July 7, 2004

Update on the Starbucks Music Initiative [9:02 pm]

An update to Starbucks Music Download Service from Fast Company: Thinking Outside The Cup

It’s awesome indeed, this new-concept music store on the trendy Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California. It’s a beautiful space with warm lighting and wood paneling — a place where you can buy regular old CDs, or linger with a drink while you listen to music and sift through thousands of songs stored in a computer database to create your very own personalized, mixed-CD masterpiece. In about five minutes, a freshly burned CD, complete with your chosen title and funky artwork on both the disc and the jacket (plus liner notes!) will be ready to take home. It all happens very smoothly, and yet it’s a novel and startling experience. But what’s most startling about this remarkable new place to buy music is this: It’s a Starbucks.

[...] With the help of technology partner Hewlett-Packard, Starbucks plans to have 100 coffee shops across the country enabled with Hear Music CD-burning stations by next Christmas, and more than 1,000 locations up and running by the end of 2005. Think iTunes meets Tower Records. With lattes.

Slashdot discussion: Starbucks - Your Next Music Superstore? — note that, if it’s Hewlett-Packard, I’ll be amazed if these CDs will be DRM-free — but there’s no way to tell until I try one.

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Who Would Play Larry Lessig In This Movie? [8:49 pm]

Amazing shenanigans surrounding the EU Patent Directive. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out: Europe’s software patent policy under siege

Among the accusations: that the Dutch minister misinformed his national Parliament about the directive’s status; that a stand-in for the Danish minister was coerced into a ‘‘yes’’ vote; that the German minister accepted last-minute changes to amendments made by his own country that were contrary to the wishes of the government; and that the Polish government, which originally abstained, was not asked for its opinion when the final agreement was recorded.

The political storm, which has spread to national parliaments in Germany and Denmark and provoked questions about the EU directive in Poland and Portugal, is the latest twist in a bitter fight between large corporations with significant research investments and scores of patents and small and midsize software companies, academic institutions and supporters of ‘‘open source’’ software, who oppose software patents.

Slashdot discussion: EU Ministers Went Off-Brief In Patent Vote; GrokLaw: More on EU Patents - The Storm is Growing

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Disney’s Response on MBube [5:35 pm]

Disney Says It’s Not Liable in Lion Song Dispute [via No Rock&Roll; Fun]

A statement from the U.S. company received by Reuters in Johannesburg Tuesday said Walt Disney had obtained the right to use the song properly from Abilene Music, the New York firm which administers its copyright in the United States.

[...] “As a company built on the strength of its creative content, the Walt Disney Company takes all matters of copyright ownership seriously,” it said.

“To the extent that a copyright ownership issue exists in this case, it should be taken up with Abilene Music publishers, from which the rights to ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ were properly licensed.”

South African lawyer Owen Dean told Reuters that although the response from Walt Disney was factually correct, the U.S. firm was still liable for copyright infringement under British laws in force in the country when the song was recorded in 1939.

Lawyers acting for Linda’s family — who live in poverty in the Johannesburg township of Soweto — say that under laws in force in South Africa at the time, rights to the song should have reverted to Linda’s heirs 25 years after his death in 1962.

See earlier Clearing Copyrights — Not Easy For Anybody

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Slashdot’s Alzheimer’s [10:29 am]

How else to explain this article on Hatch’s IICA, based on the continuing assessment of its consequences in a Reuters feed at Yahoo!: Slashdot | Senate Takes Aim At P2P Providers (See the June 18th Sen. Hatch to Introduce Wide-ranging Copyright Bill)

Not to say that continuing to bang the drum is a bad thing, but it’s a little weird to see this posted as new

Of course, how can anyone really stay unhappy with Slashdot when Taco make sure that stories like this one get posted: Besieged Movie Industry Suffers Record Takings

The BBC is reporting that the movie industry, in yet another illustration of just how much damage the Internet is doing to the long-suffering members of the MPAA, has just endured a record breaking $1Billion dollar takings for the single month of June. Clearly there is a desperate need to tighten up copyright laws in the face of this huge mountain of cash that is literally being metaphorically syphoned into the studios’ pockets. How will they survive?

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Market Opportunities, Licensing Hurdles [8:48 am]

The CD roars back from the dead

Such is the power of the Reality Distortion Field, however, that the resilience of both p2p file sharing and the CD format has surprised many. Both channels are proving to have stickability that the online DRM stores would die for. At the New York Times, author Randall Stross offers one suggestion why: the audio quality of downloaded music is inferior, and customers aren’t getting the real deal. Stross cites Wes Phillips, of Stereophile, comparing “128 [kbps encoding] to an eight-track cartridge, and the combination of iPod and iTunes to “buying a 21st-century device to live in the 1970’s.”

[...] Fans loyalty to artist and label can survive those duff tracks and albums that they occasionally release - the ones Apple doesn’t want you to hear. But certainly not the music store they got it from, or the machine that delivers it. (Apple fanatics and techno-utopians have deep and meaningful relationships with the machine in front of them, of course, but the figures we cite prove that these aren’t enough, and they’re certainly vastly out numbered by people with a cooler perspective). If in doubt, ask yourself how many people you see wearing a Virgin Megastore T-shirt in public.

So the CD and the pirate networks prosper, and the real issue, of paying the artists, looms larger. With the flat fee issue now mainstream (links here), the debate is sensibly shifting away from technology wizardry, and back onto what cultural and legal tweaks we need to compensate the artists. As ever, the answer to a technological innovation isn’t technology.

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Boucher Moves on VoIP [8:23 am]

Congress mulls new Net phone rules

Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., assert that the Federal Communications Commission–not state governments or regulators–should oversee rules regarding phone calls made over the Internet. Their bill [HR.4757]would beat back attempts by regulators in states such as New York, California and Minnesota to extend their jurisdiction to the fledgling technology known as voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.

“It is now time to pass a law that is modernized for the digital era and contemplates the kind of regulatory treatment (necessary) for interactive, packet-switched, Internet-based communications,” Boucher said in an interview. “We would declare that the service is an interstate service and subject it completely to the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission.”

[...] Under the bill, Boucher said, the FCC would have the option to regulate three key areas for VoIP companies that link with traditional phone networks. The three areas are enhanced 911, universal service, and access charges. Universal service fees come from taxes levied on telecommunications providers that are redirected to cover discounted phone service for rural and low-income subscribers, as well as school and library Internet connections. Access fees are paid by subscribers and long-distance carriers for the use of local phone networks while making long-distance calls.

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An Enclosure Firm Succeeds? [8:18 am]

Why the GPL is such an important piece of the F/OSS movement — a look at a firm that seems to have successfully converted a community effort into private gain: The House That Music Fans Built

At the heart of Gracenote’s technology is its CDDB (compact disc database) music-recognition service. Anyone who pops a CD into a computer to play music or rip MP3s has likely benefited from Gracenote’s technology. Instead of typing in artists’ names and song titles in a media player, the networked CDDB automatically pulls the information from its server. AOL, Apple and Napster are among the companies that license Gracenote’s technology so music fans can spend time listening to tunes instead of monkeying with the player screen.

[...] Gracenote’s CDDB stems from a project initially undertaken by two engineers, Ti Kan and Steve Scherf, as a hobby. The two developed a way for CDs to be played and matched with files on Unix computers. Eventually, they linked the database to the Internet and opened it up to allow anyone to contribute information to the database.

Around the same time, Ty Roberts, founder of a music technology startup called ION, was working on a way to combine CDs with multimedia content. The two ventures attracted the attention of Escient, a company that built home media servers. Its owner, Scott Jones, purchased CDDB and Roberts’ intellectual property and put them together to form Gracenote.

[...] By the end of this year, Gracenote will most likely be profitable, CEO Palmer said. He said the company has no immediate plans to go public.

[...] “They’re the bad kid on the block,” said Robert Kaye, who runs MusicBrainz, an open-source music-identification service, similar to some of Gracenote’s offerings.

Kaye’s beef with the company is that it took a database that had been built by music fans and turned it into a private company.

“Everything that they did by taking the resource private was perfectly legal,” said Kaye, “but it certainly wasn’t a very community-minded decision.”

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RealNetworks Defector: RCN [8:11 am]

RCN starts Net music service

RCN Corp., which provides cable television and telecommunications services in parts of Boston and 15 suburbs, yesterday launched a music-over-the-Internet service that offers unlimited computer-based access to 700,000 songs for $8 a month with free song downloads.

In deploying the new service with Synacor Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y., RCN is pulling the plug on its two-year-old partnership with Real Networks Inc.’s Rhapsody unit, which charges $2 a month more and 79 cents per song for downloading songs for storage and playback on a computer.

[...] RCN broadband Internet subscribers choosing the ”RCN Interaction” music service — provided by Synacor’s Portelus system using MusicNet’s library of songs, but marketed under RCN’s brand — will have the cost added directly to their monthly RCN bill. RCN will offer a $1 one-month trial for the ser-vice.

The move by RCN, which is headquartered in Princeton, N.J., comes as Internet companies and music labels continue to search for ways to market paid, legal music downloads in the face of record labels suing illegal file-swappers and their Net service providers. RCN’s gambit also comes as the company, five weeks after making a long-expected Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing to escape crushing network-construction debts, has been trying to stress that it remains a viable, innovative alternative to giants like Comcast.

Later: Donna’s got some other angles on the music service — RCN’s New Tethered Music Service

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Today’s Zits [8:05 am]

What was that problem in Mexico again?

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