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December 30, 2005

Another Side of the Apple Shift to Intel [12:09 pm]

New Focus for Intel: The Home

When Paul S. Otellini, Intel’s chief executive, takes the stage at the [Consumer Electronics] show Thursday, he is expected to present a new Intel focused on selling a digital lifestyle rather than hardware.

Instead of bits and bytes, Mr. Otellini, the first nonengineer to run Intel, is expected to spend much of his time talking about cool new music and video features that will be made possible by the new home entertainment platform, called Viiv, and Core, a low-powered chip that will eclipse the Pentium M chip for portable computers.

The transformation of Intel will, in part, be defined by its new alliance with Apple Computer, which has come to dominate the digital music business and is entering the nascent digital video market with its iPod players.

[...] While an Apple-Intel living room alliance might not emerge as early as January, most industry observers say they believe that Intel’s alliance with Apple was shaped in part by Microsoft’s decision to pick the I.B.M. PowerPC chip for its Xbox 360 game machine.

“Intel has begun tuning up Yonah for an orchestra we haven’t heard yet,” said Richard Doherty, a computer industry analyst and president of Envisioneering Inc. in Seaford, N.Y.

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LATimes Editorial On The Sensenbrenner Analog Hole Legislation [11:13 am]

Interestingly, even the industry’s hometown paper doesn’t think it’s a good idea: Congressional copycats [pdf]

The studios have an understandable interest in combating piracy. But Congress should not be mandating the technologies used to fight it, particularly when they aren’t proven. As Sony BMG learned when it used a new technology to prevent CDs from being copied, unanticipated glitches can inflict more than enough pain to offset any reduction in illegal copying.

At any rate, this legislation won’t stop determined video pirates, who will find other ways to make bootlegs. Its effect would be mainly on typical TV viewers, who would be prevented from doing a number of things they expect to be able to do with video. Maybe you’re an HBO subscriber who recorded an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to watch on the bus the next morning on your way to work. Today, you can use analog connectors to convert that recording into a digital file suitable for your iPod or Sony PSP. If the bill became law, the tools needed for the conversion would be illegal.

[...] Such connectors are gradually disappearing from TVs and video recorders anyway, so this “hole” will eventually close on its own. In the meantime, if the goal is to deter illegal copying, Hollywood should work harder to help viewers watch what they want when they want to. And Congress should understand that piracy cannot be curbed simply by giving Hollywood more control.

Related: the LATimes’ end of the year roundup - High-tech Hollywood [pdf]

HOLLYWOOD CONTINUED ITS love-hate relationship with new technology in 2005. The industry made a few breakthroughs that will benefit entertainment’s producers and consumers alike — while still seeming to take one step backward for every step ahead.

One of the most promising children of the marriage between Hollywood and Silicon Valley was the deal between Apple Computer and a handful of TV executives to let Apple sell downloadable versions of their shows for the iPod. It was a small step in the grand scheme of things but a breakthrough nonetheless: It showed the networks’ willingness to experiment with new business models even if they conflict with the desires of affiliates and syndicators.

Meanwhile, Apple’s iTunes Music Store continued to dominate the market for downloadable songs, which grew about 150% in 2005. That growth helped ease the industry’s pain from yet another drop in CD sales. Yet revenues were comparatively small, showing that masses of consumers had yet to be persuaded to pay for music or video online.

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The Movie Industry and China [11:07 am]

An article on the contradictions and opportunities being pursued in the Chinese market by US movie companies - challenges of ideology, distribution and culture: Crouching U.S. studios, hidden Chinese market [pdf]

If Hollywood is ever going to find its way through the cultural mists and mazes of China — or get some of those 1.3 billion butts into seats for the next “Shrek” or George Clooney picture or whatever it is Spielberg decides to make — it is going to have to figure out how to get money out of people like Al Yon.

Yon already loves Hollywood. Loves American movies — even adopted his first name back in high school English class in honor of Al Pacino. Loves American TV too. “Seinfeld,” “Frasier,” “Friends,” “Sex and the City.” He’s seen every episode.

[...] And Yon should be Hollywood’s dream customer: a smart, young, urban guy in the world’s fastest-growing market, with a voracious appetite for just about anything the American pop culture machine throws out. ” ‘Desperate Housewives’ — I love it,” Yon says.

Problem is, Yon has never paid a dime to ogle Charlotte or snicker at the inside jokes with Jerry and Kramer. Never plans to. All that expensively produced American culture is being piped into his bedroom on the Internet, “shared” among Chinese consumers who swap digital files free. And Yon’s not some geek operating on the fringe. He’s the Chinese mainstream. He’s not even one of those consumers who get their Hollywood fix from buying pirated DVDs for a dollar.

“Why would I pay a dollar,” Yon asks, perplexed, “for something that is free?”

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December 28, 2005

A Good Question: Who Cares? [11:46 am]

What *is* it going to take to get the consumers to care about the choice between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray? This article suggests that it’s all just a fight over positioning deck chairs on the Titanic: Fiddling With Format While DVD’s Burn

There are growing signs, though, that the battle for supremacy in this multibillion-dollar market may yield a hollow victory. As electronics makers, technology companies and Hollywood studios haggle over the fine points of their formats, consumers are quickly finding alternatives to buying and renting packaged DVD’s, high definition or otherwise.

“While they fight, Rome is burning,” said Robert Heiblim, an independent consultant to electronics companies. “High-definition video-on-demand and digital video recorders are compelling, and people will say, ‘Why do I need it?’ ” when considering whether to buy a high-definition player.

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Leverage [11:26 am]

Linkin Park Will Stay With Warner Music

Less than eight months after issuing a stinging, public vote of no-confidence in its record company, Warner Music Group, the multiplatinum rap-rock act Linkin Park has signed a lucrative new pact with the recording giant. The six-member Los Angeles band and its management company, the Firm, last week reached a deal with Warner calling for an estimated $15 million advance for the group’s next album, executives involved in the contract negotiations said. The pact provides the company’s Warner Brothers Records unit with an option for up to five more albums from the band, one more than had been called for in their original deal.

Warner also agreed to increase the musicians’ royalty rate to an estimated 20 percent. The next Linkin Park CD, still untitled, is expected to be released as early as mid-2006.

[...] Linkin Park joins a long list of major acts who have publicly threatened or taken legal action against their label only to back down after receiving a hefty check. Acts like the Dixie Chicks, Beck, Incubus and Don Henley have traveled the same path.

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R. (c)rumb v. Amazon [9:40 am]

Artist Puts His Foot Down on Amazon [pdf]

Jules Zalon, Crumb’s lawyer, said people who searched the Amazon website for a product that it didn’t carry were shown Crumb’s famous “Keep on Truckin’ ” image — a big-footed man in full stride, leaning sharply backward — with instructions to keep on looking.

When Crumb’s representatives complained to Amazon in 2003, the company promptly removed the image, Zalon said Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed in Seattle last week, seeks unspecified damages. It came after the two parties were unable to agree on how much Amazon should pay for using the image, which over the years has been memorialized, among other places, on the mud flaps of trucks.

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December 27, 2005

Speculation on the Rate of Change in Hollywood [1:14 pm]

From Slate: Hollywood’s New Year - My predictions for 2006

One doesn’t need a crystal ball to see that Hollywood’s future is now inexorably tied to the small screen. Just look at the studios’ own internal revenue numbers. Before the invasion of television, the big screen (aka movie theaters) provided 100 percent of the studios’ revenues. Now it accounts for less than 15 percent. The small screen—which includes computers, portable DVD players, and iPods as well as televisions—provides 85.6 percent. To be sure, much of Hollywood’s celebrity culture, and the entertainment media that feeds off it, remains rooted in nostalgia for the big screen. Meanwhile, the MBAs that run the studios—and their corporate owners—have come to grips with the cruel reality that the movie business is no longer primarily about movies, it’s about creating intellectual properties—the current term of art for a movie, TV series, or game—that can be sold or licensed for personal entertainment in a raft of different forms and markets. According to my crystal ball, the further migration of Hollywood—even with its sticky celebrity culture—into home entertainment will be greatly accelerated in 2006 by the following five events:

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“Devolution” of Distribution [12:06 pm]

Music label forsakes CDs [pdf]

[Ex-Devo frontman Gerald Casale's] new music is distributed by Cordless Recordings, a new breed of label that has dumped CDs and other traditional formats in favor of offering music only online.

The strategy is meant to cut the cost of catapulting a new artist to fortune and fame by tapping the medium where young fans are finding music.

”When you look at the cost of a major label signing an artist, it costs about a half-million dollars,” said Jac Holzman, who founded Elektra Records in 1950 and now oversees Cordless, a unit of Warner Music Group. He said Cordless does it for ‘’significantly less,” but wouldn’t be more specific.

Even in today’s iPod-centered music scene, it’s hard to say how far the all-digital strategy might take an artist. There’s no CD box, no liner notes, and very little in the way of traditional promotion.

But one thing’s for sure: Sales of digital music are growing.

Later: The Net Is a Boon for Indie Labels

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December 26, 2005

Santangelo Suit Update [7:54 pm]

Santangelo in the WaPo: ‘Internet Illiterate’ Mom Sued Over Music Downloads [pdf]

The drain on her resources to fight the case — she’s divorced, has five children aged 7 to 19 and works as a property manager for a real estate company — forced her this month to drop her lawyer and begin representing herself.

“There was just no way I could continue on with a lawyer,” she said. “I’m out $24,000 and we haven’t even gone to trial.”

So on Thursday she sat alone at the defense table before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Fox in White Plains, looking a little nervous and replying simply, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” to his questions about scheduling and evidence exchange.

[...] Her former lawyer, Ray Beckerman, said Santangelo doesn’t really need him.

“I’m sure she’s going to win,” he said. “I don’t see how they could win. They have no case. They have no evidence she ever did anything. They don’t know how the files appeared on her computer or who put them there.”

We’ll see.

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December 24, 2005

Eliot Spitzer On A Rampage [11:34 am]

Pricing of Downloaded Songs Prompts Antitrust Subpoenas

The New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, is investigating whether the four record companies that dominate the industry have violated antitrust laws in the pricing of songs that are sold by Internet music services, according to people involved in the inquiry.

[...] Warner Music disclosed yesterday in a regulatory filing that it had received a subpoena on Tuesday in connection with “an industrywide investigation” into whether the companies colluded in the pricing of music downloads.

Representatives for Warner and Sony BMG said their companies would cooperate with the investigation. Representatives for the other major companies could not be reached or declined to comment.

[...] Two major companies - Sony BMG and Warner - hit an impasse with Apple this year in talks about the price of music on the iTunes service in Japan. Apple started its service without music from the two companies, potentially offering a sign of the discord to come as the companies face contract renewal talks with Apple over its United States service.

Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, later called the industry greedy for pressing for higher prices. Mr. Jobs’s critics in the music industry, in turn, have complained privately that Mr. Jobs is hoarding cash by holding down song prices to protect sales of Apple’s more lucrative iPod music player. An Apple spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

LATimes’ Pricing of Music Downloads Is Probed [pdf]

Slashdot story: Music Download Pricing Lawsuits Pending?

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December 22, 2005

Updated: France On A DRM Rampage Blowback!! [3:49 pm]

Download Piaf, Go to Jail

Internet downloaders could face jail sentences and software makers may be required to add anti-copying technology to products distributed in France under draft legislation that’s expected to go to a vote this week.

The so-called emergency legislation would require software makers to include digital-rights management, or DRM, software in their products, according to a draft (.pdf) of the proposed legislation seen by Wired News. Software makers could be liable if their software is used for illicit purposes — whether the software was designed for peer-to-peer networks or office intranets.

French legislators are also calling for three-year jail sentences and fines of 300,000 euros for illegally copying music, video or any other copyright-protected files.

Laws could also be set in place mandating that ISPs shut down accounts of suspected pirates.

Update: Except it didn’t turn out that way at all: France Lawmakers Endorse File-Sharing [pdf]

A French government crackdown on digital piracy backfired Thursday as lawmakers rebelled by endorsing amendments to legalize the online sharing of music and movies instead of punishing it.

[...] An 11th-hour government offer to give illegal downloaders two warnings prior to prosecution was not enough to stem the rebellion. Instead, the amendments voted would legalize file-sharing by anyone paying a monthly royalties duty estimated at $8.50.

Music labels and movie distributors have suggested the amendments would break international laws on intellectual property, and French actors and musicians lined up to condemn the surprise vote.

“To legalize the downloading of our music, almost free of charge, is to kill our work,” venerable rocker Johnny Hallyday said in a statement.

Slashdot’s France to Legalize File Sharing

Johnny Hallyday, again? (Or better, still?)

Later: More details in this Reuters story: France on track to legalize P2P downloading; [pdf]

Consumer groups, including the dominant UFC-Que Choisir, rejoiced at Wednesday night’s vote. “We never expected this, but France has proved yet again that it stands for all kinds of freedom,” a spokesman for the consumer group said Thursday. But judging from the furor the move has caused, “our happiness may be short-lived,” he said.

Slashdot: Free P2P In France?

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December 21, 2005

Startling Assertion [12:20 pm]

Richard Posner makes a startling leap in this op-ed from today’s Washington Post: Our Domestic Intelligence Crisis [pdf]

The collection, mainly through electronic means, of vast amounts of personal data is said to invade privacy. But machine collection and processing of data cannot, as such, invade privacy. Because of their volume, the data are first sifted by computers, which search for names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., that may have intelligence value. This initial sifting, far from invading privacy (a computer is not a sentient being), keeps most private data from being read by any intelligence officer.

[...] The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act makes it difficult to conduct surveillance of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents unless they are suspected of being involved in terrorist or other hostile activities. That is too restrictive. Innocent people, such as unwitting neighbors of terrorists, may, without knowing it, have valuable counterterrorist information. Collecting such information is of a piece with data-mining projects such as Able Danger.

The goal of national security intelligence is to prevent a terrorist attack, not just punish the attacker after it occurs, and the information that enables the detection of an impending attack may be scattered around the world in tiny bits. A much wider, finer-meshed net must be cast than when investigating a specific crime. Many of the relevant bits may be in the e-mails, phone conversations or banking records of U.S. citizens, some innocent, some not so innocent. The government is entitled to those data, but just for the limited purpose of protecting national security.

Totally aside from the question of “overreaching” that infuses not only this article, but also the general discussion of the President’s domestic surveillance order, I had always thought that the question is the problem that, once collected, data finds all sorts of uses and is claimable under all sorts of legal constructions. I’m surprised to see a claim that data use will be “limited.”

Later: Robert Byrd’s speech on Dec 19th: No President Is Above the Law [pdf from CongRec]

Later: Posner’s online chat at the WaPo on the subject of this op-ed.

Even later: apparently an even more sweeping effort — Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report

Later: NSA Data Mining Much Larger Than Reported

Later: Harvard’s Charles Fried tries to find a middle path: The case for surveillance [pdf]

Later: The NYTimes’ Public Editor on getting a runaround - The Public Editor: Behind the Eavesdropping Story, a Loud Silence

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December 20, 2005

OT: Dover ID Prescription Unconstitutional [2:46 pm]

Not my usual beat, but I love these paragraphs from the opinion: Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover School District, et al.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

[...] Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

I guess there’s no hope for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, either? Yaaaar!

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Another “Analog Hole” Attack [10:19 am]

Pro-Hollywood bill aims to restrict digital tuners

A new proposal in Congress could please Hollywood studios, which are increasingly worried about Internet piracy, by embedding anticopying technology into the next generation of digital video products.

If the legislation were enacted, one year later it would outlaw the manufacture or sale of electronic devices that convert analog video signals into digital ones–unless those encoders honor an anticopying plan designed to curb redistribution. Affected devices would include PC-based tuners and digital video recorders.

Can’t find the Thomas link, yet

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NPR’s Morning Edition on BluRay v HD DVD [8:55 am]

It’ll be listed after 8:30 and audio will be available after 8:30 — the crux of the choice, according to this piece, is the fact that Blu-Ray is working to help rights-holders increase their level of control of access.

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Causing Unrest: Keyhole/Google [8:52 am]

One of those slippery arguments in the computer/database age — does the fact that the data exists *somewhere* mean that there are no downsides to making sure its available *everywhere* to *anyone*? How do you know? And how can you tell? Google Offers a Bird’s-Eye View, and Some Governments Tremble

Google Earth is the most conspicuous recent instance of increased openness in a digitally networked world, where information that was once carefully guarded is now widely available on personal computers. Many security experts agree that such increased transparency - and the discomfort that it produces - is an inevitable byproduct of the Internet’s power and reach.

American experts in and outside government generally agree that the focus on Google Earth as a security threat appears misplaced, as the same images that Google acquires from a variety of sources are available directly from the imaging companies, as well as from other sources. Google Earth licenses most of the satellite images, for instance, from DigitalGlobe, an imaging company in Longmont, Colo.

“Google Earth is not acquiring new imagery,” said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, which has an online repository of satellite imagery. “They are simply repurposing imagery that somebody else had already acquired. So if there was any harm that was going to be done by the imagery, it would already be done.”

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Pending Red Letter Day: Feb 17, 2009 [8:47 am]

My birthday! Oh, and the day that analog TV channels go dark - for the moment: Transition to Digital Gets Closer

As part of the transition, the legislation would provide each household with up to two coupons worth $40 each for converter boxes to attach to analog television sets so they are not obsolete once broadcasters surrender their analog licenses on Feb. 17, 2009, as the new law would require. Not coincidentally, the date was selected to fall two weeks after the Super Bowl and a month before the widely watched National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.

[...] “This is the government making your TV go black and then only paying part of the costs for some of the people to make it work again, and none of the costs for others,” said Gene Kimmelman, public policy director at Consumers Union.

An estimated 70 million to 80 million television sets now in use are analog and are not attached to cable or satellite services, though experts say that by the completion of the transition, consumers will be using many more digital sets and fewer analog ones.

But mine still won’t be connected to cable!

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Asking “Where’s Boston’s WiFi?” [8:15 am]

Plus a rundown of other programs nationwide: If we’re Tech City, where’s our WiFi? [pdf]

Wireless data networks are being installed free of charge in cities across the nation. But Boston, a city with a reputation for innovation and more than twice the population of some cities already luring big WiFi investments, isn’t among them.

Towns with less than half Boston’s population have gotten companies to pledge millions of dollars for so-called WiFi networks that blanket an entire city, offering little in return except access to light poles and the hope of charging residents and businesses usage fees. Cities like Akron, Ohio, and Tempe, Ariz., and Farmers Branch, Texas, each with populations below 300,000, persuaded a company to spend millions to build the networks, which provide high-speed Internets access to residents and businesses from anywhere in town.

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December 19, 2005

More on the Sonic Environment and Retail [9:12 am]

The Basics: The Muzak of Ka-ching!

“Christmas music works,” said Georgeanne Bender, a retailing consultant in Chicago. “When we hear the old songs it puts us in the mood. It’s all about making people feel comfortable and stay and shop.”

It works so well that some retailers are playing holiday songs as early as Nov. 1, “to get people into the holiday spending mode,” said Dana McKelvey, a music programmer for Muzak, based in Fort Mill, S.C.

[...] Ms. McKelvey said Muzak recommends to its clients that they don’t start playing holiday music until the day after Thanksgiving, and early in the season holiday songs only make up a portion of some custom programs. “The closer we get to Christmas Day, the percentage increases,” she said.

She and other Muzak “audio architects” also work at avoiding repetition. “If you walk into a grocery store and hear ‘Jingle Bell Rock,’ you won’t hear that song again in the time you’re there,” she said.

[...] But even shoppers get tired of the same old songs, Ms. Bender said. “It works on the majority of customers,” she said. “But some of us will get sick of it.”

Some chains, notably Starbucks and clothing stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, offer more eclectic mixes. “Stores are definitely getting smarter,” Ms. Bender said. “They’re mixing in more sophisticated music.”

Satellite radio, with its ability to devote channels to specific music genres, has broadened listeners’ tastes as well. [...]

[...] Mr. Rodgers, however, is never satisfied. Having to listen to piped-in music at any time of year, he said, leaves a feeling of powerlessness. “It’s rather like having your neighbor’s dog barking,” he said.

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Video Games and the Record Industry [8:52 am]

A game author tweaks an industry and everyone gets het up: Link by Link: Social Commentary, or Just a Dog’s Opinion?

If that’s true, the music industry - another purveyor of digital goods - could not have been very happy when bloggers last week began sharing screen grabs from a popular new Nintendo game, which includes, among its many characters, a guitar-toting puppy who seems to extol the virtues of file-sharing.

“Those industry fat cats try to put a price on my music, but it wants to be free,” the canine bard says in a dialogue bubble at the bottom of the screen, after performing and giving away “copies” of a tune.

The character is K.K. Slider, an insouciant inhabitant of the sprawling universe that is “Animal Crossing: Wild World,” a deeply layered community-building game released two weeks ago for the Nintendo DS, the hand-held gaming console introduced last year.

In an e-mail message, Nintendo’s vice president for marketing and corporate affairs, Perrin Kaplan, said that “no real social commentary was intended.”

[...] While the joke may buzz a bit high over the heads of the game’s 8-year-old fans, 14-year-olds have heard enough antipiracy messages in their schools, seen them on their CD’s, encountered them online and chattered about file-sharing among friends to know that K.K. is expressing a subversive idea - that he is speaking their language.

He’s winking at them. He’s cool. He’s hip.

No doubt there’s a calculus in that, to keep young customers paying for more Nintendo games.

If not paying for music.

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