August 11, 2004

Salon’s Manjoo on the FCC TiVo Decision [8:31 pm]

(And I’m sure Ernest has lots to say!) Must-download TV

The closer one looks, however, the less divine the FCC’s approval of TiVo begins to appear. For one thing, the new TiVo service seems pretty hard to fall in love with. It’s strapped down by a surfeit of copy-protection mechanisms that many people will probably find tedious if not odious. For instance, the service will allow users to transfer shows only to a small number of machines registered on a single customer account; technically, says James Burger, an attorney for TiVo, the system is meant to let users move shows from one of their TiVo systems only to another (say from a summer home to a winter home), and not even to friends or family.

TiVo was required to lock down its system and to seek the government’s approval in order to comply with the “broadcast flag” rule, which the FCC adopted last year. The rule is designed to prevent the widespread trading of television shows as we enter the age of high-definition digital television. [...]

[...] Indeed, the most troubling thing about the FCC’s broadcast flag rule is that it seems designed to stamp out the idea that we’re free to do what we want with TV. As many critics of media firms have pointed out, there’s something deeply unsettling about the fact that TiVo, a firm that completely remade the way we watch TV, needed the government’s permission to release a new technology. [...] Sure, this time the FCC allowed TiVo to innovate — but the decision could easily have gone the other way. In the future, what other technologies might the government deem too dangerous to be invented?

[...] When you download a song that you could otherwise have found only on a CD in a store, it’s reasonable to say that you’ve gotten something for nothing — what most people would call stealing. But broadcast television is free, and many of us already pay for a basic set of television shows through some kind of cable or satellite package.

[...] The mass distribution of premium shows might worry Hollywood, but the main fear of media companies is bigger than that. Media firms make money from TV by keeping it scarce. Even considering the hundreds of channels now on TV, there are only a finite number of slots available, and there are hundreds of thousands of episodes of new and old television programs that might fill those slots. TV companies choose which shows to play when, and, because you’ve got no other choice but to watch what’s on, you watch — even if you might not particularly enjoy what’s on. But would you continue to watch what the TV companies chose if you could find something you actually wanted to watch? Hollywood fears that you would not.

[...] As Hollywood sees it, in other words, TV depends on your powerlessness over it.

It’s this powerlessness that rankles Mark Sailes, a 20-year-old computer science undergraduate at the University of Leeds in the U.K., who is working on a number of systems to make TV trading easier [...]

[...] Sailes didn’t exactly come up with this idea on his own. Net visionaries have long been pondering the marriage of BitTorrent and RSS, and many people have built systems to bring about this union.

But Sailes didn’t think that anyone had gotten it just right, and this spring he and a roommate set out to build a stand-alone RSS reader meant specifically for TV trading. What they came up with is Buttress, an open-source Java application that, while still very much a work in progress, looks extremely promising.

Later: Letters from readers

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How Is A Ferret Like A Weasel? [7:58 pm]

When it’s a brainwashing ferret, of course! Ferreting out copyright scofflaws

Just when you thought software licensing enforcement couldn’t get any more fun, the copyright cops at the Business Software Alliance have enlivened the process with a spunky cartoon ferret.

The BSA–a trade group supported by Microsoft, Adobe Systems and other major software makers to enforce software licenses and copyrights–revealed the new mascot Tuesday as part of a national campaign to scare kids out of using peer-to-peer networks.

See also BSA Asks Kids to Name Copyright Weasel and Name that antipiracy weasel, BSA asks kids

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Slashdot on (c) and Speech [7:55 pm]

Some interesting links at Using Copyright To Suppress Political Speech, for example Larry Lessig’s column Copyrighting the President

The US president owns neither his words nor his image - at least not when he speaks in public on important matters. Anyone is free to use what he says, and the way he says it, to criticize or to praise. The president, in this sense, is “free.” But what happens when the commander in chief uses private venues to deliver public messages, holding fewer press conferences and making more talk-show appearances? Who controls his words and images then?

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Fair Use? How Do You Know? [4:24 pm]

Reimagined orchestrations: Stairway to Heaven, as Schubert wrote it [via BoingBoing]

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Declan on CALEA for VoIP [4:00 pm]

Fahrenheit FBI

So what happens next? Here are some questions that could be asked of Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller:

[...]

  • The popular SourceForge.net site lists dozens of free VoIP applications and programming libraries without FBI back doors. Fortunately for you, SourceForge.net is run by VA Software of Fremont, Calif., and is under U.S. jurisdiction. Should VA Software be permitted to continue distributing VoIP programs that don’t guarantee access to the FBI?

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“Permission Culture,” Exported [3:56 pm]

And Microsoft’s interesting (albeit failing) strategy to combat it: Microsoft Says Japan Battle Hurting Image

The head of Microsoft Corp.’s Japan unit acknowledged Tuesday that the U.S. software giant’s battle with Japanese anti-monopoly authorities over a controversial licensing clause has hurt its corporate image here.

But Michael Rawding, Microsoft Japan’s president and chief executive, said the company will continue to oppose a Fair Trade Commission ruling last month ordering Microsoft to retroactively remove the clause from its licensing agreements.

The clause prevents companies from suing Microsoft over patent and copyright infringement if they suspect their own software technology has ended up in the Windows operating system. The Fair Trade Commission has said it suspects the clause helps Microsoft unlawfully infringe patents.

Update: Slashdot - Microsoft Admits Japanese Monopoly Battle Hurting Image

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Chinese Open Source Alliance [3:52 pm]

Open-source software alliance formed in China

A number of Chinese software companies have joined forces with overseas vendors such as IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp, and Novell Inc. to form the China Open Source Software Promotion Alliance, China’s first open-source software organization, several Chinese media reported Wednesday.

China Economic Net said the alliance, which includes China’s leading Linux vendor Red Flag Software Co. Ltd., marked a new stage in the promotion of open-source software in China and across northeast Asia.

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Media Consolidation: Silvio Speaks [3:49 pm]

Little Steven’s Big Crusade

To hear Steven Van Zandt tell it, he had no choice. He had simply wanted to do a two-hour radio show, no big deal, on which he could play some of the garage rock he loves and have some fun. But when he pitched the idea to syndicators, what they told him forced him to turn his hobby into a crusade.

“They said, ‘Stevie, baby, we love you,’ ” he said, his eyes wide in mock disbelief, “but we cannot get rock ‘n’ roll on the radio anymore.’ ”

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Copyright Issues in Digital Media [1:53 pm]

From the Congressional Budget Office: Copyright Issues in Digital Media (Cited in this CNet report: Congressional economists tackle copyright issues — the CNet article suggests a somewhat balanced approach, but only a careful read will reveal the agenda of the writers who, in classic (and generally appropriate!) economist’s style, insist on the standard “on one hand,… on the other hand” style.

From Chapter 4:

The wait-and-see approach, as well as strategies that would enact additional legislation to bring some balance to the copyright scales or create licensing fees, can be evaluated against the standard of economic efficiency. It is also possible to identify which groups might gain or lose under those different options. Indeed, the equity consequences of different legislative approaches to the current copyright debate–that is, how a particular strategy might redistribute benefits between copyright holders and consumers–are often easier to infer than are the impacts on economic efficiency. The evaluation that follows is not an assessment of the benefits and costs of specific legislative proposals but rather an examination of three broad approaches that the Congress may wish to consider: forbearance, compulsory licensing of digital content, and revision of copyright law

[..] Several factors weigh against the success of forbearance as an approach to the current copyright debate. First, although differential pricing schemes and the DRM technologies used to implement them may, in theory, offer the prospect of greater efficiency in markets for copyrighted works, they may, in practice, prove unsatisfactory. The same DRM technology that could allow copyright owners to stop the piracy of their works could also be used to deny consumers the benefits of the lower reproduction and distribution costs afforded by that technology. If the forces of competition are weak, moreover, producers may not have an incentive to seek returns by exploring product variations that match consumers’ willingness to pay. Alternatively, consumers may find that the new restrictions on their uses of creative content are unacceptable and attempt to thwart them.

[...] Other uses of copyrighted material may arise as the applications that enable them emerge. Although copyright law may otherwise allow for those uses, DRM technologies may restrict them. Indeed, the DMCA prohibits outright circumvention of a technological measure that protects access to a copyrighted work, even if access was circumvented to make fair use of the copyrighted material. In such scenarios, proponents of consumer rights claim that, without legislative intervention, technology could effectively “trump” copyright law.

Update: Slashdot’s Congressional Budget Office Studies Copyrights; The Register’s take: DRM is doubleplus good for business, Congress advised

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When Colleges Aren’t Enough [1:44 pm]

In re: earlier postings: Napster performs for the troops

Bob Hope is no longer around to entertain the troops, but Napster is.

The company announced a deal Wednesday to bring its music service to active, retired and reserve military personnel via the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s CentricMall.com, also known as the Exchange Online Store. Subscriptions and downloads will be available at a discount to all branches of the military, as part of the CentricMall online shopping site, which has about 40 merchants and service providers.

Also, Napster offers cut-price grooves to grunts

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Film industry hails ‘piracy win’ [9:06 am]

One more Valenti leer from the pages of the BBC WWW site, crowing over the demise of 321 Studios: Film industry hails ‘piracy win’ [via p2pnet]

US movie industry has hailed its settlement with a company making copying software as an important step in its fight against DVD piracy.

Software firm 321 Studios agreed to pay a “substantial” settlement to the Motion Picture Association of America.

[...]The MPAA says the financial settlement will go towards raising awareness of illegal copying and copyright theft.

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