February 25, 2005

Another Kind of Technological Alienation [8:07 am]

Prozac to My Ears [pdf] Certainly one explanation for why lately I seem to need a coupe of good shots of Green Day’s “Holiday” to get through the day.

Say you’re headed for a meeting with an important client and need to be bold, aggressive, pumped up. A licensed M.D. — that would be “musical doctor” — might prescribe Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” with its driving, syncopated beat and its now-or-never refrain, “You’ve only got one shot, do not miss your chance” to seal the deal. Prepping for a job interview and need something to boost your confidence but also calm your nerves? “Smooth Operator” by Sade can make you feel like James Bond without the messy duty of killing archvillains and waves of henchmen. These selections work for me, at least. The point is that anyone can, to some extent, guide the way he or she feels.

Apple sold 5 million iPods this past Christmas season alone, which poses an obvious question: Why do so many of us need to block out the world and rearrange our moods this way? I think it’s because our lives don’t give us time to do it the old-fashioned way.

We’re always plugged in: The cell phone rings. The PDA chimes an alarm. The BlackBerry buzzes in its awkward holster, or the Sidekick signals an incoming instant message that demands an equally instant response. We tote around our laptops and WiFi while we sip our lattes in Starbucks.

This is no Luddite yawp, mind you — I can’t imagine a world without cell phones, and the BlackBerry that lets me sit in a cab in Washington, exchanging gossip with an old friend on his farm outside London, is indistinguishable from magic.

But we should realize that constant interaction truncates the mental treks that once led us to our moods — the sustained train of thought, the extended reverie, the day-long smolder, the can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head anticipation, the lingering funk. It used to take a while to internalize a slight to the point where we reached a proper state of righteous indignation, or to reflect on our many blessings and soar into unbridled joy. But there’s no time, and the cell phone keeps ringing. We plug in our ear-buds and whisper-click the wheel to shut out the world and get our heads where we need them to be, in a hurry.

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Hmmm - What Does This Price Competition Suggest? [7:41 am]

Selling DVDs Next to Pirates

Taking its battle against rampant piracy of films and music to the front lines, Warner Home Video said it will sell cut-rate DVDs in China in a bid to compete on the counterfeiters’ home turf.

Basic DVDs, to be available shortly after a film’s theatrical release, will sell in China for as little as 22 yuan ($2.65), the company said. That’s still more than the pirated versions readily available in China for 8 yuan ($1).

Warner’s basic versions will not carry any DVD extras such as directors’ interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, the company said. But versions with more features will be available a bit later for 28 yuan ($3.38).

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February 24, 2005

Ah, The Joys Of Modal Regulation/Legislation [7:24 pm]

Lafayette hits snag in fiber build

On Wednesday, a state district judge ruled that the Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) must follow a different portion of state law to issue $125 million in bonds to pay for its planned fiber-optic telecommunications business. The ruling opens the door for a special election to decide whether the LUS can borrow the money necessary to fund the project.

The utility system, which built a fiber network to service its utilities business, has been offering wholesale bandwidth services to at least 11 Internet service providers, and providing retail broadband services to city agencies, since 2002. Now the LUS wants to expand this network, and provide residents and businesses with cable, phone and high-speed Internet services over fiber connections into homes and businesses.

BellSouth and Cox Communications, the local telephone and cable companies serving Lafayette, have strongly opposed the utility system’s plan. Last month, the service providers filed a lawsuit against the LUS, alleging that it was using a portion of state bond law that contained no provision for citizens to call for a public election.

Not like deploying wireless, apparently. See The Philadelphia Experiment and Municipal Wireless Proposals Beyond Philadelphia

Also, see Glenn Fleishman’s discussion of what it might have meant if this same argument had been applied to electricity in the past: Imagine Electricity [via Scott Rosenberg]

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Groklaw Offers A Message On S/W Patents For The EU [8:25 am]

Jumping off from this Financial Times article, Futures exchanges brace for patent suits [pdf], Groklaw goes into the gory details:

In Europe, patent litigation in the futures industry is a much rarer phenomenon because it is harder to patent software inventions. But the TT case is threatening to change that. In London this week, lawyers from Clifford Chance briefed a roomful of traders and other futures industry participants on the state of affairs and what they might need to do to defend themselves.

Vanessa Marsland, a Clifford Chance partner in the intellectual property practice, said: “In the US, patent damages can be substantial.”

She added: “Independent software vendors may have to reconsider the way they do business, and in particular the way they roll out new software to customers.”

TT has proposed to the four main futures exchanges — two in Chicago, plus Euronext.Liffe and Eurex — that it should be paid a fee for not starting patent infringement cases against them.

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Copyright, First Amendment and Culture Protest [7:35 am]

The Controversy Over Politically-Motivated “Million Dollar Baby” Spoilers

Copyright law is the main way our society protects the market for the sale and purchase of creative works such as novels, music, and movies. It aims to ensure that that market can flourish so that creators, and the companies that distribute their work, can reap the profit from their labor. It thus provides an incentive for creators to produce more.

But copyright law makes an exception for “fair use” - even though fair use can destroy the market for a creative work, and thus, in a sense, defeat the purpose of the work’s copyright. An example of a “fair use” would be incorporating limited quotations from a book in a book review. Such quotation is a permissible “fair use” even if the review savages the book and makes sales plummet.

In addition, a devastating parody may well serve its purpose of making the original work look ridiculous - and thus killing the market for that work - yet still be “fair use.” Justice Souter made this point memorably in his opinion in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., in which he mounted a strong defense of the right to parody.

[...] In short, while spoilers and reviews may both be fair uses, all fair uses are not created alike: Some are pro-First Amendment, helping us choose what to see and read, and some are anti-First Amendment, forcing us to limit our choices by deceptively spoiling certain options against our will.

So commentators who say they are pro-First Amendment, especially, ought to think twice before offering a spoiler without a prior spoiler warning. They wouldn’t forcibly pull viewers out of ticket lines for “Million Dollar Baby,” but in using spoilers aggressively, they also employ a form of coercion.

Ruining others’ viewing or reading experiences ought not to be a weapon in the arsenal of someone who is truly pro-First Amendment.

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Some TV I Missed [6:05 am]

War Is H-E-Double-Toothpicks

After watching the 90 grueling minutes of A Company of Soldiers, it’s hard to believe that anyone would be more concerned with what the members of Dog Company in South Baghdad are saying than with what’s actually happening to them. After watching the show, I spoke to David Fanning, Frontline’s executive producer, about PBS’s decision to reverse their usual policy of airing potentially offensive material on the nationwide “hard feed,” while making a sanitized version available on demand to those local markets that preferred it. Last night, the default version of A Company of Soldiers—the one available on 300 out of the 350 PBS stations nationwide—was the expurgated one. But though Fanning sent out a memo last week protesting PBS’s decision and stating that “this is the moment for public television to stand firm and broadcast ‘A Company of Soldiers’ intact,” he says he understands the network’s plight as well.

[...] Bill Reed, the manager of KCPT, a PBS station in Kansas City that chose to run the program unedited in its original time slot and risk the fine, has compared the current broadcasting climate to the Red Scare of the 1950s: “You have to go back to the McCarthy era to get a feel for how far this has gone.” When I asked Fanning if that was overstating the case, he grew thoughtful, saying, “A comparison is valid in that a minority of people have brought their values to bear on public standards.” But Fanning was most worried about the intangible muzzling effect that the current climate of fear will have on producers of future shows, who are more likely to censor themselves in terms of program content. He cited a well-known 1985 episode of Frontline, Memory of the the Camps, which included never-before-seen footage from the liberation of German concentration camps in 1945. If that documentary were to air today, could images of nude prisoners fall under the FCC prohibition against “obscene, profane and indecent broadcasts”?

I asked Fanning if there was anything else viewers should know about the FCC’s increasingly long shadow on the broadcast television landscape. He stressed the anachronistic quality of the commission itself: “We’re trapped in an old structure here, of the regulation of broadcasting vs. the unregulatedness of cable.”

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Warning! Dangerous Metaphor! [5:45 am]

The media industries keep trying to turn the Internet into TV — this kind of presentation helps to set the frame for the discussion. The content of the article is grist for those who want to turn the Internet into TV; an idea to be fought however it raises its head: The Internet: It’s the New TV

Television has long been a favorite way to pass time. But an annual survey by Jupiter Research showed that last year American adults spent as many hours a week in front of another screen - their computer’s.

The survey of 2,231 people found that consumers spent an average of 10 hours a week on the Internet in 2004, the same amount as the year before. TV watching declined to 10 hours a week, however, from 11 in 2003.

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Limits To Liability in Privacy [5:37 am]

Breach Points Up Flaws in Privacy Laws

But whatever the specific legal fallout of the ChoicePoint breach, the bigger effect may be its exposure of the patchwork of sometimes conflicting state and federal rules that govern consumer privacy and commercial data vendors. In recent days, state and federal regulators and lawmakers have started calling for an updating of those rules, which never envisioned the current power of data gatherers to amass and distribute vast digital dossiers on ordinary citizens.

[...] Critics say the current laws, in focusing too closely on industry-specific uses of information, like credit reports or medical data, rather than on protecting the privacy of the individuals in the databases, have failed to keep pace with the emergence of such data miners.

[...] Like the name ChoicePoint itself, the sheer size and scope of what data brokers are able to offer clients may be unknown to many of the ordinary consumers whose information they buy and sell. It is only in the last decade or so that boutique services like credit reporting agencies, which once catered solely to specific clients like banks or potential employers, have given way to giant, one-stop shops like ChoicePoint where all sorts of ostensibly qualified parties are able to purchase consumer information.

See also Wired News’ ID Theft Victims Could Lose Twice and Infoworld’s ChoicePoint’s error sparks talk of ID theft law

Later: This Reuters article - Lawmakers Promise Action on Identity Theft [pdf] (CNet version); Wired News: California Woman Sues ChoicePoint

Even later: picking a new target, Westlaw - Senator Says Data Service Has Lax Rules for Security; Databases Called Invitations to ID Theft [pdf]

Even later: ‘Perfect storm’ for new privacy laws?

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February 23, 2005

Tin Foil Hat, Anyone? [4:23 pm]

The fact that this complaint can be made and not immediately discredited carries its own message about technology and alienation: Lawsuit Says HP Printer Cartridges Die Before Use

A Georgia woman has sued Hewlett-Packard Co., claiming the ink cartridges for their printers are secretly programed to expire on a certain date, in some cases rendering them useless before they are even installed in a printer.

The suit filed in Santa Clara Superior Court in northern California last Thursday seeks to represent anyone in the United States who purchased an HP inkjet printer since Feb. 2001. [...]

[...] HP ink cartridges use a chip technology to sense when they are low on ink and advise the user to make a change. But the suit claims those chips also shut down the cartridges at a predetermined date regardless of whether they are empty.

“The smart chip is dually engineered to prematurely register ink depletion and to render a cartridge unusable through the use of a built-in expiration date that is not revealed to the consumer,” the suit said.

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The Perils Of Running A Telecommunications Network [7:55 am]

Ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous:

  • Experts: New sub can tap fiber-optic cables [pdf]

    The USS Jimmy Carter, set to join the nation’s submarine fleet Saturday, will have some special capabilities, intelligence experts say: It will be able to tap undersea cables and eavesdrop on the communications passing through them.

    [...] The Jimmy Carter, like other submarines, will also have the ability to eavesdrop on communications — what the military calls signal intelligence — passed through the airwaves, experts say. But its ability to tap undersea fiber-optic cables may be unique in the fleet.

    [...] “The capacity of fiber optics is so much greater than other communications media or technologies, and it’s also immune to the stick-up-an-antenna type of eavesdropping,” said Jeffrey Richelson, an expert on intelligence technologies.

    To listen to fiber-optic transmissions, intelligence operatives must physically place a tap somewhere along the route. If the stations that receive and transmit the communications along the lines are on foreign soil or otherwise inaccessible, tapping the line is the only way to eavesdrop on it.

  • Hungry field mice knock out phone network [pdf]

    Hungry field mice caused a 20-hour telephone blackout in central Sweden on Tuesday by gnawing through cables, telecom operator TeliaSonera said.

    Fixed-line phone connections for more than 1,500 homes in Jamtland and Medelpad in central Sweden, were severed late on Monday by hungry rodents chewing their way through a fibre-optic cable near the town of Ange.

    Mobile phones were also cut off.

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Post’s Krim Surveys The Grokster Landscape [7:39 am]

Technology Sparks New Legal Debate [pdf]

“The content people will tell you that everything that is not authorized . . . is infringing,” [Gary Shapiro of the CEA] said. “This is the corporate equivalent of living under a tyrannical dictator. You are not breaking the law, but you want to keep your head down and not be noticed because the dictator randomly kills.”

[...] [The MPAA's Fritz] Attaway argues that product and service providers who base their businesses around piracy should not be able to hide behind the mantle of innovation.

“Why should device manufacturers be exempt from all possibility of litigation?” he asked.

[...] Some who are concerned about the Grokster case say no matter what the Supreme Court does, the movie studios and recording labels are ultimately fighting a losing battle by trying to bottle up new technologies.

“We are moving into a world where access to information is more democratized,” said Brad Burnham, a New York venture capitalist who works with early-stage media companies. “It’s too easy to move it around. Value is going to shift from the creation of content to the organization and customization of that content.”

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A Look at the DRM Arms Race [7:20 am]

For Users, Napster of Old Is Just a Few Tweaks Away

Glenn Shannon, a programmer in Tucson, first publicized the technique several weeks ago on the Web site CDFreaks.com. From there, the method moved to blogs and news sites. Napster responded on Wednesday by posting a message from its chief technical officer, Bill Pence, that played down the problem, saying the method “can be likened to the way people used to record songs from the radio onto cassette tapes.”

If so, these were some fancy tape recorders. In online comments, people said they were downloading around the clock and converting dozens of songs at a time by running multiple copies of WinAmp on one computer.

“We offer a service for people who believe artists should be paid for their work,” said Dana M. Harris, a spokeswoman for Napster. “If people disagree with that, they’re going to find ways to get around it.”

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February 22, 2005

Broadcast Flag Hearing Notes [7:26 pm]

Court questions FCC’s broadcast flag rules [via Copyfight]

A federal appeals court on Tuesday sharply questioned whether the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to ban certain types of digital TV receivers, including peripheral cards, starting in July.

Two of the three judges on the District of Columbia Circuit panel said the FCC never received permission from Congress to undertake such a sweeping regulation, which is intended to encourage the purchase of digital TV receivers that curb Internet distribution of over-the-air broadcasts of programming such as movies and sports.

“You’re out there in the whole world, regulating. Are washing machines next?” asked Judge Harry Edwards. Quipped Judge David Sentelle: “You can’t regulate washing machines. You can’t rule the world.”

Washington Post’s APWire article: Court Debates Anti-Piracy TV Technology [pdf]

BBC: Courts question anti-piracy rule

Later: Slashdot’s wishfully-titled Broadcast Flag in Trouble and the earlier Court Says FCC Out-of-Bounds With Digital TV; The Register - FCC ‘crosses the line’ with broadcast flag - court

A related Slashdot discussion: Preparing for the Broadcast Flag?

Later: Prof Susan Crawford’s take - Broadcast Flag: Good news and bad news

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Lexmark Request To Reinstate Injunction Denied [7:24 pm]

Lexmark suffers second knock back in DMCA case

A federal appeals court has denied Lexmark’s request to consider reimposing an injunction against a firm that makes components that allow generic replacement ink cartridges to work in Lexmark printers. The ruling by the US Courts of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, leaves Lexmark’s lawsuit against Static Control Components in bad shape.

Later: Infoworld’s Court rules against Lexmark in printer case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled against Lexmark’s request that it reconsider an earlier decision that favored Lexmark’s opponent in the case, Static Control Components (SCC), a maker of components used by third parties to make refurbished cartridges.

The earlier decision allowed SCC, in Sanford, North Carolina, to continue selling its chips for Lexmark laser printers at least until the case came to trial, expected later this year. Lexmark had asked the appeals court for a hearing to reconsider that decision, but the appeals court turned down its request on Feb. 15, SCC announced Monday.

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Accident? [7:21 pm]

Probably, given just how egregious - but it still raises the question of who gets to control access, and how the controls are implemented: Microsoft compensates blocked Dutch web firm

Not too long ago Microsoft released a beta version of its anti spy software, which offers the choice of signing up for real-time protection. Windows AntiSpyware can monitor the PC and warns when unwanted software is installed.

Apparently, it also blocked Startpagina, one of the most popular directory pages in the Netherlands. Internet users that wanted to select Startpagina as their home page, were forced to use MSN.com instead.

Ilse wasn’t amused: the company is a fierce competitor of MSN on the Dutch market.

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AllofMP3 in the Crosshairs [7:18 pm]

Jurisdiction and copyright: MP3s for pennies? Russian cops say no

The Russian site claimed it had licenses to do so from a local clearing house, but record labels have maintained that the licenses weren’t valid. After long-standing complaints, the Moscow City Police Computer Crimes division completed an investigation earlier this month and recommended that prosecutors charge the site’s operators with criminal copyright infringement.

“We have consistently said that AllofMP3.com is not licensed to distribute our members’ repertoire in Russia or anywhere else,” Igor Pozhitkov, regional director of IFPI Moscow–part of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry–said in a statement. “We are pleased that the police are bringing this important case to the attention of the prosecutor.”

The investigation marks a potentially substantial step forward in Russia for copyright holders. Record labels and movie studios have sometimes had difficulty persuading Russian law enforcement to deal with piracy problems.

Also Russian police probe cheap downloads site

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February 20, 2005

More on the Newpapers’ Conundrum [5:40 pm]

Newspaper Business Faces Competition [pdf]

Many newspapers recognized the Internet’s combination of threat and potential early on and have plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into Web sites of their own, hoping to keep readers, even if they don’t leaf through the actual paper. In 2003, the New York Times’ Web site became profitable for the first time; last year, The Post’s Web site did the same.

But working against newspaper Web sites is the fact that the Internet has trained users that most content — including news — should be free. Users generally will pay only for specialized information, such as the in-depth financial reporting provided by the Wall Street Journal, which charges a subscription fee to read stories on its Web site.

[...] General-interest papers such as The Post and the New York Times are playing a sort of game of chicken with each other: None wants to be the first to charge to use the Web site, fearing that users will refuse and simply migrate to a competitor whose site still is free. Papers, however, have begun using their Web sites to provide Internet-only content that gives in-depth information on everything from football to politics beyond what is available in the newspaper. In future scenarios, such content may require a paid subscription. A potential model is ESPN’s Web site, which includes a great deal of free content but charges $6.95 a month for its premium “Insider” reports. In the online news industry, this is called moving content “behind the wall.”

See earlier Are Newspapers “Getting” The Net?

Note that these “profitable” sites are looking to erect a pay-wall. Yes, there is pressure on publishers to maintain margins, but is there a limit? And has the market for intangibles been engineered to ensure the reasonableness of this limit?

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Computers and the Mind [5:24 pm]

A spooky ideology taking hold, and in a place that has long been a science fiction worry: Who Do You Trust More: G.I. Joe or A.I. Joe?

John Searle, the philosopher at the University of California at Berkeley whose most recent book, “Mind: A Brief Introduction,” came out last year, has argued for decades that the brain is not just a computer strung together from neurons. Whatever is happening in the head - and nobody really knows - it is not computation. Confuse reason with calculation, he argues, and disaster lies ahead.

But that has become the minority view. Attend a conference of the Society for Neuroscience or the Cognitive Science Society and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t assume deep down that the brain is some kind of information processor. For the time-being, people excel at certain tasks, like recognizing faces and making sense of ambiguous data, but that may be only because of wiring details and variations in the algorithms - things that eventually could be simulated electronically. The result would be machinery that can do anything a person can, but faster and better.

If that comes to pass, doubting some future incarnation of Multivac might be an act of mutiny.

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February 19, 2005

Municipal Wireless Proposals Beyond Philadelphia [4:06 pm]

Municipal: Texas Fights; Indiana Bill Dies; NYT Covers; Philly Councilman Shills; Colorado Suppresses

The bill under consideration in Texas would impose one of the most extreme bans on municipal involvement in any form of communications—free or otherwise—of any state bill I’m aware of. But the fight is joined. The EFF (that’s EFF-Austin not the national organization) will help fight the bill, according to Esme Vos of Muniwireless.org. Esme also points to an anti-anti-municipal wireless Web site, Savemuniwireless.org set up by Chip Rosenthal. Esme notes and a commenter on Rosenthal site queries that this bill would ban free library access among other broad statements.

Slashdot: Municipal Wi-Fi Battle Moves to Texas

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Server Logging Issues Go Beyond P2P [1:44 pm]

How much does your online retailer elect to remember about your transactions? Smokers asked to cough up taxes for Web buys

Hundreds of Michigan residents are getting a big surprise this tax season–hefty tax bills for cigarettes they bought online over the past four years.

The state sent the bills to 553 residents last week after subpoenaing 13 online tobacco shops for names of Michigan customers and their order histories, a Michigan Treasury Department spokesman Caleb Buhs said on Friday. The tax bills are based on information from just one store, and the state expects to collect more names from the others.

Collectively, the people receiving this first round of bills owe the state $1.4 million, an average of $2,500 per person, Buhs said. They have until March 14 to pay.

Related: A review of Robert O’Harrow’s No Place To Hide - They’re Watching You . . . [pdf]

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