February 20, 2007

Geist on the IIPA Report [3:43 pm]

US copyright lobby out-of-touch

The International Intellectual Property Alliance, an association that brings together US lobby groups representing the movie, music, software, and publisher industries, last week delivered its annual submission to the US government featuring its views on the inadequacy of intellectual property protection around the world.

The report frequently serves as a blueprint for the US Trade Representative’s Section 301 Report, a government-mandated annual report that carries the threat of trade barriers for countries that fail to meet the US standard of IP protection.

The IIPA submission generated considerable media attention, with the international media focusing on the state of IP protection in Russia and China, while national media in Canada, Thailand, and Taiwan broadcast dire warnings about the consequences of falling on the wrong side of US lobby groups.

While the UK was spared inclusion on this year’s list, what is most noteworthy about the IIPA effort is that dozens of countries - indeed most of the major global economies in the developed and developing world - are singled out for criticism.

[...] Given the US experience [with its implementation of the WIPO Internet Treaties], it is unsurprising that many countries have experimented with alternate implementations.

This experimentation invariably leads to heavy criticism from the IIPA as countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Israel, Mexico, and India are all taken to task for their implementation (or proposed implementation) of anti-circumvention legislation.

Further, countries that have not signed or ratified the WIPO Internet treaties (which still includes the majority of the world), face the wrath of the US lobby group for failing to do so.

Second, in a classic case of “do what I say, not what I do”, many countries are criticised for copyright laws that bear a striking similarity to US law. For example, Israel is criticised for considering a fair use provision that mirrors the US approach.

The IIPA is unhappy with the attempt to follow the US model, warning that the Israeli public might view it as a “free ticket to copy.” Similarly, the time shifting provisions in New Zealand’s current copyright reform bill (which would permit video recording of television shows) are criticised despite the fact that US law has granted even more liberal copying rights for decades.

The most disturbing illustration of this double standard is the IIPA’s criticism of compulsory copyright licensing requirements.

[...] Third, the IIPA recommendations criticise dozens of efforts to support national education, privacy, and cultural initiatives.

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A Spectrum Policy Fight in the UK [3:37 pm]

Over radio microphones: Spectrum plan threatens radio mic

The future of radio microphones - used at concerts, sporting events, festivals and theatre shows - is under threat from new proposals from Ofcom.

The media regulator is considering auctioning off the spectrum they operate on to the highest bidder, as part of the digital switchover.

Ofcom argues that putting spectrum on the open market is the only way to make sure it is used to its full potential.

Critics say that the spectrum crucial to radio mics needs to be ring-fenced.

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Some Pending Sausage-Making [8:34 am]

Watching the FCC and others decide what constitutes competition, markets and monopolies should be quite a show: Satellite radio competitors agree to merge - pdf

“If the market is defined just as satellite radio, they would never approve the only two companies merging into one — that would be like Pepsi merging with Coke,” said Howard Liberman, a Washington lawyer and former Federal Communications Commission staff attorney.

But Sirius and XM, he said, will attempt to define the industry as “music that goes into your ear,” including portable music players and AM and FM radio.

[...] FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said Monday that he expected the deal to face a “high” hurdle with his agency. In setting rules for satellite radio service in 1997, the FCC granted only two licenses and stipulated that one of the holders would “not be permitted to acquire control of the other” — to “help assure sufficient continuing competition.”

“The companies would need to demonstrate that consumers would clearly be better off with both more choice and affordable prices,” Martin said.

[...] Analysts said they suspected Sirius and XM were trying to get the FCC to consider the deal before the 2008 presidential election, when control might swing back to the Democrats. The FCC is considering allowing more media consolidation, which Democrats on the panel and in the new congressional majority oppose.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, said Monday that the radio merger “merits the utmost scrutiny” by policymakers and regulators in light of “dramatic consolidation” of traditional radio.

Traditional radio firms immediately opposed the merger.

See also Merger Would End Satellite Radio’s Rivalry and Satellite Radio Firms Plan To Merge (pdf)

Later: Handicapping the fight: Shift on Antitrust Issues May Aid Sirius-XM Deal and A matter of competition (pdf)

An opinion from the WaPo - They Fuse, You Lose; pdf

Now, XM and Sirius suggest that wireless broadband will keep them honest; customers turned off by both FM and satellite radio will be able to listen to music sent through their cellphones.

But most wireless carriers impose grotesque limits on what you can listen to or watch on a phone: Listening to a Web radio station on a phone’s Internet connection violates most of their contracts. This isn’t bringing the diversity of Internet radio to cellphones — it’s recreating the controlled universe of cable TV. And it’s unlikely to offer much of a meaningful alternative to dissatisfied listeners.

It’s too soon to know what the government will do with the XM-Sirius merger proposal. But by not addressing these underlying problems, Washington isn’t just approving telecom monopolies, it’s aiding and abetting them.

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It’s Not Just The Military Anymore [8:29 am]

Video gaming apparently builds all sorts of skills: From video gamer to surgery ace? It could happen, study suggests - pdf

New research released Monday found that surgeons with the highest scores on “Super Monkey Ball 2,” “Star Wars Racer Revenge” and “Silent Scope” performed best on tests of suturing and laparoscopic surgery.

Doctors who reported having played video games at least three hours a week sometime in their past worked 27% faster and made 37% fewer errors on the surgical tasks compared with those who had never picked up a game controller, according to the study in the Archives of Surgery.

“For as little as three hours a week, you could help your children become the cyber-surgeons of the 21st century,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. James C. Rosser Jr. of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

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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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