So, Is the Future Really a Google v. Microsoft Story?

Certainly that seems to be the message of this article — that, and the notion that “search is where it’s at” these days: Advertising: AOL’s Choice of Google Leaves Microsoft as the Outsider

The turn of events shows just how much Google – hotter now than Netscape was nine years ago – has supplanted Microsoft as the force to be reckoned with in technology. And it raises questions about Microsoft’s stated goal of becoming the leader in Internet searching, as well as about its emerging plans to offer more online services under a new brand, Windows Live.

“I thought Microsoft would pay just about anything to get this,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School. For Microsoft, he said, “AOL was the single best way to gain market share.”

Yet Google found a way to trump Microsoft’s hoard of cash, in part because losing to Microsoft was a strategic risk. Mr. Yoffie characterized the deal as “crucial and purely defensive” for Google because it “prevents Microsoft from being credible in search.”

Small Fix To Bayh-Dole’s Effects on Academia

At least it’s a start: Guidelines Set on Software Property Rights

To remove obstacles to joint research, four leading technology companies and seven American universities have agreed on principles for making software developed in collaborative projects freely available.

[…] The companies involved in the agreement, which will be announced today, are I.B.M., Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Cisco. The educational partners are the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the universities of Stanford, California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Illinois and Texas.

[…] The current problem, said Lesa Mitchell, a vice president at the Kauffman Foundation, was partly an “unintended consequence” of policies meant to encourage universities to make their research available for commercial uses, thus stimulating innovation and economic growth.

The tone was set, Ms. Mitchell said, by the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which allowed universities to hold the patents on federally funded research and to license that intellectual property to industry.

When available, the policies will be posted here and here.

More Experiments in Distribution: Movies

Before You Buy a Ticket, Why Not Buy the DVD?

Mr. [Morgan] Freeman said in a phone interview Wednesday from Dubai that the industry practice of showing feature films in theaters first, then selling them later on DVD, was outdated. With new advances in digital filmmaking, he predicted, consumers will demand better access to movies.

“We want to give people what they want, when they want it,” said Mr. Freeman. “We are following the wave.”

Mr. Freeman is not the only entrepreneur riding the digital technology surf. In the last several months, a handful of new ventures have been formed to help filmmakers find their audience – online, on DVD and at the movie theater.

Naysaying Digital Distribution: Films

Digital Domain: Is Mark Cuban Missing the Big Picture?

The Internet was very, very good to Mr. Cuban, so it’s perfectly understandable why his subsequent business ideas circle around digital themes. Upgrading theater projectors, which use film technology that has not changed much since Thomas Edison’s time, to digital technology would seem perfectly matched to Mr. Cuban’s interests. Digital projection is coming, not only to Landmark Theaters but to the larger chains, too. It is Mr. Cuban, however, who was so eager to have his theater chain credited as the first to adopt a costly new line of Sony projectors with the highest resolution (4096 x 2160 pixel, or 4K) before they were even complete. Actual installation of the first machines, each of which costs about $100,000, has been repeatedly delayed while Sony works on debugging.

People in the theater exhibition industry know what many outside it may not: that the transition from film to digital will not improve the visual experience for theater customers. Nothing yet invented can match the richness of film. When digital projection arrives, the best selling point that theater owners can offer may be, “Don’t worry about it; you probably won’t notice.” The principal reason that the owners will convert is that the movie studios wish to save the considerable expense of manufacturing and distributing film. Digital projection “won’t increase our attendance,” said Kurt Hall last March, when he was chief executive of the Regal Entertainment Group, the largest exhibitor in the country.

Later: Carmike Theaters to Convert to Digital [pdf]

New Technology, New Problems

Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World

So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images of his body on the Internet over the course of five years. From the seduction that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn into performing in front of the Webcam – undressing, showering, masturbating and even having sex – for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Justin’s dark coming-of-age story is a collateral effect of recent technological advances. Minors, often under the online tutelage of adults, are opening for-pay pornography sites featuring their own images sent onto the Internet by inexpensive Webcams. And they perform from the privacy of home, while parents are nearby, beyond their children’s closed bedroom doors.

Background: A Shadowy Trade Migrates to the Web [pdf]

Archiving and IP

Push to Rescue Met Recordings

The [Metropolitan Opera House] is pressing forward with a project to preserve, and in many cases locate, nearly 1,400 recordings of its Saturday broadcasts. Met officials said they have completed 403 preservations, with 868 still to go, spending about $1.4 million in an open-ended project that is predicted to cost more than $4 million.

“It is one of the most important parts of the Met’s heritage,” said Sarah Billinghurst, the assistant manager for artistic affairs, who also oversees the media department. She called the recordings the “day in and day out history of what was,” and also a potential source of income from downloading or commercial release – “which is always something desperately needed.”

[…] One archival recording is released each year and is available to benefactors who contribute at least $150. Some of the recordings are also available at the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center, where opera fanatics congregate for daily listening.

[…] The Met does not release the recordings because paying the house’s unions for broadcast rights is prohibitively expensive, Ms. Billinghurst said, although she said Joseph Volpe and Peter Gelb, the departing and incoming general managers, are talking to the unions about the issue. The donor releases are allowed under a special agreement.

What’s A Capitalist To Do?

What, indeed — from Salon on Internet Filtering in China in 2004-2005: A Country Study: “Freedom”: No documents found

The American companies are faced with a tough choice. The Chinese government doesn’t hesitate to use its economic clout to exact the concessions it wants. The hope had been that as the Internet took off, the Chinese government would ease its restrictions or lose control. But that hasn’t happened.

When China first began building its Internet infrastructure, some critics accused the American companies of supplying Internet technology that could be used for censorship. But China no longer needs help building a strong system of control. It already has one. What the censors lack now is legitimacy. Yahoo, Microsoft and Google find themselves in a trap. When they cooperate with the censors, they lend their names to China’s crackdowns. They get a cut of the China market. But the Chinese get a cut of their reputation.

Later: A WaPo article on how one evades the censors: Chinese Evade Censors To Discuss Police Assault [pdf]

Happy Holidays!

A little coal for your stocking? RIAA sues 751 file-swappers

The Recording Industry Association of America said Thursday it had filed a new round of lawsuits against 751 as-yet-unnamed people who are accused of making copyright music available on file-trading networks. The suits are the latest in a campaign that has now targeted more than 17,000 people.

Marvel and NCSoft Settle

Faux Hulks can keep fighting evil online

Marvel Entertainment and NCSoft, publisher of such online games as “City of Heroes,” have settled a lawsuit over whether characters created by players can legally resemble Marvel’s comics characters.

Marvel–publisher of titles like “Spider-Man,” “The X Men,” “The Fantastic Four” and many others–filed the suit in November 2004. It alleged that “City of Heroes,” an online game with hundreds of thousands of users, infringed on Marvel’s copyright by giving players a content creation engine that allows them to design avatars that can look like the Incredible Hulk, Captain America or any other copyright-protected Marvel character.

Terms of the settlement, which was announced on Wednesday, were not disclosed.

MTV Decides to Play Catchup With a Pro

And plants its stake in the ground in the DRM wars by backing Media Player: MTV to Sell Online but Shuns the IPod [pdf]

Shunning leader Apple Computer Inc. in the crowded online music market, MTV Networks Inc. instead chose a partner that knows a thing or two about playing catch-up: Microsoft Corp.

The cable music channel said Tuesday that it planned to launch its long-anticipated Internet service — called URGE — next year with the help of the world’s biggest software maker.

[…] MTV Networks Music Group President Van Toffler said the company, a unit of Viacom International Inc., allied itself with Microsoft because it wanted to exploit the flexibility and ubiquity of Microsoft’s Media Player software, which comes preinstalled in the Windows operating system.

“[Apple Chief Executive] Steve Jobs has a point of view,” Toffler said. “ITunes is about a digital storefront for a la carte downloads. Our goal is to create a utopian music community that keeps subscribers coming back.”