May 31, 2006

DVRs and Copyright [5:35 pm]

CNN, Cartoon Network sue Cablevision over DVR plan

Cablevision said when it announced plans to launch the service that the service would do away with the need for personal DVR boxes such as made by the likes of TiVo Inc. or Cisco Systems Inc. Scientific Atlanta.

But the networks say that because the proposed service allows subscribers to store television programs on the cable operator’s own computer servers, it would be breaking copyright agreements by effectively re-transmitting the programs.

Another Time Warner unit, Time Warner Cable, has been supportive of network DVRs in principle if proved legal.

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May 30, 2006

Comics and Scanning [3:31 pm]

Menace to Comic Heroes? [pdf]

Digital scanning and sharing of comic books have begun to make a dent in the business, driven by easy-to-use file-sharing tools and a culture in which enthusiasts eagerly pass along their copies to one another.

[...] “Are there downloaders in the tens of thousands? Possibly,” said Todd Allen, an independent online media consultant and adjunct professor of e-business at Columbia College Chicago. “Are there millions? Not likely.”

It’s certainly not as widespread a practice as music file sharing, but the comic-book business is much smaller. Although the top 10 comic books may have runs of 100,000 to 150,000 copies for each monthly issue, even giants such as DC Comics and Marvel Publishing have books that sell about 20,000 to 30,000 copies. And many comics don’t even break 5,000 anymore, Allen said.

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May 29, 2006

Running Your Own MP3.Com? [9:54 pm]

This looks like a fight in the making — if the record industry is foolish enough to make it one: Digital music finds some locker room

A number of companies have created online content “lockers” where users can upload their digital media files for storage that they can subsequently access from multiple devices.

Examples include Oboe, created by MP3Tunes founder Michael Robertson, and MediaMax, from Streamload. Oboe offers unlimited storage of music-only files for a flat fee of $40 per year, while MediaMax will store 25 GB worth of music, video and photos for free, with up to 1,000 gigabytes for $30 per month.

[...] Like anything else in the digital music industry, the concept isn’t quite as simple as those trying to sell it might like. Music wrapped in certain types of digital rights management (DRM) technology — such as Apple’s Fairplay — can’t be streamed from these lockers. Neither can tethered downloads acquired from subscription music services like Napster or Rhapsody.

Yet another digital locker company, Navio, is circumventing this with a different approach. Instead of marketing to consumers, Navio partners with content owners — including Sony BMG, TVT Records, Fox Sports and the Walt Disney Group — to create online sales portals. Consumers buying music through these outlets can download their purchases in new formats as they need to. If someone switches from an iPod to a Creative Zen Micro, they can get a new version of the still-copy-protected song without having to repurchase it. The service is like buying the rights to a file rather than the file itself.

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May 28, 2006

NYTimes Sounds the Alarm [10:14 am]

Editorial Observer: Why the Democratic Ethic of the World Wide Web May Be About to End

Sir Tim [Berners-Lee] argues that service providers may be hurting themselves by pushing for tiered pricing. The Internet’s extraordinary growth has been fueled by the limitless vistas the Web offers surfers, bloggers and downloaders. Customers who are used to the robust, democratic Web may not pay for one that is restricted to wealthy corporate content providers.

“That’s not what we call Internet at all,” says Sir Tim. “That’s what we call cable TV.”

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May 26, 2006

Spy v. Spy [11:40 am]

TorrentSpy suit accuses MPAA of hacking

MPAA charged TorrentSpy earlier this year with knowingly facilitating movie piracy. TorrentSpy operates a search engine that allows users to find files online that can be shared using the BitTorrent file sharing system. TorrentSpy argues that it doesn’t host any content and so can’t be charged with illegally distributing files.

The TorrentSpy suit says that the hacker, once an associate of one of the principals of Valence Media, improperly accessed Valence Media email accounts and had emails sent to and from the accounts forwarded to a separate email box that he could access. In doing so, he learned login information and passwords to TorrentSpy servers. Once in the servers, he allegedly copied information about TorrentSpy’s income, expenses, advertising orders and other information about the servers themselves, such as the way TorrentSpy indexes files.

TorrentSpy alleges that in July last year the MPAA paid the hacker US$15,000 for the information. TorrentSpy also alleges that the MPAA told the hacker it didn’t care how he got the information and that it would protect him from any liability in obtaining the information. The suit does not explain how TorrentSpy discovered the information breach.

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LATimes Supports National Telco Video Licensing, Sort Of [8:06 am]

They also point out that their track record isn’t so great: Give the telcos a video hook-up - pdf

The game here, broadly speaking, is TV service. The telecoms want to offer an alternative to cable and satellite TV. These are the same companies that persuaded Congress to rewrite telecommunications law in 1996 to let them compete in the long-distance market. Instead of vying for customers with the leading long-distance companies, however, the regional Bells gobbled up most of them. Meanwhile, the Bells abandoned the fledgling TV services they’d launched in numerous states, saying the effort was too costly.

[...] The prospect of providing more competition to the local cable TV operator is so enticing, it’s tempting to forget all those times the Bells yanked the ball away. They’re certainly right about the need to streamline the franchising process, which can stretch on for years as cities demand a profusion of public-access channels, TV studios and other perks. A better approach would be to create a package of public benefits that telecoms and cable operators would have to provide, tied to the size of the community served.

[...] Still, given the Bells’ track record, lawmakers should be careful not to give telecoms and cable operators carte blanche. With the issue bogging down in Congress, chances are that Sacramento will move on a bill, coauthored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles), that would allow them into the market for TV services before Washington acts. Here’s hoping that Californians actually get to kick the football.

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Clearing Copyrights [7:52 am]

Rights renewed, ‘Eyes on the Prize’ returns [pdf]

“Eyes on the Prize,” which chronicles the history of the civil rights movement, was first shown in 1987 but has not been rerun since 1993, after which rights to much of the abundant archival footage in the series expired.

After an arduous process of renewing rights, the first part of the series is scheduled to run in two-hour blocks on Oct. 2, 9, and 16 on WGBH’s “American Experience.”

Henry Hampton and his South End-based Blackside Inc., the largest black-owned documentary film company at the time the film came out , produced the two-part, 14-hour series, which won numerous awards. The first six hours took 10 years to fund and produce. The second part will be aired at a future date, a spokeswoman for PBS said.

[...] The clearance rights for the astounding amount of material, which had originally been negotiated to be used for varying periods of time by Blackside, gradually expired.

It took four or five years to raise $915,000 for research, rights clearance, and post-production costs, said Sandra Forman, Blackside attorney and director of the “Eyes on the Prize” Renewal Project.

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May 25, 2006

HR5417 Voted Out of House Judiciary Commitee [6:29 pm]

House Judiciary passes Internet access measure [pdf]

The measure, approved by a vote of 20-13, would amend U.S. antitrust law. It would also counter a rival bill from another House committee that wants to encourage network providers to preserve consumers’ ability to freely surf the Internet instead of adopting stricter rules.

“The lack of competition in the broadband marketplace presents a clear incentive for providers to leverage dominant market power over the broadband bottleneck to pre-select, favor or prioritize Internet content over their networks,” said Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.

[...] “We are optimistic that the majority in Congress will see this legislation as an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist,” said Tim McKone, AT&T executive vice president for federal relations.The Judiciary panel has been tangling with the House Energy and Commerce Committee over jurisdiction on the Internet issue, dubbed “Net neutrality.” Many lawmakers were on the fence but voted for the Judiciary bill to preserve their control over antitrust laws.

HR5417 status from Thomas; webcast from the Judiciary Committee WWW site

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Market Response! [5:23 pm]

Who’d have thought that there would be a market reponse? Database debate helping one local telecom provider [pdf]

While some telephone companies have taken it on the chin lately over allegations of sharing customer phone records with the government, one San Francisco telecommunications business is benefiting from the controversy.

Working Assets, a small long-distance and wireless provider known for its contributions to progressive causes, has enjoyed an increase in subscriptions and added attention lately because of its public promises of customer privacy and its vocal opposition to any sharing of phone records with the National Security Agency.

The company said it signed up more than 1,000 long-distance and wireless customers last week after the NSA phone database story broke, triple what it normally does in a week.

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Is The US Propaganda Machine Really This Organized? [5:13 pm]

I would tend to doubt it, but it’s clear that the Venezuelans are sure.  And what does that say about how we are perceived? US video game angers Chavez allies in Venezuela - [pdf]

Venezuelan lawmakers are complaining that a video game to be marketed by a U.S. company next year provides a blueprint for violently overthrowing President Hugo Chavez.

The game, “Mercenaries 2: World in Flames,” simulates a military invasion of the oil-rich South American nation and will be released by Pandemic Studios of Los Angeles.

“A power-hungry tyrant messes with Venezuela’s oil supply, sparking an invasion that turns the country into a war zone,” Pandemic says of the game on its Web site.

Venezuelan lawmakers who back Chavez called it the latest example of a U.S. government-inspired propaganda campaign against Chavez that could even help lay the psychological groundwork for an actual invasion.

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Massachusetts Mayors Enter the Wiretap Fray [7:49 am]

Mayors demand phone inquiry [pdf]

Four Massachusetts mayors are filing a complaint with the state department that oversees telecommunications companies, part of a national campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union to demand information on whether the nation’s largest security agency has gained access to private phone records.

[...] Massachusetts will play a prominent role in the campaign, because it is believed to be the only state where mayors can file complaints that require public hearings before the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The mayors of Newton, Somerville, Northampton, and Chicopee are requesting a public hearing with the department to question whether the companies violated the law. The ACLU has asked that the Federal Communications Commission and 20 state public utilities commissions take action.

“We’ve gone from, `Can you hear me now?’ to `Who can hear me now?’” said Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette of Chicopee.

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May 24, 2006

StreamCast Suit Update [6:59 am]

Morpheus makers file suit against eBay

StreamCast claims in a lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. Central District Court in Los Angeles that Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, the duo who developed the technology behind companies Kazaa and Skype, of breaking an agreement to give StreamCast the first right to purchase their FastTrack peer-to-peer protocol.

FastTrack was the network on which Morpheus’ file-sharing application once operated and is also the technology foundation of Skype’s voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service.

Monday’s filing is an amendment of a suit first filed in January. The complaint now adds eBay to the 21 companies previously named as defendants and requests that the court force Skype, acquired by eBay last October, to halt sales of VoIP products. StreamCast is also asking for more than $4 billion in damages.

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EMI Posts Profit Increase [6:47 am]

EMI Annual Profit Up 14% [pdf]

After years of suffering from illegal downloads and competition from other forms of entertainment, the music industry is singing a new song: A rebound may finally be near.

On Tuesday, London-based EMI Group became the latest major record company to post significantly higher profit, as well as its first annual sales increase in five years. That follows recent upbeat releases by rivals Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.

[...] EMI, which reports only annual results, said profit rose 14% to 86.1 million pounds ($162 million) for the year ended March 31. Revenue rose 4% to 2.1 billion pounds ($3.9 billion), thanks to strong-selling albums from Coldplay, Gorillaz and country singer Keith Urban.

[...] EMI was especially buoyed by growth in digital revenue, considered the industry’s future as iPod-like devices proliferate. It soared 135%, to 112.1 million pounds.

“In the next five years, digital downloads will increase sevenfold,” said Larry Haverty, who oversees a media portfolio at Gabelli Asset Management Inc. “Downloads have higher margins than physical CDs, they’re easier to sell and distribute — the industry is going to become more and more profitable.”

[...] As digital downloads increase, the industry has been frustrated with Apple, which sells 80% of digital music in the U.S., for resisting pressure to raise prices. Digital subscription models also have failed to take off, and although ring tones — the song clips that play on cellphones — have brought the industry more than $3 billion in revenue, other cellular products have failed to mirror that success.

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May 23, 2006

IFPI Working The RIAA Strategy in Germany [8:53 am]

German police sue eDonkey file sharers

German police have filed criminal charges against more than 2,000 people accused of using the eDonkey file-sharing network to share copyrighted music illegally, the recording industry’s trade group said Tuesday.

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ArsTechnica on HDMI-Less Consoles [8:48 am]

Hollywood reportedly in agreement to delay forced quality downgrades for Blu-ray, HD DVD

According to German-language Spiegel Online, there is reportedly a behind-the-scenes, unofficial agreement between Hollywood and some consumer electronics manufacturers, including Microsoft and Sony, not to use ICT [Image Constraint Tokens] until 2010, or possibly even 2012. Without providing more details, the report suggests that Hollywood isn’t exactly happy with the situation, and could very well renege on the agreement, such that it is. But the agreement is there nonetheless, presumably to help the industry transition to HDMI. This could explain why the very same studios that pushed for HDMI and ICT have recently announced that they would not use it for the time being.

[...] If indeed there is an “agreement” of sorts between companies like Microsoft and Sony and the studios (including Sony’s own entertainment interests), this could certainly help to explain why these consoles are shipping today without HDMI support. But such unofficial agreements are gentlemanly in nature: at any time, all bets could be off. In the meantime, it appears as though Hollywood is playing it safe, hoping to keep the boogeyman of HDMI at bay while consumers weigh their options. Whether or not the strategy is ultimately about keeping users happy or lulling them into a false sense of security remains to be seen, but we’re fairly certain that ICT was designed to be used, and used it will be.

Slashdot article: Pact Not to Use Image Constraint Token Until 2010?

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Privacy and Digital Identity [8:30 am]

This Washington Post editorial takes the federal government to task, completely ignoring the fact that the business of digital identity is far more pervasive and intrusive, yet almost certainly equally inept at managing anything like meaningful security for those whose identities are their stock in trade: Digital Incompetence

IT’S NOT as though identity theft is a new worry. Last year companies such as Time Warner Inc. and Citigroup Inc. were in the news for losing computer tapes with sensitive personal information. The Bush administration has created something called the President’s Identity Theft Task Force. Virtually every discussion of this subject makes a basic point: Although some data theft is inevitable in a digital society, institutions that collect people’s names, birthdays and Social Security numbers must at least try to avoid losing them. Don’t ship unencrypted computer tapes by UPS and then say you’re sorry if the parcel goes astray. Don’t let employees take sensitive files home, where they may be lost or stolen.

This may sound obvious, but it apparently must be said again [....]

The article giving rise to this editorial — Personal Data on Veterans Is Stolen; also NYTimes’ Vast Data Cache About Veterans Is Stolen; later Veterans Chief Voices Anger on Data Theft

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Sony Settlement [8:22 am]

Sony BMG Settles CD Case

Under the settlement, consumers will be able to exchange CD’s with the copy-protection software for a replacement CD without the software and other compensation depending on what type of software was included on the CD they purchased.

Sony will also provide consumers with a patch to remove the software from their computers.

Slashdot: Sony Rootkit Settlement Gets Judge’s Approval

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Evolution of the Online Ad Business [7:46 am]

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ZDNet Net Neutrality Roundup [7:38 am]

Net neutrality field in Congress gets crowded

Called the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act,” the bill was introduced on Friday by Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and North Dakota Democrat Sen. Byron Dorgan and enjoys support from six other Democrats. The nine-page measure (click for PDF) contains a detailed list of obligations for all broadband service providers.

Specifically, they would generally not be allowed to “block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair or degrade” access to content or to prevent users from attaching devices of their choosing to the network. Network operators would also be barred from making special deals with content providers to ensure speedier delivery or improved quality of service and would be required to offer all Internet material on an “equivalent” basis.

Upcoming Senate Commerce Committee Hearing: Communications Reform Bill Hearing II on S.2686

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More on M2Z [7:19 am]

Free Broadband for the Masses [pdf]

Muleta, former head of the wireless bureau at the Federal Communications Commission, wants to offer free wireless broadband to consumers across the U.S. So he has launched a new company called M2Z Networks, which has raised an undisclosed amount of money from three major venture-capital firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Charles River Ventures, and Redpoint Ventures.

M2Z aims provide a basic advertiser-supported service at no cost to consumers. It would charge fees for premium services, such as faster connection speeds. “The model here is broadcast TV,” said Muleta, referring to free over-the-air TV, which is supported by ad revenue. He founded the company with Milo Medin, founder of the @Home Networks broadband service.

But what may sound like a straightforward plan won’t be easy to put into practice. M2Z’s biggest obstacle is gaining access to the radio airwaves over which wireless signals travel. [...]

[...] Muleta wants to bypass the auction process altogether. He’s hoping to strike a deal that would give him a preset block of underutilized spectrum in the range of 2155 megahertz to 2175 megahertz. The government has designated the spectrum for high-speed wireless services. Rather than fork over the up-front payments associated with auctions, M2Z wants to give the government 5% of annual sales.

Not if the wireless industry has anything to say about it. Wireless executives who declined to be identified said Muleta is trying to trade on his government background, using President Bush’s aim to provide universal broadband by the end of next year as a way to make a buck. “It’s crass,” says one wireless executive. Wireless industry trade group CTIA-The Wireless Assn. opposes the proposal, too. “We don’t see a need for the FCC to revisit their decision to allocate and auction this valuable spectrum for advanced wireless services,” says Joe Farren, a spokesman for the group.

From the NYTimes: Company Asks U.S. to Provide Radio Space for Free Internet

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