Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sales of Capes, Goggles, and Balloons Skyrocket

Cory at the EFF Pioneer Awards ceremony
(via xkcd blag)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Adverbands" Make Sweet Corporate Music

Perhaps in hopes of spawning a new chapter in the viral-marketing book, perhaps as a good oldfashioned publicity stunt, it seems that besides providing the world with reliable studies on bot-net statistics, and working tirelessly to protect our computers from hackers and such, the folks at Symantec have a new extracurricular activity: the creation and management of an 80's arena rock band. The group, ROckDotRock, was the brainchild of the Night Agency, and is a marketing ploy in which the band will literally sing the praises of Symantec's software.

The AdRant website hails the group as the markers of "a new era of musical advertising." Has anyone else heard of any other adverbands? I'm interested to see how long this era will last...

Reasons Why NBC YouTube Clone Destined to Fail

The author of this blogpost makes some interesting arguments about why a YouTube clone launched by a joint venture between Newscorp and NBC-Universal is destined to fail. First of all, the company is launching the site in order to exert some level of control over how their material is distributed online. This control over content runs counter to the basic principles that made YouTube popular. Secondly, the content on this new venture will most likely be severely censored. This again runs counter to YouTube's appeal of limited control over content. Finally, the author argues that all the media conglomerates that are working with each other in this venture will be unable to work together and form a viable strategy.

I agree with the author completely on this topic. This seems to me to be another AOL-Time Warner fiasco: It seems like a good idea at the time, but the companies end up not being able to merge and work together efficiently, and thus ultimately leads to their demise.

Sprint Reprices Mobile Downloads at $0.99

Sprint has announced plans to lower the price of over-the-air (OTA) music downloads from $2.49 to $0.99, inline with Apple's established pricepoint on the desktop.

US mobile carriers and record labels have been reluctant to do this for fear of cannibalizing the multi-billion dollar ringtone cashcow. But as full-length songs becomes more common on handsets, I don't see how the industry can continue to sell 8 second clips of songs for $2.49.

While this may hurt Sprint's ringtone sales in the short term, it is a smart move. Mobile music in the United States is far behind many foreign markets, particuarly in Europe and Japan. Inevitably, Apple will offer iTunes downloads via the iPhone at some point - it looks like Sprint has the foresight to capture some of this emerging market early on.

London gamers get FREE (as in beer) HD TV

When Playstation 3 went on its midnight sale in the UK on Friday, patient gamers waited a long 36 hours to get the new console at the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street. It wasn't the free coffee and coke that got them stoked as Thursday turned into Friday, nor was it the fact that they'd be the first in the UK to get Sony's new toy.

They had just been told they'd be rewarded for their patience and loyalty with a brand new HD TV. Everyone who waited overnight also received a free taxi cab ride home. This is both a great publicity stunt for Sony, obviously, and also generous for a company who has been reported as losing $300 on every Playstation sold. It is a big spend for Sony..but according to a Sony spokesperson "it's all about the consumers."

What did the gamers have to say? One customer put it this way: "I'm ecstatic. Sony we love you."

from: BBC news

Monday, March 26, 2007

Purdue Unviersity to Students: The RIAA is Coming, and That's Your Problem

Tens of thousands of students at Purdue University received an email from their administration last week stating that the RIAA would be sending notices of legal action against some of them. On its own, this isn't really remarkable news. What is interesting though is the way Purdue is handling the situation of cooperating with the RIAA and identifying its targets.

The university doesn't seem extremely thrilled by the new task, as Jeanne Norbert, Purdue spokesperson says, "It's time-consuming on our part because the addresses used by a computer frequently change, but we will make a good faith effort to deliver the notices to the correct person."

But what I don't get is how that ties into this part of the email sent out:

"While the university will do its best to deliver these notices to the proper individuals, it is not responsible for the accuracy of the identification or address to which such notices are sent."

So, in essence, Purdue simply doesn't care whether the right students are hit with legal notices. As long as they take care of business on their end it just isn't their problem anymore.

And as if that wasn't classless enough, the University has also made it clear that satisfying the RIAA would be incredibly cumbersome and expensive, but that they are still complying with their requests anyway.

Way to be the RIAA's tool, Purdue.

via digg /

University of Nebraska to bill RIAA $11 per Letter

In a move that will hopefully be echoed across the country, the University of Nebraska has stated that they will begin charging the RIAA's Denver based enforcement company $11 for every letter that they have to forward onto students.

Walter Weir of the university's chief information office says,
"We're spending taxpayer dollars tracking down RIAA problems. Are we an agent of the RIAA? Why aren't they paying us for this?"
In their reply, the RIAA said,
"It is neither practical nor appropriate for us to entertain a reimbursement request."
In an interesting twist of events, the RIAA sent letters to 37 students based on ip addresses, however, the university can only find nine of those students because of the way they assign ip addresses and retain the ip data.

Omaha World Herald
The Consumerist

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ars Technica on Viacom's DMCA "Driftnet"

In a recent and great article about the Viacom v. YouTube legal fight, Ars Technica covers the not-oft discussed effects of Viacom's automated litigation, including the removal of t completely-legal-under-fair-use-Parody video of the Colbert Report. From the article:

Finally, the EFF claims that a YouTube lawyer verbally confirmed that the complaint came from Viacom. To the EFF, the entire episode highlights a serious problem: "with Viacom sending more than 160,000 DMCA takedown notices, it may not even be aware which videos it told YouTube to remove. If that's right, then Viacom will inevitably end up censoring some perfectly legitimate videos—surely, the MoveOn/Brave New Films video is not the only example of a fair use that got caught in Viacom's driftnet."

The article goes on to elaborate on the EFF's retaliatory lawsuit against Viacom on behalf of the video creator.


Developer Stardock Explains No-DRM Policy

In an article dated March 21st from Stardock's website titled "How Copy Protection Creates Pirates," Stardock Corporation Inc. extolled the negative effects of DRM and explained a current company policy to not use it.

Stardock develops and publishes video games (such as the Galactic Civilizations franchise), as well as a handful of other visual and graphical programs. The company also administrates, an online store that sells downloads of games, DRM-free, directly to consumers. The company does not employ DRM anywhere in any of the software that they release.
When Galactic Civilizations II was released with no copy protection whatsoever, some people said that we must not care about piracy. Of course we do. We worked hard on the game and hope/expect people who want it to pay for it. But there are too many times when copy protection and DRM end up hurting legitimate customers.
The company believes that, by developing software that has a high level of quality, consumers will be drawn to pay for it. Of course piracy will still occur, but by creating something that people actually want to buy, sales won't be drastically reduced by it and consumers won't have to deal with the headaches that are often a result of DRM implementations.

They have also chosen not to use DRM in their Stardock Central app (connected with to give consumers the ability to download games - like Valve's Steam), a decision they based on the multitude of problems that consumers have with DRM already.
Stardock and don't use DRM. Our delivery program, Stardock Central, uses SSD (Secure Software Delivery) which in essence functions as a way to verify that the user downloading it is who they are (basic activation) but after that, you're done. There's no DRM, digital license, net connection, etc. needed. And even if you lose your serial #, CD, etc. no problem, the automated system will resend you everything you need in email.
Stardock has touched on something I believe to be very important to the well-being of the software and media industries: consumer trust. Stardock's sales have not been negatively affected by their decision not to include DRM in their games or game distributions. They had no reason to believe that DRM will help their bottom line at all, and they acted on it.

This news update on Stardock's website was prompted by an interesting story on The Consumerist blog from March 20th. "How I Became A Music Pirate" tells the story of how Jarret, a 40-year-old man who bought his music, was driven to piracy by the DRM in the software he used to buy a Luna album from Rhino Records' online store. He runs into a problem when he realizes that the WMAs he downloaded will not play in iTunes because of the copy protection that Rhino Records uses. He eventually calls a representative and is stonewalled in an interesting, but typical, way (emphasis mine).
So I called Rhino customer support and after an 8 minute wait spoke with a representative. She informed me that the files were indeed copy protected so that I could only play them on specific music players, most notably not iTunes.

"You don't understand," I said, "These files were not copied or pirated, I actually purchased them."

"Well" she responded, "You didn't actually purchase the files, you really purchased a license to listen to the music, and the license is very specific about how they can be played or listened to."

Now I was baffled. "Records never came with any such restrictions," I said.

She replied, "Well they were supposed to, but we weren't able to enforce those licenses back then, and now we can."
The story goes on to chronicle his decision to download the songs so he can listen to them in iTunes. Just an interesting account of one person's experience with DRM that was so bad, he had to pirate the music. He tried to buy the music several times and he was never able to get what he wanted for his money. He ends with only the most fitting resignation:
Since I've resigned myself not to waste any more time with the music business, I suppose I'll have to resort to purchasing used CD's & records, or having my friends occasionally make me a copy of one of their newer CD's.

Call it piracy. Call it whatever you want. But at least I tried. I gave you several chances and you failed miserably at every level.
It's sad when a dying business is so stubborn that it refuses to work with its customers to help them give the business money.

Edit: Continuing to follow the thread at SA revealed this gem of an exchange between eight forums members:

GamingHyena: Piracy leaves the artist with 0%.
Powercrazy: You are wrong. If I download a CD of an artist I've never heard of, listen to it and decide I like. I am about 1000% more likely to go see that artist at a concert. When I pay to get into the concert I give the artist money (not 100% but much more than I would buying the CD.) If I had never downloaded the music in the first place I would have never gone to the concert.
Nodrog: When I shoplift a new bar of chocolate I am 1000% more likely to buy said chocolate in the future if I discover that I like it.
The Remote Viewer: Not analogous. If he had said shoplifting the CD made him more likely to attend a concert, then you'd have a point.
Dr. Pwn: (to The Remote Viewer) Still not analogus. If he had said that shoplifting the CD made him more likely to buy future CDs, then he'd have a point.
Al Azif: (to The Remote Viewer) It's analogous if you consider shoplifting and copyright violation morally equivalent.
withak: (to Nodrog) More like if you magically created a chocolate bar from thin air at no cost to the manufacturer of the chocolate bars.
withak: (to Al Azif) In one situation someone's property has been taken away from them and in the other it hasn't.
durasteh: (to withak) There is such a thing as intellectual property.
withak: You can't take that away from the owner though, just redistribute it without permission.
durasteh: This is known as Intellectual Property theft.
withak: And is treated differently in laws from real property theft.

(via the SA Forums)

SomethingAwful Forums Thread
Stardock Release
The Consumerist Blog post
Rhino Records

Friday, March 23, 2007

Apple TV allegedly hacked to play XviD

The blagosphere is buzzing about the alleged, near-instant (read: 3 days since launch) hacking of the Apple TV to play XviD (and all Perian-supported file types). The hack requires a skosh of hardware hacking--pulling out the Apple TV's hard drive--before putting it into an enclosure, and then loading it up with codecs and a new startup script. The Apple TV apparently runs a version of OS X, which is a boon to the modding effort.

(via Something Awful forums)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cory Doctorow Does...?

ℵℵℵℵℵ>> Blagofare <<ℵℵℵℵℵ

HD-DVD coming to an X264 DVD near you...

Remember when I reported the first HD-DVDs were on BitTorrent at about 20gigs a piece?

In class we talked about how this size constraint was going to slow the transfer of these huge files over the internet - at least for a while. However, in the last couple weeks I have been spotting a new trend with these previously unwieldy packages.

A Normal DVD is 4.7gb ->
a good XviD compression brings that down to ≅ 715mb

A HD-DVD (or Blu-Ray) is 25gb ->
great X264 compression puts these files ≅ 4.5gb
just large enough for a standard DVD

If you do a quick search and check out one of these movies, the quality is simply staggering. You get true 720p video quality and unmatched clarity. I watched Sin City today, and every video i have seen since is a sham by comparison. Check out a few screen grabs:

Cap 0 Cap 1 Cap2 Cap3 Cap4
The quality is simply astounding.

It all just goes to show how extensive DRM work can never foil a persistent hacker.
Resistance is futile.

Guide for encoding x264 for you Mac Fanboys.
And another one for the rest of us.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

RIAA Stuck in Santangelo Case

Ray Beckerman reports that the federal judge overseeing the Elektra vs Santangelo case has denied the RIAA's request to have the case dismissed without prejudice. Judge McMahon ites that there is "Nothing in any papers filed by plaintiffs suggests IN THE SLIGHTEST that Mrs. Santangelo has ever perpetrated any fraud on this court."

This means that the RIAA has two options as to how it can proceed: Either it can take the case to court and jury, or it can request to have the case dismissed with prejudice. If the case goes to jury, then the lawsuit will proceed as any normal lawsuit, and the RIAA will most likely be forced to argue that Patti Santangelo was a secondary infringer.

If the RIAA deicdes to have the case dismissed with prejudice, the defendant will be named the prevailing party, and thus the RIAA will be on the line for Patti Santangelo's attorney's fees.

The Judge has also decided not to extend the filing deadlines, so the RIAA must either choose to dismiss the case with prejudice and submit the paperwork by April 1st, or appear at the status conference on April 13th with the appropriate paperwork.

Free Chipotle AND a rap on the knuckles for the RIAA? Today was a good day.

(Via The Recording Industry Vs. The People Blog)

Ars Article & Discussion
The Judge's Order

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Students: get paid to hack TOR this summer!

EFF is recruiting student programmers to do paid work on the onion router (TOR) this summer -- this is a technology for anonymizing Internet connections. It's intended for use by people living in surveillance societies like China, Syria, and the average American high-school.
Working on Tor is rewarding because:

* You can work your own hours in your own locations. As long as you get the job done, we don't care about the process.

* We only write free (open source) software. The tools you make won't be locked down or rot on a shelf.

* You will work with a world-class team of anonymity experts and developers on what is already the largest and most active strong anonymity network ever.

* The work you do could contribute to academic publications -- Tor development raises many open questions and interesting problems in the field of [WWW] Privacy Enhancing Technologies.

Link(via Deep Links)

MySpace Enforces their ToS; Tila Tequila is Sad

Word on the streets is that MySpace is doing their best to prevent their users – even their superstars – from embedding video and music players such as Revver and imeem that provide viable options for creating revenue. You might not think this is such a big deal, but there's something you don't know: MySpace is responsible for YouTube's success...
“We probably should have stopped YouTube,” Michael Barrett, chief revenue officer for Fox Interactive Media, a part of the News Corporation, said in an interview in late February. “YouTube wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for MySpace. We’ve created companies on our back.”

I'm not sure if I believe that, but if the people at Fox and MySpace truly do, then I can't help but question their motives and if whether what they are doing is socially responsible. Then again, I can really just look to the fact that it's Fox to get the answers to those questions.

New York Times article

AOL Makes Instant Messaging a Little Less Safe

Last Sunday, AOL announced it's new "Near Me" service, which lets users of it's internet messaging program view the location of a person on their friends list. The software tracks locations by "using the continuous wireless pulses emitted by all Wi-Fi transmitters and Wi-Fi-enabled computers." The program also displays the location of the person on a map.

To accomplish this, Skyhook, the company behind the software enlisted a fleet of 200 trucks to drive through over 2,500 cities and mapped every home wireless network and commercial access point.

The result? According to Skyhook, a database consisting of 16 million Wi-Fi access points, covering 70% of the population of the U.S. and parts of Canada.

Thanks AOL for taking away my privacy and making life a little easier for Wi-Fi hackers.


Adobe Kills License Manager

In a move that more resembles Apple's trust of the consumer as opposed to the Microsoft model of everyone is a pirate who must be put through torture to activate their software, Adobe has killed their Adobe License Management system. ALM debuted in the most recent Acrobat for enterprises which tied an individual install to a key on a license server. This acts in a very similar method to Microsoft Activation feature with Vista and XP.

Upon the cancellation of the program, the following statement was released (and amended by Techsynopsis)
Due to "greater level of administrator resources than many of our customers have available to them" or general distain and hatred for the "electronic license management solution".


U of Wisconsin-Madison says No Way to RIAA

Following in the paths of other Universities, the University of Wisconsin-Madison will not be forwarding any of the current RIAA "pre-settlement" letters onto students on their network.
Consistent with current network management procedures and our understanding of federal law, UW-Madison does not plan to forward these letters directly to campus network users. We will, of course, comply with a valid subpoena.
The University continues with the following notice
However, if the UW-Madison is given cause to believe that a student, faculty or staff network user may have infringed on copyrights, it will take action. University network policies empower the CIO to terminate that person's network access until the matter is resolved. The Dean of Students office (for students) or supervisors (for employees) will be notified and other disciplinary action may be taken, as appropriate.

The Consumerist

Nuclear Fusion at Home

Have you ever wanted to build a nuclear fusion reactor out of junk from eBay and the local hardware store? Teenager Thiago Olson recently finished his own spare-parts fusion reactor. While it needs more energy than it produces, Olson was still able to create a "star in a jar", burning hot plasma at over two hundred million degrees. Pretty good for a highschool physics student.

Could this be the ultimate hardware hack?


New Executive Chief of UK Patent Office

I was hanging out in our school's newsroom today and saw that the UK Patent Office is getting a new executive chief. Ian Fletcher will take over the position at the end of March when Ron Marchant retires. Also, in April, the Office will change its name to the Intellectual Property Office.
"A new name to better reflect the wide range of intellectual property services that we offer" -- Ron Marchant

According to their website, this change comes after a recommendation by the Gowers Report released in Dec. 2006. So I guess watch out for that change, so you don't call it by the wrong name!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Irish Dogs Sniff Out Drugs Bombs PIRACY

Two black labs trained in Ireland are being used in Malaysia to sniff out illegal CDs and DVDs. Well, sort of. They are trained to find anything containing some of the chemicals used to make optical disks. As the BBC article points out, the animals "can find, but cannot distinguish between, CDs and DVDs, burned and replicated disks, or legitimate and pirate disks."

It appears right now that they are being used in large cargo inspections, so no need to worry (yet) about being stopped and searched for bringing a DVD to watch on the plane.

And sure, it's faster than human inspection, but is it worth it? The MPAA and the Malaysian government put up $17,000 (US) for the training of two dogs. Does the MPAA really think that they will save more than $17,000 with these dogs anytime soon?

Via /.

Bot-Nets on the Rise

Symantec Security Response just released a report, according to the BBC website, that the number of bot-nets has increased almost 30% in the last year, bringing the number of zombified PC's up to around 6 million.According to Alfred Huger, the VP of Semantic, the amount of "PC hijackers" is increasing as other countries expand their web base (although the article makes a point of noting that "more than a third of all computer attacks in the second half of 2006 originated from PCs in the United States"); and as well the "hijackers" are becoming more sophisitacted, even policing one-another, by "launching denial-of-service attacks on rivals' servers and posting pictures online of competitors' faces...It's ruthless, highly organised and highly evolved."

Not knowing too much about Symantec, I went to the website, and was surprised that this "threat report" a) came from what appears to be, not a neutral third party, but a company that sells security software; b) that a report making the "front page" of the BBC website wasn't even listed in the "news" section (or any other I could see) on Symantec's site. Instead, the "recent news" section has links with title's like, "Norton 360" provides all-around protection."

Does it, actually? Is buying Symantec's spyware and adware and Norton anti-virus stuff actually the cure-all? I know we've talked about this stuff, but it's still a little unclear to me...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

DRM Causes 3 Out of Every 4 Customer Support Calls

Musicload, Deutsche Telekom's version of iTunes which also happens to be one of the largest online music stores in Europe, has released a new report on the problems associated with DRM. Specifically it singles out DRM and the associated effects on the marketplace and the customers. They note that this is specifically manifested in the fact that 75% of all calls to their customer service phone center relate to DRM.
Musicload said in a letter distributed last week that customers are having consistent problems with DRM, so much so that 3 out of 4 customer service calls are ultimately the result of the frustrations that come with DRM. In a business where the major music labels expect to be paid well for their source material, the costs of supporting DRM are borne entirely by the music retailers. If the labels' love affair with DRM is hurting the companies trying to make a go at selling music online, something is horribly wrong.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Carol Burnett sues "Family Guy" for copyright infringement

Comedian Carol Burnett filed a lawsuit last Thursday against Twentieth Century Fox, distributor of the TV show "Family Guy", seeking over $6 million in damages.

Burnett is upset over the show's portrayal of her "Carol Burnett Show" character, Charwoman, in an episode entitled "Peterotica" from last April.

The character (shown above) was seen on screen for approximately four seconds.

According to Burnett, 73, she was approached by Fox in mid-2005 for permission to use the theme song from "The Carol Burnett Show" in a "Family Guy" episode. She declined the request.
Burnett claims that after she refused to license her music, Fox caused a "Family Guy" episode to "be rewritten to disparage Ms. Burnett using Ms. Burnett's signature ear tug."

Can she possibly win this case? Shows like "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" thrive and spoofing pop culture characters. This has got to be fair use. If she wins, then just about every other celebrity on the planet is entitled to $6 million.

Link (with video clip)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bill May Give Federal Scientists More Freedom

A bill passed yesterday in the US House of Representatives may give scientists working for the federal government significantly more leeway with current federal disclosure policies. The "Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007," HR 985, was introduced into the house by Reps Waxman, Platts, Van Hollen, and T. Davis on February 12th.

The bill provides a handful of clarifications with regard to whistleblowing etiquette across many parts of the federal government, but the most interesting part of the bill is a small set of addendums buried deep within the document that would give scientists several new rights. Quoted directly, the bill forbids:
1. any action that compromises the validity or accuracy of federally funded research or analysis;
2. the dissemination of false or misleading scientific, medical, or technical information;
These two items would give scientists protection from tampering such as what was done in 2005 to global warming research.

Further, there are two additional items added after the bill's introduction into the house that could be even more important. Also forbade are:
3. any action that restricts or prevents an employee or any person performing federally funded research or analysis from publishing in peer-reviewed journals or other scientific publications or making oral presentations at professional society meetings or other meetings of their peers; and
4. any action that discriminates for or against any employee or applicant for employment on the basis of religion
These last two items would give scientists the rights to submit their research for peer-review and protect them from religious discrimination (important, but I think largely a non-issue in the scientific community).

In my opinion the most significant part of the bill is the third part of the quoted text. This would potentially give scientists not just the opportunity but the right to publish their research. It could even apply to researchers that are under the black curtain of the Pentagon, and could open up a previously completely undisclosed amount of federal research not currently in the public space. I don't think that's the way it would be construed, but one can hope.

Via Ars Article
Link directly to the website with the bill (and the relevant section)

Google News Roundup - 3/15/07

There have been some very interesting developments around Google over the last couple of days. Of course, there's the news that Viacom has leveed a lawsuit against Google claiming copyright infringement under and requesting almost $1.5 billion in damages, but Google has taken two very interesting actions since news of the lawsuit broke.

Google Responds to Viacom Lawsuit

In a recent statement, Google has declared that not only is it not responsible for monetary compensation for content that its users post on Youtube, but that it is also protected under the same law by which Viacom is requesting damages.
"YouTube is great for users and offers real opportunities to rights holders: the opportunity to interact with users; to promote their content to a young and growing audience; and to tap into the online advertising market. We will certainly not let this suit become a distraction to the continuing growth and strong performance of YouTube and its ability to attract more users, more traffic and build a stronger community.”
Further, they state that the reason for youtube has so much "protected" content on it is due to a failing on Viacom's part, not Google's. From The Economist's article:
Google's response is a subtly effective dig at Viacom's own failings. Why are Viacom's clips so popular on YouTube? Because Viacom does not make them easily available on its own sites and thus, says Google, is missing a chance to connect with users, promote its content and generate advertising revenue. Because Viacom is a dinosaur, in other words.
I think The Economist put it best: War is declared. Google believes that the DMCA provides a sufficient safe harbor for Youtube, and will not simply settle. Further, Viacom's problems with Youtube are due to Viacom's own failure to embrace the changing way that media circulates on the internet.

Let's all hope that Google stands as tall against Viacom as IBM did against SCO.

Google to Make Anonymous All Search Information after 18-24 Months

In a move that will no doubt appease privacy and information rights activists, Google has released plans to make anonymous all search information after storing it for 18-24 months.

The statement, released for the first time on Google's company blog, references a desire to protect their users' privacy and create more transparency with regard to their stance on customer privacy. Google has a relatively positive history with regard to its stance on privacy - it was the only large search engine to stand up to subpoena from the US Government for search records last year.

Hopefully this will start a trend of companies deciding to make anonymous more consumer information - it's only with this type of action can we truly ensure privacy and the free flow of important and sensitive information across the internet.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

YouTube Getting Sued was Always a Matter of When, not If... it's a matter of how many different companies sue them and for how much, since Viacom (owner of MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, etc.) dropped a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit on them today:

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, Viacom says YouTube "harnessed technology to willfully infringe copyrights on a huge scale" and had "brazen disregard" of intellectual property laws.

Best of all, they didn't forget to take a jab at Google's motto:

"Finding a way of peaceful coexistence is quite a struggle," [intellectual property attorney Bruce] Sunstein said. "Google's motto is 'Don't be Evil,' and you could argue that with YouTube that motto is wearing a little thin."

Link to AP story on Yahoo! News

Monday, March 12, 2007

US House Bill Set to Increase Reach of the FOIA

A bill recently unveiled in the house by Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Todd Russell Platts (R-PA), and Henry Waxman (D-CA) would drastically change the way that citizens use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) if passed.

The bill, HR-1309 for those interested, would create a much greater deal of transparency within the request process. The addition of a tracking system and a time frame requirement for requests gives citizens significantly more ability to keep track of their requests, and will allow for a more meaningful audit process should a request be lost. Additionally, if a request is not completed within 20 days, it becomes free of charge to the requester.

Additionally, the bill would create a new office tasked with the handling of denied requests. This office would also be geared to help the government avoid litigation, though details of this are a little slim so far.

More interestingly, the bill would make private contractors' records subject to FOIA requirements, and would allow a much broader cross section of journalists access to discounts on requests.

All in all, this bill would be the most significant change to the FOIA since its inception, and would provide for a much needed additional layer of transparency to the government and its contractors. Here's to hoping that this makes the audit process much more successful and harder to stonewall.

(via arstechnica)

HR-1309 Text
Rep William Clay on

Thursday, March 8, 2007

On Free Speech and Zones

I was going to wait and defer to Cameron on commenting on this story, but as more and more sites carry the story, I thought it appropriate to begin the discussion here. From the Free Culture Club:
In a mild act of civil disobedience, USC Free Culture posted flyers outside of the “Free Speech Zone” that stated simply “This is Not a Free Speech Zone.” Our focus was to explore free speech on campus within the given rules (found here) while simultaneously arguing that USC’s controlled definitions of free speech run counter to “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.”

The university soon sent us an e-mail, fining USC Free Culture for violating university policy on unapproved flyer posting and charging us an undisclosed amount for the removal of the sidewalk chalk. USC Free Culture’s scheduling privileges, which are necessary for most on-campus group activities, have been suspended until the fines are paid.

The University has a history of restricting free speech - specifically in the policy of keeping a specific and isolated area for free speech - and this new incident is yet another chapter in this sordid tale.

To add my own two cents, while the University has a duty to live up to the spirit of an academic institution, it does not surprise me at all that this is policy. We have a 2 billion dollar trust - and with that enormous war chest inevitably comes the special interests to which the school is beholden. Interests like the entertainment industry ($175 million from Lucas), the big business alumni of the Marshall School of Business, and, perhaps most blatantly, the athletic-industrial complex. Free culture is not especially important to any of these benefactors.

Now don't get me wrong, I am proud to attend the University of Southern California; we are a world class institution. However, with this status also comes an expectation of acting like a world class institution, like the leader we are, in all aspects of academia, and especially in issues of free speech.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

New RIAA Licensing Regulations Hit Close to Home

With the recently announced overhaul in internet audio licensing, the RIAA is creating a big problem for radio stations across the country. However, it is creating an even bigger problem for radio stations that are either internet only or have a greater listening audience online as compared with their over-the-air or terrestrial listeners. LA Observed reports on Santa Monica based KCRW and the problems that they will face with the new licensing scheme.
A senior staffer at KCRW tells LA Observed, "Everyone is stunned by the decision. The determination to charge per song/per listener would effectively shut us down, as well as most other music sites. We estimate it could cost us anywhere from $1 to $5 million to keep going."
However, it is not just public radio stations that will feel the pinch. How many other radio stations have an extra $1 to $5 million dollars in their budget that they can instantly reallocate so that they can pay the RIAA even more?

How will radio stations comply with these new policies? It seems that most radio stations will have to overhaul their entire work flow so that their streaming servers are directly connected to a database which interfaces with the play list. What if a listener signs on for the end third of one song and closes their player during the middle of the next song. How much will the station own the RIAA.

It seems that the RIAA is just compensating for their lack of revenue due to poor music by making it difficult if not impossible to stream their shows over the internet.

LA Observed

First Movie from a Small Independent Available on iTunes

Forum Snowboards, a snowboard manufacturer and distributor, is the first company to have an independent movie listed on iTunes. "That" is a snowboard movie with the potential to mark a groundbreaking change in the way that the iTunes store works.

"That" is being sold in iTunes TV section for 1.99, along with many other television shows. This deal comes after months of negotiations which ended when Forum decided to give the new price a try.

Apple also recently inked a deal with Studio411 for the distribution of more action sports videos from the company. Action sports videos (such as ski, snowboard, surfing and skate videos) have been particularly hard hit by the decline in DVD sales, and have been actively looking for a new way to reach their classic 18-24 year-old male demographic.

(via Variety)

No more internet cafes will open in China

According to a article today, the Chinese government is placing a hold on the opening of new internet cafes in China. There are about 113,000 internet cafes already in China, which are often used solely for online gaming purposes.

The article also mentions the efforts of the government to promote a "healthy online culture" that would block internet users from viewing online material that is considered subversive. I see this effort as becoming highly difficult as the number of internet users in China grows, and is even expected to surpass the U.S. in numbers in the next two years.

It just seems like an inopportune time to ban opening more internet cafes in a country who's tourism rates with likely experience a drastic increase come 2008 with the Olympics in Beijing.

Estimation of revenue RIAA could make off of their piracy lawsuits

I came across this blog post which estimates that the RIAA could make over 3 billion dollars a in their first year of lawsuits. The author comes up with this figure by estimating that of the 200 million adults in the U.S., 15% are threatened by lawsuits from the RIAA. Of that 15%, if just 5% settle, with an average settlement of $2000, this would result in over 3 billion dollars of settlement revenue. This amounts to 1/3 of the revenue for the entire recording industry.

The RIAA's crackdown has gone way overboard. This article is a sobering reminder of just how overboard they have gone.

Microsoft plans to fight Google Books

One of Microsoft's top attorneys is planning to fight Google Inc. for its use of books online and in advertising, according to today's Wall Street Journal. Thomas Rubin is associate general counsel at Microsoft who is taking on the fight. He says:
"Google received "unfettered access" to the libraries, it then "basically turned its back on its partners" by making copies of copyrighted books without first obtaining copyright holders' permission. The approach, Mr. Rubin argues, "systematically violates copyright and deprives authors and publishers of an important avenue for monetizing their works."

Google says they have the right to digitize the book under "fair use" since it provides users with only brief excerpts and bibliographical information if works are still in copyright.
"We do this by complying with international copyright laws, and the result has been more exposure and in many cases more revenue for authors, publishers and producers of content," said David C. Drummond, Google's chief legal officer.

The arguments from Google are similar to what we've been discussing in class and have been reading about this week. It's good exposure for these creative works, many of which would be lost from the radar, and seems like its helping more than hurting authors.

More Copyright Trouble for Google?

Recently, Thomas Rubin, associate general counsel for copyright, trademark, and trade secrets at Microsoft, called Google's business model "troubling" and accused Google of violating copyright law.

In a speech given Association of American Publishers, Rubin decried Google as having taken the wrong path because it "systematically violates copyright and deprives authors and publishers of an important avenue for monetizing their works."

This condemnation was brought about due to a conflict between Microsoft's Live Search Books project and Google's Book Search. Rubin claims that Microsoft only indexes books out of copyright or in the public domain, while Google's Book Search freely copies a work until notified by the copyright owner to stop.

Coincidentally, Google today announced a partnership with the Bavarian State Library to digitize more than a million public domain and out-of-print works.

Good luck Google.


Professor Fraud at Wikipedia

Turns out I shouldn't be so intimidated by the editors over at Wikipedia: they aren't all experts, even if they say they are. At the beginning of the month it was revealed that one of the sites editors, under the pseudonym "Essjay," who had repeatedly claimed to be a professor of religion at a private university (going so far as being quoted in a "New Yorker" interview as such!), was actually a 24-year old college student. He'd been editing articles with the help of, among other texts, "Catholicism for Dummies."

This situtation throws into sharp relief the issue of credibility, accountability, and the difficulty of determining authenticity in the digital age. And besides all that...besides this guy's clear intent to decieve...he was presumably a valuable editor and contributor to the Wikipedia community. Does the fact that he holds no degree and had to conduct research (however lame his sources might have been) invalidate his entries or edits? If they still hold up to Wikipedia's standards, don't they have merit?

In this case he was asked to resign from the site and his editing privileges were removed...but in the big picture, verifying every editor's identity will no doubt become a huge and unsurmountable task. At what point will we (if ever) stop caring about actual identity, when the digital identity is a positive presence?

Open Source in Education

By the end of the year, MIT will put its entire catalogue of course materials online for free access. Only 5 years old, MIT's OpenCourseWare already contains complete information from 1,550 out of 1,800 total courses. Materials available online include lecture notes, assignments, podcasts, and videocasts.

What impact might this have on the education gap? Will only the highly literate and connected benefit? Perhaps, as internet access becomes cheaper and more widespread, free and highly reputable academic repositories such as OpenCourseWare will make education accessible to more of the population.

Should universities and schools be concerned about being replaced by electronically available informtaion? I doubt it. I think such repositories will act as an additional resource, a parallel service to the in-person and community-based teaching offered on college campuses.

Link (via /.).

Related: How the Open Source Movement Has Changed Education: 10 Success Stories from Online Education Database

Machine Project "demystifies tech world"

I get a daily newsletter about events in the LA area that linked me to a cool site the other day ( Machine Project is reminiscent of the Feral Robotic Dog project, though not so lofty in it's socio-political-environmental goals. It's basically a continuing education center, but there's a strong focus on technology, software programming and some (reverse) engineering tossed in there:

"The nonprofit event space and community center in Echo Park aims to encourage creativity and demystify the world of high-tech gadgetry by offering educational lectures, interactive installations, and workshops like Machine Sewing 101, Introduction to Solar Robotics, and Square Waves for Beginners.
This month: build a noise-maker from scratch in the Felt and Circuits Workshop, configure your own multimedia program computer software in the Max/MSP class, learn How Computers Work, or create an amplifier out of $5 worth of parts and a cereal box."

Just thought I'd spread the word...I may check it out myself--I'll be sure to keep you posted :)

US Department of Transportation Slams Vista, IE7, Office 2007

According to InformationWeek, the US DoT has banned Microsoft's recent upgrades to Office, Windows and Internet Explorer.

In an internal memo dated January 19th, Daniel Mintz inserts that "there is no compelling technical or business case for upgrading to these new Microsoft software products. Furthermore, there appears (sic) to be specific reasons not to upgrade." As such, he has imposed an "indefinite moratorium" on upgrades from Office 2003 and Windows XP for its 15,000 desktop users.

In an interview on March 2nd, DoT CTO Tim Schmidt reconfirmed the ban, and explained that they were testing alternate platforms as possible replacements or compliments to a Windows offering. Included in those platforms are SuSe Linux and Apple's OS X.

While they have not entirely ruled out upgrades to Vista in the future, they are proceeding cautiously in order to avoid possible compatibility and stability issues that go along with such a significant upgrade.

The DoT is not the only Federal organization to impose such a ban. The Federal Aviation Administration, with nearly 45,000 desktops, has initiated a similar ban on upgrades for Microsoft products.

(via InformationWeek)

Major Labels Sue Yahoo China

Beijing-based Alibaba, the operator of Yahoo China, has received a joint lawsuit from a number of companies, including Universal and Warner Music Group.
The 11 music companies said in their complaint that Yahoo China provided lyrics, mobile phone ring tones based on the songs and enticed users to download or listen to them online.
According to Xinhua news agency, The Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court has accepted the lawsuit. While physical piracy remains rampant in China, there has been a number of lawsuits in recent months regarding the Internet (i.e Baidu) - it will be interesting to see how the court rules.

(Via Shanghai Daily)

AnyDVD HD Update Strips Blu-Ray Encryption

Remember a couple of weeks ago when AnyDVD HD was released, and you no longer had to worry about region codes or AACS on HD-DVDs? Remember how SlySoft promised Blu-Ray compatibility in beta by the end of the quarter?

Well wait no longer. Slysoft has released AnyDVD HD version, non-beta, which strips HD-DVDs AND Blu-Ray discs of their encryption and region codes. Grab the update here if you already have a copy, or download the trial!

Thank god there's a company that cares about our right to watch movies unencumbered of unnecessary software and hardware requirements.


Judge Dismisses Microsoft MP3 Patent Case

Last week we talked about the $1.52 billion patent case that Microsoft lost to Alcatel-Lucent. However, upon further examination, a San Diego based Federal Judge at the District Court level tossed the case saying that no infringement had taken place.

Microsoft had asked the judge last week for a summary judgment in the patent-infringement case that was to go to trial this month, and the judge granted that yesterday.

It was believed to be the largest patent-infringement damage award in history in the case that the former Lucent Technologies first filed against Microsoft and partners Dell Inc. and Gateway Inc. in 2003. Many believe the decision could put other companies that use MP3 technology at risk for patent-infringement claims from Alcatel-Lucent.

Computer World

Let's Sue Microsoft Becase the FBI Found my Porn Collection

This guy learned the hard way that you shouldn't always trust the guy working at Circuit City to give you accurate technology advice. Michael Alan Crooker purchased a computer that he believed would secure all of his important personal data, like his porn collection and instructions on how to make bombs.
What do you do when the FBI raids your home and finds porn all over your PC? One man, who had his home computer seized by the bureau, has decided that his best course of action is to sue the companies that failed to keep that data private for him.

But when the FBI raided his house on an arms charge, they took his computer and with a little bit of tech savvy (cloning the drive) were able to have full access to his drive.

Simply amazing... If you don't do the research to find out about free tools that truly encrypt your drive (TrueCrypt) and you are doing illegal activities and you are relying on others for your security information then you deserve to be taken in.

The Inquirer

Great Day for HaXx0rz! Vista Gets Pwned

Legendary warez group Paradox released a crack to Vista last week which bypasses registration and allows users with pirated copies of the operating system to receive regular updates from Microsoft. From
[Paradox] has provided tools and information on how to trick a Vista installation (x86) into acting as if it is installed on an OEM machine, which requires no product activation. Manufacturers such as Dell distribute pre-installed Vista installations on new computers.

These companies embed certain license information into their hardware products, which can be validated by a Windows Vista installation, removing the need for further activation procedures. The installation required hardware-embedded BIOS ACPI_SLIC information signed by Microsoft. So this method takes advantage of how Vista validates on OEM machines.

By using a device driver, BIOS ACPI_SLIC information can be fed to Windows Vista's licensing mechanism. This, combined with an matching product key and OEM certificate, will render any system practically indistinguishable from a legit pre-activated system shipped by the respective OEM.
Instructions have subsequently spread and are now easily available online. Most users are reporting that the crack works just fine.

Instructions are available here. (Via digg)

Download Barenaked Ladies New Album With No DRM and No Cost (for now...)

As Cory has alluded to in the past, the Barenaked Ladies have decided to experiment with releasing an album free of charge and without any DRM wrappers. Techcruch's Michael Arrington reports that the album will be available through "Amiestreet," a new website with an audacious and unique business model:
I’ve been writing about the Amie Street music site since their launch last July. Their model has the potential to disrupt the music industry from the bottom up: Bands and labels upload music, which is downloadable in DRM-free MP3 format. The price always starts at free, and as more people download the song, the price starts to rise, eventually hitting $.98. Higher priced songs are by definition more popular, and I’ve found that anything over $.50 or so is pretty good music. 70% of proceeds go to the band/label, and Amie Street keeps the rest.

The service is now starting to make real progress with labels, too. They’ve signed a deal with Nettwerk Music Group, which will be uploading their entire library to Amie Street over the next few months. The first music to go up on the site is the new Barenaked Ladies album, Barenaked Ladies Are Men. All sixteen songs from the album are available here.

So, if anyone out there is looking to get some good (legal) music for cheap make sure that you head over to Amie Street before the whole things gets too popular.

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Economics of Why DRM is Unsuccessful

A fascinating post over at TechDirt analyzes the economics behind DRM, and why on paper, DRM is bad for business. The author compares creative content to raw ingredients for cooking, and the ways of marketing that content as the recipe. Over time, raw ingredients don't change, but recipes utilizing those ingredients do to better adapt to technological and cultural shifts. Each recipe has to be seen as an upgrade upon the last one, otherwise, it will fail as a business model.
Note that it's the non-scarce products, the recipes and the ideas, that helps expand the value of the limited resources, the ingredients. You expand value by creating new non-scarce goods that make scarce goods more valuable -- and you can keep on doing so, indefinitely. Successful new business models are about creating those non-scarce goods and helping them increase value. Any new business model must be based around increasing the overall pie. It's about recognizing that creating value isn't about shifting around pieces of a limited economic pie -- but making the overall pie bigger.

DRM is fundamentally opposed to this concept. It is not increasing value for the consumer in any way, but about limiting it. It takes the non-scarce goods, the very thing that helps increase value, and constrains them. Those non-scarce goods are what increase the pie and open up new opportunities for those who know where to capture the monetary rewards of that value (within other limited resources). DRM, on the other hand, holds back that value and prevents it from being realized. It shrinks the pie -- and no successful business models come out of providing less value and shrinking the overall pie. Fundamentally, DRM cannot create a successful new business model. It can only contain one.

Foxtrot vs. the RIAA

The RIAA Takes on Music Bloggers

While the majority of the current mainstream press coverage of the state of the music biz mentions a lack of quality artists, music afficiandos (full disclosure: I am totally one of those pretentious indie rock kids) will tell you that there have been many great records in the past couple of years. MP3 blogs are perhaps the greatest propellant of the music scene these days, the only goodwill ambassadors the industry has left, and most certainly the new king makers. Now, in their ceaseless march of self-immolation, the RIAA is attacking these bloggers by sending takedown notices to their ISPs. From the Idolator editorial:
Granted, we give music bloggers a lot of crap, but they do possess one quality that the greater populace lacks: They have an undying enthusiasm for records that goes beyond the boundaries of marketing budgets or Q4 balance sheets. What the RIAA is doing by short-circuiting bloggers, causing them to say "Hey, what the hell happened?!" is the sort of blame-the-consumer action that's resulted in people calling for boycotts and becoming even more leery of buying music. Which, honestly, is not behavior that anyone who's involved in the record industry should be encouraging at this point.


Microsoft's Drug Dealer Model

It seems as though Sergio Amadeu was pretty on point, at least according to some in the Indian IT community. With immense anti-piracy pressure coming down on the Indian equivalent of Silicon Valley (called the IT channel community of Amritsar and Jalandhar) , many are attempting to push the Indian computer market away from MSoft and towards a Linux-based system. The article specifically addresses a perceived double-standard within the community, and its severe backlash against Microsoft:
"Microsoft initially encouraged piracy to make its operating system popular [...] A united channel front would threaten Microsoft's hold and might lead resellers in India to push Linux"

Friday, March 2, 2007

EA to Place Game Soundracks on iTunes / Warner Buys "Halo" Music Library

Real gamers (read: nerds) like myself know that video games can sometimes mix amazing collections of music with their gaming content. Unfortunately, we also know how hard it is to come by those compositions if aren't readily available on the net. However, a new trend might make finding that in-game music a lot easier.

On Thursday Electronic Arts announced a deal with iTunes which would allow for their in-game music libraries to be placed on on the popular music store.

... Electronic Arts, the world's largest game publisher, announced that it is teaming up with Apple to sell its catalog of soundtracks on iTunes. Licensed music from franchises such as Madden NFL, Need for Speed, and SSX are now up on the music download service, and EA promises more in the future.

Among the songs available is the retail debut of Snoop Dogg's remix of the Doors' "Riders on the Storm," which was featured in Need for Speed Underground. A list of soundtracks available on iTunes can be found at the EA Trax Web site.

In similar news, it was also announced recently that Warner/Chapell music has set up a publishing deal with Microsoft, which includes music for the epic "Halo" series. (From the same Article:)
Not to be outdone, Warner/Chappell Music has signed a deal with Microsoft for the publishing rights to the software giant's portfolio of game music, including Marty O'Donnell's scores from the Halo games.
Pretty sweet. Via Tim Surette on Gamespot.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

DT Quotes Show File-Sharing Rift on Campus

The students quoted in this Daily Trojan article show an interesting rift in sentiment on the USC campus in regard to file-sharing and the RIAA's lawsuits:
"It's a rippling effect. [The RIAA] starts doing this, and we find sneakier ways to download illegally," he said. "Until they get the picture that we're not going to stop until they make it much easier to get music at a reasonable price, we're not going to stop." - an anonymous freshman interactive entertainment major
"It seems like they're trying to make some sort of compromise," he said. "You've seen the lawsuits where some grandma is sued and pays thousands of dollars, so if they're willing to settle out of court - sort of like a, 'You help us, we'll help you' - that's a good thing." - Brandon Lang, freshman business major
Notice that the budding cultural creator is opposed to the RIAA's tactics and expresses dissatisfaction with the music industry, while the budding business mogul views the RIAA's actions as defensible--even beneficial.

I'd like to think that the rift between the two viewpoints is mostly an information rift--that with more knowledge, Lang would ultimately come to see how the RIAA's tactics are dangerous to civil liberties and dangerous to our future as consumers and technloogists. But what would be the best way to go about having that dialogue?

(via the Daily Trojan)

Don't Worry, We Get in Trouble with the RIAA, Too

According to our very own Daily Trojan:

The Recording Industry Association of America has announced it will send letters to several universities offering students who illegally download music a chance to settle with the RIAA before they are sued for copyright infringement.


The letters are part of the RIAA's new plan to crack down on illegal downloading at college campuses. Of the 400 letters sent, USC received 20. Ohio University topped the list with 50 letters, the release stated.

We still lost to Ohio, though.