Baidu in the Crosshairs

And another foray into the slippery notions of search, networking and peer-to-peer: Baidu sued over music downloads [pdf] [via BNA ILN]

The world’s biggest music companies are suing Baidu, the mainland search engine that captivated Wall Street investors, for copyright infringement in a move that could force the company to shut down its MP3 search engine, a key to the company’s popularity among young Chinese Internet users.

Universal, EMI, Warner, Sony BMG and their local subsidiaries, Cinepoly, Go East and Gold Label, are suing the search company in a Beijing court for infringing the copyright of hundreds of songs.

They allege that the search service makes it easy for users to listen to and download illegal copies of their songs, said a source close to the music companies. […]

[…] What has drawn the industry’s ire is the ease with which Internet users can use Baidu’s search engine to locate copies of music stored on the Web, even to the point of organizing songs into Top 10 lists by category. When a user clicks on a particular song, the engine provides a direct link to the url where the file is stored.

Since the search process is automatic, Baidu argues that it is simply providing the basic service offered by all search engines, and is not itself involved in any copyright infringement. In addition, it promises to remove the link if a company can prove it owns the right to a song. “This practice is consistent with legal requirements of PRC law,” Baidu said last night.

The industry, however, argues that a Chinese court, in an earlier case, ruled MP3 searches were illegal.

Patent Reform Hearing

The Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property held a legislative hearing on HR 2795. You can find the testimony at the preceding link. CNet’s coverage: Techies weigh in on patent bill

At the session–convened by the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property–a panel of witnesses aired their views on two sets of proposed changes to the Patent Reform Act of 2005. The panel included people from the software, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

Both sets of changes would pare down the original proposal, introduced in June by Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican. Notably absent in the latest drafts is a “second window” provision that would have established a system for challenging patents virtually any time after they’re granted. That change elicited some concern at the hearing from companies that are members of the Business Software Alliance and from Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat.

But many other portions of the bill remain intact and enjoy support.

Network Neutrality Legislative Draft

Draft Legislation Aims To Aid Competition In Broadband Services [pdf]

A key House committee released draft legislation yesterday requiring broadband providers to allow their subscribers to view any legal online content, a policy aimed at keeping big Internet companies from restricting access to competitors’ Web offerings.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee draft is a victory for advocates of “net neutrality” — the idea that Internet providers have to stand aside and allow customers to access any Web pages as long as the content is legal. The principle is considered crucial to preserving the open nature of the Internet and preventing big broadband providers from squeezing out smaller competitors that offer voice, video or other services.

Another provision in the proposed law also makes it easier for telephone companies to offer television over high-speed lines. It seeks to free cable and telephone companies from having to negotiate video franchises with numerous local authorities around the country, instead giving the Federal Communications Commission more authority over the process.

[…] The draft is a first salvo from the committee, which is led by Texas Republican Joe Barton, in what is likely to be a lengthy battle in Congress over any rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Press release; Section by Section Summary; Staff Discussion Draft; definitely worth a read; some interesting provisions, to say the least.

CNet News’ Congress releases draft broadband bill

In Case You Forgot

The online versions of the NYTimes’ opinion columnists disappear behind a pay-wall on the 19th: Times to Charge for Access to Columnists [pdf]

The marquee columnists for The New York Times’ Op-Ed page _ including Thomas L. Friedman, Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich _ generate lots of interest and discussion online. Now, the paper is hoping they’ll also generate something else: cash.

Beginning Monday, the Times will begin charging $49.95 a year to people who don’t get the paper delivered at home for access to those writers as well as other columnists for the Times’ business, metro and sports sections.

[…] Eliot Pierce, who oversees the TimesSelect project at the Times’ Web site, said the paper is hoping to sign up enough users and home delivery subscribers to the new program so that the Op-Ed columnists “remain part of the dialogue.”

Pierce acknowledged that a number of bloggers were likely to “game” the system by illegally copying and pasting the columns onto free sites, which would violate copyright law, but he said he didn’t expect such infringements to be widespread or to last long.

“I think people may be get bored” with illegally posting the Op-Ed columns on free sites, Pierce said, “but we will keep a very close eye on it.”

So, as a subscriber, I will continue to read them myself, but don’t expect to find links here. I might even make PDFs for myself, but I don’t expect that I’ll post them.

The NYTimes certainly can conduct whatever experiments that they want, but I will do what I can to give them my feedback.

New Orleans Rebuilding As A Tech Testbed?

New Lines of Communication [pdf]

As crews rush to restore basic telephone and Internet services to areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, some executives, academics and analysts are urging a more ambitious approach: Make New Orleans and the surrounding areas super-connected communities, with advanced services that surpass what is available anywhere in the country, if not the world.

With many poles and wires reduced to sticks and spaghetti, cell towers down, miles of streets still flooded, and parts of the region uninhabitable for the near future, these experts see the perfect opportunity to deploy new systems that otherwise might be too expensive or disruptive to build.

Also see FCC Hopes to Learn From Effort to Rebuild [pdf]; and F.C.C. Chief Offers Plan to Get Phones to Hurricane Victims

Financing the Conversion to Digital Distribution of Movies

Disney Deal Backs Digital Distribution [pdf]

In addition to the cost savings, digital distribution allows studios to release movies simultaneously worldwide via satellite transmission, a method they hope will reduce piracy by feeding international demand for newly released movies. The current method of distributing physical film prints limits how widely studios can get their movies out at the same time.

[…] Disney’s deal calls for AccessIT to provide Christie projection systems to theater owners. In turn, Disney promised to pay AccessIT a fee for each digital copy of its movies. The fee is based on the difference between Disney’s cost of distributing a film print and the cost of digital distribution. On average, film distribution costs $1,300 to $1,500 per print, whereas digital distribution via satellite broadcast or DVD costs about $200, AccessIT Chief Executive Bud Mayo said.

Disney also committed to distributing most, if not all, of its 16 to 18 new releases next year in both digital and film format, Viane said, helping boost the number of movies available to keep digital screens occupied and theater owners happy.