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Who’d a Thunk It? Tweet Seats in Theatres Run Up Against Patent Troubles



I’ve already gone on record stating I’m not in favor of a trend that some theatres and entertainment venues are trying to start. The idea I’m opposed to is to set aside seats for a performance where audience members can “tweet” or “Facebook” (is that a verb?) during the performance. The marriage of social technology and live performance is a move by some to try and attract newer audiences in this always connected age. Goodness knows performing arts institutions need all the help and innovation they can muster. Even if some of us find some of these new ideas running counter to our views of the way things should be.

So, since I’m opposed to the idea, you might think I’m pleased to see this post from Howard Sherman. Mr. Sherman tells us that one of the theatres (they asked not to be named) after publicizing the Tweet Night it held last year, has received letters stating that they are in violation of a patent, (US Patent 6,975,878) Here’s a link to the patent document, courtesy of Mr. Sherman.

I won’t go into detail on the supposed infringement here. Instead I urge you to read Mr. Sherman’s excellent post for some of that, as well as the patent document. I will say that the since the patent is based on “the idea” of this kind of interaction, separate and distinct from any device or software, I find this as troubling as I do most of the patent disputes we see going on around our mobile lives these days. I wonder if someone has a patent on the idea of applauding to show appreciation at a live event. To quote my grandfather, “if you kill a bad idea with another bad idea, you’re still left with a bad idea.”

Here’s the money quote from Mr. Sherman:

 “Through this patent, they would seek to monetize methods of communication that have already swept the world, albeit they seek to do so in a particular set of locations. They would charge a toll on free speech in theatres.”

Whether or not you agree that allowing audience members to “tweet” during a live performance is a good thing, this new development just strikes me as more than a little crazy and a “bad idea.” I guess I’m a dinosaur when it comes to my thinking on “Tweet Seats.” Or I probably should say, I’ll probably live to see the acceptance  of these technological innovations and trends overrun my perceptions and beliefs of how things should be in a theatre or performance venue. I long ago acknowledged that my perceptions of how the business, political, and legal worlds work have been passed by.

So, perhaps you can call me a naif when it comes to the greed that is the motivating, and original intent skewing, thinking that goes into patent, copyright, and trademark law these days. Naif, I may be, but when I look no further than Facebook, the giant of social networks, wanting to trademark the word “book,” I wonder who the fool really is.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, Bertolt Brecht might have been pleased if “Tweet Seats” were happening in his day. That said, I think he’d be railing against the patent lawyers who are trying to prevent this from occurring. Who knows? There might be a play in there somewhere.

We live in interesting (and frustrating) times.

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