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December 30, 2006

FCC OKs AT&T Merger w/ BellSouth [3:33 pm]

To the dismay of the FCC chair, some conditions on (*gasp*) “net neutrality” were part of the concessions (see below): FCC clears AT&T merger - pdf (WaPo’s AT& T Completes BellSouth Takeover - pdf)

The $86-billion deal gives San Antonio-based AT&T a third of the nation’s land lines, dominating local phone service in California and 21 other states. AT&T also becomes the nation’s largest provider of high-speed Internet access and gains full control of Cingular Wireless, the country’s biggest cellphone company, which was 40% owned by Atlanta-based BellSouth.

[...] Although the Justice Department unconditionally approved the deal in October, unusual circumstances gave the two Democrats on the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission leverage to hold up final regulatory approval until AT&T made the concessions. Desperate to close the deal by the end of the year, AT&T caved in to the commissioners’ demands late Thursday.

[...] AT&T’s most significant concessions were to provide high-speed Internet access to customers for $19.95 a month without requiring them to purchase phone or other services; to lower and freeze for four years the fees it charges other phone companies to use its lines; to sell some of its wireless spectrum to promote competition for high-speed Internet access; and to treat all Internet content equally as it travels over its lines.

Those conditions came on top of earlier AT&T pledges to offer broadband service for $10 a month to customers with AT&T phone service, give free high-speed modems to customers now using dial-up service and to install at least 30% of its new broadband lines in rural and low-income areas.

Natalie Billingsley, a supervisor with the California Public Utilities Commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, which advocates for consumer interests, said the new concessions improved the outlook for AT&T and BellSouth customers. But she said consumers would have been better off if the merger had not been approved and expressed skepticism that customer service would improve.

FCC announcement and statements: Martin & Tate; Copps; Adelstein; McDowell. From Copps’ statement (pp. 3-4)

The condition builds upon the four principles of net neutrality unanimously

adopted by this Commission and made enforceable in the context of the Bell mergers completed last year. In addition to the company’s compliance with these four principles, the condition agreed to by the merged entity includes a fifth principle that requires the company to maintain a “neutral network and neutral routing” of internet traffic between the customer’s home or office and the Internet peering point where traffic hits the Internet backbone. The company is prohibited from privileging, degrading, or prioritizing any packets along this route regardless of their source, ownership, or destination. This obligation is enforceable at the FCC and is effective for two years. It ensures that all Internet users have the ability to reach the merged entities’ millions of Internet users—without seeking the company’s permission or paying it a toll. The next Drudge Report, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Instapundit, or Daily Kos should not have to seek a massive corporation’s blessing before it can begin reaching out to the American public, and we can take considerable comfort from the fact that today’s condition prohibits such behavior. While I might have preferred a longer duration, prior mergers resulted in similar time periods for the net neutrality conditions and it is in my view sufficient to allow Congress to take longer-term network neutrality action if it chooses to do so.

Relatedly and importantly, the merged entity is required to continue to maintain the present number of Internet backbone peering relationships for the next three years. Thus the status quo in the Internet backbone market is preserved by preventing the merged entity from using its larger size and immense last-mile customer base to terminate the settlement-free peering relationships that are fundamental to the Internet as we know it. Read in conjunction with the network neutrality obligation, this peering provision will help to protect the Internet experience and the powerful opportunities it promises for the future.

The associated Slashdot discussion (citing a TechDirt piece) is less sanguine, citing loopholes galore: AT&T Offering Merger Concessions

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Trade Secrets, Source Code and Voting [2:37 pm]

An unhappy turn in the Sarasota County voting fight: Disputed Fla. Election to Spill Into U.S. House - pdf

Jennings suffered a legal setback on Friday when a Florida judge denied a request by her and groups including the ACLU and People for the American Way Foundation to examine the voting machine hardware and software.

Florida Circuit Court Judge William Gary said no evidence had been provided of malfunctions and that granting access to the machines would “result in destroying or at least gutting the protections afforded those who own the trade secrets” associated with the equipment.

See also Source Code Access Denied in Disputed Race

From the WaPo article:

Jennings’s campaign vowed an appeal.

“It’s shocking that there is more concern for protecting a company’s profits rather than protecting our right to vote,” she said in a statement.

Some other links: ACLU FL; EFF site

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OT: Dahlia’s Depressing Top Ten of 2006 [11:48 am]

Read ‘em — don’t forget ‘em. The 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006.

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Sohu.com Nailed [11:27 am]

Well, fined anyway. China makes a move to make the WTO less unhappy. Web Portal Fined for Movie Piracy

A Beijing court has ordered the popular Chinese Web portal Sohu.com to pay $140,000 in damages for distributing Hollywood movies online without permission, the movie industry’s trade group said Friday.

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Artists in the iTunes Era [11:22 am]

Leads to a revisiting of the Audible Past, IMHO: Whole Albums in Concert - pdf

Such shows tend to receive positive critical attention, but the current transformation of the music marketplace suggests that albums are being presented onstage because they’re becoming museum-ified relics. As digital downloading changes the way music is consumed, could the album be going live because it’s dead?

Maybe the album’s dead; but then, maybe it isn’t. It’s become a commonplace that albums are losing their authority as artistic entities as an increasing number of people buy music song by song via services like iTunes. So playing an album live helps artists regain a modicum of creative control. The experience is like listening to a playlist, but this time (as earlier) it’s the musicians and producers themselves who are devising it.

What’s curious is that the same changes in music consumption that are hurting the album are helping to keep it alive. As recorded-music sales decline in a digital era of single-track sales and outright piracy, concert revenues are robust and, while always crucial to the financial health of the typical band or musician, even more important now. Performing an album live, then, is a way to stand out. It’s “a way to get people to come in and buy a ticket in a very competitive market,” Jethro Tull’s front man, Ian Anderson, said.

Related: a look at concert sales in Oldies but goodies -pdf

It all added up to another growth year in the concert business, whose total revenue in North America increased 16% over 2005, to $3.6 billion. The number of tickets sold for the Top 100 tours was 37.9 million, an increase of 4.4%, and the average ticket price rose 8%, to $61.45.

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Wired for Sound [11:17 am]

A look at cognition and music from tomorrow’s NYTimes: Music of the Hemispheres - pdf

“Listen to this,” Daniel Levitin said. “What is it?” He hit a button on his computer keyboard and out came a half-second clip of music. It was just two notes blasted on a raspy electric guitar, but I could immediately identify it: the opening lick to the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.”

Then he played another, even shorter snippet: a single chord struck once on piano. Again I could instantly figure out what it was: the first note in Elton John’s live version of “Benny and the Jets.”

Dr. Levitin beamed. “You hear only one note, and you already know who it is,” he said. “So what I want to know is: How we do this? Why are we so good at recognizing music?”

[...] Dr. Levitin is singular among music scientists for actually having come out of the music industry. Before getting his Ph.D. he spent 15 years as a record producer, working with artists ranging from the Blue Öyster Cult to Chris Isaak. While still in graduate school he helped Stevie Wonder assemble a best-of collection; in 1992 Dr. Levitin’s sensitive ears detected that MCA Records had accidentally used third-generation backup tapes to produce seven Steely Dan CDs, and he embarrassed the label by disclosing it in Billboard magazine. He has earned nine gold and platinum albums, which he tucks in corners of his lab, office and basement at home. “They look a little scary when you put them all in one place, so I spread them around,” he said.

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December 29, 2006

Who Thinks Up These Reassuring Names? [3:00 pm]

Justice Dept. Database Stirs Privacy Fears - pdf

The Justice Department is building a massive database that allows state and local police officers around the country to search millions of case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies, according to Justice officials.

The system, known as “OneDOJ,” already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said.

[...] [C]ivil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes.

[...] In an interview last week, [Deputy Attorney General Paul J.] McNulty said the goal is to broaden the pool of data available to local and state investigators beyond systems such as the National Crime Information Center, the FBI-run repository of basic criminal records used by police and sheriff’s deputies around the country.

By tapping into the details available in incident reports, interrogation summaries and other documents, investigators will dramatically improve their chances of closing cases, he said.

“The goal is that all of U.S. law enforcement will be able to look at each other’s records to solve cases and protect U.S. citizens,” McNulty said. “With OneDOJ, we will essentially hook them up to a pipe that will take them into its records.”

[shudder]

Slashdot discussion: OneDOJ to Offer National Criminal Database to Law Enforcement

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An Interesting Slashdot Discussion: What Would You Ask An RIAA “Expert?” [12:30 pm]

Slashdot | What Questions Would You Ask An RIAA ‘Expert’?

In UMG v. Lindor, the RIAA has submitted an ‘expert’ report (pdf) and 26-page curriculum vitae (pdf), prepared by Dr. Doug Jacobson of Iowa State University who is the RIAA’s expert witness in all of its cases against consumers, relating to alleged copyright infringement by means of a shared files folder on Kazaa, and supposed analysis of the hard drive of a computer in Ms. Lindor’s apartment. The RIAA’s ‘experts’ have been shut down in the Netherlands and Canada, having been shown by Prof. Sips and Dr. Pouwelse of Delft University’s Parallel and Distributed Systems research group (pdf) to have failed to do their homework, but are still operating in the USA. [...] Both Ms. Lindor’s attorney (pdf) and Ms. Lindor’s son’s attorney (pdf) have objected to the introduction of these materials, but Dr. Jacobson’s document production and deposition are scheduled for January and February, and we would love to get the tech community’s ideas for questions to ask, and in general your reactions, thoughts, opinions, information, and any other input you can share with us. (In case you haven’t guessed, we are the attorneys for Ms. Lindor.)

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Here We Go Again [12:26 pm]

Media, tech firms probe possible high-def DVD hack - pdf

The companies behind an encryption system for high-definition DVDs are looking into a hacker’s claim that he has cracked the code protecting the new discs from piracy, a spokesman for one of the companies said on Thursday.

[...] If the encryption code has been cracked, then any high-definition DVD released up to now can be illegally copied using the Muslix64 “key,” according to technology experts.

Jeff Moss, organizer of Defcon, the world’s largest hacking convention, said in an interview that Muslix64 appears to have found a real breach in the encryption system.

Slashdot’s discussion: HD-DVD and Blu-Ray AACS DRM Cracked; see the YouTube movie here

Later (2007-01-01): Studios’ DVDs Face a Crack in Security

Later (2007-01-26), confirmation: AACS confirms hacks on high-definition DVD players - pdf

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December 28, 2006

A Cable Cut, A Channel Congested (or Closed) [2:13 pm]

Some fascinating vignettes in The Day the Pixels Froze: When a Digital World Was Stopped by a Natural Disaster

People awoke Wednesday to find themselves without e-mail or the Internet and, in some cases, without telephone connections, cut off from the rest of the world.

The earthquake ruptured undersea cables that are part of a communications fabric that circles the globe.

Coming on the second anniversary of the Asian tsunami that killed 230,000 people, it was a reminder of the world’s increasing dependence on communications technology.

See also Asian Quake Disrupts Data Traffic

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Motion Capture, Animation and Attribution [2:08 pm]

Or is this just troublemaking? Hard to tell. Penguin, Shmenguin! Those Are Savion Glover’s Happy Feet!

The animated film “Happy Feet” is a big hit for Warner Brothers and for Hollywood. Children of all ages and such.

[...] For lovers of tap dance, his dancing looks powerfully familiar. Almost exactly like the dancing of Savion Glover, at least if Mr. Glover looked like an unstoppably cheerful penguin. Which is no accident, since Mr. Glover is Mumble, or Mumble’s dancing moves.

[...] Mr. Glover himself professes total satisfaction with his credit. “My job was to be a stunt man,” he said yesterday through a spokesman in his office. “I love George Miller, and was happy to be a part of the film. I have no problem at all.”

Maybe a proper credit for Mr. Glover just slipped everybody’s minds, including Mr. Glover’s. Maybe dance, even in a film whose entire plot hinges on dance, is so far from the concerns of most people that Mr. Glover’s credit escaped everyone’s attention. But that omission seems especially worrisome when the dance being slighted is deeply rooted in the black American tradition.

“I was just so excited that someone was putting dance in the movie,” Mr. Glover told Ms. Kaufman. “I didn’t ask any questions. I was just going on the strength of tap-dancing — someone wants tap-dancing.”

Well, someone did, and maybe Mr. Glover is as happy as he says he is with his, and tap’s, new prominence. But if tap is to be respected, its greatest living exponent must be respected too. To win respect, you have to do more than be the best there is. You have to fight, meaning negotiate, for the recognition you deserve.

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Another Player in the DataVeillance Game [11:30 am]

Microsoft adds behavioral targeting - pdf

The company joins Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) and other major Internet sites in implementing personalized ads based on Web surfing habits, a practice known as behavioral targeting. Microsoft’s spin on the tactic, which brings demographic information together with online behavior, may make targeting more accurate, said Emily Riley, advertising analyst for JupiterResearch.

[...] Although critics worry about companies knowing too much about their customers, Microsoft and other proponents of behavioral targeting believe users ultimately benefit when they see only ads relevant to them.

“We think that if we can provide the better experience” — in advertising as well as content — “people will spend more time on our network,” Sohn said.

Slashdot: Microsoft Using Personal Data to Target Ads

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December 23, 2006

Feds: “Oops” [9:25 am]

Feds: Homeland Security project didn’t protect privacy

A Department of Homeland Security program that linked details on millions of air travelers with profiles drawn from commercial databases was plagued by “privacy missteps” that misled the public, a new government report concludes.

The Transportation Security Agency, operating under the auspices of Homeland Security, had publicly pledged two years ago–in official notices describing the Secure Flight program–that it “will not receive” or have access to dossiers on American travelers compiled by a Beltway contractor.

That promise turned out to be untrue, according to a report published Friday by DHS’ privacy office. The commercial data “made its way directly to TSA, contrary to the express statements in the fall privacy notices about the Secure Flight program,” the report says. (Click on “Secure Flight Report” to view a PDF version.)

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A Few Notes From the NYTimes [9:21 am]

A couple of news excerpts in this round-up article: Stuffing the Electronic Ballot Box

First, when the dollars get too tempting:

CNet News.com reported this week that Karim Yergaliyev, 19, one of the top 30 “diggers,” whose stories get the most diggs from fellow users, agreed to a barter transaction from a marketer, Nathan Schorr, the business development manager for JetNumbers. In exchange for free service, Mr. Yergaliyev acknowledged, he planted an article about JetNumbers, which provides “virtual” telephone numbers (news.com).

Next, a Santangelo update:

The music companies have dropped their lawsuit against her, though their lawyer, Richard Gabriel, wrote in court papers that they would probably have won. Instead, he wrote that the companies will “pursue defendant’s children.” The case against Ms. Santangelo’s daughter, 16, and son, 20, will continue (ecommercetimes.com).

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Taking A Fight Online [9:05 am]

Landis putting lab to the test - pdf

Experts for Tour de France champion Floyd Landis, tapping a worldwide pool of scientific knowledge via the Internet, are marshaling a detailed rebuttal to charges that the cyclist took testosterone to fuel his comeback victory in last summer’s race.

Landis’ team has posted online the laboratory reports on which the charge is based. This step, unprecedented in an anti-doping case, has allowed independent scientists to study the evidence against Landis — 370 pages of technical documentation.

The result is a vigorous debate on Internet message forums and bulletin boards about the science underlying the charge and whether Landis, successor to Lance Armstrong as America’s leading competitive cyclist, has been unjustly accused.

[...] Landis’ defense team calls its decision to publicize the evidence against him the “wiki defense,” referring to an online application allowing members of the public to collaborate on encyclopedias, dictionaries, computer programs and other services.

The idea is to counteract the advantages that anti-doping agencies have in bringing cases against athletes. [...]

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December 21, 2006

Sony Rootkit Copy Protection Settlement [3:55 pm]

Users compensated in Sony CD row

Record label Sony BMG will compensate customers in California whose computers were damaged by anti-piracy software on CDs sold by the firm.

It settles a long-running lawsuit between Sony BMG and a number of US states about the nature of digital rights management software on CDs.

The episode caused a great deal of embarrassment for the world’s second largest record label.

Agreements with other states are expected to follow.

See Sony BMG settles with 39 states - pdf

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Cat and Mouse Games With the FCC [12:49 pm]

Special Treat in a Box

In less than a week the official uncensored version of the video has been viewed by over two million people on YouTube alone. In the process “Saturday Night Live” appears to have become the first scripted comedy on a broadcast network to use the Web to make an end-run around the prying eyes of both its internal censors and those of the Federal Communications Commission, whose jurisdiction over “Saturday Night Live” effectively ends at the Web frontier.

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OZ Court Upholds Illegality of MP3 Search Engines [11:48 am]

Court threatens download search

The Federal Court in Canberra backed a previous copyright ruling involving Australian web firm mp3s4free.net.

By providing links to websites which enabled illegal downloads, mp3s4free had effectively authorized copyright infringement, the court said.

The ruling could have implications for search engine websites such as Google.

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Action on the AllofMP3 Front [11:45 am]

Record firms sue Russian MP3 site

The lawsuit was filed in New York on behalf of Arista Records, Warner Bros, Capitol and UMG recordings.

They are suing Moscow-based Mediaservices, which runs Allofmp3.com and another music site, allTunes.com.

The record labels say the sites are selling songs without permission. But Allofmp3.com argues it is paying royalties to a Russian licensing body.

The music industry says that the Russian licensing group does not have the authority to collect and distribute royalties.

Later: Slashdot story says the RIAA is going for broke - RIAA Goes for the Max Against AllofMP3

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OT: Under the Weather [10:34 am]

H, everyone.

Sorry about the slow posting rate. A mishap has left me with a broken ankle and downtime to put myself back together. While, under some circumstances, that might mean *more* posting, this one is having an opposite effect. I expect that will change soon, but not immediately.

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