November 30, 2005

Indecency “Creep” [10:04 am]

As feared, the effort to curb “indecency” is becoming an excuse to extend the FCC’s regulatory scope — and a threat to the cable industry’s lucrative bundling practices. When it gets to the horse-trading, will the industry act to protect a revenue stream or a regulatory shelter? Or will “decency” allow the agency to get everything? FCC Chairman Urges Cable TV to Police Itself Over Indecency [pdf]

The nation’s top communications regulator chided the cable TV industry Tuesday for not doing enough to shield children from objectionable programs, adding that parents would be better served if they could more easily pick the channels they receive.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin urged cable operators to offer programs a la carte instead of in bundled packages, a move that he said also would benefit consumers by lowering bills by about 2%. Martin’s position marks a shift from the FCC’s previous stance under former Chairman Michael K. Powell.

The hearing www page: Open Forum on Decency; Commissioner Martin’s comments

See Salon’s excellent writeup: Idiot Boxers. Later - Slate’s I Want My MTV — But you can keep your MTV2

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*Maybe* I’m Back [9:53 am]

Burned a lot of (virtual) witches over the last three days trying to deal with some security issues here. I would like to think that I’m clear, but I have to say that I’m back on probation for the moment. If I’ve been thorough enough, I’ll be back regularly. But, if I missed something, expect that I’ll be taken back down. Sorry about that.

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November 28, 2005

Sorry About The Outage! [3:01 pm]

Hi, everyone. Sorry about the outage — not that I was expecting to be posting much while I was in Cambridge teaching over Thanksgiving, but I *was* expecting that my server would be available.

And, to those of you in Cambridge who got to hear me expostulate about running an OS X server — it looks like the culprit is MIT Network Services. The machine was running just fine when I got here from the airport. That’s going to be the second switch this year that has died on me! They took me off the network over a security problem, hence, among other things, the delay in getting back up (and the current ugly look of the weblog — need to get my WordPress styles set!!)

Of course, my RSS reader missed the last week, so I’m really going to be starting from behind. And I won’t get much done today after flying all day. But, at least the culprit isn’t OS X, which I was fearing.

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November 22, 2005

Warner Settles With Spitzer [3:28 pm]

Warner Music to pay $5 million in “payola” probe

Warner Music Group, one of the largest U.S. record companies, will pay $5 million to settle a New York state probe into how it influenced which songs are played on the radio, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said on Tuesday.

The probe involved “pay-for-play” practices, commonly known as “payola,” in which companies are accused of paying radio stations or promoters to secure air time for songs.

In July, Sony BMG agreed to pay $10 million to settle a related pay-to-play probe.

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AOL Makes A Move [3:26 pm]

AOL Joins Start-Up Company to Offer Web Video Distribution

America Online reached an unusual arrangement yesterday with a start-up company that will allow almost any producer of video content to distribute programming on its service, splitting revenue from advertising or fees.

AOL made its arrangement with Brightcove of Cambridge, Mass., which is building a system that gathers and distributes video content. Brightcove gives producers a way to put video on their Web sites while also making the video available on other sites, with AOL being first.

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Faith in Standards [3:25 pm]

Well, there are standards and there are standards. It will be interesting to see how this evolves, for real. And don’t miss the inescapable NYTimes Microsoft cheerleading: Microsoft Plans to Ease Format Rules

Microsoft said on Monday that it would seek approval to make the software formats behind its Office programs an “open standard” that it would license free to competitors, partners and developers.

[...] In some cases, the concern of those weighing alternatives is the amount of control Microsoft holds over the most common document formats, and over which computers and programs can manipulate them.

If the Microsoft Office Open XML format becomes an endorsed standard, “customers will have a choice” between Open Document and Open XML, said Alan Yates, Microsoft’s general manager of Office.

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Google: Spreading The Risk Around [3:21 pm]

Google Gift to Digital Library

The Library of Congress will announce today a $3 million gift from Google to help the library begin building a World Digital Library, a project that aims to digitize and place on the Web significant primary materials from national libraries and other institutions worldwide.

The LoC’s press release: Library of Congress Launches Effort to Create World Digital Library

The WaPo has an op-ed from the librarian of Congress - A Library for The New World

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Slate Speculation on Creative Destruction [11:54 am]

Nothing stays the same: The Great Google Wipeout - Chronicle of a corporate death foretold

Then Amazon threw Google a curve it couldn’t hit. Google had alienated the entire book-publishing business with its universal book-scanning project, one that paid the publishers in lip service rather than cash. Amazon leveraged this alienation to convince the major New York publishers—including Murdoch’s HarperCollins, of course—to make nearly every book in print available via its “Search Inside” feature, which could already be searched in tandem with Amazon’s A9 search engine. Giving publishers a cut of the book sales and book rentals obtained through search was an essential part of the deal. The book feature of the A9 search engine made it another Club Web, almost as useful as Murdoch’s. Amazon added music lyrics, composers, titles, and artists and extended its IMDb.com database of film and TV artists and film dialogue. It became the dominant online seller of CDs, DVDs, books, and downloadable music, movies, and TV. Information didn’t want to be free, Amazon figured out. It just wanted to be sold at a variety of price points, just like feature films were—at the theater, on pay-per-view, on DVD, or free thanks to the largesse of advertisers. The only ones who mourned the passing of iTunes were the deranged iPod people.

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A Bleak Look At Hollywood; From Hollywood [10:26 am]

Can this industry “embrace the future?”: In a losing race with the zeitgeist [pdf]

The era of moviegoing as a mass audience ritual is slowly but inexorably drawing to a close, eroded by many of the same forces that have eviscerated the music industry, decimated network TV and, yes, are clobbering the newspaper business. Put simply, an explosion of new technology — the Internet, DVDs, video games, downloading, cellphones and iPods — now offers more compelling diversion than 90% of the movies in theaters, the exceptions being “Harry Potter”-style must-see events or the occasional youth-oriented comedy or thriller.

[...] Although the media have focused on the economic issues behind this slump, the problem is cultural too. It’s become cool to dismiss movies as awful. Wherever I go, teenagers say, with chillingly casual adolescent contempt, that movies suck and cost too much — the same stance they took about CDs when the music business went into free fall. When MPAA chief Dan Glickman goes to colleges, preaching his anti-piracy gospel, kids hiss, telling him his efforts don’t help the public, only a few rich media giants. Say what you will about their logic, but, as anyone in the music business can attest, those sneers are the deadly sign of a truly disgruntled consumer.

[...] One of the movie industry’s crucial failings is that it’s simply too slow to keep up with the lightning speed of new technology. Who would’ve believed six months ago that the day after “Desperate Housewives” aired on ABC you could download the whole show on your video iPod? But when someone pitches a movie, it takes at least 18 to 24 months — if not far longer — between conception and delivery to the movie theaters. In a world now dominated by the Internet, studios are at a huge disadvantage in terms of ever lassoing the zeitgeist. Everybody is making movies based on video games, but it seems clear from the abject failure of movies such as “Doom” that it’s almost impossible, given the slow pace of filmmaking, to launch a video game movie before the game has started to lose its sizzle.

New technology is also accelerating word of mouth. Thanks to instant messaging and BlackBerries, bad buzz about a bad movie hits the streets fast enough to stop suckers from lining up to see a new stinker. Even worse, the people who run studios are living in such cocoons that they’ve become wildly out of touch with reality.

[...] Hollywood needs a new mindset, one that sees a movie as something that comes in all shapes and sizes, not something that is wedded to the big screen. Studios have to do what record companies refused to do until they nearly went out of business: embrace the future.

People increasingly want to see movies on their terms [....]

[...] As it stands, Hollywood has become a prisoner of a corporate mindset that is squeezing the entrepreneurial vitality out of the system. It’s not just that studios are making bad movies — they’ve been doing that for years. They’ve lost touch with any real cultural creativity. When you walk down the corridors at Apple or a video game company, there’s an electricity in the air that encourages people into believing they could dream up a new idea that could blow somebody’s mind.

At the big studios, the creative voltage is sometimes so low that you wonder if you’ve wandered into an insurance office. [...]

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A (No-So) New Distribution Outlet [10:19 am]

With Custom CDs, Retailers Hear Cash Registers Jingle [pdf]

Custom CDs aimed at promoting a retailer’s brand have been growing since the mid-1990s. Rock River alone has shipped more than 12 million albums in the last decade, all to non-music retailers. This year, analysts estimate that stores such as Restoration Hardware, Polo Ralph Lauren and Kohl’s will distribute more than 20 million albums bearing their company names.

Retailers say the albums serve as inexpensive advertisements and make money. On average, stores pay $4 each for the Rock River compact discs, then sell them to customers for about $15.

“Shoppers think of Victoria’s Secret every time they slip our CDs into their stereo and relax,” said Ed Razek, chief creative officer at the lingerie giant.

“How else could we get advertising that intimate? And we make a few dollars on every CD we sell.”

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And California …. [10:14 am]

Sony BMG Sued Over Anti-Piracy Software [pdf]

A California-based digital-rights group and the Texas attorney general sued Sony BMG Music Entertainment on Monday for selling compact discs with anti-piracy software that allegedly leaves computers vulnerable to hackers and viruses.

The cases highlight the narrow line walked by the recording industry as it experiments with ways to deter bootleggers. To be effective, copy-protection systems must be tough to crack. But software that’s too intrusive risks alienating music buyers — as Sony BMG’s so-called XCP technology has.

[...] However, copy protection isn’t ceasing. EMI Group, the nation’s fourth-largest record label, intends to include some form of copy protection on most of its releases by the end of next year. An EMI spokesman said the company had manufactured more than 175 million CDs that limit copying and received complaints from less than 1% of customers.

[...] Analysts said EMI’s low incidence of complaints demonstrated that the music industry could deploy technology that didn’t alienate listeners.

“The reason why people don’t complain is because most aren’t really copying CDs in the first place,” said analyst Phil Leigh of Inside Digital Media Inc. “If you can sell music at reasonable prices, consumers will gravitate away from piracy. Eventually companies will stop fighting their customers and just lower their prices.”

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November 21, 2005

And an EFF Class Action…. [5:53 pm]

EFF Files Class Action Lawsuit Against Sony BMG

The suit, to be filed in Los Angeles County Superior court, alleges that the XCP and SunnComm technologies have been installed on the computers of millions of unsuspecting music customers when they used their CDs on machines running the Windows operating system. Researchers have shown that the XCP technology was designed to have many of the qualities of a “rootkit.” It was written with the intent of concealing its presence and operation from the owner of the computer, and once installed, it degrades the performance of the machine, opens new security vulnerabilities, and installs updates through an Internet connection to Sony BMG’s servers. The nature of a rootkit makes it extremely difficult to remove, often leaving reformatting the computer’s hard drive as the only solution. When Sony BMG offered a program to uninstall the dangerous XCP software, researchers found that the installer itself opened even more security vulnerabilities in users’ machines. Sony BMG has still refused to use its marketing prowess to widely publicize its recall program to reach the over 2 million XCP-infected customers, has failed to compensate users whose computers were affected and has not eliminated the outrageous terms found in its End User Licensing Agreement (EULA).

The EFF litigation page

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TX Goes After Sony BMG [5:37 pm]

Texas sues Sony BMG over alleged spyware

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a civil lawsuit on Monday against Sony BMG Music Entertainment for allegedly including spyware on its media player designed to thwart music copying.

According to the lawsuit filed in Travis County, several of the company’s music compact discs require customers to download Sony’s media players if they want to listen to the CDs on a computer.

Findlaw has the complaint

Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas, through his Consumer Protection and Public Health Division, in the name of the State of Texas, brings this action under the authority granted to him by section 48.102 of the Consumer Protection Against Computer Spyware Act (”CPACSA”), Tex. Bus & Com. Code. § 48.001 et seq. (Vernon Supp. 2005)

State of Texas press release: Attorney General Abbott Brings First Enforcement Action In Nation Against Sony Bmg For Spyware Violations

For all the backdrop, see BoingBoing’s timeline/links - part 1, part 2

Later: Sony BMG Sued Over CD’s With Anti-Piracy Software

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Surprise, Surprise [12:42 pm]

Sprint Brings Music Direct to Cellphones, But Price Is Too High [pdf]

Sprint says its higher price is justified by the convenience factor, the ability to buy a song on the go, when the impulse strikes. The company compares this to paying more than usual for milk at an all-night convenience store, or for hot dogs at a ballpark. Also, Sprint contends, there are many people who find PC-based music stores too hard to use, and they will be willing to pay more for something simpler.

I believe something else is at work here: a lethal combination of two industries many consumers believe typically charge too much. One is the bumbling record industry, which has been seeking to raise prices in the fledgling legal downloading market even as it continues to bleed from free, illegal downloading. The other is the cellphone carriers, or, as I like to call them, “the Soviet ministries,” which too often treat their customers as captive and refuse to allow open competition for services they offer over their networks.

Via Slashdot’s Costly Music Store Coming to Cellphones

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Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning [12:26 pm]

Sadly, DivX is not compatible with OS X 10.4/QT 7, so I’ll just have to take the article’s word for it (update: an email from DivX says I spoke too soon - something to test when I get to work tomorrow): Free Internet “Star Trek” spoof is top Finnish film [pdf]

A spoof of science-fiction classic “Star Trek” has become Finland’s most viewed movie, relying on free distribution over the Internet to reach more than three million viewers in less than two months.

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Making A Point, Online [11:09 am]

What should not have been an unexpected use of Amazon.com’s consumer review feature: Railing at Sony BMG, Disguised as a Review

Of course, a survey of recent tags - which, unless they are specifically made private, are designed to be viewed by the public - reveals that snarky Internet shoppers have quickly turned Amazon.com’s tagging system into digital graffiti.

[...] Last week, after a grueling 14-day joust with technology bloggers, who discovered clandestine programming code - called a rootkit - and other embarrassing security flaws in the copy-restriction software Sony BMG had placed on some of its CD’s, the music publisher recalled nearly three million affected albums from store and warehouse shelves. It also offered to exchange the roughly two million more that customers had already bought. (Visit upsrow.com/sonybmg if you’re one of them.)

The list of buggy albums had a little something for everyone - from Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong to Switchfoot, The Dead 60’s and Flatt & Scruggs - but in an unfortunate turn for the dozens of artists who could not have known what copy-protection software their overlords would place on their CD’s, customers at Amazon.com had little to say about the music.

“Evil” and “scumware” were among the tags attached to the country duo Johnny and Donnie Van Zant’s “Get Right with the Man” - the first album identified by the blogosphere as containing Sony BMG’s doomed D.R.M. software. And “rootkit” is now a tag attached to many Sony BMG titles.

“Do not buy” is another.

Among the customer “reviews” posted under the Van Zant album last week was this observation: “Regardless of the legendary family name or anything the group does from here on out, they will forever be remembered for releasing this album.”

“It’s kind of unfair to us,” Johnny Van Zant said of the whole affair, no doubt echoing the thoughts of other Sony BMG artists whose albums are now unfairly (albeit sometimes hilariously) trashed, tagged or wholly ignored in favor of copyright bickering at Amazon.com

Also, today’s Foxtrot:

Later: David Berlind continues with the story: Sony rootkit: The untold story

The Sony rootkit fiasco is the equivalent of that red light somewhere way down the line that some runaway train in the movies blew through. Somewhere in a control booth far away is someone flicking some indicator light with his finger. He knows something’s wrong, but he’s not ready to sound the alarms just yet. It’s the squadron of Japanese Zeros heading for Pearl Harbor that the radar technicians mistook for a flock of birds. We are ignoring the warning signs even though they’re right in front of our faces. We are heading for a situation that we are all going to dreadfully regret — essentially the bad pipe dream that Doc Searls wrote about in his recent treatise — if we don’t treat the Sony rootkit issue as a symptom of a much much bigger problem.

If the Sony rootkit case study teaches us anything, it’s how the fear of Internet-inspired economic punishment can result in a rapid change of direction. Sony is pulling its rootkit CDs from the market and not a moment too soon. Though we don’t know what Sony will come up with over the long term to replace it, it is ultimately the best conclusion anybody could have asked for. It’s proof that public outrage can work. Now, if only we can apply that same outrage to the real problem, then and only then will things start to look up.

We’ll see what the EFF comes up with today.

Also, in re complaining online at Amazon, see Jack Thompson vs Amazon?

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Harvard Librarian Profiled [11:04 am]

A look at the Google Book Search Project: At Harvard, a Man, a Plan and a Scanner

Until two years ago, the congenial and energetic Mr. [Sydney] Verba was chairman of the board of Harvard University Press. And in that position, he witnessed mounting anxiety about the future of publishing, especially with the advent of digital texts.

“Scanning the whole text makes publishers very nervous,” he said. “I have sympathy with that. They have to be assured there will be security, that no one will hack in and steal contents, or sell it to someone.”

And as the author or co-author of 18 books, he understands the worry that Google’s digitization project might cause writers over loss of income or control of their work. Many of his own books are still in print.

But as a librarian and a teacher, he argues that the digital project will meet the needs of students who gravitate to the Internet - and Google in particular - to conduct their research. And he says he believes the project will aid the library’s broader mission to preserve academic material and make it accessible to the world.

He was taken aback when Google was sued, first in September by a group of authors, then last month by five major publishers.

See also earlier Googling Literature: The Debate Goes Public; Lessig’s weblog posting following the NY Library discussion

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Snocap Profile in NYTimes [9:33 am]

Putting the Napster Genie Back in the Bottle

[Shawn Fanning's] new company, called Snocap, has produced software that can enable music services to fulfill the original promise of Napster - a community of dedicated fans exchanging a wide selection of music - while monitoring the file-trading for copyrighted works. The new Grokster will still use peer-to-peer technology, which lets users download songs directly to one another’s computers. But when a user tries to get a copyrighted file, Snocap can block the download or force the user to pay for it, depending on what the artist and label want.

IF Snocap catches on - still a very big “if” because only one file-sharing service has signed up to use the software - it will vindicate Mr. Fanning’s passionately held belief that if Napster had been allowed to live, it would have become a legitimate and profitable sales outlet for artists and music companies. After the original Napster closed, the name was sold to a new company that sells licensed music under paid subscriptions and does not use peer-to-peer technology.

“Nobody has ever built a reliable peer-to-peer service, where people can really access all the music they want in one location,” Mr. Fanning said. “Once I got it into my head, I couldn’t imagine the media space without one.”

[...] His new company, called Snocap, has produced software that can enable music services to fulfill the original promise of Napster - a community of dedicated fans exchanging a wide selection of music - while monitoring the file-trading for copyrighted works. The new Grokster will still use peer-to-peer technology, which lets users download songs directly to one another’s computers. But when a user tries to get a copyrighted file, Snocap can block the download or force the user to pay for it, depending on what the artist and label want.

IF Snocap catches on - still a very big “if” because only one file-sharing service has signed up to use the software - it will vindicate Mr. Fanning’s passionately held belief that if Napster had been allowed to live, it would have become a legitimate and profitable sales outlet for artists and music companies. After the original Napster closed, the name was sold to a new company that sells licensed music under paid subscriptions and does not use peer-to-peer technology.

“Nobody has ever built a reliable peer-to-peer service, where people can really access all the music they want in one location,” Mr. Fanning said. “Once I got it into my head, I couldn’t imagine the media space without one.”

Slashdot’s Harnessing the Power of P2P, Looking Back

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Sony BMG Rootkit Fallout [9:19 am]

Who has the right to control your PC?

“A personal computer is called a personal computer because it’s yours,” said Andrew Moss, Microsoft’s senior director of technical policy. “Anything that runs on that computer, you should have control over.”

Sounds simple, but it’s not.

[...] The controversy over Sony’s copy protection highlights two ideas of property that are clashing as the technology and entertainment worlds converge.

Record labels and movie studios have complained bitterly over the last few years that their intellectual property rights in films, music and games are routinely undermined by people burning copies of discs or DVDs, or trading files online. [...]

[...] But if some computer owners have shown a lack of respect for intellectual property rights, Sony’s invasive content protection tools displayed a similarly tone-deaf attitude to consumers’ sense of ownership over their own PCs, critics say.

“If you wanted to take something from the lesson of Sony’s rootkit, it should be that people want their demands for respect and autonomy to be taken more seriously,” said Julie Cohen, a Georgetown University law professor who has written extensively on the intersection of property and technology.

See also Slashdot’s President of RIAA Says Sony-BMG Did Nothing Wrong and Piece of Tape Defeats Sony DRM and Gartner’s Sony BMG DRM a Public-Relations and Technology Failure

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November 18, 2005

CALEA/VoIP Fight [5:29 pm]

Network Providers Fight FCC on VOIP Wiretapping

Protesting that new federal wiretapping rules will stifle innovation and require the re-engineering of private IP networks at a huge expense, universities, ISPs, libraries and privacy organizations, along with Sun Microsystems Inc., are going to court to overturn the rules.

[...] Sun joined the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Pulver.com, Comptel and the American Library Association in filing a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

[...] “The expansion of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act to the Internet is troubling, and it is not what Congress intended,” [Sen. Patrick] Leahy said. “We certainly need to hear whether law enforcement agencies are actually experiencing interception problems on the Internet, since the last thing we should do is fix a problem that does not exist.”

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