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February 17, 2005

Worldwide Distribution: Who’s Going To Stop It? [6:12 pm]

So the UK is the biggest downloader of video content. Why? ‘Cuz the industry wants to use the same strategies for TV that they use for movies — delayed release in other locations - better known as artificial scarcity. As those who backed LoTR:TRotK have shown, it’s not sustainable as digital distribution “matures:” Britain a hotbed for illicit TV downloads

Britain has emerged as the world’s biggest market for downloading pirated television, driven by tech-savvy fans who are unwilling to wait for popular U.S. shows such as “Desperate Housewives.”

Britain’s status as a TV downloading hot spot, revealed Thursday in a study by U.K. technology consultancy Envisional, could pose problems for U.K. broadcaster BSkyB, which is counting on high-profile U.S. shows such as “24″ to draw new subscribers to its satellite TV service.

According to Envisional, Britain accounts for about one-fifth of TV downloads through file-sharing networks such as BitTorrent and eDonkey, more than any other country, followed by Australia and the United States.

“Because there’s such a demand for U.S. TV, the U.K. is going to be the main downloader,” said Envisional research consultant David Price.

Slashdot: United Kingdom Leads the World in TV Downloads

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The Patent Proposal That Wouldn’t Die [5:08 pm]

Maybe this time: EU software patent law faces axe

The European Parliament has thrown out a bill that would have allowed software to be patented.

Politicians unanimously rejected the bill and now it must go through another round of consultation if it is to have a chance of becoming law.

During consultation the software patents bill could be substantially re-drafted or even scrapped.

The bill was backed by hi-tech firms that said they needed the protections it offered to make research worthwhile.

Later: Plan for Patenting Software Stalls in Europe's Parliament

CNet has a couple of articles:

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CNN Analyst Looks At Cellphone/Music Convergence [9:03 am]

A comparison between the Nokia/Microsoft and Motorola/Apple strategies: Motorola starts to make beautiful music [pdf]

Apple vs. Microsoft feels like the computer industry’s version of the Hundred Years War.

[...] The latest salvo came Monday when Motorola finally unveiled the E1060, a phone featuring Apple’s iTunes software. Microsoft responded with a joint venture with Nokia — in itself a startling development — to create phones that use Microsoft’s Windows Media software for music playback.

[...] Most phones are sold to wireless carriers, which subsidize the cost and then sell them to consumers. The carriers make money, of course, by keeping people talking or downloading data on their networks.

Microsoft and Nokia’s digital-music approach will allow consumers to download music onto their phones via the carriers’ networks, as well as transfer music from a computer to a phone. What’s more, it’s expected that when the carriers’ networks grow enough, Windows Media-supported streaming music will be available on Nokia music phones.

Motorola’s approach would, at first blush, seem less popular with carriers. Using the incredibly popular iTunes to move music from a computer to a phone bypasses the carriers’ networks. A risky move, for sure, yet Motorola has proven in the past 18 months that it’s willing to take risks — something it rarely did until Ed Zander took over the company.

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More on the Vonage Port-Blocking Complaint [8:50 am]

FCC Probes Blocking of Internet Phone Calls [pdf]

The federal government is looking into allegations that as many as 200 people who switched from traditional telephone service to placing calls via the Internet had their new service disrupted by the local telephone company in their area.

[...] Vonage chief executive Jeffrey A. Citron said his engineers went to many of the customers’ homes in December to confirm that the local phone company, which provides high-speed Internet access for residents, had blocked Vonage’s data stream, thus making it impossible to make calls.

He said Vonage has seen a few other examples of blocking by other phone companies but did not complain about those.

The allegations could focus new legislative and regulatory attention on a long-simmering issue: whether the small number of phone and cable giants that provide high-speed Internet access to most of the country might undermine, degrade or discriminate against content that relies on their networks to reach homes and businesses.

[...] But other major Internet firms, including Yahoo Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., have raised red flags as well. They fear a scenario in which the network owners cut deals with certain vendors of Internet content so that their information gets to consumers faster, or with higher quality, at the expense of others.

“It’s disturbing to us to see a gatekeeper blocking a customer’s use of a service that rides over the Internet,” said Matthew Zinn, general counsel of TiVo Inc., which makes digital television recorders. “It’s a dangerous precedent. The Internet represents the free flow of information.”

Citron, who said Vonage was able to route its customers’ calls around the phone company’s blocks, regards it as a form of censorship.

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CS Ephemera At Auction [8:29 am]

I have to confess, as a book collector, it would be a blast just to see some of these items: Bits of History (of Bits) on the Auction Block (the Christie’s auction www page)

The Eckert-Mauchly business plan is being sold as a part of a collection called “The Origins of Cyberspace.” The collection, viewable online at christies.com, consists of about 1,000 books, papers, brochures and other artifacts from the history of computing. The items include an early-19th-century manuscript on the Jacquard loom by Joseph Marie Jacquard and a reel of magnetic tape used in the Univac.

A da Vinci codex is one thing, but few people could have predicted that a 1947 mimeograph titled “A Tentative Instruction Code for a Statistical Edvac” would be estimated to fetch from $8,000 to $12,000 at a formal auction.

“It’s becoming the new frontier in scientific collecting,” said Thomas Lecky, a vice president at Christie’s who is overseeing the auction.

More details on what’s in the collection: HistoryofScience Site - William Gibson’s thoughts (I have the Gollancz first edition of Neuromancer)

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The Philadelphia Experiment [8:19 am]

No, not the stupid movie — is internet access a public good or a private one?: Philadelphia Hopes for a Lead in the Wireless Race

Experts say the Philadelphia model, if successful, could provide the tipping point for a nationwide movement to make broadband affordable and accessible in every municipality. From tiny St. Francis, Kan., to tech-savvy San Francisco, more than 50 local governments have already installed or are on the verge of creating municipal broadband systems for the public.

But Philadelphia’s plan has prompted a debate over who should provide the service, and whether government should compete with private industry, particularly in hard-to-reach rural areas or low-income urban communities. Telecommunications and cable companies say that municipal Internet networks will not only inhibit private enterprise, but also result in poor service and wasted tax dollars. They have mounted major lobbying campaigns in several states to restrict or prohibit municipalities from establishing their own networks.

There’s been a battle of opinion pieces over at CNet News: Hands off our Wi-Fi network! - other background: “Wireless-ing” Philadelphia; The Mechanics of Taking Philadelphia Wireless; see also Glenn Fleishman’s opinion - Incumbent Fear

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Changes Down Under At ARIA [8:09 am]

Michael Speck has resigned his position as chief music copyright enforcer for the Australian recording industry: How the Music Industry Has Dropped Artists, Shed Staff, Deleted Titles and is Losing The Fight Against Copying & Piracy [via p2pnet]

And to top it all off, this week it’s been revealed that his general in the fight against piracy is leaving the battlefield after a long series of stoushes with powerful opponents. That’s right, the person actually LEADING the fight against piracy (not the one who would CLAIM to be at the forefront), Music Industry Piracy Investigations head Michael Speck has tendered his resignation. This gives Peach the unenviable task of replacing him, and now conducting interviews with likely candidates to work under his charismatic persona as the legal bills mount up and the likelihood of getting a clean win from the plethora of cases diminishes daily.

It’s not surprising that Speck would want to leave this swimming pool of spit and faux sincerity we call the music industry after years of battling physical and online piracy. One has only to look at the legal blundering by the backup teams of lawyers, the white-anting of case logistics from incompetent police and the continuing loss of credibility that ARIA has in the government’s eyes that makes the whole effort somewhat futile. Speck has put in incredible innings and been a centred and credible cop in the media’s view. But being seen to be fronting for a trade association of multinationals–accused far too often of violating trade practices and clawing to maintain perceived monopolistic practices–when the actual head is ducking media on crucial issues, must be a frustrating if not denigrating experience.

Especially when you look at the extraordinary figures the music industry would like to hide from public view when it comes to downplaying the degrading of artists, downgrading of marketing, downsizing of staff and downturn in releases. It’s the big lie that the industry wishes government and the media would swallow whole, but there have been too many lies in the past and too much hype to be credible, much less palatable.

[...] But this somewhat warped view had to take a back seat to the announcement today that the Federal Government has agreed to consider making legal the copying of music-from CD, vinyl, tape, 78, 45 or even shellac cylinders-for consumers who have purchased them for their own personal use. Some of you may remember that I was lobbying government on this issue of ‘fair use’, urging that it was time for an updating of our 35 year old Copyright Act not only to reflect fairness in allowing the consumers who actually SUPPORT the music industry by BUYING music and who want to make backups or compilations or transfer to another medium to play their music elsewhere. You might even have recalled that I was down with the proposal that recording artists and songwriters receive a reasonably small compensation for this ‘fair use’ copying by the introduction of a combined blank media levy on hard carriers used primarily for music recording as well as digital music players which are primarily copying devices.

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The Register On Cellphone/Music Convergence [7:55 am]

Killing an iPod: harder than it looks?

The Register (you may have noticed) is not entirely convinced that the public in general and yoof in particular is going to flock to DRM-rich paid-for wireless music services, but if one suspends disbelief sufficiently to imagine that there is a killer product in there, its essence is the wireless-playing device combination. So while something sold as a phone had ruddy well better function as a decent phone, something pitched primarily as a music player could quite acceptably have music information and purchase as the primary purpose of the wireless capability, with a bit of texting and voice as ‘free’ extras. Which maybe just gets you one of those weird-shaped things from Nokia that nobody much loves. But maybe the way to play it is for a non phone company with a good brand (er, Apple?) to build and badge it, the point here being that if a phone company puts one out people will just call it a weird phone.

Not, of course, that we’re saying that phones with a music capability are doomed, as such. This capability is now becoming an essential extra, and being good at it will help, alongside other things, sell phones. And it’ll probably hurt generic cheap MP3 players, if there are any unhurt ones left to hurt. But we reckon Apple’s safe for a while yet.

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Regulate? Or Just Reform UCITA? [7:49 am]

This CNet News article discusses the idea of regulating the software industry in the face of the worms, viruses and other maladies to which so many products seem to be susceptible: Time to regulate the software industry?. Of course, the other option, in this era of market worship, might be to fix the market, in which case I would propose starting with UCITA, which right now allows software companies to sell products without warranty — of anything!

With software flaws serving as the open door to viruses and worms, a panel of industry experts at the RSA Conference here debated whether it’s time to regulate software companies. The experts were mixed on the effectiveness of such a plan and whether it could be undertaken without curtailing innovation.

Wired News’ coverage: The Fight Over Cyber Oversight

“So whether it’s fear of lawsuits or fear of going to jail, regulation increases the cost of not doing security, which will increase security,” Schneier said. “That’s the way capitalism works…. We don’t expect people to do things just because they’re nice, they do it because it’s in their best financial interest. Would Cadillac have recalled those automobiles if there weren’t regulations?”

He pointed to the issue of ATMs in England and the United States as an example of how regulation forced improvements. In England, he said, ATM fraud was the responsibility of customers unless they could prove the bank was at fault, whereas in the United States the bank was at fault unless it could prove that customers were responsible for depleted funds.

“In Europe, ATM security didn’t improve because the banks didn’t suffer losses,” Schneier said. “In the U.S. it did, because the banks did. That’s what regulation does.”

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