March 29, 2007

Chilling Effects [5:58 pm]

The Nutjob gets what the Nutjob wants: Gibson bans Danish Braveheart beer - pdf

Mel Gibson has succeeded in banning a beer from a small Danish brewery, because it was called Braveheart - the same name of his 1995 Oscar-winning movie.

The Hollywood star was angry the beer from Midtfyns Bryghus was called Braveheart, and even threatened to sue for the brewery’s use of the name.

[...] [The brewery owner] says, “I was certain I had a good case against those big guys in Hollywood, but evidently it wasn’t enough.

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Albums and Apple [5:28 pm]

Apple gets behind the album format with new offer - pdf

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq:AAPL - news) is throwing its weight behind the music industry’s efforts to protect the album format by allowing fans to buy complete digital albums without having to pay again for songs they already own.

[...] Apple said on Thursday iTunes is introducing a “Complete My Album” service that offers customers who want to turn individual tracks into an album a 99-cent credit for every song they have already purchased from the album.

For example, if a customer had bought three 99-cent singles and decides to download the entire album with a listed price of $9.99, the customer would only have to pay $7.02.

Fans will only be able to take advantage of the discount within 180 days after first buying the songs, Apple said.

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Web Radio — You Listen, But Who’s Watching [1:49 pm]

Is CRM coming to popular culture? Does American Idol discover real artists? A look at what a blend of radio and the Internet can be: A Radio Station Just for You

At signup, the service asks users to download software — available for Macs and PCs — that tracks the music playing on your computer. The song-counting process, called “scrobbling” by’s chief software developer, lets the company observe shifts in popularity, spot unexpected correlations between songs, and even discover new artists — or new tracks by known artists.

To date, has “scrobbled” 65 million tracks by 8 million artists, in just about every country in the world. As with Pandora, you can identify songs you love, which helps to tailor your radio experience. The result is a stream of music that, statistically speaking, you ought to enjoy.

[...] The royalty issue is explicitly why services like Soundflavor, Goombah and Mog don’t offer true streaming radio. Soundflavor DJ, a free player available at, uses a collaborative filtering technique, but instead of streaming new songs, it lets you cue up songs on iTunes or Windows Media Player, then takes over D.J. responsibility, matching your initial choices with other tracks from your own collection. It is especially effective if you have a library with thousands of tracks. After every few songs, Soundflavor offers you a free track download from an independent artist, or the opportunity to buy a song that its filter suggests you might like.

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March 28, 2007

CD == Dead? [12:10 pm]

If the CD is dead, why are so many companies going into the CD business?

What we are witnessing is not so much the imminent death of CDs but the death of the old methods of selling CDs. It’s still possible to make money in the CD business—any business with more than $7 billion in retail sales should allow someone, somewhere, to make a profit. The incumbents are getting killed, but upstarts are thriving, using different methods.

Legacy music retailers and manufacturers now face many of the same difficulties as American auto companies. They built a business infrastructure—national chains, huge outlets in high-profile locations, layers of management—predicated on selling massive and growing quantities of CDs for $15.99 and up. Like the American automakers, they found that new competition—from iTunes, file-sharing, and online retailers—severely cut into their margins, their market share, and their pricing power. In such an environment, companies with significant capital invested in stores and substantial overhead costs get destroyed. And as they fail, they do so loudly, inspiring widespread pessimism.

Yet the new rules open opportunities for upstarts who approach the business of making and marketing CDs in a fundamentally different way. [...]

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On, and On, and On and …. [6:47 am]

Historians lose “Da Vinci Code” plagiarism appeal - pdf

Two historians lost another legal battle in British courts on Wednesday over claims that author Dan Brown plagiarized their ideas for his blockbuster novel “The Da Vinci Code.”

[...] In the appeal, their lawyers argued that the High Court judge, Mr Justice Smith, who controversially wrote a secret code of his own into his 71-page judgment [local copy], had misunderstood the law and the basis of their claims.

Also Da Vinci Code appeal is dismissed

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March 27, 2007

Participation in Entertainment Decisions [9:49 am]

Adjusting to a new way of doing things: Network fear of the Net as copilot - pdf

THE Internet is giving Hollywood a nervous breakdown.

Way, way back in prehistory — let’s say, 2004 — if you made a TV pilot and the network didn’t pick it up, the judge’s decision was final.

But now you have a savior, an ally, a friend with millions of other friends. You have YouTube.

[...] Did Comedy Central blow the call? See for yourself. The entire pilot, in three segments, was posted on YouTube several weeks ago. (To watch, go to YouTube and type in “Three Strikes.”) Whether it is still there after this column appears is another issue, since Viacom, which owns Comedy Central, is suing YouTube’s parent company and has pulled all its shows from the site.

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Participation in Entertainment Decisions [9:49 am]

Adjusting to a new way of doing things: Network fear of the Net as copilot - pdf

THE Internet is giving Hollywood a nervous breakdown.

Way, way back in prehistory — let’s say, 2004 — if you made a TV pilot and the network didn’t pick it up, the judge’s decision was final.

But now you have a savior, an ally, a friend with millions of other friends. You have YouTube.

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LATimes Editorial on the Cablevision © Suit [9:44 am]

Court can’t see Cablevision for what it is - pdf

THE SUPREME COURT ruled more than 20 years ago that recording TV shows on your VCR is legal. Nowadays, technology allows your cable company to essentially keep those shows on its VCR, not yours. Yet a federal court has ruled that this system violates copyright law.

What’s the difference? This is not a case of technology changing behavior. It’s a case of the law failing to adjust to new technology.

See earlier A Replay of the Fight

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Closing the Napster Saga [9:36 am]

Bertelsmann Reaches Deal With EMI Over Napster

Bertelsmann, the German media giant that provided financial backing to Napster when it was an unauthorized file-sharing service, has agreed to settle with the last of the major record companies that had sued it for copyright infringement.

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March 26, 2007

Sleeping Well? [9:53 am]

And you thought you should be worrying about identity theft: Terror Database Has Quadrupled In Four Years - pdf

Each day, thousands of pieces of intelligence information from around the world — field reports, captured documents, news from foreign allies and sometimes idle gossip — arrive in a computer-filled office in McLean, where analysts feed them into the nation’s central list of terrorists and terrorism suspects.

Called TIDE, for Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, the list is a storehouse for data about individuals that the intelligence community believes might harm the United States. It is the wellspring for watch lists distributed to airlines, law enforcement, border posts and U.S. consulates, created to close one of the key intelligence gaps revealed after Sept. 11, 2001: the failure of federal agencies to share what they knew about al-Qaeda operatives.

But in addressing one problem, TIDE has spawned others. Ballooning from fewer than 100,000 files in 2003 to about 435,000, the growing database threatens to overwhelm the people who manage it. “The single biggest worry that I have is long-term quality control,” said Russ Travers, in charge of TIDE at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean. “Where am I going to be, where is my successor going to be, five years down the road?”

TIDE has also created concerns about secrecy, errors and privacy. The list marks the first time foreigners and U.S. citizens are combined in an intelligence database. The bar for inclusion is low, and once someone is on the list, it is virtually impossible to get off it. At any stage, the process can lead to “horror stories” of mixed-up names and unconfirmed information, Travers acknowledged.

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A Look At The TimesSelect Model [9:46 am]

Whoa. Just: Whoa.

TimesSelect, the fee-based product on that includes The Times’s distinctive columnists and extensive access to its archives, currently has approximately 639,000 subscribers, with about 66% receiving TimesSelect as a benefit of their home-delivery subscriptions and 34% receiving it from online-only subscriptions.

34% of 639,000 = 217,260 paying subscribers.

Assuming all of these people are paying full freight yearly subscriptions–not guaranteed, that–that’s $10.9 million in revenue.

Is it worth $10.9 million to the Times for it to wall off its columnists? You tell me.

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With the Converstion To Digital TV, A New Opportunity [6:33 am]

Or not: Hot Spectrum Draws Cash, and Ideals

“This offers the potential for a real game changer in broadband spectrum,” said John M. R. Kneuer, assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department. “It can both generate new innovation and lower prices.”

The airwaves in question are in the 700-megahertz band, a segment used until now for UHF television but freed up by the move to digital broadcasting. Unless Congress reverses itself, those frequencies are scheduled to be reclaimed by the government and reallocated for public safety and commercial broadband networks on Feb. 19, 2009.

Mr. Kneuer points out that because the new band is at a lower frequency than today’s cellular and digital wireless services, it has a far greater range as well as the ability to penetrate the walls of homes and office buildings more effectively.

That could enable a new entrant to build out a broadband service dedicated to mobile devices — a sector considered to have greater growth potential than conventional voice services. This could be done quickly and relatively inexpensively with just a few transmission towers and then filled in with additional capacity as new customers join the network.

“This is the realization of a truly national wireless Internet,” said Reed E. Hundt, a former F.C.C. chairman.

[...] “This spectrum could catalyze tremendous innovation,” said Kevin Werbach, assistant professor of legal studies at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. “However, if the auction process is focused on raising the most amount of money for the government, it might prove counterproductive for the larger economic interests of the country.”

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March 25, 2007

A Business in Transition? Or Lacking In Product? Imagination? [10:57 pm]

The Album, a Commodity in Disfavor

Now that the three young women in Candy Hill, a glossy rap and R&B trio, have signed a record contract, they are hoping for stardom. On the schedule: shooting a music video and visiting radio stations to talk up their music.

But the women do not have a CD to promote. Universal/Republic Records, their label, signed Candy Hill to record two songs, not a complete album.

“If we get two songs out, we get a shot,” said Vatana Shaw, 20, who formed the trio four years ago, “Only true fans are buying full albums. Most people don’t really do that anymore.”

To the regret of music labels everywhere, she is right: fans are buying fewer and fewer full albums. In the shift from CDs to digital music, buyers can now pick the individual songs they like without having to pay upward of $10 for an album.

[...] One of the biggest reasons for the shift, analysts say, is that consumers — empowered to cherry-pick — are forgoing album purchases after years of paying for complete CD’s with too few songs they like. There are still cases where full albums succeed — the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ double-CD “Stadium Arcadium,” with a weighty 28 tracks, has sold almost two million copies. But the overall pie is shrinking.

In some ways, the current climate recalls the 1950s and to some extent, the 60s, when many popular acts sold more singles than albums. It took greatly influential works like The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” to turn the album into pop music’s medium of choice.

But the music industry’s cost structure is far higher than it was when Bob Dylan picked up an electric guitar. Today’s costs — from television ads and music videos to hefty executive salaries — are still built on blockbuster albums.

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Bezos’ Mechanical Turk [1:01 pm]

Artificial Intelligence, With Help From the Humans

COMPUTERS still do some things very poorly. Even when they pool their memory and processors in powerful networks, they remain unevenly intelligent. Things that humans do with little conscious thought, such as recognizing patterns or meanings in images, language or concepts, only baffle the machines.

[...] The problem has prompted a spooky, but elegant, business idea: why not use the Web to create marketplaces of willing human beings who will perform the tasks that computers cannot? Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of, has created Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online service involving human workers, and he has also personally invested in a human-assisted search company called ChaCha. Mr. Bezos describes the phenomenon very prettily, calling it “artificial artificial intelligence.”

“Normally, a human makes a request of a computer, and the computer does the computation of the task,” he said. “But artificial artificial intelligences like Mechanical Turk invert all that. The computer has a task that is easy for a human but extraordinarily hard for the computer. So instead of calling a computer service to perform the function, it calls a human.”

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Interview with Jonathan Lethem [10:19 am]

The author of the Ecstasy of Influence: Writing in the free world

“You Don’t Love Me Yet” is about low-rent indie musicians with day jobs. Musicians like that often have little or no label support behind them and find themselves on a perpetual tour wagon, earning most of their cash through selling T-shirts — that is, selling the byproducts of their lovely songs. When I jump on my pro-copyright horse, I have to say these musicians may be wrecking their personal relationships by touring all the time, and then when they enter their elderly years, which for an indie band may be their 30s…

Yes, yes, they have no intellectual property to help them out in the old age home. The first thing I want to say is that it’s entirely a fiction of what I’ll call, for the sake of this argument, the opposition — corporate, copyright absolutists — that to question the present privatization craze in any way is to vote for some anarchic abolition of copyright.

I make my living by licensing my copyright. Everything I’ve tried to say, in the Harper’s essay and elsewhere, is that there is an enormous middle ground. It becomes one of those issues like, “If you don’t favor wiretapping in the U.S., you must be for the terrorists.” What I’m seeking to explore is that incredibly fertile middle ground where people control some rights and gain meaningful benefits from those controls, and yet contribute to a healthy public domain and systematically relinquish, or have relinquished for them, meaningless controls on culture that impoverish the public domain.

Having said that, there’s no simple description. There’s an enormously intricate series of judgments, given technological variations and the differences between different mediums. There’s no simple standard to apply. It’s a matter of understanding the needs of a healthy public domain and a healthy creative incentive in every field in deep and intricate specifics.

But I will say this: Problems of artists, musicians, writers, anyone getting paid for doing their most free and creative and independent kind of work, are not new ones. The present realm of corporate-instigated maximization of the intellectual property concept doesn’t seem to have kept indie bands from touring.

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March 23, 2007

A Victory for the Fair Use Project [3:28 pm]

Shloss v. Estate of James Joyce: Settlement

But this is only the first in what I expect will be a series of cases defending the rights of academics against improperly aggressive copyright holders.

See also this: An Important Victory For Carol Shloss, Scholarship And Fair Use

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A Replay of the Fight [11:17 am]

To wit — can a third party store copies of something that they don’t own, at the behest of those who have paid for the right to use that something, and replay it for them later? Cablevision loses suit on network DVRs - pdf

A federal judge has ruled against Cablevision Systems Corp.’s experiment with network digital video recorders, siding with Hollywood studios who said the devices would have violated copyright law.

The case has been closely followed in the cable industry since Cablevision, a New York-area company with about 3 million subscribers, had been the first to try to put the service into use, despite opposition from the studios.

Unlike a standard set-top digital video recorder with a built-in hard drive, which allows TV viewers to store and play back shows when they like and also to skip through commercials, a network DVR would allow any customer with a digital set-top box to record and play back shows in the same way, with the programs being stored in remote computer servers maintained by Cablevision.

Several studios and cable networks sued Cablevision, saying the company didn’t get their permission to rebroadcast the programs.

Cablevision argued that because the control of the recording and playback was in the hands of the consumer, and not Cablevision, the devices were compliant with copyright law.

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Building Constituencies, Any Way That Works [9:28 am]

An interesting look at how Israel is using the WWW: Israel goes on the virtual offensive

For the moment at least, the state of Israel has 553 friends. One of them is Leonardo DiCaprio.

The 20-something Israeli official who is showing me Israel’s new MySpace page, however, says she isn’t sure if the link to the Hollywood heartthrob really leads to him. We’re sitting in the offices of the Israeli Consulate in New York, where Israel’s official MySpace page was launched in January under the direction of officials from the Foreign Ministry. The 20-something official mentions that the Philippines also now has its own MySpace page, adding excitedly, “They’re one of our friends, too. Isn’t that nice?”

[...] The MySpace page is part of a wider effort, including Internet television and other online initiatives, led by an Israeli diplomat named David Saranga. Under Saranga’s direction, Israel hopes to reach out to young Americans by adding some hip and stylish gloss to Israel’s image and building a greater sense of connection in the process. Citing research on Israel’s image in the United States, Saranga told me recently: “We saw that we had a problem with the age group of 18 to 35, and the reason is that this group doesn’t see Israel as relevant. So we have to talk to them in their language, in platforms that they are using, and the new media is one of the ways to do so.”

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A Letter from the Front Lines [8:55 am]

My National Security Letter Gag Order - pdf

It is the policy of The Washington Post not to publish anonymous pieces. In this case, an exception has been made because the author — who would have preferred to be named — is legally prohibited from disclosing his or her identity in connection with receipt of a national security letter. The Post confirmed the legitimacy of this submission by verifying it with the author’s attorney and by reviewing publicly available court documents.

[...] Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand — a context that the FBI still won’t let me discuss publicly — I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

[...] Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case — including the mere fact that I received an NSL — from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

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Opening A Door To Innovation [8:50 am]

The FCC’s rejection defines the parameters of a technical problem that probably could be solved. But, do you really *want* cellphone use on an airplane? Chief Says F.C.C. Is Against Cellphone Use on Airliners

The Federal Communications Commission will give up on the idea of allowing cellphone use on airplanes, the chairman said on Thursday, because it is not clear whether the network on the ground can handle the calls.

While the chairman, Kevin J. Martin, cited a technical reason, thousands of air passengers have written to the F.C.C., urging rejection of the proposal because of the potential for irritating passengers in airline cabins. The Federal Aviation Administration had been laying the groundwork to allow in-flight cellphone use

Later: A Flood of Pleas to F.C.C.: No Phones on Planes, Please Is this really what the FCC is supposed to be considering?

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March 2007
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