Thursday, October 30, 2008

P2Pnet Wins Landmark ‘Hyperlinking” Case

p2pnetWayne Crookes, a former Green Party organizer, had sued p2pnet claiming that the news site defamed him by merely linking to articles he didn’t agree with. With the freedom of online speech at stake, the case was heard by the British Columbia Supreme Court.

In the decision, Judge Stephen Kelleher disagreed with Crookes, as he ruled that linking to other websites does not amount to publication. Since ‘publication’ is needed to prove defamation, Crookes simply has no case. Judge Kelleher writes in the decision: “Although a hyperlink provides immediate access to material published on another website, this does not amount to republication of the content on the originating site. This is especially so as a reader may or may not follow the hyperlinks provided.”

This is a landmark decision for freedom of speech on the Internet. It goes even further though, since it is not limited to blogs and news outlets. The judge made it very clear that a hyperlink does not equal publication. This means that the current ruling might be relevant to copyright cases involving BitTorrent sites as well, since they merely link to files and do not host any copyrighted content themselves.

P2Pnet owner Jon Newton told TorrentFreak that he is delighted with the decision. “This is a significant victory for all Canadians, and for freedom of speech online. Because if Crookes had triumphed, the ‘net in Canada would to all intents and purposes have been killed stone dead,” he said, while showing appreciation for the quality of his legal representation. “My Lawyer, Dan Burnett, did a great job. He’s extremely smart and genuinely committed and I was extremely lucky to have him acting for me.”

Crookes has clearly lost this battle, but he is not done yet, as he is still involved in lawsuits with Google, Yahoo! and several weblogs including Michal Geist’s. For now things are looking good for our freedom of speech online, let’s hope it stays that way.

The Facebook layoffs

Mark Zuckerberg's college-spawned startup is supposed to hire its 1,000th employee sometime this year. I don't think that's going to happen. If Zuckerberg isn't talking about layoffs behind closed doors, one of his executives must be brave enough to bring it up. I don't think the company is going to issue pink slips. But I do think its headlong growth in employees will come crashing to a halt before the end of the year.

Here's some back of the envelope math on Facebook's burn rate. Figure the company's operating expenses are divided roughly half in labor, half in operations like running its servers. Count $100,000 in salary and benefits per employee, and double that in overhead; double that again to account for the company's non-labor costs. You end up with an annual cost structure of $400 million. Facebook's revenues for this year are projected to be $300 million to $350 million; if the company isn't already operating in the red, it's headed there fast.

Microsoft's $240 million investment? Most of that is already gone towards buying servers — and it's not like Facebook can't stop buying servers as usage of its site continues to boom.

Publicly, Zuckerberg has talked about the company making growth its priority. But a $400 million a year ship can sink fast, especially if the advertising market faces a hard contraction and media buyers cut back on their more experimental ad buys. And none of Facebook's new ad formats have proven to be a breakout hit, as Google's AdWords was earlier this decade.

That's why I think Facebook's braintrust is talking about whether they can afford to keep hiring — and whether they need to cull their existing ranks.

Here's where Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, the law-and-order type Zuckerberg hired from Google, comes in. She's already made hiring considerably more bureaucratic, instituting new requirements straight out of the Googleplex, like a 3.5 GPA from a top school.

Getting strict on recruiting is just the start. Facebookers should expect to see more rules, rules, rules. And even the slightest violation will prove cause for firing — especially for employees who are within weeks of vesting their first batch of stock options, which only come after a year on the job.

Sandberg's very savvy about keeping up appearances. Google thrived in part because, in the darkest days of the dotcom crash, from 2001 through 2003, it was the only company hiring. Until it bought DoubleClick, Google had never done a layoff. That's part of Google's image, and I'm sure Sandberg wants it to be part of Facebook's image, too.

So we won't hear about a Facebook hiring freeze. We certainly won't hear about layoffs. Whatever happens will be quiet: Candidates won't get called back about jobs they applied for. Managers will find their hiring requests tied up in bureaucracy. And employees will quietly box up their things and go.

The sad thing is that those Facebookers will think they screwed up. They won't even have the saving grace of a layoff — the corporate kiss-off that says, "Hey, kid, chin up — it's not you, it's me." A layoff would be the honest thing. But it's the one cost-cutting move Facebook can't afford.

Tech Watch: Apple and Google Work on iPhone, Gay Marriage

In the midst of Google’s Android mobile phone rollout, the company seems to be in lockstep with its new competitor, iPhone-maker Apple. The companies have been collaborating to get more Google features on the iPhone than ever before, and they’ve also made headlines for both lobbying against ballot Proposition 8, which could amend California’s constitution to preclude gay marriage.

Apple seeded its new iPhone firmware to developers this week, Version 2.2 beta 2, both impressing and aggravating users everywhere. Apple clearly worked closely with Google to expand the Maps application, which now includes full-screen Street View in addition to the existing map and satellite views. The driving directions function now also includes options for pedestrian and public transit directions, subsuming detailed maps of several cities’ entire subway systems in the process.

Less encouraging are the features that are still missing from the device, even after long months of user feedback: copy/paste functionality hasn’t been added, and neither has landscape email viewing, or the ability to receive multimedia messages with photos or video. Another missing piece of the firmware: the ability for third party apps to receive “push” notifications, or run in the background.

Google has also released a new Google Earth application for the iPhone, available through iTunes, that brings the beloved mind-blowing software down to palm-sized (albeit somewhat WiFi-reliant) scale. The iPhone software is similar to its full-grown version, but adds multi-touch zooming and accelerometer functionality; turning the phone allows the on-screen view to pan and tilt. Google has also added Wikipedia and Panoramio entries overlaid on the maps, so that points of interest are presented nearby when the phone’s GPS locates itself on the map.

But Google and Apple aren’t just working on hardware and software -- the two tech giants are also pushing a social agenda in California by donating $140,000 and $100,000 respectively to opponents of ballot Proposition 8. The amendment would legally define marriage as between a man and a woman, and would invalidate even existing same-sex marriages in California.

Apple currently allows equal rights and benefits to employees’ same-sex partners, and has made public statements of opposition to the amendment, which is being brought to a vote due to petitioning by evangelical activists and the Mormon Church. Google has made a similar public statement as Apple’s.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin said earlier this year, "While we respect the strongly held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality. We hope that California voters will vote no on Proposition 8 – we should not eliminate anyone's fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love.”

Voting on Prop 8 will occur on November 4th, alongside the presidential ballot, ensuring that Prop 8 will see record voter turnout.