October 20, 2005

An “Old” Napster VP Speaks Up [6:35 pm]

And offers some odd lessons, IMHO: Napster’s learning curve

We were naive about what the labels would or could agree to. It was not reasonable to expect that we could challenge their fundamental business model, and then agree to work together as partners. It is now clear that they couldn’t have made a deal with Napster even if they wanted to. Their existing contracts with the artists had no royalty provisions for digital distribution of individual songs. The payments to artists were all based on CD sales through the normal retail channels. It took them several years to rewrite their contracts with artists to get to the point where today you can buy a single song via digital download.

Really?

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Kill them all and let God sort them out! [6:29 pm]

Man, this is going to make for some interesting court cases (”emergency” — to whom?): Net pirates will face stiffer punishment

The U.S. Sentencing Commission on Wednesday approved an emergency set of rules that would boost prison sentences by roughly 40 percent for people convicted of peer-to-peer infringement of copyright works “being prepared for commercial distribution.”

The changes also say judges may “estimate” the number of files shared for purposes of determining the appropriate fine and sentence. Larger numbers typically yield longer sentences.

[...] The law was supported by major media organizations, including the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. It imposes fines of up to $250,000 and prison terms of up to three years, regardless of whether any downloading of a prerelease work took place.

Another change in the sentencing guidelines alters the definition of “uploading” to make it clear that merely having a copyright file available in a shared folder–such as those used by popular file-swapping programs like Kazaa and BearShare–can count as illegal distribution.

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Now HP *Wants* To Let People Copy? [4:48 pm]

Wonder how they came to this new position after all their support of DRM? Is this a post-Fiorina shift? Hewlett Urges Compromise in Battle Over New Formats for DVD

The Hewlett-Packard Company, a member of the Blu-ray Disc Association developing the next-generation DVD, urged the group yesterday to adopt software that has already been included in the rival format.

[...] “At the end of the day, H.P. will support the optical formats that support this technology, so we would have to look at alternatives” if the Blu-ray group rejects its request, said Maureen Weber, the general manager of personal storage at Hewlett and the chair of the promotions committee for the Blu-ray Disc Association.

Hewlett wants the Blu-ray group to incorporate the software because it allows consumers to legally copy DVD’s onto their PC’s, transfer movies to other devices and watch video in a greater variety of ways.

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Google Map Mashups [4:43 pm]

A Journey to a Thousand Maps Begins With an Open Code

You can still search Google Maps to figure out how to get from here to there, but why would you, when you can use it to pinpoint kosher restaurants in Cincinnati, traffic cameras in Dublin, or hot spring spas anywhere in the United States? How about finding coffee shops in Seattle that provide free wireless Internet access? Or would you prefer to locate the McMansion your boss just bought and find how out exactly how much he paid for it?

An army of programmers, most of them doing it just for fun, has grabbed the software code that generates the distinctive maps with their drop-shadowed virtual pushpins, and combined it with other data like the locations of potholes, taco trucks and U.F.O. sightings, and even the sites of murders and muggings.

The result is Google map mash-ups, the latest form of Internet information repackaged for entertainment and, perhaps, profit. [...]

[...] Why are people doing this? The flippant answer is also the honest one: because they can. Google has revealed the map-generating software, called an A.P.I., or application programming interface. (You can find it at www.google.com/apis/maps/.) And with that A.P.I., a programmer can create a mash-up by combining it with other data - like apartment listings on Craigslist, or demographic data from the United States census. The programming technique, itself a mash-up of programs, is also known as Ajax, for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

[...] The difference, he said, is that it is now even more democratic because it is so simple to do. “It still takes a programmer to write these kinds of Google maps, but it is easier because you can go to another site and copy the code,” he said.

It just got a lot easier. A company started by Marc Andreessen, a co-founder of Netscape, hopes to democratize map mash-ups even more. He created Ning.com, which automates the tools needed to create a Google-based map so almost anyone can make one.

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Fighting Zombie Farms [11:56 am]

The Zombie Hunters: On the trail of cyberextortionists

Prolexic, which was founded in 2003 by a twenty-seven-year-old college dropout named Barrett Lyon, is a twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week operation. An engineer is posted in the [network operations center] at all times, to monitor Prolexic’s four data hubs, which are in Phoenix, Vancouver, Miami, and London. The hubs contain powerful computers designed to absorb the brunt of data floods and are, essentially, massive holding pens for zombies. Any data travelling to Prolexic’s clients pass through this hardware. The company, which had revenues of four million dollars in its first year, now has more than eighty customers.

Lyon’s main business is protecting his clients from cyberextortionists, who demand payments from companies in return for leaving them alone. Although Lyon is based in Florida, the attackers he deals with might be in Kazakhstan or China, and they usually don’t work alone.

[...] Only a few years ago, online malfeasance was largely the province of either technically adept hackers (or “crackers,” as ill-intentioned hackers are known), who were in it for the thrill or for bragging rights, or novices (called “script kiddies”), who unleashed viruses as pranks. But as the Web’s reach has expanded real-world criminals have discovered its potential. Mobsters and con men, from Africa to Eastern Europe, have gone online. Increasingly, cyberextortionists are tied to gangs that operate in several countries and hide within a labyrinth of anonymous accounts.

[...] Examining the list of zombie addresses, Lyon picked one and ran a command called a “traceroute.” The program followed the zombie’s path from MensNiche back to a computer called NOCC.ior.navy.mil—part of the United States Navy’s Network Operations Center for the Indian Ocean Region. “Well, that’s great,” he said, laughing. Lyon’s next traceroute found that another zombie was on the Department of Defense’s Military Sealift Command network. The network forces of the United States military had been conscripted in an attack on a Web site for penis enlargement.

[...] Less than five years ago, experts considered a several-thousand-zombie botnet extraordinary. Lyon now regularly faces botnets of fifty thousand zombies or more. According to one study, fifteen per cent of new zombies are from China. A British Internet-security firm, Clearswift, recently predicted that “botnets will, unless matters change dramatically, proliferate to the point where much of the Internet . . . comes to resemble a mosaic of botnets.” Meanwhile, the resources of law enforcement are limited–the N.H.T.C.U., for example, has sixty agents handling everything from child pornography to identity theft.

Extortionists often prefer to target online industries, such as pornography and gambling, that occupy a gray area, and may be reluctant to seek help from law enforcement. Such businesses account for most of Prolexic’s clients. I asked Lyon how he felt about the companies he defended. “Everybody makes a living somehow,” he said. “It’s not my job to worry about how they do it.”

I asked whether that applied to extortionists as well. After a pause, he said, “I guess I’m partial to dot-commers.”

Several weeks later, he called me to say that he’d reconsidered his answer. “The Internet is all about connecting things, communicating and sharing information, bits, pieces of data,” he said. “A denial-of-service attack is the exact opposite of that. It is taking one person’s will and imposing it on a bunch of others.”

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Profiling the 419ers [8:25 am]

‘I Will Eat Your Dollars’ [pdf]

As patient as fishermen, the young men toil day and night, trawling for replies to the e-mails they shoot to strangers half a world away.

Most recipients hit delete, delete, delete, delete without ever opening the messages that urge them to claim the untold riches of a long-lost deceased second cousin, and the messages that offer millions of dollars to help smuggle loot stolen by a corrupt Nigerian official into a U.S. account.

But the few who actually reply make this a tempting and lucrative business for the boys of Festac, a neighborhood of Lagos at the center of the cyber-scam universe. The targets are called maghas — scammer slang from a Yoruba word meaning fool, and refers to gullible white people.

[...] To them, the scams, called 419 after the Nigerian statute against fraud, are a game.

Their anthem, “I Go Chop Your Dollars,” hugely popular in Lagos, hit the airwaves a few months ago as a CD penned by an artist called Osofia:

“419 is just a game, you are the losers, we are the winners.

White people are greedy, I can say they are greedy

White men, I will eat your dollars, will take your money and disappear.

419 is just a game, we are the masters, you are the losers.”

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Sony BMG Sued in Bribery Case [8:17 am]

Sony BMG Sued in Bribery Case

TSR Records, an independent music label, filed suit yesterday against Sony BMG Music Entertainment, accusing it of unfairly dominating radio play lists through the use of bribes to programmers and other illicit tactics.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, comes three months after Sony BMG agreed to pay $10 million to settle allegations by the New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, that it had used improper radio promotion practices, including payola, or undisclosed payments to broadcasters.

TSR, of Tarzana, Calif., said independent labels were “systematically excluded” from radio play lists as a result of record company tactics. It contended that Sony BMG violated federal and California antitrust laws and improperly interfered with its business prospects. The case seeks unspecified monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.

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Everybody Into The Pool! 2 [8:07 am]

Publishers battle Google book index [pdf]

Five major publishing firms filed suit against Internet search giant Google Inc. yesterday to stop the company from creating a digital index of millions of copyrighted books. The lawsuit, coming weeks after a group of book authors also sued Google, sets up a legal showdown over the limits of intellectual property law in the age of global computer networks.

The publishers — the McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson Education Inc., Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Simon & Schuster Inc., and John Wiley & Sons Inc. — are trying to halt the Google Print Library Project, which Google unveiled in December 2004. The project aims to make digital copies of millions of books stored in the libraries of major universities, including Harvard. Google will then use its search technology to create an index of all of the text in each book, and make this index available on the Internet at no charge. The result would be the world’s largest and most powerful index of books. A user could instantly search millions of volumes for information on a particular topic, and receive a list of relevant books. The index would also display small portions of the text, to help a researcher decide if he or she has found the right book.

Google’s plan outraged the Association of American Publishers, the trade group representing the nation’s leading producers of books. The association’s president, former Colorado Democratic congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, said that the Google Print Library Project is a blatant violation of copyright law.

I look forward to the economists’ discussion of transactions costs and their mitigation as a rationale for property rights in the face of this (contrary) example. See also Tim Wu’s Leggo My Ego: GooglePrint and the other culture war

Imagine how terrible maps would be if you had to negotiate with every landowner in the United States to publish the Rand McNally Road Atlas. Maps might still exist, but they’d be expensive and incomplete. Property owners might think they’d individually benefit, but collectively they would lose out—a classic collective action problem. There just wouldn’t really be maps in the sense we think of today.

The critical point is this: Just as maps do not compete with or replace property, neither do book searches replace books. [...]

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