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Join Date: May 2001
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Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - August 26th, '06
"Well, why not? It ain't worth nothing anyway." – Bob Dylan
"We see that Internet interest in a movie doesn’t necessarily translate to good box office." – Paul Dergarabedian
"These companies are sick of being pushed around. This is indicative of a huge paradigm shift in the industry in terms of what constitutes a star and how much power a star has." – Senior movie studio executive
"Overall, the box office is running solidly ahead of its disastrous performance in 2005, with no major movies left to be released in the summer season. Summer ticket sales now total $3.4 billion, up 7.6 percent over last summer’s total of $3.15 billion, according to Exhibitor Relations. Attendance is also up 4.36 percent over last summer." – Sharon Waxman
"Superparamagneticexpialidocious." – Michael Kanellos
"Hippie storage." – David Patterson
"We can see [hard drives with] 50 to 100 terabits being possible. We are three orders of magnitude from any truly fundamental limits." – Mark Kryder, Seagate CTO
"A square inch of 100-terabit material could hold as much data as 12,500 pickup trucks filled with books." – Michael Kanellos
"There are no market forces at work here, much as [FCC] Chairman Majoras wishes there to be." – Public Knowledge
"This is a confirmation of our warnings that once you let the camel’s nose under the tent, it takes 10 minutes for them to want to start expanding these programs in all different directions." – Jay Stanley, ACLU
"It's hard to tell who's losing the money -- the insurance company, the credit card company or the consumer -- but it's coming out of someone's pockets." – Dan Hubbard
"Only 10 percent of the respondents say their laptops had not been stolen." – Eric J. Sinrod
"Wake up, America--this is unacceptable." – Eric J. Sinrod
"(Research has shown that) if women could choose who they'd like to be impregnated by, they'd choose a rock star." – Daniel Levitin
In this issue of the Peer-to-Peer Week in Review Bob Dylan says "why not?" to file-sharing, song publishers declare war on guitar tabs, Germany declares war on anonymizers, America sues Maine, Apple recalls batteries, personal firewalls are pointless and Kevin Mitnick gets hacked. And oh yeah, the Irish say they’ve solved our energy problems with a perpetual motion machine. All this and lots more. Hey, it’s just another week on the internet.
August 26th, '06
Confidential Data Really Is At Risk
Eric J. Sinrod
We have long heard about how confidential data can be at risk. Now, a new U.S. survey by the Ponemon Institute drives home the point with hard data. An astonishing 81 percent of companies and governmental entities report having lost or misplaced one or more laptops containing confidential business information within the last 12 months.
The survey, sponsored by data-protection specialist Vontu and aptly titled "Confidential Data at Risk," concludes that a main reason for corporate data security breaches is that many companies simply don't know where their sensitive or confidential business information resides. The survey goes on to summarize that "this lack of knowledge coupled with insufficient controls over data stores" poses "a serious threat to both business and governmental organizations."
The survey queried 484 information technology departments within U.S.-based corporate and governmental organizations. The answers to the survey questions paint a fairly bleak current picture. Only 10 percent of the respondents say their laptops had not been stolen. (Another 9 percent did not know.)
The corporate and governmental respondents generally agreed that electronic storage devices contain sensitive or confidential information that is unprotected, with 60 percent stating this to be the case for PDAs and other mobile devices, 59 percent for laptops, 53 percent for USB flash drives, 36 percent for desktops, and 35 percent for shared-file servers.
What's disturbing is that when asked how long it would take to determine what actual sensitive data was on a lost or stolen laptop, desktop, file server or mobile device, the most common answer was "never."
Unfortunately, it turns out this is not entirely surprising, given that 64 percent of respondents concede that their companies never have conducted a data inventory to determine the location of customer or employee information contained in various data stores.
Along these lines, 49 percent of respondents admit that business-related confidential information never has been inventoried as part of usual information technology control processes, and 48 percent state the same with respect to organizational intellectual property.
Wake up, America--this is unacceptable.
All prudent steps must be taken to account for and protect confidential data. The failure to take such steps can compromise the privacy of innocent employees and customers. What's more, it can jeopardize valued business relationships and lead to an organization's crown jewels--its intellectual property--walking out the door. Above all, there's the danger of legal liability.
Let's hope the next time such a survey is conducted, the results will be much improved. But it will take the dedicated efforts of U.S. companies and governmental organizations.
Napster on the Block?
Someday, I am sure, someone besides Steve Jobs at Apple Computer will figure out how to build a successful business around digital music. The new, legal Napster service, structured around the brand of the old, illegal Napster file-sharing system, is trying very hard, but victory is still a long way in the future. The most encouraging news in the earnings release that it issued August 2 was that its cash burn for the first fiscal quarter, which ended in June, fell to $9.6 million. That's down from a loss of $19.7 million in the first quarter of last year, although on a sequential basis it's modestly higher than the $9.3 million it lost in the fourth quarter of 2006. Revenues were $28.1 million, up 34 percent from the first quarter of 2006 and up 5 percent on a sequential basis from the fourth quarter of 2006.
CEO Chris Gorog attributed the growth to the launch of Napster's free-advertising supported service. It also offers an ad-free version for $9.95 a month, and a $14.95 a month vesion that allows subscribers to download unlimited amounts of music to MP3 players. They can access the music as long as they continue to pay the monthly fee. If they cancel their subsciption, they can't play the music anymore.
Gorog deserves credit for trying something new and narrowing the operating losses. But the company still has a long way to go before it really gains traction. Achieving profitability would be great, but that alone isn't enought to make it truly competitive. Apple's iPod has set a very high bar for success in the digital music market.
So it's no surprise that Gorog essentially put his company on the block. During a conference call he assured investors and analysts that "we do not have our heads in the sand" when it comes to M&A, and that the company has attracted "interest" and is weighing its options. Such a bold asseration is tantamount to putting a for-sale sign in the front yard.
The company faces two critical issues. The first is whether it has the right business model. The free version is similar to Internet radio. The $14.95 a month version is basically a music rental system. But it's not clear that a critical mass of people are all that interested in renting music from servies such as Napster or Yahoo!, which offers a similar product. The success of the iPod shows that people still get a thrill out of owning a collection of music. While it still costs 10 bucks or more to buy a CD online, the Web has made it possible to buy single tracks for less than a dollar. Such unbundling limits the appeal of renting. And even if Napster has the business model right, the success of iTunes and iPod reinforces the critical role of execution. You have to get the design and customer experience just right. Good luck figuring that one out.
Would anyone want to buy Napster? Other services do the same thing. And the flood of new entrants into the business shows that it isn't that hard to build one from scratch. Microsoft is building a new music player and music service called Zune.
Napster is a pretty good service, but the real differentiator is the brand. Just a few years ago, it had an underground allure. Now, as a revived public company with a legal business model, the company is having a challenging time, raising questions about just how valuable the brand can be, stripped of the file-sharing that made it what it was.
That notwithstanding, any number of media and Internet companies might find some value in Napster. If nothing else, an acquisition is a faster route to the market than building an online music service from scratch.
So the issue is going to be what kind of price it will fetch. The shares are trading at $2.71, down from a 52-week high of $5.17. It's hard to imagine that this company would fetch much of a premium to its market cap of $121 million.
Now the Music Industry Wants Guitarists to Stop Sharing
The Internet put the music industry and many of its listeners at odds thanks to the popularity of services like Napster and Grokster. Now the industry is squaring off against a surprising new opponent: musicians.
In the last few months, trade groups representing music publishers have used the threat of copyright lawsuits to shut down guitar tablature sites, where users exchange tips on how to play songs like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Highway to Hell” and thousands of others.
The battle shares many similarities with the war between Napster and the music recording industry, but this time it involves free sites like Olga.net, GuitarTabs.com and MyGuitarTabs.com and even discussion boards on the Google Groups service like alt.guitar.tab and rec.music.makers.guitar.tablature, where amateur musicians trade “tabs” — music notation especially for guitar — for songs they have figured out or have copied from music books.
On the other side are music publishers like Sony/ATV, which holds the rights to the songs of John Mayer, and EMI, which publishes Christina Aguilera’s music.
“People can get it for free on the Internet, and it’s hurting the songwriters,” said Lauren Keiser, who is president of the Music Publishers’ Association and chief executive of Carl Fischer, a music publisher in New York.
So far, the Music Publishers’ Association and the National Music Publishers’ Association have shut down several Web sites, or have pressured them to remove all of their tabs, but users have quickly migrated to other sites. According to comScore Media Metrix, an Internet statistics service, Ultimate-Guitar.com had 1.4 million visitors in July, twice the number from a year earlier.
The publishers, who share royalties with composers each time customers buy sheet music or books of guitar tablature, maintain that tablature postings, even inaccurate ones, are protected by copyright laws because the postings represent “derivative works” related to the original compositions, to use the industry jargon.
The publishers told the sites that if they did not remove the tablatures, they could face legal action or their Internet service providers would be pressured to shut down their sites. All of the sites have taken down their tabs voluntarily, but grudgingly.
The tablature sites argue that they are merely conduits for an online discussion about guitar techniques, and that their services help the industry.
“The publishers can’t dispute the fact that the popularity of playing guitar has exploded because of sites like mine,” said Robert Balch, the publisher of Guitar Tab Universe (guitartabs.cc), in Los Angeles. “And any person that buys a guitar book during their lifetime, that money goes to the publishers.”
Mr. Balch, who took down guitar tabs from his site in late July at the behest of the music publishers, added that, “I’d think the music publishers would be happy to have sites that get people interested in becoming one of their customers.”
Cathal Woods, who manages Olga.net, one of the pioneer free tablature sites, said he had run the site for 14 years with the help of a systems administrator, “and we’ve never taken a penny.” Mr. Woods, who teaches philosophy at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, said Olga.net had earned an undisclosed amount of money by posting ads on Google’s behalf, but he said that money had paid for bandwidth and a legal defense fund.
Anthony DeGidio, a lawyer for Olga.net, said he was still formulating a legal strategy, while also helping decide whether the site could pay licensing fees “in the event that that’s required.” For now, though, the site remains unavailable to users.
Because the music tablature sites are privately held, they do not disclose sales figures, and because industry analysts generally do not closely follow tablature sites, it is unclear how much revenue they generate. But with the Internet advertising market surging, almost any Web site with significant traffic can generate revenue.
Google also dabbles in tablature through its Google Groups discussion board service, in which guitar players trade tabs they have figured out by listening to the songs, or by copying tabs found elsewhere. A Google spokesman, Steve Langdon, said Google would take down music tablature from its Groups service if publishers claimed the materials violated copyright agreements and if Google determined that infringement was likely. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Web hosts may review, case by case, a publisher’s claims regarding instances of copyright infringement.
To hear music publishers tell it, though, the tablature sites are getting away with mass theft. Mr. Keiser, of the Music Publishers’ Association, said that before these sites started operating in the early ‘90s, the most popular printed tablatures typically sold 25,000 copies in a year. Now the most popular sell 5,000 copies at most.
But Mike Happoldt, who was a member of the ’90’s band Sublime and whose music is sold in sheet music books, said he sympathized with the tablature sites.
“I think this is greed on the publishers’ parts,” said Mr. Happoldt, who played guitar on Sublime’s hit “What I Got.”
“I guess in a way I might be losing money from these sites, but as a musician I look at it more as a service,” said Mr. Happoldt, who now owns an independent record company, Skunk Records. “And really, those books just don’t sell that much for most people.”
Assuming a tablature site musters the legal resources to challenge the publishers in court, some legal scholars say they believe publishers may have difficulty arguing their complaints successfully. Jonathan Zittrain, the professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, said “it isn’t at all clear” that the publishers’ claim would succeed because no court doctrine has been written on guitar tablature.
Mr. Zittrain said the tablature sites could well have a free speech defense. But because the Supreme Court, in a 2003 case involving the extension of copyright terms, declined to determine when overenforcement or interpretation of copyright might raise a free speech problem, the success of that argument was questionable. “It’s possible, though, that this is one reason why guitar tabs generated by people would be found to fit fair use,” Mr. Zittrain said, “or would be found not to be a derivative work to begin with.”
Doug Osborn, an executive vice president with Ultimate-Guitar.com said his site violated no laws because its headquarters were in Russia, and the site’s practices complied with Russian laws.
Jacqueline C. Charlesworth, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Music Publishers’ Association, would not comment on the legality of specific sites, including Ultimate-Guitar, but she said she had seen no international licensing agreements that might make free United States distribution of guitar tablature legal.
Online discussion boards have been thick with comments from guitar tablature fans, looking for sites that are still operating and lamenting the fate of sites they frequented. One user of the guitarnoise.com forums, who calls himself “the dali lima,” said he had no doubt that the music publishers would win the battle.
“Hopefully we will get to a place where the sheet music/tab will be available online just like music — $0.99 a song. The ironic thing might be that a service like that — with fully licensed music/tab offered at a low per song rate — might actually benefit guitar players by providing the correct music/tab and not the garbage that we currently sift through.”
A small handful of sheet music sites now sell guitar tablature. Mr. Keiser, of the Music Publishers’ Association, estimated that, including overhead costs, tablature could cost about $800 per song to produce, license and format for downloading.
Musicnotes, an online sheet music business based in Madison, Wis., is considering a deeper push into guitar tablature, said Tim Reiland, the company’s chairman and chief financial officer. The site has a limited array of tablature available now for about $5 a song, and it also offers tablature as part of $10 downloadable guitar lessons.
But Mr. Reiland said that with the music publishers “dealing with the free sites,” and a stronger ad market, his business might be able to lower the cost of its guitar tabs.
“Maybe we could sell some of the riffs to Jimmy Page’s solo in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for a buck, since that’s really what the kids want to learn anyway,” Mr. Reiland said.
Low prices are only part of the battle, though, Mr. Reiland said. The free tablature sites often host vibrant communities of musicians, who rate each other’s tablature and trade ideas and commentary, and Musicnotes would have to find a way to replicate that environment on its site. Furthermore, these communities often create tablature for songs that have little or no commercial value, he said.
“Less than 25 percent of the music out there ends up in sheet music because sometimes it just doesn’t pay to do it,” Mr. Reiland said. “So the fact that someone comes up with a transcription themselves just because they love that song and want to share it with people, there’s some value to that.”
“I don’t have an answer for that,” Mr. Reiland added. “But I think the industry needs to play around with it, because it could be a nice source of revenue for songwriters, and for the community it could be a really good thing.”
Violent Video Games Ban in La. Blocked
A state law that would ban sales of violent video games to minors violates free speech rights and cannot be enforced, a judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge James Brady said the state had no right to bar distribution of materials simply because they show violent behavior. Brady issued an injunction, calling the law an "invasion of First Amendment rights" of producers, retailers and the minors who play the games.
"Depictions of violence are entitled to full constitutional protection," Brady wrote Thursday.
Louisiana is the latest in a string of states, including Minnesota, Illinois, California and Michigan, to have had similar bans blocked in the courts. A federal judge in Illinois this month ordered the state to pay more than $510,000 to three business groups - including the Entertainment Software Association, a plaintiff in the Louisiana case - for legal fees incurred in fighting a similar state law.
The association's president criticized Gov. Kathleen Blanco and state lawmakers for approving the law while struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
"In the post-Katrina era, voters should be outraged that the Legislature and governor wasted their tax dollars on this ill-fated attack on video games," Douglas Lowenstein said in a statement.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco said in a statement late Friday she believes violent video games harm children.
"I'm calling on all parents to diligently monitor the video games that their children are allowed to play. If the courts can not protect our children, then we need to do it by rejecting the merchant of violence," the statement said.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Roy Burrell, did not return a phone call.
Brady deflected the arguments by the state that video games should be treated differently from other forms of media because their interactive format can encourage violence.
"This argument has been rejected many times," Brady wrote, noting that other judges have ruled that movies and television also have interactive elements.
Brady also rejected the state's argument that video games depicting extreme violence can be "psychologically harmful" to minors.
"The state may not restrict video game expression merely because it dislikes the way that expression shapes an individual's thoughts and attitudes," he wrote.
Attorney General Charles Foti had not decided whether to appeal the ruling, a spokeswoman said.
The law sought to ban the sales of video games to minors if an "average person" would conclude that they appeal to a "morbid interest in violence." Sellers would face fines of up to $2,000, a year in prison or both for selling offending games.
The law also sought to ban sale of games to minors if the average person would conclude they depict violence that is "patently offensive" to an adult, and the games lack artistic, political or scientific value.
Death by DRM
Microsoft Cuts ANOTHER Feature: Full HD Playback in 32bit Vista Goes
Microsoft revealed today that no 32-bit versions of Windows Vista will be able to play back “next generation high definition protected content” (translation – studio-released BluRay and HD-DVD movies).
By far the majority of PCs use 32-bit processors, because despite AMD’s efforts to push 64-bit CPUs into the marketplace early, Intel’s first widely-promoted 64-bit CPU is the just-released Core 2 Duo.
PC users will now have to choose between a PC that can play high definition content (64 bit) versus one that can potentially run older devices that only have unsigned drivers available (32 bit).
“Signed drivers” are ones that have undergone a Microsoft quality-assurance process and received a digital certificate that certifies them as stable for installation on 64-bit Windows.
Microsoft’s move to drop support for playback of studio-released HD movies on Vista is likely to anger the large number of people who were hoping they could use their existing 32-bit PC with an upgrade version of Vista.
The surprising disclosure was made by Senior Program Manager Steve Riley during a presentation on Windows Vista security at Tech.Ed 2006 Sydney today.
“Any next-generation high definition content will not play in x32 at all,” said Riley.
“This is a decision that the Media Player folks made because there are just too many ways right now for unsigned kernel mode code [to compromise content protection]. The media companies asked us to do this and said they don’t want any of their high definition content to play in x32 at all, because of all of the unsigned malware that runs in kernel mode can get around content protection, so we had to do this,” he said.
Riley then attempted to pre-empt audience concerns over the newly imposed limitation by asking how many of the Tech.Ed attendees currently played high-definition movies at home.
“How many of you have a DVD player that you know can output a proper 1080 line non-interlaced?”
No-one raised their hands.
“OK… look around. By the time that stuff becomes popular, it’ll no longer be an issue because everyone will be running 64-bit Windows,” he said.
However, earlier in his presentation, Riley had explained why Microsoft had decided to let unsigned code run in 32-bit Windows, but not in 64-bit Windows.
“Imagine how difficult it would be for you [the Tech.Ed attendees] to update your environment. It would be a non-starter, right?”
“We can’t do that [lock out unsigned drivers from 32 bit Windows]. The app-compat hit, as we say in Microsoft, would be far too great if we did it in 32-bit Vista.”
In an interview hastily organised by Microsoft public relations staff after they learned APC was planning to run this story, Riley was at pains to point out that Blu Ray and HD-DVD were storage media and “you could put an MPEG-4 movie on them and play them on a 32bit Vista PC just fine.”
But he conceded that a commercially-produced BluRay or HD-DVD movie with next-generation high definition protected content wouldn’t play on a 32 bit PC.
Twango, a Great Sharing Site That Nobody Uses
On Twango, multiple media types live together in harmony.
Twango is a nicely put together media-sharing site. It's somewhat unusual in that it's not focused on a particular media type, as YouTube is for video and Flickr is for photos. Rather, you can upload any file into Twango--video, photo, music, even documents such as PDF files. For each file, you get a YouTube-like page where others can comment on it.
Twango also has a clever organizational structure. In addition to letting you put keywords on files, you can also put any file into a channel. Channels are simply collections of files. You can have a family channel, a funny channel, and so on. What's cool is that you can put the same file in multiple channels, and each channel gets its own simple URL. Users can also add their own files to another user's channel (if the channel owner allows it), which makes channels useful for groups; you could set up a site for a group of travelers to collect all their trip photos. (Yes, you could also do this with Flickr and tags, but this is really much simpler.)
The service also has very flexible upload tools. You can upload using a Java-based drag-and-drop window, a downloadable Windows application, or directly via e-mail (each channel even gets its own address).
The site is free (for now), and everybody gets unlimited storage. The catch is that you can upload only 250MB a month.
Twango does not display all media in its own Web pages--I found that some audio, video, and document files opened up in their native applications instead of being played or displayed inside the browser. But that's about the only technological flaw I could find.
I like Twango. It's a clean sharing system that's easy to use and very flexible. It is also, however, one of way too many sharing sites, and it doesn't have nearly the juice of a top site such as YouTube. If you want your media to be discovered by the masses, it's not the site for you. If you want to share your videos and photos with friends and family, though, it's a decent choice.
Firefox Extension Promises Private P2P
AllPeers released a beta Thursday of what it called the most ambitious Firefox extension to date, a peer-to-peer application that would allow friends and family to share files and content between one another in a private setting.
Unlike the major P2P networks, AllPeers allows the sharing of files securely and privately.
The application has been released on Firefox's extensions Web site, and is compatible with Windows, Mac OS and Linux. The AllPeers backend uses BitTorrent in combination with what is calls a "darknet," where the computer user will remain anonymous while transferring files.
Its decentralized nature, however, will likely give the RIAA and MPAA fits, as the two groups have spent much of the last several years focusing on shutting down P2P networks. Without a centralized server on which to target, it could be near impossible to track what is being traded via AllPeers unless the groups infiltrate the small networks of individuals.
AllPeers project head and CEO Cedric Maloux stressed that the application was for private transfer only. "AllPeers is for sharing privately with friends and family; not for massively distributing files amongst strangers," he said.
The beta version still has several features missing that would make it into the final release of the software, including chat, comments, tagging, and support for external torrents. Maloux said bugs may be found across the service, which the developers would work out before the official launch.
"I am using AllPeers everyday and have stopped attaching files to email (this is soooo 2005)," Maloux wrote in a blog post describing the product. "I also love our ability to drag and share any picture off the web but my favorite feature has to be the ability to send a webpage to my friends just by drag and drop."
Those interested in the product can learn more by taking a product tour on the AllPeers Web site.
EFF Founder Donates $15,000 to Freenet
The Freenet Project, which is dedicated to developing anonymizing P2P technology to promote free speech, has received a $15,000 donation from one of the founding members of the online rights group EFF.
“Prior to [the] donation, we were receiving about $2,300 per month, which was barely enough to pay Matthew Toseland, our only paid full time developer,” Ian Clark, architect and coordinator of the Freenet Project, told Slyck.com.
Along with five voluntary developers, Toseland has been working on the Freenet Project full time for the last 4 years. His work relies on donations, so $15,000 will ensure his continued development of the software as it moves towards a beta release of version 0.7.
The donation was made by John Gilmore, a philanthropist and outspoken civil libertarian. Gilmore made his fortune as the fifth employee of Sun Microsystems and a cofounder of Cygnus Solutions, who provided commercial support for Open Source software.
Gilmore, who has now taken early retirement to focus on social justice and Open Source software, is one of the founders of the popular online rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Among many other projects, Gilmore helped start the highly controversial alt.* hierarchy on Usenet, which has earned a name for allowing discussions on subjects deemed socially unacceptable by many.
His interests in the use of technology to support privacy and free speech made Freenet a natural project to support. Developers and supporters of the Freenet Project argue that only with true anonymity can true freedom of speech be accomplished.
Anonymity on Freenet is achieved by caching data within the distributed resources of peers in the network. Peers then act as proxies for each other to handle requests and to transfer data. No peer knows what information they are caching for other users, or the original source. When uploading files, users do not know if it is to a proxy, or to the destined user.
Because data is passed through multiple peers who have limited upload and download bandwidth, Freenet is often criticized for being slow.
Version 0.7 is a major re-write, which will fundamentally change Freenet. Instead of being one network, Freenet will become a tool for creating interlinking darknets, whereby users only connect to trusted peers. The developers also hope to tackle other ongoing issues, such as speed, scalability and ease of use. Version 0.7 alpha was released in April 2006.
Woman Fined For Downloading Two Movies
A woman must pay more than $8,000 in fines for downloading two movies to her personal computer, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
Cindy Childers has until Aug. 31 to contest the $6,000 fine plus $2,251 in attorneys' fees she was ordered to pay to Columbia Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
The Motion Picture Association of America, Inc., an advocate of the film, home video and television industries, brought the federal suit against Childers in February.
The studios claimed the movies "Are We There Yet?" and "Million Dollar Baby" were used in June 2005 without their permission and distributed to the public online.
Childers has said the movies were downloaded without her knowledge, but because they were downloaded through her Internet service to her computer, the studios were holding her responsible.
She could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Where Defendant Wiped Hard Drive in Violation of Court Order, Default Judgment Awarded RIAA in San Antonio, Texas
In Arista v. Tschirhart, in San Antonio, Texas, the judge awarded judgment to the RIAA because the defendant -- in violation of a court order directing her to produce her computer's hard drive for inspection -- had the hard drive "wiped" first, thus deleting song files that had been downloaded. The court noted that this "wiping" irreparably prejudiced the RIAA because the only evidence it had without the hard drive was "scant and piecemeal".
Universities Put Hollywood Ahead Of Students
On the heels of yesterday's post about USC's lunatic copyright policy, many readers have written in with more examples of copyright lunacy on USC and other campuses, instances in which scholarship is being trumped by a desire to appease the entertainment industry, enforcing rules that don't take any account of the limits put on copyright by lawmakers in order to preserve public rights and especially the right of scholars and researchers to pursue their work.
USC has a pretty crummy track-record here: A USC student who was downloading copies of Larry Lessig's FreeCulture, a book distributed via BitTorrent and Grokster at the behest of its author, was censured by USC for installing the app. He got kicked off the campus network and told that he would not be allowed back on until he promised to uninstall all general-purpose file-sharing software. He wrote letters of protest to the university about this, but never heard back.
Draconian, indiscriminate measures against file-share are par for the course at USC, as is the black-hole treatment for people who get snared in the dragnet. Aram Sinnreich, a USC grad student studying file sharing, who was an expert witness at the Grokster court case, was censured for using BitTorrent, and never received a response to his letter, either.
USC's arch-rival UCLA is a somewhat better steward of its students' interests in the copyright wars, as reported by Cindy Mosqueda at Metroblogging LA, who notes that UCLA's approach is mostly one of warning students about the crazies down the raod in Hollywood and their willingness to destroy your life to prop up their business model, but does not extend to actively policing students on their behalf. This is affirmed in last spring's letter to students from the Dean and Archchancellor.
At the University of Michigan, the policy is not far off from USC's, but at least they've got the good sense not to describe the school's mission as "is to promote and foster the creation and lawful use of intellectual property," as USC did.
Australia's Queensland University of Technology, touted as Brisbane's answer to MIT, has sent out a completely bizarre letter to students warning them that even if you buy your music from iTunes, you can't play it on a university computer, thanks to Australia's out-of-date copyright laws (soon to be replaced with an even more out-of-date regime, thanks to the dumb Free Trade Deal the loathsome John Howard signed into law).
One thing that's becoming increasingly clear from these factors is that students often need as much protection from their universities as they do from the entertainment industry's slipshod copyright enforcer thugs. It might be time for activists to start delivering anonymous file-sharing tools that help students evade the campus cops so they can get their research done. (Thanks, Aram, Sean, Angela, Adrienne, Scott!))
French Firms Target eBay in Anti-Counterfeit Drive
A French industry group plans to file a complaint with prosecutors seeking damages from eBay Inc. and other Internet auction sites for the sale of counterfeit products on their Web pages, the group's chairman said.
Marc Antoine Jamet, chairman of France's Union of Manufacturers (Unifab), told Reuters that the complaint, due to be filed next month, also aims at forcing the sites to clamp down on product pirates.
"There is a continent which makes the fakes, which is China, and there is a continent where they are sold, and that is the Internet," he said.
Other auction sites in the firing line include those run by privately held iOffer.com, Yahoo Inc. and Japan's Rakuten Inc..
But the main focus is eBay, with which Unifab has held more than a dozen meetings in the last two years, Jamet said.
"We think eBay is perfectly capable of policing its site, but they offer to take action only after the fact. They refuse to act pre-emptively," he said.
"We think they have the IT to manage their sites, to track bank accounts and ownership."
EBay spokesman Hani Duzry said the company operates an anti-counterfeit goods program and constantly monitors auctions for blatantly infringing products and removes them.
Focus On eBay
"We don't allow counterfeit items on the site. It is against eBay policy. It is illegal. We are committed to working with copyright owners on this," Duzry said.
Ebay "makes it easy," he said, for any copyright owner to contact eBay to report infringing products in order to have eBay remove them.
Jamet said, however, that the firm had refused Unifab's request to pro-actively shut down merchants of counterfeit goods in the same way it agreed in 2001 to ban listings of Nazi memorabilia and from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Unifab's complaint will contain concrete examples of counterfeit goods found for sale on the Internet, he said.
Leather goods maker Louis Vuitton, a unit of LVMH, the world's largest luxury goods group, last year found 235,000 examples of counterfeit articles on 340 eBay pages.
In one case, it tracked more than 100 copies of the same article being sold within one hour, said Jamet, who is also a senior executive at LVMH.
Other luxury goods companies are also targets of counterfeiters, while Unifab members in sectors from pharmaceuticals to spare car parts support the action, he said.
Unifab had decided to move now, he added, because the problem of counterfeit sales had exploded.
Three years ago, none of the French firms affected -- including big-name luxury goods makers such as LVMH, Hermes International and Chanel -- monitored Internet traffic.
Now, many have teams who have spent months gathering evidence and assembling a case.
"It's a huge phenomenon, which has multiplied by 25 times in the last five years," he said.
Seeking Fines, Damages
Jamet said Unifab would be asking prosecutors to seek damages and interest from the auction sites in relation to the alleged losses suffered by the firms. In the case of some luxury goods companies, these ran into millions of euros, he said.
Unifab also wants to prosecute the sites for providing the means to resell counterfeit goods, a charge the French luxury goods industry has successfully brought against shop owners in Beijing's silk market and on New York's Canal Street.
In addition, it is asking the French government to revise its laws on electronic commerce to make online auctioneers "co-responsible" for the goods that are sold on their sites, Jamet said.
Unifab believes its case has been strengthened by a Paris court's decision in June to fine online search engine Google (Nasdaq:GOOG - news) 300,000 euros ($385,000) over advertisements for counterfeit goods generated by its sites. Google had based its defense partly on the existing French e-commerce law.
France is home to much of the world's luxury goods industry and the French government has taken steps in the past three years to toughen its laws against counterfeiting.
The government tried last month to broker a friendly solution to the row between Unifab and the auctioneers, but it was rejected by the industry group which believed it did not go far enough.
Unifab estimates counterfeiting represents 5 to 9 percent of global trade, or 200 billion to 300 billion euros a year in lost earnings for manufacturers. Losses in France alone exceed 6 billion euros, it says.http://today.reuters.com/stocks/Quot...E-1.XML&rpc=66
Canada Sets Key Hearings On Online Music Sales
Hearings that could dramatically alter the way labels and publishers share online music revenue in Canada begin September 6.
The proceedings, before the Copyright Board of Canada in Ottawa, will mark the first time the federal-appointed tribunalconsiders rates for the online sale of music.
On April 28, CMRRA/SODRAC Inc. (CSI) filed its statement of case with the board. CSI is a joint venture of Montreal-based Society For Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers in Canada (SODRAC) and Toronto-based Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA). They jointly represent 95 percent of music publishers operating in Canada.
CSI seeks tariffs in three categories of online music use: permanent downloads, limited downloads as provided by subscription services and on-demand music streams.
"These hearings will set the dynamics of our business for years," says CSI vice president David Basskin, who is also president of CMRRA.
For permanent downloads, CSI proposes a rate of 15 percent of the retail price with a maximum of 10 cents Canadian (9 cents) per track. For subscription services offering limited downloads, CSI proposes 8 percent of gross revenue.
CSI further proposes that services authorizing copying of musical works onto portable devices pay a minimum fee of $1.40 Canadian ($1.24) per subscriber per month, while services that do not allow portability pay a minimum of 60 cents Canadian (53 cents) per subscriber.
On-demand streaming services will be asked to pay 5.8 percent of gross revenue with a minimum monthly fee of 45 cents Canadian (40 cents) per subscriber.
Since Canada's first digital service opened in 2003 with the launch of Puretracks, online music services have been paying advances to publishers via CSI pending a tariff decision. CSI and the major labels declined to reveal the interim rate.
All Those Opposed
Parties that have filed an opposing joint statement notice -- not yet on the public record -- include the Canadian Recording Industry Assn. (CRIA); the Canadian Assn. of Broadcasters; Canadian telecommunication giants Bell Canada and Rogers Wireless; Napster; and Apple Canada.
According to sources, in the joint notice, multinationals in Canada, represented by the CRIA, have taken the view, similar to their U.S. counterparts, that their deals with digital services should be for sales of records rather than licenses for the recordings. They reportedly will seek to each oversee their own separate blanket licensing deals for the digital distribution of music.
Sources indicate that while Sony BMG Music Canada had pushed this strategy from the start of negotiations with CSI in 2003, EMI Music Canada, Warner Music Canada and Universal Music Canada only recently decided to follow suit. One source claims this was due to Basskin's "adversarial" approach in initial negotiations. Basskin refused comment on that claim.
The CRIA refused comment for this article, citing the pending hearings.
CSI, Basskin says, will aggressively seek protection of publishers' and songwriters' interests at the hearings. "Record companies do not have, and never will have, our interest at heart. Look at their history of mechanical licensing. Would you trust these people?"
Apple Recalls 1.8 Million Batteries, Citing Injuries
Connie Guglielmo and Ian King
Apple Computer Inc. is recalling 1.8 million Sony Corp. batteries used in its Macintosh notebooks, a week after Dell Inc. instituted a similar recall. The moves may cost more than $250 million, Sony said.
The batteries were used in iBook and PowerBook computers sold between October 2003 and August 2006, Cupertino, California- based Apple said. Sony doesn't anticipate any further recalls, the company said in a statement today.
``The batteries pose a fire hazard, and we want consumers to take this recall seriously,'' said Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, based in Bethesda, Maryland. ``We want them to take the batteries out of the laptops immediately.''
Problems with Sony batteries led Dell, the world's largest personal-computer maker, to initiate the biggest recall in consumer-electronics history. The decision by Apple is the second-largest recall ever after Dell and brings the number of affected notebooks to almost 6 million. Apple discovered nine incidents of batteries overheating, with two causing minor burns to Mac users.
Battery replacements for Dell and Apple notebooks will cost Sony 20 billion yen to 30 billion yen ($170 million to $257 million), the Tokyo-based company said in a statement. Apple doesn't expect the recall to have a ``material financial effect,'' company spokesman Steve Dowling said in an interview.
The recall doesn't affect notebooks with Intel Corp. chips that were released this year, Dowling said.
For Apple, ``it's an inconvenience but financially it's a non-event because Sony is responsible,'' Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray Cos. based in Minneapolis. ``The key is that it doesn't impact Apple's Intel notebooks.''
Shipments of Macs are at their highest level in five years, fueled by demand for faster laptop models powered by Intel chips. Apple shipped more than 5.56 million notebooks during the time period covered by the recall. The company has sold more than 1 million machines in each of the past seven quarters.
Notebook shipments at Apple rose 61 percent in the quarter ended July 1 and accounted for 62 percent of Mac revenue.
Shares of Apple, also the maker of the iPod music player, rose 50 cents to $67.81 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading. They have fallen 5.7 percent this year. Sony American depositary receipts fell $1.16, or 2.6 percent, to $43.26 in New York Stock Exchange trading.
The safety commission said the recall affects 1.1 million Mac notebooks sold in the U.S. and 700,000 sold overseas. The machines were purchased at Apple's stores, through the company's Web site and at authorized resellers.
Affected notebooks were sold for $900 to $2,300, and some batteries were sold separately for about $130.
The units were assembled in Japan, Taiwan and China and contain Sony's lithium-ion batteries. Sony is the world's second- largest maker of consumer electronics behind Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.
The commission announced on Aug. 17 it was reviewing notebook batteries made by Sony three days after Round Rock, Texas-based Dell recalled 4.1 million batteries on concern that some may burst into flames. The batteries were made in Japan and assembled in China by Sony workers.
Dell told the safety commission that it learned of six cases since December in the U.S. of notebooks overheating or bursting into flames because of a problem in the fuel cells of the widely used lithium-ion batteries. No injuries were reported, Dell said.
Hewlett-Packard Co., the world's second-largest PC maker, and Gateway Inc., the third-largest PC maker in the U.S., have said their systems are not at risk.
Problems arise ``on rare occasions'' when short circuits occur within battery cells, according to the Sony statement. A short circuit should cause the battery to shut down. ``Under certain rare conditions'' it may lead to overheating and flames.
Apple's recall comes after the company on July 28 announced a replacement program for some Mac Book Pro notebook batteries. The machines have 15-inch screens and were sold between February and May. Apple instituted the recall citing ``performance issues'' with the rechargeable batteries and said the affected batteries don't pose a safety risk, according to company spokesman Dowling. He declined to say how many of those machines were affected and who manufactured the batteries.
Today's recall affects certain models of the iBook with 12- inch displays and PowerBook notebooks with 12-inch and 15-inch screens. Customers will receive a free battery replacement, Dowling said.
It may take as long as four to six weeks for a replacement battery to arrive, Apple says on its Web site. Instructions are posted at http://support.apple.com/batteryexchange . Customers can also call Apple at (1) (800) 275-2273.
Japan: Sony, Dell Must Probe Batteries
Japan's trade ministry on Thursday ordered Sony Corp. and Dell Inc. to investigate the trouble involving Sony batteries that caused Dell to recall 4.1 laptop computers last week because they were at risk of catching fire.
The ministry said Sony and Dell must report on their findings and say how they will prevent future problems by the end of August, or face a fine under Japan's consumer safety laws.
Lithium-ion batteries manufactured by Sony for Dell laptops imported to Japan overheated and caught fire in at least two separate instances in October and June, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a statement. No one was injured in those incidents, but the fires destroyed the machines, according to ministry official Atsuo Hirai.
The ministry also pointed to problems with battery cells supplied by Sony for Dell computers in other countries, and told the companies to investigate the safety of Dell models Latitude, Inspiron and Precision imported to Japan from April 2005.
The ministry also instructed other Japanese electronic makers to check the safety of their laptop batteries.
Battery packs contain cells of rolled up metal strips. Sony has said that during production, crimping the rolls left tiny shards of metal loose in the cells, and some of those shards can cause batteries to short-circuit.
Dell has already recalled batteries from affected models in Japan. Batteries powering Sony's Vaio laptops don't have the same problems, according to the Tokyo-based manufacturer.
The battery problems, which resulted in the largest recall of electronics-related products in U.S. history, have come as embarrassing news for Round Rock, Texas-based Dell, the world's largest PC maker, and for Sony, which has been trying to overhaul its electronics operations amid a slump in profits.
Sony Refused Peer-To-Peer Patents
Sony cannot patent inventions in the UK that remove the anonymity of the peer-to-peer (P2P) user experience and put social networking at the heart of file-sharing.
The Patent Office ruled last week that the inventions are not eligible for patents.
Sony filed two patent applications for complementary inventions. One describes a means of exchanging information between computers or other devices in a network. The other describes ways of using that information.
The application for the "system and method for reviewing received digital content" describes building a web community.
When a P2P user downloads a piece of content from another user's computer, be it a song or a game or a movie, he normally knows nothing about that user – or where that user obtained the content. Sony's proposal would change that experience.
Sony describes a method for attaching a user history to content when it is shared among computers or other devices. When one user downloads a song, he can see who had it last and what he thought about it.
The patent application explains: "For example, the user, Clark Kent, may give a classic jazz music file a rating of '7' and include the user comment 'like cool man'. Also, instead of using his true identity ('Clark Kent'), Clark uses an alias, 'Superman.'" Clark may also choose to supply his email address.
Unlike social networking websites, Sony's proposal does not rely upon a centralised server. The thinking is that an accumulated history of users of the digital content could add value to the digital content itself, without requiring the file to be available for download from only one location. A user may also receive a credit towards the purchase of music when a subsequent user of an exchanged music file plays the song.
"Over time," suggests the application, "if a particular user consistently recommends interesting content before other users, then they will emerge as a kind of expert recommender."
Other possibilities include your PC determining which song to play based on a favourite list of another user having a common interest in music. And the user history information could be sold to marketers.
Sony-BMG has embraced P2P before: it partnered (http://www.playloudermsp.com/pressrelease_22aug05.html) with a British broadband-provider called Playlouder MSP last year to make its catalogue available on a P2P network in which subscribers can exchange music from participating record labels freely within the walled garden. A portion of the subscription fees compensates the rights holders.
Patent examiners initially objected that the inventions described computer programs and were not eligible for patent protection in the UK.
Sony's patent agent, Dr Jonathan DeVile, challenged this before Patent Office Hearing Officer Bruce Westerman. Dr DeVile said the examiners were wrong, that the inventions cannot be a program for a computer because, in operation, there are at least two computers involved, communicating over a network. Westerman disagreed.
"To be a participating member of the peer-to-peer community within which these inventions work, it would seem to me clear that each data processing device must contain all the functionality to act as a 'first user' and as a 'second user' or 'previous user'," wrote Westerman. "Therefore, in reality, each device has all of the software, whether or not all of it is in use at any one time."
The view of the patent examiners was upheld.
Asia Warms Up To Intellectual Property
As the relative value of intellectual property increases, Asian businesses are apparently beginning to take infringement issues more seriously.
During a panel discussion this week at the inaugural Global Forum on Intellectual Property here, industry experts generally agreed that Asian businesses do recognize the importance of IP as they compete in the global landscape.
Gordon Smith, chairman of U.S.-based business consultancy Aus, said there is market evidence that Asian companies recognize the value of intangible assets such as IP. For instance, he noted, a sample of 18 companies listed on the Singapore stock exchange stated that at least one-fifth of their total assets are in intangible form. That fraction is even larger at consumer-oriented tech companies, where intangibles comprise 75 percent of total assets.
"There was not a single one out of those 18 companies that did not have some portion of their (total) value in intangible assets," Smith said. "Investors are certainly recognizing it, and especially in the consumer high-tech industry, a large portion of intangible assets are represented by intellectual property."
Gordon McConnachie, board chairman of the Intellectual Assets Center in Scotland, said during the panel discussion that the value of IP goes beyond dollars and cents, and extends to the way some businesses make money from licensing their IP assets.
"It can add to the value of a company in the way it positions itself in the market," he said. "But ultimately, it affects people, their jobs, lives and countries."
McConnachie noted that in Asia, institutions such as Singapore's IP Academy and Indonesia's Society of Intellectual Capital, have already been set up to assist businesses in managing their IP assets. In China, there is also a "clear awareness" of the benefits of intellectual property among businesses.
In fits and starts
However, McConnachie noted, most intellectual property developments in Asia revolve around IP institutions, which are "sporadically" encouraging businesses to create inventories of IP assets.
"The key issue is education at the company level, and (businesses) have to realize that new rules are coming from the knowledge-based economy," McConnachie said. "They also have to understand how vital it is to systematically create, manage and leverage IP as part of the value of an organization."
While he acknowledged that major Asian companies are creating IP depositories and looking at ways to benefit from them, there is generally "no complete understanding of the true value of IP."
This view was shared by Jari Vaario, director of IP rights strategy program at Nokia, the world's top handset maker.
While Chinese businesses have progressed from the days when IP used to be viewed in the same way as "stealing a book is not a crime," Vaario explained that many of the IP developments in China are still copied from what is already available in the marketplace.
"In the telecommunications field, I would say that Chinese companies have been infringing on Nokia's patents," Vaario said. "There is no Chinese telecom company that does not infringe (on) some of Nokia's patents."
But with the entry of China into the World Trade Organization, Chinese companies now find themselves having to face counterparts in a global playing field that have established IP rights management. "This has put some pressure on them to respect IP," Vaario said.
Weerawit Weeraworawit of Thailand's Ministry of Commerce asserted that Asian companies do understand the value of IP--just not in a way that IP owners want them to understand it. Asian companies "know the value of trademarks and blockbusters, and that's why they choose the easy way out--copying," he quipped.
"It may sound paradoxical, but I'm optimistic about the value of IP in Asia," Weerawit said. "There is a certain level of entrepreneurial spirit (in recognizing IP), though in the wrong way: They have management skills in putting the counterfeit goods into the market, not only domestically but also internationally."
It is unfortunate that this entrepreneurial spirit has been misused, particularly since Weerawit--an associate judge of 10 years--noted that software piracy has been detrimental to Thailand. He recounted how a Thai software company's products were targeted by pirates the same day the software was launched.
"A lot of education is needed among the population at large to convince people that it's better to earn a living from our own creation and innovation than copying from someone else," Weerawit said.
China Has Another Go At Knocking Off Pirates
CHINA has confiscated more than 8 million illegal CDs and DVDs as part of a 100-day crackdown on pirated movies and computer software, state press reported last week.
The campaign has had "remarkable success" and coincides with a rise in sales of authorised CDs and DVDs in major cities, the China Daily quoted the head of the National Copyright Association, Long Xinmin, as saying.
More than 89,000 shops and street vendors have been raided as part of the crackdown, which began on July 25, with 8.3 million CDs and DVDs seized, Xinhua news agency says.
Just over 3000 shops were closed and 9508 were punished for selling pirated goods, it says.
"We are giving shopkeepers a stern lesson to make it clear that selling pirated products will lead to strict penalties," says Liu Binjie, the vice-director of the State Press and Publication Administration.
"We will close every shop which we find is guilty of violations in the next two months."
The China Daily says the 100-day campaign was unprecedented in terms of its duration and number of government departments involved.
However, Chinese authorities regularly announce crackdowns, laws and other actions to rein in the nation's counterfeit industry with seemingly little effect, as pirated goods remain widely available.
The US has been a particularly sharp critic of China on piracy, charging Beijing of not doing enough to combat the problem.
The US government says pirated Chinese products are costing US companies tens of billions of dollars a year.
Tibetan Wi-Fi Website Attacked
Organizers of a community wireless mesh-network project in Dharamshala, India, say their website was attacked on Thursday, following publication of a Wired News article about their work for Tibetan refugee settlements.
Speaking to Wired News via Skype, project founder Yahel Ben-David said that while the distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack on the Tibetan Technology Center website appeared to come from IP addresses from a number of places around the world, they began immediately after scans from an IP address in China.
"There was no immediately evident single source for the attack, but it started right after an extensive series of China-based scans," said Ben-David.
The tibtec.org website was featured in a Wired News story published on Thursday about the group's efforts to build a wireless mesh network serving Tibetan exiles. The site is built with Drupal, and runs on Apache.
"It was down for over 30 minutes," said Ben-David. "I couldn't log in because thousands of http processes were running, demanding resources from the MySql database."
Network operations for the Dharamshala wireless mesh network are managed separately, with extensive access controls, and were not affected by the attack.
"It was definitely malicious, because this was not the behavior of a human user or cluster of human users," Ben-David added. "It was robot behavior -- reloading the same urls again and again, to access every possible piece of data in the database."
FTC Chief Critiques Net Neutrality
The head of the Federal Trade Commission on Monday expressed sharp skepticism toward proposed laws that would levy extensive Net neutrality regulations on broadband providers.
Deborah Platt Majoras, the FTC's Republican chairman, said extensive Net neutrality legislation currently pending in the U.S. Senate is unnecessary because there has been no demonstrated harm to consumers, that normal market forces would likely prevent any problems, and that new laws would cause more problems than they solve.
"I ask myself whether consumers will stand for an Internet that suddenly imposes restrictions on their ability to freely explore the Internet or does not provide for the choices they want," Majoras told a luncheon audience at the Progress and Freedom Foundation's annual conference here.
Majoras' comments come as the Senate is considering a massive legislative proposal to rewrite telecommunications laws. In June, a Senate panel narrowly rejected an amendment that would have slapped strict regulations on broadband providers. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has said he'll try to block a floor vote on the measure unless that amendment is adopted.
The concept of network neutrality, which generally means that all Internet sites must be treated equally, has drawn a list of high-profile backers, from actress Alyssa Milano to Vint Cerf, one of the technical pioneers of the Internet.
It has also led to a political rift between big Internet companies--such as Google and Yahoo that back it--and telecom companies that oppose what they view as onerous new federal regulations. In the last few months, it has become a partisan issue, with Republicans siding with broadband providers. (All the Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee voted for the unsuccessful amendment in June).
Because the FTC shares enforcement authority with the Federal Communications Commission over certain types of deceptive practices by broadband providers, Majoras' remarks could nudge some senators who have been cautious supporters of Net neutrality to a more laissez-faire position.
Majoras also took a swipe at Google and other Internet companies that support extensive FCC regulation, saying she was surprised "at how quickly so many of our nation's successful firms have jumped in to urge the government to regulate." Business executives, she said, tend to talk a lot about the "free market" but then "turn to government to seek protection" when they're afraid of a marketplace disadvantage.
A new Internet Access Task Force at the FTC will evaluate Net neutrality proposals in detail, Majoras said, and present a report with its conclusions.
Comcast, which has opposed extensive Net neutrality regulations, welcomed Majoras's remarks, calling them "a major constructive contribution to the debate on network neutrality" that "properly places the burden of proof on those who believe government regulation is needed in this area."
The Public Knowledge advocacy group, which often supports additional regulation of large telecommunications companies, took issue with Majoras's comments, saying 98 percent of broadband customers receive their service from either the telephone company or the cable company. "There are no market forces at work here, much as Chairman Majoras wishes there to be," the group said in a statement.
Even if the Senate bill is never enacted (a version has been approved by the House of Representatives), federal agencies appear to have substantial power to punish broadband providers that block Web sites or engage in anticompetitive business practices. One small group of broadband providers, for instance, blocked voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls but then quickly backed down in March 2005 when the FCC became involved.
Feds' existing Net neutrality enforcement
While the FCC subsequently changed how it treats broadband providers, it appears to retain authority to police similar wrongdoing.
In the Brand X case, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the FCC "remains free to impose special regulatory duties on facilities-based ISPs." FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said in May that the FCC has the power to ensure "there's not discrimination against (sites) that are not affiliated with the network owners."
Also, as the FTC told Congress in June, it has the power to regulate "anticompetitive, deceptive, or unfair" practices by practically any kind of broadband provider.
FTC Chairman Majoras said on Monday that her agency would use its existing power to police Net neutrality violations. "We will not hesitate to act," she said.
Now Playing On The Net: War Propaganda
Amid the home videos of dancing teens and sporting events on YouTube, a well-crafted, nine-minute video makes a direct appeal to Americans to oust the Bush administration.
"People of America, we wish to share with you our thoughts on the events we experienced," says the narrator of "Iraq--the truth?" The narrator claims to represent those opposing the U.S. in Iraq. "Despite the madness we have endured we see no harm in presenting you with the criminal nature of your newly elected emperor."
It's impossible to say for certain who created the video, but it's no doubt part of a growing and surprising trend at video-sharing sites. The democratization of online video through sites such as YouTube, Metacafe and Ogrish.com is allowing combatants on both sides of the battlefield to make their version of events public.
The Web offers any individual with Internet access the means to reach out to vast audiences with little or no regard for geographical borders. The number of people watching the propaganda videos is still small: About 14,000 people have viewed the "Iraq – the truth?" video, which was posted in May. By comparison, the most popular video currently on YouTube is "Tila Tequila," which has been watched more than 800,000 times.
But experts say such material could be a harbinger of the future.
"The enemy is taking propaganda straight to the American people," said Nancy Snow, associate professor at California State University at Fullerton and author of "Propaganda Inc." "You have to give them credit for utilizing the power of this new medium. They're using cheap technology, but today anybody with a video camera can make his own movie and broadcast it."
Bush administration officials have noticed. In a speech last February, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said al-Qaida and other extremist groups have adapted faster than the U.S. to fighting information wars on the Web.
"There's never been a war fought in this environment before," Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations, according to a transcript of the speech. "Today we are fighting the first war in the era of e-mail, blogs, BlackBerries, instant messaging, digital cameras, the Internet...The U.S. government still functions as a five-and-dime store in an eBay world."
Propaganda, the practice of tailoring a message to sway opinion rather than to present impartial information, is not new to the Web. Sending e-mails to promote one political philosophy or another is as old as the Net. But when it comes to influencing opinions, video packs a greater emotional punch than text or photographs, said Snow, a former staffer at the U.S. Information Agency, which was once responsible for explaining U.S. foreign policy to the world.
The power of video to communicate ideas to large audiences has not been lost on politicians, corporations or the clergy in this country. Many have begun posting commercials or sermons on user-submitted sites.
Figuring out just how many people can be reached via online video is still unclear. San Mateo, Calif.-based YouTube, the largest of the video-sharing sites, attracts more than 16 million viewers per month and presents 100 million videos a day. The company was lauded recently for providing an unfiltered view of the fighting in Lebanon.
These sites are quickly becoming a bully pulpit from which any agenda can be pushed.
Combatants on the battlefield in Iraq post video clips of the war on sites such as Guba, YouTube and Ogrish.
Anyone performing a search of the word "Iraq" on YouTube can locate scores of clips about the war, including those that show Americans being attacked by snipers or with explosive devices. One clip shows what appears to be U.S. soldiers being shot by a sniper known as "Juba" or "Juma." The text and narration in these videos are rarely, if ever, in English.
In contrast, "Iraq - The Truth?" features very little graphic violence. The narrator speaks English as somber orchestral music plays in the background. He argues that the war in Iraq is unjust. There is also a veiled threat that the U.S. will face nuclear attack. He finishes by complimenting Americans on their ability to produce great leaders with a subtle suggestion that they violently overthrow the current administration.
"We believe that a nation which once gave the world John F. Kennedy, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington...will not fall short of giving true leaders of substance and dignity," the narrator says. "We advise you to take matters into your own hands."
Such material is unlikely to change the minds of anyone who strongly supports the war, Snow said. But for those people who are unsure or oppose the effort, the images may prove powerful.
Average American soldiers also have begun communicating their take on the war. It's a take that may not please the Pentagon.
Perhaps the best example of this is the controversial video called "Hadji Girl." The clip shows Joshua Belile, a U.S. Marine stationed in Iraq, singing a song about falling in love with an Iraqi girl before being ambushed by her family and being forced to kill them. Belile has reportedly said the song was meant as a dark joke but it enraged many Muslims.
There are countless videos that feature American weaponry. They often follow the same pattern: heavy-metal music plays while U.S. troops kick down doors or blast away with machine guns. Guns fire from a helicopter to pulverize a suspected insurgent position in Mosul, according to the text of one video. Another clip shows American servicemen watching insurgents on infrared cameras before gunning them down. There's the video titled "Iraq Airstrike" that appears to be taken by U.S. troops confronting an insurgent position. A bomb explodes on a building and the voices in the background whoop it up.
"Sucks to be your a--," one of the voices says. "See you in hell, dog. See you in hell."
A spokesman for U.S. Central Command said it does not have an official position on soldiers posting video clips to the Web as long as the images don't violate operational security. That means that a soldier can post a video as long as the content doesn't give away vital secrets, such as a unit's geographical position or troop strength.
"The military mission is supposed to be about rebuilding and peace," Snow said. "Some of those videos send messages that conflict with that."
But anyone blaming Web sites for hosting the material or who accuses them of aiding the enemy is misguided, said Hayden Hewitt, co-owner of Ogrish.com, a Web site that specializes in offering some of the bloodiest images on the Internet.
On Ogrish, scenes of Americans as well as insurgents being killed are available.
"We don't choose to take sides in any conflict," Hewitt said. "We show an un-sugarcoated view of war and one we think people should see. How can people make informed decisions about what's happening without seeing what's really going on?"
Hewitt said he expects video sites to emerge as unbiased information centers. People interested in learning about a conflict can log on to these sites to determine for themselves which side is telling the truth.
No longer, Hewitt said, will people rely only on their government or the media to tell them.
10 Stolen HCA Computers Contained Patient, Doctor, Worker Records
HCA Inc. said 10 computers containing Medicare and Medicaid billing information and records of employees and physicians were stolen from one of the company's regional offices.
HCA officials won't say where or when the theft occurred because they believe that might help the thieves, who authorities believe were after computer hardware, not personal identity information.
``We don't want to tip them off they may have information that they might use to perpetuate identity theft,'' said HCA spokesman Jeff Prescott.
The Nashville-based for-profit hospital operator reports on its Web site that the FBI is investigating the incident.
The computers held thousands of files on Medicare and Medicaid patients treated at HCA hospitals in Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas or Washington state between 1996 and 2006.
The machines contained some patient names and Social Security numbers but no addresses or dates of birth.
Prescott said on Thursday the company had also discovered that the names and Social Security numbers of about 7,000 employees and physicians in four states -- Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana and Texas -- were on the computers.
He said the company is notifying those affected by letter.
Authorities believe the computers were stolen by a gang that has committed numerous break-ins in the same area, looking for computers to be sold for their hardware and not the data, according to HCA.
HCA has posted notices about the theft on hospital Web sites and in newspapers and will provide credit counseling to concerned patients.
HCA has created a call center, reached toll free at (800) 354-1036, to help affected patients with their concerns about the stolen computers.
HCA owns or operates 176 hospitals, 92 freestanding surgery centers and facilities for outpatient and ancillary services in 21 states, England and Switzerland.
A Move to Secure Data by Scattering the Pieces
Chris Gladwin, a software designer and businessman in Chicago, had time on his hands after selling his company, the online music store Music Now, in 2004. So he decided to digitize all of the music, photos and paper detritus that he had been meaning to organize for years.
After he was finished, he discovered that he had 27 gigabytes of data — equivalent to a library of 22,000 books — that he was eager to protect. “I wondered, ‘what are my options?’ ” he said, “and I realized that none of them were that good.”
But he had been reading histories of early encryption research, and he saw a germ of an idea in the work of cryptographers who kept information secure by dividing it into pieces and dispersing it.
So what began as a home improvement project culminated in a system called Cleversafe, with potential applications far beyond Mr. Gladwin’s memorabilia. For companies and government agencies trying to secure networked data, it offers a simple way to store digital documents and other files in slices that can be reassembled only by the computers that originally created the files.
The idea of distributed data storage is not new. But Cleversafe is significant because it is an open-source project — that is, the technology will be freely licensed, enabling others to adopt the design to build commercial products. That approach may contribute to Cleversafe’s potential to lower the cost of reliably storing data on the Internet.
“If we distributed data around the world this way, it would be a pretty resilient way to store data,” said David Patterson, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is a pioneer in designing distributed data storage techniques.
Mr. Gladwin contends that Cleversafe can store data at a lower cost and make it more secure than current Internet services. The group is counting on a continuing explosion of consumer digital data of all types, including new generations of high-definition still and video cameras that will create demand for secure and private backup capabilities.
Computer scientists argue that projects like Cleversafe are an indication that the broadband Internet will soon have the same impact on data storage that it has had on computing and communications technologies. Dozens of commercial Web storage services are already used to back up data safely. In addition, Amazon’s S3 and other services are intended to enable an array of digital Internet services to operate without any local storage capacity.
But the current design of such services generally involves making as many as five or more complete copies of the original data and storing them at multiple locations to ensure that information is not lost through a drive failure or other catastrophe. The Cleversafe design will cut the amount of storage space needed for secure backup by more than half.
Mr. Gladwin, 42, said he was deeply influenced by a seminal paper, “How to Share a Secret,” written in 1979 by Adi Shamir, a designer of the encryption algorithm known as public-key cryptography. The paper describes how a message can be broken into pieces and then reassembled from a subset of those pieces without revealing the message.
Mr. Gladwin developed a set of software routines that would copy the data stored on his PC into a large number of fragments, or slices. The mathematics of his solution had an additional benefit: the original data could be reconstructed from a majority of the slices. The design made it possible to retrieve a complete set of his original data even if some of the disks that held portions of the data failed or went offline.
The design of such “distributed file systems” is already a rich area of computer science research, and commercial systems are widely available in the software and data-storage markets. But Mr. Gladwin argues that his new standard offers security and efficiency features not easily available either to information technology managers or to individual computer users.
The experimental Cleversafe research grid is located at 11 storage sites around the world, but Mr. Gladwin is hoping that a commercial network will evolve, composed of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of storage sites that will be accessible at low cost.
The Cleversafe design could lead to a communal Internet storage system that Mr. Patterson called “hippie storage.” The idea is similar to SETI@Home, the shared computing system that allows PC users to contribute idle time on their machines to create a distributed supercomputer.
Today most distributed storage systems work by making multiple copies of data at multiple locations and then using various mechanisms to keep the copies synchronized. Examples include distributed file systems from Microsoft and Google as well as a system designed by software developers at Stanford known as Lockss — Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe — that is used to preserve the digital versions of academic journals.
The Cleversafe project uses a different approach based on dispersing data in encrypted slices rather than copying it. That approach shares some design similarities with a Berkeley research project known as OceanStore, which is also intended to create a globally distributed computer storage system.
“They’re not making a commercially implemented solution,” Mr. Gladwin said of the Berkeley project. “Our focus is something that people can use.”
A storage industry analyst said that such an approach had significant potential.
“The great thing about storage is that it’s always a moving target,” said Michael Dortch, principal business analyst at the Robert Frances Group, an industry consulting organization. “The I.T. industry is littered with the bodies of people who have said solution X will never fly.”
The Cleversafe project, with 25 employees, is housed on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Mr. Gladwin said the school had been an ideal technology incubator because of the ready availability of student technical talent.
One company considering the Cleversafe software is Univa, a developer of grid computing software and systems. “The potential to be able to geographically distribute data over the Internet has very nice properties,” said Steve Tuecke, a founder and chief technology officer of Univa, in Lisle, Ill.
An early financial backer of the project, Stewart Alsop, argues that Cleversafe is an indication that the open-source software movement is shifting from merely reusing existing designs to becoming a force for innovation.
“Data storage on the Internet is one of the most brutally competitive markets in the world,” he said. “But nobody is using this architecture, and the logical benefits of this are remarkable.”
Minister of Justice Criticizes Anonymization Service
Robert W. Smith
The Minister of Justice of the German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein Uwe Döring (Social Democratic Party; SPD) has called for limits to be set -- in the interest of combating terrorism -- on anonymization on the Internet. The Independent State Center for Data Protection of Schleswig-Holstein (ULD), based in the state's capital of Kiel in northern Germany, should take the anonymization program it offers as a free download off the Internet immediately, Mr. Döring went on to say. "The spending of taxpayers' money on a project that makes it possible for terrorists and criminals of all kinds to commit crimes without being caught, cannot be countenanced," he stated. The ULD has rejected Mr. Döring's statements as unfounded.
The program developed with the help of several German universities (Technical University Dresden, Free University and Humboldt University Berlin) was still being supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, Mr. Döring said. "Something that at the time was created for legitimate data-privacy reasons, these days more or less amounts to an invitation to criminals operating in such areas as child pornography, say, or to terrorists, to get their hands on and use for their own ends." In these days of the War on Terror it was essential that the authorities obtain information fast, the politician from the Social Democratic Party stated. "Such programs are more or less designed to foil authorities' attempts to act swiftly," he declared.
The data protection center promptly rejected the minister's reasoning. "These conclusions are very difficult to comprehend," the head of the ULD Thilo Weichert said. "The project was carried out in close cooperation with the prosecuting authorities of both the German federal states and the federal government." If there was reasonable suspicion of a crime and if the German Code of Criminal Procedure provided for such an approach in the case in question, it was quite possible to register the IP addresses of computers, Mr. Weichert observed. Moreover, a district court had already in a legal dispute confirmed the legitimacy of AN.ON's offer. "The business community has also pointed out to us that for companies it is a very important tool for protecting themselves against industrial espionage on the Internet," he added.
Wiretap Ruling Threatens Telecoms
Catherine Holahan and Dawn Kopecki
Businesses accused of helping the Bush Administration eavesdrop on customers could be in for a legal bruising
Telecommunications and Internet companies accused of working with the Bush Administration's domestic eavesdropping program could be in for more legal headaches, after a federal judge ruled Thursday that the warrantless wiretaps violated the constitution.
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit dealt a major blow to the White House in a 43-page opinion that said President George W. Bush exceeded his authority and that the program violated the First and Fourth Amendments protecting free speech and privacy. She ordered the National Security Agency to immediately halt a secret program that monitors telephone calls and e-mails of Americans that are in contact with suspected terrorists.
The federal government plans to appeal the case, which appears headed for the Supreme Court. The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit against the NSA, agreed to temporarily allow the wiretapping program to continue, while the Justice Dept. prepares to fight the court's decision at a hearing scheduled for Sept. 7.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he was disappointed and that he and the administration "respectfully disagree" with the ruling, saying the program has been extremely effective and important to national security.
"I believe very strongly that the president does have the authority to authorize this kind of conduct in a time—particularly in a time of war," Gonzales told reporters at a press conference held shortly after the court's decision.
Lawmakers quickly recast the decision as a partisan issue, ripe for debate in November's elections. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the ruling was "the latest example of how the Bush Administration has jeopardized our efforts in the war on terror. The Administration's decision to ignore the Constitution and the Congress has come at the expense of the security of the American people." The subject line of an e-mail blast from the Republican National Committee read, "Liberal Judge Backs Dem Agenda to Weaken National Security."
Businesses accused of aiding the Bush administration in wiretapping could also be in for a legal bruising, say civil liberties groups that have sued telecom providers AT&T (T ), Verizon (VZ ), and BellSouth (BLS ) for allegedly helping the NSA. The ruling could set a precedent other courts can't ignore.
"Every phone company that is assisting the government in its illegal surveillance would want to think long and hard before it continues that agreement," says Ann Beeson, the ACLU's lead attorney in the case. "There are already lawsuits claiming that their cooperation for the past several years is illegal and now that the judge has declared it is illegal, their liability increases. The risk is much greater from a business perspective."
AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp declined to comment on the litigation, saying, "We're fully committed to protecting our customer's privacy, and beyond that, we don't comment on matters of national security." Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe said, "We believe that everything we've done here has been within the law."
He added that it was too soon to say whether the court's ruling will attract more litigation. "There have been all kinds of opportunistic lawsuits since this story became public…I've read the decision. But how it plays out, we'll have to wait and see." Officials at BellSouth did not return calls for comment.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit advocacy group for digital rights, said the ACLU's victory strengthens the EFF's own case against AT&T, which is taking place in the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California. The federal government and others have tried to get that case and related lawsuits dismissed, based largely on arguments that laws prohibiting the disclosure of state secrets override all other legal claims.
Security's Weak Signal.
In the ACLU case, however, Judge Taylor rejected the government's argument that national security interests override the constitutional protections of journalists, lawyers, and others who brought the suit in Detroit, saying that "…public interest is clear in this matter. It is the upholding of our constitution."
"It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights," she wrote in her decision, which is the first to rule on the legality of the federal government's domestic surveillance program. "The Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution."
AT&T and the government lost their motion last month to dismiss the EFF's case. The motion is being appealed, and a decision is expected by the end of the month. Cindy Cohn, legal director at the EFF, says that the recent ruling makes it more unlikely that AT&T and the government will win on appeal. "It is good that the federal courts are stepping up and recognizing our role in protecting our rights even in times when there are national security interests at stake," says Cohn. "The judge said we have an obligation under the constitution to protect people's rights even under an executive that claims national security."
Attention On AT&T.
The EFF singled out AT&T, relying on testimony and documents provided by a former employee. The group believes the employee makes a strong case that the company was directly involved in the NSA's wiretapping program (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/29/06, "The Snooping Goes Beyond Phone Calls").
The group also believes that other companies are involved, but Cohn says they do not have enough evidence to expand the suit (see BusinessWeek.com, 1/23/06, "The NSA: Security in Numbers").
Given the recent ruling, future claims are likely inevitable—not least because Judge Taylor left open the question of whether telecom and Internet companies were allowed to store data on customers. Taylor ruled that there was not enough evidence out in the open for her to make a decision regarding the matter and threw out that portion of the case.
The amount of data collected by Internet companies has recently been questioned by the EFF, as well as other civil liberties and privacy advocates. Time Warner's AOL (TWX ) recently revealed that it collects and stores search data for its clients for months. Though the data is stored under numbers corresponding to users, and not their names, the content of searches can be detailed enough to identify individuals.
Qwest on Data Retention Laws: Oops
Broadband provider Qwest Communications International said Wednesday that it made a mistake when one of its lawyers endorsed federal legislation requiring Internet providers to keep records of customers' behavior.
Jennifer Mardosz, Qwest's corporate counsel and chief privacy officer, said in an interview with CNET News.com that she misspoke during a panel discussion organized by the Progress and Freedom Foundation in Aspen, Colo., the day before.
"I just completely misspoke there," Mardosz said. During the panel discussion, she said Qwest "absolutely" supports House of Representatives legislation sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette mandating data retention--a requirement that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said will aid in terrorism and child exploitation investigations.
"I associated (DeGette's) name with the female Colorado legislator that introduced the state legislation," Mardosz said. "That was just a pure and honest mistake that I made."
Mardosz said that instead of embracing data retention legislation, Qwest was skeptical of mandates from Congress. "There is no need for it, because companies are already doing the right thing," she said.
On Tuesday she said during the panel discussion: "We support legislation related to data retention." One industry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said Qwest had backed the Colorado legislation earlier this year.
The original version of the Colorado bill required Internet providers to "maintain, for at least 180 days after assignment, a record of the Internet Protocol address" assigned to each customer. Violations could be punished by fines of up to $10,000 per incident. The language was subsequently changed.
Qwest's revised position brings it in line with other telecommunications companies, which say they are already required by law to cooperate with criminal investigations and have been generally skeptical of broad, new mandates. The Denver-based company has a market capitalization of $16.5 billion and says it has 784,000 wireless customers and 1.7 million DSL (digital subscriber line) customers.
DeGette's proposed legislation says any Internet service that "enables users to access content" must permanently retain records that would permit police to identify each user. The records could not be discarded until at least one year after the user's account was closed.
Rep. Joe Barton, the influential Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has endorsed the concept of data retention and is expected to introduce a bill after the panel completes a series of hearings on child exploitation.
US Sues Maine Officials For Probe On Verizon, NSA
The U.S. government sued Maine officials on Tuesday to block their demand that Verizon disclose whether it gave the government's spying program access to its customer data, documents showed.
The government's civil suit, submitted by the U.S. Department of Justice to a district court in Maine, said the Maine public utilities officials' attempts to obtain information on Verizon's involvement with the National Security Agency (NSA) were "invalid."
"The defendant state officers' attempts to obtain such information are invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and are preempted by the United States Constitution and various federal statutes," the lawsuit said.
Kurt Adams, chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, as well as two other regulatory officials, were named in the lawsuit.
Verizon's local subsidiaries were also named to prevent the company from responding to the Maine officials' demands for information.
"We're just in the middle here," said Verizon spokesman Peter Thonis.
The federal government has also sued the New Jersey Attorney General and Missouri utility regulators for serving similar subpoenas for information to AT&T Inc.
USA Today in May reported that AT&T, BellSouth Corp and Verizon had supplied customer call records to the NSA for an anti-terrorism program, sparking protests and class action lawsuits from privacy advocates.
AT&T Says Cooperation in NSA Spying Was Legal
An AT&T executive on Tuesday offered a glimpse into how the company appears to have opened its networks to the National Security Agency.
James Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, said there is a "very specific federal statute" that the company followed when cooperating with the NSA that provides "black and white authorization."
"We have simply complied with those laws," he said.
That's a slightly more detailed explanation than AT&T has publicly offered so far. In February, AT&T declined to answer related questions from CNET News.com. In May, an AT&T spokesman told News.com: "Without commenting on or confirming the existence of the program, we can say that when the government asks for our help in protecting national security, and the request is within the law, we will provide that assistance."
Because Cicconi was AT&T's general counsel before the merger with SBC Communications, he would have been responsible for reviewing the legality of cooperating with the NSA. A longtime Republican, Cicconi worked as deputy chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush and as an assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He's recently served as co-chairman of Progress for America, a prominent group devoted to electing Republican politicians.
Cicconi's remarks--in response to a question at the Progress and Freedom Foundation's annual summit here--seem to indicate that AT&T received formal authorization from the U.S. Department of Justice to authorize the program. The existence of such a letter has never been confirmed.
Cicconi may have been referring to an obscure section of federal law, 18 U.S.C. 2511, which permits a telecommunications company to provide "information" and "facilities" to the federal government as long as the attorney general authorizes it. The authorization must come in the form of "certification in writing by...the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law."
If a letter of certification exists, AT&T could be off the hook in its lawsuits. Federal law says that a "good faith" reliance on a letter of certification "is a complete defense to any civil or criminal" lawsuit, including one brought against the company by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (Other officials, including the deputy attorney general and state attorneys general, also are authorized to write these letters.)
In its class action lawsuit filed in January, the EFF alleged that AT&T violated federal wiretapping laws by cooperating with the NSA.
After EFF's lawsuit was filed, reports of a secret room in an AT&T building in San Francisco surfaced and have become central to the nonprofit group's litigation. A former AT&T employee, Mark Klein, has released documents alleging the company spliced its fiber optic cables and ran a duplicate set of cables to Room 641A at its 611 Folsom St. building. Redacted documents show that AT&T has tried to offer benign reasons for the existence of such a room.
Officials Seek Broader Access to Airline Data
United States and European authorities, looking for more tools to detect terrorist plots, want to expand the screening of international airline passengers by digging deep into a vast repository of airline itineraries, personal information and payment data.
A proposal by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff would allow the United States government not only to look for known terrorists on watch lists, but also to search broadly through the passenger itinerary data to identify people who may be linked to terrorists, he said in a recent interview.
Similarly, European leaders are considering seeking access to this same database, which contains not only names and addresses of travelers, but often their credit card information, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and related hotel or car reservations.
“It forms part of an arsenal of tools which should be at least at the disposal of law enforcement authorities,” Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for Franco Frattini, vice president of the European Commission and the European commissioner responsible for justice and security, said Monday.
The proposals, prompted by the recent British bomb-plot allegations, have inspired a new round of protests from civil libertarians and privacy experts, who had objected to earlier efforts to plumb those repositories for clues.
“This is a confirmation of our warnings that once you let the camel’s nose under the tent, it takes 10 minutes for them to want to start expanding these programs in all different directions,” said Jay Stanley, a privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union.
The United States already has rules in place, and European states will have rules by this fall, allowing them to obtain basic passenger information commonly found in a passport, like name, nationality and date of birth. American officials are pressing to get this information, from a database called the Advance Passenger Information System, transmitted to them even before a plane takes off for the United States.
But a second, more comprehensive database known as the Passenger Name Record is created by global travel reservation services like Sabre, Galileo and Amadeus, companies that handle reservations for most airlines as well as for Internet sites like Travelocity.
Each time someone makes a reservation, a file is created, including the name of the person who reserved the flight and any others traveling in the party. The electronic file often also contains details on rental cars or hotels, credit card information relating to travel, contact information for the passenger and next of kin, and at times even personal preferences, like a request for a king-size bed in a hotel.
European authorities currently have no system in place to routinely gain access to this Passenger Name Record data. Mr. Frattini, his spokesman said, intends to propose that governments across Europe establish policies that allow them to tap into this data so they can quickly check the background of individuals boarding flights to Europe.
“It is not going to solve all our problems,” Mr. Abbing said. “It is not going to stop terrorism. But you need a very comprehensive policy.”
American authorities, under an agreement reached with European authorities in 2004, are already allowed to pull most of this information from the reservation company databases for flights to the United States to help look for people on watch lists.
Members of the European Parliament successfully challenged the legality of this agreement, resulting in a ruling in May by Europe’s highest court prohibiting the use of the data after Sept. 30, unless the accord is renegotiated. European and American officials expect to reach a new agreement by the end of September.
But Mr. Chertoff said that in addition to simply reinstating the existing agreement, he would like to see it eventually revised so American law enforcement officials had greater ability to search the data for links to terrorists.
Under the current agreement, for example, the United States government can maintain Passenger Name Record data on European flights for three and a half years. But it is limited in its ability to give the data to law enforcement agencies to conduct computerized searches. Those searches could include comparing the passenger data to addresses, telephone numbers or credit card records on file for known or suspected terrorists, Mr. Chertoff said.
“Ideally, I would like to know, did Mohamed Atta get his ticket paid on the same credit card,” Mr. Chertoff said, citing the lead hijacker of the 2001 plots. “That would be a huge thing. And I really would like to know that in advance, because that would allow us to identify an unknown terrorist.”
Paul Rosenzweig, a senior policy adviser at the Homeland Security department, said the use of the passenger data would be negotiated with European authorities.
“We are handcuffed in what we can do with it now,” he said. “It would be a big step forward if we could identify ways in which we can use this information to enhance our ability to detect and prevent terrorism while at the same time remaining respectful and responsive to European concerns regarding privacy.”
But the proposals to expand access to this data will be likely to spur objections.
Graham Watson, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the European Parliament, said that given the previous opposition to the American use of the passenger record data, he expects the plan by Mr. Frattini will draw protests.
“I think that is unlikely to fly,” he said in an interview on Monday.
The problem, Mr. Watson said, is not a lack of information, but the unwillingness of individual European states to share with other countries data on possible terrorists so that it can be effectively used to block their movement internationally.
Mr. Stanley of the civil liberties union said that if Mr. Chertoff and Mr. Frattini continued in the direction they are headed, the government would soon be maintaining and routinely searching giant databases loaded with personal information on tens of millions of law-abiding Americans and foreigners.
But Stephen A. Luckey, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot and aviation security consultant, said those efforts were an essential ingredient in a robust aviation security system.
“Even with the best technology in the world, we will never be able to separate the individual from the tools he needs to attack us,” said Mr. Luckey, who helped airlines in the United States develop a screening system for domestic passengers. “You are not going to find them all. You have to look for the person with hostile intent.”
3 Leave AOL in Search-Data Fallout
AOL's chief technology officer left the company and two other workers were fired in the aftermath of a privacy breach that involved the intentional release of more than 650,000 subscribers' Internet search terms.
Although AOL had substituted numeric IDs for the subscribers' user names, the search queries themselves contained Social Security numbers, medical conditions and other data that could be traced to an individual. In fact, The New York Times was able to trace user 4417749 to Thelma Arnold, 62, of Lilburn, Ga.
Maureen Govern, the technology chief, will be replaced on an interim basis by John McKinley, who had held that position before becoming AOL's president for digital services. The change takes effect immediately, according to a memo AOL Chief Executive Jonathan Miller sent to employees on Monday.
"This incident took place because some employees did not exercise good judgment or review their proposal with our privacy team," Miller said in a second memo. "We are taking appropriate action with the employees who were responsible."
The data release is among a series of breaches involving sensitive information in recent months. Unlike those resulting from computer hacking or missing laptops, however, the AOL data had been intentionally released as part of a program to assist academic researchers.
AOL, a unit of Time Warner Inc., apologized two weeks ago for what it termed a mistake made by a company researcher who had failed to properly seek clearances before releasing three months' worth of search data. Though the information was meant for researchers, it was released to a public site and quickly circulated once a blogger discovered it.
The company fired the researcher who released the data and that employee's direct supervisor, who reported to Govern, said one person familiar with the company's decisions. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because release of personnel information was not authorized, would not say whether Govern's departure was voluntary. The person also would not identify the two employees who were fired.
Although the search terms released were not directly tied to real names, many individuals type their own names to find out what's being said about them. They may later search for online mentions of their credit card or Social Security numbers and perhaps for prescription drug prices, revealing their medical ailments. All the searches for each user name were linked to the same numeric ID in the released data.
AOL removed the information from its site once senior executives learned of it, but by then copies already were widely available. Some people even created search sites just for the AOL data.
At least two groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. In its complaint, filed last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation accused AOL of breaking a promise to protect its subscribers' privacy.
Kevin Bankston, staff attorney with the EFF, said he hoped the breach would prompt Internet companies to be more forthcoming about what data they keep and for how long. Congress, he said, may need to intervene.
"Rearranging personnel is not going to get to the root of this problem, a problem which extends far beyond AOL and to the rest of the Internet industry," Bankston said. "As an industry, the search engines have been unacceptably tightlipped about what their practices are regarding search logs."
To prevent a recurrence, Miller said AOL will:
- Create a task force led by senior executives to review privacy and data-retention policies.
- Place additional limits on employee access to data, regardless of whether they are linked to individual accounts.
- Evaluate technologies designed to flag sensitive information. Under such a system, for instance, a 16-digit string might be assumed to be credit card number and kept out of research databases.
- Improve employee education and awareness on privacy.
The fallout occurs as AOL tries to lure more people to its search services and other free, ad-supported features to offset a revenue decline that's likely to accelerate as the company stops charging for AOL.com e-mail accounts and software.
AOL continues to rank fourth in search, behind Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, according to data released this week by Nielsen/NetRatings and comScore Media Metrix.
Shares in Time Warner closed unchanged at $16.50 in Monday trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
AOL Moves to Increase Privacy on Search Queries
Tom Zeller Jr.
AOL announced the resignation of its chief technology officer yesterday, two weeks after the company came under intense criticism from privacy advocates for releasing hundreds of thousands of its customers’ Web search queries.
An AOL researcher who put the queries online and a manager overseeing the project were dismissed, according to an AOL employee who did not want to be identified because the company does not comment publicly on personnel matters.
AOL, a unit of Time Warner, also said it planned to enhance data-privacy protections, reconsider the length of time that it holds onto the millions of search queries that customers make every day and re-educate its own employees about the sensitivity of personal data.
“This incident took place because some employees did not exercise good judgment or review their proposal with our privacy team,” Jonathan F. Miller, the chief executive, wrote in an e-mail message to employees released yesterday afternoon. “We are taking appropriate action with the employees who were responsible.”
The technology officer, Maureen Govern, had been hired by the company just under a year ago to succeed John McKinley. Mr. McKinley, who has been running the company’s digital services division, will step back into his old post, according to Mr. Miller’s memo.
“I want to thank Maureen for her hard work during her time with AOL,” Mr. Miller’s announcement said, “and we wish her all the best as she pursues new opportunities.”
Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights group that has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over the data release, said the AOL shake-up would not address the underlying issue.
“Staffing changes aren’t going to get to the root of this problem,” Mr. Bankston said. “It’s a problem that reaches to the whole search industry, and not just AOL.”
Nearly 20 million discrete search queries, representing the personal Internet hunting habits of more than 650,000 AOL customers gathered over a three-month period last spring, were posted by a company researcher, Abdur Chowdhury, on a publicly accessible Web site late last month.
No user names were attached to the query data, which was intended for use by search engine researchers in academia. But word of the data — which provided an intimate, sometimes disturbing look into what Americans search for on the Web — spread through the blog circuit and immediately began raising questions about the sorts of privacy consumers were entitled to when they used search engines.
AOL removed the data and apologized for the mistake, saying the release was not approved by higher-ups within the company.
Within days, however, the data had been downloaded, reposted and made searchable at several Web sites. At least two of the AOL users have been identified by name in press accounts, and people have speculated about the identities of others on various Web sites.
The World Privacy Forum, a consumer advocacy group based in San Diego, also filed a complaint with the F.T.C. over the release, asking the agency to appoint an independent privacy board to oversee AOL’s future use of its consumer data.
“AOL’s internal policies and procedures have by all appearances failed and when that happens, it’s a good business practice to institute robust independent oversight,” Pam Dixon, the group’s executive director, said.
In his memo, Mr. Miller outlined several initiatives at the company, including the exploration of technologies that could be used to make more anonymous the query data used for research purposes. For example, it might use software to scan the query logs looking for strings of numbers that could represent Social Security or credit card numbers, so they could be removed.
Mr. Miller also said AOL would put in place new restrictions on access to customer data within the company, and was creating a task force charged with examining “how long we should save data, including search data.”
This has become a central question for a growing number of Internet companies — including search companies — that must balance consumer privacy with the desires of law enforcement, marketers and even some academics, who see value in holding on to information and making limited use of it.
Eric C. Jensen, a researcher at the Information Retrieval Laboratory at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which receives financing from AOL and where Mr. Chowdhury was an affiliate, said there were “a lot of questions out there in academia that can’t get addressed without this kind of data,” and that the company had acted rashly.
“Their response has served to inflame the situation rather than address the problem,” Dr. Jensen said, adding that “I think that rather than making scapegoats out of people, you could have explained what this data was for, and say, ‘yes, there’s a privacy discussion to be had here, so let’s try to figure it out.’ ”
Dr. Jensen, who said he had worked closely with Mr. Chowdhury on projects for AOL’s search team, also said he had been told that the posting of the data had been approved by all appropriate executives at AOL, including Ms. Govern. Mr. Chowdhury, through his lawyer, declined to comment.
Among the major search companies, Yahoo has been the leader in mining its users’ search histories for marketing purposes — trying to predict their desires and feed them highly specific advertisements.
The Justice Department has repeatedly signaled its strong interest, through continued conversations with Internet companies and members of Congress, in having the data retained to help it fight terrorism and child pornography, although no formal requirements are in place. “We’re continuing to make sure we’re looking at every aspect of the issue before we make any specific recommendations,” Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said.
Query data from all four of the big search companies — Yahoo, Google, MSN from Microsoft and AOL — was subpoenaed by the Justice Department last year, as part of the agency’s efforts to enforce an online child pornography law.
Google, which was alone in resisting the subpoena in federal court, ultimately won the right to withhold its query data from the government, but was ordered to turn over information on Web site addresses returned in searches.
Privacy advocates celebrated that decision, but more recently they have warned Google, which stores every query it handles, that it was in danger of becoming the next AOL.
Steve Langdon, a Google spokesman, said his company did not anticipate changing course as a result of AOL’s mishap and personnel shake-up.
“Employees who have access to user data are very aware of the importance of its security and confidentiality,” Mr. Langdon said. “We regularly review privacy policies and practices and will always be working on ways to improve them, though we do not anticipate significant changes in the near term.”
Mr. Bankston suggested that this was the kind of response that he and other privacy advocates feared. “This is not just AOL’s problem,” he said. “This is an industrywide problem that needs industrywide solutions.”
Researchers Yearn to Use AOL Logs, but They Hesitate
When AOL researchers released three months’ worth of users’ query logs to a publicly accessible Web site late last month, Jon Kleinberg, a professor of computer science at Cornell, downloaded the data right away. But when a firestorm over privacy breaches erupted, he decided against using it.
“Now it’s sitting there, in cold storage,” said Professor Kleinberg, who works on algorithms for understanding the structure of the Web and searching it. “The number of things it reveals about individual people seems much too much. In general, you don’t want to do research on tainted data.”
After the data was released for academic researchers like Professor Kleinberg to work with, many were torn, loath to conduct research with it as they balanced a chronic thirst for useful data against concerns over individual privacy.
It is one of the frustrations of being an academic researcher in a world that has grown highly commercial. Data is everywhere, but there is precious little of it for university researchers to work with. Raw data about people’s online behavior — the grist for many an academic researcher’s mill — remains locked up inside large companies, accessible only to a subset of corporate researchers.
The AOL incident has set off a flurry of divergent opinions in the academic community over the appropriateness of using the data for academic research.
Some see the data as too valuable to withhold altogether. “One of the biggest problems is trying to get real data,” said Christopher Manning, an assistant professor of computer science and linguistics at Stanford University.
Although the 650,000 AOL users were not personally identified in the data, the logs contained enough information to discern an individual’s identity in some cases.
AOL quickly withdrew the data from its research Web site, but not before it had been downloaded, reposted and made searchable at a number of Web sites. And on Monday, the company dismissed Abdur Chowdhury, the researcher who posted the data, along with another employee. Maureen Govern, AOL’s chief technology officer, resigned.
Academia has a longstanding disadvantage when it comes to raw data. While fresh data sets are routinely made available to researchers at large companies like Google, academia has largely made do with the same two sets of search data — one from Excite and one from Alta Vista — for nearly 10 years.
Meanwhile, a virtual eternity has elapsed and those two data sets have long outlived their usefulness. “The way people use search engines now is totally different,” Professor Kleinberg said. “Partly because what you expected to get out of a search engine back then was much less, so people didn’t try anything too fancy.”
While acknowledging “genuine privacy concerns,” Professor Manning said, “I think it’s fair to say that given researchers’ craving for data, having the AOL data available is a great boon for research.”
Professor Manning, who has downloaded a copy of the AOL data set but has no immediate plans to work with it, added that the trove of raw research material represented by the AOL data “obviates the need for anyone to worry about getting data for a while.”
William W. Cohen, an associate research professor in the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University, said the AOL query logs could be invaluable for researchers working in the field of personalization.
“Someone’s past search history can tell you a lot about what they’re interested in,” he said. Professor Cohen, who takes annual vacations near Charleston, S.C., used himself as an example.
“By knowing what someone searched for in the past, you can do a lot better at answering a query,” he said. “If you look at my recent searches, they might have something to do with vacation homes, Folly Beach and car rentals. So if I search for seafood restaurants, it’s more likely I’ll be looking for one in the Charleston area, and if I say ‘Charleston,’ it’s much more likely to be South Carolina than West Virginia.”
At the same time, Professor Cohen shares Professor Kleinberg’s view about the AOL query logs.
“I would feel personally uncomfortable looking too closely at searches showing things like marriages breaking up,” he said. “I don’t want to do research in order to see if my algorithms are working correctly, while delving into the details of people’s lives.”
Professor Cohen said that although he might eventually do research on the data set, “the privacy issues are something I’d have to think through very carefully.”
Companies occasionally mete data out to academic researchers. Microsoft has done this, but in a controlled fashion. Yahoo shares some statistical data with researchers who are approved case by case through an internal vetting program, according to Joanna Stevens, a company spokeswoman, but query data, she said, has never been distributed.
Asked about its policy, Google issued a statement that said, “Our current policy is not to release queries or personal data to researchers outside of the company.”
Oren Etzioni, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington, said that shortly after the news of the privacy violations surfaced, he had lunch with Dr. Chowdhury and two of Dr. Chowdhury’s colleagues.
Professor Etzioni said Dr. Chowdhury was horrified by what had happened. “He didn’t anticipate that this kind of data could be used to track down individuals.” Dr. Chowdhury declined to comment, at the advice of his lawyer.
The release of the AOL query logs coincided with a global conference in Seattle of information retrieval researchers, and it prompted heated discussions among those in attendance.
Among them was Jamie Callan, an associate professor in the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon and chairman of the Association for Computing Machinery’s special-interest group on information retrieval, which organized the conference.
Professor Callan said that although no one disagreed on the importance of protecting privacy, “there’s also a strong belief that it is very important for the scientific community to have access to data of this kind in some anonymized form.”
The last similar case involved a set of hundreds of thousands of internal e-mail messages from Enron, posted in 2003 on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Web site, in connection with the agency’s investigation into the company.
Although some of the e-mail was relevant to the investigation, most of it was not. So hungry were researchers for a coherent body of e-mail messages to work with that they were able to set aside their concerns that the privacy of many people who had nothing to do with the Enron scandal was severely compromised.
“Researchers glommed onto it,” Professor Manning said. “It was enormously good for academic research for all kinds of things you might want to do, like social network analysis.”
Several research papers have emerged in the years since the Enron e-mail corpus was released, and it remains the only large body of actual e-mail in the public domain.
“It seems this AOL data is creating more of a stir,” Professor Manning said. Where the release of the Enron e-mail was justified as shedding light on corporate wrongdoers, “the AOL data is more like a real violation.”
Professor Etzioni and others say one partial solution to heightened privacy concerns could lie in more stringent “scrubbing” of data in a way that did not diminish its quality as a research tool. This could entail, for instance, replacing numbers that carry identifying information — like Social Security numbers and ZIP codes — with zeros, or replacing the word “New York” with “X17.” To a researcher, Professor Etzioni said, “it doesn’t matter so much that it’s New York as X17.”
Professor Kleinberg said he hoped that over time, the AOL incident would lead to “a richer, more informed discussion about what it means to create data sets that are clean and anonymized.”
Still, a freeze on all data distribution is likely to be in effect for the foreseeable future.
Professor Etzioni said that over lunch with the AOL researchers, he had mentioned that for his own research, he was interested in a data set containing queries starting with “Wh,” to signify that a question was being asked. Such data need not be tied to an individual to be useful as a research tool.
“We build technology that answers questions,” he said. “So we want to test it on actual questions people are asking.”
The AOL researchers told Professor Etzioni they would get approval from the company and send him a compact disc containing the question set.
But Professor Etzioni is not holding out much hope of receiving the data. “I don’t think that CD is in the mail,” he said, “and that’s too bad.”
Tom Zeller Jr. contributed reporting for this article.
Couple to AOL: Stop Searching For Spammer's Gold
A small-town New England couple says AOL's search for a spammer's gold on their property must be stopped.
In May 2005, AOL won a $12.8 million lawsuit against Davis Wolfgang Hawke and two other men who AOL says made millions by targeting AOL members with spam offers for everything from penile implants and spying software to diet pills, according to court documents. Not long after, Hawke disappeared.
Hawke, a reputed member of a neo-Nazi group, was born Andrew Britt Greenbaum and changed his name to hide his Jewish heritage, according to his mother, who says she thinks he's in Belize.
Now AOL aims to collect, even if that means digging for gold on Hawke's parents' property in Medfield, Mass., located about 22 miles southwest of Boston.
That's not sitting well with Hyman and Peggy Greenbaum. Peggy Greenbaum says the couple had nothing to do with spamming and can't believe that their son would be "stupid" enough to bury gold bars on their property.
"We don't have an attorney. My husband is writing an objection, and I'm writing an objection to searching our property and also the interior of house--any kind of search," Peggy Greenbaum said in an interview with CNET News.com. "Not that we're hiding anything; it's just that we haven't been a part of any of Britt's spamming activities."
The Greenbaums may not have much of a say in the matter. In April, U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton granted a motion giving AOL the right to any property that Hawke left with his parents or his grandparents.
AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham confirmed that the company has obtained a court order, but he would not say when or where, exactly, the company plans to search.
Sophisticated search planned
Peggy Greenbaum said she has not yet received a court order to specifically search her property, a four-bedroom home on almost 2 acres of wooded land. But she and her husband did receive a letter telling them to send a list of any effects Hawke left behind at their home. The list amounted to nothing more than some old furniture and his baby clothes, she said.
AOL plans to use sophisticated sonar and radar detection to determine if there is anything of significance on the property they search, Graham said. If the company finds something that "looks" like gold or platinum, then it will be ready to disrupt the soil. Graham said AOL plans to conduct any search in a professional manner, with an effort to make minimal disruption to the property and its owners.
"I don't think he buried any gold on our property because he's not that stupid. And I don't think AOL thinks he did, either," Peggy Greenbaum said.
Greenbaum does believe the gold or platinum bars exist, though. According to her, Hawke told his father that he had purchased gold, but not how much. While the notion of the purchase seemed strange, Hawke's parents chalked it up to their son's eccentric nature.
Greenbaum says her son, now in his late 20s, was never quite right mentally after an extended bout of physical abuse by school bullies, who targeted Hawke for being Jewish when they lived in the rural town of Lakeville, Mass., leaving him with a permanently damaged hand.
From receipts shown to her and her husband by AOL, Greenbaum believes that at least $365,000 in gold or platinum bars exists. But she doubts that her son buried anything on their property, because he knew his parents had plans to move.
"Before AOL even sued him, we weren't sure how long we were going to be here because the house is so big," his mother said. "I am hoping to move soon, but I don't want to move right away. I don't want people to think I'm moving because of...you know...all the publicity. My point is that Britt was fully aware of the fact that we planned to move, but that we weren't sure when."
Greenbaum said that, in addition to saying he had stashed his spam profits on her property, Hawke also bragged to a former girlfriend about burying assets on his grandfather's property, the Rocky Woods hiking reservation in Medfield and in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Greenbaum said she doesn't believe those stories, however. Hawke is "crazy as a June bug," according to Greenbaum, so there is no telling what was going on in his mind or where he has hid his fortune.
AOL says it considers this search business as usual.
"This particular defendant may have a colorful and outrageous history--there are some conditions that might make this case unique--but in terms of pursuing assets or property, that is not new," Graham said. "AOL has recovered a Porsche, as well as a Hummer and gold coins. This is simply a continuation of efforts that we have been known to conduct in the past and have been successful at."
Spammer's Kin To Allow Initial Search
The grandparents of a notorious Internet spammer say they will allow AOL to do an initial search of their property to see if their grandson buried gold there.
Robert Davis, the 90-year-old grandfather of Davis Wolfgang Hawke, said that after initially opposing AOL's request to survey his land and possibly dig there, he and his wife decided to compromise to avoid an expensive legal battle with the company.
They will allow the company to use radar and sonar equipment to find out if anything is buried in their yard in Westwood, a Boston suburb.
Davis said if AOL detects anything underground and asks to dig up his yard, he may still oppose that. "I don't want them digging," he said.
The Internet company wants to search for valuables it believes may be buried there to satisfy a $12.8 million judgment it won in federal court last year. A default judgment was entered against Hawke, who didn't show up in court.
Hawke was accused of violating U.S. and Virginia anti-spam laws by sending massive amounts of unwanted e-mails to AOL's subscribers.
At the height of their activities, Hawke and his partners earned more than $600,000 a month by sending unwanted sales pitches over the Internet for loans, pornography, jewelry and prescription drugs, investigators believe.
AOL believes Hawke may have buried gold and platinum he acquired with his ill-gotten gains on his grandparents' property and his parents' property in nearby Medfield.
Davis doesn't believe his grandson buried anything of value on his land. "I think there's one chance in 10 million," he said.
Hawke's mother, Peggy Greenbaum, has maintained she intends to fight AOL's attempts to search her property.
Nicholas Graham, a spokesman for AOL, declined comment Tuesday.
Crackberry - It's No Joke
BlackBerry developer Research in Motion has garnered considerable kudos from the addictive nature of its pioneering push email technology, but that could change with suggestions that technology addiction is no laughing matter and that employers could face liability for their employees' affliction.
According to Gayle Porter, an associate professor of management at the Rutgers University School of Business in New Jersey, employers who encourage non-stop work connections via technology may wind up with liability for encouraging addiction among their staff.
"Owing to vested interests of the employers and the ICT industry, signs of possible addiction - excess use of ICT and related stress illnesses - are often ignored," she says.
Porter is the co-author of a forthcoming study and suggests that that existing workplace legislation that places the onus on employers to protect their employees could be extended to cover the dangers of 'technology addiction'.
"Courts have long recognized the special duty of employers to protect their employees. That's why employers will warn workers of dangers that they might not foresee, and enforce rules for employee conduct that promote a safe workplace," Porter says.
"It may be unfeasible to regulate how much people use technology. However, it is reasonable to imagine a time when policy-makers recognize the powerful influence of employers that sometimes results in harmful excess among the workforce. The pressure for using technology to stay connected 24/7 may carry employer responsibility for detrimental outcomes to the employees."
Porter cites tobacco litigation in the United States as a model of how the law and legal strategies evolve over time to find harm. "Legal scholars describe tobacco litigation occurring in three waves, each of which moved plaintiffs closer to success," says Porter. "In the 1950s, the theories put forth laid the groundwork for the legal decisions in the 1990s onward."
She says that the element of employer manipulation is important to determining liability. "If people work longer hours for personal enrichment, they assume the risk," says Porter. "However, if an employer manipulates an individual's propensity toward workaholism or technology addiction for the employer's benefit, the legal perspective shifts. When professional advancement (or even survival) seems to depend on 24/7 connectivity, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between choice and manipulation."
Porter is not aware of any current court cases examining the subject, but suggests that employers concerned for the health of their workers and their bottom lines should to keep an eye on the matter… and encourage employees to walk away from their Blackberries, email, and cellphones while on vacation.
UK to Get First City With High-Speed WiMax Coverage
A British city known for its concrete cows is set to become one of the most technologically advanced in Britain after it said it would be the first UK town to boast a high-speed WiMax wireless broadband network.
Telecoms firm Pipex (PXC.L), in a joint venture with chip maker Intel (Nasdaq:INTC - news), is to blanket parts of Milton Keynes with WiMax, a medium-range sibling of the popular Wi-Fi technology covering kilometers rather than meters. Both use radio frequency rather than conventional wires to beam the Internet.
A source close to Pipex told Reuters the company would announce the launch of its plans in around four weeks.
Steven Jewell, head of IT for Milton Keynes, said WiMax would be rolled out across the city bit by bit.
"Milton Keynes will be probably the first place for a major proving roll-out of WiMax in the UK," Jewell told Reuters.
"Signals will be sent out into various parts of Milton Keynes -- it won't be the whole of Milton Keynes to start with."
Milton Keynes is famed in Britain for the black and white concrete cow statues which planners added when building the town in the 1970s.
For those looking to get on the Internet on the move, WiMax is seen as one of the main alternatives to the 3G networks for which mobile operators across Europe paid more than 100 billion euros ($128 billion) combined some six years ago.
U.S. firm Airspan Networks (Nasdaq:AIRN - news), the company which is testing WiMax for Pipex, is to provide the base stations for the Pipex-funded project.
"There is inward investment by Pipex on this occasion to pay for the base stations," said Jewell.
Pipex has said it plans to roll out WiMax in eight UK cities by 2008, led by networks in London and Manchester. It has declined to say how much the total project is expected to cost.
Roughly 95 kilometres north west of London, Milton Keynes lags behind most UK cities in terms of high-speed Internet access following decisions made during its rapid expansion in the 1980s to lay lower-quality aluminum cables rather than copper ones.
WiMax is seen as a way around the problem, giving its 220,000 inhabitants broadband access without relying on reluctant telecoms firms to fund the necessary cable upgrades.
Many mobile firms, still hurting after having to write off their huge 3G costs, are attempting to thwart WiMax in the hope of forcing people to use their 3G services so they can claw back some of their investment.
Earlier this month U.S. firm Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE:S - news) became the first major operator to put its money behind WiMax, committing to spend $3 billion to build a network after Motorola (NYSE:MOT - news), Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) and Intel agreed to develop WiMax based phones, devices and chips.
Samsung said it would embed WiMax in everything from TVs and MP3 players to camcorders in 2008, while Motorola said it would put the technology in its TV set-top boxes and phone handsets.
Putting Google-Fi to the Test
Google launched its citywide Wi-Fi service here this week, and Wired News decided to put it to the test.
Our first stop: Off the freeway at the southwest end of town, and the coverage was not bad. Logging on within sight of one of the 380 Wi-Fi nodes placed on utility poles around the city, the connection speed fluctuated between 855 kbps and 1113 kbps for downloads and 144 kbps to 986 kbps on the upload side -- good enough to call up Google Maps and find directions to our next destination.
Rengstorff Park, closer to the heart of the city, seems a likely location for web surfing on lazy Sundays. Here the network produced download speeds of 899 kbps and uploads of 142 kbps under the shady trees. But there was a slight problem staying connected.
At a local Starbucks, which offers a competing T-Mobile Wi-Fi service for a fee, Google connection speeds came in low, at 131 kbps for downloading and 99 kbps for uploading.
Next up: The Mountain View Public Library, one of the few locations where Google installed an in-door Wi-Fi access point. A test of the coverage showed a download speed of 598 kbps and a 920 kbps upload speed -- the closest we got to Google's advertised 1 Mbps rate.
"People are really delighted that it’s working, and they are especially pleased with the signal," said Karen Burnett, the library's services director.
Google's new service is among dozens of proposed plans to blanket metropolitan areas throughout the U.S. with free wireless internet access. Some, like the one here, have been underwritten by corporations, while others are being financed by local governments. The projects have touched a raw nerve with communications companies like Verizon, AT&T and Qwest, all building out expensive upgrades to the old telephone networks, who see a potential impact on their profits. Lobbyists are working nationwide, seeking legislation that would impose regulatory and legal barriers for taxpayer-funded initiatives.
Ron Geary, Mountain View's deputy community development director, was involved in the negotiations with Google and has high hopes for the WiFi network. "This is a very technology-oriented community that’s looking forward to using it in a million ways," he said.
Residents interviewed Thursday offered mixed reactions. Significantly, the range of the network is restricted to the borders of Mountain View, and wireless internet users interviewed for this article said that as a result they are unlikely to use the service.
"I need ubiquity," said Davis Fields, a resident and independent marketing consultant. He said he needs internet access on the road because works throughout the Bay Area, so he will hold on to his T-Mobile account. Google’s service works best outdoors, but if indoor access improves, Fields said he might make more use of the network. "Eventually we might eliminate our line in our home," he said.
Bill Le Vesque was online at the downtown Starbucks, and had not heard of the program, but he had a similar reaction. "The problem is I can’t rely on it because I do a lot of business travel around the Bay Area," said Le Vesque, who also uses T-Mobile.
At The Posh Bagel downtown, the WiFi signal was weak, coming in at 131 kbps for downloading and 99 kbps for uploading. Businessman Gabriel Manjarrez and his colleagues here showed little enthusiasm for the whole concept of free Google WiFi.
"It promotes their service," Manjarrez said. "There is no such thing as a free lunch."
Web Surfing in Public Places Is a Way to Court Trouble
Any business traveler who has logged on to a wireless network at the airport, printed a document at a hotel business center or checked e-mail messages at a public terminal has probably wondered, at least fleetingly, “Is this safe?”
Although obsessing about computer security is a bit like worrying about a toddler — potential hazards lurk everywhere and you can drive yourself crazy trying to avoid them — the fact is, business travelers take certain risks with the things they do on most trips.
“If you go into the average hotel and sit down in the business center and have a look at their computer, I’m sure you’ll find some interesting things that people shouldn’t have left behind,” said Paul Stamp, a security analyst with Forrester Research.
“The first step companies need to do is to educate people about how valuable the data is and also how small the circles are in which they travel,” he said, noting how loudly many people discuss business on cellphones, without a thought for who may be nearby.
Or what may be in the air. Robert Vamosi, a senior editor with the online technology publisher CNET, said wireless networks at airports — or for that matter, hotels or cafes — are not as secure as most people think.
“Someone may have some software on their computer that allows them to look at all the wireless transactions going on around them and capture packets that are floating between the laptop and the wireless access point,” he said.
These software programs are called packet sniffers and many can be downloaded free online. They are typically set up to capture passwords, credit card numbers and bank account information — which is why Mr. Vamosi says shopping on the Web is not a great way to kill time during a flight delay.
“Where I’d draw the line is putting in your bank account information or credit card number,” he said, adding that checking e-mail messages probably is not that risky, but if you want to be cautious, change your password once you are on a secure connection again.
That said, if you gain access to your corporate network through a V.P.N., or virtual private network, you are safer using public hot spots, because your data is encrypted as it travels between Gate 17 and your office’s server, where it is decoded before going to its destination.
In other words, your communications are automatically encoded by software on your computer so the data looks like gibberish to anyone trying to intercept it. If your company does not offer a V.P.N. for employees working away from the office, there are services you can subscribe to for about $10 a month that do the same thing.
Michael Sellitto, a graduate student studying international security at Harvard, said that even though he encrypted any sensitive data on his laptop, he planned to sign up for a service like HotSpotVPN to add another level of security when he is traveling, especially when using poorly protected networks at cafes and hotels.
“The problem is, the really good people have written sniffer programs so that the less-sophisticated people have access to the same technology,” Mr. Sellitto said. “Say a Microsoft Word document gets transmitted. The sniffer program will collect that and someone could open it up on their computer.”
While it is hard to say how likely it is that someone is lurking on a public network, many public networks do not have adequate security.
Last fall, InfoWorld magazine published an article about a security researcher who managed to collect more than 100 passwords, per stay, at hotels with lax security (about half the hotels she tested).
Gathering reliable statistics about security breaches is notoriously difficult, since companies are reluctant to reveal this information. Still, the most recent computer crime and security survey, conducted annually by the Computer Security Institute with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, found that the average loss from computer security incidents in 2005 was $167,713 per respondent (based on 313 companies and organizations that answered the question).
As Jim Louderback, editor of PC Magazine, noted, the statistics may not matter given the problems one data breach can cause.
“Even if it’s 1 or 2 percent,” he said. “You don’t want to run that risk.”
Using a public computer can also mean courting trouble, because data viewed while surfing the Web, printing a document or opening an e-mail attachment is generally stored on the computer — meaning it could be accessible to the next person who sits down. (To remove traces of your work, delete any documents you have viewed, clear the browser cache and the history file and empty the trash before you walk away.)
“You also run the risk that somebody has loaded a program on there that can capture your log-ins and passwords,” Mr. Louderback said, recalling an incident a few years ago when a Queens resident was caught installing this type of “key logger” software on computers at several Kinko’s locations in New York.
One way to foil these programs, which record what you type and can send the transcript to a hacker, is to use a password manager like RoboForm. This $30 software encrypts all your user names and passwords for various Web sites, then enters the data at the click of a mouse when you are prompted to log in.
There is a mobile version that can be stored on a flash drive that plugs into a U.S.B. port — making your passwords secure and portable.
There are also simple measures you can take to protect your hardware, like using a cable lock to secure your laptop in a hotel room or even a cafe (in case you leave the table for any reason), and making sure you lock your computer bag in the trunk rather than leaving it on the back seat.
For travelers who do carry around sensitive data, it is worth looking into programs like Absolute Software’s LoJack for Laptops, which can help recover a missing computer. The software reports its location when connected to the Internet — and some versions can even be programmed to destroy data if a computer is reported lost or stolen.
But perhaps the most common snoop that business travelers encounter is someone nearby “shoulder surfing” to see what is on a laptop, out of curiosity or mere boredom.
To foil prying eyes, 3M sells a Notebook Privacy Filter, a plastic film that makes it impossible to view a laptop screen from an angle.
Trevor Stromquist, a sales analyst for a manufacturing company in Minneapolis, has been using one for the last two years to dissuade nosy neighbors on the road, but he has noticed an added benefit back at the office.
“To be honest, it’s kind of a nice thing when you’re sitting in one of those long drawn-out meetings,” he said. “You can do what you need to do and no one will notice.”
Military Research Aims To Develop Self-Configuring, Secure Wireless Nets
Researchers develop military-grade intelligent wireless net.
Government, corporate and academic researchers are working on a network that would be able to configure itself, intelligently cache and route data, and allow for fast and reliable sharing of data, all while maintaining military-grade security.
The project is called Knowledge Based Networking and is under development by the Department of Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Researchers from schools including Northeastern, Virginia Tech, Lehigh University have been involved with the project, as have defense contractors including BBN Technologies and General Dynamics.
Academic concepts such as artificial intelligence and Tim Berners-Lee’s “Semantic Web,” combined with technologies such as the Mobile Ad-hoc Network (MANET), cognitive radio, and peer-to-peer networking, would provide the nuts and bolts of such a network. Although the project is intended for soldiers in the field, the resulting advances could trickle down to end users. “Military networks are going to converge as closely as we can to civil technologies,” says Preston Marshall, the program manager of DARPA’s Advanced Technology Office.
Marshall says that current technology is “dominated by wireless access, not really wireless networking.” Instead of using access points to connect wireless devices to a wired network, a Knowledge Based Network would be a decentralized MANET.
“The thing that’s fundamentally different in a wireless environment is that the links are fairly unreliable… nodes join and leave the network more or less randomly,” says David Passmore, research director for the Burton Group. MANETs would be able to route traffic through this ever-changing set of peers to a networked device or the Internet.
Such networks would have no single point of failure. Conversely, current wireless networks can be can be shut down by removing the access point. Passmore imagines that MANETs might even be formed by computers in moving vehicles but adds that “the routing protocols we have with IP are wholly inadequate to that kind of a situation.” More experimentation needs to be done before MANET technology can be standardized and mass-produced, he says, but the Knowledge Based Networking initiative might provide incentive for military contractors to work on the technology.
The ideal MANET would not only choose the best paths for routing packets but would also pick the best radio frequency to use. This would be made possible by so-called “cognitive radio” technology.
Bruce Fette, chief scientist at General Dynamics C4 Systems, explains that cognitive radio “is able to understand the spectrum activity, the network activity and the user activity and select and use the right waveforms, frequencies, and protocols to efficiently support the user and the network.” Such a system would avoid interference, either from other wireless networks or from enemies who want to disrupt communications. It would also understand and obey the local regulations on wireless spectrum use. Fette says such a system will be tested in Ireland next year.
Although work is still being done on the artificial intelligence component of this technology, the underlying software-defined radios (SDRs) that allow networks to change signals on the fly are currently being used by the military and others.
By generating the signal in software and then transmitting it with hardware, an SDR can transmit and receive anything from 802.11 wireless network data to proprietary radio communications to television signals. Fette adds that users could upgrade SDR systems through software rather than hardware, making it easy to add new features and types of signals. He says that while SDRs are not widely used, commercial SDR products have been developed – indeed, the theme for the SDR Forum’s 2005 conference was “Software Defined Radio is Available Now,” and Fette says that his company has been producing SDRs for the military since 1998. The GNU Software Radio project, which provides free SDR software aimed at hobbyists, was launched in the same year.
A Knowledge Based Network would make decisions about more than wireless spectrum, and Marshall envisions intelligent nodes that could automatically optimize the network. He notes that if a connection spans reliable and unreliable parts of a network, there could be performance issues: if a packet makes it through the reliable region but is dropped in the unreliable part, it would have to be resent through the entire connection. A Knowledge Based Network would automatically break this connection into two smaller connections, one across the reliable region and one across the unreliable region.Then, if data is lost across the unreliable part, it would only need to be re-sent along that region of the network. Marshall estimates that this technique could increase bandwidth tenfold.
Marshall also speaks of a network that would take note of frequently accessed data and save copies on the edge of the network for quick access: “If one soldier needs a piece of map data… the guys around him will need it too.” He imagines a dynamic, peer-to-peer version of the caching that companies like Akamai perform. Artificial intelligence could even decide which protocols to use.
Such an intelligent network would not only understand how to move data; it would also be able to understand what the data meant to users. This idea is based on Tim Berners-Lee’s concept of the “Semantic Web,” which called for Web pages to include machine-readable data in addition to content intended to be read by people. Software “agents” would use this data to understand the meaning of documents instead of simply searching for keywords. In one presentation, Marshall says the Semantic Web would allow users to “access information by content or type rather than by network address.”
Although Passmore is all for “intelligent routing of traffic,” he is leery of adding too much intelligence to the network. Products such as Cisco’s Application Oriented Network recognize different types of traffic and treat it differently, prioritizing some types over others and integrating security features into the network. He fears these systems could impede the deployment of new services and lead to vendor lock-in. “What has made the Internet so successful is because it’s a bunch of dumb pipes,” he says. “Once you start embedding too much knowledge… you lose all your flexibility… There’s 30-plus years of experience that tells you that dumb networks are better than smart networks.”
As with all networks, security will likely be an important issue in Knowledge Based Networking. Passmore notes that with MANETs, there is the additional risk of “routing algorithms being controlled or taken over by the enemy or by some hacker,” but otherwise, the security risks are “the same issues that we’re all familiar with, like denial of service.” Marshall says that Knowledge Based Networks will use a technology similar to SSL, adding that “we’ll probably keep the security work a little more isolated” from the rest of the project.
The plan for a self-configuring and -managing network holds promise for more than just the Department of Defense. Corporate IT departments could likely benefit from wireless networks that optimize themselves to increase bandwidth and avoid interference from the break room microwave, and Passmore imagines cheap, easy-to-use MANET hardware becoming available to consumers for home use.
Although Knowledge Based Networking could push some major advances in wireless technology along, Marshall admits that the project is not with out its risks: “being DARPA, we could always be wrong, too,” he says. “We’re allowed.”
SecureWorks Admits to Falsifying MacBook Wireless Hack
Remember those hackers in the Washington Post story who claimed to have hacked a MacBook's wireless drivers to gain control of it? Then remember the follow-up story where the author, Brian Krebs basically, um, how shall I say: 'slightly falsified' his way through backing up the original story with excuses that the flaw does exist in Apple's drivers, but Apple 'leaned' on them not to publicize this so they decided to use a 3rd party card? Finally, remember how, in the original article, David Maynor, one of the hackers, is quoted saying "We're not picking specifically on Macs here, but if you watch those 'Get a Mac' commercials enough, it eventually makes you want to stab one of those users in the eye with a lit cigarette or something." Boy, that sure doesn't betray any sense of 'I am going to lie, cheat and steal to prove whatever I want' bitterness, does it?
Sounds like SecureWorks, the company who sponsored all this Mac hackery, is finally fessing up to their falsification and admitting that they, in fact, did not find the flaw in Apple's drivers, and that they used a 3rd party card and software to facilitate the exploit. As icing on the cake part of a 'responsible disclosure policy,' they aren't releasing the name of the manufacturer of said 3rd party magic hacking tools. Three cheers for truth (and discretion) in journalism.
Now let's make one thing clear: we at TUAW aren't advocates of the 'Macs are flawless! Long live the prefection that is Apple!' philosophy that naysayers of this experiment are coming under fire for. We are, however, advocates of finding true vulnerabilities on the quest to make the Mac even more solid and secure. The problem here is that this experiment was not one of those quests for truth - it was a quest for, in the words of Mr. Colbert: truthiness. We're genuinely sorry you're annoyed by the commercials, Mr. Maynor (believe me: not everyone loves them), but that's why some genius some time ago invented the ability to change TV channels. Give that remote a whirl some time - it might make your life (and ours) a whole lot easier.
Why Home Firewall Software is a Leaky Dike
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That's doubly true when it comes to protecting computers that are connected to the internet. Anyone who thinks that a virtual firewall is enough to protect a PC from the dangers of the internet -- such as hacker attacks and unwanted contact with damaging programs -- is making a mistake.
That level of safety requires a combination of several protective measures. Firewall software for home use is not much more than a leaky dike.
"It's dangerous to view a firewall as some sort of PC airbag," warns Professor Stefan Wolf, who teaches applied computer sciences at the Polytechnic University of Lippe and Hoexter, Germany.
The so-called personal firewall programs commonly used with home PCs are not comparable to the powerful firewalls used in companies or public organisations.
Those organisations can afford special computers assigned exclusively to guarding the PCs in the network. A home computer must attempt to maintain its own firewall while performing its normal functions.
A recent test in the Munich-based computer magazine PC Professionell showed that the software often causes more problems than it solves. Not one of the six firewall programs the magazine tested, regardless of whether commercial or freeware, could prevent all attempts from the test programs at establishing outgoing connections between the PC and the internet.
Many firewalls were even quickly switched off within the simulation. In the most serious cases, damaging software was able to circumvent the firewall in sending sensitive data, from personal surfing histories to passwords and credit-card numbers, to the hacker.
Browsers are particularly susceptible, since they are inherently allowed to make a connection with the internet.
"If the attacker takes advantage of errors in the browser, then the best firewall won't help at all," says Wolf. Getting proper protection from personal firewall programs requires that programmers know the ins and outs of all ports between the operating system and browser and be able to work absolutely error-free.
Surfers are better advised to take more achievable steps, such as keeping their operating system, browser and other programs constantly up to date. This is because software makers, like hackers, are usually spurred to action only in reaction to published security gaps, Wolf says. This is why anti-virus software armed with the most current virus signatures is the crucial last-gap defence on any computer.
"Desktop firewalls, as they are also called, are practically extraneous, presuming that you adhere to the basic rules of safe surfing," is the word at the German Federal Agency for Security in Information Technology (BSI) in Bonn.
IT security cannot be achieved through individual pieces of software, but rather must be constructed through the interplay of various factors.
This means first and foremost preventing viruses and damaging software from getting on the computer in the first place. "Surfing habits are hence important for security," says Wolf. Most dangers emerge through surfing and downloads from questionable websites.
"It's not convenient, but it is much safer," he says.
Proper e-mail handling is another important preventative measure beyond the reach of firewalls. "Attached files should be scanned by a virus program prior to opening, and you should think twice before clicking unfamiliar links," Wolf warns.
For reasons of convenience, many users simply use the default administrator account for daily PC use. Yet this can allow a virus to gain full control of the computer, magnifying the potential for major damages by a successful attack.
"John Q Public doesn't need administrator rights and should log in as such only when installing software," says Wolf.
The worst thing that can happen to a computer user is the loss of personal data. This is because tainted systems can be reinstalled at any time, but deleted data is usually gone forever.
Backups are the safe way to go, Wolf recommends. "All important data should be regularly burned to CD or stored on a USB stick," Wolf says.
Users who still prefer a firewall should first check whether they are using a router with firewall functionality. If so, then no firewall is needed, including the one build in to Windows XP, reports PC Professionell.
The configuration of a personal firewall is usually more than most users can handle anyway. To understand the system's warning, the user must understand the meaning of IP addresses, host and client names as well as ports, the BSI reports.
Most lay users instead use the comfortable auto configuration settings offered by personal firewalls. This lets the software follow its own ideas about which data packets can pass through the virtual wall and which are to be filtered out.
According to the BSI, this can quickly lead to "security critical misconfigurations". Filter rules should hand set to allow only absolutely necessary access from the computer to the internet.
The rules should aslo be regularly inspected and non-necessary ports locked down.
Viruses and Spyware Cost Users $7.8 Billion
Consumers paid as much $7.8 billion over two years to repair or replace computers that got infected with viruses and spyware, a Consumer Reports survey found.
That figure was down from a similar survey a year ago. Still, it suggests that people are paying large sums to cope with the flood of malicious viruses and other programs that can slow computers or render them inoperable.
"There is a very high national cost to this," said Jeff Fox, technology editor of the consumer magazine. "People think they're invincible, even when this kind of money is involved."
In a nationwide survey, the magazine found that unwanted commercial e-mail, known as spam, is the biggest computer-security problem. But viruses are the most expensive, with people paying $5.2 billion in 2004 and 2005 to repair or replace afflicted machines, the survey found.
Infections of spyware, a type of software that can track computer users' habits or collect sensitive information about them, declined slightly in the past six months, the survey found. But such infections caused almost 1 million U.S. households to replace their computers, the survey found.
Losses from phishing scams, which are fake e-mails and Web pages that request sensitive data such as bank-account passwords, increased five-fold from the previous survey, with people telling the magazine that such scams cost them $630 million in 2004 and 2005. That's an average loss of $850 per incident.
"Phishing scams are worse than they've ever been," Fox said. "The bad guys are getting very sophisticated."
Some experts caution, however, that surveys in which people are asked about financial losses can produce overestimates.
"The numbers could possibly be inflated by the way the questions are phrased, especially in an area in which most people aren't very articulate," said Robert Lichter, who runs a statistical center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Other organizations that monitor Internet fraud complaints also point to growth in cybercrime. Internet-related complaints made up nearly half of all fraud complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission in 2005, with people claiming losses of $335 million.
And financial losses reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a joint effort of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, tripled in 2005, to $183 million, compared with the previous year.
"It's hard to tell who's losing the money -- the insurance company, the credit card company or the consumer -- but it's coming out of someone's pockets," said Dan Hubbard, vice president of security and research for Websense Inc.
While attacks used to be mostly nuisances, they have become more threatening, said Dave Cole, director of security response at Symantec Corp., a leading computer security company. Many of today's spam and phishing attacks target consumers' personal information with the intention of stealing money or in some cases, identities.
The Consumer Reports survey of 2,000 households found that 20 percent of respondents didn't have antivirus software and that 35 percent didn't use spyware-blocking software.
DNS Could Slow Broadband Service
A broadband provider's claim of superfast speeds may only be as good as its weakest link, which could be its domain name server software.
A report issued Thursday by Nominum, a company that sells domain name system (DNS) server software, indicated that some broadband service providers need to bulk up their DNS servers to ensure that broadband users actually get all the benefits of their high-speed connections.
"We hear stories about carriers spending billions of dollars to build new fiber-to-the-home networks or 3G (third-generation) wireless networks," said Paul Mockapetris, inventor of the DNS architecture and chairman and chief scientist at Nominum. "But broadband providers should also spend some money adding more DNS capability. Pure bandwidth doesn't solve the problem if the DNS servers can't respond quickly."
DNS functions as the "phonebook" of the Internet, mapping text-based domain names such as www.cnet.com to the numerical Internet Protocol addresses used by computers. Internet users typically use the DNS service run by their service provider.
When DNS servers are running slow or when they drop queries, people experience Web pages loading slower, delays in sending and receiving e-mails, and poor response times when they're trying to play interactive video games.
More than 48 million American households have broadband access today, according to the Leichtman Research Group. To entice consumers to use their service, phone companies and cable operators have focused a lot of attention and marketing dollars on convincing potential customers that their service is the fastest. Verizon Communications is spending $20 billion over the next few years to build a fiber-to-the-home network called Fios, which it claims provides the fastest Internet access network in the United States.
In the survey commissioned by Nominum and conducted by VeriTest in April, Verizon's Fios network and its DSL (digital subscriber line) service actually had the worst response times of any broadband provider measured. According to VeriTest data, the Verizon Fios service had an average DNS response time of about 180 milliseconds. By contrast Comcast, which is a Nominum customer, had the fastest response time of roughly 40 milliseconds.
Bobbi Henson, a Verizon spokeswoman, said the company has been upgrading and tweaking its DNS servers over the past several months. She also said the company has conducted its own tests with VeriTest, which show very different results.
"We would dispute that we have the slowest DNS look-ups in the industry," she said. "We conduct our own studies monthly. We are always looking at the overall performance of our DNS servers and tweaking them to improve performance."
At the end of the day, all the broadband providers in the report had response times in either tens or hundreds of milliseconds, hardly enough time for the average user to even notice, said Joe Laszlo, an analyst at Jupiter Research. He acknowledged that upgrading networks to increase raw bandwidth takes the bottleneck out of one part of the network, and inevitably exposes flaws in other parts of the network. But he said he doesn't believe DNS is the biggest culprit in noticeably slowing Internet service.
"So much of the perceived performance of a service depends on how fast your browser in your computer can process Web pages or how quickly your graphics card can render images," he said. "Slow DNS response times could impact the speed of the service, but I don't think it's the No. 1, No. 2 or even No. 3 issue that creates noticeable delays for users."
Verizon Imposes New Service Surcharge
Verizon Communications Inc. is imposing a new surcharge on high-speed Internet service just as customers were set to receive lower bills thanks to a decision last year to deregulate the service.
In a recent notice to customers, the telecommunications company said it would begin imposing the surcharge for all new digital-subscriber line customers, and on current DSL customers with monthly plans. Customers on an annual plan will start paying when their plan expires.
The surcharge will initially be $1.20 a month for customers with service up to 768 kilobits per second and $2.70 per month for customers with faster DSL service, according to the company.
The fee comes as a government fee on DSL customers for the Universal Service Fund is being phased out. For customers with service up to 768 kpbs, the fee was $1.25 a month, and for customers with service of up to 3 Mbps, the fee was $2.83 a month, according to Verizon. Customers will no longer pay such charges effective Aug. 14, New York-based Verizon said.
Bobby Henson, a Verizon spokeswoman, cited "new costs that we've developed over the past year as we've been developing and delivering this standalone DSL service. That service doesn't have the benefit of the revenue that was coming in from voice."
Verizon was among the companies that had pushed for the Federal Communications Commission to deregulate DSL service, which the commission did in August 2005. Under the ruling, DSL was considered to be an information service. Information services are generally exempt from universal service payments that are included in telephone bills. The FCC, however, mandated that DSL providers continue to contribute to universal service for 270 days in order to give the agency time to develop broad reform of the system.
Henson said the decision to impose the new surcharge now "is not related at all to USF." She said she "would strongly disagree" with criticisms that Verizon was in effect diverting to its own coffers money that had previously supported the Universal Service Fund.
Cable Industry May Need To Spend Heavily On Upgrades
Cable-television operators may require another round of multibillion-dollar network upgrades to keep up with rivals in the fast-growing high-speed Internet hookup business, a report from the industry's research arm suggests.
Its conclusions underscore the challenges posed by the rapid growth of broadband video from popular sites such as YouTube and Google, and the looming threat of a planned $20 billion rollout of high-capacity fiber lines by U.S. phone giant Verizon Communications Inc.
While its findings are most significant for the $70 billion-a-year cable-TV industry, the report could trigger strategic ripples as phone and satellite companies weigh potential repercussions to their businesses. During the late 1990s, the need to alter cellphone networks to handle high volumes of digital calls cost billions and triggered industry consolidation.
The report, which has been reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, warns that at present growth rates cable operators' existing technology may not be able to compete efficiently with Verizon on Internet services. "At some point, optimization of the (cable) network becomes more expensive than simply deploying" fiber directly to homes, the report warns.
Cable Labs is funded and run by all the major operators whose chief executives sit on its board. The consortium has been instrumental in new technology services that companies have been rolling out, such as high-speed Internet hookups and phone. It also was highly involved in the cable industry's last major upgrade, starting in the mid-1990s, in which it spent over $60 billion to offer digital services like video-on-demand.
The report is one of many advisory studies done by Cable Labs for its owners. Ultimately the decision on whether to invest in upgrades is up to individual cable operators.
But the report, dated July 31, raises the specter that cable operators may have to sharply boost spending on wiring in the future. Companies for several years have been trying to assure investors that big outlays for big network upgrades are over, leaving cash flow for share repurchases and other purposes.
The report is inflaming some cable executives who insist existing networks can meet future broadband demands. "I wholly disagree with the conclusions," says Mike LaJoie, chief technology officer of Time Warner Inc.'s cable division. Its assumptions "are not reflective of what our reality is." Says Dave Fellows, chief technology officer at Comcast Corp.: "This report does not reflect our view."
In response to inquiries, Cable Labs issued a statement noting that the 60-page report "postulates a very speculative scenario" and that "no major investment is needed for cable to effectively compete."
The report comes with broadband use rising sharply as millions of homes add high-speed Internet connections. Cable and telephone companies are battling fiercely to convince consumers they're the best provider of these and other telecommunications services. Phone-operator Verizon, for one, plans to leapfrog cable companies with a controversial upgrade of its networks to stretch to homes fiber optic cables, which have much greater broadband capacity than cable networks. The New York-based phone giant is expected to spend $20 billion over 10 to 15 years to string fiber to homes across the U.S. The costly strategy is partly to blame for stunting its share price but, if successful, could put it ahead of cable rivals in selling services such as faster games and better-quality video.
Cable Labs predicts that for the next few years, cable companies should be able to offer customers the same quality video service as Verizon's so-called "fiber to the premises," or FTTP, network even though fiber has greater bandwidth potential. But it cautions that, if Internet traffic continues increasing at a high rate, the cost of providing the same quality service as Verizon may become so great, that it may be less expensive to string fiber to homes as well. The prospect of hefty new investments likely won't sit well with Wall Street investors. Cable companies already are seeing low return on capital and return on equity compared with S&P 500 companies, according to Craig Moffett, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein, who hasn't seen the report. The industry's returns using current capital outlays are "extremely attractive," he says.
It is still far from clear whether another wave of increased capital spending will prove necessary. New bandwidth-saving technology and declining hardware costs might make it possible for cable companies to match Verizon without bringing fiber to homes. The growth in demand for broadband capacity may taper off as fewer households add high-speed Internet, or if the popularity of Web-based video declines. Also, some cable companies are planning eventually to switch its analog channels to digital, freeing up capacity.
The report doesn't estimate how much it would cost cable operators to lay fiber to the home, but it likely would be far less than the industry's last upgrade, which cost more than $60 billion.
Cable and phone companies have been in a technological arms race since the late 1990s when both began rolling out high-speed Internet connections. More recently, they have been getting into each other's primary businesses, with cable operators launching phone service, and phone companies offering TV.
So far cable operators have been winning the war. They have a greater broadband market share thanks to more flexible technology. Major cable companies have about seven million phone subscribers while phone companies have fewer than 100,000 TV subscribers.
Verizon is the only major phone company that is trying to compete by upgrading its entire network with fiber. Other companies, such as AT&T Inc., are trying to get by with less expensive network upgrades. A few are deploying fiber in areas where new homes are being built, at a rate of about 1.9 million per year, according to the Cable Labs report.
This may be a concern, the report states, because fiber networks "can deliver orders of magnitude more broadband data capacity than today's typical (cable) networks." Cable networks are a mix of coaxial cable and fiber.
The report points out that it's not clear what the future traffic growth patterns will be but that "current trends in ... video services indicate that content providers and users are experimenting with applications now that will drive expectations for higher capacity."
Critics of the report say that some of its assumptions are inaccurate partly because Cable Labs doesn't have access to certain cable company data. Mr. LaJoie, for one, says that Time Warner is confident that it will be able to compete with Verizon using its current network. "Unless we start sending hot pepperoni pizzas (over the Internet) given the profiles in growth we see no reason to go fiber all the way to the home," he says.
Consumer Group Slammed For Creating 'Test' Viruses
John E. Dunn
A consumer magazine has been condemned for possibly adding to the virus problem by creating a series of "test" viruses just to review antivirus scanners.
In an act that has long been considered technical taboo, U.S. consumer affairs organization, ConsumerReports.org, decided to generate 5,500 "test" viruses to run, under lab conditions, against 12 leading antivirus software products.
The organization's own website describes the methodology used: "To pit the software against novel threats not identified on signature lists, we created 5,500 new virus variants derived from six categories of known viruses, the kind you’d most likely encounter in real life." The organization said it had enlisted the help of Independent Security Evaluators (ISE), an external consultancy located in Baltimore, to help design the tests and ensure they matched real-world conditions.
The magazine itself reckons the world's total virus population to be around the 100,000 mark, which makes the new variants a sizable increase in one fell swoop.
While the viruses are not expected to pose any threat to companies or individuals, their creation of viruses is still controversial. "The AV community has always been very strongly opposed to the creation of new malware for any purpose," said John Hawes of Virus Bulletin in a blog on the issue. "There's just no need for it - plenty of new viruses are being written all the time, why would anyone in a responsible position want to add to the glut?"
Graham Cluley, of UK-based Sophos Plc., echoed his concern. "When I read about what ConsumerReports has done I want to bash my head against a brick wall. With over 185,000 viruses in existence was it really necessary for this magazine to create 5,000 more? It's a bit like Fire Monthly Magazine testing fire stations by lighting umpteen fires around the country and seeing who is the fastest at putting them out.
"It's irresponsible behavior, and will be frowned upon by the antivirus industry. Leave antivirus testing to the independent testing bodies with expertise in the field."
David Emm, senior technology consultant at Kaspersky Lab, based in Moscow, also questioned the methodology: "It's not actually clear that Consumer Reports has created new viruses. If this is what they did … with several other test bodies who are very experienced in conducting tests, why does Consumer Reports feel the need to conduct tests themselves, especially if they do not intend to make the results publicly available?
"If, on the other hand, they did actually create new viruses, we would not approve. After all there are many, many thousands of viruses in existence already and we're adding around 200 new signatures to our database every day, why the need for someone to create new ones?" Emm said.
ConsumerReports.org is the online wing of the well-known Consumer Reports brand set up in 1993 by the publisher Consumer’s Union. The organization has so far been unavailable for comment.
Level 3 Signs Agreement With MySpace.com
Fiber network operator Level 3 Communications Inc. has signed a multi-year agreement to transmit Internet content, including video, for the popular social networking site MySpace.com, Level 3 announced Friday.
Level 3, which offers Internet capacity in 82 markets, will initially support MySpace in some markets, the company said in a statement.
"We selected Level 3 because of the proven performance of its network and Level 3's ability to support increasing high bandwidth demand," Aber Whitcomb, chief technology officer of MySpace, said in a joint statement issued by Level 3.
MySpace's video site had 20 million visitors last month, trailing Yahoo Inc.'s site, which had 21 million, according to comScore Media Metrix. Last month, MySpace.com was the seventh most visited site online with 43.5 million, according to media-research company Nielsen/NetRatings
Level 3, which reported a loss of $201 million for the quarter ending June 30, has been on a buying spree. Its revenue jumped 71 percent over the same quarter the previous year to $819 million from $371 million, partly on its acquisition of WilTel Communications, ICG Communications and Progress Telecom. It closed its $1.1 billion cash-and-stock acquistion of privately held TelCove Inc. last month and expects to close its purchase of data transport services company Looking Glass this quarter.
Level 3's stock closed up 4 cents at $3.76 in Friday's trading on the Nasdaq.
In Nashville, Sounds of Political Uprising From the Left
Country music videos flashed on a television set at the Idle Hour, a Music Row bar where a Crock-Pot of beef stew simmered for hungry musicians.
Sitting at a table in early August, Bobby Braddock, the longtime songwriter, lamented the conservatism of the country music industry that was demonstrated when the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks became a target of fury three years ago after saying she was ashamed that her band and President Bush shared the same home state.
Asked whether his recent song “Thou Shalt Not Kill” would have airplay, Mr. Braddock said, “Oh, never.”
“Something political will not get played on country radio unless it’s on the conservative side,” he added. “If you show both sides, it’s not good enough. It’s got to be just on the right.”
Country music, the genre of lonely hearts and highways, lost jobs and blue-collar woes, has become a cultural battleground. Conservatism is widely seen as having the upper hand, a red-state answer to left-leaning Hollywood.
Democrats on Music Row, the country music capital here, have grown frustrated with that reputation. A group of record-company executives, talent managers and artists has released an online compilation of 20 songs, several directly critical of Mr. Bush and the Iraq war.
The price for the set is $20, with most of the proceeds going to the group, which calls itself Music Row Democrats and is using the money to support local and national candidates who share its values.
Bob Titley, a former manager of Brooks & Dunn and a co-founder of Music Row Democrats, has no illusions that the songs will shoot to the top of the charts. Rather, Mr. Titley said, he hopes to use them as fund-raisers and to change the image of country as strictly Republican music.
“My hope would be that they would play this music at campaign rallies,’’ he said, “and when the volunteers are out on a hot day driving door to door, they’ll put it in their cars to keep themselves pumped up and in a good mood.”
The songs include Mr. Braddock’s “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and “Big Blue Ball of War” by Nanci Griffith. Another longtime songwriter, John Scott Sherrill, contributed “You Let the Fox Run the Henhouse,” and former Vice President Al Gore speaks a few words at the end of “Al Gore,” which was written by Robert Ellis Orrall and includes the line, “President Gore lives on my street.”
Many singers and songwriters who contributed are not household names outside Nashville, but their work is recorded by many big stars, including Toby Keith, LeAnn Rimes and Travis Tritt.
The songwriter Darrell Scott contributed “Goodle U.S.A.” Faith Hill had recorded it under a different name and without the line “It’s like Joe McCarthy was our acting president.”
Mr. Scott recently recorded a new song, “W Cheese,” in a basement studio at Famous Music on Music Row. One verse ends, “They filled our plate with freedom fries, red, black and blue, white lies/And a helping, heaping, hating size of stinkin’ W cheese.”
“I’ve never thought of myself as very political,” he said. “It just seems like in the current environment even I have to write about it.”
Chris Willman, a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly magazine and the author of “Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music” (New Press, 2005), said that although the members of Music Row Democrats had industry credibility, few were in the limelight.
“They have a tough row to hoe in convincing people that country music is really, seriously Democrat friendly,” Mr. Willman said.
Though Music Row occupies a small patch of Nashville, it looms large over the city’s culture. When the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines, said at a concert in London in March 2003, “We’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” the reaction was fierce and swift.
Country stations stopped playing the group’s songs. Talk-radio hosts urged listeners to complain about Ms. Maines’s remarks. And a Nashville audience of 18,000 booed the host of a music awards show who urged forgiveness.
None of that was lost on Music Row. Democratic songwriters say that they have since hesitated to express political views, for fear of being “Dixie Chicked.”
Record company executives said they were leery of discussing their opinions, to avoid damaging artists they represent.
“I felt like at the time of the Dixie Chicks, as outraged as I was at the whole thing, I couldn’t say anything, because I’d put artists that I’m associated with in jeopardy,” said Luke Lewis, co-chairman of the Universal Music Group. “They might not go on the radio or a lot of other places.”
At the same time, the Republican Party’s use of country music at political events and the popularity of patriotic songs like Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)” and Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten?” rankled industry liberals.
Music Row Democrats started in late 2003 with a meeting of more than 20 label executives and songwriters. It says it now has 1,200 members from the Nashville music industry and 1,100 others.
James Stroud, Mr. Lewis’s co-chairman at Universal and a Republican, said that many Music Row Democrats were “dear friends,” but that he disagreed with their using music for political ends.
“I don’t think we need to use music to influence, or try to influence, a big bloc of people when all they want to do is just listen to the music,” Mr. Stroud said. “You start fooling with that, and you’re going to start having some failure.”
Mr. Keith’s publicity agent, Elaine Schock, said his conservative reputation was a result of the times. He is a lifelong Democrat, Ms. Schock said, and the perception of him as conservative is a “myth.”
“I think when you have a war,” she said, “people want you to be on one side or the other.”
The singer and songwriter Chely Wright has felt the heat of crossfire, but she said she was not affected by it. Ms. Wright’s song “Bumper of My S.U.V.,” about a confrontation over a Marine sticker on her vehicle, earned praise from conservatives and scorn from liberals. The daughter of a military family, Ms. Wright says she has no allegiance to Democrats or Republicans.
She recently recorded “I Ain’t Gettin’ Any Younger,” which opens with, “The cost of crude keeps going up/More precious now than gold.”
It ends by asking “Why it makes somebody mad/That a baby named John Doe/Might get to have two loving dads.”
Ms. Wright said: “When one does say anything less than, ‘Ooh baby, ooh baby, I love you,’ in a song, in my format, out of this town, you really put yourself out there as a bit of a lightning rod. I can’t have those fears.”
With a Change at KZLA-FM, Country Radio Says Adios to Los Angeles
When Kathy Schneider turned on her favorite radio station, KZLA-FM, on Thursday morning, she heard the usual mix of Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney and other country artists. Two hours later, when she returned to her car, the song playing at KZLA’s spot on the dial was one she did not recognize. It was not an unfamiliar country tune, but a different genre altogether.
At first she thought something had happened to the transmission tower, but the pop and R & B hits kept pumping out of her speakers. Then an announcer welcomed listeners to the re-engineered station, now known as Movin’ 93.9.
“The frustrating part was that everything seemed fine at 20 minutes before 10, then you get back into your car, and they’ve changed everything,” said Ms. Schneider, 38, a customs broker from the Northridge section of Los Angeles. “I’m not only angry at the change, but how they changed it.”
The abrupt switch — Keith Urban’s “Tonight I Wanna Cry” followed by a brief silence and the rising beat of the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get it Started” — left Los Angeles, the nation’s No. 2 radio market, with more than 10 million people, without an area-wide country music station, even as the genre remains a potent force on the Billboard sales charts. It joins New York, the biggest radio market, which has been without a major country station since 1996, and San Francisco, the nation’s No. 4 market, which lost a major country station in 2001.
Paradoxically, Los Angeles consistently ranks as one of the top two markets for country album sales (it accounts for roughly 3 percent of all country sales so far this year) and plays host to the genre’s biggest touring acts. Thursday marked the first night of a sold-out three-night stand by Mr. McGraw and Ms. Hill, country’s power couple, at the Staples Center arena.
But the station’s corporate parent, Emmis, which is based in Indianapolis, concluded that even having the city’s only country station — billed as “America’s most listened-to country station” — was no longer worth it, and that it could do better. The switch to what it calls “rhythmic pop contemporary” was dictated by economic common sense: a country station that draws predominantly white listeners aged 25 to 54 could no longer stay afloat in an ethnically diverse megalopolis. KZLA’s ratings and ad sales had been declining, and a $2 million marketing blitz last spring had not reversed the trend.
“Country is a tough format to do in a market that is an ethnic melting pot,” said Rick Cummings, Emmis’s president of radio. “The appeal of the format is fairly limited when it comes to ethnicity.” In Los Angeles, he said, stations that cater mostly to white listeners are “playing for less than 25 percent of the marketplace on a good day.”
And while country music may draw a more diverse audience in cities like Houston, he added, it simply does not in Los Angeles, where Latino listeners have a wealth of choices for entertainment in both English and Spanish.
But that is little consolation to fans like Karen Oliver, 41, a merchandise manager at DreamWorks Studios. She had her alarm set to the station and listened all day at work at her desk and on the way home. “Personally, right now I’m at a loss,” Ms. Oliver said in a telephone interview from her office. “I don’t even have CD’s spinning; I’m too upset.”
Music industry executives lamented the loss of their primary outlet for promoting new country music to fans in what has been a huge country market in terms of CD sales. The Country Music Association released a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” about the switch, and expressed hope that another radio company might turn an existing station to the format.
Joe Galante, who runs the Nashville division of the music giant Sony BMG Music Entertainment, said labels could continue to promote music in cities without country stations through cable outlets like Country Music Television and various Internet sites. “I honestly think it’s unfortunate for this to happen,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s a serious blow against the format. We have survived it, for as many times as it’s happened.”
Cindy Chang contributed reporting from Los Angeles for this article.
Teens Don't Think CD Copying is a Crime
Let me stake out a consumer viewpoint...
Perhaps you've got some talent that is vaguely interesting to me...
I don't owe you anything, but I choose to SUPPORT your expression by listening/reading/watching and sharing the news with others...
At some point in the process you are just pleased as hell that anybody cares at all...
Soon your art is broadcast over airwaves onto my property, into my car, on commercials between my kids cartoons, on my elevator and your excerpts are slipped into the pages between jumk mail that's dropped in my mailbox uninvited. You sell your services to advertisers/promoters who are trying to take my money. Your clothes line is produced by third world sweatshops and sells for 3X more than the generic brand. You are trying to sell me a perfume with your name on it (and some pimple cream too) and you have a commercial on the air urging me to imbibe addictive substances so I can get a "free" mp3. You sell pictures of your frigging baby to the news media.
Do I protect your financial interests when my friend asks to copy a song? Probably not...
Wait, you're not THAT artist? You're struggling, selling CDs at your show and living at home waiting for your big break? Ah, then, nevermind, because nobody is copying your damn CD!
ART is not some magic invisible soul cream. If you are selling your art, then you are selling your thoughts. Good luck to you on that, but don't cry about how people are stealing your thoughts. That's just crazy talk. Unless someone steals the plastic you bought and put your thoughts on, then they didn't steal anything from you. A law may say that its theft to listen/read/watch your creativity uninvited, but laws also once valued some people at a fraction of the value of others. Laws are just constructs of the general consensus, and that consensus is changing.
Campaign Targets Web Crimes Against Kids
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced a new public service campaign Monday that will warn teenage girls against posting information on the Internet that could put them at risk of attack by child predators.
"Every day, these predators are looking for someone to hurt," Gonzales said at the 18th annual Crimes Against Children Conference in Dallas. "Every day, we must educate parents and children about the threat."
About 2,700 law enforcement officials from around the world are attending the conference, which runs through Thursday.
"We want the front line professionals to be able to go back to their communities to protect the children in their communities," Gonzales said. "This conference brings folks together from all parts of the world and gets them talking with each other."
A third of this year's 180 workshops are focusing on Internet crime, said Lynn Davis, president and CEO of the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center, which is hosting the conference with the Dallas Police Department.
The ad campaign by the Department of Justice, in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Ad Council, will begin running early next year.
"It's all part of the ongoing effort to educate the public about this very serious threat," Gonzales said.
According to a Justice Department study, one in seven children using the Internet has been sexually solicited and one in three has been exposed to unwanted sexual material. One in 11 has been harassed.
One that warned about the dangers online was developed in 2004, giving advice to parents on how to protect their children from Internet predators. A second series of ads released in 2005 warned teen girls about forming online relationships with people they don't know.
Using Nearly Nude Pictures, Child Sex Sites Test Laws
In the photograph, the model is shown rising out of a bubble bath, suds dripping from her body. Her tight panties and skimpy top are soaked and revealing. She gazes at the viewer, her face showing a wisp of a smile that seems to have been coaxed from off-camera.
In just over seven months, the model has become an online phenomenon. She has thousands of fans from around the world, membership lists show, who pay as much as $30 a month to see images of her. According to the posted schedule, new photographs of her — many clearly intended to be erotic, all supposedly taken that week — are posted online every Friday for her growing legions of admirers.
The model’s online name is Sparkle. She is — at most — 9 years old.
Sparkle is one of hundreds of children being photographed by adults, part of what appears to be the latest trend in online child exploitation: Web sites for pedophiles offering explicit, sexualized images of children who are covered by bits of clothing — all in the questionable hope of allowing producers, distributors and customers to avoid child pornography charges.
In recent months, an array of investigations of the child pornography business — by the Justice Department, state and local law enforcement and Congress — have contributed to wholesale shutdowns of some of the most sexually explicit Internet sites trafficking in child images. But they have been rapidly replaced by a growing number of these so-called model sites, Internet locations that offer scores of original photographs of scantily clad under-age children like Sparkle, often posed in ways requested by subscribers.
More than 200 of the sites have been found by The New York Times through online advertising aimed at pedophiles, and a vast majority focus mostly on one child. Almost all the children appear to be between the ages of 2 and 12.
Based on descriptions in online customer forums and in Web pages showing image samples, the children are photographed by people who have frequent access to them. The sites often include images of “guests”: children who are described as a friend of the featured child, but who appear for only a day. The sites say the children come from different parts of the world, including the United States.
Based on the images and wording from online advertisements, the sites show toddlers wearing tight thongs, and slightly older children posing evocatively while wearing makeup and feather boas. There is even a site that offers images of girls and boys who appear to be 5 or 6 years old, wearing just diapers.
In online conversations observed by The Times over four months, pedophiles portrayed model sites as the last of a shrinking number of Internet locations for sexual images of minors.
”I considered the authors of those sites as leaders of a rebellion movement for child porn,” a man calling himself Heartfallen wrote in an online site for pedophiles, discussing the decline in the number of sites featuring images of naked minors. “They’ve vanished. There is much less freedom on the Internet now. We still have a rebellion made up of nonnude child modeling sites. But are they going to suffer the same fate as their predecessors?”
The secretive world of child exploitation is in the spotlight because of an arrest last week in the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey, a 6-year-old beauty pageant princess. The suspect was a fugitive from charges of possessing child pornography and had exhibited a fascination with the sexual abuse of children.
While many of the recently created sites are veering into new territory, the concept of for-pay modeling sites using children has been around for years. They first appeared in the late 1990’s, when entrepreneurs, and even parents, recognized that there was a lucrative market online for images of girls and boys.
Sites with names like lilamber.com emerged, showing photographs of children, usually modeling in clothes or swimsuits. Their existence set off a fury of criticism in Congress about possible child exploitation, but proposed legislation about such sites never passed.
The sites that have emerged in recent months, however, are markedly different. Unlike the original sites, the newer ones are explicit in their efforts to market to pedophiles, referring to young children with phrases like “hot” and “delicious.” The children involved are far younger, and the images far more sexual, emphasizing the minors’ genitals and buttocks.
Some modeling sites have already attracted the attention of law enforcement. Earlier this year, prosecutors obtained a guilty plea on child pornography charges from Sheila L. Sellinger, then of Shoals, Ind., who had been selling illegal photographs of her 10-year-old daughter on a modeling Web site. Last month, Ms. Sellinger was sentenced to almost 12 years in prison.
Ms. Sellinger, who earned thousands of dollars a week from the pornographic yet clothed images of her daughter, cooperated with law enforcement, leading to the arrest of two men who had been assisting her with her site and had been running several more, court records show.
To attract subscribers, central marketing sites, called portals, list scores of available modeling sites that accept money in exchange for access to children’s images. The portals promote the busiest sites, ranking them by the number of hits they receive.
Such a marketing approach proved effective for some online child pornography businesses that have disappeared over the last year, including those that offered illicit videos of children generated by Webcams.
The Times did not subscribe to any sites, which it first saw referenced in online conversations among pedophiles. The Times followed a link posted in those conversations to forum postings and images on freely accessible pages of the modeling sites. Because those sites appeared to be illegal, The Times was required by law to report what it had found to authorities. Federal law enforcement officials were notified in July about the sites.
Posing as Traditional Agencies
In contrast to their advertising, many of the sites portray themselves on their main pages as regular modeling agencies trying to find work for their talent. But executives in the legitimate modeling business said that virtually everything about the sites runs contrary to industry practice. Most child images for genuine agencies are password-protected, the executives said, with access granted to companies and casting agents only after a check of their backgrounds.
These executives said that real modeling agencies would refuse to use the types of sexualized images of children sought by pedophiles, not only because they are exploitative and illegal, but also because they would be bad business.
Such images on an agency Web site would drive away many parents who might be seeking representation for their child, executives said; indeed, most photographs of child models are nothing more than head shots. And the legitimate agents provide the phone numbers, addresses and names of their executives so potential clients can contact them; most of the sites aimed at pedophiles not only provide little or no means of contact, but even hide the identities of the owners behind anonymous site registrations.
“These are clearly not bona fide companies, and it’s obvious these are just Web sites for people to go on and view children in an unhealthy manner,” Bonnie Breen, chief booker for the Bizzykidz Agency, a prominent modeling agency for children based in London, said when provided with a description of the emerging modeling sites.
Despite repeated statements on the sites that they are lawful, they may well run afoul of American law. While the issues are far from settled — thus leading to the attempts by Congress to clarify the law — courts have worked over the last two decades to define standards for what constitutes potentially illegal images of children.
Under law, for an image that does not involve a child engaged in a sex act, a court must find that it entails “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area” of a minor to determine that it is child pornography. As a result, courts have ruled that images of naked children were not automatically pornographic, and thus not illegal, while also holding that the mere presence of clothing on a photographed child was not, in itself, adequate to declare the image lawful.
Instead, the courts often apply a six-pronged test, developed in a 1986 case called United States v. Dost, to determine whether an image meets the “lascivious exhibition” standard. That test — which requires a court to examine the child’s pose and attire, the suggestiveness and intent of the image and other factors —includes one standard on whether the child is naked. However, no single standard under Dost is absolute, and courts must continuously examine potentially illegal images while considering each part of the test.
The leading precedent on child pornography involving clothed minors is a federal case known as United States v. Knox, which involved a pedophile who obtained erotic videos of girls. In that 1994 case, the Federal Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of the pedophile, Stephen Knox, saying explicitly that clothing alone did not automatically mean that images of children were legal.
“The harm Congress attempted to eradicate by enacting the child pornography laws is present when a photographer unnaturally focuses on a minor child’s clothed genital area with the obvious intent to produce an image sexually arousing to pedophiles,” the court’s ruling says. “The rationale underlying the statute’s proscription applies equally to any lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area whether these areas are clad or completely exposed.”
While adult pornography has some First Amendment protections, there are no such protections for child pornography. Still, some experts have expressed discomfort, in general, at criminalizing clothed pictures of minors.
“This is a difficult area,” said Michael A. Bamberger, a First Amendment specialist at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, based in New York, who filed a brief on behalf of a booksellers’ group in the Knox case. “The whole history of the exception from First Amendment protections for child pornography is based on the harm to the child. But there is in my view a free speech issue with respect to designating photographs of persons under the age of 18 who are clothed as child pornography.”
But Mr. Bamberger expressed uncertainty about whether his concerns applied when told details of the model sites found by The Times. “To me, it sounds as if you are really talking about nude equivalents, almost like cellophane clothing, and that’s not clothing at all.”
Applying the Legal Standards
To distinguish between illegal images and, say, photographs of children posing in underwear for a store catalog, the court said it had to apply the Dost standards and review a range of facts, like the nature of the images and whether the marketing was intended to appeal to pedophiles.
For example, the court noted, a potential customer could know the images of minors were illegal if they were marketed with statements proclaiming that they would “blow your mind so completely you’ll be begging for mercy.” Explicit listing of the children’s ages, along with sexually loaded terms like “hot,” could also be used as evidence of illegality, the court said.
The modeling sites reviewed by The Times incorporated many such references to encourage viewers to subscribe.
That is true for one of the most successful collections of sites, according to some portal rankings, run by an entity called PlayToy Entertainment. On its central site, PlayToy holds itself out as a company that helps children start modeling careers. There is, however, no phone number, address or prominent e-mail address available for companies that might seek to hire the girls or for parents who might want their children to be models.
The central PlayToy site originally located by The Times contained links to as many as six sites featuring little girls. In recent days, the central site has been redesigned, removing the links to the girls’ individual sites.
Those sites still exist, however, including the one for the girl called Sparkle. Another site features a prepubescent girl named Lolly — a widely used online code word for pornographic images of girls. There are even sexualized images of a girl called Baby, who appears younger than 5 and whose photographs seem to go back as far as her second birthday or earlier, when she was still in diapers.
The marketing makes clear that this is no typical modeling company.
“Call 911 before viewing!!!” proclaims the site for Sparkle, which shows her in a thong so revealing that she appears to be naked below the waist. The ad for the site uses words that echo those cited in the Knox decision, reading, “Only 9 years old! Hot!”
Other PlayToy sites are more explicit. “Feel her breathe on your face, take a gentle touch from your screen, open your mind and push the limits,” reads the site for the girl called Lolly. “If you are ready to handle this trip, PlayToy Lolly is calling.”
An advertisement for another PlayToy site, featuring a girl called Peach, declares, “A peach has never looked so delicious.**8 years old**.”
The site includes a picture of the young girl wearing a tank top pulled off one shoulder. Directly below that is a purple emblem with the company name and the words, “Nonnude website: 100% legal.”
But experts said that assurance was almost certainly not true. Based on the ages of the children, the marketing words and customer comments on the PlayToy sites described to him by The Times, a lead lawyer in the Knox case said that the subscribers had plenty of reason to worry.
“They shouldn’t have any comfort that they are not breaking the law,” said Edward W. Warren, a partner from the Washington office of Kirkland & Ellis who helped to argue Knox as a representative of 234 members of Congress who joined the case. “This sounds worse and more graphic and more grotesque than what we were dealing with, particularly given how young the children are.”
The assurance by the company that the sites are lawful is irrelevant to any potential prosecution, experts said. Indeed, in the Knox decision, the court held that defendants could be found guilty if they were aware of the “general nature and character” of images that they bought involving clothed children in sexual poses.
“The child pornography laws would be eviscerated if a pedophile’s personal opinion about the legality of sexually explicit videos was transformed into the applicable law,” the court held.
In their comments on PlayToy’s site, which can be viewed without registering with the company, the subscribers make clear that they are aware these are sites for pedophiles, not legitimate modeling clients.
“I think it would be awesome to have the models start off fetchingly clothed, and then strip down to tops or panties (or thongs!!),” a customer calling himself head2fat wrote on the forum.
Another client, calling himself ludwig66, instead requested that the girls appear in stockings, “ending up removing them to reveal bare feet and legs.” And still another customer, calling himself littlefeet, asked the site owners to pose the girl known as Baby in bare feet with her toes pointed, “so all of those beautiful wrinkles show!!!”
While PlayToy’s management and its members repeatedly assure themselves online about the legality of their images, they did not hesitate to post images from known child pornography sites. For example, when Ms. Sellinger was arrested this year for selling photos of her daughter, PlayToy members — and even the site operator — posted messages of dismay, referring to both mother and daughter by name. They also composed a photographic homage to the girl in the forum discussion, using images from the site that had been deemed illegal.
Following the Money
PlayToy’s sites have been online since October, company records show. But in that short time, the records show, 6,000 people have subscribed to view the images of the girls. Each subscriber is paying $30 a month for each site; that means the operators have collected a minimum of $180,000 in that short time, assuming every subscriber bought only one site for one month.
The cash has been collected either by credit card — processed through a company called Advanced Internet Billing Services, or through Western Union payments — as well as through an online money system called e-gold.
Attempts to learn the identities of the people behind PlayToy suggested many possible locations. Payments through Western Union were processed through Ukraine. An administrative e-mail address suggested the company was based in Russia. Using a commercial software program, The Times traced messages sent by the PlayToy sites back to servers in Germany and obtained what is known as the Internet protocol address of that online host.
An examination of the registration documents for the sites’ names led to a company that is essentially a front, permitting its name to be used as the registrant by people who wish to remain anonymous.
The Times then obtained business records about the site prepared by someone involved in its operation.
If true, the records show the name, address, telephone number and other personal information of a man in Florida who is involved in running the site. An e-mail address listed in the records was traced to postings that appeared in pedophile conversation sites, including comments praising child pornography and images of young girls in thongs. Because of the possibility of identity theft, The Times has elected not to publish the name of that man or of associates who also appear to be involved in the business.
The Florida man did not return a voice mail message left on his cellphone or respond to an e-mail message.
Still, even if the operators of PlayToy are positively identified and compelled to shut their sites, the growing business of model sites would probably continue to thrive. PlayToy’s many subscribers, a large number of whom identify themselves on the site as living in America, could simply drift over to other model sites, all offering similar fare.
There, on each of those hundreds of competing sites, the subscribers will find at least one other little girl who, every few days or so, is dressed in panties or thongs, placed in a bathtub or posed on a bed, while a nearby adult snaps pictures for the delight of a paying audience of thousands.
Microsoft Adds 'One-Click' Sex Offender Report Tool
Young people using Windows Live Messenger or MSN Messenger to chat online with friends can now make a report to police with one click if they are concerned their online 'buddy' is a sex offender.
Microsoft has partnered with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre – the UK's first dedicated organisation focused on tackling child sex abuse – to introduce the safety element to the UK's most popular instant messenger product.
The move sees the incorporation of a new Messenger tab and features the CEOP Centre's distinctive “report abuse” icon which links users in the UK directly to online police services. This allows young people and adults to report suspicious behaviour and instances of inappropriate contact of a sexual nature they have encountered whilst chatting in the virtual environment.
Also, through the icon and link to the CEOP web site, people from anywhere in the world can access the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) – an international alliance of law enforcement agencies – of which the CEOP Centre is the UK's representative.
The tab will appear on both MSN Messenger, and its replacement, Windows Live Messenger. As well as a 'one click' link through to a report to the police, each week, CEOP and Microsoft will provide a new safety tip as part of the tab, for example, how to safeguard your personal details or to how to spot a potential threat.
Jim Gamble, chief executive of the CEOP Centre and chair of the VGT said:
“What Microsoft and the CEOP are doing today is saying is 'enough is enough'. By working together in a very clear and tangible way we can safeguard children from online sexual predators.
“Behind the report abuse button will sit police and intelligence officers who have been specially trained to tackle child sex abuse. We will tell you how to capture information and how to seize online discussions and then proactively do all we can to track down the perpetrator.
“CEOP is an integral part of the VGT and therefore by working with MSN in this way we are offering users access to a global police response. If you make a report as a UK citizen then we at CEOP will investigate. If you make a report as a user from other countries then our counterparts in the US, Australia, Canada or Interpol will take the matter further. That is a truly global response to a worldwide issue.”
Google Prosecuted In Brazil To Hand Over User Data
Google is in danger of being shut-down in Brazil and faces a possible US$61 million fine for refusing to hand over user information associated with one of its social networking sites.
The problem is that the Sao Paulo based federal prosecutor's office alleges that pages on Google's Orkut social networking site are used to promote child porn and other criminal activity. So the prosector wants a federal judge to order Google Brazil to hand over the data on users associated with those pages.
Google maintains that as the data is housed on a server in the US, the request should be made to Google headquarters in the US.
Meanwhile Google in Brazil is using the defence that it has already handed over all the information that is able to and does not have the data about Orkut users that is being requested.
The Brazilian case highlights an issue that has been brewing for sometime over the information that search engine and other internet companies keep on their databases about their users.
The recent blunder made by AOL in which the internet company erroneously published 20 million search requests made by 658,000 users demonstrated that a detailed level of information can be obtained on even anonymous users simply by grouping together unique user ID numbers.
Early this year, Google successfully defended a subpoena from the US Department of Justice to hand over its data in another child porn investigation case.
No doubt, Google wants to use the same US laws to protect itself from the Brazilian legal system. The problem is that Brazil, like many other countries, may decide that data associated with websites that target audiences in its jurisdiction also falls within its jurisdiction, especially in criminal investigation cases.
Brazil is by no means a totalitarian regime but its privacy laws differ from those of the US. If a Brazilian judge decides that Google must hand over data or pay a hefty fine and shut down its local operations then it sets a dangerous precedent for Google.
What happens if the Chinese Government makes a similar demand of Google China to hand over data in an attempt to track down dissidents? Google may hold the Chinese user data on US servers but Chinese law may require that it hand over data or have its Chinese office censured and shut down.
The same thing holds true for Yahoo, Microsoft and any social networking site that chooses to operate in jurisdictions where privacy of the individual is not paramount in the legal system.
Smart Care via a Mouse, but What Will It Cost?
THE electronic medical record seems an example of pure progress, a technology that yields only winners. So it has been cast as a geeky hero in health care policy circles.
Michael O. Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, recently said the rollout of electronic health records was “the most important thing happening in health care.”
Major technology corporations like I.B.M., General Electric and Microsoft, as well as a crowd of specialist companies, including Cerner, Epic Systems and Eclipsys, are all chasing what they see as a fast-growing, multibillion-dollar opportunity to sell health information technology to hospitals, clinics and doctors.
Congress is joining the bandwagon. Last month, the House of Representatives passed a bill to promote the adoption of the computer hardware and software necessary to generate and share digital patient records. The House bill and a previously passed Senate version are scheduled to go to a conference committee next month. Politicians across the spectrum of the health policy debate, from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, to Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Senate Republican leader, are united on this issue.
The technology itself is simply a software storehouse of a person’s medical history, including chronic conditions, medical tests, drug prescriptions, diagnoses and doctors’ comments. Yet bringing pen-and-ink patient records and prescriptions into the computer age is seen as a vital step toward modernizing the nation’s inefficient, paper-clogged health system. Various studies say that it should reduce medical errors and costs, saving lives and saving dollars — about $80 billion a year, according to the RAND Corporation.
Yet even the technological optimists expect turmoil from the information revolution they see coming in health care. Electronic patient records woven into a national digital network will help identify cost-saving opportunities, they say, but when combined with the emerging field of genomics, the records will also open the door to personalized medicine, new treatments — and, ultimately, more care. While that is by no means a bad thing, it is also not the hoped-for fix for the nation’s rising health care bill.
“All the new information tools have enormous promise,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, “but they will not necessarily drive down the overall cost of health care.”
The full effect of health-information technology is years away, because only about 20 percent of physicians now use electronic medical records. But the policy and corporate push is under way and accelerating.
Digital files are a building block in the creation of far more efficient markets in health care, medical experts say. That is what the enthusiasm is really about: not computers and software, but health information that can be easily shared, searched, measured and analyzed to determine what treatments and drugs are most effective, and at what cost.
But efficient markets can be ruthless and unpredictable, threatening incumbent powers and producing losers as well as winners. An information revolution in health promises to be powerfully disruptive for some lucrative businesses in the industry, according to medical experts and economists, and could lead to more spending on health care instead of less.
“Information is a dual-edged sword, especially in health care,” said David M. Cutler, a health economist at Harvard. “Better information might blow apart some of the blockbuster markets in the pharmaceutical industry, for example. But it might also increase demand for other drugs in smaller, more focused markets.
“And if better information really helps us understand what is happening in health care,” Mr. Cutler added, “it could well lead to more care for more people and higher costs for the system as a whole.”
The technology backbone for more efficient health care markets is being called the “national health information network.” Such a network — with patient records stripped of their personal identifiers — is intended to someday allow doctors, nurses, researchers and ordinary people to track the outcome of various therapies, drugs and devices.
The idea is that they could tap into a public Web site to sift through health databases that are based on millions of records, updated regularly. Clever software would help them to understand what works and what doesn’t — and to seek answers about side effects, recovery times and vitamin regimens. A result, health experts say, is that fewer decisions about how to treat patients would be based on studies by drug companies and medical device makers, as they often are now.
“The technology is just an enabler so we have shareable, useable information,” said Dr. David J. Brailer, the architect of the Bush administration’s health information technology policy.
A GLIMPSE of the potential impact of a national health information network is found in smaller-scale networks already operating around the country. These are mainly at so-called integrated health systems that combine hospitals, clinics, laboratories, doctors and nurses, and serve a metropolitan area or region. Some, like the Veterans Affairs health system and Kaiser Permanente, the health maintenance organization, are also insurers and well as health care providers.
The integrated health systems have been leaders in adopting electronic records. They have the data, systems and incentives to measure the therapeutic effectiveness and cost-benefit tradeoffs in health care.
Modern computer technology, to be sure, is hardly foolproof. It can magnify privacy problems, and the recent loss of computer files of personal data, including medical records, at the V.A. underline that nettlesome issue. And electronic records will not cure other problems: Kaiser recently suffered a black eye when it paid a $2 million fine for administrative foul-ups and long waits at a kidney transplant center in San Francisco, which it closed in May.
Still, the potential for market-disrupting cost savings is illustrated by what Kaiser and the V.A. have done in their drug management programs with statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs. Statins are the largest prescription drug category in the United States, with sales of $16 billion last year, according to IMS Health, a research group; Lipitor ($8.4 billion), from Pfizer, and Zocor ($4.4 billion), from Merck, took 80 percent of the market.
In recent years, Kaiser and the V.A. have been using generic lovastatin for many of their patients taking statins, saving millions of dollars. At Kaiser, for example, its research pharmacists and cardiologists had been looking at closely at using the generic even before Merck’s Mevacor, the brand name for lovastatin, lost its patent protection in 2001. Kaiser’s research on safety and effectiveness concluded that lovastatin could generally be used as an alternative.
Lovastatin is less potent than Zocor or Lipitor, so Kaiser doctors prescribe higher doses of lovastatin for equivalent potency. Patients have regular blood tests to monitor their cholesterol levels, which become part of their electronic medical records. Alerts are sent to patients and doctors if tests are missed or cholesterol levels rise.
Doctors are still free to prescribe Lipitor and Zocor, and they do for patients who need the strongest statins. But nearly 90 percent of patients, according to Kaiser’s research, can reach their cholesterol-lowering goals with lovastatin. (Zocor lost its patent protection in June, further opening the statin market to lower-priced generics.)
The V.A. also makes extensive use of lovastatin. These kinds of programs can be carried out confidently only at places with the resources to conduct research, monitor individual patients and track outcomes across patient populations using electronic medical records. “This has to be driven by the clinical data, not merely cost savings,” said Joseph J. Canzolino, associate chief consultant for pharmacy benefits management at the V.A.
Ideally, electronic patient records and a national health information network would someday give doctors everywhere the information to make similar prescribing decisions and to track their patients closely, if they chose. “Can you imagine the savings if what we do here were done across the country?” said Dr. Ambrose Carrejo, a drug use manager at Kaiser. “We’re talking billions of dollars in savings.”
Imagine, too, the potential impact on blockbuster products like Lipitor, the world’s largest-selling prescription drug. “The whole blockbuster model relies on prescribing a drug for a whole lot of people who don’t really need it,” said J. Mark Gibson, deputy director of the Center for Evidence-Based Policy at the Oregon Health and Science University, which conducts independent reviews of the effectiveness of drugs and medical treatments.
“So much of the information doctors get now comes from studies paid for by the companies that are looking for positive outcomes,” Mr. Gibson said. “The more independent information you can generate, analyze and distribute, the more the blockbuster model is in doubt.”
Lipitor, according to Dr. Gregg Larson, vice president of cardiovascular medical at Pfizer, is a blockbuster by merit. Hundreds of clinical trials, Dr. Larson said, have found the benefits of Lipitor as a particularly potent cholesterol-lowering drug that reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. “The evidence demonstrates that not all statins are the same,” he said.
Whether more data threatens blockbuster drugs or not, there are likely to be cases in which more information is likely to generate more prescriptions, more care and more health care spending. A wave of genetic research, for example, is under way, and someday a person’s genomics information will be included on his or her electronic health record. Genomics holds the promise of personalizing treatments to make them more effective and to reduce unwanted side effects.
CONSIDER the anti-clotting drug warfarin, sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb under the brand name Coumadin. The drug is extremely useful in treating patients with heart and circulatory problems. But it can also be tricky to get the dose right so that a patient gets the blood-thinning benefits without dangerous side effects, like internal bleeding or strokes. Personal-injury lawyers closely watch the use of warfarin, and many doctors are leery of prescribing the drug.
Medical researchers at a number of clinics and universities have identified gene types that appear to determine how an individual metabolizes warfarin. If the early research is confirmed in broader studies, it will be possible to tailor dosages by gene types to minimize the toxic side effects. “We could make warfarin a lot safer with genetic testing,” said Dr. Michael Caldwell, a researcher at the Marshfield Clinic, an integrated health system in northern Wisconsin, which has a genetic research program.
But improved safety would also likely mean a lot more prescriptions for warfarin, since studies have concluded that only about half the people who might benefit from the drug are taking it. Yet those prescriptions, in an era of personalized medicine, might well be individually tailored doses. If the old blockbuster business model is endangered, so is the standard pill, in 10-, 20- or 100-milligram doses.
The electronic medical record, for all its promise, is no silver bullet for the nation’s health system. Placing too much faith in technology, skeptics warn, could be counterproductive. Dr. David Himmelstein, a physician and associate professor at the Harvard Medical School, said: “It encourages the belief that we don’t need real reform, all we need is computers.”
Watching the Fireworks (but Keeping Them Outside)
LAST August, a week after the Rodzons moved into their new two-story home in Delran, in southern New Jersey, the house was struck by lightning and badly damaged. It was four months before the family could return to its rebuilt house, which now had a new feature: a professionally installed lightning protection system. “If it happened once, it can happen again,” Kevin Rodzon said of the strike.
It’s high season for buying both the equipment that monitors lightning and the equipment that protects against its damaging effects on buildings or their contents: things like costly computers, security systems, and home entertainment centers vulnerable to electrical surges that may invade through a telephone or cable line, among other entry routes. The electronics of the backyard, from pet fences and watering systems to garage door openers and well pumps, can also be zapped and destroyed without a proper defense.
To protect his home, which has four bedrooms, Mr. Rodzon chose a modern, unobtrusive system that he said was scarcely noticeable from the street. “It doesn’t take away from the look of the house,” he said.
The slender lightning rods are only a foot high and three-eighths of an inch in diameter. To make the installation even more discreet, the mounting for the lightning rods is fastened to trusses in the attic and the cables are run inside, said Ian Fawthrop, president of Lightning Prevention Systems, the company in West Berlin, N.J., that installed Mr. Rodzon’s system. The cost, including surge protection, was about $2,000.
Nowadays, there are many ways to provide extensive protection for homes and their contents, provided that people are willing to foot the bill. “It’s a science now,” said Parker M. Willard Sr., president of Boston Lightning Rod, in Dedham, Mass. “Our systems are 100 percent fail-safe if installed properly.”
Boston Lightning Rod, like many other companies, uses a two-part approach. Along the ridge and other prominent areas of the roof, Mr. Willard said, are the bases for the exterior defense: lightning rods, called “air terminals,” connected by cable and properly grounded. The second, interior line of defense is surge suppression to protect a home’s consumer electronics and appliances if secondary lightning enters through water pipes or electrical, telephone or cable lines. In addition to surge arrestors at the main electrical panel, he recommended protection at each outlet for electronics, like stereo speakers, to guard against the small surges that get past the main panel.
Mr. Parker said both types of protection were essential. “If it’s just exterior, or just surge, you’re kidding yourself.” The total cost will vary, he said, but expenses will typically run about $2,500 for a four-bedroom colonial or three-bedroom ranch.
As people add electronic devices to their households, they should consider the quality of surge suppressors that will support the devices, said Edward J. Rupke, senior engineer at Lightning Technologies, an engineering consulting firm in Pittsfield, Mass. The company, among other assignments, tests surge suppressors for manufacturers to make sure that they are working properly.
“We find a wide range of quality in surge-suppression devices,” he said — for example, among power strips that are intended to protect many devices that are plugged into them. “Instead of spending $5 or $10” he said, consumers “should probably be spending up to $50 for a good-quality power strip.”
Consumers who are buying equipment that is highly vulnerable to lightning, like underground electric dog fences, should check whether surge suppression is included in the package. “Talk to the vendor to make sure good lightning protection is built in,” he advised.
As well as installing surge suppressors and other gear to protect their property, many people buy equipment to monitor storms as they mass in the distance. Ed Florimont, president and chief executive of Fantasy Island Amusement Park on Long Beach Island, N.J., has a range of equipment to keep an eye on the weather hundreds of miles away, long before the first sign of lightning. “We have just about anything you could think of for tracking weather,” he said. “I’m interested in the weather just for itself, as well as for business.”
Lightning detection devices vary from weather radios that broadcast warnings to PC-based systems that plot lightning strikes in displays on desktops or laptops, said Richard Kithil Jr., chief executive of the National Lightning Safety Institute, a nonprofit group in Louisville, Colo., that offers consulting and classes on lightning safety.
Charles Ryan has a detection system on his home computer in New River, Ariz., north of Phoenix, that typically displays lightning activity in a range of 300 miles, sometimes farther, and tracks it as it comes closer. “The display is virtually instantaneous,” he said. “At night, I can pick up lightning, sometimes at a 1,000-mile range.”
Mr. Ryan uses a hardware-software combination made by Boltek, in Welland, Ontario. A computer card slides into the PC, which is connected by cable to a roof antenna that picks up radio signals emitted by lightning. These signals are processed by software that calculates the distance and direction of the strikes, then plots the information in a radarlike display on his screen. Mr. Ryan’s home is at the center of the display; the concentric rings give relative information on distances. Yellow dots represent strikes within range; red crosses are new strikes. The system, called StormTracker, includes an antenna, computer card and cable, and costs about $500.
Mr. Ryan bought an additional software program, Lightning/2000 ($180), from Aninoquisi, in Huntland, Tenn., that enhances the StormTracker display. The program can, for example, break down the types of lightning strikes into cloud-to-ground, cloud-to-cloud and intracloud, said Mark Mears, president of the company.
STORMTRACKER and other lightning-detection programs kick into action only after lightning occurs, because they measure the electromagnetic radiation generated by the lightning itself. But there are devices, called electric field mills, for people who want to know when there is potential for a storm well before the first strikes. Boltek makes a version ($2,000) that can be mounted in the yard and connected by fiber optic cable to a home computer. The device has an alarm to alert people when the local electric field becomes strong, meaning that lightning is imminent. “A friendly female voice warns you,” said John Gilmour, one of the owners of Boltek.
Mr. Ryan, a longtime weather enthusiast, said that watching nearby lightning had its charms, but that he liked the excitement of observing distant storms grow, using the display on his desktop to provide safe but thrilling entertainment.
“I get to see what’s going on as storms develop in the high country, late in the afternoon,” he said, and then see them move closer, as new strikes appear on the monitor and others fade away. “You can even draw a box around the heart of the storm” as it is plotted on the screen, he said, “and see the storm moving, growing and changing.”
At Some Publishers, Nonbusiness Is Going Strong
THESE are twitchy times in publishing, with a constant drip of dreary news from media titans about softening profits and flattening advertising revenue from newspapers and magazines.
One reason for this, of course, is the shift of ad dollars and readers’ attention to the Internet. And why not? It’s interactive, accessible and offers a sea of free information. But perhaps most vexing to publishers are the online rivals that at first blush do not appear commercially motivated. Instead, these companies start from a position of how best to make themselves useful to the communities they serve. And then, down the line, they figure out ways to make — or, in the case of that Google gang, mint — money.
But what if oldfangled print magazines took this idea and made it their own? As it turns out, there is a clutch of magazines that have been quietly going about their business — or, rather, nonbusiness — for years. And, lately, two in particular seem to be thriving in these turbulent times: AARP The Magazine and Consumer Reports.
These are not, let it be said, the glitzy magazines that most people normally chat about at cocktail parties or dissect in blogs. Rather, these are solid but quaint titles that offer the inside scoop on why Sally Field is “tiny, talented and terrific at 60” (AARP), or take a white-knuckle road test of “cheaper brands” of breakfast cereals “that match the big names” (Consumer Reports).
Yet there is something to be gleaned from their stealthy success. I say stealthy, by the way, not because these companies are under the radar — they are actually aggressively competitive — but they exist under the aegis of not-for-profit organizations: respectively, AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) and Consumers Union. Both are powerful lobbying groups in Washington.
In the case of AARP, the people on the business side of the magazine are actually part of a for-profit unit within the organization, while the editors of the magazine work in the main no-profit zone. Go figure.
There are similar set-ups at the magazines Smithsonian and National Geographic and their parent groups. The Smithsonian has lately attracted attention over whether its business ventures are straying too far from its museum mandate and over the eye-popping salaries its top administrators and editors have drawn.
Consumers Union, by contrast, is entirely nonprofit and it eschews any business relationships — in particular, selling advertising in its magazines or Web sites — that could call the integrity of its vaunted product ratings into question.
AARP bills itself as the “world’s largest circulation magazine,” and it is true by a wide margin because of the expanding base of boomer readers as well as the organization’s focus on people who are interested in what James H. Fishman, the group publisher of AARP The Magazine, calls “living your life better after 50.”
Six times a year, the magazine is shipped to 22 million homes representing 37 million AARP members. They receive the magazine as part of their $12.50 annual membership, which also gets them a regular bulletin. The magazine is even segmented among three editions — 50’s, 60’s and 70-plus — to make it more helpful to readers and marketers.
In the new issue, Ms. Field graces all three covers. But, for instance, the 50’s edition has a special report to “Add 10 (Healthy) Years to Your Life.” The other two covers are less specific, instead promising readers “Amazing Secrets” to “Live Longer.” For whatever reason, an article on Eugene Levy gets a blurb on the 50’s cover, while Ann-Margret and Sir Richard Branson get mention on the 60’s and 70’s versions.
So what kind of business does this add up to? AARP, according to the financial statements of its parent organization, increased advertising revenue by 37 percent, to $106 million, in 2005, from $77.6 million in 2003. Just as important, the magazine plays a central role in promoting AARP and affiliated products like insurance, from which the organization makes $300 million a year in royalties. Then there is $84 million in federal and other grants, as well as $55 million in contributions. This, of course, is not the sort of thing that shows up on the ledgers at Time Inc. or Meredith.
According to the Publishers Information Bureau, ad pages at AARP The Magazine were up 13.6 percent during the first seven months of 2006, when the industry over all was basically flat, compared with the same period of 2005. The September-October issue with Ms. Field on the cover is, at 140 pages, the biggest the company has published for the 50’s category — the back cover is a beer ad, for Michelob Ultra, and Mr. Fishman said cosmetics companies in particular had fueled the magazine’s growth.
“We don’t do anything that does not first respond to our social impact agenda,” Mr. Fishman said, but he added that any magazine needed to be entertaining to succeed. “Information like this can’t be a pill.”
A similar ethos guides the publisher of Consumer Reports. Despite its disdain for advertising and the growth of all kinds of user-generated ratings for products saturating the Internet, readers apparently value the $60 million a year the magazine spends at its 400-acre site in Yonkers, N.Y., on buying and testing products.
And — here’s what has the for-profit crowd salivating — in the last three years, the number of subscribers to consumerreports.org has doubled, to 2.43 million, a vast majority of whom are paying $26 a year to gain access to the organization’s database and archive. John Sateja, senior vice president for information products at Consumer Reports, said that only 500,000 or so of the Web’s subscribers were also subscribers to the print magazine — and they pay $19.95 for the Web site on top of their print subscriptions.
The magazine, meanwhile, has managed to slowly increase its print sales both via subscription and newsstand in recent years, and now counts 4.3 million sales per issue, up from 3.8 million in 2003. A few weeks ago, the company added a new magazine, ShopSmart, to its lineup. Basically, it is a breezier version of Consumer Reports for busy female shoppers, aimed squarely at mainstream shopping magazines like Lucky from Condé Nast and Shop Etc. from Hearst. Unlike those magazines, which practically celebrate the mix of editorial and advertising, ShopSmart promises no ads and “no hype.”
OF course, the accepted business models of publications like Lucky and even many newspapers make me question whether we live in a blurry age when readers would really feel that paid product plugs in Consumer Reports would really spoil the broth. Mr. Sateja said the company did poll its readers on that question and the response remained adamantly ad-averse. “As far as working for a nonprofit, the one refreshing thing is that we basically always try to do the right thing,” he said. “We are concerned about the consumer — we’re not only about profits.”
And yet, business has never been better. Before print media start falling holus-bolus into the arms of circling private-equity owners, maybe they ought to look into this whole not-for-profit thing.
CBS Is All Katie, but Rivals Aren’t Standing By
To reintroduce Katie Couric to the country as a serious yet still accessible evening news anchor on Sept. 5, CBS has embarked on an image campaign worthy of a presidential candidate.
The network’s efforts will put her face on the front of every city bus in New York next month as part of a promotion that would cost in excess of $10 million if the national television commercials featuring her were bought by an outsider.
For all the maligning of the evening news as a dinosaur lurching toward extinction, the prize CBS is pursuing remains among the most lucrative and high-profile in television: the biggest share of the nearly 25 million viewers who still tune in to the three main news broadcasts each night, and the bulk of the nearly $400 million spent each year by advertisers trying to reach them.
Unlike her two main rivals, Brian Williams of NBC and Charles Gibson of ABC, Ms. Couric does not enjoy the incumbent’s advantage of already doing the news each weeknight — though they, too, have hardly sat idle.
Little wonder that CBS, which is paying Ms. Couric an estimated $15 million annually, has been convening focus groups at its research center in Las Vegas and other places to ask viewers such questions as how she will fare in a matchup against Mr. Williams, the leader in the Nielsen ratings, and Mr. Gibson, whose program is in second place.
The network would not say whether the “CBS Evening News,” mired at No. 3 in the ratings for more than a decade, was able to raise its standing in that most recent internal polling. Regardless, it has used those responses from viewers, including the attributes they seek in an anchor, to help shape Ms. Couric’s broadcast.
Meanwhile, like local party leaders, news anchors from the top 48 CBS affiliates were flown to New York this month for a two-day junket in which each was given 10 minutes to interview Ms. Couric — all told, she talked for more than eight hours — for individual segments that will be broadcast prominently on each local station.
Though far more subdued, Mr. Williams and Mr. Gibson have nonetheless been making similar efforts, some of them mischievous in tone, to retain the viewers they have and woo others.
Beginning around Sept. 1, an image of Mr. Williams, four stories tall, will loom over the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan from a banner at West 57th Street and 10th Avenue. (Alongside will be another featuring Matt Lauer and Ms. Couric’s replacement as his partner on the “Today” show, Meredith Vieira.)
Still, the defection of Ms. Couric from “Today,” the top-rated morning program for more than a decade, is being taken so seriously at NBC that her former boss on the program, Jeff Zucker, now chief executive of NBC Universal Television, has been gathering executives for regular meetings intended to guard against complacency, in both the evening and morning time slots.
At ABC, Mr. Gibson — who was moved from “Good Morning America” to “World News” in late May, after the network abandoned a two-anchor format — is being reintroduced himself, in an advertising campaign with its own vaguely presidential tag line: “Your Trusted Source.”
The line is intended not only as a dig at Mr. Williams (who assumed the anchor chair at NBC less than two years ago) and Ms. Couric, but also as a way to link Mr. Gibson to Peter Jennings, who led the ABC newscast for more than two decades before his death in August 2005. (The slogan of the last campaign featuring Mr. Jennings, as he had prepared to go up against Mr. Williams in his rookie year, was “Trust Is Earned.”)
Having worked within the same news division as Mr. Williams and competed for years against Mr. Gibson in the morning, Ms. Couric, by virtue of her decision to occupy the 6:30 p.m. slot at CBS, has heightened the already spirited competition among the three news divisions.
On a recent afternoon at NBC, one former colleague wondered, with obvious relish, whether Ms. Couric would seek to install a “Today”-style couch on the CBS set — for the record, she will not — and another suggested that Ms. Couric had hired her personal gastroenterologist as her program’s new medical correspondent. (She did not; while a sometime guest on “Today,” the new CBS reporter, Dr. Jonathan LaPook, is not her doctor, she said, though he did refer her to the doctor who gave her a colonoscopy.)
When asked about one another in separate interviews, the three anchors mostly sought to highlight their rivals’ strengths, though a certain bristling was evident.
“Katie comes into the job with a good understanding of the anchor-viewer relationship,” Mr. Williams said, when asked in early August about Ms. Couric in his office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, not far from the “Today” set. “But evening news viewers are different.”
When Mr. Gibson was asked — in an interview just before he presented a live report on the British terrorism arrests on Aug. 10 — whether he had any special plans for the broadcast of Sept. 5, he questioned why a reporter was asking about that date.
“I didn’t even know it was Sept. 5 she was starting,” he said, with apparent seriousness. “Her beginning the show is not an event in this newsroom.”
Then, noting that his arrival on “World News” full time on May 29 had preceded Ms. Couric’s at CBS by more than three months, he added, “This is not like a shakedown cruise.”
And how does Ms. Couric size up her competition?
In a telephone interview last week, she said, “Clearly we don’t want to be rubber-stamping everything they do.”
Among the elements she hopes will set her program apart, she said, is the weeding out of the austere delivery she often detects among correspondents on CBS’s evening news program — and those of her rivals — in favor of a more relaxed approach.
“It hasn’t gotten to Ron Burgundy levels,” she said, invoking the robotic, self-absorbed newscaster played by Will Ferrell in the 2004 movie “Anchorman.” “But the ability to just talk to people and communicate in simple language that we use in conversation is something that can be done to a greater extent.”
Ms. Couric’s debut will offer evening news viewers the starkest choice among anchors, at least demographically, in the four-decade history of the half-hour evening news format: a 63-year-old man (Mr. Gibson), a 47-year-old man and the first woman to fly solo behind an anchor desk.
And for all three networks, the arrival of Ms. Couric, 49 — the most established star to take the helm of an evening newscast — represents perhaps the last chance for such programs to make a broad case for their relevance, in an age when news video is instantly available on the Internet. On Thursday, CBS announced that Ms. Couric’s program would be shown simultaneously on the Web, a first for the evening news.
The promotions supporting Ms. Couric are the most exhaustive undertaken by CBS News, the network’s executives said, and comparable only to the promotions mounted in recent years for prime-time shows like “CSI.”
Whether the hype will have any long-term effect remains to be seen. Typically, the pecking order among network newscasts has changed glacially, a function not just of who has delivered the news but also of the popularity of the local newscasts that precede them.
In many respects, Ms. Couric’s retooling of the “CBS Evening News” will appear comfortably familiar.
She will sit at a desk finished in ginger root maple laminate — lighter than the mahogany model used by Dan Rather and later Bob Schieffer, but still a desk — atop bright red and blue carpeting, with a 15-foot projection television to her left. Nearby are areas for her to stand and to accommodate chairs for live interviews.
One way she thinks she might stand out from her competitors, she said, is that she will assume that many viewers have already scanned the headlines of the day, giving her license to jettison some stories entirely or to dispense with others in a digest. Doing so, she said, could free up valuable time — no small thing in a broadcast that is actually 22 minutes — to add depth and context to those issues she deems worthy.
“We’ll have correspondents working less on ‘news of the day’ stories and focusing on longer takeouts, if you will,” she said.
At least at the outset, Ms. Couric will give over as many as 90 seconds each night to a segment titled “Free Speech,” in which ordinary Americans, as well as scholars and sometimes even comedians, will be allowed to sound off. Mr. Schieffer will deliver a weekly essay in this slot, probably on Wednesdays.
Neither Mr. Williams nor Mr. Gibson said he felt inclined to follow suit, saying there was ample commentary on cable news and talk radio.
On average this year, Mr. Williams’s broadcast has beaten ABC’s by nearly 800,000 viewers each night, drawing a total audience of 8.8 million versus 8 million for ABC, with CBS lagging at 7.3 million, according to Nielsen Media Research. Though the race between NBC and ABC has been far closer among viewers ages 25 to 54, a bellwether for advertisers — NBC’s lead there is a slim 100,000 — Mr. Williams said he did not plan to change anything come Sept. 5.
“It wouldn’t make sense elsewhere in business for the leading product to make alterations because a product was joining the fray,” he said.
Among the ways Mr. Williams’s broadcast has evolved in the 20 months since he succeeded Tom Brokaw is that it has sought to leaven his marked sobriety with an occasional nod to his sense of humor. At times, he even answers viewer e-mail on the air.
At other times, though, efforts to make the broadcast (and its associated Web site) even more about Mr. Williams can appear to border on the self-reverential. On July 17, for example, the 10th anniversary of the explosion of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island Sound, Mr. Williams chose to mark the occasion by showing extended footage of how he had reported the crash live as an anchor on MSNBC, then in its third night of existence.
“It sounds like it’s being said absent modesty,” Mr. Williams said, when asked to explain that editorial choice. “That became a bit of a television touchstone that many, many summer viewers associated with that night.”
Like Mr. Williams, Mr. Gibson said he did not expect to make major revisions in his broadcast, which recently shortened its name to “World News,” from “World News Tonight,’’ to reflect its electronic ubiquity.
He said he might emphasize some subjects of personal interest, like the controversy over performance-enhancing drugs in sports, or broadcast nine correspondent segments on some nights when Mr. Williams might do seven.
But in the end, he suggested, all three broadcasts, including Ms. Couric’s, will effectively be following a template set decades ago.
“I know there’s a lot going to be made about the fact that the CBS thing is changing,” Mr. Gibson said. “It’s an evolutionary thing for CBS, too.
“Is there something special about her?” he added, referring to Ms. Couric. “I don’t know. I’ll let you determine that.”
|24-08-06, 11:24 AM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
A Nation Divided Over Piracy
Last Jan. 1, almost on a whim, 35-year-old IT manager Rickard Falkvinge got into politics.
Concerned about the reach of copyright and patent law, Falkvinge erected a web page with a sign-up form for a radical new pro-piracy party to compete in Sweden's parliamentary system. He didn't know if anyone would care, but the next day the national media picked it up, and two days later international media started calling.
The site was flooded with new members -- enough for the nascent movement to sail past the requirements for participation in the national election. Falkvinge now faced a decision: stay with his nice job and let the whole thing quietly sink, or quit and become a campaigning politician. He chose to become the leader of Sweden's newest and fastest-growing political party: Piratpartiet, or the Pirate Party.
Did the Motion Picture Association ask Swedish politicians to illegally intercede with law enforcement? Read the docs and decide for yourself.
Striding through the narrow, cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, Falkvinge looks nothing like a politician in his "Pirat" baseball cap and polo shirt. "We have a lot in common with the environmental movement," he says. Where environmentalists see destruction of natural resources, the pirates see culture at risk. "(We) saw a lot of hidden costs to society in the way companies maximize their copyright."
Falkvinge is interrupted by a passing teenager. She's a young punk, with green dreads and a jacket covered in an indistinguishable combination of angry quips and band names -- in short, exactly the type who once would have spent her disposable income on music.
She takes out a piece of notebook paper and asks Falkvinge for an autograph.
Lawyers, academics and pirates agree: File sharing is an institution here. Sweden has faster broadband with deeper penetration than just about anywhere in the world. That, combined with the techno-friendly attitude that pervades Scandinavia and a government slow to take any kind of action, allowed file sharing to root deeply in practice and popular culture.
In March, game show contestant Petter Nilsson won the politically themed Top Candidates show by delivering speeches supporting file sharing, and committing to donating 20 percent of his $30,000 winning to the Pirate Bay. A cultural minister from a southern Sweden municipality admitted in June to the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet that he downloaded music on a daily basis, and called for more adults to "come out of the file-sharing closet." Last May's raid on the Pirate Bay sparked street protests and cyberattacks on government websites.
But it was the spike in the Pirate Party's numbers after the raid that might have the most lasting consequences for Sweden. Membership shot past the nation's Green Party, which holds 17 seats in the Riksdag, Sweden's parliament. There's no guarantee that membership will translate into votes, but the pirates have raised enough funds to print 3 million ballots for next month's election, and they have enough volunteers to get them out to all the polling places.
This week, the Pirate Party broke out its own version of a chicken in every pot when it endorsed a low-cost, encrypted anonymizing service offered by a Swedish communications company called Relakks. For 5 euros a month, a portion of which goes to the party, anyone can share files or communicate from a Relakks IP address in Sweden, potentially complicating efforts to track downloaders. The party endorsement generated enough interest to cause performance issues on the new service.
Falkvinge may be learning the ropes of glad-handing and political speechmaking, but a guileless fan boy slips out when I introduce him to the founders of Piratbyran -- the pro-piracy group that created the Pirate Bay in 2003, and inspired Falkvinge's foray into renegade politics. He introduces the punk girl that recognized him to co-founder Rasmus Fleischer with a hurried explanation -- "Piratbyran, Piratbryan!" -- and Fleischer soon finds himself autographing another piece of notebook paper, looking confused.
Piratbyran, or "Pirate Bureau," is hard to nail down as an organization. It is best described as an ad hoc pro-piracy think tank, but Fleischer's partner in the effort, Marcus Kaarto, won't even go that far. "We're like a gas," Kaarto says, laughing. "You can't get a hold on us."
Founded in 2003, Piratbyran is older than the Pirate Bay and the Pirate Party. The group has 58,000 members registered on its website, but its structure is informal, and no one seems to know exactly how much money it has. It gets by on donations, including contributions through the Pirate Bay -- with which it is no longer officially affiliated.
Kaarto and Fleischer aren't the typical think tank or political types. Fleischer is a classically trained musician and former leftist journalist; Kaarto plays poker for a living. They are comfortable and funny twenty-somethings in cargo shorts, dark T-shirts and imprecise haircuts -- blending artist and geek in a way that is uniquely European.
They walk me around Soder, the island in the middle of Stockholm that went from working class to gentrified bohemian in the '80s. Eventually we land in Medborgarplatsen, a square that hosts Stockholm's large communist May Day demonstration every year, and entertainment/retail the rest of the time. This night it's full of cafe-goers, and posters advertising the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie -- a film destined to break box office records and top the downloading charts at the same time.
Over the din, Fleischer says the Piratbyran's message isn't so much about fighting the copyfight as explaining to the other side that they've already lost. "Their business model won't work with digital technology," he says.
In Fleischer's world, the Motion Picture Association of America and rights holders are attacking digital technology itself, trying to hang on to an outdated model. "It's an inevitability that digital data will be copied.... The alternative to peer-to-peer piracy is person-to-person piracy," he says. While some online pirates take pains to distinguish themselves from those who sell counterfeit DVDs and CDs, he sees such physical bootlegging as just "a symptom of underdeveloped computer networks."
When asked about compensation for artists, both men reject the language itself. No artist sits down to "create content," Fleischer says. "Culture has always been heterogeneous," and money is only one way of rewarding creativity. The idea of a rights holder, like a record label or movie studio, that patronizes and distributes human creativity is, for Fleischer, "a very strange utopia that has never existed."
But Piratbyran is not dedicated to copyright or patent abolition -- it has no legislative agenda. It holds a nuanced view of the created work itself: Each work must find its own social and economic niche. "I don't think of this (as) the big battle," says Fleischer, "but thousands of microbattles."
Part of the surprise of Sweden is how far this approach has gotten them. Kaarto and Fleischer are quoted in the press frequently, often accorded the same respect a law professor would receive in the United States. Last year the pair co-edited Copy Me, a collection of essays about intellectual property; the first run of 2,300 sold out, and another is on its way.
Their positions find fertile ground in politics and public opinion. Piracy is the subject of serious debate here, rather than crime-busting press releases. And copyright's defenders find themselves in an uphill battle for the soul of the nation.
Attorney Monique Wadsted, the MPAA's representative here, has the hardest job in Sweden -- not just to try to enforce copyright under an indifferent and occasionally hostile regime, but to convince the average Swede that file sharing is wrong.
She meets me in a corner conference room in her office high above a square full of Scandinavian hipsters and the punky goth kids of Stockholm. With a knit brow, she explains that she never expected Sweden to become a rogue nation.
"(It's) become a copyright haven, a territory where you spread everything without fear of prosecution," Wadsted says.
Wadsted knows Fleischer -- she recently stood in a public debate with him at the formal opening of Sweden's election campaign season. She was not impressed. "Nobody has ever presented a good argument why this should be free.... They like to talk about music; they have a problem with (talking about) movies, because movies cost a lot to make."
Movies are Wadsted's passion, as well as her job, and she seems prepared to throw herself bodily between the medium she loves and the pirates who threaten its financial lifeblood. As a child, "I would see (movies) with my family ... or sneak off to see them on my own, all the time," she says.
And if file sharing and the Pirate Bay had existed when she was young? She confesses she doesn't know if she'd have been a downloader herself. "Would I have known any better at 14?" she muses, leaving the question unanswered.
What's certain is she'd like to see the Pirate Bay's crew in jail.
The copyright fight is getting tense in Sweden. Wadsted speaks emotionally of threats made against her and anti-piracy spokesman Henrik Pontien. She says her address has appeared online, accompanied by talk of firebombing. Ugly suggestions have been made against Pontien and his children.
Wadsted says she knew she was opening herself up for criticism by becoming the public face of the MPAA in Sweden, but the experience has clearly frightened and shocked her.
The Pirate Bay's crew hasn't been spared much from the other side.
They've been called gang members, terrorists and even child pornographers. While they laugh whenever the subject comes up, they too seem incredulous that the debate has come to this point. There's no evidence that extremists on either side will take violent action, but the idea that a previously obscure area of law excites such fanatical rhetoric was unthinkable before file sharing.
Sweden stands at a crossroads. "There will be many Pirate Bays if this case doesn't succeed," says Marianne Levin, professor of private law and intellectual property at the University of Stockholm. Everyone -- pirates and lawyers and politicians -- agrees: Sweden probably won't continue to be friendly ground for overt pirates if the Pirate Bay is convicted. That's the point of pursuing its operators.
But even with a victory in court, Levin and her doctoral research students acknowledge that Swedish file sharing isn't going to stop. They talk a lot about alternatives: mitigation and compromise. One oft-proposed solution would levy a tax on internet access that would be redistributed to artists -- but as distinctions between professionals and amateurs get more fuzzy, it's harder to make such a system fair.
A tax would also mean more payouts to the porn industry than is politically feasible, points out legal researcher Viveca Still, a faculty member at the Institute of International Economic Law in Helsinki, Finland. That's one reason Still joins many academics in advocating a technological solution: digital rights management, or DRM, in which music and movie players -- software or hardware -- would simply refuse to cooperate with pirates.
But a strict DRM regime has problems, too: For one, it would require hard-coded limits on digital technology itself. "This would lead to outlawing digital technology ... the Turing machine (itself)," says Piratbyran's Kaarto. This is a price too high for society to pay to protect intellectual property, according to DRM opponents.
If piracy's foes offer flawed solutions, Sweden's pirates concede that their own vision isn't utopian. Parting with many copyright minimalists in the United States, Piratbyran acknowledges that file sharing can do real harm to rights holders. When Kaarto and Fleischer discuss this aspect of their movement, their flippancy fades, and their mood becomes reflective. Fleischer tells the story of Swedish jazz in 1962.
When pop music came to Sweden, it hit hard enough that in a single summer most of Sweden's jazz artists were left scrambling for a livelihood. Just as silent movies destroyed theater, then talkies left the silent stars unemployed, progress, he hints, always creates losers as well as winners.
But progress has to be accommodated anyway, says Kaarto. "You have to change the map, not the world."
Later, the Pirate Bay's Peter (who doesn't want his last name revealed, in part for fear it would endanger his day job) is dining with a crew of pirates from all over Europe. Over tabbouleh and sausage, the talk turns to strategy: how to create media events, awareness campaigns, educational programs to let people know that piracy isn't about free movies -- it's about clearing the way for culture to progress.
Peter talks about expanding the Pirate Bay beyond the current 25-language translation. He turns to me, with bright eyes: "We want to make a Pirate Bay for kids!"
Sebastian Gjerding of Denmark's Piratgruppen warms to the idea, and starts talking about designing a poster to hang in schools, teaching children how to share files. The pirates bandy about names for the campaign and seem, for the moment, to settle on "iCopy."
Later, I'm in Peter's old BMW station wagon. "One day, all these cars will run on hydrogen," Peter proclaims, gesturing around Malmo.
"How will they make the hydrogen?" I ask.
He answers quickly, smiling, "I don't know!"
But, he assures me, they will and it isn't his problem to figure out how.
It's not the problem of the pirates, he tells me later, to figure out how to compensate artists or encourage invention away from the current intellectual property system -- someone else will figure that out. Their job is just to tear down the flawed system that exists, to force the hand of society to make something better.
If the next thing isn't good enough, they will tear that down, too.
The YouTube Election
AUGUST, usually the sleepiest month in politics, has suddenly become raucous, thanks in part to YouTube, the vast videosharing Web site.
Last week, Senator George Allen, the Virginia Republican, was caught on tape at a campaign event twice calling a college student of Indian descent a “macaca,” an obscure racial slur.
The student, working for the opposing campaign, taped the comments, and the video quickly appeared on YouTube, where it rocketed to the top of the site’s most-viewed list. It then bounced from the Web to the front page of The Washington Post to cable and network television news shows. Despite two public apologies by Senator Allen, and his aides’ quick explanations for how the strange word tumbled out, political analysts rushed to downgrade Mr. Allen’s stock as a leading contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
YouTube’s bite also hurt Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, who was defeated by the political upstart Ned Lamont in Connecticut’s Democratic primary earlier this month. In that contest, pro-Lamont bloggers frequently posted flattering interviews with their candidate on YouTube and unflattering video of Senator Lieberman. The Lamont campaign even hired a staffer, Tim Tagaris, to coordinate the activities of the bloggers and video bloggers.
In the real world, of course, neither Senator Lieberman nor Senator Allen is finished. Senator Lieberman, running as an independent, leads in recent polls. And Senator Allen, who said that he had meant no insult and that he did not know what macaca meant, is favored to win re-election against his Democratic opponent, James Webb. But the experience serves as a warning to politicians: Beware, the next stupid thing you say may be on YouTube.
When politicians say inappropriate things, many voters will want to know. Now they can see it for themselves on the Web.
But YouTube may be changing the political process in more profound ways, for good and perhaps not for the better, according to strategists in both parties. If campaigns resemble reality television, where any moment of a candidate’s life can be captured on film and posted on the Web, will the last shreds of authenticity be stripped from our public officials? Will candidates be pushed further into a scripted bubble? In short, will YouTube democratize politics, or destroy it?
YouTube didn’t even exist until 2005, but it now attracts some 20 million different visitors a month. In statements to the press, the company has been quick to take credit for radically altering the political ecosystem by opening up elections, allowing lesser known candidates to have a platform.
Some political analysts say that YouTube could force candidates to stop being so artificial, since they know their true personalities will come out anyway. “It will favor a kind of authenticity and directness and honesty that is frankly going to be good,” said Carter Eskew, a media consultant who worked for Senator Lieberman’s primary campaign. “People will say what they really think rather than what they think people want to hear.”
But others see a future where politicians are more vapid and risk averse than ever. Matthew Dowd, a longtime strategist for President Bush who is now a partner in a social networking Internet venture, Hot Soup, looks at the YouTube-ization of politics, and sees the death of spontaneity.
“Politicians can’t experiment with messages,” Mr. Dowd said. “They can’t get voter response. Seventy or 80 years ago, a politician could go give a speech in Des Moines and road-test some ideas and then refine it and then test it again in Milwaukee.”
He sees a future where candidates must be camera-ready before they hit the road, rather than be a work in progress. “What’s happened is that politicians now have to be perfect from Day 1,” he said. “It’s taken some richness out of the political discourse.”
Howard Wolfson, a senior adviser to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is not known for her spontaneity, agrees.
“It is a continuation of a trend in which politicians have to assume they are on live TV all the time,” Mr. Wolfson said. “You can’t get away with making an offensive or dumb remark and assume it won’t get out.”
These rules have long applied to White House contenders, but the dynamic is getting stronger and moving down the ballot. “It used to be the kind of thing that was only true for presidents,” Mr. Wolfson said. “Now with the proliferation of technology it is increasingly true for many other politicians.”
But Mr. Wolfson, who recently led an effort by the Clinton camp to reach out to liberal bloggers hostile to his boss, believes that this trend has one advantage. “It does create more accountability and more democratization of information in the process,” he said.
The explosion of instant video may also put pressure on the news media. In the old days, the Allen video would not have been available for all to see. “Imagine this happened 10 years ago,” Mr. Wolfson said. “We had video and trackers then. But you had to get it to a TV station or newspaper. You had to persuade them to run a story on it. This allows you to avoid the middleman.”
And by doing so, avoid an arbiter, however flawed, of standards. “There’s no, ‘Is this the right thing for political discourse?’ ” Mr. Dowd said. “It’s just there.”
These days journalists are concerned not just about being cut out, but about being part of the show. Reporters often suffer the wrath of bloggers in the same way politicians do. At a recent conference of political bloggers in Las Vegas, reporters more than once reminded one another to be discreet in their conversations because anything overheard was fair game for bloggers to post.
Now, as the campaign trail turns into a 24-hour live set, members of the press corps may find themselves starring on YouTube. “At least one big-time journalist will have their career or life ruined because some element of their behavior that was heretofore private will be exposed publicly,” predicted a senior adviser to a potential 2008 presidential candidate. The adviser requested that his name not be used because he did not want his personal views to be taken for his boss’s.
Then again, YouTube’s impact on politics may be exaggerated. For one, the site’s users are generally young and not highly engaged politically.
“Most social networking sites cater to younger audiences, 18 to 24,” says Michael Bassik, vice president of Internet advertising at MSHC Partners, which advises candidates on media strategies. “For the most part, it’s not political conversations taking place there.”
And maybe the Allen video wasn’t all that shocking after all.
Jeff Jarvis, author of the BuzzMachine blog and an Internet consultant to The New York Times Company, doesn’t think all that much has changed.
“Is it news that politicians say stupid things?” he asks. “Of course not.”
Finding a Friendly Court Is Not So Easy
Jonathan D. Glater
PLANNING a legal battle on a big constitutional case would seem to have little in common with making a real estate decision, but any lawyer will tell you that often the same thing matters in both arenas: location.
When lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union were deciding where to file their case against the Bush administration’s policy of wiretapping the international communications of some Americans without a court warrant, they chose Detroit, more specifically the United States District Court there. And last week a judge on that court, Anna Diggs Taylor, ruled that eavesdropping on telephone and Internet communications “without benefit of warrant or other judicial approval” violated the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution.
No one has said that filing the same case elsewhere would have led to a different outcome. Nor do lawyers generally claim that where a case is filed determines how a judge will dispose of it. After all, justice is supposed to be blind, guided only by the facts presented and the law.
Nonetheless, lawyers say that anyone who does not think carefully about what court to file a lawsuit in, as well as what judge might preside and who might sit on a jury, acts foolishly. “The forum can be critically important,” said Derek Shaffer, executive director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center.
In some instances that might mean finding the particular district whose judges have proved receptive in the past or, in a case like that challenging the eavesdropping policy, it might mean filing within a more sympathetic circuit court of appeals. “You want the circuit with the precedent that’s more favorable to your view of the case,” Mr. Shaffer said.
Jameel Jaffer, counsel for the A.C.L.U. in the eavesdropping case, said there were two reasons Michigan was selected. “The last time the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of warrantless surveillance was a case that came out of the Sixth Circuit,” Mr. Jaffer said, referring to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear the government’s appeal of Judge Taylor’s decision. “The other reason we filed in Michigan is because many of our clients are in Michigan.” This case is a little unusual, Mr. Jaffer added, because the lawyers who brought it fully expect the decision by Judge Taylor, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, to be reviewed not just by an appellate court but also by the Supreme Court. In a simpler, more typical case that did not involve broad constitutional principles but basic issues of fact — a slip-and-fall case, for example — a district court decision could well have the last word.
To try to anticipate how receptive different courts might be to particular claims, lawyers review how appellate courts resolved similar cases in the past, because those precedents are binding on lower courts, said Roger Clegg, general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington group critical of affirmative action. “You can tell by the case law.”
But even that is not an infallible guide, he added. In one case Mr. Clegg worked on while at the Justice Department, he expected a conservative appellate panel that would have ruled his way and instead found himself facing a different panel of three judges appointed by President Carter. The government lost.
“These things happen,” he said.
Lawyers who specialize in certain areas develop a feel for local courts. Meriem L. Hubbard, a principal attorney in the property-rights group of the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, said California state courts were generally viewed as less friendly to the claims of property owners affected by government action than federal courts were.
But reliance on generalizations is risky, she said. To pick a court in a specific case, she continued, “I would look at state court and federal court precedents and see how they ruled on the subject matter of my case.”
Conventional wisdom has it that judges appointed by Democratic presidents lean to the left and judges appointed by Republican presidents lean right, and that judges’ political views can sway cases. But any analysis can become complicated quickly, because a judge generally viewed as sympathetic to the government may exhibit a libertarian streak when it comes to certain subjects like eavesdropping without a warrant.
Though trial lawyers say they must think about where to file, the idea of “forum-shopping” to find the most favorable courthouse has a bad name — perhaps in part because it conjures up images of slick plaintiffs’ lawyers filing absurd claims in obscure courthouses where juries will give them multimillion-dollar verdicts.
“There’s a pejorative connotation,” said Michael E. Rosman, general counsel at the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative organization in Washington specializing in civil rights cases. “The idea is, if you really had a strong case, you could sue anywhere.”
Scholars differ over how exactly judges decide cases before them, Mr. Shaffer said. “There are those who believe it’s just a matter of human bias and human instinct.”
To talk about whether different courts decide cases differently is to begin a complicated discussion that can challenge notions of fundamental fairness, he continued. If the same facts, presented to different judges in different courts can lead to different outcomes, then can anyone maintain confidence that a particular outcome was just?
In the eavesdropping case, Mr. Jaffer said that deciding where to file was less important than knowing where the case will end up. “Ultimately,” he said, “it will be the Supreme Court.”
DCIA Writes to Congress
Who is the DCIA? The DCIA is the Distributed Computer Industry Association, a trade organization that lobbies on behalf of commercial P2P developers. What’s a commercial P2P developer? A commercial P2P developer represents a growing aspect of file-sharing, composed of networks that were once considered "unauthorized."
But not every commercial P2P developer/company belongs to the DCIA. The DCIA has a specific membership of over 80 companies, with such familiar names as Sharman Networks, Grokster, Altnet, and Brilliant Digital. Noticeably absent from the DCIA is LimeWire, who once belonged to P2P United, a seemingly defunct P2P lobby group.
In the DCIA’s ongoing struggle to persuade the Congress of the United States that file-sharing has legitimate and practical uses beyond unauthorized content distribution; CEO Marty Lafferty has penned a letter to our representatives with the intentions of convincing, or at least earning the consideration, of the DCIA’s intentions. Seven years since the advent of mainstream file-sharing under Napster, this task continues to prove difficult, as the entertainment industry continues to struggle against unauthorized file-sharing networks.
The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has been overwhelmingly successful against various commercial operators, and earned a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2005. The MGM vs. Grokster decision gave the entertainment industry a new weapon in their enforcement arsenal. The Supreme Court ruled that P2P developers were indeed responsible for the actions of their users if they encouraged copyright infringement, otherwise known as inducing copyright infringement. Although intrinsically the decision was remanded to the lower courts and technically not a victory, it gave the RIAA the ammunition it needed to wipe out most American based P2P developers. The notable exception is BitTorrent, Inc., who has so far avoided a similar fate to Grokster because of its relationship with the MPAA.
The fly in the ointment, for interestingly enough the DCIA and RIAA, is that none of the thwarted networks have a controlling interest in the overall size, distribution, and development of the file-sharing community. Grokster was destroyed, true enough. But Grokster connected to the FastTrack network; which has struggled in recent years to hold on to its once impressive audience. iMesh was forced to transition to a pay-model network at a modest price of $4.1 million (compared to Grokster’s 50 million, BearShare’s 30 million, and Sharman’s 100 million), yet this client also belonged to FastTrack. BearShare was also banished, yet belongs to the Gnutella network which is controlled by the open source community. Similarly, eDonkey was forced to “throw in the towel”, yet this client which connects to the eDonkey2000 network only has an approximate 10% share in the overall size of this massive community.
So where does this leave everyone? The DCIA is faced with the challenge of convincing the US government, and to a lesser extent the RIAA, that their organization is a completely separate entity from the unauthorized file-sharing factions. It also has to convince both entities that it’s committed to protecting and respecting intellectual property rights. P2P clients that belong to the DCIA, except for Sharman Network’s Kazaa, have incorporated various mechanisms to deter, if not prevent, unauthorized file-sharing (Kazaa is expected to incorporate such mechanisms as part of their settlement.)
With the absence of every P2P application and network blocking unauthorized files, the DCIA must show it’s committed to protecting intellectual property rights by alternative methods. This is where Altnet’s claimed ownership of hash code technology comes into play. In Marty Lafferty’s letter to congress, the DCIA CEO explains how ISPs can mitigate copyright infringement by taking advantage of such technology. In the letter, Marty Lafferty expresses that his members are actively settling with the entertainment industry, and also developing the means to enforce their settlement agreements.
“1) Files transferred via decentralized P2P protocols are identified by a pre-assigned unique known file identifier. This unique identity of each file can in turn serve as a homing device for routers at Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to target, with pinpoint accuracy, those files which need to be acted upon to enforce copyright infringement, eradicate criminally obscene content, or protect national security interests.
“2) Targeted files, for example, could include known occurrences of child pornography, identity theft, and terrorist communications, as well as unauthorized copies of music, movies, games, and software. As noted above, the technologies required to accomplish this major improvement are available, inexpensive, and will have the added benefit of greatly reducing demand for bandwidth due to the resultant reduction in voluminous large-file piracy, such as for unlicensed redistribution of music collections, feature-length films, television program series, videogames, and computer programs.
“ 3) Files that are not targeted remain free to pass through: they are not disturbed, opened, reviewed, or compromised in any way. Privacy of underlying data (and users associated with that data) is upheld with the same high regard enjoyed by the public today. The adoption of these anti-piracy solutions will enable P2P to realize its full potential as the most cost-effective and efficient distribution channel for copyrighted works.”
Hash codes, file-hashes, magnet links, verified links, or whatever they’re called these days, are tricky little devices that have indeed rendered attempts to flood P2P networks with false files nearly impotent. While it’s true that verified files could be blocked by zeroing in on a specific hash code, the slightest change to the file structure also radically alters the hash code – while leaving the file intact to the ears or eyes of the end user. While the DCIA is likely committed to ensuring its end of the bargain with the entertainment industry, it remains to be seen how ISPs will react, as they have a much larger consumer base to keep satisfied.
Online Music Holdouts Give in to iTunes
Bob Seger turned the page, and Metallica finally found justice for online fans. Now, only a few remaining big-name musical acts refuse to make their songs available on Apple Computer's popular iTunes Music Store.
Analysts say the online holdouts - including the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Garth Brooks, Radiohead and Kid Rock - probably can't avoid iTunes forever as fans flock to the Internet to buy music.
But the artists argue online distribution leaves them with too small a profit. And, they say, iTunes wrecks the artistic integrity of an album by allowing songs to be purchased by the track for 99 cents. Some bands, such as AC/DC have released albums on other, more flexible sites, but not iTunes.
"We've always thought certain artists put out albums that aren't meant to be compilations with 50 other artists," said Ed "Punch" Andrews, manager for both Seger and Kid Rock. "We're hoping at some point albums become important again like they were in the past 30 years."
There are other reasons bands avoid cyberspace. In some cases, various parties that own or control older music catalogs can't agree to a distribution contract. Others have avoided the Internet altogether out of piracy concerns. (Most online stores, however, use rights-management technology to protect against unauthorized distribution.)
Since record companies have realized the popularity of iTunes and other sites, many reworked contracts to give artists less money per download. Andrews said while record companies once offered artists about 30 cents for each song sold, now musicians are earning less than a dime.
Contractual issues, the fight to save full-length albums and worries about piracy have kept both Seger and Kid Rock from distributing their works online, Andrews said. Seger, however, did allow online stores to sell his new single "Wait For Me," from his upcoming September release - his first studio album in 11 years.
Seger, the legendary rocker from Michigan who entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, is considering releasing his classic 1976 album "Night Moves," but wants to make it so it only can be downloaded as an album, Andrews said.
"It's amazing how many people go there," Andrews said of iTunes. "We're hoping albums work there." Andrews said he wasn't sure if Apple eventually would allow the album to be kept intact.
An Apple spokesman declined comment.
But bands can no longer risk losing out on sales and marketing generated from the digital formats, especially on iTunes, said Phil Leigh, an analyst with Inside Digital Media, a market research firm. With CD sales continuing to drop, it's only a matter of time until the last holdouts give up, he said.
"Any artist that doesn't is going to be left at the station," Leigh said. "It's not a secret that growth in the CD market is as dead as General Custer."
The popularity of iPods already has made Apple's iTunes the dominant way of legally downloading music. The three-year-old store has already sold more than a billion songs.
Because songs downloaded at Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Music, Napster and other sites won't work on Apple's 58 million iPods, iTunes holds about 70 percent of the legal downloading market.
Metallica, who helped lead the charge to shut down the old Napster in 2000, finally gave in late last month and released their songs on iTunes, including several unreleased live tracks.
"Over the last year or so, we have seen an ever-growing number of Metallica fans using online sites such as iTunes to get their music. ... Fire up your iTunes, your iPods and whatever else you've got, like we do, and enjoy iMetallica," the band wrote on its Web site.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers joined iTunes in April with the launch of "Stadium Arcadium," their first album in three years. The band presold tickets for its tour and gave bonus content to fans who preordered the album. This month, Bob Dylan also used the site to presell concert tickets.
Record labels say they're working with their bands to embrace all possible formats, including online music stores.
"It's undeniably clear that fans go online to keep up with artists," said Jeanne Meyer, spokeswoman for EMI North America, which has represented the Rolling Stones and Beastie Boys among other bands as they made successful leaps online. "So it follows that there is a fairly big demand for buying music legitimately online."
The growth of online distribution should help stabilize the industry, particularly as more devices such as cell phones are able to play songs bought online, said Russ Crupnick, an analyst with NPD Group Inc., a marketing research firm.
For musicians, it's another way to resell their entire catalogs to fans who want the songs in multiple formats, he said.
Still, online holdouts remain.
The Beatles, who were one of the last bands to embrace CDs, haven't allowed any online service to sell their music. Solo songs from John Lennon, for instance, are not on iTunes but available on MSN Music and other sites.
The band's Apple Corps, the guardian of the group's commercial interests, has been locked in various lawsuits for years with Apple Computer over the use of the Apple logo. In May, a London judge ruled Apple is entitled to use the logo on iTunes. Apple Corps argued the computer maker had broken a 1991 agreement in which each side agreed not to enter into the other's field of business.
London-based Apple Corps did not respond to interview requests.
Led Zeppelin songs aren't at the sites, but some solo material from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are available at iTunes and other online stores. A spokeswoman from Warner Music Group declined comment.
Radiohead songs can't be downloaded either, but lead singer Thom Yorke's new album "Eraser" is available. A publicist said the band didn't respond to interview requests.
Garth Brooks left Capitol Records in 2005 and then inked a deal with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to sell his material. The country singer hasn't allowed his songs to be legally downloaded at any major stores including Wal-Mart's service, where songs are sold for 88 cents. Brooks' manager, Bob Doyle, did not return calls.
Fired or Quit, Tom Cruise Parts Ways With Studio
David M. Halbfinger and Geraldine Fabrikant
Citing Tom Cruise’s yearlong metamorphosis from pure box-office phenomenon to pop-culture punch line, Viacom’s chairman, Sumner M. Redstone, said Tuesday that Paramount Pictures was ending its 14-year relationship with the actor’s production company.
Mr. Cruise’s representatives insisted that they had not been fired but instead had quit and had already lined up $100 million in financing to produce movies on their own.
Either way, the parting of the ways was anything but amicable. And it came as the latest sign that the media conglomerates that control Hollywood are growing impatient with the megastars who earn the highest salaries.
Last year, Mr. Cruise seemed to sprout cracks in his megawatt-smile facade: jumping up and down on Oprah Winfrey’s couch to declare his love for the actress Katie Holmes; assailing Brooke Shields for taking prescription drugs to treat postpartum depression; and speaking out publicly against psychiatry and for his religion, Scientology.
Mr. Cruise’s third installment of the “Mission: Impossible” series has earned nearly $400 million worldwide and could earn half again that much from DVD sales. But its weak opening weekend in May left Paramount executives believing that the negative attention and mockery of Mr. Cruise had hurt the film. Worse still, Mr. Cruise’s rich chunk of the profits could leave the studio barely breaking even.
After weeks of negotiations to extend a production deal, Mr. Redstone said Tuesday that Paramount had given up.
“As much as we like him personally, we thought it was wrong to renew his deal,” Mr. Redstone told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the studio’s decision on its Web site. “His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount.”
One person who had been briefed by Viacom executives said the studio did not want to renew the contract for a production deal that had been reported to cost as much as $10 million a year. “It was a huge reduction in the size,” according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The issue was the cost of his overhead and his executives. All the studios are getting out of these kinds of relationships.”
But Paula Wagner, Mr. Cruise’s partner in Cruise-Wagner Productions, said in an interview Tuesday that she and Mr. Cruise had, sometime “in the last few days,” told their agents at Creative Artists Agency to inform Paramount that they were terminating the contract talks.
Ms. Wagner said that she and Mr. Cruise had already obtained commitments from two hedge funds, one in New York and one in Los Angeles, for $100 million in revolving credit to make movies, and that they had begun looking for a new distribution deal.
“This is something we’ve dreamt of, to have an independently financed production company, where we can decide the films that we make, from high-concept to more personal pictures,” she said. “I think we’re in the forefront of a trend.”
As for Mr. Redstone’s allusion to Mr. Cruise’s conduct, Ms. Wagner fired back, “I have no answer for a stupid statement.” She speculated that Mr. Redstone was “trying to save face,” having learned from Wall Street chatter of Mr. Cruise’s hunt for alternative financing.
A spokesman for Mr. Redstone, Carl Folta, scoffed at Ms. Wagner’s talk of new financial backers. “Did they give you a name?” he said.
About Mr. Cruise, Mr. Folta said, “It’s a business decision, and it’s based on his behavior.”
Ms. Wagner said through a spokesman that the hedge funds’ names would be announced soon.
It is still unclear how Mr. Cruise’s agency, Creative Artists, will respond to Paramount’s public slap at one of America’s most visible stars. The agency is the most powerful in Hollywood, and a decade ago a studio would have risked war by publicly denigrating a client like Mr. Cruise.
Rick Nicita, Mr. Cruise’s agent — and Ms. Wagner’s husband — did not respond to a call for comment. A spokesman for Creative Artists did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Eric Weissmann, a Hollywood lawyer since the 1950’s, said that what was most surprising about the Paramount-Cruise split was that the studio could simply have decided not to renew the contract. “They don’t have to give a reason, and to go public is highly unusual,” he said. “This is not a way to get Tom Cruise to cut his fee down. This is cutting the ties.”
While Paramount’s decision was a shock to the Hollywood status quo, the way in which it was revealed was another sign that movie studios are playing rougher with stars they once coddled, one senior movie studio executive said.
Most recently, ABC canceled a production deal with Mel Gibson’s company for a mini-series about the Holocaust after he made anti-Semitic statements while detained for drunk driving. And the head of Morgan Creek Productions wrote a scathing letter scolding the actress Lindsay Lohan for unruly behavior during a movie shoot; the letter was quickly leaked to the news media.
“I think the press has become the weapon of choice for these people,” said the studio executive. “These companies are sick of being pushed around. This is indicative of a huge paradigm shift in the industry in terms of what constitutes a star and how much power a star has.”
David M. Halbfinger reported from Los Angeles for this article and Geraldine Fabrikant from New York.Allison Hope Weiner contributed reporting from Los Angeles.
Allies Start to Escalate Dispute Between Cruise and Viacom
David M. Halbfinger
This article was reported by David M. Halbfinger, Geraldine Fabrikant and Sharon Waxman and written by Mr. Halbfinger.
A day after Viacom’s chairman, Sumner M. Redstone, abruptly evicted Tom Cruise from his longstanding home on the Paramount movie lot, the war of words between the actor’s camp and Mr. Redstone and his allies was on the verge of escalating Wednesday from recrimination to retribution.
Mr. Cruise’s representatives at Creative Artists Agency — the leading talent shop in Hollywood, with a roster of actors, directors and writers so vast that it is nearly impossible for a studio to function without its cooperation — signaled that they would be loath to do more business with Paramount if Mr. Redstone continued to call the shots from on high.
“Paramount has no credibility right now,” Richard Lovett, the agency’s seldom-quoted president, said by telephone from a family vacation in Hawaii. “It is not clear who is running the studio and who is making the decisions.”
That warning came after Mr. Redstone, Viacom’s 83-year-old chieftain, declared on Tuesday that his movie unit was severing ties with Mr. Cruise’s production company after 14 years because the actor’s erratic behavior over the last year was “not acceptable to Paramount.”
Mr. Cruise and Paramount have collaborated on movies that have earned box-office receipts of more than $2.5 billion.
Normally, such studio announcements would come from Brad Grey, chairman of Paramount, or perhaps Thomas E. Freston, Viacom’s chief executive. For such talk to come out of the blue, from Mr. Redstone himself, and then be followed by two days of silence from both Mr. Grey and Mr. Freston, stunned Hollywood’s power elite even more than the copious mud-slinging.
And on Wednesday, the mud became toxic.
Mr. Cruise’s formidable lawyer, Bert Fields, fired back at Mr. Redstone, calling his comments “disgusting” and suggesting that “he’s lost it completely, or he’s been given breathtakingly bad advice.”
Mr. Fields, speaking from vacation in France, added, “That a mogul like Sumner Redstone could make a statement so vicious, so pompous, so petulant as that he didn’t want to make a deal with Tom Cruise because of his personal conduct — it tells you more about Sumner Redstone and Viacom, than about Tom Cruise.”
Mr. Fields may have been speaking as Mr. Cruise’s advocate, but his comments were reflected in conversations with executives, producers and talent agents around Hollywood on Wednesday.
While the industry insiders did not take issue with Mr. Redstone’s prerogative to end a production deal, they declared themselves flabbergasted at the manner in which he did it, although few would speak on the record, since they were not directly involved in the dispute.
Some questioned whether Mr. Redstone was trying to protect his executives from being the bearer of bad tidings. But many wondered why Mr. Redstone would single out Mr. Cruise’s odd behavior from a year ago, during the publicity tour for “War of the Worlds,” as a reason for ending a business relationship now.
One executive pointed out that Paramount had given a green light to “Mission: Impossible III” after Mr. Cruise had repeatedly jumped on Oprah Winfrey’s couch on television, and criticized psychiatric drugs to Matt Lauer on the “Today” show.
Mr. Cruise’s producing partner, Paula Wagner, asserted that Mr. Redstone’s swipe at Mr. Cruise had put both Mr. Grey and Mr. Freston in a “lose-lose” situation.
“If you didn’t know anything about this, how effective are you at running a studio?” she said of the two executives. “Would anyone want to work with management that’s ineffectual? And if you’re complicit in it, would anyone work with a studio that devours its own?”
Mr. Redstone, in his own defense, said in an interview that although he liked Mr. Fields, “his opinion is in the minority,” and that he had taken congratulatory calls from investors and such Hollywood luminaries as David Geffen and the producer Brian Grazer. “Dominick Dunne called me to say that I behaved like Samuel Goldwyn,” he said, referring to the famed producer and studio mogul.
And his friend Alan C. Greenberg — the chairman of the executive committee at Bear Stearns, the Wall Street firm, and a longtime Viacom board member — spoke out in support of Mr. Redstone.
“Tom Cruise has gone nuts,” Mr. Greenberg said. If Hollywood people believe that Mr. Redstone handled Mr. Cruise badly, he added, “They are entitled to their opinion.’’
“He did the right thing. The guy diminished his drawing power.”
Asked how he thought Paramount’s divorce from Mr. Cruise would affect Viacom, Mr. Greenberg said: “Positively.”
Yesterday at least, Mr. Greenberg was right. Viacom’s stock rose 21 cents, to close at $36.66.
But what the breakup with Mr. Cruise signals for the future of Viacom’s management is less clear.
According to two executives close to the company, who insisted on anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their relationships in the industry, Mr. Freston and Mr. Grey told top-level Viacom leaders in mid-July that they were not renewing Mr. Cruise’s deal and that they were unhappy with his value as a star.
Still, executives involved in the negotiations confirmed that the studio had recently offered Mr. Cruise a $2 million deal — a reduction from the previous deal of $4 million in overhead and a $6 million fund for developing movie projects.
Mr. Fields, too, confirmed that Paramount executives came to him with an offer to renew Mr. Cruise’s deal about three weeks ago. He said Mr. Cruise decided not to accept it, but before he could deliver this decision to Paramount, Mr. Redstone made his comment to The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Redstone, for his part, was impatient for his executives to conclude the discussions, people familiar with the talks said. According to Viacom executives and others close to the film unit, Mr. Redstone was irritated that Mr. Cruise stood to make upward of $75 million on “Mission: Impossible III,” a movie that has taken in close to $400 million in worldwide box office, although it fell below expectations. Mr. Cruise had a deal that gave him about 25 percent of the studio’s gross revenue on the movie.
Paramount and Viacom executives said that neither Mr. Freston nor Mr. Grey knew that Mr. Redstone was going to attack Mr. Cruise and that both disagreed with the tenor of their boss’s comments.
Neither Mr. Grey, Mr. Freston, nor even the studio’s public relations executives would issue any statement — a rare circumstance in such a high-profile imbroglio.
Their silence left it to many in Hollywood who do business with Paramount to ask whether Mr. Grey, who became the studio boss in January 2005 and has presided over a turbulent era of headline-grabbing firings, was really in charge after all.
One producer who has worked with the studio said: “They still don’t have it together, that’s the message. Paramount is still un-together. It’s not that tricky to do this.” He added: “Every time they have a short run of calm, they inevitably step in it.”
Mr. Fields, who has counted Mr. Grey among his clients in the past, echoed that jab at the studio chairman. “I have great faith in Brad Grey, but he obviously ain’t running the place,” Mr. Fields said.
As for Mr. Freston, who built MTV into a cable powerhouse but has been judged harshly by Wall Street as Viacom’s stock has languished, there was some debate in the industry over whether the handling of Mr. Cruise’s termination had caused friction between Mr. Freston and his boss. But Mr. Redstone, who controls Viacom with 74 percent of the votes, said firmly that there was no wedge between him and his chief executive.
Mr. Redstone added that he believed he had “struck a blow for the entire industry” in chastising Mr. Cruise. “It is about time that the industry started dealing with these stars in a different manner and let them know that they are not going to get big money and act in a way that is inappropriate and embarrasses the studios,” he said.
Mr. Cruise remained silent for a second day. Ms. Wagner, his producing partner, said their company was pursuing its plans for an equity- financing deal with a pair of hedge funds for $100 million in credit. But Mr. Fields said he was unaware of those plans.
“I don’t think Tom has raised $100 million in a hedge fund,” he said. “And I know nothing about any such thing. I think that’s just talk.”
Caught on Film: A Growing Unease in Hollywood
Laura M. Holson
For many here, Stacey Snider was the Hollywood executive who had it all. As chairwoman of Universal Pictures, she hobnobbed with celebrities at the Academy Awards. She was feted at charity events as well as in the fashion pages of Vogue. But after General Electric acquired Universal Pictures in 2004, the bright lights lost their brilliance.
Films like the Peter Jackson “King Kong” were considered disappointments, despite bringing in $547 million at the worldwide box office. And like many of her industry peers facing similar oversight, she regarded the scrutiny of the studio’s quarterly returns as, at times, oppressive. So much so that Ms. Snider quit her job in February to become chief executive of DreamWorks, now a division of Paramount Pictures, to work with the director Steven Spielberg on far fewer projects.
“It’s not like I view this as a private, artistic enterprise,” Ms. Snider, 45, said in a recent telephone interview. Still, she said: “I certainly felt the pressure. I felt the uncertainty. It galvanized the angst. We went from making movies to making product and content. I didn’t want to make franchises. I wanted to make movies.”
Hers is a common refrain in Hollywood these days. Despite a domestic box-office surge after years of declining attendance, 2006 is shaping up to be a time of Hollywood discontent. Studio executives have waged war on actor salaries, as high-profile projects with stars like Jim Carrey have been put off. Movie production deals, like the one Tom Cruise has at Paramount, are being renegotiated. Studios are also making fewer big-budget movies.
But while Hollywood has undergone periodic shifts like this before, many people here agree that there is something different this time, a permanence to Hollywood’s new austerity plan. Executives are facing too many unknowns, among them, changing moviegoer habits, rising costs and the threat of piracy.
“In this Wall Street and corporate world, the discussion has become: What is the proven, unique selling property of this product?” said Warren Beatty, the actor, who is upbeat about the industry’s prospects.
But he, too, agreed the industry was in transition. “The problem is you can’t sell entertainment the way you sell cars or air-conditioners,’’ he said. “Entertainment is dependent, to some extent, on surprise.”
The concern so far seems largely psychological, although many here predict dark days ahead. Movie-making is no longer a growth business, and has lost its luster among investors. Even the most well-run large movie studios often return only 5 percent to 7 percent annually. And other forms of entertainment — the Internet, sports and video games — are fiercely competing for consumers’ attention.
“When you hear what people are afraid of, it’s that movies are not special anymore,” said Terry Press, who runs worldwide marketing at DreamWorks Animation. “It’s the single issue no wants to think about or say out loud.”
The tipping point, many here agree, was Walt Disney’s announcement last month that it would eliminate 650 jobs in its movie division, fire its production chief and sharply reduce the number of films it makes to a dozen or so a year from as many as 20.
What’s more, the company said it would focus mostly on Disney-branded films like the popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, which it can exploit across all divisions.
“Where Disney may have sent ripples, it begged the question, Who knows what others will do?” said Leonard Goldberg, the movie producer and former business partner of Aaron Spelling who was known for television shows like “Charlie’s Angels” and “Fantasy Island.”
Slow-growing movie studios are wilting under Wall Street’s demands to deliver a box-office hit like the “X-Men” series or “Pirates” every time out. Executives say the decline in DVD sales, which began in early 2005, is taking a toll on budgets. And to complicate matters, studios have not figured out a money-making digital strategy to deflect piracy while, at the same time, appeasing fickle consumers who want movies online.
“Stress is a function of fear,” said Alan F. Horn, who has been in the movie business three decades and is president of Warner Brothers. While he says he is optimistic about the future, he conceded that running a studio “has never been tougher.”
Warner has had one of its worst summers in years, with disappointments like “Lady in the Water” by M. Night Shyamalan, the big-budget remake of “The Poseidon Adventure” and the animated “Ant Bully.” But even profitable Warner movies are cause for anxiety because Hollywood is quick to label anything a loser that does not meet prerelease expectations.
For example, “Superman Returns” by Warner cost $209 million to make and Mr. Horn predicted it would garner $400 million at the worldwide box office (a respectable sum), which he said ensured a profit after DVD and television sales. But many in Hollywood expected it to bring in at least $500 million given Superman’s popularity and the publicity around the movie’s release. Mr. Horn said, “People are asking, ‘Are you disappointed?’ I don’t know how to relate to that. I don’t know what to say.”
There are few economic indicators that reflect Hollywood’s apparent unease. Art dealers who cater to studio executives, actors and producers said buying had not slowed. Nor have sales of homes that cost $5 million to $10 million, several real estate agents said. And despite layoffs at all the major studios, the number of film and television production jobs has increased.
In the first six months of 2006, 130,000 people were employed in entertainment in Los Angeles, compared with 127,200 in 2005, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. That growth is being fueled largely by an explosion in independent film production. Jack Kyser, the group’s chief economist, said 23 of the 30 films being made here in mid-August were from independent production companies.
But those statistics reflect only part of the story.
Robert Shaye, the founder of New Line Cinema, a division of Time Warner that will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, said a fundamental driver of Hollywood’s unease was the high cost of making and marketing films. (The average in 2005 was $96 million.) Investment funds have poured money into movies, reducing the sting of studio cost-cutting. But investment funds are not immune to losses, either. A newcomer, Legendary Pictures, invested in “Lady in The Water” and “The Ant Bully,” Studios are also under attack from digital pirates who distribute illegal copies online. As a result of the piracy, studio executives can no longer depend on waves of re-releases for steady income. “Once it’s out there, it’s out there,” Mr. Shaye said.
With digital pirates and the pressure from Wall Street to produce predictable profits, the dialogue about what movies are made and marketed was bound to change.
If there is fear among some in Hollywood that brand managers are taking over, it is because two studios recently filled top creative jobs with executives whose expertise is movie marketing. At Disney, Nina Jacobson, the well-respected president of production, was fired and succeeded by Oren Aviv, the marketing chief. Ms. Snider, who joined DreamWorks, was succeeded in March by two executives, including Universal’s top movie marketer, Marc Shmuger.
Tom Staggs, Disney’s chief financial officer, argues that the concerns are unfounded. “The suits aren’t running the studio,” he said. “I think Hollywood has to constantly challenge itself to remain relevant.” Still, he added: “If we let it become a cookie-cutter, brand-flapping exercise, it is not going to work. We have to focus on the creative side.”
Some promising young executives are seeking to pursue creativity outside the studio. Last year, Mary Parent, 39, and Scott Stuber, 37, set in motion an option in their contract that allowed them to quit their jobs as presidents of production at Universal Pictures to become producers. Both said they did not leave the studio because they were unhappy; their producing deal is at Universal. Instead, they wanted the opportunity to flex their creative might before they got too old or started families.
“It reaches a point where it is hard to enjoy it,” said Ms. Parent, reflecting on being a studio executive. “Just the sheer volume of meetings between phone calls. You are trying to cut through the tide. It was grueling. You were at a test screening every night until midnight; you have scripts to read. You don’t want to be that person just scratching the surface.”
Of course, being a producer, particularly a new one, is no less demanding. In the last year, Ms. Parent has made five weeklong trips to New Zealand where she is a producer for the film “Halo.” Mr. Stuber has spent much of the summer in Arizona on the set of “The Kingdom,” where temperatures have spiked to as much as 110 degrees. “It’s not like it’s less busy,” Mr. Stuber said. “But you get to spend three hours in an editing room if you want to. You can’t lose sight of the fact that the job is to entertain.”
Whatever the challenges ahead, Mr. Goldberg, the producer, said Hollywood would adapt as it did when silent movies became talkies, and three decades ago, when the VCR was perceived as a threat.
He had no sympathy for those who do nothing but complain. “Let them get a real job,” he said. “They get paid a lot. They go to great parties. They fly around in jets, not only for business reasons, but for personal things, too. I think there are worse jobs to have.”
Fresh Princes of Mumbai, Building a Global Audience
Laura M. Holson
When you are Will Smith, there are few places you can’t get in. Last year, one of those places was China.
Government censors allowed only 20 foreign movie imports in 2005, leaving out Mr. Smith’s romantic comedy “Hitch.” The rejection rankled the actor; China is one of the fastest-growing movie markets. So at a gathering of the Sony Corporation’s top management in January, Mr. Smith appealed to the chief executive, Sir Howard Stringer, and a studio executive, Michael Lynton, to introduce him to Chinese producing partners.
“We can be more helpful in India,” Mr. Lynton told Mr. Smith at their afternoon meeting at the Kahala Resort in Honolulu. India has a robust movie industry with none of China’s political constraints. Mr. Lynton offered to introduce the actor to Indian producers, actors and directors. And the next month Mr. Smith took his first trip to India.
Now he has a deal — to make movies there instead.
Overbrook Entertainment, the company created by Mr. Smith and his business partner, James Lassiter, announced it was working with UTV, a television and film concern run by the entrepreneur Ronnie Screwvala. The two have agreed to produce two movies, neither of which will star the popular Mr. Smith.
UTV will pay the films’ costs up to a specified sum (after that amount, Overbrook has to raise the money) but the burden is on Mr. Smith and Mr. Lassiter to develop a script and hire the cast.
The deal says a lot about Hollywood’s desire to court foreign audiences. After years of declining movie attendance at home, studios and movie stars are looking for new opportunities.
Last week, for instance, Hugh Jackman made an arrangement with 20th Century Fox to produce as many as five films a year in his native Australia. Quentin Tarantino, a fan of Chinese martial arts movies, has marketed Asian-language films in the United States under the banner “presented by Quentin Tarantino.”
But it says even more about Mr. Smith’s ambition to become an international player. “It’s been said, ‘Why sell something to 10 people when you can sell it to 10 million people?’ ” said Mr. Smith late one afternoon in an interview in Overbrook’s offices in Beverly Hills. “You have to have a global perspective.”
Early on, Mr. Smith, 37, sought an international career. Born and reared in Philadelphia, he got his start in the mid-1980’s rapping in local clubs as half of the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Then the teenage rapper met Mr. Lassiter, who was attending Temple University and was a friend of Jazzy Jeff, whose real name is Jeffrey Townes.
One day Mr. Smith asked Mr. Lassiter, now 41, if he would allow a record company in New York to send a contract to Mr. Lassiter’s fax machine at his home. (This is how Mr. Lassiter got into show business: he owned the only fax machine among his neighborhood friends.) Mr. Lassiter reviewed the contract, and within weeks he was Mr. Smith’s road manager.
“We saw beyond Philadelphia and had the opportunity to travel the world and have someone else pay for it,” said Mr. Lassiter. “At first it was selfish, but it turned into a business.”
While the two friends have guided Mr. Smith’s career together for nearly two decades, they are a study in contrasts. At an interview, Mr. Lassiter wore a plain white shirt and tan pants, while Mr. Smith was dapper in a lime-green corduroy jacket. Mr. Lassiter is reserved, where Mr. Smith greeted a stranger with a hug. And Mr. Lassiter balked at sitting on a pomegranate-colored couch for a photograph, saying it was too flashy.
“Come on,” countered Mr. Smith, smiling. “I like it. What do you guys think?” he said, addressing onlookers standing at the back of Overbrook’s conference room.
Indeed the two interact with an ease rare in Hollywood. “We have a very interesting yin and yang balance where I don’t have to burden myself,” Mr. Smith earnestly said. “I can let my mind go a thousand miles an hour, where it should be. It’s up to him to align our energy and make sure that the ideas will work.”
Mr. Lassiter, who had just arrived from New York, offered a blunt response to Mr. Smith’s remarks. “I can’t believe I got up at 4:30 a.m. for this,” he said, rolling his eyes at Mr. Smith and laughing.
In 1986 the two traveled to London to make an album. It was their first time in Europe together, and the trip made a deep impression on Mr. Smith.
“We met a group of girls who went to Syracuse University who were going to school there,” said Mr. Smith. “That was bizarre to me. To see how free they were. They met there. That world perspective opened me up to the idea. I realized how secluded Americans are.”
Four years later Mr. Smith joined the television sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” in which he starred from 1990 to 1996. Mr. Smith endeared himself to “Fresh Prince” fans in Spain by conducting interviews in Spanish. But he still remained in awe of the impact rap music had on foreign cultures. He recalled a visit to Tokyo in 1988 by the group Run DMC who were greeted by 5,000 fans at the airport wearing gold chains and track suits.
More recently, in 2000, Mr. Smith and Mr. Lassiter were in Mozambique where Mr. Smith was making the movie “Ali.” “One guy we hired for the movie, all he wanted to talk about was Tupac and Redman,” said Mr. Lassiter, referring to the slain rapper Tupac Shakur and the rapper and actor Reggie Noble, who performs under the name Redman.
On the same trip, Mr. Smith said he saw a woman in a village one afternoon washing her clothes in a river. She spoke no English. But as Mr. Smith walked by, she pointed and shouted, “Gettin’ jiggy wit it!” a popular line from one Mr. Smith’s songs.
“I was cracking up,” said Mr. Smith, his body shaking with laughter at the memory. “If she would have said, ‘You’re Will Smith,’ that would have been one thing. But she knew the song. She had to have seen the video to recognize me. And she probably didn’t have a TV.”
Even now the two are perplexed at actors who complain about traveling overseas. “They say they hate the food in London,” said Mr. Lassiter, sounding annoyed.
“How can you hate the food?” said Mr. Smith, laughing.
“I mean, they could go to Nobu or Mr. Chow,” added Mr. Lassiter.
In 1998, after brief stints at other companies, Mr. Lassiter became Mr. Smith’s business partner and the two formed Overbrook, which produced a hit in “Hitch,” but missed with this year’s “ATL.” Originally, Overbrook had a deal with Universal Pictures to produce movies. But after three years and no movies, Mr. Smith took his company to Sony.
“There was a learning curve” at Universal, conceded Mr. Lassiter. “The management changed. We were a little arrogant. It takes time to read the scripts and get to know the directors. We weren’t ready.”
“I was ready,” countered Mr. Smith, but he did acknowledge being impatient.
If there was a turning point in Mr. Smith’s foreign appeal, it was in 1995 with the movie “Bad Boys.” Mr. Smith said the producers expected the film would make only about $5 million overseas.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Lassiter said they persuaded its producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, to let Mr. Smith go to the Cannes Film Festival to promote it; holding a news conference, throwing an MTV party attended by 1,000 people and conducting scores of one-on-one interviews with journalists. “It started out as two days and it ended up being two weeks,” said Mr. Lassiter.
The movie brought in 15 times as much at the international box office as was predicted. Since then, Mr. Smith and Mr. Lassiter pick out a new foreign market to concentrate on with the release of each movie. For “I, Robot” it was Russia; in South Africa it was “Ali.”
India now is the country they most want to explore. Already the two have met with Indian directors and actors. And they hope to announce their first movie soon, which Sony has the right to distribute worldwide.
“We don’t want to plaster Mumbai with pictures of Will Smith,” said Mr. Lassiter. “We want to make an exchange. We want to do films there as well as introduce Indian actors and directors to the United States. We have to show people we are willing to adapt to their world.”
But they acknowledge that this endeavor is risky. India’s close-knit film community is already well established. And the most popular movies are Bollywood musicals, a genre in which neither Mr. Smith nor Mr. Lassiter has any experience. As a result, their live-action movie produced with UTV could be filmed outside of India. The other film will be made in India where UTV has animation operations.
“A lot of the people in India don’t know what they have,” said Mr. Smith.
Neither do Americans, he said. A case in point, he said, is the story of the Taj Mahal. It was built as a tomb in 1631 for Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved wife of Emperor Shah Jahan who died after having the couple’s 14th child. “But there is a second part of the story you don’t know,” said Mr. Smith, recounting the history.
Shah Jahan, who was said to have killed his brothers, was later overthrown by his son. The emperor was imprisoned in a tower where the view from his window was of the tomb he had built to honor his wife.
“No one hears that part,” said Mr. Smith. “What are the other stories we don’t know?”
Rap Producer Ready to Try Again With Old Partner
In December, Irving Lorenzo had reason to think that the tumult that had sidetracked his wildly successful career as a rap entrepreneur had finally passed.
After a three-year federal inquiry, a jury acquitted Mr. Lorenzo of charges that he used his rap label, Murder Inc., to launder money for a convicted drug kingpin. Now Mr. Lorenzo, known professionally as Irv Gotti, was free to produce hits for any company in the business.
Almost nine months later, however, Mr. Lorenzo, 36, has found the road back full of twists, none more unexpected than his choice of partners: the same record conglomerate that severed its ties with him during the investigation and, as Mr. Lorenzo said at the time, “made a decision to destroy me.”
He was expected to sign a deal early this week that would put him back in business with Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest record corporation, which had financed Murder Inc. and distributed its recordings. The deal would make him the chief of a new profit-sharing venture with the company’s Universal/Motown label.
“It feels exhilarating,” Mr. Lorenzo said in an interview. “It’s like a rebirth. It feels like God put me through hell, showed me a lot of things, showed me who the good people and bad people are around me, and lined me up to do what I’m put here to do.”
Under the three-year deal Universal will commit roughly $10 million to Mr. Lorenzo in an advance against future profits and payments to cover overhead, said people briefed on the arrangement, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The deal also includes a provision that could allow Mr. Lorenzo to buy ownership of Murder Inc.’s master recordings, these people said.
Mr. Lorenzo returns with a roster that includes Murder Inc.’s signature acts: the rapper Ja Rule and the R&B singer Ashanti. He has also been working to resolve a contract dispute with another R&B vocalist, Lloyd. Mr. Lorenzo has been eyeing artists in other genres, and has been in talks to sign the pop-oriented singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton, who had a hit in 2002 on another Universal label.
Even with the new pact, it may prove difficult for Mr. Lorenzo to return to the platinum-selling pinnacles he reached a few years ago. Ja Rule and Ashanti have had lackluster sales with their last few albums, although Mr. Lorenzo said that was largely because of an overall decline in the music market.
While unaccustomed to the role of underdog, he said he was not concerned about competition.
“I embrace competition, because I get busy,” he said. “Certain of my peers in the business, I know that they don’t want me to succeed. They prayed for me to go to jail.”
In the early days of 2003 that seemed a distinct possibility. Federal agents raided Murder Inc.’s offices and seized bank accounts connected to the label. Investigators alleged that Mr. Lorenzo had used the label to launder drug money for a convicted dealer, Kenneth McGriff, whose gang dominated the crack trade in Jamaica, Queens, in the 1980’s.
Mr. Lorenzo denied that he had laundered money for Mr. McGriff. Instead, he said, he had legally negotiated a deal for Def Jam to put up $500,000 to co-produce a soundtrack for “Crime Partners,” a McGriff-produced film.
But even as Mr. Lorenzo proclaimed his innocence, Universal began turning a cold shoulder, he said. Universal pressed Murder Inc. to vacate its Manhattan offices, citing complaints from other tenants in the building, and certain high-ranking executives would no longer take his calls, Mr. Lorenzo said.
After Mr. Lorenzo and his brother, Christopher, were indicted in early 2005, the relationship with Universal foundered. Universal tightened its purse strings, and within months it moved to end its partnership with Mr. Lorenzo.
But then, he had his day in court — and won.
Within days of his acquittal, he was meeting with prospective partners that could help finance his label’s revival. Many expected him to sign with Warner Music Group, whose executive ranks are filled with Mr. Lorenzo’s former associates from Def Jam, the Universal label that marketed and promoted Murder Inc. releases.
Mr. Lorenzo said he and Lyor Cohen, who heads Warner’s American arm and previously ran Def Jam, had discussed the possibility of Mr. Lorenzo switching to the Warner fold even before Mr. Lorenzo’s indictment. “I made that man a lot of money,” Mr. Lorenzo said of Mr. Cohen. But Warner’s offer, Mr. Lorenzo said, was so low that he found it “extremely disrespectful.”
Around the same time Universal’s chairman, Doug Morris, decided he was not ready to let Mr. Lorenzo leave the fold. For their part Universal executives said the legal proceedings enveloping Mr. Lorenzo had forced their hand when they parted ways with Murder Inc.
Mr. Lorenzo, still resentful of the company’s treatment, was skeptical. But, he said, he was persuaded by Universal’s president, Zach Horowitz (the only senior executive who had kept in touch with him), to attend a lunch with him and Mr. Morris. Mr. Lorenzo and his business lawyer, Ron Sweeney, met with them at a restaurant in Santa Monica, and each side vented. Mr. Morris noted that Universal’s move to break from Murder Inc. arose from Mr. Lorenzo’s decisions to conduct business with Mr. McGriff. And Mr. Lorenzo said certain executives should have been more supportive personally even if Universal had to distance itself.
Mr. Morris said Mr. Lorenzo “really felt betrayed, and I don’t blame him.” But Mr. Morris said: “I never had any bad feelings toward him. It wasn’t anything to do about him. He’s one of the most talented people in the industry.”
Mr. Lorenzo’s representatives had been seeking outside investors who could help him start a label on his own, allowing him to keep the profits instead of sharing them with a big music company. Within weeks of his acquittal, he was introduced to Larry Goldfarb, a hedge fund investor from the San Francisco area, who expressed interest in such an arrangement. Mr. Goldfarb accompanied Mr. Lorenzo on the Grammy party circuit in February.
Soon the two worked out a deal in which Mr. Goldfarb had agreed to invest as much as $30 million to finance Mr. Lorenzo’s label, one of the biggest such investments in years. But weeks later Mr. Goldfarb, apparently uncertain about his potential return, abruptly bailed out of the arrangement.
Mr. Lorenzo had to start from scratch, working out a revised agreement with Universal. While the new structure means he will have to share more of the profits than if he owned the label himself, he said he was content to be back in business without a legal cloud overhead. Still, he acknowledged that it would not be so simple to rule the charts after his legal woes kept him “on ice for three years.”
But he added: “Our story is not finished yet. After this next three years, if I don’t win, and I’m not successful, that was the right ending to the story. But what happens if I win? I like my chances.”
The (Tinsel) Town That Ate Superman
JUNE 16, 1959, the day the actor George Reeves died, hardly ranks with the attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F. Kennedy when it comes to defining moments in American history. But the date has retained curious power for more than a few people who experienced the demised of television’s Superman as a loss of innocence.
Some remember where they were when they heard that Reeves had been found dead in his Beverly Hills home, an apparent suicide. Lore surrounding the event quickly blossomed into a mystery that seems wholly out of keeping with the modest house — still standing at 1579 Benedict Canyon Drive — where Reeves spent his final moments.
The death was declared a suicide by the police. But Reeves’s mother, Helen Bessolo, refused to believe that her son had ended his own life. She went so far as to hold his body in a temporary burial vault for nearly eight months, waiting for further evidence from a private investigator, Jerry Geisler.
Mrs. Bessolo and Mr. Geisler died before they could prove anything. But theories summarized in deeply researched books like “Hollywood Kryptonite: The Bulldog, the Lady and the Death of Superman” by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger and “Speeding Bullet: The Life and Bizarre Death of George Reeves” by Jan Alan Henderson continue to fuel the debate.
Was Reeves killed, as some have speculated, by his wild-child fiancée Lenore Lemmon? Or did the MGM public relations director and studio “fixer” Eddie Mannix, with his ties to organized crime, have a hand in it? Or was the culprit — if there was one — actually Mr. Mannix’s wife, Toni, with whom Reeves had a lengthy affair? With these suspects long since dead, the case may never be resolved. But it has become the stuff of a movie, “Hollywoodland,” which can at least close the loop by returning to the big screen an actor who had roles in “Gone With the Wind” and “From Here to Eternity” but would largely be remembered as the Man of Steel on television’s “Adventures of Superman.”
Set for release by Focus Features on Sept. 8, “Hollywoodland” stars Ben Affleck as Reeves and Adrien Brody as a detective investigating his death. Jim Beaver, who plays Whitney Ellsworth on the HBO series “Deadwood,” served as technical advisor. Mr. Beaver has spent decades researching Reeves’s life and death and plans to publish a book revealing his findings.
The film’s director, Allen Coulter, best known for his work on television series including “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City” and “The X-Files,” was fascinated less with Reeves than with the transition he represented.
“You sort of see the end of one world and the beginning of another,” Mr. Coulter said in a July interview at the Hotel Bel-Air here. “I think it was a period when the world was changing from what I think of as the old world, which is represented by the old world of Hollywood in the movie, versus the new world that’s coming, that world of rock ’n’ roll, fast food, noise, the ubiquity of televisions — the modern world.”
The truth of Reeves’s death is likely to remain a mystery, but his life uncoiled in a way that Mr. Coulter could understand. “George Reeves was a big success in terms of the public, but not in terms of his mind,” he said. “Television was a new medium. It was considered to be the graveyard of failed movie careers. Those people interest me more than people who are the players. After all, most of us are not famous. Most of us are guys like us that just hope we have some successes.”
“Hollywoodland” got its start in 2001, when the producer Glenn Williamson, then head of production at USA Films (which later merged with Good Machine to form Focus) purchased Paul Bernbaum’s script, “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”
The title was changed under legal pressure from Warner Brothers, which produced the “Superman” films and was protective of its hero’s signature phrase (though it conspicuously ditched the words “American way” in its latest “Superman Returns”).
The project, meanwhile, took shape around Mr. Bernbaum’s story of a fictionalized detective in pursuit of an elusive truth. “In subtle ways the script guides the audience toward a conclusion, but there is no definitive answer,” Mr. Williamson said. “Based on the presentation of the material, you can walk away thinking anything happened.”
Having moved for a time to Miramax Films, then run by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the project was taken up by the filmmakers Mark and Michael Polish, known for the dark atmospherics of their “Twin Falls Idaho” and “Northfork.” But they moved on, and the picture moved back to Focus, where Mr. Coulter and his actors joined the show.
“The Polish brothers had a very specific view,” Mr. Williamson explained. “But the real issue is, this is a very accessible story, and they’re very stylized filmmakers. It was decided that a version of the film with wider appeal would have been better served with another director.”
Mr. Brody said in a telephone interview that he saw a parallel between his screen character, the fictional investigator Louis Simo, and Reeves, both of whom are discontent with their lives.
“He had bigger plans,” Mr. Brody said of Simo. “It’s an adult role, a character dealing with a lot of things a man my age deals with. The story is ultimately about two people who wanted more than they had, more recognition, fame: things that one might assume bring happiness and fulfillment. But there are other keys to happiness than what we have planned.”
When the Polish brothers were still involved, a screen test of Kyle MacLachlan as Reeves made the rounds. But Mr. Coulter ultimately cast Mr. Affleck, despite some concern that his high profile might get in the way.
“When I learned that Ben was interested,” Mr. Coulter said, “I had to think: Is it helpful to have someone that well known or does it become a distraction? Is it hard for the audience to see George, because they are seeing Ben?”
The film refuses to draw conclusions, but pressed about what he believed to be the cause of Reeves’s death, Mr. Coulter pointed squarely toward the actor.
“When you see the photograph taken of George about a month before he died,” he said, “there’s a look in this man’s face that, even if you didn’t know his end, you would say: There is a guy full of sadness and bitterness and irony. It’s not the face of a happy man. So I want people to talk about it and conjecture, but my personal feeling is Occam’s razor: the simplest solution is usually the correct solution. And I think the simplest solution is the man was at a dead end and could not see how to escape.”
As for the new title, Mr. Coulter is inclined to believe that Warner did him a favor by opposing the old one: “I liked it instantly, because the movie is not about Hollywood. It’s not about a place; it’s about a state of mind, and ‘Hollywoodland’ suggests a state of mind. The pursuit of stardom is not restricted to Hollywood. You could call America Hollywoodland. Everybody wants to be a star.”
Movie Review | 'LOL'
Logging On for Love, Tuning Out the Realities
“LOL” derives its title from the Internet slang for “laugh out loud,” but there’s nothing funny about the movie’s insight into emotional abstraction. Directed by Joe Swanberg, from a screenplay written in collaboration with his co-stars Kevin Bewersdorf and C. Mason Wells, it tells the story of three post-college Chicagoans with nervous systems so wired, their hearts have begun to atrophy.
Tim (Mr. Swanberg) eyes his laptop while making out with his girlfriend. Chris (Mr. Wells) conducts his relationship by cellphone. Their stories are peripheral to the monstrous self-involvement of Alex (Mr. Bewersdorf), whose preoccupation with a girl he meets in cyberspace sabotages his ability to connect to one who shows up, nervously flirting, in real life.
The impact of technology on social relations has received subtler analysis elsewhere (see the films of David Cronenberg), but this small-scale, microbudget indie speaks the theme with a fresh voice.
Like the films of Andrew Bujalski (“Funny Ha Ha,” “Mutual Appreciation”), who turns up here in a cameo, it skitters to the rhythms of everyday talk, building each scene from the erratic pulse of its twentysomething cast.
Authentic in texture if narrow in scope, “LOL” is a movie about the way we live — or rather about the way white, urban, heterosexual circuit boys are failing to live.
Opens today in Manhattan.
Produced, directed and edited by Joe Swanberg; written by Kevin Bewersdorf, Mr. Swanberg and C. Mason Wells; director of photography, Mr. Swanberg; music by Mr. Bewersdorf; released by Washington Square Films. At the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third Street, at Avenue A, East Village. Running time: 81 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Kevin Bewersdorf (Alex), Joe Swanberg (Tim), C. Mason Wells (Chris), Tipper Newton (Walter), Brigid Reagan (Ada), Greta Gerwig (Greta) and Kate Winterich (Tessa).
After Hype Online, ‘Snakes on a Plane’ Is Letdown at Box Office
“Snakes on a Plane,” the wildly hyped high-concept movie, turned out to be a Web-only phenomenon this weekend, as that horror-comedy starring Samuel L. Jackson took in just $15.2 million at the box office in its opening days.
The tepid opening dashed the hopes of Hollywood and especially of New Line Cinema, which released the movie, that vigorous marketing on the Internet would be a powerful new way to propel fans into the theater at a time when movies are working hard to hold their own against other forms of entertainment.
“We’re a little disappointed,” said David Tuckerman, president for theatrical distribution for New Line. “There were a lot of inflated expectations on this picture, with the Internet buzz. But it basically performed like a normal horror movie.”
Projections within Hollywood and on Internet movie sites had predicted that the film might take in anywhere from $20 million to more than $30 million on its opening weekend.
Instead “Snakes,” which opened for midnight screenings on Thursday, drew a respectable number of fans on Friday, but fell off 18 percent on Saturday and was expected to fall off still more on Sunday, as have other horror films in the past.
“We see that Internet interest in a movie doesn’t necessarily translate to good box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, a company that tracks the box office. “To some, the marketing was more exciting than the movie. Everyone was talking about the movie. But you have to convert that talk into moviegoing, otherwise it’s just talk.”
The film was still the No. 1 draw at the box office over the weekend when including $1.4 million from the Thursday-night screenings. “Talladega Nights” ranked second, drawing an estimated $14.1 million in its third weekend in theaters, for a total of $114.7 million. “World Trade Center” followed, taking in $10.8 million, and has sold $45 million in tickets since opening on Aug. 9. Another new release, a young-adult comedy from Universal titled “Accepted,” took in an estimated $10.1 million.
Overall, the box office is running solidly ahead of its disastrous performance in 2005, with no major movies left to be released in the summer season. Summer ticket sales now total $3.4 billion, up 7.6 percent over last summer’s total of $3.15 billion, according to Exhibitor Relations. Attendance is also up 4.36 percent over last summer.
But the improved numbers have not dissipated Hollywood’s concern over long-term prospects for the movie industry, and “Snakes on a Plane” was an important experiment for determining whether movie fans active online would also become paying customers at the movie theater.
Many films have been given a strong presence on the Internet to build anticipation, but “Snakes on a Plane,” a relatively low-budget movie at $32 million with a decidedly B-level vibe, took the practice to a new level. Fans who visited the official Web site could enter a telephone number to send people a call from Mr. Jackson urging them to see what he suggested could be the best movie in history. This past weekend, people who bought tickets online could participate in exit polls by sending opinions by text message to the studio.
New Line had even incorporated ideas from bloggers, who began writing about the movie months ago, excited at the prospect of Mr. Jackson, with his ultracool image, facing down a plane full of snakes. The filmmakers even reshot some scenes at the bloggers’ suggestion to make the movie harder-edged, with more rough language and violence to give it an R rating. They also added a signature line for Mr. Jackson, who shouts an unprintable epithet about the snakes that originated from Web chatter.
In addition to these efforts, New Line conducted a more traditional marketing campaign, spending upward of $20 million on movie prints and on advertising, including television. The studio declined to screen the film for critics before the opening.
But all this effort, it seemed, yielded no more results than the conventional methods used by Hollywood for decades.
Mr. Dergarabedian suggested that perhaps the most entertaining part of the experience was talking about the movie on the Internet. “If you’re a heavy blogger, or Internet user, maybe you’re not a heavy moviegoer,” he said. “You may spend a lot of time on the Internet, on MySpace, talking about movies, and that was the most fun part of it. The movie was almost an afterthought.”
At New Line executives were still chewing over the results of their rollicking Internet experiment. “We’ll make money with this picture, it’s just more disappointing because of all the inflated expectations,” Mr. Tuckerman said. “Now we have to sit back and figure out how to take the lessons from it.”
Rattlers Freed In "Snakes On A Plane" Theater Prank
Life imitating art is all very well. Unless, that is, it's a movie about deadly snakes on the rampage.
Movie chain AMC Entertainment Inc. said pranksters at one of its Phoenix theaters released two live diamondback rattlesnakes during a showing of the film "Snakes on a Plane" last Friday. No one was injured.
AMC spokeswoman Melanie Bell said, "One was found in the parking lot during the show, and the other in the movie theater. They were both removed, and no one was harmed."
The snakes were later released in the desert.
Bell had no further details.
The movie stars Samuel L. Jackson, and spins a yarn about a crate-load of escaped snakes that run amok on an airline flight, attacking passengers and crew.
"There were kids at the show, and it was actually very reckless," Russ Johnson, the president of the Phoenix Herpetological Society told Reuters.
"The snakes' bite carries a powerful venom that could have seriously injured someone," he added.
Steal This Film!
A Swedish pro-piracy documentarist group calling itself The League of Noble Peers has just released a 32 minute long video titled Steal This Film!. The documentary is available in iPod, standard (.mov) and DVD formats.
On the video the various insiders of the Swedish pirate movement talk about how piracy evolved into a national hobby and a political movement in Sweden. The guys who founded and are running Pirate Bay give their own personal accounts on the May 31 raid. Their interviews give insight into how determined they are in promoting the pirate agenda, above all as a free speech issue. Many common Swedish filesharers are interviewed as well. Their fearless, open, consumer-style approach into piracy issues and services can be an eye-opener for many non-Swedes on how far things have really advanced in the social climate of this high-tech nation of 9 million people. There is no way Hollywood lobbyists can regain a hold on these people's minds. They all consider it given that free filesharing is here to stay and show tangible defiance against any outside pressuring on their filesharing habits.
In the true spirit of piracy, the document borrows freely material from different Hollywood movies and propaganda advertisements, combining it to the fresh interview material. The League of Noble Peers is working on continuation to this document.
Dixie Chicks Documentary Could Be Election Issue
The politically charged documentary "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing" has been picked up for worldwide distribution by the Weinstein Co.
A release is tentatively scheduled for the fall, possibly right before the November elections.
The film revolves around the aftermath of singer Natalie Maines' statement at a 2003 London concert, where she said, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
It chronicles death threats, political attacks and radio boycotts against the country trio, and that could make the film a political hot potato as well as potential ammo should longtime Democratic party supporter Harvey Weinstein become involved in the fall political campaigns.
Asked why she and co-director/producer Barbara Kopple chose to go with the Weinstein Co., Cecilia Peck said, "They made a great offer," though no figures were disclosed. Such companies as Focus Features and Picturehouse expressed interest in the documentary a few months ago.
Sources involved in the negotiations said some parties in the documentary's camp wanted to screen the entire film for several indie distributors, while others only wanted a 15-minute highlight reel to be shown. Eventually only two final bidders were allowed to see a complete rough cut of the film: the Weinstein Co. and Sony Pictures Classics, a sister company of the Dixie Chicks' Columbia Records label.
"I am extremely proud to be associated with this film because it's not only an outstanding and creative piece of work, but it also exposes our responsibility as Americans to confront our fundamental right to freedom of speech," Weinstein said.
Kopple said plans for a grassroots promotional campaign are still being discussed, and Peck said the film is likely to be a hot topic in the approaching elections. "It deals with freedom of speech, censorship and other important issues," Kopple said. "It looks at the cost of standing up for what you believe in."
The documentary still is being completed ahead of its world premiere at next month's Toronto International Film Festival.
In addition to chronicling the lives of Maines and bandmates Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, Kopple said the documentary features clips from 15 of the Dixie Chicks songs and a new one written especially for the film, though no soundtrack is planned. "You definitely feel like you're in the front row of a Dixie Chicks concert," Peck said.
Stones Bringing It All Back Home In London
Long gone are the days when the Rolling Stones courted controversy with their sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll antics. Nowadays, the health of the surviving band members is more often the hot talking point.
The first signs were there when drummer Charlie Watts was diagnosed in 2004 with cancer of the throat, a disease which he has apparently defeated. Then came guitarist Keith Richards' bizarre head injury, sustained earlier this year when he reportedly fell from a tree in Fiji. Richards, as befits his reputation, made a remarkable recovery.
With the start of their European tour accordingly delayed by six weeks, fellow guitarist Ron Wood entered rehab to deal with his alcoholism.
The latest health complaint to dog the band, a throat concern for frontman Mick Jagger, caused the band to pull dates in Spain in past week. But on Sunday night here in London, Jagger was in full voice, with the band reliable as ever.
The biggest show around rolled into town -- Jagger, Richards, Watts, Wood and co., collectively back on home turf for the opening U.K. night of the behemoth "A Bigger Bang" tour. "It's funny. You go around the world 10 times and end up where you started, in Twickenham, Richmond," Jagger, a "local," told the crowd at Twickenham Stadium.
The rock titans certainly made themselves feel at home, cranking out a slew of hits from their illustrious recording career. From the opening track "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and its follow-up, "Start Me Up," it was obvious that the band members certainly weren't slowing down. Richards, introduced by Jagger to the audience as "chief headbanger," was all-smiles from the first chord. The age lines are there to see on their faces, but the Stones' years certainly haven't been spent eating. Their bodies are all-sinew and muscle -- Jagger's biceps looking particularly ripped. These Rolling Stones gather no fat.
On numerous occasions, the Stones exposed a wealth of riches with respect to their catalog. "Ruby Tuesday," "Sympathy For the Devil," "It's Only Rock 'n Roll" (But I Like It), "Brown Sugar," and the encore "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" were on offer. At one point, a riser on which the band and backing musicians were huddled, disengaged from the stage and traveled toward the front of house. Who needs a catwalk? A mini-set which included "Miss You," "Get Off Of My Cloud and "Honky Tonk Women" ensued.
Twickenham, a leafy West London suburb whose stadium is recognized as the "home of English rugby," hosted Sunday night's concert by default. A performance on such grand a scale would usually be expected to play out at the reconstructed Wembley Stadium, but a series of set-backs has meant the latter venue is no-where near completion. "I think they're going to get Wembley ready for the farewell tour of the Artic Monkeys," Jagger quipped.
By the numbers, the tour is looming to be the biggest-ever. Prior to Sunday night, "A Bigger Bang" reported $256.08 million in grosses from 72 shows in U.S. arenas and international stadiums. They were scheduled to play another show Tuesday, before heading to Glasgow, Sheffield and Cardiff.
Perhaps surprisingly, a number of the "cheap seats" were noticeably empty, but then again tickets did cost upwards of $310 each (including fees).
The band's power to pull rock royalty, and beyond, remains undimmed. Australia's former Wimbledon tennis act Pat Cash was one of the faces in the crowd. "It's a really good show. It's pretty astounding that they are still there," Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes told Billboard.com after he caught the band in Nice, France. "The place was packed and it was fun to see."
And packed Twickenham Stadium was too. It might only be rock and roll, but the Stones showed again that they still like it.
Bob Dylan Says Modern Recordings "Atrocious"
Bob Dylan says the quality of modern recordings is "atrocious," and even the songs on his new album sounded much better in the studio than on disc.
"I don't know anybody who's made a record that sounds decent in the past 20 years, really," the 65-year-old rocker said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
Dylan, who released eight studio albums in the past two decades, returns with his first recording in five years, "Modern Times," next Tuesday.
Noting the music industry's complaints that illegal downloading means people are getting their music for free, he said, "Well, why not? It ain't worth nothing anyway."
"You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them," he added. "There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like ... static."
Dylan said he does his best to fight technology, but it's a losing battle.
"Even these songs probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded 'em. CDs are small. There's no stature to it."
Group Develops Video-Display Technology
Researchers have developed a video-display technology that can produce an unlimited range of colors by flexing tiny artificial "muscles" that generate different shades by expanding and contracting in response to electricity.
The flexible material allows individual pixels - the dots that make up an image on a screen - to display "every single natural color," said Manuel Aschwanden, a project researcher and nanotechnology specialist at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
By contrast, conventional displays rely on ever smaller pixels that trick the eye into seeing a color that is in fact mixed from the three basic colors red, green and blue.
Peter Bryanston-Cross of the Optical Engineering Laboratory at Warwick University, England, said a device based on the new technology "would be a significant achievement," but noted that "there can be a long jump to move from primitive demonstrator to actual new technological displays."
"But it's a very interesting and remarkable achievement, with real potential," said Bryanston-Cross, who was not involved in the Swiss research.
The Zurich team's work, led by Professor Andreas Stemmer and published in the September edition of the scientific journal Optics Letters, poses "a serious challenge to big manufacturers," said Aschwanden. He said it could allow high-end optical equipment such as microscopes to be produced more cheaply and efficiently.
It also promises to significantly increase the screen resolution of conventional computer monitors.
"At the moment most screens achieve three to four pixels per millimeter (75-100 dots per inch). If you look closely enough at the current screens, you can still see the individual pixels. Our system can achieve 16 pixels per millimeter (400 dpi)."
According to Aschwanden, current display technology is limited because screens have to create all colors by combining red, green and blue.
"The problem with normal LCD screens is that they start with just one shade of red. If you want dark red, you need to create that first by mixing the available red with green and blue, and so the color isn't pure," he said. "Our screens allow you to define the precise wavelength of the colors you want to combine, and display different shades, such as the color of the sky or the sea, much more accurately."
The team has been working on the project for about a year and a half, said Aschwanden.
Among the practical problems the Swiss researchers still have to overcome are the large internal voltage required to power the display.
Aschwanden said the team had been contacted by a number of well-known technology companies, but he refused to divulge names.
The goal, he said, is to produce the new screens within the next 10 years.
TiVo to Provide DVR Software to Cox
TiVo Inc. Thursday said it had agreed to provide cable company Cox Communications with software for digital video recorders.
The deal with Cox comes on the heels of TiVo's recent patent win against satellite-TV broadcaster EchoStar Communications Corp., and further strengthens TiVo's hand against cable companies who provide their own DVRs to customers. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Shares of Alviso, Calif.-based TiVo rose 50 cents, or 7 percent, to close at $7.68 Thursday on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
The deal with Atlanta-based Cox is TiVo's second agreement with a major cable operator. The company announced a similar deal with Comcast Corp., the country's largest cable company, about a year ago. It also has a deal with satellite-TV provider DirecTV Group Inc.
As with the Comcast deal, TiVo's agreement with Cox will allow customers to use TiVo's DVR capabilities without swapping out boxes. Instead, TiVo will customize its software so it can be downloaded onto Cox's existing DVR boxes.
The service is scheduled to become available in selected Cox markets during the first half of 2007, TiVo said.
A federal jury in April determined that EchoStar, the country's second-largest satellite company with 12.5 million customers, willfully infringed on TiVo's "time-warp" patent with its own DVRs. Then last week, a U.S. district judge ordered EchoStar to stop selling and turn off more than 3 million DVRs within 30 days.
EchoStar, Englewood, Colo., has been able to temporarily block the injunction by appealing to a higher court, thus winning some time to negotiate with TiVo. Industry observers noted that the recent course of events with EchoStar likely would pressure other cable companies such as Time Warner Inc.'s cable unit or Charter Communications Inc. into licensing deals with TiVo.
AOL to Sell Movies, Shows Through Portal
"Hitch," "24" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" are among the movies and television shows that AOL will sell through its new video portal under deals the Internet company has forged with major Hollywood studios.
The partnerships, announced Thursday, represent AOL's latest efforts to become the destination for online video as the company tries to offset revenues it expects to lose from a recent decision to drop subscription fees for many high-speed customers.
The offerings also mark the latest experiments in online distribution as studios and TV networks try everything from showing programs for free on their Web sites to selling already-aired episodes for $1.99 each through Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store, Google Inc.'s video store and others.
The AOL deals, terms for which were not disclosed, are with News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox, Sony Corp.'s Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, NBC Universal's Universal Pictures, and Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group. AOL LLC is a unit of Time Warner. NBC Universal is a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Vivendi Universal.
Users will be able to download selected titles from those studios for $9.99 to $19.99 each, comparable to fees at online services CinemaNow, MovieLink and Guba.
Initial titles available include "Hitch" and "Spider-Man 2." AOL said hundreds of movies will be added within a few weeks, likely including "Batman Forever," "The Matrix," "American Pie" and "Dr. Dolittle."
Although users will own the titles, meaning viewing won't be automatically disabled after a day or two, the movies can be played on only a limited number of Windows-based personal computers or portable devices that support Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Player technology. Limits vary, but they are about four devices for movies and 10 for television shows.
For now, movies may not be burned onto DVDs, a restriction that so far has limited the appeal of movie downloads.
Kevin Conroy, executive vice president for AOL, said support for Apple's Macintosh computers is expected this fall, but users won't be able to transfer the programs to its market-leading iPod players.
AOL will also sell Fox television shows for $1.99 an episode. The offerings include current series such as "24," "Prison Break" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," along with classics like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Hill St. Blues."
Older Sony hits such as "Charlie's Angels," "Starsky & Hutch," and "SWAT" will be shown for free with ads and for $1.99 without. The paid version comes with offline and portable viewing.
AOL already has a partnership with Warner Bros., called "In2TV," for free showings of classics like "Welcome Back Kotter," "Sisters" and "Growing Pains."
AOL has been trying to increase traffic to its ad-supported Web sites and earlier this month launched a video portal that tries to aggregate clips and full-length programs from around the Internet. Its partners are able to program a number of video-on-demand channels, and the new deals add five from Fox and two from Sony for television programs.
Conroy said AOL's decision to charge for some programs is consistent with its desire to offer users choice - download-to-own offerings alongside free, ad-supported items. He said AOL is becoming one of the few places where users can get a range of movies, television shows and music videos; many of its rivals focus on one or the other.
Rob Enderle, an industry analyst with the Enderle Group, said that while Apple got a head start with iTunes, AOL still has millions of subscribers connecting through its proprietary software - a base the company could try to persuade to buy movies.
Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said he was drawn by the traffic AOL already gets and the fact that Sony can choose between selling programs and giving away ad-supported shows. He said talks were continuing with others, including Apple.
Shares of Time Warner fell 11 cents to close at $16.43 Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Take the Liquids, but Leave the Laptops
Domestic air travel seems to have returned to normal, surviving the latest disruption that started about two weeks after the British authorities announced that they had foiled a plot to use liquid explosives to blow up passenger planes bound for the United States.
Americans have basically said that they are not afraid; at least, that was my impression on a flight here on Friday.
I am working on a project while being holed up here in the desert, which meant that I had to check a bag filled with the needed paperwork. The Newark airport was jammed, but the lines to check bags moved smoothly. So did the long line at the security checkpoints, where travelers seemed to take in stride the prohibitions against carrying on liquids and gels. And the screeners with the Transportation Security Administration seemed to be going out of their way to treat travelers courteously, while keeping the lines moving.
“It’s amazing. Everybody just seems to be with the program,” one screener said.
In a summer with record demand and with planes fuller than ever, there have been many delays and cancellations and missed connections. But my Continental flight took off from Newark only 15 minutes late and arrived in Houston a few minutes early. I was in coach. They served a decent chicken sandwich with a salad. My connecting flight from Houston to Tucson also arrived early.
At the Tucson airport, my bag tumbled onto the carousel 15 minutes after arrival. At the rental car counter, my rental agreement and keys were in a slot marked with my name. I was in bed by 11:30 listening to the call of the coyotes.
Nobody has ever accused me of being a shill for the airlines or a Pollyanna about air travel. But I have to say that I got from Point A to Point B last week without a hassle. Credit must be paid to the airlines, the security agency and to sensible fellow travelers.
Now let’s go back almost two weeks to the scenes of frightened chaos in London, where people once faced down the blitz with aplomb. All of a sudden, Heathrow and other airports seemed to be in pandemonium after the police announced — and the details are still sketchy, if you ask me — that they had thwarted a bombing plot.
“All carry-ons were banned,” said Greeley Koch, the president of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, who was at Heathrow that day booked on a flight to Chicago.
“After they made me check my laptop and other electronics, I went to buy a book and was told I couldn’t take a book on board,” Mr. Koch said. “They said a weapon could be hidden in a hollowed-out book. It didn’t seem to matter that a screener can easily flip through a book and see.”
After his flight took off many hours late, Mr. Koch had the occasion — there being nothing else to do — to reflect on the fact that dozens of business travelers like himself were on this long-haul daytime flight, unable to get any work done.
Security specialists that I know point out that we could all fly naked and the aviation system would still be riddled with holes — cargo handling, ramp access security, among other things. But suddenly, in the panic over carry-on liquids, the idea of banning laptops and other electronic gear was widely in circulation. That would be a serious problem for many business travelers, who have rolled with the punches so far.
Of about 200 corporate travel managers who responded to questions posed by Mr. Koch’s group the day after the London incident, two-thirds said there had not been a significant number of cancellations of business trips to Europe. A little over 30 percent said that some trips had been postponed for a week or so. And nearly 60 percent of the travel managers said they had business travelers stranded in Britain the previous day.
And nearly two-thirds of the travel managers questioned said employees would definitely travel less if laptops and other electronic devices were banned from airplane cabins. The other third said they were not sure.
Tom Byrum is a project manager for a software consulting company near Philadelphia who takes three or four business trips a month, some regional and some transcontinental. If he could not have his hand-held device and laptop on board, Mr. Byrum said, he couldn’t curtail business travel, but he’d drive on regional trips, not fly.
“If I weren’t allowed to take my electronics on board, I wouldn’t be able to get any work done, even when waiting for a flight, which is inevitably delayed,” he said. “On board, they’d have to sedate me.”
Gateway Gets $450M Bid For Retail Ops
Gateway Inc. has received an unsolicited offer from eMachines founder Lap Shun Hui to acquire the computer and printer maker's retail operations for $450 million.
Shares of Gateway soared 28 percent to $2.20 in pre-market trading Wednesday after the news.
China-born entrepreneur Hui sold low-cost PC maker eMachines to larger rival Gateway in early 2004 for about $290 million in cash and stock. He is now Gateway's second-largest shareholder, behind company founder Ted Waitt, and has previously expressed interest in buying Gateway and taking it private.
Hui, who now owns office-products development firm Joui International, said in a letter to Gateway Chairman Rick Snyder that in order to effectively compete, Gateway must separate its retail operations from its other businesses, as well as make other changes to improve margins.
"I am very disappointed that Gateway has chosen not to constructively engage in discussions with me and my advisors on the proposal that I sent to you on Aug. 3," Hui wrote in a letter dated Monday. "I believe that management and the board need to adopt a sense of urgency to address Gateway's problems."
"The landscape of the PC business has continued to evolve rapidly and Gateway has not reacted. Gateway's stock price has continued to decline and the failure to name a replacement CEO for over six months has left Gateway in a position where it is unable to clearly and credibly articulate its strategic direction to the market," he wrote.
Hui also said he would consider acquiring all Gateway shares and separating the businesses himself, if Gateway prefers that route.
Gateway said its board will review Hui's bid with the help of its financial and legal advisers.
Gateway shares closed Tuesday at $1.72 on the New York Stock Exchange. Last fall, the stock traded at a 52-week high of $3.25, but has since steadily declined to hit a year-low of $1.30 earlier this month. Shares are down 34 percent since the beginning of the year.
Sony Pictures Buys Video-Sharing Site
Sony Pictures Entertainment has acquired online video-sharing site Grouper Networks Inc. for $65 million, giving the movie studio a foothold in the fast-growing world of user-generated video.
Sony said Tuesday it does not immediately plan to sell its movies or TV shows on the Grouper.com site, although it may in the future.
Media companies, including Sony, have begun to offer content side by side with videos shot by amateurs on sites such as MySpace, Guba and BitTorrent.
Grouper will remain an independent company based in Sausalito and will retain its current management team, the companies said.
"Consumers are spending more and more time on sites like Grouper, and as one of the world's largest creators of entertainment, we want to be where the audiences are," said Michael Lynton, chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures, part of Sony Corp.
In addition to featuring short videos uploaded to the site by users, Grouper also provides software that allows people to place those videos on social networking sites such as MySpace and Friendster using its peer-to-peer network. The software also allows others to e-mail the videos to friends and to download them to portable devices.
That kind of "viral" video sharing could be valuable to a studio like Sony looking for new ways to market films and TV shows.
Lynton said Sony views Grouper as a profitable stand-alone business that could boost revenue in the future by selling ads. Big media companies are searching for ways to profit as advertisers move dollars online, away from traditional broadcast outlets.
Sony could also discover new talent on the site, Lynton said.
"If we can find great talent on Grouper, it would be an added benefit," Lynton said.
One of the most popular features on Grouper is "mashups," which encourage users to create new videos from snippets of other videos.
Sony was a pioneer in that area, offering its own Web-based video creation tools in 2001 on a service called Screenblast. The site allowed users to combine clips from Sony movies and tracks from Sony recording artists to create new videos.
S. Korea to Get New Versions Of Windows
Microsoft Corp. said Wednesday it would release new versions of Windows in South Korea this week to comply with an antitrust ruling against the U.S. software company.
Earlier this year, the Korea Fair Trade Commission fined Microsoft 32.5 billion won ($34 million) and ordered it to provide two separate versions of Windows, saying the company abused its dominant market position by tying certain software to its Windows operating system.
In compliance with the ruling, Microsoft will release two new versions of Windows on Thursday, a company official said on condition of anonymity, citing company policy. One of them will be stripped of Windows Media Player and Windows Messenger and the other carries links to Web pages that allow consumers to download competing versions of such software, he said.
The move comes after a Seoul court last month rejected Microsoft's request for a stay of the penalties while the company pursues a legal challenge to the antitrust ruling.
Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is pursuing an appeal to the Fair Trade Commission's ruling in the Seoul High Court. That is unaffected by last month's decision regarding the stay request.
Microsoft is engaged in a similar case in Europe.
Microsoft Will Re-Release 'Butchered' Patch
Instead of making the browser more secure, Microsoft Corp.'s August Internet Explorer security update introduced a critical security bug, according to researchers at eEye Digital Security Inc. Now the entire MS06-042 update is slated for re-release -- but due to further quality-control problems, the company isn't sure when.
Microsoft released the security patch, known as MS06-042 on August 8, but users soon reported several problems with the software.
Patched browsers would crash when using Web-based versions of several applications, including PeopleSoft, Siebel, and Sage CRM. Web sites that used HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) 1.1 compression to speed up the downloading of images could also cause the browser to fail.
These issues are described on the Microsoft site. The MS06-042 update is detailed on TechNet.
Last week, Microsoft released a "hotfix" download that addressed these problems and said it planned to re-issue the update, known as MS06-042, on Tuesday August 22, but that date has now been pushed back indefinitely.
"Due to an issue discovered in final testing, Microsoft will not be re-releasing MS06-042 today," the company said Tuesday in an advisory posted to its Web site. "This update will be re-released for Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1 when it meets an appropriate level of quality for broad distribution."
According to a source familiar with the matter, the delay is due to a problem in distributing the patch with Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS) product. The patch does work with the company's free update services, like Windows Update, the source added. "Obviously not everyone has bought [Microsoft's] SMS product and that shouldn't be a reason to delay patches," the source said.
Microsoft did add that it was investigating the reported security problem, discovered by eEye Digital Security Inc.
According to eEye, the browser-crashing bug could also be used by attackers to run unauthorized software on a victim's PC.
"What people didn't know about that patch is when [Microsoft] introduced that patch, they actually introduced a new exploitable vulnerability," said eEye Chief Hacking Officer Marc Maiffret. "They basically butchered that patch."
EEye discovered the security problem last week after looking more closely at the crashing problem, but the company believes that the security hole is also known by other security researchers and exploit writers.
"The bad guys basically know about this and know that it's an exploitable scenario," Maiffret said.
Researchers at eEye have created a "proof of concept" exploit for the problem in their labs, but Maiffret did not know of any such code being released to the public. This lessens the likelihood of a widespread attack based on the bug.
Microsoft Signs Ad Deal With Facebook
Microsoft Corp. has struck a deal to provide advertising for social networking site Facebook, in one of the first high-profile agreements for the software maker's online advertising platform.
Under the deal announced late Tuesday, Microsoft will sell and provide banner ads and sponsored links for Facebook using the adCenter online advertising platform and other in-house technology and services.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. It is expected to run through mid-2009.
Microsoft and privately held Facebook said they only began discussing a deal in earnest late last week, and the companies hope the advertising will start appearing by early fall. Facebook is currently selling advertising on its own and has in the past used a couple other companies for that service, said Owen Van Natta, Facebook's chief operating officer.
Redmond-based Microsoft officially launched adCenter last spring as a way to compete with companies such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., which both derive significant revenue from their online advertising networks.
Earlier this month, Google struck a deal with News Corp.'s MySpace.com, the top social-networking site, to pay at least $900 million in shared advertising revenue and become the online hangout's exclusive search provider. Under the multiyear deal, Fox Interactive Media will add Google search boxes to MySpace and other sites. Google also get first rights to sell any display ads Fox doesn't sell directly.
Microsoft Considers Discounts for Vista
Elizabeth M. Gillespie
Microsoft Corp. is considering discounts or other promotions during the holidays to entice consumers to upgrade their PCs with Windows Vista, even though the new operating system isn't due to hit store shelves until January at the earliest.
Any end-of-the-year effort to spur PC purchases would likely please many retailers and computer manufacturers, who fear disappointing sales during the crucial holiday as consumers wait for the highly anticipated and long-delayed software.
Kevin Kutz, a director in Microsoft's Windows Client Group, confirmed Tuesday that the company is in talks with PC makers and retailers about a range of possible holiday promotions. But he declined to offer other details, such as whether they would apply only to new purchases.
Vista will be the first major upgrade to Microsoft's flagship operating system since Windows XP was released in 2001. After a series of delays, Microsoft said it appears to be on track to ship the business version of Vista in November and to consumers in January.
Last month, however, Kevin Johnson, co-president of the Microsoft division that includes Windows, said the company would not hesitate to delay Vista again if it has any concerns about product quality.
George Shiffler, research director at Gartner Group, revised his PC sales forecast for 2006 after Microsoft announced its latest Vista delay in March. He said he expects about 1.1 million fewer units to be sold worldwide than previously forecast.
Shiffler isn't expecting Microsoft to make the January release date. He notes that it usually takes Microsoft nine months to a year to ship the final product after its second "beta," or test, release. Vista Beta 2 came out in May.
He suggested some PC makers might be hoping for another delay, because marketing an operating system that doesn't exist yet is a formidable challenge they'd rather skip.
Instead, he thinks they'd rather wait for holiday and Super Bowl media distractions to end before trying to get customers excited about a new PC.
Microsoft's initial goal for the consumer market "was to get Vista-powered machines, new chips, Intel processors - have the whole thing come together in time for Christmas," said Ted Schadler, an industry analyst for Forrester Research Inc.
Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for NPD Group questioned whether any Vista promotion would work before consumers can actually buy it.
"The issue isn't that people don't want to buy a new PC ahead of a new operating system," Baker said. "People don't want to install a new operating system on a new PC."
Microsoft Sues 'Cybersquatters'
Microsoft Corp. said it has filed three lawsuits against "cybersquatters," in an effort to fight back against a surge of online trademark infringement by people seeking profit from pay-per-click advertising.
The Redmond, Wash., software giant said cybersquatters and typosquatters - people who register Web addresses either with trademarked terms or with common misspellings in the hopes of luring Web surfers who mistype addresses into their browsers - are now registering more than 2,000 domains each day targeting Microsoft.
The vast majority of the sites, which have addresses like "microsoftrebate.com," "xbox36com.com" and "msnfinance.com," are bought by professional operations that place nothing on the pages but pay-per-click ads served by online-ad networks, Microsoft said. About a quarter of the sites use privacy services to disguise their identities.
"Microsoft has witnessed a virtual land rush for Internet domain names with the goal of driving traffic for profit," said Aaron Kornblum, the company's Internet Safety Enforcement attorney. The company noticed the surge in sites earlier this year as part of its efforts to monitor so-called phishing sites, which mimic bank and other sites as part of identity-theft schemes.
In response, Microsoft filed two civil lawsuits Monday against four defendants it said are profiting from domain names that infringe on Microsoft trademarks. One filed in U.S. District Court in Utah alleges that Jason Cox of Albuquerque, N.M., Daniel Goggins of Provo, Utah, and John Jonas, of Springville, Utah, together registered 324 domain names targeting Microsoft. The defendants do business as Jonas and Goggins Studios LLC and Newtonarch LLC.
In the second suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Microsoft alleges that Dan Brown of Long Beach, Calif., whose firm is Partner IV Holdings, registered 85 domain names targeting Microsoft.
The company also filed a "John Doe" lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The suit is aimed at identifying cybersquatters and typosquatters who conceal their identities, and Microsoft said it will soon issue subpoenas to domain-name registrars.
Microsoft argues that the Web sites are forbidden under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. That law, which was signed into law by President Clinton in 1999, imposes fines of up to $100,000 in damages for anyone who, with bad-faith intent to profit, "registers, traffics in or uses a domain name that is identical to, confusingly similar or dilutive of" an existing trademark, according to Microsoft. The suits also cite state laws and common law forbidding unfair competition.
I.B.M. Extends Buying Spree With $1.3 Billion Deal
I.B.M., unveiling its third acquisition of a public company so far this month, said Wednesday it would spend $1.3 billion in cash for Internet Security Systems, which performs network monitoring and analysis services for companies.
All told, I.B.M.’s recent string of deal announcements — the other acquisitions were FileNet and MRO Software — has a total value of more than $3.6 billion, all of it to be paid in cash. And that figure does not include I.B.M.’s agreement to buy privately held Webify Solutions, whose terms were not disclosed.
For all of 2005, I.B.M.’s acquisitions came to about $2 billion.
I.B.M. seems to have been fairly conservative in the prices of its latest deals. I.B.M.’s offer of $28 per share for Internet Security Systems represented a relatively modest 8 percent premium to the target company’s closing share price on Tuesday. I.B.M.’s offer for FileNet came with a razor-thin 1 percent premium.
Price Tag For Lost Productivity: $544 Billion
Although most bosses assume the rank-and-file will have downtime every day, employees waste about twice as much time as their employers think, according to a new survey by Salary.com and America Online.
Employees spend an average of 1.86 hours per eight-hour workday on something other than their jobs, not including lunch and scheduled breaks, the survey found. Based on those averages, employee time-wasting costs U.S. employers an estimated $544 billion in lost productivity (http://www.inc.com/articles/2002/06/24280.html) each year.
More than half (52 percent) of the 2,706 people surveyed admitted that their biggest distraction during work hours is surfing the Internet (http://www.inc.com/articles/2006/03/productivity.html) for personal use. Other distractions cited by respondents included socializing with co-workers (26.3 percent), running errands outside the office (7.6 percent) and spacing out (6.6 percent).
The good news for employers (http://www.inc.com/criticalnews/arti...productivity.h tml) is that time-wasting appears to be decreasing. In a similar survey conducted in 2005, U.S. workers admitted to squandering 2.09 hours per eight-hour workday. Thirty-three percent of those polled said they waste time at work because they don't have enough work to do, while 23.4 percent wasted time because they felt underpaid.
The 2005 survey also found that older employees wasted less time at work than their younger counterparts. People born between 1950 and 1959 waste 0.68 hours at work each day, while those born between 1980 and 1985 admit they waste 1.95 hours.
Unlock Work Internet Or Risk Losing Staff: Microsoft
Jobseekers will think twice about employers who lock down work internet access, a senior Microsoft executive said today.
“These kids are saying: forget it! I don’t want to work with you. I don’t want to work at a place where I can’t be freely online during the day,” said Anne Kirah, Microsoft Senior Design Anthropologist.
“People that I meet are saying this to me every day, all over the world.”
Kirah made the comments during the keynote at the opening of Microsoft’s annual developer love-in, Tech.Ed, in Sydney.
“Companies all over the world are saying, oh, you can’t be on the internet while you’re at work. You can’t be on instant messaging at work…” she said. “These are digital immigrant ideas.”
Kirah defines ‘digital immigrants’ as people who were not born into the digital lifestyle and view it as a distraction rather than an integral part of life. The younger generation of workers have been using computers and mobile phones since birth and she calls them ‘digital natives’.
Kirah cited a Norwegian psychologist who claimed that young people were now so reliant on digital communication that “taking a mobile phone away from a teenage girl is the same as child abuse.”
“Digital communication is part of people’s lives now. Their friends online are the people they identify with.”
Microsoft Australia Group Manager of Technical Communities Frank Arrigo said people were so frustrated with limited internet access at work that they were finding their own workarounds anyway.
People were increasingly making use of anonymous proxies that couldn’t be easily blocked by corporate firewalls, bringing in their own wireless broadband services for use with a personal laptop or with a work PC or accessing instant messaging via mobile phones and PDAs.
“People are hitting security barriers put in by the owners of the infrastructure, but employers see internet access as bad for productivity.”
“Bill Gates said years ago that if you worry about internet productivity, you’re worrying about people stealing pens from your stationery cupboard… there are bigger things to worry about.”
“Organisations have valid concerns about security risks, but all you need is technology to secure the network perimiter properly,” Arrigo said.
“We know of one woman who was so frustrated with her work blocking her 9 to 5 internet access that she’d spend her evenings doing research online and then she’d email it to herself to read at work the next day… there are a million ways around these limitations.”
Arrigo said employers needed to rethink their assumptions about internet usage. “For a lot of people now, instant messaging is a legitimate work tool that allows quick communication between colleagues, avoiding voicemail-tag and long distance charges, yet many companies block instant messaging completely.”
“They only see the downside of it; they assume it’s a time waster.”
While Kirah and Arrigo’s comments no doubt resonate with many frustrated office workers around the world, they also have a business motivation for Microsoft.
Because Microsoft’s Windows Live services will be advertiser-funded, the more people that have access to them, the more money Microsoft makes.
“Our business model is advertising. With advertising you want reach,” George Moore, General Manager Windows Live Platform told APC.
Frank Arrigo said it wasn’t only about using the net at work: employees are also becoming increasingly frustrated with companies that don’t make it easy to access complete company network resources from home.
“The tools are available, but it’s a matter of educating IT departments that it can be done securely. In the case of Microsoft, our 70,000 staff have a smart card that authenticates a secure network link in to work.”
Citrix also offers a product, GoToMyPC, which allows remote screen sharing of work PCs even through restrictive corporate firewalls. It encapsulates the screen-sharing data in standard HTTP packets.
About Batteries: Tips on Longevity and Reviving the Dead
Eric A. Taub
Rechargeable batteries are the brawn behind the brains of today’s portable electronic devices. But unless a cellphone dies in the middle of a call, or you are trying to determine which of your six charging devices to stuff into a suitcase before a flight, you might not give batteries much thought.
Dell’s recall of batteries for more than four million laptop computers, though, has brought renewed attention to the temperamental nature of a crucial power source.
Dell said a manufacturing defect in some lithium-ion batteries supplied by Sony caused a handful to smolder and catch fire, and it advised owners of affected computers to run them on wall current until replacement batteries arrived. Smaller recalls in the past, involving laptops and other devices, have also focused on lithium-ion batteries. But the industry was quick to offer reassurances.
“The industry makes hundreds of millions of lithium-ion units and ships them to every continent each year,” said Norm England, president of the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association, a trade group. “The average consumer should not be concerned about safety.”
Rechargeable batteries come in two popular types. Lithium-ion batteries are generally found in laptops, cellphones and iPods; nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries are used in cordless phones and less-expensive digital cameras, plus a few laptops.
Batteries of both types are usually manufactured specifically for the devices they power, with their own proprietary recharging plugs, leaving the typical consumer with a jumble of chargers to manage. But following a few routines can help make the batteries run longer and more safely. And a variety of gadgets are also emerging to ease the burden of recharging them — and the space you need for chargers in your suitcase.
Keeping a Charge
Lithium-ion batteries are particularly sensitive to heat. To avoid the danger of a fire, they should not be stored in places that get direct sunlight, like a car’s interior. Many manufacturers specify a temperature range for operation. In addition, the connectors should be kept away from metals that could cause a short circuit.
Regardless of type, there are a number of ways to increase the life of a rechargeable battery. According to Brian Kimberlin, director of consumer batteries for the Panasonic Battery Corporation of America, one of the best strategies to prolong battery life is to use them. Otherwise, “they will lose their capacity to hold a charge,” he said.
On the other hand, continually keeping a laptop’s lithium-ion battery at full capacity also reduces the battery’s ability to live a long life.
“Leaving a notebook charged all the time is not a good idea,” said Andrew Bradner, senior product manager for the American Power Conversion Corporation, a maker of charging devices. To keep the battery able to hold a charge, it is best to use the battery and wall current alternately to run the laptop.
According to Michelle Thatcher, a senior associate editor at CNET.com, if you use only wall current to run the device, you should remove the laptop’s battery to prevent it from being constantly charged and becoming overheated.
A laptop continues to draw battery power when it is put to sleep. To cut back on power consumption, shut down the computer completely. And if your laptop comes equipped with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi abilities, shut them off if you are not actually using either; otherwise, current is drawn as the laptop searches for compatible devices with which to connect.
To reduce battery consumption further, both the Windows and Mac operating systems include control panels that allow users to increase battery life by simultaneously decreasing performance. (To get to the control panel in a Mac, go to the Energy Saver pane in System Preferences. On a Windows laptop, choose the Performance and Maintenance tab in the Control Panel icon, which is found under the Start menu.)
The hard disk can be made to spin down whenever possible, and the screen can be dimmed from maximum brightness when battery power is being used.
Other battery-saving strategies include removing a CD or DVD from the laptop’s slot when not in use to prevent the disk drive from needlessly spinning, and quitting any applications not currently in use. If you do not plan on using your laptop for several months, Apple Computer recommends that you remove the battery and store it at 50 percent of its charge. Storing it when completely discharged will prevent it from holding a charge later, while storing it when fully charged will reduce its maximum life, the company says.
Reducing the time a backlight is used is also a good strategy for maximizing an iPod’s battery life, Apple notes on its Web site.
Cellphone battery life benefits from some of the same conservation strategies that work with laptops: use menu options that keep the screen dimmed, turn off Java-based games, and disable Bluetooth when not connected to a Bluetooth device.
Recharging Made Easier
Of course, there will always come a time when recharging is necessary. To avoid lugging around a suitcase full of chargers, several manufacturers make all-in-one devices: charging bricks that come with a selection of tips to fit different tools.
The Universal Power Adapter ($100 from apc.com) comes with 10 adapter tips to recharge laptops. The device works with American and European line voltage, car voltage or even with the hard-to-find power outlets on planes. While charging a laptop, two additional devices like a hand-held or cellphone can be charged simultaneously.
The iGo Juice ($120 from igo.com and retailers) comes with eight power tips to recharge a range of laptop batteries. An optional iGo dualpower accessory ($25) allows one additional device, like a cellphone, digital camera or MP3 player, to be charged at the same time, using additional $10 adapter tips available on the company’s Web site. Less-expensive universal rechargers are available from iGo, starting at $40, but they cannot charge laptops.
For the times when AC power is not available but a charge is needed, several devices can help bridge the power gap. The APC Mobile Power Pack ($70), an external rechargeable battery, can give an additional 10 hours of talk time for cellphones, and up to 55 hours for an iPod Nano. U.S.B. connection cables for hand-helds, cellphones and other portable devices can be purchased separately from mobilecomputing.apc.com.
The tiny SideWinder portable generator ($20 from www.sidewinder.ca) is a useful cellphone recharging option when you are nowhere near wall current. Turning the crank for three minutes gives an additional two to eight minutes of talk time, depending on model. When not connected to a phone, the crank will charge a small light-emitting diode for up to two and a half minutes, to provide emergency lighting. The company sells a range of phone adapter plugs that will fit models from Ericsson, Motorola, LG, Samsung and Siemens, among others.
If cranking is not your style, the Soldius1 Universal Solar Charger ($110 from www.mysoldius.com) can power up an iPod, cellphone, or P.D.A. in less than three hours, using only the sun’s rays.
Available in a variety of colors, the Soldius1, weighing three ounces and about the size of a portable calculator, comes with adapter plugs to fit iPods and other music players, cellphones and BlackBerrys.
If all of these tips seem daunting, the best strategy to increase battery life, according to Mr. England of the battery association, is “to read the owner’s manual of the product.” But with so many new portable electronic devices to cope with, that could be a challenge.
MIT Laptop Gets A New Name Just In Time For Field Tests
With a 500-unit field test ready to begin in September, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program has announced that the much-anticipated, now-$140 laptop will be called Children's Machine 1 (CM1). Although MIT failed to reach the $100 price point, the Linux-based laptop is a remarkable achievement. Manufactured by Chinese hardware company Quanta, the rugged, portable computer features a 400mhz AMD Geode processor (the original prototypes had a 366mhz processor), 128MB of DRAM, built-in wireless support, and 512MB of flash memory for internal storage.
In addition to a faster processor, the CM1 sports several other new features not found in the original prototypes, including an SD card slot, microphone and speaker jacks (potentially for rumored VoIP support), and a digital camera capable of capturing video and still images (the drivers are actively being developed by Jonathan Corbet of Linux Weekly News). Technical details regarding the 8" LCD screen have also been released, and despite the initial skepticism of the naysayers, the folks at MIT have hit a home run. The display will feature 1200x900 resolution. In a statement on the OLPC web site, project chairman Nicholas Negroponte reveals that the CM1 display "has higher resolution than 95 percent of the laptop displays on the market today, approximately one-seventh of the power consumption, one-third of the price, sunlight readability, and room-light readability with the backlight off."
Tremendous progress has been made this summer on the Sugar user interface system that will be shipped with the CM1. Funded by Google through the Summer of Code (SoC) initiative, intrepid college student Erik Pukinskis has collaborated with the GNOME development community to adapt AbiWord for use with the portable Linux system. Although still experimental, AbiWord has successfully been integrated into the Sugar environment. Artists and developers continue to work on the evolving Sugar interface, and the fruits of their labor can be seen in demoes, mockups, and design reviews. Those interested in the interface development process can learn more by reading the Sugar development mailing list.
A Divide Over The Future Of Hard Drives
Heat or dots? The question is dividing the hard drive industry as it prepares for a major product overhaul.
Perpendicular hard drive technology, which started appearing last year, currently lets manufacturers increase drive density, or the amount of data stored, by around 50 percent annually. But that pace of progress will likely sputter in about four to five years.
To keep progress going, the first disks based on new technology will need to enter the market around 2011. Competitors differ, however, on how and when ideas for revamping drives should become reality.
Seagate Technologies, the world's largest drive maker, wants to first adopt a concept called "heat-assisted magnetic recording." This involves heating microscopic cells on the disk platters as part of the recording process.
Meanwhile, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, No. 2 in the industry, favors going forward first with something called "patterned media." In this technique, the cells that store data--which now sit next to each other in a continuous film--would be isolated from each other like dots.
Time is of the essence: Five years--from concept to the first finished products that can be shipped to customers--isn't long. Additionally, Flash memory makers assert that their chips will start to displace drives in notebooks over the coming years. Drive makers scoff at the notion, but agree that technological changes need to occur for drives to protect their turf.
"We need to maintain that 40 percent areal-density growth rate, at a minimum, to stay ahead of flash, and we are dang well going to do it," said Mark Kryder, chief technology officer at Seagate.
Eventually, manufacturers will combine heat-assisted and patterned media to produce drives that will be capable of storing 50 to 100 terabits of data per square inch. That's 280 to 560 times more dense than the 178.8 gigabit-per-square-inch drive coming from Toshiba later this year. (A square inch of 100-terabit material could hold as much data as 12,500 pickup trucks filled with books.)
Seagate and Hitachi, as well as other drive makers, are experimenting with both technologies in their labs. Still, the next step is yet to be determined.
"Most people have thought heat assistance probably would be first, but who knows?" said Jim Porter, president of Disk/Trend, which analyzes the disk drive industry.
The enemy of hard drives is your thermostat. The devices store data in bits, which are microscopic spots on a hard drive platter. The bits themselves are made up of about 50 to 100 cobalt-platinum grains. When the grains get magnetized in a particular direction, the bit represents either a "1" or "0".
To increase the areal density, which is the amount of data a single platter inside a hard drive can hold, engineers have shrunk the size of bits and grains over the years. This has helped PC makers to boost the capacity of hard drives from a few megabytes to more than 100 gigabytes.
Successive years of shrinkage, however, have led to magnetic grains that measure about 8 nanometers long. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.)
Reducing the grains further in size could cause them to flip at room temperature and so corrupt the data--an aspect of the "superparamagnetic effect," first identified in the mid-1990s by Stan Charap of Carnegie Mellon University. And cutting back on the number of grains inside each bit, absent further changes, would increase noise and lower reliability.
Drive manufacturers have bought time with perpendicular drives, which stack the bits vertically. But that solution doesn't eliminate the "no more shrinkage" problem.
One or the other
The heat-assisted camp wants to change the grains. Unlike cobalt-platinum grains, iron-platinum grains will not flip at room temperature, Kryder said. To record or erase data, a laser integrated into the drive would heat a particular bit. The data would get recorded or erased, and the bit would quickly cool.
"We'd have to change the (recording) head to add heat, but it's not that big of a deal," Kryder said. Adding a laser wouldn't increase costs much, he noted. More important, the bits could be applied to the platter surfaces through a film, which is how bits are applied today.
Material changes, however, are rarely easy; for example, the switch from aluminum to copper in semiconductors confounded semiconductor makers. For the heat-applied technology, engineers would have to perfect ways to pinpoint the heat from the laser.
"It requires small optical spots. It requires very sharp thermal gradients. It requires new materials," John Best, chief technologist at Hitachi, said, pointing out hurdles in the process.
"You could argue (about) which one's easier to solve, but it looked to us that the practical problems with patterned media meant that we could probably do it first more easily," Best added.
By contrast, the patterned media group wants to keep the current grains. It proposes, instead, reducing the number of grains in each bit from 100 to one, and then isolating the bits from each other to reduce cross-talk and the risk of data corruption, Best said. Initially, the grains in the first patterned media drives would be larger than the grains in today's drives, but the overall size of the bit would be smaller.
"With this, you can get a factor of 100 in increase in density. Of course, you have to scale everything else, so it will take time. But the problem of the temperature of the room reversing magnetization goes away," Best said.
So how do you create a pattern? A master pattern could be drawn with e-beam lithography. That pattern could then be transferred to a mold, which would then be used to stamp out the pattern on hard drive platters though imprint lithography.
Adopting e-beam and imprint lithography into mass manufacturing won't be easy. In fact, patterned media hard drives could easily become the first widescale application for both, Best said.
E-beam, which creates a pattern by firing electrons, was invented years ago to replace traditional lithography in chipmaking, but it never did. Imprint lithography, which makes an impression like that on a signet ring, was only developed in the last few years.
However, lithography of any kind is expensive, particularly when compared to the film-coating processes used today. "We don't have to personalize each bit by patterning it lithographically," Kryder noted, referring to the heat-assisted technique.
Both camps have published papers and lab results, but no one is close to having manufacturing samples. Hitachi, for instance, has created prototype components, but not complete patterned media drives.
Ultimately, the decision could turn on which technology looks easier to bring to mass manufacturing. This year, around 450 million to 460 million drives will leave factories, according to data from Disk/Trend.
"You've got to figure out how to do this, not just in a lab demonstration, but by producing them in the hundreds of millions," said Porter of Disk/Trend. "The good news is that you have people working in both of these camps, and maybe others. There's nano-this and nano-that."
No matter which goes first, the end is not near. Hard drive makers are even examining new materials that could take the grain size below 8 nanometers, although the current candidates are corrosive.
"We can see 50 to 100 terabits being possible," Kryder said. "We are three orders of magnitude from any truly fundamental limits."
U.K. Spammer Gets Two-Month Curfew
A U.K. teen pleaded guilty on Wednesday to breaking the Computer Misuse Act by crashing the e-mail server of his former employer.
David Lennon, 18, was then sentenced to a two-month curfew by a judge in the Wimbledon Magistrates court.
Lennon had originally been cleared of the charges in November 2005, after another judge ruled that it wasn't an offense to overwhelm an e-mail server with millions of messages. This ruling was later challenged by the Crown Prosecution Service. In May 2006, the case was sent back to the Magistrates Court.
On Wednesday, the judge ruled that Lennon should be subject to a curfew, which means he must stay at home between the hours of 12.30 a.m. and 7a.m. on weekdays, and between 12.30 a.m. and 10 a.m. on weekends. If he breaks this curfew, he risks a more serious sentence.
The curfew has been timed so as not to interfere with Lennon's work at a local cinema. The judge said it was a "happy coincidence" that it will end the day before Lennon starts college in September.
The prosecution dropped its demand that Lennon should pay costs amounting to $55,000 (29,000 pounds), which arose from his attack on Domestic & General Group in which 5 million e-mails crashed its servers.
The defense argued that Lennon should receive a conditional discharge, given the confusion over whether the Computer Misuse Act outlawed the sending of masses of e-mails. The judge, though, argued that this was inappropriate.
"Even given his age at the time, this was a grave offense and caused serious damage, so I need to impose something to make him think again," the judge told the court.
The Computer Misuse Act, which was introduced in 1990, explicitly outlaws the "unauthorized access" and "unauthorized modification" of computer material. Section 3, under which Lennon was charged, concerns unauthorized data modification and tampering with systems.
Lennon's original case was heard by a district judge, who ruled that massive amounts of e-mail did not violate the Computer Misuse Act because e-mail servers were set up to receive e-mails. As such, each individual email could be ruled to make an "authorized modification" to the server.
The Computer Misuse Act is now seen as insufficient to combat the rise of cybercrime such as denial-of-service attacks. A series of amendments are being introduced by the government to update it.
New Rule: Car Buyers Must Be Told About 'Black Boxes'
Rule will also require a uniform set of data be recorded, making it easier to use.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has passed a regulation requiring car makers to inform customers when their car has been equipped with an Event Data Recorder, the agency said Monday.
EDRs, similar to "black boxes" used in commercial airliners, record data about what a car is doing in the moments just before and after a crash. They do not record the voices of occupants but they do record things like speed, steering wheel movement, how hard the brakes are being pressed and the actual movement of the car itself.
About 64 percent of model year 2005 cars were equipped with EDRs, according to NHTSA. Some manufacturers already include information about the EDR in the owners manual, but not all, said Rae Tyson, a spokesman for NHTSA.
"If you have a new vehicle, chances are it's got one," he said.
Data from the recorders is used by law enforcement and attorneys to recreate events directly leading up to an accident. Data is also used by car companies to research how cars and drivers perform in actual crashes.
Some privacy advocates have expressed concern that the data, which can be used as evidence in court cases, is being collected without the knowledge of vehicle owners and drivers.
The devices are virtually impossible to disable because their functioning is so tightly integrated with vehicle safety systems such as airbags and anti-lock brakes.
Several states have already passed laws that restrict how the data can be used.
Car companies must comply with the new regulation beginning in the 2011 model year. Information about the EDR, if one is installed, will have to be included in the vehicle's owner's manual.
The new rule also requires EDRs to collect a uniform set of data. Having access to uniform data will help investigators to recreate crashes and determine causes, the agency said.
More-uniform data will also make it easier to develop systems so that, in cars equipped with automatic 911 emergency notification, data about the crash can also be passed along to paramedics and ambulance crews.
The data can also be used to research better road designs and ways to better protect young and old drivers, said Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for the New York chapter of AAA.
AAA had previously expressed concern to NHTSA about privacy issues that might hamper public acceptance of the systems. Those concerns seem to be addressed by the new rule, Sinclair said.
Homeland Security Chief Promises Privacy Safeguards
Privacy rules will be closely regarded as intelligence gathering and sharing get a boost, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said.
Collecting more information and correlating data from various law enforcement agencies is crucial to national security, Chertoff told reporters Friday after touring a new, high-tech law enforcement center in this Los Angeles suburb. But increased intelligence gathering and sharing doesn't equal less privacy for U.S. citizens, he said.
"As we have broadened information sharing, we have made sure that there are strict rules in effect...that prevent people from misusing that information or putting it out improperly," he said. "That's built into the DNA of this and all of our intelligence-sharing capabilities."
While Chertoff offered privacy promises, his department has often raised the ire of privacy watchers. The Department of Homeland Security has been embroiled in a number of privacy flaps, including what independent government auditors last year called illegal data collection of some 250,000 airline passengers. This year, the department picked as a top privacy official a lawyer who defended the data collection as probably legal.
There are laws, including the USA Patriot Act, that strictly protect the gathered data, Chertoff said. "We're very sensitive about the issue of privacy in general when we maintain intelligence," he said. The Patriot Act is seen by opponents as giving law enforcement too much free rein in the name of national security.
Chertoff visited the first-of-its-kind Joint Regional Intelligence Center, which joins federal, state and local law enforcement in one facility. Analysts and investigators at the center handle intelligence from the various agencies on potential threats to national security, in particular terrorism, and correlate the data.
The center is part of a post-Sept. 11 effort to improve law enforcement collaboration and to "connect the dots" so potentially valuable intelligence does not go unnoticed.
"The whole name of the game here with counterterrorism is information sharing and early warning," Chertoff said. "Our radar for terrorism is intelligence...It is the radar of the 21st century, and if we let that radar go down, we're going to be flying blind."
Chertoff blasted a U.S. District Court decision last week to strike down the government's once-secret program for warrantless Internet and telephone surveillance. "If (the decision) were in fact ultimately to prevail, it would have a huge effect and a negative effect because it would really hamper our ability to collect intelligence," he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union had filed suit against the government, claiming the program "ran roughshod" over the constitutional rights of millions of Americans and ran afoul of federal wiretapping law. The government has appealed the decision and can continue its surveillance program pending that appeal, Chertoff said.
"The ability to be nimble and efficient and use all of our tools--including all of our surveillance tools--in order to capture plots before they come to fruition is the No. 1 way we keep Americans safe," he said. He referenced the foiled terror plot to blow up transatlantic airliners as an example of good use of intelligence.
"We need to make sure we're not letting obstacles come in the way of sharing information and of getting information and analyzing it," Chertoff said.
Kevin Mitnick Web Site Hacked
Instead of the usual description of Kevin Mitnick, his consulting services and books, the famed hacker's Web site on Sunday displayed a vulgar message.
Online vandals, apparently operating from Pakistan, broke into the computer hosting Mitnick's Web site on Sunday and replaced his front page with one of their own. As a result, four Web addresses belonging to Mitnick, including KevinMitnick.com and MitnickSecurity.com, displayed an explicit message on Mitnick and hacking.
"The Web hosting provider that hosts my sites was hacked," Mitnick told CNET News.com in an interview Monday. "Fortunately, I don't keep any confidential data on my Web site, so it wasn't that serious. Of course, it is embarrassing to be defaced--nobody likes it."
Mitnick's name is synonymous with "notorious hacker" for many. He was caught by the FBI in 1995 after a well-publicized pursuit and spent five years behind bars for wire and computer fraud. Today, he is a consultant, has written two books, and spends much of his time on the road at speaking engagements.
Mitnick heard out about the defacement on Sunday afternoon, shortly after the initial compromise, he said. The attackers gained complete control over the server that hosts his site as well as others at hosting provider Hostedhere, Mitnick said. It is common that hosting companies store multiple customers' Web sites on one server.
"The attackers from Pakistan took over that whole box. There were a whole bunch of customers, including myself, but my site was the only one defaced, so I was probably the target," Mitnick said. The server was taken offline to be reinstalled, Mitnick said. The Web site was still offline as of late Monday afternoon Pacific Time.
Web site defacements still occur, but they have become less high profile in recent years as financially motivated threats take the spotlight.
The message placed on Mitnick's Web site started with: "ZMOG!! THE MITNICK GOTZ OWNED!!" and continues with expletives and a picture of Mitnick with some modifications. Security Web site Zone-H first reported the hack on Monday and has screenshots of the replaced Web pages.
Defacing Web sites is akin to graffiti in the brick-and-mortar world. "It is kind of stupid; they do it for the attention," Mitnick said. "When I was a hacker, I never stooped to defacing sites because that was more like vandalism; that wasn't any fun. It is more about getting in and being stealth and looking around and exploring."
So far, Mitnick doesn't know how the server containing his Web site was compromised. He plans to investigate that at a later time. It could be that a security flaw on one of the other Web sites that was hosted on the same server gave the attackers a way into Mitnick's portion of the machine, he said.
"When you're with Web hosting companies, your security is as good as theirs. You just have to live with that," Mitnick said. "When you want to raise the bar, you have to set it up yourself. I don't have the time to maintain a Web site."
Hostedhere, Mitnick's hosting provider located in Greenville, S.C., did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
"They do a good job. I don't think they're insecure," Mitnick said, adding that he would switch Web hosting providers only if his site gets hacked continuously.
This isn't the first time that a Mitnick Web site has been defaced. Three years ago, a site set up by Mitnick's supporters was repeatedly hacked. Mitnick did not operate those sites. He was not allowed to use computers at that time as part of the terms of his supervised release from prison, he said.
A lot of zeros
Apple Settles With Creative for $100 Million
Apple Computer and Creative Technology have agreed to settle their legal dispute over music player patents for $100 million, the companies announced Wednesday.
The $100 million, to be paid by Apple, grants Apple a license to a Creative patent for the hierarchical user interface used in that company's Zen music players. After months of hinting that it would be coming after rival music player companies, Creative sued Apple in May, claiming the iPod maker was infringing on its patents.
A week later, Apple countersued, claiming Creative was infringing on Apple patents for user interfaces. As a result of the settlement, all legal disputes between the two companies related to the patent will disappear. Creative had also asked the International Trade Commission to investigate Apple for patent infringement.
The patent covers an interface that lets users navigate through a tree of expanding options, such as selecting an artist, then a particular album by that artist, then a specific song from that album, said Phil O'Shaughnessy, a Creative spokesman. The patent applies to portable media players, which includes devices like the iPod or cell phones that have the ability to play music, he said. Creative filed for the patent on Jan. 5, 2001.
Apple can get back some of the $100 million payment if Creative is able to secure licensing deals with other MP3 player manufacturers, said Steve Dowling, an Apple spokesman. He declined to specify exactly how much Apple could recoup or how many deals it would take to trigger the payments.
"Creative is very fortunate to have been granted this early patent," Apple's CEO Steve Jobs said in a press release. Apple was eager to move beyond the legal dispute caused by the patent, which could have eventually cost the company as much as the $100 million settlement amount, Dowling said.
"We're very pleased to have reached a broad agreement with Apple," O'Shaughnessy said. Creative plans to speak with other MP3 player companies about its patent, he said, but is not providing details on whether it has entered discussions with other companies.
As part of the agreement, Creative will also enter Apple's Made for iPod program as an authorized seller of iPod accessories. Creative will be able to affix the "Made for iPod" logo to its speakers, headphones and other related products, O'Shaughnessy said.
Dell Stops Selling Ditty Music Players
Dell Inc. has quietly pulled the plug on its DJ Ditty music players, less than a year after the world's largest computer maker launched the device to compete with Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod Shuffle.
The company stopped selling the Ditty on Aug. 17, Dell spokesman Venancio Figueroa said Wednesday.
He declined to characterize the decision as Dell bowing out in the face of competition from market leader Apple. Dell is trying to focus on its core areas of PCs, printers and flat-panel televisions, he said.
Dell unveiled the Ditty last September as a better value than the Shuffle. Both devices store music on flash memory chips.
The Ditty, like the Shuffle, cost $99 at the time and included 512 megabytes of memory. But because the Dell device used an audio format that compresses digital music files more efficiently, Dell asserted it could hold up to 220 songs - 100 more than the Shuffle. The 512 megabyte Shuffle now retails for $69, with a one-gigabyte model for $99.
The Ditty also included a 1-inch LCD display screen and an FM radio receiver. The Shuffle lacks both features.
As of Wednesday afternoon, visitors to Dell's Web site could select from a range of music players from Creative Technology Ltd., iRiver, SanDisk Corp. and Samsung. The Ditty was not available, and Figueroa said the company's entire inventory has been sold.
Accessories such as lanyards were still available at a discount.
Dell entered the portable music player market in 2003 but struggled against competitors. In January, the Round Rock-based company discontinued its DJ line of hard drive-based devices.
Analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies said part of Dell's problem was its direct-sales model, which prevented consumers from trying out its devices before buying. But all manufacturers are having a tough time competing against Apple, which claims about 70 percent of the market, he said.
"It was never really a strategic product for them," he said. "It's a smart move to cut their losses and run."
Dell shares fell 8 cents Wednesday to close at $21.64 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
Last week, Dell recalled 4.1 million laptop batteries because they could catch fire, posted a 51 percent drop in second quarter profits and revealed it was part of an inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Seeking to Reduce Environmental Impact of Burning Man
For years, the annual countercultural arts festival known as Burning Man has gained notoriety as one of the largest "leave no trace" events in the world.
And to be sure, Burners, as attendees are known, do such a good job of cleaning up after themselves that the Bureau of Land Management--which manages Nevada's Black Rock Desert, where the event is held--holds Burning Man up as an example of responsible land stewardship.
But anyone who's ever attended--and I've been eight times myself--knows that "leave no trace" is a little bit less than accurate, given the air pollution that comes from burning a giant wooden effigy as well as the countless other burns that take place during the event.
Well, now a group called Burners Without Borders is looking to offset at least some of that impact.
The group, which was formed to help clean up Biloxi, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina, has undertaken an initiative to offset as much greenhouse gas emissions as are created by burning The Man.
Apparently, the burn creates about 110 tons of greenhouse gases.
Thus, the group has begun a campaign to encourage Burners to plant trees, which absorb one ton of the gases each, support renewable energy projects--which can themselves offset other producers of greenhouse gases--or undertake other similar projects.
This may be a roundabout way of achieving the goal, but it's an admirable one and one that shows that the Burning Man community does have a conscience.
Screwed for Sure
Eliot Van Buskirk
The rumor mill is still buzzing about Microsoft's new Zune digital music player, but take your eyes off the device for a minute and you'll quickly see that the real news here has nothing to do with Microsoft, or even Apple.
Sure, everyone wants to see what the thing will look like; one site last week claimed to have obtained new details and an exclusive black-and-white picture (Microsoft reportedly used a color code to trace leaks).
Forget all that for a moment. The real story right now is the fate of Microsoft's partners -- companies that naively built products around the company's "PlaysForSure" Windows Media DRM. It's a fair guess that all of these companies are now screwed.
As I wrote before, I don't think Microsoft stands a chance against Apple's iTunes/iPod combo, in the short term, anyway. But the Zune ecosystem will blow away Microsoft's own PlaysForSure partners, mainly due to seamless device compatibility and branding dollars.
Given how little traction PlaysForSure products have in the marketplace, this won't be a disaster for consumers. But these PlaysForSure partners, soon to be competing with the mothership, will scramble to survive. Among other things, look for an ownership change at Napster, probably sooner rather than later. (My top pick for an acquirer is SanDisk, more on that later.)
To be fair, Microsoft told me that it plans on continuing to support its PlaysForSure partners. In other news, Castro's feeling great, the Iraq war is a cakewalk, and everybody loves Raymond. Expressing something doesn't make it true, unless you're writing code.
IDC analyst Susan Kevorkian, for one, predicts the company will gradually turn its back on the platform as it promotes Zune. It won't drop PlaysForSure like a hot potato; it'll leave it on the shelf until it goes bad. In a phone interview, she said Microsoft will be "backing off from its commitment to PlaysForSure gradually, over time, by not supporting it with additional resources that it will instead devote to new initiatives such Zune."
This makes a lot of sense. The DRM digital music market will soon be reduced to three sectors: Apple, Microsoft and PlaysForSure. Why would Microsoft continue to back a lame horse that it doesn't completely own, and which has consistently lost, when it has a new entry in the race, which it owns entirely, and which shares characteristics with the horse that's won the Triple Crown for the past five years? I think PlaysForSure will be put out to pasture.
This will come as a huge disappointment to Microsoft's hardware and software partners, who have stuck with the company through years of compatibility headaches, the botched launch of PlaysForSure subscriptions and the revelation that Microsoft's own Zune player will not support their stores despite this longstanding partnership. These partners have also been giving their internal numbers to Microsoft as part of the PlaysForSure licensing deal, giving Gates' crew insights into how their businesses work. Zune must feel like a serious betrayal of trust to PlaysForSure partners.
Even worse, I predict a final deathblow: Microsoft offering a voucher program that will allow people to convert songs purchased from PlaysForSure stores into the Zune format. This would encourage non-Apple users to buy a Zune device and sign up with Microsoft's new service. Who knows, Microsoft could also offer to match collections purchased from iTunes with the same songs in the Zune format; its pockets are certainly deep enough.
Companies such as Napster that depend on PlaysForSure will not survive, even if Microsoft makes good on its promise to support its partners. (In fact, I'd argue it never really supported them in the first place, as I'm sure many of its partners would agree.)
Napster will have a tougher time than partners like Yahoo Music Jukebox, AOL/MusicNet or Wal-Mart, because "playing for sure" is its only business. And despite a commendable effort to become the YouTube of music and a press release announcing record profits, Napster is already foundering (the same press release mentioned "reduce(ing) cash burn" and a 7 percent drop in subscribers during March).
This is where SanDisk comes in. The company makes its own flash memory (which is probably why it got into the MP3 player business in the first place), and sales of its MP3 players have been brisk. To understand how well they're doing, all you have to do is walk into a Circuit City. The company sold about a million players in America during the last holiday season, vaulting it into second place behind Apple.
If SanDisk wants to stay competitive as an MP3 player manufacturer in the iPod/Zune age, it will need a music store of its own, and I think it will acquire Napster. Neither SanDisk nor Napster responded to inquiries about the potential acquisition.
SanDisk doesn't have time to build the relationships with the labels Napster has built up over the years; it needs to launch something quickly. However, after the acquisition, I think it'll develop (or acquire) its own DRM scheme, rather than using the PlaysForSure program. This would enable SanDisk/Napster to create the sort of seamless digital music ecosystem pioneered by Apple and soon to be copied by Microsoft. Apple's success (and PlaysForSure's failure) have proven the seamless, one-store-one-line-of-devices ecosystem to be the only system that works.
As for the other PlaysForSure partners, they should probably think of similar plans, unless they want to go away for sure.
Software Writes News Stories At Thomson
A new service from Thomson Corp.'s Thomson Financial issues articles generated by computer software, using templates and "a rich thesaurus ... so no two stories are exactly the same," said Andrew Meagher, the company's director of content development.
But Meagher admits flowery prose isn't the goal. The Thomson Earnings News service, he said, is intended for financial advisers, brokers, investment managers and others who are simply looking for the basics.
Two types of stories are currently being produced.
After a company issues its quarterly earnings report, a human types in the raw data, and the computer compares the information with analyst forecasts compiled by Thomson Financial's First Call service. Software then produces a story stating whether earnings exceeded or fell short of expectations.
Software also monitors minute changes in analysts' outlooks on various companies and can generate articles based on company or industry trends, Meagher said.
After stories go out, humans sometimes expand on them with phone calls and additional analyses, Meagher said, adding that no computer can capture nuances reported in press releases and on conference calls.
No jobs are being cut; reporters are merely shifting their focus, Meagher said.
"We're creating a tool that can be used by journalists to create a more interesting story so they are not spending time pouring over databases to (spot) some anomaly," he said.
Thomson has been using the software-produced stories since the service launched earlier this year. The service has about 12,000 individual subscribers in the United States.
Logitech Unveils New Cordless Laser Mice
Computer accessory maker Logitech International SA is introducing a mouse with a free-spinning motorized scroll wheel it believes will help people more efficiently race through pages on their computer screens.
The company said Thursday it is launching cordless laser mice with an alloy wheel that spins for up to 7 seconds and can scroll through up to 10,000 Microsoft Excel lines with a single flick. Users can stop the wheel by tapping it.
The desktop model can automatically switch back to traditional click-scrolling depending on the application, and can toggle back and forth on its own during a task depending on how fast the user is working.
A software program synched to the mouse can sense the user's application, and sends a signal to a small motor to engage or disengage the ratchets that regulate the wheel's speed during click-scrolling.
Clicking the wheel also allows users to switch back and forth.
Users of the laptop model will need to flip a switch on the base of the mouse to toggle between modes, which the company says is because of its smaller size and lack of internal motor.
Both mice are now shipping in the U.S. and Europe for PCs and Macs. They cost $79 for the laptop model and $99 for the desktop model in the U.S.
Dept. of Chortles and Snorts
Perpetual Motion Claim Probed
Sean McCarthy believes his small Irish high-tech company has overturned one of physics' most fundamental laws.
It happened by accident, he says. His company Steorn was looking for an efficient way to power closed-circuit TVs that spy on ATMs, and instead stumbled on a technique they think produces more energy than it consumes.
The company hasn't released specific details about the process, other than to say it involves magnetic fields configured in precisely the right way. Using the magnets results in a motor that's more than 100 percent efficient -- essentially creating energy, McCarthy says.
For scientists and engineers, this is the equivalent of a perpetual motion machine, and is almost unanimously viewed as flat-out impossible. McCarthy, an affable former energy company engineer, knows just how preposterous his claims sound. So, he advertised in this week's Economist for a panel of the "most cynical possible" physicists to help validate them.
"If we're right, that will come out in due course," McCarthy says. "If we're wrong, that will come out. It's such a big claim that it has to be validated by experts."
A big claim it may be, but hardly original. The clamor of voices saying they've invented revolutionary new "free energy" technologies has grown tumultuous in recent years, driven perhaps by the internet's capacity to connect and inspire would-be tinkerers, or simply a that lay people are more fascinated with science.
The American Physical Society was worried enough about the trend a few years ago that its executive board put out a statement in June 2002, warning against such claims.
"(We are) concerned that in this period of unprecedented scientific advance, misguided or fraudulent claims of perpetual motion machines and other sources of unlimited free energy are proliferating," the group said. "Such devices directly violate the most fundamental laws of nature, laws that have guided the scientific progress that is transforming our world."
McCarthy says he's not using his claims to raise money, at least not yet. Steorn is privately funded, but is not seeking new investment until after the tests have been done, he contends.
The company has, however, filed patent applications on some of its work, and hopes to commercialize it by creating batteries for mobile phones and laptops, both markets that can respond quickly to new technologies. In the unlikely event it is borne out, it could also radically transform the automotive business and other industries.
The drive to create an engine that powers itself, or a self-replenishing source of energy, has long been a holy grail for the tinkering class, with a history stretching back nearly a thousand years. Like alchemy, its medieval pseudo-scientific counterpart, it has attracted high names and low, scientists and faith-based researchers, believers and outright scam artists.
Among the most notable investigators was Leonardo da Vinci, who included drawings of several self-driving devices inside his notebooks. However, he was publicly critical of such schemes, comparing them to the alchemical quest to transmute lead to gold.
Documenters of such schemes nevertheless find an unbroken string of subsequent proposals, tests, and failures that stretch to the present day, occasionally crossing over lines where would-be inventors are accused of running out-and-out con operations.
Perhaps the most famous recent claimant is a flamboyant only-in-America figure named Dennis Lee, who has spent much of the last decade churches and auditoriums across the United States promising "free electricity," among other inventions, and selling rights to open "dealerships" for thousands of dollars at a time. His efforts have led numerous state attorneys general offices to seek sanctions, including a recent string of fines and court orders in the state of Washington.
The flaw with such claims lies in one of the most fundamental principles in basic physics, known as the first law of thermodynamics.
In layman's terms, the first law states that energy is always conserved inside a closed system. It can be transformed into different forms inside the system, such as heat or work, but it can't be created or destroyed.
"Thermodynamics is largely an empirical field, and everything we've observed is consistent with the first law," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Ian Waitz. "When you make enough observations over a long period of time, things that start as hypotheses turn into things we call law. This would be not consistent with all other observations, which is a reason to be skeptical."
In the past, most claimants haven't met a standard of ordinary proof, much less an extraordinary one required to overturn a fundamental pillar of modern science. In most cases, sincere claimants have found that they simply didn't calculate the energy produced and consumed correctly.
Some of the most flamboyant inventors have found that their devices were coincidentally broken or burned out when testing time rolled around. Others have simply been exposed as obvious frauds, with batteries or a generator hidden out of sight.
While outlandish, McCarthy's claims have stirred up enough interest to at least hope for a thorough vetting, if not confirmation.
His Economist ad, quoting playwright George Bernard Shaw's dictum that "All great truths begin as blasphemies," is seeking a jury panel of 12 physicists to perform public tests. Whatever the unorthodoxy of that approach, he says the researchers will have no constraints on their work. They will be given full access to the company's work, will be able to take the technology home to test in their own laboratories, or recreate the process themselves.
According to the company's website, nearly 1500 scientists have "expressed interest" in testing the technology as of late Monday, and more than 17,000 people had signed up to receive word of the results.
"Ultimately the aim is so large, that the people involved, and the process that goes on, has to be purer than pure," McCarthy says.
A Romance Novelist’s Heroines Prefer Love Over Money
The house where Nora Roberts has lived here for 34 years defies architectural classification. It rambles along in a zigzag line, its exterior bearing no reference to history or place. Inside, the furnishings are grandmotherly, not in the sense of a grandmother who once owned half of Maine, but rather in the vein of one inclined to shop for things on television.
Ms. Roberts collects ceramic frogs, for instance, has a painting of a scene from “Casablanca” on the wall of her tiny library and maintains a kitchen devoid of chrome, granite, a wine fridge or any other signifier of domestic aggrandizement. Were Danielle Steele ever to decide to trade houses with some other enormously successful purveyor of American popular fiction, one imagines she would phone John Grisham first.
With the publication next week of her 166th book, “Morrigan’s Cross,” Ms. Roberts remains one of the top-selling novelists of the last decade and the most prolific romance writer of all time. At 55 she has written more books than Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz and Ms. Steele combined.
Thirty-one of these books have made their debut at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, most recently “Angels Fall,” which was published by Putnam last month and tells the story of a young chef from Boston who moves west to flee ugly memories.
Like many of Ms. Roberts’s heroines, Reece Gilmore doesn’t seem to have everything and aspire to even more. What distinguishes Ms. Roberts from a lot of other writers like her is a certain indifference to the material ambition that often supplies the genre’s narrative girding. To read a Nora Roberts novel is not to feel as if you are flipping through a Neiman Marcus catalog. Wealth and glamour are neither the prerequisites nor essential residuals of falling in love. To marry is not necessarily to marry up.
“The financial aspect is not something I ever thought about much,” Ms. Roberts, who wears a silver ring on one thumb and smokes Winstons, said recently. “I think a lot of writers do a lot better job at analyzing their work than I do. I don’t know what inspires me, but I guess the Cinderella thing never really appealed.”
Romance is an expansive category in publishing and Ms. Roberts specializes in a subgenre known as romantic suspense. (Under the pseudonym J. D. Robb, she also writes police procedurals.) That term is at least semantically misleading, because while Ms. Roberts’s books always join the subjects of love and felony, the resolution of the principal affair is never in question. An impassioned woman at the center of a Sidney Sheldon novel might end up executed for murder, but the heroine of a Nora Roberts story will meet her destiny in the form of a nice guy who paints her living room.
“There’ll always be a satisfying ending, always,” Ms. Roberts explained. “People aren’t all going to end up dead. I’m not going to write ‘Anna Karenina.’ ”
Ms. Roberts grew up in Silver Spring, Md., the daughter of an Irish-American electrician and a homemaker who were third cousins and received a special dispensation from the pope to marry. By her account, theirs was a tremendous love affair.
Her most potent childhood memory involves an incident in which her older brothers were dispatched to care for her. During the half-hour the two boys got into a nasty fight, one quickly disrupted by their mother when she got back.
“My mother ran that house and that was power. At that moment I thought, ‘She is the power,’ ” Ms. Roberts said. “I think that’s why I was never going to write a book where a woman is waiting around for a man to take care of things.”
By the late 1970’s, Ms. Roberts was herself a married mother, with two small boys. Living in rural Keedysville, she had become addicted to bread baking and crafts. Sequestered indoors for a few days, during a blizzard in 1979, and looking for something else to preoccupy her, she decided to write a romance novel.
She produced it in longhand at 55,000 words and sent it to Harlequin, where it was rejected.
At the time Harlequin, a Canadian company based in Toronto, used writers almost exclusively from Britain. But in 1980 Simon & Schuster started an imprint, Silhouette, meant to be an American Harlequin. The house published Ms. Roberts’s next effort, “Irish Thoroughbred,” about a young Irish woman who becomes involved with an American stable owner.
Initially, though, the publisher resisted the story as too ethnic, recalled Ms. Roberts’s longtime agent, Amy Berkower. Ms. Roberts’s interest in hyphenated cultural identity did not end there. In the 90’s she wrote a series for Silhouette about the Stanislaskis, a family of Ukrainian-Americans.
The Americanization of the romance novel that took shape in the 80’s found its most powerful expression in the dismantling of class barriers between the men and women around whom the plots revolved. The heroes were now not always the richest men in the free world and the women were not all consigned to jobs as governesses.
“Nora was part of that early group that brought a more democratic approach to the stories, introducing the idea of economic and emotional parity,” said Leslie Wainger, executive editor of Harlequin, which now owns Silhouette.
For some writers, the interest in equilibrium now meant that everybody could be rich, but for Ms. Roberts it implied that a woman might be a schoolteacher and a man might drive a cab.
Not long into her career, Ms. Roberts divorced. Then, in 1985, she married a carpenter, Bruce Wilder. Mr. Wilder runs a bookstore that the couple bought near their home. He also takes pictures, many of them nudes of young women that line a wall in the couple’s bedroom. It was Ms. Roberts’s decision, she said, to display them.
A prude she is not and although sex receives plenty of attention in her books, it is not always the mechanism propelling the characters. They talk and they can sound, to a surprising degree, like real people.
“One of the things that romance in general has been criticized for is the notion that great sex equals great love for the characters,” said Leslie Gelbman, Ms. Roberts’s editor and the president and publisher of the Berkley Publishing Group. “Nora has played with this concept in several books, having heroines who are not only sexually experienced — in a few cases more experienced than the hero — but who realize that although sex is important in any romantic relationship, it doesn’t equate with love.”
Ms. Roberts, by her own admission, doesn’t dream of literary recognition. There is reason to believe her. In “Angels Fall,” Reece Gilmore gives up the high culinary life to work in a Wyoming diner. One day her boyfriend, Brody, a mystery writer, reminds her that flipping buffalo burgers isn’t going to win her “whatever the epicurean equivalent of the Pulitzer might be.” Her response? “I’d rather cook pot roast.”
Music Makes Your Brain Happy
As a rock producer, Daniel Levitin worked with Stevie Wonder, the Grateful Dead and Chris Isaak. But the music business began to change, and a disillusioned Levitin turned to academia, where a career in neuroscience beckoned.
Sixteen years after he made the switch, Levitin is an associate professor at McGill University in Montreal and one of the world's leading experts in cognitive music perception.
In his new book, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Levitin explores research into how our brains process the works of artists as varied as Beethoven, the Beatles and Britney Spears, and why they make us feel so good. Wired News picks his brain about how it all works.
Wired News: Are there any myths about music that neuroscientists have exposed?
Daniel Levitin: I think we've debunked the myth of talent. It doesn't appear that there's anything like a music gene or center in the brain that Stevie Wonder has that nobody else has.
There's no evidence that (talented people) have a different brain structure or different wiring than the rest of us initially, although we do know that becoming an expert in anything -- like chess or race-car driving or journalism -- does change the brain and creates circuitry that's more efficient at doing what you're an expert at.
What there might be is a genetic or neural predisposition toward things like patience and eye-hand coordination. (On the other hand), you can be born with a physiology that gives you a pleasant-sounding voice, but that doesn't guarantee you'll have a career as a singer.
WN: What does music tell us about the brain?
Levitin: Through studies of music and the brain, we've learned to map out specific areas involved in emotion, timing and perception -- and production of sequences. They've told us how the brain deals with patterns and how it completes them when there's misinformation.
What we're learning about the part in the frontal lobe called BA47 is the most exciting. Music suggests that it's a region that helps us predict what comes next in a sequence.
WN: What have we learned about music perception from people with brain disorders or injuries?
Levitin: We've learned that musical ability is actually not one ability but a set of abilities, a dozen or more. Through brain damage, you can lose one component and not necessarily lose the others. You can lose rhythm and retain pitch, for example, that kind of thing. We see equivalents in the visual domain: People lose color perception or shape perception.
I think of the brain as a computational device: It has a bunch of little components that perform calculations on some small aspect of the problem, and another part of the brain has to stitch it all together, like a tapestry or a quilt.
WN: You write that you're more interested in the mind than the brain. What's the difference?
Levitin: The brain is a bunch of neurons, chemicals, water and blood.... The mind is the thoughts that arise from the brain. Anatomists and neuroanatomists are particularly interested in understanding how the brain is formed and how cells communicate. They're really looking at the architecture and geography of the brain....
What we're trying to do is figure out (which) parts of the brain do what and how they communicate with each other. But not simply on a level of description that discusses only neuron and cells, but one that also talks about real ideas, thoughts and memories.
WN: From an evolutionary perspective, why have humans developed music?
Levitin: There are a number of different theories. One theory is that music is an evolutionary accident, piggybacking on language: We exploited language to create music just for our own pleasure. A competing view, one that Darwin held, is that music was selected by evolution because it signals certain kinds of intellectual, physical and sexual fitness to a potential mate.
WN: How does that play out in rock 'n' roll, for example?
Levitin: (Research has shown that) if women could choose who they'd like to be impregnated by, they'd choose a rock star. There's something about the rock star's genes that is signaling creativity, flexibility of thinking, flexibility of mind and body, an ability to express and process emotions -- not to mention that (musical talent) signals that if you can waste your time on something that has no immediate impact on food-gathering and shelter, you've got your food-gathering and shelter taken care of.
WN: Do any animals show an appreciation for music?
Levitin: There's no evidence they do -- that birdsong is used in the same way we (use it, for instance, or) that animals use it for recreation. And some of the fundamental things we take for granted about music don't exist in the animal kingdom.
WN: What are we learning about the link between music and emotion in the brain?
Levitin: Music activates the same parts of the brain and causes the same neurochemical cocktail as a lot of other pleasurable activities like orgasms or eating chocolate -- or if you're a gambler winning a bet or using drugs if you're a drug user. Serotonin and dopamine are both involved.
WN: Could music be an antidepressant?
Levitin: It is already -- most people in Western society use music to regulate moods, whether it's playing something peppy in the morning or something soothing at the end of a hard day, or something that will motivate them to exercise. Joni Mitchell told me that someone once said before there was Prozac, there was her.
WN: What is an earworm, and what doctor do I see if I get one?
Levitin: It's the name the Germans give to these songs that get stuck in your head that you can't get rid of. If they're really bothersome, you can do what Neil Young told me: Become a professional songwriter. He writes songs to get them out of his head.
Failing that, the second thing you can do is go to a doctor and have them prescribe an antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug like Prozac or Ativan. Or the most common option, find an equally annoying song that's not bothering you right now, and it will replace the earworm with another one.
Weird Al's Anthem For Music Pirates
With his 12th album, "Straight Outta Lynwood," set to release on Sept. 26, parody artist "Weird Al" Yankovic yet again is up to no good (which is, after all, why we like him). His first single off the album, "Don't Download This Song," tackles the all-too-apparent (and oh-so-1999) MP3 piracy matter. The music video depicts an animated crazed youth drawn to his computer to "break international copyright laws."
The lyrics imply that downloading music is the gateway to bigger crimes such as robbing liquor stores, selling crack and running over kids with your car. Weird Al's song, of course, hyperbolizes the issue and sides with us (ahem, the downloaders). "Don't Download This Song" says we should go buy CDs so that artists can buy more ridiculous items, like diamond palm trees.
Yankovic has been known for songs that parody hot issues to the tunes of popular songs. What popular music melody is Yankovic ripping this time? The 1985 pop composition, "We Are the World." Interestingly enough, "We Are the World" united artists to raise funds for famine relief in Africa. Perhaps Weird Al is trying to express to music artists his dismay of their union against such an inane topic, rather than real issues like starvation in the Third World. Or perhaps this song will be the downloaders' anthem against the artists, like the lyrically mentioned drummer of Metallica, Lars Ulrich.
Ironically, you can download this song on Weird Al's MySpace.com page, or for a better-quality version, download the song here. Want to listen to it for a laugh now? Click here.
The Fame Motive
Money and power are handy, but millions of ambitious people are after something other than the corner office or the beach house on St. Bart’s. They want to swivel necks, to light a flare in others’ eyes, to walk into a crowded room and feel the conversation stop. They are busy networking, auditioning, talking up their latest project — a screenplay, a memoir, a new reality show — to satisfy a desire so obvious it is all but invisible.
“To be noticed, to be wanted, to be loved, to walk into a place and have others care about what you’re doing, even what you had for lunch that day: that’s what people want, in my opinion,” said Kaysar Ridha, 26, of Irvine, Calif., a recent favorite of fans of the popular CBS reality series “Big Brother.” “It’s strange and twisted, because when that attention does come, the irony is you want more privacy.”
For most of its existence, the field of psychology has ignored fame as a primary motivator of human behavior: it was considered too shallow, too culturally variable, too often mingled with other motives to be taken seriously. But in recent years, a small number of social scientists have begun to study and think about fame in a different way, ranking it with other goals, measuring its psychological effects, characterizing its devoted seekers.
People with an overriding desire to be widely known to strangers are different from those who primarily covet wealth and influence. Their fame-seeking behavior appears rooted in a desire for social acceptance, a longing for the existential reassurance promised by wide renown.
These yearnings can become more acute in life’s later years, as the opportunities for fame dwindle, “but the motive never dies, and when we realize we’re not going to make it in this lifetime, we find some other route: posthumous fame,” said Orville Gilbert Brim, a psychologist who is completing a book called “The Fame Motive.” The book is based on data he has gathered and analyzed, with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
“It’s like belief in the afterlife in medieval communities, where people couldn’t wait to die and go on to better life,” Dr. Brim said. “That’s how strong it is.”
The urge to achieve social distinction is evident worldwide, even among people for whom prominence is neither accessible nor desirable. In rural Hindu villages in India, for instance, widows are expected to be perpetual mourners, austere in their habits, appetites and dress; even so, they often jockey for position, said Richard A. Shweder, an anthropologist in the department of comparative human development at the University of Chicago.
“Many compete for who is most pure,” Dr. Shweder said. “They say, ‘I don’t eat fish, I don’t eat eggs, I don’t even walk into someone’s house who has eaten meat.’ It’s a natural kind of social comparison.”
In media-rich urban centers, the drive to stand out tends to be more oriented toward celebrity, and its hold on people appears similar across diverse cultures.
Surveys in Chinese and German cities have found that about 30 percent of adults report regularly daydreaming about being famous, and more than 40 percent expect to enjoy some passing dose of fame — their “15 minutes,” in Andy Warhol’s famous phrase — at some point in life, according to data analyzed by Dr. Brim. The rates are roughly equivalent to those found in American adults. For teenagers, the rates are higher.
Yet for all the dreamers, only one or two in 100 rate fame as their most coveted goal, trumping all others, the data collected by Dr. Brim and others show.
“It’s a distinct type, people who expect to get meaning out of fame, who believe the only way to have their lives make sense is to be famous,” said Tim Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “We all need to make meaning out of our lives, and this is one way people attempt to do it.”
Therapists and researchers, including Dr. Brim, have traced longing for renown to lingering feelings of rejection or neglect. After all, celebrity is the ultimate high school in-group, writ large. It appears a perfect balm for the sting of social exclusion, or neglect by emotionally or physically absent parents.
In her memoir, “In the Shadow of Fame,” Sue Erikson Bloland, daughter of the renowned psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, writes, “He had the kind of charisma that made people hungry to know him — to become privy to what he was thinking and feeling and writing about.”
Dr. Erikson’s dogged pursuit of recognition, she writes, was partly due to a sense of abandonment: he never knew his biological father, who disappeared before he was born. Decades later, Dr. Erikson still sought comfort and guidance from others, “but his pursuit of reassurance was not simply the charming humility it was generally interpreted to be,” she writes. “It expressed a persistent and tormenting self-doubt.”
Another factor may also be at work in many people who are preoccupied with becoming famous, one linked to a subconscious but acute appreciation of mortality. In recent experiments, psychologists have shown that, when reminded that they will one day die, people fixate on attributes they consider central to their self-worth.
Those who value strength squeeze a hand grip with more force; those who prize driving ability, cooking skills or physical appearance intensify their focus.
“Given this awareness of our mortality,” said Jeffrey Greenberg, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, “to function securely, we need to feel somehow protected from this existential predicament, to feel like we are more than just material animals fated only to obliteration upon death.
“We accomplish that by trying to view ourselves as enduringly valuable contributors to a meaningful world. And the more others validate our value, the more special and therefore secure we can feel.”
The odds of achieving some measure of notoriety — a Nobel, an Oscar, a plaque in the Curling Hall of Fame — are so remote that it is no surprise when unrealized ambition curdles into psychological struggle.
In a 1996 study, Richard M. Ryan of the University of Rochester and Dr. Kasser, then at Rochester, conducted in-depth surveys of 100 adults, asking about their aspirations, guiding principles, and values, as well as administering standard measures of psychological well-being.
The participants in the study who focused on goals tied to others’ approval, like fame, reported significantly higher levels of distress than those interested primarily in self-acceptance and friendship.
Surveys done since then, in communities around the world, suggest the same thing: aiming for a target as elusive as fame, and so dependent on the judgments of others, is psychologically treacherous.
Freud might have agreed: he is said to have fainted only twice in his life, both times when he perceived a threat to his legacy.
What of fame-seekers who actually slip through the looking glass and make it? Few celebrities confess to their fame-yearnings, and few if any have consented to anything like a psychological study of motivation and psychological well-being. And someone at the center of a scandal has an experience different from a beloved writer of children’s books.
Many prominent novelists, actors, writers and musicians find lasting satisfaction in seeing others moved by their work. And the limos and V.I.P. seating and private beach parties cannot be too difficult to endure.
Still, scholars, psychologists and some celebrity memoirists seem to agree that, for all its rewards, fame can also eat its own — as the historian Leo Braudy has written, “lurking behind every chance to be made whole by fame is the axman of further dismemberment.”
Public recognition can bring a heightened focus on the self. Mark Schaller, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, studied the careers of Kurt Cobain, Cole Porter and John Cheever.
In their works, Dr. Schaller found, all three of these artists began referring to themselves more frequently after they became famous. The increase was slight in the case of Mr. Cobain, the rock star who committed suicide in 1994 at age 27. It was far more pronounced in Mr. Porter’s songs, and in the stories of Mr. Cheever, who also reported drinking more heavily after receiving wide acclaim.
These three artists are hardly a representative sample, and each probably had some self-destructive tendencies before achieving popular success. But increased self-consciousness can plunge almost anyone into rumination over soured relationships or lost opportunities, psychologists find. And famous people in particular are forced to judge themselves against ideals set by others.
“If you or I hear our own voice on tape, or see ourselves on camera, we might say: ‘Wait a minute, I’m a doofus. I’m not the sharp guy I thought I was,’ and we can cope with that, we can try harder,” Dr. Schaller said. “But it’s a little different if you’re a Bruce Willis or somebody. The ideals others have for you are crazy. It’s virtually impossible to meet them, and you can’t escape this heightened self-awareness.”
None of which may dissuade a single soul from grabbing for the ring if given a chance — or from longing and half-expecting lightning to strike. Because who really knows? Fame is fickle, sometimes random, and its effect on any one person is not predictable. Perhaps that is the source of its catnip fragrance: the unknowns, the secret horrors and joys, the private alchemy revealed only to those for whom the door swings open.
In compiling his research, Dr. Brim, 83, thought much about how an intense desire to reach this unknowable, alluring state of being might affect older people’s behavior, if the motive did not fade.
“I concluded that several things could happen, and one of them is to find another source of approval,” he said. “That might be a great love, if you’re lucky. Or perhaps it is a deepening belief in God. But I think many people suffer with realization that they are not going to be famous and there’s nothing they can do to solve it.”
Making Room for the Hopeless Pop Star in a Crowd of Professional Amateurs
It has been four years since the first “American Idol” was broadcast, and TV is full of musical amateurs in search of their big break. Or is it?
If you’ve been watching many of the post-“Idol” musical reality shows, you might have noticed that most of these putative amateurs behave an awful lot like old pros. Think of the not-so-regular folks on CBS’s “Rock Star: Supernova,” most of whom have spent years on the fringes of the music industry. Or think of the young women who were plucked from obscurity to be the stars of “Making the Band 3,” on MTV. It’s clear they take their budding careers seriously; they were acting like industry veterans even before they had a name (Danity Kane), a debut album (“Danity Kane”), a record label (Bad Boy/Atlantic) and a release date (this past Tuesday).
Don’t worry. There are still a few naïve musical dreamers, rushing in where angels fear to tread. You just have to know where to look.
Why, just this last weekend a charmingly inept rapper made his television debut, boldly ignoring all the advisers who must have asked him not to. And on Tuesday, the same day that Danity Kane CD’s arrived on record racks, a blithe aspiring pop star released her debut album, brushing off suggestions that singing be left to actual singers.
O.K., so the rapper, Kevin Federline, and the singer, Paris Hilton, aren’t exactly unknown. But in the world of pop music, they’re definitely underdogs. Mr. Federline, who is still best known as Mr. Britney Spears, made his debut at that famous hip-hop launching pad, the Teen Choice Awards, which were broadcast by Fox. And a video of his performance swiftly topped the most-viewed list on YouTube.com; the reviews were every bit as gentle and mild as online reviews usually are. (One typical comment: “omg!!! my eyes and ears hurt!!!! plz help.”)
Ms. Hilton, more pro-active than Mr. Federline and no more shy, left nothing to chance. Even before her debut CD, “Paris” (Warner Brothers), arrived in stores, it had already earned a glowing review, though not an unbiased one. She gave Blender magazine her opinion of her own CD, saying, “I, like, cry when I listen to it, it’s so good.” Even a low-level “American Idol” castoff would know better than to say something that ridiculous to an interviewer. So thank, like, goodness for Ms. Hilton.
Like many reality shows, “Idol” and “Rock Star” and “Making the Band” are televised job auditions, and so they reinforce the notion that being a pop star is hard work. In these worlds, being unprofessional isn’t charming; it’s shameful. During a famous exchange on “Rock Star,” Dave Navarro, one of the hosts, asked Patrice Pike, a contestant, to “switch it up.” She pointedly asked him whether he followed his own advice. And he countered with a withering reminder: “The difference is that I have a job.”
No surprise, then, that after months of coaching and hectoring and mentoring from Diddy, the women of Danity Kane created a grimly competent debut album. It’s often dull (starting with the inert debut single, “Show Stopper”) and occasionally effective (especially when they get a fast, sleek beat to play with, as on “Want It”). The whole thing sounds pretty professional, though, and who knows? Maybe these job seekers would consider that high praise.
No doubt Diddy would never let one of his rapper-protégés make his national performing debut seated at a grand piano, before an audience of squealing teens. But then, Mr. Federline can afford to set his own agenda; he seems to be rapping mainly because there’s no one who can stop him. So there he was, jumping up from the piano bench, throwing on a white cap and clumsily insisting, “The lifestyle, the rich living, the fast cars/Don’t hate ’cause I’m a superstar.” No doubt the 11-year-old haters in the crowd took notice.
Unlike Mr. Federline, Ms. Hilton has already got herself a hit: “Stars Are Blind,” a lilting and quite pleasant Gwen Stefani-ish love song. It made a respectable run on the Billboard’s Hot 100 chart (reaching No. 18), and it almost allowed listeners to forget who was singing it. Almost, except for the shameless double entendre in the refrain: “If you show me real love, baby/I’ll show you mine.” Pure Paris, whatever that is.
“Paris,” the CD, is evidently a vanity project; the packaging includes nearly as many photographs of the singer (10) as tracks (11). And some of the lightweight love songs, like the sleek disco throwback “I Want You,” work pretty well. But throughout, you get the welcome feeling that Ms. Hilton isn’t taking any of this too seriously. Wasting no time in getting to her beloved catchphrase, she whispers, “It’s hot,” six seconds into the first song. And the album, which lasts less than 40 minutes, ends with a perfectly useless version of the Rod Stewart hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.”
Needless to say, most listeners will be able to make it through “Paris” without crying. But the CD should help refine the common notion that Ms. Hilton is famous for doing nothing. She is, on the contrary, famous for being able to do whatever she wants, which makes her the exact opposite of your average aspiring star. Ms. Hilton and Mr. Federline have this, at least, in common: Neither of them is looking for a job.
The urge to laugh at them is understandable; they do seem pretty green, especially compared to those battle-hardened aspirants on reality television. But let’s be gentle with our moonlighting celebrities. They might be the only real amateurs we’ve got.
Until next week,
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Jack Spratts' Week In Review is published every Friday. Submit letters, articles and press releases in plain text English to jackspratts (at) lycos (dot) com. Please include contact info. Submission deadlines are Thursdays @ 1400 UTC. Questions or comments? Call 213-814-0165, country code U.S.. Voicemails cannot be returned.
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