November 19, 2007

A Look At Comcast’s P2P Network Shaping [12:03 pm]

Mounting Peer-to-Peer Pressure for Comcastpdf

The Comcast controversy strikes at the heart of some of the biggest debates engulfing technology, including how much control network operators should have over the flow of information and entertainment over their systems and how aggressively they ought to monitor content and adjust delivery speeds. Comcasts moves reflect a basic assumption that peer-to-peer networks are primarily used to send pirated material, including songs, TV shows, and full-length movies. Specifically, charges have focused on Comcasts throttling of files sent using a peer-to-peer standard called BitTorrent that by some measures is as popular for sending video today as Napster NAPS was for sending music in the late 1990s.

But reaching conclusions over the fairness of Comcasts moves and the legitimacy of peer-to-peer content wont be easy, since not all peer-to-peer traffic is made up of ripped-off tunes and flicks. Companies such as Joost, Vuze, and even BitTorrent—whose founder, Bram Cohen, created the original peer-to-peer protocol—have struck deals to use peer-to-peer technology to distribute programming by dozens of mainline content owners such as CBS CBS, PBS, and Viacoms VIA Showtime. These content owners see peer-to-peer techniques as a promising means to go from todays grainy YouTube-quality content to deliver full high-definition resolution to consumers via the Internet.

What’s more, many experts contend that Comcast and other network owners will never succeed in accurately filtering out peer-to-peer traffic, and certainly not just the illegal stuff. Files can be easily disguised to avoid detection with a few programming tricks—say, adding some descriptive bits to make a movie clip look like an e-mail.

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November 18, 2007

Positioning for Black Friday [12:55 pm]

What to Do When Goliaths Roar?

For the last several years, Wal-Mart Stores and other large chains have threatened legal action to intimidate Web sites that get hold of advertising circulars early and publish prices online ahead of company-set release dates. The retailers’ threats rest upon some dubious legal arguments, however, which may be the reason they haven’t shown a keen interest in actually going to court over the issue.

Wal-Mart has been among the most aggressive retailers in trying to cow consumer Web sites. Last month, it sent a cease-and-desist letter to BFAds.net, a site devoted to publishing Black Friday ads. Wal-Mart sent the letter even before BFAds had published Wal-Mart’s sale prices, so the cease-and-desist letter would be more properly called a “don’t even think about it” letter.

Wal-Mart asserts that its sales-price data are “protected by copyright and other laws.” The “other laws” were never identified or explained in the letter, and the claim of copyright protection for facts themselves, like sales prices, that exist separately from their original expression was rejected by the courts long ago. In a 1991 case, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that names and phone numbers in a telephone directory could not be copyrighted and thus could be freely copied.

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November 16, 2007

The Workplace and Privacy [12:16 pm]

A couple of articles from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s WWW site:

  • Boeing bosses spy on workerspdf

    Within its bowels, The Boeing Co. holds volumes of proprietary information deemed so valuable that the company has entire teams dedicated to making sure that private information stays private.

    One such team, dubbed “enterprise” investigators, has permission to read the private e-mails of employees, follow them and collect video footage or photos of them. Investigators can also secretly watch employee computer screens in real time and reproduce every keystroke a worker makes, the Seattle P-I has learned.

    For years, Boeing workers have held suspicions about being surveilled, according to a long history of P-I contact with sources, but at least three people familiar with investigation tactics have recently confirmed them.

  • GPS pays off for cities as it tracks workerspdf

    GPS tracking devices installed on government-issue vehicles are helping communities around the country reduce waste and abuse, in part by catching employees shopping, working out at the gym or otherwise loafing while on the clock.

    The use of GPS has led to firings, stoking complaints from employees and unions that the devices are intrusive, Big Brother technology. But city officials say that monitoring employees’ movements has deterred abuses, saving the taxpayers money in gasoline and lost productivity.

    “We can’t have public resources being used on private activities. That’s Management 101,” said Phil Nolan, supervisor of the Long Island town of Islip.

  • At work, all e-mail can be publicpdf

    By now, most employees have gotten the message: It’s both technically possible and legally permissible for your employer to read e-mail you send or receive at work.

    That seems logical. If you’re using an e-mail address ending with your company’s name — a type of e-mail known as POP3 (Post Office Protocol) — the address makes it clear that the company owns the domain name and the server on which the e-mail system resides.

    But what about Web-based e-mail, such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail?

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Missed This Hearing [11:17 am]

What I get for checking in on the Committee Hearing list: Exploring the Scope of Public Performance Rights, with testimony from Lyle Lovett, Alice Peacock, Steven W. Newberry (for the NAB) and Dan Devany (a classical music radio station manager in DC). The topic at issue — payments for radio broadcasts of music to performers. A surprisingly balanced set of testimony, in fact.

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Well, Color Me Surprised! [11:12 am]

Of course, it’s not even close to the end of this fight, but I really expected a different outcome: Panel Drops Immunity From Eavesdropping Bill

Reflecting the deep divisions within Congress over granting legal immunity to telephone companies for cooperating with the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a new domestic surveillance law on Thursday that sidestepped the issue.

By a 10 to 9 vote, the committee approved an overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that dropped a key provision for immunity for telecommunications companies that another committee had already approved. The Senate leadership will have to decide how to deal with the immunity question on the Senate floor.

On Thursday night, the House voted 227 to 189, generally along party lines, to approve its own version of the FISA bill, which also does not include immunity.

But the administration has made clear that President Bush will veto any bill that does not include what it considers necessary tools for government eavesdropping, including the retroactive immunity for phone carriers that took part in the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

I can’t find the vote tally for S. 2248, but I guess it was party line.

A blow-by-blow from Glenn Greenwald: Important day for FISA and amnesty

Now, the next step will be focused on Sen. Reid. He has virtually unlimited discretion to decide what version of the bill to introduce to the full Senate. He could introduce the Intelligence Committee version (with amnesty), the Judiciary Committee version (without amnesty), the House version, or he could just introduce something entirely new altogether, something that gets negotiated between Rockefeller, Leahy and Reid.

Even under the best-case scenario — namely, Reid introduces a bill which does not contain amnesty — anyone can (and certainly will) offer an amendment to include amnesty in the bill, and no matter what happens, it will be necessary to find 41 Senators willing to support Dodd’s filibuster to keep amnesty out of the bill. [...]

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November 15, 2007

OT: Ignorance and Venture Money [5:31 pm]

Seriously, where do these guys find the suckers? I cannot believe that there’s that much dumb venture money out there, but that’s what I get for actually knowing something about this particular topic: Taking a Whack at Making a Car. Dave Cole sticks it to them, but the tagline of the article is everything noxious about these sorts of folks:

“We’re not two gearheads,” Mr. Levine said. “We’re not two mechanics in a garage with a dream. We’re two entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity and came up with a business model.”

Buzzword bingo, anyone?

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Nicely Put [3:34 pm]

The smart way around telecom immunity

If the administration really cared about the telecoms, it would simply allow them to use these legal documents to defend themselves in court.

But it wont. Instead, the administration invokes a little-known rule of evidence called the state secrets privilege, which allows the executive branch to avoid revealing evidence—or even litigating cases—if it claims that doing so might reveal a “state secret.” Bush lawyers have used the state secrets privilege to convince a federal appeals court to dismiss an ACLU lawsuit against the National Security Agency asking a court to declare the spying program illegal. And in the cases that have been brought against the telecoms, the administration has invoked the same privilege to argue that courts cant let the cases go forward because the telecoms would be in the unfair position of not being able to defend themselves—because, of course, the administration wont let the companies turn over the relevant documents. Retroactive immunity isnt about letting the telecoms off the hook. Its about hiding the administrations own legal claims from any judicial or public scrutiny. The administration wants to keep these cases out of court so it can cover up for itself.

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I’m Shocked, Shocked That Politicking Is Going On Here! [9:39 am]

Who’d a thunk it? Head of Cable Lobby Condemns FCC Reportpdf

The head of the cable television industry’s lobbying group yesterday took aim at the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, blasting his attempts to place new regulations on cable companies while accusing the agency of manipulating data.

Kyle McSlarrow, president and chief executive of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, disputed a pending FCC report that suggests cable companies reach enough households to warrant additional oversight. He also said that FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin is using the threat of regulation to pressure cable companies into offering channels on an a la carte basis, which would let subscribers pay for only the stations they want.

Cable operators have opposed a la carte pricing, a hot-button issue for Martin.

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Testing the Committment to Net Neutrality [8:06 am]

Comcast sued over Web interferencepdf

A San Francisco Bay area subscriber to Comcast Corp.’s high-speed Internet service has sued the company, alleging it engages in unfair business practices by interfering with subscribers’ file sharing.

Subscriber Jon Hart based his claims on the results of an investigation by the Associated Press published last month that showed Philadelphia-based Comcast actively interferes with attempts some high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online.

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November 14, 2007

A Prediction That Will Make You Cry [7:49 pm]

Welcome to America 2007: AT&T to Sell Equipment to Monitor Workplaces

AT&T plans to introduce a nationwide program today that gives owners of small- and medium-size businesses some of the same tools big security companies offer for monitoring employees, customers and operations from remote locations.

Under AT&T’s Remote Monitor program, a business owner could install adjustable cameras, door sensors and other gadgets at up to five different company locations across the country.

Using a Java-enabled mobile device or a personal computer connected to the Internet, the owner would be able to view any of the images in real time, control room lighting and track equipment temperatures remotely. All the images are recorded on digital video, which can be viewed for up to 30 days.

“It is Big Brother, but in this day and age, you need these type of tools” [...]

The prediction? The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them. - V. I. Lenin

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Using Copyright To Stifle Dissent [3:10 pm]

Disconnects between the law, its intent and common practice: Russia Casts A Selective Net in Piracy Crackdownpdf

The newspaper Novaya Gazeta, one of the last outposts of critical journalism in Russia, suspended publication of its regional edition in the southern city of Samara on Monday after prosecutors opened a criminal case against its editor, alleging that his publication used unlicensed software.

The case is part of a larger assault on independent news media, advocacy organizations and political activists, according to government critics. But it is one that is specifically tailored to deflect foreign criticism.

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Two Stories on the FCC’s Martin Media Consolidation Proposal [9:59 am]

  • Tribune future hinges on FCCpdf

    For Tribune, the Martin plan would be a positive because it would allow the company to keep both The Times and KTLA-TV Channel 5 in Los Angeles and newspaper and TV combinations in three other markets. But it could also complicate an $8.2-billion deal to take Tribune private by the end of the year.

    The company probably would have to sell either its newspaper or two TV stations in Hartford, Conn., as well as its Chicago radio station, WGN-AM (720). And it might have to make another sale in Chicago, where it owns WGN-TV Channel 9 and the Chicago Tribune.

    Martin proposed prohibiting a company from owning a newspaper and a TV station in the top 20 markets if the TV station is one of the four largest in that market. WGN wasn’t in October — but it has been as high No. 2 in recent months.

  • Few Friends for Proposal on Media

    For 32 years, supporters of the restriction have maintained that it prevents the growth of ever- larger media conglomerates and helps to keep diverse voices on the airwaves.

    These critics denounced Mr. Martin’s proposal for containing what they said were loopholes that could lead to widespread consolidation.

    At the same time, however, the newspaper industry’s main trade association and an executive at the Tribune Company separately criticized the plan and said it would not go nearly far enough to help them.

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An LATimes Columnist Looks At Privacy [9:49 am]

Public’s privacy is on the linepdf

“Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won,” Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, said in a speech last month at an intelligence conference, the contents of which only now have come to light. “Anyone that’s typed in their name on Google understands that.”

Privacy, he concluded, “is a system of laws, rules and customs with an infrastructure of inspectors general, oversight committees and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured.”

This Orwellian outlook comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Thursday on whether telecom companies should be granted immunity for assisting the Bush administration in its warrantless spying program.

To see whether Kerr’s position is shared by others, I ventured to the well-heeled, macchiato-drinking community of Brentwood, where I figured people would take matters of privacy especially seriously.

It’s been my experience that people with lots of money and lots of lawyers tend to be the touchiest about intrusions into their private lives.

[...] If you want to give away the store on your MySpace page, so be it. But that’s your choice. Neither the government nor corporate entities have any business poking around your personal life without probable cause, and that means a court warrant.

As for anonymity being dead, tell that to the oil-industry bigwigs who met with Vice President Dick Cheney around the time of the California power crisis in 2001 to discuss national energy policy. Cheney and Bush say the names of meeting participants need to be kept under wraps to protect their privacy so they can dispense candid advice.

Anonymity is clearly very much alive when it suits the administration’s needs.

In his speech, Kerr called for a “productive debate” that “focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety.”

We’ve already had that debate. The result was the legal concept of due process. Nothing’s changed.

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November 13, 2007

Farhad Manjoo On Rowling’s Copyright Claims [7:51 pm]

Two posts in the Machinist blog to ponder:

  • J.K. Rowling’s Crucio curse on fan’s Harry Potter book

    In the past, [J. K.] Rowling has offered high praise for the [Harry Potter Lexicon]. “This is such a great site that I have been known to sneak into an Internet cafe while out writing and check a fact rather than go into a bookshop and buy a copy of Harry Potter (which is embarrassing),” she says on her site. She calls the HPL “a website for the dangerously obsessive; my natural home.”

    Thanks to such acclaim, Vander Ark recently landed a publishing contract with RDR Books to put out a printed version of the online lexicon. His book was to have gone on sale this fall.

    You might suppose that given her appreciation of the online HPL, Rowling would have encouraged the book’s publication and sale. But you’d be wrong. On Halloween, Rowling and Warner Bros., which produces the Potter movies, filed suit to stop Vander Ark and RDR from selling the book. Late last week, RDR agreed to halt publication of Vander Ark’s Potter lexicon pending a federal judge’s review.

  • More on why Rowling has it wrong about the Potter lexicon

    In response to my dig at J.K. Rowling for slapping down a fan’s “Harry Potter” reference book, several of you have asked, What if we copied your Machinist posts and tried to make money off of them? Wouldn’t you get mad?

    [...] So the question: Would I get mad if you did this? Would it upset Salon if you did this?

    I hope all of you know the answer is no. We wouldn’t care if you did this. Knock yourself out.

    Be aware, though, that someone’s already beaten you to punch. Someone comes to Salon every day — many times a day, in fact — and pulls down every word we write, and then stores it to his own hard drive.
    Then he analyzes our words and prepares lists of our articles full of items very much like the one above. Worse, this fellow sells ads alongside these lists, making money — a lot of money! — from my brilliant creations. And he has never given us a single dime in return. Were we to ask him for something, I bet he’d laugh at us.

    Who is this thief? Right, it’s Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google. [...]

Of course, the legality of Google’s strategies remain an open question

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Some Tentative Moves [6:23 pm]

It’s going to be really interesting to see how these restrictions translate — too effective and no one will read; too ineffective and Marvel will take its ball and go home: Marvel to give original comics new life onlinepdf

Marvel is putting some of its older comics online today, hoping to reintroduce young people to the X-Men and Fantastic Four by showcasing the original issues in which such characters appeared.

It’s a tentative move to the Internet: Comics can be viewed only in a Web browser, not downloaded, and new issues will not go online for at least six months after they first appear in print.

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EU Says “Wait” on Google/DoubleClick [6:18 pm]

Google Hits European Hurdle on DoubleClick Deal

European Commission competition authorities refused today to approve Google’s $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick, the Internet advertising company, and ordered an in-depth review amid opposition from rivals, publishers and consumer groups.

The commission, which rules on antitrust issues for the 27 countries in the European Union, said the merger raised competition concerns and required a more thorough review of its impact on the Internet advertising business.

[...] In Brussels, many of the mounting objections filed to the commission in recent weeks centered on privacy issues, rather than questions about how a Google-DoubleClick merger would affect competition. A commission spokesman said that by law the commission inquiry could not make an antitrust decision on anything but the market impact.

Later: Google Hits European Hurdle on DoubleClick Deal

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Yahoo! Suit Settled [6:14 pm]

Yahoo Settles Case Over Chinese Dissident E - Mailspdf

Yahoo Inc has settled a lawsuit alleging it aided Chinas prosecution of several dissidents, in a case that prompted criticism of the company for cooperating with an authoritarian government.

Terms were not disclosed in a joint court filing on Tuesday by attorneys for Wang Xiaoning, Yu Ling, Shi Tao and other unnamed parties and defendants Yahoo and its Chinese
affiliates.

The plaintiffs agreed to withdraw their suit in the U.S. federal court for the Northern District of California after the families of Wang and Shi reached a deal with Yahoo, the Internet company said in a statement.

“Plaintiffs and defendants hereby jointly stipulate to dismissal with prejudice of all claims made in this action, based on a private settlement understanding among the parties,” the court filing stated. Yahoo agreed to cover legal costs.

The suit, advanced by the Washington D.C.-based World Organization for Human Rights USA, maintained that Yahoo had benefited financially by working with Chinese authorities. China is the worlds second-largest Internet market.

The advocacy group said that in settling the case, Yahoo and its co-founder and chief executive, Jerry Yang, had bowed to stinging criticism of the company at a televised congressional hearing held in Washington D.C. on November 6.

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Murdoch Makes It Official [12:48 pm]

The ad-based model completes its ascendancy? Wall St. Journal to End Fee for Web - New York Times

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation, said today that he intended to make access to The Wall Street Journal’s Web site free, trading subscription fees for anticipated ad revenue.

“We are studying it and we expect to make that free, and instead of having one million, having at least 10 million-15 million in every corner of the earth,” Mr. Murdoch said, referring to The Journal’s online readership.

The News Corporation has signed an agreement to acquire Dow Jones & Company, and the deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter. A special shareholders meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13 in New York.

Mr. Murdoch said he believed that a free model, with increased readership for wsj.com, will attract “large numbers” of big-spending advertisers.

Later: Murdoch Said to Stress Free Access to Wall St. Journal’s Web Site

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An EU Telecom Initiative Announced [12:22 pm]

The APWire article is a little sketchy: EU pushes for more control over telecomspdf

The European Commission presented plans Tuesday to create a body with the power to separate telecom networks and access providers in order to foster competition and reduce costs for customers.

Going to the EU site, we find these two initiatives:

Digging deeper, there are a host of initiatives. For example: 2007 EU Telecoms Reform #2

A POWERFUL NEW INSTRUMENT

The EU rules give national regulators a flexible toolbox of remedies to tackle market failures. They will give regulators a new instrument, functional separation, for overcoming the main network access bottlenecks in cases where standard remedies have failed. Functional separation would be a good way of combining investment security and the principles of competition.

[infobox]

FUNCTIONAL SEPARATION LEADS TO MORE COMPETITION

Functional separation requires an incumbent operator to separate its network infrastructure from the units
offering services on top of this infrastructure. Although operationally separate business entitities are created, overall ownership will remain unchanged. Functional separation allows network access to both new entrants and the incumbent’s own retail division on the same terms. Incumbents would therefore no longer be able to unfairly discriminate against new entrants. This would fuel competition and at the same time strengthen incentives for the incumbent and for new entrants to invest in networks and services. The United Kingdom has already introduced functional separation, which has in turn allowed for substantial deregulation. Following the announcement of separation, BT’s share price increased. When it began in September 2005, only 105,000 unbundled access lines existed. Since then the number has grown to 3 million. Italy ,Sweden and Poland are also considering introducing it.

The FAQ for the initiative.

Will citizens’ rights to access websites of their choice be guaranteed?

Especially in the United States there has been recently a great amount of discussion regarding the risk that telecoms providers would block access to certain websites for purely commercial reasons. In the EU, the reform will guarantee that your internet service provider must clearly inform you in advance if they impose limitations on accessing certain sites. This information will make it easier for you to decide whether you want to switch to another provider or not. National regulators will also have powers to intervene when the quality of service for transmission (which grants access to online services such as TV, telephony, internet, etc.) could be at risk.

So, that plus functional separation might help to ensure broadband competition — we’ll have to see

Later: some familiar complaints — Broadcasters condemn EU plan to share with phonespdf

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A New Thrust In The Media Consolidation Debate [8:39 am]

The FCC Chairman floats a trial balloon in the NYTimes: The Daily Show

If we don’t act to improve the health of the newspaper industry, we will see newspapers wither and die. Without newspapers, we would be less informed about our communities and have fewer outlets for the expression of independent thinking and a diversity of viewpoints. The challenge is to restore the viability of newspapers while preserving the core values of a diversity of voices and a commitment to localism in the media marketplace.

Eighteen months ago, the Federal Communications Commission began a review, ordered by Congress and the courts, of its media ownership rules. After six public hearings, 10 economic studies and hundreds of thousands of comments, the commission should move forward. The commission should modify only one of the four rules under review — the one that bars ownership of both a newspaper and a broadcast TV or radio station in a single market. And the rule should be modified only for the largest markets.

A company that owns a newspaper in one of the 20 largest cities in the country should be permitted to purchase a broadcast TV or radio station in the same market. But a newspaper should be prohibited from buying one of the top four TV stations in its community. In addition, each part of the combined entity would need to maintain its editorial independence.

Beyond giving newspapers in large markets the chance to buy one local TV or radio station, no other ownership rule would be altered. Other companies would not be allowed to own any more radio or television stations, either in a single market or nationally, than they already do.

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