January 16, 2008

The Chinese Government and China’s YouTube [4:44 pm]

China’s YouTube: Trouble for Beijingpdf

With an audience estimated at 78 million people, online video is big business in China: Western venture capitalists have poured $120 million into the industry since 2004, according to CCID Consulting, a leading Chinese IT firm. Tudou.com, China’s largest video sharing website, serves more than a billion minutes of video per day, some 30% more than YouTube. “People spent twice as long on Tudou than on YouTube ,” says CEO Gary Wang, who founded the company in Shanghai in 2005. “They really get in and get stuff they don’t typically see on TV.”

But regulations issued by SARFT and China’s Ministry of Information Industry (MII) could be putting an end to that free ride — and sending a shot across the bow of sites who host unauthorized content. Starting January 31, 2008, online video posting will be limited to state-owned or state-controlled video providers; clips that contain violence or sex or are considered “detrimental to the nation’s security” will be deleted immediately. The regulation mainly targets content uploaded by amateurs; experts believe TV and film clips will largely remain untouched. But the most controversial section of the new regulations — that all the video providers have to be state-owned or state-controlled — would almost certainly put the future of online providers like Tudou and competitors Youku.com and 56.com in question, as well as threaten Chinese web portals with video sharing features like Sina.com.

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A Real Trend or Just Wishful Thinking? [4:37 pm]

Hard to say — it’s Time after all. But an entertaining read: Vinyl Gets Its Groove Backpdf

From college dorm rooms to high school sleepovers, an all-but-extinct music medium has been showing up lately. And we don’t mean CDs. Vinyl records, especially the full-length LPs that helped define the golden era of rock in the 1960s and ’70s, are suddenly cool again. Some of the new fans are baby boomers nostalgic for their youth. But to the surprise and delight of music executives, increasing numbers of the iPod generation are also purchasing turntables (or dusting off Dad’s), buying long-playing vinyl records and giving them a spin.

[...] The music industry, hoping to find another revenue source that doesn’t easily lend itself to illegal downloads, has happily jumped on the bandwagon. Contemporary artists like the Killers and Ryan Adams have begun issuing their new releases on vinyl in addition to the CD and MP3 formats. As an extra lure, many labels are including coupons for free audio downloads with their vinyl albums so that Generation Y music fans can get the best of both worlds: high-quality sound at home and iPod portability for the road. [...]

Vinyl records are just a small scratch on the surface when it comes to total album sales–only about 0.2%, compared to 10% for digital downloads and 89.7% for CDs, according to Nielsen SoundScan–but these numbers may underrepresent the vinyl trend since they don’t always include sales at smaller indie shops where vinyl does best. Still, 990,000 vinyl albums were sold in 2007, up 15.4% from the 858,000 units bought in 2006. [...]

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Scrabble, Facebook, and IPR [4:25 pm]

Facebook asked to pull Scrabulous [via Machinist]

Facebook has been asked to remove the Scrabulous game from its website by the makers of Scrabble.

The Facebook add-on has proved hugely popular on the social network site and regularly racks up more than 500,000 daily users.

Lawyers for toy makers Hasbro and Mattel say Scrabulous infringes their copyright on the board-based word game.

The move has sparked protests by regular fans of Scrabulous keen to keep the add-on running.

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The New Yorker’s Article on Megan Meier [3:57 pm]

Annals of Crime: Friend Game (pdf)

Like many teen-agers, Megan and her peers carried on an online social life that was more mercurial, and perhaps more crucial to their sense of status and acceptance, than the one they inhabited in the flesh. On MySpace, and on other social-networking sites, such as Friendster and Facebook, a person can project a larger, more confident self, a nervy collection of favorite music, books, quotations, pleasures, and complaints. He or she, able to play with different personas, is released from some of the petty humiliations of being a middle-schooler—all it takes to be a Ludacris fan is a couple of keystrokes.

But trying on identities is, in the fluid environment of the Internet, a riskier experiment than raiding Mom’s makeup bag. Squabbles that would take days to percolate in person can within seconds explode into full-blown wars. Disputes can also become painfully public. Sites allow users to rank their “Top Friends,” so that the ever-shifting alliances of a clique are posted, for all to see, in a sort of popularity ledger. Likewise, polling applications enable a person to pose a question—Is Caitlin hot or not?—to his or her network of acquaintances, who can follow the results in real time, via a brightly colored thermometer icon (as can Caitlin).

[...] Mistaken identities have been a staple of human interaction from Jacob and Esau to Shakespeare, but electronic communication has made misrepresentation temptingly immediate, a development not lost on the producers of “You’ve Got Mail.” The conventions of romantic comedy, though, have required that the parties who detest each other in their workaday existences come to know each other’s charms in the parallel universe of the computer. The other way around—proxy war perpetrated online by people who, like the Drews, feign affection face to face—and it’s a horror movie. If the classic suburban crime of passion once involved a dusty attic, it may now feature a home office.

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Warner and Rowling File Full Complaint [12:26 pm]

WB and JKR File Full Request for Injunction of Harry Potter Lexicon (Part 1)

Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling’s legal team has filed its full complaint against RDR Books, the publishing company that is attempting to produce a printed, commercial version of The Harry Potter Lexicon, in an ongoing effort to get an injunction permanently halting the book’s publication. There are more than 1,100 pages in this complaint, to which RDR has three weeks to reply.

Archive of documents here: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. et al v. RDR Books et al

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But Don’t You Feel Safer? [8:41 am]

Inquisition at JPLpdf

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, however, is one of the Bush administration’s true believers, and his first reflex always is a crisp salute. He directed Caltech, which has a contract to run JPL for NASA, to make sure all of the lab’s employees complied. The university initially resisted, then caved when NASA threatened to withdraw its contract. Worse, the government demanded that the scientists, in order to get the badges, fill out questionnaires on their personal lives and waive the privacy of their financial, medical and psychiatric records. The government also wanted permission to gather information about them by interviewing third parties.

In other words, as the price of keeping their jobs, many of America’s finest space scientists were being asked to give the feds virtually blanket permission to snoop and spy and collect even malicious gossip about them from God knows who.

Investigators wanted license to seek information as to whether “there is any reason to question [applicants'] honesty or trustworthiness.” At one point, JPL’s internal website posted an “issue characterization chart” — since taken down — that indicated the snoops would be looking for “patterns of irresponsible behavior as reflected in credit history … sodomy … incest … abusive language … unlawful assembly … homosexuality.” (We’ll leave it to others to explain a standard that links incest with unlawful assembly.)

[...] Many at the lab believe that there’s more than governmental overreaching at work here. They point out that Griffin is one of those who remain skeptical that human actions contribute to global warming, and that some of JPL’s near-Earth science has played a critical role in establishing the empirical case to the contrary. They see the background checks as the first step toward establishing a system of intimidation that might be used to silence inconvenient science.

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“The Server in the Sky” [8:33 am]

UK Considers Role in US Terror Databasepdf

The United States wants recruit Britain and other countries to share biometric data on terrorists and criminals, a British newspaper reported Tuesday.

The Guardian reported that the FBI said a proposed security database called the “Server in the Sky” was still being designed.

Once active, it would enable countries to search and swap data such as fingerprints, genetic information and iris scans on some of the world’s most wanted criminals.

The FBI said the database would hold information on “the world’s worst of the worst individuals,” according to the newspaper.

The newspaper said other countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, had been approached to participate in the project.

The Guardian article: FBI wants instant access to British identity data (pdf)

Also, the Guardian has a comment from Cory Doctorow: Personal data is as hot as nuclear waste (pdf)

Our capacity to store, copy and distribute information is ascending a curve that is screaming skyward, headed straight into infinity. This fact has not escaped the notice of the entertainment industry, where it has been greeted with savage apoplexy.

But it seems to have entirely escaped the attention of those who regulate the gathering of personal information. The world’s toughest privacy measures are as a wet Kleenex against the merciless onslaught of data acquisition. Data is acquired at all times, everywhere.

For example, you now must buy an Oyster Card if you wish to buy a monthly travelcard for London Underground, and you are required to complete a form giving your name, home address, phone number, email and so on in order to do so. This means that Transport for London is amassing a radioactive mountain of data plutonium, personal information whose limited value is far outstripped by the potential risks from retaining it.

Hidden in that toxic pile are a million seams waiting to burst: a woman secretly visits a fertility clinic, a man secretly visits an HIV support group, a boy passes through the turnstiles every day at the same time as a girl whom his parents have forbidden him to see; all that and more.

All these people could potentially be identified, located and contacted through the LU data. We may say we’ve nothing to hide, but all of us have private details we’d prefer not to see on the cover of tomorrow’s paper.

How long does this information need to be kept private?

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Ticketmaster Moving Online [8:09 am]

Ticketmaster agrees to buy Net resellerpdf

Ticketmaster, the largest US seller of sports and concert tickets, agreed to buy online reseller TicketsNow for $265 million to compete with eBay Inc.’s StubHub.

See earlier post Parallels: Anti-Scalping Laws and Copyright

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NYTimes Calls For An eVoting Fix [7:58 am]

A Quick Fix for Electronic Voting

When Americans go to the polls in November, many will likely have to cast their ballots on unreliable paperless electronic voting machines. If the election is close, the country could end up with a rerun of 2000’s bitterly contentious and mistrusted count. In an effort to avoid another such disaster, Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, plans to introduce a bill this week that would help address the weaknesses in electronic voting. Congress should pass it without delay.

[...] As voters have learned about the problems with electronic voting, they have sensibly pressed their representatives to adopt laws requiring voter-verified paper records. Most states, including New York, Ohio and California have now done so. Mr. Holt’s bill would make money available on an expedited basis — in time for this year’s election — for jurisdictions that still have not.

[...] Because the bill is opt-in — it does not force any jurisdiction to make changes — it has not drawn the entrenched opposition from local election officials that mandatory paper-record bills have met. The ultimate solution to the problem of electronic voting is a national law requiring voter-verified paper records, something Congress has been inexcusably slow in adopting. As a temporary measure, however, Mr. Holt’s legislation is a good step forward.

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