Week in Review: Saddam, YouTube, Apple & Cisco

January 11th, 2007

Recent happenings were just to good not to comment on.

Saddam Hussein Execution Filmed by Phone Camera
And we thought “regular” video cameras let us see things as never before. I am amazed that someone was able to wave a phone around in the execution chamber without being spotted. Nevertheless, this episode gives us a glimpse of the possibilities user-generated content allow in the political sphere. The raucous footage gave the lie to the solemn, sedate image the Iraqi government tried to offer of the execution.

Moreover, the immediate dispersal of the footage shows clearly that once something has been recorded and uploaded somewhere, the cat has not merely been let out of the bag, but instantly cloned and distributed worldwide. Were it not for the fact that just about everyone’s response to the execution was “good riddance” (by contrast, imagine if it had been Moqtada al-Sadr being mocked as the noose tightened), this could have been a disaster for the Iraqi government.

YouTube Blocked by Brazilian ISPs, then Un-blocked Again
On note related by technology though decidedly seamier, a Brazilian court ordered YouTube to completely remove videos of a Brazilian model from its site. YouTube protested that it couldn’t do so selectively and moreover it couldn’t prevent users from re-uploading the video. Since I can’t read Portuguese I can’t verify the chain of orders, but it appears that the court order extended both to YouTube itself and to Brazil’s ISPs. The ISPs, also unable to selectively block one video (or more accurately, many copies of a single piece of footage), instead blocked all of YouTube for several hours until the order was reversed.
The entire episode demonstrates a couple of things. First, courts are wishing for a simpler time when they could just lock the cat away and be done with it. Part of the court’s final order was apparently a request to explain why YouTube and the ISPs were unable to comply with the initial order. Second, this story ended happily for YouTube, but the next one might not. Being at the vanguard of the user-generated content revolution is going to leave some scars for sure.

Apple and Cisco Outdo One Another in Shows of Chutzpah
Apple announces the long-awaited, much-delayed iPhone, only to be promptly sued by Cisco for trademark infringement. Cisco had just released its own iPhone-branded product in December. Word is that negotiations stopped without a signed deal Monday night before Tuesday’s product unveiling and Apple let Cisco know after the announcement that there was no deal after all.

From where I sit, it seems like there is plenty of hubris to go around on all sides here. Sure, Apple’s move is brazen. I imagine their view is that the litigation will serve no one and they are going to make so much money off the device that they can afford to let it drag on for a little while until a deal is made.
Cisco certainly knew what it was doing too. The iPhone name has been used by everyone and his mother to describe Apple’s phone project for at least a couple of years. I am sure the December product announcement was not a case of accidental timing, either, but an attempt to grab the spotlight for a moment as anticipation built toward MacWorld. Moreover, one report I saw said that Cisco’s proposal required interoperability of the two iPhones- Apple has “walled garden” in its DNA, so I can’t imagine how anyone really thought this might fly.

In the end this is really just a game of chicken between tech giants. It’ll be interesting to see who swerves first. On the facts, I give slightly better odds to Cisco. Their Infogear division has used the name since 1996 and Apple has only a weaker “iFamily” claim to the rights. Cisco’s pressure play is to enjoin sale of the product using the iPhone name. Of course, with an expected June delivery date this leaves plenty of time for a deal to emerge. Look for Cisco to lose on the interoperability angle when the dust settles, but pick up a giant cash windfall from licensing rights.

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