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July 23, 2007

The Joys of (Accessible) Openness [2:04 pm]

Sub photo could help sink Google in China

On July 5, researcher Hans Kristensen posted what he believes is the first photo of the Jin-class submarine to the Strategic Security blog on the Web site of the Federation of American Scientists, a nuclear weapons research and opposition group. The photo, taken from Google Earth, is accompanied by coordinates for six other Chinese submarine bases on the same page.

Although it was the People’s Liberation Army Navy that docked the alleged new sub outdoors, in full view not only of the commercial satellites that Google uses but also those employed by the U.S. and other militaries, that doesn’t mean that China’s growing blue-water force will take kindly to being put on display.

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Speaking of the NFL’s IPR … [1:44 pm]

Wary of Infringing Rival Games, Take-Two Calls Up Football’s Golden Oldies

Until three years ago, Take-Two put out a popular series called NFL 2K, which featured big-name players in the league. It sold well, though not nearly as well as the leading football video game, Madden NFL, which was owned by Take-Two’s top rival, Electronic Arts.

But the dynamics changed late in 2004, when Electronic Arts entered into an exclusive, five-year agreement with the National Football League and Players Inc., the licensing and marketing subsidiary of the N.F.L. Players Association, to develop, publish and distribute football video games. The pact ended the ability of Take-Two to feature current N.F.L. players in its games.

Rather than admitting defeat, Take-Two fought back. Last week it introduced a game featuring retired National Football League players, who are not covered under the deal with Electronic Arts.

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Liebowitz Study Gets New Push (updated) [11:54 am]

Radio Listeners Seem to Buy Less Music

The study, written by Stan Liebowitz, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, compared record sales and music radio listening in some 100 American cities from 1998 to 2003. It found that, very roughly, an hour’s worth of radio listening per person per day, over the course of a year, corresponded with a 0.75 drop in the number of albums purchased per capita in a given city. Professor Liebowitz has proposed that people use radio listening as a substitute for buying music.

According to the article, the MusicFirst Coalition is pushing this but, if so, it’s quite well hidden on their WWW page — look in their FAQ for the link. (local copy)

Heading over to the U of T, it looks like his homepage is down, and here’s the only link I can find for the study at UTD. Luckily, the Google cache gets me through to at least this — The Elusive Symbiosis: The Impact of Radio on the Record Industry; Review of Economic Research on Copyright Issues, 2004, v.1(1), pp.92-118 (local copy)

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And What’s Going On Under The Covers? [10:13 am]

This is going to require a little scrutiny: Podcasters Unite to Figure Out a Role for Ads

Industry executives say they have closed in on a solution in recent months, which means that consumers may have a much wider array of free audio (and video) content coming to them, if they can stand a little advertising to go along with it.

The effort is a multifront initiative, starting with improvements in technology. Companies have begun distributing media files that stay connected to publishers, giving them a way to track the number of times that advertisements have been heard or viewed, or replace old advertisements.

At the same time, about 15 companies, including Apple and NPR, announced last week the formation of a new industry group, the Association for Downloadable Media, that will help executives improve methods for creating, distributing and tracking advertisements in podcasts.

[...] Susan Bratton, who helped form the Association for Downloadable Media, said her experience as the chief executive of Personal Life Media, which produces audio podcasts on a range of subjects, helped convince her that more industry cooperation was needed to make podcasting a viable business.

Among other things, Ms. Bratton said that technology companies, marketers and publishers need to agree on standard methods for packaging and delivering advertisements, and tracking the number of times an advertisement is heard. Also, there is no consensus on how best to design an advertisement within a podcast. As a result, marketers, advertising agencies and publishers cannot efficiently implement big campaigns across multiple sites.

While I imagine there are lots of cool ideas, I wonder how the privacy side of this possibly can work.

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Using The Medium [10:02 am]

Crossing Out, for Emphasis

For Dickens, the strike-through — a visible line drawn through a word or sentence — was a way to erase a word from the reader’s eye (and indeed the stricken sections from his manuscripts didn’t appear in the printed versions of his books).

But in Internet culture, the strike-through has already taken on an ironic function, as a ham-fisted way of having it both ways in type a witty way of simultaneously commenting on your prose as you create it.

Writers on the Internet don’t know how good they have it. They can only play around so casually with their own “corrections” because they are so easy to make. (If you were truly worried about conveying basic meaning unprecedented insights about communication, you wouldn’t mess around with editing tools.)

This facility in writing, rewriting and overwriting is seemingly a breakthrough unique to the Internet Age, although the strike-through itself dates back to at least medieval manuscripts .

[...] Karl Fogel, president of the Subversion Corporation, which produces open-source version control software, says illustratively that in Subversion’s case, “the command that shows what person touched what file is called Blame.” He said that after someone objected, the software was changed to include the duplicate command, Praise, “but no one uses it,” he quickly added.

Mr. Fogel is one of those creators of technology who see more than the mere convenience of what he is bringing to the world. He sees its power to shape public behavior.

Think of what version control software could mean for the Congress, he was quoted as saying recently at Tim O’Reilly’s blog . If bills were created under a system where strike-throughs and additions were carefully tracked, the public would know which legislator made which change to a proposed piece of legislation as it made its way through the Capitol.

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Seems Odd To Me [9:59 am]

But I know that textbooks are expensive; it will be interesting to see if this firm can spin gold from what Reed Elsevier and others believe is just straw: Deals in Textbook Business Make Irishman a Leader in U.S. Publishing

Analysts say private equity has been attracted to the educational business by steady cash flows, a relative lack of competition and expectations that spending will increase in the coming years as states like California step up textbook replacement programs.

Yet companies like Reed Elsevier, Thomson and Wolters Kluwer have been willing to leave the business because educational publishing has lagged behind areas like medical, legal and scientific publishing in the shift to digital distribution, analysts say.

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Thinking Hard, Working Hard In The Music Biz [9:56 am]

The evolving business model: Oops! …They Did It Again

Since the sale, Zomba, which includes Jive Records and the gospel label Verity, has managed to defy the industry’s troubles by discovering new artists, like the R&B singer Chris Brown and the rockers Three Days Grace, while keeping costs down — a tough task in a field given to financial excess.

Johnny Wright, a talent manager overseeing acts including Mr. Timberlake and the Backstreet Boys, remarked, “They overanalyze every penny that’s spent to make sure it’s not just frivolous money being thrown away.” He added: “As a manager of an artist, you want a $2 million video budget. Do you really need one? At the time that you’re involved in it, you’re feeling a little frustrated,” but “at the end of the day you’ve made a decent video, and you have an artist that’s actually getting a royalty check.”

There is little argument that the label’s sales and market share have slid sharply from their pinnacle during the teen pop sales surge; the industry itself has buckled under the weight of widespread piracy and other woes.

But if any of the corporate-owned labels can be described as succeeding these days, Mr. Weiss’s is one of the few. Zomba has increased its share of new-release sales almost 20 percent so far this year, even as sales of new albums industrywide have dropped 16.5 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan data. It has remained consistently profitable, having generated more than $40 million in profit last year on well over $200 million in revenue, according to executives briefed on the label’s business.

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Gotta Keep Trying, I Guess [9:52 am]

But, really: Barbie Gets Another Accessory: An MP3 Player and More Stuff on Her Web Site

A new doll hitting retail shelves this week is familiar in many ways — she’s got outfits galore — but she also has some unusual features: this Barbie, who is smaller and less shapely than her standard namesake, functions as an MP3 music player.

And when her feet are plugged into the iPodesque docking station that she comes with, she unlocks pages and pages of games, virtual shops and online chatting functions on the BarbieGirls.com Web site.

The new doll is a roundabout way of charging for online content. Instead of asking young Web surfers to punch in their parents’ credit card numbers, BarbieGirls.com and other sites are sending customers to a real-world toy store first. Some of these sites (like the Barbie one) can be used in a limited way without purchasing merchandise — the better to whet young appetites — but others, like the popular Webkinz site, are of little or no use without a store-bought product or two (or three, or a dozen).

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A California Initiative To Protect Images [8:08 am]

Literally. The real question, of course, is whether this will lead to “protection” of images or merely protection of “revenue” — and how would you know the difference anyway? IPR run amok — and a demonstration of the degree to which the notion of value and property have become conflated. For example, I had to post the rhetorical trick used on the front page teaser for the story: Bill attempts to protect dead stars’ imagespdf

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), a television star in the 1960s, has won preliminary approval of legislation that would bolster the “postmortem right of publicity” held by the heirs of famous people to control the use of their images, voices, signatures and likenesses for commercial purposes.

The bill would apply such rights to celebrities who died before 1985 and would retroactively allow them to be passed to nonrelatives. Opponents of the legislation say that it could retroactively nullify publicity rights that have been in the public domain or held by relatives of hundreds of dead actors and artists, and trigger a flood of lawsuits.

If it becomes law, “this is going to cause pandemonium in the courts,” said Surjit Soni, a Pasadena attorney representing a company founded by the late Milton H. Greene, a Monroe photographer.

[...] “This bill is a recognition of the right to publicize and use an image as a kind of property right that extends beyond death and can be willed as a kind of personal property,” Kuehl said. “The image of a celebrity is not something the public can use generally … no matter how popular the celebrity is.”

[...] “My clients owned the copyright on the photos,” Soni said. “These celebrities voluntarily posed for these photos. They filed model release forms.”

[...] But Soni asserted that the Kuehl bill could retroactively alter rights to the images of hundreds of other celebrities, including Walt Disney. “It creates potential for litigation and strife,” he said.

The bill’s opponents also argue that it “effects an unlawful taking of property, violates due process [and] unconstitutionally impairs existing contracts of not only photographers, but also the studios and other business.”

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Patent Legislation Fight … [7:56 am]

On the pages of today’s Boston Globe. As you might expect, only part of the story gets cited, but we are probably entering an interesting stage of the fight in Congress:

  • An editorial that, at least, describes the scope of the conflict being played out in Congress right now: Patently flawedpdf

    The strongest advocates for changing the law are high-tech firms that often find themselves sued by patent holders who contend that their inventions are being used without license. Lawyers for the high-tech companies have taken to calling these patent holders “patent trolls” and accuse them of bringing suit in federal courts in places like eastern Texas, which has a reputation for favoring plaintiffs in these cases. The high-tech firms want to limit this venue-shopping by patent holders and the damages they can get if their claims are upheld. The firms also want more opportunity to challenge new patents after they have been approved.

    On the other side are the pharmaceutical industry, biotech firms, research universities, and even some high-tech companies. They say they would welcome some changes in the patent system but worry that bills now before Congress would seriously weaken the patents that are their lifeblood. Lita Nelsen , director of the Technology Licensing Office of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says, “Only patents protect the little guy,” and points out that the vast majority of biotech startups depend on university patents.

  • And an op-ed: A fresh look at patent lawspdf. Note, this is a particularly lame piece, failing to actually talk about what’s at stake and instead focusing on some of the least interesting dimensions of the problem. For example:

    Instead, today’s patent challengers can calculate damages in a lawsuit based on the value of the entire product, not the specific component in question. For example, a lawsuit can claim the worth of an entire computer, when only one computer chip is being challenged. It’s not only excessive, it’s an obstacle to new, innovative discoveries.

    Surprisingly, patent challengers can also navigate the system to find the “friendliest” courts to their cause, making places like Texas a popular spot even for companies that have no actual ties to the state. Nationwide, patent lawsuits nearly tripled between 1991 and 2004; between 2001 and 2004, the number of cases grew by nearly 20 percent.

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Guerilla Movie Distribution [7:44 am]

Not what you think: Rebel movies, with a causepdf

At Guerilla Drive-In screenings, you don’t shell out $12 for tickets or stretch out in stadium seats. Instead, you join a hundred or more cinema fans draped in blankets and hunkered down amid the weeds, watching films projected onto random walls.

Guerilla Drive-in has been a semi-underground summer diversion in Santa Cruz since 2002.

If you’re a believer, you grab a beach chair and a sweat shirt every other Friday night for free screenings of DVDs outdoors, enveloped by the chilly Santa Cruz fog.

[...] Being Santa Cruz, it also has a political flavor that’s half zany and half in-your-face.

“It’s about getting people together to do something very deliberately outside the realm of commerce,” said artist Rico Thunder, a creator of “industrial whimsy” who is a driving force behind Guerilla Drive-In. “It’s about reclaiming public space.”

[...] On this Friday night, though, the chosen locale for “The Matrix” was beneath the Soquel Avenue bridge spanning the San Lorenzo River — a spot where police shut down a showing of “The Third Man” a couple of years ago because parkland was being used after hours. Both financially and philosophically, Guerilla Drive-In is opposed to acquiring the permits it would need for the use of public property after dark.

Original LATimes piece: Movies, with a bit of makeshift magicpdf

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