August 13, 2007

Followup on FCC White Space Device Test [2:53 pm]

FCC tested defective prototype device - pdf

The Federal Communications Commission said on July 31 that the device did not reliably detect unoccupied spectrum and could interfere with other TV programming and wireless microphone signals.

On Monday, Microsoft sent the agency a letter explaining that a subsequent test determined the equipment was defective.

Representatives for Microsoft and other technology companies met with FCC engineers last week and determined the device “was working improperly and an internal component was broken,” Microsoft’s managing director for government affairs, Jack Krumholtz, said in a statement on Monday.

“This accounted for the FCC’s aberrant test results,” Krumholtz said.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

See earlier Not Ready for Prime Time

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Farhad Majoo on Net Neutrality and the BBC [2:36 pm]

Is network neutrality a fake issue? Not if you want to watch the BBC

As several British papers (pdf1, pdf2, pdf3) reported over the weekend, large ISPs have threatened to shut down people’s access to the BBC’s online videos — unless, of course, the BBC pays the ISPs a fee.

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Surprise! [2:30 pm]

Study finds kids justify illegal downloadspdf

Children in Europe are aware of the risks of illegal downloading, but often rationalize their act by saying that everyone — including their parents — is doing it, according to a major European Commission survey.

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Developing Independent Distribution [9:15 am]

Artist, promote thyselfpdf

A full-time career in music seemed unlikely for Chris O’Brien, or at least one that would pay the bills.

But these days, the 27-year-old Medford musician is selling thousands of albums online, along with downloads from his debut CD, “Lighthouse,” and he soon plans to offer T-shirts, tickets, and other merchandise on his MySpace page and personal website.

He credits at least part of his newfound business acumen to nimbit, a sales, promotion, and distribution company in Framingham that helps emerging artists build careers online.

“This is the era of the independent artist,” O’Brien said. “It’s easier and more doable than it ever has been. People are opting to remain independent because there’s a lot more money to be had.”

[...] “Increasingly, recording artists and consumers are uniting and circumventing traditional channels for creating and distributing music,” said Mike Goodman, a media and entertainment analyst at Yankee Group in Boston. “These days, musicians can do business directly with consumers. They don’t need a recording label. They don’t need a store. They don’t need Ticketmaster, the way they used to.”

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Undoing The Myth of Originality? [7:35 am]

Or just wishful thinking from the LATimes? Pop looks to the past for a forward-feeling soundpdf

Consider one of the enduring myths of pop: that originality is paramount. This idea has always been pretty much a lie, given the history of music-making as a borrower’s art. In an essay on the merits of playing copycat published in the February Harper’s, Jonathan Lethem traced the origins of American pop to the “open source” culture of blues and jazz and noted that recording techniques, which allowed for literal duplication of sounds, have steadily enhanced the artful cribbing pop’s innovators employ.

“As examples accumulate,” Lethem writes, “it becomes apparent that appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres in the realm of cultural production.” (Lethem later reveals that he “stole, warped, and cobbled together” his entire essay, including this idea, which came from the book “Owning Culture” by Kembrew McLeod.)

Lethem’s point might seem obvious to any sample-chasing hip-hop fan or Dylanologist who’s traced the master’s loving thefts over the decades. Yet the idea that a song or a sound can be unique remains potent, especially for musicians themselves. Artists like to believe their self-expression is really theirs; perhaps even more importantly, the financial structure of the music industry, which rewards creativity when it’s copyrighted, has upheld the idea that one person can “own” a song.

[...] THIS is why the Internet is killing originality, as an idea, anyway: When every source is so easily available, no one can pretend they’re alone. Scholars such as McLeod and Joanna Demers (”Steal This Music”) have argued about the effects of copyright law on creativity, and last year Timothy English published “Sounds Like Teen Spirit,” a compendium of too-close-for-comfort songs (did you know Nirvana might have re-purposed that famous opening riff from Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”?). But the written word is never as convincing as hearing the musical connections themselves, and the huge archive of recording available online allows for instant comparison.

[...] With the very idea of originality in flux, another trait defines today’s most interesting stars. Distinctiveness is what matters: the ability not to separate from the crowd but to stand out within it. The occasional lawsuit aside, pop stars are now much more willing to wear their influences proudly and make clear how they’re building their own music from them.

Pop that aims for distinctiveness acknowledges its influences, tries to do them one better and, at its best, works real transformation. [...]

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The Facebook Fight [7:21 am]

Who Owns the Concept if No One Signs the Papers?

WHO owns a bright idea? If the technology associated with an idea is new and the opportunities it offers are valuable, it will have many authors — most of whom may argue over ownership.

When disputes over the provenance of an idea become particularly turbid, disappointed entrepreneurs will look to the courts, which often are of little help. As Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School, said, “The general rule is that ideas are free unless strapped down by contract or patent.” In practice, a great idea is owned by whoever expresses that idea most successfully.

[...] The Winklevoss brothers and Divya Narenda, another ConnectU founder, contend that Facebook’s founder stole the idea from them. In a suit filed in 2004, the ConnectU founders accused Mr. Zuckerberg of lifting their site’s source code and business plan when he worked for ConnectU as an unpaid programmer. They are asking that Facebook’s assets be transferred to them.

[...] Ideas, Mr. Feldmann explained, are protected either by trade-secret contracts or by patents and copyrights. “Trade secrets may be maintained indefinitely,” he said, but “it does not appear that ConnectU had Zuckerberg sign a nondisclosure agreement, and disclosing a trade secret to someone without doing so would ordinarily result in loss of any trade secret status.”

At the same time, Mr. Feldmann said, “copyright will not protect ideas themselves, only their expression” — in a Web site’s underlying source code, for instance. But if Mr. Zuckerberg was an unpaid, casual worker at ConnectU, and not an employee, then “he owns the code,” Mr. Feldmann said. [...]

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Google Puts A Wrinkle On News Aggregation [6:30 am]

Names in the News Get a Way to Respond

A growing number of large Web companies like Yahoo, Google and AOL and a menagerie of start-ups like Digg and Topix.net offer a comprehensive menu of news headlines that link to articles elsewhere online. These sites are called news aggregators, and though some have large audiences, the companies that run them have yet to figure out how to turn them into enduring businesses with unique identities.

Nevertheless, the search giant Google, whose Google News is among the largest news aggregators, announced a business based on those who chatter about the news. It is asking the people or companies mentioned in news articles to comment on those reports.

[...] Josh Cohen, the business product manager for Google News, said the feature is consistent with the company’s mission to bring as many news sources online as possible. He said the company would not edit any comments from sources.

Google characterized this as an experiment. Media professionals characterized it less charitably as an effort by engineers who do not understand the impracticalities of such a project on a large scale — for instance, how do you verify a source’s identity or screen for inaccurate statements? — and the potential sensory-deadening impact of long-winded statements.

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