July 31, 2006

Billy Bragg and MySpace [8:01 pm]

Billy Bragg’s MySpace Protest Movement

In May, Mr. Bragg removed his songs from the MySpace.com Web site, complaining that the terms and conditions that MySpace set forth gave the social networking site far too much control over music that people uploaded to it. In media interviews and on his MySpace blog, he said that the MySpace terms of service made it seem as though any content posted on the site, including music, automatically became the site’s property.

Although MySpace had not claimed ownership of his music or any other content, Mr. Bragg said the site’s legal agreement — which included the phrase “a nonexclusive, fully paid and royalty-free worldwide license” — gave him cause for concern, as did the fact that the formerly independent site was now owned by a big company (the News Corporation, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch).

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July 28, 2006

OT: A Look At Massive [9:31 am]

A Mind of Their Own - pdf

Sparked by the popularity of computer-animated movies, Hollywood is looking for new ways to stretch the art form’s boundaries. So producers are using something that Walt Disney himself could have scarcely imagined: technology with the ability to create lifelike animated characters whose actions are guided by computers emulating human reasoning through artificial intelligence.

Known as Massive, the software is the brainchild of New Zealand computer graphics guru Stephen Regelous, who helped create the spectacular battle scenes featured in director Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Massive has since been used in such films as “King Kong” and commercials such as Budweiser’s “The Wave” that aired during the Super Bowl and World Cup telecasts. In that ad, 97,000 virtual fans raise cards to create a collective image of a bottle of beer pouring into a glass.

“It’s bringing characters to life,” said Regelous, 42. “It’s allowing artists to create something more than they’ve ever done before.”

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More on “Tubes” [8:55 am]

Senator open to TV chat about Internet “tubes” - pdf

Mocked by comedian and host of “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart for calling the Internet a bunch of tubes, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens said on Thursday he is open to appearing on the popular cable television program for a rebuttal.

The comedian has parodied the dean of the Senate Republicans for rejecting calls by some Internet companies for a law to block high-speed Internet providers from charging higher prices to carry certain content. Backers of such a law say it would preserve what they call “Net neutrality.”

[...] Stewart parodied the senator’s remarks on three episodes, which have spread over the Internet and were widely viewed on YouTube.com. He questioned Stevens’ knowledge of the Internet, and quipped, “You’re just the guy in charge of regulation.”

[...] One congressional aide said the show had explained the controversial Net neutrality issue “better than any corporate lobbyist or policymaker I know.”

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July 27, 2006

Clown IP [1:39 pm]

No clowning around in threatened lawsuit - pdf [via DarkNet]

A New York law firm is threatening to sue Happy and other clowns if they don’t stop dressing as purple dinosaurs or red dogs in their shows at children’s birthday parties. Those characters, the firm alleges, are too much like Barney and Clifford the Dog.

And no more Mr. Conductor or Bob the Builder look-alikes either.

[...]

Happy’s smile — and those of at least a dozen other Bay Area clowns — started to crack in the last week when they received letters from Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP, a Madison Avenue firm that represents the owners of the rights to Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine and Clifford.

“Plaintiffs will not tolerate costume infringement,” says the letter. “In view of your infringing conduct, plaintiffs have instructed this law firm to file suit against you and your business.”

To settle without going to court, the letter says the clowns should stop using the costumes, surrender them, pay $100,000 and sign an agreement never to use the characters again. The firm says its clients could be awarded damages of up to $150,000 per character if it wins a court case.

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Snocap & Linx [8:01 am]

Snocap testing online music sales service - pdf

Snocap, the digital music company founded by Napster creator Sean Fanning, is testing a new service that enables bands to sell their music from Web sites like MySpace.

Snocap’s Linx service is also designed to let online retailers sell music from the company’s vast registry of songs. It has distribution deals with Universal Music, Sony BMG, EMI Group (EMI.L) and Warner Music (NYSE:WMG - news), along with a number of independent labels.

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The Upright Citizens’ Brigade [7:59 am]

War is heck - pdf

The U.S. government’s crackdown on media indecency could prevent World War Two veterans from sharing their stories in an upcoming TV documentary series by Ken Burns, the head of the Public Broadcasting Service said Wednesday.

[...] [PBS president and CEO Paula] Karger said she had unsuccessfully tried to get advance clearance for the documentary from the five members of the Republican-controlled broadcast regulator. But the FCC’s policy is not to deliver an opinion before a broadcast.

See also the LATimes’ Holding course on coarse words - pdf

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Whack-a-Mole [7:52 am]

Kazaa to pay music industry $100 mln - pdf

Under the terms of the deal, Kazaa’s owner Sharman Networks will pay the world’s four major music companies — Universal Music, Sony BMG, EMI and Warner Music — more than $100 million and commit to immediately going legal, said the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

[...] Ovum analyst Jonathan Arber said the settlement would have a mostly symbolic importance, as Kazaa was past its prime.

“It’s nowhere near as popular as it used to be. Very few people are thought to be using it anymore because better services came out,” he said. “It is a big legal victory, a good symbol for them to put out, but in terms of actually reducing piracy, people migrated to other file-sharing networks a long time ago.”

Later: LATimes’ Kazaa Settles Piracy Suits - pdf

Analyst Eric Garland of BigChampagne, which tracks file-sharing networks, said the entertainment industry faces a crossroads: It can develop business models that embrace Internet distribution or engage in an even more aggressive anti-piracy campaign against people who download copyrighted works.

“Are we really going to see, at this late date, more and more court actions against kids and soccer moms or are we going to see a shift?” he said. “Are we going to declare victory, based on these big wins, and move on to the carrot?”

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July 26, 2006

Somebody Stepped In Something [5:50 pm]

Shawn Hogan, Hero

Shawn Hogan received an unsettling call: A lawyer representing Universal Pictures and the Motion Picture Association of America informed the 30-year-old software developer that they were suing him for downloading Meet the Fockers over BitTorrent. Hogan was baffled. Not only does he deny the accusation, he says he already owned the film on DVD. The attorney said they would settle for $2,500. Hogan declined.

[...] Hogan, who coded his way to millions as the CEO of Digital Point Solutions, is determined to change this. Though he expects to incur more than $100,000 in legal fees, he thinks it’s a small price to pay to challenge the MPAA’s tactics. “They’re completely abusing the system,” Hogan says. “I would spend well into the millions on this.”

Of course, the MPAA isn’t backing down either. “I hear Mr. Hogan has said, ‘I’m absolutely going to go to trial,’ and that is his prerogative,” says John G. Malcolm, the MPAA’s head of antipiracy. “We look forward to addressing his issues in a court of law.” Look for a jury to weigh in by next summer.

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Being Watched [9:23 am]

Advertising: TiVo Is Watching When You Don’t Watch, and It Tattles

AS the advertising and television industries debate how to measure viewers of shows watched on digital video recorders, the pioneering maker of the recorders, TiVo, is getting into the argument. It is starting a research division to sell data about how its 4.4 million users watch commercials — or, more often, skip them.

The service is based on an analysis of the second-by-second viewing patterns of a nightly sample of 20,000 TiVo users, whose recorders report back to TiVo on what was watched and when.

[...] For now, TiVo will not be able to tell advertisers anything about the demographics of the audience it measures. The privacy policy of the service allows it to gather data about viewing habits, but not any personal information. Mr. Juenger said TiVo hoped to find a way to change that by the end of the year.

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Yes, But No [7:42 am]

You win some, you lose some: Judge dismisses phone records lawsuit - pdf

“The court is persuaded that requiring AT&T to confirm or deny whether it has disclosed large quantities of telephone records to the federal government could give adversaries of this country valuable insight into the government’s intelligence activities,” U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly said.

A number of such lawsuits have been filed around the country in the wake of news media reports that AT&T and other phone companies had turned records over to the National Security Administration, which specializes in communications intercepts.

Kennelly’s ruling was in sharp contrast to last week’s decision from U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco, who said media reports of the program were so widespread there was no danger of spilling secrets.

The NYTimes article, Judge Rejects Customer Suit Over Records From AT&T, offers up this thought:

The ruling is at first blush at odds with a decision last week by a federal judge in San Francisco. That judge, Vaughn R. Walker, allowed a similar suit against AT&T to proceed notwithstanding the state secrets privilege.

But the two decisions can be reconciled, Judge Kennelly wrote. The Chicago case concerns records of phone calls, including when they were placed, how long they lasted and the phone numbers involved. The San Francisco case, by contrast, mainly concerns an N.S.A. program aimed not at a vast sweep of customers’ records but at the contents of a more limited number of communications.

Because the Bush administration has confirmed the existence of such targeted wiretapping, the San Francisco suit could proceed without running afoul of the state secrets privilege, Judge Walker ruled last week. ‘‘The government has opened the door for judicial inquiry,” he wrote, “by publicly confirming and denying material information about its monitoring of communications content.”

In his decision yesterday, Judge Kennelly said there had been no comparable confirmation by the government or AT&T of “the existence or nonexistence of AT&T’s claimed record turnover.” He refused to rely on news accounts of the program as proof of its existence and noted that “no executive branch official has officially confirmed or denied the existence of any program to obtain large quantities of customer telephone records.”

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July 25, 2006

An Odd Connection: Getting Europeans To Embrace HDTV [5:56 pm]

This is a weird article — When Will HDTV Take Root in Europe? - pdf.  It starts with this blockbuster assertion:

Despite years of marketing efforts, only about 800,000 European households now receive HD programming, and only about 2 million homes own HD-ready TVs, compared with 11 million in Japan and 19 million in the U.S., according to German researcher GfK.

Now, backers of the state-of-the-art TV technology are shifting their hopes for a European HDTV breakthrough to Christmas, 2006. This time it may not be wishful thinking. The reason: In October, the first high-def DVD recorders will hit the market in Europe—and for many consumers, the crystal-clear picture quality will provide their first real demonstration of HD’s advantage.

But then it becomes a story about content (and overcoming the lack thereof), without any further discussion of the idea that it’s recording technology that has been holding the consumer market back.

Weird.

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More In-Game Advertising [5:39 pm]

In-Game Billboards Go Interactive - pdf

Last week, Funcom and Massive announced a new sort of billboard ad in Anarchy Online. Called “interactive advertisement technology” this new feature will allow players to do more than just passively look at an ad. Instead, players can interact with the ad and see a more detailed model of the Toyota Yaris, for example.

Massive Incorporated CEO Mitch Davis commented at the time that this was “a tremendous step forward in terms of giving advertisers what they want- the ability to target the elusive male 18-34 range and allowing them to interact with the products for a more memorable experience,” and added, “This is just the beginning of interactive ads in games.”

But what does it mean for advertisers? And how will players react? We sat down with Terri Perkins, Product Manager for Funcom, and Nicholas Longano, President of New Media at Massive, to find out.

Posted earlier

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The Risks of Profit Participation: “Crash” [8:34 am]

‘Crash’ Principals Still Await Payments for Their Work

When a movie costs $7.5 million to make and takes in $180 million around the world, it seems logical to think that the people who created the film would have become very rich.

With “Crash,” this year’s Oscar winner for best picture and last year’s sleeper hit at the box office, that has not been the case.

The movie’s co-writer and director, Paul Haggis, has so far made less than $300,000 on the film, a pittance by Hollywood standards. The eight principal actors in “Crash,” including Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon and Don Cheadle, have been expecting large checks for months, after deferring their usual fees in exchange for a percentage of the film’s profits. Recently, their representatives say, they each received checks for $19,000.

The wheels of Hollywood’s money machine always turn too slowly for profit participants, players who agree to take a slice of a film’s revenues in lieu of large salaries up front.

But the pace of payments on “Crash” has especially disappointed those who deferred and reduced their salaries in 2004 to get the movie made.

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A Look At Current Pop Trends [8:22 am]

Why women rule the pop charts

Things will really heat up over the next several weeks with the release of long-awaited albums by Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, and a couple of the second-tier stars, including the R&B singer Kelis. It’s a veritable perfect storm of pop—never before has the public faced so concentrated an assault of melisma and décolletage—and it’s bound to be bloody: In a market this glutted, someone’s record is going to flop. But based on the slew of new songs already in heavy rotation on radio and MTV, we’re in for some awfully good music, and all kinds of clever stratagems for besting the competition.

[...] In the 21st century, the superstar pop singer—that heroic mantle once held by Sinatra and Elvis and Michael Jackson—has become almost exclusively women’s work.

And for good reason. These days, the emotional range of a male performer is radically circumscribed: Rappers are slick trash-talkers and brutes, emo rockers are sensitive and aggrieved, R&B singers are lotharios. But pop’s female superstars recognize no limits, playing all these roles and a dozen others, often in the course of a single torrid love song, all the while executing tricky dance steps with bared midriffs glistening beneath whirling strobe lights. [...] In the current season, the ladies may steal some more thunder with the arrival of a figure whose malevolence rivals the most fearsome gangsta rapper’s. She might not be able to sing or dance, but Paris Hilton offers diva-pop one thing it’s lacked: an anti-hero.

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Testing The Long Tail @ Slate [8:14 am]

Slate’s long tail

When Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson published an article called “The Long Tail” two years ago, he was hailed for explaining how the Internet changed the way culture purveyors do business. When he published a book with the same name this month, Tim Wu took him to task for overreaching—unleashing his nifty theory on everything from eBay to al-Qaida, whether it applies or not. But there’s at least one indispensable American brand that has thus far escaped the long arm of the Long Tail: Slate. Can Anderson’s theory shed light on the economics of an online magazine?

[...] At Slate, our inventory is our articles. We publish 20 or so stories every weekday, but we also have a backlog of about 33,000 pieces in our archives. Because those stories are freely available to our readers, a chunk of our traffic each day comes not from our “hits”—current pieces that are promoted on our home page, which typically draw tens of thousands of readers—but from older pieces with narrower appeal. The economist’s question is: How big is that chunk? And the editor’s question is: Which of our hoary old chestnuts are you reading?

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Conduct of Federal Study on Collegiate File Sharing [8:08 am]

Too Much Sharing About File Sharing

A House of Representatives subcommittee [the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property] has requested a survey of colleges’ policies and practices on networks that allow students and others to illegally share copyrighted video and audio files. But unlike most studies by the GAO, Congressional aides have insisted that the agency in this instance report not just on the file sharing landscape in the aggregate, but on how individual colleges responded to the survey.

Declining to promise confidentiality to the respondents, college officials predict, is likely to limit the number of participants and render the survey ineffective.

Like many a GAO survey, this one came to pass after higher education leaders fought off an attempt to impose legislative requirements. [...]

You can find a copy of the GAO survey here

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A Lesson for Media Innovators? Or A Transitory Blip? [7:58 am]

AM still sends out a strong signal to rivals - pdf

In a tech-driven world jammed with listening options, an AM radio station breaking out as a ratings powerhouse runs counter to commonly held perceptions about the medium. Rather than leading the pack, AM should be buried underneath a pile of iPods, TiVo machines, computer games and instant messages.

But it is not. In fact, in Los Angeles, KFI-AM (640) did something last week no other AM station in Southern California has done in two decades: finish first in the overall ratings.

[...] “Think of the AM band as Route 1. For decades it was the most heavily trafficked main road,” said Tom Taylor, editor of trade publication Inside Radio. “Then along came I-5 and the other big roads. But lots of people still travel Route 1, often to find specialty stores. And there are certainly still very large and successful stores along the way.”

AM remains a major radio player because, after being pushed out of the music-playing business in most major national markets more than a decade ago, instead of dying it adapted. During the mid-1980s and early 1990s, AM gradually ejected the Top 40 tunes and inserted in its place a medium-saving mixture of local news, talk radio, sports or other niche programming.

So in a time when much of the media coverage about radio focuses on the battle between XM and Sirius satellite, last week’s quarterly Arbitron ratings served as a reminder of the realities back on planet Earth.

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A Net Neutrality Argument [7:35 am]

Today’s cell phone system argues for retaining network neutrality

With such wildly divergent ideas about the effects of a simple policy, wouldn’t it be nice if history provided some guidance from which to evaluate these claims?

It turns out that we have a privately owned and controlled network all around us, one that closely mirrors the technical functionality of the Internet, but where there has never been a requirement for net neutrality: the US cellular phone network.

Almost all cell phones sold in the developed world have the ability to send and receive SMS (short message service) text messages. SMS is gaining popularity in the US, but only as a way to send quick messages to friends. So why aren’t there a wealth of amazing and interactive services available for mobile devices? Why is there no MySpace, Craigslist, Amazon, Flikr, or eBay accessible through this network? Why are cell phone payment systems and email systems nearly nonexistent? Why haven’t charities raised money or awareness of their causes through this system?

It’s simple. Because the cell phone carriers control what services are allowed to use their networks. There is no net neutrality on the cell phone network.

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July 24, 2006

More on Public/Private Schizophrenia [6:29 pm]

In her own words from today’s All Things Considered: The Effort to Keep an Online Diary Private

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Another Transition To Digital [5:49 pm]

Studios Shift to Digital Movies, but Not Without Resistance

But while the changeover to digital filmmaking has long been predicted, these companies are encountering an unusual degree of resistance from producers, directors and cinematographers. A majority of feature films are still shot with film cameras and some well-known directors, including Steven Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan, have been vocal about their intention to continue shooting on film.

[...] But producers and cinematographers say that cutting production budgets is not the main motivation for switching to digital moviemaking.

[...]

Rather, Mr. Devlin said the main advantage was the ability to shoot for nearly an hour during airborne dogfight sequences, with the camera mounted on a replica biplane or a helicopter and linked to a digital tape deck. Tony Bill, the movie’s director, estimated that a film camera would have been limited to shooting takes perhaps five minutes long, before requiring a new load of film.

Others are gravitating toward the digital cameras because of their aesthetic qualities. [...]

[...] “We made use of the Viper’s amazing depth of field,” Mr. Beebe said. “You’re seeing clearly from two inches to infinity.”But Mr. Beebe says that film cameras are still superior to their digital brethren for capturing bright sunlight in a more nuanced way, and other cinematographers acknowledge that digital cameras do not have the resolution found in film.

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