October 6, 2003

More Odd MPAA Anti-Piracy Efforts [1:57 pm]

First it’s the Oscar screening DVDs, and now this odd mechanism: the updated Cap Code - Movie math doesn’t compute with reality

Q. Have you been seeing spots when you go to the movies? It may not be your eyes! More than 20 years ago Kodak devised a system called “Cap Code” designed to uniquely mark film prints so that pirated copies could be traced to the source. Cap Code uses very tiny dots that flash occasionally but are so small that the average viewer almost never notices them.

Well, something new and horrible has been introduced on some studios’ prints. Sort of a giant picture-marring version of Cap Code dots: Very large reddish brown spots that flash in the middle of the picture, usually placed in a light area. They flash in various patterns throughout a given reel while other reels of the same film may have none at all.

A Kodak spokesman who helped devise the original Cap Code says this is not the work of his company but theorizes that it may be intended to be more visible on the murky compressed copies that get posted to the Internet where the original, very subtle Cap Code may be difficult to discern.

On one movie technical forum they are referring to this new system as “Crap Code” or “Cap Code on Steroids.” There are reports coming in of viewers complaining of the spots on the pictures. While theaters strive to keep prints free of dirt and scratches, Hollywood starts sending out prints with built-in marring. Among the films known to be afflicted are “Ali,” “Behind Enemy Lines,” “28 Days Later” “Freddy vs. Jason” and “Underworld,” probably many others as well.

Steve Kraus, Chicago

A. You’re the expert projectionist at our Chicago critics’ screening room, with a fierce love of high-quality film, so I can imagine how upset you are. What’s amusing about Crap Code and the other efforts to catch pirates is that most of the thieves are apparently industry insiders. A recent news story says studios may even be discouraged from distributing advance DVDs of their Oscar contenders to academy members, because some of these movies quickly find their way to the Web.

Slashdot discussion: MPAA Ruins Own Films As Anti-Piracy Measure

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Some MI2N News [7:45 am]

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Software Patent Commentary — Updated [7:38 am]

From InfoWorld: Software patents set sail: Of all the American ideas to import, Europe picks this?

The European Commission’s vote on software patents drew as many anxious observers in the United States as it did in Europe. At stake was the possibility that America’s bizarre patent system would leak like an oil spill across the Atlantic. If that were to happen, Europe would soon be in the grips of a patent frenzy, just as we’re experiencing here.

The U.S. patent system has become a mace that large companies can use against smaller ones. Just the threat of a patent infringement suit incurs onerous legal fees on the threatened company. That can be enough to break a low-budget outfit or shutter an open source project.

The European nations that avoided these conditions can no longer breathe easy; the EC voted in favor of its software patent legislation. I find no pleasure in knowing that Europe will soon be in the same mess we’re in.

[...] The EC’s vote on software patents paves the way for protection of legitimate inventions. It also makes room for inappropriate punitive, retroactive, and preemptive legal action. European software patents aren’t yet a done deal. The European Parliament has voted in a set of modifications that considerably narrow the scope of the EC’s bill. It will take some time to work out a compromise. But considering that the European Commission and the Parliament agree on the need for software patents, developers and small companies likely to be affected should prepare. They’ll find plenty of empathy and advice on this side of the pond.

This CNet story suggests that Gartner is even less sanguine, although for other reasons: EU directive could spark patent war

The European Parliament’s decision to limit patents, as they apply to software and business methods, risks creating a “patent war” with a fallout that could make it illegal to access some European e-commerce sites from the United States, analyst firm Gartner has warned.

[...] The [EU] amendments also sought to ban the patenting of business methods such as Amazon.com’s patent on one-click purchasing. In the United States, business methods and pure software are routinely patented, a situation that has been harshly criticized by information technology executives, software developers, economists and others as being harmful to competition and innovation.

[...] The U.S. government has also expressed concern about the directive’s amendments, according to documents seen by ZDNet UK. In a letter to the European Parliament that comments on the amendments, sent before the vote, a U.S. official said three articles of the directive are particularly “problematic.” The most troubling: Article 6(a), which states that patents cannot be used to restrict interoperability, said the official, who recommended that the article be deleted.

My government in favor of patents to limit interoperability — why am I not surprised……

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Speaking of business models [7:26 am]

The New York Times shows what can happen when the record companies decide to go beyond their traditional notions of what is CD content: Trying to Sell CD’s by Adding Extras [pdf]

For a glimpse into the troubled nature of the music industry in the 21st century, just conduct the following experiment: Ask five people who buy the new P.O.D. album, “Payable on Death,” what persuaded them to make the purchase. Chances are, you will get five different answers.

There is the person who buys it for the hard-rock music P.O.D. performs. But then there is the consumer who picks it up for the PlayStation 2 game that comes included on a DVD. Or the one who wants it for the trading cards packed in the cover. Another P.O.D. fan is after the documentary about the band, also on the DVD. And the last wants the CD because it offers access to unreleased P.O.D. music online.

Bundling a album with a raft of value-added extras - while charging just a dollar more than the standard price for a CD - may sound like a costly move for P.O.D.’s label, Atlantic Records, part of AOL Time Warner. But it is a testament to just how desperate music companies are to stoke consumer interest and reverse a three-year sales slump by pulling fans away from making free downloads of music from Internet file-trading sites.

While the P.O.D. album, scheduled for release Nov. 4, is unusual in the amount of extra material it will carry, it is just one album in a flood of new CD’s promising extras.

[...] The newfound zeal to include extras on music CD’s might just be working. On the latest weekly Billboard 200 album chart, the top six spots are held by albums making their first appearance on the chart. All of those artists - OutKast, Dave Matthews, Limp Bizkit, R. Kelly, Obie Trice and Nickelback - include some type of bonus with their albums: an EP of extra songs, access to online content, a chance to meet the musician or two CD’s for the price of one.

Total sales for the week ending Sept. 28, reached 12.48 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, besting sales for the same week in 2002 by nearly 1.75 million. That is a rare bright post for the industry, which experienced a 17.3 percent drop in album sales from 2000 to 2002, down to 650 million units.

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Free Mickey! [7:07 am]

Siva points out an article that I missed in the Boston Globe (thank goodness for the Google cache!) [pdf]

Since his onscreen debut in 1928, Mickey Mouse has been an icon of childhood innocence. But in recent years, the famous rodent has also found himself at the center of a contentious debate over the reach of copyright law. In 1998, the Walt Disney Corporation and other entertainment giants successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, which delayed the entrance of creative works into the public domain until up to 70 years after their creator’s death. Derided as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act and challenged in the courts on First Amendment and other grounds, the law was upheld by the Supreme Court last January.

But this was not the first time Mickey’s corporate handlers had sought to keep him on a tight leash. In the 1970s, the underground cartoonist Dan O’Neill risked a life-destroying lawsuit and jail time when he published a series of raunchy Mickey-taunting comics. Along the way, O’Neill recruited scores of followers into two of the wackiest groups to emerge from the counterculture of the 1970s: the Air Pirates and the Mouse Liberation Front.

Throughout the proceedings of Walt Disney Productions v. The Air Pirates, which raged from 1971 to 1979, the courts showed little sympathy to the free-speech arguments made by O’Neill and his merry band. One judge after another dismissed the idea that the Air Pirates deserved First Amendment protection until the Supreme Court finally refused to hear their case. To add insult to injury, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy later described the Air Pirates in passing as “profiteers who [did] no more than . . . place the characters from a familiar work in novel or eccentric poses.”

Amazon listing of the book that sprang from this tale: The Pirates and the Mouse: Disney’s War Against the Underground

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The New Music Business Models… [6:55 am]

…get some coverage in today’s Boston Globe: New business models emerge in Net music [pdf]

“The industry is being dragged into the future,” said Jerry Goolsby, a business professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who studies the music industry.

The rush of companies offering or working on download services signals that established technology companies believe broad audiences are ready to pay to download songs.

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Andrew Orlowski on BloggerCon [5:45 am]

‘Blogosphere’ to reach 10 million, almost all dead - report — Get the feeling that he doesn’t like Dave Winer too much? Or is it just that he really, really hates the phrase "second superpower?"

I see no reason to quote him — you can read the screed yourself if you like.

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