, and simple design elements to be patentable, the better for everyone.