Not “Cricket,” Maybe, But Illegal?

Judge Grounds Glider in World of Warcraft Suit (pdf)

Of the more than 11 million people who play World of Warcraft, most do so legitimately; they actually play the game themselves. The whole point of a massively multiplayer online game like WOW or EverQuest is that players can take pride that their virtual accomplishments and wealth reflect real human effort, determination, ingenuity and skill. Even though I haven’t played WOW regularly in more than a year, I’ve still racked up thousands of hours in that world since 2004. To have the few unscrupulous players use a “bot” program like Glider makes a mockery of that effort and contributes to ruining the entertainment experience for me and everyone else.

But should creating and selling a program like Glider be illegal?

That is the question that has been winding its way through a federal court in Arizona since 2006, when Blizzard Entertainment, WOW’s creator, first locked legal horns with Glider’s author, a programmer named Michael Donnelly, and Mr. Donnelly’s company, MDY Industries.

[…] Let me be blunt: I, like the vast majority of gamers, feel strongly that bot programs like Glider are abhorrent and people who use them should be banned from the games they bot in. I agree wholeheartedly with Judge Campbell’s assertion that “the public interest may favor full and honest competition, but MDY ultimately is an exploiter, not a competitor.”

But I also recognize a powerful argument on the other side, which contends that it is dangerous and improper to allow a software company to dictate what other programs may be used in conjunction with its products. Glider does not hack into Blizzard’s systems or alter World of Warcraft’s programming code. And it does not actually copy the game’s programming or visual assets. It “merely” interacts with the game, like a player, only with inhuman stamina and precision.

Ah, Regulatory Efficiency!

The best of both worlds! Some TV stations to end analog signal on Feb. 17 (pdf)

When Congress postponed the mandatory transition to digital TV until June, it also gave stations the option to stick to the originally scheduled date of Feb. 17.

That means the shutdown of analog signals, which broadcasters had hoped would happen at nearly the same time nationwide, could now unfold in a confusing patchwork of different schedules.

Lawmakers wanted to address concerns that many households that receive TV signals through an antenna are not prepared for the switch. They were also mindful that a government fund has run out of money to subsidize digital converter boxes for older TVs.

Dozens of stations around the country now say they are going to take advantage of the option to drop analog broadcasts this month.

Broadband, Know-How and Free Time (Because of the Downturn)

Leading to the movie industry’s “Napster moment?” That’s the contention of this article: Digital Pirates Winning Battle With Studios (pdf)

[M]any industry experts say the practice is becoming much more prevalent. “Streaming has gotten efficient and cheap enough and it gives users more control than downloads do. This is where piracy is headed,” said James L. McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Consumers are under the impression that everything they want to watch should be easily streamable.”

[…] The Motion Picture Association of America says that illegal downloads and streams are now responsible for about 40 percent of the revenue the industry loses annually as a result of piracy.

“It is becoming, among some demographics, a very mainstream behavior,” said Eric Garland, the chief executive of BigChampagne.

Note that, somehow, BigChampagne continues to find a business model.

I Love the Title

And copyright fights seem to make for good copy these days: One Man’s Blanche DuBois Is a University’s Infringement (pdf)

The University of the South, which owns the intellectual property rights for Williams’s “Streetcar Named Desire,” has threatened legal action to stop performances of the one-man show “Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire,” [emphasis added] which is scheduled to run through March 15 at SoHo Playhouse.

The play, which won the Audience Choice Award at last year’s New York International Fringe Festival, is written and performed by Mark Sam Rosenthal, who is featured as a modern-day Blanche weathering Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Superdome and a subsequent job placement as a cashier at Popeye’s — not to mention a series of unflattering blond wigs.

Lawyers for the university, in Sewanee, Tenn., initially tried to quash the production in September, arguing in a letter to Mr. Rosenthal that his play and performances were “infringements on the university’s valuable intellectual property rights.”

The letter came as a shock to Mr. Rosenthal, he recalled in an interview on Wednesday.

Reaping What They’ve Sown

Hard to believe that the record companies are going to get much sympathy, despite the tone of this article: Despite Accord With Apple, Music Labels Still Fret (pdf)

The announcement on Jan. 6 seemed to signal a rapprochement between the music industry and its biggest distributor: record companies gave up their demand for copyright protection (called digital rights management) and Apple allowed flexible pricing, so the labels could charge more for new or popular tracks.

But according to one music industry executive involved in the negotiations, Apple’s primary goal was securing distribution of music over its iPhone, as mobile phones are expected to become an increasingly important outlet for music.

[…] Apple, according to a music industry official involved in the negotiations, offered to negotiate variable pricing about a year ago. Most songs cost 99 cents, of which the label receives about 70 cents and Apple receives the remainder, although the breakdown varies slightly among the labels.

Apple indicated it was willing to make the switch to variable pricing provided that the music companies — which negotiate individually with Apple to avoid colluding — would agree to license songs for wireless downloads on the iPhone, as well as drop copyright protections using digital rights management, or D.R.M., software.

All the labels agreed except Sony Music. Its chairman, Mr. Schmidt-Holtz, wanted the pricing to go into effect right after the announcement, while Mr. Jobs wanted a longer time horizon. According to a person briefed on the telephone call, Mr. Schmidt-Holtz and Mr. Jobs had a heated exchange by phone on Christmas Eve. Eventually, Sony gave in and agreed to a longer waiting period.

Even if Mr. Jobs does not get personally involved in future negotiations, music executives still fear dealing with Apple. One chit the company holds is the power of the iTunes home page, where it promotes music. They also say that the entire Apple staff, including Eddie Cue, the vice president in charge of iTunes who handles the relationships with the record labels, do their best to follow Mr. Jobs’s style in their own negotiating.

Coping With Multistability

Or not: Local Police Want Right to Jam Wireless Signals (pdf)

It is an increasingly common technology, with federal agencies expanding its use as state and local agencies are pushing for permission to do the same. Police and others say it could stop terrorists from coordinating during an attack, prevent suspects from erasing evidence on wireless devices, simplify arrests and keep inmates from using contraband phones.

But jamming remains strictly illegal for state and local agencies. Federal officials barely acknowledge that they use it inside the United States, and the few federal agencies that can jam signals usually must seek a legal waiver first.

The quest to expand the technology has invigorated a debate about how widely jamming should be allowed and whether its value as a common crime-fighting strategy outweighs its downsides, including restricting the constant access to the airwaves that Americans have come to expect.