Frankness at Davos’ World Economic Forum

Siva points out what can happen at Davos: China censorship damaged us, Google founders admitpdf

Google, launched in 1998 by two Stanford University dropouts, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, was accused of selling out and reneging on its “Don’t be evil” motto when it launched in China in 2005. The company modified the version of its search engine in China to exclude controversial topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre or the Falun Gong movement, provoking a backlash in its core western markets.

Asked whether he regretted the decision, Mr Brin admitted yesterday: “On a business level, that decision to censor… was a net negative.”

The company has only once expressed any regret and never in as strong terms as yesterday. Mr Brin said the company had suffered because of the damage to its reputation in the US and Europe.

Toobin on Google BookSearch in The New Yorker

Google’s Moon Shotpdf

In part because of that ambition, Google’s endeavor is encountering opposition. A federal court in New York is considering two challenges to the project, one brought by several writers and the Authors Guild, the other by a group of publishers, who are also, curiously, partners in Google Book Search. Both sets of plaintiffs claim that the library component of the project violates copyright law. Like most federal lawsuits, these cases appear likely to be settled before they go to trial, and the terms of any such deal will shape the future of digital books. Google, in an effort to put the lawsuits behind it, may agree to pay the plaintiffs more than a court would require; but, by doing so, the company would discourage potential competitors. To put it another way, being taken to court and charged with copyright infringement on a large scale might be the best thing that ever happens to Google’s foray into the printed word.

In case you don’t get the sense the Toobin’s drunk the Kool-aid from the above quote, there’s this:

But a settlement that serves the parties’ interests does not necessarily benefit the public. “It’s clearly in both sides’ interest to settle,” Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School, said. “Businesses in Internet time can’t wait around for years for lawsuits to be resolved. Google wants to be able to get this done, and get permission to resume scanning copyrighted material at all the libraries. For the publishers, if Google gives them anything at all, it creates a practical precedent, if not a legal precedent, that no one has the right to scan this material without their consent. That’s a win for them. The problem is that even though a settlement would be good for Google and good for the publishers, it would be bad for everyone else.”

[…] In other words, a settlement could insulate Google from competitors, which would be especially troubling, because the company has already proved that when it comes to searches it is not infallible. “Google didn’t get video search right—YouTube did,” Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, said. (Google solved that problem by buying YouTube last year for $1.6 billion.) “Google didn’t get blog search right— did,” Wu went on. “So maybe Google won’t get book search right. But if they settle the case with the publishers and create huge barriers to newcomers in the market there won’t be any competition. That’s the greatest danger here.”

[…] The law is supposed to resolve issues like these—between self-interested parties with reasonable claims and legitimate arguments. But the rules of copyright are so ambiguous, and the courts so slow, that the judicial system serves largely to implement the law of the jungle. “There is a real opportunity to move books into the digital arena,” [Google VP in charge of BookSearch] Marissa Mayer told publishers during the conference at the New York Public Library. “And we are going to do it together.”

Siva’s pre-release hints

A Surprising Statistic

As someone from South Carolina, I wouldn’t have expected this: USC a top pirate among collegespdf

“We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!”

It’s a chant University of South Carolina students can’t say about their football or basketball teams.

But when it comes to online music piracy, USC tops the charts, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

The association has sent 914 notices of copyright infringement to the university this year — the highest number in the state and one of the highest among colleges nationwide — for illegally downloaded songs.

I found the second of these two paragraphs particularly surprising:

RIAA spokeswoman Jenni Engebretsen said copyrighted material is in abundance on USC’s network.

“We target the illegal activity, not individual student populations,” Engebretsen said. “It’s as simple as that.”


USC is soliciting bids for legal file-sharing services like Ruckus, which is used by more than 100 colleges nationwide, [Bill] Hogue [USC’s chief information officer] said.

“I didn’t realize we were going to be in the music business.”

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

OT: A Point of Clarification from Garry Wills

Funny how a little historical perspective can be so illuminating; sad that we seem to be repeating our past errors anyway: At Ease, Mr. President

When Abraham Lincoln took actions based on military considerations, he gave himself the proper title, “commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” That title is rarely — more like never — heard today. It is just “commander in chief,” or even “commander in chief of the United States.” This reflects the increasing militarization of our politics. The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. In wartime, it is true, people submit to the national leadership more than in peacetime. The executive branch takes actions in secret, unaccountable to the electorate, to hide its moves from the enemy and protect national secrets. Constitutional shortcuts are taken “for the duration.” But those impositions are removed when normal life returns.

But we have not seen normal life in 66 years. The wartime discipline imposed in 1941 has never been lifted, and “the duration” has become the norm. World War II melded into the cold war, with greater secrecy than ever — more classified information, tougher security clearances. And now the cold war has modulated into the war on terrorism.

[…] Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s prescient last book, “Secrecy,” traced the ever-faster-growing secrecy of our government and said that it strikes at the very essence of democracy — accountability of representatives to the people. How can the people hold their representatives to account if they are denied knowledge of what they are doing? Wartime and war analogies are embraced because these justify the secrecy. The representative is accountable to citizens. Soldiers are accountable to their officer. The dynamics are different, and to blend them is to undermine the basic principles of our Constitution.

Is This What They Mean By “Mindshare?”

And what’s that worth, exactly? I guess we’ll get to find out: Popularity of Web brands signals power shiftpdf

A consumer poll on Friday exposed the worst kept secret in the business world: Internet companies are becoming more important to people than firms that operate in the real world.

[…] Visitors of technology and telecoms tradeshows, for instance, may be forgiven for thinking that photo-sharing site Flickr, blogging software firm Vox, Internet calling service Skype and YouTube are multibillion dollar companies, because no company from the old world announces anything without them.

[…] “All innovation is coming from the edge of the Internet,” said James Enck, an analyst at Daiwa Securities, referring to the Web sites which offer services online.

[…] John Chambers, the chief executive of Cisco (founded in 1984) which is the biggest plumber of the Internet, calculated that in four years time 20 families will generate as much Internet traffic as the entire world in 1995.

Confirmation of HD DVD “Crack” Claim

The earlier claims seems to have been confirmed that it has been possible to capture so-called “title keys:” Hackers find key to DVD piracypdf

Hackers have defeated the core means for protecting the medium seen by Hollywood as a major new source of revenue as growth of traditional DVDs has slowed.

An underground programmer this month released code on the Internet that would free some high-definition DVD movies from their digital handcuffs if a consumer also had a software key for that particular video.

On Thursday, backers of the anti-piracy technology confirmed that those keys were being posted on the Internet. Late in the day, keys for 35 titles, including “King Kong” and “World Trade Center,” were available.

“Such unauthorized disclosures indicate an attack on one or more” of the high-end video players that use the anti-piracy technology known as AACS, for Advanced Access Content System, according to the website of the consortium of home-electronics, technology and entertainment companies backing the encryption system.

[…] An executive at one of the member companies involved in the decision-making said the group might deactivate the model of player used in the hacking.

Although such a move would make life difficult for consumers and manufacturers, most studios have “grave concern that content is being unencrypted,” said the executive, who asked that his name not be used because the group had not reached a decision on what action to take.

The Passing of a Famous Name

EMI Merging Record Labels and Ousting Capitol’s President

In the United States, the world’s biggest music market, the cutback is expected to represent the effective end of Capitol as a stand-alone label, though EMI will continue to occupy its offices, a famed cylindrical tower that opened its doors in Hollywood in 1956.

As usual, the LATimes coverage (pdf) has a little more “inside baseball:”

But Art Alexakis, singer of the band Everclear, which has been on the Capitol roster since the 1990s, said he believed that the move signaled EMI would be on the sales block soon.

“I think really it’s no secret that they’re bringing in people to get the place in shape so that they can sell it,” Alexakis said. “The only way to make it look profitable on paper is to downsize. The heyday of the entire music business looks to be long gone, and so I think now you see companies trying to figure out what’s next.”

It’s Just Hard To Believe This Is Going To Turn Out Well

But at least there’s hope: Secrecy Is at Issue in Suits Opposing Spy Program

The Bush administration has employed extraordinary secrecy in defending the National Security Agency’s highly classified domestic surveillance program from civil lawsuits. Plaintiffs and judges’ clerks cannot see its secret filings. Judges have to make appointments to review them and are not allowed to keep copies.

Judges have even been instructed to use computers provided by the Justice Department to compose their decisions.

But now the procedures have started to meet resistance. At a private meeting with the lawyers in one of the cases this month, the judges who will hear the first appeal next week expressed uneasiness about the procedures, said a lawyer who attended, Ann Beeson of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Lawyers suing the government and some legal scholars say the procedures threaten the separation of powers, the adversary system and the lawyer-client privilege.

Later: The Bait-and-Switch White House

International Trade Policy

Hollywood blames Canada for half of movie piracypdf

As much as 50 per cent of the world’s pirated movies come from Canada, prompting the film industry to threaten to delay the release of new titles in this country.

According to an investigation by Twentieth Century Fox, most of the illegal recording, or “camcording,” is taking place in Montreal movie houses, taking advantage of bilingual releases and lax copyright laws.

“In Quebec, it is much more advantageous because you get both English and French. You cover a bigger part of the world,” said Ellis Jacob, chief executive of the Cineplex Entertainment theatre chain. “They are using Canada because they can have the movie out on the street in the Philippines and China before it even releases there.”

Jacob said he was warned in a letter from Bruce Snyder, president of Fox’s domestic distribution, that if Canada doesn’t do something to curb its growing piracy problem, Hollywood will.

Later: Michael Geist begs to differ; Slashdot discussion: Canadian Movie Piracy Claims Mostly Fiction?

Later: US Group Wants Canada Blacklisted Over Piracy


Americans think downloading no big dealpdf

Most Americans regard the illegal downloading and distributing of Hollywood movies as something on par with minor parking offenses, according to a report issued Wednesday.

[…] The survey found that 59 percent of Americans polled considered “parking in a fire lane” a more serious offense than movie downloading.

Hmmm — seriously, wouldn’t you? The press release of their Digital Life America effort shows how little effort it can take to construct a Reuters news blurb when it’s all been done for you.

Related: Fox subpoenas YouTube after “24” clips postedpdf