August 28, 2006

Heading Down The Slippery Slope [8:17 am]

Will we develop privacy policies in time to arrest the slide into a dataveillance society? Unlocking Fingerprints - pdf

In the coming months, a wave of government initiatives could start making such high-tech methods of identification commonplace — beginning with the replacement this fall of federal employee IDs. Similar cards are planned for transportation workers, first responders and visitors to the United States.

Packed with biometric data such as fingerprints and containing a computer chip with room to expand the amount of information stored, the new IDs represent a potential boon to technology companies eyeing an estimated $8 billion in identity-related contracts. Firms such as BearingPoint Inc. and Lockheed Martin Corp. have set up showcase identity labs, pulling technology from different companies into turnkey operations. Hundreds of smaller companies, down to manufacturers of plastic cards, are vying for part of the market.

The biggest business opportunity still looms: Driver’s licenses, which are due for a retooling under new federal laws.

[...] In an era of chronic concern over terrorism and anxiety over immigration, the business of determining who is who has become increasingly urgent. But it is not without controversy. Americans have long resisted the idea of a national ID card, for example. The growing sophistication of computer databases and networks has heightened privacy concerns — as have data breaches, from the theft or loss of government computers to AOL’s online posting of 36 million keyword searches conducted by hundreds of thousands of subscribers. If the pool of government programs using the new identity technology gets large enough and the amount of information collected gets detailed enough, “there will be a lot of pressure for these programs to converge,” creating a de facto national identity system, said Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Use of a new government standard may prompt the private sector to follow. The banking, retailing and health-care industries are monitoring the federal initiatives, ready to apply stricter identity standards when dealing with their employees and customers. In an online world, the technology could also be used to establish that two people who never meet in person really are who they say they are.

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Ads As A Strategy To Reduce Textbook Costs? [8:09 am]

That’s the plan, it appears. That old “first sale” doctrine in textbooks is upsetting a lot of folks, so how to transition to electronic texts becomes the $64 question: Words of Wisdom vs. Words From Our Sponsor

Writers have written lovingly of the tactile pleasures provided by printed books and newspapers, but no one has paid particular tribute to the voluptuous four-color, four-pound textbook. Now being replaced by weightless electronic versions, the bound artifact remains forlorn and unloved. In any ceremony marking its demise, college students may want to throw a fusillade of stones at its coffin. Expensive texts, after all, have broken many student budgets.

A $4 billion-a-year business cannot change fundamentally overnight; the shift from printed to electronic textbook will take years. In the meantime, a small publisher of college textbooks, Freeload Press of St. Paul, seeks to take advantage of this flux with a new concept: providing free e-textbooks to students. The catch? Ads are inserted within the text.

[...] Asked to select a textbook on the basis of price over quality, professors will resist, as they properly should. Professors, however, are not blind to the shocking prices of new textbooks. Nor are they deaf to the complaining voices of their students. They know that students increasingly buy used textbooks, and that this in turn affects the prices on new texts that sit unsold on the shelves.

J. Bruce Hildebrand, executive director for higher education at the Association of American Publishers, said publishers report that sales of a new textbook edition evaporate almost completely after one year, when used copies flood the market.

Authors say that this drives publishers to shorten the intervals between revisions and to raise prices to try to recoup development costs from a shrinking base of new-book buyers — then the cycle repeats.

The system is broken. Its replacement, however, should not entail a hasty embrace of advertising and substandard contents, but rather adoption of electronic versions of the best textbooks in their field, at much-reduced prices and free of advertising.

I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever sold a textbook that I bought; maybe it’s a question of making textbooks something one wants to keep? I’m not sure exactly what’s “broken,” but I doubt that the answer is going to be found in e-texts alone….

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Time For Some New Spectrum Policy [7:58 am]

Even the NYTimes is not happy about the expected outcome of the current spectrum auctions — less competition: Wireless Providers Poised to Win Spectrum Licenses

When the government’s multibillion-dollar auction of radio spectrum licenses began two weeks ago, it looked as if newcomers might get the chance to buy their way into the mobile phone business, leading to more choices for consumers.

But now the country’s biggest cellular providers appear poised to win many of the 1,122 licenses up for auction, allowing them to expand their reach and reducing the chance that a new entrant might bring down prices.

[...] Of the $13.3 billion in bids registered thus far, $2.2 billion has come from the cable providers, bidding together in a consortium with Sprint, the third-largest cellular carrier. But about 60 percent of the total bids have come from Cingular, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, the first-, second- and fourth-largest cellphone companies. T-Mobile has bid nearly $4 billion, mostly for licenses in major metropolitan areas, while Cingular and Verizon have sought licenses that cover broader regions.

In throwing their financial weight around, the cellphone companies may have scared off DirecTV and EchoStar, the two largest satellite television providers, which were expected to make a charge into the wireless arena but withdrew from the auction last week.

“The kings of the hill defended the hill,” said Roger Entner, a wireless industry analyst at Ovum, a telecommunications consulting firm. “The dream of another wave of new entrants has died.”

[...] “I don’t think cable is going to get into mobile voice because it’s overgrazed, but they’ve drunk the 3G Kool-Aid and believe that a lot of nomadic people that they can’t reach are signing up for wireless services,” said Edward Snyder, a telecommunications analyst at Charter Equity Research. Mr. Snyder questioned this strategy, asking, “Why go head-to-head with something that’s been around for years?”

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Pimping for Clicks [7:52 am]

The magazine business is going through serious heartache in the face of the Google advertising juggernaut. Here’s what happens when traffic becomes the metric of performance for a content provider: At Forbes.com, Lots of Glitter but Maybe Not So Many Visitors

Its own ads proclaim that “more people get their business news from Forbes.com than any other source in the world,” saying that its sites drew about 15 million unique visitors in a single month earlier this year. It was a well-heeled crowd, according to Forbes.com, which says that the average household income of its users is $149,601.

Forbes’s Web prowess is a big reason Elevation Partners, a private equity firm that counts Bono of U2 as a managing director, agreed on Aug. 4 to buy a minority stake in Forbes’s publishing business. “Forbes has already won the first round” in the battle for Internet supremacy, an Elevation founder, Roger McNamee, said then.

But a closer look at the numbers raises questions about Forbes.com’s industry-leading success. For its claim of a worldwide audience of nearly 15.3 million, it has been citing February data from comScore Media Metrix, one of the two leading providers of third-party Web traffic data.

[...] Forbes.com is hardly the only site to present traffic figures that are higher than those reported by the third-party companies. And because they rely on sampling and extrapolation, even the independent companies often present vastly different results for the same site.

Faith in such data has also suffered as a result of recent restatements by the large Web-tracking businesses. [...]

[...] The debate is more than just a numbers game. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, the Forbes site attracted almost $55 million in revenue in 2005, the most among business publications, including The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek and the business pages of The New York Times.

Some competitors argue that Forbes.com’s popularity derives in part from racy, provocative or wealth-obsessed lifestyle features that have little to do with traditional business news — examples from this year include “The Hottest Billionaire Heiresses,” “Top Topless Beaches” and “America’s Drunkest Cities.” Those kinds of articles, unlikely to appear in Forbes magazine, may be a small fraction of those that Forbes.com posts each day, but they are often featured on mass-market Web portals.

Most financial publications cover the softer side of money, hoping to cast a wide net and attract different types of advertisers. And like Forbes.com, many Web sites link up with portals to increase their traffic. Forbes.com may simply do these things better, or more aggressively, than most.

[...] Still, some competitors say that while eye-catching lifestyle stories may attract lots of readers, those readers are more transient and less likely to be the kind of high-powered professionals that advertisers pay more to reach.

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You Got To Fight, For Your Right … [7:43 am]

To make fun of Barney! Purple, the Color of a Legal Conniption

But the owners of the Barney character have only themselves to blame if Barney-bashing experiences a renaissance — particularly among denizens of the Internet, for whom the character has been an object of gleefully malevolent parody, off and on, since the early days of the Web.

On Wednesday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group based in San Francisco, filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in New York against Lyons Partnership of Allen, Tex., which owns the Barney brand.

The group’s aim is to bring an end to what it characterizes as the partnership’s relentless harassment of Web site owners who parody the Barney character, chiefly through threatening cease-and-desist letters from Lyons’s law firm in New York, Gibney, Anthony & Flaherty.

The EFF case site

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Ahh, The “Official” Peter Pan Sequel [7:13 am]

Bound to be at least as good as the official sequel to Gone With The Wind, I’m sure: What’s Peter Pan Up to Now? All Will Soon Be Revealed

On Oct. 5 Simon & Schuster, with great fanfare and much promotion, is planning to publish “Peter Pan in Scarlet,” the first “officially sanctioned” sequel to J. M. Barrie’s childhood classic. The Oxford University Press, which is bringing out the book in Britain, is scheduled to release it with a gala party at Kensington Palace. The publishers have even gone so far as to impose a prepublication embargo on the book, whose author, Geraldine McCaughrean, was chosen in a vigorously publicized 2004 international competition held by Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, which holds the British literary rights to the Peter Pan characters.

[...] But the Peter story has already been the subject of scores of editions, comic books, motion pictures, stage plays and animations, as well as two best-selling prequels written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The second of these, “Peter and the Shadow Thieves,” has sold 350,000 copies since its publication in July. Is there room for yet another version?

[...] “Peter Pan in Scarlet” is a kind of last-gasp attempt to cash in on Great Ormond Street’s copyright, which runs out in 2007. “We thought we would make the most of it while we can,” Ms. De Poortere said. “After 2007 it will have so many sequels. At least this is commissioned with our approval, and we will benefit from the income.”

[...] Because of differences in the copyright laws of the United States and Britain, the rights to the Peter character are not copyrighted here, hence the prequels by Mr. Barry and Mr. Pearson.

My, isn’t this a terribly friendly recapping of what has been, in fact, quite the nasty little fight between the Great Ormond Street Hospital and the writers of these “unofficial” stories. See these earlier Furdlog entries for more.

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Google Web Services Plan [7:05 am]

You wanna put all your stuff on a Google server? Step right up! Google releases software suite for businesses - pdf

Starting today, Google will offer Google Apps for Your Domain, a free package of programs for businesses, universities, and other organizations.

Workers will be able to send e-mail with Gmail, Google’s two-year-old Web-based mail service, but messages will carry their company’s domain name. The package also includes Google’s online calendar, instant-messaging service, and Page Creator, a Web-page builder.

[...] The free edition of Apps for Your Domain is, like Google’s main site, supported with ads. By the end of the year, the company also plans to launch a paid version that will offer more storage, some degree of support, and likely, no ads. A price for this edition hasn’t been set.

Providing e-mail and other applications for businesses moves Google closer into what has traditionally been turf occupied by Microsoft Corp. Earlier this year, Google released a program that builds simple Excel-type spreadsheets but lets users access them on the Web.

Now, with e-mail, Google appears to be targeting Microsoft’s Outlook and Exchange franchises — although the company plays down any such views.

The terms of service will be key to this, as well as how Microsoft decides to compete. From their “Learn More” page:

What about privacy? Will Google share my organization’s information?

Google takes our users’ privacy very seriously. We won’t share your users’ information with anyone, except under the limited circumstances described in our privacy policies (please refer to the “Information sharing” section for more details).

Note that there’s a privacy policy for each service.

The NYTimes coverage: Google to Offer Services for Businesses

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Rising Profile of the Blackboard Patent Dispute [6:58 am]

Today’s Boston Globe runs an APWire piece on the fight: Patent dispute shakes up academia - pdf

Critics say the patent claims nothing less than Blackboard’s ownership of the very idea of e-learning. If allowed to stand, they say, it could quash the cooperation between academia and the private sector that has characterized e-learning for years and explains why virtual classrooms are better than they used to be.

The patent is “is antithetical to the way that academia makes progress,” said Michael Feldstein, assistant director of the State University of New York’s online learning network and one of the bloggers who has criticized the company.

Blackboard, which recently became the dominant company in the field by acquiring rival WebCT, says the critics misunderstand what the patent claims. But the company does say it must protect its $100 million investment in the technology. The day the patent was announced, Blackboard sued rival Desire2Learn, alleging infringement, and is seeking royalties.

Earlier Furdlog posting with links to other sites in the controversy: Educational Software Patent Fight: Blackboard

From TechDirt: Can We Set Up An Online Learning Class About Our Screwed Up Patent System?

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August 27, 2006

Migration of the Online to the Real (World) [9:36 am]

A spooky summary of what may will be a book added to my reading list — and a prime example of how this emerging technology is slipping into the real world without much notice by policymakers or the public: Hidden messages - pdf

Meanwhile, marketers are also honing their ability to follow consumers wherever they go, using another method made more powerful by the changing media landscape — a method they call “behaviorial targeting.” If you have been looking up information about cars on the web, you may well start receiving car ads even when you’re not on auto sites, as ad companies can now track and deliver ads to you across hundreds of sites.

What’s more, the ads you see on the Web are increasingly tailored to what marketers perceive as your demographic — based on your age, where you live, your education, and your movements online and off. The latest technology, not yet implemented but coming soon, enables websites to customize the selection of articles and videos that reach you depending on what they know about you from your registration data, your movements on their site, and even information about you that they’ve purchased from a third party.

For now, such targeting is the province of the Web, but it won’t be long before it migrates to television and even to offline stores. [...]

[...] “We are not in control anymore, but that’s OK,” Benjamin Palmer, president of a hot Internet ad firm called The Barbarian Group, was recently quoted in Advertising Age. “If we do this right, we can actually have a good relationship with ‘the consumer’ for once.”

That’s the current line of many marketing and media practitioners. The problem is, from a consumer standpoint, they are not doing it right. Media firms are creating a new world order in marketing communication to make sure that their messages get through to us — and in ways that make it increasingly difficult for us to know who the messenger is, whether the message is trustworthy, and whether we’re getting the same offer as everyone else.

A familiar story.

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August 26, 2006

Internet Music Promotion Experiments Continue [4:51 pm]

Followup to the earlier post (I’m Falling Behind the Curve; and waiting for the Terra Naomi CD I ordered a while ago <G>): New rock stars use Web videos to win fans - pdf

Music industry watchers can learn from OK Go’s experience, which shows that Web users can catapult a band to fame, challenging the popular assumption that videos need to cost thousands of dollars or be directed by Hollywood film directors.

The industry is undergoing a slow, at times painful change from the old way of marketing CDs and TV music videos to going digital with music distribution and online videos, which fans view on the Internet or via media players like Apple Computer Inc.’s popular iPod.

Sites such as YouTube, MySpace, PureVolume and others allow aspiring artists to post videos, usually grainy lo-fi productions, at little or no cost.

[...] The success of OK Go and other bands’ on YouTube has encouraged the start-up to open a dedicated musicians channel for up-and-coming artists. YouTube says 120,000 acts have signed up since its June launch.

Michael Powers, senior product manager at YouTube, says the company took the lead from bands that were already using the site to promote themselves.

Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Terra Naomi is the ‘most subscribed’ act on the new YouTube channel. Naomi’s YouTube page says she’s currently unsigned but YouTube told Reuters she is already attracting the attention of major record companies.

While OK Go and Terra Naomi try to engage fans using Internet music videos, along with clips from live gigs, blogs that invite comment, and pictures, established names are also getting in on the act.

[...] “We see the social video environment that YouTube has created and the category of user-generated content as being extremely important,” says Michael Nash, senior vice president of Digital Strategy and Business Development at Warner Music.

Nash believes that the next stage is for fans to be able to influence or interact with mainstream music videos.

“Inviting fans into the creative process of making videos could really deepen the relationship with the artist,” says Nash.

And the OK, Go “treadmill video” is worth a look if you’re like me and never seen it!

Counterpoint: The Pitchfork Effect

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Yankovic Makes A Play [4:32 pm]

And what the hell, I’ll give him a link. From his upcoming album, Straight Outta Lynnwood, you can hear (and download) his song, “Don’t Download This Song.” (Hear/get the song from the MySpace tie-in site.)

Once in a while

Maybe you will feel the urge

To break international copyright law

By downloading MP3s from filesharing sites

Like Morpheus or Grokster or Limewire or Kazaa.

But deep in your heart

You know the guilt would drive you mad

And the shame would leave a permanent scar.

‘Cuz you start out stealing songs

Then you’re robbing liquour stores

And selling crack and running over schoolkids with your car.

Chorus:

So don’t download this song.

The record store’s where you belong. (this line has many entertaining variants)

Go and buy the CD

Like you know that you should.

Oh, don’t download this song.

As you might imagine, it only gets more sardonic after this. And, while it’s not deathless songwriting, it’s perfectly listenable.

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Copying and Learning Within Internet (Sub)Cultures [3:28 pm]

Web Guitar Wizard Revealed at Last - pdf

Like a celebrity sex tape or a Virgin Mary sighting, the video drew hordes of seekers with diverse interests and attitudes. Guitar sites, MySpace pages and a Polish video site called Smog linked to it, and viewers thundered to YouTube to watch it. If individual viewings were shipped records, “guitar” would have gone gold almost instantly. Now, with nearly 7.35 million views — and a spot in the site’s 10 most-viewed videos of all time — funtwo’s performance would be platinum many times over. From the perch it’s occupied for months on YouTube’s “most discussed” list, it generates a seemingly endless stream of praise (riveting, sick, better than Hendrix), exegesis, criticism, footnotes, skepticism, anger and awe.

The most basic comment is a question: Who is this guy?

If you follow the leads, this Everest of electric-guitar virtuosity, like so many other online artifacts, turns out to be a portal into a worldwide microculture, this one involving hundreds of highly stylized solo guitar videos, of which funtwo’s is but the most famous. And though they seem esoteric, they have surprising implications: for YouTube, the dissemination of culture, online masquerade and even the future of classical music.

[...] This process of influence, imitation and inspiration may bedevil the those who despair at the future of copyright but is heartening to connoisseurs of classical music. Peter Robles, a composer who also manages classical musicians, points out that the process of online dissemination — players watching one another’s videos, recording their own — multiplies the channels by which musical innovation has always circulated. Baroque music, after all, was meant to be performed and enjoyed in private rooms, at close range, where others could observe the musicians’ technique. “That’s how people learned how to play Bach,” Mr. Robles said. “The music wasn’t written down. You just picked it up from other musicians.”

In this spirit, JerryC told fans on his Web site, “I don’t plan to make tabs anymore. The major reason is that it takes lots of time, and I think the best way to learn music is to cover it by ear.”

See JerryC’s and funtwo’s versions.

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Strategies In Claiming Ownership of Artistic Ideas [2:41 pm]

The LATimes on reframing legal claims in the realm of ideas: I’ve Got a Great Idea: I’ll Sue! - pdf

Think about it — there is probably no belief stronger than that the ideas that occur to each of us are uniquely our own. But the fact is that hundreds, if not thousands, of others have at one time had the same idea — and believed it to be their own. Must a film studio pay everyone who makes a claim, even if in fact (and it usually is the fact) the idea came from one of the studio’s own employees or contractors?

Well over a century ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. observed that “literature is full of such coincidences, which some love to believe plagiarisms. There are always thoughts abroad in the air, which it takes more wit to avoid than to hit upon.”

Rebuffed by copyright law, most idea submitters recast their claims as implied contracts: In submitting my idea to you, I am making an offer for a contract; by producing a film or reality TV show embodying my idea, you signify that you have accepted my offer; by failing to pay for my idea, you have breached our contract. (Formal contracts are different. If a studio or network wants to pay someone to pitch ideas, it will enter into an express agreement or confidential relationship to that end.)

Courts set high hurdles for implied contract claims, for many of the same reasons they do in copyright cases. Yet, aided by perhaps overzealous lawyers, idea submitters persist. In the clash between legal rules and the narcissistic notion that my idea is unique, vanity all too often wins.

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August 25, 2006

A Disgusting Topic, And Troubling Legal Doctrines (updated) [7:21 am]

Why I need to see child porn - Note (2006 Sep 01): Salon has removed this article from its site, citing irregularities in its characterization of the legal doctrines surrounding child pornography in general, and the New York Times’ story in particular.

The piece incorrectly characterized the law pertaining to child pornography, and the facts surrounding the reporting of a recent published story in the New York Times.

[...] The piece that appeared on Salon asserted that under child pornography laws, journalists and researchers have no protection from prosecution if they viewed visual depictions of child pornography, even inadvertently, in the course of their work. In fact, federal law appears to offer legal protection for inadvertently coming into possession of child pornography. A federal statute provides an “affirmative defense” under certain circumstances, if the discovery of child pornography is limited and is reported to a law enforcement agency.

The assertion that there was no law regarding inadvertent discovery with which the Times could comply was incorrect. Any implication that the conduct of the New York Times or Mr. Eichenwald was illegal was also incorrect.

Salon regrets the errors and has removed the article from the site.

Thus, one needs to take what follows below (which I will leave intact, at least for now) with more than a grain of salt.

Over the past two decades, I have done a lot of critical writing about baseless sex abuse scares in day cares and schools. Back in the Reagan era, law enforcement helped fuel the panic. One way was by claiming that hundreds of thousands of U.S. kids were involved in kiddie porn, and that the business earned billions of dollars annually. It took a while for the press to figure out that commercial child porn was virtually nonexistent by the 1980s. In fact, as researchers eventually discovered, the main manufacturer was the U.S. government, which produced and sold child-porn magazines for sting operations. The media was also slow to realize that many individuals, including mothers and fathers, were prosecuted for taking photos of their kids that were nothing more than innocent “baby on a bear rug” shots. I covered a couple of cases like that in the 1980s and 1990s. In both, prosecutors screamed “Porn!” on the nightly news, and only in trial or appellate courts did reporters finally have a right to examine the images. By then, people’s lives had been ruined.

[...] There I found a new Molly, a 10-year-old, still wearing ordinary swimwear and street clothes, and posed much like JonBenet during her beauty-queen days. Again, creepy but not illegal. The new Molly linked to other “child model” sites. Assuming they’d be similar, I clicked again.

And that’s when I hit dozens of grossly illicit pictures. [...]

I almost fainted, but not from disgust at the depravity of making and displaying these pictures. After all, reporters see depravity all the time. Rather, I was consumed with fear of the U.S. government. Technically, according to federal statutes, just visiting a kiddie-porn site makes you a lawbreaker, because regardless of why you went there, the images end up in your hard drive. You “possess” child porn, which is a serious crime. You can notify the authorities. You can clean up your cookies and your cache. Still, you broke the law. The feds might excuse you, or they could arrest you. It’s entirely up to them.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re a psychologist, a criminologist, a sociologist –- or a journalist. No one but cops can legally look at Internet child pornography. Would-be researchers have asked for permission to no avail. [...] Lawrence Matthews, an award-winning freelance journalist who contributed work to a National Public Radio station in Washington, D.C., and articles to the Washington Post was prosecuted for having downloaded child porn. [...] Matthews was tried, convicted and incarcerated. A judge in his case ruled that the press has no First Amendment right to view illegal images on the Net.

That leaves law-enforcement officials and politicians free to say whatever they want about the prevalence and content of images deemed child pornography, with virtually no way for the public to test their claims.

See earlier An Andrew Vachss Nightmare Series — these articles also are discussed in the article, as follows:

Which brings us to another journalist, the Times’ Eichenwald. In his Aug. 20 piece, “With Child Sex Sites on the Run, Nearly Nude Photos Hit the Web,” he writes that he examined “more than 200 sites” that sound exactly like the one illegal URL I found. Two hundred! That’s real research, and I commend him for it. But did Eichenwald have the legal right to do the work? No. The Times notes in a box accompanying his article that “United States law makes it a crime to purchase, download or view child pornography, unless the images are promptly reported to authorities and no images are copied or retained. The Times complied with the law.”

Trouble is, there is no law for the Times to comply with. Contrary to the box, nothing says that if you report and you don’t copy or retain, you’re safe. Eichenwald admitted as much in an e-mail he sent me when I pointed out that the box is wrong. Its language, he wrote, “was terrible,” and was added by editors after he signed off on the article.

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Modern “Jamming?” [5:40 am]

New Yorker Arrested for Providing Hezbollah TV Channel - pdf

A New York man was arrested yesterday on charges that he conspired to support a terrorist group by providing U.S. residents with access to Hezbollah’s satellite channel, al-Manar.

Javed Iqbal runs HDTV Corp., a Brooklyn-based company registered with the Federal Communications Commission that provides satellite television transmissions to cable operators, private companies, government organizations and individual customers.

According to an affidavit made public yesterday in U.S. District Court in New York, a paid FBI confidential informant told law enforcement officials in February that Iqbal’s company was selling “satellite television service, including access to al-Manar broadcasts.” The informant then had a recorded conversation during which Iqbal offered al-Manar broadcasts along with other Arab television stations.

The U.S. Treasury Department in March designated al-Manar a “global terrorist entity” and a media arm of the Hezbollah terrorist network. The designation froze al-Manar’s assets in the United States and prohibited any transactions between Americans and al-Manar.

Iqbal’s attorney, Mustapha Ndanusa, said yesterday that the accusations against his client are “completely ridiculous,” according to the Associated Press. Ndanusa added that he is not aware of another instance in which someone was accused of violating U.S. laws by enabling access to a news outlet.

Later: Jack Shafer’s take at Slate - Friday Hash: Terrorist TV and a First Amendment warning: If I blogged, it would read like this

[T]he act specifically bars the government from regulating or prohibiting—”directly or indirectly”—”any postal, telegraphic, telephonic, or other personal communication, which does not involve a transfer of anything of value” or any “publications, films, posters, phonograph records, photographs, microfilms, microfiche, tapes, compact disks, CD ROMs, artworks, and news wire feeds.” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, alludes to this First Amendment exemption in the New York Times article.

From that NYTimes article:

Civil libertarians also expressed alarm.

“It appears that the statute under which Mr. Iqbal is being prosecuted includes a First Amendment exemption that prevents the government from punishing people for importing news communications,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Such an exemption is constitutionally necessary, and the fact that the government is proceeding with the prosecution in spite of it raises serious questions about how free our marketplace of idea is.”

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Audio Project Gutenbergs [5:22 am]

Public Domain Books, Ready for Your iPod

Kara Shallenberg and her 10-year-old son, Henry, exhausted the audiobook collection at their library in Oceanside, Calif., five years ago. With Henry’s appetite for listening still strong, Ms. Shallenberg began to record herself reading his favorite books. Eventually she upgraded from a using a tape deck to burning CD’s on her laptop computer. Last fall she took her hobby to a wider audience.

Ms. Shallenberg’s recordings of “The Secret Garden,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and other works are now available, free, to anyone with an Internet connection and basic audio software. She is part of a core group of volunteers who give their voices and spare time to LibriVox, a project that produces audiobooks of works in the public domain.

[...] LibriVox is the largest of several emerging collectives that offer free or inexpensive audiobooks of works whose copyrights have expired, from Plato to “The Wind in the Willows.” (In the United States, this generally means anything published or registered for copyright before 1923.) The results range from solo readings done by amateurs in makeshift home studios to high-quality recordings read by actors or professional voice talent.

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August 24, 2006

Reading the Hollywood Tea Leaves [10:53 am]

The fallout from Tom Cruise’s public PR meltdown is being spun a variety of ways, all suggesting that there’s a change in the wind for Hollywood business models:

  • Fired or Quit, Tom Cruise Parts Ways With Studio

    Mr. Cruise’s representatives insisted that they had not been fired but instead had quit and had already lined up $100 million in financing to produce movies on their own.

    Either way, the parting of the ways was anything but amicable. And it came as the latest sign that the media conglomerates that control Hollywood are growing impatient with the megastars who earn the highest salaries.

  • Tom Cruise’s star likely to shine on - pdf

    “He didn’t go out and kill somebody. He didn’t drive drunk. He didn’t beat up his wife,” Guber said. “I think he will remain a top star in the business and command a great deal of attention and bring in a great deal of revenue.”

    The public is notoriously fickle when it comes to movie stars, although Cruise has sustained broad popularity longer than most.

    And Cruise does not face the same kind of challenge confronting Mel Gibson, who spouted anti-Semitic remarks after being stopped for drunk driving.

  • Star Is Collateral Damage of Studios’ Profit Push - pdf

    Others, however, were looking for hidden meanings in Redstone’s comments. Anthony Valencia, entertainment analyst with money manager TCW in Los Angeles, called the situation “very curious.”

    He wondered whether there were other factors, instead of Cruise’s behavior, that led Paramount to cut the cord. He pointed out that Paramount executives had tried to negotiate a new deal with Cruise long after he hopped around on Oprah Winfrey’s couch.

    “If you can’t reach a deal, that’s one thing,” he said. “But would his behavior have been as problematic as long as the deal terms would have been more favorable?

  • Money Is The Real Star In Hollywood - pdf

    The Internet is growing fast as an entertainment channel, and the cost of producing blockbusters is rising almost as quickly. That emboldens studio chiefs working for publicly traded companies to challenge the fickle power of the most popular stars.

    To be sure, celebrity still matters, blockbusters still fill theater seats and movie stars still live like, well, movie stars. But the same shifts in technology and audience tastes that changed the music industry are starting to influence the movie business.

  • Cruise may have been undone by DVD slowdown - pdf

    While egos, star power and box office clout all may have been part of the equation, flagging DVD sales could have served as the tipping point that led Paramount, headed by chairman Brad Grey, to make an offer that would have scaled back Cruise’s rich package of compensation for the films he headlines for the studio.

    Even though this year’s “Mission: Impossible” movie fell short of its two predecessors, no one is arguing that Cruise hasn’t amassed an impressive box office record at Paramount. But he also enjoyed a famously rich deal that guaranteed him about 20% of box office revenue as well as a piece of DVD sales — a perk few stars have ever commanded.

    During the past 18 months, growth in the DVD market has slowed dramatically. As a result, home video isn’t automatically providing the same guaranteed upside to films that might not have performed spectacularly in theaters. In turn, the studios are becoming less willing to strike deals that give stars participation in box office revenue as well as a portion of DVD sales.

See also Critic’s Notebook: Mission Imperative for a Star: Be Likable; Caught on Film: A Growing Unease in Hollywood; and Allies Start to Escalate Dispute Between Cruise and Viacom

Later: Op-Ed Contributor: Risky Business

Paramount’s salvo against its biggest star may be an attempt to bring some financial sanity to the old asylum. But it’s also another sign of just how badly the film industry has lost its bearings in this new media environment, where the once-reliable teenage audience is suddenly less reliable; video games and the Internet are making the inroads into movies that TV once did; and DVD sales, which once seemed like the studios’ salvation, are plummeting.

The stars, for their part, have helped create an untenable economic situation. But even though Mr. Redstone wants to bring them to heel, he is devaluing the movies’ greatest asset, and opening a breach the studios alone can’t fill. The fear in Hollywood is that Mr. Redstone may be smashing the star-driven model without putting anything in its place but financial responsibility, and audiences don’t line up to see financial responsibility.

Of course, Hollywood is accustomed to prophecies of doom. The difference this time is that everyone — stars and executives alike — seems clueless. The asylum is out of control and no one knows what to do about it.

Even later (Aug 28): A Big Star May Not a Profitable Movie Make

[I]f you ask economists and other academics that study the movie industry, Mr. Redstone’s decision was, in financial terms, spot on. The best reason to get rid of Mr. Cruise or, for that matter, Mel Gibson, or Lindsay Lohan, is not their occasional aberrant behavior. They, like most marquee names in Hollywood, are simply not worth the expense.

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A Downside of Connectivity? [9:57 am]

Internet addicts halfway house opens in Shanghai - pdf

“None of the teenagers are forced to come here,” the newspaper quoted Wang Hui, the house’s chief social worker, as saying.

“We wander around in nearby Internet bars at night and bring them to the halfway house if the teen agrees.”

[...] Amid growing concern that more and more young people are getting hooked, China has issued a raft of regulations aimed at curbing excessive game playing at Internet cafes and heavily fining owners that admit minors.

Related: Unable to unplug, tech addicts may sue: academic - pdf; Addicted maybe, but users say BlackBerries improve life - pdf; Laptop Slides Into Bed in Love Triangle

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Patent Trolling: Creative [8:45 am]

Apple Settles Patent Dispute With a Rival

Apple Computer said Wednesday that it would pay a one-time $100 million licensing fee to use Creative Technology’s patented music player technology, settling a string of recent legal disputes between the two companies.

[...] Mike McGuire, vice president for research on mobile devices at Gartner, the technology analysis and consulting firm, said an Apple endorsement for its line of iPod accessories most likely gave Creative incentive to settle.

[...] The Creative patent, which the company calls the Zen patent for its line of digital audio players, covers the interface that allows users to select a song, album or track by navigating a succession of menus.

The WaPo article lets people call a spade a spade: IPod Patent Dispute Settled - pdf

“From the point of view of Creative, their bitterness stems from the fact that when they approached Apple, they were arrogantly dismissive” about licensing their technology, said Phil Leigh, senior analyst with Inside Digital Media Inc., a Tampa-based market research firm. “Apple’s point of view on this is, ‘These guys are patent trolls,’ ” who are profiteering off of the technology patent process, he said.

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The Joys of Reading the NYTimes [8:41 am]

Yes, TimesSelect is a crime. But, man, do they have writers! This snotty article on recent goings-on in the music business contains the kind of writing that keeps me coming back: Making Room for the Hopeless Pop Star in a Crowd of Professional Amateurs

If you’ve been watching many of the post-“Idol” musical reality shows, you might have noticed that most of these putative amateurs behave an awful lot like old pros. [...]

Don’t worry. There are still a few naïve musical dreamers, rushing in where angels fear to tread. You just have to know where to look.

Why, just this last weekend a charmingly inept rapper made his television debut, boldly ignoring all the advisers who must have asked him not to. And on Tuesday, the same day that Danity Kane CD’s arrived on record racks, a blithe aspiring pop star released her debut album, brushing off suggestions that singing be left to actual singers.

O.K., so the rapper, Kevin Federline, and the singer, Paris Hilton, aren’t exactly unknown. But in the world of pop music, they’re definitely underdogs. [...]

The urge to laugh at them is understandable; they do seem pretty green, especially compared to those battle-hardened aspirants on reality television. But let’s be gentle with our moonlighting celebrities. They might be the only real amateurs we’ve got.

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