Trying to gain ground in China, Google, the search engine company, said Monday that it had begun to offer links to free music downloads — a service it does not offer anywhere else in the world.
Google executives said they were responding to the phenomenal popularity of free music downloads in China, one of the few markets where the company lags, by forming an alliance with the music industry, including Sony, Universal Music and Warner Music.
March 30, 2009
Searching for the Model [8:36 am]
In much of the world, American newspapers are seen as journalism’s gold standard. But the American newspaper’s business model appears to be broken. While much of Europe faces many of the same problems, a few newspaper publishers have found innovative ways not only to survive, but thrive in the face of the recession and the Internet.
[...] A business that has lost more than a quarter of its global sales over the last decade might not seem like the best example to follow. But alongside the wreckage left by digital piracy, new business models are emerging in the music industry — with Europe in the vanguard.
Few Europeans willing to pay for music directly, through services like iTunes, so the industry is instead bundling music costs into a broadband subscription, like basic cable channels do in the United States.
The Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism, skeptical of applying micropayments to newspapers, has suggested providing access to newspaper Web sites for a fee paid at the Internet service provider level. For such models to succeed, newspapers would have to work together.
A group of newspapers in the French-speaking part of Belgium have shown the possibilities and the limitations of cooperating when faced with Google, which some see as a common enemy.
3-D, Movies and Digital Distribution [8:19 am]
The magic bullet for the movie theater business? I know I’ve been mightily impressed by the technology (I saw Coraline a few weeks ago in 3D, which I was dreading, but I have been a convert ever since). it may not be the magic bullet, but it is an awfully impressive bit of technology: 3-D Helps Propel Success of No. 1 Film ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ (pdf)
Consider DreamWorks Animation validated in its chest-thumping about a new golden era for 3-D.
“Monsters vs. Aliens,” positioned by the studio and its distributor, Paramount Pictures, as a make-or-break moment for digital 3-D, sold an estimated $58.2 million in tickets at North American theaters over the weekend, according to Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking firm. It’s the biggest opening so far of the year. But a deeper look at the numbers indicates that 3-D is the story.
Canute Was King of England, Too [7:25 am]
In the ruling, the judge in London, Nicholas Blake, also added a peculiar twist: The Guardian must not tell readers how easy it is to locate the documents at Web sites outside of Britain. It was only the latest example of British courts trying to preserve what it saw as litigants’ rights even in the face of an onslaught of information on the Internet. To some, this may be a final, futile effort.
In November, a court order prevented British newspapers from printing a leaked list of members of the far-right British National Party. Unfortunately for the court, that material was available at, among other sites, wikileaks.org, which also hosts the Barclays documents.
[...] “The Internet is throwing sharp relief to the illogical nature of our system,” said Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian. “Technology is way ahead of the law, and the law is limping along trying to make sense of it.”
The effect of the Internet on judges’ rulings is not a uniquely British problem, said Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard law professor who taught at Oxford. There is at least one example, he said, of an American court ordering a Web site not to link to content it had been ordered to take down. But he added that “British courts may be a little more confident of their own power, and be less willing to cave in to practicalities.”
The Barclays case pits two interests against each other, said James Edelman, a law professor at Oxford who argues media law cases. Since 1988, Professor Edelman said, British law has given great protection to the right of confidentiality, applying it to third parties like The Guardian, which received the documents from someone else. Yet, the “public interest” in learning about what is contained in those documents, he said, can often outweigh confidentiality considerations.
Finally, there is a basic factual question: is the material already in the public domain? And this is where the Internet throws a wrench into the proceedings.
Internet Balkanization? Or Survival? [7:20 am]
Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable operator in the country, is working with customers here to test a subscriber model for online TV viewing. Residents who pay for HBO can watch “Big Love,” “Entourage” and other programs on their computers, using special software and a personal log-in. People who are not HBO subscribers are barred from the service.
Vanity Magazine Publishing [7:17 am]
With a new Web service called MagCloud, Hewlett-Packard hopes to make it easier and cheaper to crank out a magazine than running photocopies at the local copy shop.
Charging 20 cents a page, paid only when a customer orders a copy, H.P. dreams of turning MagCloud into vanity publishing’s equivalent of YouTube. The company, a leading maker of computers and printers, envisions people using their PCs to develop quick magazines commemorating their daughter’s volleyball season or chronicling the intricacies of the Arizona cactus business.
“There are so many of the nichey, maybe weird-at-first communities, that can use this,” said Andrew Bolwell, head of the MagCloud effort at Hewlett-Packard. Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi who plans to use the technology in his classroom, said, “We’re not talking about replacing the Vanity Fairs of the world. But it’s a nifty idea for a vanity press that reminds me of the underground zines we had in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Should the service take off, Hewlett could expand its lucrative business of selling huge digital printers to companies that would print the magazine and then ship its profitable inks by the barrel instead of the ounce.
March 27, 2009
Canute’s Putting A Shrimp On The Barbie [10:36 am]
Australia’s communications minister has defended a proposed Internet blacklist as necessary to combat child pornography but admitted that at least one site had been wrongly blocked during trials.
Stephen Conroy also told Australian Broadcasting Corporation television on Thursday night that the blacklist was not censorship of the type practiced by China or Saudi Arabia.
“It is possible to support a blacklist and support free speech,” Conroy said. He did not explain how.
March 26, 2009
In Case You’ve Been Asleep, Or Something [8:23 am]
According to RealAge, more than 27 million people have taken the test, which asks 150 or so questions about lifestyle and family history to assign a “biological age,” how young or old your habits make you. Then, RealAge makes recommendations on how to get “younger,” like taking multivitamins, eating breakfast and flossing your teeth. Nine million of those people have signed up to become RealAge members.
But while RealAge promotes better living through nonmedical solutions, the site makes its money by selling better living through drugs.
Pharmaceutical companies pay RealAge to compile test results of RealAge members and send them marketing messages by e-mail. The drug companies can even use RealAge answers to find people who show symptoms of a disease — and begin sending them messages about it even before the people have received a diagnosis from their doctors.
While few people would fill out a detailed questionnaire about their health and hand it over to a drug company looking for suggestions for new medications, that is essentially what RealAge is doing.
See also Your Online Clicks Have Value, for Someone Who Has Something to Sell (pdf) — although, not as much as they used to, I would say
March 25, 2009
Pixazza - Something New (To Me, Anyway) [2:26 pm]
Pixazza Launches ‘Product in the Picture’ Service (*don’t* ask me how I came across this)
Pixazza, Inc. today unveiled a new internet service which turns static images into engaging content, while generating incremental income for web publishers. Pixazza enables consumers to simply mouse over images on their favorite web sites to learn more and see related products. To achieve scale, Pixazza utilizes a proprietary crowdsourcing platform, enlisting a distributed workforce of product experts to match products inside an image, with similar items from its network of advertisers.
Documenting Canute’s Futile Struggle [8:13 am]
Two articles on why one can’t stop the tide:
With its lingering debt problems resolved for now, Blockbuster is pinning some of its hopes on a digital future.
The struggling video rental chain will announce a partnership with TiVo on Wednesday to deliver Blockbuster’s digital movie library over the Internet directly to the televisions of people with TiVo digital video recorders.
Metro plans to acquire 24-7 Entertainment, which handles the logistics of music, video and ring tone downloads, including digital rights management, for companies like telecommunication operators and retailers. Metro hopes that the company, which has access to a database of five million songs, will help it expand the offerings of its consumer electronics business.
Routing Around Censorship? [8:07 am]
Google said it did not know why the site had been blocked, but a report by the official Xinhua news agency of China on Tuesday said that supporters of the Dalai Lama had fabricated a video that appeared to show Chinese police officers brutally beating Tibetans after riots last year in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.
Xinhua did not identify the video, but based on the description it appears to match a video available on YouTube that was recently released by the Tibetan government in exile.
[...] “We don’t know the reason for the block,” a Google spokesman, Scott Rubin, said. “Our government relations people are trying to resolve it.”
Mr. Rubin said that the company first noticed traffic from China had decreased sharply late Monday. By early Tuesday, he said, it had dropped to nearly zero.
China routinely filters Internet content and blocks material that is critical of its policies. It also frequently blocks individual videos on YouTube. YouTube was not blocked Tuesday or Wednesday in Hong Kong, the largely autonomous region of China. Beijing has not interfered with Internet sites there.
“The instant speculation is that YouTube is being blocked because the Tibetan government in exile released a particular video,” said Xiao Qiang, adjunct professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and editor of China Digital Times, a news Web site that chronicles political and economic changes in China.
Mr. Xiao said that the blocking of YouTube fit with what appeared to be an effort by China to step up its censorship of the Internet in recent months. [...]
March 23, 2009
Pushing the Limit [9:31 am]
(I’d have posted this sooner, but at least one of the subsidiary content sources on the NYTimes home page is hanging browsers, and I had to work though which functionality I could drop — and which I needed — to see the NYTinmes’ page today)
A criminal outbreak, or a problem with the law — pushing the limit like this means we’ll get closer to hearing a real decision, but it also means that there’s going to be a lot of pain in the interim: Rights Clash on YouTube, and Videos Vanish (pdf)
In early December, Juliet Weybret, a high school sophomore and aspiring rock star from Lodi, Calif., recorded a video of herself playing the piano and singing “Winter Wonderland,” and she posted it on YouTube.
Weeks later, she received an e-mail message from YouTube: her video was being removed “as a result of a third-party notification by the Warner Music Group,” which owns the copyright to the Christmas carol.
Hers is not an isolated case. Countless other amateurs have been ensnared in a dispute between Warner Music and YouTube, which is owned by Google. The conflict centers on how much Warner should be paid for the use of its copyrighted works — its music videos — but has grown to include other material produced by amateurs that may also run afoul of copyright law.
Warner Brothers Trying Something Out [7:38 am]
Warner Bros. is reaching into its film vaults so it can sell old movies on made-to-order DVDs, in a move it hopes will goose sales of a vital product in a downturn.
Starting Monday, the studio will sell copies of 150 films from the silent era to the 1980s Brat Pack that have never been released on DVD. Internet downloads of the movies will cost $14.95, while DVDs sent in the mail are $19.95. Both can be ordered at http://www.warnerarchive.com.
The initiative, which Warner claims is the first of its kind for a major studio, is an effort by the Time Warner Inc. subsidiary to combat what could be a fundamental decline in demand for DVD purchases — a falloff that can be blamed on market saturation as much as the recession.
[...] Warner’s decision to open up its vault “sounds like it’s a risk-free way for them to generate a little money on some very old content,” Adams said. By making the DVDs only when the movies are ordered by a customer, Warner doesn’t have to worry about filling up a warehouse with inventory that struggles to sell.
Hal Abelson Continues To Make Headway [7:31 am]
First DSpace, now this — from MIT’s student paper, The Tech: MIT Will Publish All Faculty Articles Free In Online Repository (pdf)
Faculty voted unanimously this week to approve a resolution that allows MIT to freely and publicly distribute research articles they write. MIT plans to create a repository to make these articles available online.
The resolution, effective immediately after it was passed on Wednesday, makes MIT the first university to commit to making its faculty’s research papers publicly available. Though the School of Education at Stanford and several departments at Harvard have already adopted these policies, MIT is the first entire university to make this pledge.
The open-access rule will only apply to articles published since Wednesday. Researchers who wish to opt-out do so by sending a letter notifying the Office of the Provost.
IF YOU THINK this is the era of e-government and transparency, it’s time to think again. Hard as it is to imagine, there’s a move afoot in Congress to take away the public’s free online access to tax-funded medical research findings.
[...] Under the current policy, which is similar to practices of other funders worldwide, researchers who accept NIH funds must deposit their resulting peer-reviewed scientific articles in the PubMed Central archive. There the articles are permanently preserved in digital form, made searchable, linked to related information, and offered free to all on the Web. It’s a fair deal: Researchers get financial support for their work; taxpayers get a resource that will further advance science and address the public’s need to know.
But a group of well-heeled scientific journal publishers is trying to turn back the clock. They’ve backed legislation to rescind this widely hailed NIH policy. Elsevier, publisher of The Lancet, for example, is part of the Association of American Publishers, which has joined with the so-called DC Principles Coalition to ramrod the bill in Congress.
Fair Copyright in Research Works Act - Prohibits any federal agency from imposing any condition, in connection with a funding agreement, that requires the transfer or license to or for a federal agency, or requires the absence or abandonment, of specified exclusive rights of a copyright owner in an extrinsic work.
Prohibits any federal agency from: (1) imposing, as a condition of a funding agreement, the waiver of, or assent to, any such prohibition; or (2) asserting any rights in material developed under any funding agreement that restrain or limit the acquisition or exercise of copyright rights in an extrinsic work. [...]
Nice name: “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act” — of course, “fairness” is in the eye of the beholder.
March 19, 2009
Really? [9:35 am]
Yesterday, I saved an article (pdf) for a potential teaching moment next fall about the fact that the sale of Colorado River water rights means that it’s illegal to collect rainwater for personal use in parts of the Colorado River watershed. Here’s a related article, on a topic more pertinent to this blog: Why Do Girl Scouts Ban Online Cookie Sales? (pdf) (thanks Junjay and Jesse!)
In late January, they posted a YouTube video, starring Freeborn in Girl Scout gear, touting her straightforward sales pitch. “Buy cookies! And they’re yummy!” Soon after, they set up an online order system that was limited to customers within their local area (so Freeborn could personally deliver them). While her online sales strategy took hold, she continued peddling cookies the traditional way—going door to door and working booths at the local grocery store. Within two weeks, more than 700 orders for Thin Mints, Caramel DeLites and Peanut Butter Patties reached the Freeborns solely through the online form.
Considering that the national Girl Scout Cookie Program bills itself as the largest program to teach entrepreneurship to young girls, this e-commerce strategy seems especially savvy. But some families in the community felt threatened by the Freeborn’s unconventional efforts, likely because various prizes (including camp vouchers, stuffed animals and apparel) are given out by local councils to girls who sell a certain amount of boxes. “If you have an individual girl that creates a Web presence, she can suck the opportunity from other girls,” says Matthew Markie, a parent who remains involved in Girl Scouts even though his three daughters are well into their 20s. Markie, and other disapproving parents, brought the Freeborn’s site to the attention of local Girl Scout officials who told the Freeborns to take down their YouTube video and reminded the family of the organization’s longstanding prohibition of online sales. According to the FAQ on the national organization’s Web site, “The safety of our girls is always our chief concern. Girl Scout Cookie activities are designed to be face-to-face learning experiences for the girls.”
Design, Emergence and Multistability [9:22 am]
The inability of the world’s best computer security technologists to gain the upper hand against anonymous but determined cybercriminals is viewed by a growing number of those involved in the fight as evidence of a fundamental security weakness in the global network.
“I walked up to a three-star general on Wednesday and asked him if he could help me deal with a million-node botnet,” said Rick Wesson, a computer security researcher involved in combating Conficker. “I didn’t get an answer.”
[...] Researchers who have been painstakingly disassembling the Conficker code have not been able to determine where the author, or authors, is located, or whether the program is being maintained by one person or a group of hackers. The growing suspicion is that Conficker will ultimately be a computing-for-hire scheme. Researchers expect it will imitate the hottest fad in the computer industry, called cloud computing, in which companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems sell computing as a service over the Internet.
[...] Several people who have analyzed various versions of the program said Conficker’s authors were obviously monitoring the efforts to restrict the malicious program and had repeatedly demonstrated that their skills were at the leading edge of computer technology.
I’m not sure that the “fundamental security weakness” is in the network, and I’m equally unsure that network (re)design alone is going to resolve it, either. But an easy to identify villain (pdf) always makes for good copy.
Another Take on Open vs. Closed [9:15 am]
I have to confess — I really wanted to like the new Sony eBook Reader. As a way to carry large volumes of content when on the road (a professional necessity in my case, between teaching materials, paper reading & editing, and other materials), it seemed so much less painful than stacks of dead tree slices or PDFs on a laptop. But the closed architecture (yes, yes — it will take in PDFs, but only in the most limited way possible, and particularly ineffectively for someone with eyes as old as mine) of their file format (not to mention their focus upon the Windows platform - read the fine print!), I had to take it back. Now, we get this odd partnership: Sony and Google Announcing E-Book Partnership (pdf)
Aiming to outdo Amazon.com and recapture the crown for the most digital titles in an e-book library, Sony is announcing Thursday a deal with Google to make a half million copyright-free books available for its Reader device, a rival to the Amazon Kindle.
[...] Google has been working to encode books in a free, open electronic publishing format, ePub, which makes them easier to read on devices like the Reader. The company is aiming to gradually increase the number of copyright-free books in the Google Book Search catalog available to Sony and any other e-book distributor that shares its goals of making books more accessible.
If one could only reasonably expect that Sony will adopt this format for their reader. But, this is Sony — the champions of control over openness (a/k/a willing to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face — so I expect that what will happen instead will be that they will instead helpfully “translate” ePub files into the Sony format. (Note that, in order to get at the Google books, one must employ the Sony eBook Library Software. As the text on the page notes: “PRS-500 [the 1st generation product reader] is not currently compatible with the books from Google.” That could mean many things, of course.))
*sigh* You have to wonder what Akio Morita would suggest.
March 18, 2009
In Search of the Golden Price Point [7:36 am]
As the music industry watches in horror while physical CD sales tumble and digital sales fail to bridge the gap, online MP3 retailers are trying to stem the bleeding with an age-old technique: slashing prices.
[...] Cheap just may be the answer. Former illegal file-sharer Jungmann was often dissatisfied with what he found in the peer-to-peer world of Napster and Kazaa. “It didn’t have the sound quality,” he says. Besides, he says, laughing, “It’s too much work to steal stuff.” And that should really be music to the industry’s ears.
Not only embracing the model, but also the rhetoric — what more could they ask for?
March 17, 2009
And I thought it was hard trying to make students understand that Wikipedia is not a reliable source: Mistrial by iPhone - Juries’ Web Research Upends Trials (pdf)
Last week, a juror in a big federal drug trial in Florida admitted to the judge that he had been doing research on the case on the Internet, directly violating the judge’s instructions and centuries of legal rules. But when the judge questioned the rest of the jury, he got an even bigger shock.
Eight other jurors had been doing the same thing. The federal judge, William J. Zloch, had no choice but to declare a mistrial, wasting eight weeks of work by federal prosecutors and defense lawyers.
“We were stunned,” said the defense lawyer, Peter Raben, who was told by the jury that he was on the verge of winning the case. “It’s the first time modern technology struck us in that fashion, and it hit us right over the head.”
It might be called a Google mistrial. The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges.
“Family Guy” Success [11:54 am]
Creators of the U.S. television show “Family Guy” did not infringe copyright when they transformed the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” for comical use in an episode, a U.S. judge ruled on Monday.
[...] U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts ruled that the lyrics and tone of the song used in “Family Guy” were “strikingly different.”
The judge also said it was fair for it to be imitated for humorous effect since the music publisher had benefited from the songs association with other more “wholesome” shows like “Pinocchio.”
“It is precisely that beneficial association that opens the song up for ridicule by parodists seeking to take the wind out of such lofty, magical, or pure associations,” she said.