January 22, 2006

More on the Pending Broadcast Flag Discussions [7:29 pm]

New Senate Broadcast Flag Bill Would Freeze Fair Use (see earlier posting for Commerce Hearing details)

According to them, here’s all tomorrow’s innovators should be allowed to offer you:

“customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law.”

Had that been the law in 1970, there would never have been a VCR. Had it been the law in 1990, no TiVo. In 2000, no iPod.

Slashdot: New RIAA/MPAA “Customary Historic Use” Plan

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Content Neutrality [4:22 pm]

The Coming Tug of War Over the Internet [pdf]

The changes may sound subtle, but make no mistake: The telecommunications companies’ proposals have the potential, within just a few years, to alter the flow of commerce and information — and your personal experience — on the Internet. For the first time, the companies that own the equipment that delivers the Internet to your office, cubicle, den and dorm room could, for a price, give one company priority on their networks over another.

This represents a break with the commercial meritocracy that has ruled the Internet until now. We’ve come to expect that the people who own the phone and cable lines remain “neutral,” doing nothing to influence the content on your computer screen. And may the best Web site win.

For more than a year, public interest groups, including the Consumer Federation and Consumers Union, have been lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to write the concept called “network neutrality” into law and regulation. Google and Yahoo have joined their lobbying efforts. And online retailers, Internet travel services, news media and hundreds of other companies that do business on the Web also have a lot at stake.

Meanwhile, on the other side, companies like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth are lobbying just as hard, saying that they need to find new ways to pay for the expense of building faster, better communication networks. And, they add, because these new networks will compete with those belonging to Comcast, Time Warner and oth er cable companies — which currently have about 55 percent of the residential broadband market — this will eventually bring down the price of your high-speed Internet service and television access.

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Communication: How vs. What [3:53 pm]

The Way We Live Now: The Pleasures of the Text

This may be the universal attraction of text-messaging, in fact: it’s a kind of avoidance mechanism that preserves the feeling of communication - the immediacy - without, for the most part, the burden of actual intimacy or substance. The great majority of text messages are of the “Hey, how are you, whassup?” variety, and they’re sent sometimes when messenger and recipient are within speaking distance of each other - across classrooms, say, or from one row of a stadium to another. They’re little electronic waves and nods that, just like real waves and nods, aren’t meant to do much more than establish a connection - or disconnection, as the case may be - without getting into specifics.

“We’re all wired together” is the collective message, and we’ll signal again in a couple of minutes, not to say anything, probably, but just to make sure the lines are still working. The most depressing thing about the communications revolution is that when at last we have succeeded in making it possible for anyone to reach anyone else anywhere and at any time, it turns out that we really don’t have much we want to say.

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Issues in Technology-Mediated Expression [1:43 pm]

The headline alone should give one pause: Who Owns Seydou Keïta?

The story of this discrepancy - how a pocket-size print, sold for a few dollars in a neighborhood shop in West Africa, became a wall-size photograph that sold for $16,000 in an upscale SoHo gallery - begins in colonial Mali in the 1930’s and continues into the future: a new show of Mr. Keïta’s work opens at the Sean Kelly Gallery in Chelsea on Friday.

It is a story that includes screaming fights, a lawsuit and charges of theft, forgery and perjury. It survives the photographer himself, who died in 2001. And it touches on the broadest channels of human history, from colonialism to capitalism to revolution to race. But it also involves a conflict of the most rarefied sort - a philosophical disagreement over the nature of photography and the concept of authenticity.

[...] As a photograph (or any other work of art) is separated in time from the cultural context in which it originated, the work becomes open to new meanings. This idea, perhaps first articulated in Walter Benjamin’s landmark 1931 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” has been embraced by many curators in recent years, leading them away from what Mr. Wallis refers to as the “fetish for the vintage.” Instead curators are more open to the new meanings that may emerge from manipulating the originals, even if those meanings are different from - or in direct contrast to - anything the artist had in mind.

The result is ripe with possibilities, but also with contradictions. It is now not uncommon for galleries to put on shows that reflect this postmodern approach but at the same time to charge higher prices for original works.

[...] There is, though, another argument, based in the technology of photography, that undermines the concept of photographic authenticity. Charles Griffin, who prints the photographs of Cindy Sherman and Hiroshi Sugimoto, observes that the resolution of photographic negatives is far greater than that of the prints made from them. The negatives, you might say, contain a far greater amount of information than can be shown, placing those who make prints in the position of having to select and suppress the information that will ultimately appear.

And the printer’s responsibility in this regard, Mr. Griffin added, has been heightened by the decision of paper companies to reduce the silver content in, and therefore the sensitivity of, photographic papers.

[...] In the end, the debate over how to make prints from Mr. Keïta’s negatives may soon be academic. As a result of the litigation to recover the 921 negatives from Mr. Magnin and Mr. Pigozzi, the association has little money left to preserve those negatives that are in its possession - negatives which, according to Mr. Griffin, are quickly deteriorating. In the end, the controversial prints may be all that is left of Seydou Keïta. And at that point, the postmodern will have become the authentic.

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Convergence and the Internet [1:28 pm]

A look at what it might mean to distribute television signals over the Internet without careful thinking about the current regulatory structure: Media Frenzy: This Time, the Revolution Will Be Televised

“The next thing that we’re all buzzing about is this concept of selling programming to people over the Internet,” said Mr. Goodmon, whose flagship station, WRAL, is the CBS affiliate in Raleigh. “If CBS wants to sell ‘CSI,’ we would like to be able to sell it for them - in partnership with them - on our Web site. I think we’re in the best position to sell and promote that material on behalf of the network.”

On the face of it, it’s difficult to argue with that commercial logic. But even if limiting the geographic reach of content on the Internet is technologically feasible, it is ideologically contrary to one of the Web’s defining principles: that it is a ubiquitous, low-cost, global distribution platform.

New gizmos like Slingbox and Sony’s LocationFree are designed to allow you to tap into your hometown television signals from anywhere in the world - and a product like Decisionmark’s could theoretically frustrate them, too.

The big question is whether television industry constituents - networks, affiliates, programmers, writers, even advertisers - are better served by preserving the industry’s current pecking order or by pursuing a more fundamental revamping of its business model to satisfy the “anytime, anywhere” demands of digital consumers. Expect this debate to come to a head if downloads of hit shows take off and local affiliates start losing viewers and advertisers as a result.

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Bemoaning the End of Rhino [1:24 pm]

A commentary from the LATimes on the closing of Rhino Records, the record store: calendarlive.com: It has bins; don’t call it a has-been

[pdf]

The trend is national, if not worldwide: There are, by one count, only around half as many independent record stores in the country today as there were 10 years ago. Whether it’s the slump in album sales (down 7% last year, according to SoundScan), or an increase in the downloading of tracks (up 150%), or competition from online shopping, or the various technological and cultural shifts that have driven the youth of America to different distractions, it’s a changing world, and one less inclined to support small businessmen selling music out of (mostly) small rooms.

Some Internet retailers, such as Miles of Music or Forced Exposure, which sell real CDs, or eMusic.com, which sells MP3s, are trying to function as virtual independent record stores. They cater to tastes outside the mainstream, posting lists of “employee favorites” and describing their offerings in knowledgeable, friendly, sometimes cheeky terms; even through the computer screen one senses their engagement. (And many real-world stores, of course, also have a Web presence.)

But Amazon.com, whose clear business plan is to one day sell everything to everybody, has also put significant energy into creating the illusion that its website is just a friendly corner store. It remembers your name if you’ve shopped there before, says hello when you click in, knows what music you like, and recommends some more.

I know that for some, and not only of the X, Y and Z generations, cyberspace is as authentic a marketplace as any other, but I am old-fashioned enough to want to get out of the house once in a while, into real three-dimensional spaces stocked with things you can see and smell and pick up and turn over to see what they look like on the other side.

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LATimes & WaPo Editorials on the Google Subpoena [1:17 pm]

A tangled Web [pdf]

The department’s research also evokes concerns about what the government might ultimately do with its snapshot of Web-searching habits. The feds originally asked Google to disclose two months’ worth of search inquiries, then pared their request to one week. The list wouldn’t include any information about the users who did the searches, but prosecutors could certainly demand such details from Google if they came across any searches that were troubling — “how to hide a methamphetamine lab,” say, or “cellphone detonate plastic explosive.”

The sheer volume of data being vacuumed up by the government, though, makes such probing seem farfetched. After all, it’s not just Google’s data that is involved. Government lawyers have already obtained information from three other popular search sites, including Yahoo.

The big winner in all this stands to be Google. The company’s rapid expansion beyond simple Web searches, combined with revelations about the amount of data it stores about individual users, has led critics to accuse Google of violating its informal corporate motto, “Don’t be evil.” By resisting the feds’ subpoena, however, the company has set itself above the search-engine pack — and given users a valuable reminder that searching through the Web leaves a trail.

And don’t miss WaPo’s Forgot What You Searched For? Google Didn’t [pdf]

Search histories already are creeping into criminal trials. A North Carolina man, Robert Petrick, who was convicted in November of murdering his wife, ran suspicious Internet searches immediately before and after she was dumped in a lake. His queries? “Body decomposition,” “rigor mortis,” “neck,” “snap” and “break,” along with topics relating to the depth of the lake where her body turned up.

Those searches were stored on the hard drives of the computers Petrick used, but they could just as easily have been stored by Google had Petrick turned on the archiving feature that I use.

Our personal search histories are highly sensitive information — and obviously open to misinterpretation — because they offer such a unique view into what we are thinking. Most of us routinely ask Google questions about religion, social behavior, sex, work — whatever pops into our heads.

And those queries are mere rocks in a growing mountain of profiling data about us being compiled by many other Web services, not just Google. Over at Amazon, hackers or government investigators might have a field day if they gained access to the 171 items on my supposedly private “wish list.” (I’m too lazy to ever delete anything, and I use Amazon’s wish list as a bookmarking tool.)

Some background: Eavesdropping Leaps Into 21st Century [pdf]

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Sweating out the ‘Bubble’ Release [1:12 pm]

All over the papers today: LATimes’ ‘Bubble’ Bursts Film Tradition [pdf]; also the Boston Globe’s Good timing — or two-timing? [pdf]; and the Washington Post: ‘Bubble’ Vision [pdf]

“Would I rather see ‘Munich’ in the comfort of my home? Hell, no!” said Jonathan Demme, whose credits include such hits as “Philadelphia” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” “Doesn’t it seem like the movie business is devouring itself because it can’t wait to get to home video?”

Tim Burton, director of last year’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the animated “Corpse Bride,” called the notion of simultaneous release absurd. Obviously, he said, cinema is a business, “but everything should be done to treat it as an art form — it’s a visceral medium.”

Ron Howard, whose latest release is “Cinderella Man,” agreed. “Viewing in a theater is the optimum experience,” he said. “It needs to be preserved…. But, at the end of the day, technology and viewers are going to tell us what they really want.”

[...] Proof of how divisive the simultaneous release issue has become can be found in some big-name directors’ silence.

Contacted by The Times, Steven Spielberg’s longtime publicist Marvin Levy said, “Steven is not going to comment on this.”

A spokesperson for Martin Scorsese said, “He doesn’t want to get into the public fray.”

Even the powerful Directors Guild of America is loath to take a formal position on the issue.

“It’s a fast-moving horizon, and as things develop, individual directors form different opinions on how the narrowing distribution windows will affect their films reaching the audience,” said DGA President Michael Apted, whose credits include the 1999 James Bond film “The World is Not Enough.”

But among those who spoke to The Times, there is agreement on one thing: Whether one’s gadget of choice is an iPod or cellphone or something else, as technology changes how Americans entertain themselves, movies will have to adapt.

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