March 23, 2006

Network Neutrality Takes A Hit [7:40 pm]

The headline is nice, but the content is ugly: Martin Says FCC Has Authority To Enforce Net Neutrality

However, Martin also added that he supports network operators’ desires to offer different levels of broadband service at different speeds, and at different pricing — a so-called “tiered” Internet service structure that opponents say could give a market advantage to deep-pocket companies who can afford to pay service providers for preferential treatment.

While Martin said that consumers who don’t pay for higher levels of Internet service shouldn’t expect to get higher levels of performance, he did say in a following press conference that “the commission needs to make sure” that there are fair-trade ways to ensure that consumers “get what they are purchasing.” When asked how consumers could measure service performance levels, Martin said that public Web sites already exist that let users measure their connection speeds.

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LATimes on the Pending Patenting Fight [9:47 am]

Inventing a new system [pdf]

High-tech companies are increasingly running into stop signs waved by patent holders who claim the rights to some element of the companies’ products or services. One example is Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the popular BlackBerry wireless e-mail device, which was forced to pay more than $600 million in a patent infringement suit — despite the very real possibility that the patents on which the suit was based will prove to be invalid. The BlackBerry case is Exhibit A for patent reformers, who want to give companies a better chance to challenge patents before they go to court and to reduce the likelihood that federal judges will shut down services that have some infringing elements.

But the tech industry and its allies face powerful opponents on Capitol Hill, led by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Like high-tech firms, drug makers rely on innovation and intellectual property to generate profits. But tech products frequently involve dozens, if not hundreds, of patented parts and processes. The tech world is a thicket of patents, and companies frequently find themselves on the receiving end of lawsuits by other inventors.

Patents in the pharmaceutical world are more straightforward, and big drug makers typically are plaintiffs, not defendants, in patent suits. They’re resisting proposals to let the patent office second-guess patents years after they’re granted and to reduce patent holders’ leverage against infringers.

Given the lobbying might of the industries involved, Congress won’t be able to make any major improvements to the patent system until the two sides are closer than they are today.

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Music, Promotion and the Internet [9:15 am]

Bands are achieving unprecedented hype [pdf]

Hype is as old as entertainment. In the pop music business, generating buzz has largely been the domain of a record label’s marketing department and involved a time-tested triptych of tools: radio, reviews, and video rotation. As the alternative nation grew, intrepid fans traded recordings of favorite underground bands, generating word-of-mouth campaigns that turned groups like Pavement into cult stars.

Today, thanks to the confluence of Internet file-sharing technology, online blogs, and social networking websites such as MySpace, the grassroots community has swelled, quite literally, to global proportions. Instead of talking up bands and handing out tapes to friends in your town, music enthusiasts send the word, and the MP3 files, to cyber-pals around the world.

All Arctic Monkeys did was post some demos on their website and make them available for free download. By the time the band members signed a deal with the English indie label Domino last year, their audience was already huge. ”Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” released in the UK in January, broke a record for first-week sales in Britain.

This is good news in so many ways. After decades of being force-fed label-sanctioned product via corporate-approved radio, music consumers are more than ready to become programmers of their own playlists. And it’s nothing short of a revolution in terms of opportunities for independent artists. The Boston-bred, Brooklyn- and Philadelphia-based group Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sparked a full-blown blog-based frenzy (and, in turn, remarkable sales figures) for last year’s self-released, self-distributed, self-promoted debut album via the Internet.

No packaging. No pitching. No payola. The notion of a band finding a fan without the machinations of middlemen inspires utopian visions of art uncorrupted, a power-to-the-people model of music making and consuming. But while Web-generated hype may be more credible than the carefully crafted fluff coming out of boardrooms, it isn’t without its pitfalls. [...]

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