December 19, 2005

So, Is the Future Really a Google v. Microsoft Story? [8:48 am]

Certainly that seems to be the message of this article — that, and the notion that “search is where it’s at” these days: Advertising: AOL’s Choice of Google Leaves Microsoft as the Outsider

The turn of events shows just how much Google - hotter now than Netscape was nine years ago - has supplanted Microsoft as the force to be reckoned with in technology. And it raises questions about Microsoft’s stated goal of becoming the leader in Internet searching, as well as about its emerging plans to offer more online services under a new brand, Windows Live.

“I thought Microsoft would pay just about anything to get this,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School. For Microsoft, he said, “AOL was the single best way to gain market share.”

Yet Google found a way to trump Microsoft’s hoard of cash, in part because losing to Microsoft was a strategic risk. Mr. Yoffie characterized the deal as “crucial and purely defensive” for Google because it “prevents Microsoft from being credible in search.”

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Small Fix To Bayh-Dole’s Effects on Academia [8:40 am]

At least it’s a start: Guidelines Set on Software Property Rights

To remove obstacles to joint research, four leading technology companies and seven American universities have agreed on principles for making software developed in collaborative projects freely available.

[...] The companies involved in the agreement, which will be announced today, are I.B.M., Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Cisco. The educational partners are the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the universities of Stanford, California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Illinois and Texas.

[...] The current problem, said Lesa Mitchell, a vice president at the Kauffman Foundation, was partly an “unintended consequence” of policies meant to encourage universities to make their research available for commercial uses, thus stimulating innovation and economic growth.

The tone was set, Ms. Mitchell said, by the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which allowed universities to hold the patents on federally funded research and to license that intellectual property to industry.

When available, the policies will be posted here and here.

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More Experiments in Distribution: Movies [8:36 am]

Before You Buy a Ticket, Why Not Buy the DVD?

Mr. [Morgan] Freeman said in a phone interview Wednesday from Dubai that the industry practice of showing feature films in theaters first, then selling them later on DVD, was outdated. With new advances in digital filmmaking, he predicted, consumers will demand better access to movies.

“We want to give people what they want, when they want it,” said Mr. Freeman. “We are following the wave.”

Mr. Freeman is not the only entrepreneur riding the digital technology surf. In the last several months, a handful of new ventures have been formed to help filmmakers find their audience - online, on DVD and at the movie theater.

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Naysaying Digital Distribution: Films [8:25 am]

Digital Domain: Is Mark Cuban Missing the Big Picture?

The Internet was very, very good to Mr. Cuban, so it’s perfectly understandable why his subsequent business ideas circle around digital themes. Upgrading theater projectors, which use film technology that has not changed much since Thomas Edison’s time, to digital technology would seem perfectly matched to Mr. Cuban’s interests. Digital projection is coming, not only to Landmark Theaters but to the larger chains, too. It is Mr. Cuban, however, who was so eager to have his theater chain credited as the first to adopt a costly new line of Sony projectors with the highest resolution (4096 x 2160 pixel, or 4K) before they were even complete. Actual installation of the first machines, each of which costs about $100,000, has been repeatedly delayed while Sony works on debugging.

People in the theater exhibition industry know what many outside it may not: that the transition from film to digital will not improve the visual experience for theater customers. Nothing yet invented can match the richness of film. When digital projection arrives, the best selling point that theater owners can offer may be, “Don’t worry about it; you probably won’t notice.” The principal reason that the owners will convert is that the movie studios wish to save the considerable expense of manufacturing and distributing film. Digital projection “won’t increase our attendance,” said Kurt Hall last March, when he was chief executive of the Regal Entertainment Group, the largest exhibitor in the country.

Later: Carmike Theaters to Convert to Digital [pdf]

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New Technology, New Problems [8:19 am]

Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World

So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images of his body on the Internet over the course of five years. From the seduction that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn into performing in front of the Webcam - undressing, showering, masturbating and even having sex - for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Justin’s dark coming-of-age story is a collateral effect of recent technological advances. Minors, often under the online tutelage of adults, are opening for-pay pornography sites featuring their own images sent onto the Internet by inexpensive Webcams. And they perform from the privacy of home, while parents are nearby, beyond their children’s closed bedroom doors.

Background: A Shadowy Trade Migrates to the Web [pdf]

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December 16, 2005

Archiving and IP [2:47 pm]

Push to Rescue Met Recordings

The [Metropolitan Opera House] is pressing forward with a project to preserve, and in many cases locate, nearly 1,400 recordings of its Saturday broadcasts. Met officials said they have completed 403 preservations, with 868 still to go, spending about $1.4 million in an open-ended project that is predicted to cost more than $4 million.

“It is one of the most important parts of the Met’s heritage,” said Sarah Billinghurst, the assistant manager for artistic affairs, who also oversees the media department. She called the recordings the “day in and day out history of what was,” and also a potential source of income from downloading or commercial release - “which is always something desperately needed.”

[...] One archival recording is released each year and is available to benefactors who contribute at least $150. Some of the recordings are also available at the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center, where opera fanatics congregate for daily listening.

[...] The Met does not release the recordings because paying the house’s unions for broadcast rights is prohibitively expensive, Ms. Billinghurst said, although she said Joseph Volpe and Peter Gelb, the departing and incoming general managers, are talking to the unions about the issue. The donor releases are allowed under a special agreement.

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What’s A Capitalist To Do? [8:59 am]

What, indeed — from Salon on Internet Filtering in China in 2004-2005: A Country Study: “Freedom”: No documents found

The American companies are faced with a tough choice. The Chinese government doesn’t hesitate to use its economic clout to exact the concessions it wants. The hope had been that as the Internet took off, the Chinese government would ease its restrictions or lose control. But that hasn’t happened.

When China first began building its Internet infrastructure, some critics accused the American companies of supplying Internet technology that could be used for censorship. But China no longer needs help building a strong system of control. It already has one. What the censors lack now is legitimacy. Yahoo, Microsoft and Google find themselves in a trap. When they cooperate with the censors, they lend their names to China’s crackdowns. They get a cut of the China market. But the Chinese get a cut of their reputation.

Later: A WaPo article on how one evades the censors: Chinese Evade Censors To Discuss Police Assault [pdf]

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Happy Holidays! [8:43 am]

A little coal for your stocking? RIAA sues 751 file-swappers

The Recording Industry Association of America said Thursday it had filed a new round of lawsuits against 751 as-yet-unnamed people who are accused of making copyright music available on file-trading networks. The suits are the latest in a campaign that has now targeted more than 17,000 people.

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December 15, 2005

Marvel and NCSoft Settle [4:57 pm]

Faux Hulks can keep fighting evil online

Marvel Entertainment and NCSoft, publisher of such online games as “City of Heroes,” have settled a lawsuit over whether characters created by players can legally resemble Marvel’s comics characters.

Marvel–publisher of titles like “Spider-Man,” “The X Men,” “The Fantastic Four” and many others–filed the suit in November 2004. It alleged that “City of Heroes,” an online game with hundreds of thousands of users, infringed on Marvel’s copyright by giving players a content creation engine that allows them to design avatars that can look like the Incredible Hulk, Captain America or any other copyright-protected Marvel character.

Terms of the settlement, which was announced on Wednesday, were not disclosed.

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December 14, 2005

MTV Decides to Play Catchup With a Pro [9:17 am]

And plants its stake in the ground in the DRM wars by backing Media Player: MTV to Sell Online but Shuns the IPod [pdf]

Shunning leader Apple Computer Inc. in the crowded online music market, MTV Networks Inc. instead chose a partner that knows a thing or two about playing catch-up: Microsoft Corp.

The cable music channel said Tuesday that it planned to launch its long-anticipated Internet service — called URGE — next year with the help of the world’s biggest software maker.

[...] MTV Networks Music Group President Van Toffler said the company, a unit of Viacom International Inc., allied itself with Microsoft because it wanted to exploit the flexibility and ubiquity of Microsoft’s Media Player software, which comes preinstalled in the Windows operating system.

“[Apple Chief Executive] Steve Jobs has a point of view,” Toffler said. “ITunes is about a digital storefront for a la carte downloads. Our goal is to create a utopian music community that keeps subscribers coming back.”

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Speaking of Balkanization…. [9:04 am]

Telecoms want their products to travel on a faster Internet [pdf]

AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp. are lobbying Capitol Hill for the right to create a two-tiered Internet, where the telecom carriers’ own Internet services would be transmitted faster and more efficiently than those of their competitors.

The proposal is certain to provoke a major fight with Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Time Warner Inc., and Microsoft Corp., the powerful owners of popular Internet sites. The companies fear such a move would give telecommunications companies too much control over a fast-growing part of the Internet.

The battle is largely over video services. Several major telecom companies are working on ways to deliver broadcast-quality television over the Internet. Currently, online video can be slow to download and choppy to watch, even with higher-speed Internet services.

The proposal supported by AT&T and BellSouth would allow telecommunications carriers to offer their own advanced Internet video services to their customers, while rival firms’ online video offerings would be transmitted at lower speed and with poorer image quality.

[...] A change along these lines would be different from the way the Internet has operated. ”The Internet model has been that carriers cannot interfere with the choices that consumers make,” said Alan Davidson, Google’s Washington policy counsel.

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December 13, 2005

Looks like Derek’s Been Busy [1:51 pm]

Nice to see some analysis to support the assertions: Study: Online music sharing can spur sales [pdf]

The record industry has long considered online file sharing a serious threat to its livelihood. But a new study scheduled to be released today suggests that consumer-to-consumer music recommendations — a growing feature of online music stores and websites — will benefit the industry, artists, and fans alike.

[...] Considering the bad rap online sharing has among record companies and artists, this will require industry insiders to tweak their perspective.

”Rights holders and policy makers have been distracted by illegal downloading, but sharing isn’t equivalent to stealing,” says [Gartner's Michael] McGuire. ”As labels look at this, some of the people who should be at the forefront of discussions are the A & R [artists and repertoire] and marketing and promotions people. This is an easy way to get attention for a new act or a back catalog, too.”

The Berkman site with the report and other links: Playlists, Podcasting, And Other New Forms of Sharing — the report Consumer Taste Sharing Is Driving the Online Music Business and Democratizing Culture

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Balkanizing Search [11:00 am]

Funny; I thought that publishing houses were opposed to copyright infringement: HarperCollins Will Create a Searchable Digital Library - New York Times

And is this reporter really this naiive? This looks like competition to me — (or maybe this cold has relaly fried my brain)

[T]he HarperCollins announcement shows that at least one major publisher is seeking ways to work with Google and other Internet companies to make books and other material, like audiobooks, widely searchable.

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December 12, 2005

Cert Denied: National Geographic Mag’s CD-ROMs [12:16 pm]

Court won’t hear National Geographic CD-ROM case - Yahoo! News [pdf]

The

U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a ruling that copyright law authorized a publisher to reproduce a collective work in CD-ROM format, even if some new materials have been added.

The justices declined to review a dispute involving

National Geographic magazine and whether it had to pay freelance writers and photographers additional compensation for using their work in the electronic compilation.

[...] The appeals court ruled that the CDs represented an “electronic replica” of the magazine and were a permissible “revision” under copyright law, even if some new copyrightable materials, such as an introductory sequence and a computer software program, had been added.

The freelance contributors appealed to the Supreme Court to hear the case. But the justices rejected the appeal without any comment or recorded dissent.

The order list — see page 4)

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Imagine The RIAA Had Gotten Their Way [8:05 am]

Would an industry like this even exist? Accessories for iPod: To the tune of $300m [pdf]

A rich ecosystem has taken root around the iPod, fed by a dizzying array of accessories — more than 1,000 — that extend the reach and versatility of the device well beyond its native form as an already impressive mobile music and video player.

[...] The iPod accessories market has become a powerhouse in its own right, to the tune of more than $300 million annually, and sales of such products are growing faster, on a percentage basis, than the device itself, said Gavin Downey, a director of product management at accessory maker Belkin Corp., in Compton, Calif.

In the early days of the iPod, he noted, there was a relatively low ”attach rate” from the unit. For every 15 to 20 iPods sold, one unit of accessories moved. Today, it’s almost a one-to-one ratio.

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December 11, 2005

Cartoons, Culture and Copyright [1:41 pm]

From an NYTimes review of a DVD release: DVD: The Bear Who Was There at the Start of It All

IN a courtroom scene from “The Simpsons” that has since entered into the television canon, an argument over the ownership of the animated characters Itchy and Scratchy rapidly escalates into an existential debate on the very nature of cartoons. “Animation is built on plagiarism!” declares the show’s hot-tempered cartoon-producer-within-a-cartoon, Roger Myers Jr. “You take away our right to steal ideas, where are they going to come from?”

It’s hard to imagine here that the flesh-and-blood producers of “The Simpsons” weren’t pointing their fingers, squarely but affectionately, at the legendary animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, and their enduring ursine mascot, Yogi Bear. From his debut in 1958 on “The Huckleberry Hound Show,” Yogi never missed an opportunity to announce that he was smarter than the average bear. He seems to have outwitted a few copyright lawyers along the way: he took his moniker from the celebrated Yankees catcher, of course, and his tilted porkpie hat, his tie, his sonorous voice and his hipster mannerisms from Art Carney’s portrayal of Ed Norton on “The Honeymooners.” And didn’t his anthropomorphic, picnic basket-robbing, park-ranger-outwitting antics suggest the work of another popular cartoon studio, doc?

Despite - or perhaps because of - his many obvious appropriations, Yogi became Hanna-Barbera’s first breakout star, earning his own TV series in 1961 (”The Yogi Bear Show,” newly released on DVD from Warner Home Video). [...]

[...] In an uncharitable worldview, it’s possible to see Hanna-Barbera as black marketers of animation, repackaging properties they didn’t create for viewers who wouldn’t recognize knockoffs when they saw them. But it’s far more reasonable to think of them as innovators, who, at the birth of what we now know as American popular culture, while working in a medium that was meant to appeal simultaneously to children and adults, were just discovering the power of the pop-cultural reference. To his youthful audience, Yogi Bear was a funny-talking woodland creature, but to grown-ups, he was a signifier - a wink and a nod that told them they were allowed to be in on the joke, too.

If we’re really going to give credit where it’s due, then let’s acknowledge Hanna-Barbera for establishing a tradition of cultural homage that has shaped animation for the better.

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December 9, 2005

Here We Go Again [12:19 pm]

Now that lawsuits against file swappers have been accepted, let’s get back to those evil folks who post tablatures and lyrics of favorite tunes (e.g., OLGA or Guitar Notes): Song sites face legal crackdown

The music industry is to extend its copyright war by taking legal action against websites offering unlicensed song scores and lyrics.

The Music Publishers’ Association (MPA), which represents US sheet music companies, will launch its first campaign against such sites in 2006.

MPA president Lauren Keiser said he wanted site owners to be jailed.

Guitar licks and song scores are widely available on the internet but are “completely illegal”, he told the BBC.

Mr Keiser said he did not just want to shut websites and impose fines, saying if authorities can “throw in some jail time I think we’ll be a little more effective”.

Hell yeah — maybe there’s some space at Gitmo for these nefarious villains!

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Ahh, Culture and the Marketplace [12:12 pm]

“Rebranded” just doesn’t quite resonate with my notion of some of the Disney organization’s other developments of derivative works, but maybe that’s just me: New-look Pooh ‘has girl friend’

After 80 years in Hundred Acre Wood Winnie the Pooh is to get a female friend, replacing Christopher Robin, according to reports.

The Walt Disney Company has decided to pair Pooh up with a red-haired six-year-old tomboy for its 2007 series, newspaper USA Today reported.

Disney said My Friends Tigger and Pooh will keep the “trust, friendship and happiness” of AA Milne’s stories.

Pooh is being re-branded as part of its 80th anniversary celebrations.

[...] Casting a shadow over Pooh’s 80th anniversary are continuing court battles over the rights to the franchise.

Milne’s granddaughter, Clare Milne, who lives in England, is trying to reclaim the rights from Stephen Slesinger, the company that owns the North American merchandising rights.

Earlier Pooh-related postings.

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Unbelievable [11:05 am]

Truly unbelievable and yet, inevitable — talk about a collision of cultures. The notion that the market, which gave one group the incentive to create a game, gave another group the opportunity to buy the game and now gives yet another group an economic incentive to play the game — the circularity reminds me of science fiction stories where the machine productivity led to a glut of products that could only be absorbed by teaching the machines not only to produce, but also to consume, the goods they made. Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to Chinese

The people working at this clandestine [Chinese] locale are “gold farmers.” Every day, in 12-hour shifts, they “play” computer games by killing onscreen monsters and winning battles, harvesting artificial gold coins and other virtual goods as rewards that, as it turns out, can be transformed into real cash.

That is because, from Seoul to San Francisco, affluent online gamers who lack the time and patience to work their way up to the higher levels of gamedom are willing to pay the young Chinese here to play the early rounds for them.

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December 8, 2005

OT: Pinter Speech [4:30 pm]

(Sorry - deadlines — this will probably be all I can post today)

I had a funny experience today at lunch. I noted an article in the NYTimes stating that Harold Pinter had accepted his Nobel yesterday, and I mentioned to my colleagues how pleased I was that he had won. While I like to think of myself as reasonably well-rounded for an engineer, I have generally been unfamiliar with the name, not to mention the work, of most recent laureates, and I was happy not only to know the name of this one, but also to be a fan of his work.

My colleagues had a simple explanation — “you’re old.”

Maybe that’s true. But, even though it’s not directly on topic here, his speech is certainly worth reading - it will make you think, whether you agree or not. And, I hope, it will motivate you to do something about the fact that a great artist sees us in this light: Harold Pinter - Nobel Lecture

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man.

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