On March 1, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, put on their acronym caps and introduced the Saving High-Tech Innovators From Egregious Legal Disputes Act Of 2013, also known as the SHIELD Act. It’s designed to protect companies from patent trolls, who have come out of the woodwork in force the past few years to file flimsy lawsuits making claims like they own the concept of scanning. Patent lawsuits are cheap to file, but expensive to defend against, so a lot of companies have chosen to accept quasi-legal extortion instead of fighting it because it’s cheaper.
Lately, podcasters have been up in arms because a patent troll (or “non-practicing entity”) called Personal Audio has claimed it patented the technology for distributing audio on the Internet back in 1998, so it’s demanding licensing fees from, you know, just about everyone. Its defensive website notes that it filed for “an audio program and message distribution system in which a host system organizes and transmits program segments to client subscriber locations” way back in October of 1996, so basically, “Hey, Apple, pay us eleventy billion dollars.”
But they’ve also gone after smaller time people like podcasters, such as Adam Carolla, who’s currently being sued, and Marc Maron, who has posted several freaked-out messages about it on the WTF website.
Podcasters everywhere are asking people to contact their representatives—which takes two minutes via the Electronic Frontier Foundation—to urge them to back the SHIELD Act. The law dictates that trolls would have to pay defendants’ legal bills should they lose the case, which happens 76 percent of the time, and that would kill the financial incentive for trolling. The problem is most don’t go to trial because it’s insanely expensive. That comprehensive Wired article notes that companies spent $29 billion in 2011 defending against nearly 6,000 troll cases. That number was only $6.5 billion for 1,400 cases in 2005. It also noted that Apple and Google spend more money on patent acquisition and defense now than they do on research and development.
So podcast fans, check out the EFF link. It’s super quick and easy, and it will make a difference. Really, Marc Maron doesn’t need any more anxiety.