Hurrah for the University of Oregon

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

DRM Helps Sink Another Content Distribution Project

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!

Globalizing Enclosure By Copyright

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.

The Expense of Bit Storage

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?

But, What Kind Of Culture Is Being Studied?

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.

Just Too Much Going On Right Now

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!!

An FTC-EU Fight A-Brewin’

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.

A Cautionary Tale

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.

The Evolving Model for Education Distribution

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.