Cory Doctorow on Job’s Manifesto

In re: Job’s call for DRM-free music, we get Cory’s take — a reminder that DRm has more than one function in the market: Steve Jobs’ iTunes dance

I doubt Jobs’ sincerity. I suspect he likes DRM because it creates an anti-competitive lock-in to Apple. I think he’s trying to shift blame for the much-criticized DRM to the music industry, whose executives are twirling their mustaches and declaring DRM to be the only way forward for their industry.

[…] Although Apple’s DRM is wholly ineffective at preventing copying, it does manage to raise the cost of switching from an iPod to a competing device. Every iTunes song you buy for 99 cents amounts to a 99 cent tax on switching from an iPod to a Zune. That’s because your iTunes songs won’t play on your Zune — or on any other player, save those made or licensed by Apple. Jobs tries to skate around this in his memo, suggesting that only a tiny fraction of the music on iPods comes from his music store, and so the anti-switching effects are minimal.

[…] Jobs is right. If you had 10 grand worth of proprietary music on your iPod, his company’s iTunes would be anti-competitive. But that’s not to say that $150 worth of lock-in (enough to double the cost of many portable players) isn’t a powerful disincentive against switching from the iPod. I’m a lifelong Apple fan boy — I have an actual Mac tattoo — but even I remember the dark time of the Performa, when Apple’s hardware trailed so far behind the market leaders that buying it was like wearing a hair shirt. I think that it’s reasonable to assume that Apple won’t always make the world’s best music player. I’d like to keep my options open. But the longer you own an iPod, the more likely it is you’ll buy more iTunes music, and the fewer options you’ll have.

[…] With DRM, the only way to get music that plays on all your devices, past and present, is to rip it off. If you buy DRM, you end up being part of someone’s business model, and a slave to the lock-in.

Software; Patentable? How Thoroughly?

Court Takes on Software Patentspdf

At issue is whether Microsoft can be held liable for violating an AT&T patent on technology that condenses speech into computer code, similar to that found on Microsoft’s Windows program.

Microsoft admitted it infringed the AT&T patent on computers sold domestically but contends that it is not liable for its programs installed by computer manufacturers overseas.

In 1984, Congress amended the patent law to forbid companies from shipping components of patented inventions overseas and having the parts assembled elsewhere in an attempt to skirt patent laws.

So in this case, justices are looking at whether digital software code can be considered a “component” of a patented invention and if so, whether it was “supplied” from the United States.

[…] The justices wrestled with whether computer code would be patented or whether the code alone could be a component.

[AT&T’s lawyer Seth] Waxman said code is “dynamic,” in that it causes a computer to take action, while [Microsoft’s lawyer Ted] Olson said it was more like a blueprint. It can be used to produce exact copies that are not patent infringements, he said, like instructions for building a car or a mousetrap.

A copy of the transcript of the oral argument

Online Activism

It’s not what you think: Virtual loses its virtuespdf

LIKE any pioneer, Marshal Cahill arrived in a new world curious and eager to sample its diversions. Over time, though, he saw an elite few grabbing more than their share.

They bought up all the plum real estate. They awarded building contracts to friends. They stifled free speech.

Cahill saw a bleak future, but he felt powerless to stop them. So he detonated an atomic bomb outside an American Apparel outlet. Then another outside a Reebok store.

As political officer for the Second Life Liberation Army, Cahill is passionately committed to righting what he considers the wrongs of a world that exists only on the computer servers of Linden Lab in San Francisco.

[…] In the last year, the number of people who had visited Second Life skyrocketed from 100,000 to 2 million. As the population grows, early denizens are learning the truth of Jean-Paul Sartre’s observation “Hell is other people.”

[…] Cahill and his compatriots say they don’t necessarily mind the new residents, but they want more influence in deciding the future of the virtual world. Most important, they want Linden Lab to allow voting on issues affecting their in-world experience.

“The population of the world should have a say in the running of the world,” Cahill said during an in-world interview. Cahill is this participant’s online name, incidentally. He refused to reveal his real-world name for fear of banishment from Second Life.

So, what are Linden Labs’ responsibilities in this domain? Is ownership a defense? Of course, figuring out exactly what they own is complicated.

Heading Down A Troubling Road

Been raised before, but a path that’s still getting consideration: Virtual child porn may be a crime in Netherlandspdf

Virtual enactments of child pornography may be a crime under Dutch law if it encourages child abuse, the public prosecutor said on Wednesday.

In the virtual world of Second Life, a popular Internet destination, everyone aged under 18 is supposed to be limited to a “teen grid.”

[…] In the adult section, some users participate in “age play,” in which adult users can create child-like characters and have virtual sex that would be illegal in the real world.

Another Test of Safe Harbors

A new copyright battlefield: Veoh Networks

One of the last places you might expect to find copyright violations is on a Web site backed by Time Warner and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

Nonetheless, Veoh Networks CEO Dmitry Shapiro acknowledges that only a week after the company’s official debut, is host to a wide range of unauthorized and full-length copies of popular programs. But Shapiro says it’s not his upstart video company’s fault: Blame the people who are posting the material.

Speaking of Operating at the Point of a Gun …

AP: Music companies targeting collegespdf

Cracking down on college students, the music industry is sending thousands more complaints to top universities this school year than it did last year as it targets music illegally downloaded over campus computer networks.

A few schools, including Ohio and Purdue universities, already have received more than 1,000 complaints accusing individual students since last fall — significant increases over the past school year. For students who are caught, punishments vary from e-mail warnings to semester-long suspensions from classes.

The trade group for the largest music labels, the Recording Industry Association of America, identified at the request of The Associated Press the 25 universities that received the most copyright complaints it sent so far this school year. The trade group long has pressured schools to act more aggressively against online pirates on campus.

[…] The top five schools are Ohio, Purdue, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Tennessee and the University of South Carolina. The RIAA complained about almost 15,000 students at those 25 universities, nearly triple the number for the previous school year.

“They’re trying to make a statement,” said Randall Hall, who polices computers at Michigan State University, seventh on the list with 753 complaints. Michigan State received 432 such complaints in December alone, when students only attended classes for half the month.

Also the WaPo’s variantpdf

Later: Ars Technica has the list:

  1. Ohio University – 1,287

  2. Purdue University – 1,068
  3. University of Nebraska at Lincoln – 1,002
  4. University of Tennessee at Knoxville – 959
  5. University of South Carolina – 914
  6. University of Massachusetts at Amherst – 897
  7. Michigan State University – 753
  8. Howard University – 572
  9. North Carolina State University – 550
  10. University of Wisconsin at Madison – 513
  11. University of South Florida – 490
  12. Syracuse University – 488
  13. Northern Illinois University – 487
  14. University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire – 473
  15. Boston University – 470
  16. Northern Michigan University – 457
  17. Kent State University – 424
  18. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor – 400
  19. University of Texas at Austin – 371
  20. North Dakota State University – 360
  21. Indiana University – 353
  22. Western Kentucky University – 353
  23. Seton Hall University – 338
  24. Arizona State University – 336
  25. Marshall University – 331

Geist on the IIPA Report

US copyright lobby out-of-touch

The International Intellectual Property Alliance, an association that brings together US lobby groups representing the movie, music, software, and publisher industries, last week delivered its annual submission to the US government featuring its views on the inadequacy of intellectual property protection around the world.

The report frequently serves as a blueprint for the US Trade Representative’s Section 301 Report, a government-mandated annual report that carries the threat of trade barriers for countries that fail to meet the US standard of IP protection.

The IIPA submission generated considerable media attention, with the international media focusing on the state of IP protection in Russia and China, while national media in Canada, Thailand, and Taiwan broadcast dire warnings about the consequences of falling on the wrong side of US lobby groups.

While the UK was spared inclusion on this year’s list, what is most noteworthy about the IIPA effort is that dozens of countries – indeed most of the major global economies in the developed and developing world – are singled out for criticism.

[…] Given the US experience [with its implementation of the WIPO Internet Treaties], it is unsurprising that many countries have experimented with alternate implementations.

This experimentation invariably leads to heavy criticism from the IIPA as countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Israel, Mexico, and India are all taken to task for their implementation (or proposed implementation) of anti-circumvention legislation.

Further, countries that have not signed or ratified the WIPO Internet treaties (which still includes the majority of the world), face the wrath of the US lobby group for failing to do so.

Second, in a classic case of “do what I say, not what I do”, many countries are criticised for copyright laws that bear a striking similarity to US law. For example, Israel is criticised for considering a fair use provision that mirrors the US approach.

The IIPA is unhappy with the attempt to follow the US model, warning that the Israeli public might view it as a “free ticket to copy.” Similarly, the time shifting provisions in New Zealand’s current copyright reform bill (which would permit video recording of television shows) are criticised despite the fact that US law has granted even more liberal copying rights for decades.

The most disturbing illustration of this double standard is the IIPA’s criticism of compulsory copyright licensing requirements.

[…] Third, the IIPA recommendations criticise dozens of efforts to support national education, privacy, and cultural initiatives.

A Spectrum Policy Fight in the UK

Over radio microphones: Spectrum plan threatens radio mic

The future of radio microphones – used at concerts, sporting events, festivals and theatre shows – is under threat from new proposals from Ofcom.

The media regulator is considering auctioning off the spectrum they operate on to the highest bidder, as part of the digital switchover.

Ofcom argues that putting spectrum on the open market is the only way to make sure it is used to its full potential.

Critics say that the spectrum crucial to radio mics needs to be ring-fenced.

Some Pending Sausage-Making

Watching the FCC and others decide what constitutes competition, markets and monopolies should be quite a show: Satellite radio competitors agree to mergepdf

“If the market is defined just as satellite radio, they would never approve the only two companies merging into one — that would be like Pepsi merging with Coke,” said Howard Liberman, a Washington lawyer and former Federal Communications Commission staff attorney.

But Sirius and XM, he said, will attempt to define the industry as “music that goes into your ear,” including portable music players and AM and FM radio.

[…] FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said Monday that he expected the deal to face a “high” hurdle with his agency. In setting rules for satellite radio service in 1997, the FCC granted only two licenses and stipulated that one of the holders would “not be permitted to acquire control of the other” — to “help assure sufficient continuing competition.”

“The companies would need to demonstrate that consumers would clearly be better off with both more choice and affordable prices,” Martin said.

[…] Analysts said they suspected Sirius and XM were trying to get the FCC to consider the deal before the 2008 presidential election, when control might swing back to the Democrats. The FCC is considering allowing more media consolidation, which Democrats on the panel and in the new congressional majority oppose.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, said Monday that the radio merger “merits the utmost scrutiny” by policymakers and regulators in light of “dramatic consolidation” of traditional radio.

Traditional radio firms immediately opposed the merger.

See also Merger Would End Satellite Radio’s Rivalry and Satellite Radio Firms Plan To Merge (pdf)

Later: Handicapping the fight: Shift on Antitrust Issues May Aid Sirius-XM Deal and A matter of competition (pdf)

An opinion from the WaPo – They Fuse, You Lose; pdf

Now, XM and Sirius suggest that wireless broadband will keep them honest; customers turned off by both FM and satellite radio will be able to listen to music sent through their cellphones.

But most wireless carriers impose grotesque limits on what you can listen to or watch on a phone: Listening to a Web radio station on a phone’s Internet connection violates most of their contracts. This isn’t bringing the diversity of Internet radio to cellphones — it’s recreating the controlled universe of cable TV. And it’s unlikely to offer much of a meaningful alternative to dissatisfied listeners.

It’s too soon to know what the government will do with the XM-Sirius merger proposal. But by not addressing these underlying problems, Washington isn’t just approving telecom monopolies, it’s aiding and abetting them.

It’s Not Just The Military Anymore

Video gaming apparently builds all sorts of skills: From video gamer to surgery ace? It could happen, study suggestspdf

New research released Monday found that surgeons with the highest scores on “Super Monkey Ball 2,” “Star Wars Racer Revenge” and “Silent Scope” performed best on tests of suturing and laparoscopic surgery.

Doctors who reported having played video games at least three hours a week sometime in their past worked 27% faster and made 37% fewer errors on the surgical tasks compared with those who had never picked up a game controller, according to the study in the Archives of Surgery.

“For as little as three hours a week, you could help your children become the cyber-surgeons of the 21st century,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. James C. Rosser Jr. of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.