February 13, 2005

A Bullet Dodged? [10:28 pm]

Or just a minor slowdown? US denies patent for part-human hybrid [pdf]

The US Patent and Trademark Office rejected the claim, saying the hybrid — designed for use in medical research but not yet created — would be too closely related to a human to be patentable.

Paradoxically, the rejection was a victory of sorts for the inventor, Stuart Newman of New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y. An opponent of patents on living things, he had no intention of making the creatures. He said his goal was to set a legal precedent that would keep others from profiting from similar “inventions.”

But in an age in which science is increasingly melding human and animal components for research — already the government has allowed many patents on “humanized” animals, including a mouse with a human immune system — the decision leaves a crucial question unanswered: At what point is something too human to patent?

Slashdot: U..S Denies Patent on Part-Human Hybrid

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The Penny Black Project [6:09 pm]

How to stop spam: Charge for the stamp (NYTimes: How to Stop Junk E-Mail: Charge for the Stamp)

Compare our e-mail system today with the British General Post Office in 1839, and ours wins. Compare it with the British postal system in 1840, however, and ours loses.

In that year, the British introduced the Penny Black, the first postage stamp. It simplified postage–yes, to a penny–and shifted the cost from the recipient to the sender, who had to prepay. We look back with wonder that it could have ever been otherwise. Recipient pays? Why should the person who had not initiated the transaction be forced to pay for a message with unseen contents? What a perverse system.

Today, however, we meekly assume that the recipient of e-mail must bear the costs. It is nominally free, of course, but it arrives in polluted form. Cleaning out the stuff once it reaches our in-box, or our Internet service provider’s, is irritating beyond words, costly even without per-message postage. This muck–Hotmail alone catches about 3.2 billion unsolicited messages a day–is a bane of modern life.

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Escalating Warfare [6:04 pm]

Pushing the world toward a wholly encrypted Internet — and promoting the deployment of fiber to the home?: Movie blackout for P2P networks?

Researchers at Royal Philips Electronics are developing new “fingerprinting” technology that could automatically identify and block transmission of digital-video files, potentially handing movie studios a new weapon in its war on peer-to-peer networks.

The technique would be similar to technology already being used to track and prevent copying of music files on some university networks. Philips’ audio fingerprinting technology is central to Napster founder Shawn Fanning’s new company Snocap, which aims to turn file-swapping networks into digital-song stores.

Once completed, Philips’ technology–along with related tools from other companies–could be a powerful weapon in Hollywood’s increasingly aggressive attempts to choke off the flood of films being traded online. For now, the tools are in an early stage of development, but Philips has begun to show them to potential partners and customers.

Slashdot: MPAA Developing Digital Fingerprinting Technology

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Wishful Thinking At The WaPo [5:18 pm]

A dream world is described in this article. One of two dreams, of course:

  1. The infinitely flexible digital distribution, entirely under the control of the purchaser or
  2. The infinitely constrained DRMed digital distribution, entirely under the control of the seller

The article purports to describe the first, but I expect that the record companies will aim for the second, since the elimination of the CD means the end of ripping.

What do you think the article is trying to achieve? 10 Million iPods, Previewing the CD’s End [pdf]

With tonight’s 47th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles drawing attention to the ever-shifting world of the recording arts, Petersen and many other music-biz insiders agree that, in the next decade or so, the CD will very likely be surpassed as the album format of choice.

“The new format is no format,” predicted [George] Petersen, a 24-year industry veteran who also owns a record label, a recording studio and a music-publishing company. “What the consumer would buy is a data file, and you could create whatever you need. If you want to make an MP3, you make an MP3. If you want a DVD-Audio surround disc, you make that.”

“We’re moving beyond the media stage to the delivery stage,” agreed Mitch Gallagher, 41-year-old editor of EQ, a San Mateo, Calif.-based magazine for music producers. At some point, he said, “you won’t have something to hold in your hand” until you transfer a data file to a blank disc or tape.

“We can make our own plastic,” Petersen said. “I’ve been thinking this is what should happen for years, but it’s actually the way we’re going anyway.”

Think “Dark Side of the Moon” as an invisible cyberswirl of 1’s and 0’s. No CD case. No liner notes to flip through. No . . . nothing.

Your preferred music star could provide a myriad of songs, bonus cuts, commentary, videos, album art, you name it. You, however, would have ultimate power: which songs stay, which songs are deleted, which songs go where.

Slashdot: The Death of the Music CD

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How The Business Works [4:34 pm]

Balding Rockers and Big Money

“This always comes as a shock to fans,” said Joe Levy, a deputy managing editor at Rolling Stone. “The biggest-selling artists aren’t the ones who make the most money. The artists learn the hard way that money comes from concert tickets and T-shirts, not selling records. That’s the lesson - you build a brand over time, and you can sell the brand even if you can’t sell the albums.”

This means that, while it is good to be the next big thing, it is better to be a-couple-of-big-things-ago. Though pop music glorifies the young and the new, it actually sells these qualities at a discount.

For the record companies, which rarely share in concert grosses, this formula conveys a simple lesson, said Fred Goodman, author of “The Mansion on the Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen,Springsteen and the Head-On Collision of Rock and Commerce.”

“It tells you that the record business stinks,” Mr. Goodman said. Though record companies still create hit acts, often at great expense, “the consumer money is not in the record marketplace,” he said.

If old songs create more profits than new ones, in a business that claims to sell newness as hipness, then the business is at odds with itself.

That may be true for the record companies, but Tom Calderone, executive vice president of music and talent programming for MTV and MTV2, suggested that musicians aren’t just creating new songs. They’re creating future old songs. That flamboyant mane of today is really a down payment on a profitable bald pate tomorrow. And obsolescence, after all, is in the ear of the ticket buyer.

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A Reminder of the Mechanics of the Music Biz [4:22 pm]

How to Watch the Grammys Like a Pro

The Performances

Though the live acts are the best part of the show, they cause a lot of behind-the-scenes consternation. For one thing, they can be expensive for the label: think of all the musicians, technical crews, dancers and stylists involved. J. Lo’s hairdresser can’t come cheap. U2 and its crew won’t be slumming it at the Comfort Inn. Expenses can add up to several hundred thousand dollars, paid for by the record company but then deducted from the artist’s future earnings.

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Norway Copyright Proposal [11:05 am]

Norway Proposes New Digital Copyright Law [via IPKat]

The government on Friday proposed a new copyright law to make it illegal for Norwegians to copy songs from their own CDs onto MP3 players, but legal to do so for making a CD duplicate.

The proposal, intended to bring Norway’s law in line with European Union rules, drew immediate praise from the music and film industry as well as criticism from opponents.

[...] The amendment, which requires parliament’s approval, would make it illegal to crack security codes on DVD and CDs or to provide software or hardware for doing so, a news release said. It would still be legal for a person to make a copy of their own CD or DVD for private use, even if that means cracking the code, as long as it was being copied onto the same digital medium and not onto another one.

“For example, a CD’s (security code) could be cracked to play a recording on a car stereo, since a CD-player would be seen as an appropriate medium,” the news release said. “But the security code could not be cracked to copy the recording onto an MP-3 player, since such a device would not be seen as an appropriate for a CD.”

Gisle Hannemyr, of the University of Oslo’s Department of Informatics, said the law was unclear and unenforceable.

“We are going to be a nation of lawbreakers if this law is passed in its current form,” he said on the state radio network NRK. For his part, Hannemyr said he has already copied an appropriate song for his own MP-3 player: Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief.”

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