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November 30, 2006

Hey, It’s *Their* Movie! [6:20 pm]

Motion Picture Studios File Suit To Stop Ripping of DVDS to Portable Video Players

In Paramount Pictures v. Load ‘N Go Video, the motion picture studios have brought legal action against a small company that has loaded DVDs onto personal video players for its customers. Specifically, according to the lawsuit, Load ‘N Go Video sells DVDs and iPods to its customers, and loads the DVDs onto the iPods for customers who purchase both. The motion picture studios assert that this practice violates the Copyright Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

[...] The key point for Load ‘N Go Video will be that its customers purchased both the DVDs and the portable video players. Thus, Load ‘N Go Video simply has saved the customers the time and hassle of themselves loading the content they paid for on the portable video players they also purchased.

Taking the motion picture studios’ argument to its extreme, a buyer on his own could be subject to legal liability for at home ripping purchased DVDs onto a purchased portable video player without first seeking permission or purchasing the content again for specific use on the portable video player. One wonders whether a court would embrace such an argument taken to its extreme.

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Developments in Google’s BookSearch Fight [4:28 pm]

Yahoo Rebuffs Google on Digital Books

Yahoo has rebuffed Google’s attempt to learn more about its efforts to create digital copies of books, dealing Google another setback as it prepares to fight a copyright infringement suit.

In rejecting Google’s request, Yahoo adopted the same stance taken last month by the Internet retailer Amazon.com, and called Google’s request a brazen attempt to pry into its trade secrets.

Google says it believes it can defend its plans to provide online access to millions of library books by obtaining more details about similar projects involving rivals.

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Joke Book Suit [6:52 am]

Copyright in jokes? Leno fails to see the humor in joke books - pdf

Leno and NBC Studios filed a federal court lawsuit Wednesday to stop comedy teacher Judy Brown from publishing his punch lines in her books, which are largely compilations of jokes uttered by Leno and other comedians, including Ellen DeGeneres, Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, Lucille Ball and Tim Allen.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, said that Brown and her publishers have turned out nearly two dozen such joke books.

“Brown is no ‘author,’ ” the lawsuit chides. “She is simply packaging the original copyrighted work of [the plaintiffs], drawing and profiting from a well of creativity that is not her own.”

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November 29, 2006

Barney Parody Site Suit [5:41 am]

Happy ending? Suit over Barney parody is settled - pdf

Lyons Partnership sent four threatening letters to a New York musicologist and computer repair technician who created a parody website that suggests Barney’s affable public persona masks a secret double life. An image on the site depicts what the cute and cuddly Barney might look like offstage — with horns, sharp teeth, a pentagram and the devilish number 666 emblazoned on his chest.

Lyons last week dropped its claims against Frankel after he fought back with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The technology advocacy group assisted Frankel in filing a lawsuit accusing Barney’s creators of using its copyrights and trademarks to curb free speech.

Chilling Effects links to articles; EFF’s page on the suit; Frankel’s revised WWW page

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November 28, 2006

The Atlantic TNRO on Second Life [3:38 pm]

Should the government regulate virtual reality? (sorry, registration required)

With fist fights and muggings breaking out after the release of Sony’s PlayStation III, it’s clear that video games aren’t just for kids any more. But even the PlayStation is child’s play for the 1.4 million players in “Second Life,” a virtual-reality universe that is fast becoming one of the hottest places online. Not only do they spend the bulk of their free time logged onto it (one-third spend more hours a day in it than out), but a large subset even turns a sizeable profit, in some cases enough to live on. One “Second Life” entrepreneur, a German-Chinese woman named Ailin Graf, makes an estimated $150,000 a year buying and developing “Second Life” real estate–virtual land that is in reality nothing more than ones and zeroes. Real-world companies are getting involved, as well: For a price, players can outfit their virtual selves (called “avatars”) in American Apparel clothing, buy tricked-out Toyota Scions, and slip on a pair of digital Reeboks.

[...] [A]s “Second Life” grows in size and popularity, and as the links between “first” and “second life” strengthen, another question looms: At what point does it truly stop being a game and become an extension of the real world–and thus subject to real world government intervention?

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Escalation [6:10 am]

Web Tool Said to Offer Way Past the Government Censor

The program, called psiphon (pronounced “SY-fon”), will be released on Dec. 1 in response to growing Internet censorship that is pushing citizens in restrictive countries to pursue more elaborate and sophisticated programs to gain access to Western news sites, blogs and other censored material.

“The problem is growing exponentially,” said Ronald Deibert, director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which designed psiphon. “What might have started as censorship of pornography and Western news organizations has expanded to include blogging sites, religious sites, health information sites and many others.”

Psiphon is downloaded by a person in an uncensored country (psiphon.civisec.org), turning that person’s computer into an access point. Someone in a restricted-access country can then log into that computer through an encrypted connection and using it as a proxy, gain access to censored sites. The program’s designers say there is no evidence on the user’s computer of having viewed censored material once they erase their Internet history after each use. The software is part of a broader effort to live up to the initial hopes human rights activists had that the Internet would provide unprecedented freedom of expression for those living in restrictive countries.

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November 26, 2006

Rockabye Baby! Another Demographic [10:20 am]

Rock for Children

[W]hen his father recently unwrapped a new CD of ’80s British alternative rock reimagined expressly for babies, Casey was indifferent. As “Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of the Cure” played on the stereo, he kicked fitfully in his bouncy seat. He appeared not to recognize the wordless glockenspiel-and-vibraphone rendition of the Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” Within seconds he spit up.

His parents, though, liked what they heard.

“This is hilarious,” said his mother, Pam Leto, a music publicist who works with bands like My Morning Jacket and Eagles of Death Metal.

“It’s actually really soothing,” said her husband, Dave Leto, the tattooed drummer for the indie rock band Rye Coalition.

It was the kind of reaction — hook the parents, never mind the kid — that Lisa Roth was looking for when she founded Baby Rock, the Los Angeles label behind the kiddie Cure album and lullaby tributes to Metallica, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, the Beach Boys, Tool and Coldplay released this year.

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November 25, 2006

Crossing the eDivide [6:30 pm]

Internet Extends Reach Of Bangladeshi Villagers

Before February, analysts said, only 370,000 Bangladeshis had access to the Internet. But now millions of villagers have access to information and services that had been available only by walking or taking long and expensive bus rides, or were beyond their reach altogether.

People now download job applications and music, see school exam results, check news and crop prices, make inexpensive Internet phone calls or use Web cameras to see relatives. Students from villages with few books now have access to online dictionaries and encyclopedias.

“We could not imagine where this technology has taken us in such a short time,” said Mufizur Rahman, 48, a grocery shop owner in Charkhai, a town of about 40,000 people whose streets are filled with colorful three-wheeled bicycle rickshaws, and where there are almost no cars.

“For the First World, this is minor,” he said. “But this is a big thing for us.”

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The Sarasota eVoting Failure [6:29 pm]

An Electronic Canary

[I]f anyone still needs evidence that all electronic systems should provide verifiable paper trails so real ballots are available in the event of a recount, let them go to Sarasota.

If the courts punt, Congress, which has a right to judge the credentials of its members, should get to the bottom of this. It may be asking the impossible, but Democrats and Republicans should not make this a fight about which party picks up one more seat. Instead, they should conduct a joint inquest into this contest to provide a basis for bipartisan legislation creating national standards for improving our voting systems.

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S.W.I.F.T. Violated EU Privacy Dictates [6:24 pm]

Panel Says Bank Group, Aiding U.S., Broke Law

A report by an EU panel released Thursday said the bank data transfer agency SWIFT broke European privacy laws by handing over personal data to U.S. authorities for use in anti-terror investigations.

The Belgian-based company, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, “committed violations of data protection laws” by secretly transferring data to the United States, without properly informing Belgian authorities, the EU’s data protection panel said.

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The Shifting Music Market Target [6:18 pm]

Music - AARP

AT 52, Martha Stinson is not quite sure where to turn when it comes to new music. The local Tower Records in Nashville, where Mrs. Stinson is an owner of a general contracting company, is going out of business, and she never did figure out how to load music onto the digital-music player she bought a couple of years ago.

But she may soon receive an overture from a source not known for its musical savvy: AARP. She is the kind of consumer that the association is targeting with a sweeping marketing campaign that it hopes will entice millions of new members, as the first kids weaned on rock ’n’ roll turn gray.

[...] “I hope that we make this thing so relevant and so cool,” said Tena Clark, a music consultant helping to devise the group’s marketing strategy. “I would hope that one day in the future that my 20-year-old daughter would want to borrow my AARP card to get into a concert just like she tries to borrow her sister’s I.D.”

Consumers like Ms. Stinson may not be the only skeptics however. For musicians, a deal with AARP is a different matter than a deal with a hip coffee house or a fashion retailer. No matter how hard the group may try to change its image — even with the likes of Paul McCartney and Susan Sarandon on the cover of its magazine — some people still associate it with the Saturday-night-bingo set. And many musicians may want to keep their distance, even if it means sacrificing enormous sales.

[...] Now they control too much disposable income — and live too long — to be ignored. And nowhere is the shift in attitudes more pronounced than in the beleaguered pop music business, which desperately needs their money (who do you think is buying all those $750 Barbra Streisand tickets?) and shares their aversion to illicit music downloads.

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Reworking Distribution [6:14 pm]

ArkivMusic

Long before the closing of Tower Records was announced, the notion that a music store should offer a comprehensive selection of classical recordings had been abandoned. Older discs, which typically sold too slowly to help bricks-and-mortar stores meet their costs, were deleted from record labels’ catalogs. But they remained desirable to collectors, and the Internet music retailer ArkivMusic (arkivmusic.com) has recently introduced the ArkivCD program as a way to keep these recordings available.

ArkivMusic, a four-year-old company based in Bryn Mawr, Pa., maintains a database of more than 70,000 classical CDs, DVDs and SACDs (super audio compact discs), all sold through its Web site. Over the last two months, the company has added more than 1,600 ArkivCDs to its site: custom-burned CD-Rs of otherwise unavailable recordings, packaged in standard jewel boxes with facsimiles of the original cover and tray card. So far, liner notes are not included.

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A Book To Add To The Reading List [6:02 pm]

On “Adam’s Fallacy:” Economics: The Invisible Hand of the Market

So what is “Adam’s Fallacy”? (The author, who is the Leo Model professor of economics at the New School for Social Research, always capitalizes the term.)

It is the idea that the economic sphere of life constitutes a separate realm “in which the pursuit of self-interest is guided by objective laws to a socially beneficent outcome,” Professor Foley wrote, a realm unlike all the rest of social life, “in which the pursuit of self-interest is morally problematic and has to be weighed against other ends.”

“This separation of an economic sphere,” he wrote, “with its presumed specific principles of organization, from the much messier, less determinate and morally more problematic issues of politics, social conflict and values, is the foundation of political economy and economics as an intellectual discipline.”

Professor Foley’s book is simultaneously an introduction to economic theory and a critique of it.

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Google Settles With Belgian Papers [5:59 pm]

Google Reaches Copyright Deal With Belgians

“We reached an agreement with Sofam and Scam that will help us make extensive use of their content,” Jessica Powell, a spokeswoman for Google, said in a phone interview yesterday. She declined to give details of the agreement or say whether it involved paying the groups for the content, and declined to say whether Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., was considering similar accords with the newspapers.

The company has a similar case with Agence France-Presse, which protested Google’s linking to the news agency’s articles and pictures in the United States and in France last year.

See earlier postings

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November 24, 2006

The Atlantic Discovers EPIC 2014 [5:35 pm]

Get Me Rewrite - pdf

As a piece of pop futurism, EPIC 2014 is both brilliant and brilliantly self-subverting (at once inevitable and preposterous). But what’s remarkable is how many of its ten-years-out predictions have already come true—if not materially, then de facto: the mass migration of everything to the Web, the explosion of blogging, the near-instant embrace of social media (see YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Wikipedia), the growing sophistication of Google’s AdWords and AdSense (the latter soon to be extended to user-customized RSS file format and other feeds), the TiVo-ization of television, and on and on. Instead of buying Amazon, Google bought YouTube, an Evolving Personalized Information Construct that didn’t exist in 2004—GoogleTube instead of Googlezon. Thus does two-year-old futurism already seem hopelessly recherché.

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November 22, 2006

We’ll See [4:39 pm]

I’m not sure that exchanging copyright law with a combination of contract law and surveillance is the solution, but it’s a worthwhile experiment, anyway. Wired News: Second Life Will Save Copyright

Businesses in Second Life are in an uproar over a rogue software program that duplicates “in world” items. They should be. But the havoc sewn by Copybot promises to transform the virtual word into a bold experiment in protecting creative work without the blunt instrument of copyright law.

[...] Linden Labs has confronted this threat to its bottom line in a different and novel way. DRM won’t work, says CEO Phillip “Linden” Rosedale. Nothing can stop someone from copying textures or shapes off their own computer, any more than technology can stop someone from copying audio streaming through their speakers. Also, the company doesn’t want to be in the business of adjudicating copyright disputes.

As Rosedale succinctly put it, given the ambiguity in copyright enforcement, Linden will inevitably make mistakes, and it doesn’t want to make mistakes.

Instead, Linden Labs will take another approach. In the short run, it believes that use of Copybot violates its terms of service agreement, allowing the company to ban an offender’s account. Long term, Linden says it will create better information identifying creators and dates of creation for in-world content. This will allow copyright owners who’ve been aggrieved to bring infringement claims against offenders personally, at least in theory.

[...] The next phase of Linden’s response is more interesting. The company plans to develop an infrastructure to enable Second Life residents and landowners to enforce IP-related covenants within certain areas, or as a prerequisite for joining certain groups. In effect, Second Life’s inhabitants will self-police their world, according to rules and social norms they develop themselves.

This is exciting, because it turns Second Life into a laboratory for trying out alternatives to prevailing real world copyright rules.

See also BusinessWeek’s take: The Dark Side of Second Life - pdf

It would seem the virtual world is facing a very real-world problem: crime. As more people have joined the global virtual community—it now boasts more than 1 million members—residents are grappling with how to secure property ownership and ensure public well-being. The difficulty of that task was underscored Nov. 19 when a worm attack called “grey goo” forced Second Life to close down for a short time. The worm installed spinning objects in the virtual world that slowed the servers as users tried to interact with them.

Also Real Threat To Virtual Goods In Second Life

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November 21, 2006

OT: *This* Is Where We Draw The Line? [6:21 am]

I mean, I’m as glad as anyone that this project got canceled, but consider the expectations of the American viewing and reading public that got the project greenlighted in the first place. On the other hand, at least this demonstrates that there *are* still some things that we won’t stomach as entertainment — so far: Under Pressure, News Corp. Pulls Simpson Project

The decision to cancel the twin Simpson projects was greeted with widespread expressions of relief. Michael Angelos, a vice president of Pappas Telecasting Companies, which told the network Friday that its four Fox-affiliated stations did not intend to broadcast the interview, released a statement calling the network’s decision “a victory for the people who spoke out.”

The statement concluded, “This special would have benefited only O. J. Simpson, who deserves nothing but contempt, and certainly no benefit.”

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November 20, 2006

OT: Ahh, Markets Solving Our Problems [8:35 am]

China admits taking executed prisoners’ organs - pdf

After years of denial, China has acknowledged that most of the human organs used in transplants here are taken from executed prisoners and that many of the recipients are foreigners who pay hefty sums to avoid a long wait.

Speaking at a conference of surgeons in the southern city of Guangzhou, Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu called for a strict code of conduct and better record-keeping to stem China’s thriving illegal organ trade, state media reported.

“Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners,” Huang said Tuesday, according to a report Thursday in the English-language China Daily newspaper.

“The current big shortfall of organ donations can’t meet demand,” Huang said.

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Collaborative Recommendations [8:26 am]

No Substitute for Getting Personal, if You Want the Perfect Fit

A new online business, Zafu.com, believes that it has made progress on that front. Unlike, say, Amazon — which analyzes a visitor’s browsing and buying behavior and recommends merchandise bought by others with similar behavior — Zafu’s approach relies on users to do a little of the work.

On the site, which is basically a search engine for clothes, visitors click through a questionnaire of about a dozen items, after which Zafu determines the visitor’s body type and displays what it believes are the best-fitting jeans to suit that visitor (it offers only female styles for now). Each pair is modeled from several angles, along with a link to the product page of retailers selling the item.

The company, which introduced its Web site in August, can already point to a rapidly growing base of customers and merchant partners as evidence of popularity. The company’s early success underscores the industry’s slow but steady progress in personalization — finding ways to match customers with their stated or implied product preferences, and thereby satisfy what analysts say is a central consumer need.

“Online shoppers are control freaks, and the tools they like the best give them the ability to customize something and do product comparisons,” said Lauren Freedman, president of the E-Tailing Group, an Internet consulting firm. “So I definitely see consumer appeal in what Zafu is doing.”

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Working Through Movie Distribution — Like the Hatfields and McCoys [8:21 am]

Target, Disney in DVD truce - pdf

With the holidays and the DVD release of the blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” approaching, Target Corp. and Walt Disney Co. appear to have reached an uneasy truce in their standoff over terms in the rapidly changing home-video business.

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