May 31, 2004

What’s the Obvious Question in this Story? [8:50 pm]

The question — why is there no copyright dispute discussed in this article? Following a Wiz to a Far-Out Oz

Mark Bode (pronounced BO-dee), also a cartoonist, recently completed his father’s interrupted work “The Lizard of Oz,” a raunchy departure on the “Wizard of Oz” that features the older Bode’s premier creation, Cheech Wizard. Fantagraphics Books of Seattle will publish the book next month.

[...] Mr. Bode decided to start the “Oz” project in 2000, with a $1,000 commitment from Fantagraphics and a concept cover illustration by his father. “It’s the last thing my father planned,” said Mr. Bode, who wrote the story.

When the elder Bode reinterpreted the legendary story theme, he added several twists to Dorothy’s tornadic dream, which he related to his son. Judy Garland’s juvenile character becomes Poppy, a not-so-nice, beer-drinking, thieving, 4-year-old orphan thief. She romps with Cheech (the Wizard); a hemp-stuffed scarecrow; a mangy, homosexual lion; and a tin man obsessed with an oil drum.

So, why no copyright fight in the article? L. Frank Baum died in 1919, 85 years ago.

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When An RIAA P2P Case Goes To Court [8:27 pm]

Several have pointed to this: Inside the Courtroom - Berkman Briefings

Yesterday’s hearing offered a view into what might happen if these cases did not end in settlement negotiations and instead proceeded to trial. Inside the courtroom, the attorneys for the recording industry outnumbered defendants by a two-to-one margin, and the disparity of resources and expertise between the sides only continued to widen. At one point, Judge Gertner dismissed a motion from a defense attorney because, she explained, the “legal argument doesn’t make any sense.”

The Court had previously expressed concern about this resource gap and about defendants who had “no access to counsel.” In order to help raise some legal issues at the core of the case, several parties – including the Motion Picture Association of America, a group of musicians and songwriter societies, and representatives of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society – filed amicus briefs with the court.

The Berkman Center’s brief – signed by Harvard Law School Professors William Fisher, Charles Nesson, and Jonathan Zittrain as well as John Palfrey, Diane Cabell, and Harvard Law School students Renny Hwang and Ory Okolloh – was submitted on behalf of the court rather than on the side of any party in the case. The brief outlines a series of factual considerations – such as the default settings of KaZaA and possible errors that can arise when using IP addresses to identify individuals. It also considers the larger, substantive issues at stake in the lawsuits, including fair use defenses and the question of whether making files available in shared folders constitutes a violation of the copyright holders’ “public distribution” rights.

There’s an addendum to the Berkman brief page that I find particularly interesting as I add "wiki" technologies to my own research:

Follow-Up: Interactive Brief

In the coming weeks, the Berkman Center will post a version of this brief on a wiki page that can be modified, updated, and amended by others interested in these issues. This interactive brief is intended to serve as a resource for potential plaintiffs and defendants in similar cases and for those interested in developing the legal issues at stake in these matters.

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A la carte cable? [11:45 am]

Not sure it’ll get me to buy it, but it’s interesting to see th development: Need ESPN but Not MTV? Some Push for That Option

“If you go to the 7-Eleven to buy a quart of milk, you are not forced to take a six pack of beer, too,” said Mr. Bozell, who wants the right to buy only the channels he and his family watch.

The issue of à la carte pricing is a headache that the cable companies and networks have long tried to avoid. But now, cable pricing is coming under new scrutiny in Washington in a debate driven by Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and greatly inflamed by the indecency debate and lobbyists like Mr. Bozell.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of members of the House Commerce Committee, led by its chairman Joe L. Barton, Republican from Texas, and Nathan Deal, Republican from Georgia, asked the Federal Communications Commission chairman, Michael K. Powell, to review the feasibility of à la carte pricing and to provide its findings to the House committee by mid-November.

Ernest points out that he’s discussed this earlier, with an invitation to help on preparing comments for the FCC: FCC Requests Comments on a la Carte Cable Subscriptions

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Speaking of Blind Spots [11:39 am]

This is a little off-topic, but I have been persistently confused by the argument that fingerprints are never wrong, while DNA typing evidence at least comes with a statistical estimate of error: Can Prints Lie? Yes, Man Finds to His Dismay

The judge, Alan L. Page, had been told the prints were the same. “The general rule is, the prints don’t lie,” Judge Page had said earlier. “If you got the same prints that Leo Rosario has, you’re Leo Rosario. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”

So Mr. Sanchez, in late 2000, was sent back for another week in a grim detention center in Lower Manhattan, severed from his family and livelihood, because his fingerprints had been mistakenly placed on the official record of another man.

Remarkably, this was not the first time Mr. Sanchez had paid for that mistake. He had been arrested three times for Mr. Rosario’s crimes, and ultimately spent a total of two months in custody and was threatened with deportation before the mistake was traced and resolved in 2002.

Mr. Sanchez’s ordeal, unearthed from court records and interviews, amounts to a strange, sometimes absurd odyssey through a criminal justice system that made a single error and then compounded it time and again by failing to correct it.

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Summer Reading List Addition [11:35 am]

‘The Creation of the Media’: The American Information Revolution

Although Starr doesn’t put it quite this way, the heart of his argument is that Americans fundamentally misunderstand what is unusual about their communications media, and why. ”The media,” for Starr’s purposes, include not just the print press but also books, broadcasts (radio and television), the movies and other innovations, notably including telephones, that allow people to share information. Conventionally, Americans think that the most important fact about their news media is that, thanks to the First Amendment, they are ”free.” The absence of governmental controls over parts of the media — though not all, as witness broadcasters’ wrangles with the Federal Communications Commission — has indeed made America’s communications system distinctive. But the emphasis on the First Amendment implies that the media’s evolution has been automatic and unplanned.

What Starr argues — and, in my view, powerfully demonstrates — is that every branch of the communications system reflects deliberate political choices made under particular historic circumstances. To give one example, out of scores in the book: through the 1700’s the British government feared that newspapers would fan political opposition and so restricted their growth, not directly but through onerous taxes. When, for budgetary reasons, it tried to apply these taxes to the American colonies, through the Stamp Act of 1765, it met outraged resistance. ”The colonists famously opposed the measure on the grounds that it was taxation without representation, but the specific nature of the tax also mattered,” Starr says. The Stamp Act’s burden would fall on the newspapers and pamphlets that had been so important in developing a revolutionary sensibility. As the new American republic took form, it devised a sweeping range of measures designed to foster the growth and circulation of newspapers, including as many local ones as possible.

Starr describes this process as a ”constitutive choice,” one that sets the conditions for future development of an institution. (This leaden term brings up my only real complaint: the writing here is denser and less inviting than in Starr’s previous big book, presenting the risk that ”The Creation of the Media” will be more influential than avidly read.) ”It is a particular argument of this book that the United States has followed a distinctive developmental path in communications ever since the American Revolution,” he writes. This path has led to American media more technically advanced, in some ways more varied and with a wider audience than those in many other Western countries, but also with distinctive blind spots and excesses. Most of Starr’s book examines three long and overlapping ”constitutive moments” when political choices and technological developments shaped the media’s growth.

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Technological Alienation (and Rent Extraction) [11:30 am]

Drivers Want Code to Their Cars

Rachel Seymour, a college student from Portland, Oregon, has had her 2002 Kia Spectra serviced 12 times for a Check Engine light problem. Each time, she’s forced to take it to a Kia dealership, where a technician hooks her car up to a computer, runs a battery of tests and charges her $120 to diagnose and repair the same problem: a loose gas cap.

[...] Fed up with wasting time and money, Seymour resorted to a low-tech solution to mask the high-tech problem: She covered the warning light with electrical tape so she wouldn’t have to look at it.

[...] A bill floating through Congress could help people like Seymour by forcing automakers to share diagnostic codes with car buyers and independent mechanics. The Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act would give Seymour the means to determine whether the Check Engine light signaled another gas cap vagary or a major oil leak. The legislation would also allow Seymour to choose an independent — and possibly cheaper — repair shop instead of being forced to go to the dealership.

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TI’s DLP Technology Gets Some Competition [11:26 am]

Competition Is Heating Up as Projectors Go Digital

Motion picture industry analysts have long predicted a shift to digital projection because using a hard disk, rather than a film projector, to serve up a movie produces a superior image.

“Our new technology is the holy grail of digital projectors,” said John Scarcella, president of Sony Electronics’ broadcast and business solutions company. “A 4k resolution is what the industry has been waiting for. It gives the ‘wow’ factor that consumers want.”

Sony’s 4k projector creates an image that is 4,096 pixels across and 2,160 high, and has four times the number of pixels delivered by Texas Instruments’ 2k DLP Cinema projection chip, which projects an image 2,048 pixels across by 1,080.

[...] Theater owners have refused to pay for the digital conversion, arguing that the studios stand to gain the most in the switch to digital delivery. Indeed, when studios deliver digital files of films via satellite rather than by producing and shipping large reels of celluloid from theater to theater, they will save about $1,200 a print, or a total of $1.36 billion a year, according to Screen Digest, a London-based research firm.

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Patent Awarded for a Virtual Orchestra [11:22 am]

Will this be a perforance? A mechanical reproduction? Something new? An update on the player piano — A Virtual Music Machine

The system’s hardware uses “what basically looks like a normal musical keyboard,” he said, “but is really more like a computer keyboard with different functions for different keys.” The orchestral parts are recorded into the equipment during preparations for a production, and during the live performance, the absent instruments are reproduced in a way that blends them into the tempo and dynamic of the real performers.

The virtual orchestra system divides a performance into two parts, he explained, those that never change, and those could vary.

“What we try to do is determine those aspects of a musical performance that are fixed and not changing,” he said, like the musical notes in a song. “We give those to the computer system.

“However, in a live performance, the singers sing differently every night,” he said. “Ideally, everything that is considered musical or the expressive aspect of the performance, we keep for the performer. One of the most important areas of performance is tempo flexibility, how you speed up and slow down.”

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First "Casablanca," Now "Cast Away?" [10:42 am]

Fox Objects to a Parody of ‘Cast Away’

The movie’s writer and director, Bryan Michael Stoller, a friend of Mr. Jackson, said he believed the studio was trying to quash his film to avoid association with the tainted pop star.

“Michael Jackson is in it, and he’s always been a target,” Mr. Stoller said. “I guess they feel it will get a lot of exposure because of him. And No. 2, I think they’re just bullying the independent filmmaker because they can.”

A spokeswoman for Fox said the letter seeking to block the film “speaks for itself” and had nothing to do with Mr. Jackson.

In the letter, which demands that Mr. Stoller change the title of his film, a Fox lawyer, Jon Del Barrio, wrote, “The distinctive and famous `Cast Away’ title has clearly achieved secondary meaning among the public, and as such has attained trademark rights associated with its use.”

The letter added: “We hereby demand that you immediately cease and desist from further use of the `Cast Away’ mark or any other name that is confusingly similar to the `Cast Away’ mark.”

[...] In a follow-up letter on May 4, another Fox lawyer, Robert B. Cohen, wrote, “The alleged parodic nature of your film does not extend to your film’s title.” He added, “A parody must make comment on the underlying material that it parodies.”

Mr. Stoller said his movie did exactly that. “They’re playing God,” he said. “I can’t afford a lawyer right now. I can’t get errors and omissions insurance. No distributor will pick it up. They’ve pretty much killed the movie unless I change the title.”

For those who haven’t seen them, here are the Marx Brother’s letters to Warner over "A Night in Casablanca"

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A Tough Act To Follow [10:36 am]

Note that this article is a typical reflection of The Times’ general inability to discuss “piracy” in anything but the most crude fashion (although see the “page three” discussion of the dissent within the ranks over employing the RIAA’s lawsuit strategy) — Hollywood’s Casting Problem: Who Will Run the M.P.A.A.?

The job of running the association ought to have a long, juicy waiting list of Washington V.I.P.’s. Who wouldn’t want a million dollars a year to plump for Tom Cruise instead of, say, biomedical tax credits?

Oddly, not too many folks. Representative Billy Tauzin, Republican of Louisiana, at first accepted, then — after being offered a lot more money by the pharmaceutical industry — rejected the job last fall. Since then Senator John Breaux, Democrat of Louisiana, has also been wooed by the the association, to no avail. He let it be known that he wasn’t eager to defend Janet Jackson’s right to show a nipple ring.

The process of finding Mr. Valenti’s replacement is nonetheless moving forward, if ever so slowly and under a cloak of heavy secrecy.

[... T]he job is becoming even harder. The crisis of worldwide movie piracy, held at bay only by technological limits, threatens to sink the movie industry entirely, as it may the music business. Numerous Hollywood and Washington figures, including candidates for the job, point out that it’s a double whammy: the new chairman will have to follow Mr. Valenti’s 38-year act while coming up with a solution to the industry’s new perils. Potential candidates may remember that even the polished Mr. Valenti received a very public black eye last fall when he attempted to end the longstanding practice of distributing videotapes and DVD’s to people who vote on the Academy Awards. He introduced the change as a way to cut down on piracy, but it was met with a revolt by art-house distributors and a rebuke by the courts.

“I think it’s a job people are interested in, but it’s perceived — and rightly so — to be a hard job,” said Hilary Rosen, the former chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, the music industry lobby. “If there are easier jobs available, for more money, then why take a hard job?”

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