May 31, 2008

And This *Isn’t* A Privacy Concern? [11:47 am]

Billboards That Look Back

Billboards are a different story. For the most part, they are still a relic of old-world media, and the best guesses about viewership numbers come from foot traffic counts or highway reports, neither of which guarantees that the people passing by were really looking at the billboard, or that they were the ones sought out.

Now, some entrepreneurs have introduced technology to solve that problem. They are equipping billboards with tiny cameras that gather details about passers-by — their gender, approximate age and how long they looked at the billboard. These details are transmitted to a central database.

Behind the technology are small start-ups that say they are not storing actual images of the passers-by, so privacy should not be a concern. The cameras, they say, use software to determine that a person is standing in front of a billboard, then analyze facial features (like cheekbone height and the distance between the nose and the chin) to judge the person’s gender and age. So far the companies are not using race as a parameter, but they say that they can and will soon.

The goal, these companies say, is to tailor a digital display to the person standing in front of it — to show one advertisement to a middle-aged white woman, for example, and a different one to a teenage Asian boy.

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May 22, 2008

“Equal Pay For Equal Work” [9:28 am]

Hoo-boy — this is going to be a tough one when the negotiations start up: The Star of Grand Theft Auto IV Finds a Somewhat Small Paycheck

That is because the contracts between the actors’ union and the entertainment industry make little or no provision for electronic media like video games and the Internet. It is a discrepancy that is expected to dominate negotiations between Hollywood and the guild this summer, with many predicting an actors’ strike to parallel the writers’ strike last year, which revolved around similar issues.

“Obviously I’m incredibly thankful to Rockstar for the opportunity to be in this game when I was just a nobody, an unknown quantity,” Mr. Hollick, 35, said last week over dinner in Willamsburg, Brooklyn, shortly after performing in the aerial theater show “Fuerzabruta” in Union Square. “But it’s tough, when you see Grand Theft Auto IV out there as the biggest thing going right now, when they’re making hundreds of millions of dollars, and we don’t see any of it. I don’t blame Rockstar. I blame our union for not having the agreements in place to protect the creative people who drive the sales of these games. Yes, the technology is important, but it’s the human performances within them that people really connect to, and I hope actors will get more respect for the work they do within those technologies.”

Rockstar declined to comment for this article, but it is an issue that has been hanging over the video game industry for years. On the one hand, through both creative and technical ambition, game makers are infusing their wares with more realistic characters and stories than ever. On the other hand, the $18 billion United States game industry has steadfastly refused to pay royalties to voice and motion-capture body actors along the lines of other entertainment media.

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I’ll Believe It When I See It [8:36 am]

And I still won’t believe it. After all, Word “saves” files as HTML, too — unwieldy, horrible HTML that is essentially useless if you want to edit or revise the file — unless you use Word to do it (side note: another example of the NYTimes-as-Microsoft-cheerleader): Open-Source File Format Is to Be a Part of Microsoft Office

Microsoft was set to announce Thursday that it would make the interchangeable document format of a competitor available in its own market-leading Office 2007 software during the first half of 2009.

The company, under pressure from European regulators, national standards organizations and its own government clients, said it planned to give customers the ability to open, edit and save documents in Open Document Format — the main competitor to the Microsoft Word format — through a free update.

With the update, consumers will be able to save text documents in ODF format and adjust Office 2007 settings to automatically save documents in the rival format

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Tom the Dancing Bug on Copyright [7:41 am]

last two panels from the cartoon

The League of Public Domain Properties seeks to save a colleague trapped in a tower, with (un)surprising results: Tom the Dancing Bug; May 22 2008

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May 20, 2008

Dataveillance Abroad [7:48 am]

‘Big Brother’ database for phones and e-mails (pdf)

A massive government database holding details of every phone call, e-mail and time spent on the internet by the public is being planned as part of the fight against crime and terrorism. Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecoms companies would hand over the records to the Home Office under plans put forward by officials.

The information would be held for at least 12 months and the police and security services would be able to access it if given permission from the courts.

The proposal will raise further alarm about a “Big Brother” society, as it follows plans for vast databases for the ID cards scheme and NHS patients. There will also be concern about the ability of the Government to manage a system holding billions of records. About 57 billion text messages were sent in Britain last year, while an estimated 3 billion e-mails are sent every day.

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Hoo-Boy [7:30 am]

A test of “the customer is always right:” Cisco File Raises Censorship Concerns (pdf)

Cisco Systems, seeking to penetrate the Chinese market, prepared an internal marketing presentation in which it appeared to be willing to assist the Chinese Ministry of Public Security in its goal of “combating Falun Gong evil cult and other hostile elements,” according to a translation of a document obtained by congressional investigators.

The Cisco presentation will take center stage today at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Global Internet Freedom Act, which aims to defeat Internet censorship. The Washington Post obtained a copy of the presentation, the authenticity of which was confirmed by Cisco.

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Lessig OpEd on Orphan Works Legislation [7:09 am]

And people keep trying to paint him as being opposed to all copyright — a critique of S.2913: the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. Little Orphan Artworks

The solution before Congress, however, is both unfair and unwise. The bill would excuse copyright infringers from significant damages if they can prove that they made a “diligent effort” to find the copyright owner. A “diligent effort” is defined as one that is “reasonable and appropriate,” as determined by a set of “best practices” maintained by the government.

But precisely what must be done by either the “infringer” or the copyright owner seeking to avoid infringement is not specified upfront. The bill instead would have us rely on a class of copyright experts who would advise or be employed by libraries. These experts would encourage copyright infringement by assuring that the costs of infringement are not too great. The bill makes no distinction between old and new works, or between foreign and domestic works. All work, whether old or new, whether created in America or Ukraine, is governed by the same slippery standard.

The proposed change is unfair because since 1978, the law has told creators that there was nothing they needed to do to protect their copyright. Many have relied on that promise. Likewise, the change is unfair to foreign copyright holders, who have little notice of arcane changes in Copyright Office procedures, and who will now find their copyrights vulnerable to willful infringement by Americans.

The change is also unwise, because for all this unfairness, it simply wouldn’t do much good. The uncertain standard of the bill doesn’t offer any efficient opportunity for libraries or archives to make older works available, because the cost of a “diligent effort” is not going to be cheap. The only beneficiaries would be the new class of “diligent effort” searchers who would be a drain on library budgets.

Congress could easily address the problem of orphan works in a manner that is efficient and not unfair to current or foreign copyright owners. Following the model of patent law, Congress should require a copyright owner to register a work after an initial and generous term of automatic and full protection.

[...] Congress should be pushing for rules that encourage clarity, not more work for copyright experts.

See also H.R.5889

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May 16, 2008

Ideology and Technology [3:12 pm]

Once they were called hackers; now the term (if Make magazine has its way) is “makers:” This, From That — Maker Faire

“We are grabbing technology, ripping the back off of it and reaching our hands in where we are not supposed to be,” says Shannon O’Hare, who has brought his three-story Victorian mansion on wheels, one of the most prominent examples of the anachronistic style known as steampunk, to the Faire. He is holding forth in a vintage British military uniform and pith helmet, and is gesturing with a hand that holds a sloshing tankard of ale.

“We’ve been told by corporate America that we cannot fix the things we own,” says Mr. O’Hare, who goes by Major Catastrophe and works as a fabricator for the stage and businesses. “All we can do is buy their stuff and like it.” Cars have become too complex to work on under a shade tree, and people have no idea what is inside their cellphones and cameras. “All this technology, and it’s not ours. It’s somebody else’s,” Mr. O’Hare says. “ Make is about taking that back off and making it yours.”

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The Power of the Network Effect [7:11 am]

The NYTimes well-established pro-Microsoft slant on technology news is particularly evident in this writeup, which seems somehow to indicate that OLPC had been bullying the Redmond firm. But the news also shows that it’s awfully difficult to beat the network effect, even with free software: Microsoft Joins Effort for Laptops for Children

After a years-long dispute, Microsoft and the computing and education project One Laptop Per Child said Thursday that they had reached an agreement to offer Windows on the organization’s computers.

Microsoft long resisted joining the ambitious project because its laptops used the Linux operating system, a freely distributed alternative to Windows.

The group’s small, sturdy laptops, designed for use by children in developing nations, have been hailed for their innovative design. But they are sold mainly to governments and education ministries, and initial sales were slow, partly because countries were reluctant to buy machines that did not run Windows, the dominant operating system.

[...] [T]he alliance with Microsoft has created some turmoil within the project. Walter Bender, the president who oversaw software development, resigned last month. His departure, Mr. Negroponte said, was “a huge loss to O.L.P.C.”

Inside the project, there have been people who, Mr. Negroponte said, came to regard the use of open-source software as one of the project’s ends instead of its means.

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CBS Goes All In [7:03 am]

CBS in Deal to Buy CNet to Increase Online Ads

On Thursday, CBS announced a $1.8 billion deal to buy the online media brand CNet Networks, home of Web sites like (on technology), BNet (on business), GameSpot (on video games), (on television), and CHOW (on cooking).

CBS has been snapping up small Web sites in the last year or so, including, a music Web site it bought for $280 million, according to regulatory filings. It also acquired Wallstrip, which makes irreverent financial-themed Web videos, and DotSpotter, a celebrity gossip site.

But at $1.8 billion, Thursday’s deal for CNet is the biggest by far in its recent Internet expansion, making the network — and therefore Mr. Smith — bigger players in online media.

Also CBS agrees to buy Internet media firm CNET (pdf); and an analysis over at Slate: Network 2.0

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May 15, 2008

First Arlen Specter and the Patriots, Now This [5:17 pm]

This week’s indicted “ham sandwich:” Woman indicted in fatal MySpace hoax on girl (pdf)

A 49-year-old Missouri mother accused of using a fake MySpace persona to “torment, harass, humiliate and embarrass” a 13-year-old girl who hanged herself was indicted on Thursday on federal charges.

See earlier posts: this, this, and this and more

The LATimes article: L.A. files ‘cyber bully’ charges against Missouri mother in connection with girl’s suicide (pdf)

Invoking a criminal statute more commonly used to go after computer hackers or crooked government employees, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles on Thursday charged a Missouri mother with fraudulently creating a MySpace account and using it to “cyber-bully” a 13-year-old girl who later committed suicide.

[...] Local and federal authorities in Missouri initially looked into the circumstances surrounding Megan’s October 2006 death in Dardenne Prairie, an upper-middle-class enclave of about 7,400 people 35 miles northwest of St. Louis, but declined to file charges, saying they were unable to find a statute under which to pursue a criminal case.

O’Brien said attorneys in his office were aware of the case, saw a Los Angeles nexus because MySpace Inc. is a local company and began their own investigation with the assistance of prosecutors in Missouri and FBI agents in Los Angeles and Missouri.

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Is Your ISP Blocking BitTorrent? [2:21 pm]

A report from From the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems: Glasnost: Results from Tests for BitTorrent Traffic Blocking

More than 8,000 users from locations around the world have used our tool, Glasnost, to test whether their BitTorrent traffic is being manipulated. On this page, we present preliminary results from these tests. The tests were conducted between March 18th and May 15th 2008.


  1. All hosts which observed blocking did so in the upstream direction (i.e., when the client host attempted to upload data to one of our Glasnost servers). Only a handful of hosts observed blocking for downstream BitTorrent transfers.

  2. We found widespread blocking of BitTorrent transfers only in the U.S. and Singapore. Interestingly, even within these countries, most of the hosts that observed blocking belonged to a few large ISPs.

  3. Both in the U.S. and in Singapore, all hosts that suffered BitTorrent blocking are located in cable ISPs. We did not see any blocking of BitTorrent transfers from DSL hosts in these countries.

Most (573 of 599) U.S. hosts that observed blocking are located in Comcast and Cox networks. In Singapore, all blocked hosts are connected using the StarHub network. While we did observe blocking for hosts in 10 other ISPs (7 of which are in the U.S.), we did not see widespread blocking of BitTorrent traffic for hosts in those ISPs.

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A Name Out Of History [2:13 pm]

Harvey Schein, Promoter of Betamax at Sony, Dies at 80

Harvey L. Schein, who led the Sony Corporation of America in the 1970s and doubled its size in spite of championing the failed Betamax video recording system and clashing with Sony’s top Japanese executives, died Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 80, and had homes in Manhattan; Washington, Conn.; and Sanibel, Fla.

[...] In 1976, alarmed by what they saw as the parasitic nature of the home recording of television programs and fearing that people who recorded television shows to watch later would never tune in to reruns, MCA/Universal and Walt Disney Productions filed suit against Sony, charging copyright infringement and asking for an injunction against sales of the Betamax.

The suit was highly public. Mr. Schein appeared on Walter Cronkite’s nightly newscast with Sidney Sheinberg, the president of MCA/Universal, who called him a “highwayman.” And even though the publicity did not ultimately save the Betamax, it did help build consumer enthusiasm for new possibilities in home entertainment.

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May 13, 2008

Android Projects [7:10 am]

Building a better cellphone (pdf)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Hal Abelson put that question to about 20 computer science students this semester when he gave them one assignment: Design a software program for cellphones that use Google Inc.s upcoming Android mobile operating system.

In the process, they revealed the power of an open system like Android to shake up the mobile phone industry, where wireless companies are being pressured to loosen the control they have maintained over what devices do. If the brainstorms of these MIT students are an indication, phones will soon challenge the Internet as a source of innovation.

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May 8, 2008

Brewster Kahle Gets the FBI To Blink? [11:53 am]

What the heck is going on here? FBI Backs Off From Secret Order for Data After Lawsuit (pdf - comments)

The FBI has withdrawn a secret administrative order seeking the name, address and online activity of a patron of the Internet Archive after the San Francisco-based digital library filed suit to block the action.

It is one of only three known instances in which the FBI has backed off from such a data demand, known as a “national security letter,” or NSL, which is not subject to judicial approval and whose recipient is barred from disclosing the order’s existence.

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TorrentSpy Case [11:02 am]

Six studios win copyright award against file-sharing site (pdf)

The six major Hollywood studios have won a $111-million judgment for copyright infringement against shut-down file-sharing website

The judgment, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, charged the operator of the website, Valence Media, $30,000 per violation.

Opinion not posted at the court’s site. See also Studios win $111 million judgment against TorrentSpy and TorrentSpy to appeal whopper legal judgment

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May 7, 2008

Hmm - Speaking of “Tethered” [3:07 pm]

It’s a NYTimes blog, not the paper, but this is pretty provocative, even with the “may:” Microsoft May Build a Copyright Cop Into Every Zune

Late Tuesday afternoon I reached J. B. Perrette, the president of digital distribution for NBC Universal, to ask why NBC found Microsoft’s video store more appealing than Apple’s.

He explained that NBC, like most studios, would like the broadest distribution possible for its programming. But it has two disputes with Apple.

First, Apple insists that all TV shows have an identical wholesale price so that it can sell all of them at $1.99. NBC wants to sell its programs for whatever price it chooses.

Second, Apple refused to cooperate with NBC on building filters into its iPod player to remove pirated movies and videos.

Microsoft, by contrast, will accept NBC’s pricing scheme and will work with it to try to develop a copyright “cop” to be installed on its devices.

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House Commerce Subcommittee Hearing Yesterday [2:49 pm]

Titled: H.R. 5353, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 (Bill Summary from Thomas)

Here’s an excerpt from Mitch Bainwol’s testimony in favor of a tethered internet HR 5353:

If we leave you with only one concept, it is the following: The Internet ought not be a place where chaos in the name of freedom is allowed to reign supreme. Rather, the Internet should be a place where freedom coexists comfortably with respect for property – with respect for order. Order means safety on the Internet, it means tools for parents to do their job raising their kids, and it means consumers enjoy the high speed pipes they purchased without degradation because someone in their neighborhood is downloading obscenity or child pornography, or stealing huge amounts of music. It means having an online environment that encourages innovation for legitimate commerce and social discourse and at the same time also has appropriate deterrents for online theft and other illegal behavior.

See also RIAA: Don’t let Net neutrality hurt piracy fight

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May 6, 2008

Universities and the RIAA Suits [3:50 pm]

A new game challenging the “making available” argument? Mysterious Multiplication of Copyright Complaints (pdf)

[...] Indiana officials are now discussing whether they should continue to respond to complaints from the recording industry with the same aggressiveness. It’s not that university leaders have suddenly decided that illegal behavior isn’t wrong; instead, they are beginning to question the legitimacy of the notices the Recording Industry Association of America sends accusing network users of illegally sharing music.

That’s because, like many colleges and universities, officials at Indiana have seen an eye-popping increase in the number of complaints they’ve received at a time when campus administrators say they have not seen any sort of rise in traffic that would suggest more piracy. Instead, college technology experts — lacking an explanation from industry officials for the upturn — suspect that the recording industry has altered the standards it uses to allege illegal behavior, targeting not only instances in which computer users have actively shared music illegally, but instances in which they have stored downloaded music in a folder visible to other users, opening the way to a potential violation.

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CRM and WiFi [7:25 am]

A new wrinkle on Niche Envy: Free Wi-Fi, but Not for All

Travelers want to log on everywhere at no charge, while hotels, airports and coffee shops are looking for a way to pay for their Wi-Fi networks as visitors increasingly use greater amounts of bandwidth.

The compromise that is emerging is to offer both free and paid options, with the free services increasingly requiring something in return, like viewing an advertisement or signing up for a loyalty program.

[...] In other words, loyalty has its benefits — and these days, free Internet access is one of them.

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May 2008
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