December 31, 2007

Hurrah for the University of Oregon [10:41 pm]

A real educational opportunity taken: In the Fight Over Piracy, a Rare Stand for Privacy

The record industry got a surprise when it subpoenaed the University of Oregon in September, asking it to identify 17 students who had made available songs from Journey, the Cars, Dire Straits, Sting and Madonna on a file-sharing network.

The surprise was not that 20-year-olds listen to Sting. It was that the university fought back.

Represented by the state’s attorney general, Hardy Myers, the university filed a blistering motion to quash the subpoena, accusing the industry of misleading the judge, violating student privacy laws and engaging in questionable investigative practices. Cary Sherman, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the industry had seen “a lot of crazy stuff” filed in response to its lawsuits and subpoenas. “But coming from the office of an attorney general of a state?” Mr. Sherman asked, incredulous. “We found it really surprising and disappointing.”

[...] “People get pushed into settlements,” said Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group. “The Oregon attorney general is showing what a real fight among equals would look like.”

Via p2pnet, the RIAA’s response to the cited filing in the Oregon district court

Also RIAA vs. The People’s latest post on the subject, as well as their overall document archive

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December 30, 2007

DRM Helps Sink Another Content Distribution Project [11:06 pm]

With a surprisingly frank comment from Forester Research: Wal-Mart Pulls Plug on Movies via the Web

Nearly a year ago, Wal-Mart Stores grandly announced plans to enter the movie download business. It has exited with much less fanfare.

Wal-Mart posted a short message on the Web site of its movie download service saying that operation had closed as of Dec. 21. The move went largely unnoticed for a week, an unmistakable sign that the service had not caught on with consumers. Gizmodo.com, an equipment review site, was one of the first to point it out Thursday with a headline: Wal-Mart Kills Video Download Store Before Christmas, No One Notices.

[...] Hewlett-Packard confirmed it indeed has scrapped the project. “The market for paid video downloads has not performed as expected, and the broader Internet video space continues to remain highly dynamic and uncertain,” the company said. H.P. said it has decided to redirect its research and development dollars into higher-growth areas.

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest seller of DVDs. Its quiet abdication of digital downloads at the height of the holiday shopping season, while a stark contrast to the ballyhooed announcement of the service, was consistent with the ho-hum reaction by many consumers to the downloadable movie concept.

[...] In a research note published Friday, Rich Greenfield, an analyst with Pali Capital, said the D.R.M. might have doomed Wal-Mart’s movie service. “We suspect a key reason behind Wal-Mart’s decision to exit the digital video download business was the need for D.R.M., which prevented the content from working with iPods,” he wrote. “Anywhere you look, Apple’s devices are winning, forcing content holders’ hands.”

[...] Its failure in video downloads is not Wal-Mart’s first misstep in its effort to extend its profitable in-store movie business. In 2003, the company introduced a rival to Netflix’s mail-in rental service. Two years later, the company gave up the effort and said it would direct its customers to Netflix’s service.

In an interview last month, Raul Vazquez, chief executive of Wal-Mart.com, emphasized that the movie download service was still experimental: “This has been in beta. We want to understand what the customers want. And I think what we learned is that the initial experience of buying and downloading content needs to be better. We thought it was going to be easier for the customer to understand.”

Now that’s the kind of thinking that leads to business success — “our customers are too dumb to buy what we’re offering.” That’ll bring ‘em in!

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Foxtrot on the DMCA [10:37 pm]

FoxTrot, 2007 December 30 (local copy)

On a related note, see also today’s Opus on the digitization of written works. (local copy)

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December 28, 2007

Globalizing Enclosure By Copyright [11:20 pm]

Unbelievable - copyrighting something long after the creator is gone. But it demonstrates what the current copyrighters are after - perpetual control: Egypt to Copyright Landmarks

Egypt plans to copyright the Pyramids, the Sphinx and various museum pieces and use the royalties from copies to pay for the upkeep of its historic monuments and sites, The Guardian of London reported. Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that legislation approved by a ministerial committee will be presented to the Egyptian Parliament, where it was expected to pass. [...]

From the Guardian article [pdf]

Background: Egypt, Vegas-style

The success of the Egyptian-themed Luxor hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip may be behind the new effort in Egypt to copyright the country’s ancient archaeological wealth.

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December 25, 2007

The Expense of Bit Storage [12:14 am]

The Afterlife Is Expensive for Digital Movies

But then came digital. And suddenly the film industry is wrestling again with the possibility that its most precious assets, the pictures, aren’t as durable as they used to be.

The problem became public, but just barely, last month, when the science and technology council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the results of a yearlong study of digital archiving in the movie business. Titled “The Digital Dilemma,” the council’s report surfaced just as Hollywood’s writers began their walkout. Busy walking, or dodging, the picket lines, industry types largely missed the report’s startling bottom line: To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a conventional film master.

Much worse, to keep the enormous swarm of data produced when a picture is “born digital” — that is, produced using all-electronic processes, rather than relying wholly or partially on film — pushes the cost of preservation to $208,569 a year, vastly higher than the $486 it costs to toss the equivalent camera negatives, audio recordings, on-set photographs and annotated scripts of an all-film production into the cold-storage vault.

All of this may seem counterintuitive. After all, digital magic is supposed to make information of all kinds more available, not less. But ubiquity, it turns out, is not the same as permanence.

An argument for wider dissemination? After all, who but the digital collectors are going to be willing to undertake this archiving, and reframing into newer formats, over time?

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But, What Kind Of Culture Is Being Studied? [12:09 am]

Or, alternatively, what exactly is being studied? On Facebook, Scholars Link Up With Data

To study how personal tastes, habits and values affect the formation of social relationships and how social relationships affect tastes, habits and values, a team of researchers from Harvard and the University of California, Los Angeles, are monitoring the Facebook profiles of an entire class of students at one college, which they declined to name because it could compromise the integrity of their research.

“One of the holy grails of social science is the degree to which taste determines friendship, or to which friendship determines taste,” said Jason Kaufman, an associate professor of sociology at Harvard and a member of the research team. “Do birds of a feather flock together, or do you become more like your friends?”

In other words, Facebook — where users rate one another as “hot or not,” play games like “Pirates vs. Ninjas” and throw virtual sheep at one another — is helping scholars explore fundamental social science questions.

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December 21, 2007

Just Too Much Going On Right Now [7:48 pm]

Hi, everyone. This has been some kind of term, and it’s been capped with a family medical emergency that has just consumed all of my time. I am hoping that the downtime that comes this time of year will get me back on a schedule to amp my blogging back up. I have lots of reasons to keep doing it, but time has not been my friend of late. So, a couple of bookmarks:

Hope you get some time to decompress yourselves!!

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December 20, 2007

An FTC-EU Fight A-Brewin’ [4:59 pm]

F.T.C. Clears Google-DoubleClick Deal — pdf

The Federal Trade Commission said that the deal won’t significantly lessen competition in the online advertising market, rebuffing complaints from Microsoft Corp. and AT&T Inc. that it would give Google a dominant position.

”The FTC’s strong support sends a clear message: this acquisition poses no risk to competition and will benefit consumers,” Eric Schmidt, Google Inc.’s chief executive, said. ”We hope that the European Commission will soon reach the same conclusion.”

The European Commission declined to comment on the FTC’s decision, spokesman Jonathan Todd said.

The FTC’s approval of the deal without conditions could push European regulators to take a tougher line, says Rebecca Arbogast, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus.

The FTC press release: Federal Trade Commission Closes Google/DoubleClick Investigation (pdf). With commissioner statements and other supporting information.

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A Cautionary Tale [4:54 pm]

From David Pogue’s Circuits e0mail: The Generational Divide in Copyright Moralitypdf

[...] I incorporated their examples into a little demonstration in this particular talk. I tell the audience: “I’m going to describe some scenarios to you. Raise your hand if you think what I’m describing is wrong.”

Then I lead them down the same garden path:

“I borrow a CD from the library. Who thinks that’s wrong?” (No hands go up.)

“I own a certain CD, but it got scratched. So I borrow the same CD from the library and rip it to my computer.” (A couple of hands.)

[...] The exercise is intended, of course, to illustrate how many shades of wrongness there are, and how many different opinions. Almost always, there’s a lot of murmuring, raised eyebrows and chuckling.

Recently, however, I spoke at a college. It was the first time I’d ever addressed an audience of 100 percent young people. And the demonstration bombed.

In an auditorium of 500, no matter how far my questions went down that garden path, maybe two hands went up. I just could not find a spot on the spectrum that would trigger these kids’ morality alarm. They listened to each example, looking at me like I was nuts.

Finally, with mock exasperation, I said, “O.K., let’s try one that’s a little less complicated: You want a movie or an album. You don’t want to pay for it. So you download it.”

There it was: the bald-faced, worst-case example, without any nuance or mitigating factors whatsoever.

“Who thinks that might be wrong?”

Two hands out of 500.

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December 19, 2007

The Evolving Model for Education Distribution [8:50 am]

Academic Stars Hone Their Online Stagecraft (a fussy NYTimes editor revised the headline to At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star, but I think the first headline is more accurate).

(Also, I have to point out that at least some of the tricks that are described in this article were used by Prof. Tony French when *I* took 8.01 here at MIT in 1974 — pith helmet and all! And these sorts of demonstrations were used throughout the core physics curriculum for the engineers then, too. For example, George Bekefi cooked hot dogs in a microwave generator while using the principles of dispersion and skin depth to calculate the appropriate wavelength for cooking food in 8.03.)

Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T. And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace.

Professor Lewin’s videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise.

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December 18, 2007

The Opening Line Says It All [6:21 pm]

TorrentSpy loses Calif. copyright lawsuit

TorrentSpy may be its own worst enemy.

A federal judge has ruled against the BitTorrent indexing service TorrentSpy.com saying that its hiding and destruction of evidence made a fair trial impossible.

A Los Angeles court agreed with the Motion Picture Association of Americas attorneys that the extraordinarily harsh sanction of terminating the case was necessary because TorrentSpy operators actions impacted the ability for the movie studios to prove its case.

“The court finds that plaintiffs have suffered prejudice, to the extent that a rightful decision is not possible,” the ruling said.

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The New Music Model? [2:34 pm]

Singing Her Way From Obscurity to Fame on the Internet

Ingrid Michaelson, a 28-year-old singer-songwriter whose self-produced album “Girls and Boys” reached No. 2 on the iTunes pop chart, is enjoying an enchanted transformation as a recording artist.

Ms. Michaelson’s climb out of obscurity started, as is so often the case these days, on the Internet. Now she is known to many “Grey’s Anatomy” fans for her quirky, heartfelt songs that were featured over the past year on the ABC television series. After a cross-country music tour, she is performing on Wednesday at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, and she pointed out that the concert sold out a month ago without any advertising. (She has added a concert on Feb. 15 at Webster Hall.)

Not bad for someone who, until May, was teaching in an after-school theater program in the Stapleton neighborhood of Staten Island, where she still lives with her parents, a dog and a pet rabbit in the house she has inhabited since she was born.

[...] She called those shows a sobering experience. “I learned pretty quickly that just because you’re playing at a good venue doesn’t mean people are going to come see you,” she said.

So she decided to throw caution to the wind, or, more specifically, to the Internet. She completed “Girls and Boys” in 2006 and loaded the music onto a MySpace page, where it caught the attention of Lynn Grossman, the owner of Secret Road, a music licensing and artist management company in Los Angeles.

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December 17, 2007

It’s A Done Deal [2:35 pm]

And our goose is cooked: Bushs immunity demand wins Senate test votepdf

President George W. Bushs demand for immunity for telephone companies that participated in his warrantless domestic spying program won a test vote on Monday in the Democratic-led U.S. Senate.

On a vote of 76-10, far more than the needed 60, the Senate cleared a procedural hurdle and began considering a bill to increase congressional and judicial oversight of the electronic surveillance of enemy targets.

Also Telecom Industry Wins a Round on Eavesdropping

Later: Well, not yet, but soon, I fear — Telecom Immunity Issue Derails Spy Law Overhaulpdf

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December 16, 2007

Is The “Cloud” The Future? [2:12 pm]

This article seems to think so: Google Gets Ready to Rumble With Microsoft

The growing confrontation between Google and Microsoft promises to be an epic business battle. It is likely to shape the prosperity and progress of both companies, and also inform how consumers and corporations work, shop, communicate and go about their digital lives. Google sees all of this happening on remote servers in faraway data centers, accessible over the Web by an array of wired and wireless devices — a setup known as cloud computing. Microsoft sees a Web future as well, but one whose center of gravity remains firmly tethered to its desktop PC software. Therein lies the conflict.

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Digital Bullying [2:04 pm]

Megan Meier, adolescence and online anonymity, revisited: When the Bullies Turned Faceless

In some ways, the hoax was a tragic oddity. Most mothers don’t pull vicious pranks, and few harassed adolescents become depressed and commit suicide. But Megan’s story is also a case study about cyberbullying.

Cellphone cameras and text messages, as well as social networking Web sites, e-mail and instant messaging, all give teenagers a wider range of ways to play tricks on one another, to tease and to intimidate their peers.

And unlike traditional bullying, which usually is an intimate, if highly unpleasant, experience, high-tech bullying can happen anywhere, anytime, among lots of different children who may never actually meet in person. It is inescapable and often anonymous, said sociologists and educators who have studied cyberbullying.

If only Wondermark’s explanation of the Internet were more well-distributed

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Taking the Easy Way Out [11:59 am]

If we can’t frame our sophistries around defending “the children,” we always have blaming technology. Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry

The federal government’s reliance on private industry has been driven by changes in technology. Two decades ago, telephone calls and other communications traveled mostly through the air, relayed along microwave towers or bounced off satellites. The N.S.A. could vacuum up phone, fax and data traffic merely by erecting its own satellite dishes. But the fiber optics revolution has sent more and more international communications by land and undersea cable, forcing the agency to seek company cooperation to get access.

And while the heart of this assertion is true, it fails to point out that there are many ways that the desired surveillance can be done — and that the (lazy) choice of the easiest method is almost certainly the most brutal when it comes to democratic ideals.

See Glenn Greenwald’s The Lawless Surveillance State

See also Jack Balkin and Sanford Levinson in their paper The Processes of Constitutional Change: From Partisan Entrenchment to the National Surveillance State

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December 14, 2007

PRO IP Hearing Notes [2:53 pm]

Macworld | Lawmakers raise questions about copyright enforcement bill

A handful of lawmakers, law professors and consumer groups have raised objections to a new U.S. copyright bill that could significantly increase the fines for copyright infringement.

The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act (or PRO IP Act), debated before a congressional subcommittee Thursday, would allow courts to assess copyright infringement damages for each piece of a compilation or derivative work found to infringe copyright, instead of treating the compilation as one infringement.

[...] The bill would also make it easy for courts to forfeit computers and other property alleged to be used for infringement in civil copyright lawsuits, and it would allow the U.S. government to pursue criminal copyright enforcement before the creator registers a work or product with the U.S. Copyright Office.

“While we agree that enforcement of intellectual property laws is essential to encouraging creativity, certain provisions in the proposed act risk undermining this essential goal by threatening consumers with an overbroad and inapposite enforcement regime,” [Gigi] Sohn told the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. “These provisions of the bill …. represent a step away from a rational, realistic copyright regime.”

The bill will hurt the consumer electronics industry, with companies that make recording and copying devices scared to introduce new products because of a fear of lawsuits, added Representative Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat.

“The effect on innovation will be real and it will be adverse,” Boucher said.

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December 12, 2007

Broadband Emmys Blocked [9:35 pm]

NATAS blocked by Emmyspdf

An arbitration panel has halted the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ plans to launch a bevy of new Broadband Emmy awards.

Instead, the panel sided with the Los Angeles-based Academy of TV Arts and Sciences, which had accused its New York rivals of attempting to establish a new Emmy infrastructure without permission.

As a result, NATAS has also been forced to back off plans to award Broadband Emmys in categories such as comedy or drama, and scrap a previously announced deal with MySpace to hand out awards.

“This is a resounding victory for our Television Academy and duly establishes that NATAS’ misguided actions were clearly inappropriate,” said outgoing ATAS chairman-CEO Dick Askin. “The ruling is a confirmation that NATAS was in violation of our existing agreement and must cease and desist on any future violations of any unauthorized usage of the prestigious Emmy Award and brand without our approval.”

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December 11, 2007

A Change Is Gonna Come [9:59 am]

Because a fight like this is only going to mean that they all lose: Screenwriters Dig In for an Extended Brawl

After days of haggling over complicated formulas for Internet pay, the latest round of talks blew up over the deeper issues that had been buried inside the writers’ contract proposals.

Accusing guild leaders of pursuing “an ideological mission far removed from the interests of their members,” representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expressed outrage over continuing demands of the writers that were not strictly related to pay.

These include requests for jurisdiction over those who write for reality TV shows and animated movies; for oversight of the fair-market value of intracompany transactions that might affect writer pay; and the elimination of a no-strike clause that prevents guild members from honoring the picket lines of other unions once a contract is reached.

The tone of shock in the producers’ statement seemed a bit artificial, as Mr. Verrone has for months laid out his plan to elevate the writers’ industry status. Yet their anger is genuine. Executives know that to concede the writers’ noneconomic demands would lead to a radical shift in industry power. [...]

An LATimes column points out the pending threat: In the strike, the studios are playing to winpdf

The studios have little to lose by stonewalling, since it’s all too clear that they can win any prolonged strike. Their pockets are too deep, their weaponry too strong. But at what cost? Even many studio supporters admit that squashing the WGA after a prolonged strike would be something of a pyrrhic victory. If network TV turns into a 24-hour reality TV and game show channel, it will simply accelerate the trend of young viewers deserting the tube for the Internet.

For the writers, their best defense now is a good offense. As I’ve argued before, their future lies in becoming more entrepreneurial. This would also be good strategy for future strike negotiations. With the studios stuck churning out reality sludge, the barriers for entry for an outsider are lower than ever. What’s to stop Google, Yahoo or Mark Cuban from striking a deal with a top TV show runner who has a proven ability to create characters and stories that would bring eyeballs to the Internet?

I suspect the guild is already in the process of setting up interim deals that would allow writers to work with companies not represented by the studios. It would be a way to show the WGA rank and file that other opportunities exist outside of the traditional studio model while sending a message to the other side that, when it comes to negotiating, the guild has other arrows in its quiver.

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A Strange Gamble [9:08 am]

After all, selling on the basis of something that no one can define is always going to be a problem. Worse, as the article points out, it’s not like user privacy is under Ask.com’s control anyway: Ask.com Puts a Bet on Privacy

Will privacy sell?

Ask.com is betting it will. The fourth-largest search engine company will begin a service today called AskEraser, which allows users to make their searches more private.

Ask.com and other major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft typically keep track of search terms typed by users and link them to a computer’s Internet address, and sometimes to the user. However, when AskEraser is turned on, Ask.com discards all that information, the company said.

Ask, a unit of IAC/InterActiveCorp based in Oakland, hopes that the privacy protection will differentiate it from more prominent search engines like Google. [...]

[...] But underscoring how difficult it is to completely erase one’s digital footprints, the information typed by users of AskEraser into Ask.com will not disappear completely. Ask.com relies on Google to deliver many of the ads that appear next to its search results. Under an agreement between the two companies, Ask.com will continue to pass query information on to Google. Mr. Leeds acknowledged that AskEraser cannot promise complete anonymity, but said it would greatly increase privacy protections for users who want them, as Google is contractually constrained in what it can do with that information. A Google spokesman said the company uses the information to place relevant ads and to fight certain online scams.

Some privacy experts doubt that concerns about privacy are significant enough to turn a feature like AskEraser into a major selling point for Ask.com.

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