Profiling the 419ers

‘I Will Eat Your Dollars’ [pdf]

As patient as fishermen, the young men toil day and night, trawling for replies to the e-mails they shoot to strangers half a world away.

Most recipients hit delete, delete, delete, delete without ever opening the messages that urge them to claim the untold riches of a long-lost deceased second cousin, and the messages that offer millions of dollars to help smuggle loot stolen by a corrupt Nigerian official into a U.S. account.

But the few who actually reply make this a tempting and lucrative business for the boys of Festac, a neighborhood of Lagos at the center of the cyber-scam universe. The targets are called maghas — scammer slang from a Yoruba word meaning fool, and refers to gullible white people.

[…] To them, the scams, called 419 after the Nigerian statute against fraud, are a game.

Their anthem, “I Go Chop Your Dollars,” hugely popular in Lagos, hit the airwaves a few months ago as a CD penned by an artist called Osofia:

“419 is just a game, you are the losers, we are the winners.

White people are greedy, I can say they are greedy

White men, I will eat your dollars, will take your money and disappear.

419 is just a game, we are the masters, you are the losers.”

Sony BMG Sued in Bribery Case

Sony BMG Sued in Bribery Case

TSR Records, an independent music label, filed suit yesterday against Sony BMG Music Entertainment, accusing it of unfairly dominating radio play lists through the use of bribes to programmers and other illicit tactics.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, comes three months after Sony BMG agreed to pay $10 million to settle allegations by the New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, that it had used improper radio promotion practices, including payola, or undisclosed payments to broadcasters.

TSR, of Tarzana, Calif., said independent labels were “systematically excluded” from radio play lists as a result of record company tactics. It contended that Sony BMG violated federal and California antitrust laws and improperly interfered with its business prospects. The case seeks unspecified monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.

Everybody Into The Pool! 2

Publishers battle Google book index [pdf]

Five major publishing firms filed suit against Internet search giant Google Inc. yesterday to stop the company from creating a digital index of millions of copyrighted books. The lawsuit, coming weeks after a group of book authors also sued Google, sets up a legal showdown over the limits of intellectual property law in the age of global computer networks.

The publishers — the McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson Education Inc., Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Simon & Schuster Inc., and John Wiley & Sons Inc. — are trying to halt the Google Print Library Project, which Google unveiled in December 2004. The project aims to make digital copies of millions of books stored in the libraries of major universities, including Harvard. Google will then use its search technology to create an index of all of the text in each book, and make this index available on the Internet at no charge. The result would be the world’s largest and most powerful index of books. A user could instantly search millions of volumes for information on a particular topic, and receive a list of relevant books. The index would also display small portions of the text, to help a researcher decide if he or she has found the right book.

Google’s plan outraged the Association of American Publishers, the trade group representing the nation’s leading producers of books. The association’s president, former Colorado Democratic congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, said that the Google Print Library Project is a blatant violation of copyright law.

I look forward to the economists’ discussion of transactions costs and their mitigation as a rationale for property rights in the face of this (contrary) example. See also Tim Wu’s Leggo My Ego: GooglePrint and the other culture war

Imagine how terrible maps would be if you had to negotiate with every landowner in the United States to publish the Rand McNally Road Atlas. Maps might still exist, but they’d be expensive and incomplete. Property owners might think they’d individually benefit, but collectively they would lose out—a classic collective action problem. There just wouldn’t really be maps in the sense we think of today.

The critical point is this: Just as maps do not compete with or replace property, neither do book searches replace books. […]

What’s Up With Jon Johansen

DVD Jon Lands Dream Job Stateside

Jon Lech Johansen, the 21-year-old Norwegian media hacker nicknamed DVD Jon, is moving to San Diego to work for maverick tech entrepreneur Michael Robertson in what can only be described as the most portentous team-up since Butch met Sundance.

“I have no idea what I’ll be doing, but I know it will be reverse engineering, and I’m sure it will be interesting,” Johansen told Wired News during a Friday stopover in San Francisco.

Forbes: Eben Moglen Is After the FCC

Does Open-Source Software Make The FCC Irrelevant? [pdf]

Columbia Law School Professor Eben Moglen wants to destroy the Federal Communications Commission. Not as some kind of terrorist act, but because technology is rapidly making it irrelevant.

[…] The spread of open source is a threat to established broadcasters, not to mention cellular telephone companies and other holders of FCC licenses. By using open-source software and low-powered “mesh networks” that can sniff out open frequencies and transmit over them, Moglen says, “we can produce bandwidth in a very collaborative way,” including transmitting video and telephone conversations that would normally ride on commercial networks. The Linksys WRT54G wireless router is for hackers what a Model A Ford was for hotrodders in an earlier era–a highly adaptable platform for experimentation.

“We remove the proprietary software and install open source,” says Sascha Meinrath, co-founder of a group that is providing Urbana, Ill. with free wireless Internet access. By “flashing” communications chips with new instructions downloaded off the Internet, Meinrath says, hackers can add sophisticated features to wireless routers such as the ability to adjust frequency and signal power.

That allows more users to occupy the same crowded slice of radio spectrum. But the same code can just as easily allow users to transmit on frequencies the FCC has licensed to somebody else.

Related?: Divine intervention axes school station

Maynard High School’s radio frequency, 91.7 FM, is being seized by a network of Christian broadcasting stations that the Federal Communications Commission has ruled is a better use of the public airwaves.

“People are furious,” said faculty adviser Joe Magno.

Maynard High’s WAVM, which has been broadcasting from the school for 35 years, found itself in this David vs. Goliath battle when it applied to increase its transmitter signal from 10 to 250 watts.

According to Magno, that “opens the floodgates for any other station to challenge the station’s license and take its frequency.”

Using a point scale that considers such factors as audience size, the FCC ruled the Christian broadcasting network the better applicant. WAVM is given 30 days to appeal, and has done so.

Salon on US Broadband Policy

Free American broadband!

Next time you sit down to pay your cable-modem or DSL bill, consider this: Most Japanese consumers can get an Internet connection that’s 16 times faster than the typical American DSL line for a mere $22 per month.

Across the globe, it’s the same story. […]

How did this happen? Why has the U.S. fallen so far behind the rest of its economic peers? The answer is simple. These nations all have something the U.S. lacks: a national broadband policy, one that actively encourages competition among providers, leading to lower consumer prices and better service.

Instead, the U.S. has a handful of unelected and unaccountable corporate giants that control our vital telecommunications infrastructure. This has led not only to a digital divide between the U.S. and the rest of the advanced world but to one inside the U.S. itself. Currently, broadband services in America remain unavailable for many living in rural and poorer urban areas, and remain slow and expensive for those who do have access.

[…] Like so many other challenges faced by the Bush administration, the response to the growing digital divide has been to redefine success and prematurely declare victory.

[…] Martin’s failure to confront the broadband problem becomes painfully obvious when you consider how his commission measures broadband availability and adoption. Instead of counting the number of subscribers in a particular area, the FCC considers an entire ZIP code as “covered” if at least one person living in that area has a broadband connection. This allows the FCC to make misleading boasts about how broadband coverage reaches 99 percent of the country.

[…] [T]he answer doesn’t lie solely in government either. What is needed is a truly competitive market, with many providers engaging in innovation that ultimately benefits all consumers. Government can play a role in making the market more competitive — both by deploying Community Internet projects and by requiring the cable and telephone companies to provide open access to their networks.

American innovation offers a solution to our broadband problem. It’s time for Congress, the FCC and the White House to stop protecting the corporate dinosaurs and start exploring alternatives that will foster a genuine free market in high-speed Internet services.

MickeyD and Nintendo WiFi

McDonald’s and Nintendo in Wi-Fi Deal

Nintendo of America is expected to announce today that it will offer free wireless Internet access for its Nintendo DS portable game system at McDonald’s restaurants. Customers will be able to play select DS games with other players around the world.

McDonald’s offers wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, access to laptop users for a fee in 6,000 restaurants nationwide, but the free Nintendo arrangement will permit the DS machines to play without a laptop.

Documentaries and IP

Another look at chilling effects: The Hidden Cost of Documentaries

Michael Vaccaro, a fourth grader, had just left P.S. 112 in Brooklyn and was headed home with his mother. Two filmmakers were in front of him, their camera capturing his every movement on video, when his mother’s cellphone rang.

“It was such an indicator of today’s culture,” said Amy Sewell, a producer of “Mad Hot Ballroom,” the documentary that follows New York City children as they learn ballroom dancing and prepare for a citywide contest. “Michael’s mom had just asked him how school was, her cellphone rings, she answers it, and the look on his face says, ‘I don’t get to tell my mom about my day.’ ”

In addition, the ringtone was “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from “Rocky,” and the neighborhood was Bensonhurst. “How perfect was that?” Ms. Sewell said.

Perfect, but a problem. Had the ringtone been a common telephone ring, the scene could have dropped into the final edit without a hitch, the moment providing a quick bit of emotional texture to the film. But EMI Music Publishing, which owns the rights to “Gonna Fly Now,” was asking the first-time producer for $10,000 to use those six seconds.

Ms. Sewell considered relying on fair use, the aspect of copyright law that allows the unlicensed use of material when the public benefit significantly outweighs the costs or losses to the copyright owner. But her lawyer advised against it. “I’m a real Norma Rae-type personality,” Ms. Sewell said, “but the lawyer said, ‘Honestly, for your first film, you don’t have enough money to fight the music industry.’ ” After four months of negotiating – “I begged and begged,” Ms. Sewell said – she ended up paying EMI $2,500. […]

[…] “It’s not clear that anyone could even make ‘Eyes on the Prize’ today because of rights clearances,” Mr. Jaszi said. “What’s really important here is that documentary commitment to telling the truth is being compromised by the need to accommodate perceived intellectual and copyright constraints.”

A Little IP Fight Brewing

Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Hollywood Franchise

The book’s author, however, was not pleased about the prospect. Reached in Miami, Donald J. Sobol, the creator of Encyclopedia Brown, said he knew nothing of plans to bring his books to the big screen and wanted nothing to do with Mr. Deutsch.

[…] Mr. Sobol filed a lawsuit against Mr. Deutsch, among others, in 1983, contesting the rights agreement and demanding $20 million. The case was settled out of court and is covered by a confidentiality agreement, Mr. Deutsch said. Mr. Sobol declined to elaborate except to say that Mr. Deutsch now does have the movie rights but that they would eventually revert back to him.

“The rights are going to expire, and I will then take over,” Mr. Sobol said. “If someone starts to produce movies in a year, and I take back the rights, they’re going to be stuck.”

Life in the Modern World

From Sunday’s NYTimes Magazine: Meet the Life Hackers

Lots of people complain that office multitasking drives them nuts. But Mark is a scientist of “human-computer interactions” who studies how high-tech devices affect our behavior, so she was able to do more than complain: she set out to measure precisely how nuts we’ve all become. Beginning in 2004, she persuaded two West Coast high-tech firms to let her study their cubicle dwellers as they surfed the chaos of modern office life. One of her grad students, Victor Gonzalez, sat looking over the shoulder of various employees all day long, for a total of more than 1,000 hours. He noted how many times the employees were interrupted and how long each employee was able to work on any individual task.

When Mark crunched the data, a picture of 21st-century office work emerged that was, she says, “far worse than I could ever have imagined.” Each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted and whisked off to do something else. What’s more, each 11-minute project was itself fragmented into even shorter three-minute tasks, like answering e-mail messages, reading a Web page or working on a spreadsheet. And each time a worker was distracted from a task, it would take, on average, 25 minutes to return to that task. To perform an office job today, it seems, your attention must skip like a stone across water all day long, touching down only periodically.

Yet while interruptions are annoying, Mark’s study also revealed their flip side: they are often crucial to office work.