Copyright Battles Over The Internet Of Things (IoT) [ABA Landslide Cross-Post]

Originally published in Landslide Magazine

At this year’s Consumer Electronic Show (CES), the Internet of Things took over the show floors—pushing aside 3D printers and pulling ears away from Sony’s hi-res audio initiative. The Internet of Things, or IoT abbreviated, is all about leveraging wireless technologies to enhance the interoperability of objects and items that consumers interact with on a daily basis. Single-use coffee pods, cars, smoke detectors, power outlets, light bulbs, and more have all been transformed to communicate both with each other on a local level and across networks miles apart.

The Internet of Things Explained

IoT has become a popular buzzword across multiple industries. The basic concept for IoT started as an opportunity to turn everyday objects into “smart” objects capable of improving operability and efficiency. The objects are programmed to communicate by way of wireless standards as common as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth or as specialized as protocols such as ZigBee and Z-Wave.1

Objects can be transformed into “smart” objects through two basic methods: by design and by retrofitting. IoT objects by design are manufactured with built-in wireless communication capabilities. A common example is the Nest thermostat, which not only allows remote control functions but also learns behavioral patterns of its users. Non-IoT objects can be retrofitted by way of adapters or other technological innovations that provide the necessary wireless capabilities. For example, a basic way to transform any non-IoT electrical object in the home, such as a lamp, into an IoT object would be to purchase an adapter for the power outlet that allows basic controls—i.e., “on” or “off”—by way of an in-home Wi-Fi network or radio signals.

Maintaining Corporate Control

Over time, IoT has encountered a variety of high and low points throughout its implementation. Most of the issues have stemmed from corporations seeking to use IoT technologies as a way of maintaining control over the devices they sell. The IoT provides opportunity to utilize copyright law to lock down consumer devices and hardware in often divergent efforts for maintaining functionality and safety of products and continued financial gain once a product is in the consumer’s hands. Utilizing copyright law provides protection of computer code and other IoT devices that, when combined with end-user license agreements, can prevent tampering and reverse engineering by consumers and third parties. The result places consumers in a situation where they are unable to “tinker” with their cars or brew their own choice coffees.

Through public backlash and steady profit losses, numerous corporations have been forced to retreat in their decisions to utilize copyright laws in an effort to lock down ecosystems.


Read the full article:Copyright Battles Over The Internet Of Things,” Landslide Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 2, November/December 2015, a publication of the American Bar Association’s Section of Intellectual Property Law.