January 25, 2010

The Power of the Internet Filter [10:32 am]

The Beaver, a Magazine, Changes Its Name to Canada’s History (pdf)

The Beaver, which was initially a bit of in-house boosterism, evolved into a respected magazine about Canadian history. The Bay, as the company is commonly known, shifted from fur trading to department stores. And last week Canada’s National History Society, the nonprofit group that now publishes The Beaver, decided that the Internet required the magazine to undergo a name change.

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Really? [10:25 am]

Swedish Music Fans Start to Steer Clear of Pirates (pdf)

Sweden, long considered one of the world’s most welcoming havens for digital piracy, is now showing signs of turning back toward legal, licensed music, both online and in stores. Music sales in Sweden rose 10.2 percent last year, according to the recording companies’ international trade group, even as they fell by nearly 10 percent worldwide, continuing a nearly decade-long downward spiral.

Industry executives credit a combination of incentives for music fans to switch, including tougher action to crack down on illegal file-sharing and the spread of new services like Spotify, which has its roots in Sweden.

In addition to the guilty verdict against the Pirate Bay’s founders, Sweden served up a new law last year making it easier for copyright owners to take file-sharers to court. Meanwhile, Spotify, which sells advertising and premium subscriptions to users who prefer to skip the ads, was being used by 17 percent of the Swedish population by the end of 2009, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

That helped the industry nearly double its revenue from digital music in Sweden. Revenue from streaming services like Spotify more than quadrupled, while sales of downloads from services like iTunes rose 28 percent. Even CDs eked out a 1.9 percent sales increase.

You have to read to the end to find that no one’s really *that* sanguine….

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January 21, 2010

The Good News Just Keeps On Rolling In [11:21 am]

Supreme Court rolls back campaign spending limits pdf (also Justices Block Key Part of Campaign Law)

By a 5-4 vote, the court on Thursday overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said corporations can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to pay for campaign ads. The decision, which almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns, threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. From the dissenting section:

In the context of election to public office, the distinctionbetween corporate and human speakers is significant.Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests mayconflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure,and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.

Let’s contrast this bit of apparently incontrovertible thinking with the the truly inflammatory rhetoric in the first paragraph of the Roberts/Alito concurrence.

The Government urges us in this case to uphold a direct prohibition on political speech. It asks us to embrace a theory of the First Amendment that would allow censor-ship not only of television and radio broadcasts, but of pamphlets, posters, the Internet, and virtually any other medium that corporations and unions might find useful in expressing their views on matters of public concern. Its theory, if accepted, would empower the Government to prohibit newspapers from running editorials or opinion pieces supporting or opposing candidates for office, so long as the newspapers were owned by corporations—as the major ones are. First Amendment rights could be confined to individuals, subverting the vibrant public discourse that is at the foundation of our democracy.

A chilling look at the Supreme Court that the G. W. Bush administration has left us with. *sigh*

On the other hand, at least the media companies are going to get a flood of money comparable to that spent on the Coakley/Brown Senate race — one (ugly) way to add stimulus money to the economy.

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January 13, 2010

A New Era: International Digital Diplomacy [3:21 am]

Google, Citing Cyber Attack, Threatens to Exit China

Google said Tuesday that it would stop cooperating with Chinese Internet censorship and consider shutting down its operations in the country altogether, citing assaults from hackers on its computer systems and China’s attempts to “limit free speech on the Web.”

The move, if followed through, would be a highly unusual rebuke of China by one of the largest and most admired technology companies, which had for years coveted China’s 300 million Web users.

Since arriving here in 2006 under an arrangement with the government that purged its Chinese search results of banned topics, Google has come under fire for abetting a system that increasingly restricts what citizens can read online.

Google linked its decision to sophisticated cyberattacks on its computer systems that it suspected originated in China and that were aimed, at least in part, at the Gmail user accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

Later: Google’s Threat Echoed Everywhere, Except China

While the scope of the hacking and the motivations and identities of the hackers remained uncertain, Google’s response amounted to an unambiguous repudiation of its five-year courtship of the Chinese market, which most major multinational companies consider crucial to growth. It is also likely to enrage the Chinese authorities, who deny that they censor the Internet and are accustomed to having major foreign companies adapt their practices to Chinese norms.

Even later: Google Takes a Stand

Eventually, I think, a combination of technology, education and information will end the present stasis in China. In a conflict between the Communist Party and Google, the party will win in the short run. But in the long run, I’d put my money on Google.

Later: a real flurry of events as things heat up

  • Clinton Urges Global Response to Internet Attacks (Secretary Clinton’s “Remarks on Internet Freedom“)

    From the close of that speech:

    [...] No nation, no group, no individual should stay buried in the rubble of oppression. We cannot stand by while people are separated from the human family by walls of censorship. And we cannot be silent about these issues simply because we cannot hear the cries.

    So let us recommit ourselves to this cause. Let us make these technologies a force for real progress the world over. And let us go forward together to champion these freedoms for our time, for our young people who deserve every opportunity we can give them.

    Thank you all very much

    The Department of State is calling this 21st Century Statecraft.

  • China Says U.S. Criticism of Its Internet Policy Harms Ties

Later (Jan 25): China Denies It Attacked Google (pdf)

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January 3, 2010

Something Else To Keep You Up At Night [10:17 am]

A Data Explosion Is Remaking Retailing

Retailing is emerging as a real-world incubator for testing how computer firepower and smart software can be applied to social science — in this case, how variables like household economics and human behavior affect shopping.

To be sure, major retailers like Wal-Mart Stores have long been sifting through in-store sales and demographic information to aim goods at different stores and to tightly manage supplies.

But what is changing, experts say, is the rapid surge in the amount and types of digital data that retailers can now tap, and the improved computing tools to try to make sense of it. The data explosion spans internal sources including point-of-sale and shipment-tracking information, as well as census data and syndicated services. Companies also track online visitors to Web commerce sites, members of social networks like Facebook and browsers using smartphones.

The better tools, they say, are ever cheaper and faster computers and so-called business intelligence or analytic software for finding useful information and patterns in that data.

Turow’s Niche Envy, here we come….

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Bono v. Sheryl Crow [10:14 am]

Well, I guess they’re on the same side now, except that one gets NYTimes Op-Ed ink: Ten for the Next Ten

A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators — in this case, the young, fledgling songwriters who can’t live off ticket and T-shirt sales like the least sympathetic among us — and the people this reverse Robin Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business.

We’re the post office, they tell us; who knows what’s in the brown-paper packages? But we know from America’s noble effort to stop child pornography, not to mention China’s ignoble effort to suppress online dissent, that it’s perfectly possible to track content. Perhaps movie moguls will succeed where musicians and their moguls have failed so far, and rally America to defend the most creative economy in the world, where music, film, TV and video games help to account for nearly 4 percent of gross domestic product. Note to self: Don’t get over-rewarded rock stars on this bully pulpit, or famous actors; find the next Cole Porter, if he/she hasn’t already left to write jingles.

Seriously, ISP profits? That’s where the music industry’s money has gone? Unless he really means these guys, I don’t quite get it.

And, BTW, what exactly distinguishes “over-rewarded rock stars?”

Later: Bono’s “One” Ignorant Idea

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