February 18, 2005

Susan Crawford: Upcoming B’cast Flag Hearing! [8:07 pm]

It’s Just As Important as Grokster [via Freedom to Tinker]

Like the Grokster case, the flag situation raises this question: can one industry force another to constrain new general purpose technologies in the name of copyright protection? Like the CALEA dispute (prompted by the demands of another great industry — law enforcement), the flag represents an attempt to have high-tech innovators ask permission before innovating.

The broadcast flag isn’t really about broadcast or the waving of a patriotic flag. It’s about money and fear. I have high hopes that the DC Circuit will see through the FCC’s incredibly broad assertions about its jurisdiction.

Later: Coverage in the NYTimes, mirrored at CNet News: Federal Effort to Head Off TV Piracy Is Challenged; CNet copy

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Drew Clark On Broadcast TV Spectrum [8:01 pm]

Spectrum Wars [via Freedom to Tinker]

The spectrum is far more lucrative today than anyone dreamed possible back in 1927, when the federal government began regulating use of the spectrum by handing out licenses to radio broadcasters to transmit their signals. And because of the airwaves’ immense value, the battle for control of the frequencies that make up the spectrum has been a premier influence-peddling bonanza in Washington.

From the beginning, the key combatant has been the National Association of Broadcasters, which organized itself into a lobby in the 1920s, even before the Federal Communications Commission was formed in 1934. For more than 75 years, the NAB has been fighting to help the broadcasting industry hold on to its slice of the spectrum — the frequencies TV and radio stations use for their broadcasts — in the face of demands from competing technologies and rival industries, and even public safety concerns.

[...] The bottom line is that the war over the airwaves has continued to drag on because generations ago, the government handed out valuable frequencies to broadcasters for free, and other industries haven’t been able to buy these desirable frequencies. For the broadcasters as well as their competitors, the battle over spectrum space has been a lobbying game.

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Time To Go Home [7:17 pm]

CoCo reports that Beatallica’s ISP has gotten a cease and desist notice from Sony/ATV Music Publishing, copyright holders.


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“Real Value To … Families” [6:58 pm]

That’s what Rep. Fred Upton says about H.R.310, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005. And you thought I was talking about something important like health care, education, safety or something.

In addition to raising the fines from $32,500 to $500,000 per violation, Upton’s legislation also mandates a license revocation hearing (but does not dictate the outcome of the hearing) after the third offense by a broadcaster (the FCC currently has the authority to hold such a hearing after the first offense, but is not mandated to do so) and also imposes on the FCC a 180 day “shot clock” to act on indecency complaints filed by consumers. Additionally, the bill raises the amount the FCC can fine networks and entertainers who willfully or intentionally violate indecency standards from $11,000 to $500,000. The bill also includes protections for affiliates from fines in instances, like the 2004 Super Bowl, where they did not know what was soon to be broadcast by the network.

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Standard Setting Complaint [6:49 pm]

BSA in open (standards) revolt

The BSA has called on the European Commission to relax its requirement for open standards in its projects to make government services available to citizens online.

In an open letter to the Commission, Benoit Müller, the Business Software Alliance’s European policy director, said that the EC’s insistence on open standards would rule out the use of many widely accepted technologies, such as DHCP, and GSM mobile technologies.

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Friday Night Puzzle [6:38 pm]

OK - is this a) AOL working to stay out of the Grokster/inducing infringements lines of fire; b) AOL trying to keep Microsoft from exercising its market power to protect its Janus/WM DRM; c) something else? And, is AOL doing this on its own initiative, or is there someone putting pressure on them already? AOL blocks music-copying feature

America Online is disabling a feature of its popular music software that had been used to evade copy-prevention features of digital music services, the company said Friday.

The company’s Winamp software was identified by bloggers this week as part of a process that transformed copy-protected music downloads into songs that could be burned by the thousand to CD. The tool had potentially affected any subscription service that used Microsoft’s media format, including Napster, Virgin Music and even America Online’s own music subscription plan.

AOL programmers are taking a series of steps to prevent its software from being used in this way, a representative said.

“Immediately upon discovering this flaw, we worked quickly to address it and to ensure that Winamp can continue to provide secure playback of Windows Media content,” spokeswoman Ann Burkart said. “A fix is being implemented today in existing players, and a new player will be posted for users to download.”

And, of course, there’s also this question - where does the Audio Home Recording Act exception fit in - is this, instead, an overreaction by AOL:

The process was essentially a high-tech version of recording a song off the radio. Antipiracy software, including Microsoft’s, typically prevents a direct digital copy from being made. But some software packages, dubbed “stream rippers,” allow a computer to rerecord audio as it is being played.

Finally, here’s something to make every AOL subscriber happy:

AOL has already removed the Winamp plug-in that made this process fairly simple. Programmers are developing a patch that will be automatically pushed to the software’s users. The patch will probably disable altogether the ability to play copy-protected songs in Microsoft’s format. [emphasis added]

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I Guess I Don’t Fit The Demographic [6:28 pm]

But I’m still not planning to get cable TV: House Looks at Ways to Speed Digital TV [pdf]

Two leading House Energy and Commerce Committee members - Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the chairman, and Fred Upton, R-Mich., said they might introduce legislation that would eliminate the 85 percent provision in order to speed the transition [to digital broadcasts].

But to do that, Barton, Upton and other lawmakers said Congress may have to ensure that people who use analog TVs with antennas can still use their sets.

Nearly half of the 21 million homes that get antenna TV reception have incomes under $30,000, according to the Government Accountability Office. At a hearing Thursday, witnesses told the panel that a box that could be hooked up to the TV that could convert the digital signal into an analog signal. Each box could cost up to $100.

A government program to help subsidize the cost of the boxes could cost between $460 million and $2 billion, depending on the price of the box and whether there would be income limits.

[...] A GAO study released at the hearing said the cost of the subsidy program could increase to between $1.8 billion and $10.6 billion if lawmakers also decided to subsidize a similar converter box for cable and satellite subscribers who could not get digital reception. Most lawmakers, though, focused on the homes that received just antenna TV reception.

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SciAm on (c) [5:51 pm]

Beyond the big (c) — Copyright becomes “no right to copy” [pdf] [via Stephen's Web]

If William Shakespeare were working today on Broadway or in London’s West End, he would be spending a lot of time with lawyers. The Bard adapted Romeo and Juliet from Arthur Brooke’s poem The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, which Brooke, in his turn, had based on a French translation by Pierre Boaistuau of various Italian stories.

The history of creative works, whether Romeo and Juliet or the Beastie Boys’ “Pass the Mic,” is a chronicle of “borrowing” from others. Intellectual-property lawyers might use a harsher word. But the framers of the Constitution always intended to provide owners of creative works with only limited monopolies, ensuring that the public gets the right to fashion new works from old.

Over the years, however, Congress, sometimes at the behest of media companies, has erected immense barriers to derivative works by extending repeatedly both the length and the scope of copyright protection. A copyright holder no longer has to register a new work. Any blog, poet’s sonnet or even a child’s crayoned drawing now receives copyright automatically. Permission is needed for republishing or excerpting, with limited exemptions for fair use. Copyright in its current form fails to strike a balance between the extremes of allowing total control over every work–”all rights reserved”–and an anarchic system in which pirates steal wantonly without recompense to owners. Overly strong property rights can threaten the Internet as a medium capable of fostering dynamic interchange of ideas.

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Wow! That *IS* A Blockbuster [3:57 pm]

Not that I use BlockBuster, but I have seen the ads — but this is a surprising angle — Hurrah for NJ: Blockbuster Accused of Violating N.J. Law [pdf]

In a lawsuit filed Friday, the state charged that Blockbuster failed to disclose key terms in the policy, including that overdue rentals are automatically converted to a sale on the eighth day after the due date.

The state is seeking restitution for customers whose overdue rentals were converted to a sale. It also wants compensation for people who were charged late fees by stores that were not participating in the new policy, but that failed to make that obvious.

Also CNN’s Blockbuster sued over late fees

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Just In Case It Needs Repeating [9:06 am]

Cryptographers to Hollywood: prepare to fail on DRM

Speaking on the RSA conference panel Hollywood’s Last Chance - Getting it Right on Digital Piracy, Carter Laren, security architect at Cryptographic Research, noted that cryptography is “good at some problems, such as transmitting data so it can’t be eavesdropped or even authentication, but it can’t solve the content protection problem. If people have legitimate access to content, then you can’t stop them misusing it.

“Anyone designing content protection should design for failure and if it fails update it,” he added.

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Are Newspapers “Getting” The Net? [9:02 am]

Newspapers’ Net correction

Many print media executives, meanwhile, largely ignored the Internet, apparently hoping it would just go away–like W.C. Fields did when it came to kids.

Despite the opportunity to make their businesses more profitable, the brass worried about cannibalizing their own print model. Although many companies invested in the Internet, it definitely was a sidelight business. (”I work for the print edition, not the online edition,” was the typical refrain from many longtime journalists.)

Now the print media giants are changing their tune–albeit it more from a defensive than offensive posture. Stuck with stagnant growth and under pressure from Wall Street, these companies are taking their biggest plunge yet into the Internet pool.

Also: Times Company to Buy About.com for $410 Million (Slashdot: New York Times Buys About.com for $410 Million); Slate’s About Time

Related: The Blogs Must Be Crazy [pdf]

Counterpoint: EPIC 2014 (details - related: A Fluid Look at the News)

Later: Jay Rosen’s take: A Little Detail in the Sale of About.com to the New York Times and Two Letters in Reply to “A Little Detail in the Sale of About.com” [via Copyfight]

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More On Viral Ads [8:53 am]

Interactive Viral Campaigns Ask Consumers to Spread the Word

As more Americans become comfortable with the Web, though, major marketers are increasingly asking agencies to produce elaborate, interactive online campaigns - even for grocery store goods that hardly anyone researches or buys online.

One of the shiniest lures online is the developing field of viral advertising, in which companies try to create messages so compelling, funny or suggestive that consumers spontaneously share them with friends, often through e-mail or cellphone text messages. The goal is the exponential spread of ads that are endorsed by consumers’ own friends.

The best-known viral success may be the offbeat “Subservient Chicken” site, created to promote a Burger King chicken sandwich. The site, which shows a person in a chicken suit who seems to follow typed commands from Web surfers, has drawn 13.9 million unique visitors since it went live in April 2004, according to the agency that created it, Crispin Porter & Bogusky in Miami.

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Where’s the Indecency? [8:28 am]

Seems like one could identify several candidates, depending on your viewpoint: the language presented, the war itself or PBS’s decision to act in this fashion — what do you think? PBS Warns Stations of Risks From Profanity in War Film

PBS has warned its member stations that it cannot protect them against federal indecency sanctions if they broadcast an unedited, profanity-laced version of a documentary about a United States Army regiment in Baghdad as it faced insurgent attacks leading up to the Iraqi elections, producers of the documentary said yesterday.

The documentary, “A Company of Soldiers,” was produced by Frontline, a production of WGBH, the public television station in Boston, and is scheduled to be broadcast on Tuesday night. The Public Broadcasting Service will offer its stations both an edited and an unexpurgated version, as it commonly does with programs that have content that might be objectionable in some parts of the country.

But producers at Frontline said PBS had taken the unusual step of offering only the edited version of the film for direct retransmission. Stations that want the unedited version, which the producers say is the one that captures the realities of combat faced by soldiers in Iraq, will be required to pre-record it and to sign a waiver indemnifying PBS against damages or fines they might incur because of the broadcast.

[...] By requiring local stations to sign a waiver, PBS is putting local stations in an uncomfortable situation, Mr. Fanning said.

A spokeswoman for PBS declined to comment. Jacoba Atlas, a senior vice president at PBS, told The Associated Press that the decision to require stations to sign a waiver was “a financial decision.” She added: “It’s not a decision that reflects on the merit that we think the film has.”

Then there’s that number on the top right of this page that keeps growing. Oh, wait - here’s another candidate: House Votes to Raise Fines for Indecency

Related: Conservatives and Rivals Press a Struggling PBS

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Cellphone Convergence: Not Just About Music [8:20 am]

Publisher Aims at Cellphones

Under the agreements, Vocel will adapt language-study guides and video-game tips from Random House for delivery to cellphones beginning sometime this summer. While most information will be in the form of text, the Living Language service will also permit users to hear the correct pronunciations of foreign words.

Since last year, Vocel has offered SAT preparation materials from Princeton Review to subscribers, who pay $5.75 a month to have interactive SAT tests, flash cards and other study materials delivered to the display screens on their phones.

The test preparation service is available to about six models of cellphones through Verizon Wireless. Carl Washburn, who founded Vocel two years ago and is its chief executive, said the company planned to expand to other wireless carriers this year. It is also negotiating with other publishers and information providers to license additional content.

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February 2005
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