Foundation of the Digital Media Project

From CNet News: MPEG founder seeks copy-protection accord

A bevy of digital-media experts, led by the founder of the group that created the widespread MPEG compression standard, launched an international forum Tuesday that’s aimed at standardizing digital media and copy protection technologies.

The new Switzerland-based forum, dubbed the Digital Media Project, is aimed at ending what members say has been a technological civil war that has badly hampered the spread of digital media content and technologies.

With Moving Picture Experts Group founder and erstwhile Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) Executive Director Leonardo Chiariglione at its head, the group plans to produce a set of recommendations, largely focused on existing technologies, that bring content protection plans into the digital mainstream. The group has no official power to enforce its decisions but hopes weary figures from industry and from users’ communities will nevertheless get involved and follow the group’s lead.

We all know what happens when you lie down with the dogs — you get up with fleas. It will be interesting to see what “fleas” come along with this collaboration.

We Now Know Who Owns Captain America

Dispute Over Captain America Is Settled

Marvel Enterprises Inc., publisher of “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” comics, and the comics creator Joe Simon said yesterday that they had settled their legal dispute over the superhero Captain America.

The company said in a statement that Mr. Simon had granted Marvel all the copyrights he has to the character, which he invented with the artist Jack Kirby in 1940. Other terms of the settlement were not announced. Mr. Kirby died in 1994. Mr. Simon had contended that he made an oral agreement to sell rights to the Captain America story in 1940 to a Marvel predecessor.

“We’re talking about an arrangement that was never committed to paper and took place 63 years ago,” said Ross Charap, a copyright lawyer who represented Mr. Simon from 1999 to 2002.

The accord sets the stage for Marvel to transform Captain America into a star of movies, video games and theme park rides. Mr. Simon sought to reclaim Captain America copyrights under a 1976 law that allowed artists to terminate the assignment of rights to works created before 1978.

P2P United Announcement

I know I’m late to the party, but here’s the Wired News repeat of the Reuters feed in the startup of P2P United: P2P Networks Want to Play Nice

A group of Internet peer-to-peer networks unveiled a code of conduct on Monday to encourage responsible behavior among the millions of users who copy music, pornography and other material from each others’ hard drives.

The networks also asked Congress to figure out some way that recording companies and other copyright holders could be reimbursed for the material traded online and urged users to get involved.

A Lesson in Patent Law

The NYTimes has an article today about a group that takes “high tech” biotech and figures out how to deploy it in “low tech” ways — How the Simple Side of High-Tech Makes the Developing World Better [pdf]. It’s a fascinating interview, and it includes this snippet:

Q. Aren’t you violating intellectual property laws when you use homemade substitutes for patented technologies?

A. Not as long as you are not selling it. You can certainly do it for research purposes or as a public service. And in a lot of countries, a lot of this isn’t patented anyway. It is patented in the United States, and that’s one reason it’s harder to do this sort of work within the country.

There’s a chemical solution called phosphorous buffered saline, P.B.S., used for preparing biological specimens like blood or urine for laboratory examination. The manufacturer calls it Solution A and charges something like $20 for it.

Well, if you know the principle, you can make the same thing for roughly 20 cents, which is what we’ve taught a lot of public health workers throughout Latin America to do. This is true of a lot of other laboratory supplies, too. But you know, I’ve given talks at hospitals in the U.S., and had someone ask, “How can I do this?” and I have to say: “You can’t. It’s proprietary here.”

Q. Within science nowadays, there’s a trend where researchers own a piece of their discoveries and set up companies to market them. Could you ever see yourself doing that?

A. No. With my own lab research, which is partly on how the dengue fever virus replicates itself, I wouldn’t want to own it. I don’t think my research should be about my ego or financial success. From what I’ve seen this trend toward ownership makes the new discoveries inaccessible to most of the world because it contributes to raising their costs

[…]Q. You studied biology. Given your political bent, why didn’t you pursue social sciences or the law?

A. I love biology, find great beauty in the way cells work. There’s something almost utopian about a cell because everything in the cell really fits together beautifully and is working for the benefit of the whole.

Moreover, biology is one of my ways of being political. If we get somewhere — and I think we will — with the dengue fever research, it will save thousands of lives. And when I do technology transfer, it involves a lot of empowerment, as well.

Teaching people from the developing world how to solve their own problems and how to access the knowledge of the developed world and claim it as their own is a very exciting process.beyond what most people can afford.

I thought that camcording was the problem?

Another Yahoo! News Item (sorry — I’m not getting a lot of time today): Movie Studios Crack Down on Oscar Screening Tapes

Hollywood’s major film studios announced on Tuesday they are ending their long-held practice of sending videotapes and DVDs of Oscar contending movies to Academy Award voters in a bid to thwart copyright piracy.

[…] The move comes as a response to the 2002-2003 Oscar season when several tapes and DVDs of films in Oscar contention were copied and appeared for sale on the black market in Asian countries and for download on the Internet.

That fact served as an embarrassment for the U.S. film industry which for years has worked hard to combat illegal copying of videotapes, and is now working feverishly to stem the fast-rising tide of digital piracy on the Internet.

10 Techs that Deserve to Die

I’m not really a fan of Technology Review, but it’s been interesting to watch it become more and more like Wired. In that vein, the current issue has a Bruce Sterling article on Ten Technologies that Deserve to Die. Typical Sterling, but #10 is worth a read:

10. DVDs

The DVD was the most eagerly adopted electronic consumer gizmo in history, but I’d feel bad if I failed to complain about the evil of these things. First and worst, DVDs are unbearably frail. Any benefit one gets from “clearer pictures”–on what HDTV superscreen, exactly?–is quickly removed by the catastrophic effects of a single thumbprint or scratch. Plus, just like CDs, DVDs as physical objects will prove to warp and delaminate.

Most loathsome of all is the fiendish spam hard-burned into DVDs, which forces one to suffer through the commercials gratefully evaded by videotape fast-forwards. The Content Scrambling System copy protection scheme doesn’t work, and the payoff for pirating DVDs is massive, because unlike tapes, digital data don’t degrade with reproduction. So DVDs have the downside of piracy and organized crime, without the upside of free, simple distribution. Someday they will stand starkly revealed for what they really are: collateral damage to consumers in the entertainment industry’s miserable, endless war of attrition with digital media.

RIAA Lawsuit Statistics for the Day

Also from RIAA Settles 63 More Infringement Suits

On the eve of a Senate hearing on the subpoena power provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) says another 63 people have settled copyright infringement suits with the music industry. All were accused of illegally downloading more than 1,000 songs through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.

[…] Monday’s announcement brings the total number of settlements to 64. Of the total settlements, according to the RIAA, 12 were pre-litigation, meaning individuals who were identified as offering significant amounts of music files and had their information subpoenaed from their ISP, but not had been sued.

Additionally, the RIAA said it received 838 affidavits for its “Clean Slate” program, which offers amnesty to P2P network users who voluntarily identify themselves and pledge to stop illegally sharing music on the Internet. The amnesty program has been attacked as misleading and in California, a lawsuit has been filed claiming the program is a deceptive trade practice.

Note: The hearing is before the Governmental Affairs Committee, and its title is: Privacy & Piracy: The Paradox of Illegal File Sharing on Peer-to-Peer Networks and the Impact of Technology on the Entertainment Industry. Note that Lorraine Sullivan, a target of an RIAA lawsuit, will be testifying. Too bad the committee didn’t give immunity to Sarah Ward — I’d love to hear what she would say!

Screed of the Day

From National Review: Rich Lowry’s The ideological librarians [via Politech/temp link]

This is a truly obnoxious column. The rhetorical twists are particularly nasty. For example:

Librarians have recently let down their hair — usually wrapped in a tight bun, of course — to become some of the most vocal opponents of the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act, prompting Attorney General John Ashcroft to take a public swipe at them. Librarians now constitute one of the country’s main centers of thoughtless and unreconstructed leftism.

Apparently, Rudy Guiliani had it all figured out, but those nasty librarians undercut the forward march of western civilization:

One way to look at it is this: Rudy Giuliani, in the 1990s, effected a revolution in New York City that became a nationwide model for local governance and reflected a new era of public impatience with disorder — the homeless were told to “move along”; smut was squeezed out to the extent possible; and law enforcement was allowed to do its work mostly unencumbered by PC concerns. Librarians in some communities, reflecting the ideological spirit of the ALA, have managed to maintain oases of old-style pre-Giuliani disorder and licentiousness — vagrants are allowed to treat libraries as quasi-homeless shelters; pornography is available on the computers; and law enforcement is a bugaboo.

[…] As The Washington Post recently reported in a dire article on the effects of library budget cuts, “Librarians say the cuts are hurting homeless people who spend their days in the library.” That this has become a de facto public function of libraries is why they are often associated as much with body odor as with the Dewey Decimal System.

This is acceptable discourse? "If only those mousy, smelly librarians kept those ‘jobless recovery’ vagrants out in the street where they belonged, it would be far simpler to figure out how to find terrorists/WMDs/etc?"