October 27, 2004

OT: Don’t Expect Bush v. Kerry This Time Around [8:22 am]

In Supreme Silence - Why the Supremes will not decide this year’s presidential election, Dahlia Lithwick makes some excellent and cogent points, with some great links, too. [pdf]

But don’t be so quick to assume that the high court would hear another election appeal. There’s little doubt in my mind that each of the 20,000 lawyers poised to jet around the country next week like a small air force of flying monkeys in ties expects to take their appeals all the way to the Supreme Court. But there’s also little doubt in my mind that the court will refuse to take them. Let’s recall, first of all, that the court has absolute and ultimate control over its own docket. But more profoundly, let’s recall that the court has absolute and ultimate control over its own reputation and legitimacy. No one was more shocked than the justices by the angry blowback from Bush v. Gore. And no one is less interested than the justices in replaying that psychodrama again this year, and every four years hereafter.

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More FCC-Related News [8:01 am]

Xeni Jardin has a bunch of links relating to the Howard Stern-Michael Powell “discussion” that took place on the Bay Area radio station KGO. The transcript is here.

Powell: Just two quick things. I don’t think we’ve been inconsistent. He says we do Janet Jackson but we let people say the F word. One of the most controversial decisions this year was we let Bono say the F word … I think we have been consisten[t] across that line. Second what the order found on Viacom: Viacom is a big media conglomerate and it includes MTV and MTV produced the programming and it was our conclusion after investigating that it was not just a sort of passive…

Stern: Michael I know I’m going to get cut off. I absolutely don’t take this personally. I don’t think you personally hate me. I think that what you are doing is dangerous to free speech. I don’t think just against me. I think things have gotten way out of control. I am not personally vindictive. I’m happy to be going to satellite radio. I welcome the move. I think it’s a sad day, though, when the markeplace no longer determines what is indecent. I think that there’s tremendous hypocrisy that you allow late at night with teenagers calling into Love Line talking about blatant sexual acts. There’s a complete double standard here when it comes to me and morning radio when it’s probably the only time of day that parents listen with their children, 6 to 10 in the morning. I think there’s a lot of inconsistencies and I’m going to ask you while you’re still in office and, who knows, Bush’ll probably win and you’ll be there a while….

CNN’s article: Stern challenges FCC chairman on air

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Pushing The Envelope [7:50 am]

Perhaps a little too far? While, as an amateur photographer making the transition to digital, I can see the need for something like this, I’m wondering just how much demand there will be — but that’s what they probably said to Sony’s Morita when he floated the Walkman concept, too.

Interestingly, I can easily see how this would have real corporate, rather than personal, uses — think about a salesman carrying a multimedia presentation. Now, all he needs is one of these things instead of lugging a laptop around. Should be quite interesting to see if this ends up being another Apple homerun. Apple unveils photo-display iPod

Apple has unveiled an iPod with a photo display function aimed at maintaining the company’s lead in the market for digital music players.

The new iPod comes in two versions, including a 60-gigabyte model capable of storing 25,000 colour photographs, which retails at $599 (£335) in the US.

The device is intended to meet demand for convenient ways of storing pictures in the age of digital photography.

Apple’s announcement: The iPod Photo; NYTimes’ Newest iPod From Apple Holds Photos and Music. Paul Boutin over at Slate thinks that there’s another threat that Apple should be worrying about: XM vs. the IPod

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A “Dissent in Part” of the Cingular Purchase of AT&T Wireless [7:43 am]

When Dinosaur telcos ruled the Earth

The Federal Communications Commission’s Michael Copps, ruminating on the merger of Cingular and AT&T Wireless, seems to have felt this icy chill too. The FCC gave its formal blessing to the union this week, resulting in the creation of the largest mobile phone network in the US, and one of the most powerful in the world.

In a typically thoughtful, but unusually pessimistic warning that goes far beyond today’s concerns, the former Clinton administration trade official points out that for the first time Bell companies will control over the half of the wireless market. Earlier this month Copps warned that the internet was dying, under pressure from vested interests who want a closed network, but his words were almost completely unreported. Now, he points out, both Cingular and the erstwhile No.1 carrier Verizon were formed from amalgamations of local Baby Bells. SBC is owned by SBC and Bell South AT&T Wireless, meanwhile, has Ma Bell in the DNA: it’s a spin off from the mothership itself.

“The chance that wireless will compete effectively with wireless incumbents is diminished,” he warns. Regulators call this “intermodal” competition, and it’s a reality, with mobile operators in more saturated markets, such as Europe, vowing to make the landline redundant. But Copps thinks this less likely to happen now, and cites the majority FCC judgement in his support.

Copp’s statement can be accessed online as a Word document or as a PDF. From the opening paragraph:

I support the Order as it relates to intramodal competition within the wireless market. With the divestitures achieved in this order, I believe that an acceptable level of competition will continue to characterize the wireless market. I must dissent to those parts of the Order relating to the intermodal aspects of the merger, however, because of the increased potential for discrimination by the merged entities’ wireline parent companies and also because I find the lack of rigorous competitive analysis troubling.

Note: Nothing about Copp’s dissent in the NYTimes’ piece - With F.C.C. Consent, Cingular Buys AT&T Wireless. The Washington Post at least quotes Consumers Union’s Gene Kimmelman in Cellular Merger Approved

“They’re allowing Cingular to control so much of the spectrum that it could only sustain two or three major players around the country,” said Gene Kimmelman, director of Consumers Union in Washington. “But what’s of greater concern is that two of the three biggest wireless firms are virtual monopolies in local telephone companies,” and that concentrates too much market power, he said. “This is an enormous retreat from past antitrust policies that promoted competition in the wireless market.”

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Weird Political News [7:36 am]

This is a spooky indication of too many things - can anyone out there confirm this for me? (See BoingBoing) Bush website adopts isolationist stance

International access to the official re-election website of Us President George W. Bush (www.georgewbush.com) has been blocked. Surfers from outside the US trying to reach the site receive an “access denied” message.

Netcraft reports that the site, hosted at SmarTech Corporation, began using the Akamai content distribution network to manage traffic on 21 October. The move followed a six hour outage on 19 October, which also the official site of the Republican National Committee. Neither organisation gave reasons for the outage.

Since Monday morning (25 October) GeorgeWBush.com began rejecting web requests from outside the United States, Netcraft reports. Those outside America can only reach the site through US based proxies (such as proxify.com) but not through European proxies, Reg readers report.

As a security measure this doesn’t make an awful lot of sense but the move does mean soldiers and other Americans abroad can’t reach the re-election website. A number of reports (such as this by news agency AFP) suggest the site was inaccessible yesterday because of an attack by hackers but this would seem to be a misinterpretation of the site’s newly-instigated isolationist policy. GeorgeWBush.com is built on Microsoft’s Internet Information Server web server platform.

The BBC News article, Bush website blocked outside US, cites the BoingBoing article. Later: Bush Web Site Bars Overseas Visitors

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Disposable DVDs Getting Another Push [7:13 am]

Entrepreneur thinks disposable DVD technology a keeper [pdf]

The 34-year-old multimillionaire [Jeffrey Arnold] recently purchased the patents for the disposable DVD and the Los Angeles-based company, Flexplay, that manufactures them. Now, in a gambit to overcome consumer resistance to the new technology, Arnold is turning to the kind of mass-marketing approach that he has already used successfully within the music and video-game industries through a company he launched last year called LidRock.

[...] The strategy flies in the face of the Hollywood business model, which gives each medium — theatrical, television, and DVD — its own window in which to release a film and maximize profits. But the Convex Group is trying to market the 4-year-old technology more than the film.

Arnold says he isn’t trying to thumb his nose at the studios — in fact, they are exactly the ones he hopes to persuade to supply the content for the technology. He says he intends to prove that the disposable DVD won’t cut into the lucrative sales of regular DVDs and may in fact offer studios a new revenue stream.

Response to the technology has been mixed, mostly because consumers remain highly suspect of discs that can be used for only 48 hours after opening. And some wonder whether consumers will want to buy something that’s disposable when they can spend a few more dollars for the real thing.

But Arnold says he’s convinced there’s money to be made by targeting the new technology at the video rental market, which has been flat for the past six years as DVD sales have boomed. There are consumers, he says, who want a movie but don’t want the hassle of returns or late fees or the $20 price tag.

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Culture and Copyright [7:07 am]

In today’s Globe, Getting ‘Lost’ [pdf] discusses the “mythology” TV show and its grasp upon the “collective unconsciousness” of a subset of the viewing public. And yet, as a piece of that culture, there’s a problem along its pathway to a larger role:

It would be quite an exaggeration to suggest that mythology shows, which include “Angel” and “Farscape,” are as enduring as the myths we’ve inherited from the ancients. In thousands of years, Sydney on “Alias” will be electronic dust, while the goddess Diana may still be alive in our cultural memory — the name of a moon shuttle company, perhaps. Television is a medium of transience — less so, as it stretches its shelf life on cable, DVD, and Internet fan sites, but still fleeting. And while myths are told and retold and kept alive by interpreters, TV’s mythology shows are told only once. Attempts to duplicate them and expound upon them can lead to copyright problems. Even fanfic is discouraged by studios; disclaimers must appear on stories, and no profits may be collected for them. But still these shows have ancient archetypes at their root, as they update and perpetuate them.

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October 26, 2004

Puretunes Settles [10:29 am]

Online Music Site Settles Copyright Suit

The operators of a Spanish-based Web site that sold music downloads have agreed to pay $10.5 million to settle a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by several recording companies.

[...] Puretunes went off-line in mid-June 2003, less than two months after its launch. A month later, the top five recording companies and their labels sued Sakfield.

The suit alleged the company unlawfully copied and distributed thousands of songs from artists such as U2, Elvis Presley and Britney Spears through the Web site. Puretunes charged users for access to the music files, misleading consumers into believing they were buying music from a licensed online retailer, the companies claimed.

When Puretunes launched, Sakfield claimed it had obtained licenses from Spanish trade associations representing publishers and musicians, enough to comply with Spanish copyright laws.

But the record companies asserted that no such loophole in Spanish law exists and that Sakfield was liable.

FurdLog’s Puretunes cites; The Register’s Spanish MP3 site owner to pay RIAA $10m

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The Next Big Thing [9:59 am]

I spoke to a colleague about the Verizon fiber rollout announcement, asking what she thought was driving Verizon’s move at this point in time. Her response surprised me, because I was not aware of the power of the trend discussed in this article: Broadband in Suburbia [pdf]

In many ways, Brambleton looks like any of the new housing developments that have popped up near Dulles Airport in the past several years. Except coursing under its crisp green lawns and treeless streets is a fiber-optic network that supplies some 600 homes with Internet access at speeds once reserved for the largest corporations.

[...] The Internet service is included in Campolattaro’s homeowner association fees of approximately $230 a month. For that price, she also receives cable television service and covers her share of community lawn care and road maintenance.

Verizon Communications Inc. built Brambleton’s network as a market test for new technologies. The project offers a glimpse of what the telecommunications giant hopes to do around the country. Verizon, the nation’s largest telephone company, announced last week that it will spend close to $3 billion to establish fiber-optic networks in six states that could give 3 million homes the same level of Internet service that Campolattaro enjoys. Much of the new construction is focused on Washington’s suburbs, including Falls Church and Leesburg in Northern Virginia and parts of Montgomery County in Maryland.

The announcement comes as the cable television industry has begun to beef up its lines, offering in some cases its own competing package of telephone, television and Internet service.

Verizon officials say their network may fundamentally change the way people think not only about the Internet but also about television and telephone service. [...]

Just think what having kind of Net access will mean to shaping the demand for Net services. And, since it’s already tied up into the homeowner association fees, there’s no reason not to use it as fully as possible.

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David Boies on the Upcoming Election [9:46 am]

Rise of the Machines

It is too late, unfortunately, to take one important step toward avoiding a repeat of 2000 this year. If anyone took Bush v. Gore seriously as legal precedent, uniform voting machines in each state would be constitutionally required.

As the dissenting opinion in Bush v. Gore emphasized, voting machines are much more likely to affect the chances of whether a vote is counted correctly than the different standards used to assess ballots by local officials. Optical-character-recognition voting machines that include a paper trail, and which warn voters of overvotes or undervotes so they can be corrected, have been in operation for years in several counties in Florida and elsewhere. They have been recommended by both Republicans and Democrats - including the bipartisan commission appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida after the 2000 election.

Thus Florida’s recent installation of less reliable alternative devices that lack a paper trail, many in heavily Democratic counties, is incomprehensible. O.C.R. machines cost a little more, but the difference is trivial compared to the billions being spent for elections in Iraq or even the millions spent by the state of Florida to ensure that felons (and those with similar names) are not eligible to vote. Whether the uniform use of these machines is constitutionally required or not, their extra cost is a small price to pay for making democracy more effective at home.

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A Push Into WiMax [9:42 am]

Intel to Join in a Project to Extend Wireless Use

In an effort to create a global wireless alternative to cable and telephone Internet service, Intel said on Monday that it would collaborate with Clearwire, a wireless broadband company, in developing and deploying the new technology.

The companies said that Intel would make a “significant” investment in Clearwire, which has begun building long-range wireless data networks around the world.

[...] The companies are betting that a new wireless technology called WiMax - which is intended to extend the reach of Wi-Fi wireless networks by permitting a single transceiver to connect hundreds or thousands of customers to the Internet over distances of many miles - will succeed where other long-range wireless data technologies have failed in the past.

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The Changing Role Of The Actor [9:22 am]

A Face That Launched a Thousand Chips — seeing the pictures really tells the tale

But there is a revolution hiding inside this seemingly innocuous family film, to be released by Warner Brothers on Nov. 10. The first star-driven film to cross completely over to the digital domain, it might change the way movies are made and seen. Whatever critics and audiences make of this movie, from a technical perspective it could mark a turning point in the gradual transition from an analog to a digital cinema. And though the transition may not be as dramatic as the shift from silent to sound prompted by “The Jazz Singer” in 1927, it may have equally significant consequences.

Neither a traditional live-action film nor a computer animation of the kind Pixar has perfected with “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles,” “The Polar Express” is something in between, a film that brings a true human presence into a virtual world by digitizing flesh-and-blood actors as well as the environments they inhabit. In the process it does away with many of the most basic elements of filmmaking: there are no expensive sets to be built, no elaborate lighting to be rigged, no bulky camera to be painstakingly hauled into place. In fact, there is no film. “The Polar Express” will touch celluloid only at the final stage of production, when the completed feature is transferred, by laser printer, from computer hard drive to film stock.

[...] Whether the audience can wrap its collective head around this approach to filmmaking is only one of the many questions posed by a new technology that turns the director into the god of his own virtual universe. Will the new techniques finally make it possible for directors to be the sole authors of their films, in the way painters control their paintings or novelists their novels? Or will the unprecedented control eliminate the creative turmoil of what has often been called the most collaborative of art forms? Will the revolution serve the goals of storytelling and personal expression, or will it lead to an obsession with trivial detail and pointless perfectionism? Will actors embrace the challenge of playing against themselves in multiple roles, as Mr. Hanks does in “Polar,” or will they become digital puppets, manipulated by unseen others? Will the new powers liberate visionary filmmakers, or will they make movies even more vulnerable to the whims of studio executives, who will be able to endlessly second-guess directors?

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Faking Memes [9:18 am]

Postmodern deconstruction of the WWW: Buzzing the Web on a Meme Machine

The problem is that many of the street memes posted are not really memes at all. For example, the site posts only one instance of “Business Yo,” the figure of a beaten-down businessman stenciled in black on a yellow ground with a rain cloud over his head. Maybe the image could spread on the street, but it hasn’t yet. It’s a meme wanna-be.

Can a wanna-be meme become a real meme? People on the Web are doggedly pursuing this very question right now.

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OT: Eminem’s “Mosh” [8:54 am]

This morning’s Globe regretted [pdf] that Eminem’s Mosh wasn’t the first release from his new album. But, the video is online at GNN — take a look at his message. (Salon article) (Hmmm, the link is already down - I have a copy of the .mov here, but I’ll see if I need to offer it)

From the close of the Salon write-up:

It all ends amazingly earnestly, with Eminem leading a black-clad army to the voting booth. Once again, Bush proves he really does have wonder working powers — by behaving even more callously and irresponsibly than the most outrageous rapper, he’s turned music’s foremost enfant terrible into a role model of civic engagement.

Now we just have to see if MTV has the guts to air it.

See also The Civic CD; also discussed in Salon’s War Room blog and in the Wednesday Morning Download column of Oct 27, 2004 at Salon.

Later (Oct 30): Slater’s writeup, Mosh or Die

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October 25, 2004

Wishing *Still* Doesn’t Make It So [7:06 pm]

Song-Swap Networks Still Humming

Peer-to-peer traffic has not declined despite the music industry’s aggressive pursuit of illegal file sharers, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of California at Riverside and the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis evaluated packet data on the internet and found that P2P continues to thrive. Their results are published in a study, titled “Is P2P dying or just hiding?”

“In general we observe that P2P activity has not diminished,” says the study, which will be presented at IEEE Globecom 2004 next month. “On the contrary, P2P traffic represents a significant amount of internet traffic and is likely to continue to grow in the future, RIAA behavior notwithstanding.”

The abstract of the paper:

Recent reports in the popular media suggest a significant decrease in peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing traffic, attributed to the public’s response to legal threats. Have we reached the end of the P2P revolution? In pursuit of legitimate data to verify this hypothesis, we embark on a more accurate measurement effort of P2P traffic at the link level. In contrast to previous efforts we introduce two novel elements in our methodology. First, we measure traffic of all known popular P2P protocols. Second, we go beyond the “known port” limitation by reverse engineering the protocols and identifying characteristic strings in the payload. We find that, if measured accurately, P2P traffic has never declined; indeed we have never seen the proportion of p2p traffic decrease over time (any change is an increase) in any of our data sources.

From the Conclusions:

P2P users vs. the entertainment industry. According to our results, the P2P battle seems to be entering a new phase with the P2P community making its second comeback. The first comeback was the switch from the easy-to-locate Napster, to distributed Gnutella-like protocols. Thus, locating a single responsible entity became impossible. The industry then relied on detecting P2P traffic. Now, the users take a step further by making P2P traffic hard to identify.

Network economics. The increase in P2P traffic is a mixed blessing for end-user ISPs. P2P fuels the demand for home broadband (e.g., DSL) connections; however, the fixed monthly fee paid by home users may not cover the ISP’s expenses caused by volume-based charges of upstream providers: flat rate at the network edge is in direct conflict with usage-based charges imposed by carriers. [27].

Another trend that is currently gaining momentum is an intent to directly manipulate P2P applications into desirable traffic patterns [9], e.g. exchanging most of the data inside the ISP’s infrastructure. This trend may result in ISPs competing to provide better bitrates for rate-aware applications like BitTorrent [4], in accordance with their economic relations (upstreams pushing more traffic to customers and customers trying to minimize traffic exchanged with upstreams.)

Breaking the asymmetrical bandwidth assumption. If P2P traffic continues to increase and legal complications are overridden, the P2P paradigm will bring dramatic changes in supply and demand in edge and access networks. Bit rates of many access links, in particular for DSL and cable modems, are currently provisioned asymmetrically with significantly lower upstream bandwidth. This provisioning was based on the expectation of users downloading much more data than they send upstream. The relevance of such technologies will be challenged and their market share will dwindle if alternative broadband technologies can offer comparable upstream and downstream performance.

And the concluding line of the paper:

There is no doubt that the P2P paradigm will change Internet engineering as we know it today. Given the observed trends, the only remaining question is when, not if.

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LAMP Returns [9:43 am]

MIT’s lamp: Library Access to Music Project is supposed to be back today. It appears that the workaround for the past licensing problems has become the adoption of a kind of broadcast (rather than on demand) model.

There are several changes from last October. The biggest is that patrons now play music by creating and broadcasting 30-minute programs. We’ll have more information by the re-opening.

From the FAQ:

How does LAMP work?

Using a Web browser, patrons visit http://lamp.mit.edu/ and create programs of about 30 minutes by requesting songs from the library in a particular order. In response, an array of robotic CD jukeboxes records those songs onto a hard drive. After the program is recorded, it becomes available for all patrons to play over one of 16 analog TV channels on MIT’s analog cable TV system. Anyone on the MIT campus with a television, VCR, stereo, or computer tuner peripheral can tune in, but only 16 users can control playback at a time.

Slashdot: Legal Music Sharing Returns To MIT. See also NYTimes on LAMP Suspension

Later: Ed Felten on LAMP and Regulatory Arbitrage

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Kerry and the DMCA? [8:07 am]

Declan stretches to find a Kerry position: Would President Kerry defang the DMCA?

In a barely noticed remark on Thursday, the Democratic senator said he might support defanging the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)–the unpopular law that has prompted take-to-the-street protests from the geek community.

If Kerry is serious, that would be a remarkable metamorphosis on a law that the Senate approved without one dissenting vote. It would also be remarkable because, contrary to what Kerry and President Bush tell you, few differences exist between the two White House hopefuls on nearly any topic imaginable.

Take a look at CompTIA’s site and see what you think.

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October 24, 2004

Terry at Lessig Blog This Week [8:01 pm]

His lead off posting: Entertainment Industry Crisis

Larry has kindly offered me the opportunity to host his blog for a week. My plan is to use the opportunity primarily to catalyze a discussion of the current crisis in the entertainment industry and what potential solutions to it are both attractive and practicable. I recently published a book on the subject: Promises to Keep – Technology, Law, and the Future of Entertainment. The Introduction, which lays out the argument of the book as a whole, and Chapter 6, which has proven to be its most controversial piece, are available online at http://www.tfisher.org/PTK.htm. The book itself can be purchased through any online bookstore. I thought I’d begin by briefly summarizing the argument of the first chapter, and then ask whether, particularly in light of some recent articles and developments, the argument holds up.

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October 22, 2004

Well! That Didn’t Take Long! [7:43 am]

Verizon to Extend Fiber Optics to Parts of Six Eastern States (see FCC Prepared To Say Cu == SiO2)

The company expects to make available its fiber-optic service - which will offer substantially faster connections than existing cable lines or telephone digital subscriber lines - to at least one million homes by the end of the year, and two million more homes next year.

To meet those goals, Verizon plans to hire as many as 5,000 new workers by the end of next year.

The regional Bell phone companies have been moving to replace more of their aging copper networks with fiber-optic lines as a way to compete with cable companies, which are introducing their own phone services on their broadband data lines.

See also Verizon Betting on A Bundle

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A Little More on the Peter Pan Prequel [7:35 am]

And the business of children’s bookselling and global copyright — and the joy of Dave Barry’s smart mouth (see the end of the excerpt!): Familiar Stories With Big Sales

In the age of Harry Potter, building a new children’s book franchise requires following a few simple rules: Stick with a popular genre like fantasy, right now the hottest thing going. Start with a familiar story. Rely on a proven cast of characters.

And it cannot hurt to have an author who is willing to dress up like a pirate.

Disney, it turned out, got two of those - Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, a wise-cracking duo of grown-up writers who, especially when wearing buccaneer’s hats and eye patches, seem little older than their preteen audience.

The pair brought to Disney’s publishing units one of the biggest children’s hits of the year, “Peter and the Starcatchers,” the first of a three-part prequel to J. M. Barrie’s classic, “Peter Pan.” The book is a long, digressive journey that by the end of the trilogy will attempt to answer the question, “Just how did Peter meet Captain Hook, anyway?”

[...] The stories have become more sophisticated as well. “We weren’t moved to do the guy in green tights,” Mr. Pearson said. “We made a conscious decision to take the story out of 1880 values,” avoiding the portrayal of Indians, for example, that makes the 1953 Disney film cringeworthy.

Still, there are unsettled details. “Peter and the Starcatchers” cannot be published anywhere in the European Union because that would violate the copyright of the original “Peter Pan” story, which is held by the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in Britain. Barrie, the “Peter Pan” author, donated the copyright to the hospital in 1929. In 1987, 50 years after his death, the copyright expired. The following year, Parliament extended the copyright in Britain in an attempt to give royalties to the hospital in perpetuity. But actions by the European Union to standardize copyright terms mean that the Peter Pan copyright will expire in 2007 in all of the union’s other member nations.

That is, unless the hospital succeeds in another venture. It is now soliciting ideas for a sequel to Peter Pan, one that it hopes will extend the copyright on the central characters for 70 more years.

Mr. Barry professes unconcern about the copyright questions. “The good news is the sick children will get none of our money,” he said last month - jokingly, of course. And he professes full faith in the Disney lawyers: “We figured the people who will kill you if you use Mickey Mouse without permission would be the best ones to figure it out.” [emphasis added]

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