February 20, 2007

Looking A Gift Horse In The Mouth [8:17 am]

And not liking what they see — San Franciscan’s look hard at “free” wi-fi: Bad reception for free Wi-Fi - pdf

[SF MayorGavin] Newsom forged a plan with Google Inc. and EarthLink Inc., under which the companies would build a Wi-Fi network offering two tiers of service: a free one, plastered with online advertisements, and a faster version without ads for $21.95 a month. They would pay San Francisco to put signal-beaming antennas on its light poles.

But in a city where suspicion of corporate interests flows as thick as the fog, the plan is meeting resistance at every turn.

Dissecting every bit and byte, techies call the free service too slow and are pushing for alternatives. Privacy advocates fret that the Internet companies could track users’ every move.

At one of the marathon meetings to debate the proposal, a citizen suggested that Google and EarthLink fork over more money — to supplement the electricity bills of San Franciscans who use their computers more as a result of the free access. Another suggested that Google use its vehicles to shuttle children to the local zoo.

More than two years later, the project hasn’t gotten off the ground. Newsom signed a contract with the Internet providers in January. But the Board of Supervisors, whose approval is required, last week declined even to consider the deal, deciding instead to investigate turning the project into a city-owned public utility.

“We never thought it would be so hard to spend money in a city — or such a hard sell to give something away,” EarthLink Vice President Cole Reinwand said.

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An End To “Magical Thinking?” [8:10 am]

And facing reality? We’ll see: Music Labels Offer Teasers to Download

For all the disquiet the Internet has fostered in the music business, almost every rock star and record executive is intrigued with the prospect of marketing to music fans directly instead of wrangling for exposure with radio programmers or retailers.

But the expansion of the online marketplace, coupled with ever-worsening CD sales, is now all but forcing the music companies to tread on ground they once viewed as off limits.

Starting this week, Suretone Records, a label distributed by the Universal Music Group, plans to distribute video files featuring popular acts like Weezer and new bands like Drop Dead Gorgeous on file-sharing networks that the industry has long viewed as illicit bazaars for pirates.

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Confronting Implementing the EU Data Retention Directive [8:05 am]

Europe’s Plan to Track Phone and Net Use

European Union countries have until 2009 to put the Data Retention Directive into law, so the proposals seen now are early interpretations. But some people involved in the issue are concerned about a shift in policy in Europe, which has long been a defender of individuals’ privacy rights.

[...] “This is an incredibly bad thing in terms of privacy, since people have grown up with the idea that you ought to be able to have an anonymous e-mail account,” [Google's Peter] Fleischer said. “Moreover, it’s totally unenforceable and would never work.”

Mr. Fleischer said the law would have to require some kind of identity verification, “like you may have to register for an e-mail address with your national ID card.”

Jörg Hladjk, a privacy lawyer at Hunton & Williams, a Brussels law firm, said that might also mean that it could become illegal to pay cash for prepaid cellphone accounts. The billing information for regular cellphone subscriptions is already verified.

Mr. Fleischer said: “It’s ironic, because Germany is one of the countries in Europe where people talk the most about privacy. In terms of consciousness of privacy in general, I would put Germany at the extreme end.”

From the EU clearinghouse for data privacy legislation — “Directive 2006/24/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the retention of data generated or processed in connection with the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks and amending Directive 2002/58/EC.”

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February 19, 2007

Selling Snakeoil At The Point Of A Gun [4:40 pm]

Just like the President’s view that all problems can be solved with tax cuts, the media companies are turning to filters for everything: New Weapon in Web War Over Piracy

The entertainment industry is clamoring for Internet companies to adopt the technology for music files as well as for video clips. The social networking site MySpace, owned by the News Corporation, said last week that it would use Audible Magic’s system to identify copyrighted material on its pages. But not every Internet company is rushing to go along. The video-sharing site YouTube, which Google bought last year, is the major holdout so far.

Though YouTube’s co-founders said publicly that they would start using filtering technology by the end of last year, the site has yet to do so. And they have further angered some media companies by saying they would only use such technology to detect clips owned by companies that agree to broader licensing deals with YouTube.

The pressure is on. [...]

[...] The systems being developed by companies like Audible Magic and Gracenote make use of vast databases that store digital representations of copyrighted songs, TV shows and movies.

When new files are uploaded to a Web site that is using the system, it checks the database for matches using a technique known as digital fingerprinting. Copyrighted material can then be blocked or posted, depending on whether it is licensed for use on the site.

“This is capable of helping the film and TV studios comprehensively protect their works,” [Audible Magic's CEO Vance] Ikezoye said. “This could put the genie back in the bottle.”

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February 18, 2007

And I Just Renewed My MA Driver’s License [12:04 pm]

On the other hand, I did it while still wearing the beard I developed during the early stages of my recovery from a broken ankle: Driver’s License Emerges as Crime-Fighting Tool, but Privacy Advocates Worry

On the second floor of a state office building here, upstairs from a food court, three facial-recognition specialists are revolutionizing American law enforcement. They work for the Massachusetts motor vehicles department.

Last year they tried an experiment, for sport. Using computerized biometric technology, they ran a mug shot from the Web site of “America’s Most Wanted,” the Fox Network television show, against the state’s database of nine million digital driver’s license photographs.

The computer found a match. A man who looked very much like Robert Howell, the fugitive in the mug shot, had a Massachusetts driver’s license under another name. Mr. Howell was wanted in Massachusetts on rape charges.

[...] At least six other states have or are working on similar enormous databases of driver’s license photographs. Coupled with increasingly accurate facial-recognition technology, the databases may become a radical innovation in law enforcement.

[...] Critics say the databases may therefore also represent a profound threat to privacy.

“What is the D.M.V.?” asked Lee Tien, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a privacy advocate. “Does it license motor vehicles and drivers? Or is it really an identification arm of law enforcement?”

[...] In time, though, the combination of facial recognition and other information — from financial records, mobile phones, automobile positioning devices and other sources — may do away with the ability to move anonymously through the world, Mr. Tien, the privacy advocate, said.

“The real question with biometrics,” he said, “is that they are part of a cluster of technologies that will allow for location tracking in both public and private places.”

Hmmm — where have I heard concerns voiced about losing anonymity before….?

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Managing A CC Licence [12:02 pm]

Don’t Buy My Book, Just Read It

Creative Commons licenses are meant to encourage the wide dissemination of intellectual property, while allowing their creators to retain certain rights. Mr. [Seth] Godin never had any intention of making money from the 52-page book, but he also indicated that he would rather not have his name stamped on something that is making money for someone else under false pretenses.

As it happened, the publisher quickly revised the book’s cover to include the notice: “This is a reprint of a 2005 free e-book under Creative Commons license.” That was good enough for Mr. Godin, who told his readers, “go buy it!”

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Consolidation Around © Management [11:38 am]

As a followup to this posting, we have YouTube anti-piracy software policy draws fire - pdf

The media industry is clashing with YouTube over its proposal to offer anti-piracy tools only to companies that have distribution deals with the top online video-sharing service, media insiders said.

YouTube, owned by Google Inc., plans to introduce technology to help media companies identify pirated videos uploaded by users. But the tools are currently being offered as part of broader negotiations on licensing deals, they said.

The move contrasts with YouTube’s biggest rival, News Corp.’s, popular Internet social network, MySpace, which said on Monday it would offer its own version of copyright protection services for free.

YouTube’s “proposition that they will only protect copyrighted content if there’s a business deal in place is unacceptable,” a spokesman for Viacom Inc., owner of MTV Networks and Comedy Central, said this week.

Related: The Old Guard Flexes Its Muscles (While It Still Can)

INTELLECTUAL property law is clear that the legal impetus, for now, rests with the copyright holder to tell a Web site to take down unauthorized material. Indeed, it would be cumbersome to ask every kid with a community site to spend his days policing what the members have posted.

The media giants have a point, however, when they ask why they even have to cajole Google, a self-professed friend, to make nice.

Yet Google and its brethren also have a point when they wonder if the media giants are only hurting themselves by pressing the copyright issue. They point out that their sites have served as great promotional venues — and that they do not charge the media companies a dollar for that help. Moreover, there are no barriers to entry to stop NBC, Viacom or anyone else from starting its own Web video efforts.

What we have here is the most fascinating game of digital chicken the media world has seen. Who will cluck first?

See also Toobin on Google BookSearch in The New Yorker

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February 17, 2007

WinSome, Lose Some [7:51 pm]

Disney loses battle in Pooh legal war - pdf

U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper on Thursday dismissed a copyright lawsuit that sought to end Disney’s obligation to pay the Slesinger family royalties for sales of Winnie the Pooh merchandise. In 1961, the Slesingers, who inherited the merchandising rights to the silly old bear and his forest friends, transferred those rights to Disney in exchange for ongoing royalty payments.

But the partnership became acrimonious. In 1991, the Slesingers sued Disney in state court alleging breach of contract and fraud. They claimed that over the years the Burbank-based entertainment giant had cheated them out of hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from Pooh.

That lawsuit was followed by the copyright case that was thrown out Thursday. In 2002, the granddaughters of Pooh author A.A. Milne and of illustrator E.H. Shepard filed a complex lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles that invoked U.S. copyright law to assert rights to Pooh. If they had prevailed, the Slesingers’ legal ties to the bear would have been erased.

Although Disney was not a plaintiff in the 2002 claim, the company had agreed to pay the granddaughters’ legal fees if they assigned to Disney any rights they won to Pooh merchandise — such as toys, DVDs, computer games and clothing — which they did.

But Judge Cooper on Thursday dismissed the claims brought by Harriet Jessie Minette Hunt, who is Shepard’s granddaughter. Cooper granted the Slesingers’ motion for summary judgment, which is expected to end the copyright case. Earlier, the judge had dismissed Clare Milne’s portion of the case.

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February 16, 2007

“Stealing” TV [4:00 pm]

Not so much, apparently: Viewers Fast-Forwarding Past Ads? Not Always

People with digital video recorders like TiVo never watch commercials, right?

Add that to the list of urban — and suburban — myths.

It turns out that a lot of people with digital video recorders are not fast-forwarding and time-shifting as much as advertisers feared. According to new data released yesterday by the Nielsen Company, people who own digital video recorders, or DVRs, still watch, on average, two-thirds of the ads.

See an earlier posting, Paying For Content, and let’s not forget Jamie Kellner’s interview

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Making Sausage [3:44 pm]

Or, devising copyright policy (see earlier A Look at Learning About ©): Russian Judge Dismisses Any Penalty in Piracy Case

A Russian judge convicted a provincial school headmaster on Thursday for using pirated Microsoft software in school computers, but declined to impose any penalty, saying that Microsoft’s loss was insignificant compared with its overall earnings.

The case has been closely watched as a test of how Russia will enforce intellectual property rights as it moves closer to membership in the World Trade Organization. The verdict was broadcast on Russian state television.

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Being In Public Does NOT Give Consent [2:50 pm]

At least, not for the moment. But it’s going to take a lot more than this to curb casual surveillance: Judge Limits New York Police Taping

In a rebuke of a surveillance practice greatly expanded by the New York Police Department after the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal judge ruled yesterday that the police must stop the routine videotaping of people at public gatherings unless there is an indication that unlawful activity may occur.

[...] Jethro M. Eisenstein, one of the lawyers who challenged the videotaping practices, said that Judge Haight’s ruling would make it possible to contest other surveillance tactics, including the use of undercover officers at political gatherings. In recent years, police officers have disguised themselves as protesters, shouted feigned objections when uniformed officers were making arrests, and pretended to be mourners at a memorial event for bicycle riders killed in traffic accidents.

“This was a major push by the corporation counsel to say that the guidelines are nice but they’re yesterday’s news, and that the security establishment’s view of what is important trumps civil liberties,” Mr. Eisenstein said. “Judge Haight is saying that’s just not the way we’re doing things in New York City.”

The decision

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OT: A Truth From An Unexpected Source [10:46 am]

As I’ve been heard to say on more than one occasion when challenged on my reasons for not watching reality TV, the parallels are blindingly obvious, on all sorts of levels. I just wouldn’t have expected Ron Jeremy to say so — and he’s certainly in a position to know: Porn star seeks fame with clothes on - pdf

Would he like to do more reality television?

“To me, porn and reality TV are similar. I don’t mind being in them,” [porn star Ron Jeremy] said. “I just can’t stand watching them.”

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Real Piracy Statistics [9:02 am]

Which will be employed, I am sure, to talk about digital downloads, too: Piracy robs L.A. economy, study says - pdf

Pirates are pillaging Los Angeles’ economy.

At least that’s what a publicly funded study to be released today concludes, making the case that bootleg DVDs, CDs, prescription drugs and other merchandise such as handbags cost nine industries across Los Angeles County more than 100,000 jobs and about $5.2 billion in lost sales in 2005.

Conducted by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., the study lists the motion picture industry as accounting for about half the losses — $2.7 billion — followed by the recording industry, which sustained $850 million in losses, according to the report.

[...] The spread of piracy in Los Angeles and elsewhere is partly related to gangs, officials say.

Det. Rick Ishitani, one of six detectives with the LAPD’s anti-piracy unit, said gangs were moving into the counterfeiting business because the profits were so high. A counterfeit DVD costs only about 50 cents to produce, he said, but sells for at least $5 on the street.

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LATimes on the MySpace Decision [9:00 am]

MySpace isn’t Mommy - pdf

Sparks’ decision to dismiss the lawsuit was based mainly on the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which exempted websites and Internet service providers from responsibility for what their users said online. The law also states that those providers can’t be held liable for adopting imperfect protections against indecent or harmful content — a provision aimed at encouraging sites to do the best they could to safeguard users. To its credit, MySpace has taken several steps to guard against sexual predators, such as limiting the contact between adults and users who say they are younger than 16 years old. It is also lobbying state legislatures and Congress to require convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses, and it plans to unveil software that could help parents see how their children are identifying themselves on MySpace.

These steps, however, probably won’t turn MySpace into a predator-free zone. Nothing short of direct monitoring of every user, page and post could do that, and that’s just as distasteful as having an Internet service provider monitor e-mails or a phone company listen in on calls. And even if all of MySpace’s new safeguards had been in place last year, they probably wouldn’t have stopped the alleged assault on the Texas teen. After all, the most vulnerable youths often are the most resourceful ones. Their parents and teachers are in a much better position to arm them against the risks than a website could be.

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February 14, 2007

Google and Belgian Newspapers [11:12 pm]

Win the battle, lose the war? Google Said to Violate Copyright Laws

A Brussels court ruled Tuesday that Google had violated copyright laws by publishing links to articles from Belgian newspapers without permission. Legal experts said the case could have broad implications in Europe for the news indexes provided by search engines.

[...] “As the first decision to condemn a search engine for indexing news articles, you can be sure publishers around the world are paying attention,” said Cyril Fabre, a lawyer in Paris at Alexen, a law firm specializing in Internet law and intellectual property. “The implications in Europe are particularly strong since copyright law is so uniform across the Continent.”

Slashdot: Google News Found Guilty of Copyright Violation

Sorry about the limited posting; a full week here…

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February 13, 2007

Tightening The Noose [7:39 am]

The power of settlement precedent in setting the context for copyright enforcement: Universal Near Deal With Video Site on Royalties

Universal Music Group is poised to win a small battle in its war to claim royalties from sites that allow users to upload videos that contain its music.

[...] Bolt has agreed to pay a settlement valued at several million dollars, said Aaron Cohen, Bolt’s chief executive. Bolt will also agree to pay royalties in the future any time its users submit videos that contain Universal Music.

[...] To pay for the settlement, which will combine cash, stock and advertising credits, Bolt has agreed to sell itself to GoFish, a smaller rival, for as much as $30 million in GoFish stock.

“This deal is economically painful to Bolt shareholders,” Mr. Cohen said. “It is setting a precedent that companies that violate copyright at minimum risk litigation.”

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February 12, 2007

Try, Try Again [2:42 pm]

Copyright collective wants iPod levy - pdf - via Slashdot

The collective had argued the memory inside a digital audio device such as an iPod is an audio recording medium primarily used to store music, and therefore should be subject to the Canadian Copyright Act.

The act states an audio recording medium is “a medium regardless of its material form on which a recording can be reproduced.”

The court, however, found the memory can’t be defined as an audio recording medium.

Now, the group is going after the devices themselves. It says devices such as the iPod can be classified as a “recording medium” and should be subject to taxation.

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A “Collagetext” With Something to Think About: “usemonopoly” [2:37 pm]

From Harper’s, via Slashdot: The Ecstasy of Influence - pdf

The idea that culture can be property—intellectual property—is used to justify everything from attempts to force the Girl Scouts to pay royalties for singing songs around campfires to the infringement suit brought by the estate of Margaret Mitchell against the publishers of Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone. Corporations like Celera Genomics have filed for patents for human genes, while the Recording Industry Association of America has sued music downloaders for copyright infringement, reaching out-of-court settlements for thousands of dollars with defendants as young as twelve. ASCAP bleeds fees from shop owners who play background music in their stores; students and scholars are shamed from placing texts facedown on photocopy machines. At the same time, copyright is revered by most established writers and artists as a birthright and bulwark, the source of nurture for their infinitely fragile practices in a rapacious world. Plagiarism and piracy, after all, are the monsters we working artists are taught to dread, as they roam the woods surrounding our tiny preserves of regard and remuneration.

A time is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted. The character of an era hangs upon what needs no defense. In this regard, few of us question the contemporary construction of copyright. It is taken as a law, both in the sense of a universally recognizable moral absolute, like the law against murder, and as naturally inherent in our world, like the law of gravity. In fact, it is neither. Rather, copyright is an ongoing social negotiation, tenuously forged, endlessly revised, and imperfect in its every incarnation.

[...] Jefferson’s vision has not fared well, has in fact been steadily eroded by those who view the culture as a market in which everything of value should be owned by someone or other. The distinctive feature of modern American copyright law is its almost limitless bloating—its expansion in both scope and duration. With no registration requirement, every creative act in a tangible medium is now subject to copyright protection: your email to your child or your child’s finger painting, both are automatically protected. The first Congress to grant copyright gave authors an initial term of fourteen years, which could be renewed for another fourteen if the author still lived. The current term is the life of the author plus seventy years. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that each time Mickey Mouse is about to fall into the public domain, the mouse’s copyright term is extended.

Even as the law becomes more restrictive, technology is exposing those restrictions as bizarre and arbitrary. [...]

[...] Thinking clearly sometimes requires unbraiding our language. The word “copyright” may eventually seem as dubious in its embedded purposes as “family values,” “globalization,” and, sure, “intellectual property.” Copyright is a “right” in no absolute sense; it is a government-granted monopoly on the use of creative results. So let’s try calling it that—not a right but a monopoly on use, a “usemonopoly”—and then consider how the rapacious expansion of monopoly rights has always been counter to the public interest, no matter if it is Andrew Carnegie controlling the price of steel or Walt Disney managing the fate of his mouse. Whether the monopolizing beneficiary is a living artist or some artist’s heirs or some corporation’s shareholders, the loser is the community, including living artists who might make splendid use of a healthy public domain.

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This Should Be Exciting; © Leverage [2:11 pm]

A field test for Audible Magic’s technology — and, I am sure, a legal test for the first failure of the filter: MySpace erasing disputed content - pdf

Internet social networking giant MySpace.com plans to announce today that it has introduced a video-filtering program that should automatically remove copyrighted material from its website.

[...] Until now, such websites as MySpace and YouTube took the position that they could legally allow content to stay on their sites unless they received a formal notice to remove the material.

[...] With the new program, MySpace said it now is the largest Internet video site to offer free video-filtering to copyright holders. It is using a digital fingerprinting technology licensed from a company called Audible Magic.

Note that there are wheels within wheels here: see this announcement — MTV videos to be available to all Internet users - pdf

In the next few months, Web users will be able to grab videos from nearly all MTV-owned sites and post them on their own blogs or Web sites, lessening the need to go to YouTube (http://www.youtube.com), the top online video service that Google Inc. acquired last year.

Viacom, owner of MTV Networks and the Paramount movie studio, had been planning for this move months before it demanded earlier this month that YouTube remove more than 100,000 unauthorized Viacom video clips from its site, after failing to reach a distribution deal.

“We need to open up our Web sites and content both for consumers and for other companies,” Mika Salmi, MTV Networks president of global digital media, said in an interview last Friday.

The move is part of a strategy to bring Viacom’s Web sites up to “Web 2.0″ standards, Salmi said. “Part of that is allowing people to take our content and embed it and make your own things out of it, whatever they want,” he said.

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Fighting Over The Next DVD Format [2:00 pm]

In all the usual places: Porn studios quietly courted - pdf

As the opposing camps pushing the next generation of DVDs try to win audiences, they are furtively pursuing the affections of the multibillion-dollar porn industry.

Since the advent of home video, adult entertainment has played a key role in the adoption of new consumer technology. Porn companies, for instance, helped VHS trump Betamax in the ’70s. More recently, they began streaming online video long before television networks.

So backers of the rival — and incompatible — HD DVD and Blu-ray formats are trying to entice porn producers to adopt their respective technologies. Even if they’re not proud of it.

[...] Plus, anyone wondering who would most appreciate pictures that appear crisper than real life had only to witness a briefing at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month by LG Electronics, maker of the expensive players for either format. None of the presenter’s points gripped the audience like the slow-motion HD DVD video of a model emerging from a swimming pool, every drop glistening as it fell from her white bikini.

Most U.S. porn producers are getting their feet wet with HD DVD.

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