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March 7, 2005

Provocative Article on Spectrum [6:39 pm]

Into the Great Wide Open [via Copyfight] [pdf]

As I looked at pictures of the TEAMBOTICA robot on my computer, the words of Mark McHenry echoed in my ears: “Once you accept the idea of frequency-agile radios, anything becomes possible.” Indeed. Eben Moglen and Dave Hughes had said essentially the same thing. With the exception of heavyweight spectrum incumbents like the broadcasters, who are unable or unwilling to concede the end of interference, most everyone who talks about unlicensed radio uses the same vocabulary, although to radically different ends. For Moglen it is about democracy. For Hughes it is about connectivity. And for McHenry it is about money. His frequency-agile radios have already entered the military-industrial complex; someday soon, this technology will likely enter the civilian realm and forge a path not unlike the Internet, making a few people very rich, producing devices that we might come to see as indispensable, but that in the end may or may not have much to do with freedom, personal or otherwise.

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How Lions Gate Makes Money [2:48 pm]

One way to run an entertainment content business: The Movie Midas

Lions Gate’s Oscar weekend market share was anything but a fluke. Five years after joining Lions Gate, its chief executive, Jon Feltheimer, and its vice chairman, Michael Burns, have forged the largest vertically integrated competitor to the major studios, with a production facility, television unit, foreign sales arm and - most important to Wall Street media watchers - an 8,000-title library. The library, which collects titles for the home entertainment market, generates nearly half of Lions Gate’s revenues.

While paying off the debt from acquisitions that filled that library, Lions Gate has functioned with a strict cost discipline that sets it apart not just from the studios but also from other independents: it will not risk more than $8 million to produce or acquire a feature film. And the company follows Mr. Feltheimer’s instructions to seek out audiences, like the one for “Diary,” that other film companies do not often reach (in this case, black women of a certain age).

As a result, Lions Gate’s movies grossed $302 million at the nation’s theaters in 2004, beating all the studio specialty labels except Miramax Films, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company.

[...] Lions Gate’s recent success has come as an unwelcome surprise to many Hollywood studio players, who had predicted a poor showing for “Diary,” an adaptation of an African-American gospel play. And many of this crowd would rather be seen mowing their own Bel Air lawns than dealing in the rough trade like “Saw.”

[...] Although Lions Gate has increased its theatrical production, including a film in which the singer Usher will play a starring role and “Crash,” starring Sandra Bullock and Don Cheadle, it has also stepped up productions and acquisitions of titles that are popular in home video. Last year, American consumers spent $1 billion on Lions Gate home video titles.

“It’s home video that really makes the company go,” said Dennis McAlpine, a media analyst with McAlpine Associates.

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A Cure For Sony’s Schizophrenia? [2:24 pm]

And, if so, which way will they jump? The articles don’t make it easy to guess, but the fact that he’s been focusing on the entertainment divisions (and that he got the position instead of the engineer running the games division, who also loses his board seat with this move) is not a great sign: Shakeup at Sony Puts Westerner in Leader’s Role

Sir Howard, a Welsh-born former television news journalist, runs Sony Corporation of America and has helped revive the company’s music and movie businesses in the United States. He will succeed Nobuyuki Idei, Sony’s current chairman and chief executive, who had planned to retire next year after Sony’s 60th anniversary.

[...] In a statement issued from Sony’s Tokyo headquarters, Sir Howard hinted at future efforts to integrate the entertainment and electronics focuses of the company. “We look forward to joining our twin pillars of engineering and technology with our commanding presence in entertainment and content creation to deliver the most advanced devices and forms of entertainment to the consumer,” Sir Howard said.

[...] Sir Howard, of course, is hardly an engineer himself. But in recent years he has taken an increasing interest in Sony’s electronics business, particularly in areas that relate to music and movies. Sir Howard, who is also vice chairman of Sony’s board, has tried to break through the bureaucratic logjams that have kept Sony - the company that invented the Walkman - from competing effectively against Apple’s iPod, the dominant digital music player. And he has taken a key role in negotiating with other Hollywood studios to get support for the new Blu-Ray disk format, which Sony supports.

[...] The appointment of Sir Howard appears to be a blow to Ken Kutaragi, the 54 year old executive who built Sony’s PlayStation video game unit into the company’s most profitable division. A defiant and idiosyncratic engineer, Mr. Kutaragi, who has long been seen as the leading candidate to become Sony’s next chief executive, was given responsibility for electronics and semiconductors two years ago. Now he will again just run the game unit. And he gives up his seat on Sony’s board.

There’s this profile, too - Sir Howard Stringer: A Career of Crossing Cultures [pdf]

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It’s Not Just Movies [11:39 am]

New Doctor Who ‘leaked onto net’

The first episode of the new series of sci-fi drama Doctor Who has apparently been leaked onto the internet.

The 45-minute episode, called Rose, has appeared three weeks before the series is expected to begin on BBC One

Slashdot: New Dr. Who Episode Leaked; The Register: Leaked Doctor Who episode available for download

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Report: AllofMP3 Dodges A Bullet (for the moment) [11:34 am]

From Slashdot: Allofmp3.com Wins Court Case (CNet background)

Some more details from Alex Moskalyuk’s AllofMP3.com escapes criminal lawsuit, for now

What’s interesting is that AllofMP3.com did not win the case due to the compulsory licensing legislated in Russia. The prosecutor’s office affirmed that the Russian music site was distributing copyrighted music from its site, and in many cases did not have a proper license to distribute them. Russian criminal law severely punishes attempts to distribute copyrighted music without proper licensing procured first. However, Russian law is quite specific about distribution of material goods, as the law usually applies to CD and DVD pirating.

Moscow prosecutor’s office noted that Russian music site does not distribute material goods, and since is not subject to prosecution under the criminal law. AllofMP3.com distributed digital goods via Internet, of which Russian criminal law says nothing. Moreover, prosecutors arrived at the conclusion that since no physical copies of the goods are delivered to the customer, AllofMP3.com can be treated as a service where site visitors can listen to the music.

Expect civil suits to follow….

Later: BBC News - ‘Legal okay’ for Russian MP3 site

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Missed This: Future of Music [8:58 am]

Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution (authors’ blog)

This book will examine the issues important to the future of music. We will uncover opportunities, plunge into challenges, serve up wildcards, and revel in utopia. We will move from mere facts through dazzling stories to far-out visions and fantasies. Our views, along with those of other artists, writers, and industry insiders, attempt to give some insight into what is really happening, and what it will mean for the people who love music and for the people who make music.

We see ourselves not as predicting the future by any scientific means, but as providing inspiration, in order to jumpstart your imagination and get you juiced up about the future of music. A brave new world is waiting for those who can handle it–a world that very likely holds fantastic business opportunities for creative thinkers. Enjoy!

Working metaphor from the first chapter:

Interestingly enough, despite the ubiquity of water in most of the developed world, there is a vast market for “premium water”—bottled drinking water that appears to be better or different than tap water. Today, people may pay more for a bottle of Pellegrino or Evian than for a pint of Budweiser or even a gallon of gasoline! They pay for the ability to get “special” water that it is guaranteed to be free of bacteria, for the packaging that makes it convenient to carry, for the refrigeration that keeps it cool, and, in some cases, for added carbonation or flavoring.

Could this model apply to the music business? Can we conceive of some kind of public utility model for music that would make any and all music available on a flat-fee basis, or on a very low “by-the-gallon” fee schedule? Could music be acceptable as a part of the cost

of living, a nominal expenditure that we plan for?

Later: Sun’s Schwartz - Utility, commodity: IT to follow electricity?

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Doing My (Very Minor) Part [8:47 am]

In re: make my day, bill-ites - link/Whiner

Of course, this will make the Corvallis Gazette-Times figure that Bill O’Reilly is the greatest thing that ever happened to their WWW traffic, but I guess that will also create another constituency uninterested in supporting any litigation surrounding supposedly “illegal” links.

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Gene Kelly Selling Golfs [8:22 am]

That’s me singin’ in the rain - how they put a Volkswagen into the famous Gene Kelly scene from Singin’ In The Rain (VW press release — see the ad in Quicktime)

Richard Chambers, of advertising agency DDB who produced the advert, says much study went into making the set as authentic as possible. “We’ve tried to match the look and feel of everything - from the buildings to the scale and layout, the lighting, the wardrobe, the rain. Even some of the equipment on the set is the similar to what would have been used when the film was made in the early 1950s.”

[...] But once it was created, the task was to find dancers who could do sufficiently modern moves.

[...] But although the set is real and the dancing is real, there is a huge amount of computer wizardry in the advert. For while the three dancers are dressed like Kelly (including padding), and all wore prosthetics to make their heads shaped like Kelly’s, the face you see is actually Kelly’s.

Images of Kelly, who died in 1996, were taken from the original film and superimposed on the pictures of the new dancers. To make this possible, the production team had to follow the original’s camera moves, positions, heights and lighting so that the Kelly face would match up satisfactorily.

[...] But film critic David Thomson, of the Independent on Sunday, does not approve. He wrote that “our collective memory, our culture, our pleasure have all been monkeyed with… its beauty and its integrity are being flagrantly interfered with… the nature of a movie is being insidiously mocked and exploited”.

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The UK’s Switch To Digital TV [8:17 am]

No decision on free set-top boxes

Decisions on whether the government will help people buy equipment to receive digital TV have yet to be made, says Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.

It hopes the analogue switch off will begin in 2008, but there are concerns many viewers will not be prepared.

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Hurdle Passed for EU Patent Law [8:14 am]

EU ministers endorse patent law

European ministers have endorsed a controversial proposed law on patents which critics say could stifle software development.

[...] The draft bill still needs the backing of the European Parliament - which is unlikely to rubber stamp the proposals.

Some MEPs have said they will reject the bill or require substantial changes before it is made law.

Slashdot overstates things a bit: EU Software Patent Directive Adopted; CNet News: EU Council endorses patent bill; Donna’s thoughts and links; Lessig’s reaction: the “democracy” that is Europe

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The Apple Suit And The Blogger Question [7:50 am]

  • NYTimes: At a Suit’s Core: Are Bloggers Reporters, Too? (note: there’s quite a “who’s who” of bloggers/blawgers represented)

    On its face, the lawsuit brought by Apple has to do with theft of trade secrets. But Susan Crawford, a law professor at Cardozo law school of Yeshiva University (and a blogger herself), says that the steps Apple has asked the court to take open a broader question.

    “Under what circumstances should an online forum be forced to disclose a source behind information that they’re posting?” Ms. Crawford said. “There is no principled distinction between a New York Times reporter and a blogger for these purposes. Both operate as news sources for wide swaths of the general public.”

    [...] Judge Kleinberg is likely to try to decide the case on the narrowest possible grounds, perhaps reading the text of the California law at issue to cover only people who work for traditional newspapers and magazines or television news programs, and to avoid deciding if bloggers are indeed journalists, Ms. Crawford said.

    Whatever the judge’s decision, it is all but certain to be appealed. But the question of who is a journalist is to many a matter of deeper concern.

    Prof Crawford’s thoughts - Apple and bloggers

  • CNet News: Apple goes to the source

    One law review article (available here in PDF format) by Linda Berger, a journalist-turned-law-professor, suggests a definition of whether someone is “engaged in the process of journalism.”

    That seems like a reasonable working definition that avoids the problem of authorizing the government to decide who is and who isn’t a journalist. It may not be perfect, but it would be better than the second-class treatment that bloggers and Web publishers suffer from today.

  • Copyfight, pointing to Declan

Later: Slashdot’s discussion - Is Blogging Journalism?

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VoIP Everywhere [7:38 am]

Seems like some sort of critical mass has been reached. Today’s Boston Globe writes This might be the year [pdf], Plugging into the future [pdf], Older Web-phone plans worth a look [pdf] and Boston firm’s Zooming in on Net calls [pdf]. CNet has VoIP: Can you hear me now?

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Some Patent Fights For Apple [7:33 am]

Apple faces iPod, iTunes patent violation claims

Apple has found itself facing a pair of intellectual property challenges that separately claim its FairPlay DRM system and its iPod music player contain technologies to which the Mac maker does not have a right.

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