IBM bristles at report of massive layoffs to come

Oy. what a week IBM has had. And it’s only Monday.

Last week, a report surfaced that the IT giant would soon cut a whopping 26 percent of its workforce — or about 118,000 employees — as part of a “Reorg from Hell.”  The story was later picked up by the universe.

Company insiders and former employees who are still close to [company]IBM[/company] have told me they expect big layoffs this quarter. Just before IBM’s fourth quarter earnings call, one insider said if the numbers were bad, IBM would start instituting massive “HP-style” layoffs. The numbers were not as bad as feared, but then it’s all relative.

If the 26 percent layoffs do happen, Sanford Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi noted in a research note that they would “dwarf anything that IBM has done historically since its massive reorganization under [CEO] Lou Gerstner in 1990.” At that time IBM nixed about 60,000 people or 20 percent of its workforce.

Over the last few years, IBM has been nipping and tucking to streamline itself and get costs in line. It’s done things like offering to retrain some employees  in cloud and mobile expertise if they agreed to salary cuts, for example.

So this 26 percent figure is an eye-popping number, one so shocking that IBM took the unusual step of elaborating on its usual official non-comment to say via email (emphasis mine):

IBM does not comment on rumors, even ridiculous or baseless ones. If anyone had checked information readily available from our public earnings statements, or had simply asked us, they would know that IBM has already announced the company has just taken a $600 million charge for workforce rebalancing. This equates to several thousand people, a mere fraction of what’s been reported.

The spokesman added that the company hired 45,000 people last year and now has 15,000 open jobs posted worldwide “for new skills in growth areas such as cloud, analytics, security, and social and mobile technologies.”

Subsequent reports — including one from TechCrunch — dialed back the numbers by about 10x, but didn’t challenge the overall premise that layoffs loom.

This is probably a case where the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The fact that IBM is hiring for hot new skillsets does not mean it will not also wield an ax in other areas.

Selma soars despite MLK estate’s copyright clutches

Selma, a new film about Martin Luther King’s role in seminal 1965 civil rights marches, is a triumph not only because of critical acclaim, but because biopics about King have been nearly impossible to produce in the first place. That’s because the King family aggressively enforces copyright at all turns, unleashing lawyers in the direction of anyone who seeks to use the civil rights icon’s speeches or images without permission.

Happily, film-maker Ava DuVernay performed a historical hack of sorts, recreating King’s signature powers of oration, but without using his actual words. Critics so far seem impressed, and Selma has already created considerable controversy and Oscar buzz.

But this still raises the question of why the King estate wouldn’t allow the filmmakers to use King’s famous speeches, including “I Have a Dream,” in the first place. Likewise, the estate has been quick to go after merchandise makers who used King to celebrate the historical election of Barack Obama, as well as the foundation that helped to bring a statue of King to the Washington Mall.

Could it be that the estate fears too much exposure will trivialize King’s accomplishments? Unlikely. After all, the estate hasn’t been shy about giving a piece of King to the likes of Apple, Chevrolet and Mercedes — and more recently to a t-shirt outfit that pledged to “celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy through artistic, fashion-forward designs.”

Unsurprisingly, the root issue here is entirely about money, and the King estate wants as much as it can get. It doesn’t appear to care that its grasping tactics put King’s words beyond the reach of, well, civil rights leaders.

As lawyer Jonathan Band noted, these episodes are not just unseemly, but risk creating a distorted historical record since many people’s impression of King could become shaped not by what he actually said, but by filmmakers’ recreations of what he sort of said.

Band also pointed out, correctly, that there is a very strong fair use argument for historians and film makers to use King’s speeches without clearing copyright. But having the best legal case (not to mention the best moral one) is not enough — they would also require the financial resources to make their case in court.

Ultimately, though, the fuss over the King speeches obscures a deeper problem: copyright protection lasts for far, far too long.

After all, the Selma speeches occurred 50 years ago and, under a rational intellectual property regime, should be entering the public domain. This is something for Congress to consider in 2015 as it continues to review U.S. copyright policy; rather than simply focusing on enforcement, it should also restore a balance between protecting artists and protecting free expression.

This story was corrected to state the King statue in Washington has been erected; an earlier version said the foundation was working to erect it.

As Samsung reports record earnings, HTC posts $101M net loss

The past three years have shown a complete divergence for Samsung and HTC. The latter adopted Android first and was flying high when the first Galaxy arrived. Now, it’s a complete turn of events and Iron Man may not be strong enough for HTC.