March 31, 2006

Licensing a Catalog [4:52 pm]

Courtney & Nirvana: Smells Like a Sellout [pdf]

Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”–coming soon to a soap ad near you?

So far Courtney Love is ruling that out, but chances are we’ll be hearing more of the seminal grunge band’s music in unexpected places now that Kurt Cobain’s cash-strapped widow has agreed to sell off a 25 percent stake in the Nirvana song catalog in a deal valued at $50 million, per Rolling Stone.

[...] To preemptively squelch backlash from fans worried about the over-commercialization of a decidedly anticorporate band, Love sought to assure the Nirvana faithful that the music won’t simply be licensed to the highest bidder.

“We’re going to remain very tasteful, and we’re going to [retain] the spirit of Nirvana and take Nirvana places it’s never been before,” Love told the magazine.

[...] Following her husband’s 1994 suicide, Love became the primary benefactor of Cobain’s estate, which included ownership rights of more than 98 percent of Nirvana’s song catalog. The other two former members, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, own the remainder–slightly less than 2 percent split between them. The new deal does not affect their portion.

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Engineering Around A Patent [4:47 pm]

What, that’s not what Eolas wanted?  Interesting what market power affords a software developer, isn’t it?  Eolas: Changing IE User Experience a Shame

Reacting to news that the next cumulative IE security update will require an extra mouse-click to interact with certain embedded multimedia content, Eolas Chief Operating Officer Mark Swords called on the software maker to purchase a patent license instead of worsening the browsing experience.

In an interview with eWEEK, Swords declined to respond to questions regarding the ongoing litigation, which is wending its way through an appeals process, but insisted that the Chicago-based company is open to negotiating a settlement that allows Microsoft to license its technology.

[...] He said the IE modifications spelled out by Microsoft, which will reportedly disrupt the way online advertising and streaming media content is delivered over the Internet, is an inconvenience users could do without.

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Living in a Material World [8:21 am]

But there’s hope for the orthodox: ‘Kosher’ Phone Merges Technology, Faith [pdf]

The phones _ carrying the seal of approval from Israel’s rabbinical authorities _ have been one of the most successful mergers of technology and centuries-old tradition in the ultra-Orthodox community, which is most widely recognized by the men’s black garb based on the dress of 19th century European Jews.

The kosher phone is stripped down to its original function: making and receiving calls. There’s no text messaging, no Internet access, no video options, no camera. More than 10,000 numbers for phone sex, dating services and other offerings are blocked. A team of rabbinical overseers makes sure the list is up to date.

These are the same rabbis who have told followers to scorn television and radio. But mobile phones are considered just too essential in one of the world’s most tech-friendly nations. The ultra-Orthodox account for about 7 percent of Israel’s 7 million people.

Datapoints for, or inspiration from, Genevieve Bell?

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March 30, 2006

MA Rep Weighs In On Net Neutrality [2:38 pm]

I got an email from Ed Markey’s office on today’s subcommittee hearing, pointing to his positions on the subject: Network Neutrality. From his statement at the hearing today:

In my view, rules ensuring network neutrality are indispensable.

I understand that there are those who argue that we should rely on mere network neutrality “principles,” or an imprecisely-worded FCC policy statement, rather than legally enforceable rules. Others will advise us to take a “wait-and-see” approach.

Yet we know from public statements from several industry executives that the owners of the broadband wires into our homes would like to start charging fees to Internet content providers. In other words, they want to artificially constrain the supply of Internet-based content and services to high-bandwidth consumers. This represents nothing more than the imposition of a broadband bottleneck tax on electronic commerce. Such a bottleneck tax for accessing consumers will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on investment and innovation.

There are some out there who will inevitably ask the question, “But why shouldn’t Google pay?” Google certainly has a very large market cap and presumably could afford to pay. But that is precisely the wrong question to ask. The question to ask is whether Larry Page and Sergey Brin could have afforded to pay circa 1998, whether Chief Yahoo Jerry Yang could have afforded to pay a broadband behemoth circa 1995, whether Marc Andreesen, the founder of Netscape, could have afforded to pay anyone, anything, circa 1994.

If there is an entrepreneur in some proverbial garage somewhere today, whose idea is new, whose product is still in “beta,” their dreams are just as real and valid as Larry’s, Sergey’s, Jerry’s, and Marc’s were an Internet-generation ago. We should be doing everything we can in public policy to ensure that this successful Internet model continues to drive innovation, economic growth, and job creation.

Instead, the proposed bill before us effectively condones online discrimination and then ties the hands of the agency from promulgating any guidelines to address it. The Barton bill actually says the FCC that it can never adopt rules to protect the Internet experience for the millions of entrepreneurs and consumers who rely on it.

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Expanding the Scope of Copyright [9:27 am]

One of the great examples of domains where innovation (?) is vibrant despite the absence of formal copyright protections is up for reconsideration, apparently: O.K., Knockoffs, This Is War

Designers like Diane Von Furstenberg, Narciso Rodriguez and Zac Posen have been journeying there to lobby for copyright protections like those governing books, music and other creative arts. Mr. Posen was in Washington on Tuesday with Steven Kolb, the executive director of the council, who said a bill could be introduced in Congress as early as today by Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.

[...] Copyright law protects a creator of original material — like a songwriter or screenwriter — for her life plus 70 years. But clothing is not protected. In 1998 Representative Howard Coble, a Republican from North Carolina, introduced a revision to the copyright law that classified boat hulls as a design protected for 10 years. Citing the boat hull statute, fashion designers are asking for similar protection for clothing designs for three years.

Hypothetically that would mean that Allen B. Schwartz, the owner and designer of ABS, the leading brand in the $300 million business of Oscar knockoffs, would be restricted to selling copies of the embroidered beige Elie Saab gown worn by Halle Berry in 2003, not the latest Vera Wang yellow butterfly ruffles for Michelle Williams.

“That is the most ridiculous thing,” Mr. Schwartz said. “There is no such thing as an original design. All these designers are getting their inspiration from things that were done before. To me a spaghetti strap is a spaghetti strap, and a cowl neck is a cowl neck.”

Well, good luck with that argument; it hasn’t really worked in the past.  Here’s a little more from the article:

The reason clothing design is not protected under copyright or trademark law in the United States is that it is considered foremost as a utilitarian item, not an artistic expression or scientific invention. (Logos, however, and some design signatures — like the three stripes on Adidas track suits — are protected from copying under trademark statutes.)

But the designers’ trade group argues that the legal principle exempting fashion from copyright protection — a 200-year-old idea that useful objects should be unregulated to encourage the growth of industry — is outdated in this era of sophisticated mass copying.

“The whole underpinning of that 200-year-old law of functionality was to promote creativity and innovation,” said Alain Coblence, a lawyer hired by the Council of Fashion Designers and by fashion trade groups in Paris and Milan, which also promote the legislation. “Yet the situation is exactly the reverse because designers now must ask what is the incentive to innovate if you know your creation is going to be stolen within days and your designs are going to be used before you have a chance to use them for yourself?”

Although designers have occasionally pursued cases of design piracy in court, only the most egregious cases have been successful. In 1980 a federal appellate court held that a pair of belt buckles by the accessories designer Barry Kieselstein-Cord were not ordinary buckles but had reached the level of creative art. (A dissenting judge argued, “Innovations of form are inseparable from the more important function they serve — helping to keep the tops of trousers at waist level.”)

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Cato Institute Report on DMCA Failings [8:53 am]

Via Copyfight: Circumventing Competition: The Perverse Consequences of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The courts have a proven track record of fashioning balanced remedies for the copyright challenges created by new technologies. But when Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, it cut the courts out of this role and instead banned any devices that “circumvent” digital rights management (DRM) technologies, which control access to copyrighted content.

The result has been a legal regime that reduces options and competition in how consumers enjoy media and entertainment. Today, the copyright industry is exerting increasing control over playback devices, cable media offerings, and even Internet streaming. Some firms have used the DMCA to thwart competition by preventing research and reverse engineering. Others have brought the weight of criminal sanctions to bear against critics, competitors, and researchers.

The DMCA is anti-competitive. It gives copyright holders—and the technology companies that distribute their content—the legal power to create closed technology platforms and exclude competitors from interoperating with them. Worst of all, DRM technologies are clumsy and ineffective; they inconvenience legitimate users but do little to stop pirates.

Fortunately, repeal of the DMCA would not lead to intellectual property anarchy. Prior to the DMCA’s enactment, the courts had already been developing a body of law that strikes a sensible balance between innovation and the protection of intellectual property. That body of law protected competition, consumer choice, and the important principle of fair use without sacrificing the rights of copyright holders. And because it focused on the actions of people rather than on the design of technologies, it gave the courts the flexibility they needed to adapt to rapid technological change.

PDF link to the full report

Related, at Slashdot: DRM and the Myth of the Analog Hole

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eBay Patent Case Session Fallout (update) [7:28 am]

The various summaries and discussions of yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing:

  • Washington Post: High Court Considers EBay Case On Patent [pdf]

    Some patent experts said yesterday that eBay v. MercExchange, No. 05-130, is likely to spur action on Capitol Hill. A House bill introduced by Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.) would essentially back software companies’ interests by allowing permanent injunctions only in cases in which the patent holder could prove it would suffer irreparable harm without one. But the bill is on hold, stymied largely by opposition from the pharmaceutical industry.

    “I think the biggest issue this is going to result in is a more urgent push for patent reform” among legislators, said Brian Ferguson, a patent attorney in Washington who did not represent either side in this case. “There is a concern that the patent office is overwhelmed and it isn’t doing as good a job as it could” in reviewing existing technologies or issuing patents in new technology areas, he said.

    The Bush administration, faced with a division within the business community, weighed in on MercExchange’s side. But its cautious brief urged the court to address the specific issues in the case, instead of trying to address “general policy concerns respecting potential abuse of the patent system.”

    [...] The district judge reasoned that, among other things, MercExchange was not practicing the patents and was willing to license its technologies to other companies.

    The judge also cited “growing concern over the issuance of business-method patents” as a reason that an injunction would not be in the public interest.

  • Others to be added as found….

The appellate court decision: MercExchange v eBay errata

MercExchange has a page of the district court orders.

Later: Something a little more significant? Reuters says EBay: patent office dismisses MercExchange claims [pdf]

EBay said it learned on March 27 that the Patent Office had dismissed arguments raised by MercExchange to a prior rejection of that company’s claims.

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ARGs - Alternative Reality Games and Viral Marketing [7:12 am]

New games; and blurring the line between entertainment and marketing online: These players phone it in [pdf]

To the casual eye, the clothes’ graphics look like the latest in urban cool, but step a little closer and you’ll see words embedded in the designs. Each word translates into a secret code that when typed into the Edoc website (edoclaundry.com) unlocks a video that plays into a larger story. It’s a game — piece together enough clues, and the players solve a murder mystery.

Landing in boutique stores and online outlets last week, Edoc’s shirts, caps, wallets, belts and backpacks are the newest permutation in alternate reality games, or ARGs — games that blur boundaries between the virtual and real worlds using websites, blogs, instant messaging, e-mail, telephones, fax machines and more to bring players together in solving a multilayered puzzle. Conceived as marketing tools for movies, video games and other products, some ARGs are now becoming commercially viable in their own right.

It’s been five years since the first ARG sent players on a story-based scavenger hunt both on- and offline. Since then, thousands have joined in, and dozens of games have come and gone, doling out clues on the Web and sending players into the real world to pick up ringing pay phones, play poker in cemeteries and engage in acts of derring-do.

[...] “Our society’s become increasingly adept at filtering out all the marketing messages they’re barraged with constantly,” said [42 Entertainment's Jordan] Weisman, whose company plans to branch out into non-product-pushing ARGs later this year. “Our premise was, maybe it’s time to whisper as opposed to scream. If you’re providing entertainment and they enjoy it, then they’ll seek it out as opposed to filter it out.”

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March 29, 2006

“Property?” Really? [7:29 pm]

This is not the language I would have hoped for from any lawyer, much less a Supreme Court Justice. Based on this account, anyway, it’s clear that the Court has no desire to tackle the hard question and, luckily for them, they have a nice narrow out to let them wriggle through — still, what an example of how “property” thinking has come to pervade this discussion! And from a “strict constructionist” justice! I wonder what the Founders would have to say about his construction of what a patent is: Justices question eBay patent arguments [pdf]

Several of the justices expressed skepticism during oral arguments about eBay’s contention that a federal appeals court had made it too easy for patent owners to get injunctions barring the use of their technologies.

“You’re talking about a property right, and the property right is explicitly the right to exclude others,” Justice Antonin Scalia told eBay’s lawyer. “That’s what a patent right is … give me my property back.”

I look forward to the analyses that we’ll find tomorrow. CNet’s (by Anne Broache and Declan McCullagh) is here: Supreme Court hears eBay’s patent appeal. They give a little more context to the Scalia quote, but it’s still an assertion that patents “are” property rights rather than “like” property rights:

Justice Antonin Scalia questioned eBay’s argument that companies should be treated differently if they don’t actually use the patents they own in business–such companies are often derisively called “patent trolls.”

“Why should we draw a distinction between the solo inventor who needs a patent speculation firm to market his invention and somebody else?” Scalia asked. “We’re talking about a property right here, and a property right is the exclusive right to exclude others.”

And a priceless quote from the new Chief Justice that suggests that there might at least be something in dicta about what ought to be patentable:

Chief Justice John Roberts drew laughter from the usually taciturn court audience when he made a quip about his interpretation of MercExchange’s patent. “It’s displaying pictures of your wares on a computer monitor and picking the ones you want. I might be able to do that.

“It’s not (like the patent describes) the internal combustion engine,” he added. “It’s very vague.”

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Mother Jones on IPR [5:29 pm]

A list of inane, but largely factual, intellectual property factoids: Intellectual Property Run Amok [pdf]

FOR INCLUDING a 60-second piece of silence on their album, the Planets were threatened with a lawsuit by the estate of composer John Cage, which said they’d ripped off his silent work 4’33”. The Planets countered that the estate failed to specify which 60 of the 273 seconds in Cage’s piece had been pilfered.

[...] AFTER INTEL was sued for libel for calling someone a “patent extortionist,” one of its lawyers coined the term “patent troll.”

[...] MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.’s estate charges academic authors $50 for each sentence of the “I Have a Dream” speech that they reprint.

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Living With Your Digital Identity [8:36 am]

A famliar problem, with an interesting turn as to where the burden falls to remedy the “discrepancies:” New ID System May Block Voters [pdf]

A new statewide database designed by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson to authenticate voter registrations has blocked otherwise valid registrations because of computer glitches, slight discrepancies in spelling or incomplete applications.

The problems have required registrars to contact voters — a time-consuming process that is already taxing some counties facing elections next month.

[...] The new database system was installed to meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act, the 2002 federal law designed to avoid the voting irregularities cited in the 2000 presidential race. Since the start of this year, voters in all states have been required to provide their driver’s license number, other state-approved identification or the last four digits of their Social Security number when they register to vote or change their information.

Voter information is checked against records with the federal government and state motor vehicles department. Under an agreement negotiated by McPherson and the U.S. Justice Department, California is one of nine states that use the standard of an “exact match,” in which the records must be the same to the letter, according to a national survey by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit group in New York City. Thus, “Robert Smith” and “Rob Smith” would not be considered a match.

Ashley Snee Giovannettone, spokeswoman for McPherson, who oversees elections, said a sampling of statewide registrations found that 74% were immediately verified. She said state election law requires county officials to resolve the discrepancies for the others, which might mean fixing a typo or contacting the voter to obtain missing information.

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Datapoint: Life in the Music Biz [8:31 am]

Minding the Peas [pdf]

The man they call Will.I.Am has one of the busiest hard drives in hip-hop these days, and he carries it with him in a case marked “Will’s Travel Kit.” Last weekend, the leader of the Black Eyed Peas slid behind the keyboard of a computer in the mobile music studio that follows him on tour, loaded up the drive and clicked through a directory of his dizzying workload.

[...] But the hard drive is more than music projects. Will clicked on a video file: “This is the Adidas campaign I did for the World Cup,” he said, bringing up an image of kids playing soccer on a dusty field with their kicks keyed to a pulsing, Latin-flavored soundtrack. “And this one is a short film I did with Snickers; they’re doing films because TiVo is killing commercials.” The vagaries of the advertising world are important to Will because the Black Eyed Peas are corporate America’s leading hip-hop partner and proud of it.

[...] The Peas have a rare spot in hip-hop. Separate in themes and vibe from the gangsta scene that long dominated rap, the group found it hard in the 1990s to capture a mass audience. While they were waiting for “positive” hip-hop to make its mark in America, they toured the rest of the world, which most rappers ignore or find unwelcoming.

“The world caught on before the United States caught on, and the beauty of being able to travel the world was that we turned around that whole concept that you have to be big here first,” Taboo said. “In Vietnam, we can go and get big audiences, and we’ve been going there for so long. A lot of other hip-hop groups don’t even go. And that helps with the advertising too. We have a global audience … we travel, and our name travels.”

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March 28, 2006

TorrentSpy Suit News [2:49 pm]

Sue Google, not us, Torrentspy tells Hollywood

In its filing Monday seeking to dismiss the case, Torrentspy argued that the MPAA might as well have sued Google, since Google does what Torrentspy does, only better. Torrentspy is a search engine that helps visitors find torrent files, which are often music or movie files stored in an easily shared file format.

“There is nothing alleged to distinguish defendants’ website from that maintained by Google,” Torrentspy said in its filing. “Everything alleged about defendants’ website is true about Google, and even more so, because Google outperforms the allegations in the complaint,” the filing reads.

Torrentspy argues that its site doesn’t contain any copyright works or links to copyright works, does not promote copyright infringement and can’t be held liable for the actions of visitors once they leave its Web site. The MPAA suit charges the company with secondary copyright infringement., Torrentspy said.

The MPAA’s charges against Torrentspy go beyond the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion against Grokster, Torrentspy said. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that someone who offers a tool and promotes the use of that tool to infringe copyrights is liable for the user’s infringement.

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A Draft Telecomm Bill [9:41 am]

US House lawmakers offer bill to aid telcos’ video [pdf]

U.S. House Republicans on Monday offered legislation aimed at easing the path for telephone carriers like AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T - news) and Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ - news) to enter the subscription television business.

[...] The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to hold a hearing on the proposed legislation on Thursday. The panel’s Republican leaders had tried to win support from the top Democrats on the committee, but failed.

Later: ZDNN has this unhappy note on the bill: Net neutrality fans lose on Capitol Hill

A November draft of Barton’s bill (click here for PDF) explicitly said broadband providers “may not block, or unreasonably impair or interfere with” Internet access. The final version (PDF), on the other hand, simply gives the Federal Communications Commission the authority to set rules and publish violations.

Later: Reactions — New broadband bill draws fire

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An Inflammatory Look At Gaming And Governments [9:02 am]

Global Gaming Crackdown

American gamers aren’t likely to face dictatorial decrees to limit their play time, but within the next few years the courts will begin to examine how laws relating to taxes, copyright, and speech will apply in virtual worlds. In the near future, the IRS could require game developers to keep records of all the transactions that take place in virtual economies and tax players on their gains before any game currency is converted into dollars. “It’s utterly implausible that it won’t happen,” says Dan Hunter, who has coauthored law review articles like “The Laws of the Virtual Worlds.” A trickier issue is whether an avatar can be defamed: Will we see potion merchants suing for in-game slander, much like eBay sellers have litigated over negative feedback?

In the United States, virtual worlds could eventually have the same legal status as another lucrative recreation industry: pro sports. The NHL isn’t exempt from federal legislation like labor, antitrust, and drug laws. But inside the “magic circle,” on the field of play, sports leagues are given great latitude to make judgments, even though jobs, endorsement contracts, and the value of team franchises hang in the balance.

For example, the government lets referees police behavior in a hockey rink that would normally be the purview of local prosecutors. (Try high-sticking your mail carrier to experience the difference.) But the government still reserves the right to get involved. It should be the same in games. If your thief character picks the pocket of a nearby avatar, the local district attorney won’t prosecute. But if you hack into the player’s account to loot his virtual goods, you end up in the slammer.

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Denmark Considering Joining France [8:46 am]

Denmark next in line to challenge Apple, DRM

Apple’s problems in Europe look to be getting worse, not better. Following on the heels of France’s legislative push for DRM interoperability comes word that Denmark is thinking along the same lines. Reportedly, Maersk and the country’s largest telecommunications company, TDC, are speaking out in favor of such interoperability. Maersk and TDC are not only two of largest companies in Denmark, but they are amongst the largest and most powerful in Europe. Both also operate online music ventures.

Earlier posts: France Moves “Forward” (updated), The French Keep Pushing, Followup: France’s Digital Interop Bill, Those French!

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MythTV Gets Some Ink [8:26 am]

Yet no discussion of the degree to which this innovation, celebrated in this article, is vulnerable to a host of ongoing regulatory initiatives, starting with the mentality behind the broadcast flag: MythTV Invades Realm of Cable and TiVo [pdf]

In 2002, amidst a bulky, advertising-laden digital television experience, programmer Isaac Richards took matters into his own hands — he began to build his own digital video recorder system from scratch.

Now known as the MythTV project (http://www.mythtv.com/), Richards’s effort to create DVR systems from commonly available computer components and the Linux open-source operating system, is gaining traction on the Internet.

[...] The MythTV project is centered on the idea of creating a low-cost home entertainment control unit that can be almost anything the user would like it to be. Software modules, once installed, can provide an array of bells and whistles to use.

For example, a video module within the MythTV software may control playback while music and DVD management programs store media libraries to use later. An Internet software module might allow the unit to use a Web browser, make VoIP-based telephone calls, videoconference and access podcasts. Additional features include full access to MythWeather, a free weather-tracking plug-in that uses MSNBC’s weather links for its information; and MythNews, a live news link hooked into an auto-updating Internet feed and CD and DVD importing features.

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“I Paid For This Microphone …” [8:21 am]

So I get to decide what gets said — apparently: Phone, Cable Trade Fire Over Ads [pdf]

AT&T Inc. yesterday accused cable television companies of suppressing public debate by refusing to air ads that urge lawmakers to make it easier for phone companies to get into the TV business.

Time Warner Cable shot back that it was under no obligation to carry its competitors’ ads while Comcast Corp. said it rejected the spots because they were riddled with false and misleading claims.

The charges are the latest in a long series of broadsides between phone companies, which want to offer TV without having to get thousands of franchise agreements at localities all over the country, and cable companies, which believe their rivals should have to secure local agreements just as they did.

Both sides have launched media campaigns to sway lawmakers debating whether to grant phone companies state or national franchises. The Federal Communications Commission is also studying whether local authorities are “unreasonably” denying franchises.

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What’s Your Privacy Worth? [8:01 am]

Increasingly, it depends on what you mean by “privacy.” Unfortunately, the definition seems to be more than a little mutable: E-Commerce Report: Pssst! You Can Get It Cheaper Over There

IT’S the kind of thing that can make bargain hunters rejoice: merchants that follow consumers to competing stores and show them a better deal just as they are about to check out. In the mall, that would be considered stalking. Online, it’s an idea that has been around for several years but has failed to catch on.

Now Barry Diller’s company, IAC/InterActiveCorp, among several others, is giving this kind of shopping software a revival. The company recently introduced Pronto, a software application that a user downloads at Pronto.com. Once a user clicks on one of the 50,000 merchants in its database, Pronto silently monitors all of a user’s activity on a product page, then shows deals from other merchants on the same items, or similar ones, until it finds a better deal. Then it sends a message prompting the user to click away.

[...] Pronto’s software, which works on Windows machines (but not Macs), connects users to Pronto’s database of 50,000 merchants, which it has built by scanning and cataloging retailer’s Web pages. The software is activated when a user clicks on a specific product page on a retailer’s site, then it scrolls a window over the bottom right-hand side of the computer screen with alternative retailers and prices for the same product.

Someone shopping for a Canon PowerShot SD 450 on CompUSA.com, for instance, could be shown a window saying they could save up to 29 percent at other retailers, like Abe’s of Maine or newegg.com. After clicking on that window, a larger page covers most of the screen with details on the other merchants’ offerings and links to those products. For items like teak benches or gas grills, which come in so many variations that apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult, the software will return suggestions of similar products listed by those names. Users may also set up the system so that it alerts them when prices for a particular item fall below a certain threshold.

When someone buys from a merchant that Pronto has suggested, the merchant pays Pronto a commission, typically from 5 to 15 percent of the sale. That’s a different approach from other companies, like WhenU and SmartShopper, which are paid by sites each time someone clicks on their links.

[...] Still, privacy-sensitive shoppers may feel uneasy about installing such software on their computers, since it essentially watches someone’s surfing habits and stores information about them.

WhenU’s software stores that information on the user’s computer, not the company’s servers. Others, like Smartshopper.com, say they track users anonymously, meaning they do not collect personal information. Pronto collects a user’s e-mail address so it can send sale alerts, among other things. Pronto also gives users the option to clear the system’s product history file, in case they are shopping for items they do not want Pronto to keep in its records.

Will merchants will feel comfortable having a service whisk away customers just as they are ready to buy? Executives of the shopping software companies are unapologetic.

“If you’re a merchant and you’re not competitive, you don’t want an educated user, that’s for sure,” said Ziv Eliraz, vice president of strategic alliances for SmartShopper, which is based in New York. Mr. Eliraz added, however, that he had heard no complaints from merchants about his service.

Related: Twilight of Tax Privacy

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A Parody Fight [7:57 am]

Both Sides in Parody Dispute Agree on a Term: Unhappy

“I’m a fan of parody myself, I watch ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I read The Onion, it’s funny. But when it gets too close to something that could be misconstrued as ours by someone looking for help. I take issue with that,” he said. Mathew D. Staver, the president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, maintains that its only concern was to get the logo removed. On Friday, Exodus dropped its case against Mr. Watt.

But Tamara Lange, a senior staff lawyer with the A.C.L.U. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project, said that the point of the initial letter from Liberty Counsel was clearly not just about the logo. “It’s no surprise that they are backtracking now that their scare tactics didn’t work. The original letter from them was an attempt to make Justin take down his criticism.”

Mr. Watt said he was mainly happy that his message made an impression. “It’s bothersome that you could market in some way that you really target a minority group that already is underprivileged. It’s marketing in such a way to make someone feel bad about who they are.”

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