Guy Van Belle on Wed, 22 Dec 1999 10:38:36 +0100 (CET)

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nettime-nl: Do not buy from Amazon (fwd)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Please do not buy from Amazon

Amazon has obtained a US patent (5,960,411) on an important and
obvious idea for E-commerce: the idea that your command in a web
browser to buy a certain item can carry along information about your
identity.  (This works by sending back a "cookie", a kind of ID code
that your browser received previously from the same server.)  Amazon
has sued to block the use of this simple idea, showing that they truly
intend to monopolize it.  This is an attack against the World Wide Web
and against E-commerce in general.

The idea in question is that a company can give you something which
you can subsequently show them to identify yourself for credit.  This
is nothing new: a physical credit card does the same job, after all.
But the US Patent Office issues patents on obvious and well-known
ideas every day.  Sometimes the result is a disaster.

Today Amazon is suing one large company.  If this were just a dispute
between two companies, it would not be an important public issue.  But
the patent gives Amazon the power over anyone who runs a web site in
the US (and any other countries that give them similar patents)--power
to control all use of this technique.  Although only one company is
being sued today, the issue affects the whole Internet.

Amazon is not alone at fault in what is happening.  The US Patent
Office is to blame for having very low standards, and US courts are to
blame for endorsing them.  And US patent law is to blame for
authorizing patents on computational techniques and patterns of
communication--a policy that is harmful in general.  (See for more information about this issue.)
Foolish government policies gave Amazon the opportunity--but an
opportunity is not an excuse.  Amazon made the choice to obtain this
patent, and the choice to use it in court for aggression.  The
ultimate moral responsibility for Amazon's actions lies with Amazon's

We can hope that the court will find this patent is legally invalid,
Whether they do so will depend on detailed facts and obscure
technicalities.  The patent uses piles of semirelevent detail to make
this "invention" look like something subtle.

But we do not have to wait passively for the court to decide the
freedom of E-commerce.  There is something we can do right now: we can
refuse to do business with Amazon.  Please do not buy anything from
Amazon until they promise to stop using this patent to threaten or
restrict other web sites.

If you are the author of a book sold by Amazon, you can provide
powerful help to this campaign by putting this text into the "author
comment" about your book, on Amazon's web site.  Please send mail to when you do this, and please tell us what happens

                Richard Stallman
                President, Free Software Foundation
                MacArthur Fellow

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