March 31, 2008

Creativity and Timing [10:03 am]

Like they say in showbiz, timing is everything — at least when it comes to IPR: Behind Every Great Inventor, Many Others Whom History Forgot

The reality is that the “Aha” moments of industrial creation are preceded by critical moments far less heralded. Behind and beside every big-name inventor are typically lots of others whom history forgot, or never knew. And it’s unusual that an innovation is created in a vacuum (including the vacuum, which itself claims several progenitors).

“It’s rare that you’ve got a major breakthrough that wasn’t developed by multiple people at about the same time,” said Mark Lemley, professor of intellectual property at Stanford Law School.

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Exploring New Distribution Avenues [10:00 am]

Hollywood Producer Set to Make Shows for Xbox

Microsoft, seeking to expand offerings on its Xbox 360 console, has reached an agreement with a company headed by Peter Safran, the veteran Hollywood producer and talent manager, to produce original shows for distribution on the system.

[...] Speaking by telephone last week, Scott Nocas, global marketing manager for programming of the Xbox Live entertainment service, said he expected similar deals to follow. “We definitely look at this as the first of many,” said Mr. Nocas.

In an interview at his office in Los Angeles last week, Mr. Safran said his first round of programs would all be scripted, as opposed to reality shows, and would probably run under 10 minutes. He said he planned initially to focus on genres, like comedy and horror, that appeal to the Xbox 360 audience, which is heavily concentrated from the ages of 14 to 34, and tends to be more male than female. The first shows are expected to be available to viewers by the fall.

[...] “The Xbox is unique. It operates at a level outside of what we generally consider Web entertainment,” Mr. Safran said, referring to the system’s tight demographic base, which is defined by the appeal of signature games like the Halo series.

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Locating the Front Lines [9:55 am]

City Subpoenas Creator of Text Messaging Code

These tableaus and others were described as they happened in text messages that spread from mobile phone to mobile phone in New York City and beyond. The people sending and receiving the messages were using technology, developed by an anonymous group of artists and activists called the Institute for Applied Autonomy, that allowed users to form networks and transmit messages to hundreds or thousands of telephones.

Although the service, called TXTmob, was widely used by demonstrators, reporters and possibly even police officers, little was known about its inventors. Last month, however, the New York City Law Department issued a subpoena to Tad Hirsch, a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who wrote the code that created TXTmob.

Lawyers representing the city in lawsuits filed by hundreds of people arrested during the convention asked Mr. Hirsch to hand over voluminous records revealing the content of messages exchanged on his service and identifying people who sent and received messages. Mr. Hirsch says that some of the subpoenaed material no longer exists and that he believes he has the right to keep other information secret.

“There’s a principle at stake here,” he said recently by telephone. “I think I have a moral responsibility to the people who use my service to protect their privacy.”

[...] It is difficult to know for sure who received messages, but an examination of police surveillance documents prepared in 2003 and 2004, and unsealed by a federal magistrate last year, makes it clear that the authorities were aware of TXTmob at least a month before the Republican convention began.

A document marked “N.Y.P.D. SECRET” and dated July 26, 2004, included the address of the TXTmob Web site and stated, “It is anticipated that text messaging is one of several different communications systems that will be utilized to organize the upcoming RNC protests.”

From the Txtmob site:

UPDATE: 29 Mar 2008
As reported in the New York Times, I have recently been subpoenaed by the City of New York in connection to several active lawsuits against the City that allege police misconduct during the 2004 Republican National Convention. I want to reassure all past and present TXTmob users that I take their privacy seriously, and that I am taking what actions I can to protect their civil liberties. I also want to publicly thank David Rankin (Law Office of David B. Rankin) and Matt Zimmerman (Electronic Frontier Foundation) for providing legal representation.

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March 30, 2008

When Does Selling The Rights Not Mean Selling The Rights? [11:47 am]

More headaches for licensees: Ruling Gives Heirs a Share of Superman Copyright

A federal judge here on Wednesday ruled that the heirs of Jerome Siegel — who 70 years ago sold the rights to the action hero he created with Joseph Shuster to Detective Comics for $130 — were entitled to claim a share of the United States copyright to the character. The ruling left intact Time Warner’s international rights to the character, which it has long owned through its DC Comics unit.

And it reserved for trial questions over how much the company may owe the Siegel heirs for use of the character since 1999, when their ownership is deemed to have been restored. Also to be resolved is whether the heirs are entitled to payments directly from Time Warner’s film unit, Warner Brothers, which took in $200 million at the domestic box office with “Superman Returns” in 2006, or only from the DC unit’s Superman profits.

[...] When Detective Comics bought 13 pages of work for its new Action Comics series the next year, the company sent Mr. Siegel a check for $130, and received in return a release from both creators granting the company rights to Superman “to have and hold forever,” the order noted.

In the late 1940s, a referee in a New York court upheld Detective Comics’ copyright, prompting Mr. Siegel and Mr. Shuster to drop their claim in exchange for $94,000. More than 30 years later, DC Comics (the successor to Detective Comics) gave the creators each a $20,000-per-year annuity that was later increased to $30,000. In 1997, however, Mrs. Siegel and her daughter served copyright termination notices under provisions of a 1976 law that permits heirs, under certain circumstances, to recover rights to creations.

See The Siegel Superman decision with comments and links to the opinion (local copy)

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Democratizing Dataveillance [9:54 am]

You say “social networks,” I say “CRM/surveillance.” Sure, the network allows the musician to disintermediate the process of selling her/his product, but to adopt the methods of the database marketers is a start down a very slippery slope: Musicians take social networking into their own hands (pdf)

More and more acts, from Kylie Minogue to Ludacris to the Pussycat Dolls, are launching their own social networks, which are becoming a sort of next-generation version of artist Web sites.

The social networking component gives fans a reason to hang out on a site and visit more often than they would a standard Web site. And artists can sell advertisements on their sites and offer downloads and merchandise for sale — options they don’t have on MySpace or Facebook. Plus, they own the content and data on how fans use their site, which they don’t get on other social networks.

“The thing that separates Thisis50 from MySpace is we control the e-mail database,” says Chris “Broadway” Romero, director for new media at G-Unit Records, which handles Thisis50. “We can e-mail members if we want to.”

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March 28, 2008

Teaching an Elephant to Dance [9:53 am]

Music companies take a new look at subscriptions (pdf)

After resisting subscription services out of fear they would weaken CD sales, music companies are considering the idea in an attempt to reverse plummeting sales and unabated illegal downloading of music from the Internet.

[...] Music executives say discussions are in the early stages and face several hurdles. Some consumers prefer to own music. Others might balk at yet another charge on their monthly Internet bill.

“If a music surcharge is mandatory, consumers are going to resist,” said Russ Crupnick, senior analyst for NPD Entertainment, a market research firm.

Warner hired former Geffen Music executive Jim Griffin as a consultant several months ago to help plot the label’s digital future. Griffin could not be reached for comment.

But he told Portfolio.com that “today, it has become purely voluntary to pay for music. . . . If I tell you to go listen to this band, you could pay, or you might not. It’s pretty much up to you. So the music business has become a big tip jar.”

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A(n Optimistic?) Look At Wireless Telecom Trends [9:23 am]

Big wireless carriers get set to free the phone (pdf)

It is a scenario rarely seen in todays technology market: Cellphone customers wander into any store, pick any device from a shelf, and connect it to any wireless network - one as open as the Internet.

But spurred by growing demand and a federal airwaves auction that closed last week, the major wireless carriers are stepping away from a model in which each cellphone is controlled by a single company that sells customers a device locked to their network, demands a lengthy contract, and limits the phones features.

[...] “We believe that as the two great megatrends of mobility and the Internet come together, the next wave of growth will come from a whole new generation of devices, applications, and services,” said Ivan Seidenberg, chief executive of Verizon Communications Inc., which owns 55 percent of Verizon Wireless. “No single company - whether you’re a carrier, a manufacturer, a software company, or anybody else - will be able to envision all these uses or meet all the needs on their own.”

Not to be outdone, AT&T launched a website the day before the conference, emphasizing its open network.

We’ll see, won’t we?

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March 27, 2008

No BitTorrent Gatekeeping — For Now [3:41 pm]

Comcast to Stop Hampering File-Sharing (pdf)

Comcast Corp., an Internet service provider under investigation for hampering online file-sharing by its subscribers, announced Thursday an about-face in its stance and said it will treat all types of Internet traffic equally.

Comcast said it will collaborate with BitTorrent Inc., the company founded by the creator of the peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol, to come up with better ways to transport large files over the Internet instead of delaying file transfers.

Since user reports of interference with file-sharing traffic were confirmed by an Associated Press investigation in October, Comcast has been vigorously defending its practices, most recently at a hearing of the Federal Communications Commission in February.

Consumer and Net Neutrality advocates have been equally vigorous in their attacks on the company, saying that by secretly blocking some connections between file-sharing computers, Comcast made itself a judge and gatekeeper for the Internet.

They also accused Comcast of stifling delivery of Internet video, an emerging competitor to the core business of the nations largest cable operator.

It was not immediately clear what effect, if any, the move will have on the FCCs ongoing probe, but Net Neutrality groups remained skeptical.

Later:
Comcast Adjusts Way It Manages Internet Traffic and Comcast relents on Web video (pdf)

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The Perils of Standards-Setting [7:22 am]

A painful lesson, and another chapter in this ugly story: Chip Developer Wins Crucial Ruling in Patent Dispute

Rambus, the developer of memory chip technology, said Wednesday that it won an important ruling in a long-running patent lawsuit, sending its shares 39 percent higher.

The jury rejected claims by three large memory-chip makers — Hynix Semiconductor, Micron Technology and Nanya Technology — that Rambus deliberately misled the memory chip industry in the 1990s when new standards were being hammered out.

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It’s Not Surveillance, It’s Marketing! [7:15 am]

YouTube Feature Tells Video Creators When and Where a Clip Is Being Watched

In a move to provide better data to its users, YouTube formally announced late Wednesday that it had added a free feature that will show video creators when and where viewers are watching their videos. With this, the company hopes to turn YouTube from an online video site into a place where marketers can test their messages, Tracy Chan, YouTube product manager, said.

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The Dawn of Recording [7:12 am]

phonoautograph image

An article that treats the topic with surprising depth, reminding us that early efforts in sound recording were directed toward converting sound into graphically interpretable artifacts, rather than what Edison came up with: Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison

For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.

The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

“This is a historic find, the earliest known recording of sound,” said Samuel Brylawski, the former head of the recorded-sound division of the Library of Congress, who is not affiliated with the research group but who was familiar with its findings. The audio excavation could give a new primacy to the phonautograph, once considered a curio, and its inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison.

[...] Listeners are now left to ponder the oddity of hearing a recording made before the idea of audio playback was even imagined.

“There is a yawning epistemic gap between us and Léon Scott, because he thought that the way one gets to the truth of sound is by looking at it,” said Jonathan Sterne, a professor at McGill University in Montreal and the author of “The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction.”

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March 26, 2008

An Interesting Argument/Observation [10:04 am]

Wired looks at the Apple management culture, and reads some tea leaves about the future of the internetworked world: How Apple Got Everything Right By Doing Everything Wrong

For all the protests, consumers don’t seem to mind Apple’s walled garden. In fact, they’re clamoring to get in. Yes, the iPod hardware and the iTunes software are inextricably linked — that’s why they work so well together. And now, PC-based iPod users, impressed with the experience, have started converting to Macs, further investing themselves in the Apple ecosystem.

Some Apple competitors have tried to emulate its tactics. Microsoft’s MP3 strategy used to be like its mobile strategy — license its software to (almost) all comers. Not any more: The operating system for Microsoft’s Zune player is designed uniquely for the device, mimicking the iPod’s vertical integration. Amazon’s Kindle e-reader provides seamless access to a proprietary selection of downloadable books, much as the iTunes Music Store provides direct access to an Apple-curated storefront. And the Nintendo Wii, the Sony PlayStation 3, and the Xbox360 each offer users access to self-contained online marketplaces for downloading games and special features.

Tim O’Reilly, publisher of the O’Reilly Radar blog and an organizer of the Web 2.0 Summit, says that these “three-tiered systems” — that blend hardware, installed software, and proprietary Web applications — represent the future of the Net. As consumers increasingly access the Web using scaled-down appliances like mobile phones and Kindle readers, they will demand applications that are tailored to work with those devices. True, such systems could theoretically be open, with any developer allowed to throw its own applications and services into the mix. But for now, the best three-tier systems are closed. And Apple, O’Reilly says, is the only company that “really understands how to build apps for a three-tiered system.”

If Apple represents the shiny, happy future of the tech industry, it also looks a lot like our cat-o’-nine-tails past. In part, that’s because the tech business itself more and more resembles an old-line consumer industry. When hardware and software makers were focused on winning business clients, price and interoperability were more important than the user experience. But now that consumers make up the most profitable market segment, usability and design have become priorities. Customers expect a reliable and intuitive experience — just like they do with any other consumer product.

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March 25, 2008

Hey, “I Remember Babylon,” Too [9:35 am]

Fox Refuses to Pay Fine for Reality Show Sex Scenes

Fox Broadcasting said on Monday that it would not pay fines totaling $91,000 for broadcasting a reality show episode that included graphic sexual scenes at a bachelor party.

(Aside: Arthur C. Clarke, I am sure, would have had something to say. — “I Remember Babylon” synopsis)

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Monopoly? Not! [9:29 am]

And waterboarding isn’t torture, either: Justice Dept. Approves XM Merger With Sirius

The Justice Department’s antitrust division announced Monday that it approved the merger after determining that prices were not likely to rise, in part because of competition from other program sources, like high-definition radio as well as iPods and other MP3 players that can be connected to home or car audio systems. The deal, the agency said, was unlikely to hurt competition or consumers.

“In several important segments of their business, with or without the merger, the parties simply do not compete today and therefore the merger would not be eliminating any competition between them,” Thomas O. Barnett, assistant attorney general, said in announcing the decision.

In other segments of the market, XM and Sirius compete fiercely and, according to their balance sheets, unprofitably; both companies are saddled with debt.

Later, from the Washington Post — Out of Tune With Consumers (pdf)

It took some doing — and more than a year of “investigation” — for the Justice Department to come up with its undisclosed evidence and tortured logic to justify this strikingly anti-consumer decision. As precedent, it could be used to justify the merger of ABC with both CBS and NBC, Clear Channel with the Bonneville radio network or even Coke with Pepsi. The message it sends to business executives is clear: If you find yourself in a tough competitive environment, the best strategy is not to find a way to offer better products and services at a better price, but rather to call your investment banker and negotiate a truce with your biggest rival.

Sure sounds like the Yoo memo (pdf), doesn’t it?

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Marketing and Life [9:21 am]

The new Batman movie promotion moves into new territory: Teasing Batman (pdf)

So to stand out, “The Dark Knight’s” alternate reality game (ARG for short) is mashing up advertising, scavenger-hunting and role-playing in a manner that variously recalls “The X-Files” and the play “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” “The Matrix” and the board game Clue — all in the name of galvanizing a community of fans to bond (with the new Batman and each other) over the course of a wild goose chase.

Or to be more precise, a wild Joker chase — one that so far has involved clues spelled out in skywriting, secret meeting points, cellphones embedded inside cakes, Internet red herrings, DIY fan contests and even fake political rallies. Moreover, last week several players were nearly arrested in Chicago while engaging in civil disobedience to promote the movie; others have even been “kidnapped” and “murdered” over the course of the game.

Befitting the campaign’s covert-ops M.O., neither Warner Bros. nor 42 Entertainment would comment for this story. But as Jonathan Waite, founder of the Alternate Reality Gaming Network (www.argn.com) sees it, “The Dark Knight’s” multifaceted promo push transcends marketing to exist as a standalone cultural event.

“This is looked upon as viral marketing, but you have to look at it as an engrossing experience — you have people getting very attached to the game,” Waite said. “You’re not a passive onlooker, you’re taking an active role. And any time you take an active role, you’re emotionally connecting. That’s why people keep coming back: You make personal connections with others and a community gets built.”

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March 24, 2008

Google’s White Space Plans [1:21 pm]

Google tells FCC of “white space” airwave planspdf

In comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Google said it would propose an enhanced system to prevent wireless devices operating in the so-called “white space” from interfering with adjacent television channels and wireless microphones.

Google said the enhancements “will eliminate any remaining legitimate concerns about the merits of using the white space for unlicensed personal/portable devices.”

The FCC’s white space testing page: TV Band Device Testing

From that page:

3/21/08
Remaining bench tests of devices for sensing in the presence of DTV signals in adjacent channels will continue from Monday (March 24, 2008) till Thursday (March 28 2008). In addition, the Laboratory plans to complete transmitter characterization for devices with such capabilities. Weather permitting; the transmitter characterization will include testing outdoor (in the open area outside the laboratory building on the FCC premises). Currently there are no plans to test on Friday (March 28, 2008).

Later: Google revives push to get free airwaves (pdf)

Google turned its attention to TV “white spaces” after it failed to win any spectrum in the recent auction by the Federal Communications Commission that raised $19.1 billion. Analysts said the company probably did not want to win any of that spectrum. Google provided the minimum $4.6-billion bid on a large nationwide group of spectrum licenses ultimately won by Verizon Wireless in an effort to ensure that those airwaves be required to be open to any device or software.

[...] “Right now they don’t think they need to own a network,” said Blair Levin, an analyst with brokerage Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., who called Google the “happy loser” in the auction.

Also, a related question: FCC Asked to Probe Auction: Failure of Public Safety Band to Draw Bids Raises Suspicion (pdf)

The failure of a Federal Communications Commission auction to draw sufficient bids to build a wireless network for emergency responders provoked sharp criticism by members of Congress, consumer groups and leaders of the 9/11 Commission yesterday. It also prompted a call to investigate whether auction rules were broken.

Nine organizations, including the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union, wrote to FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, saying the FCC should “investigate carefully the allegations” that representatives of the nation’s police, fire and emergency officials undermined the auction. They cited reports that public-safety representatives demanded that any winner of the auction make additional payments to them.

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A Shock of the Old Article [11:55 am]

Why Old Technologies Are Still Kicking (See David Edgerton’s The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 for more examples)

The mainframe stands as a telling case in the larger story of survivor technologies and markets. The demise of the old technology is confidently predicted, and indeed it may lose ground to the insurgent, as mainframes did to the personal computer. But the old technology or business often finds a sustainable, profitable life. Television, for example, was supposed to kill radio, and movies, for that matter. Cars, trucks and planes spelled the death of railways. A current death-knell forecast is that the Web will kill print media.

What are the common traits of survivor technologies? First, it seems, there is a core technology requirement: there must be some enduring advantage in the old technology that is not entirely supplanted by the new. But beyond that, it is the business decisions that matter most: investing to retool the traditional technology, adopting a new business model and nurturing a support network of loyal customers, industry partners and skilled workers.

The unfulfilled predictions of demise, experts say, tend to overestimate the importance of pure technical innovation and underestimate the role of business judgment. “The rise and fall of technologies is mainly about business and not technological determinism,” said Richard S. Tedlow, a business historian at the Harvard Business School.

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Rickrolling, Anyone? [11:51 am]

The ’80s Video That Pops Up, Online and Off

Rickrolling is a descendant of an older Internet joke called duckrolling. A Web site or blog post would offer a link to something popular — say celebrity photos or video gaming news — that led unsuspecting viewers to a bizarre image of a duck on wheels.

For rickrolling, the duck was replaced with the 20-year-old Astley video, and in the last year it has become a hugely successful “meme,” the Internet’s word for an idea repeated across the Web. The video from yougotrickrolled.com has been viewed more than seven million times.

The “Never Gonna Give You Up” video has been watched over a million times on YouTube — not bad for a song that last had heavy radio play in 1988, when it spent two weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart of the top-selling singles.

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Searchity Search Search [11:46 am]

A New Tool From Google Alarms Sites

This month, the company introduced a search-within-search feature that lets users stay on Google to find pages on popular sites like those of The Washington Post, Wikipedia, The New York Times, Wal-Mart and others. The search box appears when someone enters the name of certain Web addresses or company names — say, “Best Buy” — rather than entering a request like “cellphones.”

The results of the search are almost all individual company pages. Google tops those results with a link to the home page of the Web site in question, adds another search box, and offers users the chance to let Google search for certain things within that site.

The problem, for some in the industry, is that when someone enters a term into that secondary search box, Google will display ads for competing sites, thereby profiting from ads it sells against the brand. The feature also keeps users searching on Google pages and not pages of the destination Web site.

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A Little Blurb from Today’s NYTimes Most Wanted [11:12 am]

Most Wanted

Some other background: Gibson Guitar Tangles With Game Makers (pdf)

Gibson Guitar Corp. has widened its attack on the video game industry with a second patent infringement lawsuit.

It claims, in a case filed Thursday in federal district court in Nashville, that by developing, distributing and promoting the video game “Rock Band,” Harmonix, MTV Networks and Electronic Arts are violating a virtual-reality patent the guitar maker holds.

The same 1999 patent is at issue in a separate lawsuit Gibson filed earlier in the week against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and five other retailers. The real-guitar maker claims the stores are violating the patent by selling the Activision Inc. game “Guitar Hero.”

Before Gibson filed either lawsuit, Activision sued Gibson in Los Angeles this month asking for a federal court declaration that it is not violating Gibson’s patent.

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