November 14, 2004

Amicus Brief in US V Councilman [5:22 pm]

The EFF’s WWW page on US v Councilman has an amicus brief filed by the EFF, CDT, EPIC, the American Library Association, the ACLU and the Center for National Security Studies.

p2pnet’s writeup; the EFF press release

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Rolling Stones Royalty Fight [4:59 pm]

Stones fail in court royalty bid

The dispute centres on their Forty Licks compilation CD, which was released in 2002 and was the first collection to span their entire career.

The band say they are owed 80% of royalties from all the Decca-era songs on the CD - such as Paint It Black and Sympathy For The Devil - which could run into millions of pounds.

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An Expansive Construction of Free Riding [4:50 pm]

Although Open Season on Others’ Ideas does eventually get to points that are sound eminently reasonable, I can’t help feeling as I read the whole piece that the writer really wants to extract all the positive externalities of new creations. Writing like this may mark the next phase in the reframing of the rhetoric of copyright.

Somewhere along the line, of course, someone must pay for the investment required to produce intellectual property. This is true whether that property is a prescription medication or a movie, or even a business innovation that can be copied almost instantly halfway around the world, sometimes to be exported back to the country of origin.

While the free flow of intellectual property can be wonderful, there is something to be said for the profit enjoyed by creators of patented or copyright-protected ideas or products. The prospect of such profit draws talent and capital into a process whose fruits benefit everyone and make modern life possible. So before we bury these monopoly rents, we should carefully appraise them, if only so we can grope our way toward some functional digital-age replacement that will reward - and thereby encourage - creativity.

The growth of drug importation, index investing and Internet music-sharing suggests that free riding will be a central economic problem of the digital age, and it is unlikely to have a single solution. Palliative action by intellectual property owners - the movie industry’s planned lawsuits, for example - underscores the need to come up with fresh market-based approaches. There is no alternative because in a world of free riders, everyone will be taken for a ride.

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Creativity: Machinima [4:44 pm]

An interview with Burnie Burns: Virtual Warriors Have Feelings, Too

But for filmmakers like Burnie Burns, who work in the emerging medium of machinima, these features are a mere starting point. Instead of playing Halo as intended, Mr. Burns and a crew of machinima peers exploit the game’s software quirks to create their online comedy series, Red vs. Blue, within Halo’s virtual world. Since its debut in the spring of 2003, Red vs. Blue has rivaled Halo itself in popularity; fans download new episodes (www.redvsblue.com) at a rate of over 900,000 a week.

Q It’s surprising that Microsoft let Red vs. Blue stay alive. They could’ve choked it in its crib.

A [Laughs] They still could. But the guys from Bungie contacted us right away - they saw it starting at Episode 1 or 2 - and said they liked it a lot and wanted to make sure we were protected. Everyone’s got this need to tell a story, and I think more of these big companies recognize that.

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The NYTimes Takes The Bait [4:40 pm]

Saving ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (see earlier posting “Profanity,” the FCC and Television)

The incident might seem minor - the vast majority of ABC network stations chose to run the film - except that the executives’ timorousness is a sign of the effects of the government’s growing willingness to intrude excessively into American culture. Before the Janet Jackson and Bono episodes, the F.C.C. took the position that context mattered - unscripted profanity at a public event like a music awards program or accidental glimpses of flesh would be excused, while deliberate and regular abuse of the public airwaves would not.

“Saving Private Ryan” was shown without the F.C.C.’s objection on network television the past two years. But the agency’s shifting and arbitrary standards left executives at stations in Dallas, Atlanta and dozens of other cities wondering what the rules are and fearing for their licenses.

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Movie Market Segments [4:36 pm]

Two looks from the NYTimes Magazine:

  • What Is an American Movie Now?

    Along with weapons, movies are among our most lucrative exports to a waiting world, and in the last seven years or so, it has become clear that the expected audience for nearly all American-made studio movies, the audience they are designed and created for, has shifted from the 50 states to the global marketplace. This change in perspective has, naturally, resulted in a change in content: nuances of language or the subtleties of comedy do not translate easily between cultures, but action or fantasy or animation is immediately comprehensible, even if you live in, say, Japan, which is the country that most big studios long to reach. Films like this year’s “Troy” (which was shown at Cannes), “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Van Helsing,” which are not dependent on dialogue, did not play as well as expected in America but became huge hits in many other countries, making several times what they made in the U.S. box office. Thankfully, the so-called specialty divisions of the big studios still try to depict the prevailing mood of the country. But consider a specialty film like “Sideways,” which is the best American movie I have seen this year: it has no international stars and no action, and because the film shifts in tone from comedy to drama in nearly every scene, it is not likely to be easily comprehended by a worldwide audience. As far as the big studios go, “Sideways” is essentially a foreign film made in America.

  • What Is a Foreign Movie Now?

    In any case, I am most concerned with American audiences, and in particular with the parochialism that results from living in a country with a film industry so powerful and productive, so frank and cheerful in its imperial ambitions, that it threatens to overshadow everything else. It is not just the setting and content of a movie like “The World” that may seem foreign but also its visual strategy and storytelling methods, and above all its unsentimental commitment to the depiction of ordinary life, to a kind of realism that is in some ways more alien to us than the reality it construes. Hollywood studios, as they try to protect their dominant position in the global entertainment market, are ever more heavily invested in fantasy, in conjuring counterfeit worlds rather than engaging the one that exists, and in the technological R &D required to expand the horizons of novelty and sensation. And while we, along with everybody else, often go to the movies to escape from the pressures and difficulties of the actual world, we also sometimes go to discover it.

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DVDs and the Movie Biz [4:31 pm]

Box Office in a Box

From about 2002 on, the larger stakes in Hollywood — the revenue that enables studios to finance blockbusters and to pay Brad Pitt and to keep the lights on — have come to ride mostly on those little silver discs that go on sale four or five months after a theatrical release. This year, for instance, 63 percent of studio feature-film revenues in the United States will come from movies sold to retail stores; actual box office will generate only 21 percent. According to Tom Adams, a well-regarded home-entertainment analyst whose firm, Adams Media Research, tracks DVD sales and trends, studios often get twice as much revenue from a big film’s retail sales as they do from its theatrical release.

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The Real Total Information Awareness Program [4:28 pm]

What Wal-Mart Knows About Customers’ Habits

With 3,600 stores in the United States and roughly 100 million customers walking through the doors each week, Wal-Mart has access to information about a broad slice of America - from individual Social Security and driver’s license numbers to geographic proclivities for Mallomars, or lipsticks, or jugs of antifreeze. The data are gathered item by item at the checkout aisle, then recorded, mapped and updated by store, by state, by region.

By its own count, Wal-Mart has 460 terabytes of data stored on Teradata mainframes, made by NCR, at its Bentonville headquarters. To put that in perspective, the Internet has less than half as much data, according to experts.

Information about products, and often about customers, is most often obtained at checkout scanners. Wireless hand-held units, operated by clerks and managers, gather more inventory data. In most cases, such detail is stored for indefinite lengths of time. [...]

All of the data are precious to Wal-Mart. [...] Wal-Mart shares some information with its suppliers - a company like Kraft, for example, can tap into a private extranet, called Retail Link, to see how well its products are selling. But for the most part, Wal-Mart hoards its information obsessively.

Slashdot: Wal-Mart’s Data Obsession

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Dueling Over Digital Music [4:16 pm]

A look at competing business strategies — platform lock-in versus product design — and a surprising decision largely to grossly underplay the role of digital distribution in the success of either strategy: Gates vs. Jobs: The Rematch

Apple is bucking the trend. The classic Silicon Valley playbook calls for the company to try to turn its hit product into a broader “platform.” And many people argue that Apple should open up both the iPod and iTunes to rivals, so as to establish itself in the center of the digital music world.

BUT Geoff Moore, who articulated the platform strategy in his 1999 book “Crossing the Chasm,” argues that Apple is the rare company that should not follow his advice. Mr. Jobs, he said, has built the company around idiosyncratic, premium-priced products that gain appeal in part from their splendid isolation.

It’s a risky strategy, Mr. Moore contends. “You are only as good as your latest hit,” he said. “You know at some point you will miss a step.”

But he says Apple is better off rolling the dice than trying to try to emulate Microsoft. “It is hard to change the DNA of a company, even if you have a great hand,” he said. “There are some times that you say, ‘there is a great opportunity here, but it is not for us.’ ”

[...] As the underdog in audio technology, Microsoft has marshaled its formidable resources to get others behind its standard. For example, the fee that electronics companies pay to license the Windows Media format is about half of what the owners of MP3 charge. And Microsoft has offered all sorts of engineering help and marketing muscle to electronics companies and music service purveyors in return for their adopting the Windows formats.

[...] For the most part, though, the music world, from the electronics companies to the music labels, has embraced Microsoft. “I never would have believed I would say this, but Microsoft has been easy to work with,” said Ted Cohen, a senior vice president at EMI Recorded Music.

One reason that Microsoft can be so accommodating is that it does not need to make money on media software, as RealNetworks does. It does sell operating systems for telephones, personal digital assistants and television set-top boxes. But all of these are meant first and foremost to encourage people to buy more and more powerful PC’s, each with Windows.

And a tortuous piece of doublethink I found particularly striking from Dell, defending their decision to produce a WMA player:

“Over time, proprietary standards always lose because industry standards always win because you get more for less,” said Michael A. George, the general manager of Dell’s consumer business. Dell has just introduced a 5-gigabyte music player, using the Windows standard, for $199, some $50 less than Apple’s iPod Mini, which has 4 gigabytes.

Slashdot: Gates v. Jobs, continued…

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