June 30, 2009

Competing With the Renminbi? [1:58 pm]

Seriously? China Limits Use of Online Currency Used by Game Players

China made public on Tuesday regulations aimed at cracking down on the use of virtual currencies amid worries that a huge underground economy was developing out of the country’s online gaming community.

[...] Beijing said the regulations would curtail trading in virtual currencies, prevent online gambling and restrict virtual currency from being exchanged for cash or used to buy real-world goods.

Among other things, Chinese officials have worried that online currencies could ultimately serve as an alternative to China’s official currency, the renminbi, and have an impact on the country’s financial system.

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Delaying, But Not Really Reversing Course [1:55 pm]

Beijing Delays Rule on Software Censor

China’s state-run news agency said late Tuesday that the government had postponed a requirement, set to take effect Wednesday, to equip all newly sold computers with software to filter out objectionable Internet content.

[...] As a practical matter, the abrupt postponement bows to reality, because most of China’s computer retailers have large stocks of machines, manufactured months before the decree was announced, that have yet to be sold. Many global computer makers have declined to say how they would comply with the requirement, apparently hoping that the government would delay or reverse its decision under international pressure.

China’s industry and information technology ministry has cast the order as a move to shield children from obscene or violent Internet sites. But critics and technology experts here and abroad have called it an ill-concealed effort to rein in online criticism of the government and other speech that Beijing considers subversive.

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A Future for the Pirate Bay? [1:53 pm]

Outside of the parliament, I mean: Global Gaming Factory Buys the File-Sharing Site Pirate Bay

A small Swedish software company said Tuesday that it would buy the Pirate Bay, a notorious Internet file-sharing service whose founders were recently sentenced to prison for copyright violations, and hoped to turn the site into a legal source of free music and movies.

The company, Global Gaming Factory, said it had agreed to pay 60 million Swedish kronor, or $7.75 million, for the Pirate Bay, which says it has 20 million users worldwide. The site, the most prominent target of the international recording industry and Hollywood movie studios in their battle against digital piracy, continues to operate despite the guilty verdicts against its four founders in April.

Hans Pandeya, chief executive of Global Gaming Factory, said the company planned to turn the Pirate Bay into a legal provider of digital content through a new business model.

“Content owners hate file-sharers, but this is going to change,” Mr. Pandeya said.

Under the new system, he said, the Pirate Bay would generate revenue from several sources, including advertising.

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Cert Denied; DVR Decision Stands [12:20 pm]

Supreme Court Clears Way for Wider Use of DVR (pdf)

The Supreme Court on Monday delivered a blow to the television networks when it declined to hear a case about a digital video recorder technology, opening the gate for wider use of DVR systems.

The case began in 2006 when Cablevision Systems, the New York-area cable operator, announced plans for what is called a network DVR system. With it, a customer would use a remote control to digitally record a program like “60 Minutes” but instead of storing the show in the customer’s at-home DVR box, the technology would store the show on a faraway Cablevision server.

The technology would let Cablevision convert set-top boxes into boxes with DVR capabilities without requiring an installation or new equipment.

“It opens up the possibility of offering a DVR experience to all of our digital cable customers,” Tom Rutledge, Cablevision’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. Programmers including Turner Broadcasting System’s Cartoon Network, CNN and television networks sued Cablevision, saying the system violated copyright law. In March 2007, a lower court agreed, ruling that Cablevision “would be engaging in unauthorized reproductions and transmissions of plaintiffs’ copyrighted programs.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York reversed that decision in August 2008. The plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, but the Supreme Court’s refusal essentially reinforced the Second Circuit’s decision.

See the EFF page on this case. Also SCOTUSBlog entries.

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June 19, 2009

House Subcommittee Hearing on Internet Dataveillance [8:06 am]

Some interesting stuff to review here: Behavioral Advertising: Industry Practices and Consumers’ Expectations. Ed Felten was on the witness list, and he gives a nice synopsis of the technology, with the following conclusion:

Citizens are rightly concerned about the possibility that commercial entities will build extensive profiles of who they are and what they do online. Ad services are not the only parties who can assemble such profiles, but large ad services do have a prime opportunity to build profiles, due to their relationships with many content providers who can pass along information about users, and due to the ad services’ ability to connect the dots by linking together a user’s activities across different web sites.

All of this is possible, as a technical matter, which is not to say that responsible ad services do all of it, or even most of it. Ad services may be restrained by law, by self-regulation, by social norms, or by market pressures. What is clear is that technology, by itself, cannot protect users from broad gathering and use of information about what they do online.

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The Labels Now Have A Decision [7:12 am]

Instead of a settlement: Music Labels Win Almost $2 Million in Internet Case (pdf)

The Universal Music Group, owned by Vivendi, and other record labels were awarded $1.92 million on Thursday in the retrial of a Minnesota woman accused of swapping music over the Kazaa Internet service.

The federal jury in Minneapolis said the woman, Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 32, of Brainerd, should pay $80,000 for each of the 24 songs that were posted on the site so others could download them.

The first time the case went to trial, in 2007, a jury awarded $9,250 a song, or $222,000.

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June 18, 2009

No Belief in the “Tip Jar Economy” [10:21 am]

Use Their Work Free? Artists Say No to Google (pdf)

Mr. Taxali, an illustrator based in Toronto whose work has appeared in publications like Time, Newsweek and Fortune, received a call in April from a member of Google’s marketing department. According to Mr. Taxali, the Google representative explained that the project will let users customize Google Chrome pages with artist-designed “skins” in their borders.

“The first question I asked,” Mr. Taxali said in a recent interview, “is ‘What’s the fee?’”

Mr. Taxali said that when he was told Google would pay nothing, he declined.

In the ensuing weeks, a tide of indignation toward Google swelled among illustrators, who stay connected through Drawger, a Web site.

Ted Rall writes a letter to the Times today that is particularly scathing:

It’s offensive that a company that reports annual profits in the billions refuses to pay independent artists for their labor.

Sadly, the Web revolution has turned “information wants to be free” into a mantra. Whether it’s illustrators, cartoonists or musicians, working for free ought to have gone out with slavery. Congress ought to act to make it illegal for a profitable corporation to solicit work without paying for it.

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June 17, 2009

Another Legacy That Obama’s Making Little Headway On [1:31 pm]

E-Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns in Congress (pdf)

Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, has been investigating the incidents and said he had become increasingly troubled by the agency’s handling of domestic communications.

In an interview, Mr. Holt disputed assertions by Justice Department and national security officials that the overcollection was inadvertent.

“Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental,” Mr. Holt said.

Other Congressional officials raised similar concerns but would not agree to be quoted for the record.

Mr. Holt added that few lawmakers could challenge the agency’s statements because so few understood the technical complexities of its surveillance operations. “The people making the policy,” he said, “don’t understand the technicalities.”

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Civil Society and The Internet [1:29 pm]

The Iranian reaction to their election seems to have freed up a number of NYTimes articles looking at the influences of the Internet on social discourse:

  • Civic-Minded Chinese Find a Voice Online (pdf)

    Not all the crusades are entirely civic-minded. In more than a few cases, virtual mobs have harassed offending officials, posting personal information and other details. The nickname for such mobs, “human-flesh search engines,” hints at their pitiless nature.

    But the Internet campaigns have repeatedly produced results. Six officials were punished or fired in the prison beating. The Nanjing official with the flashy watch was sacked. The Yunnan dog killings have provoked harsh criticism, even in state-run newspapers.

    Most such cases, says Mr. Xiao, the Berkeley professor, spawn tens or hundreds of thousands of mentions on Internet blogs and other forums.

  • Social Networks Spread Defiance Online (pdf) (see also With a Hint to Twitter, Washington Taps Into a Potent New Force in Diplomacy - pdf)

    As the embattled government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be trying to limit Internet access and communications in Iran, new kinds of social media are challenging those traditional levers of state media control and allowing Iranians to find novel ways around the restrictions.

  • And Thomas Friedman is even getting in on the act — The Virtual Mosque (pdf)

    One of the most important reasons that the Islamists were able to covertly organize and mobilize, and be prepared when the lids in their societies were loosened a bit, was because they had the mosque — a place to gather, educate and inspire their followers — outside the total control of the state.

    [...] What is fascinating to me is the degree to which in Iran today — and in Lebanon — the more secular forces of moderation have used technologies like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, blogging and text-messaging as their virtual mosque, as the place they can now gather, mobilize, plan, inform and energize their supporters, outside the grip of the state.

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“If A Body Meet A Body” [1:22 pm]

Who “owns” Holden Caulfield? J. D. Salinger’s Suit Over ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ Sequel Goes to Court (pdf)

Both novels are set in New York, feature the same characters and use similar language. Mr. Salinger’s work opens with the 16-year-old Holden’s departure from a boarding school; the new book begins with “Mr. C” leaving a retirement home. Both end on a carousel in Central Park.

In a complaint of copyright infringement filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, where a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, lawyers for Mr. Salinger call the new novel “a rip-off pure and simple.” Lawyers for Fredrik Colting, the new author, filed a brief this week saying that the work is more complex than just a sequel, noting that Mr. Salinger himself is a character.

The new book, the brief said, “explores the famously reclusive Salinger’s efforts to control both his own persona and the persona of the character he created.”

It adds: “In order to regain control over his own life, which is drawing to a close, ‘Mr. Salinger’ tries repeatedly to kill off Mr. C by various means: a runaway truck; falling construction debris; a lunatic woman with a knife; suicide by drowning and suicide by pills.”

The case is one of several in recent years exploring how much license the public has to draw on a classic work. [...]

See also Save the Salinger Archives! from Slate

Later:

Holden Caulfield Hangs on to His Youth (pdf)

The judge, Deborah A. Batts of United States District Court in Manhattan, granted a 10-day temporary restraining order forbidding publication in the United States of a new book by a Swedish author that contains a 76-year-old version of Holden Caulfield while she considers arguments in a copyright-infringement case filed by Mr. Salinger.

[...] “It does seem to me that Holden Caulfield is quite delineated by words, that is a portrait by words,” Judge Batts told the lawyers. “It would seem that Holden Caulfield is copyrighted.” But the judge said she would take some time to reflect on whether the new book was sufficiently different from “The Catcher in the Rye” to fall under the protection of the fair-use provision of copyright law.

Even later: an NYTimes editorial — Holden, Young and Old (pdf)

Some adolescents, like Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn, were born to remain adolescent. But these two characters live, as it were, in separate legal kingdoms. Because Huck Finn lives in the public domain, outside of copyright, anyone can write another chapter in his life without penalty. What keeps Huck eternally young is, in a sense, the force of his personality and the strength of his author’s imagination.

Because copyright extends during the author’s lifetime, plus 70 years, the character of Holden Caulfield does not belong to the public domain. We have no doubt that no matter what the judge rules Caulfield, like Huck, will remain forever young, simply because that is how his author imagined him. In almost every battle between the original and the derivative, in copyright or public domain, it is the original that retains our affection.

Later: What A Phony: I read the banned Catcher in the Rye “sequel” so you don’t have to

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June 15, 2009

Partnering [4:24 pm]

Universal Music and Virgin Media in Anti-Piracy Pact

Universal Music Group and Virgin Media, a British cable television and broadband provider, said Monday that they would enter a digital music partnership that breaks new ground by combining the carrot of unlimited downloads with the stick of stronger anti-piracy enforcement.

Universal, the largest recording company in the world, said it would offer its entire catalog to Virgin, which contains works by artists ranging from Amy Winehouse to U2.

The music would be free from copy protection, a feature that distinguishes the service from most existing subscription offerings. The cost of the service was not disclosed.

In return, Virgin Media agreed to take steps to reduce piracy on its network, something that other broadband providers have resisted.

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Policy Design and Sympoiesis [7:19 am]

Or failure to acknowledge or accommodate the “you’re not the boss of me!” reaction to enforcement policies: Politicians Fail to Grasp Peer-to-Peer (pdf)

In a video shot for an online news site, French legislators were asked whether they were familiar with peer-to-peer file-sharing technology. “No,” one lawmaker responded, rolling his eyes. “I speak French. Excuse me.”

While France has often prided itself on its contrarian approach to information technology — remember the Minitel? — the response summed up the ham-handedness of the latest digital initiative by the French government. The video appeared this spring, at the height of debate about a plan by President Nicolas Sarkozy to set up a government agency to disconnect persistent copyright pirates from the Internet.

The proposal, approved by Parliament last month after an earlier setback, was shot down last week by the country’s highest judicial review body, the Constitutional Council, which ruled that it violated constitutional guarantees of free speech and the presumption of innocence. Only a court of law is entitled to sever Internet connections, the council ruled.

[...] Every new effort to crack down on file-sharing seems to embolden groups devoted to an unfettered Internet.

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Policy, Privacy, Security [7:12 am]

Cyberwar - Privacy May Be a Victim in Cyberdefense Plan (pdf)

There is simply no way, the officials say, to effectively conduct computer operations without entering networks inside the United States, where the military is prohibited from operating, or traveling electronic paths through countries that are not themselves American targets.

The cybersecurity effort, Mr. Obama said at the White House last month, “will not — I repeat, will not — include monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic.”

But foreign adversaries often mount their attacks through computer network hubs inside the United States, and military officials and outside experts say that threat confronts the Pentagon and the administration with difficult questions.

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June 11, 2009

Due Process Protections, En Français [1:41 pm]

French Council Defangs Plan to Crack Down on Internet Piracy (pdf)

The highest constitutional body in France on Wednesday defanged the government’s plan to cut off the Internet connections of digital pirates, saying the authorities had no right to do so without obtaining court approval.

The decision, by the Constitutional Council, which reviews legislation approved by Parliament before it goes into effect, is a major setback for the music and movie industries, which had praised the French law as a model solution to the problem of illegal file-sharing.

The council rejected the core portion of the measure, under which a newly created agency, acting on the recommendations of copyright owners, would have been able to order Internet service providers to shut down the accounts of copyright cheats who ignored two warnings to stop.

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Playing Games With DAnger Mouse [1:36 pm]

Danger Mouse’s New CD Has No Music, but Lots of Pictures (pdf)

It was classic teaser marketing. And yet when “Dark Night of the Soul” was finally unveiled a few weeks ago, it still left fans puzzled. The project, it turned out, is a large-format book-and-CD package that Danger Mouse was releasing by himself, with 50 photographs by Mr. Lynch intended as accompaniment to the album’s 13 songs. But the CD is blank and recordable, and a sticker on the shrink wrap explains cryptically: “For legal reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.”

Bloggers and journalists speculated widely about why Danger Mouse, whose real name is Brian Burton, had withdrawn the music from the book. A statement on the project’s Web site (dnots.com) blamed “an ongoing dispute with EMI.”

In response, EMI issued a statement that offered no greater clarity but hinted at a negotiation: “Danger Mouse is a brilliant, talented artist for whom we have enormous respect. We continue to make every effort to resolve this situation and we are talking to Brian directly. Meanwhile, we need to reserve our rights.”

In most cases this turn of events would signify defeat: an artist battles a record label, and his music vanishes down the memory hole. But in the peculiar way that Danger Mouse has built his career, “Dark Night of the Soul” seemed to be an oblique victory, in which failure at official business can generate notoriety and, ultimately, lead to success in other endeavors.

For fans the sticker’s winking reference to illegal downloading — “Dark Night of the Soul,” like most albums in the age of leaks, is widely if unofficially available free online — was amusingly familiar. [...]

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“Fixing” Copyright [9:05 am]

Another constituency heard from in the run-up to the 111th Congress’ hearings on S.379/H.R.848 in the effort, once again, to BROADEN copyright protections: Film, TV music composers urge copyright law change (pdf)

Nathan Barr has scored horror films like “Hostel” and the HBO vampire series “True Blood,” but what really keeps the composer up at night is fear he will not get paid for music distributed online.

“‘True Blood’ is my first big show for TV and it’s definitely going to see a lot of play on the Internet. It’s a big issue for me,” Barr, 36, told Reuters in an interview. “I don’t understand why composers don’t get paid if someone downloads it.”

The issue is the latest digital copyright debate pitting creators in the entertainment industry on one side and studios, broadcasters, cable operators and technology companies on the other. Barr underscores how a growing number of artists — writers, actors and, yes, composers — feel they are not fairly compensated for content distributed on the Internet.

[...] Actors and writers have aired their grievances and demanded Hollywood studios pay up. Now, composers, along with publishers, are urging Congress to change copyright law so that when music airs in an audio-visual download, it is considered a public performance that earns them royalties. [...]

The copyright issue, apart from being proposed legislation, is also expected to be the subject of a House Judiciary committee hearing in July, industry experts say.

At the center of the debate is a federal court ruling in April 2007, considered a victory for companies like AOL, RealNetworks and Yahoo! Inc <YHOO.O> that found that downloading a music file was not considered a “performance.”

[...] Meanwhile, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a trade group for Hollywood studios such as General Electric Co’s Universal Pictures, Viacom Inc’s Paramount and Walt Disney Co, strongly opposes these efforts, arguing that a download is not a performance.

“The MPAA is opposed to amending the copyright law to require a double payment for music in movies and TV shows downloaded from the Internet,” Angela Martinez, a spokeswoman for the MPAA said. “We do not need to amend the Copyright Act to compensate these composers twice for the same activity.”

This is all clearly fallout from the CISAC Copyright Summit (PR1, PR2) that’s been held the last two days. Sen Orrin Hatch spoke (pdf), outlining his views of what needs to happen in this Congress. Robert Wexler also spoke (pdf), allowing me to add this ironic passage to the ones above:

[W]hen the Swedish Pirate Party talks about how music is universal and has always been available for everyone to enjoy for free, we end up with the unenviable task of explaining the finer points of copyright laws to a public that has no interest in the longer explanation, however accurate, responsible and correct it may be.

I found this out on a personal level, when I was in Congress during the original file-sharing debate about Napster. I remember unveiling a strongly worded statement against Napster and a defense of our intellectual property legal regime. I thought I sounded pretty good. I knew I wouldn’t be popular with high school and college students in my district. But I was shocked when my father called me and said I sounded like I was on the wrong side of the issue. I knew if I couldn’t even convince my own father – that we had a big problem.

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June 10, 2009

Google BookSearch and Antitrust [8:28 am]

Not resolving anytime soon: U.S. Steps Up Inquiry of Google Book Settlement (pdf)

In a sign that the government has stepped up its antitrust investigation of a class-action settlement between Google and groups representing authors and publishers, the Justice Department has issued formal requests for information to several of the parties involved.

The Justice Department has sent the requests, called civil investigative demands, to various parties, including Google, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild and individual publishers, said Michael J. Boni, a partner at Boni & Zack, who represented the Authors Guild in negotiations with Google.

“They are asking for a lot of information,” Mr. Boni said. “It signals that they are serious about the antitrust implications of the settlement.”

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A Boon? Or Nightmare? [8:26 am]

I know where I stand: The Smartphone’s Rapid Rise From Gadget to Tool to Necessity (pdf)

The smartphone surge, it seems, is a case of a trading-up trend in technology that is running strong enough to weather the downturn. And as is so often true when it comes to adoption of new technology, the smartphone story is as much about consumer sociology and psychology as it is about chips, bytes and bandwidth.

For a growing swath of the population, the social expectation is that one is nearly always connected and reachable almost instantly via e-mail. The smartphone, analysts say, is the instrument of that connectedness — and thus worth the cost, both as a communications tool and as a status symbol.

“The social norm is that you should respond within a couple of hours, if not immediately,” said David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “If you don’t, it is assumed you are out to lunch mentally, out of it socially, or don’t like the person who sent the e-mail.”

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June 9, 2009

An Excellent Post-WWDC Keynote Thought [7:51 am]

You can live without the new iPhone, but its getting harder to live without the App Store

There is, of course, an irony in Apples success. For years, Apple fans claimed that the company made the best PCs in the world hands down. Nevertheless, it was hard to argue with the fact that Windows PCs simply ran more programs. Now Apple is in the position once occupied by Microsoft. Over the next few years, Palm, Research in Motion, Nokia, Sony and others are sure to create some transcendent mobile devices. But the hardware hardly matters anymore. How is anyone going to compete with all these amazing apps?

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June 8, 2009

Selling The Rope [1:43 pm]

As Lenin supposedly (but unprovably) put it: “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.:”China Requires Censoring Software on New PCs (pdf)

China has issued a sweeping directive requiring all personal computers sold in the country to include sophisticated software that can filter out pornography and other “unhealthy information” from the Internet.

Later: IT firms urge China to reconsider filter (pdf) (also China Criticized Over Computer Filtering Plan - pdf)

“The Information Technology Industry Council, the Software & Information Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association and TechAmerica urge the Chinese government to reconsider implementing its new mandatory filtering software requirement and would welcome the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue,” said a joint statement.

“We believe there should be an open and healthy dialogue on how parental control software can be offered in the market in ways that ensure privacy, system reliability, freedom of expression, the free flow of information, security and user choice,” it said.

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