Yaaarh! The RIAA Takes on Real Pirates

Music Pirates in 12 Cities Targeted

The music industry, which has famously sued Internet users for downloading songs illegally, is turning its sights on pirates in 12 cities who copy CDs and DVDs for sale at street corners, flea markets, family run shops and even mainstream record stores.

Executives identified the cities as Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; New York; Philadelphia; Providence, R.I.; San Diego and San Francisco. These were selected based on market surveys, earlier raids and industry reviews of sales data suggesting lost sales during the past five years.

A Little EFF/CDT History

I learned this from Alan Davidson while he was working at CDT, but here it is from a CNet article published while I was out of the country last week: EFF reaches out to D.C. with new office

Opening an office inside the nation’s capital comes as something of a surprise because EFF suffered an internal schism when it was based there in the early 1990s.

When the FBI was pressing for the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) in 1994, other privacy groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and EPIC, remained steadfastly opposed to the measure. CALEA requires telecommunications companies to design their networks to be explicitly wiretap-friendly.

EFF Policy Director Jerry Berman, a longtime Washington hand, let EFF endorse what he described as a compromise proposal that was more privacy-sensitive. “A number of procedural safeguards are added which seek to minimize the threats to privacy, security and innovation,” Berman told a House of Representatives panel in September 1994. (Twelve years later, CALEA is causing new headaches for broadband providers and Internet telephony services.)

Many of EFF’s supporters viewed that as an example of an advocacy group that had been led astray by Washington, and the group moved to its current home of San Francisco the following year. Berman and EFF’s policy arm left and created the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology.

OT: At Least The Times Gave It Some Ink

After several days, the NYTimes finally figures out how to discuss Steven Colbert’s appearance at the White House Press Dinner last Saturday — see how the Blogosphere is reporting it. Can we all say “cop out?” After Press Dinner, the Blogosphere Is Alive With the Sound of Colbert Chatter

In an online survey begun yesterday, the snarky Web site Gawker sought to boil down the matter to its essence by asking readers to vote on whether they thought Mr. Colbert’s performance, broadcast live on C-Span and since then widely available on the Internet, was “one of the most patriotic acts I’ve witnessed of any individual” or “not really that funny.”

Meanwhile, on its Web site, the trade journal Editor & Publisher posted more than a dozen letters from readers under a headline that reflected the broad range of electronic opinion: “Colbert Offensive, Colbert Mediocre, Colbert a Hero, Colbert Vicious, Colbert Brave.” Mr. Colbert’s employer, Comedy Central, said it had received nearly 2,000 e-mail messages by Monday morning — a response, it said, rivaled only by the contentious appearance nearly two years ago of Jon Stewart, Mr. Colbert’s comedy patron, on the now-defunct CNN shout-fest “Crossfire.”

Others chided the so-called mainstream media, including The New York Times, which ignored Mr. Colbert’s remarks while writing about the opening act, a self-deprecating bit Mr. Bush did with a Bush impersonator.

Some, though, saw nothing more sinister in the silence of news organizations than a decision to ignore a routine that, to them, just was not funny.

Later, from Salon: Making Colbert go away

Colbert’s deadly performance did more than reveal, with devastating clarity, how Bush’s well-oiled myth machine works. It exposed the mainstream press’ pathetic collusion with an administration that has treated it — and the truth — with contempt from the moment it took office. Intimidated, coddled, fearful of violating propriety, the press corps that for years dutifully repeated Bush talking points was stunned and horrified when someone dared to reveal that the media emperor had no clothes. Colbert refused to play his dutiful, toothless part in the White House correspondents dinner — an incestuous, backslapping ritual that should be retired. For that, he had to be marginalized. Voilà: “He wasn’t funny.”

This is a battle that can’t really be won — you either got it Saturday night (or Sunday morning, or whenever your life was made a little brighter by viewing Colbert’s performance) or you didn’t. Personally, I’m enjoying watching apologists for the status quo wear themselves out explaining why Colbert wasn’t funny. It’s extending the reach of his performance by days without either side breaking character — the mighty Colbert or the clueless, self-important media elite he was satirizing. For those who think the media shamed itself by rolling over for this administration, especially in the run-up to the Iraq war, Colbert’s skit is the gift that keeps on giving. Thank you, Stephen Colbert!

Later: A WaPo oped with a chilling argument: So Not Funny

Why are you wasting my time with Colbert, I hear you ask. Because he is representative of what too often passes for political courage, not to mention wit, in this country. His defenders — and they are all over the blogosphere — will tell you he spoke truth to power. This is a tired phrase, as we all know, but when it was fresh and meaningful it suggested repercussions, consequences — maybe even death in some countries. When you spoke truth to power you took the distinct chance that power would smite you, toss you into a dungeon or — if you’re at work — take away your office.

But in this country, anyone can insult the president of the United States.

So, is he actually suggesting that there’s something wrong with that? Jackass

Later: That After-Dinner Speech Remains a Favorite Dish

France Does A DRM Backdown?

France backs down on iTunes DRM stance

A French Senate committee has removed wording from proposed legislation that would have forced technology companies to license their digital rights management schemes, according to the Web site of The Inquirer.

Apple, which did not return repeated phone calls, and other DRM holders doing business in France, are likely elated. While the law must still be voted on, the alterations in the legislation signify willingness by some in the French government to honor the rights of companies that don’t wish to share their technology with competitors. Senate debate on the bill begins Thursday.

The watering down of the legislation has angered some French consumer groups.

See also ArsTechnica’s article

WSJ on the MPAA Piracy Study

I cited this below, but never expected that I might actually get to see the WSJ article — some kind of promotion: Studios See Big Rise In Estimates of Losses To Movie Piracy [pdf]

The MPAA froze plans to release the survey. Late yesterday, in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal, the MPAA released some information from the survey, including members’ U.S. and global piracy losses. “A study this magnitude takes some work to roll out,” says an MPAA spokeswoman. She says the numbers weren’t far out of line with what the industry expected. For months, MPAA members debated whether and how to release the information. Some studios argued that making the figures public would help the industry win tougher laws and enforcement. Other studios said the figures were so bad that releasing them would hurt their stock prices and make a laughingstock of their enforcement efforts.

The result: Piracy, an issue that normally brings Hollywood studios together, was driving them apart. Although the studios eventually agreed to release parts of the information, it was only after months of infighting. […]

[…] The previous estimates didn’t include the impact of free Internet downloading, which is incorporated in the LEK report. Another surprise involves the fast expansion of online piracy by consumers compared to the losses stemming from professional bootleggers who sell DVDs. Last year, according to a person familiar with the matter, copies of movies downloaded or received from people who had downloaded them cost the studios $447 million in the U.S., whereas copies stemming from professional bootleggers cost the studios $335 million. An additional $529 million in losses came from consumers making copies of legitimate films they bought on DVD or VHS.

Critics have faulted some piracy estimates for equating each pirated DVD with a lost sale, when many consumers would have skipped the movie altogether if they hadn’t gotten a cheap or free unauthorized version. This time, the survey specifically asked consumers how many of their pirated movies they would have purchased in stores or seen in theaters if they didn’t have an unauthorized copy, giving studios a different picture of their true losses.

The study also shows that home video, not theatrical distribution, is the market that piracy hits hardest, accounting for two-thirds of the studio’s lost revenue. That is a big blow to the studios, which had been counting on the lucrative DVD market to increase their bottom lines, but in recent months have found DVD sales are slowing considerably.

The survey also bucks the assumption that piracy is a kids’ activity. In Japan, one of Hollywood’s biggest foreign markets, 50% of the overall industry’s losses are the result of piracy by people ages 25 to 39.

[…] While new data are potentially helpful in negotiating with foreign governments because they also estimate losses to local film industries, the information is also bad news for the MPAA’s antipiracy efforts. Those have ranged from public-awareness campaigns to beefing up laws to raids of illegal DVD plants. Dan Glickman, the organization’s president for almost two years, has made fighting piracy a priority. He joined the organization a few months after it hired John Malcolm, a former Justice Department official, to head its world-wide antipiracy operations.

MPAA Applauds Stevens

A press release from yesterday: MPAA Chief Dan Glickman Applauds Inclusion of Broadcast Flag Provision in Stevens Telecom Bill; Pledges to work with Chairman and Committee to Protect Free-Over-the-Air High Value Content

“Without adequate protection provided by a vigorous broadcast flag in the digital era, high value programming may migrate exclusively to pay systems that do have adequate protection, such as cable and satellite. A TV broadcast flag protects the public’s ability to see good quality programming on free over-the-air broadcasts as we make the digital transition mandated by Congress.

“Senator Stevens clearly recognized the importance of a broadcast flag by including it in his telecom reform legislation. I am concerned, however, that certain exceptions put in place in the draft bill may serve to undermine the underlying effort. We look forward to working with him to make certain that the language in the final bill accomplishes the overarching goal he seeks to achieve: protecting high value content on free-over-the-air broadcasts.”

I was actually looking for more information on this: Movie piracy losses bigger than expected: report [pdf]

A study showed the industry was losing $6.1 billion annually in global wholesale revenue, about 75 percent higher than earlier estimates, it said.

Losses came not only from fewer ticket sales, but also from fewer DVD sales, considered one of the industry’s biggest profit centers, the report cited unnamed sources as saying.

The newspaper said some in the U.S. movies industry sought to suppress the report.

The study was conducted by LEK Consulting LLC and commissioned by U.S. films industry lobbying group the Motion Picture Association of America.

[…] The study also dispelled commonly held beliefs. Mexico, for instance, now ranked as the world’s largest market for pirated U.S. films, overshadowing China and Russia, with $483 million in lost revenue in 2005.

Here’s the LATimes’ article, with a completely different spin: Piracy Cost Studios $6 Billion in ’05, Study Says [pdf]

Tim Wu on Net Neutrality in Slate

Why you should care about network neutrality

What we’re ultimately asking is a question that Adam Smith struggled with. Is there something special about “carriers” and infrastructure—roads, canals, electric grids, trains, the Internet—that mandates special treatment? Since about the 17th century, there’s been a strong sense that basic transport networks should serve the public interest without discrimination.This might be because so much depends on them: They catalyze entire industries, meaning that gratuitous discrimination can have ripple effects across the nation. By this logic, so long as you think the Internet is more like a highway than a fried-chicken outlet, it should be neutral in what it carries.

This is the basic case for network neutrality—to prevent centralized control over the future of the Internet. But there’s a long-standing rebuttal that goes like this: A broadband company already has incentives to make the network neutral, because it’s a better network that way. If AT&T makes money on an exclusive deal, they’ll lose it somewhere else. Whatever money AT&T earns by prioritizing Google rather than Yahoo!, it will lose by making its product—broadband service—less attractive to consumers. By this logic, regulating the Bells is a waste of time. AT&T and Verizon also say that they must be free to discriminate to justify their investments in building networks. If you don’t let us discriminate, they say, we won’t build.

It’s true that the Bells might make extra cash by discriminating. But AT&T can extract cash in other ways, too, like charging its customers higher prices. I believe that it’s better to have consumers pay more for service than to have AT&T picking and choosing winners on the network. Both are a cost to the economy, but the latter is a double cost. It creates costs that are passed on to consumers anyhow, and it also distorts competition between eBay, Yahoo!, and the like. […]

Also from the NYTimes editorial page: Editorial: Keeping a Democratic Web

Virtual? What Do You Mean, Virtual?

Entropia Universe Players Can Cash Their Online Earnings at the A.T.M.

When you put your card into an automated teller machine, view your balance on the screen and then receive money from the dispenser, you probably understand that a merely electronic notion — your bank account — is being translated into a physical object with value: greenbacks.

But what if you are at the corner A.T.M. and your net worth is locked up in an imaginary asteroid mining venture?

Until now you would be plumb out of luck. But today the makers of Entropia Universe, a popular online science-fiction game, plan to introduce a real-world A.T.M. card that will allow players instantly to withdraw hard cash automatically converted from their virtual game treasury. So a player with, say, 2,000 spare P.E.D.’s (Project Entropia Dollars) left over after purchasing a new laser rifle in the game could withdraw $200 and take a date to a real-life ballgame.

With around 250,000 players, Entropia is the leader of a small but growing group of online computer games with virtual economies explicitly based on real-world money, and today’s announcement is the most ambitious step yet to meld an in-game economy with the real global financial system.

[…] In most mainstream online games, like the spectacularly popular World of Warcraft, spending real money for virtual items is not only against the rules but also considered the worst sort of louche behavior, like paying for sex. But in Entropia, the entire game system is based on the fact that 10 P.E.D.’s equal a dollar and that the game’s virtual items and assets have real-world value.

Apple’s Market Power

Apple sets tune for pricing of song downloads [pdf]

Apple Computer on Monday revealed it had renewed contracts with the four largest record companies to sell songs through its iTunes digital store at 99 cents each. The agreements came after months of bargaining, and were a defeat for music companies that had been pushing for a variable pricing model.

The music industry’s big four – Universal, Warner Music, EMI and Sony BMG – were not immediately available to comment.

Also eWeek’s article and David Berlind’s commentary

Catching Up

‘Way too busy after being gone for only a few days.  But this old news is worth taking a little time to note: Congress may consider mandatory ISP snooping

Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a Republican, gave a speech saying that data retention by Internet service providers is an “issue that must be addressed.” Child pornography investigations have been “hampered” because data may be routinely deleted, Gonzales warned.

Now, in a demonstration of bipartisan unity, a Democratic member of the Congressional Internet Caucus is preparing to introduce an amendment–perhaps during a U.S. House of Representatives floor vote next week–that would make such data deletion illegal.

Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette’s proposal (click for PDF) says that any Internet service that “enables users to access content” must permanently retain records that would permit police to identify each user. The records could not be discarded until at least one year after the user’s account was closed.