September 25, 2003

Boston Phoenix Special Section [8:43 pm]

[via BoingBoing] - The Boston Phoenix special report, Downloading Now: Music in the Post-Napster Age, includes a a new artcile (presently unavailable) called The Empire Strikes Back. See Cory’s comments now, and try for the link later.

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Tom the Dancing Bug [7:24 pm]

If you aren’t a Salon subscriber, keep your eyes on this uComics link. Otherwise, check out the latest here: Harvey Richards, Esq. Lawyer for Children — RIAA Lawsuit Defense a Speciality

(cartoon dialog)

RIAA Lawyer: Now, see here! You’re mocking me?! You are incompetent counsel!

Harvey: I know you are, but what am I?

RIAA Lawyer: Look, your client’s actions are obviously illegal!

Harvey: Not at all! He found the song on the Web! I cite the doctrine of finder’s keepers!

[...]

RIAA Lawyer: Okay, you win. We’re dropping the case.

Harvey: Hey you come onto the playground — you play by playground rules!

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The Moses Avalon Royalty Calculator [7:08 pm]

Check it out! This is also an educational tool, IMHO! Part of a WWW site to sell his books, but he seems to have at least some experience to back it up.

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The Slashdot commentary on the MPAA education program [7:08 pm]

From Slashdot: File-Sharing Ethics Taught In Classrooms? Fallout from the NYTimes article cited this AM. Many comments on the economics of the record business, but I like this comment:

The smart child (Score:5, Insightful)

by danlaba (245683) on Thursday September 25, @07:28AM (#7053410)

C = child, T= Teacher

C: Yes, so I’ll make the CD, the album art like that, and it will have 12 tracks…

T: It’s already available on the net (smiling)

C: Hmmm… let me think… How many downloads? Yes, they seem to like it, hmm… Yeah, good, so now I’m famous. Let’s prepare my next concert around the world.

T: !!!

Starving artist? No way! An artist to play for the public, to have tours around the world, yes!

A good artist will never starve because his art is priceless.

P.S. The “Starving Artist” game is stupid, as showed above ;)

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In case you aren’t a Salon subscriber… [6:43 pm]

This review of last night’s West Wing season premier ends with this impressively snotty bit:

The staff has a sense that the country is slipping out of their control, that they’ve made a huge mistake, one that might be impossible to undo. There’s a veritable madman in power, after all, one who will stop at nothing to send a message, neglecting all feedback that the global community is at odds with him. We can only imagine how horrible they must feel! Their country, at the brink of war, with a bully at the helm!

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What’s A Collection of Pirates? [1:14 pm]

Jenny suggests that the answer might be "Canadian dentists," at least in some minds: Now Who’s Stealing Music? Dentists! - her comments on Music biz drills into dentists for royalties

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Mary on Brewster Kahle [1:11 pm]

Mary describes the presentation by Brewster Kahle’s (of the Internet Archive) to her technology policy class yesterday.

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Patent Politics [1:04 pm]

A lengthy look at the Eolas patent issue from CNet News: Patent Politics

To some competitors and partners who have long been chafed by Microsoft’s dominance, the verdict in the patent infringement lawsuit by one-man software company Eolas may initially have seemed an overdue victory–and one that achieved what the U.S. Department of Justice and the courts had failed to accomplish in regulating Microsoft under federal antitrust laws.

Instead, the verdict is increasingly interpreted as a potentially crushing burden on the Web, threatening to force significant changes to its fundamental language, HTML. Microsoft’s competitors fear that Eolas’ lawyers will target them next, and its partners–such as Macromedia and Sun Microsystems–worry that an enjoined IE browser would be prohibited from running their software plug-ins without awkward technology alternatives.

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Some clarification on the EU vote yesterday [12:57 pm]

A more accurate headline: European Parliament Votes to Limit Software Patents [pdf]

A majority of members of the European Parliament voted in support of amendments to the bill that would make it harder to register a patent. The amendments tightened up the wording of the bill to make it explicit that no patent, like the one Amazon.com registered for its one-click online shopping method, can be registered in the union. Such patents are known in the industry as business-method patents.

The members of Parliament also expressly outlawed patents for algorithms, the mathematical equations in software programs, and they restricted the definition of the sort of software that should be eligible for a patent.

CNet News: EU software patent plan gets thumbs up

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The Blues [11:49 am]

Royalties From PBS Dismay Bluesmen [pdf] - a look at the business of music, performing and royalties.

On Sunday PBS is scheduled to begin its weeklong documentary series “The Blues,” with Martin Scorsese as executive producer. In the episodes, directed by Clint Eastwood, Wim Wenders, Mike Figgis and others, the past, present and future of the blues are honored, explored and explained.

But some record labels and music publishers say there is one old blues tradition being honored by PBS that would be better off left in the past: underpaying the artist.

Randall Wixen, president of Wixen Music Publishing, says PBS offered a bluesman he represents, Robert Wolfman Belfour, $500 for the use of a song on television, on DVD’s and in promotions worldwide in perpetuity. That falls far short of the $8,000 to $12,000 that he said was the standard industry fee just for using a song in a DVD.

In an e-mail message sent last month to a producer of the PBS show, Mr. Wixen rejected PBS’s music-licensing offer. “If your true purpose is to honor the blues and those who make it,” he wrote, “why devalue it so by continuing to treat its creators as if they were worthless?”

[...] The larger debate is over the advantages of compensation versus promotion. Artists are often persuaded to waive or lower fees to appear in television, film and commercial endeavors because they provide good exposure. Though most who worked on “The Blues” said they wished the musicians had been paid more, they also said that those who appeared would have the advantage of increased CD and concert-ticket sales.

Now, where have I heard these arguments before?

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Staying out of the elephant’s way [11:46 am]

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An operational heir to Claude Shannon [11:41 am]

For the World’s A B C’s, He Makes 1’s and 0’s [pdf] - a profile of Michael Everson, a contributor to Unicode 4.0.

For the last 10 years, Mr. Everson, who has American and Irish citizenship, has played a crucial role in developing Unicode, which might be viewed as the computer age’s Rosetta stone. Mr. Everson explains Unicode as “a big, giant font that is supposed to contain all the letters of all the alphabets of all the languages in the world.”

A more technical explanation of Unicode is this: When Mr. Everson sends e-mail in ogham, his computer isn’t sending ogham letters through the ether. Instead, strings of 0’s and 1’s are transmitted, and when they arrive on a friend’s computer, they generate on its screen the same ogham letters that Mr. Everson typed. Unicode is the master list that resides in both computers and translates individual letters and symbols into strings of 0’s and 1’s and back again. Most current software is Unicode-compliant, which means that this master list of all the world’s writing systems has been built into operating systems, browsers and software.

The code assigned to all 96,000 characters is handled only by programmers in its naked form, while computer users (and sometimes vendors) install the specific fonts that represent a specific alphabet. A font renders a language readable to humans; Unicode renders a font readable to computers.

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Strike 2: Will she sue? [11:30 am]

This NYTimes article title certainly is suggestive: She Says She’s No Music Pirate. No Snoop Fan, Either. [pdf]

Mrs. Ward was deeply confused by the accusations, which have disrupted her gentle life in the suburbs of Boston. She does not trade music, she says, does not have any younger music-loving relatives living with her, and does not use her computer for much more than sending e-mail and checking the tides. Even then, her husband does the typing.

“I’m a very much dyslexic person who has not actually engaged using the computer as a tool yet,” she explained in her first interview about the case.

On Friday, the industry group dropped its suit against Mrs. Ward, but reserved the right to sue again. An industry spokeswoman denied that any mistake had been made.

[...] Ms. Ward said that she was fortunate to have several lawyers in her family, and a son-in-law, Dan Levy, who is knowledgeable about the Internet and the file-trading wars. He put her in touch with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is based in San Francisco.

“They picked the wrong little old lady to sue,” Mr. Levy said. “This case alone should put the record companies on notice that their method of associating KaZaA user names with addresses is flawed.”

An official of Mrs. Ward’s Internet service provider, Comcast, said that the company had investigated the case and that it gave the right name associated with the Internet identifier, known as an I.P. number, that the industry lawyers demanded. But like many service providers, Comcast issues its I.P. numbers “dynamically,” with the numbers shifting each time a user goes online. Both Comcast and the recording industry group say they can accurately trace the I.P. number back to a single user; nonetheless, identifying a particular user can be tricky.

I almost missed this interesting little slam:

The idea, he said, is to make average people understand that they, too, could be hit with a suit for sharing songs. “If they target `Tattoo Guy,’ who’s out of a job but has access to an M.I.T. online account and is downloading songs and selling bootleg CD’s out of the trunk of his car, nobody identifies with him,” he said.

No one’s going to identify with this person because of a) the tattoo [doubtful these days]; b) out of a job [again, doubtful these days]; or c) has access to an MIT online account? Why exactly are we picking on someone who fits this profile?

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Movies and Piracy [11:09 am]

Laura Holson’s got a very fine survery article of the movie industry’s approach, and just how far behind the eight ball they already are: Studios Moving to Block Piracy of Films Online [pdf]

While the major labels in the music industry squabbled among themselves about how best to deal with Internet piracy and failed to develop consumer-friendly ways to buy music online, the movie industry has gone on a coordinated offensive to thwart the free downloading of films before it spins out of control.

This summer, night-vision goggles became a familiar fashion accessory for security guards at movie premieres as they searched for people in the audience carrying banned video recorders. The industry’s trade association began a nationwide piracy awareness campaign in movie theaters and on television. Studios are aggressively putting electronic watermarks on movie prints so they can determine who is abetting the file sharing. And some movie executives are considering whether to send out early DVD’s to Academy Award voters, fearing the films will be distributed online.

[...] The concern is such that 20 of the film industry’s top decision makers, including Jeffrey Bewkes, chairman of the entertainment group at AOL Time Warner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, a co-founder of Dreamworks SKG, attended a focus group in June at the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills. The participants, about 20 college- and high school-age students, quickly and easily downloaded several current hits at the executives’ request. Next they confirmed what many already knew. “These kids said they weren’t going to stop,” Mr. Chernin said.

Mary has already pointed to a riposte to the movie theater advertisement mentioned in this article: From bIPlog.

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Fallout from a lecture yesterday [10:26 am]

I gave a lecture yesterday about digital communications and IP, and a student from class has pointed out this BusinessWeek article as something to consider: A Wireless iPod Can Torpedo the Pirates [pdf]

Riddle me this: What would you get if you crossed a BlackBerry with an iPod? The answer: The future of the music business. Let me explain. Imagine, if you will, an iPod as a wireless digital ladle. It would dip into a nearly bottomless stream of continual music, scooping up any song you wanted, when you wanted, where you wanted. There would be no need for CDs, hard drives, or any other storage device. And trying to capture such music would be about as easy as trapping mist in a jar. Every song would contain a digital expiration date, so, over time, they would evaporate.

[...] Fanciful? Not at all. After all, this isn’t my brainchild, it’s a concept called Everywhere Internet Audio (EIA) that has been kicking around university think tanks and newsgroups.

Hmm, an interesting idea, albeit one that has almost zero market value to me — of course, I’m not the person the technology is aimed at, either. On the other hand, any strategy that takes away the physical storage medium for expression and puts it entirely into the "celestial jukebox" presupposes a degree of reliability and persistence that I simply do not associate with internet (or, for that matter, computer) storage of anything — witness how hard it is to find information you accessed on the Internet two years ago.

And I don’t see the value proposition. The plus to the industry is the defeat of casual piracy at the expense of new infrastructure and consumer hardware, not to mention having to ensure that the entire catalog of music will actually be available. And the consumer value proposition is even harder to see.

To someone like me, this device is just a fancy radio — I am still a believer in persistent packages for my music. To a consumer whose entire collection is in MP3 form, the technology is only attractive if s/he can get her/his MP3s into the machine. And there’s a noxious little hole. Unless the device will only accept files with expiration dates, the piracy merits go away. BUT, giving the consumer the instruments to turn their MP3s into this new format means that the algorithm will be exposed, so that an expiration date of infinity will be hacked in — and we’re back to square one.

There was a NYTimes article on this on Sept 15 - here’s my entry: A new name for the celestial jukebox (I see I’ve been remiss on putting the PDF links in, so I’ll get on it!)

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