Tuesday, February 27, 2007

super size with your cell phone

Technology is cool, we can all probably agree on that...but I don't think the potential creepy/1984-factor of it is lost on any of us, either. The BBC posted a story today about a newly implemented tech practice in Japan that allows people to pay for McDonalds via their cell phones/headsets.
Sounds convenient, sure...but quotes like this made my skin crawl just the slightest little bit:

"It gives both McDonald's and DoCoMo the opportunity to track consumers and their eating habits. Cash is more likely to be used in small transactions. Electronic payments will allow user behaviour to be tracked and used for marketing purposes,"

This feels to me like we're inching closer to seeing the metaphor cory uses for DRM (about a little man following you around after you take out money from an ATM and limiting how you use it) becoming a reality.

I got Joosted, and it was pretty good.

A few weeks ago I filled out a beta test application on the Joost homepage in hopes that I would be able to try the program (or "service"?) out for myself. After days of anticipation I recently received an email from the Joost team with an invitation to the beta build of their project. Here's what its like.

Fresh of their deal with Viacom, Joost has not placed any MTV, BET, or Paramount content up as of yet. For the most part what you get are old reruns of "World Strongest Man" competitions, PBS-like programming from unique stations like the National Geographic Channel, and a host of various music video content (including "how it was made" programming).

Even with this limited (and somewhat insipid) collection the Joost library still managed to kill a few hours of my time with its available content.

Interface and Accessibility:
One of the first things I noticed about Joost was its incredibly intuitive GUI and aesthetically pleasing setup. Even the loading screens are fun to watch. Transparent widgets can be placed on your screen as you watch your favorite programs (such as instant messaging clients, clocks, and RSS news feeds) and navigation is very simple. The advertising and Joost screen elements are all unintrusive and well-designed.

Other thoughts:
At this point, even with its limited library of content, I am very impressed with Joost and what it has to offer. The project seems to be in great shape and I anticipate that "Joost" will become a familiar neogism within the next few months as distribution begins to pick up some speed. Joost has all the makings of a prolific upstart prgoram: it works great, looks great, and doesn't hog system resources. Plus, when you consider that the amount of television content it offers is only going to increase from this point forward things are looking good for Joost.


A glimpse at the failure of DRM

This is an interesting blog post about the failure of DRM thus far. The author is responding to Steve Jobs's open letter titled "Thoughts on Music" in which he criticizes DRM. It's interesting that the author concludes that Jobs did this to redirect European litigation to the big four music labels. This may well be the case, as Jobs appears to be trying to take the blame off of Apple. The article also outlines how DRM has been compromised on every media format it has been developed for. It also gives a link to the programs that can compromise it, so it's a good resource for those of you who have been in need of a convenient source for cracking utilities.

Fair Use Protections Bill to be Introduced in the House

US Representatives Rick Boucher (D-VA) and John Doolittle (R-CA) announced today what they are calling the "FAIR USE act," or the Freedom And Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act. The bill seeks to help define what is considered Fair Use by the DMCA, and open up the circumvention of DRM in some specific cases. Ken Fisher of Arstechnica writes:

Current exemptions allow the circumvention of anti-copying technology for: 1) the educational library of a university's media studies department; 2) using computer software that requires the original disks or hardware in order to run; 3) dongle-protected computer programs, if the the dongle no longer functions and a replacement cannot be found; 4) protected e-books, in order to use screen-reader software; 5) cell phone firmware that ties a phone to a specific wireless network; and 6) DRM software included on audio CDs, but only when such software creates security vulnerabilities on personal computers.

Unfortunately, this bill does not take the important step of legalizing the circumvention of DRM for the creation of backups of purchased media. Likely this was a strategic choice designed to eliminate much of the animosity this bill will likely see from MPAA/RIAA lobbyists. This is in contrast to previous bills introduced by Boucher on the same subject in the 108th and 109th congress, called the DMCRA. This bill provides much wider protection for the circumvention of DRM many more cases (including the creation of backups).

On a positive end note, the bill does provide limits for the statutory damages that can be requested after infringement has been proven. It also gives a small amount of protection to those who are shown to be indirectly infringing.

But I couldn't say it better myself - this bill appears to be nothing more than "a watered-down version of Boucher's DMCRA." Positive, but not that positive.

(via arstechnica)

BitTorrent To Open Legal Download Site

In a surprising announcement, BitTorrent, the worlds leading P2P program, has decided to begin selling digital movies. Priced along the same lines as similar download-to-rent services, BitTorrent's marketplace will offer pay for use content. Participating studios include Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, partly owned by Sony, Time Warner's Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Viacom's Paramount Pictures and Lions Gate.

In addition, content produced by major studios will be protected by Microsoft's digital rights management software and will not play on Apple computers or iPods.

It remains to be seen whether or not BitTorrent will be able to shift it's user base from internet pirates to legitimate paying customers.


Intern at Creative Commons this summer

College intern sought for a summer working for Creative Commons in San Francisco -- this is a sweet gig.
That’s right! Students, get your applications in before the end of the day on March 1 (which means PST for us in San Francisco reviewing applications).

As we announced before, we are picking one intern to help our tech team and another to help us with creating media and building up our community. If you want to spend the summer building the commons, living in San Francisco, and generally plugging into one of the most dynamic social networks offline in SF and on-line on the web, then please apply.

For both internships, there are several projects to work on. A good place to look is at our Labs demo/test site and Developer Challenges to get your heart beating faster. Then, for Media+Community internships, there will be some great work on some media-based (part-technical) projects like OLPC and FreeCulture.org.


Google Spells Good?

Normally Google is the model citizen, it helps you find everything you need and when you spell something wrong it suggests the proper spelling. However, their own spell check, couldn't save this error.Yes, this does make Eric Schmidt the Chariman of Google's Executive Committee...
A few possible explanations:
  • It’s rumored Google (GOOG) has been working on a form of communication, called “Googlish,” to replace all the world’s languages. It has its own grammar, vocabulary, and spelling rules, such as “I before R except after A.” That’s why “Chairman” appears as "Chariman"
  • The name “Google” actually comes from “googol,” misspelled. So intentional misspellings are part of Google’s culture.
More creative explanations here

The Indie Band's Survival Guide

Hot on the heels of this week's readings is a handy and detailed guide for fledgling indie bands everywhere, written by and based on the experiences of the group Beatnik Turtle, including this bit about the importance of the website:
First and foremost, a website announces to the world that you are a real band. If a person sees you play live, searches on you, and does not find a website, they can only assume that you don't take your band seriously. A website is your tireless ambassador to the world. It is the web that took the decision of whether people should hear your music out of the hands of indifferent music executives and put it back in your own. It distributes your music directly to your fans, no matter where in the world they are. It also promotes, informs, advertises, connects, and has thousands of other possible uses beyond this. It is indispensable.

The guide goes on to deal with topics as varied and crucial as Ticketmaster's virtual extortion racket, the elements that make a good live band, and, of course, the scourge of DRM.

Link. (via MeFi via 43 Folders)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Congress rethinking patent bill?

The debate over a "broken patent system" was addressed at the Tech Poly Summit in San Jose today. The article on ZDnet said Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and others in Congress will make a patent reform bill in the next 2 or 3 weeks. One of the key points of controversy, however, was when Carl Bass (Autodesk's CEO) said his company could be double in size if people payed for his software. There's a iscussion about this remark on Techdirt... some pretty good comments from several people. Mainly, from people saying how Bass used the BSA's (Business Software Alliance) statement saying unauthorized copies of software are costing the industry and how they simply wouldn't pay all that money for his software anyways. He should rethink his business model.

No Privacy in the Digital Age: Canada/US Info Sharing

/. reports:

New information sharing agreements have made it as easy for a Canadian border officer to know the full criminal records of US citizens as it is for their local police. As a result, Canadian officials are turning away American visitors for ancient minor convictions, including 30-year-old shoplifting and minor drug possession convictions. Officials claim it's always been illegal to enter Canada with such convictions without getting special dispensation, they just had no good way of knowing about them until recent security agreements allowed access. One attorney speculates it's not long before this information will be shared with other countries as well, causing immigration hassles worldwide.

What's really better for Canada? Tourism or protection against convicts of minor 30-year-old crimes?

Worse still, an old BoingBoing article points out that many of the privacy laws that do exist are not being followed. So Canadian officials have more information to carelessly share. Wonderful.

Free Movie Downloads

MovinFlicks.com offers links to "free" movies and TV shows online. It seems to me that it's an analogue to the mp3 search engine that was declared illegal. Will new legal action against MovinFlicks.com (assuming that legal action is inevitable) reopen the case for mp3 search engines? Or will MovinFlicks.com be shut down with no change in policy?

Link via Gizmodo.

Creative Commons Internships

There are two great sounding internships up for grabs at Creative Commons this summer. One is in Technology and one is in Media+Community Development. Both sound absolutely amazing. Applications are due March 1st, so if you want in, get cracking.

DRM Causes Piracy

A couple days ago, Slash Dot linked to an article written by Eric Flint, editor at Baen Publishing, in which he attempts to lay out the case that DRM actually causes piracy instead of preventing it. Flint breaks it down in three distinct points:
1) The products they want... are hard to find, and thus valuable. 2) The products they want are high-priced, so there's a fair amount of money to be saved by stealing them. 3) The legal products come with so many added-on nuisances that the illegal version is better to begin with. Those are the three conditions that will create widespread electronic copyright infringement, especially in combination. Why? Because they're the same three general conditions that create all large-scale smuggling enterprises. And... Guess what? It's precisely those three conditions that DRM creates in the first place. So far from being an impediment to so-called 'online piracy,' is DRM itself that keeps fueling it and driving it forward.

British Government Responds to Petition, Defends DRM

The British government recently received a petition signed by 1,414 people, stating that:
"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Ban the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies for digital content."
In a formal response from 10 Downing Street, the office of the Prime Minister defended the use of digital rights management.
Many content providers have been embedding access and management tools to protect their rights and, for example, prevent illegal copying. We believe that they should be able to continue to protect their content in this way. However, DRM does not only act as a policeman through technical protection measures, it also enables content companies to offer the consumer unprecedented choice in terms of how they consume content, and the corresponding price they wish to pay.
As far as I know, this is the first offical pro-DRM stance from a European nation, which complicates any hope of an EU directive on the issue.

(Via 10 Downing Street)

Dell to Pre-install Linux on Computers

Following a recent survey conducted on Dell's IdeaStorm site, it looks like they're starting to qualify computers with Linux preinstalled for sale directly to consumers. According to a February 23rd Press Release, the models they're looking at are the OptiPlex Desktops, Latitude notebooks, and Precision workstations.

Dell has been avoiding mounting arguments for the inclusion of the Linux OS and OpenOffice for years now, but with recent pressure have started to consider Linux as a viable alternative to Windows. The question that remains, according to Dell, is which Distro they will use. Apparently they can't decide on a single distro, as users have suggested "more than a half a dozen." They're stalling because they can't decide which to endorse - they don't want to alienate any customers.

In the same press release, Dell has said that they intend to give new users a way to uninstall all of the programs that it installs on new laptops and desktops. This means none of the annoying pop-ups and "Dell-certified" software that we're all used to, and no reformatting and reinstalling windows on the new computer you just opened.

This is promising news for consumers everywhere.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

EMI: We'll Do DRM-Free Music but it's Going to Cost Ya

The rumors were too good to be true. EMI allegedly will abandon DRM but not without a bunch of cash up front from vendors like Apple and Microsoft. How nice.

The article points to Warner's recent pressure on EMI as possible motivation. My cynical side tells me we all shouldn't have been so enthusiastic from the get-go. Or they are given his-Steveness a taste of his own medicine - "Don't look to us for why we still have DRM, ask Steve Jobs why he won't pony up the dough".

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Indie Trade Group Impala Supports EMI/WMG Merger, Ministry of Sound Protests

Ministry of Sound, the UK's largest indepedent record label, has walked out on the European indie music trade group Impala, after it pledged its support for a possible takeover of EMI by Warner Music Group. The merger would bring the number of major record companies to only 3, furthering consolidating an industry monopoly into the hands of several large multinational corporations.
“The previous mergers of Universal/ PolyGram and Sony/BMG have dramatically affected our level of support at retail, access to media, ability to license major-owned catalogue for our compilations and pricing,”said Mr. Lohan Presencer, the managing director of Ministry of Sound Music Group.
And according to an article in the New York Post, "up to a half dozen other independent labels are considering resigning" as well. This merger could be detrimental to the music industry, especially given the differing views between Warner's Bronfman and EMI on DRM (note: in the proposed deal, Warner would be swallowing up EMI, not the other way around).

(Via TimesOnline)

Viacom drinks the Joost

Viacom announced plans to deliver Paramount films and television shows on Joost, the advertising-funded, P2P-driven, TV-like service founded by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, the duo behind Kazaa and Skype. Joost seems to have somehow calmed the angry media giant, which recently evacuated a torrential flood of takedown notices on YouTube.

In an latimes.com article (stuck behind a registerwall) a market researcher is quoted as saying, "The Joost platform is in essence a closed system. The ability for piracy and content to be stolen is minimal."

Surely it's obvious by now that any amount of weakness in any DRM scheme welcomes widespread compromise. So how did Joost manage to convince Viacom that its DRM would be effective enough to prevent widespread piracy? Are Zennström and Friis ultimately pulling a FairPlay on a colossus of the entertainment industry?

Further reading:
Joost - the new, new TV thing (via The Register)

Wii + Grandparents = Fun

Not that this really has a whole lot to do with our class, but it was just too good to pass up!

This summarizes the Wii:
“I've never been into video games, but this is addictive,” said 72-year-old Flora Dierbach. “They [the residents] come in after dinner and play. Sometimes, on Saturday afternoons, their grandkids come play with them … A lot of grandparents are being taught by their grandkids. But, now, some grandparents are instead teaching their grandkids.”

Full Articles:
Daily Tech

Some of the better comments:
Don't give them a racing game, they'll wind up driving the whole time with a blinker on.

"Grandpa do you wanna play some Halo 10?"
"Sure Jimmy. But don't cry like a b*tch when I pwn your ass with the rocket launcher."

Friday, February 23, 2007

The RIAA List of 25

It seems that the RIAA is trying to shame universities into curtailing their student's P2P/file sharing habits through releasing a list of the 25 top offenders. However, our friends over at Ars have an interesting take on Purdue's spot at number 2

Purdue, on the other hand, seems to be taking the "don't worry, be happy" approach to sitting pretty at the number two spot. The school almost never even notifies the students—of copyright infringement. Purdue spokesman Steve Tally told the Associated Press, "In a sense, the (complaint) letter is asking us to pursue an investigation and as the service provider we don't see that as our role." This attitude expresses either extreme pompousness on Purdue's part or extreme ignorance. Is that not the whole reason why the RIAA cannot pursue potential infringers individually? The students are currently allowed to hide behind the ISP—in this case, the university—with the understanding that the ISP will investigate infringement accusations.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New Weapon in Web War over Piracy

I was on youtube last week and searched for some clips from TV shows. But YouTube the video streaming site which I have been using often to see clips from different TV shows removed most of the files that are copyrighted. This article talks about a content-recognition software that detects songs and videos posted on webs without permission. This is an excerpt from the article on how Audible Magic’s software is used to identify video clips on the web

“The clip — drained of color, with dialogue dubbed in Chinese — appeared to have been recorded with a camcorder in a dark movie theater before it was uploaded to the Web, so the image quality was poor.
Still, Mr. Ikezoye’s filtering software quickly identified it as the sword-training scene that begins 49 minutes and 37 seconds into the Miramax film “Kill Bill: Vol. 2.”

The Audio fingerprinting technologies seem to be successful to detect copyrighted music on file-sharing networks. Smaller video sites such as Guba.com and Grouper.com are already using more basic filters that monitor videos and music files to stay out of the courtroom against the copyright holders. However, Guba.com president Eric Lambrecht said that their popularity went down. It seems as if he believes that video and music on file-sharing networks are not going to win the battle against copyright holders since he thinks his decision is a “long-term business decision”. Any thoughts?

Link : http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/19/technology/19video.html?pagewanted=2 by Brad Stone and Miguel Helft

This DJ Drama Mixtape Raid is Going To Be a Huge, Huge Mess

There is an incredible six-page New York Times article on the January 16 RIAA-endorsed (at a minimum) raid of DJ Drama's Atlanta studio. The number of legal issues this case is going to confront (should it go to trial) is astounding.

First of all, and not necessarily a legal issue, is what the hell were the record labels thinking? Drama was instrumental in the start of the careers of Lil' Jon and T.I. and is responsible in a huge way for the recent resurgence in Lil' Wayne's popularity. Say what you will about their talents (especially Lil' Jon's), but there is no doubt that those artist and others have made the record labels lots and lots of money.

Secondly, can these artists be held responsible for copyright violations if the RIAA has given tacit approval to their actions? If record labels leak tracks to these DJs and pay them upwards of $10,000 to build hype for upcoming studio releases, are they endorsing the mixtape industry? And if so, why the hell would the RIAA raid these DJs? Miscommunication? Unfortunately, though, there is likely little or no evidence of such transactions ever happening, considering the underground nature of the mixtape industry.

Which brings me to another issue... How does this affect the artists? There is also little reliable evidence of mixtape sales, but there are plenty of allegations of mixtape DJs fudging figures so they can underpay the artist.

Who is going to win? Anyone?

Video Games Could Make Better Surgeons?

For all the negatives we hear about kids playing video games, the Los Angeles Times published an article today highlighting one positive that can come out of numerous hours spent playing in front of the tv... becoming a great surgeon.
"Doctors who reported having played video games at least three hours a week sometime in their past worked 27% faster and made 37% fewer errors on the surgical tasks compared with those who had never picked up a game controller, according to the study in the Archives of Surgery."

Of course, the article mentions that too much playing can also lead to aggressive behavior and bad grades. The right amount, however, can lead to better eye-hand coordination. Like with anything else in life there needs to be balance... and hey, I'm a huge advocate of old-school blacktop games.

Movie theaters still making steady profit despite piracy threat

This report shows that movie theaters are making the same profit as they did in 1997. To compensate for the decline in audience, the theaters, as we are all too aware of, hike up the ticket price. I don't think this can continue. Technological innovation in the home theater sector is advancing by leaps and bounds, which will inevitably mean that less people will go to the theater. This will lead to higher ticket prices, which will further discourage people from going to the theater. I think that in order to survive, theaters will have to stay on the cutting edge, and continue to deliver an experience that is distinct from home theater systems.

Pho Meet-Up This Sunday

Pho is delicious Vietnamese soup. The Pho list is a high-traffic mailing list 'devoted to the [...] discussion of issues related to the digital delivery or art, especially music, movies and books'. It grew out of a weekly meet-up right here in LA at local Pho restaurants for people who wanted to discuss 'the future of delivering art'. Its an awesome mailing list, and can be only more awesome in person. As such, you guys should know that this Sunday, there is a Pho meet-up at Pho 87 Restaurant in Chinatown (map here) right next to Dodger Stadium. It's at one and I'll for sure be going. Anyone want to carpool?

Side note: The list is super cool, and I encourage you all to join it. It has regular people like you and me, but also big time tech guys like Mark Cuban and Fred Von Lohmann continuously exchanging thoughts and ideas on news articles.

The Idiots Guide to DRM

Here is a great blog post explaining the intricacies of DRM. It outlines the basics of the controversy, and gives a succinct time line of relevant events. Check it out!

AnyDVD HD Released into the Wild

Antigua-based Slysoft, a company famous for its products Clone CD, Clone DVD and AnyDVD, has just announced the commercial availablity of AnyDVD HD from its website.

AnyDVD, originally released several years ago, is a software layer that automatically strips CSS from DVDs when they are inserted into a computer, and allows a given computer to play DVDs from any region (among other things). AnyDVD HD adds the same functionality for the AACS copy-protection on HD-DVDs. This means that if you have AnyDVD HD installed on your computer, you can watch HD-DVDs without a fully HDCP-compliant media pipe. A little intro to AnyDVD from its original 2003 release by theinq:
This little utility is little more than a driver that sits below the standard windows DVD driver and does some filtering on the fly. It will change region codes to one that your drive or software finds more acceptable, and remove all those little annoyances that drive you up the wall. Things like Macrovision, Scripts, and non-skippable commercials that drive you up the #(*&^$# wall are a thing of the past. Just pick settings from the System Tray icon, and check the things you no longer want to see, and you are done.
Thank you Slysoft for giving us back the right not to have to buy overly expensive new LCDs and TVs, and allowing us to watch content on the systems we already own and love. Word on the street is that Blu-Ray will be supported in Beta by the end of the quarter as well. The current release is supported on all Windows operating systems from 98 all the way to 64bit Vista.

AnyDVD HD costs $79 and is worth every penny.

(via theinquirer)

Related Links:
Slysoft Website
Purchase AnyDVD HD
AnyDVD 2003 Review

Take Down Notices: Dugan vs. Pietro

A friend just forwarded me a link to this letter. A website owner, Pietro, responds to a takedown notice he received from Owen Dugan over at Wine Spectator Magazine.

(I was thinking Cameron would read for Owen, and Cory would read for Pietro, preferably waiting until I arrive at 3:55ish . . . .)

Voters Want Open Source Software on Dell Computers

On Friday, Dell launched an effort to find out what new features its customers want most. At www.dellideastorm.com, users can suggest new ideas or vote for existing ones. Currently, a desire for pre-installed Linux machines tops the list, followed by a request for pre-installed OpenOffice, an open source alternative to Microsoft Office. In fact, the top seven items on the list involve requests for the option to ditch proprietary software in favor of open source software--or even no software at all. The lack of proprietary software (especially the Vista OS) could bring down the price of a new PC significantly. Furthermore, if Dell implements these ideas, perhaps other major manufacturers will follow suit.

Why is the MPAA training copyright police?

The MPAA is training a special group of Swedish police (with the help of the FBI) to conduct raids. These copyright police are being trained (according to Techdirt) as a response to the "botched" raid on Pirate Bay. And as that article questions, why is the MPAA even involved at all? They clearly have a bias and the FBI shouldn't be helping the MPAA. Plus, I doubt this idea of copyright police will really work.

In the UK, according to the Register, there will be about 4,500 of these "copyright police".
As recommended by December's Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, the DTI has granted Trading Standards Officers new powers under Section 107A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It will also give £5m to law enforcement agencies to tackle copyright infringement.

Section 107A therefore allows authorities to enforce prohibitions against copyright. Seems to be a trend...

John Edwards- Second Life Campaign

So apparently, John Edwards has become the first presidential candidate to set up his campaign on Second Life. Check out the post on Slashdot. I think this is incredibly smart of Edwards (and his campaign advisors) since it demonstrates that he's in touch with Internet communities. Campaigning online is going to be a determining factor in 2008, so the candidate with the most media-savvy campaign is going to come out on top.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Scientists Discover Gene (Partially?) Responsible for Autism, Haven't Patented It Yet!

An enormous study of autism involving over 1,200 families and more than 120 scientists from over 50 institutions has resulted in the discovery that the neurexin 1 gene located on chromosome 11 is at least partially responsible for autism.

Child psychiatrist Jonathan Green states: We hope that these exciting results may represent a step on the way to further new treatments in the future." I can only suppose that he also hopes that whoever sponsored his research doesn't decide to patent the sequence of DNA bases involved and charge other researchers exorbitant amounts to examine the gene!

BBC News article.

How Desperate is the RIAA?

It seems that the RIAA has found that launching John Doe style lawsuits hasn't actually been as effective as they first thought and it is costing them much more than they are bringing in. As a result they are trying a mafia style tactic with ISP's. If the ISP will turn in their own customers then the RIAA will give the "guilty" customer a couple thousand dollar "discount" on their fine.

However, in order to be part of this elite group of ISP's who can turn their own customers in for discounts the ISP's must retain their logs for 180 days. Now besides the fact that this is the mafia method, the RIAA wants ISP's to stop giving out the identity of the wrong John Doe's when the RIAA comes subpoenaing.

Now, heaven forbid ISP's turn in their own customers lest they fear a public outcry and why do they actually have to turn over 100% accurate data. The ISP's are complying with the RIAA and giving their best effort.

I guess the RIAA sees the downward spiral coming and is trying to run away as fast as they can while still making boatloads of money.

Links of Interest:
Recording Industry vs. The People Blog

Princeton Professor Buys Voting Machines (and Starts Reverse-Engineering them) for $82

Andrew Appel, a computer science professor at Princeton, recently purchased 5 Sequoia electronic voting machines and has begun to reverse-engineer them with his students in an attempt to find any security flaws.

Well, they've already found one. According to Appel, the ROM chips of the machines can be removed and replaced in about 10 minutes. Obviously this raises the concern that they could be replaced with chips that would misreport votes.

Hopefully he isn't charged with violating the DCMA for reverse engineering! But, then again, maybe a Princeton professor wouldn't be such a bad client...

See the Wired article for much more information.

How to Explain Copyright to Your Dad (or Whomever)

Some people don't quite get what's wrong with DRM. I'm not talking about people who understand the restrictions yet still want DRM for profit. I'm talking about people like my grandparents, or that kid in your class who can't comprehended what's wrong with rewarding business. It's a difficult concept to comprehend, especially if you are of a certain ideological persuasion. As such, the dudes over at WIRED came up with 5 easy ways to explain DRM to someone who might be out of touch (shockingly) with current arguments and opinions concerning digital-rights.

"1. I want to watch an Egyptian movie for my Middle Eastern studies class. But it is region coded not to play on my DVD player, in an effort to stop piracy. Now I have to hack my DVD player and break the law to get it to play. The movie isn't released in the U.S. This is the only version that was ever published. Since it isn't published in the US, and it's for academic purposes, I can rip it make copies for my classmates. That's fair use. But since I have to break the DRM to copy it -- I've broken the law anyway.

"2. My mom bought a phone that was a "music player" from Verizon. The manufacturer (LG) created a great phone to play all sorts of music. Verizon crippled the phone to only play music bought from the Verizon music store. If I hack my mom's phone, that she bought legally, to play music that she legally owns because she bought it on CD, I could be breaking the law my modifying a DRM scheme.

"3. In the Comcast situation, the MPAA and RIAA are leaning so hard on ISPs that they are afraid of legal action. This fear is causing ISPs to do a coast benefit analysis and adopt policies that are halting the development of the Internet. They are turning peoples access off without good reason. I can't sue them because of all the fine print in the service agreement., and if I could it would probably have to be in Delaware. People are using bandwidth to distribute perfectly legal creative commons software. (In this case, Linux.) It's necessary for people to exchange files to develop that software. Comcast infrastructure probably relies heavily on this software. Yet they are blocking it's development because they don't bother filtering out illegal from suspicious. The ISP start blocking "suspicious behavior" and makes life difficult for people like me.... Granted, Comcast is the party at fault in this situation, but I cansend you 100 other links of similar stories. Comcast is terrified of the copyright holders, and the draconian laws that are being rammed through congress and being copied by other nations are insanely unfair to the consumer...

"4. Democracy has been nurtured by the open source community for a while now. It's a combination Video player / RSS reader / torrent downloader. The concept is: I release a weekly/daily video-cast from my server. the first 10 people download from my server -- then the next 1000 people "swarm" download it torrent style. This way, as I get popular, I'm not put out of commission by the cost of bandwidth from one location. It distributes the bandwidth load to the network, where it is easily absorbed. ISPs are trying to block torrents because the MPAA is leaning on them to stop copyright violation. But Democracy isn't about pirating movies- It's about eliminating the costs of distribution. If you can choose from 500 movies available for free via Creative Commons, why watch the blockbuster feature? They are hindering new tech in the name of copyright. It's insane. And all this stuff flies under the radar for the most part.

"5. Microsoft sells a Zune. The Zune shares music, but you can only play that shared music for 3 days because when it's shared, it's wrapped up in a DRM scheme. If I'm in a band, and I release my songs for free under creative commons, and you download it and put it on a Zune -- you are breaking that creative commons licenses. There is no way to tell the Zune "don't protect this one". I don't want to sue my fans for locking up the music in DRM, and I don't have the resources to sue Microsoft for breaking the CC license. But the RIAA can sue 10 year olds."

Carlos Mencia Claims Copyright Infringement

Earlier this week, Carlos Mencia was brutally exposed as an unoriginal hack at an LA comedy club by Joe Rogan (of Fear Factor fame), whom ade the claim that Mencia steals the majority of his work, calling the comedian 'Menstelia'.

In another age, these claims would resonate with some, and rub others as sour grapes, with no hard evidence presented at the time of the argument. Thanks to the beauty of digital technology, Rogan posted video of the incident, cutting between his claims of Mencia's blatant copying and the exact examples he referred to. Like anything on the 'darknet', it spread like wild fire and Mencia's already flimsy comedic-cred seemed to evaporate into thin air.

Where else could he turn then but to over-protective copyright law? Mencia claimed copyright infringement on the video and got it taken off YouTube. Unfortunately for Mencia, it isn't really going anywhere and keeps popping up on various other sites and even back on YouTube under different names. I've included a link to a current posting of the video, although I don't expect it to last through the night.

So what is to be done? As an excellent TechDirt article points out, Mencia seems to have plagiarized most of his work, but should he be punished for that legally? To what extent is the takedown notice a successful use of copyright?

Ozzfest becomes Freefest

Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne announced that Ozzfest will be free this year (free as in beer). The plan so far: Freefest will be supported entirely by sponsors. Bands will not be paid, but will be able to make money from merchandise sales, and will be encouraged to play paying side gigs between tour dates. Tickets will allegedly be free, but can only be obtained through sponsor sites.

In a press conference earlier this month, Sharon Osbourne gave some indication that she understands that the Internet demands new business models from the music industry:
Hey, kids can go online and download music, why not go to a show for free too? What the heck? Ozzy's got a new record coming out this year, he'll be touring the whole year. There is plenty of time to make money.
It remains to be seen whether the tour will result in a net gain for everyone invovled. Artists or their handlers may balk at not being able to make a buck on ticket sales, and it will undoubtedly put more strain on performers to play a "side tour" of smaller gigs alongside Freefest. Tickets will still be limited in supply, so if the organizers are not careful, aggressive scalpers may be able to create a secondary market at little cost and with little risk.

Still, it's reassuring to see some creative thinking from players in the mainsream music industry.

(via vh1.com)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

OpenCola - Open Source Coca Cola

Check it out all you L337 haXX0|2Z! Tired of Jolt Cola fueling all of your late night Ubuntu shenanigans? Well now you've got a new, open source alternative to latch onto.

OpenCola is a soft drink which, unlike other sodas out there, openly distributes its recipe to consumers so that they may alter its formula and make their own open creations at home.

OpenCola is a brand of cola unique in that the instructions for making it are freely available and modifiable. Anybody can make the drink, and anyone can modify and improve on the recipe as long as they, too, license their recipe under the GNU General Public License.

Although originally intended as a promotional tool to explain open source software, the drink has taken on a life of its own. The Toronto-based OpenCola company has become better known for the drink than the software it was supposed to promote. Laird Brown, the company’s senior strategist, attributed its success to a widespread mistrust of big corporations and the “proprietary nature of almost everything.” A website selling the stuff has shifted 150,000 cans.

The company who originally started the drink has since become insolvent, but the recipe for OpenCola is still available online for free. Pretty nifty.

Via digg and everythingelse.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Macrovision CEO Responds to Steve Jobs

The CEO of Macrovision, a company that specializes in creating DRM and other copy-protection schemes, has the latest response to the anti-DRM letter by Steve Jobs.

Here are the main points of the Macrovision letter, and my response to them:

1. "DRM is broader than just music"

(Sure, but that doesn't mean it is any more right to have DRM on the music)
"DRM increases not decreases consumer value"
(Adding DRM does not make products any cheaper for consumers. It also doesn't make products any more valuable, since consumers can do less with what they own. I don't know how this increases consumer value)

3. "DRM will increase electronic distribution"
(iTunes has increased electronic distribution because of their marketing, not because they use DRM)
4. "DRM needs to be interoperable and open"
(Since when has Macrovision pushed DRM that has been interoperable?)

Basically, this letter is filled with shaky arguments that you would expect from someone who makes millions from creating DRM.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sen. Ted Stevens Introduces New Bill to Ban Social Networking Sites in Schools

From the brilliant mind who brought you "A Series of Tubes" comes the latest in heavy-handed, vague legislation.
Early in January, Stevens introduced Senate bill 49, which among other things, would require that any school or library that gets federal Internet subsidies would have to block access to interactive Web sites, including social networking sites, and possibly blogs as well. It appears that the definition of those sites is so vague that it could include sites such as Wikipedia, according to commentators. It would certainly ban MySpace.

"Interactive websites?" Half of the sites on the internet today feature some sort of interactivity, not to mention that a majority of web innovation is occurring in this direction. I think our class is proof positive that such interactivity is fantastic teaching tool, not to mention a fun way to get younger students involved. While I think that this kind of regulation is terrible for - not to mention antithetical to the spirit of - the internet, important regulations like Net Neutrality are necessary for a fair and free web. Should the web be a true laissez-faire universe? Or does the introduction of vital regulation like Net Neutrality open up the door to more insidious bills like this one?

Link. (via digg)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Air Jordan XX2 Commercial


This is the Air Jordan commercial I spoke about in class on Monday. The only way I can relate this to issues of copyright is by remarking how lucky we are that Mozart's works have passed into the public domain!

Here is a direct link. If you click, you'll also note that the commercial is available for DRM-free download on iTunes. It's a shame there aren't more advertisements worth downloading, since no one has any problem with widespread and unregulated distribution of those.

Microsoft Announces: Windows Vista Freedom Edition

In a suprise announcement today, Microsoft has unveiled Windows Vista: Freedom Edition (i wish).

Walmart Video Download Update: IE ONLY

Now, you can't even view the mess of the Walmart Video Download site if you are using Firefox or ANY Apple computer. From this CenterNetworks's article:

Last week, Walmart launched their online video download service. Immediately there were posts that the service did not work with the Firefox or Safari browsers. There was a collective, "WTF" when this happened as this is 2007, not 1997. Back then it was "accepted" for applications to work with only a specific browser or platform. Now... Walmart has turned off the ability to get into the application at all by Firefox, Safari or any other browser it does not like...

From walmart customer service:
"Walmart video download service does not support the Macintosh Operating Systems as the video that you download requires Digital Rights Management 10 (DRM 10) software, which is not compatible with the Macintosh operating system."

Google Found Guilty of Copyright Violation

Today, European courts ruled that Google violated the copyright of Belgian newspaper publishers when it posted extracts from their stories on its Google News Website. The Belgian newspapers, represented by the trade group Copiepresse, claimed that Google unfairly profited by posting its articles on the web. The courts sided with the Belgian newspapers, saying that even Google wasn't exempt from copyright laws.

On the positive side, the court significantly reduced the daily fines that Google was required to pay for not removing the newspapers' content from its Web site, from almost $2 million per day to $33,543 per day.

Even though users must click through Google News to the newspaper's main site to read the full stories, Copierpresse believes they are still losing advertising revenue.

Sounds like greed to me.

Imagine No DRM mp3

BoingBoing reader Clay wrote a new version of John Lennon's "Imagine." The artist told the blog:
I was among the multitude of anti-DRM folks who were amazed and somewhat heartened today at Steve Jobs' breaching of the DRM taboo... and this evening, a song parody suddenly came to mind. After a couple of hours scattered between Google, TextEdit and Garageband, the linked file was created. With apologies to John Lennon.


Imagine there’s no DRM.
It’s easy if you try.
No restrictions on the files
that you or I can buy.

Imagine all the downloads
playing anywhere.

Imagine there’s no cartels
like the RIAA,
nothing to sue or be sued for,
creative commons all the way.

Imagine all the downloads
playing anywhere.

You may say I’m a pirate.
But I’m not the only one.
Execs like Steve Jobs understand this.
The godly fight can still be won.

Imagine no more hardware lockin'.
I wonder if you could.
No need for player key decryption.
Your files are yours for good.

Imagine all the devices
playing all the files.

You may say I’m a pirate.
But I’m not the only one.
The labels might yet understand this.
The godly fight can still be won.

You can hear or download the song here.

Library: Free Video on Demand

Some libraries have begun offering free movies and TV shows through a new service by PermissionTV. You can check out one library's implementation here. It's still in beta, but there are some annoyances:

1. You have to have Windows Media Player 9 or above installed with "the most recent DRM security update."
2. No Mac support.

I imagine that #2 will eventually be fixed, but I don't have a lot of hope for #1. Why, oh, why offer free services and then destroy them with DRM and inferior media players?

Link via /.

Who Killed TiVo ToGo?

Generally we tend to believe that newer products we buy or download, the more efficient and high tech they become. However, this is certainly not the case for the new versions of iTunes and certainly not for the latest TiVo Series3 HD.

This article that I found on Electronic Frontier Foundation website discusses the involvement of Hollywood, and the FCC on Digital Rights Management restrictions, and how this affects us as TV viewers/users. Meanwhile, the article provides basic history of the digital cable DRM and the ways in which Hollywood intruded with the FCC's proceeding to enforce CableCARD-compatible devices incorporated DRM.

However, the FCC's proceeding did place some limits on the DRM. Furthermore, the article gives us 5 ways in which TV viewers and users can fight back against the Digital TV DRM.

link :
http://reviews.cnet.com/4531-10921_7-6650194.html - John P. Falcone on Cnet

Patenting the Human Genome

In today's NYTimes, Michael Crichton (yes that Michael Crichton) has an interesting Op-Ed piece on how scientists have begun to patent the human genome under certain circumstances. The problem, as Crichton sees it, is that due to a misunderstanding between the U.S. Patent Office and the U.S. Supreme Court, and a couple years ago, began awarding patents to genes. As a result, certain medical firms have 'patented' the rights to certain genes in every human body.

While Crichton's writing isn't particularly scholarly, he does point out a variety of issues that can, and should be, explored. What are the implications of patents and intellectual property control in terms of medicine? What is a proper reward for research and what is restrictive in terms of health promotion and disease prevention? For that matter, how do patents differ from copyrights, in this case and in others?

MP3.com Founder Responds To Jobs

A plethora of individuals and organizations have responded publicly to Steve Jobs' "Thoughts on Music" since last week. Wired Magazine reports on one in particular by the MP3.com founder Michael Robertson, outlining four major challenges he posed to Jobs.
1. Sell MP3s on iTunes
Jobs can't sell major label content in unprotected formats, but nothing's stopping him from selling the CDBaby catalog and music from indie labels who don't mind the lack of DRM.

2. Open up the iPod to other software

Robertson wants Jobs to publish the database format used by the iPod so that other software developers can create software that loads music onto the iPod.

3. Allow other music stores into iTunes

He also wants Jobs to allow stores that sell MP3s to surface within the iTunes application (this would be easier than it might sound, since the iTunes store is basically a web page inside iTunes).
4. Make iTunes for Linux
Robertson reiterates his suggestion that Jobs make an iTunes that runs on Linux, and offers to contribute his own engineering resources -- should the project prove too expensive for Apple.

Point #1 seems improbably given Jobs' firm stance on variable pricing - he insists on a uniform experience for all iTunes users; selling DRM-free tracks alongside DRM'd major label content would result in consumer confusion - not gonna happen.

Point #2 is definitely not gonna happen. The basis of the Apple ecosystem is seamless compatibility between iPod + iTunes . . . doesn't seem likely to me.

Point #3 was by the far the most interesting to me. For instance, eMusic has the most extensive catalog of DRM-free independent music. In the world of P2P, this content is searchable alongside major label content, but in the legal download market, eMusic remains off to the side as a niche retailer. DRM-free downloads and lower prices aside, I think one centralized search engine for all content is a necessity to compete with P2P.

Point #4 - I don't use Linux, but I'm sure Cory would appreciate it.

(Via Wired)



Holy Grail Located: HD-DVD and BLU-RAY Processing Key Found

While the previous crack of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD by Muslix64 were individual (patchable) workarounds, the guys over at the Doom9 forum have essentially found a key generator for both formats simply by watching the output keys for a very long time.

Looks like a user by the name of arnezami found the crack and posted it on Feb11th.
Here is the Processing Key which should work on all HD DVD discs (and maybe even Blu-Ray discs) released so far:

Save it. Store it.
The implementation of the crack appears to involve an offset by the system clock after a certain initial value.
Will inevitable cracks like this convince media companies that DRM is ineffective? Lets hope so.

Update by Cory The AACS licensing authority has threatened to sue us over this post. On advice from lawyers, I've removed the link to the Doom9 forum and the hex-key. However, Google shows more than 100 websites that link to the Doom9 post. Here's Boing Boing's post.

Piracy in the Developing World

Although we've already discussed piracy in the developing world before, a recently written article by Nathan Spande follows the subject from a both similar, and different, angles.

Spande argues that as pirated software more readily avaiable in the developing world, more users will be using 'dirty' versions of MS Office than not. In a place like China then, where millions of users have relatively high-speed internet access, there is a potential for the majority of theses users to be utilizing pirated software on a large network. The security risk is obvious - flood the 'black' and 'grey' markets with Malware and BOOM!, you've got a huge problem on your hands.

What is there to do then? Spande offers numerous ideas, such as using open-source software, but finds that they all leave an inadequacy. MS Office and its similar software counterparts and standards for business computing, and as such, must be know for someone to compete in the job market. As such, the most viable option is to force down-pricing of the content, an unlikely event indeed.

MySpace Experiments with Video Filtering

Wired News picks up an AP article about MySpace's experimental video-filtering system. Through technology licensed from Audible Magic, MySpace hopes to keep copyrighted content off its members' sites. The filtering program works by searching video for unique digital fingerprints that it compares with a database of known fingerprints of copyrighted content.

Hilariously, MySpace officials claim that "the latest offering was unrelated to Universal Music's federal lawsuit in November, accusing MySpace of illegally encouraging its users to share music and music videos on the site without permission." MySpace then proceeds to refer directly to Universal Music as a beneficiary of the filtering software:
In the video-filtering pilot, MySpace said it would block unauthorized music videos and other clips containing Universal Music Group's music, while still allowing the Vivendi SA unit and its artists to circulate promotional audio and video they authorize. MySpace, a unit of News Corp., said the tools would be available for free to other content owners as well.
(via Wired News)

Monday, February 12, 2007

DRM: More Bad News (super short post)

As I was browsing Wikipedia for fillable info gaps, I came across this nugget in the DRM entry:

"The use of DRM may also be a barrier to future historians, since technologies designed to permit data to be read only on particular machines may well make future data recovery impossible - see Digital Revolution. This argument connects the issue of DRM with that of asset management and archive technology."

It's a consequence I hadn't thought of; and one I find especially disheartening...

2004 Study: P2P Effect on Legal Music Sales Negligible

A 2004 study by Felix Oberholzer (of Harvard Business School) and Koleman Strumpf (of UNC Chapel Hill) that was recently published in the Journal of Political Economy provides evidence counter to the argument of many of the large labels: that illegal downloading has a statistically insignificant effect on album sales.

The study, entitled "The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis," looks at .01% of the world's downloads from the last third of 2002, and in doing so examines only observed behaviour - there are no surveys integrated into the study, only empirical evidence. After some analysis, the study concludes that the effect that download have on album sales is "statistically indistinguishable from zero."
We find that file sharing has only had a limited effect on record sales. OLS estimates indicate a positive effect on downloads on sales, though this estimate has a positive bias since popular albums have higher sales and downloads. After instrumenting for downloads, most of the impact disappears. This estimated effect is statistically indistinguishable from zero despite a narrow standard error. The economic effect is also small. Even in the most pessimistic specification, five thousand downloads are needed to displace a single album sale.
This study puts in the limelight accusations made by the major labels over the course of the last ten or so years. If downloads are having such a powerfully negative effect on album sales, why is there no hard evidence of this causation? Do these accusations hold any merit?

According to some quick calculations performed in about six seconds by me, in order to offset the decline in album sales last year (about 30.3 million less than 2005), downloaders would have had to download 151.55 billion more albums (at 100mb per album, that would require a 15.155 more terabytes of music) in 2006 than in 2005. As a contrast, small independents have seen increases in popularity due to the advent of digital distribution and the publicity afforded by torrent sites such as indietorrents.com.

(via arstechnica)

The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis
Top 50 Albums 2005
Top 50 Albums 2006

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Warner Music Group Executive Responds to Jobs' "Blog Post"

While EMI contemplates offering music DRM-free, Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. responds to Jobs' "Thoughts on Music" with some harsh words and an endorsement of DRM.

(via washingtonpost.com)

Ticketmaster's mini-Terms of Service in Capatcha Explanation

For a company like Ticketmaster, it's a virtue and a necessity to defend against malicious ticket-reserving bots in order to ensure that the lowly consumer gets a chance to buy appropriately priced tickets (only to be royally shafted by astronomical surcharges and "convenience" fees--but that's another story entirely).

Ticketmaster's explanation of their captcha (definition) includes a one-sentence declaration of a visitor's rights:

Some people use automated programs to block other customers from getting tickets. To counteract this practice we ask that you type in the word before we put tickets on hold for you. You do not have permission to access this web site if you are using an automated program.

The Mob: "But I'm using an automated program! Nooooooooooooooooo!"

The Slow Death of DRM

I came across this interesting article on Digg which gives a cursory overview of the history of DRM and its upcoming demise. Here's the preface:
The DRM walls are crumbling. Earlier this week, Steve Jobs called on the major record labels to allow online music sales unfettered by digital rights management restrictions.

Today, the Wall Street Journal disclosed that EMI is in negotiations with several digital music services to sell unprotected MP3s of its catalogue. Jobs was motivated at least in part by legal actions against Apple in Europe and the US as discussed below. But whatever his motivation, Jobs is right: DRM has been a disaster for the recording business. This article will outline the brief but sad history of DRM, the current legal attacks on it, and the reasons why the recording business would be far better off without it.

Should be a good, short read.

Via The Register.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Economist on Jobs' Anti-DRM Plea

The Economist Magazine weighs in on Steve Jobs' love letter to the anti-DRM crowd with perhaps the most balanced and insightful look at Jobs' potential motives:
Why the sudden change of heart? Mr Jobs seems chiefly concerned with getting Europe’s regulators off his back. Rather than complaining to Apple about its use of DRM, he suggests, “those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.” Two and a half of the four big record companies, he helpfully points out, are European-owned. Mr Jobs also hopes to paint himself as a consumer champion. Apple resents accusations that it has become the Microsoft of digital music.

The "Microsoft of digital music?" I bet Stevie J won't feel too good about that.


Internal Documents Suggest Canadian Government to Drop Net Neutrality

It appears that, in spite of the advertised consumer-centric platform, the current Canadian administration is slowly and carefully positioning itself behind major telecoms Videotron and Telus.

The documents talk about suggested changes to the way that the government is involved in internet law and to the statutes that currently ensure a lack of discrimination between large sites and small sites. They also talk about a lack of legislation (now and in the future) protecting consumer information flow rights in Canada.

"These documents reveal that in Canada, the industry minister and his policy people appear unlikely to provide Canadian Internet users with similar protections to those being offered in the United States," Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa, said Tuesday. "Indeed, the materials would not be out of place in a lobbying document crafted by the telecommunications companies."

In response to these documents, the office of the Prime Minister has maintained that he (Bernier) has "not made up his mind about net neutrality."

The documents state that public policy must consider consumer protection and choice, but it should also "enable market forces to continue to shape the evolution of the Internet infrastructure, investment and innovation to the greatest extent feasible."
This type of language doesn't communicate a "consumer-centric" platform, at least not in the conventional sense. In fact, it really looks like the Canadian government is looking to let consumer rights to go the wind and allow the big Telecos control the way that the internet infrastructure works.

With all the positive action taking place in the US, it looks like we're forgetting our friendly neighbors up north. This is a really big deal all over the world, and if things don't go well in countries other than the United States we could start seeing trends.

(via cbc news)

Richard Stallman on Campus Monday Feb 26th

Title: The Free Software Movement and the GNU/Linux Operating System Dr. Richard Stallman
Date: 26th Feb 2007
Time: 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Location: SAL 101

Richard Stallman will speak about the goals and philosophy of the Free Software Movement, and the status and history the GNU operating system, which in combination with the kernel Linux is now used by tens of millions of users world-wide.

Richard Stallman launched the development of the GNU operating system (see www.gnu.org) in 1984. GNU is free software: everyone has the freedom to copy it and redistribute it, as well as to make changes either large or small. The GNU/Linux system, basically the GNU operating system with Linux added, is used on tens of millions of computers today. Stallman has received the ACM Grace Hopper Award, a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer award, and the the Takeda Award for Social/Economic Betterment, as well as several honorary doctorates.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Free Wi-Fi for Vista Users

So, Vista users are getting free WI-fi provided by the Cloud until April 30th... but of course, hackers already found out how to take advantage of this. According to an article on The Register:

"US hackers quickly discovered that their equivalent service was only checking the UserAgent to confirm that a customer was using Windows Vista; something which is easily changed with modern web browsers. This loophole is likely to be quickly closed, and the requirement for a Vista registration code would indicate that in the UK the offer will only be available for genuine Vista users."

Anyways, as the article mentions... it would be interesting to see who is paying who for this service.

Cybercrook turned FBI Informant

Really well written 4 part Wired article details David Thomas and his story of being arrested near Seattle through his setting up a credit card sharing site to help the FBI find out how the international credit card fraud rings worked.

Full series in pdf here. This is a very good read.

Wal*Mart to Sell Downloadable Movies (Now with DRM!)

Retail goliath Wal*Mart today announced their intentions to enter the Digital Distribution market by selling movies from not one or two, but all six major Hollywood studios. The movies will be priced between 7.50 and 19.98, pricing that is designed not to interfere with brick-and-mortar DVD sales.

The service uses Microsoft's DRM scheme, and as such requires both Windows and Internet explorer. This means that Firefox won't work; take a look at this screen (click for big):

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

As you can see, Firefox will load the page, but there's no way to actually read the site. Check it out for yourself.

This deal has much more interesting, broader implications on top of one more reason to be annoyed with Wal*Mart. As it stands, they are selling movies for the same price as DVDs, but without giving the consumer the ability to copy the file, burn it to a DVD, or use it at all with other devices. Sad times.

(via theinquirer)

Steve Jobs: Apple Would Embrace a DRM-Free Marketplace "Wholeheartedly"

Unless Apple.com was hacked, Steve Jobs has posted an open letter to the music industry and music consumers entitled "Thoughts On Music." He provides three possible scenarios for the future of DRM.
The first alternative is to continue on the current course, with each manufacturer competing freely with their own “top to bottom” proprietary systems for selling, playing and protecting music.

The second alternative is for Apple to license its FairPlay DRM technology to current and future competitors with the goal of achieving interoperability between different company’s players and music stores. On the surface, this seems like a good idea since it might offer customers increased choice now and in the future. . . The most serious problem is that licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, and history tells us that inevitably these secrets will leak. . . . Apple has concluded that if it licenses FairPlay to others, it can no longer guarantee to protect the music it licenses from the big four music companies.
But here it is - straight from the big man's mouth:
The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.

Jobs also addresses the criticism that their customers are being locked into the iTunes ecosystem:
Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats. Its hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future. And since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.

(Via Apple)

First Romania, Now Gorbachev

Poor Bill Gates. Vista is getting such a bad rep. The Romanian president claimed that his country has been built up on pirate copies of Windows. Now Mikhail Gorbachev (you know, the glasnost perestroika guy) is stepping in and asking Mr. Gates to not press charges against Alexander Ponosov, a Russian school-teacher who was found running illicit copies of Windows on his school computers. Apparently, Ponosov didn't even know the copies were illegal as they came pre-installed on the computers, and if found guilty, can be shipped off to a Siberian Prison camp. Yikes.

Microsoft has responded saying that they aren't dropping anything - a decision that leaves me wondering how conflicted one of the world's biggest philanthropists must feel.

(via Techdirt)

New Get A Mac Ad

Wonderful new Get A Mac ad makes fun of Vista's security or lack thereof.

One Down, One to Go

Apple Inc. (the one that makes iPods and Macs) and Apple Corps Ltd. (the one that the Beatles founded) have finally worked out their differences and come to an agreement with regards to the use of their apple names and apple logos.

Apple Inc. (the computer one!) now owns the rights to pretty much everything Apple-related and will license certain trademarks to Apple Corps (the Beatles one!). Apparently this has the Mac rumors crowd in a frenzy because they think it (along with Steve Jobs showing the iPhone playing "Lovely Rita" at Macworld) means Apple Inc. will start selling Beatles music through the iTunes Music Store.

The New York Times article from which most of the information I used to write this post came is pretty informative, with the exception of this part:
The Beatles are considered the last major holdout from online downloading services like iTunes. Today, Beatles fans can play Beatles music on an iPod only by transferring the songs from a CD.
Please. Did they start selling Zeppelin tunes and not tell me about it?

Monday, February 5, 2007

By 2010 could file-sharers be swapping news instead of music?

From the BBC:

According to Cambridge University's Prof. Ross Anderson, the man who helped create the idea P2P file-sharing, internet users will be sharing news instead of music by 2010.

In his vision, people around the world would post stories via anonymous P2P services like those used to swap songs.
They would cover issues currently ignored by the major news services, said Prof Anderson.

"Currently, only news that's reckoned to be of interest to Americans and Western Europeans will be syndicated because that's where the money is," he told the BBC World Service programme, Go Digital. Such P2P systems, he said, would give everybody a voice and allow personal testimonies to come out.


Romania Proclaims Country Built on Pirated Windows

In a recent meeting, Romanian President Traian Basescu told Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates that the IT boom in Romania can be heavily attributed to the on going piracy of Windows software. Basescu met with Gates in celebration of a recently opened technology center in Romania's capital.
"Piracy helped the young generation discover computers. It set off the
development of the IT industry in Romania," Basescu said during a
joint news conference with Gates.

Basescu went on to say that the piracy of Microsoft's software also encouraged the creative capacity of Romania's IT workers. It's estimated that 70% of software in use in Romania is pirated. Though anti-piracy laws have been in place for over ten years, few are enforced.

Gates had no response.


FTC to Sony BMG: Decpetive DRM Will Not Be Tolerated

Sony BMG has settled with the FTC on charges that their CD copy protection scheme (i.e. rootkit fiasco) violated Ferderal Law. In a recent press release, FTC chairman Deborah Platt Majoras declared:
“Consumers’ computers belong to them, and companies must adequately disclose unexpected limitations on the customary use of their products so consumers can make informed decisions regarding whether to purchase and install that content.”
The settlement also:
  • requires clear and prominent disclosure on the packaging of Sony BMG’s future CDs of any limits on copying or restrictions on the use of playback devices.
  • bars the company from installing content protection software without obtaining consumers’ authorization
  • bars Sony BMG from using the information on consumers’ listening preferences that it has already gathered through the monitoring technology it installed and bars them from using the information to deliver ads to those consumers
  • requires Sony BMG to reimburse consumers up to $150 to repair damage that resulted directly from consumers’ attempts to remove the software installed without their consent.
This raises several issues:
  1. How will consumers react t0 such labeling (assuming Sony BMG even bothers to reinstate this technology in a modified form) and;
  2. Can the FTC's ruling be applied to DRM on a broader scale? If so, perhaps we may be following in Norway's footsteps sooner than we thought . . .
(via Video Business)

Google Censors Indian Military Sites

The Times of India reports that after Indian officials nearly banned Google Earth when they became aware that it gave users access to parts of India where there are sensitive military/government installations. As it turns out, Google was able to come to an agreement with the Indian government and will begin "electronically camouflaging" these sites so that users will not be able to find them unless they know exactly what they're looking for. Google will also distort the size and structure of sensitive buildings (or even add buildings where there are none) for freedom, glory, and justice.

I know Google is stuck in between a rock and a hard place on this one, but I'd like to think that if something like this came up in India or China they would take the heat instead of curbing. I guess some information is better than no information. Terrorists aren't going to use Google Earth to plan an attack on a government installation.

(Via theinquirer)

NY Student Takes on RIAA

After being sued by the RIAA saying he downloaded songs at age 11, Robert Santangelo has filed 32 charges against the Recording Industry. Along with his lawyer,
they have demanded a jury trial and filed a counterclaim against the companies for allegedly damaging the boy's reputation, distracting him from school and costing him legal fees. The record companies have engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to defraud the courts of the United States, the court documents say. Competitors in the recording industry are a cartel acting together in violation of the antitrust laws by bringing the piracy cases jointly and using the same agency "to make extortionate threats ... to force defendants to pay", our precocious teen wrote.

I say Good Luck!

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Top 10 Worst "Big Brother" Companies

Business Intelligence Lowdown reports on the top 10 anti-privacy companies. Here's the list:

10. Response Unlimited
9. LexisNexis
8. AOL
7. Amazon.com
6. Yahoo!
5. Microsoft
4. Accenture
3. Acxiom
2. Google
1. ChoicePoint

See the article for details about how we're all getting pwned.

How to avoid such pwnage? One of the commentors of that article suggests using the TrackMeNot Firefox extension, which creates white noise search terms to hide your real search terms from MSN, Yahoo!, AOL and Google.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Schneier on Boston ATHF Insanity

Finally! A tie to the class that will let me post about my favorite story of this or any year. Bruce Schneier was on American Public Media's Weekend America radio show offering his opinions on the incident. He talks about a concept he coined called "security theater" - actions taken in the name of security that do nothing to actually improve security, only to make people feel safer - like the immediately-post 9/11 National Guard soldiers posted at airports with unloaded guns and "The War on Moisture". Also great is the clueless DHS spokeshole staying on message with regards to "irresponsibility" of the "pranksters." For the record, THIS IS NOT A HOAX. Neither the ad creators or Turner Broadcasting intended for the ads to be seen as a threat - the clueless public and public services of Boston did that all by themselves.


Responses to Viacom's Indiscriminant, Ridiculous DMCA Takedown Notices Begin to Appear

I have been wondering exactly how to even begin to cogently think about the
sheer audacity and absolute lack of regard for the law
shown by Viacom in sending 100,000 DMCA takedown notices for a little while now. Before I could, however, Cory did all of the thinking - and subsequent fuming - for me.
And Google can take steps now to reduce that load: sue the living shit out of Viacom. We've got precedent -- the Diebold debacle -- for the idea that abusing the DMCA takedown process is illegal. Courts have been willing to punish this kind of excess by awarding fees and damages.

Now it turns out more and more people have had their videos taken down by these nastygrams. From Harvard Law prof John Palfrey:
In an e-mail from .sg, (which she said I could republish), Jaegercat writes: “My video ‘Beat Police’, an original work, was one of the ones on which Viacom is claiming copyright. … My video used to be here but is also here (and clearly not Viacom copyright). … The video itself took me 5 months to make. It containes 3D models made by third-parties, each of which is used with permission. … The song was written and performed by my husband and has no third-party components. … And yes, I can prove all of this as I have all original working files, and all of the licences giving right-to-use. … The video itself was shown in a film festival last year, as an original work, and the defamation in the Viacom/Youtube statement could therefore cause me real damage."

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Crazy EULA #2: Microsoft Says No To Vista Virtualization

From the Microsoft Anti-Competition files: a new EULA for Vista disallows use of certain versions of the new OS with virtualization software like the popular Parallels. The software allows for an OS and its applications to run inside another OS (personally I use Parallels to run AUTOCad on my MacBook Pro):
For Vista Home Basic and Home Premium Editions:
“USE WITH VIRTUALIZATION TECHNOLOGIES. You may not use the software installed on the licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system.”
Even the Ultimate Edition does not allow use of certain apps. At the risk of sounding fanboyish, is this a way to stick it to OS X users who want to have the best of both worlds?

Link (via TAUW)