RealNetworks Tries A Variant

RealNetworks offers free songs for new service

Net multimedia company RealNetworks released an overhauled version of its Rhapsody digital music service on Tuesday, in a high-profile launch aimed at regaining ground lost to Apple Computer’s iTunes.

Eschewing the format wars that have marked the digital music business–and much of RealNetworks own past–the company is tapping Microsoft for technology that allows songs to be transferred to some MP3 players. Until recently, most monthly music subscription services barred songs from being transferred from a computer to a portable device.

But RealNetworks is also extending a bridge to cost-conscious digital music newcomers, offering people the ability to listen to 25 songs a month without paying anything at all.

Later: NYTimes’ RealNetworks Tries Giving Away Music; Slashdot RealNetworks Invests in Legitimizing Free Music

French Court Rules Against CSS

No, not cascading style sheets! French court rules against copy-protected DVDs (I see this is old news – Slashdot’s French Courts Ban DRM on DVDs)

When originally heard in the Court of First Instance in 2004, the case was decided in favor of the defendants, Les Fils Alain Sarde and Studio Canal. On appeal, the Paris Court of Appeals found that not only was the CSS used to copy protect DVDs illegal, but that the two companies did not adequately inform the consumers that the DVDs were copy protected. The companies now have one month to remove the copy protection from their DVDs and must pay €100 in damages to the consumer as well as €1,500 to the UFC-Que Choisir.

While it’s nice to see a blow struck for Fair Use rights, even if outside the US, the decision may not stand. The DVD producers still have the opportunity to appeal to a higher court in France. In addition, there is the question of the European Union’s directives on copyright — which allow for the use of copy protection systems — and how that should impact a consumer’s right to make a copy of media he owns for his own use. The problem with legally-unbreakable DRM is that along with snuffing out consumers’ Fair Use rights, it has the effect of giving the content producers a perpetual copyright on the content by allowing them to control how it is used.

Also – The Register’s French court bans DVD DRM

More importantly, see CoCo’s French Court: DVD Protection Incompatible with Private Copying Exception


Online music lovers ‘frustrated’

UK music lovers are getting frustrated with restrictions placed on digital music tracks once they buy them from online stores, says PC Pro magazine.

The magazine reported that people are also being turned off net music stores because of pricing and disappointing sound quality compared with CDs.

[…] PC Pro says people are growing increasingly dissatisfied with restrictions on tracks they have paid for, especially if the price they pay is similar to that which is paid for a physical CD.

“That is the trouble when you are presented with a product that lacks the physical nature. It won’t feel it has the same sort of value,” Paul Brindley, head of digital music analysts, Music Ally, told the BBC News website.

“If there are problems on top of that with what you can do with it, it is inevitable that consumers will start thinking this is much less of a valuable product.

Slashdot: Britons Frustrated by DRM; PC Pro’s Analysis: Hitting the wrong note

Peer Production in the Making: Monitoring Traffic Flow

Car Computers Track Traffic

[George] List, director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Infrastructure and Transportation Studies, co-heads a federally funded project examining a potential high-tech solution to highway congestion. Traffic is tracked through global positioning system devices in cars that are connected wirelessly. Drivers participating in the pilot project essentially act as highway probes, receiving continual feedback from in-car computers intoning commands like “Just ahead, turn right.”

“They’re benefiting from each other being eyes and ears in the network,” List said.

The project is one of many “smart highway” initiatives that rely on information from technology such as traffic sensors and roadside cameras. This experimental system, with its automatic updates, would be a bit smarter.

Rethinking the RFID Passport

Feds Rethinking RFID Passport

Following criticism from computer security professionals and civil libertarians about the privacy risks posed by new RFID passports the government plans to begin issuing, a State Department official said his office is reconsidering a privacy solution it rejected earlier that would help protect passport holders’ data.

The solution would require an RFID reader to provide a key or password before it could read data embedded on an RFID passport’s chip. It would also encrypt data as it’s transmitted from the chip to a reader so that no one could read the data if they intercepted it in transit.

Later: NYTimes’ Bowing to Critics, U.S. to Alter Design of Electronic Passports; Ed Felten’s thoughts: U.S. Considering Wireless Passport Protection

Peer Production or Vigilantism – or Both? Monitoring the WWW

Watchdogs Seek Out The Web’s Bad Side [pdf]

A. Aaron Weisburd slogged up to his attic at 5 a.m. to begin another day combing through tips he had received about possible pro-terrorist activity on the Internet.

It did not take long for one e-mail to catch his attention: was offering instructions on how to steal people’s personal information off their computers. It was a new development for an Islamic discussion site accustomed to announcing “martyrdom operations,” or suicide bombings, against U.S. troops and others in Iraq.

Weisburd quickly listed the discovery in his daily log of offensive and dangerous sites, alerting his supporters. A few days later, Ekhlaas experienced an unusual surge in activity, the hallmark of a hacker attack, forcing the company hosting the site to take it down.

It was another small victory for Weisburd, one of a new breed of Internet activists. Part vigilantes, part informants, part nosy neighbors, they search the Web for sites that they say deal in theft, fraud and violence.

[…] Government agencies and others are not sure what to make of him. Some law enforcement officials praise his efforts. Kenneth Nix, a police detective from Missouri who is on the Internet Crimes Task Force, said Weisburd often provides information that “we didn’t have before.”

But others say that he is making more trouble than he is doing good. Some U.S. officials think that they can learn more about terrorist operations by monitoring suspicious sites as they operate. Weisburd said an analyst from a federal agency recently wrote him a scathing letter calling him a “grave threat to national security” because his work was interfering with its investigations.

Marshall Stone, a spokesman for the FBI, said that while the agency encourages citizens to report alleged wrongdoing, it believes any attempt to stop criminals should be left to the government.

Without due process, evidence could be tainted and become unusable in court cases or, worse, targets could be condemned as guilty when they are really innocent, said Paul Kurtz, executive director of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, a coalition of tech company chief executives. “When we all become ‘law enforcement officers’ justice becomes very blurry,” he said.

The Evolution of Google

And the growing threat to advertising revenue of conventional media: Google to Sell Ads Not Related to Searches

Starting today, Google will test changes to its advertising program that will give advertisers more control over where their ads are shown, how they pay for them and what they look like.

For Internet users, the most visible change will be an expanded use of ads with graphics and animation on many of the Web sites for which Google sells advertising, rather than the short text ads that have been Google’s hallmark.

For advertisers, the biggest shift will be the option to pay Google simply to show an ad on these sites to a certain number of people, rather than paying only when an Internet user clicks on the ad and is sent to the advertiser’s Web site.

[…] “This drives the nail into the coffin of the idea that Google is a search business,” said John Battelle, the author of a coming book on Google called “The Search.”

[…] Google will abandon rules that require advertisements to be directly relevant to the pages on which they appear; it will now place a motor oil ad on a wine site if the refiner outbids the cheesemonger.

Mr. Battelle said that this change represented the sacrifice of a central Google claim for how its business is different from other companies.

“The core philosophy of Google’s advertising business is that these ads are actually valuable and useful to users: look for Chevy trucks and get Chevy truck ads,” he said. “Now we are in another place. It’s more about branding and more about advertising other things than what you are looking for, and, cynically, it may be about being a public company that needs revenue growth.”

“It is an advertising business that has nothing particularly to do with search.”

Related: A short paper for the recent OII conference – Personalized Digital Services: Power, Equity and Transparency in “Digital Familiars” — and, of course, we keep coming back to EPIC 2014

Reflecting Industry Change

As Technology Transforms Music, Billboard Magazine Changes, Too

Billboard, the bible of the ever-changing music industry, has made some big changes of its own, for the first time since 1963.

The weekly magazine has undergone a redesign, with a less cluttered cover and expanded coverage of topics like marketing and unsigned bands.

[…] The expanded coverage may also help attract new advertisers, never a small consideration. The magazine has already featured ads from some marketers unrelated to music, like Grey Goose vodka and the Hummer division of General Motors.

More may follow as music’s borders become increasingly porous. The business no longer revolves around record labels as much as it once did, said Tamara Conniff, one of Billboard’s two executive editors.

“It encompasses technology companies, brand managers, ad agencies, film companies and television companies,” she said. “You’ve got all these different companies, but they still don’t speak the same language. In order for the music industry to grow and for these other areas, like technology and brand marketing, to get what they need from the music business, they need to understand each other.”

Offering More? In Exchange For …?

DualDisc breaks sound barrier [pdf]

Springsteen’s Devils&Dust arrives in stores Tuesday exclusively in the new DualDisc format — a single disc with CD on one side, DVD on the other. Devils’ CD side is a traditional CD with 12 tracks, and the DVD has video of Springsteen talking about the music and performing five of the songs.

[…] The two-sided hybrid — it can be played on either a DVD or CD player — is the latest effort to steer listeners away from free Internet downloads and back into stores. Springsteen is the biggest artist to release an album exclusively on DualDisc.

[…] Springsteen’s DVD also has a non-visual music track of the album that allows the songs to be played in 5.1 surround sound through a DVD player, enveloping the listener with sound.

[…] Devils & Dust retails for $18.98, about $1 more than music-only CDs. Many downloaders already have decided that cover art and CD packaging are worth sacrificing for free music, but they might have a harder time passing on the video.

Washington Post’s Audio-Video DualDiscs Get A Promotion From the Boss

Who’s Playing Whom?

Turning the tables in the “(fill in the blank) Idol” juggernaut? ‘Idol’ finalist’s band gets record deal

The band of American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis will release their first CD on May 10, recorded before the singer’s fame skyrocketed on the TV talent show.

Koch Records, the label that signed Idol failure William Hung, has announced a deal with Pray for the Soul of Betty, the New York band Maroulis fronted before auditioning for the Fox reality program.

Maroulis signed over the rights to his bandmates before joining Idol, so the self-titled album isn’t owned by the show, a publicist for American Idol confirmed Friday.

[…] Giovanna Melchiorre, a spokeswoman for Koch, said that while Maroulis won’t be able to tour with the band, “Legally, I think we’re OK.”