2003 January 5

(entry last updated: 2003-01-05 11:53:13)

  • Amy Harmon announces the start of the next stage of digital TV – pay-per-taping. A look at “code as law.” and, at least a suggestion that the consumer is not going to like this digital future much.

    Lying dormant in virtually every digital cable box in America is technology that can prevent viewers from recording certain programs to watch them later. Soon, several Hollywood studios are planning to tell cable operators to flip the switch.

    People who have become accustomed to recording pay-per-view and video-on-demand shows will probably still be able to, the studios say — so long as they pay an extra fee.

    The move is one of a range of new restrictions Hollywood is beginning to impose on digital movies, music and television. After years of battling online piracy in court, media executives are fighting technology with technology, locking up their products with the same types of digital tools that millions of people have used to get the products free over the Internet.

    “We need to put in speed bumps to keep people honest,” said Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, which is lobbying federal regulators to require many devices to incorporate technology that prevents consumers from sending digital media files over the Internet. “If we don’t, our future is bleak.”

    … Depending on the rules dictated by the software, your ability to listen to a music track or watch a movie can expire after a day or remain in place forever. You can copy it once, twice, as many times as you want, or not at all. You can play it on all portable devices, no portable devices or a subset of portable devices. And you can be charged a different amount for each set of privileges.

    Note: It looks like "speed bump" is going to be the industry’s rhetorical analogy to sell DRM – it may be worth taking a look at the downsides of speed bumps (costs of maintenance, allocation of costs, damage to vehicles, etc.). But certainly an accurate allusion, given Lessig’s achitecture metaphor.

  • Slashdot has a discussion starting on the article cited above. More importantly, there’s a link in the discussion to an article from Business Week that says that the sort of DRM cited in the article is just going to be a bad idea all around.

    Simply put, the digital flag is a bad idea and a serious threat to consumer privacy. Only Hollywood’s interests would be protected. The consortium’s report doesn’t mandate protection of consumer information, only that the technology chosen should be flexible and robust. History has shown that the most powerful and adaptable copy-protection technology is also privacy-invasive.

    Take Thomson Multimedia’s SmartRight technology, a copy-protection scheme that’s gaining momentum in Europe and Asia. Every time you watch a movie or transfer a video from a digital TV to a PC, it reports back to the copyright owner.

    Spying on customers wouldn’t only infringe on individuals’ privacy but it could also lead to new revenue streams for Hollywood. Today, studios get paid only once when you buy the DVD of When Harry Met Sally — no matter how many times you watch it or how many friends borrow it from you. New technology would conceivably allow the studios to charge you every time you view the film, since a record is created from a technology monitoring your viewing habits from inside your home.

  • And it’s a growing battle. See this article from the Mercury News and The Inquirier describing the forces lining up on both sides of the DRM battle.

  • A little off-topic, perhaps, but The Register run down of the Microsoft-Sendo battle is pretty interesting.

  • More on the Supreme Court actions in the Pavlovich case from the EFFSlashdot discussion – the CNet article

2003 January 3

(entry last updated: 2003-01-03 17:55:43)

  • As anyone who saw today’s NYTimes knows, the article that surprised me yesterday didn’t make the print edition until today. And it’s well worth a careful read, particularly since it raises all sorts of ugly spectres, not to mention a new RIAA face:

    …The expected crush of material entering the public domain has already sent one giant company, EMI Classics, into a shotgun marriage with a renegade label that it had long tried to shut down to protect its lucrative Callas discography. The influx also has the American record industry talking about erecting a customs barrier.

    “The import of those products would be an act of piracy,” said Neil Turkewitz, the executive vice president international of the Recording Industry Association of America, which has strongly advocated for copyright protections. “The industry is regretful that these absolutely piratical products are being released.”

    The industry association is trying to persuade European Union countries to extend copyright terms. Meanwhile, Mr. Turkewitz said, “we will try to get these products blocked,” arguing that customs agents “have the authority to seize these European recordings even in the absence of an injunction brought by the copyright owners.”

  • The various DeCSS injunctions are going to get a Supreme Court review according to CNet. Slashdot discusses and Bag and Baggage offers up some good links

  • Donna’s Copyfight has a number of interesting entries today (and yesterday)

  • Slashdot is all excited about what Eric Raymond is calling the eighth incarnation of the Halloween memo. I’m not sure it’s all that earth shattering, but it does give you a look at how Eric Raymond thinks.

  • Several sources describe the efforts taken by a russian student to disseminate DirecTV specifications for the purpose of hacking the encryption – The Register, CNet News.

2003 January 3

(entry last updated: 2003-01-02 19:22:34)

  • Via Slashdot, this NYTimes piece on the pending expiration of some European copyrights on some classics. (How did I miss this earlier today??)

    Copyright protection lasts only 50 years in Europe compared to 95 years in the United States, even if the recordings were originally made and released in America.

    So recordings made in the early to mid-1950’s — by figures from Maria Callas to Elvis Presley and Ella Fitzgerald — have begun to go out of copyright in Europe, opening the way for any European recording company to release albums that had been owned exclusively by particular labels.

  • This New York Times wrap up of the year in pop includes this memorable statement:

    Major labels continued to bemoan decreasing sales of the expensively produced, expensively promoted blockbuster albums they had grown accustomed to marketing. They blame Internet file-sharing and home CD copying; other observers point to a recessionary economy, the phasing out of affordable singles, other entertainment choices (like video games and DVD’s), rising CD prices and a glut of disposable music. Mariah Carey got a $28 million severance check from Virgin Records as 2002 began, and had a Top 5 album before the year ended. Plenty of high-gloss, high-stakes projects are still being pushed on listeners. But as music fans develop a taste for realism, sooner or later the recording business might just do the same.

  • And this (not so) little device should give the RIAA more heartburn.

  • It will be interesting to see if this claimed breakthrough in HDTV transmission standards for cable will really lead to happy consumers.

  • CNet had an interview with Ted Waitt of Gateway on the company’s position in re fair use and digital devices.

  • Apparently, the earlier cited article from the New York Times had a companion piece. To find both pieces, each of which has some relevant things to say about copyright and digital media, start here.

2003 January 1

(entry last updated: 2003-01-01 19:05:30)

Happy New Year! After a couple of days off, I’m going to have some catching up to do. Hope you had a safe and happy celebration. (These little pics are from the North Conway New Year’s Eve "Burning of the Greens" and fireworks display last night)
Firemen supervising the burn Looking over the crowd at fire and fireworks

  • Looks like it’s going to be Sklyarov all over again with this announcement that a U.K. programmer has released some code that cracks the Microsoft Reader format – he’s not claiming authorship, but is merely acting to distribute the work of others. The Slashdot discussion is worth a scan.

  • The New York Times, in an article titled Economy Intrudes on Dreams of New Services, gives a look at the challenges facing music distribution and copyright in the coming year – you need to go to page 3 of the online article to get to the discussion.

  • The Times also has a bizarre story on pending litigation over the use of ducks in the name/trademarks of a Long Island winery. Apparently, someone in California objects, saying that it’s an infringing use. The Long Island winery owner says “It’s not confusing,” he said. “Our duck is cute. Theirs is ugly.”

    As my wife said upon reading it, "What a bunch of quacks."

  • And Chief Justice Rhenquist’s annual report gets some coverage in the Times, with a set of statistics that was surprising to me, given recent rhetoric out of Washington:

    In his brief discussion of filling vacancies on the federal bench, the chief justice appeared to go out of his way to avoid apportioning blame for widely noted difficulties in the confirmation process. With a nod to the outgoing Democratic leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he said that “we appreciate the fact that the Senate confirmed 100 judges during the 107th Congress.”

    That was a considerably faster pace than the Republicans set when they controlled the committee and were processing the Clinton administration’s nominations in the late 1990’s. Congress adjourned this year leaving 60 vacancies on the federal courts. For 29 of these, the Bush administration had not submitted nominations.

    OTOH, the fact that the actual Clinton-era statistics are not cited will certainly give the Times-bashers something to feed on if the difference is small.
    UPDATE: According to Justice Rhenquist’s 2001 report, only 28 judges were confirmed by the Senate in 2001 – 101 in 1994, 17 in 1996, 36 in 1997, and 39 in 2000