2003 April 27

(entry last updated: 2003-04-27 23:22:11)

I’m supposed to be working on something else, so it’s going to be a little terse today

  • The NYTimes has letters to the editor on the subject of the RIAA lawsuits against four college students for copyright infringement because of music file sharing: Downloading Music: A Right or a Crime? [pdf]

  • Denise Howell points out this LATimes article: Faster Than the Speed of Software [pdf]. It is a stunning spin on the notion of ubiquitous DRM – it’s good for you:

    But on one important front, the five major record companies are ahead of the technologists — Microsoft Corp. and RealNetworks Inc. in particular.

    In a little-known move, the major record firms have agreed to let consumers download an unlimited number of songs and listen to them wherever they go, for less than the price of one CD a month. As long as they keep paying subscription fees, users can have thousands of songs at their fingertips.

    That could transform what it means to “buy” music. Instead of paying for prepackaged collections on plastic discs, consumers would pay to access an enormous and growing online catalog of individual songs.

    The problem: A new generation of portable players designed for music that’s rented, not owned, needs new software to function — something programmers at Microsoft and Real haven’t been able to design.

    Sounds promising, right? Then you get to the meat of the argument, and it starts looking sinister:

    That’s because of the labels’ conflicted attitude about selling music online: They want to take advantage of the market but are so concerned about piracy that they demand electronic locks on their song files.

    To work with the unlimited-music services the labels endorse, a device has to be able to unlock files for listening, then lock them back up when a subscriber stops paying the monthly fee. A computer can do that, but today’s portable music players can’t. They are not smart enough to know which songs came from the subscription service, when their licenses expire or are renewed and how to keep their internal clocks running when their batteries die.

    Microsoft was supposed to deliver software to power such devices at the end of last year, but the company now is telling customers it won’t be ready for months. At Real, an executive says the company is making progress but is hindered by “pages and pages” of demands by some of the labels regarding “how this stuff has to behave.”

  • Harry Shearer gives the industry what-for in the NYTimes today, raising an issue that has been mentioned before – a focus on youth music is a key element of the current controversy [via Matt]: Rx for Music Industry: Seek Out the Old Geezers [pdf]

    Here’s a business model with a future: sue your customers. That’s what, as of this month, the recorded-music industry has been doing. It filed suit against four college students involved in Internet file-sharing (in which compressed “files” of music are swapped, Napster-style), asking for billions of dollars in damages. Yes, billions. Interestingly enough, the Bush administration, known to be opposed to frivolous lawsuits and in favor of tort reform, has weighed in on the side of the industry. Let’s go after those students. That’s where the money is.

    …The industry line has been that file-sharing caused these declines. Others point to the fact that boomers may have finally bought, on CD, copies of all the music they had already purchased on vinyl. And Andreas Schmidt, of the music giant Bertlesmann, said the unsayable: “We didn’t put that much good stuff out.”

    Nobody, let’s remember, twisted the arms of the record and movie industries into focusing their product and their marketing muscle almost single-mindedly (if that’s not being too generous) on people in their teens and early 20’s.

    …As events have proved, there is one crucial problem with this demographic cohort: it has much more time than money. And, if these music lovers are enrolled at a university, they probably also have access to a superfast Internet connection, which makes the usually cumbersome process of downloading music files as easy as checking your e-mail.

  • As someone currently reading All the Rave, this NYTimes review [pdf] is confusing. Matt Richtel contends that the book fails to point to the excesses of the Internet bubble, while (at least as far as I have read it) as best as I can tell, it’s about nothing but that – but maybe the latter half of the book will change focus. I will say that Richtel understates the characterization of John Fanning when he calls him a “mercurial entrepreneur” – “slezeball scumbucket” would be a much better summary, but maybe the Times style book doesn’t allow that usage.

  • Grokster decision fallout:

  • Wired on the Verizon decision: Online Anonymity Comes Under Fire

  • Leopard Can’t Change Spots Department: Microsoft’s XML support in Office is strangely limited and segmented, forcing most to rely upon the standard Microsoft-packaged XML schema because support for user-defined schemas is not included in all versions of Office – and many worry that Microsoft’s schema is so complex/out of spec/protected that the purported “openness” of the Office XML is a joke.

  • Off-topic: In case you didn’t believe CBS, try the BBC: No reality show for OJ Simpson

    While Simpson said he would not appear in the show, he said he may features [sic] as a news correspondent in the upcoming murder trial of actor Robert Blake.

    “I’d love to do it,” he said. “I think I have a lot of insight. I don’t know if he’s guilty or not but I know there’s no such thing anymore as innocent until proven guilty.”