A Call To/From The Middle?

A slam on Public Knowledge’s Gigi Sohn and the state of the P2P debate – senselessly polarized like so many others (and not particularly helped by this kind of article): Content vs. file sharers leaves us out

For years I have sought not world domination (I leave that to James Bond villains), but rather a pragmatic, middle-ground voice in this debate. I thought I had found one in 2002, when a nonprofit public advocacy group called Public Knowledge was born. I knew the founder, Gigi Sohn, and I respected her greatly. I still do. But it was what Gigi said back then that really resonated with me.

At an event her new group held with the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., in May of that year, Gigi [Sohn] gave a speech about how most of us weren’t represented in the digital content debate. She promised to use her group to bridge the gap between the content industry and the file sharers. She said she would speak for citizens and consumers.

I had been covering the high-tech policy community as a reporter for years by then, including a stint with News.com, so I should have seen the red flags. For instance, one should always be wary of someone claiming to speak for consumers. You and I are consumers, but can you remember the last time you voted for a “consumer representative”? I can’t either.

[…] I watched the Induce Act debate with some frustration. I sympathized with the bill’s backers, who wanted to target companies designed to profit from the criminal behavior of others. I also sympathized with those in the technology community who feared that such legislation could lead to unintended consequences. There were some involved in that debate, including a few software representatives, who tried to work out a compromise. But Gigi made it clear from the beginning that her only goal was to ensure the Induce Act never left the Senate Judiciary Committee. She accomplished that goal and bragged about it in a recent e-mail soliciting donations.

It may be impossible to bridge the gap between red states and blue states. But as we enter the 109th Congress with the digital content debate very much alive, I’ll be looking for anyone who wants to join me in seeking that elusive middle ground.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation’s brief in support of the petitioners in MGM v. Grokster (i.e., supporting the RIAA and MPAA against Grokster)

Later: Copyfight weighs in – Smearing Gigi; even later – Copyfight points to Gigi’s response: Getting real about the Grokster case

UK ‘Net Regulation Discussions

Net regulation ‘still possible’

Lord Currie, chairman of super-regulator Ofcom, told the panel that protecting audiences would always have to be a primary concern for the watchdog.

Despite having no remit for the regulation of net content, disquiet has increased among internet service providers as speeches made by Ofcom in recent months hinted that regulation might be an option.

At the debate, organised by the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), Lord Currie did not rule out the possibility of regulation.

“The challenge will arise when boundaries between TV and the internet truly blur and then there is a balance to be struck between protecting consumers and allowing them to assess the risks themselves,” he said.

Adopting the rules that currently exist to regulate TV content or self-regulation, which is currently the practice of the net industry, will be up for discussion.

CNN on the DVD Format Wars

The battle over next generation DVDs [pdf]

For now, Hollywood’s allegiances are split. Disney and major video game makers like Electronic Arts and Vivendi/Universal Games say they favor Blu-ray, which equipment makers led by Sony have spent years — and about $1 billion — developing.

Toshiba and other HD DVD developers have won the backing of more movie studios in recent months, with Warner Bros., Universal and Paramount all publicly embracing the technology.

Other studios so far have been noncommittal. “We are trying to play both of them off against each other,” said Fox’s [president Peter] Chernin. Calling today’s DVD “one of the leakiest copyright protections known to man,” Chernin said the company is leaning toward Blu-ray but will ultimately pick whichever format is more secure.

Both technologies claim to have strong piracy safeguards. Their primary differences are in price and storage capacity.

Technologies, Utility and Control

My wife recently bought me one of these new green laser pointers from ThinkGeek. She was in a real hurry to get it and, when I asked her why, she indicated that she expected that they would be banned soon.

At the time, I thought she was overreacting to the reports about lasers and airline pilots, but this article makes me think she might be right after all, despite my own suspicion that it would take extraordinary effort to actually “hit” one’s target with such a device: Laser Pointer Abuse Threatens Air Safety [pdf]

The government does not regulate sales of lasers, and no laws restrict their use, though laser pointers have been banned from many public places, such as sports arenas.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates the manufacture of laser products and rates them in four categories based on the power of the beam. Beams in CD and DVD players are in category 1, the lowest. Laser pointers are in category 3, and industrial laser equipment is in category 4.

What’s changed is the availability of powerful laser pointers. About a dozen years ago, a pointer with a red beam sold for about $600. Today, consumers can get a similar one for a key chain for $3.95 — batteries included.

The popularity of red laser pointers is now being overtaken by green pointers, which are visible over a much longer range.

[…] But just as red lasers were used by drug dealers to harass police helicopters and by sports fanatics to distract basketball players taking free throws, green ones have been put to ill use. And with their longer range, experts say, green lasers pose a real danger because they can render pilots temporarily blind.

[…] But the controversy hasn’t hurt business. In fact, John Acres, whose company, Bigha, sold the laser that was pointed at the plane in Teterboro, said the attention has brought in new customers.

“We’ve got more orders. We are sold out,” said Acres, whose company is in Corvallis, Ore. “The whole industry has shot up because of this.”

Innovation: GovTrack

Good thing (a) the US doesn’t yet allow database copyright and (b) US government data can’t be copyrighted. But imagine the opportunities: How Did They Vote? Updates by E-Mail of Congressional Ayes and Nays

GovTrack differentiates itself from other sites devoted to Congress both by being free and by being fresh: it sends users e-mail updates anytime there’s activity on legislation they want to monitor.

GovTrack lets users track activity of specific legislators. It can also send updates via RSS, or Real Simple Syndication. The site collects information from Thomas (thomas.loc.gov), the Library of Congress’s legislation-tracking site, and the official sites of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Music Sharing: Public Performance

IPods Act as D.J.’s at Clubs Where Patrons Call the Tunes

Nic Nepo, the manager inquiring about the folk-punk band the Pogues, oversees an iPod night every Tuesday at his bar, the Tonic Room, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. On a typical night, about 10 people bring their iPods loaded with a special playlist for the occasion. They sign up, wait for their turn and then plug into the Tonic Room’s sound system. They have 15 minutes to wow other customers or simply soothe their own souls.

[…] The recording industry hasn’t reacted negatively to the iPod nights, even though the format sidesteps traditional methods of playing music at bars and clubs.

Mr. Nepo said that the license from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers that establishments use to cover the music played by D.J.’s should also cover iPod owners acting as D.J.’s for a night.

[…] Most of the iPod fanatics interviewed seemed certain that iPod nights were a trend that would catch on in a big way, enabling a customer to rise, for a moment, to the status of star D.J., or use music as a way to strike up a conversation or a flirtation.

One customer at the Tonic Room asked if the bar would ever charge for the evening. “We don’t want to have people pay to play their own music,” Mr. Nepo said. “That would be terrible.”

Continuing Effort To Move Music To A Controlled Network

With New Music Software, Cellphones May Start to Mix It Up a Little

THE cellphone already serves as a camera, a calendar and a portable arcade. But it could take on a new set of uses if a group of audio engineers, software designers and marketers has its way.

These music technologists are pushing new programs that are turning the cellphone into a palm-size answer to the turntable, or a slimmed-down recording studio on the go. In time, the group hopes, the software could recast the phone as a replacement for the electric guitar.

[…] So far, most of the mobile music activity has been overseas. MTV International and Motorola have put together a program to blend elements of two songs into a ring tone mash-up. In England, EMI Music and the mobile carrier Orange recently signed a deal so that the carrier’s users could remix tracks from Kelis, Gorillaz and other artists using Orange’s Fireplayer software.

But allowing songs to be broken down into their musical building blocks, then rejiggered by fans, isn’t a step all labels, or all artists, are willing to take. Phil Murphy, a former executive at Sony Music Europe and Warner Music Asia Pacific and now an independent music and technology consultant, believes they are fighting a coming tide.

“We’re moving from a static world, where record companies give you prepackaged music, to a much broader suite of offerings: weird mixes, jammings, even access to the core tracks of a recording,” he said.

Related: the porn biz continues to innovate – Gives New Meaning to ‘Phone Sex’ [pdf]

“Rock stars make music tones, porn stars make moan tones,” said Dennis Adamo, head of Wicked Wireless. “We thought it would be an interesting novel approach of introducing new content to the mobile users.”

Also some CNN coverage with a picture of Ms. Jameson: Porn star hawks mobile ‘moan tones’ [pdf]

Another Culture Shift

The end of the three poster science fair presentation? PowerPoint Goes to the Fair

STUDENTS in Dan Carroll’s honors physics class at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Va., turned in their science projects this week. Some of them prepared their work the way generations of students have done, with labels and charts pasted onto display boards of a prescribed size.

But others were able to bypass last-minute trips to the store for cardboard, glue sticks and markers, because Mr. Carroll encourages the use of PowerPoint software.

Powerpoint ubiquity – <sigh>

OT: If Not Prohibited, It’s OK?

First, we get a new dictat on torture, now we get a new one that forbids paying commentators to support government policies: Bush Prohibits Paying of Commentators

The message? What is not prohibited is acceptable? Isn’t that what got us the corporate accounting excesses of the recent years? Is that really what we stand for?

Sorry – it’s an off-topic rant, but really… Here’s the NYTimes editorial: The Best Coverage Money Can Buy; and Maureen Dowd’s Love for Sale