2003 August 10

(entry last updated: 2003-08-10 10:56:18)

  • From Slate: Steal This Book:

    The latest Harry Potter was digitally pirated. What’s next?.

    Bibliophiles find absurd the idea that people will ever abandon the sensuous pleasures of reading–the smell of the paper, the heft of the book–for dematerialized text on a screen. But record collectors said the exact same thing about the compact disc, complaining about the sterile perfection of digital sound and the disappearance of lavish album sleeves. Since then, a new generation has emerged that is totally comfortable with the idea of music as disembodied, digitally encoded information. Instead of records, the new fetish objects are the sleekly futuristic-looking MP3 players and iPods, which are prized more for their portability, ease of use, and ability to amass vast quantities of sound files than for the actual music coming out of them.

    The Slashdot discussion, Are We About To Enter The Age of Book Piracy?, points out that book piracy (copyright infringement) has been around for centuries, and it may well be that the economic incentives are dramatically different (not to mention that this industry has already mastered certain price discrimination models already (hardcover v paperbacks, v libraries).

  • Issues around the first sale doctrine aren’t limited to books and CDs: The hidden cost of hardware

    Michael Tague couldn’t believe his luck. As president of Win.Net, a Louisville, Ky.-based ISP, he had purchased several Network Appliances (NetApp) data storage systems in the past and was pleased with their performance. So, when he found a used but serviceable NetApp model on eBay for a mere $4,000 – a fraction of its original cost – he was delighted.

    But his delight turned to anger when he contacted NetApp to purchase a maintenance agreement for the used system. “They weren’t interested in negotiating the maintenance agreement until we paid $15,000 to relicense the operating system that came with the unit,” Tague says. “No way we were going to pay that. They got paid for the software when they originally sold the system. Why should they get paid again? So, that NetApp box is sitting in a corner – we’re not using it except for spare parts.”

    Tague’s experience is increasingly common for those purchasing dedicated hardware systems secondhand. Manufacturers of systems with proprietary operating systems such as high-end routers, data storage devices, and a variety of telecommunications equipment, now generally say their software license agreements prohibit transfer of the software when the hardware is resold.

    Slashdot discussion: Hardware Manufacturers Gouging Customers

  • This NYTimes article on the advent of CinemaScope and other wide-screen movie formats raises the obvious question – why aren’t these industries innovating their way out of the digital dilemma that they have created for themselves? Why It’s a Wide Wide Wide Wide Screen [pdf]

    The gravest threat came not from newly liberated actors or aggressive federal trust-busters (nor from Hollywood reds or Washington red-hunters), but rather from television. The cathode ray box, with its diminutive screen, had already begun its conquest of America’s living rooms, and its exploding popularity seemed to prophesy the obsolescence of movie-going as a central mode of pop culture consumption.

    […] With the 1953 New York premiere of a Biblical sandal-and-toga epic called “The Robe,” Twentieth Century Fox introduced CinemaScope, a proprietary name for a process developed by a French engineer named Henri Chrétien in the 1920’s, to which Fox had acquired the rights. Chrétien’s “hypergonar” adapters made use of an optical trick called anamorphosis, whereby a curved lens placed in front of an ordinary camera could squeeze a large field of vision into the frame. Another lens, affixed to the projector, would reverse the process, spreading out the image onto an extended screen.

    The anamorphic effect had been explored by 19th-century scientists and Renaissance painters, including Holbein, who famously used it to embed secret symbols in “The Ambassadors” (1533). But as far as Hollywood was concerned, Chrétien had found the killer app.

  • Mash-ups discussed in Salon: The mash-up revolution

    Mash-ups might be the ultimate expression of remix culture, which has grown out of a confluence of influences: widespread sampling, DJs as performers, and the proliferation of digital technology, as well as a tangle of diverse musical styles from jungle to house to garage and techno.

    […] From Vanilla Ice to the Verve, the controversy over sampling rights and the prohibitive costs of clearance payments, potentially due to publisher, label and artist, keep mash-up bootlegs underground, perhaps contributing to their allure. Ironically, artists who sampled aplenty in the ’90s, such as the Beastie Boys and the Chemical Brothers, aren’t necessarily eager to grant permissions. Touting the “buy it don’t burn it” philosophy, Missy Elliot, whose “Get UR Freak On” has been mashed 50-plus times, tells consumers to turn their backs on bootleggers.

    After radio stations received cease-and-desist letters for playing mash-ups, “Freak Like Me,” mashed by Girls on Top (aka Richard X) with Adina Howard backed by a Gary Numan track, was re-recorded with The Sugarbabes’ vocals to circumvent legal difficulties — and hit No. 1 on the U.K. charts.

    […] There are potential violations galore in the world of sampling, [Prof E. Michael] Harrington explains, but the law is tricky. In some cases the lack of qualitative similarity between different songs has led judges to conclude that sampling is not copyright infringement, as with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1994 decision that 2 Live Crew’s parody of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” was acceptable under the fair-use doctrine. “At its best, the law reflects our values,” says Harrington. “When it’s not, it just regulates them.”

    As far back as Mozart, he adds, “There’s an age-old tradition of fooling around with music everyone knows and casting it in a new light, giving it new meaning.” It’s a murky business when ideas of authorship and artistic control come into question. When is it filching, when is it flattery and when is it just funny?

    Related Salon article: A love song to bastard pop

  • Microsoft faces some new hurdles as it tries to make Windows Media a global standard/tollbooth: Microsoft media strategy at risk?

    Although the outcome is uncertain, and some analysts said a settlement that protected the status quo was likely, the [EU antitrust] regulators’ stern warning raised the possibility of new hurdles for Microsoft’s media strategy. The company has relied in large part on the omnipresence of its software to promote its proprietary Windows Media audio and video format to everyone from record companies to movie theaters. A forced unbundling could diminish that appeal, analysts said.

  • MIT wins a round: Court blocks some file-trading subpoenas. The Globe’s Business in Brief for yesterday put it this way:

    A federal judge in Boston ruled late Thursday that Boston College and MIT do not have to honor subpoenas issued this summer by the Recording Industry Association of America, which is demanding the names of students it accuses of sharing copyrighted music files on the Internet. US District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro said the schools are not obligated to release the information because the subpoenas were issued from a court in Washington, D.C., and not from the US District Court in Massachusetts. (James Collins)

    Find the order here (EFF). Lawmeme article: Boston Judge Quashes RIAA Subpoenas