August 25, 2005

Protecting Copyright: Mountweazel & Esquivalience [8:45 pm]

Not A Word [pdf]

Turn to page 1,850 of the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia and you’ll find an entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, fountain designer turned photographer who was celebrated for a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes titled “Flags Up!” Mountweazel, the encyclopedia indicates, was born in Bangs, Ohio, in 1942, only to die “at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.”

If Mountweazel is not a household name, even in fountain-designing or mailbox-photography circles, that is because she never existed. “It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright,” Richard Steins, who was one of the volume’s editors, said the other day. “If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us.”

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Grokster and Innovation [4:17 pm]

US filesharing case is already hampering innovation [pdf]

Just weeks after the US supreme court ruled against filesharing network Grokster, legal experts and industry insiders say the verdict is having a chilling effect on US technological innovation.

[...] “Money has shifted into places which will avoid any conflict with the copyright holders,” says Professor Larry Lessig, the top American advocate for copyright reform. “Why buy a [new innovation that gets you a] lawsuit when you can buy a new innovation that doesn’t get you a lawsuit?”

The threat of legal action can be as dangerous as legal action itself, says veteran investor Joi Ito. “All of these laws and possible future laws … increase the risk that someone will decide that the cool, new music distribution technology of the startup you invested in is illegal,” he says.

“I think Grokster, as well as the possibility that Congress will pass new laws, creates a chilling effect by increasing the risk to companies and investors.”

[...] [G]iven that the fundamental point of the internet is the moving of data from one place to another, the area of chilled innovation is greater than you might think. Does advertising a system that allows for large email attachments induce copyright infringement? Could the features of broadband connections, which make large files easier to deal with, make it an inducement to illegal filesharing? When a photo-sharing site or blogging tool proudly proclaims the ease of placing material online, does that make it an inducement to breach copyright?

It doesn’t really matter. The fact that the answers are fuzzy means that small innovators will run out of money for their lawyers long before the record labels do. Venture capitalists might not even take the risk of funding any such startups at all.

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From Pho: “The War Is Over?” [10:43 am]

“The War Is Over”

Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Warner Music, said yesterday in his Aspen Summit keynote that the war between the content industry and consumers is over. And consumers won.

Given this, he said that it’s high time that they content and tech industries “stop pointing guns at each other.” This was much of the theme of digital entertainment policy discussions in Aspen this week.

In his blunt, frequently starkly honest speech, Bronfman said that Warner is highly opposed to the government intervening in efforts to create compulsory license mechanisms, DRM standards, and interoperability. However, just as quickly, Bronfman admitted that when government regulations favor his business, he’s all for them (and these could including P2P filtering legislations, levies on blank CDs., etc) He also said that he wouldn’t be pushing for this and, instead will be focusing on creating new business models that takes advantage of the Internet - including Warner’s eLabel that was announced in Aspen.

Webcast here - draw your own conclusions. The Warner news release: Edgar Bronfman, Jr. Delivers Keynote Address at Progress and Freedom Foundation’s 2005 Aspen Summitentire speech includes this nugget:

We usually associate innovation with technology companies, but they aren’t the only ones who must innovate. To survive and prosper, content companies must do so, as well. And even our very concept of copyright must innovate.

In that regard, let me perhaps surprise some of you by saying that I’d like to salute Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig, and here’s why: While Professor Lessig and I disagree on a host of issues–copyright term length and compulsory licensing to name just two–we do agree on a critical–maybe the most critical–point: That artists and copyright holders must have the right to determine how their works are exploited. And as Professor Lessig has written: “authors and creators deserve to receive the benefits of their creation.” With the formation of Creative Commons, Professor Lessig has opened up the copyright dialogue to in-depth examinations of how flexibility and innovation in this crucial area might benefit us all.

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ManiaTV in Newsweek [9:27 am]

Can an Upstart TV Web Site Challenge MTV? [pdf]

ManiaTV is a curious blend of TV, music program and coffee shop, all located on a single Web site and produced by 75 employees and interns in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse. In addition to on-demand short films, extreme-sports clips and music videos, cyber jockeys or “CJs” also host nonstop live programs in which they interact with their users, via message boards and Webcams. Every so often, an ad will show a TV being destroyed while items available in their online store spell out the site’s motto: “F—k Television.”

Founder Drew Massey, 35, isn’t shy about his plans for this new hybrid medium. “Our goal is domination,” says Massey, a young entrepreneur who founded the 1990s young men’s magazine P.O.V. With youth-entertainment goliaths like MTV expanding their online presence, he might not achieve total domination, but at the very least, Massey may be on his way to creating a successful alternative media outlet. With predicted revenue in the seven figures this year, Massey expects ManiaTV to be in the black by 2006.

The foot soldiers for this new revolution are the students and young professionals who spend more time online than in front of the television. For this demographic, “the Internet is not only their medium but their culture, their life,” says Massey who aims to turn the Web into their main source for entertainment, information and communication.

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Nanny Phones [9:23 am]

Motorola Plans Parent-Monitoring Phones [pdf]

Motorola Inc., the world’s third-largest mobile phone manufacturer, plans to make phones that would let parents monitor their children’s whereabouts and censor obscene content, Chairman and CEO Edward Zander said.

Phones are also coming with features to attract young consumers, like next month’s planned release of a phone with iTunes, Apple Computer Inc.’s popular media player, Zander told reporters late Tuesday.

“Mobile phones today are more like television when I was a kid,” Zander said after visiting his company’s software development center in Bangalore. But “there is a way to keep it secure.”

Wonder if Motorola has someone like Genevieve Bell involved in product development?

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WaPo on the IE-Only (c) Office Registration Tool [9:18 am]

Copyright Program To Require Explorer

“It’s a replay of the bad old days when you built a Web site according to the behavior of an individual browser,” said Daniel J. Weitzner, a policy official with the World Wide Web Consortium, which sets technology standards for the Web.

Timothy Berners-Lee, the creator of the Web and a director of the consortium, said standards are increasingly important as people use an evolving array of handheld devices to access the Internet.

He said Siebel Systems, which is not a member of the consortium, could easily develop a tool to ensure that other browsers would work with its system.

Stacey Schneider, Siebel Systems’ director of technology product marketing, said that other browsers might work with the registration system but that the company could not guarantee it.

Hmmm - but they can “guarantee” the system will work perfectly with IE? That’s quite a claim in itself and, frankly, just demonstrates that Siebel Systems is either (a) incompetent or (b) lying. Guarantees when it comes to programming? Based on someone else’s tool? Do they really have access to the IE source, in all its incarnations? And have run audits against their registration system? Bogus.

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Again, I Look Forward To The Hacks [8:53 am]

Further exploration of the power of machine affect: A Doll That Can Recognize Voices, Identify Objects and Show Emotion

Amazing Amanda, scheduled for release next month by Playmates Toys, is expected to cost $99, said Ms. Shackelford, the chief executive of J. Shackelford & Associates, a product and marketing company in Moorpark, Calif., that specializes in toys and children’s entertainment.

At that price, the same as Apple’s entry-level iPod Shuffle digital music player, the 18-inch-tall doll promises - right on the box it will be sold in - to “listen, speak and show emotion.” Some analysts and buyers who have seen Amanda say it represents an evolutionary leap from earlier talking dolls like Chatty Cathy of the 1960’s, a doll that cycled through a collection of recorded phrases when a child pulled a cord in its back.

Radio frequency tags in Amanda’s accessories - including toy food, potty and clothing - wirelessly inform the doll of what it is interacting with. For instance, if the doll asks for a spoon of peas and it is given its plastic cookie, it will gently admonish its caregiver, telling her that a cookie is not peas.

While $99 is a premium price for a doll, it is only about $10 more than the price of the popular American Girl dolls. And, Ms. Shackelford said, Amanda may prove that girls as well as boys can embrace technology in their toys.

[...] One prerelease model of Amazing Amanda, once it was activated (by flipping the toy’s only visible switch hidden high on its back and beneath its clothing), woke with a yawn, slowly opened its eyes and started asking questions in a cutesy, almost cartoonlike girl’s voice.

What the doll is actually doing, Ms. Shackelford said, is “voice printing” the primary user’s voice pattern. By asking a child to repeat “Amanda” several times, the doll quickly comes to recognize and store in its electronic memory that child’s voice, and only that child’s voice, as its “mommy.” Other voices are greeted with Amanda’s cautionary proclamation, “You don’t sound like Mommy.”

In all, Ms. Shackelford said, the doll is equipped for almost an hour of speech that includes various questions, programmed responses, requests, songs and games. And as Amanda speaks, the doll’s soft-plastic lips move and its face, using Disney-like animatronics, help to suggest expressions.

[...] “We don’t want to make kids scared of technology,” said Ms. Shackelford, who says she is in her mid-60’s and has no children of her own. “You have a baby doll that is supposed to make a little girl feel like the doll loves her. Girls tell dolls all the time that they love them.

“This doll,” Ms. Shackelford said, “acts like she loves you.”

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Yahoo Builds the Super Network [8:20 am]

Video search, personalization and suggestion-driven viewing: Yahoo Builds the Super Network

For its part, Yahoo! is working with SBC and Microsoft on an IPTV/fiber-to-the-curb initiative called Project Lightspeed that uses Yahoo! software to deliver video-on-demand, instant messaging, photo collections, and music. Meanwhile, chief executive Terry Semel, who spent 24 years as an executive at Warner Bros., has recruited a crew of network personnel in Santa Monica to crack open the contractual vaults containing 50 years of rights-encumbered TV and film archives. And Yahoo! has already become the Internet home of broadcast fare like Fat Actress and The Apprentice. “They’re clearly thinking of themselves as the fifth network,” says Jeremy Allaire, founder of Brightcove, a Net video distribution startup.

Watching whatever you want (or didn’t even know you wanted) wherever you are whenever you feel like it has been a fantasy since the early days of the Internet. Now it’s a reality that Horowitz refers to as a “high-class problem.” He and his charges at Yahoo! are trying to figure out how to solve that problem. When they do, it’s good-bye network TV, hello networked TV.

[...] Horowitz’s favorite project is incorporating people-powered metadata systems from two other Yahoo! properties: the recommendation technology from Yahoo! Music and the tagging features from Flickr, the photoblogging company Yahoo! acquired this spring. Google’s original stroke of genius was figuring out how to piggyback on human judgment by following the links people make between Web sites. Horowitz is borrowing functionality from two Yahoo! properties to develop something similar for video. The Yahoo! Music collaborative filtering engine uses a scoring system to match listeners with the recommendations of like-minded music fans. Members of Flickr attach tags, or social bookmarks, to photos they see on the site, imbuing the pictures with mental associations that might never make sense to a computer. By combining the tagging and recommendation function into video search, Horowitz is hoping for a Google-esque breakthrough.

Such network-generated filters will enable psychographic siblings to find one another and, ultimately, evolve into social programming networks.

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More from the CDT: Grokster [8:14 am]

An op-ed from David Sohn of CDT that offers insights into the CDT’s broadcast flag recommendations: The benefits of mutual distrust

The court threaded the needle by saying the song-swapping services could be liable if they actively encouraged their users to violate copyright laws–but not simply for making the technology. In effect, the court sent the message that the law should be used to punish bad behavior, not to single out technology.

[...] There’s a lesson there that reaches far beyond Grokster.

Mutual distrust is about the only thing the warring camps in the long-running battle over electronic copying have shared with each other up to now. Many in the entertainment industry have painted technologists and consumer electronics companies as copyright anarchists who have no qualms about their products being used for wide-scale theft. On the other side, hard-line technologists have accused record labels and movie studios of seeking the power to effectively “veto” any new invention that allows users to play music and movies in new, exciting ways.

[...] For legal services to really thrive, technologists who make the devices and the entertainment companies that own the content need to work together toward a simple but broad goal: making virtually any content available legally, as quickly as possible, in as many forms and formats as possible, while protecting it from widespread illegal redistribution.

That means, for example, cooperating to develop digital rights management, or DRM, technologies that are sufficiently flexible and consumer-friendly to achieve wide success in the marketplace.

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