Looking A Gift Horse In The Mouth

And not liking what they see — San Franciscan’s look hard at “free” wi-fi: Bad reception for free Wi-Fipdf

[SF MayorGavin] Newsom forged a plan with Google Inc. and EarthLink Inc., under which the companies would build a Wi-Fi network offering two tiers of service: a free one, plastered with online advertisements, and a faster version without ads for $21.95 a month. They would pay San Francisco to put signal-beaming antennas on its light poles.

But in a city where suspicion of corporate interests flows as thick as the fog, the plan is meeting resistance at every turn.

Dissecting every bit and byte, techies call the free service too slow and are pushing for alternatives. Privacy advocates fret that the Internet companies could track users’ every move.

At one of the marathon meetings to debate the proposal, a citizen suggested that Google and EarthLink fork over more money — to supplement the electricity bills of San Franciscans who use their computers more as a result of the free access. Another suggested that Google use its vehicles to shuttle children to the local zoo.

More than two years later, the project hasn’t gotten off the ground. Newsom signed a contract with the Internet providers in January. But the Board of Supervisors, whose approval is required, last week declined even to consider the deal, deciding instead to investigate turning the project into a city-owned public utility.

“We never thought it would be so hard to spend money in a city — or such a hard sell to give something away,” EarthLink Vice President Cole Reinwand said.

An End To “Magical Thinking?”

And facing reality? We’ll see: Music Labels Offer Teasers to Download

For all the disquiet the Internet has fostered in the music business, almost every rock star and record executive is intrigued with the prospect of marketing to music fans directly instead of wrangling for exposure with radio programmers or retailers.

But the expansion of the online marketplace, coupled with ever-worsening CD sales, is now all but forcing the music companies to tread on ground they once viewed as off limits.

Starting this week, Suretone Records, a label distributed by the Universal Music Group, plans to distribute video files featuring popular acts like Weezer and new bands like Drop Dead Gorgeous on file-sharing networks that the industry has long viewed as illicit bazaars for pirates.

Confronting Implementing the EU Data Retention Directive

Europe’s Plan to Track Phone and Net Use

European Union countries have until 2009 to put the Data Retention Directive into law, so the proposals seen now are early interpretations. But some people involved in the issue are concerned about a shift in policy in Europe, which has long been a defender of individuals’ privacy rights.

[…] “This is an incredibly bad thing in terms of privacy, since people have grown up with the idea that you ought to be able to have an anonymous e-mail account,” [Google’s Peter] Fleischer said. “Moreover, it’s totally unenforceable and would never work.”

Mr. Fleischer said the law would have to require some kind of identity verification, “like you may have to register for an e-mail address with your national ID card.”

Jörg Hladjk, a privacy lawyer at Hunton & Williams, a Brussels law firm, said that might also mean that it could become illegal to pay cash for prepaid cellphone accounts. The billing information for regular cellphone subscriptions is already verified.

Mr. Fleischer said: “It’s ironic, because Germany is one of the countries in Europe where people talk the most about privacy. In terms of consciousness of privacy in general, I would put Germany at the extreme end.”

From the EU clearinghouse for data privacy legislation — “Directive 2006/24/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the retention of data generated or processed in connection with the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks and amending Directive 2002/58/EC.”

Selling Snakeoil At The Point Of A Gun

Just like the President’s view that all problems can be solved with tax cuts, the media companies are turning to filters for everything: New Weapon in Web War Over Piracy

The entertainment industry is clamoring for Internet companies to adopt the technology for music files as well as for video clips. The social networking site MySpace, owned by the News Corporation, said last week that it would use Audible Magic’s system to identify copyrighted material on its pages. But not every Internet company is rushing to go along. The video-sharing site YouTube, which Google bought last year, is the major holdout so far.

Though YouTube’s co-founders said publicly that they would start using filtering technology by the end of last year, the site has yet to do so. And they have further angered some media companies by saying they would only use such technology to detect clips owned by companies that agree to broader licensing deals with YouTube.

The pressure is on. […]

[…] The systems being developed by companies like Audible Magic and Gracenote make use of vast databases that store digital representations of copyrighted songs, TV shows and movies.

When new files are uploaded to a Web site that is using the system, it checks the database for matches using a technique known as digital fingerprinting. Copyrighted material can then be blocked or posted, depending on whether it is licensed for use on the site.

“This is capable of helping the film and TV studios comprehensively protect their works,” [Audible Magic’s CEO Vance] Ikezoye said. “This could put the genie back in the bottle.”

And I Just Renewed My MA Driver’s License

On the other hand, I did it while still wearing the beard I developed during the early stages of my recovery from a broken ankle: Driver’s License Emerges as Crime-Fighting Tool, but Privacy Advocates Worry

On the second floor of a state office building here, upstairs from a food court, three facial-recognition specialists are revolutionizing American law enforcement. They work for the Massachusetts motor vehicles department.

Last year they tried an experiment, for sport. Using computerized biometric technology, they ran a mug shot from the Web site of “America’s Most Wanted,” the Fox Network television show, against the state’s database of nine million digital driver’s license photographs.

The computer found a match. A man who looked very much like Robert Howell, the fugitive in the mug shot, had a Massachusetts driver’s license under another name. Mr. Howell was wanted in Massachusetts on rape charges.

[…] At least six other states have or are working on similar enormous databases of driver’s license photographs. Coupled with increasingly accurate facial-recognition technology, the databases may become a radical innovation in law enforcement.

[…] Critics say the databases may therefore also represent a profound threat to privacy.

“What is the D.M.V.?” asked Lee Tien, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a privacy advocate. “Does it license motor vehicles and drivers? Or is it really an identification arm of law enforcement?”

[…] In time, though, the combination of facial recognition and other information — from financial records, mobile phones, automobile positioning devices and other sources — may do away with the ability to move anonymously through the world, Mr. Tien, the privacy advocate, said.

“The real question with biometrics,” he said, “is that they are part of a cluster of technologies that will allow for location tracking in both public and private places.”

Hmmm — where have I heard concerns voiced about losing anonymity before….?

Managing A CC Licence

Don’t Buy My Book, Just Read It

Creative Commons licenses are meant to encourage the wide dissemination of intellectual property, while allowing their creators to retain certain rights. Mr. [Seth] Godin never had any intention of making money from the 52-page book, but he also indicated that he would rather not have his name stamped on something that is making money for someone else under false pretenses.

As it happened, the publisher quickly revised the book’s cover to include the notice: “This is a reprint of a 2005 free e-book under Creative Commons license.” That was good enough for Mr. Godin, who told his readers, “go buy it!”

Consolidation Around © Management

As a followup to this posting, we have YouTube anti-piracy software policy draws firepdf

The media industry is clashing with YouTube over its proposal to offer anti-piracy tools only to companies that have distribution deals with the top online video-sharing service, media insiders said.

YouTube, owned by Google Inc., plans to introduce technology to help media companies identify pirated videos uploaded by users. But the tools are currently being offered as part of broader negotiations on licensing deals, they said.

The move contrasts with YouTube’s biggest rival, News Corp.’s, popular Internet social network, MySpace, which said on Monday it would offer its own version of copyright protection services for free.

YouTube’s “proposition that they will only protect copyrighted content if there’s a business deal in place is unacceptable,” a spokesman for Viacom Inc., owner of MTV Networks and Comedy Central, said this week.

Related: The Old Guard Flexes Its Muscles (While It Still Can)

INTELLECTUAL property law is clear that the legal impetus, for now, rests with the copyright holder to tell a Web site to take down unauthorized material. Indeed, it would be cumbersome to ask every kid with a community site to spend his days policing what the members have posted.

The media giants have a point, however, when they ask why they even have to cajole Google, a self-professed friend, to make nice.

Yet Google and its brethren also have a point when they wonder if the media giants are only hurting themselves by pressing the copyright issue. They point out that their sites have served as great promotional venues — and that they do not charge the media companies a dollar for that help. Moreover, there are no barriers to entry to stop NBC, Viacom or anyone else from starting its own Web video efforts.

What we have here is the most fascinating game of digital chicken the media world has seen. Who will cluck first?

See also Toobin on Google BookSearch in The New Yorker

WinSome, Lose Some

Disney loses battle in Pooh legal warpdf

U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper on Thursday dismissed a copyright lawsuit that sought to end Disney’s obligation to pay the Slesinger family royalties for sales of Winnie the Pooh merchandise. In 1961, the Slesingers, who inherited the merchandising rights to the silly old bear and his forest friends, transferred those rights to Disney in exchange for ongoing royalty payments.

But the partnership became acrimonious. In 1991, the Slesingers sued Disney in state court alleging breach of contract and fraud. They claimed that over the years the Burbank-based entertainment giant had cheated them out of hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from Pooh.

That lawsuit was followed by the copyright case that was thrown out Thursday. In 2002, the granddaughters of Pooh author A.A. Milne and of illustrator E.H. Shepard filed a complex lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles that invoked U.S. copyright law to assert rights to Pooh. If they had prevailed, the Slesingers’ legal ties to the bear would have been erased.

Although Disney was not a plaintiff in the 2002 claim, the company had agreed to pay the granddaughters’ legal fees if they assigned to Disney any rights they won to Pooh merchandise — such as toys, DVDs, computer games and clothing — which they did.

But Judge Cooper on Thursday dismissed the claims brought by Harriet Jessie Minette Hunt, who is Shepard’s granddaughter. Cooper granted the Slesingers’ motion for summary judgment, which is expected to end the copyright case. Earlier, the judge had dismissed Clare Milne’s portion of the case.

“Stealing” TV

Not so much, apparently: Viewers Fast-Forwarding Past Ads? Not Always

People with digital video recorders like TiVo never watch commercials, right?

Add that to the list of urban — and suburban — myths.

It turns out that a lot of people with digital video recorders are not fast-forwarding and time-shifting as much as advertisers feared. According to new data released yesterday by the Nielsen Company, people who own digital video recorders, or DVRs, still watch, on average, two-thirds of the ads.

See an earlier posting, Paying For Content, and let’s not forget Jamie Kellner’s interview

Making Sausage

Or, devising copyright policy (see earlier A Look at Learning About ©): Russian Judge Dismisses Any Penalty in Piracy Case

A Russian judge convicted a provincial school headmaster on Thursday for using pirated Microsoft software in school computers, but declined to impose any penalty, saying that Microsoft’s loss was insignificant compared with its overall earnings.

The case has been closely watched as a test of how Russia will enforce intellectual property rights as it moves closer to membership in the World Trade Organization. The verdict was broadcast on Russian state television.