April 4, 2008

Straining at Gnats? [8:53 am]

Procol Harum singer wins royalty appeal (pdf)

A British appeals court has awarded the lead singer of Procol Harum full royalties to the band’s iconic hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

Britain’s Court of Appeal ruled in singer Gary Brooker’s favor on Friday. An earlier decision by a lower court had awarded the group’s former organist 40 percent of the song’s royalties.

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Recent FCC Auction Fallout Assessment [8:48 am]

An Auction That Google Was Content to Lose

Google’s main goal, however, was not to win, but to make sure the reserve price was met so that the openness conditions would become effective, ensuring that its search, e-mail, maps and other services would be easily available on phones operating on those frequencies. And while the company had willingly taken the risk that it could end up winning, it was not without trepidation.

“Our primary goal was to trigger the openness conditions,” said Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington telecommunications and media counsel.

The auction raised more than $19 billion, far more than expected. Still, some critics said the auction failed to promote competition, as it solidified the positions of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the two biggest carriers, who won a majority of the licenses. Some economists and others remain critical of the way the auction was set up, pointing out that among other things, two groups of frequencies, known as the A and B blocks, sold at much higher prices than the C block.

Ralph de la Vega, president and chief executive of AT&T’s wireless unit, said in a news conference Thursday that his company was pleased with the auction’s outcome. But he noted that the Google-backed conditions on the C block had an effect on pricing.

“People put a premium on spectrum that is not encumbered by excessive regulations,” Mr. de la Vega said.

[...] “If Google had won a license, there was only downside risk for them,” said Gregory L. Rosston, a former F.C.C. official and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. “Now they can just spend $1 million a year on a law firm to ensure Verizon lives up to the openness requirements.”

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Clickstream Monitoring + Deep Packet Inspection [8:33 am]

Every Click You Make (pdf)

The practice represents a significant expansion in the ability to track a household’s Web use because it taps into Internet connections, and critics liken it to a phone company listening in on conversations. But the companies involved say customers’ privacy is protected because no personally identifying details are released.

The extent of the practice is difficult to gauge because some service providers involved have declined to discuss their practices. Many Web surfers, moreover, probably have little idea they are being monitored.

But at least 100,000 U.S. customers are tracked this way, and service providers have been testing it with as many as 10 percent of U.S. customers, according to tech companies involved in the data collection.

Although common tracking systems, known as cookies, have counted a consumer’s visits to a network of sites, the new monitoring, known as “deep-packet inspection,” enables a far wider view — every Web page visited, every e-mail sent and every search entered. Every bit of data is divided into packets — like electronic envelopes — that the system can access and analyze for content.

“You don’t want the phone company tapping your phone calls, and in the same way you don’t want your ISP tapping your Web traffic,” said Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group. “There’s a fear here that a user’s ISP is going to betray them and turn their information over to a third party.”

In fact, newly proposed Federal Trade Commission guidelines for behavioral advertising have been outpaced by the technology and do not address the practice directly. [...]

[...] Advocates of deep-packet inspection see it as a boon for all involved. Advertisers can better target their pitches. Consumers will see more relevant ads. Service providers who hand over consumer data can share in advertising revenues. And Web sites can make more money from online advertising, a $20 billion industry that is growing rapidly.

With the service provider involved in collecting consumer data, “there is access to a broader spectrum of the Web traffic — it’s significantly more valuable,” said Derek Maxson, chief technology officer of Front Porch, a company that collects such data from millions of users in Asia and is working with a number of U.S. service providers.

[...] For all its promise, however, the service providers exploring and testing such services have largely kept quiet — “for fear of customer revolt,” according to one executive involved.

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Sales milestone Reached [7:58 am]

ITunes records a sales milestone (pdf) (note: something weird going on with the LATimes formatting this AM!)

Apple Inc. has surpassed Wal-Mart to become America’s No. 1 music store, the first time that a seller of digital downloads has ever beaten the big CD retailers.

Apple sold more albums in January and February than any other U.S. retailer, market research firm NPD Group said Thursday, underscoring how the music industry is on the front edge of a digital media shift that is upending businesses as diverse as bookstores and video game makers.

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Privacy, Anonymity and File Sharing [6:24 am]

Music downloaders win round in court (pdf)

Boston University students have won what one lawyer hailed as a “David and Goliath” victory after challenging one of the recording industrys most aggressive tactics: lawsuits targeting people who illegally download music.

US District Judge Nancy Gertner ruled this week that the university cannot turn over the names of students to several major record companies that sued for the information until she can do a more in-depth review. The ruling, for the moment, quashes the companies efforts to hold the students liable for copyright infringement, which could have resulted in thousands of dollars in fines. Lawyers who supported the students said the decision would make it harder for record companies to win some 20,000 similar cases they have brought nationwide.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Raymond Sayeg, a Boston lawyer who represented one of the four BU students who challenged the record companies. “The court has recognized the right of privacy of the students.”

[...] “It does not mean the end of the issue,” von Lohmann said. “It is not going to slow down the RIAA litigation machine, and they’ll continue to sue hundreds a month all over the country. But the judge said they have more work to do if they want to prove these cases.”

The opinion: London-Sire Records, et al. v Doe 1 et al. - Order on Motion to Quash

After briefing, argument, and amicus participation, the Court concludes that it has insufficient information to allow the plaintiffs to take expedited discovery under these circumstances. First, the movants are entitled to some First Amendment protection of their anonymity — albeit limited. Second, the defendants may have expectations of privacy with regard to their identity, but that depends on the terms of the internet service agreement they have with Boston University, which has not been provided to the Court. Third, the movants have raised an issue of fact with respect to the number of identities disclosed to the plaintiffs by the expedited discovery. As it currently exists, the plaintiffs’ subpoena may invade the anonymity of many non-infringing internet users — anonymity that deserves protection by the Court. Under these circumstances, the best solution is in camera review of the terms of service agreement and the ISP’s list of individuals who match the information supplied by the plaintiffs.

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