March 8, 2004

Death of MyTunes? [5:59 pm]

iTunes song swap helper vanishes from Net

When a program called “MyTunes” appeared online last year, allowing networked users of Apple Computer’s iTunes digital jukebox software to download songs from each other, it had the feel of a breakthrough that wouldn’t last forever.

Now, as some predicted, the popular software has all but vanished from the Net, and its programmer’s sites have gone dark. But this time, it’s not the doing of an angry record industry or a conflict-averse Apple. Trinity College sophomore Bill Zeller, who wrote the program in less than two weeks of off-time coding last year, says he simply lost the source code in a catastrophic computer crash.

[...] Zeller’s MyTunes software was a prominent example of how even the most tightly controlled software can be retuned by its users for unauthorized purposes. Apple has worked hard to establish itself as a loyal supporter of the record industry’s copyrights and has previously moved to block features of its software that allowed unauthorized file sharing.

The program took advantage of iTunes’ ability to let computers that are located on the same network, such as those within a single home or office complex, to look at and listen to each other’s music collections. But where iTunes itself only allows different computers to listen to other people’s songs, streaming the music without saving it, MyTunes turned this into the ability to capture and save the songs as MP3 files.

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A Datapoint for Ernest and Cory [5:16 pm]

Ernest asks “can you own a language?” (See Klingon is Copyrighted, a followup to Cory’s posting with the same name). A quick look into Esperanto resources online yielded this insight:

As interesting as what Zamenhof put into his language project was what he chose to leave out: he understood very clearly that a language must be allowed to grow and develop, not only because too much rigidity may limit the adaptability of the language to changing needs, but also because participation in the processes of language change gives the speaker an intellectual and emotional investment in the language. All language projects, if they move beyond the author’s desk, must confront the problem of ownership: if they are owned by the author they cannot survive; if they are the common property of a collective, there is some hope of survival and growth (Lo Jacomo 1981). Most authors are loath to part with their creations: they are constantly adding to their projects, or seeking to produce ever larger dictionaries. Zamenhof saw very clearly that he must renounce ownership, must strive to create patterns of language loyalty, of shared ownership, leading to the creation of a language community.

In other words, it may be that you can copyright a language, but it’s almost certainly counter-productive to do so (yet we are in situations today where that is exactly what’s happening)

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Interview With Real’s Glaser [9:31 am]

Chief opens up about evolving business

Q: The original Napster is gone, but file swapping certainly hasn’t gone away. Despite the more than 1,000 lawsuits brought against individuals, usage is up 40 percent since December 2002. How can a paid service compete?

A: I said all along that I think our No. 1 competitor is the pirate services. We will continue to grow because consumers who have their own charge cards, or are parents of small children, understand that the law is clear and that file sharing is illegal. But there is a very large market of people whose attitude is, “Well, I don’t yet see a reason why I have to stop.”

The music industry is going to continue to file lawsuits around that. The cows just got so far out of the barn with illegal piracy, before there were legitimate services, that I think we should expect that the amount of time it will take to really turn it around will be measured in years, not months.

Q: What happens to services like RealNetworks’ Rhapsody if the music industry finds a way to license these peer-to-peer services?

A: I think it would be great if the music industry came up with a true détente with the peer-to-peer, but the problem is there’s not just one you can create a détente with. What happened with Napster is instructive because one company, Bertelsmann, tried to do just that. The other guys’ attitude was, “Hey why do we want to give you, Bertelsmann, control over this thing that’s so important to the future of our industry?”

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WiFi IP Coalition Forming? [8:06 am]

Wireless industry intellectually challenged

The wireless industry has reached that stage where intellectual property issues threaten to overshadow real technology debates. Too many bright start-ups, many facing shake-out and failing to gain significant market presence through effective sales, are turning instead to their patent portfolios and the ‘Qualcomm model’ of deriving revenue from other companies’ licensing fees.

[...] Now Via Licensing is aiming to bring together patent holders in a unified system that will streamline the process of licensing Wi-Fi technology and collecting royalties, but there are fears that such a move could increase prices in the extremely cost-sensitive WLan market.

Via, a subsidiary of Dolby Laboratories, formed similar groups for the MPEG 2, MPEG 4 and H.264 consumer electronics standards. It says an 802.11 program would bring together organisations with patents considered essential to the Wi-Fi standards, and these as-yet unnamed companies will meet for the first time on 14 April in Tokyo.

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Sony’s Virtual Critic In Court [7:52 am]

A Movie Hoax Finds Life as a Courtroom Reality

David Manning, a fictitious film critic created by Sony Pictures to trumpet its movies in advertisements, was unmasked as a hoax by Newsweek in 2001. The movies he recommended, sure-to-be-classics like Rob Schneider’s “The Animal,” are all but forgotten. But the lawsuit that was brought against Sony by several moviegoers outraged at the stunt lives on.

In January, a three-judge panel of a California appeals court ruled against Sony, a unit of the Sony Corporation. The appeals court stated that its decision would put an end to “all sorts of mischief.” It allowed the case to proceed to trial but seemed to leave the company defenseless.

And in authorizing the publication of the decision late last month, the court signaled that fake attributions and other falsehoods in advertising can give rise to big damages under California’s expansive consumer protection law.

[...] Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, said the consumer protection law may or may not be a good idea, but that Sony can take little comfort from the First Amendment.

“This wasn’t just a negligent error,” he said. “It was an out-and-out lie. It’s the weakest possible case for First Amendment protection.”

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Another Music eTailer Coming [7:50 am]

Virgin to launch music jukebox, Net music store

British billionaire Richard Branson’s latest company, Virgin Digital, is developing its own digital jukebox and online music store with music delivery company MusicNet that will be available by the end of August, the companies said Sunday.

Newly launched Virgin Digital, with offices in Los Angeles and London, is part of Virgin Group, which includes an airline, a record label, mobile phone service, Virgin Megastores and other assets.

Ultimately, Virgin Digital will work on mobile phones, handheld devices and other consumer electronics gear, said Zack Zalon, president of Virgin Digital. The product will include a jukebox, the ability to burn, rip and encode songs onto CDs, access to Virgin’s digital music club and its Radio Free Virgin Internet radio stations,

[...] The Virgin Digital software product, which will be available for download through the Internet and on CD that Virgin will make available in its record stores and other avenues, will support Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio, or WMA, format, Zalon said.

WMA files work on a host of digital music players, except Apple’s, which does not support WMA.

See also: Virgin to open music download service

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Antitrust on Internet Time [7:47 am]

A story over at CNet raises again the question of how one prosecutes product tying antitrust cases when the tied product becomes a standard in the interim: Is EU looking at yesterday’s Microsoft?

The idea is to give consumers more choices over multimedia software on the PC. But some say that’s yesterday’s battle, as Microsoft and others race for dominance in new markets, from portable music players and cell phones to TV set-top boxes and digital cinema.

“Certainly as a practical matter, given how fast Microsoft and the market for technology move, it’s very hard for the law and regulatory bodies to keep up,” said Mike McGuire, an analyst with Gartner G2, a division of the Gartner research firm.

PC technologies are rapidly converging with traditional consumer electronics devices, promising to wipe out boundaries between computers, televisions, radios and even the telephone. The winners in this transformation have yet to be determined, and competitors are lining up to duke it out. For example, Microsoft faces a suddenly reinvigorated rival in digital music: Apple Computer, whose iTunes Music Store accounted for about 75 percent of all legal digital song downloads in its first year of operation.

In this fast-changing environment, the EU’s antitrust ruling could prove to be a sideshow, some analysts said. Among other things, Microsoft is all but certain to fiercely resist significant changes in its software, raising the prospect of further delays and a possible EU defeat on appeal. That possibility could lead EU regulators to seek milder restrictions that call for less drastic measures but stand a greater chance of getting implemented now.

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Unlicensed Radio: Vox Pop or A New "Astro-turfing" [7:43 am]

Caracas Journal: Pirate Radio as Public Radio, in the President’s Corner

Gripping a microphone and waving reports from a government news agency, the white-haired retired computer teacher charges that a far-flung opposition movement arrayed against President Hugo Chávez is part of an American-led conspiracy. He ridicules the president’s foes as criminals with scant backing.

He urges listeners to defend what Mr. Chávez calls his Bolivarian Revolution, which is under international pressure to allow a recall vote on the president’s tumultuous five-year rule. “We have to fight for a free country,” he said recently, “one with no international interference.”

The message, beamed from a 13-kilowatt station in what was once the storeroom of a housing project, reaches at most a few hundred homes. But Radio Perola is part of a mushrooming chain of small government-supported radio and television stations that are central to Mr. Chávez’s efforts to counter the four big private television networks, which paint him as an unstable dictator.

With Venezuela on edge, stations like Radio Perola are poised to play an even bigger role in this oil-rich nation’s political battle.

Instead of shutting down his news media tormenters, Mr. Chávez’s tactic appears to be to ignore them as much as possible while relying on former ham radio operators and low-budget television stations to get the government’s message across.

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A PC Life Cycle Assessment [7:36 am]

Wired News: Short-Lived PCs Have Hidden Costs

What has the environmental impact of both an SUV and a fridge?

Here’s a clue: You’re using it right now.

It turns out your computer is a much bigger material and energy hog than previously believed. The most effective way to reduce its oversized environmental footprint is to increase its useful lifespan, according to a new book released Monday, Computers and the Environment, by the United Nations University in Tokyo.

[...] The European Union will require the recycling of all computers by 2005. Though it’s a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to increase the sustainability of computers, said Williams. Software license transfers could be made a great deal easier. And tax laws could be changed to allow write-offs for new computers over a longer period of time than three or four years.

Is the business model of this industry really ready for this sort of change?

Slashdot discussion: Manufacturing 1 PC Takes 1.8 Tons Of Raw Material, pointing to this InfoWorld article - UN study: Think upgrade before buying a new PC; with a link to the UNU’s IT and environment site, home of The 1.7 Kilogram Microchip: Energy and Material Use in the Production of Semiconductor Devices. Also we have this SFGate article on California’s regulatory situation: Junked laptops, flat-screen monitors now hazardous waste

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A “Look and Feel” Suit In The Making? [7:29 am]

Wired News: Pocket PCs Masquerade as IPods

StarBrite is selling a pPod, a virtual iPod for Pocket PCs, that — given Apple’s past tolerance for knockoffs — may not be available for very long.

On the market just two weeks, the product is a software iPod that runs on Pocket PCs, Microsoft’s Palm-like operating system for handhelds.

[...] The pPod software plays only songs encoded as MP3 files. It does not support WMA, nor songs downloaded from Apple’s popular iTunes Music Store, which are encoded as copy-protected AAC files.

The lack of AAC support appears to be a big disappointment to potential users, who are keen to turn their Pocket PCs into mobile players of iTunes songs.

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More on Audible Magic from the NYTimes [7:25 am]

A Software Program Aimed at Taming File-Sharing

File-sharing companies have argued that they cannot control copyright infringement on their networks.

“I think it does change the game,” said Josh Bernoff, a principal analyst with Forrester Research. “Now if you’re a legislator, you’re going to have to make a decision about whether you’re going to protect the rights of downloaders, or of the people who own the copyrights to the music.”

Record industry executives, who have said that they are against government-ordered technology fixes for copyright problems, said that they are not asking Congress to act, at least at this time. Instead, Mr. Bainwol said, his industry would like to see the “peer-to-peer” companies add the software to their wares.

“It really puts the P2P community to the test,” he said. “Are they serious about becoming legitimate, or are they not serious?”

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Particle Tries Out A New Music Business Model [7:20 am]

The Unorthodox System: First Build a Fan Base, Then Record an Album

Plenty of up-and-coming bands make names for themselves with concert tours before they ever receive radio airplay. But few play 140 dates a year to audiences as big as 20,000 without having even a record to sell.

Particle, a Los Angeles band that plays disco-flavored, instrumental jam music, has done just that, building a devoted following strictly on live shows.

The group’s unlikely accomplishment will come to an end later this month, three and a half years after its first gig, when the four-piece group releases its first disc, “Launchpad,” on the independent Or Music label.

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