Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - February 14th, '09
"Politicians don't understand what is at stake, and appear uninterested in anything other than progressing the Big Brother dystopia. The only recourse at present is to have them replaced." – Rick Falkvinge
"Since when did criticism of a teacher morph into assault? If Katie Evans said what she said over burgers with her friends at the mall, there is no question it would be protected by free speech." – Howard Simon
"In my entire career, I’ve never heard of anything remotely approaching this." – Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim
"Limes regiones rerum." – UCLA School of Cinematic Arts
February 14th, 2009
Judges Plead Guilty in Scheme to Jail Youths for Profit
Hillary Transue was sentenced to three months in juvenile detention for a spoof Web page mocking an
Ian Urbina and Sean D. Hamill
At worst, Hillary Transue thought she might get a stern lecture when she appeared before a judge for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was a stellar student who had never been in trouble, and the page stated clearly at the bottom that it was just a joke.
Instead, the judge sentenced her to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment.
She was handcuffed and taken away as her stunned parents stood by.
“I felt like I had been thrown into some surreal sort of nightmare,” said Hillary, 17, who was sentenced in 2007. “All I wanted to know was how this could be fair and why the judge would do such a thing.”
The answers became a bit clearer on Thursday as the judge, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and a colleague, Michael T. Conahan, appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.
While prosecutors say that Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled.
“In my entire career, I’ve never heard of anything remotely approaching this,” said Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, who was appointed by the State Supreme Court this week to determine what should be done with the estimated 5,000 juveniles who have been sentenced by Judge Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2003. Many of them were first-time offenders and some remain in detention.
The case has shocked Luzerne County, an area in northeastern Pennsylvania that has been battered by a loss of industrial jobs and the closing of most of its anthracite coal mines.
And it raised concerns about whether juveniles should be required to have counsel either before or during their appearances in court and whether juvenile courts should be open to the public or child advocates.
If the court agrees to the plea agreement, both judges will serve 87 months in federal prison and resign from the bench and bar. They are expected to be sentenced in the next several months. Lawyers for both men declined to comment.
Since state law forbids retirement benefits to judges convicted of a felony while in office, the judges would also lose their pensions.
With Judge Conahan serving as president judge in control of the budget and Judge Ciavarella overseeing the juvenile courts, they set the kickback scheme in motion in December 2002, the authorities said.
They shut down the county-run juvenile detention center, arguing that it was in poor condition, the authorities said, and maintained that the county had no choice but to send detained juveniles to the newly built private detention centers.
Prosecutors say the judges tried to conceal the kickbacks as payments to a company they control in Florida.
Though he pleaded guilty to the charges Thursday, Judge Ciavarella has denied sentencing juveniles who did not deserve it or sending them to the detention centers in a quid pro quo with the centers.
But Assistant United States Attorney Gordon A. Zubrod said after the hearing that the government continues to charge a quid pro quo.
“We’re not negotiating that, no,” Mr. Zubrod said. “We’re not backing off.”
No charges have been filed against executives of the detention centers. Prosecutors said the investigation into the case was continuing.
For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Judge Ciavarella was unusually harsh. He sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a state rate of 1 in 10. He also routinely ignored requests for leniency made by prosecutors and probation officers.
“The juvenile system, by design, is intended to be a less punitive system than the adult system, and yet here were scores of children with very minor infractions having their lives ruined,” said Marsha Levick, a lawyer with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center.
“There was a culture of intimidation surrounding this judge and no one was willing to speak up about the sentences he was handing down.”
Last year, the Juvenile Law Center, which had raised concerns about Judge Ciavarella in the past, filed a motion to the State Supreme Court about more than 500 juveniles who had appeared before the judge without representation. The court originally rejected the petition, but recently reversed that decision.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that children have a constitutional right to counsel. But in Pennsylvania, as in 20 other states, children can waive counsel, and about half of the children that Judge Ciavarella sentenced had chosen to do so. Only Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina require juveniles to have representation when they appear before judges.
Clay Yeager, the former director of the Office of Juvenile Justice in Pennsylvania, said typical juvenile proceedings are kept closed to the public to protect the privacy of children.
“But they are kept open to probation officers, district attorneys, and public defenders, all of whom are sworn to protect the interests of children,” he said. “It’s pretty clear those people didn’t do their jobs.”
On Thursday in Federal District Court in Scranton, more than 80 people packed every available seat in the courtroom. At one point, as Assistant United States Attorney William S. Houser explained to Judge Edwin M. Kosik that the government was willing to reach a plea agreement with the men because the case involved “complex charges that could have resulted in years of litigation,” one man sitting in the audience said “bull” loud enough to be heard in the courtroom.
One of the parents at the hearing was Susan Mishanski of Hanover Township.
Her son, Kevin, now 18, was sentenced to 90 days in a detention facility last year in a simple assault case that everyone had told her would result in probation, since Kevin had never been in trouble and the boy he hit had only a black eye.
“It’s horrible to have your child taken away in shackles right in front of you when you think you’re going home with him,” she said. “It was nice to see them sitting on the other side of the bench.”
Student Fights Record of ‘Cyberbullying’
Katherine Evans said she was frustrated with her English teacher for ignoring her pleas for help with assignments and a brusque reproach when she missed class to attend a school blood drive.
So Ms. Evans, who was then a high school senior and honor student, logged onto the networking site Facebook and wrote a rant against the teacher, Sarah Phelps.
“To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred,” she wrote.
Her posting drew a handful of responses, some of which were in support of the teacher and critical of Ms. Evans. “Whatever your reasons for hating her are, they’re probably very immature,” a former student of Ms. Phelps wrote in her defense.
A few days later, Ms. Evans removed the post from her Facebook page and went about the business of preparing for graduation and studying journalism in the fall.
But two months after her online venting, Ms. Evans was called into the principal’s office and was told she was being suspended for “cyberbullying,” a blemish on her record that she said she feared could keep her from getting into graduate schools or landing her dream job.
“It was all very quick the way it happened,” said Ms. Evans, now a freshman at the University of Florida.
She is suing the principal of her school, Peter Bayer, for ordering her suspension. She is asking for no monetary compensation beyond her legal fees, said her lawyer, Matthew Bavaro, and she simply wants to have the suspension removed from her record.
A lawyer for Mr. Bayer and the school, Pembroke Pines Charter High School, has yet to respond to the legal complaint, filed in December, and refused to comment on the pending litigation.
Mr. Bavaro said he viewed the suspension as an attack on Ms. Evans’s right to free speech. He cited a 1969 case, Tinker v. Des Moines, in which three Iowa students were suspended for wearing black armbands to protest the government’s policy in Vietnam. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which eventually ruled in favor of the students.
But educational disciplinarians disagree.
“You can express an opinion on whether someone is a good teacher,” said Pamela Brown, assistant director for the Broward County School District who oversees expulsions. “But when you start inviting people to say that they hate a teacher, that crosses the line.”
Though Pembroke Pines does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Broward County district, it does use its disciplinary guidelines, Ms. Brown said, pointing out that there are rules against threats of physical violence, verbal threats, nonverbal assaults and disruption of the school’s function.
“We don’t want teachers to work in fear, looking over their shoulders when they walk to their cars after school,” she said, adding that Mr. Bayer “thought that what the young lady did was serious enough to warrant a three-day suspension.”
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said he was appalled by the school’s position.
“Since when did criticism of a teacher morph into assault?” Mr. Simon said. “If Katie Evans said what she said over burgers with her friends at the mall, there is no question it would be protected by free speech.”
Germany Rejects Three-Strikes Piracy Plan
The German federal government has decided against embracing the Olivennes Agreement - the French model for combating illegal file-sharing activities. The French three-strikes scheme would cut off the ISP connections of repeat offenders who violated copyright by illegally downloading content.
In confidential talks between the largest German ISPs and the German federal minister of justice Brigitte Zypries, which took place last month in Berlin, the minister made it clear that she had considerable reservations with respect to the French model of capping Internet access, arguing that this was incompatible with German data and telecommunications privacy legislation.
Dr. Heinz Stroh, managing director of the German Federal Association of Music Publishers (DMV) in Bonn says that he was unable to understand the concerns voiced by the ministry of justice, seeing as it was sufficient for users to be in default of payment for their Internet connections to be cancelled.
Stefan Michalk, managing director of the German Federal Music Association (BMI) in Berlin, adds that the combination of warnings and sanctions provided a very good means of combating Internet piracy.
"Unfortunately, Germany is the only country in which no progress is being made," he says. "The only alternative still available to companies is to take legal steps against Internet piracy. It is vital for Germany as well to lay the foundations for similar models in the near future. Otherwise the German creative industry will suffer from a clear competitive disadvantage compared with other countries."
German industry circles do not expect any change in this position to emerge until after the German federal elections on Sept. 23, 2009, assuming that the SPD/CDU grand coalition is replaced by a coalition between the CDU and free-market FDP party.
The Pirate Bay Demand Webcast of Trial
Set to start in just a few days time, the trial of The Pirate Bay will be one of the most important cases the file-sharing community has ever witnessed. However, due to restrictions, the number of people viewing it first hand could be very limited indeed. “Time to make demands,” says Peter Sunde.
On February 16th 2009, one of the biggest trials in P2P history begins. The case of the largest BitTorrent tracker, The Pirate Bay, will be followed by millions around the world.
The Pirate Bay team have been preparing for the media battle, in part by designating their tour bus as the site’s official media center. But already there are complaints about how accessible the trial will be to the public, with TiAMO and Brokep demanding changes to how it will be made available. In true Pirate Bay style, they want everyone to have access, one way or another.
According to Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij (aka TiAMO) the case will be heard in room 9 of Stockholm’s District Court. This room has space for maximum 35-40 people to view the case. At least 20 of these seats will be reserved for the press and, you can bet, these will be taken up by the mainstream press, many of which are unsympathetic to the site’s cause, a point not lost on Peter Sunde, aka Brokep.
“Traditional media is 90% owned by the opposition in this case and that is something that really must be taken into account,” he notes.
The court will provide another area which will have the trial’s audio fed in. “There will be a room where you can hear the sound from the trial,” says TiAMO, “this room can hold 20-25 people,” but the space allocated just isn’t enough.
“So this does not work,” says TiAMO. “I want a request for real premises immediately so they have time to fix the problem.” He’s very unhappy at the space allocated, noting that the case is one of the biggest political cases in recent times and since there are four people on trial, there isn’t even enough space for their family members to be present.
“I NEED a room for at least 150 people, 20 reserved for the family and 80 to 100 reserved for the press and public. It need not be in the same room, but we need several rooms REQUIRING video too, not just sound,” he demands.
Brokep says that in addition to the seats held back for the traditional press, he is set to demand that the court reserves seats for bloggers too, noting, “Traditional media is 90% owned by the opposition in this case and that is something that really must be taken into account.”
As the discussions continue over the proposals do a live webcast of the court case of a Boston University student versus the RIAA, Brokep wants similar for the Pirate Bay. They want the case transmitted live on the web.
“We want to show how it works. Cards on the table, everything should be transparent!”
And why not?
Australia's Tubes, Some are About to be Filtered
Well, if you're using one of six ISPs. The first "phase" of the government's controversial ISP filtering scheme is set to begin.
The big news? Telstra, Optus, iiNet, and any other major ISP you care to mention (except Primus) are not in the initial list of ISPs taking part in the six week Live Pilot.
Depending on how you feel about anti-porn measures, and whether they'll destroy the Internet as we know it, this may or may not be a good thing.
But then, there's nothing to say Optus won't step into the filtering frenzy at some point. As Senator Conroy noted in today's announcement, the door is still open to the possibility of other ISPs taking part.
The initial list of ISPs jumping on the cyber-safety bandwagon are Primus Telecommunications, Tech 2U, Webshield, OMNIconnect, Netforce and Highway 1.
The initial trial will begin once ISPs have equipment in place (no word in Conroy's announcement on when this will be).
Today's announcement points out the initial filtering trial is optional, though it's not clear to us at this stage whether that applies to the longterm plan - which involves an illegal content filter, and a secondary optional adult filter.
Sniffing Out Illicit BitTorrent Files
A new tool promises to detect illegal files without slowing network traffic.
A new technique has been developed for detecting and tracking illegal content transferred using the BitTorrent file-trading protocol. According to its creators, the approach can monitor networks without interrupting the flow of data and provides investigators with hard evidence of illicit file transfers.
Contraband files might include pirated movies, music, or software, and even child pornography. When the tool detects such a file, it keeps a record of the network addresses involved for later analysis, says Major Karl Schrader, who led the work at the Air Force Institute of Technology, in Kettering, OH.
The use of peer-to-peer (P2P) software and of the BitTorrent protocol in particular have increased steadily over recent years. In fact, for many Internet service providers (ISPs), the vast majority of Internet traffic now consists of P2P transfers.
ISPs are generally only interested in detecting this type of traffic in order to control, or "throttle," it and free up bandwidth for other uses. However, this approach reveals nothing about the contents of each transfer, says Schrader. A handful of network-monitoring tools can identify specific BitTorrent files, but the process is generally slow, since the contents of each file have to be examined. The time that this takes also increases exponentially as the number of files that need to be scanned grows.
"Our system differs in that it is completely passive, meaning that it does not change any information entering or leaving a network," says Schrader. It works, he says, by first spotting files that bare the hallmark of the BitTorrent protocol by examining the first 32 bits of the files' header data. Then the system looks at the files' hash, a unique identifying code used to coordinate the simultaneous download of hundreds of file fragments by different users. If a hash matches any stored in a database of prohibited hashes, then the system will make a record of the transfer and store the network addresses involved.
"I'm convinced that the solution works and that it will be quite cheap, as it is very specialized," says Hendrik Schulze, chief technology officer of Ipoque, a network analysis company based in Leipzig, Germany. More generalized solutions that try to monitor for a wide range of file types may be more flexible, he says, but they will also be more expensive.
One reason why the new technique is so fast is that the apparatus required consists of a specially configured field programmable gate array (FPGA) chip and a flash-memory card that stores a log of the illicit activity.
This setup means that the contents of files can be scanned directly by tapping into an Ethernet controller buffer, thereby leaving the network's traffic undisturbed. It also means that it's impossible for users to tell if a network is being monitored, Schrader says. "Our system does not modify traffic in any way, nor does it interfere in the delivery of traffic either in or out of a network," he says.
Ross Anderson, a computer-security expert at the University of Cambridge, U.K., says that the idea is nothing new. "Cisco has for years been selling kits to the Chinese government for the 'Great Firewall of China' that does just what these guys propose," he says. Similarly, an Australian firm called Brilliant Digital Entertainment sells a tool called CopyRouter that analyzes hashes to identify illegal files on other kinds of P2P networks.
Schulze adds that the approach relies on having an up-to-date list of illegal files. "The system has to update a huge list of file hashes frequently," he says. "Somebody has to qualify the hashes as copyright infringements or other criminal content."
From a legal standpoint, Schulze says that privacy may be a more significant problem. "Neither the U.S. nor any European country would allow [anyone] to install a device that inspects the traffic of every user just to stop Internet piracy," he says. "In this approach, every user is considered to be suspicious."
Even if the legal framework were to allow the technology, it is not quite ready to go. Tests of the system, details of which will be published later this year in a book called Advances in Digital Forensics V, showed that it was effective at detecting 99 percent of illicit files, but only at speeds of 100 megabits per second.
That's too slow for commercial or law-enforcement purposes, according to Anderson. Schulze agrees: "One gigabit per second or ten gigabits per second are required today to monitor a network." He also says that it is unclear whether the system might produce false positives, incorrectly labeling legitimate files as illegal.
Another drawback is that the system cannot cope with encrypted files. "Today, about 25 percent of BitTorrent traffic is encrypted," says Schulze. If such a tool became widely used, then anyone with something to hide would almost certainly switch to using encryption, he says.
Hosting Indymedia Servers is Illegal?
This Monday, Kent Police arrested a man in Sheffield under the Serious Crime Act 2007 in relation to the recent Indymedia server seizure. His home was raided, all computer equipment and related papers taken. He was released after eight hours. The person had neither technical, administrative nor editorial access to the Indymedia UK website. He was only associated to the project by hosting its server.
The arrest took place under Section 44-46 of the Serious Crime Act, which was passed into law on 1st October 2008 to combat serious international crime like drug trafficking, prostitution, money laundering and armed robbery. Sections 44-46 refer to “encouraging or assisting offences”.
Kent police claim that they are after the IP address of the poster of two anonymous comments to a report about a recent animal liberation court case, which included personal details of the Judge. The IP address of the poster is not stored as Indymedia does not log IP addresses. This was acknowledged by British Transport Police in 2005, after the Bristol IMC server seizure.
For the police to arrest the person who happened to sign the contract for server hosting, is sheer intimidation, in light of Indymedia’s openly stated policy of no IP logging.
With the implementation of the EU Data Retention Directive in March 2009, the UK government attempts to turn every internet service provider in the country into part of the law enforcement apparatus. This legislation will provide a legal basis to track, intimidate, harass, and arrest people who are doing valuable and necessary work for social change, for example as peace activists, campaigners for economic and social justice or against police brutality.
The present intimidation of the open publishing alternative news platform Indymedia will have serious implications for anyone running a server in the UK which allows user contributions – blogs, social networking sites, wikis. This is an attempt to close down sites that respect the privacy of their contributors, pure and simple.
Hartford No Longer Has General-Interest Bookstore
Once upon a time, The Jumping Frog bookstore, named after Mark Twain's first famous short story, offered 100,000 books in a 9,000-square-foot space.
Today, it's a bookstore more in spirit than practice. The owners, Bill and Deide McBride, make better money selling antique postcards, train schedules and movie posters on eBay than from the 6,000 titles in their shop, now located in much smaller digs on Arbor Street.
Even though Hartford has a celebrated literary history, thanks to Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Connecticut's capital city today has no general-interest bookstore. It hasn't for years, and isn't likely to get one soon.
"We have no bookstore," Bill McBride said. "There's not even a chain."
It's possible to find books for sale in Hartford, of course. There's the Hartford Seminary Bookstore on Sherman Street, for example, and Tru Books on upper Main, the Trinity College Bookstore at the school and Erotic Zone on West Service Road. Lots of gift shops sell some books.
But specialty bookstores serving the narrow interests of a specific segment of book buyers don't do much for the general-interest reader. The person looking to drift in from the street and get lost in a wonderland of books has nowhere to go, except out of town or online.
Without a general-interest bookstore, Hartford lacks a certain vitalizing commercial experience that helps create a sense of community and attracts people and other businesses.
"It's a matter of connection vs. alienation," said author Wally Lamb, who lives in Storrs and recently returned from a 22-city book tour that included at least four Connecticut bookstores, but none in Hartford. "... When you enter a good bookstore where the booksellers are also readers and get excited about the books — and know what your taste and interests might be — then you have a human connection."
Or, as Suzanne Staubach, manager of the general books division at the UConn Co-Op, put it, "A bookstore brings cultural life to a city."
Culture has commercial value. Not long ago, Northland Investment Corp., which owns the Hartford 21 apartment tower and is the city's biggest private property owner, asked Roxanne Coady of RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison to consider opening a store downtown.
Coady said she was glad for the invitation, but didn't bite. RJ Julia, one of the state's best known independent bookstores, barely gets by as it is. "Most years, it loses money," she said. "Some years, it breaks even."
In Hartford, the forces working against bookstores, and downtown retail in general, are well documented. The city lacks sufficient round-the-clock, seven-day foot traffic to support a rich retail fauna, largely because too few people live in the central city (which Northland has worked hard to change).
"There's nothing gravitational about our downtown," said Bill McBride, 63, who remembers a different Hartford, one where he could find a variety of bookstores after stepping off the Silver Lane bus from Manchester, where he grew up.
Even in more populated and affluent towns and cities, keeping a bookstore afloat, especially an independent store, is a struggle, given price competition from national chains, which benefit from economies of scale, and the Internet, which offers the broadest selection. These days chains are in trouble, too: The Borders Group tried to sell itself last year, and its stock is in danger of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.
"The first bullet was the chains. The second bullet was Amazon. The third bullet was the decline in reading," Coady said of independent bookstores. "How many bullets can bookstores take?"
The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores nationwide, has about 1,600 members representing 1,900 store locations, down more than 60 percent from the early 1990s, when it had about 4,300 members with 4,700 stores. Urban bookstores commonly bear the additional burden of steeper rents than their suburban competitors.
"It's not unlike the story all over America," said Steve Fischer, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, based in Arlington, Mass. "A lot of downtowns haven't — in some instances, for the past 10, 15 years — been able to support a general-interest bookstore."
Huntington's, Hartford's most celebrated bookstore, with a lineage dating from 1835 (the year of Twain's birth), closed in 1993, citing competition from chain stores and too little foot traffic downtown. Other booksellers have come and gone since, including Encore Books at CityPlace II.
Attracting a general-interest bookstore to Hartford is not unthinkable, Coady said. But it would require a major investment and probably a store that is equal parts cultural center and book retailer, "something like the 92nd Street Y with a bookstore," she said, referring to the 133-year-old New York City lecture hall, performance space and community organization. And it would need to draw customers from the suburbs. "It would have to be a lot of things to a lot of people," she said.
The Jumping Frog, named after Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," has long been more than a bookstore. Even in its heyday, the McBrides sold historical "ephemera," as they call it. But the books were the main thing, the artifacts a sideline. Now it's the other way around.
Still, the McBrides believe in general bookstores for the experience they offer. So they keep a small, eccentric, minimally sorted selection of books for sale, enabling others, Bill McBride said, to have "the fun of encountering the previously unencountered, there on the shelf."
Distributor of Avant-Garde Films Threatened With Eviction
For nearly 50 years, the Film-Makers’ Cooperative has been one of the main guardians of American experimental cinema, championing the works of directors like Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren.
But a real estate dispute has imperiled the future of the financially troubled organization. Last month the Film-Makers’ Cooperative received an eviction notice that would force it out of its office and archive in a building in TriBeCa, space that is controlled by the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, another bulwark of the city’s avant-garde artistic establishment.
P.S. 1, which is based in Long Island City, Queens, and sponsors exhibitions and provides artists with studio space, intends to give up the 8,200 square feet on the 13th floor at 108 Leonard Street and turn it over to Alanna Heiss, who founded P.S. 1 in 1971 and until her departure at the end of last year was its executive director. Ms. Heiss, in turn, wants to use the location as a base for her latest project, an Internet radio station called Art International Radio.
“All we want is a corner,” said Jonas Mekas, the director and poet who is one of the patriarchs of American avant-garde cinema. “We can’t understand why they are giving her so much space for a project that is just being formed and has not proved itself of any service to the arts community, and at the same time throwing out the only organization that independent filmmakers have to distribute their work.”
Founded in 1962 by a group of experimental filmmakers that included Mr. Mekas, the Film-Makers’ Cooperative now holds a collection of about 5,000 titles made by some 900 artists. Most of the work is by Americans, but the archive also includes some hard-to-find foreign works from periods as early as 1920s Dada and German experimentalism. Directors of noncommercial experimental films typically deposit copies of their work with the cooperative, which then rents them to museums, universities, libraries and galleries in the United States and abroad.
The organization also repairs and restores films made in formats ranging from eight millimeter to video, and in some cases has the only known copy of a work.
“We are a totally artist-owned and artist-run nonprofit institution,” said M. M. Serra, the movie group’s executive director. “Our mission is to keep the filmmakers’ work visible.”
Several significant cultural institutions have written letters supporting the cooperative, arguing that the cost of such a move would be financially onerous to a nonprofit entity with a small budget and could also endanger films in the collection. The New York Public Library, the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Fine Arts Library at Harvard are among those who have issued statements of support.
“The co-op set the model for artists’ control over distribution of their own films, and continues to mean a tremendous amount to people working completely outside the commercial system,” said P. Adams Sitney, author of “Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943-2000” (Oxford University Press) and a professor of visual arts at Princeton. “They need space for all those films, especially in this difficult economic environment. This couldn’t be happening at a worse time.”
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Ms. Heiss was reluctant to discuss the dispute, though she said she was “cautiously optimistic” that an agreement could be reached. “Some very productive discussion” would start on Tuesday evening, she said.
But Ms. Heiss also seemed unwilling to accept an arrangement that would allow the film cooperative to remain where it is. She said the Internet radio station had “enormously big plans” with “new productions planned right away” and needed the space “so we can have people producing works of poetry, music and theater” for broadcast on its newly revamped Web site (artonair.org).
“I have enormous respect for the co-op, and we hope we can work together in the future,” she added. “When it moves, it should move very carefully.”
For many years the film cooperative operated out of an office on Lexington Avenue at 31st Street, which it had to leave in 2000 because of redevelopment. It then moved to the TriBeCa site, known as the Clocktower Building, as part of an arrangement brokered by the Museum of Modern Art, which is affiliated with P.S. 1.
The cooperative occupies about 900 square feet, paying a rent of about $1 per square foot, considerably below market rates. But it does not have a formal sublease, only a month-to-month arrangement. Members of the cooperative said that they had requested a sublease.
“As Art Radio is a spinoff of P.S. 1 and MoMA, they are trying to sever the relationship they had with the Clocktower space,” Ms. Heiss said. “It’s not romantic or exciting, and it’s not just my decision. The eviction by P.S. 1 is not intended to be anything other than procedural.”
Kim Mitchell, a spokeswoman for MoMA, said on Tuesday, “P.S. 1 is sympathetic to the needs of cultural organizations such as Art Radio and the Film Co-op, and is confident that the two organizations will come to an amicable resolution.”
The city, which owns the property, has thus far declined to intervene in the dispute, on the grounds that there has been no violation of the lease.
“We have asked Art Radio to work with Film-Makers’ Cooperative to come to a resolution on the space,” said Kate D. Levin, the commissioner of cultural affairs.
La Dolce Video
IN 1987, when a broad-shouldered Korean immigrant named Yongman Kim opened a movie rental store on St. Marks Place in the East Village, he began with 8,000 films, from the odd to the adored.
Mr. Kim originally started renting films from the corner of his dry-cleaning business on Avenue A. But the St. Marks store, which would eventually occupy an entire scruffy building in the middle of the block, quickly became a local institution.
The eccentric selections intimidated some patrons. But many others, enthralled, frequently used the word “adventurous” to describe their forays through the shelves.
It was an adventure that extended to the assembly of the collection. Over the years, Mr. Kim, now in his late 40s, built a staff that traveled the world scouring for additional titles — the only way to find obscure films in the pre-Internet age. By 2008, the collection had swelled to 55,000 eclectic works, many impossible to find anywhere else.
Then the world changed.
The Internet had spawned Netflix, the elimination of late fees and no-effort rentals. The Internet also distracted consumers, stealing hours they might once have spent reveling in movies. In other words, the Internet was a force more powerful than the “Blood Sword of the 99th Virgin,” one of the more esoteric works in the Kim’s Video collection.
At the store’s peak in the 1990s, more than 200,000 people were listed in Kim’s database, but by the end of last year, only about 1,500 of them were considered active members. Though customers still harbored an obsessive affinity for Kim’s cult collection, along with its cantankerous employees and underground spirit, for too many of them, that affection had faded into a fond memory.
“Kim’s was the cutting-edge; that was always the business concept,” Mr. Kim said the other day in one of a series of conversations about the fate of his video collection. “But ironically, I didn’t prepare.”
Last September, in a move that swept through the Internet at viral speed, he issued a public challenge. In a notice pasted on a wall inside the front door, he wrote, “We hope to find a sponsor who can make this collection available to those who have loved Kim’s over the past two decades.” He promised to donate all the films without charge to anyone who would meet three conditions: Keep the collection intact, continue to update it and make it accessible to Kim’s members and others.
Offers poured in. Every one failed on one count or another. Every offer, that is, except one.
The ‘Alderman to Nothing’
The month that Mr. Kim posted his notice, a 42-year-old Italian graphic designer named Franca Pauli found herself intrigued by an article in La Repubblica, one of Italy’s national newspapers.
According to the report, an ancient town in western Sicily called Salemi had initiated an unusual renewal project. Founded around the fourth century B.C., the town achieved brief renown as the site where Giuseppe Garibaldi first planted the country’s tricolored flag in 1860 during his quest for a unified Italy.
But Salemi’s moment of glory lasted only a day before the place slipped into oblivion. A devastating earthquake in 1968 proved the final blow, and for decades, the historic center sat abandoned, the town largely forgotten.
Now, an ambitious effort was under way to reverse the damage.
The town had invited prominent artists and intellectuals to assume control of the government. An art critic and onetime anarchist named Vittorio Sgarbi was elected mayor. A prince was put in charge of town planning, and a performance artist was officially declared alderman to nothing. The provocative Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani, whose ad campaigns for Benetton included a series on AIDS patients and inmates on death row, was named alderman of creativity.
Ms. Pauli had worked with Mr. Toscani years earlier. Now, as president of a small arts foundation called Clio, an organization devoted, as she put it, to promoting “culture as an everyday thing, something you consume every day,” she was fascinated by this effort to give artists political power.
Two months later, on Nov. 23, she and her husband, Dario Colombo, a photographer and a partner in the foundation, packed up their four children and traveled to Salemi from their home near Venice for a quick, investigatory vacation.
Their first afternoon, they drove up a steep spiraling road, parked their car and trudged up slender, twisting stone streets built for feet and donkey-drawn carts. The surrounding buildings, a blend of Greek, Roman, Norman and Arabic architecture spanning centuries, were stunning, although a closer look revealed cracks in the pale yellow stone.
In a cafe near a piazza, a chatty bartender informed Ms. Pauli that she had picked a fortunate time to visit: Mayor Sgarbi’s renewal program, Progetto Terremoto — Project Earthquake — was beginning that very day. Just then, a voice from a loudspeaker summoned visitors and residents to the castle for the opening ceremony.
Ms. Pauli streamed with the crowd to hear officials call for ideas to enhance Salemi’s artistic and cultural stature. Already, the town was offering to sell houses in the historic center for a single euro in exchange for commitments to restore the buildings within two years. And after a dizzying three days of questions, conversations and exchanged business cards, Ms. Pauli returned home determined to suggest a project of her own.
A Dream Born Near Venice
Within days of her return, an itinerant graduate sociology student named Glen Hyman arrived in Italy. One of the items on his schedule was dinner with Ms. Pauli, whom he had met through mutual friends.
Mr. Hyman, 31, had taught bread-making in China, sailing in Sweden and English in French villages. A doctoral student in Paris who lived largely on friends’ couches, he was also a fan of Kim’s Video, which he had first encountered some years earlier through a friend at New York University’s film school.
“It was like film heaven, in a way,” Mr. Hyman said recently by phone from Brazil, where he was doing field work. “You couldn’t make it up.”
When he learned of Mr. Kim’s plan to close the store and offer up the collection, Mr. Hyman quickly shared the news with his N.Y.U. friend, now a filmmaker.
Mr. Hyman was stunned by his friend’s reaction, which ricocheted between anger (“Kim’s should have done more delivering and stopped with the late fees!”) and self-blame (“I killed Kim’s — I signed up for Netflix”).
Mr. Hyman, too, was saddened. But he filed the story away as another sad, curious loss not uncommon in a city like New York.
“I was trying to imagine who on earth would have space enough to take the thing,” he said. “I thought it was a rather beautiful gesture to give this collection away, benevolent and philanthropic. But at the same time, I didn’t give much thought to it.”
That evening in late November, over a dinner of stew, homemade bread and fresh polenta, Ms. Pauli shared the story of Salemi with her young visitor, and he in turn talked about what was happening at Kim’s. As he described the video store’s collection and Mr. Kim’s offer, Ms. Pauli listened in amazement.
“My first thought was like, ‘Wow, I might propose that to Salemi,’ ” Ms. Pauli said. “But really, it was almost like a joke. I really didn’t expect this to come true.”
Nevertheless, unable to shake the idea, she e-mailed Mr. Kim, eager to gauge whether he would even consider an offer from Italy.
He would, he told her, but only if the offer were serious. She started making phone calls.
“It was almost like falling in love with this thing, and I was trying not to,” Ms. Pauli said. “You’re thinking, ‘I’m sure someone from New York will take the collection,’ so I was trying to be really cautious. But I also thought, maybe this community that’s coming about in Salemi could be the right place after all to understand this, this amazing collection.”
A Never-Ending Festival
As details about the possible arrangement leaked out, some Kim’s customers took the news as a second, more serious blow. Some of them even confronted Mr. Kim in the store and by phone, challenging him to find a way to keep the movies in the community, or at least on the continent.
And he says he tried.
“Until the last minute,” Mr. Kim said, “I was still waiting for some decent offer. It was very disappointing.”
According to his account, 30 proposals were submitted from throughout the metropolitan region, but for one reason or another, all fell short. And slowly he was won over by the enthusiasm of Ms. Pauli and the new team in charge in Salemi.
“When I saw that we could have this collection,” said Mr. Toscani, director of the town’s Department of Creativity, “I thought it would be a great adventure, a great project.” New Yorkers, he added, “shouldn’t be upset because the movies are going to be in an incredible place; and on top of seeing Kim’s movies, they can see the landscape around Salemi that is something very special, much better than New York.”
“Salemi is the future,” Mr. Toscani concluded. “New York is the past. That’s why Kim’s is coming here.”
Plans under way include what is described as a Never-ending Festival — a 24-hour projection of up to 10 films at once for the foreseeable future. The town also plans a relationship with the Venice Biennale, a collaboration with the University of Palermo and a professional translation company to subtitle the films, a Web site with a searchable database and, eventually, the conversion of all Kim’s VHS films to DVDs to ensure their preservation.
Projection spaces and lodging for visitors will be created within a restored 17th-century Jesuit college, which will house the collection. The building, which now serves as the town’s municipal museum, has a large inner courtyard perfect for public projections.
Still to be worked out is how much all this will cost — the unofficial figure for what has happened so far is 80,000 euros, the equivalent of upward of $100,000, though donated services may have made the actual cost much less — and where the money will come from. Because everything happened so fast — within two months — only now are budgets being prepared and sponsorships sought.
“We all generally start projects from an idea, but then we have to calculate a budget and planning and timing and meetings,” Ms. Pauli said, laughing. “This was the opposite. It was all friends and phone calls and meeting people in a bar.”
The team is working on special provisions for Kim’s members who venture to Salemi, including free access to films and discounted places to stay. The team is also exploring the possibility of letting Kim’s members continue to “rent” films, either through mail order or, yes, Internet streaming.
‘The End of an Era’
On Jan. 17, Kim’s was packed with customers picking through the final sales of records and VHS tapes, CDs and obscure DVDs.
The aisles were packed with young film students and aging hipsters, pale men clad in black and trendy women wearing stylish caps. Price tags were stuck on every item, even down to the electronic security gate at the entrance.
Eric Hopper, a 38-year-old teacher and filmmaker at the New School who lives near Union Square, surveyed the scene sadly.
“I was really surprised in a city like this that no one found the room,” said Mr. Hopper, who grew up in the Midwest reading about films he could never find.
He first encountered the store in the mid-1990s, while passing through the city as a musician on tour. When he settled in New York in 2005, visiting Kim’s was one of the first things he did.
“I don’t even know where I’m going to rent stuff now,” he said. “It’s the end of an era.”
Today, Mr. Kim’s entire collection is in containers and on its way to Italy, carefully packed to preserve his unique filing system, and scheduled to arrive in Palermo by Feb. 26. When the collection reaches Salemi a few days later, what Ms. Pauli described as a “human chain” of people will unload the cardboard boxes, carry them through the town’s narrow streets and deposit the videos in their new home.
Everyone involved realizes that duplicating in the Old World what existed in the New will be impossible.
“It’s not the East Village,” Ms. Pauli said. “We can’t try to make a replica of that. But it’s a new door we can open. And we would like to involve Kim’s Video members and all the community of film lovers in New York, and in America, and anywhere.”
Mr. Kim, for his part, still gets daily calls from irate customers.
“I was very shocked,” he said last week, sitting in a bar near his new retail store on lower First Avenue. “If this number of people went to Kim’s Video, we would have stayed for a while. And we would be a very healthy operation. But once we’re down, now I’m getting a lot of support. It’s very ironic to me.”
He lamented the end of the business that he loved, a business that once allowed him to carve out his own contribution in America. And he mourns more than the loss of his movies.
“My passion was the introduction to my new community in U.S. of my film love,” he said. “This kind of passion is no longer welcome, due to the new technology of the Internet.”
He looked off into the distance. “The future of the video rental business is really dying and declining so fast, so fast,” he added. “I realized this thing so late.”
But he also knows that for his collection, bright days may lie ahead 3,000 miles away.
Of the group from Salemi, which he described as “very serious and sincere,” he said, “I don’t have any doubt that they will have a great program with my collection.”
And as for his former customers in the East Village, he added, “One day, I hope they understand.”
DreamWorks Aims to Charm Reluctant Investors
JEFFREY KATZENBERG was sitting under an olive tree in DreamWorks Animation’s outdoor cafeteria here last month, eating a taco and making the case that his company has never been stronger. In fact, he argued, things are so good that few other entertainment companies can even compare. So why weren’t investors swarming?
“Our stock is woefully underpriced,” he said. “This company is a flower that is just beginning to blossom.”
Cut to Hollywood rolling its eyes. Mr. Katzenberg, who was a co-founder of this 12-year-old animation studio and is its chief executive, is famous for hyperbole. Wall Street took him to task in 2005, saying he overhyped “Madagascar.” More recently, he has heralded new 3-D effects used in his movies as a transformative moment for cinema, akin to the introduction of sound.
This time, however, he might have a point.
With its two movies for 2008, “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” DreamWorks had two of the 10 best-selling movies of the year, generating $1.2 billion in global ticket sales — an 11 percent increase from the two-film slate it released in 2007. The well-reviewed “Kung Fu Panda” was crucial, becoming a third franchise for the company, along with “Shrek” and “Madagascar,” and indicating that Mr. Katzenberg’s new quality-control measures were working. And hopes are high for “Monsters vs. Aliens,” a 3-D film that will open next month.
Moreover, DreamWorks Animation has begun the biggest expansion in its history. A television arm sprouted in recent months, with series built around “Madagascar” and “Kung Fu Panda” coming to Nickelodeon. “Shrek the Musical” opened on Broadway late last year. Theme parks are moving forward in Dubai and Singapore. And the company is making an all-or-nothing charge into 3-D movies, which could add $80 million in profit to a “Shrek”-size hit because of premium ticket prices. Every DreamWorks film from now on will be in 3-D.
Still, all of this growth is coming at a time when bigger is not viewed as better among media investors, creating a tough balancing act for Mr. Katzenberg. Indeed, the company, long marginalized as a minor-league player, has started to grab attention on Wall Street for the same reason it was long neglected: its relatively tiny size.
AT a time of economic upheaval, DreamWorks Animation, with its output of only two “event” movies a year, is not burdened with the same problems as its deep-pocketed, highly diversified media rivals. (In 2004, DreamWorks Animation split from what the industry often calls “Big DreamWorks,” the live action studio more officially called DreamWorks SKG, which is home to Steven Spielberg. DreamWorks Animation later went public.)
The Walt Disney Company, for instance, is weighed down by ABC and its theme parks. Others, like Time Warner and the News Corporation, have atrophying publishing units. Viacom relies on crumbling cable television advertising sales. Even Big DreamWorks is struggling, with Mr. Spielberg pursuing a distribution deal with Disney and making a personal loan to cover costs while he seeks more outside investors.
Indeed, shares of DreamWorks Animation have held up relatively well over the last year, down just 8 percent, largely because of its niche focus. At the same time, News Corporation stock has lost 65 percent of its value and the overall market has fallen 35 percent.
But Mr. Katzenberg isn’t satisfied, and he sees growth — done in a very specific way — as the antidote. Executing growth while not alienating the smaller-is-better crowd will be difficult, in large part because investors no longer care much about long-term strategy. Many hesitate to make big bets on any company, given the depressed economy, and entertainment companies in particular have been rocked by shifts in technology and consumer preferences.
“In this market, all investors care about is what’s happening right this minute,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities.
Mr. Katzenberg sees his solid position at a time of huge upheaval as an opportunity to strike, to grow while his rivals are shrinking. “I see almost no risk to anything we are doing,” he said.
The theme parks are essentially large licensing deals, he said, so the company doesn’t have to put in any money or operate the parks. The television production unit can generate DVD sales and help keep DreamWorks Animation characters in front of consumers between movies. (Nickelodeon will also put a big consumer products push behind “The Penguins of Madagascar,” a spin-off of the penguin characters from the movie, splitting revenue 50-50 with the studio.) The additional cost for making a film in 3-D is only about $15 million, he said.
DreamWorks puts the cost of “Shrek the Musical” at about $25 million — a budgetary speck compared with the $160 million movies it makes, although marketing and weekly production costs are adding up quickly and ticket sales have slipped. “Broadway is the most risky but it could return the most,” he said.
One reason Mr. Katzenberg is consumed with raising his share price, friends and colleagues say, is that his archrival, Pixar Animation Studios, sold for $8 billion to Disney two years ago. Discounting the premium Disney paid, that’s about three times the value of his company in the marketplace, even though Pixar in the past delivered only one movie a year.
Mr. Katzenberg declined to comment on Pixar’s valuation. But he did say that, in a head-to-head comparison over the last four years, DreamWorks Animation movies outperformed Pixar-Disney releases by more than $1.6 billion at the global box office, according to statistics compiled by his investor relations department. (Other studios say it is more like $1.4 billion.)
While pleased that Mr. Katzenberg is so devoted, some investors and analysts worry that he is pursuing new businesses because he is more of a bigwig than perhaps DreamWorks needs. With such an intense focus on his work — it’s not unusual for him to book three business breakfasts back to back — shouldn’t this guy be running a Microsoft or a Wal-Mart?
He certainly appears to have more time to devote to small matters than do other industry titans, parsing the most minor details for each film. For instance, at a weekly two-hour marketing meeting at Paramount Pictures, which distributes the company’s films, he routinely frets over matters like catering on press junkets and plane schedules for actors, according to Paramount employees who have attended the meeting. (The irony of this attention to detail is lost on few in Hollywood, where Mr. Katzenberg’s brawls with his micromanaging former boss, Michael D. Eisner, were legend.)
Others worry that the company lacks executives with enough heft to step in should Mr. Katzenberg become sidelined, a worry that grew more pronounced when David Geffen announced his retirement from the movie business last December, stepping down from the DreamWorks Animation board. (Mr. Katzenberg told analysts in a conference call at the time that Mr. Geffen, who retains stock giving him voting power of 22.2 percent, remained the company’s “guardian angel.”)
Mr. Katzenberg’s contract — under which he notably is paid $1 a year at his own insistence — expires on Oct. 27. He said he planned to stay put. “I can focus on the small things because I’m not juggling 500 plates,” he said, adding, “There has never been a day over the last 12 years when I thought, ‘What else could I be doing?’ ”
Bill Damaschke, the company’s co-president for production, allows that his boss is “a force,” but said the outside perception that Mr. Katzenberg is DreamWorks Animation’s sole creative star — as contrasted with Pixar’s stable of prominent directors — is grossly unfair.
“The way this studio nurtures talent is one of the things I am most proud about,” Mr. Damaschke said, adding that DreamWorks tends to promote the celebrities who lend their voices to its movies — Cameron Diaz, Jack Black — while Pixar spends more time promoting its directors.
Mr. Damaschke has recently taken on a higher profile, leading the Broadway effort. Additional evidence of the company’s bench of talent, a studio spokesman said, came at the International Animated Film Society Awards in late January. DreamWorks took home 15 “Annies,” including best picture for “Kung Fu Panda.” Disney-Pixar won one Annie Award.
Exhibit A of Mr. Katzenberg’s newfound corporate footing was a recent investor conference in Manhattan. It was the company’s first such analyst day, though not its first attempt at staging one.
In 2006, the company badly botched a similar event when it invited, and then uninvited, analysts to an investor meeting and tour of its Glendale facility. DreamWorks Animation lawyers had suddenly realized that the company should have been in a quiet period because it was planning a secondary stock offering.
This time, investors were impressed, particularly when it came to “Monsters vs. Aliens,” the first of Mr. Katzenberg’s new 3-D behemoths. After viewing clips of it, UBS raised its worldwide box office estimate 10 percent, to $450 million, which would make it the best-ever release in March that was not a sequel.
But to Mr. Katzenberg’s frustration, the company’s stock saw no lasting bump. In fact, UBS subsequently downgraded the company, citing softness in the broader DVD market. “It makes it very hard to recommend the stock when questions of consistency still linger,” said Doug Creutz, an analyst at Cowen & Company.
INVESTORS have reason to be cautious about the TV and Broadway plans in particular.
DreamWorks Animation’s last attempt at a TV series, “Father of the Pride,” was a disaster. This half-hour animated show, based on Siegfried & Roy — Mr. Katzenberg came up with the idea after seeing the Las Vegas act a dozen times over the years — cost about $2.5 million an episode to produce, at that point one of the most expensive TV comedies in history. But ratings nose-dived and NBC quickly yanked the show from its schedule.
This time, Mr. Katzenberg points out that the company is building its television efforts around established franchises and teaming with a distributor, Nickelodeon, that knows its way around animated series. Production is also under way on a flotilla of low-risk television specials. (Think “Madagascar Santa.”)
“Shrek the Musical,” meanwhile, ran directly into the buzz saw of the economic downturn, with a dozen Broadway shows closing in the weeks after it opened. Ticket sales for “Shrek” have been weak: for the week ending Jan. 25, “Shrek” ranked 10th out of 22 Broadway productions in terms of box office, a poor showing for such an expensive production. Mr. Katzenberg says the company is in it for the long haul and is hopeful that a flurry of coming television promotions and the release of the cast album will improve sales. “I’m optimistic that it will still work,” he said.
The DVD market is a big worry, particularly because the company’s profits are so tied to the business. After years of blockbuster growth, DVD sales slumped badly in the fourth quarter because of the downturn and increasing home entertainment options, with some new releases falling 20 percent below expectations and sales over all down about 9 percent compared with the year earlier, according to Adams Media Research.
The good news for DreamWorks is that family movies are holding up better than other categories — “Shrek” is still an awfully tempting baby sitter — and the company’s push into 3-D should help control piracy of its titles. (Most pirated DVDs are created by people sitting in the back of theaters with camcorders that won’t work with 3-D.)
The company is also focusing more intently on creating premium DVD packages. For instance, DreamWorks released a “Kung Fu Panda” DVD set that retailed for $21, versus $16 for the movie DVD alone, because it included a second short film, “Secrets of the Furious Five,” that explained more of the back story. Mr. Katzenberg said 30 percent of “Kung Fu Panda” DVDs sold in the premium-priced sets.
Investors, meanwhile, are still chewing over the company’s past difficulties with quality. Mr. Katzenberg has openly conceded that certain films — “Shark Tale” in 2004, for instance — were rushed to market, and it showed.
But the company says those days are behind it. Animators spent four and a half years working on “Kung Fu Panda,” which won critical raves, versus three years for “Shark Tale.” The “Madagascar” sequel also had better reviews than the original.
“Simply being a computer-animated movie is not enough anymore; it’s not special in and of itself,” Mr. Damaschke said, referring to the growing number of computer-generated releases. “We know our movies have to be the coolest movies out there to be successful.”
IN the near term, attention will focus on “Monsters vs. Aliens,” the story of a top-secret squad of monsters unleashed by the United States government to halt an alien invasion. The monsters are playfully based on cheesy old horror movies.
As usual, DreamWorks is spending lavishly on marketing. During the Super Bowl alone, the company spent an estimated $5 million to stage a flashy 3-D commercial. The stunt may have succeeded in putting “Monsters vs. Aliens” in front of 95 million people, but it didn’t ignite much immediate buzz. Afterward, the talk was about ads for Doritos and CareerBuilder, and an informal MovieTickets.com poll showed that more people had remembered ads for “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (83 percent of viewers polled) and “Star Trek” (79 percent). About 78 percent remembered seeing the “Monsters vs. Aliens” trailer.
On the other hand, only 48 percent of those polled remembered the Super Bowl spot for “Up,” the next film from Pixar.
Mr. Katzenberg, digging into a second taco, predicted before the Super Bowl that the response to his commercial would be mixed, given the technological inadequacies of television. But he was certain that audiences would respond positively to the film. “Comparing the 3-D of the past to this,” he said, “is like comparing a Razor scooter to a Ferrari.”
Why Television Still Shines in a World of Screens
SUBSCRIBERS to print newspapers have gone missing, as everyone knows. Book publishers are also wondering where readers have disappeared to.
And yet television stands out as the one old-media business with surprising resilience. Though we are spending a record amount of time online, including a record amount of time watching video, we are also watching record amounts of very old-fashioned television, according to Nielsen Media Research. Our attachment to the medium, of course, is obscured by the splintering of our attention across so many cable offerings, in addition to the major networks.
Why is the newspaper business losing readers at an accelerated rate while television viewership is stronger than ever? Here’s a speculative idea: A tipping point has been passed in the competition between print and screen that has been under way since the beginnings of broadcast TV and now continues with video and other media.
Consumers are increasingly avoiding newspapers — and books, too — because the text mode is now used so infrequently that it can feel like a burden. People are showing a clear preference for a fully formed video experience that comes ready to play on a screen, requiring nothing but our passive attention.
The video mode has been reinforced by the rise of YouTube. In December, almost 100 million viewers in the United States watched 5.9 billion YouTube videos, according to comScore. Tellingly, YouTube has not cannibalized TV viewership — it has instead carved out another chunk of our leisure time for video on a screen.
As enamored as advertisers are with the interactive potential of digital advertising, they know that online is a complement to offline, not its replacement. “With television, it’s easier to get a large audience in one fell swoop,” said Shane Ankeney, an executive with the advertising agency TBWA/Chiat/Day.
Consider that the average American household consists of 2.7 persons and contains 2.9 television sets, in front of which we sit for record-setting spells, according to Nielsen figures. In the quarter ended Sept. 30, the typical American watched 142 hours of television monthly, up about five hours from the same quarter the previous year. Internet use averaged more than 27 hours monthly, an increase of an hour and a half, according to Nielsen.
We are so smitten with screens that we often can’t bear to choose one over another: 31 percent of Internet use occurs while we’re in front of a TV set. We are also taking an interest in watching video on our phones: 100 million handsets are video-capable.
You now hear talk in the advertising trade of our “three screens”: television, the Internet and mobile devices. When I asked representatives of major ad agencies about how they chose the optimal mix of media for clients, I was led back, again and again, to television. That’s not just because it remains the one place where an advertiser can gather a truly mass audience for a single commercial message, but also because it provides what advertisers call an “immersive experience.”
We used to speak of reading a book as an immersive experience, too, but “immersive” now seems shorthand for “video on a screen.”
We can also see how the expansion of screen culture entails more than just moving text from a printed page to a screen. It also means less text, more video, less reading and more watching, online or offline.
Television is not wholly recession-proof. As results for the fourth quarter come in, we’ll see ugly numbers. The Walt Disney Company reported its earnings last week, and the news was nothing but bad for ABC, whose operating income dropped significantly because of lower ad revenue. But this seems to be more a result of the disappearance of car dealership advertising in local TV markets than permanent abandonment of the medium by national brand advertisers. .
Advertisers follow viewers wherever they happen to be. Online, of course, the healthiest category of advertising is search-related. Google’s revenue, most of which comes from search, was $21.8 billion in 2008, up 31 percent from 2007.
But once that special case is put aside, online advertisers have a stark choice: The first option is placing display ads at very inexpensive rates, thanks to an overabundance of supply, but these disappear in the vast ocean of the Web: some 4.5 trillion display ads were shown to United States Internet users in 2008, according to comScore.
Or advertisers can use ads that resemble television commercials and match those to the online content that most resembles television — because it actually is television programming. Hulu, which was created by NBC and Fox, offers many TV shows online and had a 57 percent increase in viewership in the last six months of 2008.
Greg Kahn, a senior vice president for the advertising agency Optimedia International, said news Web sites must sell their advertising space at low rates because “you can get news anytime, anywhere.” Hulu, on the other hand, commands rates that are higher per thousand viewers than those paid for the same programming offline, he said.
“Online, the amount of professionally produced video is limited,” Mr. Kahn said.
MARKETERS often cite a quote generally attributed to John Wanamaker, the pioneer department store merchant: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” In the absence of hard data on how many people actually saw an ad in predigital times, advertisers were willing to give print media the benefit of the doubt. That’s no longer the case.
Even if print media could give advertisers all the metrics they desired, they would still struggle to hold on to readers who are required to, well, read. Or perhaps that requirement can be eased. Last week, HarperCollins released its first “video book,” a presentation by the author Jeff Jarvis about his just-published book, “What Would Google Do?” The downloadable, unabridged audio version of the book runs nine hours and costs $27.99, a bargain compared with the video, which is only 23 minutes and costs $9.99.
An audible book, however, requires the listener to mentally visualize the narrative. A video, even if no more visual than an author facing the camera, offers the appealing prospect of relief from such heavy lifting.
In screen culture, video rules.
Auto-Tune: Why Pop Music Sounds Perfect
If you haven't been listening to pop radio in the past few months, you've missed the rise of two seemingly opposing trends. In a medium in which mediocre singing has never been a bar to entry, a lot of pop vocals suddenly sound great. Better than great: note- and pitch-perfect, as if there's been an unspoken tightening of standards at record labels or an evolutionary leap in the development of vocal cords. At the other extreme are a few hip-hop singers who also hit their notes but with a precision so exaggerated that on first listen, their songs sound comically artificial, like a chorus of '50s robots singing Motown.
The force behind both trends is an ingenious plug-in called Auto-Tune, a downloadable studio trick that can take a vocal and instantly nudge it onto the proper note or move it to the correct pitch. It's like Photoshop for the human voice. Auto-Tune doesn't make it possible for just anyone to sing like a pro, but used as its creator intended, it can transform a wavering performance into something technically flawless. "Right now, if you listen to pop, everything is in perfect pitch, perfect time and perfect tune," says producer Rick Rubin. "That's how ubiquitous Auto-Tune is." (Download TIME's Auto-Tune Podcast from iTunes)
Auto-Tune's inventor is a man named Andy Hildebrand, who worked for years interpreting seismic data for the oil industry. Using a mathematical formula called autocorrelation, Hildebrand would send sound waves into the ground and record their reflections, providing an accurate map of potential drill sites. It's a technique that saves oil companies lots of money and allowed Hildebrand to retire at 40. He was debating the next chapter of his life at a dinner party when a guest challenged him to invent a box that would allow her to sing in tune. After he tinkered with autocorrelation for a few months, Auto-Tune was born in late 1996.
Almost immediately, studio engineers adopted it as a trade secret to fix flubbed notes, saving them the expense and hassle of having to redo sessions. The first time common ears heard Auto-Tune was on the immensely irritating 1998 Cher hit "Believe." In the first verse, when Cher sings "I can't break through" as though she's standing behind an electric fan, that's Auto-Tune--but it's not the way Hildebrand meant it to be used. The program's retune speed, which adjusts the singer's voice, can be set from zero to 400. "If you set it to 10, that means that the output pitch will get halfway to the target pitch in 10 milliseconds," says Hildebrand. "But if you let that parameter go to zero, it finds the nearest note and changes the output pitch instantaneously"--eliminating the natural transition between notes and making the singer sound jumpy and automated. "I never figured anyone in their right mind would want to do that," he says.
Like other trends spawned by Cher, the creative abuse of Auto-Tune quickly went out of fashion, although it continued to be an indispensable, if inaudible, part of the engineer's toolbox. But in 2003, T-Pain (Faheem Najm), a little-known rapper and singer, accidentally stumbled onto the Cher effect while Auto-Tuning some of his vocals. "It just worked for my voice," says T-Pain in his natural Tallahassee drawl. "And there wasn't anyone else doing it."
Since his 2005 debut album, T-Pain has sent a dozen slightly raunchy, mechanically cheery singles into the Top 10. He contributed to four nominated songs at this year's Grammys on Feb. 8 (see page 51), and his influence is still spreading. When Kanye West was looking for an effect to match some heartbroken lyrics, he flew T-Pain to Hawaii to see how many ways they could tweak Auto-Tune. Diddy gave a percentage of his upcoming album's profits to T-Pain in exchange for some lessons. Even Prince is rumored to be experimenting with Auto-Tune on his new record. "I know [Auto-Tune] better than anyone," says T-Pain. "And even I'm just figuring out all the ways you can use it to change the mood of a record." (See pictures of Diddy.)
Other sonic tricks have had their moment--notably Peter Frampton's "talk- box," a plastic tube that made his guitar sound as if it were talking--but in skilled hands, Auto-Tune is the rare gimmick that can lead to innovation. On T-Pain's latest album, Thr33 Ringz, tracks like "Karaoke" and "Chopped N Skrewed" literally bounce between notes, giving the record a kids-on--Pop Rocks exuberance. Using the same program, West's 808s & Heartbreak is the complete opposite--angsty, slow and brutally introspective. West sings throughout, and while he couldn't have hit most of the notes without Auto-Tune, he also couldn't have sounded as ghostly and cold, and it's that alienated tone that made 808s one of the best albums of last year.
Plenty of critics raved about West's use of Auto-Tune, but T-Pain is often dismissed as a novelty act. (Not that he minds: "I'd rather be known for something than unknown for nothing.") But unlike most singers, he acknowledges the impact Auto-Tune has had on his career. Of the half a dozen engineers and producers interviewed for this story, none could remember a pop recording session in the past few years when Auto-Tune didn't make a cameo--and none could think of a singer who would want that fact known. "There's no shame in fixing a note or two," says Jim Anderson, professor of the Clive Davis department of recorded music at New York University and president of the Audio Engineering Society. "But we've gone far beyond that."
Some Auto-Tuning is almost unavoidable. Most contemporary music is composed on Pro Tools, a program that lets musicians and engineers record into a computer and map out songs on a visual grid. You can cut at one point on the grid and paste at another, just as in word-processing, but making sure the cuts match up requires the even pitch that Auto-Tune provides. "It usually ends up just like plastic surgery," says a Grammy-winning recording engineer. "You haul out Auto-Tune to make one thing better, but then it's very hard to resist the temptation to spruce up the whole vocal, give everything a little nip-tuck." Like plastic surgery, he adds, more people have had it than you think. "Let's just say I've had Auto-Tune save vocals on everything from Britney Spears to Bollywood cast albums. And every singer now presumes that you'll just run their voice through the box."
Rubin, who's produced artists as diverse as the Dixie Chicks and Metallica, worries that the safety net of Auto-Tune is making singers lazy. "Sometimes a singer will do lots of takes when they're recording a song, and you really can hear the emotional difference when someone does a great performance vs. an average one," says Rubin. "If you're pitch-correcting, you might not bother to make the effort. You might just get it done and put it through the machine so it's all in tune." Rubin has taken to having an ethical conversation before each new recording session. "I encourage artists to embrace a natural process," he says. (See pictures of Rick Rubin.)
With the exception of Milli Vanilli's, pop listeners have always been fairly indulgent about performers' ethics. It's hits that matter, and the average person listening to just one pop song on the radio will have a hard time hearing Auto-Tune's impact; it's effectively deceptive. But when track after track has perfect pitch, the songs are harder to differentiate from one another--which explains why pop is in a pretty serious lull at the moment. It also changes the way we hear unaffected voices. "The other day, someone was talking about how Aretha Franklin at the Inauguration was a bit pitchy," says Anderson. "I said, 'Of course! She was singing!' And that was a musician talking. People are getting used to hearing things dead on pitch, and it's changed their expectations."
Despite Randy Jackson's stock American Idol critique--"A little pitchy, dawg"--many beloved songs are actually off-pitch or out of tune. There's Ringo Starr on "With a Little Help from My Friends," of course, and just about every blues song slides into notes as opposed to hitting them dead on. Even Norah Jones, the poster girl of pure vocals, isn't perfect. "There's some wonderful imperfections of pitch on 'Don't Know Why' from Come Away with Me," says Anderson, "and most of the other tunes on the album as well. But I wouldn't want to change a single note."
Let's hope that pop's fetish for uniform perfect pitch will fade, even if the spread of Auto-Tune shows no signs of slowing. A $99 version for home musicians was released in November 2007, and T-Pain and Auto-Tune's parent company are finishing work on an iPhone app. "It's gonna be real cool," says T-Pain. "Basically, you can add Auto-Tune to your voice and send it to your friends and put it on the Web. You'll be able to sound just like me." Asked if that might render him no longer unique, T-Pain laughs: "I'm not too worried. I got lots of tricks you ain't seen yet. It's everybody else that needs to step up their game."
Someone is Leaking Our Torrents - BURN HIM!
The entertainment industry is furious about its treatment at the hands of pirates. Last year, even the creator of iPhone cracking-app Crackulous got pretty annoyed when his work leaked. But it’s not just content creators that get angry at pirates - and this is where it starts to get a little confusing.
The following story revolves around a small private BitTorrent tracker, one that specializes in various sub-genres of urban music. There is no work of mainstream artists at all, so there aren’t really any copyright worries, particularly since many artists and people from labels are active members of the site. The site even has its own album in the making.
The tracker makes its own ’scene’-type releases too, often in advance of true scene groups and often at a better quality. Some members who have these to share choose to put them up as ‘Site-Only’, and issue an order not to leak outside of the tracker. But to the dismay of some members of the site these exclusive releases leak too. Absolutely everything. Damn pirates.
Within minutes of upload, these releases spread to many blog-type sites, in particular Russian ones. Not only was someone inconsiderately leaking an already-leaked release, but they also had the nerve to remove the tracker’s release ‘tags’ from its description, passing the work off as their own. There was a leaker in town - maybe more than one - who knows, but the “Site-Onlys” were tunneling out and the recriminations had begun.
A handful of upset releasers threatened to stop sharing their exclusive stuff, while becoming quite vocal about how much time, effort and in some case money they put into their position. Then, they say - despite all the pleas - people go ahead and leak the releases - and they don’t even pause to say “thanks”. Bastards.
It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine a similar situation in the ‘real Scene’, where angry release groups simultaneously cursed the evil individual who constantly leaked their releases to the tracker. “If only they could find him and ban him,” they would muse, it would cut off the music supply and rid the tracker of most of its releases. One could imagine a similar scene at a recording label as they ponder the route of their latest leak to Internet.
Back at the tracker the community began to panic. They were thinking of all the stuff they were going to miss out on when the releasers kept their candy to themselves. They were absolutely clear, the admin had to do something. One member said:
Someone is leaking our torrents, we lose our exclusives? Find him in the logs! BURN HIM!
An admin on the site involved told TorrentFreak that this happens often. “We could track the leaker but then what, ban him? He’s just sharing it with his own site but they[the site's releasers] want action.”
Lots of ’solutions’ were put forward. One group wanted a ‘private-sharing area’ from where (apparently) nothing could leak, since access to it would be limited and the section would be “invite only”. The whole site is a very limited membership already and is also “invite-only” and thrives on the work of “leakers”. Hmmm, interesting.
Some members puzzled over why people would want to “ruin the site” by leaking stuff outside and derided the Russian sites as pure evil, their uploaders thieves and demanded them traced and kicked from the site.
Others suggested a complicated tiered-membership system as a kind of proving ground for ultimate access to the “Site-Only” material. Others wanted a tracker-wide Russian IP ban, others wanted a paid-subscription area. Some opted that access to the “Site-Only” stuff should be based an algorithm calculated from ratio, forum posts, time on the site and other sundry stats.
Ultimately a handful of releasers wanted a guarantee from the admin that nothing would leak, something impossible to give.
While the very nature of things like BitTorrent means that people have to share files, it is interesting to see how some file-sharers can be as protective of the content they handle, as the people who created it. Their reasons are very different, but with all the talk of anger at leaks, of locking out an entire country’s citizens, proposals of denying access to all but those who could afford it and mounting a worldwide witch-hunt for leakers, there are some intriguing parallels.
“We caught the leaker,” the admin told us. “He’s one of our best releasers…”
Better put the burning on hold.
Torrent Site ‘Franchise’ Eliminated by BREIN
The Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN has managed to take another 19 torrent sites down, all of them operated by the same person. Last December, the 45 year old man behind the so-called torrent site franchise was already forced to close 75 of his other sites.
BREIN is famous for taking small torrent communities offline. However, they tend to ignore some of the largest BitTorrent sites on the Internet, some of which are also hosted in The Netherlands. Their latest victory is a torrent site franchise, as they like to call it, involving 94 small BitTorrent trackers.
Two months ago, 75 sites involved in this franchise were already pulled offline, and this week the remaining 19 followed. All the sites were allegedly operated by the same person, a 45 year old Dutch man. BREIN, who previously said that the man was involved in an organized piracy ring, will report the man to the FIOD-ECD - the Fiscal Investigation Unit of the Dutch Police.
FIOD-ECD is dedicated to chasing down people alleged to be involved in fiscal, financial and economic fraud - usually major criminals or cases where a significant amount of money is involved. It therefore seems unlikely that they will pursue the man, especially since they were unable to find any evidence in previous filesharing case involving ShareConnector.
BREIN’s strength seems to be their ability to exaggerate and spin the truth in order to influence public opinion, which required us to send them an open letter some time ago. In recent years BREIN has succeeded in taking hundreds of torrent sites offline, mostly by making direct contact with the site host, who then feel they must cooperate. Unfortunately for BREIN, most sites simply responded by relocating to another hosting facility.
In 2007, MyBittorrent, SumoTorrent, BTmon.com, BTjunkie.org, SeedPeer, What.cd, Waffles.fm and many other BitTorrent sites were forced to leave Leaseweb thanks to an intervention from BREIN. Today, all these sites are still online though, which proves that BREIN’s actions are far from effective.
Spotify Opens Doors to UK – as Record Industry Slams them Shut
Popular online music service now available to British users, but with thousands fewer tracks
Bobbie Johnson and Charles Arthur
A new online music service that has thrown open its virtual doors with a claim to be "the way we want to consume music in the future", has swiftly fallen foul of the music industry's licensing practices.
Spotify, created by two Swedish entrepreneurs, Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, has already attracted tens of thousands of users who spread private invitations to their friends after hearing about the site through internet chat. This week the company peeled off the "private" label to allow anyone in the UK to sign up.
However, Spotify has been forced to remove thousands of tracks in a row over licensing. This has infuriated users and the software industry, which accused record and film companies of lobbying government instead of adapting to the 21st century.
An internet radio service where users choose tracks, or let the company choose them, Spotify is being tipped as the leader of a new generation of innovative online music programs. Based in London and Stockholm, it opened up its service here after being "bowled over" by the level of interest.
Rather than buying music, users can fill playlists with songs of their choosing or create "collaborative" playlists which have their own web address and so can be passed around and added to by others.
Users can pick from a huge catalogue of songs, listen to them for free over the internet and, like commercial radio, hear a few adverts along the way. The service has deals with top labels around Europe, and claims to be doubling in size every few weeks. Dedicated users can also choose to buy a day's worth of ad-free access for 99p, or become a premium subscriber – where there are no adverts at all – for £10 a month.
But last month the Spotify catalogue shrank overnight by thousands of songs. The site's global community manager, Andres Sehr, wrote a blog post to say this was required by the record labels, which have strict rules about what can be played where.
"These restrictions are a legacy from when most music was sold on tapes and CDs and they have continued over into streaming music," Sehr said, adding, "our hope is that one day restrictions like this will disappear for good."
The cuts brought howls of dismay from users, while yesterday John Lovelock, chief executive of the Federation Against Software Theft and Investors in Software (FAS IiS), said: "Over the past decade the software industry has evolved to become more user-focused and more adaptable to changing market conditions." By contrast, he said, the entertainment industry had been pushing for more restrictions instead of adapting. "The entertainment sector appear to have lobbied the government to consider establishing a 'pirates tax' on all of us, as well as yet another quango to oversee it, meaning more cost and more hassle. It's time these industries came up to speed in the modern market and changed their business models to encourage their customers to use the internet for their purchasing."
Spotify does not yet offer links to let people buy tracks. That could come. For now, the co-founders are putting their own money into the company. "We had the idea in 2002, but realised that the timing might not be right so we waited until 2006," Ek said. "We're adding tens of thousands of users every day now, so it's growing quickly."
The company was founded in 2006 by Ek and Lorentzon, two established internet entrepreneurs who claim to have pumped in more than €8m (£7m) themselves. Despite the rocky economy, it already has more than 60 employees and received a €15m injection from two Scandinavian investment companies last year.
"We're not in it for the money," Ek said. "We do believe there's a very good business opportunity underlying here, but we did this because this is the way we want to consume music in the future."
Digital music is dominated by Apple, which uses its iTunes store as a way to convince people to buy iPods. But streaming services such as Last.fm in London, bought by the American media conglomerate CBS for $280m (£190m) in 2007, are growing in popularity. Last.fm's co-founder, Martin Stiksel, said: "There's definitely not such a consolidation as there was in online video streaming, where YouTube basically blew everyone away. There's still all these different business models out there … the jury's still out on the business of online music that's not connected with hardware."
One of Spotify's appeals is that it makes instantly listening to music easier than downloading it illegally. Online piracy and illegal filesharing has been a thorn in the side of the music business since the original Napster blew the industry apart in 1999. Many in the record industry still believe the majority of music that people acquire online comes via pirate networks.
Other, unlicensed services have generated buzz – but ultimately failed to blossom under intense legal pressure. Muxtape, an online mixtape creator from New York, was an underground hit last year but was forced to close after problems with the record labels it was negotiating with.
Although Spotify users cannot keep the tracks they hear, there are no restrictions on how many times they can listen to one track – meaning those who listen on their computer have less of an incentive to download illegally. In the future, the company hopes to provide a service that works on mobile phones, car stereos and even iPods.
"The ones we want to steal users from are the piracy services, that's our biggest competitor," said Ek. "This idea could be applied to other media as well. Who knows, in the future, Spotify could be something that works for movies, games or a lot of different things."
Comedian George Carlin Wins Posthumous Grammy
Comedian George Carlin won a Grammy Award on Sunday for an album released a month after he died of heart failure last year.
Carlin was honored in the comedy album category for "It's Bad For Ya," a recording of his 14th and final HBO comedy special. It marked his fifth statuette.
The award was accepted by his daughter, Kelly, who said she would take better care of it than her father did of his first statuette. She recalled that "in a chemically induced, altered state," he took it apart and the Recording Academy had to send him a new one.
The counterculture hero, famed for his routines about drugs, dirty words and the demise of humanity, died in a Los Angeles hospital in June, aged 71. His last special aired live in March, and was released on CD in July.
The field also included past winners Lewis Black and New Zealand comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, as well as Kathy Griffin and Harry Shearer.
The 51st annual Grammy Awards, the music industry's top honors, were handed out at the Staples Center.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
The Scene at the Twitter Awards: Chatter
Rick Sanchez of CNN never stood a chance.
As the host of the first-ever Shorty Awards, held Wednesday night to honor the most popular Twitter users in various categories, Mr. Sanchez valiantly attempted to use his commanding CNN news voice to quiet the chattering audience. But the noise level in the lofty Brooklyn art space where the award ceremony was held reached the level of a low roar.
Fueled by vanilla and turquoise martinis (the later named a “fail whale” martini after the turquoise graphic that shows up on Twitter when the site is overloaded), the sneaker-clad crowd kept talking — and sending Twitter messages through their iPhones — as the winners got up to give their 140-character acceptance speeches. Even the hip-hop artist MC Hammer, who arrived to present some awards, couldn’t quiet the crowd down.
But perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that there would be incessant back-and-forth at an event dedicated to Twitter, whose famously verbose users can send out dozens of micro-blog updates about their lives each day. “Twitter is about community,” said Justin Hart, the winner in the politics category. “I didn’t really mind the noise.”
What Mr. Hart had shouted over the din was his micro-acceptance speech. In 140-characters, he managed to get in the name of the client he tweets for, California State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, a plug to the political site he runs, and a shout out to other Republicans.
“One small tweet 4 me. One giant tweet for @chuckdevore and conservatives everywhere. http://chuck76.com #TCOT,” he said, accepting the award.
Other winners made more of an effort to make brevity the true soul of wit. The co-founders of Flashlight Worthy, the winner in the entertainment category, said they were thrilled to win a Twitter award for a site that is all about the old-fashioned medium of print. The company develops book list recommendations with the feedback of Twitter users and earns revenue by directing traffic to Amazon.com.
Eric Mueller, a company co-founder, said it was a “point of pride” that he uses proper English in his Twittering. His speech: “We love that a book recommendation site, a site dedicated to so many words, is recognized for the use of so few. It’s an honor. Thank you.”
The Twitter news event of the night was the release of the identity of @PeggyOlson, a Twitterer who tweets in the voice of a fictional character from the AMC cable show “Mad Men” and has some 11,000 followers. Tthe twittering Peggy Olson turned out to be a bubbly marketing consultant from Portland, Ore., named Carrie Bugbee. She started the character’s Twitter stream, she said in an interview, as a case study, “to see what kind of potential Twitter had to build brand without being obvious.”
In total, some 50,000 votes have been cast since the Shorty Awards were announced in December, said Gregory Gallant, 26, whose start-up company, Sawhorse Media Productions, came up with the event. (Twitter as a company has no affiliation to the awards). Winners were chosen by the number of total votes they got from other users. There were 130 finalists and 10,000 nominees.
For Mr. Gallant, the success of the Shorty Awards was a surprise. The entire idea, he said, started one weekend as he and his two business partners wondered who the really good people were on Twitter.
“We launched in two weekends for $30, and now this,” he said, as the crowd lined up at the door. Some 150 people were admitted; dozens were turned away. “It’s kind of like having a hit TV show,” he said. It comes out of nowhere, and just kind of takes on a life of its own.”
But perhaps the most unique thing about these awards was the meta-commentary that ran on Twitter about it. Before, during and after the awards took place, the people in the room, and people watching at home, sent out a constant stream of Twitter posts saying what they thought about it. They were broadcast on a large screen in front of the room.
As the show ended, the Tweet reviews were instantaneous. The band, which had played loud, New Orleans-inspired jazz, was panned and praised, as was every other possible thing that could be commented upon.
Overall, the reviews that scrolled down the screen seemed mixed.
“Best thing were the McNuggets on sticks,” one tweet said, referring to the satay-like appetizers that had been served.
“Twitter is about community, not individual greatness. The awards were a little weird,” someone named Jamesbedell tweeted.
“Don’t believe the haters,” tweeted Davekerpen, as if in reply. “Shorty awards was def. weird, but it def. ruled.”
The End of Alone
At our desk, on the road, or on a remote beach, the world is a tap away. It's so cool. And yet it's not. What we lose with our constant connectedness.
Don't get me wrong. I love technology. It's magical how it makes the world closer, and more immediate. Take, for instance, the real-time way we learned about the plane that skidded off a Denver runway and burst into flames in December. One of the passengers on Continental Flight 1404 used Twitter to share everything from his initial profanity- and typo-laced reaction to making it out of the fiery jet ("Holy [bleeping bleep] I wasbjust in a plane crash!") to his lament that the airline wasn't providing drinks to the survivors who'd been penned into the airport lounge ("You have your wits scared out of you, drag your butt out of a flaming ball of wreckage and you can't even get a vodka-tonic.")
Technology also makes life infinitely more manageable. It's what allows me to begin writing this essay from a packed coffee shop on a snowy winter afternoon while still being connected with my editors and finish writing it from my kitchen in the middle of the night, when all the interruptions of the day have faded away (unless I want to check Facebook to see how many of my friends are also nuts enough to be staring at a computer screen at 3 a.m.). And technology simply makes things more fun, like the way my wife will hold her iPhone up to a restaurant ceiling speaker and instantly be told that the vaguely familiar tune of funky '70s cheese she hears is "Sky High," by the one-hit-wonder band Jigsaw, rather than letting that little mystery make her cerebrum ache for the rest of the day.
So please don't confuse what I have to say for that tired Luddite screed about how technology is ruining us. It isn't.
Except it just might.
Because of technology, we never have to be alone anymore. And that's the problem.
I'M SITTING IN A PEW near the back of St. Anne's Church in Fall River, a soaring structure of Vermont blue marble that could rival a lesser European cathedral. It was built in the late 1800s, when the southeastern Massachusetts mill city's French Canadian community was big enough to warrant a church able to seat 2,000. On this blustery afternoon, the crowd is more like a tenth of that. The priest is talking, but the lousy PA system makes it hard to hear what he's saying. So I'm doing what I've done before in this situation: trying to keep my young daughters occupied by whispering for them to study their surroundings -- the exquisitely carved red-oak woodwork near the high ceiling, the enormous pipe organ in the rear balcony, the colorful stained-glass windows on every wall. With its combination of architectural grandeur and crumbling-plaster fatigue, the place is like Venice in the unforgiving light of morning, rather than the soft-lit romanticism of night. It's honest and beautiful.
Then I hear an odd chirping. My eyes follow my ears to a pew to my left and behind me, where a guy with slicked black hair and dark glasses is sitting. He's chewing gum and wearing one of those Bluetooth cellphone attachments in his ear.
Hey, man, I'm bored, too. But, c'mon, take that infernal thing out of your ear. Say a prayer. Collect your thoughts. Or just do what my 4-year-old is doing and stare at the ceiling.
Did I mention it was Christmas Day Mass?
Not long ago, I was sitting in the "quiet study" section of my local public library when a middle-aged woman wearing an annoyed expression plopped down in the green upholstered chair next to my table, her teenage daughter in tow. She flipped open her cellphone and dialed her daughter's therapist. After giving the therapist's secretary her full name and slowly spelling her daughter's -- loud enough for every soul in that wing of the library to hear -- she said, "We have an appointment for next week, but I want to know if he has any availability before that. She is really not doing well."
I looked up from my laptop, incredulous that a mother could be so blase about violating her daughter's privacy, not to mention library decorum -- and convinced that the therapist and the daughter must have no time to discuss anything besides mother issues.
Now, I know what you're going to say. There have always been boors blabbing in places where they should be quiet, blithely ignoring the shushes from librarians or the stares from fellow elevator passengers while behaving as though they're the only ones whose problems matter. Bad manners are bad manners, irrespective of technology, right?
Yes, only technology has vastly expanded this bad behavior, eroding much of society's stigma against it, and making it everybody's problem. But here's the real point: It is dulling our very capacity to ever be alone, or alone in our thoughts. The late British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott popularized the phrase "the capacity to be alone" in the 1950s, to describe a pivotal stage of emotional development. Winnicott argued that an adult's capacity to be alone had its roots in his experience as a baby, learning to function independently while still in the presence of his mother. Yet today we're seeing this capacity weakened, whether we're in public places known for contemplation, like churches and libraries, or whether we're just sitting by ourselves at home, losing the fight to resist answering our BlackBerries (just ask our new president) or checking our laptops for Facebook updates.
"We've gone from an American ethic that championed the lone guy on a horseback to an ethic of managing multiple data streams," says Dalton Conley, a sociology professor at New York University and author of the new book Elsewhere, U.S.A.: How We Got From the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, and Economic Anxiety. "It's very hard for people to unplug and be alone -- and be with the one data stream of their mind."
What's fueling this? Conley says it's anxiety borne out of a deep-seated fear that we're being left out of something, somewhere, and that we may lose out on advancement in our work, social, or family lives if we truly check out. "The anxiety of being alone drives this behavior to constantly respond and Twitter and text, but the very act of doing it creates the anxiety."
This is particularly true among young people, mainly because they don't know life when it wasn't like this.
I HAD A GREAT TIME in college and was fortunate to make lots of close, lasting friendships. But if I want to be honest with myself, I can remember plenty of times when I felt uncomfortable. And many of the earlier ones involved eating alone in the dining hall. I didn't eat by myself often, and when I did, it was usually a simple matter of conflicting schedules with my friends. But my unease sprang from my inability to convey that to the strangers around me. Honest, I'm not a loner. I had to learn to deal with the discomfort. Sometimes, it would force me to strike up conversations with strangers or be receptive when they engaged me. Other times, I would just sit alone and read or think. The discomfort never went away entirely, but it sure receded with practice.
If I were in college nowadays, I doubt that would happen. I would be filling my alone time texting any friend I could think of.
Whenever I'm on a college campus these days, almost all the students I see sitting by themselves are furiously thumbing their iPhones or BlackBerries. For all I know, they could simply be playing Sudoku. Yet the message they're sending is unmistakable. I am not alone.
Sure, texting a friend can make you feel less awkward. But, in the long run, so can learning to step outside of your shell, or becoming at peace within it.
This change in campus life isn't restricted to dining halls. The quads are teeming with ear-budded students texting and talking on cellphones rather than sitting with an open book or talking to the person next to them. In important ways, they're not fully there.
To see how these technological patterns are changing the college experience, University of Toronto researcher Rhonda McEwen tracked the communication behavior of students across their freshmen year. She found them delaying the full plunge of forming new friend networks and breaking away from their old ones. In their first semester, the freshmen generally hold on tightly to their high school friends, talking with and texting them frequently and keeping up with them on Facebook. As the year moves on, they generally shift their high school friends to Facebook and instant messaging while focusing more of their texting and phone calls on their new college pals. In the summer, they shift back, with high school friends returning to the top of the communication hierarchy.
There are things to be happy about in these patterns. The lifeline of old friends can help staunch the feelings of loneliness that are as common to the freshman experience as rapid weight gain.
But those old contacts can also turn into a crutch that prevents students from truly engaging with the new world around them or learning to be alone in their own mind. One of the freshmen McEwen interviewed confessed that every day she spent her lunchtime sitting on the steps outside a campus building, calling or texting her sister. That was less painful for her than sitting alone. Yet like the helicopter parents who hover over their children at the playground in the hopes of shielding them from bumps and bruises, we can delay the hurt only so long. As the Talmud tells us, sometimes a little bit of pain can be a blessing.
"Loneliness is ubiquitous," says Amherst College political science professor Thomas Dumm, whose new book, Loneliness As a Way of Life, grew out of his experience of losing, in short order, his wife and mother to death and his daughter to college. "But people are less equipped to deal with it. Rather than going deeper, they try to push it aside."
How will this all play out in years to come? Leysia Palen, a University of Colorado computer scientist, worries that "how to be alone in a public space is a skill that is going to disappear." And that hole could become glaring when people's life circumstances change. "As friends die, do you find yourselves in a different reality than before? I don't have any problem being alone, but it's something I learned -- through living it."
More than anything, McEwen found in her University of Toronto study that college students are constantly connected to the point of having no concept of a truly unplugged life. There's a time-honored tradition in Canada of "going to the cottage," usually in the summertime, and being blissfully disconnected from the rest of the world. "The participants in my study had real discomfort going to the cottage," McEwen says. "If there's no cellphone reception, no Internet access, they think, 'What the hell am I doing out there?' "
It's hard to imagine a Henry David Thoreau emerging from this millennial generation, someone motivated to log two years and two months alone in the woods around Walden and wax about how he "never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude." He'd have no time to observe the bullfrogs or water his bean plants. He'd be too busy searching for a Wi-Fi signal.
DESCARTES, NEWTON, LOCKE, Spinoza, Kant, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard -- they share the distinction of having been some of the greatest thinkers the world has known. They also share this: None of them ever married or had their own families, and most of them spent the bulk of their lives living alone. In his provocative 1989 book Solitude: A Return to the Self, British writer and psychiatrist Anthony Storr made a persuasive case for the value of deep, uninterrupted alone time. He found it in ample supply in the lives of not just philosophers and physicists, but also some of the greatest poets, novelists, painters, and composers.
Maybe this concept of the lone genius is somewhat exaggerated. While Newton was celibate, many of these other thinkers had transient affairs and interacted to varying degrees with the world around them. Even Thoreau would leave his cabin every once in a while and stroll into downtown Concord to visit with friends. But the point is, they were all able to remove themselves from the bustle of daily life for long stretches, in order to contemplate and create. We're all the richer for their having done that. Now, ask yourself, when was the last time you were truly alone and unplugged for a long spell? How many of you can even say you've gotten this far in this essay without having once stopped to answer a call, reply to a text, or check your in-box? I must confess that I haven't. (Another confession: To ensure that I finish writing this, I've now moved myself to an undisclosed remote location where I'm sitting in a small windowless room with some sort of orange carpeting material on the walls -- no lie -- and where no Wi-Fi is available. Something tells me Descartes never had to go to these lengths for quiet time.)
It's important to distinguish between being alone and being lonely. In the new book Loneliness, University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo and his Massachusetts coauthor William Patrick argue the pangs of loneliness that we sometimes experience are the evolutionary equivalent of the shooting pain we feel after touching a hot stove. These pangs are ingrained reminders of how bad social disconnection is for our well-being. Cacioppo uses everything from brain imaging to blood-pressure analysis to demonstrate the serious drag on our health that loneliness can have.
At first pass, this line of thought would seem to contradict the argument Storr made in Solitude and pretty much everything I've written to this point. Yet that's not the case at all. It turns out that research shows people who feel lonely are no more likely to be physically alone. Cacioppo acknowledges that solitude can be very healthy, and he compares loneliness to a sort of thermostat, a state of mind that kicks in at different points for different people.
While we humans need social interaction, he's in agreement that we won't find it through Twittering and texting. Cacioppo points to research showing that electronic communication can increase social isolation and depression "when it replaces more tangible forms of human contact." Another team of psychologists termed this form of communication "social snacking." But, as he writes, a snack is not a meal.
So why do we feel so compelled to swap messages with people who aren't next to us and rack up hundreds of friends to keep electronic tabs on?
Dalton Conley, the NYU professor, says it's worth looking back several decades, to two groundbreaking social-science studies. (Both, as it turns out, are tied to the Boston area -- who knew we cold New Englanders could be so social?) The first is the 1967 experiment that indirectly made us all aware of the disturbing pervasiveness of Kevin Bacon in our lives. Psychologist Stanley Milgram gave a letter to a bunch of people in Omaha, Nebraska, and instructed them to hand-deliver it to someone they knew. The unstated goal was to get a copy to a stockbroker in Sharon, Massachusetts. The experiment laid the groundwork for the popular notion of "six degrees of separation." (Conley says newer research suggests the number is actually closer to eight.) The second study, based on interviews with Boston professionals that psychologist Mark Granovetter conducted in 1972, suggests that your closest friends are less valuable to you in finding new jobs or new mates than the friends of friends whom you don't know that well. The idea is that you're probably already aware of the same job openings or single people that your close friends know about. But those tangential acquaintances hold the key to new and potentially valuable information. Granovetter's paper, called "The Strength of Weak Ties," could have been used as the business plan for LinkedIn, the fast-growing site for professionals that is like Facebook except stripped of all mildly interesting content and about as much fun as a Chamber of Commerce networking night.
Here's the irony: The explosion of all this electronic networking and friending may ultimately rob weak ties of most of their strength. If we're all linked up with hundreds if not thousands of people, there is no longer much value to the information they possess. It's no longer exclusive. A stock tip whispered in your ear by someone in the know can make you a mint (if it doesn't land you in jail). But what good is a stock tip broadcast on CNBC?
SCHEHERAZADE QUIROGA has a heavy name but a buoyant personality. In August, the 28-year-old left her parents' home in Caracas, Venezuela, where she has lived her whole life, and moved here to begin a master's program in television management at Boston University. The first time she left her family was 10 years ago, when she and her sister took a guided tour of Europe. As soon as they arrived in Madrid, the first stop on the tour, she found a pay phone and called her mother in tears. "Mama, Mama!" she cried, "I miss you so much!" This past November, when she returned to Venezuela to vote and saw her family for the first time since moving to Boston, her mother came running over, saying, "I need to hug you!" Quiroga thought to herself, "It's no big deal."
Sure, she's a decade older than that girl crying from the pay phone in Madrid. But the real difference is that, although she's living abroad now, she hasn't really had to leave her family. Every night at 9 o'clock, she logs on to the Internet video chat service Skype and catches up with her mother, usually for two or three hours at a stretch. "I don't feel the distance as much," she says.
What's wrong with this? On one level, nothing at all. Quiroga is sociable, happy, and well adjusted. She's managed to form close friendships with other students in her program while still keeping strong ties with her family.
But if international travel and study were once surefire ways for people to learn deep truths about themselves as they experienced new cultures, that's probably not the case anymore. Contrast Quiroga's Boston experience with the backpacking tour Dalton Conley took alone across Bolivia and Peru in the early '90s. Once, after making vague plans to meet up with a friend in La Paz, he took a hellish bus ride clear across the country, suffering altitude sickness along the way, only to arrive at the station in the Bolivian capital and find out that his friend had just left. He spent much of his time in South America feeling lost, miserably alone, and utterly disconnected from his normal life. "But I look back at it as one of the greatest experiences of my life," he says. "It helped in forming a sense of who I am."
I ask Quiroga when she feels truly unplugged and off the grid. (I've learned to be specific with this question. Another college student I posed it to said her definition of being unplugged was keeping her cellphone on vibrate.)
She pauses. Her green eyes widen. Then she smiles. "Hmm. I think only when I'm on the T and we go into the tunnel. As soon as the Green Line train hits Kenmore and goes underground, I think, 'Well, that's it. No one can reach me now.' " She smiles again. "Isn't that sad?"
Skype Growing by 380,000 Users a Day
Ross O. Storey
The number of its users is growing by the population of Singapore (more than four million) every 12 days and nearly a third of its registered subscribers now use it for business purposes.
As if to celebrate its fifth birthday, IP telephony service provider Skype recently achieved a milestone of 15 million concurrent users, meaning there are now 405 million skype users across the planet. This figure, they say, is growing by 380,000 every day.
Skype, an eBay company, unveiled these extraordinary figures in Singapore, to mark the launch of its new software Skype 4.0, which it describes as 'the most exciting and fundamental change to Skype's software in the company's history'.
Despite the downturn, Skype last year earned US$550 million in revenue, a 44 per cent rise, year on year. In the final quarter 2008, they earned US$45 million -- the eight consecutive quarter of profit.
The company offers free calling between subscribers and low-cost 'Skype Out'calling to standard landline telephones and mobiles. The software, also allows calls, file transfers, texting, video chat and videoconferencing. The service is available for desktop computers, notebook and tablet computers and other mobile devices, including mobile phones. A number of companies, including Skype, produce dedicated Skype phones.
'Skype Out' revenue growth
According to the company, in the fourth quarter of 2008, people used 2.6 billion 'SkypeOut minutes' and that is growing by 61 per cent quarterly.
According to preliminary data, released by TeleGeography Research, Skype accounted for eight per cent of the world's international calling minutes in 2008.
Skype maintains that separate research points to 95 per cent of business users saving money using it, with about a third cutting their phone bills by half. Almost 80 per cent of the survey of 'Skype for Business' users, showed that nearly 80 per cent had seen an increase in productivity and were working closer with their co-workers because of using Skype.
Perhaps most telling of all, the research shows that some 62 per cent of business subscribers were using Skype to better communicate with their customers.
Keen to grow its business subscribers, Skype now even offers a free 'Business Control Panel', a web-based tool that allows company's to control all of their Skype credit expenditure.
Super wideband audio
Skype 4.0, which took three years to develop, is claimed to be 'more user-friendly than ever before' to offer higher quality audio, through 'super wideband audio' and a new bandwidth manager that provides 'the very best Skype video calling experience possible, even on a low bandwidth connection'.
According to Dan Neary, Skype's new Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific, "there has never been a better time than now for enterprises -- particularly small to medium businesses -- to consider switching to Skype for their communications".
"In this type of environment people are looking for cost savings wherever they can find them, they are looking to 'recession-proof' their businesses," Neary said. "They don't want to fly from A to B, they want to do video-conferencing. More and more, this offering is becoming applicable for people in business.
"We are quite happy to offer many services that are free, because we know that some people are always going to want to upgrade to our premium paid services."
Other 'paid for' Skype features include on line numbers, Skype Voicemail and Skype SMS.
Charles Darwin Tagged You in a Note on Facebook
The evolutionary roots of Facebook's "25 Things" craze.
Last week, I enlisted Slate readers to help divine how Facebook's "25 Random Things About Me" trend got started. More than 3,000 of you responded, answering queries on when you first saw a "25 Things" note, when you were first tagged, and when (if ever) you wrote your own note. On one level, the survey was a failure: I had hoped to find the trend's Patient Zero, but there's likely no single person who conceived of this scheme. But the absence of a singular "25 Things" creator reveals something much more interesting: Facebook organisms are not created by intelligent design. They evolve.
The idea that culture spreads in biological ways has been around for a while. Richard Dawkins coined the term meme in 1976's The Selfish Gene to describe how ideas propagate according to evolutionary principles of mutation and selection. A quantitative study of the "25 Things" letter seems to ratify that.
As many readers noted in our survey, "25 Things" wasn't always "25 Things." Late last fall, a chain letter titled "16 Random Things About Me" began to chew its way through Facebook. The author of one of these notes would itemize her personality into "16 random things, facts, habits, or goals," then tag 16 friends who would be prompted to write their own lists. And so on and so on. Similar navel-gazing letters had popped up over the years through e-mail and on blogs, MySpace, Friendster, and the venerable blogging site LiveJournal. The Facebook strain had a good run, but by the end of 2008 it appeared to have stagnated.
Then something curious happened: It mutated. Since everyone who participates is supposed to paste the original instructions into her own note, it's easy to tinker with the rules. Soon enough, 16 things (and 16 tagged friends) morphed into 15—and 17 and 22 and 35 and even 100. As the structure crumbled, more users toyed with the boundaries. Like any disease, "Random Things" was mutating in hopes of finding a strain that uniquely suited its host. In this case, the right number was vital to its survival: The more people who are tagged, the more likely the note is to spread. The longer the list, though, the more daunting it is to compose and the fewer participants will be roped in.
By mid-to-late January, "25 Random Things About Me" had warded off its competitors. Once the letter settled on 25 things (a perfect square, just like 16) the phenomenon exploded. The data we collected reveal a clear tipping point around this time.
As the graph below indicates (Fig. 1), the number of people swept up in the trend climbed steeply for a week starting around Jan. 20, peaking in the last days of the month before declining sharply. Not coincidentally, the Web analytics firm Compete reports that January 2009 was one of Facebook's biggest months for traffic growth.
Since I'm no evolutionary expert, I shipped Slate's data to Lauren Ancel Meyers, a biology professor at the University of Texas who models the spread of infectious diseases mathematically. Meyers says that around Day 39 of Fig. 1, we see the "classic exponential growth of an epidemic curve." (Day 39 in this graph is Jan. 8.) She also explains that "25 Things" authors can be seen as "contagious" under what's known as a "susceptible-infected-recovered" model for the spread of disease. Think of "25 Things" authors as being contagious for one day—the day they tag a bunch of their friends. Meyers found that, for that one day, the growth parameter of the "25 Things" disease during its ascent phase (roughly until the beginning of February) was 0.27. This means that, on average, each "25 Things" writer inspired 1.27 new notes.
The highest percentage of respondents—17 percent of those who wrote a note—composed their missive the same day they were first tagged. The numbers decay from there, and the median value is three days. Meyers found that this too was best described exponentially, though the figures decline instead of increase over time. You can think of it like radioactive decay. In the same way that, say, Thorium-231 atoms have about a 50 percent chance of decaying each day, regardless of how many days they've been around, people tagged in a "25 Things" note do not become more or less likely to participate as time passes. Meyers does note, however, that these calculations do not factor in individuals who choose not to participate or have yet to do so.
Why does it appear that the "25 Things" fad has died out? One could argue that a selection bias in Slate's data are exaggerating the decline, as those who haven't yet encountered the meme are likely underrepresented. I don't think this is the case, though. As we see in Fig. 3, most people write their notes within a week of being tagged for the first time. The decline we see in Figures 1 and 2, then, is likely legitimate: Because the fad peaked more than 10 days ago, it's unlikely that there is a large number of people who've been tagged who are still waiting to write their own note. My guess is that, like a Ponzi scheme, "25 Things" fizzled as soon as Facebook ran out of willing participants. Anecdotally, there don't seem to be a lot of people left who are sitting around, waiting to be tagged.
All in all, Facebook infections look remarkably similar to human ones. And like organisms, the odds do seem stacked against all but the fittest of memes. The "Notes" application—including the ability to tags friends—has been a feature of Facebook since August 2006, a Facebook spokeswoman told me on Tuesday. (The PR rep also confirmed that Facebook itself had no part in sparking the trend.) The fact that it took two-and-a-half years for a Notes-based meme to hit it big suggests long odds.
Still, viral marketers might take note of the patterns that "25 Random Things About Me" obeyed. The best hope for someone looking to start a grass-roots craze is to introduce a wide variety of schemes into the wild and pray like hell that one of them evolves into a virulent meme. If evolution is any guide, however, there's no predicting what succeeds and what doesn't. Just look at the platypus.
Facebook's Value: $3.7 Billion and Dropping
What's Facebook really worth? The fast-growing social network is adding to its 150 million users effortlessly. But revenues aren't growing as easily. And that has Mark Zuckerberg's company tied up in legal and financial knots.
Last summer, the company settled a dispute with a rival social network, ConnectU, that dates back to the founding of Facebook in CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard dorm room. ConnectU's lawyers — whom the site's founders have since fired — revealed that the case was settled for $65 million in a newsletter bragging about their firm's accomplishments. And now the Associated Press has obtained a court filing which shows the exact breakdown of cash and stock Facebook used to settle the case: $20 million in cash, and 1,253,326 shares of Facebook stock.
That's no mere detail. ConnectU's ex-lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges are pursuing legal action against ConnectU's founders — Divya Narendra and Olympic-rower twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss — to get them to pay $13 million. In other words, a 20 percent cut of the supposed $65 million settlement. But is the settlement really worth $65 million?
In October 2007, Microsoft paid $35.90 a share for $240 million in Facebook preferred stock, which only garnered it a 1.6 percent stake in the company. Preferred stock, the kind usually purchased by venture capitalists, have more rights and protections than common stock, which is the type owned by founders and issued to employees. And when a company is private, it's typical for preferred shares to have a higher value than common shares.
ConnectU's settlement was issued in common shares. And an appraisal Facebook conducted to value the shares it issued to employees valued the company at $3.7 billion, or $8.88 a share — making the stock part of ConnectU's payment only worth $11 million, and the total $31 million.
The uncertain value of Facebook's stock must be why ConnectU's ex-lawyers are in a dispute. If it had been paid in cash, why would they be arguing over how much the lawyers were owed? Instead of having $65 million, the Winklevosses and Narendra find themselves with $20 million in cash, a $13 million legal bill-and 1.25 million shares of Facebook that aren't worth nearly as much as they thought.
How little? An informal market for Facebook stock exists, though it's not publicly traded. Vulture investors are offering to buy shares for as little as $2.50 apiece. At that price, the company as a whole is worth $1.3 billion. That's less than Yahoo reportedly bid for the company in 2006.
And that's where Facebook could really get into trouble.
We hear that Facebook's salesforce had a series of panicked meetings last week as its salespeople tried to drum up more business. Google is actively working to steal advertisers away from the company, which has struggled to come up with new marketing products based on its users' relationships. (It does not help matters that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who worked in the Clinton Administration before joining Google to run customer service, has no real sales experience, as much as she likes to claim otherwise.) Meanwhile, Facebook continues to spend money as it attracts new users; every million users Facebook adds requires approximately $1 million in new servers.
So Facebook will probably need to raise money soon, and it will have to give up a far larger percentage of the company this time-a scenario its executives have dreaded, but which they have few ways to avoid. It will likely have to make whole Microsoft and other investors who bought in at a $15 billion valuation by issuing them new shares. That will further dilute the stake owned by employees, which will hurt morale and possibly lead to defections. If it loses key salespeople and engineers, Facebook will lose further momentum. The prospect of a death spiral is very real.
Right now, Zuckerberg's problem is averting disaster. After that, he can worry about how to get Facebook's value back up to $15 billion.
Moviegoers Ready for Romance, Snub Oscar Pictures
"He's Just Not That Into You," a comedy featuring Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore, romanced the North American box office on Sunday, as overall ticket sales defied the recessionary gloom.
The new champ earned $27.5 million during the three days beginning on Friday, with women accounting for 80 percent of the audience, said its distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures.
The movie -- based on a book that was itself inspired by the TV show "Sex and the City" -- revolves around the lives and loves of various couples. Despite the A-list lineup -- which also included Ben Affleck and Scarlett Johannson -- critics largely disapproved.
Its success marks an early birthday present for former "Friends" star Aniston, who turns 40 on Wednesday and is still riding high with her recent box office champ "Marley & Me."
Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc, was confident the film would hold up well next weekend, when business will be boosted by Valentine's Day on Saturday.
Three other pictures opened in the top 10. The biggest disappointment was Steve Martin's "The Pink Panther 2," which came in at No. 4 with $12 million. The first film in Columbia Pictures' revived comedy franchise opened with $20 million in 2006 and ended up with $82 million. Despite the sequel's performance, Columbia's worldwide distribution president Rory Bruer said he "wouldn't bet against" a third film going into production.
Also new were Focus Features' stop-motion animated entry "Coraline" at No. 3 with $16.3 million and Summit Entertainment's sci-fi thriller "Push" at No. 6 with $10.2 million. Both did better than expected, and both feature 14-year-old actress Dakota Fanning.
Last weekend's No. 1 film, 20th Century Fox's Liam Neeson crime thriller "Taken," slipped to No. 2 with $20.3 million; its 10-day total rose to $53.4 million.
The top Oscar contenders, meanwhile, have largely stalled. The only exception was "Slumdog Millionaire," the favorite to take the best picture prize in two weeks. Fox Searchlight's Indian game-show drama has earned $77.4 million after 13 weeks, boosted by a $7.4 million weekend. It fell one place to No. 7.
No other Oscar contenders made the top 10. The leading nominee, Paramount Pictures' "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," with 13 mentions, has earned $120 million, and will struggle to match its reported $150 million budget.
As for the other best picture nominees, Focus Features' "Milk" has made $25.3 million; Universal Pictures' "Frost/Nixon," $15.6 million; and the Weinstein Co's "The Reader," $16.1 million.
But moviegoers are lining up for other movies as evidenced by overall ticket sales, which have risen for six out of the past seven weekends when compared with year-ago tallies. Year-to-date revenues are up 19 percent, said tracking firm Media By Numbers.
The year's top movie is also the most notable Oscar snub, Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino." Warner Bros.' urban drama has earned $120.3 million since opening in limited release in mid-December, and is on its way to $140 million, the studio said.
Columbia Pictures is a unit of Sony Corp SNE.N>. Focus Features and Universal Pictures are units of General Electric Co's NBC Universal. Summit Entertainment and Weinstein Co are each privately held. Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are units of News Corp. Paramount Pictures is a unit of Viacom Inc
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
Graham Nash: Deja Vu Again with Crosby and Stills
It took just 40 seconds, singing harmony with Stephen Stills and David Crosby, to convince Graham Nash to take the musical step that led ultimately to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.
Within a year, he would leave the chart-topping English pop group The Hollies and be playing at the 1969 Woodstock festival with one of rock's first supergroups and penning some of the most enduring songs of the late 60's and early 70's.
"Whatever sound Crosby, Stills & Nash had vocally, happened probably in about 40 seconds," Nash recalled. "I was visiting Joni Mitchell and David and Stephen were there."
Crosby had left the group The Byrds in 1967 and Stills' group Buffalo Springfield had broken up in 1968. The two were looking to perform together, he said.
"They sang 'You Don't Have to Cry,' and I asked them to sing it one more time, and the third time I put my harmony in and it was so good," said Nash.
"Understand, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Hollies were good harmony bands, but this was something different!"
Thus was born Crosby, Stills & Nash, and this year they mark their 40th anniversary with a tour and a first new studio album in ten years.
Rhino Records, meanwhile, just released "Reflections," a three-disc set of Nash's songs. And on the day this month that he turned 67 (Feb 2), Nash played a gig in Clear Lake, Iowa to honor rock legend Buddy Holly, who died 50 years ago.
The Day The Music Died
"Buddy Holly died on my 17th birthday and I remember me and Allan Clarke were bawling our heads off," recalled Nash, who formed The Hollies with Clarke in Manchester, England.
It was Holly -- killed in a plane crash after playing the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake in 1959 - who inspired Nash to become a musician, Nash told Reuters.
Holly's death was immortalized as "The Day the Music Died" in Don McLean's 1972 hit, "American Pie," but for Nash, the music has never stopped, ever since he discovered American rock 'n roll as a teenager in post-war England.
"That music wasn't available, it was only available when you heard it on Radio Luxembourg," he said, referring to the commercial broadcasts beamed into Britain at a time when the British Broadcasting Corporation did not play rock 'n roll.
"I remember Sunday evenings at 9 o'clock the American Top 40 came on, that's when I got to hear all that early rock 'n roll," said Nash, his hair now cropped and snowy.
"It actually, physically excited me. When I first heard 'Bye Bye Love,' by the Everly Brothers, something inside me happened, and I wanted to make music that would make my listeners feel what I felt then."
Nash said he knew then his future was in music. "I was practicing my autograph at 13. Instead of doing my school work I was drawing guitars and drum sets and little amplifiers.
"I knew I was going to make it. I knew what I wanted to do -- make rock 'n roll music. The rest is just good fortune."
That good fortune led Nash to America and his fateful meeting with Stills and Crosby, whose first, eponymous album in 1969 produced two Top 40 hits -- Nash's "Marrakesh Express" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." Other classic songs on the album were "Wooden Ships," "Hopelessly Hoping" and "Long Time Gone" about the assassination of Robert Kennedy and an example of CSN's political edge during the social upheaval of the Vietnam War.
"Deja Vu" All Over Again?
Joined by Neil Young, the 1970 album "Deja Vu," containing Nash's "Teach Your Children" and "Our House," as well as Mitchell's "Woodstock," was a No. 1 hit and Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 147 in the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Now Nash is working with his old friends on a new album of cover tunes from other musicians. "But this will be the Crosby, Stills & Nash vocal sound on songs we wished we'd written. Songs that we loved," he said.
He won't say which, but "the greatest writers in the world will be represented, from the Beatles and Bob Dylan."
Nash said he was also putting together a Stills box-set after completing his own and Crosby's for Rhino.
"I made it for the person in the future who looks back and says: 'Who is this guy Crosby musically?' I wanted to produce a disc of David Crosby, where people would say 'Oh, I get it!' And it's the same with mine."
And what will be the Nash legacy? "I just take it day to day, I don't look back. I was forced to look back because of this project, and I came out of it with the opinion I am a decent songwriter."
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)
Vinyl Takes Another Spin With Music Lovers
Eric R. Danton
As album sales plummeted in 2008 for the seventh time in eight years, there was one bright spot for a music industry still in love with physical products: Sales of vinyl records increased by nearly 90 percent.
That's right, they still make vinyl. Consumers bought almost 1.9 million new LPs last year, the most since Nielsen SoundScan started keeping track of such things in 1991. That's a mere fraction of the total music sold in 2008 — 1.5 billion units, which accounts for albums, singles, digital tracks and music videos. But it's a strong showing for a format thought to have begun its death spiral with the introduction of the compact disc 25 years ago.
Actually, the dominance of digital music is part of what has sparked a resurgent interest in vinyl, say some in the music industry.
"Ultimately, I think in some form it is a backlash against technology," says Jack Tieleman, who owns the small Canadian label Lance Rock. "There is something special about having to look after your purchase. Downloads and CDs do not have this quality. The consumer recognizes the value of the product and is willing to pay for it."
Tieleman, whose label has put out vinyl editions of CD releases by country-noir singer Neko Case, stopped making compact discs five years ago to focus on LPs.
It's not just indie labels that are keeping vinyl alive. EMI has been reissuing some of the most revered records on its Capitol and Virgin labels, including albums by the Beatles, Roxy Music and Radiohead, along with new albums by Brian Wilson and Glen Campbell.
The full Ben Harper catalog is due out on wax this month, and EMI plans to re-release albums by the Beach Boys and selections from its Blue Note jazz label later this year. Each LP is remastered and pressed on 180-gram audiophile-quality vinyl, and in the case of older albums, the label re-creates the original packaging, down to stickers and posters.
The reissues are attracting music fans of all ages, says Jason Boyd, senior director of catalog sales at EMI.
"It's pretty split between older customers who grew up on vinyl, who think it's cool and are happy to see some of the classic titles they liked back on vinyl and are dusting off their turntables and getting back into it, and ... [the] college lifestyle hipster person that's going after the right albums because of their cultural or iconic significance," Boyd says. "It's not like it's going to take over CDs or digital sales, but it's viable, and it's a physical piece that people want."
Digital music is the fastest-growing segment of the record industry, with sales of digital tracks up 32 percent to more than 1 billion in 2008, and digital album sales up 27 percent to 65 million.
Vinyl and digital technology aren't mutually exclusive, however. There are record players on the market that convert songs on LP to mp3s, and some labels include download coupons with the vinyl format.
That's been a boon for Beggars Group, says Dave Martin, head of direct sales for the English company's American arm in New York, which includes Matador, Rough Trade, XL and 4AD. The majority of LPs on Beggars come with a free download of the songs.
"It is a real selling point," Martin says. "If a record doesn't have a coupon, and somebody wants to find the record digitally for a portable media player, if they care enough, they'll find a way to get a copy. But to find a way to cut out that step for people, it's fantastic."
Even when records don't come with download coupons, some consumers are ardent-enough fans to buy the same songs twice in different formats.
"I'm one of those guys," Boyd says. "I went out and bought the new AC/DC. I wanted it on vinyl and CD. Same with the Guns N' Roses piece — I wanted both of those configurations."
He favors using LPs as a promotional tool by releasing them a week or two in advance of other formats, something other major labels have done, too — notably Columbia, which released Bruce Springsteen's 2007 album "Magic" on vinyl a week before the CD release date.
"I think it helps feed the beast of the fan and gives you a pivotal marketing angle," Boyd says.
There's plenty of vinyl out there for people to buy, and some of it even touches on multiple formats.
But why the sudden surge of interest?
There are a couple theories.
One is sonic: Adherents say music on vinyl simply sounds better than its digital counterpart.
"A well-recorded and -mastered vinyl record will sound 10 times better, even with the background noise," says Michael Deming, a music producer and recording engineer in Enfield who has made records with the Pernice Brothers, Mike Ireland, the Lilys and Jim White.
Digital technology is based on sampling sound. Commercially released CDs sample at the speedy rate of 44,100 times per second but can't re-create the stereo image and other technical aspects that give an analog sound recording its warmth.
"Your ears, brain and soul don't like that," Deming says. "A tape recording or vinyl record is constantly variable without any samples. It is as analog as our own hearing or eyesight and, therefore, is digested by our ears and brains in such a way that the emotional as well as the audio content is uncompromised."
There's a less wonky reason, too: With its larger platform for album artwork, and limited editions released in different colors, vinyl is a cool collectible.
"The concept of a CD as an artifact isn't that intriguing to people, but for many reasons, vinyl continues to have much more of a connection to the psyche of being a fan," says Martin, 40, who started buying vinyl at 13, when he became a serious music fan. He estimates he has between 3,000 and 4,000 LPs.
"It's bigger, it takes up more space, but you sort of get more, size-wise," he says. "In a psychological way, it goes a little more toward stating that you are a fan of this band, or you are a fan of indie-rock or hip-hop or whatever the genre would be. You're a little more committed to it."
Blasting Enemies, but Pricking Consciences
I can’t remember the first time I shot someone.
It might have been when I first saved humanity from interstellar demons in the original Doom. Or it could have been when I took down a mothership full of alien slavers in the 1994 Mac classic Marathon. Maybe it was as I escaped from a Nazi prison castle and killed Hitler as the Polish-American soldier B. J. Blazkowicz in 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D.
What I am sure of is that I have stared down a gun sight and blown away tens of thousands of bad guys since the first-person shooter became perhaps the most popular form in gaming about 15 years ago. In thinking about all those victims, the common thread is that within their various fictions almost all of them had it coming — they deserved it. Aliens, mutants, zombies, Nazis and criminals of all description have fallen to my bullets, blasts and laser rays without provoking a smidgen of guilt.
That is by design. Moral clarity is taken for granted in most shooting games, because otherwise the psychological weight of killing hundreds or thousands of other humans (or humanlike beings) would make many games unbearable to play. Most gamers really don’t want the opportunity to zoom in with a virtual sniper rifle and start pulling headshots on innocent people.
I have only recently come to one of the most popular shooters of recent months, Call of Duty: World at War, developed by Treyarch and published by Activision. As enjoyable and fun as World at War most certainly is, its most impressive element is how mindfully the game balances the requisite moral imperative with a frank and at times merciless acknowledgment of war’s brutality.
World at War, which could take anywhere from 8 to 20 hours to complete in its single-player mode (depending on skill and difficulty level), returns the Call of Duty franchise to World War II after 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, developed by Infinity Ward. The most evocative sequence in Call of Duty 4 brilliantly highlighted the impersonality of high-tech weapons by setting the player as a gunner in an AC-130 gunship firing down at the ghostly infrared images of fleeing enemies. Yet World at War does its predecessor one better with its unflinching renditions of close-quarters combat in the jungles and bunkers of the Pacific campaign, the ruins of Stalingrad and during the final Soviet push to the Reichstag in Berlin.
Of course there is never any question in World at War — as in almost every World War II film — that all of those Japanese and German soldiers deserve to die. (I am not aware of any significant shooters that allow the user to play as an Axis soldier, killing Allied troops.) World at War establishes that premise quite clearly from the beginning. The player starts as United States Marine Private Miller, who has been captured by the Japanese on Makin Island in 1942. In the game’s first scene a fellow captive is tortured and killed before your eyes by sadistic Japanese soldiers.
Likewise, you begin your role as Dimitri Petrenko in Stalingrad in September 1942 in a gutter filled with the corpses of your comrades, crows picking at their flesh. You play dead, then slowly crawl to safety as a few Nazi soldiers shoot the bodies just to make sure.
So now players have all the justification required to feel good about themselves as they wade off to kill the enemy by the bushel. Most games would leave it at that. But to its credit, the Treyarch team also manages to weave in some sense of the cost of victory. The first time I sneaked up to the window of a Japanese bunker, shoved in the nozzle of my flamethrower, squeezed the ignition and heard the terrified screaming of the men burning alive inside, I didn’t feel especially heroic. And I don’t think I was meant to.
Later, as the tide turns on the Eastern Front, the game gives Dimitri his objective, “Eliminate the fleeing Germans.” It seems perfectly realistic, and is perfectly bone-chilling when your squad leader, Sergeant Reznov (voiced by Gary Oldman), calls out: “It matters not where they choose to die! Hunt them down! No mercy was shown to my comrades in Stalingrad! No mercy will be shown here! An eye for an eye!”
A later mission, “Eviction,” set in Berlin, opens with a German soldier on his knees pleading for his life. The Soviets consider sparing him until one pre-emptively steps forward and puts a bullet in the Nazi’s brain.
“This is not war,” another soldier says. “This is murder.”
His comrade replies: “This is how you end a war.”
Mechanically and graphically, World at War is as polished and engaging as you would expect the latest entry in one of Activision’s premier franchises to be. The Japanese and German soldiers fight with different tactics, with the Japanese jumping out of murder holes and rushing from the jungle in blood-boiling banzai attacks, while the Germans take few unnecessary risks. (I found the Japanese considerably more frightening.)
World at War, which is rated M for Mature, is available for most major game systems; I played on a PC from Nvidia.
Games, particularly first-person shooters set in war zones, are still far away from trying truly to humanize the enemy or forcing players to confront situations like piloting the Enola Gay over Hiroshima. But World at War is one small step in that direction. And it is making me remember a few more of the people I shoot.
The Conyers Bill is Back
Yesterday Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) re-introduced the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act. This year it's H.R. 801 (last year it was H.R. 6845), and co-sponsored by Steve Cohen (D-TN), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Robert Wexler (D-FL). The language has not changed.
The Fair Copyright Act is to fair copyright what the Patriot Act was to patriotism. It would repeal the OA policy at the NIH and prevent similar OA policies at any federal agency. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where Conyers is Chairman, and where he has consolidated his power since last year by abolishing the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property. The Judiciary Committee does not specialize in science, science policy, or science funding, but copyright.
The premise of the bill, urged by the publishing lobby, is that the NIH policy somehow violates copyright law. The premise is false and cynical. If the NIH policy violated copyrights, or permitted the violation of copyrights, publishers wouldn't have to back this bill to amend US copyright law. Instead, they'd be in court where they'd already have a remedy. For a detailed analysis of the bill and point by point rebuttal to the publishing lobby's rhetoric, see my article from October 2008.
I'll have more soon on ways to mobilize in opposition to the bill and support the NIH and the principle of public access to publicly-funded research. Meantime, if you're a US citizen and your representative is a member of the Judiciary Committee, it's not to early to fire off an email/fax/letter/phone call to your representative opposing the bill and defending the NIH policy. You can find ammo here:
• the open letter from 46 law professors objecting to "serious misstatements relating to copyright law" in the publisher arguments against the NIH policy, September 8, 2008
• the open letter from 33 US Nobel laureates in science defending the NIH policy against the Conyers bill, September 9, 2008
• my article on the bill from October 2008
• the OAN posts on the bill from the last time around
US Lawmaker Injects ISP Throttle Into Obama Rescue Package
'Network management' meets child porn
US Senator Dianne Feinstein hopes to update President Barack Obama's $838bn economic stimulus package so that American ISPs can deter child pornography, copyright infringement, and other unlawful activity by way of "reasonable network management."
Clearly, a lobbyist whispering in Feinstein's ear has taken Comcast's now famous euphemism even further into the realm of nonsense.
According to Public Knowledge, Feinstein's network management amendment did not find a home in the stimulus bill that landed on the Senate floor. But lobbyists speaking with the Washington DC-based internet watchdog said that California's senior Senator is now hoping to insert this language via conference committee - a House-Senate pow-wow were bill disputes are resolved.
"This is the most backdoor of all the backdoor ways of doing things," Public Knowledge's Art Brodsky told The Reg. "Conference committees are notorious for being the most opaque of all legislative processes."
Obama's stimulus bill sets aside between $6bn and $9bn for expanding American broadband into rural areas, and Senator Feinstein hopes to augment this Broadband Technology Opportunities Program so that it "allows for reasonable network management practices such as deterring unlawful activity, including child pornography and copyright infringement."
On one level, Obama's bill is an effort to boost the American economy. On another, it's an opportunity for lobbyists to make a mockery American government.
According to Public Knowledge, the Motion Picture Association of America is behind Feinstein's language. The MPAA doesn't like copyright infringement. And you can bet the child pornography bit was tossed in for added effect.
But the "network management" bit sounds like ISP speak.
As Art Brodsky and his colleagues pointed out, network management is used to manage networks - not filter content. Content filters are used to filter content. But American ISPs - particularly cable ISPs - will take any excuse they can find to throttle certain traffic.
And if they're using copyright infringement and child porn as excuses, they'll have to start sniffing packets. So, Feinstein's amendment would also destroy net privacy - if there's any out there.
Word from Public Knowledge is that Congressman Henry Waxman will back Feinstein's amendment when it turns up in conference committee. Representing a district near Hollywood, Waxman has long backed the MPAA and the Recording Ass. of America in their efforts to crack down on P2P file sharing.
ACTION ALERT: Say No to Copyright Filtering in Broadband Stimulus
We just sent out an Action Alert to let you know about a proposed amendment to the stimulus package. This amendment, put forth by Sen. Feinstein, would allow ISPs to “deter” child pornography and copyright infringement through network management techniques. The amendment is very, very controversial for a couple of reasons:
1. Infringement can’t be found through “network management” techniques. There are legal uses for copyrighted works even without permission of the owner.
2. It would require Internet companies to examine every bit of information everyone puts on the Web in order to find those allegedly infringing works, without a hint of probable cause. That would be a massive invasion of privacy, done at the request of one industry, violating the rights of everyone who is online.
Please click here to fax or call five key Senators and tell them that this provision is a bad idea.
Although we have evidence that this was filed as an amendment, it is possible that the provision has already made its way into a the bill (we’re still checking). If it is not in the bill, it’s possible that it could be snuck-in in the closed-door non-transparent conference where the differences between the Senate and the House bills are hammered out.
So our work may not be done with this alert, we may need you to reach out again when the bill goes to conference. Stay tuned (and you can stay informed with our action alerts by signing up on our front page).
No Network Management Amendment in Final Stimulus Package
Sources report that the final version of a broadband subsidy provision in the fiscal stimulus bill will not include "network management" language that would have opened the door to filtering of copyrighted content by ISPs.
Legislators in conference committee have reportedly reached agreement on a final $790 billion stimulus package, and while some details of the final broadband subsidy package are still being hammered out, word from the Hill is that a "network management" amendment proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will not be included in the final bill.
Content industries had reportedly pressed for the inclusion of language offered by Feinstein that would "allow for reasonable network management practices such as deterring unlawful activity, including child pornography and copyright infringement"—language that net neutrality advocates feared would open the door to automatic filtering of copyrighted content by ISPs.
Art Brodsky of the advocacy group Public Knowledge, which opposed the amendment, tells Ars that it was a "heavy lift to begin with because she filed the amendment, but it didn't come up for discussion during the floor debate. Then she tried to get it in as part of a managers package on the senate floor along with a bunch of other stuff, but that wasn't included for procedural reasons."
He warns, though, that the "network management" language seems to have been left out largely because of the rush to reach agreement, and may return as a separate proposal at some later point.
Other details of the final bill remain unclear. The House version of the stimulus bill provided $6 billion for broadband deployment, split between the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Agriculture, while the Senate version allocated $7 billion (cut from an earlier $9 billion) to be administered by NTIA. A source on the Hill tells Ars that some details are still being finalized, but the amount coming out of conference appears to be closer to $6 billion, the majority of which will go to NTIA, with a smaller amount allocated to Agriculture.
Agency Skeptical of Internet Privacy Policies
The Federal Trade Commission had some sharp words for Internet companies Thursday, saying that they are not explaining to their users clearly enough what information they collect about them and how they use it for advertising.
For now, the commission is sticking to its view that the Internet industry can voluntarily regulate its own privacy practices.
But the tone of the report, and comments by several commission members and staff officials, indicated that if the industry does not move faster, the agency would increase regulation or call for Congress to legislate stricter online privacy rules.
“People were worried that the commission would abandon its support for self-regulation,” said Jules Polonetsky, the co-chairman of the Future of Privacy Forum, a trade group. “The commission is saying you have one last chance before I come upstairs and take your toys away.”
Technically, the commission released an update to its principles for what it calls online behavioral advertising — ads shown to the user based on past patterns of behavior. These are voluntary guidelines first issued at the end of 2007.
The new guidelines suggest that Web sites explain how they collect and use data in a “clear, concise, consumer friendly, and prominent” way. Few sites meet that standard right now, the commission found.
“What we observe is that, with rare exception, it is not the rule for any Web sites to do those things,” said Eileen Harrington, the acting director of the commission’s bureau of consumer protection, in an interview Thursday. “It is far more commonplace for them to put the information in the midst of lengthy and hard-to-understand privacy policies.”
The commission did not specify what sort of notice companies should give, but it noted that some have proposed methods that are more visible to the average user, like a link right on each advertisement that leads to an explanation of what data the advertiser collects and uses.
“This is about advertising, so these people ought to be creative,” she said.
“We know advertisers can get their messages across when they want to. They darn better want to get this message across: ‘This is what we are collecting and this is how we are using it.’ ”
Two members of the commission, Pamela Jones Harbour, an independent, and Jon Leibowitz, a Democrat, issued statements saying that while they support the commission’s action, they hope for further regulation and possibly legislation on the issue.
“With this Congress, there is not going to be a lot of patience for Big Brother Internet advertising without privacy protections,” Mr. Leibowitz said. “They invite legislation if they don’t do a good job at self-regulation.”
There are two Republicans on the commission and one vacancy. President Obama has not yet named a commission chairman.
Groups that want better online privacy were mixed in their reaction. Some praised the new, tougher standards for targeted ads. But others argued that the commission did not go far enough to regulate all the different ways that Internet companies monitor users.
“These are baby steps for privacy at best,” said Jeff Chester, the director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
£46m Taxpayers' Bill for Companies to Store Web Use Details
• Firms must keep phone and email information
• Campaigners say move is invasion of privacy
Telephone companies will keep records of all calls under an EU directive. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters
Taxpayers face a £46m bill for the cost of communications companies storing details of all personal email and internet use, the Home Office has revealed.
The introduction from April of a requirement on internet service providers to keep details of personal internet use follows a 2006 EU directive on data retention agreed after the 2005 London bombings.
Many British communications companies have kept customers' data on a voluntary basis but said they would only comply with a mandatory requirement if the government was prepared to pick up the bill. The move towards compulsory data retention represents a major step towards the creation of "super-database" to track all phone, email, text and internet use.
Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, is expected to publish a paper this month on the new database as part of the government's "interception modernisation programme".
The Home Office says the data being stored is not the content of emails, texts and phone calls but the traffic and location data and other details needed to identify a subscriber or user.
Ministers say the data is needed to enable police and national security investigators to identify suspects, examine their contacts, establish relationships between conspirators and place them in a specific location at a certain time. The data is used to build up a profile of the suspect, and can be used to disrupt a criminal enterprise or terrorist operation, or in a prosecution.
The Home Office admitted in an assessment published this week that the use of data in this way involves interference with personal privacy but said it was balanced by the benefit to investigations by the police or security services. The use of such data is governed by safeguards in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which says it must not be disproportionate and must consider the privacy of people who are not the target of the investigation but whose communications data may be involved.
A draft parliamentary order published this week implementing the change said it was needed to ensure internet records remain available for long-running investigations such as murder, serious sexual offences and terrorism.
The Home Office estimates internet and telephone companies will need to spend £30m to design, develop and set up the facilities they need to store the data for 12 months. The system will cost a further £2m a year to run, giving a total cost of £46m over the next eight years.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "If this sounds expensive just wait for the government's proposed Central Communications Database. £12bn would be spent on recording every email, text message and phone call. The waste of public money is sickening enough without the devastating cost to our personal privacy."
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker warned, however, that solving crimes such as the murder of Rhys Jones, the boy shot in Liverpool in 2007, would be difficult, if not impossible, without police access to communications data.
He said: "Communications data is the what, where, and when of communication and plays a vital part in a wide range of criminal investigations and prevention of terrorist attacks as well as contributing to public safety more generally."
A privy council review into the use of intercept evidence in court cases is now unlikely to be completed until the summer at the earliest, it was announced yesterday. Smith told MPs that a further stage of work was urgently needed to "test the viability of the model" that has been developed.
Government Plans Travel Database
The government is compiling a database to track and store the international travel records of millions of Britons.
Computerised records of all 250 million journeys made by individuals in and out of the UK each year will be kept for up to 10 years.
The government says the database is essential in the fight against crime, illegal immigration and terrorism.
But opposition MPs and privacy campaigners fear it is a significant step towards a surveillance society.
The intelligence centre will store names, addresses, telephone numbers, seat reservations, travel itineraries and credit card details of travellers.
Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "The government seems to be building databases to track more and more of our lives.
"The justification is always about security or personal protection. But the truth is that we have a government that just can't be trusted over these highly sensitive issues. We must not allow ourselves to become a Big Brother society."
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "This is another example of an intrusive database without any public debate about safeguards on its use.
"We are sleepwalking into a surveillance state and should remember that George Orwell's 1984 was a warning, not a blueprint."
A spokesman for campaign group NO2ID said: "When your travel plans, who you are travelling with, where you are going to and when are being recorded you have to ask yourself just how free is this country?"
The e-Borders scheme covers flights, ferries and rail journeys and the Home Office says similar schemes run in other countries including the US, Canada, Spain and Australia.
Minister of State for borders and immigration Phil Woolas said the government was determined to ensure the UK's border remained one of the toughest in the world.
"Our hi-tech electronic borders system will allow us to count all passengers in and out of the UK and [it] targets those who aren't willing to play by our rules," he said.
"Already e-Borders has screened over 75 million passengers against immigration, customs and police watch-lists, leading to over 2,700 arrests for crimes such as murder, rape and assault."
City's Move To Nix Security Cams May Cost Thousands
City Council Votes Against Video Cameras Funded By Homeland Security
By Matt Quan
Cambridge may be one of the first cities in the nation to squash a move to put surveillance cameras on city streets, saying it's worried about residents’ privacy rights, but the decision may end up costing the city the more than a quarter of a million dollars that’s already been spent on the project.
“Because of the slow erosion of our civil liberties since 9/11, it is important to raise questions regarding these cameras,” said Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge city councilor.
The council voted 9-0 against building the network of eight video cameras throughout the city on Feb. 2 after hearing different opinions during two sessions about the video cameras.
Cambridge, along with Boston, Brookline, Chelsea, Everett, Quincy, Revere, Somerville and Winthrop, are all recipients of the $4.6 million grant given by the Department of Homeland Security. The grant has been in development for four to six years and was designed to provide money to cities to create wireless video surveillance networks.
The $264,000 has already been spent on the camera surveillance project in Cambridge, Fire Chief Gerald Reardon said. It is unclear if Cambridge will have to pay back this money.
A request was filed by the city on Feb. 9 for the city manager to set a plan for the cameras' removal and to inform the Department of Homeland Security.
Currently, Mount Auburn Hospital, the Porter Square Exchange building, CCTV’s Central Square building, the Inman Square fire station, 812 Memorial Drive and 364 Rindge Avenue have surveillance cameras installed for the project.
Some Cambridge citizens have raised concerns about the use of the cameras.
“I would worry about invasion of privacy,” said Phil Lau, a Cambridge resident. “I would also question what kind of message it sends to the residents of Cambridge? It’s a diverse neighborhood and non-U.S. citizens might feel marginalized.
Video surveillance is currently being used in Boston by the fire, police and transportation departments.
“Departments that watch overall public safety, day to day traffic, and the monitoring of major key areas of the city all use the video camera network in Boston,” said Donald McGough, director of Boston’s office of emergency preparedness. “It aids in their ability to serve, especially during large events and emergencies.”
Cambridge city councilors concluded that the benefits of the video cameras were not enough to outweigh the questions raised about them, Decker said.
Councilors were also concerned about why wasn’t the city council involved in the grant’s creation if the cameras were meant to assist cities on a local level.
“Cambridge is a small city. Why would we need cameras to monitor evacuation routes?” said Decker.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts partnered with Cambridge councilors in questioning the camera surveillance network in the city.
“What agencies would have access to the camera’s digital images?” said Nancy Murray, the director of education at the ACLUM. “What guarantees would residents have that (the images) would not be used for purposes other than traffic control?”
Before Cambridge made its decision, Brookline, another community that has access to the Homeland Security grant, decided differently. In January, its Board of Selectman voted 3-2 in favor of a one-year trial for the video camera network.
Scene Stealer: The aXXo Files
To Hollywood executives, he's public enemy number one. To film fans around the world, he's a modern-day Robin Hood. As the internet's most prolific pirate makes his 1,000th illegal film download available to the masses, Tim Walker investigates the mysterious figure known only as aXXo
At 8.40am on Monday 15 December, a new post appeared on an internet forum called the Darkside Release Group. "Darkside_RG" is a clearing house for internet pirates, a site dedicated to the online redistribution of movies, music and videogames. Its members happily spend their days sharing and discussing their ill-begotten booty on the site's many message boards.
The post in question contained a BitTorrent file – the most widespread and efficient filesharing method on the web – containing an illicit copy of a second-rate Kiefer Sutherland horror film called Mirrors. Though the mainstream media ignored it, this was a landmark moment for millions of filesharers worldwide: the 1,000th movie uploaded by aXXo, the internet's most popular and enduring pirate. If you already know his name, chances are you've been doing something illegal.
This aXXo may be anonymous, but he (or she, or they) is a global brand. His most popular uploads are downloaded illegally by up to a million internet users per week. His files regularly make up more than one-third of all the films trafficked on BitTorrent. Most of them are mainstream multiplex fare – aXXo's recent posts include Mamma Mia!; the Ricky Gervais black comedy Ghost Town; and Bangkok Dangerous and Eagle Eye, thriller vehicles for Nicolas Cage and Shia LaBeouf.
The list of the Top 100 movie downloads at The Pirate Bay – one of the largest "torrent portal" sites, which aggregate torrent links from around the web – is littered with his work, easily recognisable by the suffix "DVDrip-aXXo" left like a graffiti tag at the end of each filename. Over at The Pirate Bay's most popular competitor, Mininova.org, aXXo's fame is evident in the "search cloud", a page of the most searched terms on the site, their relative popularity denoted by the size of the font in which their names are displayed.
"Today, the largest search terms might be aXXo and Prison Break, if Prison Break aired on US television last night," explains David Price, head of piracy intelligence at the internet consultancy Envisional. "But tomorrow Prison Break will be a lot smaller, whereas aXXo will always be that size. Over the last two years, he's been one of the top five searched terms on Mininova every day."
Whenever aXXo posts a new film (which can be as often as three times a day) his followers fill the comments boards with praise. He is the lowly film-fan's Robin Hood. Last year, one aXXo fan, codenamed the_dwarfer, composed a version of the Lord's Prayer for his idol, which began: "Our ripper, who art on Mininova, aXXo be thy name..."
The name aXXo first appeared in November 2005, when he began to post pirated movies to the message board at Darkside_RG. He quickly acquired a reputation for both quality and convenience. All of his films were copied to DVD quality (or near enough for the amateur eye); in a simple format that would play instantly on almost any computer as soon as the download was complete; and handily compressed to emerge at 700Mb, just the right size to fit on a single writeable CD.
Uploaders generally have a shelf life of a few months before they get bored – or caught – but aXXo persisted. "aXXo guarantees quality," Price explains. "In the piracy world, there's no Film 2008 to tell you which version of a film to download. Instead, the community tells you that aXXo is the guy to look for, because everybody else downloads him. As soon as a DVD rip of a film appears online, people search out aXXo's copy, because they know they're guaranteed a good piracy experience."
The question of aXXo's identity is undoubtedly of interest to the authorities, but it's also an abiding obsession for his fans. One Canadian documentary film-maker, for example, is working on a film entitled Searching for aXXo. The blog Torrentfreak.com is devoted to the torrent sharing culture. In March 2007, its creator, a 28-year-old academic from the Netherlands who writes under the pseudonym Ernesto, appeared to have landed a brief but exclusive email interview with the elusive aXXo. His interviewee claimed to be a teenager working alone, a naive but philanthropic soul who believed that, if a good film is out there, "everyone has the right to be entertained by it." The interview was quickly discredited by the ensuing web chatter, and Ernesto, asked today if he thinks his interviewee was a hoaxer or the real deal, replies curtly: "I have no idea." My own request for an email interview with aXXo, left in his Darkside_RG mailbox has gone unanswered.
The otherwise uninformative Darkside_RG profile for aXXo suggests he was born in August 1972. There's no reason why this should be true but, says Price: "I wouldn't have thought he was a teenager. Whoever claimed to be him was probably a fake. From what we know, he's fairly experienced." In a recent piece about aXXo for the online magazine Slate, reporter Josh Levin said he believed aXXo was not American – but, Price suggests, he is probably a native English speaker.
As with Operation Ore, the international police operation to prosecute users of online child pornography sites, the copyright cops are planting spies in the chatrooms and forums of the torrent community, hoping to ensnare the pirates who frequent them. The ultimate prize would be aXXo. Envisional's work, says Price, has led to arrests in the past. "We have had successes searching for individual uploaders and leakers of content. With aXXo, we know where he tends to be active online. If you visited the right bulletin boards and forums, and you knew what to look out for, you would find other people who were searching for him."
BitTorrent, aXXo's chosen distribution method, is a filesharing technology that, serendipitously, arrived online at around the same time as home broadband became standard. Created in 2001 by Bram Cohen, then 26, a programmer from Seattle, the software was intended to be a means for music fans to share bootlegged videos of live performances by artists such as the US singer-songwriter John Mayer, who encourages such recordings by concert-goers.
Though the BitTorrent software itself is legal, and can be used to share any number of legitimate digital items, its efficiency and user-friendliness inevitably made it the amateur pirate's weapon of choice. Today, BitTorrent has well over 150 million users worldwide. "I'm studying social behaviour," explains Ernesto, "and the torrent community interested me because it is by far the largest library of our modern day culture. BitTorrent has a more social aspect than other filesharing protocols: sharing is rewarded."
Unlike traditional peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as Napster and Kazaa, which share files directly (and rather slowly) between two users' computers, BitTorrent collects pieces of the downloading file from across the filesharing network, seeking out segments of the film, album or application from every user's computer. This "file-swarming" not only makes downloading faster, it's also the epitome of filesharing – the more users there are online, sharing a particular file, the faster each of them will complete the download.
Hence aXXo's popularity: as a trusted brand name, users rush to acquire his releases as soon as they appear online. His small "torrent" file takes a matter of seconds to download from a torrent portal site like Mininova, after which the user add it to their computer's BitTorrent queue, sit back and watch the data flood in. With so many people downloading the same files at once, an entire aXXo film can be complete and on a user's desktop in a few hours at most.
But aXXo's popularity can be a curse. Once his name became common currency among downloaders, it was simple enough for less sophisticated pirates to piggyback on his success by imitating his tag in their own torrent files; one site turned up calling itself axxotorrents.com. There were also more sinister schemes afoot. In 2007, word spread through the community that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was uploading fake, blank torrents labelled as aXXo releases, in order to collect the IP addresses of downloaders. Next, someone intent on giving him a bad name started to upload aXXo-tagged files filled with malware – software designed to infiltrate and corrupt a downloader's computer.
An angry aXXo got into a dispute with both axxotorrents.com and the torrent portals that chose to host his imitators. The pirate was infuriated by the appropriation of his work – in spite of appropriation being his own stock-in-trade – and ceased uploading altogether until axxotorrents.com agreed to close down its domain name.
Unlike other torrent portals, however, The Pirate Bay's Swedish founders – who are driven not by any code of honour among thieves, but by an ideological opposition to copyright law – refuse to give high-profile uploaders the VIP treatment. aXXo's protests fell on deaf ears and, in November 2007, after deleting all his torrents from The Pirate Bay's pages in a fit of rage, he disappeared from the web altogether. His friends at Darkside_RG reported that he'd decided to "take a break".
In aXXo's absence, other uploaders had their moment in the sun. FXG, whose DVD rips were about the same quality and size as aXXo's, became a popular alternative. One smart uploader named themselves Klaxxon, so that each time a casual downloader searched for aXXo's name, they would find a Klaxxon torrent instead. Perhaps concerned that he'd been forgotten by his fickle public, aXXo resurfaced in March.
"He tried to go away," says Price. "But he came back. The pull of it is quite attractive to him. When you have millions of people downloading your content online and they know who you are, that's quite an incentive. Even if he's not getting any money, he is getting name recognition and status." To commemorate his return, aXXo chose as his first post the symbolic – and hubristic – film title, I Am Legend.
The authorities aren't the only ones who have it in for aXXo. He's also deeply unpopular among an elite group of internet users and abusers known only as "The Scene", which has existed in one form or another since the 1970s – before aXXo (the name, if not the man) was even born. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of illicit content available for download comes not from consumer-bought CDs, DVDs and games. Instead, film industry insiders, cinema projectionists, DVD factory workers and retail assistants plunder their employers' forthcoming releases and pass them on to the high-level pirates that comprise today's Scene.
The Scene's so-called "release groups" are at the top of the piracy pyramid. Each group will likely specialise in a certain medium (film, TV, games, music) – even a specific movie genre – and will include computer experts (or "rippers") with the skills to turn a two-hour movie into a compressed file that is easy to transfer online without any loss of quality. Once the release group has their copy, they seed it online with the help of enthusiastic mediators. Within hours, it is freely available to the average BitTorrent user on The Pirate Bay or Mininova.
The Scene's motivations aren't financial. The object of the exercise is simply to get your pirate copy of a film out there before any other group, and well ahead of its official release. Respect and reputation are earned through speed and technical skill. The Scene may be elite, but it's a meritocracy. Its code – again, ironic for a group engaged in the systematic demolition of copyright law – demands that any pirated material must give credit to its original ripper or release group, no matter how far down the piracy food chain it has come.
This explains the Scene's contempt for aXXo, who, it is widely believed, simply duplicates work that has already been produced by a higher-level release group. His re-encoding of the Scene's film releases into a clean, user-friendly format requires relatively little risk, and relatively little skill. In a world where the only reward is prestige, it must be galling for the Scene to watch aXXo taking the credit for their hard work. It also explains aXXo's motivations, and his anger at seeing his name taken in vain. Like Bruce Wayne, aXXo may only be celebrated for the actions of his alter ego, but he is celebrated all the same.
Industry insiders claim that illegal downloads cost the global film business £500m last year. According to a 2006 study by Envisional, P2P networks and their ilk account for at least 60 per cent of all internet usage. In the UK alone, more than six million people shared an estimated 98 million illegal downloads in 2007. These numbers will only grow as broadband speeds increase. Virgin Media recently launched the first 50Mb broadband service, and hopes to make it available to the entire UK customer network of 12 million in 2009. At that speed, a DVD-quality movie could be downloaded to a home desktop in less than four minutes.
Earlier this month, an estimable group of disgruntled British film-makers – including Kenneth Branagh, Richard Curtis and Stephen Daldry – signed a letter to The Times demanding government action against the internet service providers (ISPs) who make illegal filesharing possible. The MPAA, meanwhile, is already lobbying the incoming Obama administration in the US to improve internet filtering technology in the hope of foiling online piracy. Thanks to new legislation, President Obama will be required to nominate the country's first "copyright tsar" to oversee such issues.
The biggest problem for anti-piracy groups is the growing social acceptability of illegal filesharing. "The easier you make it for people to download, the more people do it," says Price, "and the less moral or ethical concerns they have about it. I talk to teachers and solicitors who'll say they streamed something from the internet, without realising it's illegitimate." The entertainment industry is still seen as bloated and greedy. Downloading movies is an apparently victimless crime, and if there is a victim, it's "The Man".
"We also never see how their data is calculated," says Becky Hogge, executive director of the Open Rights Group, a civil liberties group devoted to the digital universe. "Policymakers trot out figures, but we're never sure of their provenance. There is a meme sloshing around that suggests they overestimate the numbers. They used to equate the cost of piracy to the [entertainment] industry as a multiple of how many files were being shared illicitly online, which assumes that if you didn't get the stuff for free, you'd go out and buy all of it – which simply doesn't hold."
It's even difficult to prove the pirates' detrimental effect on individual films. The most pirated movie of 2008, according to TorrentFreak's annual listing, was also the year's biggest box-office success: Batman sequel The Dark Knight. The film's cinema release grossed close to $1bn (£700m) worldwide, and three million copies of the DVD were sold on its first day in the shops. Although it was downloaded more than seven million times on BitTorrent alone, Ernesto reported in his accompanying post, comments on various sites suggest that many of the downloaders had also paid to see the film at the cinema.
One enthusiastic, London-based torrent-user who preferred to remain anonymous estimates that he downloads around four or five films each week (including The Dark Knight). However, he says, "I pay to go to the cinema at least once a week. I very rarely buy DVDs, but then who does? Most of my friends prefer to subscribe to DVD rental sites like Lovefilm. Ownership of the physical artefact seems increasingly moot.
"I do have qualms about it, but it's a two-way street. The commercial cinema is increasingly homogenic; there are hundreds of films that never get decent distribution, and now I have a platform to see them. For example, I waited months for Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain to come out in the cinemas – when it finally did, it screened on three or four screens spread across Greater London, none of them for more than a week. Roughly a month later it was online."
The Dark Knight's internet leak followed a standard pirate release pattern: immediately after the film's July premiere, a "cammed" version, filmed secretly from a seat in the theatre, dropped onto the web. Next, in early September, a DVD-screener copy (with the film interrupted at intervals by title cards announcing a copyright breach) made its way online. Finally, in November, a few weeks before the DVD was due in stores, the DVD-quality pirate copy (aXXo's speciality) appeared, was appropriated by aXXo, and soon spread across the net like wildfire.
In an article written for Torrentfreak.com in January, Matt Mason, author of The Pirate's Dilemma, wrote that "when pirates enter our market spaces, we have two choices. We can throw lawsuits at them and hope they go away. Sometimes this is the best thing to do. But what if those pirates are adding value to society in some way?... In these cases, what pirates are actually doing is highlighting a better way for us to do things; they find gaps outside the market, and better ways for society to operate. In these situations the only way to fight piracy is legitimise and legalise new innovations by competing with pirates in the marketplace."
Mason's book demonstrates that the history of piracy is also a history of innovation, one that includes the names Thomas Edison (inventor of the record player) and William Fox (founder of Hollywood). Ernesto agrees: "The ever-increasing piracy rates show there is a demand that the entertainment industry has not satisfied. Thanks to the internet, access to media on demand has become reality, and people seem to love it. It's now up to the movie and music industry to come up with a model that can compete with these filesharing networks."
iTunes has proved that the music industry can compete with a parallel black market online. In the US, Hulu.com, a website set up by the major television networks to stream their programming online, has done the same. Project Kangaroo, the UK equivalent, is currently in the works. "If it's very easy to find and has a lot of content, people will use it," says Price. "Hulu is bringing in huge amounts of advertising revenue for the TV companies, and it's bringing people back from the piracy networks."
"The entertainment industry would make more for artists if it embraced these technologies and found ways of doing business online," Hogge argues. "When you have six million people breaking the law, it's the law that needs changing, not the people."
Anti-piracy activists have celebrated some small victories, with trials pending in Sweden and the Netherlands for the creators of The Pirate Bay and Mininova respectively. But neither site actually hosts torrent files; as portals, they merely point the way to them – and there's no guarantee that the law will find a way to penalise them for it. Meanwhile, new torrent portals will spring up in their place, and as long as the authorities focus on the sites rather than individual uploaders (prosecuting individual downloaders has brought record companies almost nothing but bad PR), they will do little to stem the torrents' flow. The outlets may be closed down, but the aXXo brand can just move on elsewhere.
The internet makes power-brokers of the most unlikely people. Harry Knowles, a portly, 37-year-old film fanatic from Austin, Texas, became the web's most influential film critic after he was accidentally run over by a 1,200lb cart full of memorabilia at a science fiction convention in 1994. While bedridden, he bought a new computer and set up his own movie website, Ain't It Cool News, which today has the power to sink a film with a negative review before it even reaches cinemas.
Andrew Sorcini, aka MrBabyMan, is an animator for Disney in Los Angeles, who spends his days (and possibly his nights) recommending articles and webpages on the news aggregator website Digg. As the site's most popular recommender of content, he wields the same influence as the editor of a major newspaper.
But MrBabyMan and Harry Knowles haven't the mystique of aXXo. They're flesh and blood. You can find their faces on Google. Their fame may be remarkable, but they achieved it straightforwardly – and legally. The abilities of aXXo, on the other hand, seem almost superhuman. To his followers, he is Robin Hood, Batman, God: he is everywhere, and nowhere.
A Film School’s New Look Is Historic
On a passageway above the new quarters of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts here are the Latin words “Limes regiones rerum.”
They are a classical rendering of the school’s insouciant motto, “Reality ends here.”
In its way this institution long known for close ties to Hollywood’s movie and television business is demanding its place in the academic tradition.
A formal unveiling of the school’s new home is set for March 29. But last month students and faculty members quietly moved into the first phase of a giant complex of classrooms, soundstages and production buildings that, not by accident, look as if they might be an extension of the sprawling entertainment empire built by George Lucas in Northern California.
Mr. Lucas, an architectural hobbyist, laid out the original designs for the project and donated an initial $175 million to build and support it. Industry benefactors like Warner Brothers, Fox and the Walt Disney Company have contributed another $50 million.
About $50 million still must be raised — in the face of hard times, even for Hollywood — to equip a second phase that would include a 36,000-square-foot animation building named for the DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg. Nonetheless school officials said that construction is fully paid for and was scheduled to be finished by August 2010.
For Mr. Lucas the grand expansion — which serves a full-time enrollment of about 1,500 graduate and undergraduate cinema students, along with thousands who take an occasional class — is all about sending a message.
“The only way you are going to get respect on a college campus, or a university campus, is to build something that is important,” Mr. Lucas said of his reasons for backing the complex. “Schools and universities mainly understand money.”
In effect Mr. Lucas is rebuilding the university’s film school for the second time. Having attended in the 1960s, when the school turned out fellow filmmakers like Randal Kleiser (“Grease”) and John Milius (“Big Wednesday”), Mr. Lucas later provided funds for, among other things, a George Lucas Instructional Building that served as the film school’s administrative center before being closed this year.
“I used to call that building the ‘San Fernando Valley S&L,’ ” Mr. Lucas said on Friday. Neither he nor school administrators ever quite warmed to an exterior design that featured odd angles and high, arched windows, never mind an interior with warrenlike offices.
This time around Mr. Lucas took things in his own hands. A little more than three years ago he presented the school’s dean, Elizabeth M. Daley, who had gone north on a routine visit, with a set of detailed architectural sketches of what he intended to create on the venerable campus southwest of downtown Los Angeles.
“I guess I should tell you what I’m going to do,” Mr. Lucas said, by Ms. Daley’s recollection.
The university got busy clearing land for a project that now appears to be a little more than half-finished. Working with Tom Brady, the director of construction management for Lucasfilm, Mr. Lucas designed what he sees as a homage to the university’s older buildings, particularly its ornate 1932 Doheny Memorial Library, and to the Mediterranean tilt of Los Angeles architecture around 1929, when the cinema school was founded.
That means a campanile, and some large clamshell motifs set into the pink-and-beige exteriors of a pair of buildings named for Mr. Lucas and Steven Spielberg, another longtime supporter of the school. (As an undergraduate Mr. Spielberg attended California State University at nearby Long Beach, but later received an honorary degree from the U.S.C. and became a trustee there.) A statue of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. is on order as the centerpiece of a fountain donated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which helped establish the school.
The students and Ms. Daley now enjoy breezier interiors that are meant to encourage casual exchanges. That is in line with a school philosophy that views film — a term used loosely here, in that most of the work is now digital — not as an accumulation of writing, directing and technical arts, but a means of communication to be mastered by all.
“It’s very holistic,” Ms. Daley said last week, speaking in a new office whose accoutrements still include a construction helmet. “We’re not here just to train a cameraman.”
The school’s final $50 million will not come easily at a time when virtually all of Hollywood’s major companies have been trimming staff and hunkering down for what most believe will be years of austerity.
On Friday Jim Wiatt, chief executive of the William Morris Agency, which has already donated a workroom in the school’s Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts, ducked a call about fund-raising prospects.
“Jim’s trying to get companies to contribute,” Christian Muirhead, a William Morris Agency spokesman, said.
Mr. Lucas acknowledged last week that “corporations are a little more focused on the bottom line” these days. But, he added, better educated executives and filmmakers would waste less money, and support for the new center would ultimately boost the stature of film at other universities, notwithstanding what he described as an enduring bias against cinema as being “not qualified to sit in the pantheon” of great arts.
“We should be more aggressive,” he said.
Electronic Book Start-Up Finds Partners
Eric A. Taub
Plastic Logic, maker of an electronic book reader, plans to announce partnership deals on Monday that it says will bring a number of major publications to its planned device.
The company plans to make a device with a 10.7-inch diagonal electronic display, larger than the screens on an Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader, two of the more popular models currently on the market. Plastic Logic says the device will be available early next year. It uses the same technology to display print as its main competitors.
Amazon is expected to announce a new version of its Kindle Monday.
Plastic Logic, a start-up based in Mountain View, Calif., also plans to demonstrate a prototype of its device at a technology conference in New York City on Tuesday.
Unlike the other products, the screen of the Plastic Logic Reader is big enough to more closely approximate the look of a printed newspaper or magazine page.
The company is hoping that the larger size will interest publishers who think that shrinking a newspaper page onto a small screen does not provide a good reading experience.
Users will be able to receive updated versions of the paper over a broadband or wireless connection. But the company did not say how much the device would cost or the price of subscriptions to various publications.
Plastic Logic said it had struck deals with The Financial Times, the British business newspaper, and with LibreDigital, a content aggregator that offers electronic versions of The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post and other publications on the Internet.
In addition, Plastic Logic said it would announce a “direct relationship” with USA Today.
Plastic Logic also has content relationships with Ingram Digital and Zinio, distributors of periodicals from such publishers as Hearst, IDG, Hachette Filipacchi, Playboy Enterprises and Ziff Davis.
As other device makers are doing, Plastic Logic will create an online store for customers to buy books and periodicals. It is offering tools to publishers and individuals that will allow them to format and sell books at the store.
The New York Times Company has not yet decided if it would make an electronic version of its newspaper available to Plastic Logic owners. “We’re talking with Plastic Logic and LibreDigital, but no decision has been made,” Catherine Mathis, a company spokeswoman, said.
Unlike the Amazon and Sony products, Plastic Logic is gearing its device toward business professionals rather than the casual reader. It wants to sell to people willing to pay a premium for the convenience of a large-screen device to store, read and mark up stacks of documents and PDFs using a touch screen, and then forward the documents to colleagues.
The additional content that the company will make available will be a secondary reason to buy the product, said Joe Eschbach, vice president for marketing. He said that a number of financial models are being considered for their product offerings, including subscription and per-use fees.
How the market will look a year from now is unknown. The company had originally planned on selling the product this year, but delayed the start because of the recession.
“The collapse in retail spending makes it really difficult to launch now,” Mr. Eschbach said.
The problem, says Richard Doherty, an analyst with the Envisioneering Group, is not the products’ appeal, but in figuring out a business model that will succeed. “I have not interviewed any owner of an ebook device who says that I should not have bought the thing,” he said.
Amazon's New Kindle E-Book Reader Gets Slimmer
Amazon.com Inc. is releasing a slimmer version of its Kindle electronic reading device, but it still costs $359 -- making it unclear how mainstream even an improved Kindle can be during a brutal recession.
Rather than lowering the price, Seattle-based Amazon touted several upgrades to the e-book reader and a novella from Stephen King that will be available exclusively for the device. The new Kindle is expected to begin shipping Feb. 24, with owners of the first Kindle at the front of the line if they want to upgrade.
''This device is a significant improvement versus the first generation,'' Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos said in an interview.
He said there was no way to lower the price given the upgraded components in the Kindle 2, which is a bit more than one-third of an inch thick -- about half the thickness of the first Kindle. Its 6-inch screen can display 16 shades of gray, compared with the previous Kindle's four shades. It will be able to read text aloud from two small speakers on the back, and it can store 1,500 books, instead of 200.
Like the old version, the new Kindle weighs about 10 ounces and downloads books -- the catalog has 230,000 titles -- and Internet content over Sprint Nextel Corp.'s wireless network.
E-books still don't exceed 1 percent of overall book sales, but publishers say they are a fast-growing niche, a rare area of improvement in an otherwise terrible market. Although some publishers have expressed nervousness about Amazon.com's market power, they have supported the Kindle and expanded the number of books available for it and competing devices such as Sony Corp.'s Reader. The Reader costs $300 or $400, depending on the model.
The Kindle has enjoyed a steady buzz, with an endorsement last fall from Oprah Winfrey and Amazon's claim over the holidays that it was out of stock.
Amazon has carefully guarded key details, including how many Kindles have sold since they debuted late in 2007. Amazon wouldn't comment on an analyst report last week that it had sold about 500,000 Kindles, which was based on a regulatory filing by Sprint Nextel that indicated 210,000 were bought in the third quarter of 2008.
Bezos said Monday that Kindle orders were strong around the holidays and that he expects that to continue. Even in the recession, he said, ''people are buying Kindles.''
The Kindle is available only in the U.S.; Bezos said an international release is ''clearly something we're thinking about.''
Ross Rubin, an analyst with The NPD Group, called the Kindle 2 ''an improvement across the board.'' He said that there was enough room for improvement over the first Kindle that the second probably will still appeal to people who already have one.
But for e-book readers to reach broader audiences, the price needs to come down, he said. He expects this won't happen until must-haves like textbooks become available for the devices.
Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets, said Amazon could cut the Kindle's price before the next holiday season if sales are healthy enough that Amazon can save on some component costs. He noted that driving down the price could lead to more sales of books for the Kindle -- and books are more profitable than the device itself, he said.
Amazon recently said it would make Kindle e-books available on other kinds of devices, including cell phones, as rival Google Inc. also is doing.
Amazon also hopes to make the Kindle enticing through exclusive content, beginning with King's novella, called ''Ur,'' which incorporates the device into the story.
King has been known as a digital publishing innovator. In 2000 he released a novella, ''Riding the Bullet,'' as a free download. Web sites such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com were swamped by high demand for the 66-page story.
Amazon shares fell 57 cents to $65.98 in afternoon trading Monday.
AP National Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this report.
Amazon in Big Push for New Kindle Model
Brad Stone and Motoko Rich
Escalating its efforts to dominate the fledgling industry for electronic books, Amazon.com introduced on Monday a new version of its electronic book reader, called Kindle 2.
Amazon said the upgraded device had seven times the memory as the original version, allowed faster page-turns and had a crisper, though still black-and-white, display. The Kindle 2 also features a new design with round keys and a short, joysticklike controller — a departure from the previous version’s design, which some buyers had criticized as awkward. The new device will ship on Feb. 24. Amazon did not change the price for the device, which remains $359.
Though the improvements to the Kindle are only incremental, Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, defined some ambitious goals for the device. “Our vision is every book ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds,” he said at a news conference in New York.
Amazon introduced several new features for the Kindle. A new text-to-speech function allows readers to switch between reading words on the device and having the words read to them by a computerized voice. That technology was provided by Nuance, a speech-recognition company based in Burlington, Mass.
Amazon is also allowing Kindle owners to transfer texts between their Kindle and other mobile devices. Amazon said it was working on making digital texts available for other gadgets (like mobile phones), though it did not specify which ones.
One competitive threat Amazon is facing in its effort to dominate the world of e-books is Google, which has scanned in some seven million books, many of them out of print. Google has also struck deals with publishers and authors to split the proceeds from the online sales of those texts.
Google recently said it would soon begin selling these books for reading on mobile devices like the Apple iPhone and phones running Google’s Android operating system.
Implicitly addressing the threat posed by Google, Mr. Bezos said that Amazon knew better than other companies what book-buyers wanted and stressed Amazon’s digital catalog of 230,000 newer books and best sellers.
“We have tens of millions of customers who buy books from us every day and we know what they want to read,” he said. “And we are making sure to prioritize those items.”
Markus Dohle, chief executive of Random House, the world’s largest publisher of consumer books and a unit of Bertelsmann of Germany, said the company was working with Amazon and other e-book makers to digitize its so-called backlist of older titles. When asked in an interview after the news conference if he was concerned about the effects of Amazon’s dominance in the e-book market, Mr. Dohle paused and laughed.
“It is not up to us to talk about Amazon’s competition,” he said. “I don’t think that any kind of defensive business strategy will succeed. We want to grow our business in all channels and one of the fastest-growing customers is Amazon in all areas.”
“We see the Kindle and we see e-books as a real opportunity because we think that it will not cannibalize the physical part of the business and it will also generate and create new readers of books,” Mr. Dohle said.
New Kindle Audio Feature Causes a Stir
Geoffrey A. Fowler and Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg
Amazon.com Inc., pushing further into the digital distribution of books, unveiled a thinner and faster version of its Kindle electronic-book reader but raised controversy among publishers and others with a new text-reading feature.
"Our vision is every book ever printed in any language all available in 60 seconds," said Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos at a Monday press conference in a New York library.
The Seattle company also said it has a new work by best-selling novelist Stephen King, called "Ur," which will be available exclusively on Kindle.
Originally launched in November 2007, Kindle has been so popular that it was out of stock over the key December holiday-shopping period for the last two years.
In an interview, Mr. Bezos said he expects to keep the Kindle 2 in stock. "Kindle buyers surprised us," he said of past demand. "We have taken a lesson from that, and are once again taking steps in terms of increasing our manufacturing capacity."
Amazon tweaked but didn't revolutionize the new Kindle. The new device lacks a color screen, for instance, although it can now display more shades of gray in photos. Amazon said the new Kindle will cost $359, the same as the original version, and will begin shipping Feb. 24.
Kindle 2 is smaller than the first version of the product.The new device also features a five-way navigation element, faster wireless service for downloading books and the ability to wirelessly sync between Kindles and cellphones.
Some publishers and agents expressed concern over a new, experimental feature that reads text aloud with a computer-generated voice.
"They don't have the right to read a book out loud," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."
An Amazon spokesman noted the text-reading feature depends on text-to-speech technology, and that listeners won't confuse it with the audiobook experience. Amazon owns Audible, a leading audiobook provider.
It's possible that Amazon -- which charges only $9.99 for Kindle best sellers -- will seek to pay less for the e-books it purchases from publishers. If so, it will likely face some pushback.
"All customers want better terms of sale," said Markus Dohle, CEO of Bertelsmann AG's Random House publishing group. "But we have a lot invested in our digital technology. And e-books are still a very small business -- less than 1% of revenue."
Amazon faces competition in the electronic delivery of books from other e-book makers Sony Corp. and Plastic Logic Ltd., as well as cellphones and multipurpose devices such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone.
"Reading is important enough that it deserves a dedicated device," said Mr. Bezos.
How to Download Free Books onto the Amazon Kindle
The cost of books for e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader can add up. But there's no reason to pay Sony or Amazon for books that are already in the public domain. Here's how to get them onto your e-book reader for free.
Because their static screens don't flicker like an LCD, E Ink e-book readers such as the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader are easy on your eyes and easy on their own batteries. They draw power only to load new pages, not to display the content, allowing a single charge to last through thousands of pages. While the manufacturers might love it if every e-book you read was purchased from their online stores at about $10 a pop, you have other options. The Internet is filled with Web sites eager to dispense virtual versions of books that have lapsed into the public domain. Some of these sites, such as ManyBooks.net, have even begun offering up versions that are specially formatted for the Kindle (.azw files) and Reader (.lrf). You won't find any recent best sellers in the public domain, but it's filled with time-tested classics—more Huckleberry Finn than Harry Potter. Amazon's Kindle store sells classics for between $1 and $4, but with sites like Many Books there's no reason to pay for them anymore. Bringing a Web-found e-book to your reader is easy—just download it onto an SD card and insert it.
And while the Kindle will also support .txt text files, it does not natively support PDF or Microsoft Word files. So if you have have any ebooks in these common formats, you'll need to convert them before you can read them. There's two ways you can do this. It can be done either through third-party software such as the Mobipocket eBook Creater, or by emailing the files to Amazon, who will do the work for you. To do this, send an email to email@example.com (sub in your Amazon Kindle username for "yourkindleusername"). Amazon will then send you a converted file, free of charge.
Authors to Google Book Search: Pay Up!
Authors and publishers of tens of thousands of out-of-print books have submitted claims for compensation from Google Book Search as called for in a settlement agreement to a copyright lawsuit, a lawyer in the case said on Wednesday.
Under a $125 million settlement Google reached in October with book authors and publishers who sued over the company's book-scanning project, the search giant is required to provide notice to authors, publishers, and their heirs and successors that they may be eligible for payment.
The notice is being published in 218 countries and 72 languages, according to a statement from Boni & Zack, a Philadelphia-area law firm that represented the Authors Guild in the lawsuit.
Authors and others are submitting claims on a special Web site that went live January 5, attorney Michael Boni said in an interview. Under the settlement terms, copyright holders will receive $60 per scanned book and 63 percent of ad revenue.
"The notice program is succeeding and notice has already gone out to most of the class members around the world," Boni said. "There is still some more notice to be provided, but we are on track and we are pleased."
Google representatives did not immediately respond to questions via e-mail and telephone.
Google is digitizing the works from many major libraries, including the New York Public Library and the libraries at Stanford and Harvard universities, and is making those texts searchable on pages with advertisements.
The Authors Guild, which represents more than 8,000 authors, sued Google in September 2005, alleging that the company's digitizing initiative amounted to "massive" copyright infringement.
Offering Free Investment Advice by Anonymous Volunteers
Claire Cain Miller
Would you trust a Web site created by anonymous individuals to give you better advice on stocks than professional advisers? Wikinvest hopes so.
Following the model of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, Wikinvest is building a database of user-generated investment information on popular stocks. A senior at Yale writes about the energy industry, for example, while a former stockbroker covers technology and a mother in Arizona tracks children’s retail chains.
Wikinvest, which recently licensed some content to the Web sites of USA Today and Forbes, seeks to be an alternative to Web portals that are little more than “a data dump” of income statements and government filings, said Parker Conrad, a co-founder.
Users annotate stock charts with notes explaining peaks and valleys, edit company profiles and opine about whether to buy or sell. The site is creating a wire service with articles from finance blogs and building a cheat sheet to guide readers through financial filings by defining terms and comparing a company’s performance to competitors’.
“Our philosophy as a site is that there are a lot of things added when humans participate,” said Michael Sha, who started the company with Mr. Conrad in 2006. The founders, both 28, first teamed up as amateur traders from their freshman dorm room at Harvard.
Though people are growing increasingly comfortable with user-generated Web content, stock information is particularly risky. With no single arbiter of accuracy, the wiki model could make it easier for manipulators to spread misleading information to try to move stocks.
To try to prevent that, Wikinvest, like other wiki sites, requires contributions to be factual and to cite evidence, and it depends on users to quickly remove those that are not. It ranks contributors based on how frequently they write and how often their changes are undone by others. It covers companies only with a market value of at least $100 million because they are more actively traded and less susceptible to price manipulation.
“The reason why I think wikis work is it’s a lot easier for me to undo something you did than for you to do it,” Mr. Conrad said. And if someone lies about a company, they are subject to prosecution for securities fraud.
Joseph A. Grundfest, a former member of the Securities and Exchange Commission who teaches at Stanford, sees some benefits to the wiki model. “We need more people to take responsibility for their own investment decisions, and the easier you make it for people to get good information at low cost, the better off the world will be,” he said. However, “People have to understand that whenever you use a wiki, you get what you pay for.”
The site appeals to investors who are knowledgeable and curious about investing and do it themselves, said Michiel de Boer, director of technology strategy at Zecco, an online brokerage firm that licenses Wikinvest content.
“There is a distrust of the financial services industry that has been amplified in the past year,” he said. “Some see this as a revelation, adding transparency and clarity.”
David Turetsky, a former stockbroker who now trades from his bedroom in Baltimore, is one such investor. He often edits contributions that reek of business school jargon or seem too enthusiastic about a company.
“I try and protect myself against being blindsided, and a site like this is very useful that way, to stimulate my thinking or give me pause,” he said.
No Escaping Homework for Singapore Computer Whiz-Kid
He's made headlines for his computer programing skills, but nine-year-old Singaporean Lim Ding Wen is only allowed to play with his desktop for just two hours a day, and provided he's finished his homework.
Ding Wen, who started using a computer at the age of two, became a celebrity of sorts after writing an iPhone application called Doodle Kids, which lets users to draw by touching their fingers to the screen, then clearing it by shaking the phone.
The application, available on Apple's iTunes store, currently has more than 27,000 users worldwide.
"Programing is easy, I just have natural interest in it," the fourth-grader told Reuters. "It's fun."
Lim's father, Lim Thye Chean, is a chief technology officer for a local firm, and the boy grew up surrounded by computers.
Lim said his son first asked about programs two years ago, and he started him off on an old, yellow, 16-bit Apple II GS computer, hoping it would be easy enough for him.
Since then, Ding Wen has mastered some six programing languages and completed some 20 projects.
"Ding Wen is not a genius. He just works hard at what he does. Anybody with an interest can do programing," Lim said.
Ding Wen's skills may be way beyond his years -- he's writing another iPhone game -- but he still lives an average nine-year-old's life, and that means homework and house rules.
"Two hours of computer a day and only after homework," the boy said sulkily.
His mother, Zhao Yan, says he must also do well at school.
"He does not need to be in the top three, just the top ten will do," she said. Last year, he came 10th in his class.
And while computers, and games such as Sega's "Sonic the Hedgehog," are among his favorite activities, Ding Wen also likes cycling and playing with his pet mealworm James.
He is also determined not to let fame get to his head.
"I don't want to become famous," Ding Wen said in his room, where laminated newspaper articles about him are displayed on the walls. "I just want to be good at my programing."
(Editing by Miral Fahmy)
New iPhone App DRM Claims to Thwart Pirates
Piracy of iPhone applications has become quite a hot topic recently, particularly since ‘one-click’ cracking apps such as Crackulous have become available to the public. The Kali Anti-Piracy system from Ripdev believes it has the answer, putting pirates on notice that the easy ride to free software is over.
Last week the one-click iPhone software cracking application Crackulous became officially available to the public. The software would give anyone the ability to remove the copy protection from software purchased from the Apple App Store, enabling people to share them with others.
There were mixed opinions on the news. Some thought that it was great that there was an increased potential for a flood of cracked iPhone software, but a significant number of people expressed concerns that software developers would shy away from the format if they couldn’t guarantee a revenue stream.
Of course, the piracy/anti-piracy cat-and-mouse game was inevitable and today a new DRM system has been launched by Ripdev, promising to thwart those pesky iPhone pirates.
iPhone developer Ripdev says that its new ‘Kali Anti-Piracy’ system has been in development for some months now and today sees its official ‘beta’ launch. Ripdev acknowledges it has become trivial now for anyone to become a “cool hax0r” by cracking iPhone app DRM and distributing the results worldwide, but believes that with Kali, it has the answer.
According to Ripdev, the Kali system is a server-side service which can take any App Store application and place it inside another protection wrapper which, Ripdev claim, will prevent it from being pirated. Claimed to be fully compliant with the Apple iPhone SDK, Ripdev says that Kali-protected apps meet Apple’s approval process. The company adds that it has been protecting its own software (such as Kate, i2Reader Pro, iPref and Installer) with it for months and no-one has yet cracked any of them.
There is a one-off charge for developers to start using the system. If they sell their app for $9.99 or less it’s $100. Over $9.99 and it goes up to $300. Ripdev are also taking additional ‘royalties’ for each copy protected with Kali (in order to “keep the hackers on their toes”) of between 1% and 5% of the developer’s 70% cut.
Ripdev also has a message for would-be pirates;
“Expect more and more apps to be much, much harder to crack in the near future. ;)”
The trouble is that sounds awfully like a challenge. I’d put money on that being taken up. Quickly.
Microsoft Plans to Open Retail Stores
Microsoft plans to open its own stores despite the economic downturn that has left many retailers struggling.
The company said Thursday that it had hired David Porter, a 25-year veteran of Wal-Mart Stores, as its corporate vice president for retail stores. Mr. Porter was head of worldwide product distribution at DreamWorks Animation SKG since 2007.
Mr. Porter, who is set to start work on Tuesday, is charged with improving the PC-buying experience. The company said his first task would be to set the timing, locations and design of Microsoft-branded retail stores, which will sell computers installed with Microsoft software as well as other company products.
Microsoft has been working to revive the image of its ubiquitous Windows operating system, starting with a $300 million advertising campaign that began last fall. Vista, the most recent version of the software, was widely criticized for being slow, requiring new and more expensive hardware, and not working with devices like printers and scanners. Vista has also been the subject of a series of snide television ads from Apple.
At the same time it introduced upbeat new TV ads last fall, some of which struck right back at Apple, Microsoft posted 144 of its own employees in electronics chain stores around the world to talk with shoppers about Windows.
The “Gurus” seemed to be Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s in-store “Genius Bar.” With its newly announced retail store intentions, the software maker is taking yet another page from Apple’s playbook. Apple credits its stores, concentrated mostly in the United States, for helping raise its profile and draw new customers.
But Microsoft’s timing may be off. The recession has socked the retail sector, and purveyors of electronics have been hit hard. Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November and said in January that it would liquidate its 567 United States stores, cutting more than 34,000 jobs. Best Buy laid off thousands of corporate employees in December and reported same-store sales — a crucial measure of retail health — sank 6.5 percent.
Even Apple, whose iPods, iMacs and iPhones draw brand-conscious customers willing to spend more for design, was hit in the holiday quarter by the recession as average sales per store dropped to $7 million, from $8.5 million in 2007.
Microsoft had no comment on the plight of Apple and the big-box stores, but said its own retail stores can help shoppers make smarter decisions about spending money on technology.
The company had set up a concept store at its headquarters with displays of Windows computers, Xbox 360 consoles and games and other items. But the company said it was meant to help stores like Best Buy see new merchandising ideas in action, and was not a prototype for stand-alone retail stores.
By Ryan Paul
The new Carackan engine aims to deliver similar functionality and help Opera stay competitive. According to developer Jens Lindström, Opera has had a small team working on the new engine for several months. Carakan will replace Futhark, the engine that is used in the latest stable version of Opera. Futhark, which was introduced in Opera 9.5, is a lightweight, stack-based bytecode interpreter that was designed with an emphasis on low memory consumption rather than optimal execution speed. Carakan supports a new register-based virtual machine and a nascent native code generator that leverages static type analysis.
Although the native code generator isn't ready yet, the new virtual machine is already much faster than the previous one. Builds aren't available to the public yet, but Opera says that it's internal benchmarking shows that Carackan is roughly 2.5 times faster in the SunSpider benchmark. With native code generation, the performance difference will be much more significant.
"The native code generation in Carakan is not yet ready for full-scale testing, but the few individual benchmark tests that it is already compatible with runs between 5 and 50 times faster, so it is looking promising so far," Lindström wrote. "On ECMAScript code that is particularly well-suited for native code conversion, our generated native code looks more or less like assembly code someone could have written by hand, trying to keep everything in registers."
Opera has also released some additional technical details about Vega, a hardware-accelerated vector graphics library that is used by the browser. Vega was originally developed to facilitate the implementation of SVG support in Opera, and it has since been adapted to power the HTML5 Canvas element. Opera developer Tim Johansson says that the browser could soon use Vega for all HTML rendering. This could potentially simplify the codebase by eliminating the need for platform-specific rendering code paths. It will also simplify implementation of some advanced CSS3 features and make it possible to leverage hardware acceleration for complex drawing.
Internet Cafes Hit By Clampdown
SOME of Bahrain's Internet cafes claim business has been hit by government censorship. However, other cafeowners and some members of the public said they were actually in favour of the government's web clamp - which covers sites featuring pornographic material, gambling, religious and political views and even the UK's National Lottery site.
Bahraini mother-of-three Mariam Al Nasaq refuted suggestions that the ban was an infringement on civil liberties, saying looking at prohibited sites was ultimately against the law.
"If it is the law, then why should anyone be allowed to break it?" she asked.
Meanwhile, 29-year-old Adliya Internet cafe user Mark Buhu said he hadn't noticed any websites he surfs being censored and felt it was the right thing to do.
"I think it's fair because little children, especially my nine-year-old son, can operate a computer and he might get onto one of those sites," he said.
The cafe's Ethiopian employee Sammy Bayo, who asked for the name of the business not to be named, admitted the ban had affected the number of users at the cafe - and on a personal level, contacting with his family back home made more difficult.
"For me, I don't like it," he said.
"For example, sometimes if I try to access websites in my country (like www.ehionet.et), they are blocked - this is a problem."
An Umm Al Hassam Internet cafe owner, Reg Kumar, said censorship had hit his business hard, leaving his shop deserted.
"From the business side, it is not good for us - before the ban, we had at least two or three customers at this time, but now there are none," he said.
"But I think it's good for the society as there are children who are growing up and don't want to see this sort of stuff."
Abdul Salaam, 41, who works at an Internet cafe also said the ban had affected business.
"Before the ban, it was very busy, but now it is completely empty," he said.
Although Internet 2020 Cafe, in Adliya, owner Rashid Al Zayed said that his business had not seen a decrease in customers, he did believe that the website ban was wrong.
However, Mr Al Zayed said that there were ways to get around the ban, despite the government's best efforts.
"You can get around it with proxies, even though they've tried to block them," he said.
Bu Kawarah's Spike Computers employee Sanil Kumar, 28, said that their cafe was in favour of any ban on illicit websites.
"Business is still good, it hasn't been affected and we appreciate the blocking because we don't want to encourage that sort of activity," he said.
"It's good for the younger generation to have this sort of stuff banned."
But a British IT consultant, who only wanted to be named as Mike, condemned the ban, adding that people would always find a way to get around it if they wanted to.
"This country is supposed to be liberal," said the 35-year-old.
"It's also pointless because if you want to get around it, there are many ways."
He said that many non-pornographic sites he used to access, including the British newspaper The Sun, had been censored for no apparent reason, adding the action was hardly a step forward.
"And they've banned translation sites, which is really annoying when you don't speak Arabic," he said.
Stimulus Bill Bears Imprint of Technology
Charlie Savage and David D. Kirkpatrick
To rally support for his administration’s economic recovery bill recently, President Obama invited about a dozen chief executives, seven of them from technology and energy companies, to the Oval Office.
Some of their industries’ top lobbyists, meanwhile, gathered in another office where Jason Furman, a top White House economic adviser, delivered a private briefing for groups expected to benefit most from the stimulus bill.
While much of the sprawling $800 billion legislation consists of tax cuts and broad spending increases for existing programs, like $27 billion on highways and $8.4 billion on public transit, the biggest outlay on new initiatives is essentially a technology industry wish list: in the Senate version, about $7 billion for expanding high-speed Internet access, some $20 billion for building a so-called smart grid power network and $20 billion for digitizing health records.
To many on K Street, the stimulus bill was the clearest guide to the new administration’s closest friends in the business world. What oil was to President Bush, some say, clean energy and technology are to the Obama White House.
“We have a president who gets it,” said Dean Garfield, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council, which recently identified the Senate initiatives in a short list of its top priorities.
A close look at the history of the stimulus bill — the first major product of the new administration — shows that the industries that stand to gain most from the proposed legislation were also working to help shape it even before Mr. Obama had won the election.
For months, the industry officials had been talking with Obama advisers about how to use taxpayer aid to jump-start the economy while laying the groundwork for both the new president’s and their own goals of building a high-tech infrastructure.
Mr. Obama’s advisers say that the administration was only following through on the public promises he made in a campaign that began with a call two years ago to curb America’s dependence on foreign oil and extend broadband access “through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America.”
And they emphasized that Mr. Obama had taken unusual steps to disclose what those firms were saying, like posting any proposals submitted to the transition on its Web site, in contrast to the Bush administration’s fight to keep secret how fossil fuel company executives shaped its energy policy in 2001.
“Whatever they shared, we put out there so the public could see it,” said John Podesta, president of the liberal Center for American Progress and co-chairman of the transition.
Campaign finance records also show that executives at many of the energy and technology companies that stand to profit from the stimulus bill were also big contributors to Mr. Obama’s campaign. His promises about a “smart grid” and universal broadband dovetailed with the dreams of many in the technology industry, as well as allied fields like renewable energy and electric power.
Drawing on renewable energy sources, like wind turbines and solar panels, would be easier with a smart grid that could handle inconsistent electricity production. More energy would lower the cost of running giant computer servers, and because such a grid can send signals in both directions, it would also allow variable pricing for peak hours and could potentially expand the Internet network, as would extending other forms of broadband lines to rural and underserved areas. And moving health records online would open new markets for digital connections, data storage and consumer services.
“They all converge,” said Christopher G. Caine, vice president for governmental programs at I.B.M., which is in both the smart grid and health care data businesses. At the transition’s request, I.B.M. prepared a research report concluding that $30 billion in spending this year on the smart grid, broadband access and digitized health records would create approximately 949,000 jobs.
The idea of harnessing such pre-existing proposals to a stimulus package traces back to September 2008, when the financial crisis was worsening and it became clear that a jobs bill could be an early priority if Mr. Obama won the election.
Obama advisers including Mr. Furman, Julius Genachowski and Austan Goolsbee began soliciting input from the high-tech and alternative energy interests, including General Motors, I.B.M., Google, the Information Technology Industry Council and the electric utilities’ Edison Institute.
By October, “there was a query that said ‘if you had money to spend on broadband as part of this stimulus, what would you propose?’ ” said Debbie Goldman, a lobbyist for the Communications Workers of America, which has pushed for greater government spending on broadband.
After the election, the campaign’s policy teams went through their agenda and selected those items that could have a quick start and natural end date to identify candidates for a jobs bill.
“Synergies between our short-term goals and our long-term goals,” David Axelrod, a top adviser to Mr. Obama, said in an interview, “that was the sweet spot.”
The transition also sought expert advice, holding conference calls and meetings at its temporary headquarters in Washington with a parade of industry lobbyists and executives from high-tech and clean energy companies from mid-November to early December.
On Dec. 2 for example, Ms. Goldman of the communications workers union made a presentation promoting the jobs that would be created by broadband spending. On the same day, representatives of all the renewable energy trade groups sat around a table making pitches to Carol M. Browner, who is now Mr. Obama’s energy policy chief.
“It was nice they were having us all in so early,” said Karl Gawell of the Geothermal Industry Association, whose members would benefit from $400 million in grants in the House version of the stimulus bill.
The process reached a climax when members of the economic team flew to Chicago for a Dec. 16 meeting with Mr. Obama. The team laid out the structure of the plan — increased spending on infrastructure, education, energy and health care, along with tax cuts, financial aid to states and unemployment and food stamp benefits.
While much of the presentation involved broad themes, Mr. Furman said it put special focus on “a number of high-priority flagship details” like the renewable energy and high-tech components. Mr. Obama signed off on the initial outline, after making a few adjustments.
“The president-elect was particularly interested in the energy component of the plan and pushed for a more robust effort on the smart grid,” Mr. Furman recalled.
Three days later — the Friday before Christmas — transition officials met at the Capitol with Congressional leaders and staff to present the proposals, which Mr. Furman said were couched in the form of “suggestions” by the president-elect.
His team had few staff and relied on Congress to convert their ideas into legislative language. Congressional committees, meanwhile, had been working since November to draft their own version of a stimulus bill, and added their own details to Mr. Obama’s blueprint. For example, House Democrats attached privacy protections to measures that promote the online storage of medical records, banning the sale of health data, an idea long pushed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Mr. Garfield of the Information Technology Industry Council said technology lobbyists accepted the privacy rules in a spirit of compromise, in light of the victories they won elsewhere with Mr. Obama’s help.
“I won’t say it is great to be the king, because we are not the king,” Mr. Garfield said. “But it is good to be heard.”
Congressman's Twittering Raises Security Concerns
The top Republican on the House intelligence committee landed in hot water this week after using his Twitter page to update the public on his precise whereabouts while traveling through Iraq and Afghanistan.
The revelation prompted the Pentagon to review its policy, which regards such information as sensitive, and lit up the liberal blogosphere with accusations of hypocrisy.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra says he did nothing wrong. He pointed to announcements by other high-ranking officials, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which list the countries they plan to visit.
"The policy that we have and that we did on this trip is consistent and well restrained from what other folks have done in the past," said Hoekstra, R-Mich.
But Hoekstra, who has decried the unauthorized leaking of classified information, provided far more details than a general itinerary, including at least a 12-hour heads-up that he was headed to Iraq.
Twitter is a Web site that enables a person to broadcast short text updates, called "tweets," using a phone or computer. The updates are published on their online Twitter page and sent directly to anyone who signs up to receive them.
"Just landed in Baghdad," the congressman declared on Feb. 5 at 9:41 p.m.
By 11:56 p.m., the public was given this more precise update: "Moved into green zone by helicopter, Iraqi flag now over palace. Headed to new U.S. embassy. Appears calmer, less chaotic than previous here."
Hoekstra later told reporters that his posts might not have been accurate. When asked if they were, he said he didn't remember.
"You don't know it's the exact time," Hoekstra said of his Twitter posts. "You don't know whether I sent that the minute I got in the car, whether it's halfway to the embassy or after I got that."
The episode showcases how eager lawmakers are to use social-networking technology, blogs and other popular sites to connect directly with voters. Congressional staffers say they are being told by their bosses to find new ways to get out their talking points and to no longer rely solely on traditional media outlets like newspapers, which might edit or distort their views.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, for example, recently posted on YouTube.com a lengthy monologue from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on why the military prison there should remain open.
Hoekstra is among those taking the lead in Congress when it comes to using multimedia technology to promote his work. On his Web page, one can "listen to Pete's latest podcast," download his latest television interview on Fox News and view pictures of him making pit stops on a trip throughout his district via an interactive map.
Along with many other members of Congress, Hoekstra also maintains a public profile on Facebook, where those who sign up as "friends" of the congressman can post their personal thoughts to his virtual wall.
And then there is Hoekstra's Twitter page. The updates on the Iraq trip were first reported by the trade publication Congressional Quarterly.
Hoekstra said he has "no idea" whether his military escorts knew he was updating his Twitter page and was never asked to stop. He also said he did not believe his twittering habit was in violation of any policy.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Cdr. Darryn James said it is general Defense Department policy not to disclose details of congressional delegations until they reach their destination. The Pentagon is now reviewing whether it needs to communicate that policy differently in light of technologies like Twitter, he said.
James could not immediately confirm whether Hoekstra had been told specifically not to provide location updates.
"In general, we do brief all the codels (congressional delegations) on the risk," he said.
Obama's BlackBerry Brings Personal Safety Risks
When the mainstream media first announced Barack Obama's "victory" in keeping his BlackBerry, the focus was on the security of the device, and keeping the U.S. president's e-mail communications private from spies and hackers.
The news coverage and analysis by armchair security experts thus far has failed to focus on the real threat: attacks against President Obama's location privacy, and the potential physical security risks that come with someone knowing the president's real-time physical location.
Before we dive in, let's take a moment to note that each mobile phone has a unique serial number, known as an IMEI, or MEID. This unique number is transmitted in clear text, every time the phone communicates with a nearby cell tower. Thus, while the contents of a phone call or the data session (for e-mail) are usually encrypted, anyone with the right equipment can home in on a particular IMEI and identify the location of the source of that signal.
The most common device used to locate a phone by its IMEI is a "Triggerfish", a piece of equipment that is routinely used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This kind of device tricks nearby cell phones into transmitting their serial numbers and other information by impersonating a cell tower.
The devices, which are actually fairly low-tech, were used to hunt down famed hacker Kevin Mitnick back in the 1990s. Most interesting of all, according to Department of Justice documents, Triggerfish can be used to reveal a suspect's location "without the user knowing about it and without involving the cell phone provider."
The expensive brand-name Triggerfish devices, made by the Harris Corp., are sold only to government agencies. However, it is almost certain that foreign governments have similar technology. Furthermore, someone with a low budget could likely use the open-source GNU Radio platform, which can already decipher GSM signals, to roll their own phone sniffer.
We know that the president has been given a White House-issued BlackBerry phone. As a result, Obama's smartphone is broadcasting its IMEI serial number for anyone with the right equipment to detect.
Of course, the president is never alone, and so it is likely that anyone sniffing the wireless spectrum near the president would pick up hundreds of different BlackBerrys in the area.
However, Obama's aides do have to go home at some point, whereas Obama sleeps at the White House. This means that over the course of several days or weeks, it should be possible for a patient adversary to determine which IMEI belongs to the president's phone, and which IMEIs are associated with the phones of aides, simply by following the president (at a distance) and monitoring the spectrum at all hours.
As staffers go home for the evening, and Secret Service agents rotate out of duty, an adversary can strike their IMEI numbers off of the list. Within days, that initial list of 100 BlackBerrys can be reduced down to a single IMEI identifying the president's phone
Were someone to learn the president's IMEI, they could use it to gain valuable (and dangerous) information. For example, by pointing an antenna at the White House, it'd be possible to instantly determine if the president was inside. With a sophisticated-enough antenna, it might even be possible to determine which vehicle the president is sitting in while traveling in a motorcade, or to determine if the Secret Service is driving an empty limousine along a high-profile route to draw attention, while the president travels to a venue in an unmarked vehicle. The digital trail left by the president's BlackBerry would soon announce his presence to those keeping an eye out for his IMEI.
I am sure that others could come up with even more nefarious uses for real-time access to the president's physical location. I will leave that task to the blogosphere.
The simple solution to this problem, of course, is for the President to regularly change his IMEI serial number by getting a new phone. However, this presents another problem: that of the odd man out.
Imagine that foreign spies point a directional antenna at the White House and are thus able to capture the IMEI numbers of Obama and his team, as they leave and return to the White House from various events.
If a new IMEI number were to suddenly appear, be used for one week, disappear, and then be replaced by a new IMEI, which was also used for a week, before also disappearing, it would soon be obvious that a single person was changing phones. This pattern would be even more obvious, if everyone else in the president's entourage kept using their own phone--and thus broadcast the same IMEI, week after week.
Simply put, the only way that President Obama can gain some level of anonymity with regard to his IMEI number is if everyone in his team also changes their IMEI numbers with the same regularity.
Fans of the HBO TV show The Wire (a group that includes Obama) will no doubt remember the use of cheap prepaid "burner" phones by the fictional drug dealers. In order to avoid being wiretapped by the police, the entire criminal gang would dispose of their phones at once and switch to brand-new devices.
Essentially, the White House needs to start using burners.
It would be extremely expensive (and wasteful) for the president and his staff to get a new BlackBerry each week. Luckily, there are two options available to the White House tech staff that allow them to protect the president's location privacy in a cost-effective (and environmentally friendly) way:
First, the White House geek team can simply shuffle the BlackBerrys used by the President's staff. That is, take away everyone's phone, mix them up, restore the software to the factory default, then issue a "new" phone to each staffer.
Within minutes, the phones would synchronize with the White House e-mail servers, and thus the "new" devices would have instant access to the e-mails and information that had been on the previous device.
The inconvenience factor of such a solution could also be significantly reduced by having twice as many phones as employees--that way, staff would not have to go without their phone for more than a minute or two, as they were swapped each week.
As long as this shuffling of phones were done randomly, the IMEI numbers would be sufficiently anonymized. Sure, a potential attacker would know that the device belonged to a member of the White House staff, but they would not know whether if belonged to a lowly intern, the press secretary, or the president.
A slightly more laborious method would be to hack the software running on the BlackBerrys and flash the devices with a new serial number. While this is quite possibly a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which prohibits most forms of phone hacking), it is unlikely that Research In Motion (which makes the BlackBerry) would sue the White House for engaging in such reverse engineering.
Of course, the downside of giving each phone a new serial number is that these phones would then need to be re-registered with the wireless communication company, which would otherwise refuse to provide the devices with service. However, this additional burden for the White House techies would yield significant security benefits, as each phone would be given a clean IMEI number not associated with the White House.
In this article, I've focused solely on the scenario of a bad guy with an antenna. There is also the very real (and significant) risk of an insider working for the phone company.
Insiders are a notoriously difficult security problem to fix, something Obama has likely already learned, after his passport file was read by a contractor working for the State Department.
Even if every person working for the White House's telecommunications carrier were honest, it could also be possible to social-engineer the information out of a customer service representative (otherwise known as "pretexting").
Alternatively, an adversary could simply hack into the computer systems used by the phone company in order to get information on Obama's phone. Is was this latter approach that was followed by an unknown attacker who was able to spy on the phone calls of more than 100 Greek government officials during the 2004 Olympics.
President Obama is likely to go on many foreign trips during his four (or more) years in office. In addition to burdening taxpayers with the obscene international roaming rates associated with his foreign BlackBerry usage, there are new and more serious security concerns to consider.
The federal government can most likely trust AT&T and the other wireless carriers. After all, they did join forces with the National Security Agency to spy on millions of American's phone calls without a warrant. The telecommunication companies in foreign countries are far less likely to be pro-United States, and in some cases, they are likely to be working closely with foreign intelligence agencies.
Thus, as long as President Obama keeps his BlackBerry turned on while he is in China, it is likely that the Chinese government will be closely monitoring his location, as reported by the president's phone to the Chinese government-owned phone company. The same sort of security issues will likely arise in many other countries.
Due to these security concerns, this blogger would be extremely surprised if the Secret Service permitted the President to use his BlackBerry when on foreign trips.
As you can see, the use of a BlackBerry by the president creates a number of very real security headaches that are no doubt keeping several people at the Secret Service awake at night. While the initial focus of the press was on the e-mail and smartphone technology in the president's phone, the real threats and risks are actually associated with more boring functions of the device.
Chinese Hackers Attacking U.S. Computers Daily, Congressman Says
Chinese government and freelance hackers are the primary culprits behind as many as several hundred daily attacks against U.S. government, electric-utility and financial computer networks, a senior congressman said.
"Sophisticated hackers could really wreak havoc on our financial systems if they were successful," House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said in an interview. The threat is "primarily from China."
While cyber plots to disrupt U.S. computer networks have been thwarted, significant vulnerabilities exist, said Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat.
Many of these problems will be detailed in a 60-day review the Obama administration said it would conduct on government cybersecurity efforts, Thompson said. President Barack Obama also has said he would appoint a computer-security chief who will report directly to him, a move Thompson supports.
Currency trading is among the financial networks targeted by hackers, Thompson said. An attack would be particularly damaging in light of the financial system's troubled state, he said.
He said electric utilities' networks also have several points of weakness.
"We were provided alarming data on the vulnerability of our electrical grid in this country," he said.
Prop 8 Donor Web Site Shows Disclosure Law Is 2-Edged Sword
FOR the backers of Proposition 8, the state ballot measure to stop single-sex couples from marrying in California, victory has been soured by the ugly specter of intimidation.
Some donors to groups supporting the measure have received death threats and envelopes containing a powdery white substance, and their businesses have been boycotted.
The targets of this harassment blame a controversial and provocative Web site, eightmaps.com.
The site takes the names and ZIP codes of people who donated to the ballot measure — information that California collects and makes public under state campaign finance disclosure laws — and overlays the data on a Google map.
Visitors can see markers indicating a contributor’s name, approximate location, amount donated and, if the donor listed it, employer. That is often enough information for interested parties to find the rest — like an e-mail or home address. The identity of the site’s creators, meanwhile, is unknown; they have maintained their anonymity.
Eightmaps.com is the latest, most striking example of how information collected through disclosure laws intended to increase the transparency of the political process, magnified by the powerful lens of the Web, may be undermining the same democratic values that the regulations were to promote.
With tools like eightmaps — and there are bound to be more of them — strident political partisans can challenge their opponents directly, one voter at a time. The results, some activists fear, could discourage people from participating in the political process altogether.
That is why the soundtrack to eightmaps.com is a loud gnashing of teeth among civil libertarians, privacy advocates and people supporting open government. The site pits their cherished values against each other: political transparency and untarnished democracy versus privacy and freedom of speech.
“When I see those maps, it does leave me with a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which has advocated for open democracy. “This is not really the intention of voter disclosure laws. But that’s the thing about technology. You don’t really know where it is going to take you.”
Ms. Alexander and many Internet activists have good reason to be queasy. California’s Political Reform Act of 1974, and laws like it across the country, sought to cast disinfecting sunlight on the political process by requiring contributions of more than $100 to be made public.
Eightmaps takes that data, formerly of interest mainly to social scientists, pollsters and journalists, and publishes it in a way not foreseen when the open-government laws were passed. As a result, donors are exposed to a wide audience and, in some cases, to harassment or worse.
A college professor from the University of California, San Francisco, wrote a $100 check in support of Proposition 8 in August, because he said he supported civil unions for gay couples but did not want to change the traditional definition of marriage. He has received many confrontational e-mail messages, some anonymous, since eightmaps listed his donation and employer. One signed message blasted him for supporting the measure and was copied to a dozen of his colleagues and supervisors at the university, he said.
“I thought what the eightmaps creators did with the information was actually sort of neat,” the professor said, who asked that his name not be used to avoid becoming more of a target. “But people who use that site to send out intimidating or harassing messages cross the line.”
Joseph Clare, a San Francisco accountant who donated $500 to supporters of Proposition 8, said he had received several e-mail messages accusing him of “donating to hate.” Mr. Clare said the site perverts the meaning of disclosure laws that were originally intended to expose large corporate donors who might be seeking to influence big state projects.
“I don’t think the law was designed to identify people for direct feedback to them from others on the other side,” Mr. Clare said. “I think it’s been misused.”
Many civil liberties advocates, including those who disagree with his views on marriage, say he has a point. They wonder if open-government rules intended to protect political influence of the individual voter, combined with the power of the Internet, might be having the opposite effect on citizens.
“These are very small donations given by individuals, and now they are subject to harassment that ultimately makes them less able to engage in democratic decision making,” said Chris Jay Hoofnagle, senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California.
THANKS to eightmaps.com, the Internet is abuzz with bloggers, academics and other pundits offering potential ways to resolve the tension between these competing principles. One idea is to raise the minimum donation that must be reported publicly from $100, to protect the anonymity of small donors.
Another idea, proposed by a Georgetown professor, is for the state Web sites that make donor information available to ask people who want to download and repurpose the data to provide some form of identification, like a name and credit card number.
“The key here is developing a process that balances the sometimes competing goals of transparency and privacy,” said the professor, Ned Moran, whose undergraduate class on information privacy spent a day discussing the eightmaps site last month.
“Both goals are essential for a healthy democracy,” he said, “and I think we are currently witnessing, as demonstrated by eightmaps, how the increased accessibility of personal information is disrupting the delicate balance between them.”
Texas Judge Orders Site to Identify Anonymous Trolls, Flamers
The right to flame someone online has typically been protected by the courts, but a Texas judge has decided enough is enough when it comes to 178 anonymous commenters on Topix.com. The site has less than a month to hand over identifying information about the Internet trolls.
A Texas judge has ordered an online news site to unveil identifying details about 178 anonymous commenters on the site. The order came after a couple, Mark and Rhonda Lesher, sued the numerous anonymous commenters posting to Topix.com for making what they considered to be "perverted, sick, vile, inhumane accusations" about them.
The Leshers were originally thrust into the Texas spotlight in 2008 after being accused of sexually assaulting an unidentified former client of Mark Lesher. That's when thousands of comments began piling up on the community news aggregator Topix to discuss the sexual assault charges. As with most things on the Internet, many Topix users felt free to let loose with nasty comments about the Leshers.
The Leshers were found not guilty of the charges after a criminal trial. That, however, wasn't the end of the 70-some individual threads posted to Topix about them. "It just... basically made us both feel like common criminals," the Leshers told the Dallas Morning News (via TechDirt). "It's like someone had basically raped us of our reputation and our standing in the community over and over and over again."
That's when the Leshers chose to sue a number of Topix's anonymous commenters (but, interestingly, not Topix itself). The law firm representing the couple, Connor & Demond PLLC in Austin, told Computerworld that the lawsuit was limited specifically to the posters whose statements were considered defamatory under Texas law.
The complaint filed by the Leshers details many of the comments made by the anonymous defendants. Some are certainly lower blows than others—insinuating that Mark drugs women and that Rhonda is the "Herpies Queen," and that the couple may have AIDS, among other things—but not all of the comments are as bad. Some merely accuse the Leshers of being liars, and others even say to wait for confirmation of some of the accusations.
Regardless of what we think of the comments, however, a Tarrant County judge clearly felt that they were libelous enough to order Topix to cough up personal information on the anonymous posters. The problem is that this order seems to ignore a number of previous rulings protecting the anonymity of Internet commenters, no matter how trollish.
In 2005, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that an anonymous blogger could remain anonymous after being sued by a local councilman and his wife. The blog in question had questioned the councilman's sexual proclivities, among other things, which the couple considered defamatory. A lower court granted the request to identify the blogger, but the Daleware Supreme Court overturned the decision. Then, in January of 2008, two female law students who were the target of vicious online attacks admitted that they had been unsuccessful in digging up personal information about a handful of anonymous posters, and had so far hit a dead end when it came to getting a court order.
One month later, a California appeals court reversed a previous decision that would have allowed Lisa Krinsky, COO of a Florida-based drug service company, to subpoena 10 anonymous Yahoo message board posters' real names. The court said that the commenters were allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights and speak their minds, even though some of the comments were quite scathing and potentially libelous.
Topix, for its part, appears to be doing its best to ensure that it only hands over exactly what is required, and not a bit more. Topix CEO Chris Tolles told Computerworld that the company takes privacy very seriously, and that the company would not "simply hand over all of our records" without reviewing the subpoena in detail. "We prefer to make sure requests are clear and specific and not overly broad," he said. According to the order, Topix has until March 6 to give up the information.
Newsweek Plans Makeover to Fit a Smaller Audience
When US Airways Flight 1549 glided safely onto the Hudson River last month, Newsweek did what news organizations have done for more than a century — it sent reporters and photographers to the scene. Considerable effort yielded a modest article on Newsweek’s Web site, and nothing in the printed magazine.
If a similar episode happens six months from now, editors say, Newsweek probably will not even bother.
Newsweek is about to begin a major change in its identity, with a new design, a much smaller and, it hopes, more affluent readership, and some shifts in content. The venerable newsweekly’s ingrained role of obligatory coverage of the week’s big events will be abandoned once and for all, executives say.
“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”
Newsweek loses money, and the consensus within its parent, the Washington Post Company, and among industry analysts, is that it has to try something big. The magazine is betting that the answer lies in changing both itself and its audience, and getting the audience to pay more.
A deep-rooted part of the newsweekly culture has been to serve a mass audience, but that market has been shrinking, and new subscribers come at a high price in call centers, advertising and deeply discounted subscriptions.
“Mass for us is a business that doesn’t work,” said Tom Ascheim, Newsweek’s chief executive. “Wish it did, but it doesn’t. We did it for a long time, successfully, but we can’t anymore.”
Thirteen months ago, Newsweek lowered its rate base, the circulation promised to advertisers, to 2.6 million from 3.1 million, and Mr. Ascheim said that would drop to 1.9 million in July, and to 1.5 million next January.
He says the magazine has a core of 1.2 million subscribers who are its best-educated, most avid consumers of news, and who have higher incomes than the average reader.
“We would like to build our business around these people and grow that group slightly,” he said. “These are our best customers. They are our best renewers, and they pay the most.”
In the first half of 2008, the average Newsweek subscriber paid less than $25 a year, or 47 cents for each copy — less than one-tenth the $4.95 newsstand price. Newsweek wants to raise that average to $50 a year, Mr. Ascheim said, adding, “If you can’t get people to pay for what they love, we’re all out of business.”
From their invention, newsweeklies have been under assault by quicker media, forcing them to ease away from the “what,” toward the “how” and “why,” and more recently, to “here’s what to do about it.” For decades, the magazines evolved quickly enough to keep huge readership and healthy profits.
But in the last couple of years, circulation and advertising have plunged, and the weeklies have cut news staffs. Time magazine, the nation’s first and largest newsweekly, remains profitable, though its sales are down, too, but Newsweek is struggling and U.S. News & World Report has become a monthly.
Editorially, Newsweek’s plan calls for moving in the direction it was already headed — toward not just analysis and commentary, but an opinionated, prescriptive or offbeat take on events.
The current cover article argues that America’s involvement in Afghanistan parallels the Vietnam War, and a companion piece offers a plan for handling that country. Newsweek also plans to lean even more heavily on the appeal of big-name writers like Christopher Hitchens, Fareed Zakaria and George Will.
Starting in May, articles will be reorganized under four broad, new sections — one each for short takes, columnists and commentary, long reporting pieces like the cover articles, and culture — each with less compulsion to touch on the week’s biggest events. A new graphic feature on the last page, “The Bluffer’s Guide,” will tell readers how to sound as if they are knowledgeable on a current topic, whether they are or not.
The magazine will replace its thin paper with heavier stock that is more appealing to advertisers and readers. It will also put more emphasis on photography. Pages of a mock issue that Mr. Meacham displayed in his office on West 57th Street in Manhattan show a cleaner, less cluttered layout that has more open space and fewer pages that seem an uninterrupted sea of words.
The plan turns on raising the amount, for each reader, that Newsweek can charge advertisers, and attracting more ads for luxury goods. It also promises sharply lower costs for printing, distribution, marketing and customer service.
Newsweek executives hope they are creating a new niche, but the magazine will not have the terrain to itself. To varying degrees, it will be plying turf already worked by The Economist, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and others.
Ad buyers to whom Newsweek gave a partial preview of its transformation said the magazine had to try something new, and that ordinarily, they would consider its plans promising. But most advertisers are cutting back, making any change more of a risk.
“It’s no secret that there’s just less money out there, so even if readers react very positively to the changes, it’s a difficult time,” said Scott Kruse, director for print investments at MediaCom US. “The core categories in the newsweeklies have been automotive, financial, tech and pharmaceutical, and all of those are underdelivering in a major way right now. So they’re going to have to bring in new advertisers from new categories, and I just wonder where all those ads are going to come from.”
Roberta Garfinkle, senior vice president and director for print strategy at TargetCast TCM, who also got a glimpse of the new Newsweek, said, “I give anybody credit in this difficult environment for saying, ‘What we’re doing doesn’t work anymore and we have to change our model.’ ”
“Do I think they’re on the right track? Probably, and they’re certainly on a better track than they were,” she said. “Will it work? We have to wait and see.”
Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets
In a closely watched case involving rendition and torture, a lawyer for the Obama administration seemed to surprise a panel of federal appeals judges on Monday by pressing ahead with an argument for preserving state secrets originally developed by the Bush administration.
In the case, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian native, and four other detainees filed suit against a subsidiary of Boeing for arranging flights for the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terrorism suspects were secretly taken to other countries, where they say they were tortured. The Bush administration argued that the case should be dismissed because even discussing it in court could threaten national security and relations with other nations.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama harshly criticized the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees, and he has broken with that administration on questions like whether to keep open the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made the same state-secrets argument on Monday, startling several judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.
“No, your honor,” Mr. Letter replied.
Judge Schroeder asked, “The change in administration has no bearing?”
Once more, he said, “No, Your Honor.” The position he was taking in court on behalf of the government had been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration,” and “these are the authorized positions,” he said.
That produced an angry response from Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiffs.
“This is not change,” he said in a statement. “This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.”
A Justice Department spokesman, Matt Miller, said the government did not comment on pending litigation, but he seemed to suggest that Mr. Obama would invoke the privilege more sparingly than its predecessor.
“It is the policy of this administration to invoke the state secrets privilege only when necessary and in the most appropriate cases,” he said, adding that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had asked for a review of pending cases in which the government had previously asserted a state secret privilege.
“The attorney general has directed that senior Justice Department officials review all assertions of the state secrets privilege to ensure that the privilege is being invoked only in legally appropriate situations,” he said. “It is vital that we protect information that, if released, could jeopardize national security.”
The court papers describe horrific treatment in secret prisons. Mr. Mohamed claimed that during his detention in Morocco, “he was routinely beaten, suffering broken bones and, on occasion, loss of consciousness. His clothes were cut off with a scalpel and the same scalpel was then used to make incisions on his body, including his penis. A hot stinging liquid was then poured into open wounds on his penis where he had been cut. He was frequently threatened with rape, electrocution and death.”
Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the A.C.L.U., told the judges that many of the facts that the government is trying to keep secret are scarcely secret at all, since the administration’s rendition program and the particulars of many of the cases have been revealed in news reports and in the work of government investigations from around the world. “The only place in the world where these claims can’t be discussed,” Mr. Wizner said, “is in this courtroom.”
What the A.C.L.U. is asking, he said, is that the case be allowed to go forward, giving the courts a chance to decide, based on classified information revealed solely to the judge, what should be allowed to be discussed.
But Mr. Letter said that the lower court judge, James Ware, did receive classified information and came to the correct conclusion in dismissing the case last year. He urged the judges to pore over the same material, and predicted “you will understand precisely, as Judge Ware did, why this case can’t be litigated.”
In a related matter, Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday proposed the establishment of a “truth commission” to investigate the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees and other issues, like the firings of United States attorneys by the Justice Department. The commission, he said, could grant immunity to witnesses to explore the facts without the threat of criminal prosecution.
David Johnston contributed reporting from Washington.
Artist Sues The A.P. Over Obama Image
In a pre-emptive strike, the street artist Shepard Fairey filed a lawsuit on Monday against The Associated Press, asking a federal judge to declare that he is protected from copyright infringement claims in his use of a news photograph as the basis for a now ubiquitous campaign poster image of President Obama.
The suit was filed in federal court in Manhattan after The Associated Press said it had determined that it owned the image, which Mr. Fairey used for posters and stickers distributed grass-roots style last year during the election campaign. The photo, showing Mr. Obama at the National Press Club in April 2006, was taken for The A.P. by a freelance photographer, Mannie Garcia.
According to the suit, A.P. officials contacted Mr. Fairey’s studio late last month demanding payment for the use of the photo and a portion of any money he makes from it.
Mr. Fairey’s lawyers, including Anthony T. Falzone, the executive director of the Fair Use Project and a law lecturer at Stanford University, contend in the suit that Mr. Fairey used the photograph only as a reference and transformed it into a “stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that created powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message” from that of the shot Mr. Garcia took.
The suit asks the judge to declare that Mr. Fairey’s work is protected under fair-use exceptions to copyright law, which allow limited use of copyrighted materials for purposes like criticism or comment.
“Fairey did not do anything wrong,” said Julie A. Ahrens, associate director of the Fair Use Project and another of Mr. Fairey’s lawyers, in a statement on Monday. “He should not have to put up with misguided threats from The A.P.” Paul Colford, a spokesman for The A.P., said on Monday that the agency was “disappointed by the surprise filing by Shepard Fairey and his company and by Mr. Fairey’s failure to recognize the rights of photographers in their works.”
He added: “A.P. was in the middle of settlement discussions with Mr. Fairey’s attorney last week in order to resolve this amicably and made it clear that a settlement would benefit the A.P. Emergency Relief Fund, a charitable fund that supports A.P. journalists around the world who suffer personal loss from natural disasters and conflicts.”
Mr. Fairey, 38, has become one of the most visible practitioners of a guerrilla-style art that has grown out of the graffiti scene but has expanded beyond paint to include a wide variety of techniques and materials, producing works usually displayed illegally on buildings and signs.
Mr. Fairey decided to create the image on his own before contacting the Obama campaign, which welcomed it but never officially adopted it because of copyright concerns. Before the election, Mr. Fairey was best known for his fake-advertising stickers and posters, pasted in cities across the country, showing an ominous, abstracted image of the wrestler Andre the Giant along with the word “Obey.”
Mr. Fairey is the focus of a retrospective that opened last week at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. (In a development that was not much of a surprise, he was arrested there on Friday, accused of illegally pasting his work in places around Boston; he has pleaded not guilty.) A collaged work made by Mr. Fairey based on his Obama poster was acquired last month by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, part of the Smithsonian Institution, and placed in its permanent collection.
After Mr. Obama’s victory, speculation increased about which picture had served as the basis for Mr. Fairey’s posters. In interviews the artist said that it was one he had found on the Internet. Bloggers, including the Manhattan gallery owner James Danziger, pursued several leads until, according to the lawsuit, Tom Gralish, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, helped track down a photo by Mr. Garcia that showed Mr. Obama sitting beside the actor George Clooney at a 2006 event about Darfur at the National Press Club.
Further complicating the dispute, Mr. Garcia contends that he, not The Associated Press, owns the copyright for the photo, according to his contract with the The A.P. at the time. In a telephone interview on Monday, Mr. Garcia said he was unsure how he would proceed now that the matter had landed in court. But he said he was very happy when he found out that his photo was the source of the poster image and that he still is.
“I don’t condone people taking things, just because they can, off the Internet,” Mr. Garcia said. “But in this case I think it’s a very unique situation.”
He added, “If you put all the legal stuff away, I’m so proud of the photograph and that Fairey did what he did artistically with it, and the effect it’s had.”
Digital Archivists, Now in Demand
Conrad De Aenlle
WHEN the world entered the digital age, a great majority of human historical records did not immediately make the trip.
Literature, film, scientific journals, newspapers, court records, corporate documents and other material, accumulated over centuries, needed to be adapted for computer databases. Once there, it had to be arranged — along with newer, born-digital material — in a way that would let people find what they needed and keep finding it well into the future.
The people entrusted to find a place for this wealth of information are known as digital asset managers, or sometimes as digital archivists and digital preservation officers. Whatever they are called, demand for them is expanding.
One of them is Jacob Nadal, the preservation officer at the University of California, Los Angeles. He does not use the “digital” modifier because his duties include safeguarding analog materials in U.C.L.A.’s collection, not just preparing them to cross the digital divide.
“I don’t think there’s any day where I would say I’m the digital guy,” he said. But he concedes that he’s not really an analog, ink-on-paper guy, either, and that is increasingly the case in his field. These days, he noted, “if you want to work in a library, you have to deal in electronic resources.”
Mr. Nadal and 10 or so colleagues at U.C.L.A. devote much of their effort to organizing and protecting material in digital form. Their duties include licensing and buying digital content from vendors, assigning identification markers called meta-tags so that material can be found easily, researching copyright matters and ensuring that files remain intact whenever new iterations of relevant software or hardware come along.
Befitting a nascent discipline like digital asset management, Mr. Nadal, 32, said he went into it almost by accident. Unsure of his career ambitions, he began work on various book-scanning and preservation projects as a student at Indiana University, then took them over when the head of preservation left. After that, he said, it “took a year or two for me to realize my career in preservation had started a year or two past.”
He reckons that many of his peers have had similar experiences. “Among librarians, I think that happenstance may be a typical career path,” he said.
Some backgrounds are considered better than others for budding digital asset managers. Familiarity with information technology is necessary, but it is possible to have too much tech know-how, said Victoria McCargar, a preservation consultant in Los Angeles and a lecturer at U.C.L.A. and San José State University.
“People with I.T. backgrounds tend to be wrong for the job,” she said. “They tend to focus on storage solutions: ‘We’ll just throw another 10 terabytes on that server.’” A result, she said, can be “waxy buildup” — a lot of useless files that make it hard to find the good stuff.
Ms. McCargar estimates that 20,000 people work in the field today — plus others in related areas — and she expects that to triple over the next decade, assuming that economic conditions stabilize before long.
Many work for public institutions, and businesses use them, too, said Deborah Schwarz, chief executive of Library Associates Companies, a consulting and headhunting firm. Especially big employers in this area are law firms, which need experts on digital copyright and other issues tied to the migration of legal documents from filing cabinets to databases.
One comparative advantage of private-sector jobs is the pay. Digital asset managers at public facilities would do well to make $70,000 a year. Salaries for their corporate counterparts are generally higher.
“Compensation varies wildly because it’s an emerging area,” said Keith Gurtzweiler, vice president for recruiting at Library Associates. “Consultants who can make recommendations on systems can make $150 an hour.” Those who “manage them once they’re up and running and maintain the machinery,” he said, make from the $70,000’s up to $100,000.
Michael Doane is an information management consultant at Ascentium, a consultancy in suburban Seattle that employs 100 to 150 digital asset managers in a staff of 500. He said that fresh graduates with master’s degrees in information systems management or a similar discipline could “easily expect $80,000 to $90,000 in consulting and a little less in the commercial world.”
As much as it might help his bank balance, Mr. Nadal cannot envision leaving U.C.L.A. for a corporate job. He finds the challenge of taming a vast collection of information for a major academic institution too appealing.
“We belong to the people of California and hold our collections in trust for them and for future generations of students, scholars and members of the public,” he said. “Public-sector institutions just strike me as far, far cooler. They have better collections, obviously, and they are innovative, connected and challenging in ways that seem more substantial to me.”
Adblock Plus and (a Little) More
Anatomy of ads
I would like to take a look at the different costs connected to ads. Most of the time, the only cost people consider is our attention — ads are designed to be distractive, they don’t let us concentrate on what we are doing. Jeff Atwood analyzed the space occupied by ads in comparison to content on a particular page and came to alarming results. I want to pick another page to look at the other aspects. Dilbert.com has been mentioned quite a few times as an example of an ad-laden site, the server response time is quite stable (good for reproducible results) and it features a large variety of different ads. If you look at the space distribution on the main page, ads occupy roughly 32% of the space while the content area is quite small with 22%. Most of the remaining space is navigation.
That’s the visual appearance. But let’s look at the networking side. How much do the ads cost in download size? How much do they increase page loading times? I measured these parameters for a full reload of the main page both with and without ads (each experiment was repeated 10 times to get a reasonably reliable average). However, when you browse a site, you usually make use of your browser’s cache — so I also did measurements for the case that you come back to the main page by clicking a link.
Here is an overview of the results, all numbers are given in the “from – to (average)” form:
with caching, with ads with caching, without ads without caching, with ads without caching, without ads
amount of data transfered, kB 22 – 60 (40) 0 – 36 (11) 675 – 707 (680) 204 – 205 (205)
time required, seconds 2.6 – 5.4 (3.5) 0.0 – 1.2 (0.3) 6.2 – 8.4 (7.1) 6.0 – 8.1 (6.7)
number of servers contacted 6 – 8 (6.7) 0 – 1 (0.5) 8 – 9 (8.9) 1
number of URLs requested 12 – 13 (12.5) 0 – 1 (0.5) 72 – 77 (73.2) 55
Summary of the highlights:
• Ads triple the amount of data one has to download (over 450 kB increase).
• When downloading the page the first time (without caching) the delay due to ads is not notable. However, these measurements have been made with a very good internet connection, modem users will see something very different. Also, it doesn’t consider the time for server name resolution (all names were already cached) — resolving nine server names instead of just one usually makes a huge difference.
• Dilbert.com is really good at caching, often you can go back to the main page without contacting any server at all. Unfortunately, ads pretty much destroy this advantage by requiring almost every ad server to be contacted. This means that instead of showing up almost immediately the pages take more than 3 seconds to load.
Now lets have a look at memory use. Restart Firefox, look at memory use, go to dilbert.com, check memory use increase. Comes out that this page needs less than 2 MB of memory without ads and around 9 MB with ads. Yes, we have quite an increase here.
The other two (ad types UNSIZED_AD and LEADERBOARD) are more creative — they load other scripts, this time from a.tribalfusion.com. What do these scripts do? You probably guessed it already — they load more scripts, this time from media.fastclick.net. And one of those finally inserts an image ad, while the other inserts yet another script (cdn.fastclick.net) that finally checks whether you have Flash installed and inserts a Flash ad if you do. The image ad (animated GIF, 331 kB) is mostly responsible for the increase in download size.
All this craziness involving 10 scripts (have you been counting?) amounts to 31 document.write calls. Just to keep your browser busy. And of course each single script sets a cookie (altogether five cookies on three domains) so it can recognize you when you stumble upon another of their ads.
It will add an unused hidden form to the page (memory is cheap, you know?) and then create the ad. The script lets the webmaster choose whether he wants a regular pop-up, a pop-under or an iframe. Dilbert.com chooses an iframe. In addition to the regular information about the account that should receive the payment it also transmits the full URL you have been viewing — just in case your firewall blocks the Referer header to protect your privacy.
The iframe actually contains an unobtrusive text ad, that’s the one you see above the text “Dilbert.com Marketplace”. It manipulates your status bar to make it appear that you will be sent directly to the advertised site. In reality it sends you there through redir.adsonar.com – each click is counted.
I probably don’t need to introduce this one. That’s Google’s visitor statistics service for webmasters who for some reason cannot afford proper log analysis. In terms of privacy there is only one difference to sageanalyst.net: instead of settings a cookie on their own server, Google sets the cookie on dilbert.com. I guess this has the advantage that one cannot easily block Google’s cookies without locking himself out of any cookie-dependent services on the domain (forums above all). On the other hand, this cookie is only useful for tracking the user within one site, on another site with Google Analytics you will receive a different cookie.
Battle Plans for Newspapers
By The Editors
Virtually every newspaper in America has gone through waves of staff layoffs and budget cuts as advertisers and subscribers have marched out the door, driven by the move to the Web and, more recently, the economic crisis.
In some cities, midsized metropolitan papers may not survive to year’s end. The owners of the Rocky Mountain News and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer have warned that those papers could shut down if they can’t find buyers soon. The Star Tribune of Minneapolis recently filed for bankruptcy. The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News will soon stop home delivery four days of the week to cut operating costs. Gannett, which owns 85 daily newspapers in this country, recently said it would require most of its 31,000 employees to take a week of unpaid leave.
What survival strategies should these dailies adopt? If some papers don’t survive, how will readers get news about the local school board or county executive?
• Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia Journalism School
• Joel Kramer, editor of MinnPost.com
• Steven Brill, founder of The American Lawyer magazine
• Geneva Overholser, Annenberg School of Journalism
• Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist.org
• Andrew Keen, author
• Edward M. Fouhy, founding editor of Stateline.org
• Rick Rodriguez, former editor of The Sacramento Bee
Define What Will Be Lost
Nicholas Lemann is dean of the Columbia University Journalism School.
In many cities, newspaper readers are already seeing a much thinner, less complete paper than the one they used to read a few years ago. On the future-of-journalism conference circuit, one often hears that this situation fundamentally imperils the Founders’ vision of how American democracy ought to work.
This is too facile. For one thing, in the days when the First Amendment was drafted there wasn’t much journalistic reporting (according to most historians of journalism, the first modern reporter’s interview didn’t take place until 1859).
Be precise about the social function we need to strengthen, and creative and non-doctrinaire about how to strengthen it.
The Founders were probably thinking about printed political arguments when they wrote about freedom of the press. For another, until a few decades ago most big-city newspaper reporters did work more like Hildy Johnson’s in “The Front Page” than like Woodward and Bernstein’s during Watergate. For another, not everything that appears in a newspaper is information you can’t get anywhere else.
So there are two ways to look at the problem. The first is to assume that the way to shore up newsgathering is to shore up newspapers, since the daily paper in most cities is the organization with with the largest staff of reporters and editors.
This can be done in a variety of ways, some involving pure business strategy (charging for content on newspaper Web sites, establishing new sources of revenue, cutting production and distribution costs) and some involving enlisting the help of outsiders. Nonprofit organizations like ProPublica, for example, have started to provide free content to newspapers on subjects they care about.
Alternatively, the gap in independent reporting on matters of public importance left by ailing newspapers could be filled by other organizations. They might be new, Web-based news services, like GlobalPost, or local news organizations, like MinnPost in Minneapolis, or beefed-up versions of existing entities other than newspapers: radio and television stations, alternative weeklies, magazines.
What’s essential right now is that we be precise about the social function we need to strengthen, and creative and non-doctrinaire about how to strengthen it. Reporting does not happen automatically — it takes time, money, and training. It needs a support system. The best local newspapers have been a pretty good one for a generation or two. They may not be any longer.
Fewer Readers, Paying More
Joel Kramer is chief executive and editor of MinnPost.com. He was editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune from 1983 to 1991 and publisher and president from 1992 to 1998.
Given the sharp decline in what advertisers will pay to reach eyeballs, I don’t know if there is a way for high-quality journalism to be profitable any more, especially locally. Shifting to the Internet saves costs, but because of the low barrier to entry in Web publishing, the ads sell at a fraction of what print still commands. Meanwhile, readers who paid pocket change for their daily paper, and their children who never paid for a paper, want their news to be free.
That’s why I’ve started a regional journalism Web site based on a not-for-profit model. MinnPost.com sells ads and sponsorships, but much of our revenue comes from annual donations from people who care about serious news coverage of Minnesota. Serious journalism is a community asset, not just a consumer good, and people (and foundations) should support it, as they support museums. We’ll see if that argument persuades enough people.
Publish a newspaper worth $2 a day, the price of a cup of coffee, and $5 on Sunday — and raise the quality.
I do think there is a strategy that might keep a high-quality regional newspaper modestly profitable in the future: Rely much more on revenue from readers. Publish a newspaper worth $2 a day, the price of a cup of coffee, and $5 on Sunday. Raise the quality. Make it more in-depth, more analytical, to complement the immediacy of your free Web site, and do not make that deeper, more insightful coverage available for free on the web. Perhaps make the printed product a tailored mix of sections that appeal to different readers: For $2, you get to pick, say, four sections out of six.
Obviously, circulation would drop. A newspaper that sold 400,000 copies at 50 cents daily and $1.25 on Sunday might sell only 100,000 at four times the price. But there would be a business incentive to keep quality high, because each extra copy sold should increase profit, not subtract from it.
There would still be ads, and the selling proposition would be attractive — here is an audience that really cares about what we’re delivering. But the business would be much less advertising-dependent.
Would this work? I don’t know. I think it has a better chance than going Web-only and charging for the content, and a much better chance than trying to become profitable through Web advertising only. It certainly beats just wringing your hands and cutting staff every year.
‘Culture of Free’ Is Suicide
Steven Brill founded The American Lawyer magazine, Court TV and Brill’s Content. He is chief executive of Clear-Verified Identity Pass, the fast pass for airport security, and teaches journalism seminars at Yale College and Yale Law School.
For big or small newspapers and most other forms of quality content, there has never been a business model that was not partly supported by readers paying for it. Of course, there are free shoppers, but regional newspapers have always competed effectively against them because advertisers know that readers of freebies are not nearly as engaged in those freebies as they are in the publications that they pay for.
With the current model of free online content, newspapers have essentially turned themselves into shoppers — but, ironically, still with great quality, created by the same culture and people whose work consumers used to pay for. This is complete suicide. Newspapers should, in fact, be more profitable online — because it gets rid of the cost of paper, printing and delivery. This should be the golden age of journalism, delivered without the trucks.
Local papers should charge online because they don’t have as many competitors for the good local reporting they do.
Newspapers bought into the idea that the culture of the Internet is “free,” or maybe they thought initially that online content was just an add-on to attract subscribers, but it hasn’t turned out that way.
Worse, the online advertising model is particularly weak for general interest newspapers. For most advertisers, newspaper sites can’t be as effective as ads placed on search engines or on specifically targeted sites; you can never beat that and it’s foolish to try. What is toxic for newspaper sites is that advertisers like me can get a report on how much was sold online, linked to a site. Newspapers can’t win that contest, and will never win that contest.
So papers have to find a way back to being paid. I think in many ways the prospects may be brighter for papers like the Seattle P.I. or the Star Tribune to charge online, because they don’t have as many content competitors for the good local reporting they do. Local newspapers are the best brands, and people will pay a small amount online to get information — whether it be a zoning board meeting or a Little League game — that they can’t get anywhere else.
Geneva Overholser is director of the U.S.C. Annenberg School of Journalism and former editor of The Des Moines Register.
We’re likely to see some regional papers close, but the public’s need to know about the size of the city budget, the condition of the county jail, the quality of education in the classroom, the outlook for the local economy won’t end.
Newspapers have to make clear their own reporting from that of community sources, and set standards for selecting its partners.
I wish that newspaper leaders would step back from making indiscriminate staff and news-hole cuts and rethink their focus. First, look around the community to see who is doing good information-gathering and sharing. New Web-only publications may be covering various parts of the community. A consortium of arts organizations may have a reliable events calendar. Television or radio stations may have continued some substantial elements of government news coverage. An alternative weekly may have good reviews of films and theater and concerts. Bloggers may be assembling information from parents at various levels of the local school system and a nonprofit group may be gathering well-researched local health information.
Then ask, what needs are not being met? And what can my paper alone do best? It may be that investigative reporting, coverage of state government, local businesses, religious news and political leaders will make up the paper’s new, more limited profile. This won’t be the complete answer, but it could help editors make smarter decisions about how to allocate reduced resources.
Another necessary step is already taking place in some newspapers — the push to build a networked, collaborative method of providing news and information through print, online and on mobile phones. The aggregation of reporting and information from many sources will be a central function of newspaper companies.
Of course, newspapers have to make clear their own reporting from that of community sources, and set standards for selecting its partners. These changes will be difficult for newspapers which have considered themselves the primary newsgathers, but they may lead to the next chapter of American journalism.
The Key to Web Success
Craig Newmark is the founder of craigslist.org, a free online classified ad and forum site.
Even though we’re in a period of “creative destruction,” vigorous journalism, particularly investigative journalism, must be preserved. I’m not a journalist, but I’ve been listening to commentators on new media. There clearly are new factors that will shape how I get my news.
First, new media, particularly blogging, and traditional newspapers are already blurring together. Second, some things don’t change. There will always be a need for fact checking and the courage to “speak truth to power” — whether this is being done by new or old media. As a lover of news and Web businesses, I’m seeing some interesting shifts happening.
Participation is the characteristic of good, small hyperlocal sites — as well as big Web enterprises like Wikipedia, Amazon and craigslist.
For example, there is substantial interest in the philanthropic model for news, like ProPublica.org. Meanwhile, Spot.Us is an organization developing a kind of microfinance model for sponsored reporting. What’ll work? No one knows, but we need to experiment.
There are some things we do know. People are most interested in national/global news, and news regarding their immediate community. Two good “hyperlocal” sites — missionlocal.org and oaklandnorth.net — ask people what they want to know about, which may be the key to their (potential) success.
Truth and credibility have been severely eroded in the past eight years, and there’s a broad perception that the press ceased asking difficult questions. Reporters need to keep trying to get answers, and act with a sense of fairness. Perhaps most important is engaging with the public on issues that matter to them.
The aim should be to create a “culture of participation” as Jay Rosen says. Or to paraphrase David Weinberger, a technology thinker, a paper should be perceived as “ours” (the public) not “theirs” (the owners). Participation is the characteristic of good, small hyperlocal sites. It’s also the key to big Web enterprises like Wikipedia, Amazon and even craigslist.
We’ll Still Need Pros
Andrew Keen is the author of “The Cult of the Amateur.”
While the print newspaper business model is in terminal decline, there is one nugget of encouraging news from the Internet for publishers of local papers. Marshall McLuhan was wrong — the electronic network isn’t, as he prophesized, a global village uniting people together from around the world. Instead, to misquote Tip O’Neill, most of the information on the Internet is local.
We generally go online to get local information — directions to stores, telephone numbers and addresses of local merchants, restaurant reviews, local political news, the weather, the buying and selling of goods, even local social networking. Local information, therefore, is potentially the most valuable product in the new knowledge economy.
Rather than slithering into the swamp of crowd-generated content, smart publishers should focus on their core expertise — the organization and curation of information.
The reasons that local print newspapers can’t currently compete with the Internet are threefold. Firstly, it is a more immediate medium than print — able to continually update and store infinite amounts of information. Secondly, almost all local information on the Internet is free, while most local papers continue to charge for both subscriptions and classifieds. Thirdly, the physical medium of print is, for better or worse, quickly becoming archaic with consumers.
But the end of local print newspapers doesn’t necessarily mean the death of local online content businesses. The problem with the Web 2.0 Internet is that much of its information is either unreliable or simply wrong. That’s because the industry’s traditional business model has been flipped on its head.
Local publishers once employed an editorial staff to organize and curate local information. The Web 2.0 model is represented by Web sites like craigslist, Wikipedia and Yelp that aggregate unedited user-generated-content thereby “disintermediating” professional editors, fact checkers and journalists. The consequence is an anarchy of annoyingly unreliable and disorganized local information.
I am confident that the next big thing on the Internet — Web 3.0 if you like — will be a layer of professionally curated information sitting on top of the amateur Web 2.0 layer. Rather than slithering into the democratic swamp of crowd-generated content, smart local publishers should focus on their core expertise — the organization and curation of information by professionals. To do this, they should emulate Web businesses, like the search-engine Mahalo, that are using social media tools to organize user-generated-content while continuing to employ professional curators.
The new local Web newspaper will depend on self-employed “parochial mavens” whose livings will be based on their intimate knowledge of local merchants, schools and stores. Publishers who can figure out how to use these experts will find a loyal local audience.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Journalist
Edward M. Fouhy, a veteran journalist, is the founding director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism and founding editor of Stateline.org, a news site that covers state public policy.
It’s hard to detect any big city newsroom angst in the family room where Bob and Maureen Mann publish the three-year-old online Forum of New Hampshire. Nor will you find it in the kitchen where Christine Yeres of Chappaqua, N.Y., presides as co-editor of Newcastlenow.org, a 15-month-old Web site. Instead there’s enthusiasm and delight in good stories.
Both sites are part of the surge in local journalism encouraged by the low barrier to publishing made possible by the digital revolution. While daily newspapers slim down their coverage, lay off journalists and try to survive the move of advertisers to the Internet, citizens around the country are responding by building their own local news sites. These newly minted journalists — though they often don’t call themselves that — are not simply slinging opinions. They understand that local government without credible information simply doesn’t work.
As Andrew Donohue, executive editor of the widely praised voiceofsandiego.org, says, we aren’t “sitting around in our parent’s basement wearing sweat pants, drinking Diet Cokes and firing off a bunch of opinion blogs.” Donohue, 30, like his co-editor Scott Lewis, 32, is a trained journalist. They have inspired their paid staff of twentysomethings to fill the gap in investigative reporting created when the local daily, The San Diego Union-Tribune, began downsizing.
Ms. Yeres says, “If we were turning out stories that are sloppy or have mistakes or hadn’t been fact- checked, I don’t think people would read us.”
The news that the Manns post is the stuff of small town life: middle school basketball scores and a lengthy report on the deliberations of the school committee. Those are matters that don’t much interest the midsized dailies that sometimes cover the Forum’s four small southern New Hampshire towns.
The Manns and their colleagues work hard to get the facts straight. They publish corrections quickly when they’ve erred and they willingly listen to local politicians who sometimes want to be quoted not for what they said but for what they meant.
None of the operations I visited during a recent survey trip is likely to be confused with a newspaper, even a small one. The sites are niche publications, more like the weeklies that every small town once had.
Economic models? There’s no one size fits all. Advertisers seem to like Newcastlenow in affluent Westchester County but there’s not enough revenue to pay either the editors or contributors; the same is true at the Forum. In San Diego where voiceofsandiego journalists are paid, they use a modified public radio model; memberships for readers willing to contribute for first rate journalism, six figure contributions from philanthropic-minded citizens and grants from local foundations. About 10 percent of the annual $840,000 budget comes from advertisers.
It’s too soon to say if these sites are the answer. But what’s clear is that citizens are inventing a new form of locally based and financed journalism while preserving the values of accuracy, objectivity and independence.
Endlessly Pursuing New Business Models
Rick Rodriguez is a professor of journalism at Arizona State University and former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee.
Struggling midsized metro papers jeopardize their long-term relevancy by cutting news coverage, especially in fast-growing suburban areas. They’re ceding midsized and smaller advertising to competitors. They’re losing footholds in communities where local coverage matters. They’re curtailing the investigations that make them unique.
And yet, combined newspaper and online readership is greater than ever. That’s worth building on, but costs, salaries and profit expectations will have to be reset and lowered for the long term. If regional metro papers do disappear, other news outlets and niche products will try to fill the void. For a while it’ll be the Wild West in terms of journalistic standards, the rise and fall of old and new enterprises and an endless pursuit of new business models.
Government meetings, for example, will still be covered but in piece-meal ways. What is likely to be missing will be a unifying voice.
Among the best bets for adhering to traditional journalistic standards will be smaller, already-established newspapers that can expand their local influence. Alternative weeklies and ethnic media mostly will survive, and possibly even thrive by specializing in coverage of fields like entertainment or local politics.
University-affiliated papers, too, may play larger roles in coverage beyond their campuses. They may become legislative watchdogs as more newspapers close their state house bureaus. Perhaps they will collaborate with seasoned professionals to do investigative and other public service journalism.
Philanthropic groups have already stepped up to finance nonprofit reporting organizations, and some bloggers are starting to cover local news, which is increasingly ignored by bigger papers.
It will be a vibrant, entrepreneurial but much more fragmented journalism world. Government meetings, for example, will still be covered but in piece-meal ways. What is likely to be missing will be a unifying voice that transcends neighborhoods, city limits and political boundaries. That kind of change would diminish our industry and our democracy.
Google Taking a Step Into Power Metering
Matthew Wald and Miguel Helft
Google will announce its entry Tuesday into the small but growing business of “smart grid,” digital technologies that seek to both keep the electrical system on an even keel and reduce electrical energy consumption.
Google is one of a number of companies devising ways to control the demand for electric power as an alternative to building more power plants. The company has developed a free Web service called PowerMeter that consumers can use to track energy use in their house or business as it is consumed.
Google is counting on others to build devices to feed data into PowerMeter technology. While it hopes to begin introducing the service in the next few months, it has not yet lined up hardware manufacturers.
“We can’t build this product all by ourselves,” said Kirsten Olsen Cahill, a program manager at Google.org, the company’s corporate philanthropy arm. “We depend on a whole ecosystem of utilities, device makers and policies that would allow consumers to have detailed access to their home energy use and make smarter energy decisions.”
“Smart grid” is the new buzz phrase in the electric business, encompassing a variety of approaches that involve more communication between utility operators and components of the grid, including transformers, power lines, customer meters and even home appliances like dishwashers.
“They’ve been putting a chip in your dishwasher for a long time that would allow you to run it any time you want,” said Rick Sergel, chief executive of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, an industry group that sets operating standards for the grid.
If the utility could “talk” to the dishwasher, it might tell the machine to run at 2 a.m. and not 2 p.m., or it might tell the homeowner how much money would be saved by running the dishwasher at a different hour.
“It provides an opportunity to create dancing partners that will help the system balance itself,” he said.
It also might be useful for plug-in hybrid cars, which will draw significant amounts of energy, perhaps doubling the electric demand of a small household. A smart grid would recognize the car wherever it was plugged in, the way a cellphone network recognizes a mobile phone when it is turned on.
The grid could bill the owner of the car for recharging the battery no matter where the car was plugged in. It would charge the owner a rate based on the time of day or night. If the car were left plugged in, the grid could decide when to charge it at the lowest rate.
The stimulus bill now going to a House-Senate conference committee has allocated $4.4 billion for “smart” technologies, including four million of these next-generation monitors, called smart meters. Proponents say that could make more effective use of existing power lines and generate employment.
“You can hire a lot of people to install smart meters,” said James Hoecker, a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has some jurisdiction over transmission lines.
EC Agrees to Online Safety Deal
The European Commission has brokered a deal with internet companies to help protect children using social networking sites, it announced today.
The agreement – which covers networks including Facebook, MySpace and YouTube – will see a number of safeguards put in place to help young people while they are using the web.
The proposals include systems for dealing with cyberbullying, altering default privacy settings for children and ensuring that users have the ability to report abuse with a single click.
Seventeen websites and networks across Europe have agreed to the proposals, and as part of the deal they have promised that there will be significant progress towards implementing the rules by April.
Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for information society and the media, said that the agreement was an "important step" in the process of making social networking safer for children.
"Social networking has enormous potential to flourish in Europe, to help boost our economy and make society more interactive – as long as children and teenagers have the trust and the right tools to remain safe when making new 'friends' and sharing personal details online," she said in a statement.
The commission's proposals are similar to the social networking guidance issued by the Home Office in Britain last year. That agreement – which amounted to a self-regulated code of conduct for social networks operating in the UK – included requirements for visual privacy prompts, and required sites to make attempts to screen out younger users.
The agreement brings a number of small sites into line with their bigger rivals – signatories also include Bebo, French video website DailyMotion and Habbo Hotel, the popular virtual world for children.
But in many cases some of the policies suggested by the commission have already been put in place, as individual websites work through their own issues surrounding privacy and illegal activity.
Many continue to crank up their own protection programs – not just to ensure the safety of individual users, but also because of the potential impact on their reputations.
Last week it was revealed that MySpace had identified and removed 90,000 registered sex offenders over the past two years, after a concerted campaign by US prosecutors to tighten up regulation of social networks.
At the time Roy Cooper, the attorney general of North Carolina, said that progress was being made but that internet companies needed to do more to keep on top of the issue.
"Technology moves forward quickly, and it's important for these companies to stay ahead of the technology," he said. "They're not moving fast enough for us."
Ruckus: When "Free Music" Can't Compete with Free Music
The Ruckus music service shut down over the weekend, raising the question of whether universities are done offering sponsored legal download services to students.
The music industry, struggling to find workable business models for the digital age, apparently can't even give its product away. Ad-supported services like SpiralFrog have generated what can only be charitably called a "lack of enthusiasm," while another ad-supported service called Ruckus just shut its virtual doors this weekend. Such services were once held up as the answer to (first) collegiate music piracy and (eventually) to music piracy in general, but the ridiculous encumbrances offered by DRM helped ensure that neither solution proved compelling.
Raising a Ruckus
Legal music subscription services once looked like a possible way of dealing with campus copyright infringement; if students were simply given the music, why would they continue torrenting? But initial experiments with paid sites like the revamped Napster generated an outcry as students objected to having their school fees used to pay for services that many did not want or could not use.
Ruckus looked like an incredible solution. Back in 2006, it dropped its own subscription model, went ad-supported, and focused exclusively on the collegiate market. Schools had to sign deals with Ruckus, but the service was offered to students free of charge, which eliminated one big objection. Schools could show the music industry, which had been pursuing them through legislation at the state and federal level, that they were making a good faith effort to address the infringement problem (the services were so popular with administrators, at least, that 39 percent of schools in the US were offering one last year). Schools kept themselves out of trouble, the music industry earned revenue and addressed infringement, Ruckus rolled around in ad revenue, and students got free music.
That was the plan, anyway. Those who knew something about technology might have looked at the idea and concluded that it was unlikely to be compelling, but it convinced plenty of other people. For instance, when the Ruckus service came to Princeton, the student newspaper reported this telling comment from student body president-elect Rob Biederman: the Ruckus deal would "completely alleviate" the copyright infringement issues on campus.
But it didn't, and the reasons weren't hard to find. One thing that plagued Ruckus and most similar services has been DRM—and because Apple's Fairplay has not been licensed, that has generally meant some flavor of Microsoft DRM.
This had several obvious consequences. First, it meant that students had to access the music through a Windows PC. Not a big deal, right? But it was a big deal, because Apple has made tremendous inroads in the college market. For instance, at Princeton, Macs accounted for an astonishing 40 percent of all student computers in 2008.
Second, the DRM was used to keep the songs from being burned to CD or even transferred to digital music players (not that this last restriction mattered all that much, since the DRMed tracks wouldn't have played on iPods, anyway, and would have been of little value to most students).
It also wasn't long before this "innovative" idea wasn't quite so innovative. Services like Last.fm opened up their own ad-supported streaming content to anyone, and Ruckus eventually had to open its offering to any student with an .edu e-mail address in an attempt to attract more users.
That apparently didn't happen, and it didn't help that the advertising market has been collapsing. So Ruckus pulled the plug on Friday, replacing its Web site with a graphic that said only, "Unfortunately the Ruckus service will no longer be provided. Thanks."
School-sponsored music is dead?
The demise of Ruckus will probably put an end to schools' experimentation with offering legal music services to their students, at least in the short term. On the one hand, remaining subscription services still require fees and come with too many restrictions to be compelling. On the other hand, there's no real reason to "offer" a free, ad-supported service; students can simply access several of these through the Web.
Schools may be tempted to make one more attempt, but using a different model. Ad-supported services might be good for browsing or sampling, but network connectivity isn't yet quite good enough to make students give up their iPods and rely on music stored in the cloud. So long as this situation persists, students will demand full control of their music, and music companies are looking for ways to give that to them.
Warner, in particular, is working on an initiative allowing unlimited downloading of music in any format, from any source, for a flat fee paid to the ISP. For colleges, this means a fee paid to the school by every student, but such a move would likely provoke less controversy because all students could actually make use of the music.
China TV Network Apologizes for Fire
China’s national television network on Tuesday blamed an illegal fireworks display by its employees for igniting a blaze that destroyed a futuristic 34-story luxury hotel and theater here.
In a statement posted on its Web site, the network, China Central Television, said the illegal pyrotechnics on the final night of the lunar new year were staged too close to the unfinished building, which is part of the company’s headquarters complex. It apologized for “the severe damage the fire caused to the country’s property,” according to The Associated Press.
The apology was a rare gesture of contrition by the powerful state-owned network.
While the cause of the conflagration seemed clear, many questions remained about why a modern building constructed with fireproof materials was so quickly and thoroughly engulfed by flames.
During a news conference on Tuesday, Luo Yuan, a spokesman for the Beijing Municipal Fire Brigade, said strong winds, toxic fumes and a lack of working sprinklers hampered efforts to extinguish the fire, which began on the building’s roof and spread to the lower floors.
After examining photographs of the blaze, Jonathan Barnett, a fire protection engineer in New York who has studied numerous skyscraper fires, said it appeared that the flames were fed by insulating foam panels along the facade. Although such material is combustible, in a finished building the foam is sandwiched between fireproof materials like wall board and glass.
“It may have been an issue of the construction not being complete,” he said.
Jill Kluge, a spokeswoman for the Mandarin Orient Hotel Group, said company investigators had yet to be allowed on site. Messages left at the offices of Rem Koolhaas and Arup, an engineering firm involved in the building’s construction, were not returned on Tuesday.
Residents of the city who came to see the smoking shell of architect Rem Koolhaas’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel had a harder time Tuesday finding images of the fire on the Internet, on television or in the city’s newspapers.
There were no pictures on the front page of The Beijing News. On Tuesday morning, the home page of Xinhua, the official news agency, featured a photo from another tragedy: a stampede in South Korea that left four people dead. Throughout the day, CCTV’s brief bulletins about the blaze omitted footage of the burning tower. By evening, the newscast skipped the story entirely.
Even before the flames had been extinguished early Tuesday, pictures of the burning hotel had been removed from most of the main Internet portals serving China. In the afternoon, the story had been largely buried, although by the evening news of the fire was accessible on the Xinhua and CCTV Web sites.
The network’s unusual public apology and the media’s skittish approach to covering the fire suggested that the authorities were struggling with how to deal with a sensitive news event in the age of cellphone cameras and YouTube.
A directive sent out by propaganda officials, which found its way to the Internet after it was leaked, made clear that the authorities were eager to reduce public attention to the blaze, a colossal embarrassment that many people believe augurs poorly for the new year. “No photos, no video clips, no in-depth reports,” read the memo, which instructed all media outlets to use only Xinhua dispatches. “The news should be put on news areas only and the comments posting areas should be closed.”
The Beijing Youth Daily’s report, for one, was anchored by a list of the officials who rushed to the scene, including the mayor of Beijing, the head of CCTV and the director of the Communist Party’s propaganda department.
In the age of the Internet, however, the government could not entirely shut down coverage. In fact, many bloggers boasted that it was ordinary citizens, armed with cellphone cameras and camcorders, who provided the first images and accounts shortly after the fire began.
Photographs were traded in text messages and e-mail. One home video widely circulated on the Web showed how the fire began after the shell from one of the fireworks landed on the hotel roof.
Wang Xiaofeng, a popular blogger, could not help but note that CCTV employees had accidentally created one of the biggest stories of the year and then failed to cover it. “They didn’t feel the urgency to report the news even though the fire was up to their eyebrows,” he wrote. “In this case of breaking news, the official media has been defeated by the citizen media.”
Even if they lamented the loss of life, other bloggers were almost gleeful over the network’s monumental misfortune. Some said they were happy to see the demise of a building that had come to symbolize the government’s Olympian extravagance. Others noted with self-satisfaction that the charred structure was also slated to house recording studios for CCTV.
With tongue-in-cheek humor, another writer, Chaindrive, tried to find a silver lining in the fire. The rebuilding effort, he said, would mean more jobs for unemployed migrants, more money spent on construction materials and a lift for the economy.
“Businesses will have new customers and our government officials will have new opportunities to take bribes,” he wrote. “To make up the loss, we taxpayers will pay more, but our GDP will go up and society will move forward in harmony.”
Huang Yuanxi contributed research.
Congress Approves Broadband to Nowhere
Why the U.S. lags in Internet speed.
L. Gordon Crovitz
In Japan, wireless technology works so well that teenagers draft novels on their cellphones. People in Hong Kong take it for granted that they can check their BlackBerrys from underground in the city's subway cars. Even in France, consumers have more choices for broadband service than in the U.S.
The Internet may have been developed in the U.S., but the country now ranks 15th in the world for broadband penetration. For those who do have access to broadband, the average speed is a crawl, moving bits at a speed roughly one-tenth that of top-ranked Japan. This means a movie that can be downloaded in a couple of seconds in Japan takes half an hour in the U.S. The BMW 7 series comes equipped with Internet access in Germany, but not in the U.S.
So those of us otherwise wary of how wisely the stimulus package will be spent were happy to suspend disbelief when Congress invited ideas on how to upgrade broadband. Maybe there are shovel-ready programs to bring broadband to communities that private providers have not yet reached, and to upgrade the speed of accessing the Web. These goals sound like the digital-era version of Eisenhower's interstate highway projects, this time bringing Americans as consumers and businesspeople closer together on a faster information highway.
But broadband, once thought to be in line for $100 billion as part of the stimulus legislation, ended up a low priority, set to get well under $10 billion in the package of over $800 billion. This is a reminder that even with a new president whose platform focused on technology, and even with the fully open spigot of a stimulus bill, technology gets built by private capital and initiative and not by government.
The relatively small appropriation is not for want of trying. A partial list of the lobbying groups involved in the process is a reminder of how Washington's return to industrial policy requires lobbying by all: the Information Technology Industry Council, Telecommunications Industry Association, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Fiber-to-the-Home Council, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance and Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies.
The result was a relatively paltry $6 billion for broadband in the House bill and $9 billion in the Senate, with each bill micromanaging the spending differently. The bills include different standards, speeds and other requirements for providers that would use the public funds. This may balance competing interests among cable, telecom and local phone companies, but it doesn't address the underlying problems of too few providers delivering too few options to consumers.
Techies may be surprised by how these funds would be dispersed. The House would give the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service control over half the grants and the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration control of the other half. Tax credits would have been a faster way to make a difference than government agencies dividing spoils across the country.
The House bill also calls for "open access." This phrase can include hugely controversial topics such as net neutrality, which in its most radical version would bar providers from charging different amounts for different kinds of broadband content. Now that video, conferencing and other heavy-bandwidth applications are growing in popularity, price needs to be one tool for allocating scarce resources. Analysts at Medley Global Advisors warn that if these provisions remain in the bill, "it will keep most broadband providers out of the applicant pool" for the funds intended specifically for them.
More fundamentally, nothing in the legislation would address the key reason that the U.S. lags so far behind other countries. This is that there is an effective broadband duopoly in the U.S., with most communities able to choose only between one cable company and one telecom carrier. It's this lack of competition, blessed by national, state and local politicians, that keeps prices up and services down.
In contrast, most other advanced countries have numerous providers, using many technologies, competing for consumers. A recent report by the Pew Research Center entitled "Stimulating Broadband: If Obama Builds It, Will They Log On?" concluded that for many people, the answer is no, often due to high monthly prices. By one estimate, the lowest monthly price per standard unit of millions of bits per second is nearly $3 in the U.S., versus about 13 cents in Japan and 33 cents in France.
We're told that we now live in an era of more regulation and more government spending, but neither approach is how problems get solved in technology. Government mandates on how networks should be operated and subsidies administered by USDA aren't going to ensure broadband access, make connections faster, or lower prices.
What we need to get the U.S. back into the top ranks of wired countries is more competition, not taxpayer handouts. That would be a real stimulus.
Being Acquitted Versus Being Searched (YANAL)
With this post, I'm launching a new, (very) occasional series I'm calling YANAL, for "You Are Not A Lawyer." In this series, I will try to disabuse computer scientists and other technically minded people of some commonly held misconceptions about the law (and the legal system).
I start with something from criminal law. As you probably already know, in the American criminal law system, as in most others, a jury must find a defendant guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt" to convict. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is a famously high standard, and many guilty people are free today only because the evidence against them does not meet this standard.
When techies think about criminal law, and in particular crimes committed online, they tend to fixate on this legal standard, dreaming up ways people can use technology to inject doubt into the evidence to avoid being convicted. I can't count how many conversations I have had with techies about things like the "open wireless access point defense," the "trojaned computer defense," the "NAT-ted firewall defense," and the "dynamic IP address defense." Many people have talked excitedly to me about tools like TrackMeNot or more exotic methods which promise, at least in part, to inject jail-springing reasonable doubt onto a hard drive or into a network.
People who place stock in these theories and tools are neglecting an important drawback. There are another set of legal standards--the legal standards governing search and seizure--you should worry about long before you ever get to "beyond a reasonable doubt". Omitting a lot of detail, the police, even without going to a judge first, can obtain your name, address, and credit card number from your ISP if they can show the information is relevant to a criminal investigation. They can obtain transaction logs (think apache or sendmail logs) after convincing a judge the evidence is "relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation." If they have probable cause--another famous, but often misunderstood standard--they can read all of your stored email, rifle through your bedroom dresser drawers, and image your hard drive. If they jump through a few other hoops, they can wiretap your telephone. Some of these standards aren't easy to meet, but all of them are well below the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard for guilt.
So by the time you've had your Perry Mason moment in front of the jurors, somehow convincing them that the fact that you don't enable WiFi authentication means your neighbor could've sent the death threat, your life will have been turned upside down in many ways: The police will have searched your home and seized all of your computers. They will have examined all of the files on your hard drives and read all of the messages in your inboxes. (And if you have a shred of kiddie porn stored anywhere, the alleged death threat will be the least of your worries. I know, I know, the virus on your computer raises doubt that the kiddie porn is yours!) They will have arrested you and possibly incarcerated you pending trial. Guys with guns will have interviewed you and many of your friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
In addition, you will have been assigned an overworked public defender who has no time for far-fetched technological defenses and prefers you take a plea bargain, or you will have paid thousands of dollars to a private attorney who knows less than the public defender about technology, but who is "excited to learn" on your dime. Maybe, maybe, maybe after all of this, your lawyer convinces the judge or the jury. You're free! Congratulations?
The police and prosecutors run into many legal standards, many of which are much easier to satisfy than "beyond a reasonable doubt" and most of which are met long before they see an access point or notice a virus infection. By meeting any of these standards, they can seriously disrupt your life, even if they never end up putting you away.
A Birth Control Pill That Promised Too Much
Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals has just introduced a new $20 million advertising campaign for Yaz, the most popular birth control pill in the United States.
But the television ads, now running during prime-time shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and on cable networks, are not typical spots promoting the benefits of a prescription drug. Instead, they warn that nobody should take Yaz hoping that it will also cure pimples or premenstrual syndrome.
As part of an unusual crackdown on deceptive consumer drug advertising, the Food and Drug Administration and the attorneys general of 27 states have required Bayer to run these new ads to correct previous Yaz marketing.
Regulators say the ads overstated the drug’s ability to improve women’s moods and clear up acne, while playing down its potential health risks. Under a settlement with the states, Bayer agreed last Friday to spend at least $20 million on the campaign and for the next six years to submit all Yaz ads for federal screening before they appear.
“You may have seen some Yaz commercials recently that were not clear,” an actress says in the new corrective television spot, as she looks into the camera. “The F.D.A. wants us to correct a few points in those ads.”
Yaz is the best-selling oral contraception pill in the United States, with sales last year of about $616 million or about 18 percent market share, according to IMS Health, a health care information company.
Critics of consumer drug advertising say that while the F.D.A. sends a few dozen letters each year asking drug companies to suspend, amend or correct informational pamphlets and videos, it is unusual for the government to require commercials to set the record straight.
“They rarely require these corrective campaigns,” said Judy Norsigian, the executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, a health education and women’s advocacy group in Cambridge, Mass. But she said the popularity of the Yaz brand and the misleading ads had demanded a rare punishment. “These ads should never have been out there,” Ms. Norsigian said.
Representatives of the F.D.A., and the Florida attorney general, who led the states’ effort, declined requests for phone interviews. They released a joint statement on Monday in which they said, in part, they wanted to “clean up misleading advertising in the marketplace.”
California, Texas, Massachusetts and Michigan were among other states in the settlement, in which Bayer did not admit that it had engaged in deceptive advertising or committed any wrongdoing.
A Bayer spokeswoman responded to a query with an e-mail message. “The ad for Yaz was revised to more clearly state the indications for Yaz,” she wrote, adding that no one from Bayer was available for a phone interview to answer other questions on Tuesday.
The corrective television commercials, which began appearing two weeks ago, are scheduled to run until July 26. New print ads, in national magazines like Lucky and Elle, give detailed information about Yaz, but do not indicate they are meant to correct earlier television ads.
The F.D.A. first moved against the Yaz campaign last October, with a warning letter to Bayer saying that two television ads overstated the drug’s benefits while understating its risks. By giving consumers the impression that Yaz was generally a drug for acne and general mood problems, the company’s ads ran afoul of federal laws against promoting the unapproved uses of a drug, the F.D.A. said. The agency approved Yaz in 2006 as a birth control pill that has a side benefit in treating mood-related psychological problems called premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
In 2007, the agency approved another side benefit of Yaz, that of improving moderate acne. But Yaz contains drospirenone, a progestin that can cause excess potassium production in some patients, its side effects include an increased risk of serious heart and other health problems.
After the F.D.A. complained, Bayer halted the Yaz ads. The agency told Bayer to submit a media plan for a corrective message that would reach the same size and kind of television audiences as the misleading ads did.
The Bayer affair comes at a delicate moment for the pharmaceutical industry. Some of the most popular branded drugs are nearing patent expirations that will open the doors to generic competition, so many big-name drug makers now rely heavily on direct-to-consumer advertising.
Critics charge that the F.D.A. division that oversees drug promotion, with a staff of 52 people, cannot keep up with the tens of thousands of marketing and advertising items produced annually by drug manufacturers. The Yaz controversy may raise new questions about whether that oversight is sufficient.
Aimed primarily at women in their 20s, Yaz has been known for its slogan — “Beyond Birth Control” — which promotes it not only for pregnancy prevention but as a lifestyle drug.
In one of the commercials cited by the F.D.A., with the song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister playing in the background, a series of young fashionably dressed women kicked away or punctured floating signs with labels like “irritability” and “feeling anxious.” Meanwhile, a voiceover promoted Yaz as a “pill that goes beyond the rest,” with benefits like the ability to maintain clear skin.
The other commercial, set to the tune “Goodbye to You” by the Veronicas, shows a variety of women next to balloons — marked “headaches,” “acne” and “feeling anxious” — which float away, presumably after treatment with Yaz.
“The ad is basically speaking to a majority of menstruating women,” and not to the minority of women with the psychological problem for which Yaz is approved, said Dr. Nada L. Stotland, a professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical Center in Chicago and the president of the American Psychiatric Association.
For 2008 during which the ads in question were broadcast on television, sales of Yaz in the United States increased to about $616 million, from about $262 million the year before, according to IMS Health.
This is not the first time that health groups and government officials have faulted birth control commercials as being misleading. In 2003, the F.D.A. sent a warning letter to Berlex Laboratories faulting its ads for Yasmin, the precursor to Yaz, for implying the pills were superior to other oral contraceptives and for minimizing risks specific to the drug.
Bayer, which acquired Berlex as part of a deal in 2006, now markets Yasmin. Last year, Yasmin had sales of about $382 million, or about 11 percent of the United States market, according to IMS Health.
Bruce L. Lambert, a professor of pharmacy administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, lauded the F.D.A. for insisting this time that Bayer run a corrective advertising campaign. But he referred to the corrective $20 million ad campaign for Yaz as “chump change” and “just the cost of doing business.”
“I don’t think it is likely to stop,” he said, “unless there are more significant consequences.”
Bar Refaeli: On Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover, It's All In The Strings
The world knows a lot more about Bar Refaeli today than it did yesterday, including where her tiny tan line falls.
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit unveiled on Tuesday 23-year-old Refaeli as a first-time cover girl, wearing a string bikini by Missoni — and the strings on the bikini bottom are being tugged south.
This gig, more than top fashion or entertainment magazines, can be career-altering as it puts a model's face (not to mention, her likely fantastically toned and taut body) in front of millions of eyeballs, appealing to both men and women, sports fans and fashionistas.
It's the cover that matters most, says SI group editor Terry McDonell, but each model — 19 for this issue — gets an equal shot at the cover.
"The cover has to reflect the athleticism and sexiness of the culture. This photo is modern, her hair and swimsuit look natural. You see her freckles. Her body is amazing and she looks intelligent," McDonell said.
It's also purposeful, he noted, that the models have healthy, sometimes curvy, figures. "A skinny waif won't work here."
McDonell, along with Swimsuit editor Diane Smith and SI creative director Steve Hoffman, sifted through 90,000 photos this year. In consumer testing, it's inevitable that the raciest one is the favorite, but that's not the one that lands on the front. "There are marketplace considerations," McDonell explained. "I want to be at the front of the store, not the back."
Israeli-born Refaeli, long linked romantically with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, told The Associated Press that she had the feeling that this particular shot of her in the water on Canouan Island in the Grenadines was her shot to be on the front.
"This is the one I felt the most comfortable with," said Refaeli, who twice before was featured on the inside pages of the magazine. "You have the beach, blue water and a body. That's it. I liked that the top of the suit was on."
You can be sexy without revealing too much skin, said veteran supermodel Cheryl Tiegs, who first appeared on the Swimsuit issue cover in 1970 — and then again in 1975 and 1983.
That shot happened at the end of a full day shooting in Hawaii, and she was cold. Someone gave her long-sleeve top to warm her up and when the photographer asked her to take it off, Tiegs refused — and she wouldn't take off her sunglasses either, she recalled. That photo, she said, really captured a moment, though.
"I remember walking by the newsstand and seeing I was on the cover and picking up a copy or two. That was the celebration then. ... But I'm still signing covers for fans," Tiegs said.
SI's swimsuit issue began in 1964, when February marked the low point of the sports seasons. The NFL ended in December, there were no national televised hockey games and the NBA had only a half-dozen teams. After putting safe-driving tips and dog shows on the cover, SI decided to put an attractive female on the cover and call it a "skin-diving story," recalls Smith.
It was popular from the start, but Smith thinks it was Tiegs' cover that made it a phenomenon. However, it was Kathy Ireland in a white strapless bikini in 1989 that remains the best-selling cover.
"I've done many, many, many different covers in the fashion world ... but never had as big a splash as Sports Illustrated," said Heidi Klum, the cover model in 1998. "I went to '( The Tonight Show with Jay) Leno,' the morning shows in New York and LA — it was a huge thing — suddenly I became a household name," she said.
But more than the fame, Klum said she appreciates from SI the professionalism shown to a relatively untested model wearing next to nothing. "I had wanted it to be so good. I'd arch so hard ... but they'd say, 'Look sexy with your eyes. Don't overpose. Be yourself and have fun.'"
There's a balance between wholesome and sexy the editors are always straddling, without ever being sleazy, Hoffman said.
The magazine spends an average of three days shooting each model, each with an average wake-up call of 4:30 a.m. because the light is best at dawn, and have about 10,000 bathing suits to choose from.
And even with the outfits so small, SI spends an average of $2,000 in overweight baggage fees per location.
"The logistics are horrifying ... but the Swimsuit issue is probably the healthiest of all the Sports Illustrated franchises, and it's good to be with things that work, especially these days," said McDonell.
Live Nation, Ticketmaster Agree On Merger
The boards of Live Nation and Ticketmaster have agreed to a merger deal that would create one company called Live Nation Entertainment. The merger would create a combined enterprise valued at $2.5 billion and Ticketmaster shareholders will receive 1.384 shares of Live Nation stock for each share of Ticketmaster they own, in what is billed as a tax-free, all-stock merger of equals. Shareholders in each company would own half of the equity in Live Nation Entertainment, and the two former rivals would each have seven representatives on a 14-person board.
If the merger becomes official, it would put under one roof some of the country's biggest concert venues, its dominant ticket sales company, the Front Line artist management division, and wide-ranging recording and promotion deals with artists such as Madonna, Shakira and Jay-Z. By eliminating duplication in their ticketing, marketing, data centers and back-office functions, the two companies expect to save $40 million a year. Such a deal will likely garner intense regulatory scrutiny over anti-trust concerns. However, the companies are poised to argue that consumers will benefit from the merger.
Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino said, "This combination will drive measurable benefits to consumers and accelerate the execution of our strategy to build a better artist-to-fan direct distribution platform. As every industry observer knows, too many tickets go unsold and too many fans are frustrated with their ticket-buying experiences. The current inefficiencies in the system result in higher costs and confusion over access to seats. Together, we will work to simplify the ticketing process and ultimately increase attendance at live events. This is also a logical step in the evolution of our business model, creating a more diversified company with a stronger financial profile that will drive improved shareholder value over the long term."
"It was less than two months ago that Ticketmaster ended its 10-year partnership with Live Nation, and I'm extremely glad we could reunite with this combination," added Ticketmaster Chairman Barry Diller. "No different from any other industry, the challenges are all around every aspect of live entertainment. Being able to put Live Nation and Ticketmaster into an equal partnership will allow the companies to get through this difficult period and be able to expand live entertainment options to audiences throughout the world."
Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff commented, "This merger, and the resources of these combined companies, will create a new dynamic and unique creative platform of choice for fans across all levels of the live entertainment experience. There is nothing more magical than the bond and the intimate relationship of fans to artists. It is truly an experience that needs to be embraced and nurtured with both integrity and respect. One of the mandates of the combined company will be to develop that bond to unsurpassed levels. Additionally, the Live Nation and Ticketmaster relationship will allow the live entertainment community and their respective venues to reach fans on unparalleled platforms."
In related news, Ticketmaster was hit with a $500 million lawsuit in Canada on Monday, alleging that the company broke the law by reselling tickets at inflated prices. A Toronto man who tried to buy two tickets to a November 2008 concert by Smashing Pumpkins alleges that Ticketmaster's website said none were available, but redirected him to the website of TicketsNow, the company's resale unit. The tickets had a face value of $66.50 each, but plaintiff Henry Krajewski ended up paying a total of $533.65 for the pair because he had to buy them through TicketsNow, according to Reuters. The suit, which seeks to be declared a class action, alleges that Ticketmaster violated an Ontario law against ticket scalping and says the court should order the company to pay damages equal to the amount of the overcharges.
Fans in the U.S. complained of similar issues recently when Bruce Springsteen tickets went onsale and fans were redirected from the Ticketmaster site to the TicketsNow site, where the seats were available at much higher prices. Springsteen then posted an angry letter to Ticketmaster on his website, prompting Azoff to issue a public apology. Azoff said the redirection "only occurred as a choice when we could not satisfy fans’ specific search request for primary ticket inventory... While we were genuinely trying to do the right thing for fans in providing more choices when the tickets they requested from the primary on-sale were not available, we clearly missed the mark."
10 Easy Guides to Making Music on Your PC
Get to grips with audio interfaces, arrangements and more
1. Good reasons to start making music on your computer
Some of you might be doing this already – probably the reason you're reading this list, in fact – but if you haven't yet discovered the joys of computer-based music-making (or just need some fresh inspiration) then here are 10 compelling reasons to do so.
2. Tips for computer music beginners
Making music on a computer is now easier than ever, but if you're just starting out, it can still seem like a daunting prospect. Don't panic, though – MusicRadar has put together some general tips to help ease you in gently…
Read 15 tips for computer music beginners
3. The beginner's guide to DAWs
If you're making music on a computer then you're almost certainly going to use something called a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. DAWs, put simply, are programs you can use to create, record, edit and arrange music. Get the full lowdown here.
Read The beginner's guide to DAWs
4. The beginner's guide to virtual instruments
While you can certainly make all kinds of bleepy, synthetic-sounding electronic music on your Mac or PC, the arrival of virtual instruments has made it possible to create realistic-sounding drums, strings, pianos, guitars, woodwind, brass and more, all from within your computer. MusicRadar has the full skinny on everything a beginner needs to know about virtual instruments, as well as download links to a few free ones for you to play with.
Read The beginner's guide to virtual instruments
5. The beginner's guide to MIDI controllers
The QWERTY keyboard and mouse combo is great for most computing applications, and you'll certainly use them when piloting most music applications. However, your creative experience will become all the richer if you splash out and buy a MIDI controller keyboard – and possibly another sort of controller – to work alongside them. Here's everything you need to know about MIDI controllers.
Read The beginner's guide to MIDI controllers
6. Get to grips with audio interfaces
Given that most modern computers have onboard audio capabilities, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you don't need an audio interface – but if you make music, you do. And here's why…
Read The beginner's guide to audio interfaces
7. Create a great song arrangement
When you're making music, the arranging process is just as important as the compositional one. Get it right and you could have a hit song on your hands – get it wrong and you'll be left with a jumbled mess of ideas. Here are 14 things you can do to create better arrangements on your computer…
Read 14 ways to create a great song arrangement
8. How to promote your music online
If you want your music to reach the wider listening world, the internet can be your best friend. However, if you're going to have a presence online, you need to make sure that you do things right. Here are MusicRadar's top tips for making it big via the world wide web…
Read 14 ways to promote your music online
9. Ways to start a track
Every songwriting journey begins with a first step, but taking that first step isn't always easy. In fact, many people find that starting a track is the most difficult part of the creative process. Fortunately, MusicRadar is here to help – here are 20 things you can try if the well of inspiration has temporarily run dry.
Read 20 ways to start a track
10. What not to do when you're making music
MusicRadar is always advising you on the things that you should be doing when you're making music, but what about the things that you shouldn't? Its put together a list of the most common bad habits – if you've fallen into one, it's time to get out of it…
Coldplay Just Latest Band To Face Charge Of Musical Theft
Charges that Coldplay copied its song "Viva la Vida" from guitarist Joe Satriani's "If I Could Fly" didn't dissuade Grammy judges from naming it song of the year Sunday.
Here's a quick look at other songs that have been accused of sounding a little too much like other tunes:
•Ray Parker vs. Huey Lewis — "Who you gonna call?" asked Ray Parker in "Ghostbusters," the theme song to the hit movie. Huey Lewis called his attorney because Parker's song sounded an a lot like his own hit "I Want a New Drug." The case was settled with a confidentiality agreement. Lewis allegedly broke that agreement by mentioning the case in an interview. Parker sued, and that case is ongoing.
• George Harrison vs. the Chiffons — The former Beatle was charged with copying the melody of "My Sweet Lord" from the Chiffons' "He's So Fine." It was ruled that he inadvertently used the 1963 tune, and he had to pay significant royalties. Things worked out for him nonetheless. He wrote a minor hit, "This Song," about the legal case, and "My Sweet Lord" is included in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
•Fogerty vs. Fogerty — In one of the more ridiculous copyright-infringement cases, former Creedence Clearwater front man John Fogerty was accused of plagiarizing himself. His former record company charged that his solo hit "Old Man Down the Road" sounded too much like the Creedence hit "Run Through the Jungle" (both written by Fogerty). To prove that he had a signature style of songwriting, Fogerty actually brought his guitar to the witness stand. He won.
•Beach Boys vs. Chuck Berry — This dispute was featured recently in the movie "Cadillac Records." All but the lyrics of the Beach Boys' hit "Surfin' USA" were lifted from Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen." Berry eventually received a writing credit for the song.
• Led Zeppelin vs. almost everyone — As genius as this band was, there's no denying that much of its early work blatantly ripped off a number of songs by blues legends. "Whole Lotta Love," "The Lemon Song" and "Dazed and Confused" are just a few of Zeppelin's songs that were lifted from other artists, including Willie Dixon and Howlin' Wolf. Many, but not all, of the cases have been settled legally.
• Rolling Stones vs. k.d. lang — Before their 1997 song "Anybody Seen My Baby" was released, someone noticed that the chorus was similar to lang's "Constant Craving." The Stones gave lang a co-authorship credit.
• Avril Lavigne vs. the Rubinoos — In 2007, some thought Avril Lavigne's hit "Girlfriend" closely resembled the Rubinoos' 1979 song "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" (no relation to the Ramones' 1976 song of the same name). It was the chorus, in particular, that raised eyebrows. Lavigne's tune: "Hey, hey, I don't like your girlfriend." The Rubinoos: "Hey, you, I wanna be your boyfriend." Lavigne and the Rubinoos settled the case early last year.
Musicians Celebrate Victory as Go-Ahead Given for Copyright to be Extended to 95 Years
British musicians were celebrating a major victory last night after a powerful European Parliament committee gave the go-ahead to extend the copyright term for music recordings to 95 years.
Performing artists currently only receive royalties for fifty years after their song was released, meaning that musicians such as Sir Cliff Richard, who released hits in the late 1950s, are beginning to see their royalty cheques stop.
But yesterday the parliament’s influential Legal Affairs Committee approved legislation to extend the term, paving the way for the proposal to be signed into European law after a vote in a plenary session of the parliament next month.
Song writers already receive royalties for their lifetime, with royalties paid to their estate for 70 years after their death. If the current fifty year term for performers was allowed to stand, the Beatles’ back catalogue would begin to fall out of copyright after 2012.
Sir Cliff, who relied on other songwriters to pen his early hits, saw his first single fall out of copyright last year. His number one hit Living Doll, released in 1959, is also set to slip outside the fifty year term in July.
Sir Cliff, who had campaigned for the term to be extended, told The Times: “The wheels have turned slowly but I’m so glad that at last the balance is restored and artists and their dependants will have the security of 95 years of copyright income.
“Of course I’m pleased for myself, but the relief will be huge for those performers whose pension is largely made up of royalties from perhaps just two or three recordings in the fifties or sixties. Well done and thanks to the lawmakers for a good and just decision.”
The British government had previously opposed any increase in the term, after a 2006 review by Andrew Gowers, the former Financial Times editor, advised against the move.
But Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary, announced a U-turn in December, when he told a conference of music industry leaders that he thought there was a “moral case” for performers to have the term extended.
Mr Burnham, who said he favoured extending the copyright term to 70 years, said: “There is a moral case for performers benefiting from their work throughout their entire lifetime. An extension to match more closely a performer's expected lifetime, perhaps something like 70 years, for example, given that most people make their best work in their 20s and 30s.”
The legislation will now go to a meeting of the parliament on March 11, as well as the Council of Ministers. There may be further horse-trading on the proposal before it is finally signed into law, given that the UK and other countries had suggested a term shorter than 95 years.
But David Lammy, the intellectual property minister, told The Times that the UK’s 70-year position was a “starting point” for negotiation, suggesting that it would not fight its corner too hard. In the US, the copyright term for sound recordings was extended in 1998 to 95 years from release.
UK Music, an umbrella organisation representing the British music industry, said in a statement: "In recommending that the current term of copyright protection for sound recordings is extended to 95 years, the Committee has recognised the value of music and the importance of the work of artists, musicians and entrepreneurs, both now and in the future, and that parity with other creators is fair and just."
The IFPI, the international body representing the record industry, said the committee’s decision "shows that parliamentarians recognise the need to cherish and promote European culture”.
It added: “Europe is a source of some of the most exciting and innovative music in the world and this initiative will end the discrimination in the term of protection for sound recordings in EU member states compared to many other countries around the world."
FTC to Order Copyright Group JASRAC to End Monopolistic Practices
The Fair Trade Commission has notified JASRAC, a major copyright protection group for musicians, that it will be ordered to stop collecting usage fees because it violates the Antimonopoly Law, sources familiar with the matter said Saturday.
The FTC believes the system, in which TV and radio broadcasters pay the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers, will cause difficulties when similar entities try to enter the music copyright business, the sources said.
Under current practice, JASRAC is entitled to a flat 1.5 percent cut of a broadcaster's revenue regardless of how often tunes under its copyright management are aired.
The contract is a boon for broadcasters to some extent since the music under its management accounts for about 99 percent of the ¥26 billion music broadcasting industry. But broadcasters must pay extra to use music managed by non-JASRAC entities.
The FTC has concluded that JASRAC's current arrangement will unjustly deprive non-JASRAC tunes of airtime. Thus the government watchdog will likely ask the group to alter its fee system by linking the price charged to the frequency with which its copyrighted music is broadcast, for example, the sources said.
The FTC probed JASRAC's office in April last year.
JASRAC is the only organization in Japan licensed by the Cultural Affairs Agency to manage music copyrights. It was a monopoly until a new law came into force in 2001 allowing new entrants into the field.
The group is estimated to have collected ¥115.6 billion in fees in fiscal 2007.
11 Workers Laid Off at 7 Toledo Radio Stations
Cumulus Media Inc. Friday laid off 11 full and part-time employees at its seven Toledo radio stations.
Nick Gnaw, Toledo market manager, did not return a call seeking comment. But Tom Watkins, host of the Toledo Today show on the firm’s WTOD-AM, said the cuts included on-air personalities, production personnel, and administrative staff.
Mr. Watkins was not part of the cuts, but said he resigned rather than accept a pay cut to minimum wage ordered for part-timers. The cuts were part of companywide cost-cutting, he added. Besides WTOD, the firm’s local holdings include WKKO-FM, WRQN-FM, WRWK-FM, WLQR-AM, WWWM-FM, and WXKR-FM.
Sirius XM Prepares for Possible Bankruptcy
Andrew Ross Sorkin and Zachery Kouwe
Last summer, Mel Karmazin was rattling off his trademark one-liners to talk up the future of Sirius XM Radio, the combined company he ran that had just been blessed by regulators.
He was planning to cut costs and expand a business that was already a fixture in the lives of millions of Americans. “Forty-three cents a day — it’s not even vending machine coffee,” he said at the time, parrying a question about whether the softening economy might hurt subscriptions.
But now Sirius XM, the satellite radio company, has problems with much bigger price tags. It has hired advisers to prepare for a possible bankruptcy filing, people involved in the process said.
That would, of course, be a grim turn of events for the normally upbeat Mr. Karmazin, Sirius XM’s chief executive, who had hoped to create a mobile entertainment juggernaut with stars like Howard Stern.
It is unclear how a bankruptcy would affect customers. Service is unlikely to be interrupted, but the company might have to terminate contracts with high-priced talent like Mr. Stern or Martha Stewart.
A bankruptcy would make Sirius XM one of the largest casualties of the credit squeeze. With over $5 billion in assets, it would be the second-largest Chapter 11 filing so far this year, according to Capital IQ. The filing by Smurfit-Stone, with assets of $7 billion, has been the year’s biggest to date.
Sirius XM, which never turned a profit when both companies were independent, is laden with $3.25 billion in debt. Its business model has been dependent, in part, on the ability to roll over its enormous debts — used to finance sending satellites into space and attract talent like Mr. Stern (who was paid $100 million a year) — at low rates for the foreseeable future until it could turn a profit.
The company’s success and failure are also tied to the faltering fortunes of the automobile industry, which sells vehicles with its radio technology installed and represented the largest customer base among Sirius XM’s 20 million subscribers.
Sirius XM owes about $175 million in debt payments at the end of February that it is unlikely to be able to pay.
Sirius XM’s problems could pave the way for a takeover by EchoStar, the TV satellite company, which has bought up Sirius XM’s debt.
Mr. Karmazin has been locked in talks with EchoStar’s chief executive, Charles W. Ergen, over Sirius XM’s options, people involved in the talks said. The men are said not to get along, these people said, and Mr. Karmazin had rebuffed Mr. Ergen’s takeover advances before.
Sirius XM hired Joseph A. Bondi of Alvarez & Marsal and Mark J. Thompson, a bankruptcy lawyer with Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, to help prepare a Chapter 11 filing, these people said.
Documents and analysis are close to completion and a filing could come in days, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The threat of bankruptcy could also be part of a negotiating dance with Mr. Ergen, who could decide to convert his debt into equity instead of demanding payment.
In addition to the $175 million due in February, EchoStar also owns $400 million of Sirius XM’s debt due in December. If Sirius XM files for bankruptcy, EchoStar could seek in court to take over the company. Mr. Ergen, however, may be able to negotiate to convert his shares before bankruptcy at an attractive rate and gain control of the company, these people said.
For Mr. Karmazin, the sale or bankruptcy of Sirius XM would be one of his first failures. He founded Infinity Broadcasting, sold it to CBS and later merged the combined companies into Viacom, where he had a notoriously difficult relationship with Sumner M. Redstone, the chairman, before being ousted.
Mr. Karmazin bought two million shares of Sirius XM at $1.37 a share in August. Before that, he had bought 20 million shares at an average price of $5 each. On Tuesday, Sirius closed at 11.4 cents a share.
Since the summer, the company’s prospects have dimmed.
“I’m not trying to paint the rosy picture, because we have challenges connected to our liquidity and certainly our stock price is dreadful,” Mr. Karmazin said in December. “But, you know, our revenues are growing double digits. We’re growing subscribers. We’re not losing subscribers.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Karmazin declined to comment. A spokesman for EchoStar could not be reached.
Mr. Karmazin staked the success of the merger on nearly $400 million in annual cost savings and the potential to gain subscribers through deals with auto companies to put satellite radios into cars.
But satellite radio failed to win over many younger listeners, and competition from other sources slowed subscriber growth.
Report: EchoStar CEO Already Attempted Sirius XM Takeover
Following last week's reports that EchoStar and its CEO, Charles Ergen, had acquired a large amount of Sirius XM Radio's debts, the Wall Street Journal reports that Ergan actually made an offer late last year to take over the satcaster. According to the Journal, Ergen had proposed injecting enough of his own capital into Sirius XM to avoid its upcoming debt payments, but was turned down at the time.
A source tells the Journal that Ergen is not planning on forcing Sirius XM into bankruptcy to then acquire the satcaster at a cheaper price, but instead wants to add the company's operations as a complement to EchoStar's satellite TV business.
According to multiple reports, Sirius XM head Mel Karmazin told investors last week that if he could not raise the $175 million needed to pay their maturing debt next week, he would be forced to either have Sirius XM file for bankruptcy or to make a deal with Ergen. Orbitcast describes Karmazin as "backed into a corner" with the satcaster's options.
However, even if Ergen gets further involved in the finances of Sirius XM, such a deal would likely face tough scrutiny from government regulators.
Muzak Files Chapter 11 to Refinance Debt
Muzak Holdings, the maker of background music heard in elevators, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday.
The company had a heavy debt load, and it filed to try to refinance some of its debt. In a court filing, the company listed its total debt at $100 million to $500 million.
The filing listed assets of less than $50,000, but a company spokeswoman, Meaghan Repko, said total assets were about $320 million. That included the Muzak operating company, she said, which also filed for bankruptcy. She declined to provide a more exact figure for the company’s total debt.
Many of Muzak’s biggest creditors are music companies that license songs for use on Muzak playlists. While the company is known as the creator of elevator music, its business is now more focused on creating playlists for use in retail stores, installing professional sound systems and providing other services.
Muzak, which is based in Fort Mill, S.C., filed for protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court in the District of Delaware in Wilmington.
The company expects to continue to operate. A statement said it had “sufficient means” to support itself through a bankruptcy reorganization.
Among its biggest unsecured creditors is U.S. Bank, which is owed $371 million according to a court filing.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is owed $213,020, the filing said.
Other top unsecured creditors include vendors like Universal Music Enterprises, owed $349,321; EMI Capital Records, $320,323; AT&T, $257,384; and Dish Network, $251,276.
Sony Music, BMG Film and Television Music, United Parcel Service and Virgin Records were also listed among the unsecured creditors.
Kirkland & Ellis was hired as the company’s bankruptcy law firm. Moelis & Company will serve as the financial adviser.
The Muzak's Over: It's the End for the Most Reviled Phenomena of the 20th Century
Ever been driven to distraction by the background music in a lift or department store? Then blame Muzak Holdings, the company that has pumped it out for decades. Jonathan Brown reports on its unlamented demise
It is, some would say, one of the most reviled phenomena of the 20th century, an unloved genre known to its millions of detractors as elevator music. Take a trip down to Fort Mill, South Carolina, to visit the headquarters of Muzak Holdings LLC, the spiritual home of Muzak, and you will hear its eponymous product in every room, pumped in from the giant Well database containing 2.6 million tracks. Every room, that is, except for the elevator.
With its mushy strings and cloying tones, the sounds which once emanated from Muzak's laboratories of sound at their height in the 1960s colonised almost every public space threatened with the spectre of silence. From the hotel lobby to the dentist's waiting room, from the shop to the airport lounge, Muzak was at once a company and a musical form, as well as a byword for corporate blandness in an age of consumer soullessness.
Employees of Muzak say the absence of sound in the company's own lifts is maintained for "deeply felt symbolic reasons". The world, they say, has come a long way since New York architects needed a little mood-enhancing melody to coax nervous passengers into the narrow confines of their new-fangled vertical transporters. Muzak, the line goes, is now about so much more than elevator music.
But yesterday, the long and hard-fought attempt to transform the perceptions and declining fortunes of Major-General George Owen Squier's (pronounced Square's) piped music business suffered a major setback when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Chief executive officer Stephen P Villa insisted that the music would go on. "We intend to move through this process as quickly as possible and we firmly believe this course of action will better position Muzak for long-term success," he said.
But, sadly, after a failed merger with one of its major creditors, the "sensory branding" company DMX last year, the firm which began life as Wired Radio Inc in the 1930s has been teetering on the brink of financial collapse. As companies such as EMI clamour for their money, many of the firm's 1,250 employees face redundancy. Clients of Muzak, it seems, which once accounted for 60 per cent of all background music in the United States, are looking for cheaper ways to keep customers satisfied.
It might come as no surprise to those many millions who have grown to hate elevator music and its bastard offspring on-hold messaging, but the origins of Muzak can be traced to the United States military. As well as being a PhD and serial inventor in the field of radio, General Squier was also an aviation pioneer, helping the US Air Force get off the ground with its first planes and worked with the Wright Brothers. After the First World War, during which he had been in the forefront of the rapidly emerging military signals technology, General Squier spotted a civilian market for his wired sound and he sold his patents to a public utility company which began piping music into Staten Island direct from a hand-cranked record player at its New York City premises. Such a wired domestic music service was facing eclipse by the growth of radio, but there remained plenty of scope for pushing the product into the commercial sector. And before the general died in 1935 he was to bequeath one more brainwave to the emerging phenomenon. Inspired by George Eastman's celebrated Kodak trade name, he re-christened the company Muzak.
But Muzak was always about more than just music and its core. In the 1940s, Muzak came up with Stimulus Progression, the belief that piped music in the workplace, properly played, could stimulate production. Obviously, true music lovers should look away now, but this quasi-scientific (some might argue pseudo-scientific) theory claimed that an individual's mood could be lifted through listening to programmed sound in 15-minute segments. Within each block, the music is ordered from least to most stimulating, with the final and most upbeat track followed by a quarter of an hour of silence.
It proved a convincing sell and has helped bring Muzak to the ears of 100 million listeners each day. It reached the White House when President Eisenhower became the first commander in chief to pump music into the West Wing, and even Nasa's astronauts listened to it in space. But this being the Cold War, paranoia ruled and the company found itself increasingly accused of brainwashing and subliminal manipulation. The backlash reached a peak in the 1980s when rocker Ted Nugent sought to buy the company for $10m to close it down.
Trouble was brewing and in 1968 the first competition appeared. Rival Yesco began piping "foreground" music by real bands and singers rather than the schmaltzy cover versions produced by Muzak's in-house orchestra. The company only really got its act together in 1984 when it produced its first original artist material. Two years later, it merged with Yesco and was bought by Chicago department-store heir Marshal Field V. An agonising 10-year process was then embarked on which saw Muzak change hands yet again and move to its present South Carolina home before finally pressing the close button on the era of elevator music, emerging instead on the altogether sexier floor marked "audio branding".
Since then technology has transformed the means of delivery; satellites and broadband have rendered the old pipe or wire little more than a museum piece. And Muzak successfully notched up a series of big-name clients including Gap and Armani. Today it transmits a series of channels, all evocatively branded to reflect the requisite "audio architecture" of its target audience. Modern Muzak is as likely to grind along to Eminem and Dr Dre as kick back with Mantovani.
The fortunes of the company which gave the world elevator music may be stuck in the basement but the only way is up.
Muzak Wins Early Bankruptcy Rulings
Muzak Holdings says it has won rulings from a bankruptcy court in Delaware that will allow it to operate normally while it restructures its debt under Chapter 11 protection.
The key ruling Thursday allows the company to use more than $20 million in cash on hand and its future cash flow to operate. The judge also approved requests from the company that allows it to pay all current wages and benefits due.
Muzak is attempting to restructure more than $460 million in debt owed to bondholders. The first $102 million of that came due Tuesday. Additional payments will fall due next week and in mid-March.
“The court’s prompt approval of our first-day motions is a positive step forward for Muzak, setting the tone for us to move quickly through the restructuring process while continuing to operate our business and serve our clients without interruption,” Chief Executive Steve Villa says in a prepared statement. “We intend to work closely with our creditors to implement strategies that will right size our capital structure and enhance our financial flexibility.”
In Chapter 11, a company has to get permission for most spending. Muzak’s requests were supported by the bondholders. Muzak is negotiating with its creditors in hopes of reaching an agreement on the restructuring. The company says progress has been made, although a full agreement has not been reached.
Muzak filed its case in the bankruptcy court Tuesday. It says it has about $342 million in assets and more than $430 million in liabilities.
The company is based in Fort Mill. It sells background music and telephone services to businesses and institutions. Muzak employs about 1,240 people nationwide, including 550 in the Charlotte area.
Frank Gehry’s Software Keeps Buildings on Budget
When Bruce Ratner hired Frank Gehry in 2004 to design a wrinkled-looking 76-story residential skyscraper in Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge, the market for eye-popping luxury condominiums was booming, and the world-class architect’s multimillion-dollar fees probably seemed relatively insignificant. Now, however, the economy is crumbling, the building is envisioned as rental apartments and Mr. Gehry is bringing a more potent tool to control costs than most architects can deliver.
For the Forest City Ratner Companies, the developer of Beekman Tower, the project will test the idea that an architect can provide powerful (and expensive) modeling software to help keep costs down. Using the software, fabricators have produced a facade with various textures at a price that Mr. Gehry says does not exceed what a developer would pay to build a conventional boxy building of similar dimensions.
The project, Beekman Tower, which has $680 million in debt and is due to open with 904 apartments in 2010, will be Mr. Gehry’s most important contribution to New York’s skyline. With the building’s distinctly bumpy silhouette, “the idea I was trying to achieve was a fabric, so it would catch the light,” Mr. Gehry said.
Mr. Gehry developed the software, now called Digital Project, to produce a sculpture of a diaphanous fish for a Barcelona exposition in 1992 and refined it to specify the titanium panels cloaking his celebrated Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which opened in 1997. He based it on the three-dimensional software that aerospace companies use. “If they can build airplanes paperless, I think buildings can be built paperless,” Mr. Gehry said.
In 2002, he spun off the software business into a company called Gehry Technologies, which sells Digital Project to other developers and architects and trains project teams to use it.
Digital Project works by modeling, in three dimensions, every odd shape an architect envisions and then letting engineers and architects reconcile the shape with a building’s site, ductwork and other features. It shows how one change to a building’s ingredients changes all the others.
The stakes in construction are very high. Developers say that the closeness of the match between what an architect draws and what contractors produce can make or break a project. When engineers and contractors misunderstand how parts of a building connect, resulting delays often inflate a construction budget by 5 or 10 percent.
These days, when banks are loath to risk any money, such contingencies are not available. And some developers do not expect them to return soon.
“If you’ve got a $100 million cost that your bank engineer has approved, you will add $5 million or $10 million contingency for construction errors into your loan,” said Donald Capoccia of BFC Partners, which is building a twisty residential tower called Toren near the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge. “In the future, with stricter underwriting requirements, I believe a building with a $100 million deal will have to be done for $90 million or less.”
Architects routinely use modeling software, but the latest version of Digital Project would enable them to try extreme designs for skyscrapers. While acknowledging that the Gehry software is impressive, Carl Galioto of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, a firm that has designed many skyscrapers, says that it is hard to learn and three or four times as expensive as a conventional modeling program. Revit Architecture, the industry standard from Autodesk, is listed at $5,495 on Autodesk’s Web site.
At Beekman Tower, the pressure on Digital Project is intense. The returns on a rental building are likely to be lower than on a condominium, and committing to Mr. Gehry’s ornate design could burn the developer if it leads to cost overruns.
Beekman Tower, with steel panels that bend a little, a lot or not at all and sit in various ways on the building’s skeleton, is definitely complicated. “There is a stair-step character that I tried to achieve,” Mr. Gehry said.
While Mr. Gehry fine-tuned his design and Forest City Ratner tweaked the mix of apartment sizes and shapes, Digital Project analyzed the number of stainless-steel panels that could be used while meeting an essentially fixed price. “There are flat panels, panels that curve a little and panels that curve a lot,” explained Dennis Shelden, chief technology officer of Mr. Gehry’s software company.
Software modeling revealed where panels could sit flush against the skeleton, where they could break without letting in too much cold air, and where they could lean outward.
“We had to find places to put cylinders or cones behind the panels to prop them up,” said Sameer Kashyap of Gehry Technologies, who oversees the use of Digital Project at Beekman Tower. “This is the first time a 76-story building has had entirely unique slab edges.”
Forest City Ratner’s relationship with Mr. Gehry is not limited to this project. He also created a design for the multibillion-dollar Atlantic Yards project, with 17 buildings, which the company has proposed for downtown Brooklyn. With lawsuits pending and the economy turned sour, however, none of those buildings have gone to construction.
Of Forest City Ratner’s financing for Beekman Tower, $203.9 million is in tax-exempt Liberty bonds, which Mr. Ratner secured by agreeing to build a public school at the base (Mr. Gehry did not design it) and by directing $6 million to a fund to support affordable housing. The project must repay a $476.1 million loan from a consortium of six international private lenders. The developer says it is current on its debt service.
Mr. Gehry professes confidence that Digital Project will guide the tower smoothly through construction. “The Bilbao Museum came in $3 million under on a $100 million budget,” he said. “If there were surprises at Beekman, I would know about them.”
Forest City Ratner said that the project is on time and on budget. “It will stay on budget,” added a spokeswoman, Joyce Baumgarten.
Success with this version of Digital Project seems crucial to Mr. Gehry’s legacy. He has frequently been commissioned by institutional clients, which might be expected to be more indulgent than profit-minded developers.
But his image suffered when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued his firm in 2007 because of leaks in his 720,000-square-foot Ray and Maria Stata Center, a laboratory and classroom building with a day care center and gym. (Neither M.I.T. nor Mr. Gehry’s companies would comment about the litigation, which is pending in Superior Court in Boston.)
But David Gerber, Gehry Technologies’ chief marketing officer, said that future refinements of Digital Project will incorporate more information and avoid foul-ups. The latest iteration, Mr. Gerber said in a recent interview, even models a building’s basement sprinklers.
Architects and developers agree that software to measure a building’s ingredients will gain value as governments tighten rules about buildings’ effects on the environment. “You can ask a model to show you what shadow a building casts, or how far materials have to travel to a job site,” says Phil Bernstein, a technologist with Autodesk.
So Digital Project may offer Mr. Gehry a way to make money in an economic era when relatively few clients are likely to be commissioning ambitious buildings. The Swire Group, a Hong Kong concern, used it to deliver One Island East, a tower in Hong Kong, several months ahead of schedule last year.
“Our service is now in consulting,” said Mr. Shelden, the chief technologist for Gehry Technologies. “But we are in discussion with some clients about a shared-savings model,” under which the company would be paid a portion of a client’s savings in construction overruns.
Scientology Project Raises Questions, Ire in Wyo.
The construction began last summer, stirring up dust that wafted down this desert valley and into a small community of off-the-grid homes.
As many as 20 heavy trucks a day hauling construction materials and equipment rumbled down the valley's main gravel road, passing into a gate marked with a "No Trespassing" sign. Helicopters flew in sling loads of cargo. Powerful work lights lit up the valley at night.
Public planners in southwest Wyoming's Sweetwater County—a sagebrush expanse roughly the size of Massachusetts—say the contractor hired for the project has told them it intends to build a 22,000-square-foot underground storage vault to store documents.
Whose documents exactly? Apparently, the writings of the late L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology's founder, and other church records.
But plans remain vague. County land use planner John Barton said the county also has been told the vault might hold any number of things besides documents.
"We've had everything from underground housing of sheep or hay," Barton said. "We've had cemetery discussed. We've had mining discussed."
The contractor, International Ground Support Systems of Santa Fe, N.M., also has said it plans to build a 3,500-square-foot caretaker house and an airstrip, county officials say. But they allege that IGSS has failed to apply for two required permits for work done so far.
The mysterious project has riled some neighbors, who value the solitude of their remote community, located about 150 miles east of Salt Lake City.
"I don't care if it's Church of Scientology, the Roman Catholic Church or, you know, Kraft Foods," Barton said. "We have development activity occurring—has occurred and, rumor has it, continues to occur—without required permits."
A local attorney representing IGSS, Robert Reese, said the earthwork already done is similar to improvements that would be made at any ranch. He said that's consistent with the site's agricultural zoning and past use as a cattle ranch. Therefore, he said, the contractor hasn't needed to get a permit.
"Our position is that everything that has been done so far falls well within the agricultural use and no permit is required," Reese said.
IGSS has a majority ownership stake in the 3,500-acre property along with a handful of locals who otherwise don't appear to be directly involved in the project, according to county officials.
Neither the Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology—a roughly 50-year-old religion noted for its unconventional beliefs and celebrity followers—nor IGSS officials returned several phone messages seeking more information about the project.
However, an entity called the Church of Spiritual Technology has been known to build underground vaults to store Scientology documents, including near Petrolia, Calif., and Trementina, N.M. According to records from Humbolt County, Calif., IGSS received a permit in 1990 to build the Petrolia vault for the Church of Spiritual Technology, which is based in Los Angeles.
The Church of Spiritual Technology doesn't have a listed phone number.
The Church of Spiritual Technology and the Church of Scientology are linked, according to Larry Brennan, of Bow, N.H., a former Scientologist who now writes a blog about the religion.
The Church of Spiritual Technology holds Scientology's copyrights and trademarks and stores church documents in underground vaults to preserve the religion in case of nuclear war, he said.
The developer's lack of permits prompted the county to issue a stop-work order in September. When work didn't stop, the planners referred the matter to County Attorney Brett Johnson, who said he's contemplating legal action if work continues without a permit.
"There's been a lot of earth moved. It's quite clear that they're preparing to do a lot more work and we just want them to come in and get the proper permits," Johnson said.
John Ledford lives in a solar-powered home within sight of the construction zone. He said the project has stirred up considerable dust and he worries that the construction could cause his water well to run dry.
"They've ruined the road, and we live with the fact that the road has gotten ruined. But the air and the water? It's just not right," Ledford said.
IGSS attorney Reese said that far from doing harm, the company has improved the property.
"They're doing nothing but agricultural work out there in the last couple of months," Reese said. "They've got grazing permits, cattle are being raised, they were cleaning stream beds, fixing up the property, getting a lot of trash out there. It's much nicer than it was."
Fox Passes Off GOP Press Release as its Own Research -- Typo and All
Eric H. Hananoki
During the February 10 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jon Scott claimed that "the Senate is expected to pass the $838 billion stimulus plan -- its version of it, anyway. We thought we'd take a look back at the bill, how it was born, and how it grew, and grew, and grew." In tracking how and when the bill purportedly "grew," Scott referenced seven dates, as on-screen graphics cited various news sources from those time periods. However, all of the sources and cost figures Scott cited, as well as the accompanying on-screen text, were also contained in a February 10 press release issued by the Senate Republican Communications Center. One on-screen graphic during the segment even repeated a typo from the GOP document, further confirming that Scott was simply reading from a Republican press release. The Fox News graphic and the GOP press release both claimed that a Wall Street Journal report that the stimulus package could reach "$775 billion over two years" was published on December 19, 2009 [emphasis added].
All seven news sources and cost figures Scott and on-screen Fox News graphics referenced -- including the "12/19/09" Journal article -- were contained in the Senate Republican Communications Center's press release.
Fleischer And O’Reilly: Bush Didn’t Call On ‘Dot Coms And Other Oddballs’ Like The Huffington Post
After President Obama’s first prime time press conference last night, Bill O’Reilly asked former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer for his reaction. O’Reilly noted that Obama had a prepared list of reporters from whom he planned to take questions. Fleischer explained that former President Bush used a similar method to avoid taking questions from “dot coms and other oddballs.” In response, O’Reilly suggested that Obama’s “oddball” screening was perhaps not as effective as Bush’s because the President called on the Huffington Post:
O’REILLY: George Bush came in with a list of guys he was going to call on?
FLEISCHER: Yes, I used to prepare it for him. I would give him a grid, show him where every reporter is seated. And there are some reporters, you know, in that briefing room, you can imagine, Bill, you get a lot of dot coms and other oddballs who come in there. They’re screened.
O’REILLY: Like the Huffington Post. Now it gets called on.
FLEISCHER: And I used to seat them all in one section. I would call it “Siberia.” And I told the president, “Don’t call on Siberia.”
If Bush was relying on Fleischer to screen the “dotcoms and oddballs,” he was poorly served. Take, for example, case of Jeff Gannon, the male escort-turned-White House correspondent for the right-wing news outlet Talon News. The White House press office granted Gannon access to the White House under an assumed name and with no background check. Once Gannon got in the door under Fleischer’s watch in 2003, he was called on by Bush at a press conference in January 2005. Gannon lobbed Bush a softball:
GANNON: Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. … Yet in the same breath they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. … [H]ow are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?
By contrast, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein put Obama on the spot, asking him to clarify his somewhat murky stance on investigating and possibly prosecuting any misdeeds of the Bush administration for its torture policies:
STEIN: Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy announced that he wants to set up a truth and reconcilation committee to investigate the misdeeds of the Bush administration. He said that “before you turn the page you have to read the page first.” Do you agree with such a proposal? And are you willing to rule out right here and now any prosecution of Bush administration officials?
And while Obama did rely on a prepared list of reporters to take questions from last night, he’s clearly not inclined to dispatch reporters that are generally critical of his policies to “Siberia.” Indeed, last night Obama took a question from Fox News. Bush, meanwhile, completed two terms without ever giving an interview to the New York Times.
Fox Hack Netted in Kiddie Porn Sting
Distributed material on secret P2P network
A Fox News hack has been arrested after police monitored a secret paedophile P2P network and found him offering child porn.
Aaron Bruns, 29, who covered Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign for the right wing cable network, is now facing child porn charges. Photos and videos on his computer showed children under the age of 10 being sexually abused by adult men and women.
He was arrested after a Pennsylvania state police investigator conducted "pro-active undercover investigations" on a secret peer-to-peer network and found Bruns acting as a distributor.
Bruns' last story was about Clinton and Joseph Biden delivering farewell speeches on the Senate floor.
According to Smoking Gun, Bruns is unlikely to play the "I am a journalist hunting for paedophiles" defence in court. It is the second time he has been arrested for possessing child porn. He admitted running a similar network in 1999 when he was at college. Then, the porn was found on his computer when police raided his University of Michigan dorm room.
Despite its love of stories about internet porn and paedophiles, Fox News has been surprisingly quiet about this particular collar.
MIME sniffing in Internet Explorer enables cross-site scripting attacks
Uploading images is a standard requirement in any Web 2.0 application, but some features of Internet Explorer need to be carefully handled, otherwise a gap can open up and facilitate cross-site scripting attacks on site visitors.
At the heart of the problem is the variety of ways in which a file's type can be determined. A jpg filename extension, for example, indicates an image in JPEG format. The web server may also define Content-Type (image/jpg in this case) in the HTTP header, but as a rule it determines the type of file being uploaded from its file name extension. Finally, most web browsers also check the first few bytes of a file (its "signature") for known byte sequences, such as PNG, PK, JPEG JFIF and so on.
Internet Explorer 4 introduced a fourth method, known as MIME sniffing, or mime type detection. So no version of IE now automatically assumes that a file taken from the web has the same content type as that stated by the server in the HTTP header. Nor does it trust the file name extension, or signature, on their own. Instead, Internet Explorer also examines the first 256 bytes of the file to determine its type. The snag is that it does this, only if the user calls up the URL directly, to download the file. No problems arise when locally stored files, or images that the browser links to via image tags (IMG) in HTML pages, are opened with Internet Explorer.
MIME sniffing was originally meant to guard against incorrect indications of content type by servers. These could be exploited by attackers to circumvent protective functions in Internet Explorer that were meant to prevent the browser automatically executing downloaded files, such as hta files. MIME sniffing also makes the browser tolerant of accidental errors in Content-Type statements. If, for example, the server announces text/plain, but then supplies an HTML file, Internet Explorer will handle it as HTML.
With the common GIF, JPEG and PNG formats, the browser ignores the result of MIME sniffing, as long as the filename extension, Content-Type and signature, all indicate the same type. Only if the results are inconsistent will Internet Explorer handle the file as the type identified by MIME sniffing.
security_logo_en.png, Content-Type: image/png, Signature: PNG
In the second example, we have changed the file extension to JPG. The server has noted this and changed the content-type to image/jpeg. But the signature check on the file says the file is PNG. Because the content-type (image/jpeg) clashes with the signature (PNG), the browser takes a closer look and renders the file as HTML.
security_logo_en.jpg, Content-Type: image/jpeg, Signature: PNG
In the third example, the file extension is BMP, the content type is image/bmp and the signature is BMP. Everything looks correct, but it is still interpreted at text/html. The reason for this is that the server states the content type as image/bmp when it really should be image/x-ms-bmp. This mis-statement of content type is not uncommon; we did not specifically configure our server to send the wrong content-type.
security_logo_en.bmp, Content-Type: image/bmp, Signature: BMP
Help at hand
Microsoft has identified the problem and plans to deal with it in the forthcoming version of Internet Explorer. IE 8 no longer sniffs images and therefore ignores embedded HTML. It also understands the proprietary Content-Type extension authoritative=true|false (e.g. content-type=text/html; authoritative=true;), which enables MIME sniffing to be switched off for individual downloads. Internet Explorer then handles the file as indicated by the server.
For critical cases, the new "X-Download-Options: noopen" header ensures that files are displayed strictly outside the site context. That means even HTML files can be delivered securely, because the browser will only offer to save the file. It will, unfortunately, take some time before Internet Explorer 8 has replaced its predecessor, to the extent that web site operators can rely on such measures.
Crafted files can actually be fended off quite simply right now. Ever since Windows XP SP2, users have been able to disable MIME sniffing in Internet Explorer by going to Internet Options, Security, Internet, Adjust, and selecting "Open files based on their content and not the filename extension". However, that could reopen some old holes! Whether it improves security can only be demonstrated by practical tests. The tip shouldn't really have to be spread among users in any case – it would be better if web service operators took security precautions to protect their visitors and ensure their systems doesn't deliver crafted images.
Administrators can use scripts to check the type consistency of any files uploaded to their servers. If an image has a .jpg file name extension, for instance, and the signature at the start of the file says the same (confirmed using the command file image.jpg under Linux or getimagesize under PHP), all is in order and the server can deliver it. Even if it does contain HTML code, Internet Explorer will not execute it. It should be noted here, however, that only images can be secured in this way, and that the Content-Type stated by the server absolutely must be correct. The trick doesn't work with other formats.
For absolute certainty, however, the first 256 bytes of the file can be checked for HTML code. Patterns that lead IE to identify HTML code are the usual tags like <body>, <head>, <html>, <img>, <script> and so on. If none of these patterns occurs within the first 256 bytes of the file, Microsoft's browser won't be able to interpret anything.
An administrator can also configure his server so that, when files are being downloaded (as opposed to pages being opened), it always delivers the header "Content-disposition: attachment; filename="<filename.ext>". This prevents the browser opening the files in the context of the Internet site. Instead, it opens the file with a locally linked application – though this may well irritate users. Unfortunately, such header rewrites only work if the user can be prevented from having direct access to files. For that reason, the storage locations of uploaded files should not be publicly readable, and the use of random file names is advisable.
The most efficient method is to convert the format of image files using ImageMagick or a comparable tool. That eliminates any fragments of code from images so they no longer present any danger to users. Big sites like Facebook and Twitter convert the portrait photographs uploaded by their users, but be careful, as this might open another attack vector. For example, if somebody discovered a buffer overflow problem in ImageMagick, attackers could try and exploit this with specially crafted pictures.
To sum up
It's as though once faithful guard dog has suddenly spun around with a snarl and become a threat to Internet Explorer users. Countermeasures do exist, but whether they will become firmly established in the medium term is an open question. Cross-site scripting via manipulated images doesn't seem to be widespread at the moment, but things can change very rapidly: interactive web sites are becoming preferred targets for criminals. Changing to an alternative browser – Firefox, for example – could provide a remedy. Firefox carries out MIME sniffing too, but it doesn't suddenly render an image as HTML.
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Q & A: When Outlook Express Won’t Stop Nagging
All of a sudden, whenever I first start my Windows XP computer, I get a nagging screen asking if I want to let Outlook Express compact e-mail files to free up drive space. I don’t use Outlook Express at all and there are no messages in the mailbox, so what’s happening here and how can I stop these alerts?
You are not alone. Many people have reported this quirky behavior after installing Windows XP Service Pack 3, because the system update conflicts with other software on the PC.
Other people have reported the Nero Burning ROM program, Windows Live Mail, I.B.M.’s Rapid Access keyboard, Mailwasher, several kind of antivirus software and Window Desktop Search as the clashing culprit with Service Pack 3. So the exact root of the problem may vary depending on what’s installed on the computer.
Regular users of Outlook Express are familiar with the nag alert to compact mailboxes, a maintenance task that helps save space on the PC. The alert is supposed to appear only every 100 times Outlook Express is closed, though. Because of the software conflict, the file in the Windows Registry that keeps the count for Outlook Express increases more quickly than it is supposed to, even if you don’t actually use the program.
Because the exact root of the program varies, the exact solution also varies based on what’s installed on the PC. (A typical discussion of the issue with various solutions can be found here.)
Some more technically inclined people have reportedly fixed the problem by downloading the RegMon program from Microsoft’s Tech Net site. RegMon, which (if you hadn’t guessed) monitors access to the Windows Registry, displays the Compact Check Count value and what program is changing it. Once identified, the offending plug-in or program increasing the count can be removed or adjusted.
The Kelly’s Korner site, which offers tips and scripts to run for fixing little Windows XP issues, has an “OE — Reset Compact Check Count to 0” script to download and run; it’s No. 367 on the page of tweaks and helper files. As the name indicated, the script modifies the counter in the Windows Registry and resets it to zero.
Some users of Windows Desktop Search have found that the problem stops if the program is set not to index Outlook Express.
25 Interesting Things that You Learn About Computers in the Movies...
1. High tech equipment is often driven by a computer with a DOS prompt. (re: RoboCop)
2. High tech companies don't do offsite backups of the data (re: Terminator 2)
3. All media devices are readily available - ie If someone hands you a DAT tape with important data on it your PC will have a DAT drive.
4. No matter what you ask a computer to do it will respond with a percentage complete bargraph - especially when searching for data it can accurately give you the time remaining until it finds that data.
5. Data searching will always involve displaying all the searched data on the screen until a match is found - this is true of text and graphics such as fingerprints.
6. Telephone calls can be easily redirected through places all over the world, and upon a tracea globe will be displayed complete with lines travelling between each place.
7. Deleting of data always takes just a little less time than it takes the bad guys to knock down the door.
8. Alltechnology is plug and play - every computer can have any piece of technology attached.
9. High tech graphical interfaces are often driven by hundreds of keystrokes which do not appear anywhere on the screen.
10. IP addresses automatically supply the feds with the physical address (ie log on and they know where you are!)
11. Word processors never display a cursor.
12. You never have to use the spacebar when typing long sentences. Just keep hitting the keys without stopping
13. All monitors display 2 inch high letters.
14. High-tech computers, such as those used by NASA, the CIA, or some such governmental institution, have easy-to-understand graphical >interfaces.
15. Those that don't will have incredibly powerful text-based command shells that can correctly understand and execute commands typed in plain English.
16. Corollary: You can gain access to any information you want by simply typing "ACCESS ALL OF THE SECRET FILES" on any keyboard.
17. Likewise, you can infect a computer with a destructive virus by simply typing "UPLOAD VIRUS." Viruses cause temperatures in computers, > >just like they do in humans. After a while, smoke billows out of disk >drives and monitors.
18. All computers are connected. You can access the information on the villain's desktop computer, even if it's turned off.
19. Powerful computers beep whenever you press a key or whenever the screen changes. Some computers also slow down the output on the screen so that it doesn't go faster than you can read. The *really* advanced ones also emulate the sound of a dot-matrix printer as the characters come across the screen.
20. All computer panels have thousands of volts and flash pots just underneath the surface. Malfunctions are indicated by a bright flash, a puff of smoke, a shower of sparks, and an explosion that forces you backward. (See #7, above)
21. People typing away on a computer will turn it off without saving the data.
22. A hacker can get into the most sensitive computer in the world before intermission and guess the secret password in two tries.
23. Any PERMISSION DENIED has an OVERRIDE function.
24. Complex calculations and loading of huge amounts of data will be accomplished in under three seconds. In the movies, modems transmit data at two gigabytes per second.
25. When the power plant/missile site/whatever overheats, all the control panels will explode, as will the entire building.
26. If you display a file on the screen and someone deletes the file, it also disappears from the screen. There are no ways to copy a >backup file -- and there are no undelete utilities.
27. If a disk has encrypted files, you are automatically asked for a password when you try to access it.
28. No matter what kind of computer disk it is, it'll be readable by >any system you put it into. All application software is usable by all >computer platforms.
29. The more high-tech the equipment, the more buttons it has. However, everyone must have been highly trained, because the buttons aren't labelled.
30. Most computers, no matter how small, have reality-defying three-dimensional, real-time, photo-realistic animated graphics capability.
31. Laptops, for some strange reason, always seem to have amazing real-time video phone capabilities and the performance of a CRAY-MP.
32. Whenever a character looks at a VDU, the image is so bright that it projects itself onto his/her face.
33. Computers never crash during key, high-intensity activities. Humans operating computers never make mistakes under stress.
34. Programs are fiendishly perfect and never have bugs that slow down users.
35. Any photograph can have minute details pulled out of it. You can zoom into any picture as far as you want to.
Ya-har! The Pirate Bay Busts Some Piracy and Peer-to-Peer Myths
The Pirate Bay, one of the world’s leading peer to peer sites and tormentor in chief of the music and movie industries, has released statistics breaking down the location of its users by country.
Data on peer to peer usage is often hard to gather, and this set comes with several major caveats. It only measures traffic at one specific point in time. Other peer-to-peer sites also dominate certain regions and countries, while the Pirate Bay is, unsurprisingly, very popular in its home market of Sweden and neighbouring countries.
But since the site has been described as “one of the world’s largest facilitators of illegal downloading”, these numbers give a reasonable idea of where some of the globe’s peer-to-peer hotspots are.
At first glimpse, there are few surprises. The large red spot over China confirms that 1/3 of the Pirate Bay’s traffic comes from behind the Great Firewall, despite the fact that the site is banned in the country. The United States and Japan also feature highly in the rankings. Yet there are a few curveballs. Users in Spain, far from being a global internet superpower, generate the third highest levels of traffic.
Things get even more interesting when you compare the amount of Pirate Bay traffic a country produces with its share of the world’s internet users. Doing so gives a rough idea of the affinity with which a country’s online population as a whole has for piracy, or at least the Pirate Bay. Here, there are some interesting discrepancies. The 1/3 of traffic that Chinese internet users generate is in spite of the fact that they make up only 1/6 of the world’s internet users. Conversely, the 6.7% of traffic that Japan generates is less impressive considering the fact that 6.2% of all internet users are Japanese.
This is only data taken from one point in time, but a few preliminary conclusions can still be drawn from it:
• Peer to peer usage is often more popular in less developed internet markets: The likes of China, Thailand and Poland, to name but three, all generate large amounts of Pirate Bay traffic in proportion to the number of internet users in the countries. This is largely down to the makeup of their internet user bases. Where broadband penetration is lower, internet users are often younger people, historically the largest demographic for file-sharing. As penetration increases, a country’s internee user base starts to be more representative of a country’s population, many of whom are less interested in peer to peer.
It is also a question of economics. Traffic from Poland to the Pirate Bay is very high given the country’s relatively low broadband penetration. This is not surprising, given that the cost of an international CD - including older titles - is about PLN50-60 (USD14-USD16.75). while the average wage in Poland is only PLN800-1200 per month.
• Piracy is not always economically driven: The Pirate Bay numbers show that consumers from more economically well developed countries are often heavy users of peer-to-peer sites. Spain is a clear example of this. Hong Kong, too, is a wealthy state. But its internet users, which up only 0.3% of the world’s total, contributed almost 2% of the Pirate Bay’s usage.
• Users are starting to get pirated content from other online sources: Peer-to-peer and piracy have become almost interchangeable, but some users appear to be going elsewhere for their illegitimate content fixes. A report last year from vendors Sandvine claimed that one-click hosting sites such as Rapidshare and Megaupload were becoming an increasingly popular way for consumers to get large content. This appears to have been borne out in Korea, where government crackdowns on peer to peer usage have made these alternative destinations a favourite for the country’s internet users.
• Fibre’s effect on peer to peer usage remains unproven: Much is made of the extent to which fibre to the home can benefit peer to peer usage, and little else. The proportionally low Pirate Bay traffic coming from Japan and Korea, the world’s two most penetrated fibre markets, appears to contradict this. But low usage in both countries might be due to reasons already discussed in this post. Accessing the web using mobile devices, over which peer to peer usage is difficult, is also popular in both countries.
The Scandinavian fibre powerhouses of Norway and Sweden both generate large amounts of traffic, but again this is not surprising given that the Pirate Bay is a Swedish site.
One country where FTTH may have had an effect on peer to peer usage is Slovenia, a country of only 2 million people but one of Europe’s most penetrated fibre markets. Incumbent operator Telekom Slovenije admits that there are few legal uses for the excess bandwidth on its FTTH network, but that a small minority of its subscribers maximise the capacity via peer to peer usage. According to the Pirate Bay, 0.15% of its traffic comes from Slovenia, home to 0.09% of the world’s internet users.
As stated above, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the data revealed so far. But the numbers do give a rare insight into an area about which much is said but, arguably, little is really known.
P2P Researchers Fear BitTorrent Meltdown
BitTorrent is often praised as an indestructible force moving petabytes of data around every day. It does have an Achilles’ heel though, and prominent p2p researchers warn that millions of downloads will come to a halt if eight servers hosted in Sweden happen to go offline.
Research by Raynor Vliegendhart of the Tribler P2P team at Delft University of Technology has shown that BitTorrent is more vulnerable to a global collapse than anyone has ever predicted. By collecting statistics of a sample of 283,032 torrents with 52,634,797 connected peers, he found that over 50% of all torrents were tracked by The Pirate Bay.
In order to get an accurate estimate of the tracker load a single person connected to three torrents is counted as three peers. In the picture below, we see that roughly 5 million peers are connected to a torrent that uses only The Pirate Bay (single). Another 5 million have more trackers in the announce list, but use The Pirate Bay as the primary tracker. For the remaining torrents The Pirate Bay was added as an additional (foreign) tracker.
The Pirate Bay is by far the largest BitTorrent tracker, followed at a distance by Sumotracker, Torrent.to and Torrentbox respectively. Unfortunately, this dominant position can result in a horror scenario if the Pirate Bay tracker fails.
Raynor told TorrentFreak that if The Pirate Bay goes down, many of the other trackers might collapse as well. “If The Pirate Bay goes down the load will automatically shift to others. This is because most of the Pirate Bay swarms also include other trackers. When Pirate Bay goes down it would overload others until they fall also. Meaning even more stress and further casualties. This is likely to end in a BitTorrent meltdown.”
So what’s the alternative? How can we fix this vulnerability? The obvious option is to rely less on the Pirate Bay’s trackers, but this is easier said than done. Although there are thousands of smaller trackers on the Internet, it has proven to be hard to convince people to actually use these.
Perhaps we should find an alternative for the traditional BitTorrent tracker then? A truly decentralized form of filesharing, that doesn’t rely on the philanthropy of three Swedish guys? Attempts have been made to decentralize trackers, and most of the major BitTorrent clients support “trackerless” torrents through DHT.
DHT is not the silver bullet though, as it is lacking in speed and efficiency according to Tribler founder Johan Pouwelse, and the mainline Bittorrent client “has a faulty DHT implementation and many people will be left in the cold”. Researchers of Tribler found several DHT flaws. One bug in a DHT sorting routine ensures that it can only “stumble upon success”, meaning torrent downloads will not start in seconds or minutes if Pirate Bay goes down in flames.
“The DHT concept is proven to be broken and just invites DDoS attacks,” Pouwelse added. “People have proposed repairs to the DHT, but only at the cost of too much performance or global trusted servers.”
Dr. Pouwelse says that there have been ideas to deal with BitTorrent’s Achilles’ heel, but none of these have materialized. This summer Raynor hopes to have an operational solution in their Tribler BitTorrent client. They think the trick is to include the SQLite database engine in every Tribler client. This enables abuse prevention and fast starts, however this complex task could be delayed until Christmas (of some year to come).
So is BitTorrent going to die? No, not by a long shot. However, this research does point out that the ecosystem depends on The Pirate Bay. If their trackers go down for whatever reason, others are likely to collapse because of the increasing load and many torrent download will slow down significantly or stop entirely. So please direct your prayers to trackers around the world. May they function in peace and prosperity.
The Pirate Bay: 'Political Trial of the Decade'
Next week sees the start of the long-awaited Pirate Bay trial. With the eyes of the world on Sweden, Pirate Party leader Rick Falkvinge argues that there is much more at stake than the future of the site's operators.
The world has changed. Technical developments allow all of us to collect, store and share digitized information on an unimagined scale. The cost of storage, bandwidth and processing power is, for business purposes, essentially zero.
So the world has changed, and will continue to change. But it can change in two entirely different directions, depending on who lays claim to this fantastic tool.
On the one side, there is the public. Every human with access to the Internet has received fingertip round-the-clock access to all of humanity's collective knowledge and culture. This is a fantastic leap ahead for mankind – much larger than when public libraries arrived 160 years ago, and comparable to how society changed with the arrival of the printing press.
On the other side, there are the current people in power, who would like to harness this power to build a surveillance machine – collecting information about regular Joes, and actively preventing the free exchange of ideas – that would make George Orwell look like a cheery, skipping optimist. Many powerful institutions are pulling in this direction.
The trial against the operators of The Pirate Bay, which starts next Monday, offers a glimpse into these two possible futures going head to head with each other. The trial is not about copyright infringement, it is about the power over knowledge and culture as such.
Behold, for instance, the prosecutor's list of witnesses. Usually, you would expect a witness to have some sort of firsthand observation of the action being on trial. Here, it's bigwigs from across the media industry. Managers of institutions. It's not the operators as individuals that are on trial, it's what the establishment regards as a threat to their society – the pervasive youth culture of freely exchanging culture and knowledge.
Consider, for instance, what one of the witnesses said in an interview recently. Rasmus Ramstad, CEO of Svensk Filmindustri, stated that all Internet providers that allow (!) access to sites like (!) The Pirate Bay should be shut down. This amounts to abolishing the postal secret, and requiring the Internet as a concept to be closed down.
What scares the establishment is that everybody are equals on the net. Everybody can share and receive freely. There is no central point of control. They are fighting tooth and nail to bring back the good old days, where there was a hard division into approved senders and passive consumer receivers, where the approved senders would compete for the wallet of the consumers. Essentially, they are trying to turn the Internet into a cable TV network.
At the same time, Big Brother is enacting new laws to store how we move through town in our daily lives for a year.
I'm hoping and working for the Utopian alternative to the two above. But it's going to take a lot of political change. Politicians don't understand what is at stake, and appear uninterested in anything other than progressing the Big Brother dystopia. The only recourse at present is to have them replaced.
Until next week,
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Jack Spratts' Week In Review is published every Friday. Submit letters, articles, press releases, comments, questions etc. in plain text English to jackspratts (at) lycos (dot) com. Submission deadlines are Thursdays @ 1400 UTC. Please include contact info. The right to publish all remarks is reserved.
"The First Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public." - Hugo Black
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