Such As It Ever Was

Porn Industry Again at the Tech Forefront [pdf]

A top producer of hard-core porn will start selling downloadable movies that customers can burn to DVD and watch on their TVs, illustrating how Southern California’s multibillion-dollar adult entertainment industry may again set the technological pace for Hollywood.

Letting people burn downloaded movies is considered key to the growth of online distribution. Despite the proliferation of fast Internet connections, most people still want to watch movies on television but lack an easy way to get them off the computer. Plus, hard drives can store only so many space-hogging movies.

Hollywood has resisted burnable discs that can be watched on televisions because they fear piracy. It also doesn’t want to alienate retailers, which sell most of its DVDs. But if history is any guide, the online experiment by adult entertainment giant Vivid Entertainment Group will be watched closely by mainstream studio chiefs.

“The simple fact is porn is an early adopter of new media,” said Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto. “If you’re trying to get something established … you’re going to privately and secretly hope and pray that the porn industry likes your medium.”

[…] The Internet solves two of the porn industry’s biggest challenges: distribution and privacy. Wal-Mart and Blockbuster Inc. won’t sell porn. Nor do most customers relish the embarrassment of browsing in the back room of their local video store for porn.

“Those are the two reasons we’ll always be in the forefront,” Vivid Co-Chairman Bill Asher said. “We have to.”

Technology, Culture and Journalism

Although this piece from the NYTimes, The Future of Journalism as Told by Hilaire Belloc in 1918, is largely about connecting the dots on journalism and blogging, I found there were a few copyright nuggets in the lead-in:

Every few days, I get an RSS feed that lists the new books added to the University of Pennsylvania Library’s catalog of online books, and I go foraging. To me this is a long-distance version of the kind of trolling I have done most of my life, wandering through the library stacks, making accidental discoveries in the shelves along the way.

But there is a paradox here. This is a high-tech library filled with old books. Because of copyright restrictions, it’s rare to find a publication date much later than the mid-1920’s. Nowhere else that I know of can you feel as clearly the difference between the protected waters of copyright and the open sea of the public domain.

[…]

“The Free Press” is an extended essay examining the history of what Belloc calls the “Official Press” in England and the emergence of a rival “Free Press” in the form of small, often short-lived journals.

The Official Press, Belloc argues, is centralized and Capitalist (he always capitalizes Capitalist), and its owners are “the true governing power in the political machinery of the State, superior to the officials in the State, nominating ministers and dismissing them, imposing policies, and, in general, usurping sovereignty — all this secretly and without responsibility.” The result “is that the mass of Englishmen have ceased to obtain, or even to expect, information upon the way they are governed.”

It is a delicate historical task to transplant Belloc’s argument from his era to our own. Perhaps nothing else distances his essay so much as his assumption that major newspapers actually shaped the political power of the nation — that politicians governed at the sufferance of newspaper owners.

[…] But “The Free Press” is still worth reading, for it describes, with some important adjustments, the evolving relationship between political bloggers and the mainstream media.

Another Side in the RIM/NTP Fight

In Silicon Valley, a Man Without a Patent

A high-school dropout, Mr. Goodfellow had his light-bulb moment in 1982, when he came up with the idea of sending electronic mail messages wirelessly to a portable device — like a BlackBerry. Only back then, there was no BlackBerry; his vision centered on pagers. He eventually did get financial backing to start a wireless e-mail service in the early 1990’s, but it failed.

So, in 1998, he moved to Prague and bought a bar. While he was there, the BlackBerry did come along. Tending bar, he believed that everyone had forgotten that he had initially come up with the idea of wireless e-mail.

[…] Mr. Goodfellow, an early participant in Silicon Valley’s grass-roots computer culture, disdained the notion of protecting his ideas with patents. And Thomas J. Campana Jr., a Chicago inventor with no such qualms, patented the idea of wireless electronic mail almost a decade after Mr. Goodfellow’s original work.

Mr. Campana, who died in 2004, was a founder of NTP, and his patent push yielded a bonanza for the company, which will receive $612.5 million in a settlement reached last month in its patent infringement suit against Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry.

For legal and technology experts, the tale of Mr. Goodfellow’s pioneering work is evidence of the shortcomings of the nation’s patent system, which was created to reward individual creativity but has increasingly become a club for giant corporations and aggressive law firms.

Several legal experts suggested that Mr. Goodfellow’s work might have constituted important “prior art” — earlier public information that is relevant to a patent application — that should have been disclosed to patent examiners and the courts by both sides in the dispute.

“I think there is a potential ethics issue,” said Mark A. Lemley, a Stanford professor who specializes in patent law. “The basic key is the attorneys have the obligation to disclose everything they know about his prior artwork and make him available as a fact witness.”

Identity and the Net

A Sinister Web Entraps Victims of Cyberstalkers

Claire E. Miller, a 44-year-old publishing executive in Manhattan, recently stripped her nameplate from the tenant directory at the entrance to her Kips Bay apartment building, where she has lived for more than 11 years. She has also asked the landlord to disconnect the buzzer and is in the process of changing her phone number.

Drastic measures, all, for an otherwise cheerful and outgoing person. But Ms. Miller has been unnerved by a sudden and, since last September, steady onslaught of unsolicited and lusty phone calls, e-mail messages and even late-night visits from strange men — typically seeking delivery on dark promises made to them online by someone, somewhere, using her name.

[…] It is the online equivalent of scrawling “for a good time, call Jane Doe” on a bathroom wall, but the reach of the Internet has made such pranks — if they are only that — far more sinister. And the problem is only likely to grow, fueled by the availability of personal data online and the huge growth in social networking and dating sites, which are attracting investment from big companies.

Salon on Net Neutrality

The corporate toll on the Internet

Now — after a series of acquisitions and re-acquisitions so tangled it would take Herodotus to adequately chronicle them — AT&T is back, it’s big, and according to consumer advocates and some of the nation’s largest technology companies, AT&T wants to take over the Internet.

The critics — including Apple, Amazon, eBay, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo — point out that AT&T, along with Verizon and Comcast, its main rivals in the telecom business, will dominate the U.S. market for residential high-speed Internet service for the foreseeable future. Currently, that market is worth $20 billion, and according to the Federal Communications Commission, the major “incumbent” phone and cable companies — such as AT&T — control 98 percent of the business. Telecom industry critics say that these giants gained their power through years of deregulation and lax government oversight. Now many fear that the phone and cable firms, with their enormous market power, will hold enormous sway over what Americans do online.

Specifically, AT&T has hinted that it plans to charge Web companies a kind of toll to send data at the highest speeds down DSL lines into its subscribers’ homes. The plan would make AT&T a gatekeeper of media in your home. Under the proposal, the tens of millions of people who get their Internet service from AT&T might only be able to access heavy-bandwidth applications — such as audio, video and Internet phone service — from the companies that have paid AT&T a fee. Meanwhile, firms that don’t pay — perhaps Google, Yahoo, Skype, YouTube, Salon, or anyone else — would be forced to use a smaller and slower section of the AT&T network, what Internet pioneer Vint Cerf calls a “dirt road” on the Internet. AT&T’s idea, its critics say, would shrink the vast playground of the Internet into something resembling the corporate strip mall of cable TV.

[…] Each side predicts dire consequences if its opponents win. Jim Ciccone, AT&T’s senior executive vice president for external affairs, says that if broadband service is regulated, AT&T won’t be able to recoup its costs for building these new lines — “and then we don’t build the network.” The Web firms say that if the big broadband companies are allowed to charge content firms for access to your house, we’ll see the Internet go the way of other deregulated media — just like TV and radio, where a small band of big companies used their wealth to swallow up consumer choice. If broadband companies get their way, says Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, the Internet will one day feature nothing much more exciting than “the digital equivalent of endless episodes of ‘I Love Lucy.'”

Interesting related article cited in the comments on this one: Down to the Wire from Foreign Affairs

Time Serving and Free Riding

Net clocks suffering data deluge

Mr Kamp said a new line of products sold by D-Link has the list of the net’s time servers written into the software that keeps the devices running.

Further detective work has revealed the 25 or so D-Link products checking the time using this list.

The data flood is causing Mr Kamp problems because his time server is run on a non-profit basis and is allocated a small amount of bandwidth for the 2,000 or so Danish organisations that use it to tell the time.

The data flood has seen his bandwidth bill rocket and Mr Kamp is contemplating shutting the server down as he cannot afford the continuing costs. Now, up to 90% of his daily traffic comes from D-Link devices.

Google: “We’re Not Getting Involved”

Google Chief Rejects Putting Pressure on China

Google’s chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, whose company has been sharply criticized for complying with Chinese censorship, said on Wednesday that the company had not lobbied to change the censorship laws and, for now, had no plans to do so.

“I think it’s arrogant for us to walk into a country where we are just beginning operations and tell that country how to run itself,” Mr. Schmidt told reporters from foreign news organizations.

[…] On Wednesday, Mr. Schmidt defended the decision to cooperate with the censors, saying that accepting the restrictions of Chinese law were unavoidable for Google to enter the Chinese market. “We had a choice to enter the country and follow the law,” Mr. Schmidt told the foreign reporters. “Or we had a choice not to enter the country.”

The Warrantless Monitoring Suit

Documents Show Link Between AT&T and Agency in Eavesdropping Case

Mark Klein was a veteran AT&T technician in 2002 when he began to see what he thought were suspicious connections between that telecommunications giant and the National Security Agency.

But he kept quiet about it until news broke late last year that President Bush had approved an N.S.A. program to eavesdrop without court warrants on Americans suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.

Now Mr. Klein and a few company documents he saved have emerged as key elements in a class-action lawsuit filed against AT&T on Jan. 31 by a civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The suit accuses the company of helping the security agency invade its customers’ privacy.

From Wired News: AT&T Seeks to Hide Spy Docs

Chinese Piracy Efforts

Closure of Shanghai Bazaar Not Expected to Subdue Piracy [pdf]

The most expensive rents in China’s most expensive city aren’t suites on the historic riverfront, the Bund, or boutiques along Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s version of Rodeo Drive. They are flimsy stalls in a large bazaar jammed next to a smelly produce market.

Some of the 800 merchants at Xiangyang Market pay $10,000 a month or more for space no bigger than most American kitchens. Even bare walls behind stores are subleased for thousands of dollars, then converted into makeshift stores.

Customers from across the world come to buy bootlegs of famous brands. Rolex, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Mont Blanc. You name it, they’re all here. The five-acre bazaar is often the first stop on a Shanghai tour group’s itinerary.

[…] But after six years of booming business, in open view of authorities, Xiangyang Market will be closing at the end of June. Shanghai officials recently announced its shutdown, trumpeting it as a big strike in their campaign against piracy.

[…] Few believed piracy was the reason for the shuttering of Xiangyang Market. In fact, the announcement came after the city cut a lucrative deal with a Hong Kong developer who has plans to build apartments and offices on the site.

Even Xue Yong, Xiangyang Market’s vice general manager, couldn’t help but smirk when asked whether the closure was meant to curb counterfeiting.

“You cannot say it’s because of that,” he said as he sat in his third-floor office behind the market.

The story of Xiangyang Market reflects the complex nature of China’s counterfeit trade and how local governments rely on pirate markets to create jobs and revenue.