Plus Ça Change…

Web labeling mandate surfaces in Senate

Operators of commercial Web sites with sexually explicit content would have to post warning labels on each offending page or face imprisonment under a new proposal in the U.S. Senate.

Caving to earlier demands from the U.S. Department of Justice, the 24-page proposed law focuses on a medley of new penalties related to child pornography and other sexual content on the Internet. For instance, Internet service providers that fail to report to authorities any sightings of child pornography on their networks would have to cough up fines that are triple those written into current law: $150,000 for the first violation and $300,000 thereafter.

From the June IEEE Spectrum

Death by DMCApdf

In the eight years since the DMCA’s passage, however, piracy has not decreased, and hurdles to lawful uses of media have risen. The Motion Picture Association (MPA), the international arm of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), estimated worldwide losses because of piracy to be US $2.2 billion in 1997 and $3.5 billion annually in 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Meanwhile, entire consumer electronics categories have been wiped from retail shelves. If three or four years ago you didn’t buy a digital video recorder that automatically skips commercials, you’re out of luck; that feature is not in such products today. Television executives brought litigation that bankrupted the company offering DVRs with these user-friendly features, because skipping commercials potentially undermines their ability to sell commercial time.

You’re likewise out of luck if you’re looking to buy software that lets you copy a DVD onto your laptop’s hard drive; it’s no longer for sale, at least not in the United States. […]

The Analog Hole Bill is Hollywood’s attempt to control an even broader range of devices than the DMCA does. The chips used to convert video from analog to digital are in today’s digital cameras, camera phones, and personal media players. A host of future new devices are likely to include this basic technology. The Analog Hole Bill would require that all these products incorporate content-protection technologies certified by federal regulators and include hardware and software to block any end-user modifications. The days of hardware “tweaking” would end. The legislation would also dictate the kinds of video outputs permitted, potentially orphaning generations of older products, including television sets, stereo speakers, and VCRs. Such legislation, combined with other laws already passed and pending, would lead to a world in which federal regulators, not creative engineers, would dictate many product features and design decisions. In place of the new era’s digital developments, Hollywood’s vision takes us back to the Stone Age.

Hollywood is good at telling stories. The one it has been screening in Washington—that music and movies will perish if the regulators don’t kill the dangerous gizmos first—is powerful drama but has about as much basis in reality as Lord of the Rings. Killing off gizmos and subjecting technological development to the whims of federal regulators will ultimately hurt not just consumers but also tomorrow’s creative industries—both technology and entertainment.

Identity, Privacy and Dataveillance

Just finished a paper on this topic for a conference: Government Increasingly Turning to Data Mining [pdf] (don’t miss the sidebar graphics)

As federal agencies delve into the vast commercial market for consumer information, such as buying habits and financial records, they are tapping into data that would be difficult for the government to accumulate but that has become a booming business for private companies.

Industry executives, analysts and watchdog groups say the federal government has significantly increased what it spends to buy personal data from the private sector, along with the software to make sense of it, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They expect the sums to keep rising far into the future.

Privacy advocates say the practice exposes ordinary people to ever more scrutiny by authorities while skirting legal protections designed to limit the government’s collection and use of personal data.

Critics acknowledge that such data can be vital to law enforcement or intelligence investigations of specific targets but question the usefulness of “data-mining” software that combs huge amounts of information in the hopes of finding links and patterns that might pick someone out as suspicious.

[…] “This issue of using data to ferret out evildoers, many administration officials believe very firmly this is the way we should be going and that the barriers there should be overcome because it will result in a greater good,” said another former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s a philosophy that if you have nothing to hide, why do you care if I know what movies you rent? Who you are talking to? If you live a godly life, a perfect life, you don’t have worry about 100 percent disclosure.”

Another Wrinkle In Content Delivery

Turning the Internet into TV, one step at a time — the end of a la carte Internet?: ESPN selling premium content to Net providers [pdf]

In a strategy inspired by cable television , the Walt Disney Company’s ESPN sports network offers online broadcasts of the World Cup and other sporting events as premium Internet programming. Internet providers who want to offer the service, called ESPN360, must pay special fees for the right to carry it, in the same way that cable TV systems pay Disney to carry ESPN’s TV shows. So far, a handful of Internet providers, including Verizon Communications Inc., Adelphia Communications Corp., and Charter Communications Inc., have signed up for ESPN360, making it available to about 8 million US households.

[…] Bill Heilig , Verizon’s executive director for portal and content services, said his company has similar deals with online content providers such as Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., and Viacom Inc. These give Verizon services and features that distinguish it from rivals like cable TV giant Comcast Corp.

“It is similar to the cable model,” said Heilig. “We go out and source the best combination of content and services.”

But others worry that making the Internet more like cable TV will lead to higher prices, as consumers are forced to pay for premium services they don’t want.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re not a sports fan. You’re going to pay,” said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a high-tech public interest group.

Another Technology About To Reshape Our World (and World-View)

The start of a new series at the NYTimes: That Wild Streak? Maybe It Runs in the Family

For some people, the idea that they may not be entirely at fault for some of their less desirable qualities is liberating, conferring a scientifically backed reprieve from guilt and self-doubt. Others feel doomed by their own DNA, which seems less changeable than the more traditional culprits for personal failings, like a lack of discipline or bad childhoods. And many find it simply depressing to think that their accomplishments might not be the result of their own efforts.

[…] Whether a new emphasis on genes will breed tolerance or bigotry for inborn differences remains an open question. If a trait like being overweight comes to be seen as largely the result of genetic influence rather than lack of discipline, the social stigma connected to it could dissipate, for instance. Or fat people could start being viewed as genetically inferior.

[…] The public embrace of genetics may be driven as much by wishful thinking as scientific truth. In an age of uncertainty, biology can appear to provide a concrete answer for behavior that is difficult to explain. And the faith that genetics can illuminate the metaphysical aspects of being human is for some a logical extension of the growing hope that it can cure disease.

“More and more stories about who we are and how we live are becoming molecular,” said Paul Rabinow, an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the interrelation of science and culture. “The older liberal worldview that it’s all a question of willpower is still very present in America, but genetics has become a strong countercurrent.”

That may be partly because the science has become more credible. Armed with the human genome sequence, along with a catalog of genetic variation in the human population, and tools that can inexpensively gauge any individual’s genetic makeup, scientists can now pinpoint the genes associated with inherited traits.

A Plea For Sanity from the LATimes

YouTube, not SueTubepdf

IT’S A FAMILIAR PROBLEM FOR THE music industry: Fans are using its product in unexpected ways, and they’re doing it for free. The industry’s response, however, shows signs of evolving. Instead of suing its customers, it may actually try to help give them what they want — and make a buck besides.

[…] In an enlightened move, Warner Music Group is taking the same approach to videos created by fans. Technically, labels and music publishers can sue the creators of these videos for unauthorized use of songs in their miniature movies, and some executives want to do just that. But that’s overlooking the benefit of the homemade videos, which amount to quirky (and free) advertising.

The gap between people who create and those who consume is closing fast. These days, practically anyone who can cut and paste on a computer can make and distribute a music video, and these efforts can attract a crowd. Just look at the “Numa Numa” clip — featuring a chubby, lip-synching teenager from New Jersey — that spread rapidly across the Internet last year. Using a bubbly Romanian pop hit, the film drew more than 12 million views and spawned a slew of imitators. For the benefit of music fans everywhere, not to mention obscure Romanian bands, the labels should let the Web work its magic.

Related: Service lets people rip videos from YouTube, other sites