December 16, 2004

Ahh - Promoting Innovation [10:33 pm]

That is what the patent system is for, right? Acacia purchase creates Net patent powerhouse

In the streaming media business, a letter from Acacia Research usually means one thing: the threat of a patent lawsuit.

Now, the little-known but litigious company is expanding its horizons with a move that promises to substantially increase its profit potential while bringing new patent headaches to the high-tech industry at large.

On Thursday, the company agreed to buy Global Patent Holdings, an umbrella company whose various divisions, including TechSearch, have sued or struck patent licenses with Intel, Sony, Samsung and a myriad of smaller technology companies.

The deal would create a patent powerhouse which would own small pieces of dozens of different technologies, many of which are fundamental components of everyday Internet and personal technology businesses. The company said more acquisitions are likely.

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The Role Of The University? [7:20 pm]

Getting students hooked on Rhapsody and others of its ilk? More schools offer cheap music downloads for students [via The Kept-Up Librarian] [pdf]

UNC has music services at four of its 16 campuses and in January will add two more, in Raleigh and Chapel Hill. Students can listen to songs for free, but have to pay to download — 79 cents to 88 cents a song.

The University of Michigan is asking students to pony up $2.50 a month if they want Cdigix when it begins next month. “I didn’t want tuition dollars being used for entertainment,” says associate provost James Hilton. He chose Cdigix because unlike competitors Napster, Ruckus Network and Rhapsody, it also offers educational programming, accessible via the closed campus intranet. Cdigix offers video movies on demand, as well. Some schools have reported huge acceptance rates by students. More than 1 million songs have been downloaded by Purdue students since Cdigix began in the fall.

But at the 31,000-student University of California, Berkeley campus, only 1,000 have signed up for Rhapsody. Like Michigan, Berkeley asks students to pick up the tab — and it’s a low one, $2 a month, compared with the normal $9.95 monthly charge.

At those kinds of rates, both Rhapsody and Cdigix say they don’t make much money — if any. The hope is to turn students into paying subscribers when they graduate.

Napster is free at Cornell. Senior Andy Guess says he uses it every day and hasn’t set foot in a record store since the service came to the campus in September. “I listen to it all day long,” he says. “It’s really convenient for me.”

Many Cornell students have complained that Napster is incompatible with their Apple computers, a situation not unique to Napster. Cdigix, Rhapsody and Ruckus are also not accessible on Apple computers without a work-around.

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*Very* Attractive [6:59 pm]

Morality at the point of a gun - excellent educational concept: ‘Pirates of the Internet’ Is New Class Lesson [pdf] [via The Kept-Up Academic Librarian]

What is just as troubling, said Rich Taylor, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, is that kids at a computer still think they are impossible to catch.

So the industry’s effort to educate children too young to appreciate the potential consequences of downloading music, video games or a Hollywood blockbuster comes with this message:

“You may think you’re anonymous, but you’re not. You may think it’s legal, but it’s not. And you may think you’re not hurting anyone, but you are.”

The industry’s approach is two-pronged: to terrify and to teach. [emphasis added]

“It’s a very thick topic, one that’s difficult for kids to understand,” Taylor said. “What we’re trying to do is get it back to ‘Stealing is wrong.’ ”

An even sadder, if inadvertant, image to consider:

“To these kids, the Internet is a free playground,” said Teri Schroeder, president of i-SAFE. “They don’t understand the effort that goes into the production in this industry. All they see is the final product, the success, the money, the glory. We’re trying for a generational change here.”

[...] “Kids are very savvy, especially around intellectual property,” she said. “They may not be able to define ‘intellectual property’ and explain what that means. But deep down, they do know downloading music and movies is wrong. For some reason, they just choose to do it anyway.”

Hmm — here’s one explanation that might offer a little insight: “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

After all, who do you think are the innocents in this story?

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A Little Progress [6:51 pm]

Government Eases Rules on Writers in Sanctioned Nations - (followup to Trade regs and Speech)

The Treasury Department, under fire for regulations that restricted the publication of works from countries under American economic sanctions, issued broad new rules yesterday that will allow United States publishers to work with authors from those countries as long as they are not government representatives.

The Treasury Department, under fire for regulations that restricted the publication of works from countries under American economic sanctions, issued broad new rules yesterday that will allow United States publishers to work with authors from those countries as long as they are not government representatives.

[...] Philip A. Lacovara, who filed suit on behalf of Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights advocate and recipient of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, and the Strothman Agency, a literary agency that sought to commission her memoir, said the new rules “seem to unblock the kind of publication we had sought the right to pursue.”

[...] Mr. [Edward] Davis noted that the regulations allow publishing activities do so by granting a “general license” for them. The publishing companies contend in their lawsuits that the First Amendment and recent laws make publishing exempt from regulation, thereby requiring no license.

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NYT Look at TimeTrax and XM [2:22 pm]

Recording Software and XM Do a Dance [pdf]

TimeTrax is the brainchild of Scott MacLean, a software developer in Toronto. In August Mr. MacLean wanted to record a Blondie concert broadcast in the early morning by XM. He set his computer to record all night, expecting to find a giant WAV file waiting for him the next morning.

Instead he woke up to find that his computer had crashed; the WAV file was too large.

So he tried again, this time apportioning separate files for each song. That worked like a charm, so Mr. MacLean began fiddling with the application, figuring out ways to record XM when he wasn’t around to listen. He eventually came up with a software application he called TimeTrax. When used in conjunction with XM’s PCR device, which turns a computer into a functional satellite radio, TimeTrax could record XM content and play it back any time, creating a TiVo-like service for satellite radio.

Mr. MacLean posted the software on an XM forum, and thousands of users downloaded it. TimeTrax was soon being written about on technology Web sites like Gizmodo and Slashdot.

But Mr. MacLean’s satellite radio recording revolution hit a snag on Aug. 20, when XM’s lawyers sent Mr. MacLean a cease and desist order. The lawyers pointed out that XM’s customer service agreement prohibited subscribers from reproducing or otherwise creating unauthorized recordings of XM programming. They said the TimeTrax software made it easier for XM subscribers to do just that.

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Another Try [9:18 am]

But will you buy it? New CD copy-lock technology nears market

The releases for the retail market, expected early in 2005, will be the first time the Sony music label issues copy-protected CDs in the U.S. market, although the company’s other divisions have done so in other regions. BMG, Sony’s new corporate sibling, has been more aggressive, with a handful of protected CDs released last year.

The releases for the retail market, expected early in 2005, will be the first time the Sony music label issues copy-protected CDs in the U.S. market, although the company’s other divisions have done so in other regions. BMG, Sony’s new corporate sibling, has been more aggressive, with a handful of protected CDs released last year.

[...] The past year has seen resurgent signs of interest from the major labels, however. A watershed moment in the United States came when the BMG-released Velvet Revolver album reached the top of the industry’s sales charts, despite being clearly marked as copy-protected. Industry insiders said that helped assuage some boardroom concerns about potential consumer backlash.

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Testing the “Many Eyes” Theory [9:14 am]

(See Eric Raymond’s Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. from The Cathedral and the Bizaar) Students uncover dozens of Unix software flaws — use of open source for educational purposes, while yielding community benefits.

Students of iconoclastic computer scientist Daniel Bernstein have found some 44 security flaws in various Unix applications, according to a list of advisories posted online.

The flaws, which range from minor slipups in rarely used applications to more serious vulnerabilities in software that ships with most versions of the Linux operating system, were found as part of Bernstein’s graduate level course at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Findlaw’s Collection of BitTorrent Complaints [9:09 am]

They’re online here: FindLaw Legal News: Special Coverage: RIAA/MPAA Litigation

  • Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., et al. v. Does 1-10, U.S District Court, Middle Dist. of Florida

  • Disney Enterprises, Inc., et al. v. Does 1-10, U.S District Court, Middle Dist. of Florida

  • MPAA v. Cooper Miller, President and CEO of SAGO Networks, U.S District Court, Middle Dist. of Florida

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Some Opening Shots Fired [8:33 am]

P2P Battle Reaches FTC

The Federal Trade Commission officially entered the brawl over peer-to-peer software Wednesday as it hosted the first day of a two-day P2P workshop in which both sides accused each other of trying to deceive government regulators.

Representatives of P2P software companies charged that content interests have tried to demonize P2P in an attempt to effectively kill it. Content providers, meanwhile, argued that they merely want to make P2P networks more responsible to consumers and more respectful of copyright holders.

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Drawing A Line? Or Grandstanding? [8:05 am]

A Push to Restrict Sales of Video Games [pdf] Hmm - what are the penalties for admitting an unaccompanied minor to an R-rated (or NC) movie in Illinois?

Decrying violence in fast-selling video games, Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) wants Illinois to make it illegal for anyone younger than 18 to buy violent or sexually explicit games. Among the targets would be the Grand Theft Auto series, Halo 2 and Mortal Kombat.

Blagojevich criticized the $7 billion video game industry for failing to find better ways to keep “adult material out of the hands of minors” and cited evidence that many production companies in the intensely competitive business marketed violent games to boys younger than 17.

Consider this story of what US soldiers are doing to unwind when off-duty in Iraq: Video War Is a Break From the Real Fight [pdf]

Like the teenagers and college students across America who sit on couches late on weekend nights and into the next morning, these soldiers spend their free hours on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital killing one another in Xbox and PlayStation2 games such as Halo and Mortal Kombat. Between guard duty and patrols and shifts at the dining facility, they gather to crash fast cars, play volleyball with buxom women and mimic warfare.

It’s a virtual reality that at least temporarily hides the real war outside.

[...] “It’s a reality of the modern world, and our Army is a reflection of our society,” said Col. Mark A. Milley, who commands the brigade and stays in daily contact with his family via the Internet. Milley doesn’t play video games, preferring physical training and reading, but says he understands that young soldiers are simply doing what they would do at home to relax. “It reduces stress and it gives them a break from the day-to-day grind.”

Later: Slashdot’s Illinois Gov. Seeks Violent Video Game Ban - note that this article points to a rant that is perfectly on point - The Screams of the Dead Are, in Fact, My Background Music (using info from this more extensive LATimes article)

The thing that offended me the most was that our political system continues to actually ignore the underlying cultural issues implied by the pervasiveness of infantile sexuality and gratuitous blood and gore in our entertainment, and instead uses it as a thoughtless backdrop for a simulation of intellectual bravery, where idiotic politicians looking for cheap thrills use the gaming industry as a free punching bag. It’s certainly easier. Who wants to come out FOR the right to play GTA? I mean, it’s horrible! It lets you kill hookers! Killing hookers is bad!

But actually coming up with solutions for a world where we kill hookers for sport is HARD.

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Aharonian Lawsuit Followup [7:43 am]

From Zagar’s Brain on Copyright, more on this earlier posting: More on Aharonian… — as well as a copy of the complaint and a WWW site devoted to the topic

Aharonian mentioned something interesting, in correspondence, that he said wasn’t covered in the Reuters article (my emphasis):

Finally, one part of my lawsuit not mentioned in the press is that nowhere in the copyright statutes (§ 17 U.S.C.) is software copyright actually authorized. Congress has never voted in a bill that was signed by the President to authorize exclusive rights in software. There is some vague legislative history, vague legislative intent, but no law. So whatever, the first step is to get Congress to pass such a law, which is required by treaty.

Indeed, as the great Nimmer on Copyright states, software copyright is “tacitly assumed” to be a law, which means it isn’t.


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Internet Distribution, and New Business Models [7:35 am]

Making it online, when no other format will work — and getting together with a clever business manager (you really need to read the whole article): A Comic Strip Takes Video Games Seriously (Almost)

They have built their (quite modest) fortune at a Web site,, which, though they would not provide specific figures, has earned enough to support them, their families, two mortgages and a business manager.

The site is attracting several million views a month. With ad rates strong and contracts for creative services coming in, Mr. Krahulik and Mr. Holkins, both 27 and now living in Seattle, have become tastemakers for consumers and moguls in the video game industry.

The site displays a fresh three- or four-panel comic strip three times a week. [...]

[...] “Doing comics for such a niche market was not possible before the Internet,” Mr. Krahulik said.

On the Web, he said, word can spread through e-mail, and the curious can simply click on a link.

“Once the ad model took off, we focused more on creative services,” Mr. Khoo said. He saw an opportunity to parlay a recognizable product and style, pushing Mr. Krahulik and Mr. Holkins to develop ads and marketing materials for the same gaming companies they often savage in their strip and the regular editorials they write for the Web site.

[...] Under the plan, Penny Arcade’s visibility and influence has grown. “Penny Arcade resonates for people in the game industry,” said Kevin Bachus, president and chief operating officer of Infinum Labs, which has been a target of the site’s vitriol.

Mr. Bachus said the comic served as a “simple, easy place for the industry to go to get a snapshot of what people are thinking.” Reading the strip is quicker than doing market research, he said, and almost as useful.

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How Embarassing [7:26 am]

Not that they got sued — rather, that Fox would have to demonstrate that their programmers are just as sleazy as anyone else’s: Lawsuit Accuses Fox of Copying Wife-Swap Show

The British production company that created the reality series “Wife Swap” and sold it to ABC filed suit against Fox yesterday, charging that its reality series “Trading Spouses” was a “blatant and wholesale copycat” of the British show.

[...] Many network executives and producers in the reality genre have said they had given up hope of ever being able to protect original ideas.

BTW — if these are “reality” shows, how can you copyright them? And, if they aren’t “reality” shows, then won’t the Writer’s Guild have something to say about their rights?

See also te BBC’s Wife Swap makers sue US ‘copycat’

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More on the FCC Ruling [7:16 am]

InfoWorld gives more details about the FCC order yesterday that removed the requirement that carriers must give competitors access to their networks at wholesale rates — as well as pointing out that this was a decision that no one seems to like: InfoWorld: FCC adopts new network-sharing rules

“Today’s order clearly eliminates the most significant, and sometimes only, competitive alternative for American residential customers,” said Len Cali, AT&T vice president of law and director of federal government affairs, in a statement.

AT&T also objected to the FCC’s decision to limit the sharing of some high-capacity DS-1 and DS-3 network loops in the business market. AT&T estimated the new order would limit competitors’ access to 6.7 million U.S. business lines.

[...] Wednesday’s action will drive CLECs to invest in their own facilities, Powell said. “This item decidedly does not attempt to make all sides happy,” Powell added. “Consequently, one will undoubtedly hear the tortured hand-wringing by incumbents that they are wrongly being forced to subsidize their competitors. Conversely, one can expect to hear dire predictions of competition’s demise from those who wanted more from this item. Time will show this will not be so.”

Incumbents BellSouth, Verizon Communications and SBC Communications praised the FCC’s switching decision, but objected to its decision on DS-1 and DS-3 loops.

[...] Commissioner Michael Copps said Wednesday’s decision will force many CLECs to abandon the residential market. “What we have in front of us effectively dismantles wireline competition,” he said. “Brick-by-brick, this process has been under way for some time. But today’s order accomplishes the same feat with all the grace and finality of a wrecking ball. No amount of rhetoric about judicially sustainable rules and economically efficient competitors can hide the bang-up job this Commission has done on competition.”

The statements of the commissioners

Also: NYTimes’ Big Bells Allowed to Charge Rivals More for Line Access; Washington Post’s Small Telecoms Losing Mandated Line Discounts [pdf]

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