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December 30, 2004

Groping Toward A (c) Doctrine In China [3:02 pm]

CoCo’s posted recently about the recent upsurge in copyright enforcement in China. Here’s another one: Nike Kicks Up Fuss in China Again with Cartoon Ad [pdf]

But a Beijing court has ordered Nike Inc. to pay damages to a Chinese cartoonist who said his stick figure was copied in the footwear giant’s ads, local media reported on Thursday.

The court said the stickman character 28-year-old Zhu Zhiqiang created was nearly the same as one used in Nike advertisements, and ordered the company to pay 300,000 yuan ($36,000)

[...] Although the damages are just a fraction of the $242,000 Zhu had requested, Nike representative Zhang Zaiping said the company would likely appeal against the decision and argued that the figure was too generic to deserve a copyright.

“Zhu’s stick figure is within the public domain and lacks originality,” he was quoted as saying.

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Things You Find When You Don’t Want To Work [10:59 am]

I have lots to do, but instead I came across this article from The New Yorker Online that I missed back in September: an interview with Sasha Frere-Jones on the then-current pop music scene:Red-Hot Pop [pdf]

Why am I posting it? Aside from the overall insights into the pop business (making the whole thing worth a read), there’s this little gem:

So the more things stay the same, the more they change?

It’s a feedback loop: radio hits inspire other radio hits, which in turn inspire songs that exhibit a certain novelty because they don’t sound like the other radio hits—and they become hits for that reason. Hit songs create their own playing field. If people make choices, they’re making choices from a set of commercially available iterations, and then reacting against them. This is usually cast in fairly negative terms by journalists and critics—you know, the big, bad money people forcing the poor people to hear focus-grouped music that all sounds the same. I don’t see it quite that way, though there are certainly many aspects of the hit-making machine that we can all rue: usurious contracts, monopoly control of radio programming (which spurred the rise of file sharing, which I still see as a grassroots regrowth of radio). [emphasis added] And I think it’s probably a pain to be a pop star twenty-four hours a day. But commercial pressure is a great spur for artists. Record executives, even if they pray to Mammon, tend to have the same taste as I do: big hooks, lots of energy, and a general sense of vigor. Musicians are lazy, entitled people, and they need something to push them.

And, while we’re at it, a different look at the role of payola in radio and the music business: The Price of Payola [pdf]

You say that payola can increase diversity of content. This is the most controversial moment in the piece, because it seems, on its face, extremely unlikely. But you have an argument, which is that it levels the playing field for anyone with the money. It breaks strangleholds of habit and institutional power and permits participation by the nouveau riche. It’s the democracy of money rather than the inertia of power. What are some examples? Is this the Ross Perot phenomenon?

I think that the nineteen-fifties, the heyday of payola, is a great example. There, the stranglehold of the major labels on popular music really was broken. Black artists got far more exposure than ever before, and small labels put out records that everyone was listening to. I’m not convinced that would have happened without payola. Ross Perot is a good example, at least if we take “good” in a broad sense.

I also think that you have to expand your idea of what “levelling the playing field” means. The real inertia of power is not just on the producer side–the record labels, the publishing houses. It’s on the retailer’s or the radio station’s side, too. So, in the absence of things like slotting fees and paying for space at bookstores, the range of products you’d see prominently featured at stores would be much smaller. It’s a familiar lament that if you walk into a bookstore all you see are well-known authors, but it’s empirically not true. Look at the “New Arrivals” tables in most big bookstores, and the range of authors and subjects there will surprise you. Most of them will be published by major houses, but that’s a function of the fact that major houses are more likely to publish books that a large audience will want to read. Again, the defense of payola isn’t that it makes it more likely that good products will get a shot but that it makes it more likely that potentially popular products will get a shot.

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Adam Curry on Podcasting [8:55 am]

Podcasts bring DIY radio to the web

A podcast is basically an internet-based radio show which podcasters create, usually in the comfort of their own home.

They need only a microphone, a PC, and some editing software. They then upload their shows to the internet and others can download and listen to them, all for free.

Using technology based on XML computer code and RSS - Really Simple Syndication - listeners can subscribe to podcasts collected automatically in a bit of software, which Mr Curry has pioneered.

The latest MP3 files of shows can then be picked up by a music playing device automatically.

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How Internet Users Use Their Time [8:38 am]

Internet Use Said to Cut Into TV Viewing and Socializing

The average Internet user in the United States spends three hours a day online, with much of that time devoted to work and more than half of it to communications, according to a survey conducted by a group of political scientists.

The survey found that use of the Internet has displaced television watching and a range of other activities. Internet users watch television for one hour and 42 minutes a day, compared with the national average of two hours, said Norman H. Nie, director of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, a research group that has been exploring the social consequences of the Internet.

The study is not yet available online, but will be here after the weekend

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Communities, Sharing and Public Goods [8:26 am]

Hobbyists Fill Out the Weather Map

Thousands of armchair sky watchers are pairing computers and consumer-grade meteorological equipment to share their observations of local conditions online. Posted on personal Web sites or community weather pages, the data is helping neighbors and beginning to have a larger impact on meteorology, by shaping a more detailed view of weather patterns than was previously available.

“We use those reports,” said Mike Nelson, KMGH’s chief meteorologist. “It’s been useful for television to get more reports from all kinds of locales, compared to just the airport. The old joke goes, no one lives out there.”

Even without building Web sites, backyard meteorologists can contribute to the professional weather world. They can send their data to a number of organizations that aggregate the information and post it online.

One such group that has achieved official recognition is the Citizen Weather Observer Program (www.cwop.net), an association of weather watchers who collect information, share it online, and forward it to outlets like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s giant pool of freely available weather research data, the Meteorological Assimilation Data Ingest System.

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We’re Your Cable Company, and We’re Here To Help [8:24 am]

Streamlined Cable TV in a Card

WHAT if I told you about a new product that could improve your TV picture, eliminate one of your remote controls, simplify your home-theater setup and save you money every month?

And then what if I told you that your local distributor wished, in its heart of hearts, that nobody even knew about it?

[...] The CableCard’s simple mission is to eliminate your cable box. The card stores all the account information that used to be monitored by the box, like descramblers for your movie channels - a bit of circuitry miniaturization that’s about 15 years overdue.

[...] Is it really possible that the government, cable companies and TV makers all sat down one day and cheerfully agreed to a new, advanced standard designed to save you money and simplify your life?

Don’t be silly.

As it turns out, hammering out the CableCard standard wasn’t especially quick or amicable.

In fact, it took years. [...]

[...] In fact, you may get the distinct impression that the cable companies are trying to talk you out of a CableCard. At a Web site for Time Warner Cable, a Frequently Asked Question about CableCard televisions (also called Digital Cable Ready sets) reads; “Q: Why should I get one? What are its advantages over a set-top box? A: A Digital Cable Ready television may not be for you. If you want to take advantage of Time Warner Cable’s interactive services, such as iControl or our Interactive Program Guide, then you want the expanded features of a digital set-top box.” (Um - those are advantages?)

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It Snows, You Shovel, You Mark [7:57 am]

After our big snow, our mayor starts his fight over the public commons: On parking markers, Southie, city dig in [pdf]

In a battle that shows no signs of waning soon, Mayor Thomas M. Menino dispatched crews to South Boston yesterday to clear away anything and everything that residents placed in the streets to stake claims to parking spaces they had cleared of snow.

But just as quickly as the jaws of city garbage trucks crushed the myriad shopping carts, traffic cones, and furniture used as markers, many residents replaced them with new parking-space holders.

“I’ve got more barrels than he’s got trucks,” said James M. Kelly, the neighborhood’s city councilor, who used a trash barrel yesterday to reserve his pristinely shoveled spot near N Street. City crews moved his barrel to the sidewalk yesterday, but a neighbor moved it back.

It’s an unwritten law almost as old as the automobile in densely populated Boston neighborhoods: You shovel it, you own it. But Menino decided last December that the vigilante justice sometimes meted out for violating the law of the streets — slashed tires, broken windows, or keyed car doors — was getting out of hand. So he began ordering city crews to pick up parking space markers 48 hours after a major snowfall.

Relevance? See DRM Is A Folding Chair — moreover, Cory has followed up his earlier posting on this Wired article with an even more pointed discussion: Cory responds to Wired Editor on DRM. And another

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Wired Looks At Pirate Nets [7:41 am]

Shadow Networks Spawn Bootlegs

It’s a commonly held belief that P2P is about sharing files. It’s an appealing, democratic notion: Consumers rip the movies and music they buy and post them online. But that’s not quite how it works.

In reality, the number of files on the Net ripped from store-bought CDs, DVDs, and videogames is statistically negligible. People don’t share what they buy; they share what is already being shared - the countless descendants of a single “Adam and Eve” file. Even this is probably stolen; pirates have infiltrated the entertainment industry and usually obtain and rip content long before the public ever has a chance to buy it.

The whole shebang - the topsites, the pyramid, and the P2P networks girding it all together - is not about trading or sharing at all. It’s a broadcast system. It takes a signal, the new U2 single, say, and broadcasts it around the world. The pirate pyramid is a perfect amplifier. The signal becomes more robust at every descending level, until it gets down to the P2P networks, by which time it can be received by anyone capable of typing “U2″ into a search engine.

This should be good news for law enforcement. Lop off the head (the topsites), and the body (the worldwide trade in unlicensed media) falls lifeless to the ground. Sounds easy, but what if you can’t find the head?

Later - Slashdot’s got two articles; Inside the Shadow Internet and Online Groups Behind Bulk of Bootleg Films (& Games)

Later: The Boston Globe picks up an LA Times article - Bootlegged films building online [pdf]

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