Asking Some Ugly Questions Over at Slate

Digital Rights Mismanagement: “How Apple, Microsoft, and Sony cash in on piracy prevention.”

While Apple stands alone and Sony self-destructs, Microsoft is practically giving away its digital-rights-management tool in an effort to pick up market share against Apple (so far with little success). We may even see a replay of the Apple-Microsoft battle over the desktop, which ended with Apple holding on to a tiny sliver of the computer market. There is, however, a big difference between then and now. Steve Jobs has a hefty market share and a massive content library made up of millions of songs at a price that people like. As long as the record companies license their content to Apple and consumers flock to the iPod, Apple is in a powerful—some might say Gatesian—position.

What’s hardest for the consumer to swallow, then, is that anti-piracy schemes like DRM look like the subtle tactic of the monopolist. Neither Apple nor Microsoft is hurt by music piracy. Instead, they use it as a marketing ploy to force people to use their products. It doesn’t have to be this way. The companies could agree on one standard that allows people to play the music they lawfully purchase on whichever player they choose. The music industry is supposed to sell music, not the medium it comes in, right?

Engine of Disruption?

What Lurks in Its Soul? [pdf]

But these friendly features belie Google’s disdain for the status quo and its voracious appetite for aggressively pursuing initiatives to bring about radical change. Google is testing the boundaries in so many ways, and so purposefully, it’s likely to wind up at the center of a variety of legal battles with landmark significance.

Consider the wide-ranging implications of the activities now underway at the Googleplex, the company’s campuslike headquarters in California’s Silicon Valley. Google is compiling a genetic and biological database using the vast power of its search engines; scanning millions of books without traditional regard for copyright laws; tracing online searches to individual Internet users and storing them indefinitely; demanding cell phone numbers in exchange for free e-mail accounts (known as Gmail) as it begins to build the first global cell phone directory; saving Gmails forever on its own servers, making them a tempting target for law enforcement abuse; inserting ads for the first time in e-mails; making hundreds of thousands of cheap personal computers to serve as cogs in powerful global networks.

Google has also created a new kind of work environment. It serves three free meals a day to its employees (known as Googlers) so that they can remain on-site and spend more time working. It provides them with free on-site medical and dental care and haircuts, as well as washers and dryers. It charters buses with wireless Web access between San Francisco and Silicon Valley so that employees can toil en route to the office. To encourage innovation, it gives employees one day a week — known as 20 percent time — to work on anything that interests them.

Related to the “Google DNA” example in the article: Found on the Web, With DNA: a Boy’s Father [pdf]

Thinking Through Google Print

Connections: If Books Are on Google, Who Gains and Who Loses?

Now, just as increasing trade and decreasing costs led to the breakdown of the Stationers’ monopoly in the 18th century and to an increase in industrial espionage in the 19th, the Internet’s near elimination of costs for the transmission and sifting of digital media has led to another wave of copiers and protectors, along with accusations of theft and heated debates over file-sharing, copy-protection and licensing.

But during the last decade the debates have had a different character. The self-described “progressive” side has challenged copyright enforcement and even argued for its radical diminishment. This attempt to minimize existing controls, though, is imagined not as a triumph for authors (as was initially the case in the 18th century) or as a triumph for profiteers or national ambitions (as in the industrial espionage of the 19th), but as a form of liberation.

In many such arguments, lines are starkly drawn and echo older ideological battles: idealism confronts materialism, socialism confronts capitalism, communal values confront individualism. Challengers of copyright and patent legislation often portray themselves as liberators, bravely opposing a greedy global corporate culture that tries to claim each bit of intellectual property for itself the way imperialist explorers tried to plant the motherland’s flag on every unclaimed piece of land. Meanwhile, advocates of tighter control over copyright see things very differently, viewing this attack as an assault on the rights of inventors and writers, undermining those who invest their time and labor to answer human needs and desires.

[…] This model will change over time. So will the notion of “copy.” So will the practices of libraries, publishers and booksellers. It may not be too much to hope that so will the ideologies of copyright debate.

The Complexities of a Web Site’s Terms of Service

The Trail of a Clicked-On Ad, Brought to You by Google

Google plans to introduce free analytical tools for online publishers and marketers today, a move that would help the company’s clients get a better sense of Web site traffic patterns and advertising campaigns.

Online analytic tools help publishers determine how often people have viewed certain pages and clicked on certain links within those pages. The free services will be integrated into Google’s lucrative AdWords program, in which marketers for, say, wrenches, pay to have their ads appear near search results whenever online users search for “automotive tools.” Google Analytics will crunch numbers on behalf of users, telling them how often visitors who saw an ad associated with “automotive tools” clicked on the ad, versus those who searched for “hardware stores.”

[…] And Google Analytics could conceivably yield improved marketing intelligence for the company, should many online publishers and marketers choose to hand off their data. Google could then learn about the performance of past advertising campaigns on specific sites.

But Mr. Muret said the company’s terms of service barred it from using customer data for anything other than reporting back to the customer. “The goal really is to help advertisers and publishers gain more visibility,” he said.

Digital Distribution Experiment for Video

Venture of Warner Bros., AOL to Provide Old Television Shows a New Life Online [pdf]

Time Warner Inc. plans to announce today that it will make more than 100 old television series — including “Falcon Crest,” “Kung Fu” and the ’70s sitcom that made John Travolta a star, “Welcome Back, Kotter” — available for free in the first major archive of TV shows on the Web.

When it launches in January, the joint venture between Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution and America Online could help TV, Internet and advertising executives gauge the appetite for longer entertainment programs on the Web, which is dominated by shorter bits typically lasting no more than a few minutes.

The project, dubbed In2TV, may give new life to once-popular TV programs that have fallen out of syndication. It’s also a bid to tap into the booming market for online ads, including streaming video commercials.

NYTimes: Internet Service to Put Classic TV on Home Computer

Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network to offer downloads: WSJ [pdf]