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March 23, 2004

Testing the Limits of "Profane" [4:59 pm]

Ernest considers how one might go about testing the limits of what constitutes "profane" speech, since it appears that the FCC is unwilling/unable to state a working definition: Howard Stern Should Ask FCC: What is Profane?

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Wal-Mart Enters the eTailing Fray [3:00 pm]

Wal-Mart Launches Online Music Store (the site — WindowsMedia 9 required — hence, this is a Windows-only store)

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N) on Tuesday tuned up its online music store, undercutting competitors’ prices as the world’s largest retailer officially launched a venture designed to boost its Web businesses.

The store, which sells digital downloads for 11 percent less than major competitors, expanded its catalog of artists by 50 percent, including exclusive songs from Jessica Simpson, 3 Doors Down, Shania Twain and others, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer said.

Wal-Mart began testing the site, which allows customers to download a song from the Internet for 88 cents, in December.

From the system requirements page:

What file format do Music Downloads come in?

Music Downloads from Walmart.com are 128-bit WMA files. The WMA format allows record companies to protect their music by using Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption. This means that music downloads are legal, safe, and easy to use. The 128-bit WMA files also offer superior sound quality.

Uh-huh!

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Sharman Networks’ Australian Case [2:30 pm]

There’s bound to be more on both sides, but this is the first piece I’ve come across: Music Industry Fails To Obtain Access To Material Today

In handing down his decision, Justice Wilcox told the applicants they were “flogging a dead horse” in their attempts to get immediate access to material currently being held by an independent law firm.

“Today’s outcome vindicates our position - that the seizure of materials using the Anton Piller order was heavy handed, unnecessary and indicative of the recording industry’s increasing desperation to crush peer-to-peer technology,” stated Nikki Hemming, CEO of Sharman Networks. “We have complied fully in US proceedings and will continue to do so this case under appropriate legal procedures.

“We are pleased with the outcome of today’s decision and are continuing to prepare our applications for leave to appeal,” stated lawyers for Sharman Networks.

The matter is back in court on 14 May, when further direction will be made. In the meantime, the material seized during the raids will remain secure and confidential at an independent law firm.

On 4 March, Justice Wilcox ordered the Anton Piller against Sharman Networks should not be set aside and that the material seized must remain secure and confidential with independent lawyers and an access regime be negotiated between the parties. Sharman sought leave to appeal on 11 March. The proceedings in respect of the leave application are next before court on Monday, 29 March.

The Register: Judge delays Kazaa case to clear up ‘mess’

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Movies in the Digital Age [1:09 pm]

Sadly, I will be out of town for this upcoming presentation for the MIT Communications Forum

movies in the digital age

Motion Picture Association President Jack Valenti presents his views on digital piracy

Thursday, April 8, 5-7 p.m.

Bartos Theater, Building E15

Should be a blast!

Update: Valenti to Retire From Film Association (press release of his talk, without the announcement)

Jack Valenti, who oversaw the creation of Hollywood’s movie-ratings system in the 1960s, said Tuesday he will step down as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, possibly within three months.

Further update (Mar 24) - Valenti Says He Will Leave Motion Picture Association

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Salon Looks At IP Telephony [9:08 am]

Triumph of the telcos

The catch, however, is that free telephone service requires a broadband, or high-speed, connection to the Internet. Local telephone companies turn out to be the chief providers of broadband, which means that they can profit from a consumer’s switch to Internet telephony. The calls may be free, but the bandwidth isn’t.

By manipulating bandwidth prices, Big Telecom can make Internet telephony seem attractive — or a prime source of profits. That’s because fans of Internet telephony still won’t be able to cancel their local service; they’ll still need it for the bandwidth.

In managing the pace of adoption of Internet telephony, telcos can expect assistance from regulatory bodies. To be sure, Michael Powell, the FCC’s chairman, has been campaigning for Internet telephony to receive an exemption from taxes and other incentives for it to gain ground. But states rely on telcos for a nice chunk of tax revenue and some are eager to impose on providers of Internet telephony the same “responsibilities” that traditional telcos carry. Among these are contributions to a fund for the 911 emergency calling system; emergency service in the event of an electricity blackout; and subsidies to low-income telephone customers.

[...] For these proponents, of course, the battle with Big Telecom is one front in a wider war on the oligarchies that dominate the world economy. But to the oligarchs themselves that war is a mere sideshow. The real fight is between Big Telecom and Big Cable, with both sides using Internet telephony as a weapon.

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Grey Album Goes Black on Black [8:56 am]

Black on Black [Via BoingBoing]

Announcing the release of Black On Black, a full-length reinterpretation of Jay-Z’s Black Album, as seen through the lense of Metallica’s Black Album.

Created by DJ Halfred, repping zone 6 of the ATL. Contact me at DJHalfred@yahoo.com, especially if you can host mp3 versions. Available on your favorite P2P network. Here is a bit torrent link to the whole album. (Go here if you don’t know what bit torrent is). Support artistic expression and copyright reform.

Big ups to DJ Danger Mouse for the inspiration, the Jigga Man for the enunciation, and Metallica for the instrumentation. Please don’t sue me. Peace.

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Lessig on Copyright Extension for "Orphan" Works [8:39 am]

Save the Orphans

Relying upon the silver lining in that dark cloud that was Eldred v. Ashcroft (”But when, as in this case, Congress has not altered the traditional contours of copyright protection, further First Amendment scrutiny is unnecessary”), this case challenges a fundamental change in the contour of copyright protection, and asks the district court to therefore provide “further First Amendment scrutiny.”

The fundamental change in the “traditional contours of copyright protection” is Congress’s abandonment (formally in 1976, but effectively only in 1992) of any formalities for copyrighted work, and in particular, the requirement that copyrights be renewed. In 1992, Congress passed the BCIA, extending the term of all works in their initial term in 1964 through 1978. The Sonny Bono Act then extended those terms in 1998. The CTEA was thus the first statute in the history of the US generally to extend the term of copyrights that did not, or would not, pass through the filter of renewal.

See LawMeme: Eldred’s Phoenix: Lessig and Co. File Kahle v. Ashcroft;
Slashdot - Kahle vs Ashcroft: Copyright Battle Continues

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AAC Format Moves Forward [8:01 am]

Despite the mistakes implicit in this Register headline: DVD Forum choses Apple music format for DVD Audio. As the Slashdot discussion (AAC Chosen For DVD-ROM Section Of DVD Audio Discs) points out, AAC is NOT an "Apple format," nor does it explicitly embed DRM.

On the other hand, it’s really hard to argue that DVD-Audio is anything more than an effort to put the genie back in the bottle — according to one Slashdot post, DVD-Audio devices only has analog outputs, although the followup comments suggest that the reasons are less sinister than one might expect.

The DVD-Audio FAQ, OTOH, leaves one a little less sanguine, although FireWire is cited. The guideline spec includes the following (note also that, ominously, copying of the content of the spec PDF is NOT allowed):

3.6 Copy Protection (Informative)

When a DVD player transmits the video/audio data through IEEE1394 Bus, there are some rules of the copy protection system. Refer to the scheme and its compliance rules.

Update: (March 24) Well, maybe not (yet) - DVD Forum denies ‘AAC for DVD Audio’ approval

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Are National ID Cards Coming? [7:41 am]

This Supreme Court case will certainly have some influence: Supreme Court Hears Case of Man Who Withheld ID (NYTimes); Supremes Weigh In on ID Debate (Wired News); Hiibel Thumpers (Slate). I like Dahlia Lithwick’s closing paragraph:

We all seem to want to live in the world inhabited by most of the justices: where our names are private, and no one needs to incriminate themselves—unless some policeman decides they are suspicious. Then, there is a duty, a responsibility, a constitution-negating requirement that you come forward—to use Scalia’s formulation—and cooperate. This idea that the “suspicious people” (read: dark-skinned, poor, urban etc.) have some heightened duty to cooperate with the police is utterly backward, in light of the police’s historical treatment of them. It’s a shame Justice Clarence Thomas doesn’t speak today. One can imagine that he has at least some idea of what it means to hold “suspicious” people to a different constitutional standard.

How Appealing’s roundup: You have the right to remain elusive?

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VoIP for Cell Phones [7:35 am]

Tech giants abuzz over VoIP for cell phones

Sun CEO Scott McNealy announced Monday at the CTIA Wireless 2004 show here that Internet phone calling technology known as voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is playing a key role in a device the company is developing in an effort to eliminate the office phone.

[...] VoIP is a technology for making phone calls via IP, the world’s most popular method for sending data from one computer to another. After years of overpromising and underdelivering, VoIP is generating significant interest among telecom carriers, corporations and consumers, thanks to significant improvements in quality of service.

Carriers are already embracing VoIP as a way to cut traffic costs on international and long-distance calls, and it is expected to eventually replace the public switched telephone network, as big phone companies convert to IP-based fiber-optic networks. Currently, about 10 percent of all international voice traffic is classified as VoIP, although less than 1 percent of those calls are initiated on a VoIP phone.

Internet telephony services typically promise customers a smaller phone bill, virtually wiping out charges for long-distance and international calls. In addition, connecting phone calls over the Internet opens the door to advanced communications services that tie voice together with e-mail, instant messaging and videoconferencing–something Microsoft and others are already working to achieve.

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Mickey-D’s Goes With Sony [7:32 am]

As the RIAA elects not to let the new distribution technology promote music sales, companies are jumping in to exploit the halo effect of access to a good cut to promote their own products instead — will the RIAA get enough of a cut to make it worth their while? Want some Springsteen with that Big Mac?

In the latest blend of e-music with the food-and-beverage industry, Japanese electronics giant Sony is working out a deal to promote the upcoming launch of its download music service through fast-food chain McDonald’s, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

According to the newspaper, McDonald’s is expected to commit about $30 million in advertising to the partnership in exchange for unspecified discounts to license some songs from Sony’s new download service, Sony Connect.

[...] The Times said McDonald’s had been in talks on a similar marketing effort with Apple but switched plans after a last-minute overture from Sony.

The reported Sony-McDonald’s venture comes less than a week after cafe chain Starbucks unveiled plans to offer its customers an opportunity to record five songs for $6.99, plus additional tracks at 99 cents a piece, while waiting for their cappuccino or latte orders. Starbucks is teaming up with Hewlett-Packard for that project.

Last October, Apple announced a marketing alliance with PepsiCo to promote its iTunes service.

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What’s The Reason For Slackening CD Sales Again? [7:22 am]

Here’s an article that suggest that management has something to do with it — a look at the fortunes of Capitol Records: Hands-On Leader Fuels Rare Revival in Record Industry

Andrew Slater is not your typical music industry executive.

A former manager and producer of artists like the Beastie Boys, Don Henley and Macy Gray, Mr. Slater now runs Capitol Records, one of the few labels in this unsteady era of file sharing that is not only stable but also has the rare distinction of substantial growth.

Since taking over nearly three years ago Mr. Slater and his very hands-on approach to music making — from rerecording parts of songs to dissecting new videos — have transformed Capitol from a languishing heritage label best known for the Beatles and Frank Sinatra into a company that can once again develop hit artists. He he has nearly doubled Capitol’s market share through the middle of March compared with the same period last year, the second-best performance of any label, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales in the United States. (Capitol had 3.24 percent of the market; Columbia, the leader, 6.9 percent.)

[...] Capitol’s revenue in the United States has more than doubled since Mr. Slater took over, said Jeanne Meyer, the senior vice president for corporate communication at EMI North America, Capitol’s parent company. (She would not provide specific figures, she said, because EMI does not break out its labels, which also include Virgin and Blue Note.)

Capitol’s and EMI’s recent strength has been caution, said Michael Nathanson, a media analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein who specializes in the music business. “Most of the industry has been in a boat going down a river without a paddle,” he said. “But what they’ve done in this uncertain environment, they’ve been very cautious in committing resources to things that won’t work,” not overspending for artists and keeping the number of releases under control. [emphasis added]

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RIAA Site Down [7:17 am]

Apparently MyDoom is to blame: RIAA site disabled for five days. Although this really isn’t solving anything, this is certainly an object lesson in Charlie Nesson’s perception that connectivity carries with it the incentive to "play nice with others."

As the Recording Industry Association of America continues its push to shut down digital pirates, the industry group suffered its own defeat online.

According to data from Internet watcher Netcraft, the trade group’s site has not been reachable for nearly five days. The Internet performance measurement company believes that the root of the outage is a variant of the MyDoom computer worm.

“The current outage now exceeds the RIAA site’s four-day outage in July 2002, which was attributed to a DDoS,” or distributed denial-of-service, attack, Netcraft said Monday on its Web site.

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Isn’t Almost Good Enough? [6:57 am]

Today’s Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks says it all: "When it comes to terrorism, isn’t almost good enough? Reelect President Bush."

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