January 25, 2006

“Got nothing up my sleeve” [10:37 am]

Talk about trying to confuse the issue — seriously, what possible good could come of this? Unless, of course, the EU gets to dictate the terms of the license (when pigs fly): Microsoft to license some source codes in EU case [pdf] (note the nice, lame photo)

Microsoft Corp.’s (Nasdaq:MSFT - news) top lawyer said on Wednesday that the U.S. software giant would offer licences for some of its source codes in a bid to comply with antitrust requirements set by the

European Commission.

“We will also license the Windows source code itself,” Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith told a news conference. He added he did not know what percentage of the company’s source codes would be licensed.

See also Microsoft lags in antitrust compliance, U.S. says

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Hoist By Their Own Petard? [8:51 am]

When worlds collide: Avast, ye pirates! [pdf]

Is the leader in the global fight against movie piracy a pirate too? That’s exactly what director Kirby Dick is charging. He says the Motion Picture Assn. of America made a bootleg copy of “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” his angry broadside against the organization’s film rating system.

The MPAA has admitted that it duplicated the documentary without the filmmaker’s permission — Dick had submitted his movie to its rating board in November. But the Hollywood trade organization said that it did not break copyright law, insisting that the dispute is part of a Dick-orchestrated “publicity stunt” to boost the film’s profile.

[...] The filmmaker said that when he asked MPAA lawyer Greg Goeckner what right his organization had to make the copy, Goeckner told him that Dick and his crew had potentially invaded the privacy of the MPAA’s movie raters.

“We made a copy of Kirby’s movie because it had implications for our employees,” said Kori Bernards, the MPAA’s vice president for corporate communications. She said Dick spied on the members of the MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration, including going through their garbage and following them as they drove their children to school.

“We were concerned about the raters and their families,” Bernards said. She said the MPAA’s copy of “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” is “locked away” and is not being copied or distributed.

The standard the MPAA is using for itself appears to be at odds with what the organization sets out for others: “Manufacturing, selling, distributing or making copies of motion pictures without the consent of the copyright owners is illegal,” the MPAA’s website says. “Movie pirates are thieves, plain and simple…. ALL forms of piracy are illegal and carry serious legal consequences.”

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The Maze of IP [8:45 am]

Note that Mr. Glickman has phrased his position in such a way that the goal is “reasonable cost” rather than rethinking the notion that maybe one ought to be allowed to make a copy of one’s own DVD — the developing rhetoric of “licensed” content in the entertainment business: Seeking Ways to Fill All Those Tiny Screens

But like the digital-audio boom in the late 1990’s, this new video territory raises old questions of copyright infringement and users’ rights. For example, to “rip” a commercial DVD you must bypass copyright protection that may be in place.

Circumventing the encryption on a copyrighted disc violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. The Motion Picture Association of America is among the industry groups that have sued software developers for creating programs that can decrypt and make unauthorized copies of DVD’s. But DVD conversion programs are still on the Internet - some are stored on international file servers - and consumers freely trade tips online about how to convert DVD movies into portable video files.

The Motion Picture Association has said it is looking for legal ways to deliver content for new types of devices.

“As an industry we recognize the need for more innovation in the area of portability and copyright protection,” said Dan Glickman, the chairman and chief executive of the association. “We want people to be able to enjoy movies on various home entertainment devices without infringing on copyright laws, and we will continue to look for ways to marry those concepts so people can get movies hassle free at a reasonable cost.”

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NYTimes Looks at the Surveillance Society [8:39 am]

A couple of articles at the NYTimes on a very timely subject

  • A Growing Web of Watchers Builds a Surveillance Society

    There are important distinctions, of course, between government prying and the emerging web of consumer surveillance. But they share a digital universe that facilitates and rewards watching. Spam, spyware and identity theft are only a taste of how exposed we have all willingly become as we enjoy the benefits of the networked world.

    If the American public seems a bit confused about the raging debate of security versus civil liberties - Bush/Cheney versus the A.C.L.U. - it may be because the debate itself has been outpaced by technology. In our post-9/11, protowireless world, democracies and free markets are increasingly saturated with prying eyes from governments, corporations and neighbors. For better and worse, free societies are fast entering the world of total surveillance.

  • The New Security: Cameras That Never Forget Your Face [pdf]

    The camera network - using software from 3VR Security Inc., a San Francisco company that makes surveillance technology - already knew what the houseman looked like; facial recognition algorithms had built a profile of him over time. With a couple of mouse clicks, managers combed through hours of videotape taken that night by the hotel’s 16 cameras, and found every place he had been - including the back entrance he slipped out of, three hours into his shift. He became 1 of 10 employees dismissed from the hotel since 3VR’s surveillance package was installed last June.

    Until recently, the only place where an employee could have been caught that easily was in a Hollywood script. Digital spy cameras can instantly pick people out of crowds on the television show “24.” But real-world video surveillance was stuck in the VCR age, taking countless hours to sift through blurry black-and-white tapes. Stopping a problem in progress was nearly impossible, unless a guard just happened to be staring at the right video monitor.

    But surveillance companies, using networks of cheap Web-connected cameras and powerful new video-analysis software, are starting to turn the Hollywood model into reality.

  • Making Connections, Here and Now [pdf]

    MORE and more cellphones know exactly where their owners are at any given time, and software developers are trying to leverage that ability to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds. These programs aim to “browse” the physical space around you, connecting you to people, places and unexpected bits of information.

  • After Subpoenas, Internet Searches Give Some Pause

    Kathryn Hanson, a former telecommunications engineer who lives in Oakland, Calif., was looking at BBC News online last week when she came across an item about a British politician who had resigned over a reported affair with a “rent boy.”

    It was the first time Ms. Hanson had seen the term, so, in search of a definition, she typed it into Google. As Ms. Hanson scrolled through the results, she saw that several of the sites were available only to people over 18. She suddenly had a frightening thought. Would Google have to inform the government that she was looking for a rent boy - a young male prostitute?

    Ms. Hanson, 45, immediately told her boyfriend what she had done. “I told him I’d Googled ‘rent boy,’ just in case I got whisked off to some Navy prison in the dead of night,” she said.

    [...] The government and the cooperating companies say the search queries cannot be traced to their source, and therefore no personal information about users is being given up. But the government’s move is one of several recent episodes that have caused some people to think twice about the information they type into a search engine, or the opinions they express in an e-mail message.

    The government has been more aggressive recently in its efforts to obtain data on Internet activity, invoking the fight against terrorism and the prosecution of online crime. A surveillance program in which the National Security Agency intercepted certain international phone calls and e-mail in the United States without court-approved warrants prompted an outcry among civil libertarians. And under the antiterrorism USA Patriot Act, the Justice Department has demanded records on library patrons’ Internet use.

    Those actions have put some Internet users on edge, as they confront the complications and contradictions of online life.

    [...] Privacy is an elusive concept, and when it comes to what is considered acceptable, people tend to draw the line at different points on the privacy spectrum.

    Ming-Wai Farrell, 25, who works for a legal industry trade association in Washington, is one of those who draw the line somewhere in the middle. They are willing to part with personal information as long as they get something in return - the convenience of online banking, for example, or useful information from a search engine - and as long as they know what is to be done with the information.

    Yet these same people are sometimes appalled when they learn of wholesale data gathering. Ms. Farrell said she would not be able to live without online banking, electronic bill paying or Google, but she would consider revising her Web activity if she had to question every search term, online donation or purchase.

    “It’s scary to think that it may just be a matter of time before Googling will invite an F.B.I. agent to tap your phone or interrogate you,” Ms. Farrell said.

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Salon on RIM’s IP Woes [8:23 am]

Entertaining, if sloppy, writeup: Will BlackBerry go out of season?

The fight cuts to the heart of the battle over intellectual property rights in an information economy. With rising competition at home and abroad, companies are desperately trying to stay current by offering new, innovative goods such as hand-helds, downloadable music, and satellite radio, all at sonic speeds of production. But the obsession with novelty is risky business when it is often unclear whether someone else may already own the idea.

[...] In the meantime, Karl Marx would be amused to watch RIM and NTP tear each other apart. Now that capital (like communication) is increasingly virtual, those who think they own the means of production may need to double-check their capitalist credentials. It turns out that it’s no longer enough to invent a product, build a factory and dominate the market as RIM did. A clever investor such as NTP, a company whose sole purpose is to hold patents, may turn out to be your boss.

The internecine ownership arguments are having some concrete trickle-down effects. While Mommy and Daddy fight over patent rights, the BlackBerry-toting spawn are terrified at the possibility of mobile e-mail deprivation. Ontario-based RIM has been so dominant in convincing American overachievers to buy BlackBerrys that the “South Park” creators should think about adding it to their song, “Blame Canada.” If BlackBerrys go dark, so will the mood of much of Wall Street. While this may delight the pen-and-ink crowd, it will likely (if temporarily) cost millions in lost time, reduced efficiency, and therapy bills.

It will also be a significant victory for intellectual property rights. BlackBerry’s classic market success will have been brought to heel by a small U.S. holding company that doesn’t produce a thing, speculating on products that may never exist. In other words, BlackBerry will have been defeated by an idea. Marx would have been proud.

Related, from the LATimes on schadefreude: BlackBerry outage? Oh, the horror [pdf]

There is a giddy schadenfreude that pervades the rest of the cellphone industry. “Wireless e-mail was ushered in by BlackBerry,” says Rip Gerber, chief marketing officer at Intellisync, which bills itself as the second-largest provider of wireless e-mail after BlackBerry. “It was a great first act, but the show goes on. The audience has matured and wants much, much more. Thank you BlackBerry, the market will take it from here.” Others who stand to benefit include Palm Inc., whose line of Treo smart phones is a popular alternative to BlackBerry, and new offerings from Nokia and Motorola.

Soap opera intrigue aside, legal experts say RIM simply has too much invested to let service stop; One way or another, they say, BlackBerrys will remain. (Internet gambling site Youwager.com is giving 2-1 odds that BlackBerry will be shut down in the next three months.) But there is something intriguing about the possibility of technology reversing its forward march. We have never held technology in our hands and loved it and hated it and watched it disappear. There should really be some sort of gizmo to help us weather these feelings we’re having. RIM? Anyone? Anyone?!

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Mutable Definitions of “Evil” [8:19 am]

Google giveth, and Google taketh away: Google Agrees to Censor Results in China [pdf]

Online search engine leader Google Inc. has agreed to censor its results in China, adhering to the country’s free-speech restrictions in return for better access in the Internet’s fastest growing market.

[...] Because of government barriers set up to suppress information, Google’s China users previously have been blocked from using the search engine or encountered lengthy delays in response time.

The service troubles have frustrated many Chinese users, hobbling Google’s efforts to expand its market share in a country that expected to emerge as an Internet gold mine over the next decade.

[...] To obtain the Chinese license, Google agreed to omit Web content that the country’s government finds objectionable. Google will base its censorship decisons on guidance provided by Chinese government officials.

Slashdot: Google Agrees to Censor Results in China

The NYTimes’ Version of Google in China Won’t Offer E-Mail or Blogs includes this potentially mitigating Google policy:

Google says it plans to disclose when information has been blocked or censored from its new site, just as it does in the United States, Germany and other countries.

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