The Matt Drudge of Alphaville

Farhad Majoo tells a modern tale of woe: Raking muck in “The Sims Online”

In the real world, Peter Ludlow is an academic, a professor of philosophy and linguistics at the University of Michigan whose books go by sober titles like “Readings in the Philosophy of Language,” and “Semantics, Tense and Time: An Essay in the Metaphysics of Natural Language.” He’s well-regarded in his field and engaging enough on the phone, but Ludlow is, even by his own admission, not a very interesting person. That is to say, Peter Ludlow is nothing like Urizenus, Ludlow’s alter ego in the virtual world of “The Sims Online.”

Urizenus is an unabashed muckraker. In the mold, perhaps, of Walter Winchell or Joseph Pulitzer, he investigates the shady underside of life in Alphaville, one of the game’s largest cities, and posts all his sensational discoveries on the Alphaville Herald, a blog that he describes as the only newspaper covering “The Sims Online.” In the couple of months since the blog went live, Urizenus has interviewed many of Alphaville’s most infamous scammers, thieves, money launderers, prostitutes (some of whom, he says, are minors) and other dubious types, and he’s documented attempts by the community to create a kind of governing authority to police the place.

Urizenus and his compatriots at the Herald have also aimed their bullhorn at Maxis, the company that created “The Sims Online” and that runs the place; in blog entry after blog entry, the Herald describes Maxis as being signally indifferent to the needs of people who populate the game, and it documents the many reasons why “The Sims Online” — which was predicted to be a blockbuster and made the cover of Time magazine before its launch late in 2002 — has been a money-loser for Electronic Arts, Maxis’ parent company.

But the Herald’s relentless criticism does not appear to have gone down well at E.A. On Wednesday, in a move that Ludlow describes as arbitrary and capricious, E.A. terminated Urizenus’ “Sims Online” account. “While we regret it,” E.A. told him in a letter, “we feel it is necessary for the good of the game and its community.” Alphaville’s Citizen Kane was kicked out of town.

[…] “[These virtual worlds] are a strange sort of commercial space where communities come to exist, but there’s a tension between the communities and the private commercial company,” says Julian Dibbell, the author of “My Tiny Life,” a kind of memoir about the virtual world LambdaMOO. “It’s similar to what you have with shopping malls. They’re becoming the last refuge of public space for teenagers, but they’re run by companies, and they can kick you out on a whim.”

The story also prompts a host of compelling questions regarding the nature of virtual existence. For instance, can something like prostitution occur online? And what about community-based policing — is that possible, or desirable, in the Sim world? And, finally, does E.A. have any obligation to allow a free press to document how all these issues will play out in “The Sims Online”? After all, it’s their world — why can’t they run it how they please, however capricious their rule may seem to others?

See also Donna’s posting: Gag Me With a TOS Agreement

Changerz — Another Experiment

From MI2N: A Reason To Pay For New Music: Fan Orders Can Now Launch Major New Artists Through Changerz. See their site: Changerz — their tour is a little more informative

We’re the first company to really turn the tables in music/entertainment. Instead of being told what you should like, you get to come together with thousands of other like-minded persons to jointly launch the next best bands, and participate in their success! It’s fun and you’ll be showing the big companies who’s boss, so what do you have to lose? Flex your muscle today!

Webcaster Alliance and Hatch’s EnFORCE Act

Webcaster Alliance Blasts Proposed RIAA-Friendly Legislation (see also Webcast Alliance to fight expansion of RIAA antitrust exemption )

The announcement is in response to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch’s recent introduction of the Enhancing Federal Obscenity Reporting and Copyright Enforcement Act of 2003(the EnFORCE Act), a bill intended to expand the RIAA’s power by broadening the narrow antitrust exemption the RIAA currently enjoys. The EnFORCE Act would expand the existing exemption to cover all compulsory mechanical licenses under section 115 of the Copyright Act.

“A Federal Judge recently approved a $143 million settlement in the CD price-fixing case that was brought against the RIAA’s Big 5 record label members,” Ann Gabriel, President of Webcaster Alliance said, “Yet here they are attaching additional language to expand their antitrust exemptions to a bill they know most legislators would have a hard time opposing, since it deals with the exploitation of children. This is so typical of the RIAA and their manipulative, smoke and mirrors tactics.”

The Canadians Come Through for the CRIA … [updated]

And levy fees on MP3 players: from the Copyright Board’s WWW site, the decision and the press release.

From the fact sheet:

What specific forms of blank recording media are subject to the levy?

Analog Audio Cassette Tapes: ….

CD-R and CD-RW: ….

CD-R Audio and CD-RW Audio: ….

MiniDisc: ….

Non-Removable Memory Permanently Embedded in a Digital Audio Recorder: This covers two general types of memory embedded in digital audio recorders (such as MP3 players) capable of recording and playing back music files most commonly stored in MP3 format. The first category covers solid state memory, containing no moving parts. Typically this type of memory has between 32 and 256 Megabytes (Mbs) of storage capacity. The second category covers spinning hard-disk drives that are technically similar to those found in personal computers. The capacity of these storage devices is much larger, ranging from 5 to over 200 Gigabytes (Gbs).

Yesterday’s Slashdot discussion has been updated: Canadians [Will] Pay Levy on MP3 Players – Updated

See also CNet News’ Canada deems P2P downloading legal, but note that the title is surprisingly misleading for a supposed news organization – strictly speaking it should be "Canada deems that the ‘2P’ part of P2P is legal."

In a ruling released Friday, copyright regulators in Canada said downloading copyrighted music from peer-to-peer networks appears to be legal under Canadian law but that uploading is still prohibited.

Some Arts/Rights News

  • ‘Will & Grace’ Creators Sue Over Rights

    The mergers of networks and production companies in the 1990’s have led, as the current lawsuit pointed out, to the “increasingly common case of negotiations between closely related or commonly owned parties.” The result is that profit participants in hit television series, which can earn tens of millions of dollars, sometimes assert that negotiations are designed in large measure to benefit the parent company.

  • Progress Made on BMG-Sony Music Merger


Ernest asks me why I characterized his posting “of or relating to women or women’s work.” (A distaff is the stick upon which the products of spinning are held.) I suppose I made a somewhat too substantial a leap in the figurative sense. My general experience with the word has to do with geneaology, where it means the woman’s side of the family, and from some (mis?)readings where there is an implication that the “distaff side” is related, but not necessarily on the mainstream — for example, the idea that, in royal families, cousins on the distaff side are not really terribly interesting when it comes to figuring out who’s in line for the throne. And odd thought, since of course, royalty had all sorts of terribly unattractive mechanisms in place to ensure that babies were not switched at birth.

Unfortunately, I kept track of the “related but not necessarily on the main stream” thought without remembering the formal definition of the word (see, for example), so I am sure that I have offended some with the apparent connection between “distaff” and pornography. Please accept my apologies.