|12-08-09, 07:53 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - August 15th, '09
"I'd rather be raped by The Pirate Bay than shafted by Hasse Breitholtz and Sony Music." – Magnus Uggla
"To say she dealt us a stiff blow actually puts it quite lightly." – Professor Nesson
Wall of Bable
The big media moguls just came off a "conference" where the #1 gripe was so-called free content (it's not free boys if it's ad supported). This has been a bug up their presses since debs used snail mail to swap how-to-land-rich-guy magazine articles. The internet simply gets moguls even more tightly wound.
I mention this because they are very much aware that for pay-gate models to work, every single player must adopt them. Hence the recent announcement from Rupert Murdoch that his properties will no longer be free, following a darker one from the Associated Press. Expect to see more in the months ahead as the big players close ranks.
Since the net has essentially reduced distribution (but not production) to zero, any wide scale walling off of content opens the door to at least one ad supported player to thrive, and as a non-fee destination become gargantuan, making the pay models irrelevant. The moguls know this and will try to block with new copyright laws and work "incentives" (read onerous contracts. Somebody will always crank out this stuff if desperate enough). It remains to be seen how effective any of this will be but keep an eye out for congressional action, particularly with respect to copyright, anti-trust and employment legislation.
I expect things to proceed much like they have however with players continuing to exit the business and a general shake-out proceeding until some semblance of balance is reached where advertising itself can support pricey content with unpaid or hardly-paid-but-dedicated bloggers taking on much of the see-and-post local stuff.
Things will just be a lot noisier for a while as big media whines loudly about the unfairness of it all and congress flops around trying to appease them.
August 15th, 2009
Pirate Bay to Challenge Dutch Ban
The owners of Swedish filesharing website The Pirate Bay will seek a retrial after a Dutch court temporarily banned its activities in the Netherlands, their lawyer said on Monday.
"We will file a summons by August 25" before the district court in Amsterdam, lawyer Ernst Louwers, acting for The Pirate Bay founders Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg and Peter Sunde, told AFP.
The men wanted a new trial so that they could present their side of the story, he explained.
On July 30, the court granted an urgent application brought by copyright lobby group Stichting Brein for an interdict against the site. The site's owners had not been present for the hearing.
A judge ordered them to "cease infringing the copyright of the members" of Stichting Brein -- a trade association representing the Dutch recording industry.
The interdict was to remain valid for two months, by which time Stichting Brein must have filed an application for a permanent ruling, or it will lapse.
The judge ordered Neij, Warg and Sunde to immediately make their website inaccessible to users in the Netherlands. Failure to do so would be punishable to the tune of 30,000 euros (42,000 dollars) per day, up to three million euros.
Founded in 2003, The Pirate Bay makes it possible to skirt copyright fees and share music, film and computer game files for free using bit torrent technology, or peer-to-peer links offered on the site.
None of the material can be found on the server of The Pirate Bay, which claims to have more than 20 million users worldwide.
Stichting Brein said Monday it would not oppose The Pirate Bay's bid for a new trial, but said it had "no doubt" the judgment would be maintained.
The body agreed to the suspension of the 30,000-euro-a-day fine for the month of August, until The Pirate Bay reopens the case.
A Swedish court in April found Neij, Warg and Sunde guilty with a fourth colleague, Carl Lundstroem, for promoting copyright infringement by running the site and sentenced them to a year in prison.
Pirate Bay Leads Swedish Viking Charge on Paid Content
Not since Viking pirates rampaged through Christendom in the 8th century have youthful Swedes so threatened western civilisation.
Swedish piracy – digital piracy, that is – is challenging the very essence of traditional copyright law. And even legal Swedish enterprises – such as the popular new music sharing website Spotify - are threatening to rewrite all the laws of conventional media economics.
As if the plague of online content theft isn’t bad enough news for the traditional media industry, Internet pirates are now openly crusading in favor of legalising Internet file-sharing. Leading the fight for radical copyright legal reform are two radical Swedish organisations – The Pirate Party, now Sweden’s third largest political party, and the free peer-to-peer music download website, Pirate Bay. Both these organisations are pioneering an increasingly central populist issue in the early 21st century: the right of consumers to freely share creative content on the Internet.
This digital Viking threat is no joke to the traditional media industry. In Holland, Pirate Bay has been involved in a Dutch lawsuit with Bescherming Rechten Entertainment Industrie Nederland (BREIN), a leading Dutch trade group representing copyright owners. BREIN’s strategy has been to argue that Pirate Bay is an illegal business and thus the court should block access to all Dutch users trying to access the file-sharing site. And at the same time, Europe’s major recorded music group, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), is applying legal pressure on Global Gaming Factory X (GGF), a Swedish network of gaming centers which acquired Pirate Bay in June. Indeed, IFPI’s general counsel has already written to GGF’s CEO, warning him that they intent to go to Swedish law and "issue an order prohibiting GGF from paying the purchase sum"
But these acronym rich, highly complex legal conflicts might prove to be irrelevant. Beyond the moral and legal struggle between Internet pirates and traditional content producers, the battle over paid online content – both inside and outside Sweden - has already been lost. Consumers simply aren’t paying for Internet music, movies or newspapers. For better or worse, the old paid model no longer really works. The majority of online consumers believe that all content should be free. And if they can’t access this free content legally, then they will either steal or ignore it.
Not that the old regime is going down without a fight. Last week, Rupert Murdoch, a 20th century Viking now turned 21st century victim, announced his intention to establish a paid “walled garden” around flagship News Corps newspapers such as the Sun, the London Times and the Wall Street Journal. While I defended Murdoch for this ballsy move, most media pundits laughed at the 79 year-old mogul, accusing him of being anachronistically out of touch with the contemporary “consumer” in today’s increasingly free Internet economy.
“This is a man who has shown himself utterly clueless when it comes to the Internet. A man who, until recently at least, had never used the web unaided,” Paul Carr blogged. “On that basis, you might as well ask my Dad about the future of interactive journalism; at least he’s used Google.”
While American new media pundit David Carr showed a little more respect for Murdoch, his message was equally pessimistic: “The deeper problem for Mr. Murdoch and every other newspaper owner,” Carr argued, “is that although the revenue picture for newspapers has changed considerably in the last two years, the consumer is still stuck on zero when it comes to what he or she will pay for the vast majority of content.
The two Carrs may well be right. Rupert Murdoch is the last great newspaper baron of the industrial age and his attempt to generate revenue around paid content might well be wishful thinking. The reality is that the most highly trafficked newspaper websites – from the London Guardian to the New York Times to this online paper – aren’t charging for their content. Their online business model, therefore, is entirely reliant on advertising revenue which, disturbingly, is in steep decline in today’s bleak global economic environment.
Why won’t consumers pay for content?
The answer is very simple. Consumers have been so spoilt by free content over the last fifteen years that they now take it for granted that content should be free. Thus, the New York Times’ online initiative to charge consumers for the content of leading columnists like Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd was a complete failure. And thus, most pundits expect Murdoch’s walled garden approach to similarly bomb.
Although Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp owns MySpace, one wonders if he’s really been keeping up to date with the most recent developments in the music industry. Aside from file-sharing sites like Pirate Bay, consumers are becoming increasingly immune to paying for music. As global sales of recorded music have declined by as much as 20 per cent year after year, online sales are failing to make up for the collapse in the sale of CDs. So Apple, for example, makes the vast majority of its profits not from the iTunes store, but from the sale of hardware devices like iPods and iPhones.
Ironically, the future of music may also be found in Sweden. But not all Swedish Internet companies are flirting with illegality. The legally spotless Spotify, founded by a couple of twenty something Stockholm technology entrepreneurs, is the latest Internet sensation, a peer-to-peer music sharing website that enables listeners to listen to thousands of free songs on demand. Partially owned by big record labels desperate to reach Internet consumers, Spotify, the most viral Swedish music play since Abba, has already amassed 4 million European users since its launch last October.
While paid streaming sites like the Real Networks and Viacom joint venture Rhapsody have recently announced significant job cuts, Spotify just announced a major new round of investment from a series of venture capitalists that valued the currently revenue-less company at 170 million euros.
So if the all the music on Spotify is free, how does the company make money? It’s a question without a convincingly clear answer. In addition to selling advertising on its free service, Spotify plan on developing a so-called “freemium” model that would sell the service to a small (supposedly around 3 per cent) of customers willing to pay for advertising-free music. But this model is yet to be proved. Nobody knows if Spotify will have any success persuading even the tiniest proportion of consumers that they should pay for their online music.
Moreover, as Michael Robertson, the founder of MP3.com and a founding father of the digital music economy has argued, Spotify has yet to pay the labels for any of the license fees associated with the free streaming of music. Thus, not only is Spotify failing to make money from its current business model, but it also may be running up huge debts which could eventually bankrupt the young company.
Spotify may well prove to be just one more false dawn in the relentless and so far futile search to discover a viable business model for online content. Like massively trafficked but still unprofitable “free” services such as YouTube, Spotify is a case study in the core dilemma of the online content economy.
Internet consumers love free content and will do almost anything to avoid paying for online movies, music or even books. Thus, the freer the content, the more popular the website. But all that traffic is not only expensive to maintain, but also is no guarantee of revenue since it’s an audience that will quickly abandon the service if there’s any attempt to get them to pay for the content.
The micro-blogging service Twitter is another example of this phenomenon. Massively popular in Silicon Valley, Twitter has yet to develop a business model or barely even a sales team. And even the privately held Facebook, with its 200 million free users, is still struggling to translate its massive audience into appropriately sized profit.
So what’s the future? How will this cultural and economic crisis be resolved?
At a certain moment in the not too distant future, consumers will finally have to acknowledge their own guilt in the destruction of our paid culture. We have to collectively recognise that it’s not file-sharing sites like Pirate Bay or radical new political parties like the Pirate Party which are killing the music, newspaper and movie industries. Instead, we are collectively killing our own culture by refusing to pay for it online. Each new Spotify or Pirate Bay is, therefore, one more nail in the coffin of the traditional media business.
While many are critical of Rupert Murdoch for his own historically piratical approach to business, there is no doubt that he is one of the few people brave enough to stand up to the new Vikings. Murdoch is explaining what should be a self-evident truism to a public now intoxicated by the feel-good ideology of free content. Murdoch is saying that real media businesses, such as his own News Corp, can’t operate without being paid for their content.
Such an obvious truth has been unquestioned throughout the two hundred year old history of mass media. But in our post mass media age in which political parties are questioning the very moral and legal foundations of intellectual property, the greatest scarcity of all might, unfortunately, be in common sense.
The flight of common sense is most apodictic in the popularity of legally dubious websites like Pirate Bay and of radical political movements like Sweden’s Pirate Party.
In the June elections to the European Parliament, Pirate Bay – with its explicit attack on the foundations of traditional intellectual property law - got over 7 per cent of the Swedish vote and won two seats in Brussels. Other countries are now cloning their own Pirate Parties. The bad news is that Vikings have returned and piracy is once again fashionable. Can western civilisation survive?
Pirate Party to Stand in Local Elections
Sweden's Pirate Party has announced that, in addition to standing in next year's general election, it will also be represented in local council elections.
A decision to run in both local and national elections was taken by the party and announced by party leader Rick Falkvinge in an opinion article in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Thursday.
"The Pirate Party aims to change legislation on a global scale to encourage the growth of the information society, a society which is characterized by diversity and openness," he writes.
"The Pirate Party is needed to protect citizens' integrity and private lives against surveillance-minded and information-gathering populist authorities, even on a local political level," he continues, citing public transport registration of passenger movements and libraries requiring identification to search for information, as examples.
The party wants, among other initiatives, to introduce open source software in schools and authorities to improve national security, and expand the public right of access to information.
Falkvinge underlined that only the sharpest minds will be selected to represent the party in local government elections.
The party leadership plans to put pressure on local organisations to ensure that only quality candidates are allowed to run.
Karoo Won’t Disconnect Pirates Without a Court Order
Last month ISP Karoo in the north of England found itself in the middle of a storm when it said it would disconnect its subscribers upon an allegation of copyright infringement. Under pressure it quickly backtracked to a “3 strikes” regime but now they have told TorrentFreak that no-one will be disconnected without a court order.
At the end of July it was revealed that Karoo, an ISP serving the Hull area of northern England, was effectively operating a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy to deal with alleged copyright infringements.
After a mountain of bad publicity, the ISP released a statement admitting that it had been “exceeding the expectations of copyright owners, the media and internet users.” Announcing a change in policy, Karoo said in future it would provide customers with three written notifications before their service was temporarily suspended.
Although this rethink was fairly well received, at TorrentFreak we wanted to find out more. How does Karoo – indeed any ISP – know that it is acting on accurate information from the copyright holders when it chooses to accuse its customers of acting illegally on their behalf? How does an ISP know that the anti-piracy companies haven’t made a terrible mistake?
We put this question to Karoo and after a few back-and-forth emails, finally received back a rather interesting statement, which included the following paragraph:
“Going forward, we will provide customers with three written notifications to make them aware that a copyright owner has alleged that their internet account has been used to infringe their copyrighted material. These letters do not accuse the customers of any wrongdoing and will offer help and support so that those customers whose internet access is being used unknowingly are able to address it.”
So far so good, but what about the earlier threat of 3 strikes and disconnections? What about the accuracy of evidence from the anti-piracy tracking companies?
“We will no longer suspend a customer’s service unless we receive a court order from a copyright owner taking legal action. As a result it is the responsibility of the legal system, not Karoo, to ensure the accuracy of the information provided by the copyright owners.”
Common sense prevails. Well done Karoo, you got there in the end. But we still haven’t had our question answered.
How does an ISP know that they are acting on accurate information when passing on copyright warnings to its customers or threatening disconnections?
If any ISP anywhere in the world is prepared to answer this important question, please feel free to get in touch. We’ve asked a few already with no success – we’re starting to think this issue is a very delicate one indeed, judging by the apparent reluctance to answer.
Universal Sues Russian Internet Provider
Universal Music Russia is suing a local cable TV and Internet provider for failure to pay a license fee for content owned by Universal.
The Moscow-based cable operator Akado signed an agreement with Universal last year, while preparing to launch its online music service, but later suspended the project because of the economic downturn.
Dmitry Konnov, general director of Universal Music Russia, confirmed to Billboard.biz that the company is suing Akado for unpaid license fees. "The hearing date is set for late August," he says. "But in the meantime, we are negotiating with Akado a goodwill agreement or out-of-court settlement. If we don't come to an agreement, we'll see each other in court."
A spokesman for Akado confirmed to Billboard.biz that the two companies are in negotiations and that Universal's content was offered by Akado's online music service for a short period of time before the project was pulled. "But we consider it unfair, to pay any fees that don't correspond with actual sales of Universal's content," he comments.
However, Universal insists that a payment must be paid. "Our agreement stipulates that minimum guarantee fees should be paid within a certain time frame, regardless of anything else," Konnov says. "There is no stipulation regarding commercial operation of the project."
Meanwhile, Akado still plans to re-launch the service, using content from another partner. "We are conducting negotiations, looking for a partner that would demand fees based on actual sales of its content by our service," the company's spokesman says.
Studios Win Ruling Over RealNetworks' DVD Copying
The Hollywood film studios notched a victory in their war on digital piracy Tuesday when a judge ruled against the DVD-copying technology known as RealDVD.
The Motion Picture Association of America argued that RealNetworks -- through its RealDVD technology -- has been violating copyrights and, in doing so, harming the financial interests of the talent, producers and studios involved in creating TV shows and movies that make their way to home video.
RealNetworks says it simply provided a way for consumers to make backup copies of DVDs they already own.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel slapped a preliminary injunction on RealNetworks, preventing it from either selling the RealDVD software or licensing it to others. The judge cited a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
RealNetworks likely will appeal, and there's a chance an injunction could be stayed, but the MPAA seemed confident that its victory will stand.
"Judge Patel's ruling affirms what we have known all along: RealNetworks took a license to build a DVD player and instead made an illegal DVD copier," the organization said.
"Throughout the development of RealDVD, RealNetworks demonstrated that it was willing to break the law at the expense of those who create entertainment content."
(Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)
Kaleidescape Loses; DVD Copying Falls Again
For the second time in two days, Hollywood has racked up another major legal victory over DVD-copying devices the studios charge are illegal.
Kaleidescape, which had won a rare court victory over the film industry two years ago, saw a California appeals court overturn the ruling on Wednesday. The decision comes a day after a federal court placed a preliminary injunction on the sale of RealDVD. Both Kaleidescape and RealDVD enable users to make digital copies of movies and store them to a hard drive.
In 2004, Kaleidescape was accused in a lawsuit by the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA), of agreeing to abide by the terms of the Content Scramble System (CSS) license, which it said forbade the copying of DVDs.
Kaleidescape argued there was nothing in the license that banned copying and Judge Leslie C. Nichols agreed in a ruling issued in March 2007. RealNetworks, which makes RealDVD, also argued that there was nothing in the DVD CSS license that prevented them from designing a DVD-copying feature.
"We're obviously disappointed by the court's decision"" said Michael Malcolm, Kaleidescape's CEO. "Our plan is to go to the Supreme Court of California. We're confident that were not in breach of our contract with the DVDCCA and until then our products remain fully legal and licensed."
The film industry has always maintained that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 was designed to protect innovation as well as the rights of content creators. A balance was sought and in pursuit of that, provisions were made to protect antipiracy controls, such as DVD CSS, from being circumvented.
Apparently, the only good news to come out of this for those in favor of fair use is that U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, in her RealDVD decision, did leave open the question of whether consumers have the legal right to make copies of their DVDs for their own personal use.
"It may well be fair use for an individual consumer to store a backup copy of a personally owned DVD on that individual's computer," Patel wrote, "a federal law (the DMCA) has nonetheless made it illegal to manufacture or traffic in a device or tool that permits a consumer to make such copies."
What this says to consumers is that if you want to make a digital backup of a DVD, no problem. Go ahead. But beware if you build a tool that actually helps people make those copies. In that case you're breaking the law.
The one-two punch in the courts is likely to rock the technology community. Techies had already begun bitterly criticizing the decision by Patel to halt sales of RealDVD and the Kaleidescape-like player from Real, code named Facet.
Fred von Lohmann, senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for Internet users and technology firms, said late Tuesday evening that Patel's decision is a setback for innovators and consumers.
"This is yet another example of the way the DMCA harms innovation without doing anything to stop what the studios call piracy," von Lohmann said. "This enables the studios to take consumers' fair use rights and sell them back to them one DVD at a time.
"And if you're an innovator," he continued, "where DVDs are concerned, it's very dangerous to innovate without asking the studios' permission first."
In a statement, the DVD CCA said: "The Appellate Court recognized what we have maintained all along, Kaleidescape had agreed to a complete contract that mandated certain requirements with which devices must conform in order to be Content Scramble System (CSS) compliant. We look forward to returning to the trial court to obtain an injunction requiring Kaleidescape to comply with its contractual obligations under the CSS License Agreement and Specifications."
Whither Redbox? Hollywood Studios Are Conflicted
Hollywood studios are split over Redbox, the $1-per-night DVD rental kiosk company: They could supply it with cheap wholesale discs and ride its massive growth, or starve it in the hopes of preserving higher-priced purchases.
News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox fell on the side of starvation this week, joining General Electric Co.'s Universal Pictures, whose withholding of discs prompted a lawsuit.
On the flip side, Sony Corp.'s movie division signed a five-year deal just last month to supply Redbox. As part of the deal, Redbox would get discs more cheaply but would have to destroy copies after their rental lives ended rather than sell them as "previously viewed" for $7 apiece, as it had done in the past.
Many other studios are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Although fans of the self-service vending machines won't notice a difference, the approach is crucial to both Redbox and the studios.
Lack of studio supply forces Redbox to buy discs from regular retailers - just like an individual might go to Wal-Mart or Best Buy - cutting into profits and stifling its growth. The studios want to keep their consumers happy, but are concerned the cheap kiosks could erode demand for higher-priced DVD purchases, which are the lifeblood of the industry.
"I do not think this will destroy the film business, but it's certainly a major issue over the next few years, especially if it continues to grow at the rate it's growing," Pali Capital analyst Rich Greenfield said. "Whether or not the titles get sold at the end of it, $1 a day does not help the entire movie industry."
On Wednesday, Fox ordered its wholesale distributors to stop supplying Redbox until 30 days after movie discs are released for sale. The policy takes effect Oct. 27.
The studio said the move was intent on "maintaining the quality image and value perception of Fox movies." News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey said $1 rentals were "grossly undervaluing" its product.
Like Fox, Universal Pictures insisted on a 45-day delay, which Redbox refused, and the studio cut off Redbox's supply last December. Redbox, a subsidiary of Bellevue, Wash.-based Coinstar Inc., sued to prevent Universal from stopping its supply, claiming antitrust laws had been broken. A federal judge in Delaware is expected to rule soon.
Redbox has 17,900 kiosks in the U.S. and plans 8,500 more this year. Netflix Inc. CEO Reed Hastings has said Redbox and other low-cost kiosk renters such as DVDPlay Inc. would be the biggest competitors to his mail-order DVD rental company by year's end.
Redbox President Mitch Lowe is trying to convince studio executives that the machines help sell more movies and says more than a third of his customers rent movies before deciding to buy.
"From the studio executive's perspective, they've always had an issue with the dollar price point," Lowe said. "I think it's been very positive to expanding consumers' interest in film again."
Redbox can still obtain DVDs without a studio's cooperation. The "first sale" legal doctrine gives it the right to use the discs as it sees fit after buying them, just as someone buying a book at a retail store can resell it, lend it or simply throw it away (The law is different for intangible property like movie and music downloads).
"Redbox will employ alternative, proven acquisition channels to provide our customers with the same level of service, convenience and value they've come to expect," the company said in a statement.
When Universal turned its distributors' tap off last year, Redbox just bought the discs at retail outlets and rented them out anyway. The "first sale" doctrine isn't in contention in the case with Universal. Rather, Redbox accuses Universal of breaking antitrust law in commanding distributors to withhold the sales.
With Fox now imposing a delay on wholesale copies, Redbox plans to simply buy discs at regular retailers. But because Redbox makes a little more than $25 per disc in revenue, buying from retailers for close to that price can eat into profits.
Fox's decision comes nowhere near to bringing Hollywood into consensus on low-cost kiosk renters.
Last month, Sony agreed to sell its movies to Redbox for about $460 million over five years - far less than it would have to pay at retail outlets - as long as Redbox destroyed previously viewed copies. Because Redbox's price of $7 is generally lower than what Blockbuster Inc. and others charge for previously viewed movies, the studios worried that fewer people will want to buy new copies at regular prices, typically $15 or higher.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment President David Bishop said the deal supported the studio's objective of "eliminating a key source of previously viewed product in the marketplace."
The resale business is something Redbox is not interested in anyway, as it makes up less than 1 percent of revenues, Coinstar CEO Paul Davis said. "We don't like being in that business, so, in fact, we're very aligned with the studios," he told analysts Tuesday.
Other studios are on the sidelines or have arrangements with the kiosk company already.
Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger told analysts last week that limiting the number of used discs that end up on discount sales bins was key to a deal it struck with kiosks including Redbox several years ago.
Paramount Pictures parent Viacom Inc. is in talks with Redbox and other kiosk companies "in how we can together improve and move forward," CEO Philippe Dauman said last week.
Jeffrey Bewkes, CEO of Warner Bros. parent Time Warner Inc., said he would "probably" prefer having some delay, or time "window," between the sales date and when Redbox rents discs for $1. But he didn't view kiosks as a killer of the studio's business.
"We think that there may well be a role for $1 rental kiosks or pricing in that range, just like there are $1 movie theaters," he told analysts last week. "We think it's a question of the right window."
Redbox Sues 20th Century Fox in DVD Dispute
DVD rental kiosk company Redbox said Wednesday that it has sued 20th Century Fox over the movie studio's attempts to delay its titles from appearing in Redbox vending machines.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del., marks the latest escalation in a fight over Redbox's service, which has divided Hollywood studios. Last week, Fox, a unit of News Corp., joined General Electric.'s Universal Pictures in a bid to preserve more lucrative DVD retail sales by keeping movies out of Redbox's $1-a-night rental kiosks for some period after they go on sale.
Fox ordered its wholesale distributors to stop supplying Redbox until 30 days after movie discs are released for sale. The policy takes effect Oct. 27.
A federal judge in Delaware is set to rule soon on a similar suit by Redbox against Universal, which insisted on a 45-day delay.
Redbox, which began in 2002 as a way for McDonald's to expand beyond the burger business, has 17,900 kiosks in the U.S. and plans 8,500 more this year.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has said Redbox and other low-cost kiosk renters such as DVDPlay would be the biggest competitors to his mail-order DVD rental company by year's end.
Some studios hoping to ride Redbox's growth have shown willingness to bargain.
Lions Gate Entertainment agreed Tuesday to make its films available immediately.
The deal followed Sony's agreement to provide its movies for kiosks, as long as Redbox destroyed copies after their rental lives ended rather than sell them as "previously viewed."
Because Redbox's used-disc purchase price of $7 is generally lower than what Blockbuster and others charge, the studios worried that fewer people will want to buy new copies at regular prices, typically $15 or higher.
The disputes over supplies so far haven't affected movies available through the self-service vending machines.
When studios balk, Redbox has bought new releases from retailers rather than wholesalers, a tactic that may keep customers happy but also cuts into profit margins.
In the suit, Redbox accused Fox of violating antitrust laws by "reducing consumer choice in the marketplace and increasing the prices that consumers must pay."
Redbox, a subsidiary of Bellevue, Wash.-based Coinstar, said Fox is seeking to "strangle" its low-cost rental option "to prop up an artificially high pricing scheme."
"We were forced to sue Fox after many discussions," Redbox President Mitch Lowe said Wednesday. "Essentially they gave us an ultimatum of either delaying the movies from our customers starting in October or forcing us to raise our prices."
Studio spokesman Chris Petrikin said Fox would have lifted its 30-day delay request if Redbox had agreed to improved financial terms, but the sides could not agree. "This lawsuit aims to limit Fox's ability to make legitimate business decisions, and Fox believes it will prevail in defeating Redbox's meritless claims," Petrikin said in a statement.
Siegels Win a Round in Epic Battle for Superman
Supermancomic The heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel have muscled a few more rights away from DC Comics and Warner Bros. in their latest round of litigation.
In a 92-page ruling issued Wednesday, Judge Stephen Larson found that the Siegel family had successfully recaptured key rights to the character, including first two weeks of Superman newspaper comic strips that lay out now-familiar elements of the Superman mythology.
The issue was whether those materials should be included in the Siegels' "termination" of Superman copyrights. Judge Larson ruled in 2008 that the Siegels had properly recaptured copyrights associated with Superman after years of being controlled by Warners/DC, but questions remained about whether the material that was potentially created as a "work-for-hire" should be included. Under copyright law, "works-for-hire" created while employed by someone else are not subject to later termination.
The court ruled, for the most part, that the Siegels successfully recaptured most of the works at issue, including those first two weeks of daily Superman strips, as well as key sections of early Action Comics and Superman comics.This means the Siegels, repped by Warners' nemesis Marc Toberoff, now control depictions of Superman's origins from the planet Krypton, his parents Jor-El and Lora, Superman as an infant, the launching of the baby Superman into space and his landing on Earth in a fiery crash.
But Warners/DC still owns other elements, including Superman's ability to fly, the term "kryptonite," the villain Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, and some of Superman's powers.
Warner Bros. issued this statement following the ruling: "Warner and DC Comics are pleased that the Court has affirmed that the vast majority of key elements associated with the Superman character that were developed after Action Comics #1 - including Lex Luthor, kryptonite and Superman's ability to fly - are not part of the copyrights that the plaintiffs have recaptured and therefore remain solely owned by DC Comics."
The decision is the latest twist in the battle over ownership of the Man of Steel. Judge Larson's 2008 ruling requires Warner Bros. and DC to account to the Siegels for profits earned from the character since 1999, including from the 2006 film "Superman Returns." But a trial last month over accounting issues ended with a Warner victory.
Here's the ruling, It's worth reading. In addition to including cool original Superman art, it delves into the detailed history of the creation of Superman, including a period in which the Man of Steel was conceived as merely an infant sent back in time to present-day America by the last man on Earth.
Seattle Man Used Limewire for Identity Theft
Frederick Wood was sentenced to more than three years in prison
A Seattle man was sentenced to more than three years in prison Tuesday for using the Limewire file-sharing service to lift personal information from computers across the U.S.
The case highlights a type of identity theft that is probably more common than most people realize, said Kathryn Warma, assistant U.S. attorney in the Computer Hacking and Internet Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The man, Frederick Wood, typed words like "tax return" and "account" into the Limewire search box, Warma said. That allowed him to find and access computers on the Limewire network with shared folders that contained tax returns and bank account information.
Wood also searched specifically for forms that parents fill out to apply for college financial aid for their children, which include "exhaustive personal and financial information about the family," Warma said. He used the information to open accounts, create identification cards and make purchases.
"Many of the victims are parents who don't realize that Limewire is on their home computer," she said.
Wood was initially apprehended while executing an even more low-tech crime, the Attorney's Office said.
He advertised an Apple computer for sale on Craigslist, and a Seattle resident responded to the ad and met Wood at a coffee shop to buy the computer. After paying for the computer with a check and leaving the coffee shop, the man discovered that there was no computer in the box, only a book and a vase.
The victim helped police set up a similar deal with Wood, who was arrested when he handed over another computer box with no computer in it, this time to a police officer, the Attorney's Office said.
Police later searched a computer they found in Wood's car and discovered tax returns, bank statements and cancelled checks stolen from more than 120 people across the country. He had also used the information retrieved through Limewire to make forged checks. He used those checks to buy electronics gear, some of which he sold on Craigslist, said the Attorney's Office.
Warma's advice to people who want to avoid becoming victims of this kind of identity theft was to "get Limewire off your computers." Even the added security features in the most recent version can be circumvented, she said.
"I think it's a horrible idea for people to have peer-to-peer software on their computers unless they're a very sophisticated user," she said.
During the investigation the authorities discovered that Wood was an associate of Gregory Kopiloff, the first person in the U.S. to be indicted for using file-sharing programs to steal personal information. He was sentenced in early 2008 to more than four years in prison for fraud.
Wood was sentenced Tuesday to 39 months in prison and three years of supervised release for wire fraud, accessing a protected computer without authorization to commit fraud, and aggravated identity theft. He was tried in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
Warma believes Wood and Kopiloff are the only two people to be convicted so far for using peer-to-peer networks to steal personal information.
Australian Convicted For Global Piracy Operation
The Melbourne Magistrates Court has handed a criminal conviction to an Australian man who played a leading role in a global piracy operation.
Mathew Zore operated a sophisticated international CD and DVD operation from Bentleigh East in Melbourne's outer suburbs, the court heard.
Australian Federal Police seized more than 100 different illicit Michael Jackson titles following a series of raids. Authorities discovered a cache of more than 7,000 infringing discs at Zore's home, which had been prepared for sale around the world.
The arrest followed an international investigation involving U.K. authorities, the Australian Federal Police and investigators from Music Industry Piracy Investigations unit and the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft.
The conviction, commented MIPI investigations manager Dean Mitchell, "reinforces the music industry's ongoing commitment to pursuing pirates and serves as a reminder that this type of conduct will result in criminal prosecutions."
Zore was also fined $24,000 Australian ($20,200) plus prosecution costs yesterday (Aug. 12). Magistrate Hawkins took into account his plea of guilty.
Judge Allows Objection to Google Book Deal
A judge has granted The Media Exchange Company Inc. the opportunity to file an objection to a settlement reached between Google Inc. and the publishing industry over its book-scanning project.
The company says it has patented technology that gives private book owners the ability to scan and sell books in digital form, and that private owners were excluded from consideration in the settlement.
Federal Judge Denny Chin of New York granted the application July 23.
In October 2008, Google and the publishing industry agreed to settle their battle in a deal that called for Google to pay $125 million while developing online sales opportunities for scanned books that turn up in Google searches.
Google would get 37 percent of future revenue and publishers and authors would share the rest.
Chin has extended the deadline for objecting until Sept. 7. A hearing to approve the settlement is scheduled for Oct. 12.
As Classrooms Go Digital, Textbooks Are History
At Empire High School in Vail, Ariz., students use computers provided by the school to get their lessons, do their homework and hear podcasts of their teachers’ science lectures.
Down the road, at Cienega High School, students who own laptops can register for “digital sections” of several English, history and science classes. And throughout the district, a Beyond Textbooks initiative encourages teachers to create — and share — lessons that incorporate their own PowerPoint presentations, along with videos and research materials they find by sifting through reliable Internet sites.
Textbooks have not gone the way of the scroll yet, but many educators say that it will not be long before they are replaced by digital versions — or supplanted altogether by lessons assembled from the wealth of free courseware, educational games, videos and projects on the Web.
“Kids are wired differently these days,” said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La. “They’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite.
“They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote,” Dr. Abshire continued. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.”
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this summer announced an initiative that would replace some high school science and math texts with free, “open source” digital versions.
With California in dire straits, the governor hopes free textbooks could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
And given that students already get so much information from the Internet, iPods and Twitter feeds, he said, digital texts could save them from lugging around “antiquated, heavy, expensive textbooks.”
The initiative, the first such statewide effort, has attracted widespread attention, since California, together with Texas, dominates the nation’s textbook market.
Many superintendents are enthusiastic.
“In five years, I think the majority of students will be using digital textbooks,” said William M. Habermehl, superintendent of the 500,000-student Orange County schools. “They can be better than traditional textbooks.”
Schools that do not make the switch, Mr. Habermehl said, could lose their constituency.
“We’re still in a brick-and-mortar, 30-students-to-1-teacher paradigm,” Mr. Habermehl said, “but we need to get out of that framework to having 200 or 300 kids taking courses online, at night, 24/7, whenever they want.”
“I don’t believe that charters and vouchers are the threat to schools in Orange County,” he said. “What’s a threat is the digital world — that someone’s going to put together brilliant $200 courses in French, in geometry by the best teachers in the world.”
But the digital future is not quite on the horizon in most classrooms. For one thing, there is still a large digital divide. Not every student has access to a computer, a Kindle electronic reader device or a smartphone, and few districts are wealthy enough to provide them. So digital textbooks could widen the gap between rich and poor.
“A large portion of our kids don’t have computers at home, and it would be way too costly to print out the digital textbooks,” said Tim Ward, assistant superintendent for instruction in California’s 24,000-student Chaffey Joint Union High School District, where almost half the students are from low-income families.
Many educators expect that digital textbooks and online courses will start small, perhaps for those who want to study a subject they cannot fit into their school schedule or for those who need a few more credits to graduate.
Although California education authorities are reviewing 20 open-source high school math and science texts to make sure they meet California’s exacting academic standards in time for use this fall — and will announce this week which ones meet state standards — quick adoption is unlikely.
“I want our teachers to have the best materials available, and with digital textbooks, we could see the best lessons taught by the most dynamic teachers,” said John A. Roach, superintendent of the Carlsbad, Calif., schools. “But they’re not going to replace paper texts right away.”
Whenever it comes, the online onslaught — and the competition from open-source materials — poses a real threat to traditional textbook publishers.
Pearson, the nation’s largest one, submitted four texts in California, all of them already available online, as free supplements to their texts.
“We believe that the world is going digital, but the jury’s still out on how this will evolve,” said Wendy Spiegel, a Pearson spokeswoman. “We’re agnostic, so we’ll provide digital, we’ll provide print, and we’ll see what our customers want.”
Most of the digital texts submitted for review in California came from a nonprofit group, CK-12 Foundation, that develops free “flexbooks” that can be customized to meet state standards, and added to by teachers. Its physics flexbook, a Web-based, open-content compilation, was introduced in Virginia in March.
“The good part of our flexbooks is that they can be anything you want,” said Neeru Khosla, a founder of the group. “You can use them online, you can download them onto a disk, you can print them, you can customize them, you can embed video. When people get over the mind-set issue, they’ll see that there’s no reason to pay $100 a pop for a textbook, when you can have the content you want free.”
The move to open-source materials is well under way in higher education — and may be accelerated by President Obama’s proposal to invest in creating free online courses as part of his push to improve community colleges.
Around the world, hundreds of universities, including M.I.T. and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia, now use and share open-source courses. Connexions, a Rice University nonprofit organization devoted to open-source learning, submitted an algebra text to California.
But given the economy, many educators and technology experts agree that the K-12 digital revolution may be further off.
“There’s a lot of stalled purchasing and decision making right now,” said Mark Schneiderman, director of federal education policy at the Software & Information Industry Association. “But it’s going to happen.”
For all the attention to the California initiative, digital textbooks are only the start of the revolution in educational technology.
“We should be bracing ourselves for way more interactive, way more engaging videos, activities and games,” said Marina Leight of the Center for Digital Education, which promotes digital education through surveys, publications and meetings.
Vail’s Beyond Textbooks effort has moved in that direction. In an Empire High School history class on elections, for example, students created their own political parties, campaign Web sites and videos.
“Students learn the same concepts, but in a different way,” said Matt Donaldson, Empire’s principal.
“We’ve mapped out our state standards,” Mr. Donaldson said, “and our teachers have identified whatever resources they feel best covers them, whether it’s a project they created themselves or an interesting site on the Internet. What they don’t do, generally, is take chapters from textbooks.”
Textbook Publisher to Rent to College Students
In the rapidly evolving college textbook market, one of the nation’s largest textbook publishers, Cengage Learning, announced Thursday that it would start renting books to students this year, at 40 percent to 70 percent of the sale price.
Students who choose Cengage’s rental option will get immediate access to the first chapter of the book electronically, in e-book format, and will have a choice of shipping options for the printed book. When the rental term — 60, 90 or 130 days — is over, students can either return the textbook or buy it.
With the growing competition from online used-book sales, digital texts and new Internet textbook-rental businesses like Chegg and BookRenter, other publishers and college bookstores are also edging toward rentals.
Follett Higher Education Group, which manages more than 850 college bookstores, is starting a pilot rental program this fall at about a dozen stores, including those at the State University at Buffalo, Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan, and California State University at Sacramento. The stores will offer about 20 percent of their titles for rent, charging 42.5 percent of the purchase price.
With college textbooks often costing more than $100 apiece, students spend an average of $700 to $1,100 a year, representing one of their biggest expenses after tuition and room and board. Many students try to save by buying used books or ordering books from overseas, where they can often cost half the domestic price. Many students also resell textbooks at the end of the academic year, feeding the used-book market.
Besides giving students a new option, rentals give both publishers and textbook authors a way to continue earning money from their books after the first sale, something they do not get from the sale of used textbooks.
“Our authors will get royalties on second and third rentals, just as they would on a first sale,” said Ronald G. Dunn, president and chief executive of Cengage, formerly Thomson Learning. “There’s a tremendous amount of activity around rentals now, but we’re the first higher-education publisher to move in this direction.”
Cengage’s rental business will begin with several hundred titles this year, and then expand, Mr. Dunn said.
“The Internet has really changed everything in terms of our abilities to reach customers in different ways,” he said. “Our strategy has been to offer as many choices as we can, in terms of price points and different kinds of products. So if they choose not to buy the printed book, they can rent it, just as we already offer them the choice to buy an e-book, or a chapter.”
McGraw-Hill is taking a different route into rentals, through a partnership with Chegg, a fast-growing online textbook-rental business. Under an agreement that is to be announced soon, McGraw-Hill will supply 25 of its books to Chegg, in return for a portion of the rental revenue.
Ed Stanford, the president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education, would not disclose what share of each Chegg rental his company would get.
“It’s an opportunity to explore a different model that we think has some real promise,” Mr. Stanford said. “We’re not a retailer of our textbooks, so we’re not trying to play the retail role. But we are also talking to large college bookstores who are interested in rentals as an option. It’s of great interest to us as a way that we could begin to share the revenues after the first sale.”
A few college bookstores have been offering rentals for years, and many more are moving in that direction.
“There’s a changing climate in the industry, with all the pressures on the costs of higher education,” said Elio Distaola, of Follett. “The reason we’re doing the rental pilot is just to see the viability of the program.”
Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, too, is starting a pilot rental program at three of its 624 college bookstores this fall.
“I think it could very well end up being a standard offering,” said Patrick Maloney, the executive vice president. “We’re renting books at 35 percent of the list price, and it’s only for hardcover texts, because paperbacks would get beaten up too fast. The schools assist us with collecting the books at the end, as they do with library books. The other option, taking the student’s credit card and billing it if the book wasn’t returned, didn’t seem very user-friendly.”
Mr. Maloney said the rental program would have been offered at more colleges and universities, if more faculty members had been willing to commit to using the same textbook for at least two years.
“We had a lot of discussions with schools, but in one case, they wanted to get 10 faculty members to sign on, and they couldn’t get any,” Mr. Maloney said.
Since a federal report four years ago found that textbook prices nearly tripled from 1986 to 2004 — rising an average of 6 percent a year, twice the inflation rate — Congress and state legislators have been working to contain textbook costs.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed last year, included $10 million for grants to support textbook rental pilot programs; according to Charles Schmidt of the National Association of College Stores, more than 20 college bookstores have applied for grants.
Sony Plans to Adopt Common Format for E-Books
Paper books may be low tech, but no one will tell you how and where you can read them.
For many people, the problem with electronic books is that they come loaded with just those kinds of restrictions. Digital books bought today from Amazon.com, for example, can be read only on Amazon’s Kindle device or its iPhone software.
Some restrictions on the use of e-books are likely to remain a fact of life. But some publishers and consumer electronics makers are aiming to give e-book buyers more flexibility by rallying around a single technology standard for the books. That would also help them counter Amazon, which has taken an early lead in the nascent market.
On Thursday, Sony Electronics, which sells e-book devices under the Reader brand, plans to announce that by the end of the year it will sell digital books only in the ePub format, an open standard created by a group including publishers like Random House and HarperCollins.
Sony will also scrap its proprietary anticopying software in favor of technology from the software maker Adobe that restricts how often e-books can be shared or copied.
After the change, books bought from Sony’s online store will be readable not just on its own device but on the growing constellation of other readers that support ePub. Those include the Plastic Logic eReader, a thin device that has been in development for nearly a decade and is expected to go on sale early next year.
“There is going to be a proliferation of different reading devices, with different features and capabilities and prices for a different set of consumer requirements,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading unit. “If people are going to this e-book shopping mall, they are going to want to shop at all the stores, and not just be required to shop at one store.”
Sony’s move comes amid mounting concern about Amazon’s market power in the budding category of electronic books. E-book sales in the United States hit a record $14 million in June, a 136.2 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the Association of American Publishers.
Amazon does not divulge its e-book revenue, but analysts say it most likely accounted for a majority of those sales.
Amazon inadvertently demonstrated one potential consequence of e-book restrictions last month when it discovered that it had sold unauthorized copies of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” and then removed the books from the Kindle libraries of people who had bought the novels.
Amazon’s chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, later apologized for the move, but not before advocates used the episode to rail against limitations on digital reading.
“People need to remember, when they buy books that come with digital rights management, they don’t have the freedoms they normally would have with a book,” said Holmes Wilson, campaigns manger of the Free Software Foundation, which obtained the signatures of nearly 4,000 authors and tech pundits on a petition saying Amazon’s anticopying software was a “clear threat to the free exchange of ideas.”
Companies like Sony and Adobe do not want to abandon anticopying measures, fearing that piracy of books would run rampant. Rather, they want to push the e-book industry toward common standards to avoid a replay of Apple’s domination of the digital music business.
Early this decade, Apple sold music from its iTunes store that was protected by its own FairPlay software and could be played only on the iPod.
The result was what is known as “lock-in.” Apple built up extraordinary market power and leverage to dictate terms to the major music labels on matters like the price of digital songs. Then, as now, second-tier players banded together to promote the increased flexibility and choice that open standards gave to consumers.
“If the business terms and conditions end up being dictated to publishers by one bookseller who has a chokehold over the value chain, publishers are going to have a hard time staying profitable,” said Bill McCoy, general manager for Adobe’s digital publishing business.
For Sony, which introduced its Reader devices more than a year before the Kindle arrived, the move to open formats is part of a strategy to make up lost ground. Sony recently introduced two new, less expensive devices and announced it was dropping its price for new releases and best sellers to $9.99. Later in the year, the company will begin selling a third Reader that will, like the Kindle, allow users to buy e-books wirelessly.
Amazon, for its part, believes it can go it alone, without embracing industry standards. An Amazon spokesman would not comment for this article, but Mr. Bezos has said before that his goal was to “make Kindle books available on as many hardware devices as possible.” That suggests it will soon introduce versions of its Kindle software for the Palm Pre and other reading devices.
Allen Weiner, an analyst at the technology research firm Gartner, says there is one more company that must declare its allegiance to either an open or closed world for e-books: Apple.
If, as expected, Apple soon introduces a tablet computer that can function as a reading device, and if it embraces an open standard like ePub, Amazon will have to reconsider its closed approach, Mr. Weiner said.
“If you see some Adobe executive up on stage with Steve Jobs when they announce the tablet, at that point Amazon has a lot to worry about,” he said.
Phones, PCs Put E-Book Within Reach of Kindle-Less
A few weeks ago, Pasquale Castaldo was waiting at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport for a delayed flight, when a man sitting across from him pulled out an Amazon Kindle book-reading device.
"Gee, maybe I should think about e-books myself," Castaldo thought.
He didn't have a Kindle, but he did have a BlackBerry. He pulled it out and looked for available applications. Sure enough, Barnes & Noble Inc. had just put up an e-reading program. Castaldo, 54, downloaded it, and within a minute, began reading Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."
As others are also discovering, the North Haven, Conn., banker found e-books quite accessible without a Kindle.
"The BlackBerry is always with me," Castaldo said. "Rather than just sitting there, if I can fill that time by reading a good book, I might do that, in addition to doing the other things I might do, like reading e-mail and Twittering."
Thanks to Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle, e-book sales are finally zooming, after more than a decade in the doldrums.
But the pioneering device may not dominate the market for long. As Castaldo found, many phones are now sophisticated enough, and have good enough screens, to be used as e-book reading devices. In addition, e-book reading on computers is already surprisingly popular.
E-book sales reported to the Association of American Publishers have been rising sharply since the beginning of 2008, just after the release of the Kindle. It's the
best sustained growth the industry has seen since the International Digital Publishing Forum began tracking sales in 2002—a sign that e-books finally could be about to break into the mainstream.
U.S. trade e-book sales in the April to June period this year more than tripled from the amount a year ago, as reported by about a dozen publishers.
Total reported sales at wholesale prices were $37.6 million. That's less than 2 percent of the overall book market, but the number understates e-book sales, because not all publishers contribute to the report. The figure also excludes textbooks, an area where e-books have made substantial inroads.
While other digital media like CDs, DVDs and MP3 songs showed sharp growth rates from the get-go, e-books have puttered around as a tiny fraction of overall book sales for more than a decade. In several periods, sales actually declined from year to year as publishers wavered in their commitment and interest.
The technology has also faced unique resistance from consumers because printed books work so well.
The most well-known dedicated reading devices, the Kindle and Sony Corp.'s Reader, try to emulate the look of the printed page with a display technology known as "electronic ink."
While many find the result pleasant to read, e-ink also imposes significant limitations on the devices. They can't be backlit like other screens. They can't show color. They're also slow to update, making them difficult to use for Web browsing or other computer activities.
The Kindle has a wireless connection directly to Amazon's store, meaning users can buy and download books to the device within minutes, much like Castaldo could do on his smart phone. The Reader lacks a wireless capability and thus needs to be connected to a computer to load books.
Amazon isn't betting solely on the Kindle. It released an iPhone app for the Kindle store in March. It has snapped up some other developers of book-reading applications for smart phones, but these programs don't use the Kindle store.
Shanna Vaughn, a university worker and voracious reader in Orange County, Calif., has been reading e-books on a computer or handheld organizer for at least ten years, but it was only an occasional habit until she got an iPhone last year. It's mainly the convenience that's winning her over: Because Vaughn can buy and download books nearly instantly to the phone, she doesn't need to plan a trip to the book store.
Vaughn, 35, is not interested in a Kindle or a Reader.
"I never really wanted something that was a single-function device. I just couldn't see spending ... $300 for a device where I'm sort of locked in to one retailer. Whereas my phone, that does everything."
Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said that while the Kindle has sparked interest in e-books, downloads of e-reading applications for smart phones have far outnumbered the Kindles sold.
The Stanza app for the iPhone and the iPod Touch, for instance, has been downloaded more than 2 million times since last summer, compared with Rotman Epps' estimate of more than 900,000 Kindles sold through the first quarter of this year. (Lexcycle Inc., the maker of Stanza, was acquired in April by Amazon, which does not disclose Kindle sales.)
"There will be a market for dedicated reading devices, but there's potentially an even bigger market for reading on devices that people already own, like smart phones," she said.
According to a survey of 2,600 adults by research firm Simba Information this spring, the most common way to read e-books is on another general-purpose device: the personal computer. It found that 8 percent of adults had bought an e-book last year, a high figure considering that Kindle sales were less than half a percent of the adult population.
Bob LiVolsi, the founder and CEO of independent e-book retailer BooksOnBoard, said two-thirds of his customers read their books on their PCs. Romance, thriller and mystery titles costing $5 to $7 are the big draw for his customers, who aren't high earners and have trouble justifying the cost of a dedicated device.
Though adoption has been slow, PCs have had a big head start in e-books, said Michael Norris, senior publishing analyst at Simba. Their ubiquity also means they provide some camouflage to avid readers who want to "read a romance novel at work while pretending to work," he said.
Robert Lisi, a construction estimator in Charleston, S.C., reads on his BlackBerry when he doesn't have his Sony Reader handy.
He's even signed up for The Daily Lit, a service that sends out books in e-mail every day, broken up into chunks that take about five minutes to read on a BlackBerry or computer screen.
"I have books on tape, and then I have books on paper and as e-books," Lisi said. "I want to get to where I'm reading a book a week, but I work, so I can't do that."
Yale Press Bans Images of Muhammad in New Book
It’s not all that surprising that Yale University Press would be wary of reprinting notoriously controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a forthcoming book. After all, when the 12 caricatures were first published by a Danish newspaper a few years ago and reprinted by other European publications, Muslims all over the world angrily protested, calling the images — which included one in which Muhammad wore a turban in the shape of a bomb — blasphemous. In the Middle East and Africa some rioted, burning and vandalizing embassies; others demanded a boycott of Danish goods; a few nations recalled their ambassadors from Denmark. In the end at least 200 people were killed.
So Yale University and Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: The book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What’s more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children’s book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante’s “Inferno” that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí.
The book’s author, Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., reluctantly accepted Yale University Press’s decision not to publish the cartoons. But she was disturbed by the withdrawal of the other representations of Muhammad. All of those images are widely available, Ms. Klausen said by telephone, adding that “Muslim friends, leaders and activists thought that the incident was misunderstood, so the cartoons needed to be reprinted so we could have a discussion about it.” The book is due out in November.
John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said by telephone that the decision was difficult, but the recommendation to withdraw the images, including the historical ones of Muhammad, was “overwhelming and unanimous.” The cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, Mr. Donatich said, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.
He noted that he had been involved in publishing other controversial books — like “The King Never Smiles” by Paul M. Handley, a recent unauthorized biography of Thailand’s current monarch — and “I’ve never blinked.” But, he said, “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”
Reza Aslan, a religion scholar and the author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” is a fan of the book but decided to withdraw his supportive blurb that was to appear in the book after Yale University Press dropped the pictures. The book is “a definitive account of the entire controversy,” he said, “but to not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic.”
In Mr. Aslan’s view no danger remains. “The controversy has died out now, anyone who wants to see them can see them,” he said of the cartoons, noting that he has written and lectured extensively about the incident and shown the cartoons without any negative reaction. He added that none of the violence occurred in the United States: “There were people who were annoyed, and what kind of publishing house doesn’t publish something that annoys some people?”
“This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press,” he continued. “There is no chance of this book having a global audience, let alone causing a global outcry.” He added, “It’s not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary.”
Mr. Donatich said that the images were still provoking unrest as recently as last year when the Danish police arrested three men suspected of trying to kill the artist who drew the cartoon depicting Muhammad’s turban as a bomb. He quoted one of the experts consulted by Yale — Ibrahim Gambari, special adviser to the secretary general of the United Nations and the former foreign minister of Nigeria — as concluding: “You can count on violence if any illustration of the prophet is published. It will cause riots, I predict, from Indonesia to Nigeria.”
Aside from the disagreement about the images, Ms. Klausen said she was also disturbed by Yale’s insistence that she could read a 14-page summary of the consultants’ recommendations only if she signed a confidentiality agreement that forbade her from talking about them. “I perceive it to be a gag order,” she said, after declining to sign. While she could understand why some of the individuals consulted might prefer to remain unidentified, she said, she did not see why she should be precluded from talking about their conclusions.
Linda Koch Lorimer, vice president and secretary of Yale University, who had discussed the summary with Ms. Klausen, said on Wednesday that she was merely following the original wishes of the consultants, some of whom subsequently agreed to be identified.
Ms. Klausen, who is also the author of “The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe,” argued that the cartoon protests were not spontaneous but rather orchestrated demonstrations by extremists in Denmark and Egypt who were trying to influence elections there and by others hoping to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya and Nigeria. The cartoons, she maintained, were a pretext, a way to mobilize dissent in the Muslim world.
Although many Muslims believe the Koran prohibits images of the prophet, Muhammad has been depicted through the centuries in both Islamic and Western art without inciting disturbances.
Rather than sign a joint editor’s note for the book and the removal of the images, Ms. Klausen has requested instead that a statement from her be included. “I agreed,” she said, “to the press’s decision to not print the cartoons and other hitherto uncontroversial illustrations featuring images of the Muslim prophet, with sadness. But I also never intended the book to become another demonstration for or against the cartoons, and hope the book can still serve its intended purpose without illustrations.”
Other publishers, including The New York Times, chose not to print the cartoons or images of Muhammad when the controversy erupted worldwide in February 2006.
Ms. Klausen said, “I can understand that a university is risk averse, and they will make that choice” not to publish the cartoons, but Yale University Press, she added, went too far in taking out the other images of Muhammad.
“The book’s message,” Ms. Klausen said, “is that we need to calm down and look at this carefully.”
Firefox Extension Liberates US Court Docs from Paywall
A new Firefox extension created by the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton aims to tear down the federal judiciary's PACER paywall. It uploads legal documents to a freely accessible mirror that is hosted by the Internet Archive.
Federal court documents are currently made available to the public through a crufty system called PACER. For eight cents per page, users can download filings and other relevant documents associated with individual cases. PACER is intended to open case law and court activity to broad public scrutiny, but the system's obfuscated design and its paywall significantly undermine its efficacy.
The content hosted on PACER can be freely redistributed by third parties because copyright is not applicable to court documents, but the access fees make it costly and difficult for data archivers to assemble their own comprehensive mirrors that would offload the hosting burden and make the content more easily accessible to the general public. Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) is launching a new project to tackle this problem.
A team led by CITP director Ed Felten has devised a novel means of boosting the availability of PACER documents outside of the paywall. They have created a new Firefox extension called RECAP that seamlessly replicates PACER content and uploads it to a mirror hosted by the Internet Archive. When RECAP users browse the PACER site, the content that they pay to view will be uploaded to the mirror by the Firefox extension. Users will get free access to the documents that are already hosted by the mirror.
Over time, free PACER content will accumulate at the Internet Archive's mirror, making it unnecessary for additional users to pay PACER for access to those files. The unrestricted availability of the mirrored legal documents will empower legal researchers and members of the public who can't simply pass the access costs along to clients as most lawyers do.
The Administrative Office of the United States Courts contends that access fees are needed in order to fund the bandwidth requirements and ongoing maintenance of the system. Crowdsourcing distribution and offloading the data to public mirrors like the Internet Archive presents a practical way to alleviate the strain on PACER while making the data more broadly available.
The RECAP project could also illuminate potential solutions to the problems that are blocking a more complete PACER overhaul. Despite growing pressure from Congress to reform the PACER system and make data available at no cost, the courts are still reluctant to make major changes to the system because of uncertainty about the cost and the technical challenges of hosting and distributing the data. The RECAP project's effort to mirror a portion of PACER could help answer those questions and provide a real-world model that demonstrates the viability of open access.
Our own Tim Lee, who wrote about the problems with PACER in article earlier this year, is one of the developers behind the RECAP project. Lee participated in the creation of the Firefox extension and some related backend infrastructure in collaboration with Harlan Yu and Steve Schultze. The Firefox extension is open source software and is distributed under the terms of GNU's General Public License. The extension is available for download from the RECAP website, which launched today. The website also has an introductory video and additional details about the project's goals and philosophy.
Yu offers additional commentary about RECAP at the CITP's Freedom to Tinker blog. He envisions a future where court documents are freely available to everyone and are annotated with software-friendly metadata that makes the information easy to process, index, and programmatically analyze.
"With today's technologies, government transparency means much more than the chance to read one document at a time. Citizens today expect to be able to download comprehensive government datasets that are machine-processable, open, and free," he wrote. "Today, we are excited to announce the public beta release of RECAP, a tool that will help bring an unprecedented level of transparency to the US federal court system. RECAP is a plug-in for the Firefox web browser that makes it easier for users to share documents they have purchased from PACER, the court's pay-to-play access system."
As Lee explained in his previous article, the revenue generated by PACER's paywall far exceeds the amount of money needed to run the system. The operating costs could be further reduced through much-needed consolidation and other changes. The RECAP system is an important vehicle for encouraging open access and moving the system forward. It also reflects the growth of an emerging movement that seeks to boost government transparency through data availability.
A number of similar projects have popped up recently with the goal of making the inner workings of the government visible to regular citizens via the Internet. An example is OpenRegs.com, a website established in June by Mercatus Center researcher Jerry Brito and programmer Peter Snyder to help people navigate federal regulations. The government itself is also pushing a number of important data transparency projects, such as the new Data.gov website that was launched in may by Federal CIO Vivek Kundra to aggregate government data sets in machine-readable formats.
Lego Rejects a Bit Part in a Spinal Tap DVD
Andrew Adam Newman
In 2007, when Coleman Hickey was 14, he made a stop-action film using Lego pieces and figures to depict a concert performance of the song “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight,” by Spinal Tap, the parody band featured in the 1984 mock documentary “This is Spinal Tap.”
Among the fans of the video, which has garnered 82,000 views on YouTube and includes a musician hurling himself into the audience of Lego figures and crowd surfing atop their upraised plastic arms, are the members of Spinal Tap. The band showed the video during performances of its recent “Unwigged and Unplugged” tour.
But Lego is not amused.
As final editing was being done on a concert DVD of the tour, which included footage from the video projected on stage, Lego declined to grant permission to use its figures, which are protected by copyright.
“We love that our fans are so passionate and so creative with our products,” said Julie Stern, a spokeswoman for Lego Systems, the United States division of the Lego Group, a Danish company founded in the 1930s. “But it had some inappropriate language, and the tone wasn’t appropriate for our target audience of kids 6 to 12.”
As is Spinal Tap’s wont, the song, addressed to a minor, parodies rock stars’ inflated egos and libidos.
Kia Kamran, an intellectual property lawyer representing Spinal Tap, said the band could have prevailed had Lego sued alleging copyright infringement, because Mr. Hickey’s video does not show the brand’s logo and is satirical. But the band did not deem the fight worth the expense, he said.
“In my heart of hearts, I do think this is fair use” of copyrighted material, Mr. Kamran said.
Harry Shearer, the voice of several characters on “The Simpsons” and a member of Spinal Tap (with Christopher Guest and Michael McKean), said other copyright holders, including the Rolling Stones, whose “Start Me Up” was used in Spinal Tap’s concert footage, granted permission for use on the DVD, which will be released Sept. 1.
“Lego are the only people who strictly said no,” Mr. Shearer said. “It was Lego Kafka.”
In the excised footage, Mr. Shearer told the audience after the video projection that the Lego concertgoers with raised C-shaped hands (for gripping Lego components) reminded him of rock audiences who gesture with index fingers and pinkies pointed. Later, when the band did an encore, many in the crowd raised their hands in the cupped gesture of Lego hands, which, having lost its setup, no longer functioned as a joke.
For the recent tour and DVD, Mr. Shearer, Mr. Guest and Mr. McKean did not perform in their long-wigged Spinal Tap costumes, but rather as themselves, and performed songs from their other fictional band, the Folksmen, as well.
Many are tempted to place wholesome looking Lego characters in unwholesome situations, as evidenced by a video that has drawn more than 1.4 million views on YouTube, “Lego Weapon Store.” It begins with one Lego character approaching another at a sales counter and saying, “I’d like to buy a weapon to kill my neighbor.”
Another YouTube video, a parody of “Girls Gone Wild” called “Legos Gone Wild,” depicts the figures exposing themselves to the camera as they “Lego their inhibitions.” It has been viewed more than 200,000 times.
But Lego has not acted to have either video, or Mr. Hickey’s, removed from YouTube.
“YouTube is a less commercial use,” Ms. Stern said. “But when you get into a more commercial use, that’s when we have to look into the fact that we are a trademarked brand, and we really have to control the use of our brand, and our brand values.”
Mr. Hickey, now 16, who lives outside Columbus, Ohio, says he and his eight siblings have amassed a collection of about 42,000 Lego bricks and characters.
“In a way I’m disappointed that it won’t be forever memorialized in a DVD,” Mr. Hickey said of his video. “It’s not like I was going to get any money for it, but it’s too bad. Lego has the right to do that, but it’s unfortunate that they don’t have a little more of a sense of humor.”
Tilting at Internet Barrier, a Stalwart Is Upended
In the community of activists trying to break down Internet barriers that they say stifle creativity and knowledge, few figures are as revered as Charles Nesson.
As co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School, Professor Nesson is renowned for his early interest in bridging technology, law and culture, and his ability to inspire generations of students to see the Internet as a force for positive change, not just cables and computers.
But when Professor Nesson, 70, took on the recording industry in an eagerly anticipated civil case here over sharing music online, the champion stumbled. On July 31, a jury handed down an eye-popping $675,000 judgment against Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston University graduate student who was defended by Mr. Nesson. Mr. Tenenbaum’s offense was downloading and sharing 30 songs.
It was a stinging defeat for Professor Nesson, and to many in the legal community, it seemed to be a moment when an eccentric scholar’s devotion to a soaring vision blinded him to the practical realities of winning a legal case. Taking on a lawsuit that his own allies warned was ill-advised, Professor Nesson acted in ways that many observers found bizarre and even harmful to the case.
But in an interview, Professor Nesson sounded a nearly evangelical tone, saying the case presented an opportunity to take on the recording industry’s “assault on what I think of as the digital-native generation” over the industry’s own failure to adapt to changing technologies. While artists deserve to be paid, he said, the solution is not to threaten and punish those who love music through a copyright regime that “produces absurd results.”
In 2004, the Recording Industry Association of America contacted Mr. Tenenbaum, 25, who studies physics, and threatened to sue him over songs he had downloaded and shared without paying. Nearly all of the thousands of people confronted by the industry settle for a few thousand dollars, but Mr. Tenenbaum chose to fight.
Professor Nesson took on Mr. Tenenbaum as a client without pay last year at the encouragement of Judge Nancy Gertner of Federal District Court, who presided over the case and was uncomfortable with what she has called the “huge imbalance” between industry lawyers and the individuals they have sued.
There was excitement among advocates about the high-profile challenger. At the news site Techdirt, one commenter called Professor Nesson “my new HERO” and expected the industry to “go down in a blaze of humiliation!”
The problems for the case, however, started well before the first day of trial; Professor Nesson’s court filings and tactics were decidedly informal and offbeat. As part of his almost obsessive desire for transparency and documentation, he posted a recorded telephone conference call with the judge and industry lawyers on his blog, and even posted e-mail messages from friends discussing case strategy.
In one message, Lawrence Lessig, an internationally recognized expert on copyright at Harvard Law School, expressed serious reservations about the suit and counseled against Professor Nesson’s plan to argue that Mr. Tenenbaum had made “fair use” of the music. Fair use is a doctrine more commonly cited when small portions of a published work are quoted elsewhere. It would be wrong, Professor Lessig wrote, to “pretend” that “fair use excuses what he did.”
“It doesn’t,” he added.
Even before opening statements, Professor Lessig was proved right: Judge Gertner prohibited the fair-use defense.
“To say she dealt us a stiff blow actually puts it quite lightly,” Professor Nesson said.
During his opening statement, Professor Nesson held a brick of foam wrapped in plastic and compared it to the compact discs that the industry sold before the online revolution. He cut the wrapper and the foam broke into hundreds of pieces, which he compared to digital bits that spread around the world.
Ben Sheffner, a copyright lawyer who has worked for the entertainment industry and covered the trial for the Web site Ars Technica, said Professor Nesson’s breezy, almost insouciant manner was more suited to the classroom than the courtroom, where “there are hundreds of rules you have to follow, and if you don’t follow them, there is a judge who literally lays down the law.”
The crucial blow came on the stand, when Professor Nesson encouraged Mr. Tenenbaum to admit freely that he had downloaded and shared songs, after having denied it in depositions, “because it’s the truth,” Professor Nesson said, stripping the case to the core issue of the law’s unfairness. Judge Gertner essentially declared the case over, directing a verdict against Mr. Tenenbaum and leaving the jury to decide only the penalty.
The $675,000 result could have been avoided by paying $4,000, the amount the industry demanded before trial. The 30 songs can be bought for less than $30.
For his part, Mr. Tenenbaum said he felt Professor Nesson did an “absolutely brilliant” job in a difficult case, and got a far smaller penalty than the maximum of $4.5 million. But, he added, “this is a bankrupting judgment, even if it’s reduced to $200,000 or increased to $2 million.”
These days, Mr. Tenenbaum said, he buys his music on iTunes.
Professor Nesson said he was counting on winning on appeal, and was preparing for a hearing to ask for a reduced penalty. While he said his filings might have lacked the formal structure of the industry lawyers’ work — he described his side as “me and my laptop” and some student helpers — they cogently argued the issues, which were “teed up beautifully for higher courts.”
He compared the case to a well-known water-contamination lawsuit he was involved with against W. R. Grace & Company that was settled for far less than the plaintiffs had originally hoped. The resulting book, “A Civil Action,” by Jonathan Harr, and the movie that followed had greater impact than the case itself, he said.
“Law in the court of public opinion is what shapes law in the courts and in the real world,” Professor Nesson said. “This could be ‘Civil Action II.’ ”
The outcome in the Tenenbaum case saddened Professor Nesson’s friends and fans. Elizabeth Stark, who teaches at Yale University, said, “He’s very much about big ideas,” adding that “if you don’t see the big picture, then you just don’t get Charlie.”
Ten years ago, Professor Lessig dedicated his first book to Professor Nesson: “For Charlie Nesson, whose every idea seems crazy — for about a year.”
Professor Lessig, who said he was chagrined to see his private e-mail message splayed across the Internet, said he still disagreed with his friend’s approach, and with his pursuit of the case at all. But, he added, “we’ll see where I am in a year.”
uTorrent’s 2.0 Beta Finally a Good Citizen
Almost four years since uTorrent had its debut, the development team has now released a version 2.0 Beta of their BitTorrent client with significant improvements and updates. BitTorrent tracker owners in particular have been looking forward to this release as it finally implements support for UDP trackers, turning it into a ‘good citizen’.
uTorrent for Windows saw its first public release in September 2005, and soon became the most widely used BitTorrent application by far. Recent estimates show that uTorrent is the client of choice for more than half of all active BitTorrent users.
Needless to say, all significant changes to uTorrent affect millions of users and the entire BitTorrent infrastructure. With the release of its 2.0 Beta the client introduces breakthrough changes that offer a helping hand to its users, ISPs and most of all – tracker owners.
In comparison to HTTP trackers, UDP trackers use less resources and put less strain on their servers. Since almost all public trackers now have a UDP variant, it can save tracker owners a lot of hardware and thus money.
Using UDP is generally a good idea to bring down load on popular trackers,” said uTorrent developer Arvid Norberg when commenting on the implementation of the newly added feature. “We want uTorrent to be a good citizen and not hammer trackers.”
“Hopefully client support will be wide spread enough at some point, so that trackers that currently spend 99% of their capacity on misbehaving clients flooding it with HTTP requests can turn that off,” Norberg added.
Although Norberg’s comments suggest that uTorrent is one of the first to implement UDP tracker support, they are in fact quite late to the party. Vuze, BitComet, Deluge, KTorrent and rTorrent are just a few of the clients that have implemented this feature already.
However, with its massive market share uTorrent is the one that really makes a difference, and this new feature will be welcomed by all major BitTorrent tracker operators. The benefits of UDP trackers will not go unnoticed by users either since they do not interfere with HTTP traffic, meaning that associated web-browsing slowdowns will be a thing of the past.
Aside from smoother web-browsing, users will notice a few other changes in uTorrent 2.0. For starters the new speed guide is a welcome addition. By using Google’s measurement lab servers, uTorrent users can now test their connection speed and let the client automatically pick the best settings based on the results.
Unfortunately Google’s lab servers are all located in the US, which makes the results less accurate for uTorrent users in other parts of the world. The uTorrent team hopes that they can provide optimal results for these users at a later stage. “We anticipate that the server coverage will improve and cover other continents better in the future,” Norberg commented.
With the 2.0 Beta, uTorrent also enjoys several improvements to its uTP support, which makes the client more network aware hoping to decrease the load for ISPs as well. uTP support can be enabled or disabled at the user’s request.
The new Beta has something in store for everyone, and although users are free to play around with it, we should note that this is not a stable release and that bugs and unexpected crashes are possible. The latest release as well as a feedback thread can be found at the uTorrent forums.
Shaw Cable Blocks IEEE1394 (Firewire) on Set-top Cable Boxes (Again)…
the LYNCH report
A year and a half ago, Canada’s Shaw Cable began encrypting channels with the “0×02″ flag. This flag has the effect of making the IEEE1394 (firewire) output useless to customers who use third party PVRs (such as the excellent MythTV, for example). After complaints to the CRTC and Industry Canada about this practice, the encryption flag was dropped on most channels and the firewire connection again functioned.
Until last night, that is. Once again, Shaw Cable has implemented “0×02″ encryption. No reason was given for the change, and an inquiry requesting an explanation received the response contained in the letter to below.
Unlike the US, Canada does not yet mandate that firewire ports must remain functional.
Herewith, a copy of our letter to the Minister of Industry (with copies to the Minister of Culture, the CRTC, and Shaw):
To: The Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry
Please see below for prior correspondence – this issue surrounds Shaw Cable’s implementation of “0×02″ encryption on cable television signals, which renders IEEE1394 (aka “firewire”) ports useless on set-top cable boxes owned by Shaw’s customers. As of yesterday, this issue has once again appeared: Shaw is encrypting channels customers have paid for (including the CBC) from at least 3 – 60 (except (oddly) channels 36, 46 and 60). There are, no doubt more channels encrypted; I simply stopped checking at channel 60.
Here’s why this is an issue for Industry Canada (as previously outlined below): in order to use a PVR other than Shaw’s to record programs (and, specifically, HD programs), the IEEE1394 output is required. When Shaw remotely disables this function via 0×02 encryption, only Shaw’s proprietary PVRs can be used. This not only eliminates any competition and stifles innovation in the PVR market, in the process it creates a monopoly for Shaw’s PVR products.
There’s another issue here: disabling the functionality of something a customer owns is akin to a Shaw representative physically taking a hammer to the IEEE1394 output plug – it has an identical effect, in that in both instances, something a customer owns and has paid good money for has been functionally impaired by Shaw.
Lastly, it should not be incumbent upon Shaw to determine the particular connection a customer uses to view channels a customer has paid to enjoy – Shaw should be indifferent as to whether a customer chooses to use a coaxial cable, component cables, HDMI or IEEE1394. In the US, blocking the IEEE1394 output is not permitted – here’s the salient portion of the text of the FCC’s so-called “Plug and Play” Order of September 2003:
“(4) Cable operators shall:
(i) Effective April 1, 2004, upon request of a customer, replace any leased high definition set-top box, which does not include a functional IEEE 1394 interface, with one that includes a functional IEEE 1394 interface or upgrade the customer’s set-top box by download or other means to ensure that the IEEE 1394 interface is functional.”
The US legislators have keenly understood the need to keep the competitive landscape open for third party PVRs and other technological innovations.
As much as I’m philosophically opposed to regulatory interference in trade, I’m more strongly opposed to monopolistic trade practices, and that is what we have here.
I alerted Shaw to this issue and inquired as to why they have again implemented 0×02 encryption. Their response was:
“As per our previous emails, we do not provide any support for the use of the Firewire port on any of our digital tuners.
Jason (4211) / Shaw Technical Service Representative /Shaw Cablesystems G.P.“
This delightfully sidesteps the issue entirely: it is not “support” for firewire that’s necessary. Rather what the issue is about is not actively impairing firewire signals. There’s no “support” necessary – by default, the set-top boxes allow the signal to pass unimpeded through the firewire output. It is a feature customers (like me) specifically bought these units for.
Many thanks in advance for your help, and I look forward to hearing from you.
16 Apps That Make Sharing Large Files A Snap
File sharing services are not as popular today as they were four years ago. It’s not that people are sharing any less. Rather, they just found easier ways to do it. Would you upload a funny video from a friend’s email to any of those services or would you search for it on Youtube and share only the link? Would you upload an MP3 file in order to share with whomever, or would you search for it online, grab the link and then share it? And finally, would you use a file-sharing app just to share a picture on Facebook when you can do it directly from your desktop to your Facebook profile? Of course, you wouldn’t!
So why would you use an file-sharing app anyway? Actually for many reasons: for larger files, for privacy, multiple files, file format support, and more.
In this post, I compare 16 file-sharing services. I took three main issues under consideration when creating the comprehensive app list below: Free, Fast, and Useful . . .
Most of the services suggested require no registration. None of them will ask you to download anything to your computer, and all of them are easy to use, and worth using. It is actually great to see services, such as Yousendit, MailBigFile, and Rapidshare, that are still relevant and are good choices, but if I had to pick one it would be Mediafire.
Don’t get confused now. This is not a list of services that let you store all your files in the cloud, organizes them, or allows you to collaborate with friends. It’s more focused on file-sharing only, in the richest capacity—well, okay, you be the judge of that.
Box.net is probably the most commonly-known site featured here. But I couldn’t keep it from the list because it’s really a good one and despite all its features, it’s actually simple to use. The light version is not so attractive though. Here’s what you get: File uploads up to 25MB/file (OK, that’s pretty lame). 5 collaboration folders, 1GB storage, mobile access, public file sharing, folder widget, and a few more options. The other plans are far richer, but for personal use, the free one is enough (except for the lame file uploads limit). One thing that bothered me is that you can’t upload a file without signing up. That’s the old fashion way, don’t you think?
Rapidshare is lacking in features & design, but if you’re looking for a one-click file host, you came to the right place. Founded in 2006, the service is the twelfth most visited homepage in the world. With Rapidshare, users can upload big files (200MB) in one step and subsequently make them available to friends and family via the download link. Premium accounts offer additional convenience, through TrafficShare that provides the option to make files available for direct downloading. The recipient of the file can access it instantaneously even if he/she is not a premium account member of RapidShare. A file can be downloaded 10 times, and will be deleted after 90 days.
I always liked drop.io and even now with much more usage than before, it is still simple to understand. No need to sign up in order to quickly send a private link with your file(s). Maximum file upload is 100MB, but there are three different packages that will give you a whole lot more. Back to the free service; you can share, collaborate, and present music, videos, documents, audio, in a private drop, through email, web, phone, fax, and more. Additionally, you’ll be able to privately chat with the people you share a file with, in real-time.
Filedropper aims to give the most basic file hosting service that enables you to share stuff quickly. Therefore, there’s nothing complicated here, just upload the file, and share it. Simple as that. Filedropper says you can upload up to 5GB per file, which looks a bit odd to me - after all, who needs that (unless you are transferring HD videos, I guess)? Very similar to Filedropper, is FileSavr, which offers you the same package completely, with a slight change: uploads up to 10GB per file…
I actually marked this one as a favorite: Wikisend - an elegant and simple interface that helps you share files quickly. Share files with your friends using email, social networks, your blog, forums and so on. You can also protect the file with a password and choose the range of the file’s lifetime up to 90 days (max)
You can use Driveway even without registration and send up to 500MB max for each upload. Signing up for a free account offers several advantages: A registered user can upload up to 2 GB of data to the Driveway account. Additionally, you can upload, manage and create widgets for files and folders and search for files/folders within your account.
With the free plan of Send6, you can send files up to 100MB size, which you can store in your 250MB free space. Send6 also has a free plug-in for Outlook that allows you to send large files directly from your Desktop. Please note that you don’t need to register to send files to friends. Sharing is done via email only.
Zshare is mainly used to share files that are too big to be sent via e-mail. With Zshare you can host files, images, videos, audio and flash in the same place, and as long as they remain active they can be downloaded limitlessly. Zshare lets you upload files up to 1GB, and if you register for the service (still free), you’ll be able to share them privately. Premium members get faster downloads (like most of the services here) and the ability to upload up to 2GB per each upload. Multiple files are allowed in both free and premium lines.
Overall, 2large2email has a nice and comfortable email-like interface for sharing large files. How large? 100MB in the free plan. However, if you’re looking for something good and free, 2larg2email is not your answer. The service won’t give you any additional features but password protection, and your files can be downloaded up to 7 times, will be saved for only 7 days, and will expire after that. For more features, you’ll have to pay, or move and chose another service. BTW, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay for premium services, but if there are other services for personal use, that offer you more for less, you may want to check them out first.
For busy people, Senduit is the best choice there is! It’s a one-page platform that generates a private link from the file you upload (100MB Max) for easy sharing. You can send the link via email through Senduit’s page directly, or copy-paste the link to any other communication channel (IM, Social networks, etc.). You get to choose when the link will expire—from 30 min. to 1 week.
I couldn’t find the exact amount that you can upload per file to Flyupload, but the service looks great. Flyupload allows you to store, access, share and backup your digital documents, photographs, and music easily with complete privacy online. Registered users get extra features like 2GB space of files, Multi-uploads with an upload progress bar. You can also upload large files via FTP or create folders and keep track of files and Images. Additionally, Flyupload lets you share files from your database, to your Twitter account with a side tool called: Flyontwit.
If I had to choose one service only from this list, Mediafire would be it. The service has a good looking UI, with some great usability. It lets you share files even when you’re not logged in and gives you a set of tools to complete this experience. For individual use, you can freely share files up to 100MB with unlimited uploads, unlimited downloads, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited storage. This is why you might choose Mediafire over 2large2email, for example. When signing up, Mediafire enables you to organize your files in folders, search and view your files, and email/share/embed with others. It’s the best service that you can get for free.
I was surprised to see that underneath the new layout of DivShare is the same great service from three years ago. And, even more surprised to discover some files I had stored 3 years ago in the service are still there! DivShare is a file management service that not only lets you share files, but also saves them for later (for an unlimited period of time). The maximum size per file is 200MB and you have 5GB space for free to start. After the upload, you’ll be able to embed your videos, audio and slide shows on any web site or profile. Diveshare has an iPhone and Facebook applications, a Wordpress plug-in and an open API, if you want to build something yourself.
Back when I tried MailBigFile in 2005, I thought this was a great service that offered a convenient solution to sending larger files. I still think it’s a good service. You don’t need to sign up, but if you choose to this is the best pro account for your dollar. Even though, you can use the service for free and as long as you want to send up to 200MB per file via email (but with no additional features). MailBigFile has the best price for a pro account - $15/year with an impressive list of features.
Last but not least is good old Yousendit, which has never plummeted in its presence online. A reliable and secure service since 2004 that offers the ability to send free 100MB files with a maximum number of 100 downloads allowed per file. You use it just like an email, choose a recipient, send it directly to a person’s inbox, and you get a notification when your file is downloaded.
Sharing files, large or small, should be a simple act, in my opinion—not something that should require a major effort or thought process on your behalf or make you create a complicated profile/account to use it. The options I listed here will help you explore the diverse file-sharing opportunities currently available. Whether you need to send a file privately or publicly, small or big, temporary or permanent, the options are all in this list, you just need to find the best match for your needs.
High-End Sound Company Sennheiser Plans To Expand Consumer Base
Beyonce uses them. Madonna uses them. Sting and Seal both use them.
But chances are you never knew these superstars' microphones were manufactured by Sennheiser Electronic Corp. Just as its U.S. headquarters has been operating in relative obscurity in a wooded area of Old Lyme, the German company has described its own brand as one of the industry's "best-kept secrets."
Sennheiser, which employs about 90 people in Old Lyme, has traditionally catered to "the professionals" — disc jockeys, musicians and high-profile producers. Its products are generally more expensive than those of its competitors, but those in the industry are willing to shell out the extra bucks for what is said to be higher quality sound.
"The people who know Sennheiser associate them with high-quality, studio-level and pro-level gear," according to Jim Willcox, senior editor of electronics for Consumer Reports magazine. "They're in the high-end business."
But their target audience is about to expand.
Triggered by shrinking revenue from its high-end microphone line and an expansion of its headphone line, Sennheiser has launched a tour to spread awareness of its brand among general consumers across the country. It's specifically targeting a burgeoning clientele made up of video gamers, iPod users and amateur musicians.
The tour, consisting of a pickup truck, a van and a large trailer full of Sennheiser gear, made a stop in Old Lyme earlier this week.
Waterford native Veronica Ballestrini, a 17-year-old singer-songwriter who became a finalist in a Sennheiser-sponsored music competition, belted out country tunes from a platform as people tested out the brand's headphones at various "sound pods."
"It seems like everybody is somehow in the music industry now," said Stefanie Reichert, the company's vice president of strategic marketing. "And they are turning to us."
The rise of portable music gadgets, like iPods, and do-it-yourself production software, like Apple's GarageBand, has triggered a growing interest in quality sound equipment from what Reichert called "real consumers." It is this interest that Sennheiser is trying to channel with its brand awareness tour.
The company began selling headphone gear at Best Buy stores at the beginning of this year, and expanded its selection at Apple stores and Fry's Electronics stores on the West Coast. The move into the retail realm is expected to stave off diminishing sales in some of the company's high-end segments.
"Obviously the music business has been influenced by the recession," Reichert said. "Some microphone sales are down." But she wanted to make one thing clear: Sennheiser is not interested in becoming a "mass brand."
"We will be a little higher priced than Sony," she said. "But those people who appreciate sound and have a little bit of an understanding that sound matters — those are the ones who will turn to us."
Snowin' in the Wind? Dylan Christmas Album Due
Bob Dylan is set to release an album of Christmas songs, including "Here Comes Santa Claus" and the carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem," according to music websites.
Rumours of the album first emerged on Isis magazine website, which is devoted to Dylan. It later reported the songs had been recorded in Jackson Browne's studio in Santa Monica, California, in May.
David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, who played accordion on Dylan's chart-topping latest album "Together Through Life," is one of the musicians who took part in the sessions, it said.
"It is a personal project of Dylan himself rather than an idea put forward by his record company," Isis said.
Billboard magazine said it had confirmed the album existed. Other songs included "Must Be Santa" and "I'll be Home for Christmas," it said.
Dylan was originally of the Jewish faith and was a Born Again Christian from 1979-1981, releasing three religious-themed albums.
"At first glance it may sound bizarre, but I don't think Dylan cares much about what his detractors might make of it," Scott Marshall, who has written a book 'God and Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life' told bullypulpit.com.
"He's both never renounced being Jewish or renounced his experience with Jesus some three decades ago," Marshall said.
Dylan, now aged 68, is currently touring the United States as part of his so-called "Never Ending Tour."
Britain's Uncut magazine meanwhile poked fun at the project, serving up Yuletide puns on Dylan songs such as "A Hard Reindeer's A-Gonna Fall," "Sleigh Lady Sleigh" and "Girl From The North Pole Country."
Microsoft’s SharePoint Thrives in the Recession
Hang around at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters for five or ten minutes and someone dressed in khaki pants and a blue shirt is bound to tell you about the wonders of SharePoint — one of the company’s most successful and increasingly controversial lines of software.
Think of SharePoint as the jack-of-all-trades in the business software realm. Companies use it to create Web sites and then manage content for those sites. It can help workers collaborate on projects and documents. And it has a variety of corporate search and business intelligence tools too.
Microsoft wraps all of this software up into a package and sells the bundle at a reasonable price. In fact, the total cost of the bundle often comes in below what specialist companies would charge for a single application in, say, the business intelligence or corporate search fields.
It can’t do everything. Executives at Microsoft will readily admit that the bits and pieces of SharePoint lack the more sophisticated features found in products from specialist software makers.
“We don’t claim we do everything,” said Chris Capossela, a senior vice president at Microsoft. “If we do 50 percent of the functions that these other companies do, but they’re the ones customers really want, that’s fine. The magic is that end users actually like to use the software.”
This strategy seems to have worked even during the recession.
While Microsoft’s Windows sales fell for the first time in history this year, its SharePoint sales have gone up. Microsoft declines to break out the exact sales figures for the software but said that SharePoint broke the $1 billion revenue mark last year and continued to rise past that total this year, making it the hottest selling server-side product ever for the company.
Companies like Ferrari, Starbucks and Viacom have used SharePoint to create their public-facing Web sites and for various other tasks. All told, more than 17,000 customers use SharePoint.
In many ways, SharePoint mimics the strategy Microsoft took with Office by linking together numerous applications into a single unit. This approach appeals to customers looking to save money and also represents a real threat to a variety of business software makers.
Many of these specialists like Cognos, a business intelligence software maker, and Documentum, a content management software maker, have been gobbled up by larger players looking to create their own suites. I.B.M., for example, bought Cognos, while EMC bought Documentum. Other companies like Autonomy, a maker of top-of-the-line corporate search software, remain independent.
Crucially, Microsoft has found a way to create ties between SharePoint and its more traditional products like Office and Exchange. Companies can tweak Office documents through SharePoint and receive information like whether a worker is online or not through tools in Exchange. These links have Microsoft carrying along its old-line software as it builds a more Internet-focused software line.
“SharePoint is saving Microsoft’s Office business even as it paves the way for a new era of Microsoft lock-in,” said Matt Asay, an executive at Alfresco, which makes an open-source content management system. “It is simultaneously the most interesting and dangerous Microsoft technology, and has largely caught its competitors napping.”
Along these lines, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, has talked about SharePoint as the company’s next big operating system.
Microsoft has managed to undercut even the panoply of open-source companies playing in the business software market by giving away a free basic license to SharePoint if they already have Windows Server. “It’s a brilliant strategy that mimics open source in its viral, free distribution, but transcends open source in its ability to lock customers into a complete, not-free-at-all Microsoft stack - one for which they’ll pay more and more the deeper they get into SharePoint,” Mr. Asay said.
A number of smaller software companies have been eager to piggyback on SharePoint’s success. Based in San Diego, Sharepoint360 provides consulting services and software development help around the product. The company started after employees at a construction company built some Sharepoint applications and decided to market the software to other construction firms.
The start-up has helped construction companies create systems for managing projects, allowing various people to check-in on the progress of a building and keep track of documents tied to the site. It has also expanded beyond the construction area doing work for NASA, Nestle and Toshiba, according to Paul West, a co-founder of SharePoint360.
The company offers to host SharePoint applications for customers. Microsoft too wants to host more software for companies as it moves toward the cloud computing model.
Mr. West recognizes that Microsoft may begin stepping on its partners’ toes. “It may certainly come to pass that they pull the switch,” he said. “That would have implications for us.”
In the meantime, however, Microsoft subsidizes training courses and consulting work for companies like Sharepoint360.
Next year, Microsoft plans to release a new version of the software packed full of more advanced features, including stronger ties to the corporate search technology it acquired in the $1.2 billion purchase of Fast Search and Transfer, a Norwegian start-up.
Best Buy uses the Fast technology today to provide on-the-fly pricing information to customers performing product searches on its Web site.
By making these more sophisticated tools available to customers, Microsoft thinks it can keep pushing niche software makers out of the way and give business people, rather than just the tech folks, a way to work with business applications.
“We believe customers can turn off some of these point solutions,” said Kirk Koenigsbauer, a general manager in Microsoft’s business software group. “With SharePoint, we can deliver a very, very approachable application to end users.”
Staving Off a Spiral Toward Oblivion
DRIVEN by the pressure to innovate, companies facing major technological change have wholeheartedly embraced management gurus’ advice on how to develop creative, breakthrough products. As a result, corporate America is flush with incubators, skunk works and innovation silos.
But has the pendulum swung too far? New technologies are obviously important, but even in today’s fast-paced environment, they can take a long time to substitute for the old. In the meantime, incremental innovation based on old technologies can help a company survive.
When Sony announced its Mavica electronic camera in 1981, headlines trumpeted that “Film Is Dead.” But it took 28 more years for Kodachrome, the film immortalized by Paul Simon, to finally die this past June.
E-book software by companies like Electronic Book Technologies was released in the early 1990s. Yet despite the recent buzz over the Kindle and other electronic reading devices, e-books are still less than 5 percent of overall book sales.
The reality is that most technologies eventually die. But unlike the ancient Greeks, who believed their destiny was controlled by the Fates, today’s managers need not assume that an old technology’s fate is predetermined. Companies can proactively manage the innovation endgame. Continuing improvements to extend the life of technology, particularly given the attractive margins on the old, can be a wise business decision — and not necessarily a reflection of narrow-mindedness.
The key is to extend the profitable life of the old just long enough to have a fighting chance in the new. But how?
Customers move at different speeds, so investments should be focused on market segments that most value the old. Criticisms of Kodak’s digital strategy abound, but one overlooked strength has been its ability to maintain its market position in segments like motion pictures, which, though small, are moving to digital more slowly.
History provides another illustration. Mechanical machines that used molten lead had dominated the typesetter industry for more than 60 years when photography-based machines were introduced in 1949. Along with many new entrants, the leading old-technology companies, Mergenthaler Linotype and Intertype, invested heavily in the new technology.
But the mechanical technology “was well known by the people who were using it,” Carl Schlesinger, a former typesetter operator for The New York Times and author of two books on the history of printing, said in a recent interview. The new technology required customers, particularly unionized newspapers, to make huge investments in retraining.
So throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Mergenthaler Linotype and Intertype continued to develop highly innovative mechanical machines, Herb Klepper, a lead engineer for Mergenthaler at the time, said in a recent interview. The speed of the old machines more than doubled, and newspapers kept using them. By 1978, when The Times retired its old mechanical machines, Mergenthaler Linotype was an established leader in the new technology, and Intertype, while not a leader, had survived to move on to yet the next generation of technology, digital typesetters.
Now, of course, newspapers are struggling to extend the life of print so they can develop new capability and business models for the Web and other forms of electronic distribution.
One mechanism for extending the life of the old is to borrow from the new. Daniel C. Snow, a Harvard Business School professor, says that the useful life of the carburetor was extended significantly by incorporating technology from electronic fuel-injection. Interestingly, he finds that only companies that were also developing electronic fuel-injection technology benefited.
The old can also create a bridge to the new through hybrid products that combine elements of each. Research on electric vehicles has been under way for many years, but a direct leap from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric vehicles has proved challenging.
“Hybrids were an easy way for carmakers to start this transition,” says Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars, a nonprofit organization. Because the required shift in behavior is minimal, many drivers have been willing to make the change. Later, as these drivers become accustomed to the electric-vehicle features of hybrids — the quiet ride, for example — they will presumably become more willing to acquire a purely electric vehicle.
“Once they started down that road, it pointed to the future of plug-in hybrids,” says Mr. Kramer, whose organization promotes the plug-in vehicles. While hybrids like the Toyota Prius use electricity as a supplement, plug-in hybrids go the next step and rely primarily on electricity, with gasoline as the secondary energy source.
“Because of plug-in hybrids, the supply chain and all the technologies will improve, so we gradually get batteries that are cheaper with longer range, and eventually we get all-electric vehicles,” he explains.
OF course, managers still need to know when to move on. When steamships began to compete with sailing ships for freight traffic, the sailing-ship producers responded with what the technology historian S. C. Gilfillan described in his 1935 book, “Inventing the Ship,” as a “noble flowering of the sailing ship.”
But the producers went too far. By 1902, with the building of the Thomas W. Lawson, the largest sailing ship ever, with seven masts and 25 sails, sailing technology had reached a point of diminishing returns, and the competition with steamships had already been lost.
Ultimately, it’s all about balance. The future of a company depends on success in the new. But the old needn’t be framed as simply as a “cash cow” or as a source of inertia holding back the company’s creative juices. Selective, intelligent innovation in the old may just hold the key to the future.
Open Wide: Spoon-Fed Cinema
A. O. Scott
IN “Funny People,” the new movie starring Adam Sandler, the audience is treated to glimpses of a movie starring Mr. Sandler’s character, a stand-up comedian turned movie star named George Simmons. The film within a film, which looks like a variation on the venerable “Look Who’s Talking” theme, features George’s head digitally superimposed on the body of an infant, an effect that is both grotesque and funny, and also pregnant with cultural significance.
It’s obvious that the image of a baby with Adam Sandler’s face self-mockingly encapsulates much of Mr. Sandler’s career, pointing up his curious and durable overgrown-child appeal. And it is also clear that the film’s writer and director, Judd Apatow, is lampooning some aspects of his own work, which has shamelessly exploited (though it has also earnestly explored) the juvenile, even infantile impulses that seem to define the soul of the modern male American.
But “Funny People” is decidedly not a further indulgence of such urges, in spite of anxious and obnoxious jokes about genitals and excrement. It’s a movie about growing up, feeling sad, facing death — a long, serious film whose subject is the challenge of maturity. Which may be why, in the face of a softish opening weekend, various interpreters of box office data were quick to declare “Funny People” a flop. The summer is no time for grown-ups.
My point is not to defend Mr. Apatow’s movie, which opened to mixed reviews and which is likely to have a rich and complicated afterlife as a subject for argument. I’m more troubled about the haste to declare that “Funny People” failed to connect with its audience. A similar rush to judgment greeted Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” last month, and in those pronouncements you can hear the sound of conventional wisdom taking shape.
Or you can see it embodied in that alarming man-baby, with the braying voice and the 5 o’clock shadow affixed to a pale, flabby, diaper-wrapped trunk. There may be no more incisive rendering of Hollywood’s self-image, and perhaps no truer, more damning mirror held up to the audience. Mewling, incontinent little bundles of id with dirty minds and mouths — that’s pretty much what the major studios think of us. What do they think we want? The summer’s biggest blockbuster so far is “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” an epic — four minutes longer than “Funny People” — based on a line of toys from Hasbro. And kids’ stuff has dominated the multiplexes and the Monday-morning box office tallies since May. There have been the 3-D guinea pigs of “G-Force,” the fuzzy (and 3-D) prehistoric creatures of the third “Ice Age” movie, the historical personages of the second “Night at the Museum” picture and of course the schoolboy wizard and his pals in the sixth installment of the Harry Potter series.
Those are the products overtly aimed at younger audiences. But the celebration of youth, in particular of male immaturity, extends to movies like “The Hangover,” Todd Phillips’s riotous and regressive crude-dude comedy with a superficial resemblance to the school-of-Apatow line, and J. J. Abrams’s “Star Trek,” which reimagines the beloved space-travel adventure as, essentially, a Harry Potter movie.
There are exceptions of course. “Angels & Demons” sent a cast of grownups chasing around the Vatican in search of clues to an ancient mystery. And the season’s successful romantic comedies, “The Proposal” and “The Ugly Truth,” while perfectly conventional, do their predictable business in a more or less adult setting. But everyone (at least in the United States) has already forgotten about “Angels & Demons,” and the Hollywood rom-com, in olden times a sparkling repository of wit and glamour, has been relegated to the status of commercial counterprogramming. Those are date movies, chick flicks, a condescending little something for the ladies. The real action is elsewhere, with the boys and their toys.
I know, I know. School’s out. People want an easy good time, free air-conditioning to go with their expensive snacks, a little escapism in a time of stress. These are the truisms of summer, invoked every time some pointy-headed grouch complains about the prevalence of sequels, or superhero movies, or big, dumb popcorn spectacles. We like big, dumb popcorn spectacles.
Or course we do — even the pointy-headed grouches among us. But those reliable axioms about the taste and expectations of the mass movie audience are not so much laws of nature as artifacts of corporate strategy. And the lessons derived from them conveniently serve to strengthen a status quo that increasingly marginalizes risk, originality and intelligence.
The big lesson of the summer of 2009 is that those qualities, while they may be desirable in some abstract, ideal way, don’t pay the bills. The studios, housed in large and beleaguered media conglomerates, have grown more cautious as the economy has faltered, releasing fewer movies and concentrating resources on dependable formulas. Nearly every big hit so far has been part of a franchise built on an established cultural brand.
In the case of the comedies, raunchy or romantic, the genre functions as the brand, and in the case of “Up,” the Pixar label, almost uniquely in today’s Hollywood, carries its own cachet and appeal. But otherwise (and to some extent in these cases as well) the last few months have been a festival of the known, the stuff you already bought and, from force of habit or loyalty or maybe even satisfaction, decided to upgrade.
Not every new product is a sure bet. “Terminator Salvation” didn’t do so well, but then again the original Terminator is having some trouble in his current job. From Wolverine and Mr. Spock in May through the Decepticons and wizards of July it has been a triumph of the tried and true, occasionally revitalized or decked out with novelty, but mostly just what we expected. No surprises.
What kind of person constantly demands something new and yet always wants the same thing? A child of course. From toddlerhood we are fluent in the pop-cultural consumerist idiom: Again! More! Another one! (That George Simmons giant-baby comedy is called “Redo.”) Children are ceaselessly demanding, it’s true; but they are also easily satisfied, and this combination of appetite and docility makes the child an ideal moviegoer. But since there are a finite number of literal children out there, with limited disposable income and short attention spans, Hollywood has to make or find new ones. And so the studios have, with increasing vigor and intensity, carried out a program of mass infantilization.
The mostly pedestrian, occasionally enchanting, highly lucrative movies of this summer offer testimony to the success of that program. And the seasonal roster of winners and losers, as defined by box office tea-leaf readers, suggests some additional dividends. Toys, comic books, and familiar fictional characters are a bigger, more reliable draw than movie stars or well-known directors, and are also easier to control.
Wolverine, Captain Kirk, Harry Potter, Hasbro — those trademarks and secondary merchandising opportunities will reliably get kids into the theaters. But the examples of “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” “Public Enemies” and, perhaps, “Funny People” are widely taken to mean that artists like Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Michael Mann, Johnny Depp and Judd Apatow may not have the same guaranteed pull. Never mind that “Public Enemies” has actually done pretty well after a slow start, and that the running time, subject matter and tone of “Funny People” make it hard to compare with “Knocked Up” or “Happy Gilmore.” Conventional wisdom is always happy to ignore such nuances.
This may be because any reduction in the clout of stars or the autonomy of directors redounds to the benefit of the companies that own the copyrights and distribute the goods. And a little anthology of cautionary economic tales from this summer will prove useful in the future, when ambitions need to be corralled and egos held in check. Middle-aged actors and critically lauded directors look like extravagances rather than sound investments. Forty is the new dead. Auteur is French for unemployed. “The Hurt Locker” — the kind of fierce and fiery action movie that might have been a blockbuster once upon a time — is treated like a delicate, exotic flower, released into art houses and sold on its prestige rather than on its visceral power.
The box office numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole story either. The weekend grosses, widely guessed at on Thursday night and breathlessly reported by the middle of Sunday afternoon, record the quantity of tickets purchased, but they cannot register the quality of the experience. The aggregate of receipts shows that a lot of people like going to the movies, but not necessarily that they like what they see.
Commercial success may represent the public’s embrace of a piece of creative work, or it may just represent the vindication of a marketing strategy. In bottom-line terms, this is a distinction without a difference. A movie that people will go and see, almost as if they had no choice, is a safer business proposition than one they may have to bother thinking about. In this respect “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is exemplary. It brilliantly stymies reflection, thwarts argument, arrests intelligent response. The most interesting thing about the movie — apart from Megan Fox’s outfits, I suppose — is that it has made nearly $400 million domestically.
There is nothing else to say. Any further discussion — say about whether it’s a good movie or not — sounds quaint, old-fashioned, passé. Get a clue, grandpa.
Or go see “Up,” the only hugely successful movie of the summer that engages genuinely adult themes. It’s about loss, frustration, disappointment. And it offers one of the season’s most pointed and paradoxical lessons. If you want to make a mature film for mature audiences, make sure it’s a cartoon.
Beatles Fans Swarm Abbey Road on 40th Anniversary of Album's Iconic Photo
Raphael G. Satter
Hundreds of Beatles fans swarmed Abbey Road on Saturday, singing songs and snarling traffic to mark 40 years since John, Paul, George and Ringo strode across the leafy north London street and into the history books on iconic pop photos.
The famous photo graced the cover of the Fab Four's "Abbey Road," the last album recorded together, and shows the bandmates walking purposefully across the zebra-striped asphalt.
It remains one of music's best-known album covers, endlessly imitated and parodied. Although the shoot itself only took a few minutes, so carefully studied was the cover for signs and symbolism that some die-hard fans came to the conclusion that Paul McCartney — who appears barefoot and out of step with the rest — had secretly died.
McCartney himself made fun of the bizarre conspiracy in the title of his 1993 concert album, "Paul is Live."
Conspiracies aside, the ease with which fans can imitate the scene has drawn throngs of tourists to the site every day, turning the street into "a shrine to the Beatles," said Richard Porter, who owns the nearby Beatles Coffee Shop and organized Saturday's event.
Crowds spilled into the street, cameramen jostled for angles, and exasperated drivers honked their horns.
"I didn't expect so many people to be here," said German visitor Tschale Haas, 50, who was dressed in a Sgt. Pepper jacket.
Abbey Road, which cuts through London's well-to-do neighborhood of St. John's Wood, is home to the eponymous studios where the group recorded much of its work.
The group decided to shoot the photograph in August 1969 while recording music for the last time together. For the shot, photographer Iain Macmillan stood on a stepladder and police held up traffic while the Beatles walked back and forth across the street.
The enduring popularity of the site has caused headaches for local authorities, who have had to move the Abbey Road street sign up out of reach to prevent theft and repaint the wall every three months to hide fans' graffiti.
Beatles Copyrights in McCartney's (Distant) Sights
In nine short years, Paul McCartney will hit the jackpot again.
The 67-year-old former Beatle -- already worth about 440 million pounds ($737 million), according to a report by Britain's Sunday Times in April -- will be able to start reclaiming the copyrights to the lucrative Beatles catalog.
He and John Lennon, the Fab Four's primary songwriters, lost control of pop's most coveted catalog as the band was falling apart. They continued to receive songwriting royalties, but have lost out on a massive windfall over the years from licensing deals.
All but a handful of Beatles copyrights eventually ended up with Michael Jackson, and these 250-or-so songs form the crown jewel of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a 50-50 joint venture between the late singer and Sony Corp.
The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 gave songwriters the ability to recapture the publishing share of the copyright on pre-1978 works after two consecutive 28-year terms or 56 years. That means Beatles compositions registered in 1962 will be eligible for reversion in the United States in 2018, while songs written in 1970 will be eligible in 2026.
Under a clause in the Copyright Act, heirs of songwriters who die during the first 28-year term can recapture the publisher's portion of copyrighted works at the end of that term. In the case of Lennon, who died in 1980, the publisher's portion of his share of the Lennon-McCartney catalog for songs written in 1962 became eligible for reversion in 1990, while songs written in 1970 were eligible in 1998.
Sources say that Sony/ATV cut a deal with Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, prior to the reversion dates to retain its publisher's share for the life of the copyright.
In the internecine history of the Beatles' publishing, Lennon and McCartney effectively lost control of the group's song rights even while the group was still a recording entity, in 1969.
That was when Northern Songs, the company established six years earlier solely to publish their joint compositions by English publisher Dick James and Beatles manager Brian Epstein, was sold to British media tycoon Lew Grade's ATV Music. Ownership of ATV subsequently passed to Australian billionaire Robert Holmes a Court and then, in 1985, to Jackson, who paid $47.5 million for the company.
In 1995, Sony came into the picture, forming a joint venture with trusts formed by Jackson, creating a new entity: Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Under the deal, Sony paid Jackson $110 million and gave him a 50% stake in the merged company, which at the time was valued at about $500 million, according to the 2007 book 'Northern Songs: The True Story of the Beatles' Song Publishing Empire' by Brian Southall with Rupert Perry. Sources estimate that Sony/ATV is now valued at about $1.7 billion.
Sony/ATV's Beatle holdings essentially represent everything recorded under the Beatles name by Lennon and McCartney, except for five songs: the A- and B-sides of their first U.K. singles, "Love Me Do"/"P.S. I Love You" (owned by McCartney); "Please Please Me"/"Ask Me Why" (administered by Universal Music); and "Penny Lane," owned by Catherine Holmes a Court, the daughter of the late magnate.
In the meantime, Sony/ATV is aggressively exploiting its Beatles copyrights. The deal with MTV Networks to develop the forthcoming "The Beatles: Rock Band" videogame is one indication of that.
(Reporting by Ed Christman, Susan Butler and Paul Sexton)
(Editing by Dean Goodman at Reuters)
Major Labels Preparing New Digital Album Format
The four big record companies are to compete with Apple's forthcoming Cocktail project by developing their own format called CMX
Forget WAV, MP3 and M4A – major labels have something new in mind, and it's called CMX. Sony, Warner, Universal and EMI are reportedly preparing a new digital album format that will include songs, lyrics, videos, liner notes and artwork.
The news comes just weeks after reports of a similar project, Cocktail, being developed by Apple. According to the Times, Apple rejected CMX and instead began work on an in-house alternative. It is not clear how Cocktail and CMX will differ, other than ownership.
"Apple at first told us that they were not interested, but now they have decided to do their own, in case ours catches on," a label rep told the Times. "Ours will be a file that you click on, it opens and it would have a brand new look, with a launch page and all the different options. When you click on it you're not just going to get the 10 tracks, you're going to get the artwork, the video and mobile products."
However, this may be of little interest if CMX isn't compatible with iTunes, the default music software for iPods, iPhones and Apple computers. Whereas labels are eager to resuscitate the album format in an age of singles, Apple is concerned with selling hardware, including a tablet computer rumoured to be launching this fall.
The major labels plan to launch CMX, which is just a working title for the format, in November. It will reportedly be "soft-launched" with a few select releases. "We are not going out in force," the industry source said. "What you are going to see is a couple of releases thrown out there to see what people like. We are working with the retailers now."
Cisco Says it Can Improve Tech, Music Industry Ties
Network equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc Chief Executive John Chambers said on Wednesday that the company's latest expansion in the online media and entertainment business will help improve relations between the music industry and Silicon Valley.
Cisco announced it was expanding an existing deal with the world's third largest music company, Warner Music Group Corp, to build and manage websites for more artists including Grammy-nominated rock band Paramore and singer Trey Songz.
Media companies like music labels have had a tense relationship with Silicon Valley companies in recent years as their Web technology has enabled consumers to bypass traditional media's established business models.
Cisco's Eos media system is a new software service that helps build and maintain websites featuring music and video as well as social networking. Chambers said it could help music companies find more profitable business models amid a shift to online music sharing and downloading.
"We face a transition that is a paradox in many ways. The consumption of music is up almost in double digits in terms of demand and yet the revenue generation is down about the same," Chambers told reporters over the company's Telepresence video conferencing system.
Many in the media world have felt that technology companies have not done enough to protect the digital media copyrights of everything from songs to movies.
"Instead of Silicon Valley and the entertainment industry almost working against each other, it's saying, how do we work together to capture these tipping points," Chambers said.
Because the service will use Cisco's servers, media companies don't need to worry about maintaining the service themselves. Warner Music was the first major entertainment company to sign up for Eos.
Cisco, better known for making routers and switches that direct Internet traffic, has expanded over the past several years into new businesses like software, servers, video conferencing, and consumer products like cable set-top boxes and video cameras.
(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando and Yinka Adegoke; Editing Bernard Orr)
Can Jazz Be Saved?
The audience for America’s great art form is withering away
In 1987, Congress passed a joint resolution declaring jazz to be “a rare and valuable national treasure.” Nowadays the music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis is taught in public schools, heard on TV commercials and performed at prestigious venues such as New York’s Lincoln Center, which even runs its own nightclub, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.
Here’s the catch: Nobody’s listening.
No, it’s not quite that bad—but it’s no longer possible for head-in-the-sand types to pretend that the great American art form is economically healthy or that its future looks anything other than bleak.
The bad news came from the National Endowment for the Arts’ latest Survey of #Public Participation in the Arts, the fourth to be conducted by the NEA (in participation with the U.S. Census Bureau) since 1982. These are the findings that made jazz musicians sit up and take #notice:
• In 2002, the year of the last survey, 10.8% of adult Americans attended at least one jazz performance. In 2008, that figure fell to 7.8%.
• Not only is the audience for jazz shrinking, but it’s growing older—fast. The median age of adults in America who attended a live jazz performance in 2008 was 46. In 1982 it was 29.
• Older people are also much less likely to attend jazz performances today than they were a few years ago. The percentage of Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 who attended a live jazz performance in 2008 was 9.8%. In 2002, it was 13.9%. That’s a 30% drop in attendance.
• Even among #college-educated adults, the audience for live jazz has shrunk significantly, to 14.9% in 2008 from 19.4% in 1982.
These numbers indicate that the audience for jazz in America is both aging and shrinking at an alarming rate. What I find no less revealing, though, is that the median age of the jazz audience is now comparable to the ages for attendees of live performances of classical music (49 in 2008 vs. 40 in 1982), opera (48 in 2008 vs. 43 in 1982), nonmusical plays (47 in 2008 vs. 39 in 1982) and ballet (46 in 2008 vs. 37 in 1982). In 1982, by contrast, jazz fans were much younger than their high-culture counterparts.
What does this tell us? I suspect it means, among other things, that the average American now sees jazz as a form of high art. Nor should this come as a surprise to anyone, since most of the jazz musicians that I know feel pretty much the same way. They regard themselves as artists, not entertainers, masters of a musical language that is comparable in seriousness to classical music—and just as off-putting to pop-loving listeners who have no more use for Wynton Marsalis than they do for Felix Mendelssohn.
Jazz has changed greatly since the ’30s, when Louis Armstrong, one of the #supreme musical geniuses of the 20th century, was also a pop star, a gravel-voiced crooner who made movies with Bing Crosby and Mae West and whose records sold by the truckload to fans who knew nothing about jazz except that Satchmo played and sang it. As late as the early ’50s, jazz was still for the most part a genuinely popular music, a utilitarian, song-based idiom to which ordinary people could dance if they felt like it. But by the ’60s, it had evolved into a challenging concert music whose complexities repelled many of the same youngsters who were falling hard for rock and soul. Yes, John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” sold very well for a jazz album in 1965—but most kids preferred “California Girls” and “The Tracks of My Tears,” and still do now that they have kids of their own.
Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to undo the transformation of jazz into a sophisticated art music. But there’s no sense in pretending that it didn’t happen, or that contemporary jazz is capable of appealing to the same kind of mass audience that thrilled to the big bands of the swing era. And it is precisely because jazz is now widely viewed as a high-culture art form that its makers must start to grapple with the same problems of presentation, marketing and audience development as do symphony orchestras, drama companies and art museums—a task that will be made all the more daunting by the fact that jazz is made for the most part by individuals, not established institutions with deep pockets.
No, I don’t know how to get young people to start listening to jazz again. But I do know this: Any symphony orchestra that thinks it can appeal to under-30 listeners by suggesting that they should like Schubert and Stravinsky has already lost the battle. If you’re marketing Schubert and Stravinsky to those listeners, you have no choice but to start from scratch and make the case for the beauty of their music to otherwise intelligent people who simply don’t take it for granted. By the same token, jazz musicians who want to keep their own equally beautiful music alive and well have got to start thinking hard about how to pitch it to young listeners—not next month, not next week, but right now.
Les Paul, Guitar Innovator, Dies at 94
Les Paul, the virtuoso guitarist and inventor whose solid-body electric guitar and recording studio innovations changed the course of 20th-century popular music, died Thursday in White Plains. . He was 94
The cause was complications of pneumonia, the Gibson Guitar Corporation announced.
Mr. Paul was a remarkable musician as well as a tireless tinkerer. He played guitar with leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by 1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric guitar, although there are other claimants. With his electric guitar and the vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s.
Mr. Paul’s style encompassed the twang of country music, the harmonic richness of jazz and, later, the bite of rock ’n’ roll. For all his technological impact, though, he remained a down-home performer whose main goal, he often said, was to make people happy.
Mr. Paul, whose original name was Lester William Polfus, was born on June 9, 1915, in Waukesha, Wis. His childhood piano teacher wrote to his mother, “Your boy, Lester, will never learn music.” But he picked up harmonica, guitar and banjo by the time he was a teenager and started playing with country bands in the Midwest. In Chicago he performed for radio broadcasts on WLS and led the house band at WJJD; he billed himself as the Wizard of Waukesha, Hot Rod Red and Rhubarb Red.
His interest in gadgets came early. At 10 years old he devised a harmonica holder from a coat hanger. Soon afterward he made his first amplified guitar by opening the back of a Sears acoustic model and inserting, behind the strings, the pickup from a dismantled Victrola. With the record player on, the acoustic guitar became an electric one. Later, he built his own pickup from ham radio earphone parts and assembled a recording machine from a Cadillac flywheel and the belt from a dentist’s drill.
From country music Mr. Paul moved into jazz, influenced by players like Django Reinhardt and Eddie Lang, who were using amplified hollow-body guitars to play hornlike single-note solo lines. He formed the Les Paul Trio in 1936 and moved to New York, where he was heard regularly on Fred Waring’s radio show from 1938 to 1941.
In 1940 or 1941 — the exact date is unknown — , Mr. Paul made his guitar breakthrough. Seeking to create electronically sustained notes on the guitar, he attached strings and two pickups to a wooden board with a guitar neck. “The log,” as he called it, was probably the first solid-body electric guitar and became the most influential one. “You could go out and eat and come back and the note would still be sounding,” Mr. Paul once said.
The odd-looking instrument drew derision when he first played it in public, so he hid the works inside a conventional-looking guitar. But the log was a conceptual turning point. With no acoustic resonance of its own, it was designed to generate an electronic signal that could be amplified and processed — the beginning of a sonic transformation of the world’s music.
Mr. Paul was drafted in 1942 and worked for the Armed Forces Radio Service, accompanying Rudy Vallee, Kate Smith and others. When he was discharged in 1943, he was hired as a staff musician for NBC radio in Los Angeles. His trio toured with the Andrews Sisters and backed Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, with whom he recorded the hit “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” in 1945. Crosby encouraged Mr. Paul to build his own recording studio, and so he did, in his garage in Los Angeles.
There he experimented with recording techniques, using them to create not realistic replicas of a performance but electronically enhanced fabrications. Toying with his mother’s old Victrola had shown him that changing the speed of a recording could alter both pitch and timbre. He could record at half-speed and replay the results at normal speed, creating the illusion of superhuman agility. He altered instrumental textures through microphone positioning and reverberation. Technology and studio effects, he realized, were instruments themselves.
He also noticed that by recording along with previous recordings, he could become a one-man ensemble. As early as his 1948 hit “Lover,” he made elaborate, multilayered recordings, using two acetate disc machines, which demanded that each layer of music be recorded in a single take. From discs he moved to magnetic tape, and in the late 1950s he built the first eight-track multitrack recorder. Each track could be recorded and altered separately, without affecting the others. The machine ushered in the modern recording era.
In 1947 Mr. Paul teamed up with Colleen Summers, who had been singing with Gene Autry’s band. He changed her name to Mary Ford, a name found in a telephone book.
They were touring in 1948 when Mr. Paul’s car skidded off an icy bridge. Among his many injuries, his right elbow was shattered; once set, it would be immovable. Mr. Paul had it set at an angle, slightly less than 90 degrees, so that he could continue to play guitar.
Mr. Paul, whose first marriage, to Virginia, had ended in divorce, married Ms. Ford in 1949. Together they had a television show, “Les Paul and Mary Ford at Home,” which was broadcast from their living room until 1958. They began recording together, mixing multiple layers of her vocals with Mr. Paul’s guitars and effects, and the dizzying results became hits in the early 1950s. Among their more than three dozen hits, “Mockingbird Hill,” “How High the Moon” and “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise” in 1951 and “Vaya Con Dios” in 1953 were million-sellers.
Some of their music was recorded with microphones hanging in various rooms of the house, including one over the kitchen sink, where Ms. Ford could record vocals while washing dishes. Mr. Paul also recorded instrumentals on his own, including the hits “Whispering,” “Tiger Rag” and “Meet Mister Callaghan” in 1951-52.
The Gibson company hired Mr. Paul to design a Les Paul model guitar in 1952, and Les Paul models have sold steadily ever since, accounting at one point for half of the company’s total sales. Built of a thick layer of maple over a mahogany body, with Mr. Paul’s patented pickups, his design is prized for its clarity and sustained tone. It has been used by musicians like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Slash of Guns N’ Roses.
In the mid-1950s, Mr. Paul and Ms. Ford moved to a house in Mahwah, N.J., where Mr. Paul eventually installed film and recording studios and amassed a collection of hundreds of guitars.
The couple’s string of hits ended in 1961, and they were divorced in 1964. Ms. Ford died in 1977. Mr. Paul is survived by three sons, Gene, of , Russell, of , and Robert, of , and a daughter, Colleen of . In 1964, Mr. Paul underwent surgery for a broken eardrum, and he began suffering from arthritis in 1965. Through the 1960s he concentrated on designing guitars for Gibson. He invented and patented various pickups and transducers, as well as devices like the Les Paulverizer, an echo-repeat device, which he introduced in 1974. In the late 1970s he made two albums with the dean of country guitarists, Chet Atkins.
In 1981 Mr. Paul underwent one of the first quintuple-bypass heart operations. After recuperating, he returned to performing, though the progress of his arthritis forced him to relearn the guitar. In 1983 he started to play weekly performances at Fat Tuesday’s, an intimate Manhattan jazz club. “I was always happiest playing in a club,” he said in a 1987 interview. “So I decided to find a nice little club in New York that I would be happy to play in.” After Fat Tuesday’s closed in 1995, he moved his Monday-night residency to Iridium.
At his shows he used one of his own customized guitars, which included a microphone on a gooseneck pointing toward his mouth so that he could talk through the guitar. In his sets he would mix reminiscences, wisecracks and comments with versions of jazz standards. Guests — famous and unknown — showed up to pay homage or test themselves against him. Despite paralysis in fingers on both hands, he retained some of his remarkable speed and fluency. Mr. Paul also performed regularly at jazz festivals through the 1980s.
He recorded a final album, “American Made, World Played” (Capitol), to celebrate his 90th birthday in 2005. It featured guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Sting, Joe Perry of Aerosmith and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. The album brought him two Grammy Awards: for best pop instrumental performance and best rock instrumental performance. He had already won Grammy recognition for technical achievements.
In recent years, he said he was working on another major invention but would not reveal what it was. “Honestly, I never strove to be an Edison,” he said in a 1991 interview in The New York Times. “The only reason I invented these things was because I didn’t have them and neither did anyone else. I had no choice, really.”
Jackson Earnings Grow by Millions After Death
It has been 48 days since Michael Jackson died, and while family members of the late pop star are still at war with the executors of his estate, the answer to another question — how much the singer is worth in death — is becoming clear. He has already earned $100 million through a film deal and various merchandising contracts, and the executors expect another $100 million to roll in by the end of the year.
“Clearly that’s a new record for estates that likely will not be broken,” said John G. Branca, Mr. Jackson’s longtime lawyer who was named in Mr. Jackson’s will as a co-executor of the estate, along with John McClain, a music executive and Jackson family friend.
While several business deals have been reached — for things like commemorative coins, a line of school supplies and a $150 coffee table book — the matter of untangling Mr. Jackson’s vast estate, assets and debt, goes on, as does wrangling with family members.
Cash has been collected from former advisers who had held money for Mr. Jackson — several million dollars from one — and the executors have tracked down a collection of Mr. Jackson’s personal memorabilia and other items that were almost auctioned off last April to pay debts. The items, which included artwork and several glittery, white gloves that had been at the singer’s Neverland Ranch, had been stored in several locations around Los Angeles.
The model for Mr. Jackson’s posthumous business empire is Elvis Presley. “When you look at what the Presley estate has done, you see the opportunities here,” Mr. Branca said. “I quite frankly think this will be a bigger estate.”
Mr. Presley’s estate generated $55 million in revenue last year, according to Billboard, the music industry trade publication. In 2004, Robert Sillerman, a New York music entrepreneur, purchased 85 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises, the business umbrella for Mr. Presley’s intellectual property rights and Graceland, for about $100 million.
Business aside, Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain — a judge has named them special administrators and could decide in October to name them permanent executors — remain at odds with Katherine Jackson, Mr. Jackson’s mother, who is a beneficiary of 40 percent of the estate. In July, Mrs. Jackson sought to wrest control of the estate from the executors, but was denied by a judge.
“Both McClain and Branca certainly are aware of our intentions to have Mrs. Jackson have a seat at the table, because I believe that her sensibilities with respect to the legacy of Michael bring a very important and valuable dimension to any kind of plans,” said L. Londell McMillan, a lawyer for Mrs. Jackson.
More recently, Mrs. Jackson and her legal team have sought, in behind-the-scenes negotiations, to have her named as an additional executor or as a co-trustee, a move that Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain have resisted, partly because they say that having a beneficiary also serve as a trustee could result in more taxes being owed.
Instead, a more likely possibility is that another member of the Jackson family would be named as a co-executor or co-trustee, according to Mr. Branca.
Mr. McMillan said of the potential negative tax implications, “that’s not a legal position we support. The research we’ve done allows for tax avoidance with respect to our request.”
While Mr. Jackson’s will stipulated that Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain had authority over running the business affairs of the estate, they are aware that their efforts will be more successful if relations with the Jackson family are collegial. Mr. Branca said, “We’ve always been open to a dialogue with Mrs. Jackson about what is best for the estate.”
Mr. Jackson’s estate has been valued at several hundred million dollars. It contains some big assets, including a 50 percent stake in Sony/ATV, a music publishing partnership that includes the rights to the Beatles catalog; Mr. Jackson’s own song catalog; and Neverland Ranch. But there also are large debts, because of Mr. Jackson’s free-spending ways. While Mr. Jackson’s portion of Sony/ATV was worth an estimated $500 million at the time of his death, he had about $300 million of debt against it held by Barclays.
Despite speculation, Mr. Branca said, “we do not contemplate selling any portion of Sony/ATV.”
Beyond 2009, Mr. Branca and others estimate the business of Michael Jackson could generate about $50 million to $100 million annually.
“We are very optimistic about the revenue we will generate,” said Howard Weitzman, a lawyer for Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain. “But we also have to be sober about the debt the estate has.”
The overall value of Mr. Jackson’s business, were it to be sold in the future like Mr. Presley’s was, would most likely be several hundred million dollars, said Mark Roesler, chairman of CMG Worldwide, a licensing firm that has worked with the estates of Mr. Presley, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.
“You have someone who left a mark on six billion people in the world,” Mr. Roesler said.
“If you put a value of $110 million on Elvis Presley’s intellectual property rights, that’s a baseline. It’s certainly in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Neverland Ranch itself could become a future moneymaker, just like Elvis Presley’s Graceland. Some family members hope that Mr. Jackson will be buried there, but that decision has not been made. Neverland is owned in partnership with Colony Capital, a Los Angeles real estate company that stepped in when Mr. Jackson was on the brink of foreclosure.
Another idea is to establish a permanent Michael Jackson attraction in Las Vegas, which would house the late singer’s memorabilia. This option may be preferable to Neverland, because Las Vegas is more easily accessible to tourists.
In life, Mr. Jackson faced a precarious financial future, as he piled on debts to finance his tastes in art, to travel on private jets and to keep up Neverland. In death, his estate may enjoy the financial security he never had.
Ben Sisario contributed reporting.
Neil Young Honored for His "Heart of Gold"
Eclectic rocker Neil Young, who has made no secret of his disdain for the Grammys in the past, is receiving a humanitarian award from the group that hands out the music industry's top honors.
The Canadian singer-songwriter, 63, will be honored during the 20th annual MusiCares gala taking place in Los Angeles on January 29, two days before the Recording Academy holds the Grammys.
The black-tie event, consisting of a dinner and all-star concert, raises money for the MusiCares charity, which helps musicians with financial, medical and personal needs. Previous honorees include Neil Diamond, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Brian Wilson, Natalie Cole and Elton John.
Young, famed for such tunes as "Heart of Gold," "Like a Hurricane" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," co-founded Farm Aid, which raises money for farmers. He also hosts the annual Bridge School concerts in northern California, which help fund education for youngsters with severe speech and physical impairments.
But the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who has confounded fans over the past 40 years with an idiosyncratic output spanning folk, rock, grunge, soul and country, has never won a Grammy. He has been nominated multiple times, as recently as this year for "No Hidden Path," a 14-minute track from his 2007 album "Chrome Dreams II."
"I'm not Grammy material," he said in a 1987 interview recounted in the authorized biography "Shakey." "I hate that s---. It has nothing to do with rock 'n' roll. It only has to do with Hollywood, and it's jive -- a buncha people handin' each other awards and talkin' about how they made the best record ... There is no best in music."
(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)
Like a Complete Unknown: Bob Dylan Frogmarched to Collect ID After Rookie Policewoman Fails to Recognise Scruffy Music Legend
He has sold albums by the million and was the idol of the 1960s protest movement. But yesterday Bob Dylan discovered what it's like to be just a face in the crowd.
Police were called in a quiet seaside town after he was spotted freewheelin' down the street and apparently acting suspiciously. A 22-year-old female officer demanded to see his identification papers.
He assumed she would at least recognise the name if not the face. But she ordered him into the back of her car and took him to his hotel to check his story.
Then she radioed her older colleagues at the police station to ask if anyone knew who Bob Dylan was.
'I'm afraid we all fell about laughing,' said Craig Spencer, a senior officer in Long Branch, New Jersey. 'If it was me, I'd have been demanding his autograph, not his ID.
'The poor woman has taken rather a lot of abuse from us. I offered to bring in some of my Dylan albums. Unfortunately, she doesn't know what vinyl is either.'
It was in 1965 that Dylan wrote Like A Rolling Stone, with its line: 'How does it feel to be on your own, a complete unknown?'
He found out while staying at the Ocean Place Resort in Long Branch. Before taking part in a concert with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, he decided to take a stroll through the town's Latin quarter.
'Residents called to complain there was an old scruffy man acting suspiciously,' said officer Spencer. 'It was an odd request because it was mid-afternoon. But it's an ethnic Latin area and the residents felt he didn't fit in.'
This is not the first time that Dylan has wandered off alone while on tour.
After a concert in Belfast in 1991, he shunned his chauffeur-driven limo and was captured by a TV crew waiting at a bus stop.
And in the middle of an American tour he popped unannounced into the childhood home of author Mark Twain.
When the stunned curator asked if he was really Bob Dylan, he said: 'I guess I am.'
Seattle Paper Is Resurgent as a Solo Act
When The Seattle Times became this city’s only surviving daily newspaper in March, even The Times itself could not muster much optimism about its chances.
Frank A. Blethen, the publisher, said then that the demise of the rival Post-Intelligencer, known as The P-I, was no guarantee that his money-losing paper would make it. In an article in March on Seattle’s becoming “a one-newspaper town,” The Times asked, “will it become a no-newspaper town?”
But less than five months later, a nearly forgotten word has crept back into Times executives’ vocabulary: profit. “On a month-to-month basis, we are starting to operate in the black,” Mr. Blethen, who is also chief executive of The Seattle Times Company, said in an interview last week.
How much black ink and by what measure, the privately held company will not say, and amid a sharp advertising downturn, no one denies that its situation remains precarious. But The Times has improved its prospects by picking up most P-I subscribers and managing to keep them so far. It says its daily circulation rose more than 30 percent, to more than 260,000 in June, from about 200,000.
Oddly enough, what remains of The P-I is also faring better than expected. The Hearst Corporation kept the paper’s Web site alive as a news operation with a small staff, heavily reliant on more than 200 unpaid bloggers who write on things as diverse as their neighborhoods, cooking and marathon running.
Industry analysts called it a long-shot experiment, but SeattlePI.com has kept most of the reader traffic it had as a newspaper site. Hearst will not say whether it makes money, but it says that audience and revenue are ahead of projection.
The Times and The P-I had a joint operating agreement, sharing production and delivery expenses, an arrangement that is meant as a life raft for failing papers but that has often turned into cement shoes for the stronger partner. The Times had been fighting for years to get out of its pact with Hearst, arguing that it drained resources and artificially kept a weaker competitor afloat.
Joint operating agreements “delay the inevitable death of the second newspaper, which becomes a drag on the operation,” said John Morton, an independent newspaper industry analyst. “It’s not too surprising that The Times is doing better on its own.”
The Times, long seen as one of the best regional papers in the country, has had an unusually big newsroom for its circulation, and a devotion to time-consuming investigative work. Mr. Blethen resisted cutting the staff or the size of the paper long after most big papers started to shrink.
But cuts became unavoidable, and the newsroom has dropped to 210 people, from about 375 five years ago. Now, Times executives have an unexpected hope that the cutting has stopped, at least for a while.
“We’re about at the floor of what we feel we can have and still put out a Seattle Times we can be proud of,” said David Boardman, the executive editor. “We’ve had to be more thoughtful in choosing what we do, but I’m not one to claim that less is more. Less is less.”
SeattlePI’s news staff of 20 people, down from The P-I’s 165, covers only a few subjects closely, like crime, the aerospace industry and transportation, while offering links to news on other sites. Michelle Nicolosi, the executive producer, said the site, rather than resembling a traditional news organization, “is trying to be Seattle’s home page.”
Other news sites populated by former P-I staff members have also cropped up, expanding Seattle’s already-vibrant range of alternative news choices, and turning the city into something of an online news laboratory.
“There’s still a lot of competition, but only in certain niches,” said David Brewster, publisher of Crosscut.com, a two-year-old news site. “The Times is weaker than it used to be, but a lot of the people who said the loss of The P-I was the end of the world, now they’re reading The Times and saying it’s better than they expected.”
The Times has repeatedly defied the odds just to get to this point.
It dominated its market as an afternoon paper, decades after conventional wisdom had pronounced afternoon papers dead. The Times switched to mornings in 2000, going head to head with The P-I, and suffered a seven-week strike less than a year later, without a significant circulation loss from either trauma.
The Times was more staid, more suburban and more polished than The P-I, often making it seem as if the arm of an international media giant was the scrappy underdog. But for years, the guessing in the industry was that the Blethen family, which controls the Times Company, would sell to Hearst, which would then close one of the papers.
But the family held on, turning down lucrative offers from Hearst and others. And in the decade before The P-I closed, its circulation dropped sharply, to 117,000, while weekday sales of The Times barely changed.
The Times is one of the last family-run papers in the country, controlled since 1896 by the Blethens. They own 50.5 percent of the company (the McClatchy Company owns the rest), and eight family members work in it.
But if the family’s commitment to journalism has been admired, its business acumen is another matter. The company borrowed more than $200 million in 1998 to buy three Maine newspapers, and it sold them this year, reportedly for less than $40 million. Its biggest mistake may have been the joint operating agreement struck with Hearst in 1983, before Frank Blethen, 64, took control of the company.
Under the arrangement, The P-I’s only operation was its newsroom. The Times printed and delivered The P-I, sold its subscriptions and ads, and paid all nonnewsroom expenses for both papers. Whatever revenue was left was split, 60 percent to The Times and 40 percent to The P-I, a division that Times executives came to see as deeply unfair.
But the joint operation had advantages when The P-I stopped printing, because The Times was able to simply switch P-I subscribers to The Times. Subscribers were free to cancel, but not many did. Times executives say that of those former P-I subscriptions that have expired, 84 percent have been renewed; time will tell whether it can sustain that rate in the long run.
The paper also raised its prices in March, increasing circulation revenue.
With most P-I readers on board, Times executives say they have been able to maintain the ad rates they charged for space in both papers. The volume and revenue were down sharply, but Mr. Blethen said the decline was consistent with what had happened across the industry.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ve been bouncing along the bottom for the last couple of months,” he said.
Party On, but No Tweets
THE invitation, by e-mail, was clear.
“You are cordially invited to Protocols NYC, an off the record, no tweeting, no blogging, no photos, salon.”
What did they expect guests to do with themselves?
Protocols, held every two weeks since September in a small private penthouse in Murray Hill, is hosted by five Manhattan news media types who each invite two guests. The idea, according to a host, Michael Malice, an author and blogger, is to let invitees talk fearlessly in the present.
“We are fighting against this whole idea that everything people do has to be constantly chronicled,” Mr. Malice said. “People think that every thought they have, every experience — if it is not captured it is lost.”
In an era, when a stray gripe about your boss can land you on an industry blog, when waking up hung over can frantically send you to Facebook to untag your name from photos of the previous night’s frosting-wrestling contest, when shots of you in unflattering jeans become part of your permanent Google search results, there are signs that some are tired of living their lives on the Web.
Mr. Malice’s other Protocols hosts are familiar with life on-the-record. Jeff Newelt is the comics editor for Smith and Heeb magazines and a publicist; Lux Alptraum is the editor of Fleshbot, a pornography blog; Molly Crabapple is an artist; and Justin Rocket Silverman is a features writer at The New York Post. Mr. Malice himself was the subject of a comic book by Harvey Pekar, “Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story,” which chronicled his foibles and relentless self-confidence.
But the quintet has found that there’s something magical about a life less posted.
“When it’s off the record, you actually listen to the conversation, not just wait for your turn to speak,” Mr. Malice said. When he wanted to take a photo with one guest, a well-known talk show host, he did it outside the venue. “I wanted to keep the space pure, a little bubble of decency,” he said.
Few are abandoning social-networking sites. Facebook users upload one billion new photos a month, a spokeswoman said, and Twitter attracted 44.5 million unique visitors in June, according to Techcrunch.com.
But there is an electronic evolution of manners, with still-developing rules about when using social media is appropriate and when it isn’t. In the early days, posting photos of adults in funny hats seemed harmless — everyone could be an Internet star. Now, six years after the start of Friendster, one of the first social networks, friends can feel like the new paparazzi.
Celia Chen, founder of Notes on a Party, an online magazine about entertaining, said hosts are often now asking guests to refrain from posting photos and sharing details of parties.
“It’s the job of the host to educate guests about attire, about start time,” she said. “And now when it comes to social media, it’s also the responsibility of the host to share how you want your guests to act at your party.”
At a wedding in Lake George, N.Y., this summer, a middle-school math teacher was chatting with another guest, Reid Rosenthal, a finalist in the reality series “The Bachelorette.” Someone snapped a photo.
The teacher, who requested anonymity to avoid being teased by her students, was surprised a few days later when she received a notice from Facebook that she had been tagged in a photo. Mr. Rosenthal was also tagged.
Soon the creepy e-mail messages started, the teacher said.
“Oh, my God, do you know him?” wrote one gaga “Bachelorette” fan who somehow found the photo. “I need to be set up. I’d be perfect for him.”
“It was irritating,” the teacher, 30, said. “I would never do something like that.”
The photo was quickly untagged and now the teacher has strengthened her Facebook privacy settings, preventing strangers from viewing her profile.
In April, Facebook, responding to requests for more stringent privacy, added a “friends page” that allows users to filter who can see certain photos, and it is testing other measures. But the new settings do little to prevent those who love public exposure from embarrassing their friends on their own Facebook pages or Web sites.
Or even their spouses.
“I once put up a picture of my wife when she was drunk and she got very angry at me,” said David Schlesinger, the editor in chief of Reuters News who calls himself a “big Facebook fan.”
A 26-year-old woman living in Manhattan said she dreaded being tagged in photos because people might notice she always wears one of two outfits when going out at night, a basic black dress or, for dates, a Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt.
Like a starlet mocked by a gossip magazine for lacking fashion variety, she fears being teased by friends — and requested anonymity in this article to avoid sartorial embarrassment.
On Facebook, “You have movie star issues, and you’re just a person,” she said.
Some who compulsively post to social networks are unlikely to follow civility codes voluntarily, prompting some places to make rules compelling it.
At the Moth storytelling event last week at Southpaw, a bar and music hall in Brooklyn, the M.C. announced that cellphones should be off, and that tweeting was prohibited during the show.
Milk and Honey, a secretive bar on the Lower East Side, recently tightened its admission policy. The majority of its tables are reserved for members who pay a fee to join and agree to certain limitations.
“I had to sign an agreement that said we agree not to blog about any of the goings on at Milk and Honey and will not put photos on a blog or any social-networking site,” said a member requesting anonymity to avoid jeopardizing his right to visit.
This member, who has a blog, a Twitter account and many friends in the social-media business, usually tweets his location throughout the day. The enforced silence is strange for him.
“Would it be nice that whenever I go there to be able to tweet it?” he asked. “Yes. At the same time it’s nice to keep something off the record. It’s kind of fun.”
Bouncers at the nightclub Tenjune forbid guests from taking photos of other groups, said Eugene Remm, an owner of the club in the meatpacking district. The club wants customers to dance and drink without fear. Club managers have contacted people who posted Facebook photos, demanding that they remove the pictures or risk permanent exile. “I don’t want that to be the thing that keeps a regular from coming back,” Mr. Remm said.
While people consider purging Twitter from their social lives, they might look at what happened to an early online chronicler. Starting in the 1990s, Josh Harris, an Internet video pioneer and founder of Pseudo Programs and Jupiter Communications, held raging parties at his SoHo loft captured by an array of cameras. At one party, the feed from the toilet-cam, positioned for an anatomical shot, was projected live on screens in the loft.
Mr. Harris’s experiments are chronicled in the documentary “We Live in Public,” which is to open at the IFC Center in New York on Aug. 28. In the documentary, he tells a camera, “I am just a product to be harvested.”
He moved to an upstate apple farm in 2001. According to his biography on the film’s Web site, he is now running an entertainment network in Sidamo, Ethiopia.
Wikipedia Approaches its Limits
The online encyclopedia is about to hit 3m articles in English – but growth is stalling as 'inclusionists' and 'deletionists' fight for control
Yet again, Wikipedia is about to break new ground. The website that has become one of the biggest open repositories of knowledge is due – within the next week or so – to hit the mark of 3m articles in English.
It's all a very long way from January 2001, when Wikipedia launched. Its first million articles took five years to put together, but the second was achieved just 12 months later. It was not just the number of articles that grew, but also the number of people involved in creating them. During Wikipedia's first burst of activity between 2004 and 2007, the number of active users on the site rocketed from just a few thousand to more than 300,000.
However, statistics released by the site's analytics team suggest Wikipedia's explosive growth is all but finished. The quickening pace that helped the site reach the 2m article milestone just 17 months after breaking the 1m barrier suddenly evaporated: adding the next million has taken nearly two years. While the encyclopedia is still growing overall, the number of articles being added has reduced from an average of 2,200 a day in July 2007 to around 1,300 today.
Elsewhere, the number of active Wikipedians (those contributing to the site in some way) now comes in at just under 500,000. That is a 61% increase in the past two years; hardly shabby, but nowhere near the increases seen in the past. At the same time, however, the base of highly active editors (who contribute new words to the project and marshall the billions of pieces of information the site contains) has remained more or less static.
From the numbers, it looks as though Wikipedia is stagnating. Why?
One of those who has spent his time studying what happens on Wikipedia is Ed H Chi, a scientist who works at the Palo Alto Research Center (Parc) in California. His team, the Augmented Social Cognition group, wanted to understand what was happening on the website in order to build better collaborative software.
"For a long time, the understood model for all kinds of large knowledge systems on the web was that they grow exponentially," he says. "The accepted explanation was that the rich get richer – things that receive a lot of attention end up getting a lot more attention."
Wikipedia fitted that model perfectly in its early days. However, when Chi and his colleagues looked at the recent data, they realised this approach did not fit any more. But with a site as complex and sprawling as Wikipedia, simply crunching the numbers proved a major task in itself.
First they spent a significant amount of time downloading a carbon copy of Wikipedia: every article, every edit and every piece of information ever to cross the site's servers. Even when compressed, the files stretched to an enormous 8 terabytes – the equivalent of more than 1,200 DVDs stuffed with information. Decompressing in preparation for analysis took almost a week. But when the group fed the data into their 60-machine computing cluster, they got some surprising results.
Chi's team discovered that the way the site operated had changed significantly from the early days, when it ran an open-door policy that allowed in anyone with the time and energy to dedicate to the project. Today, they discovered, a stable group of high-level editors has become increasingly responsible for controlling the encyclopedia, while casual contributors and editors are falling away. Wikipedia – often touted as the bastion of open knowledge online – has become, in Chi's words, "a more exclusive place".
One of the measures the Parc team looked at was how often a user's edit succeeds in sticking. "We found that if you were an elite editor, the chance of your edit being reverted was something in the order of 1% – and that's been very consistent over time from around 2003 or 2004," he says.
Meanwhile, for those who did not invest vast amounts of time in editing, the experience was very different. "For editors that make between two and nine edits a month, the percentage of their edits being reverted had gone from 5% in 2004 all the way up to about 15% by October 2008. And the 'onesies' – people who only make one edit a month – their edits are now being reverted at a 25% rate," Chi explains.
In other words, a change by a casual editor is more likely than ever to be overturned, while changes by the elite are rarely questioned. "To power users it feels like Wikipedia operates in the way it always has – but for the newcomers or the occasional users, they feel like the resistance in the community has definitely changed."
While Chi points out that this does not necessarily imply causation, he suggests it is concrete evidence to back up what many people have been saying: that it is increasingly difficult to enjoy contributing to Wikipedia unless you are part of the site's inner core of editors.
Include me out
One person who typifies that feeling is Aaron Swartz, a 22-year-old programmer who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Something of a wunderkind in the software development world, Swartz used to spend a lot of time working on Wikipedia – in 2006 he even stood for election to the Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation behind the site (his bid failed). These days, however, he rarely checks in.
"I used to be one of the top editors …now I contribute things here and there where I see something wrong." The reason, he explains, is that the site feels more insular and exclusive than in the past. "In general, the biggest problem I have with the editors is their attitude," he says. "They say: 'We're not going to explain how we make decisions, we basically talk amongst ourselves.'
"There's no place on Wikipedia that says: 'Want to become a Wikipedia editor? Here's how you do it.' Instead, you basically have to really become part of that community and pick it up through osmosis and have the tradition passed down to you."
Swartz's experience certainly correlates with the figures unearthed by Parc, even if his attitude is not shared by everyone.
Given the history of the online world – where escalating growth can continue for years – it seems unlikely that this gradual slowdown was inevitable. Instead, it could be the end result of a battle between two competing factions of Wikipedia editors.
On one side stand the deletionists, whose motto is "Wikipedia is not a junkyard"; on the other, the inclusionists, who argue that "Wikipedia is not paper".
Deletionists argue for a tightly controlled and well-written encyclopedia that provides valuable information on topics of widespread interest. Why should editors waste time on articles about fly-by-night celebrities or wilfully obscure topics? Inclusionists, on the other hand, believe that the more articles the site has, the better: if they are poorly referenced or badly written, they can be improved – and any article is better than nothing. After all, they say, there is no limit to the size of the site, and no limit to the information that people may want.
Less is more?
The two groups had been vying for control from early on in the site's life, but the numbers suggest that the deletionists may have won. The increasing difficulty of making a successful edit; the exclusion of casual users; slower growth – all are hallmarks of the deletionist approach.
Swartz, an avowed inclusionist, says the deletionists have won – but says he understands their motivation. "When Wikipedia is in the news, it's always because someone found this inaccuracy, or somebody's suing Wikipedia … It's always about how Wikipedia screwed up. So of course what they're going to be worried about is not how to make Wikipedia grow and have more content, it's about how we keep Wikipedia out of trouble and how we stop people from messing it up."
Still, there remain unanswered questions. Could its growth ever halt completely? How big will the site be when the editors decide that the sum of human knowledge is catalogued? Could a new website take Wikipedia's place by toeing an inclusionist line?
Parc's research doesn't give any answers, but Chi has identified one model that Wikipedia's growth pattern matches. "In my experience, the only thing we've seen these growth patterns [in] before is in population growth studies – where there's some sort of resource constraint that results in this model." The site, he suggests, is becoming like a community where resources have started to run out. "As you run out of food, people start competing for that food, and that results in a slowdown in population growth and means that the stronger, more well-adapted part of the population starts to have more power."
Why I Believe in the Link Economy
Chris Ahearn, President, Media at Thomson Reuters.
“Do unto others”
It’s a simple standard my mom taught me when I was a kid – yours probably taught it too. It isn’t always easy, but in business it’s a good guiding light if you don’t want your company to be evil.
Recently there has been a rising crescendo of finger-pointing, shrieking, braying and teeth-gnashing about the future of the news. In the last couple of weeks there have been many comments on the AP’s proposals, Attributor’s proposals, Ian Shapira’s story and fair use.
After some of the AP commentary, I posted a tweet directed at Jeff Jarvis that prompted some members in the community to ask me to be more outspoken, asking me to be blatant about it, to post a public statement. For those who know me, I usually don’t need to be asked.
To start, yes the global economy is fairly grim and the cyclical aspects of our business are biting extremely hard in the face of the structural changes. But the Internet isn’t killing the news business any more than TV killed radio or radio killed the newspaper. Incumbent business leaders in news haven’t been keeping up. Many leaders continue to help push the business into the ditch by wasting “resources” (management speak for talented people) on recycling commodity news. Reader habits are changing and vertically curated views need to be meshed with horizontal read-around ones.
Blaming the new leaders or aggregators for disrupting the business of the old leaders, or saber-rattling and threatening to sue are not business strategies – they are personal therapy sessions. Go ask a music executive how well it works.
A better approach is to have a general agreement among community members to treat others’ content, business and ideas with the same respect you would want them to treat yours.
If you are doing something that you would object to if others did it to you – stop. If you don’t want search engines linking to you, insert code to ban them.
I believe in the link economy. Please feel free to link to our stories — it adds value to all producers of content. I believe you should play fair and encourage your readers to read-around to what others are producing if you use it and find it interesting.
I don’t believe you could or should charge others for simply linking to your content. Appropriate excerpting and referencing are not only acceptable, but encouraged. If someone wants to create a business on the back of others’ original content, the parties should have a business relationship that benefits both.
Let’s stop whining and start having real conversations across party lines. Let’s get online publishers, search engines, aggregators, ad networks, and self-publishers (bloggers) in a virtual room and determine how we can all get along. I don’t believe any one of us should be the self-appointed Internet police; agreeing on a code of conduct and ethics is in everyone’s best interests.
Our news ecosystem is evolving and learning how it can be open, diverse, inclusive and effective. With all the new tools and capabilities we should be entering a new golden age of journalism – call it journalism 3.0. Let’s identify how we can birth it and agree what is “fair use” or “fair compensation” and have a conversation about how we can work together to fuel a vibrant, productive and trusted digital news industry. Let’s identify business models that are inclusive and that create a win-win relationship for all parties.
This is not code for some hidden agenda – it is an open call for collective problem solving. Let’s do it wiki-style and edit it in the public domain. Let’s define the code of conduct and ethics we would all like to operate under.
My suggestion is we start with “do unto others” as our guiding spirit – I bet it would make all of our mothers proud.
Facebook Can Threaten Relationships, Study Says
A Canadian report finds that postings on the social media site can trigger escalating feelings of jealousy between romantically involved individuals.
Never mind the perils of cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying and posting photos that could endanger your future job prospects: Facebook could be ruining your relationship and driving you toward compulsively jealous behavior.
Social psychologists from the University of Guelph in Canada queried college students who were in romantic relationships about their Facebook use. Their preliminary findings, described in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, suggest that rather than enhancing communication between romantic partners, Facebook use may be fueling wild flights of jealous investigation, as users in relationships perceive hints of potential infidelity and then scramble to find evidence of a partner's unfaithful thoughts or behavior.
Invariably, it seems, they end up feeling more jealous.
And where does this lead? For some participants in the study, these investigations led to searching behavior they described as "addictive." And the bouts of escalating jealousy, say the researchers, cannot be good for a relationship.
While the survey was of college students, the researchers surmised that Facebook might unleash the same dynamics in adult relationships. Certainly, they noted, it's worth further research.
The research team responsible for the latest survey has previously found that young adults' need for popularity led them to disclose far more personal information on Facebook than they would reveal in the course of ordinary social contact.
Breakfast Can Wait. The Day’s First Stop Is Online.
Karl and Dorsey Gude of East Lansing, Mich., can remember simpler mornings, not too long ago. They sat together and chatted as they ate breakfast. They read the newspaper and competed only with the television for the attention of their two teenage sons.
That was so last century. Today, Mr. Gude wakes at around 6 a.m. to check his work e-mail and his Facebook and Twitter accounts. The two boys, Cole and Erik, start each morning with text messages, video games and Facebook.
The new routine quickly became a source of conflict in the family, with Ms. Gude complaining that technology was eating into family time. But ultimately even she partially succumbed, cracking open her laptop after breakfast.
“Things that I thought were unacceptable a few years ago are now commonplace in my house,” she said, “like all four of us starting the day on four computers in four separate rooms.”
Technology has shaken up plenty of life’s routines, but for many people it has completely altered the once predictable rituals at the start of the day.
This is morning in America in the Internet age. After six to eight hours of network deprivation — also known as sleep — people are increasingly waking up and lunging for cellphones and laptops, sometimes even before swinging their legs to the floor and tending to more biologically urgent activities.
“It used to be you woke up, went to the bathroom, maybe brushed your teeth and picked up the newspaper,” said Naomi S. Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University, who has written about technology’s push into everyday life. “But what we do first now has changed dramatically. I’ll be the first to admit: the first thing I do is check my e-mail.”
The Gudes’ sons sleep with their phones next to their beds, so they start the day with text messages in place of alarm clocks. Mr. Gude, an instructor at Michigan State University, sends texts to his two sons to wake up.
“We use texting as an in-house intercom,” he said. “I could just walk upstairs, but they always answer their texts.” The Gudes recently began shutting their devices down on weekends to account for the decrease in family time.
In other households, the impulse to go online before getting out the door adds an extra layer of chaos to the already discombobulating morning scramble.
Weekday mornings have long been frenetic, disjointed affairs. Now families that used to fight over the shower or the newspaper tussle over access to the lone household computer — or about whether they should be using gadgets at all, instead of communicating with one another.
“They used to have blankies; now they have phones, which even have their own umbilical cord right to the charger,” said Liz Perle, a mother in San Francisco who laments the early-morning technology immersion of her two teenage children. “If their beds were far from the power outlets, they would probably sleep on the floor.”
The surge of early risers is reflected in online and wireless traffic patterns. Internet companies that used to watch traffic levels rise only when people booted up at work now see the uptick much earlier.
Arbor Networks, a Boston company that analyzes Internet use, says that Web traffic in the United States gradually declines from midnight to around 6 a.m. on the East Coast and then gets a huge morning caffeine jolt. “It’s a rocket ship that takes off at 7 a.m,” said Craig Labovitz, Arbor’s chief scientist.
Akamai, which helps sites like Facebook and Amazon keep up with visitor demand, says traffic takes off even earlier, at around 6 a.m. on the East Coast. Verizon Wireless reported the number of text messages sent between 7 and 10 a.m. jumped by 50 percent in July, compared with a year earlier.
Both adults and children have good reasons to wake up and log on. Mom and Dad might need to catch up on e-mail from colleagues in different time zones. Children check text messages and Facebook posts from friends with different bedtimes — and sometime forget their chores in the process.
In May, Gabrielle Glaser of Montclair, N.J., bought her 14-year-old daughter, Moriah, an Apple laptop for her birthday. In the weeks after, Moriah missed the school bus three times and went from walking the family Labradoodle for 20 minutes each morning to only briefly letting the dog outside.
Moriah concedes that she neglected the bus and dog, and blames Facebook, where the possibility that crucial updates from friends might be waiting draws her online as soon as she wakes. “I have some friends that are up early and chatting,” she said. “There is definitely a pull to check it.”
Some families have tried to set limits on Internet use in the mornings. James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that deals with children and entertainment, wakes every morning at 6 and spends the next hour on his BlackBerry, managing e-mail from contacts in different parts of the world.
But when he meets his wife, Liz, and their four children, ages 5 to 16, at the breakfast table, no laptops or phones are allowed.
Mr. Steyer says he and his sons feel the temptation of technology early. Kirk, 14, often runs through much of his daily one-hour allotment of video-game time in the morning.
Even Jesse, 5, has started asking each morning if he can play games on his father’s iPhone. And Mr. Steyer said he constantly feels the tug of waiting messages on his BlackBerry, even during morning hours that are reserved for family time.
“You have to resist the impulse. You have to switch from work mode to parenting mode,” Mr. Steyer said. “But meeting my own standard is tough.”
Mo. Seeks $142M From Stimulus for Internet Access
David A. Lieb
Missouri is seeking $142 million of federal stimulus money to expand high-speed Internet access to remote parts of the state.
A project proposal being submitted Thursday to the federal government would lay 2,500 miles of fiber-optic cable and construct 200 broadband towers across the state. Local Internet service providers then would hook into the system to provide coverage to homes and businesses.
"Just as the railroads and interstates transformed Missouri communities in decades past, this massive undertaking would truly help connect every corner of Missouri with the information superhighway of the future," Gov. Jay Nixon said Wednesday.
High-speed Internet is available to fewer than 80 percent of Missouri residents. The proposal would extend access to more than 91.5 percent of the state's population, Nixon said.
The federal stimulus package includes $7.2 billion for broadband expansion nationally, most of which is aimed at underserved rural areas. The funding is to be distributed through competitive grants and loans.
Missouri is proposing to match its requested federal grant with $25.2 million that the state previously received under the stimulus act. A subsidiary of the Marshfield-based Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative would contribute $8.4 million worth of fiber lines for the expanded network.
Nixon said the project could provide the infrastructure needed for hospitals and medical clinics to make better use of telemedicine and electronic health records.
"This project has the potential to connect doctors and patients across our state at the speed of light; open the doors of our colleges and universities to students in every corner of Missouri; and expand markets for our small businesses not only around Missouri, but all across the globe," Nixon said.
The federal government is expected to announce awards for the high-speed Internet grants in December, the governor's office said.
Nixon said Missouri also was working with local Internet service providers to apply for stimulus funds to build the "last-mile" extensions of the proposed broadband network.
Hub to Get Early Look at Next-Level Web Link
To test high-speed 4G cellular network
Before the year is out, Boston residents will have a new way to get high-speed Internet service: with their cellphones.
Verizon Wireless has selected Boston and Seattle as the first two US cities to test its new wireless data service, with speeds five to 10 times faster than the service used today by such popular handsets as Apple Inc.’s iPhone.
The new network could mean big changes in the ways people use their smartphones or laptop computers, at home and on the road. Today’s networks, known as 3G, are good enough for checking e-mail or visiting websites, but they’re too slow for high-quality video or real-time video gaming. They can’t match the speed of the hard-wired Internet services offered by telephone and cable TV companies.
Verizon Wireless’s new network, called 4G, will have the ability to display crystal-clear videos and allow users to play complex multiplayer games, or hold two-way videoconferences. Consumers might replace broadband Internet services from cable and phone companies with the new wireless service, in the same way some have ditched their traditional, hard-wired telephone lines in favor of cellphones.
Verizon Wireless will not say what it plans to charge for the new service, or reveal the speeds it will provide consumers. News of 4G’s debut cities came in a Verizon Wireless conference call for investors on July 27, and the company said it is not yet ready to speak publicly about it.
But Godfrey Chua, research analyst at IDC Corp. in Framingham, said it would almost certainly deliver enough speed to offer serious competition to traditional Internet services. “If you have cable modem at home, it gets us up to that level,’’ Chua said.
Cable TV and Internet giant Comcast Corp. said it does not believe that 4G poses much of a threat. Spokeswoman Mary Nell Westbrook noted that the nation’s first 4G service, offered in several cities by Clearwire Corp. of Kirkland, Wash., can’t measure up to Comcast’s higher-speed Internet products. “Our services are so much faster than that today,’’ Westbrook said.
Verizon Wireless will use a technology called Long-Term Evolution, or LTE, to build its new 4G network. Some carriers are adopting a separate system called WiMax.
“The hope with LTE and WiMax is at some point, they could start displacing your DSL and cable providers,’’ said Allen Nogee, an analyst at In-Stat, a technology research firm in Scottsdale, Ariz.
A report issued in February by the company’s chief technology officer, Dick Lynch, said Verizon Wireless’s LTE system has been tested at speeds almost 60 times faster than the company’s current 3G network.
The Boston and Seattle deployments are just the beginning, according to Verizon Wireless president Denny Strigl, who said in the conference call that the company intends to launch the new services in up to 30 markets next year, making the service available to as many as 100 million potential subscribers.
The new 4G networks will be a boon for consumer electronics makers, because today’s cellphones and laptops won’t work with the new technology. Millions of subscribers will need to purchase new phones and plug-in computer adapters to connect to the new networks.
While Verizon Wireless is moving quickly toward 4G, the second-biggest cellphone carrier in the US - AT&T - is taking its time. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said that his company won’t even begin testing a 4G service until 2011. Instead, this year it will upgrade its existing 3G network to deliver about seven times the current speed.
“3G is going to be around for a long, long time, even as 4G is deployed,’’ Siegel said.
T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest cell carrier in the country, is also taking a go-slow approach to 4G. The company hasn’t even finished building its 3G network yet. Like AT&T, T-Mobile will boost its 3G performance through a technology upgrade, though T-Mobile won’t say how much speed it expects from the improved network.
Clearwire, which used the WiMax technology to build its 4G network, has signed up residential consumers in Baltimore, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Portland, Ore., and charges $20 a month for Internet service at home. For an additional $30 a month, Clearwire subscribers can get a mobile broadband service that lets them connect laptops wirelessly when they’re on the road. Comcast offers hard-wired service at one-sixth of Clearwire’s speed for $25 a month, or a much faster service for $43.
Mike Sievert, Clearwire’s chief commercial officer, said that many users have unplugged their wired Internet providers, and use the Clearwire service as their only broadband source.
That’s not necessarily bad news for Comcast, which is a major investor in Clearwire.
Comcast markets Clearwire’s 4G service as part of a “quad play’’ bundle, along with Comcast telephone, cable Internet, and cable TV service. Another major Clearwire investor is cellular carrier Sprint Nextel Corp., which already sells Clearwire-compatible laptop cards, and plans to introduce a 4G phone sometime between now and 2010.
The lure of wireless broadband service is even attracting smaller players. MetroPCS Communications Inc., the sixth-largest US cellular carrier, serves 5.4 million subscribers in eight states, including Massachusetts. MetroPCS specializes in prepaid cellphone services which have traditionally been favored by low-income users who generally don’t buy wireless data services. But MetroPCS plans to launch a 4G network in the second half of 2010.
“Cellular operators are making less and less on voice,’’ said analyst Nogee. “They’re looking for new revenue streams.’’ But Nogee added that in a year or two, with so many 4G options available, wireless data service could become a lot cheaper for consumers.
Does Powerline Networking Nuke Radio Hams?
Paul Ockenden upsets the amateur radio community by plugging powerline networking
Regular readers will know that I’ve written several times over the past few months about powerline networking – that is, running part of your home or office data network over your mains electricity wiring.
In particular, I’ve written about the success I’ve had with HomePlug kit (both the older HomePlug 1 devices and also the newer HomePlug AV standard), and how I’ve become a great fan of this technology. However several readers have emailed to castigate me for recommending these powerline networking products.
These emails spanned the full spectrum from sensible and rational through to green ink and CAPITALS, but what they all had in common was that they came from radio amateurs, or people with an interest in shortwave radio. They claim that HomePlug kit affects their hobby in much the same way that urban lighting affects amateur astronomers, but rather than causing light pollution it seems that powerline networking causes radio pollution in the HF band (otherwise known as shortwave).
To make matters worse, this RF pollution apparently isn’t restricted to a particular narrow broadcast band; in order to get maximum range and throughput, these devices splatter bits across a wide range of frequencies. At least these were the claims I saw from readers’ emails.
After extensive Googling I found lots of forum and blog posts from shortwave radio enthusiasts complaining about these mains networking devices, with certain factions of the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) also singing from the same hymn sheet (although I did find the document which claims that for most shortwave users with a good setup, the effects should be marginal). I also found a number of videos on YouTube that demonstrated HomePlug devices that completely killed shortwave radio reception.
Lack of complaints
I was somewhat confused, though, because despite finding lots of protests, I struggled to find many complaints from people who’d suffered these kinds of problems because of their neighbours’ powerline networking. In most cases, interference was reported by people who had installed devices in their own house and had found this to compromise their own shortwave radio reception. Maybe I was just using the wrong search terms.
Among other things that my Googling uncovered was that the HomePlug Alliance (the industry body that defines the HomePlug specifications and certifies the various devices) had worked with the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), which is essentially the US counterpart of the UK’s RSGB, to “notch out” the most commonly used ham radio bands from the HomePlug spec.
As a result, it would seem that, unlike in the UK, the US radio community is reasonably happy with HomePlug, but less so with other mains-borne data technologies, particularly those delivering broadband-over-power-lines (BPL) to the home or office, which tend not to have the amateur bands notched out. These technologies aren’t really being much used in the UK at the moment, apart from in a few trials.
It seems the notches cover only the bands that radio amateurs use to talk to each other, not those used by long-distance broadcasting stations, so even the ARRL-approved HomePlug devices are causing concern to some enthusiasts.
Another thing that Googling revealed was a handful of forum posts where people were complaining about interference from, rather than to, radio enthusiasts. Apparently, if the person next door pumps out 1.5KW of HF radio waves, they can cause havoc with stuff such as TV reception and baby monitors. It seems as though this can be a problem even where the guy next door (and it nearly always is a guy) has a perfectly legal and properly adjusted radio transmitter.
It would appear that, at least from a technical point of view, there are valid arguments on both sides, but even if you ignore these technology arguments, the debate still doesn’t have any clear winner.
On the one hand you could argue that amateur radio is a long-established hobby, which the upstart powerline networking technology is beginning to wreck, where the adverse effects are almost certain to become worse in the future. That’s a compelling argument and it obviously raises strong passions among the radio enthusiast camp. I even found one website that declared these devices were a breach of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see Right stuff).
On the other hand, you could argue that the world has moved on, that shortwave radio is a “legacy” hobby while IP-based communication is very much tomorrow’s technology, with powerline networking forming an important part of this new world.
Indeed, most, if not all, of the shortwave broadcast stations being blocked by un-notched HomePlug frequencies would be available (in much better quality, and not subject to atmospheric conditions) via internet streaming. You could also argue that there are far more potential users for HomePlug devices than there are radio amateurs, so that in terms of sheer numbers the networkers would seem to have the advantage.
Having said all that, this is the Real World Computing section, so I need to get beyond the current heated online argument and find out what the effect actually is in the real world. So I got out my trusty shortwave radio (a lovely little Sony ICF-SW100) and, sure enough, within my house I heard lots of RF noise from my HomePlug AV kit. What was noticeable, though, was that the worst of this noise happened only during data transfer, so web surfing and checking email just caused the occasional burble, whereas copying gigabytes of data across the network really made the radio scream.
The other thing I noticed was that this interference spans a wide band, and the notches I mentioned above are really noticeable; within one of those notched bands I have to get very close to my ring-main before the HomePlug interference will swamp the normal shortwave squawky voices and Morse code. Outside the notched bands, the noise from the HomePlugs is far more noticeable around the house – strong stations are fine, but the weaker ones are swamped by the digital drumming. I tried setting off a huge file transfer to max out the HomePlug interference, and then went on a walkabout. I didn’t go very far – just to the bottom of my garden (approximately 100ft from the house) – and from there I could detect no interference at all.
I appreciate that many radio amateurs will use more sensitive kit than my little Sony, and I know that some other people’s ring mains may act as more efficient transmitters than mine, but even so, after the venom I’d seen spilled online and via email I was expecting far, far worse. I didn’t experience anything to get all green ink and CAPITALS about.
So am I going to stop recommending HomePlug kit to readers of this column? Well, despite trying to present a balanced view here, I expect I’m in for another bombardment of emails because my answer is “no”. I still think that HomePlug devices are a boon to anyone working in an environment where Wi-Fi is tricky or unreliable, but from now on I think I’ll add a caveat to my recommendation.
The chances are you’ll know whether you have a radio amateur living close to you – they’ll have a socking great aerial strapped to their chimney or in their garden – and if you do have one of these enthusiasts living nearby, my advice would be to avoid HomePlug or other powerline networking devices if you can (or at least check with said neighbour to see whether interference from your devices is causing them any problems). After all, it isn’t worth upsetting the neighbours just to get an internet connection in your shed.
Likewise, if you have a radio ham living nearby whose equipment is causing problems with your TV reception, I’m equally sure that they’ll be happy to work with you to alleviate the problem. Hopefully, then we can all enjoy our hobbies in peace.
An Operating System for the Cloud
Google is developing a new computing platform equal to the Internet era. Should Microsoft be worried?
G. Pascal Zachary
From early in their company's history, Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, wanted to develop a computer operating system and browser.
They believed it would help make personal computing less expensive, because Google would give away the software free of charge. They wanted to shrug off 20 years of accumulated software history (what the information technology industry calls the "legacy") by building an OS and browser from scratch. Finally, they hoped the combined technology would be an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer, providing a new platform for developers to write Web applications and unleashing the creativity of programmers for the benefit of the masses.
But despite the sublimity of their aspirations, Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, said no for six years. Google's main source of revenue, which reached $5.5 billion in its most recent quarter, is advertising. How would the project they envisioned support the company's advertising business? The question wasn't whether Google could afford it. The company is wonderfully profitable and is on track to net more than $5 billion in its current fiscal year. But Schmidt, a 20-year veteran of the IT industry, wasn't keen on shouldering the considerable costs of creating and maintaining an OS and browser for no obvious return.
Finally, two years ago, Schmidt said yes to the browser. The rationale was that quicker and more frequent Web access would mean more searches, which would translate into more revenue from ads. Then, in July of this year, Schmidt announced Google's intention to launch an operating system as well. The idea is that an OS developed with the Internet in mind will also increase the volume of Web activity, and support the browser.
Google's browser and OS both bear the name Chrome. At a year old, the browser holds a mere 2 to 3 percent share of a contested global market, in which Microsoft's Internet Explorer has a majority share and Firefox comes in second. The Chrome operating system will be released next year. Today, Windows enjoys around 90 percent of the global market for operating systems, followed by Apple's Mac OS and the freeware Linux. Does Google know what it's doing?
Going after Microsoft's operating system used to be hopeless. When I covered the company for the Wall Street Journal in the 1990s, I chronicled one failed attempt after another by software innovators to wrest control of the field from Bill Gates. IBM failed. Sun failed. Borland. Everybody. By the end of the 1990s, the quest had become a kind of ritualized suicide for software companies. Irresistible forces seemed to compel Gates's rivals, driving them toward self-destruction.
The networking company Novell, which Schmidt once ran, could have been one of these casualties. Perhaps Schmidt's managerial experience and intellectual engagement with computer code immunized him against the OS bug. In any case, he knew that the task of dislodging Microsoft was bigger than creating a better OS. While others misguidedly focused on the many engineering shortcomings of Windows, Schmidt knew that Microsoft was the leader not for technical reasons but for business ones, such as pricing practices and synergies between its popular office applications and Windows.
So for Schmidt to finally agree to develop an OS suggests less a technological shift than a business revolution. Google's new ventures "are game changers," he now says.
What has changed? Google has challenged the Microsoft franchise, further diminishing a declining force. The latest quarter gave Microsoft the worst year in its history. Revenue from its various Windows PC programs, including operating systems, fell 29 percent in the fiscal quarter that ended in June. Some of the decline stems from the global economic slowdown. But broad shifts in information technology are also reducing the importance of the personal computer and its central piece of software, the OS. In many parts of the world, including the two most populous countries, China and India, mobile phones are increasingly the most common means of reaching the Web. And in the rich world, netbooks, which are ideal for Web surfing, e-mailing, and Twittering, account for one in every 10 computers sold.
Another powerful trend that undercuts Microsoft is toward programs that look and function the same way in any operating system. "Over the past five years there's been a steady move away from Windows-specific to applications being OS-neutral," says Michael Silver, a software analyst at the research firm Gartner.
One example would be Adobe Flash. Such popular social applications as Facebook and Twitter are also indifferent to operating systems, offering users much the same experience no matter what personal computer or handheld device they use. Since so many people live in their social-media sites, the look and feel of these sites has become at least as important as the user interface of the OS. The effect is to shrink the role of the OS, from conductor of the orchestra to merely one of its soloists. "The traditional operating system is becoming less and less important," says Paul Maritz, chief executive of VMware, who was once the Microsoft executive in charge of the operating system. By and large, he has noted, "people are no longer writing traditional Windows applications."
Microsoft's troubles make the company's OS doubly vulnerable. Vista, its current version, has been roundly criticized, and it has never caught on as widely as the company anticipated; many Microsoft customers continue to use the previous version of Windows, XP. A new version being released this fall, Windows 7, promises to remedy the worst problems of Vista. But even 7 may not address a set of technical issues that both galvanize Microsoft's critics and stoke the appetites of Brin and Page to create a more pleasing alternative. In their view, the Microsoft OS takes too long to boot up, and it slows down even the newest hardware. It is too prone to viral attacks and too complicated.
Exactly how Google plans to solve these problems is still something of a mystery. Technical details aren't available. Google has said so little about the innards of its forthcoming OS that it qualifies as "a textbook example of vaporware," wrote John Gruber on his blog Daring Fireball. Information is scarce about even such basic things as whether it will have a new user interface or rely on an existing open-source one, and whether it will support the driver that make printers and other peripherals routinely work with Windows PCs.
The mere announcement of Chrome already threatens Microsoft, however. The imminence of Google's entry into the market--following the delivery of its Android OS for mobile phones--gives Microsoft's corporate customers a reason to ask for lower prices. After all, Google's OS will be free, and the buyers of Windows are chiefly PC makers, whose profit margins are already ultra-slim.
"It's all upside for Google and no downside," says Mitchell Kapor, a software investor and the founder of Lotus, a pioneer supplier of PC applications that was bloodied by Microsoft in the 1990s.
Fifteen years ago, I wrote a book on the making of Windows NT--still the foundation of Microsoft's OS family. At the time, I wrongly concluded that developing the dominant operating system was proof of technological power, akin to building the greatest fleet of battleships in the early 20th century, or the pyramids long ago. Windows NT required hundreds of engineers, tens of millions of development dollars, and a huge marketing effort. By the mid-1990s, Microsoft was emphasizing features over function, complexity over simplicity.
In doing so, Microsoft and its cofounder, Bill Gates, seemed to be fulfilling the company's historical destiny. The operating system as a technological showpiece goes back to OS/360, a program designed by IBM that was immortalized in The Mythical Man-Month, a book by the engineer Frederick Brooks. The historian Thomas Haigh explains, "That was a huge scaling up of ambition of what the OS was for."
IBM's 360 mainframe was the first computer to gain widespread acceptance in business, and the popularity of the machine, first sold in 1965, depended as much on its software as its hardware. When IBM used Microsoft's DOS as the operating system for its first PC, introduced in 1981, it was the first time Big Blue had gone outside its own walls for a central piece of code. Soon, technologists (including, belatedly, IBM) realized that control of the OS had given Microsoft control of the PC. IBM tried and failed to regain that control with a program called OS/2. But Microsoft triumphed with Windows in the 1990s--and became the most profitable company on earth, turning Gates into the world's richest person. Thus, the OS came to be viewed as the ultimate technological product, a platform seemingly protean enough to incorporate and control every future software innovation and at the same time robust enough to drag outdated PC machines and programs into the present.
It couldn't last. The main reason why control of the OS no longer guarantees technological power, of course, is the ascent of the Internet. Gates made few references to the Internet in the first edition of his book The Road Ahead, published in November 1995. Neither Windows NT nor its mass-market incarnation, Windows 95, was intimately connected to the Web. With the spread of Netscape's browser, though, Gates began to realize that the individual PC and its operating system would have to coöperate with the public information network. By bringing a browser into the OS and thus giving it away, Microsoft recovered its momentum (and killed off a new generation of competitors). Then, preoccupied once again with control of the OS, Microsoft missed the sudden, spectacular rise of search engines. When Google's popularity persisted, Microsoft was unable to do with the search engine what he had done with the browser.
In one sense, this failure to adapt to a networked world reflected the integrity of Gates's vision of the PC as a tool of individual empowerment. In the mid-1970s, when the news of the first inexpensive microprocessor-based computers reached Gates at Harvard, he instantly understood the implications. Until then, computers had been instruments of organizations and agents of bureaucratization. The PC brought about a revolution, offering the little guy a chance to harness computing power for his personal ends.
Technology is now moving away from the individualistic and toward the communal--toward the "cloud" (see our Briefing on cloud computing, July/August 2009). Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, who has been the most influential engineer at the company since Gates retired from executive management, describes the process under way as a return to the computing experience of his youth, in the 1970s, when folks shared time on computers and the network reigned supreme. Cloud technologies "have happened before," he said in June. "In essence, this pendulum is swinging." Similarly, Schmidt recalls how, in the early 1980s, Sun Microsystems' OS was developed for a computer that lacked local storage.
The return to the network has big implications for the business of operating systems. Computer networks used to be closed, private: in the 1960s and '70s they revolved around IBM mainframe operating systems and, later, linked Windows machines on desktops and in back rooms. Today's computer networks are more like public utilities, akin to the electricity and telephone systems. The operating system is less important. Why does Google want to build one?
Successful operating-system designs continue to pay off big, though increasingly in cases where the system is well integrated with hardware. Apple's experience is illustrative. For years, people advised Steve Jobs, Apple's cofounder and chief, to decouple the Mac OS from the company's hardware. Jobs never did. Indeed, he moved in the opposite direction. With the iPod and then the iPhone, he built new operating systems ever more integrated with hardware--and these products have been even more successful than the Macintosh. "For Apple, software is a means to an end," says Jean-Louis Gassée, who once served as the company's chief of product development and who has since founded his own OS and hardware company, Be. "They write a good OS so they can have nice margins on their aluminum laptop."
The effort to create a good OS carries risks. The biggest one for Google is that expectations will outstrip results. Even though the company plans to use a number of freely available pieces of computer code--most notably the Linux "kernel," which delivers basic instructions to hardware--its new system can't be assembled, like a Lego plaything, out of existing pieces. Some pieces don't exist, and some existing ones are deficient. There is the real chance that Google might tarnish its reputation with an OS that disappoints.
Then there is the risk that cloud computing won't deliver on its promise. Privacy breaches could spoil the dream of cheap and easy access to personal data anywhere, anytime. And applications that demand efficient performance may founder if they are drawn from the cloud alone, especially if broadband speeds fail to improve. These unknowns all present substantial threats.
David Gelernter, a computer scientist at Yale University, has described the chief goal of the personal-computer OS as providing a " 'documentary history' of your life." Information technology, he argues, must answer the question "Where's my stuff?" That stuff includes not only words but also photos, videos, and music.
For a variety of good reasons--technical, social, and economic--the cloud will probably never store and deliver enough of that "stuff" to render the OS completely irrelevant. You and I will always want to store and process some information on our local systems. Therefore, the next normal in operating systems will probably be a hybrid system--a "magic" blend, to quote Adobe's chief technology officer, Kevin Lynch. Predicting just how Microsoft and Google will pursue the magic blend isn't possible. "We hope we are in the process of a redefinition of the OS," Eric Schmidt told me in an e-mail. But one thing is certain: the new competition in operating systems benefits computer users. Microsoft will do more to make Windows friendlier to the new networked reality. No longer a monopoly, the company will adapt or die. It's worth remembering that in the 1970s, AT&T, then the most powerful force in the information economy, "made a set of decisions that doomed it to slow-motion extinction," says Louis Galambos, a historian of business and economics at Johns Hopkins. "Microsoft is not immune to 'creative destruction.' "
Neither is Google. To completely ignore operating systems in favor of the cloud might be an efficient route to failure. And there is much to admire in the very attempt to create a new one. For Brin and Page, it is as much an aesthetic and ethical act as it is an engineering feat.
Netscape Founder Backs New Browser
It has been 15 years since Marc Andreessen first developed the Netscape Internet browser that introduced millions of people to the Internet.
After its early success, Netscape was roundly defeated by Microsoft in the so-called browser wars of the 1990s that dominated the Web’s first chapter.
Mr. Andreessen appears to want a rematch. Now a prominent Silicon Valley financier, Mr. Andreessen is backing a start-up called RockMelt, staffed with some of his close associates, that is building a new Internet browser, according to people with knowledge of his investment.
“We have backed a really good team,” Mr. Andreessen said in an interview earlier this summer. A moment later, Mr. Andreessen appeared to regret his comment, saying he was not ready to talk about any aspect of the company.
But Mr. Andreessen suggested the new browser would be different, saying that most other browsers had not kept pace with the evolution of the Web, which had grown from an array of static Web pages into a network of complex Web sites and applications. “There are all kinds of things that you would do differently if you are building a browser from scratch,” Mr. Andreessen said.
RockMelt was co-founded by Eric Vishria and Tim Howes, both former executives at Opsware, a company that Mr. Andreessen co-founded and then sold to Hewlett-Packard in 2007 for about $1.6 billion. Mr. Howes also worked at Netscape with Mr. Andreessen.
Little else is known about RockMelt, and Mr. Vishria was unwilling to discuss it. “We are at very early stages of development,” Mr. Vishria said. “Talking about it at this stage is not useful.”
After Microsoft defeated Netscape, it controlled more than 90 percent of the browser market. Interest in browsers among technology companies waned and innovation ground to a halt. But in the last 18 months, the Internet browser has become a battleground again with giants like Google, Apple and Microsoft battling one another.
The renewed interest in browsers is partly a result of the success of Mozilla, a nonprofit. The speedier, safer and more innovative Mozilla Firefox browser, introduced in 2004, has grabbed 23 percent of the market, and Microsoft’s share has dropped to 68 percent.
But the latest battle was also sparked by a giant shift in computing that is increasingly making the Web, not the PC, the place where people interact with complex software applications. Technology giants now see the browser as a control point to what users do online, and they want a say in shaping it.
In the last 18 months, Microsoft and Apple introduced greatly improved versions of their browsers, Internet Explorer and Safari. And Google entered the fray last fall when it released its Chrome browser. Last month, Google said it would build an operating system, also called Chrome, with its principal function being to support its browser.
“The days of working in isolation on your computer are mostly gone,” said John Lilly, the chief executive of Mozilla. “Because the Web has become so central to what we do, and the browser is the technology that mediates our interaction with the Web, the way the browser works is really important. There is a lot of room for innovation.”
The policy says that a person could use a Facebook ID to log into RockMelt, suggesting that the browser may be tailored to display Facebook updates and other features as users browse the Web. Another browser, Flock, based on Firefox, already incorporates feeds from social networking sites.
But RockMelt is not currently working with Facebook. “We are not aware of any details about RockMelt and its product,” said Brandee Barker, a Facebook spokeswoman.
In the interview this summer, Mr. Andreessen credited Mozilla with coming up with an economic model to support Web browsers. The organization has an agreement with Google that makes Google the standard home page when people start Firefox, and sends them to Google when they type something into the search box at the top of the browser. In 2007, Google paid Mozilla about $75 million for the alliance.
“Browsers today have a great business model,” Mr. Andreessen said.
But experts say a big challenge for any new Web browser could be distribution. Despite Google’s heavy promotion of Chrome, the browser has gained just 2 percent of the market.
“If anybody could do it today, one would imagine Google would be best positioned, and it is obvious they have made only meager gains,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School, and the co-author of “Competing on Internet Time: Lessons From Netscape and Its Battle With Microsoft.” Professor Yoffie said that aiming the browser at Facebook users could be a good strategy.
“If you can get Facebook’s millions of users to think that this is a better way to do what they do on Facebook, that would be an opportunity to take advantage of,” he said.
WMG's Bronfman "Encouraged" By Performance Royalty Progress
Yesterday, Warner Music Group released its fiscal Q3 results, with total revenue down nine percent to $769 million, from $848 million last year. Speaking on Wednesday's earnings call, WMG CEO Edgar Bronfman brought up the Performance Royalty issue, as well as the music industry's battle against piracy.
Bronfman said, "After receiving the support of the House judiciary committee in May, the Senate judiciary committee held a hearing this Tuesday to consider the bill. We are encouraged by the progress being made toward the passage of the Performance Rights Act, enactment of which would validate the important contributions of recording artists and sound recording owners. It is also great to be working together with artists and creators through the Music First Coalition pursuit of correcting decades old inequity."
On the subject of battling music piracy, Bronfman said, "Following in the footsteps of France, there are several territories where we believe real progress is being made. Asia, together with France, is currently at the forefront of these developments. Korea and Taiwan have both recently passed graduated response laws where penalties are increased for multiple offenders. ISP discussions in Japan are ongoing and a trial period for sending warning notices is expected to begin this month."
"Europe also continues to press forward on this issue as Great Britain recently proposed legislation requiring ISP participation combating piracy and a major ISP in Ireland has begun the testing phase of a graduated response program."
"We are gratified by the growing momentum for the implementation of graduate response programs in so many parts of the world and we applaud the continued collaboration of governments, ISPs, and content owners to protect intellectual property. We remain hopeful that we can achieve similar results in the most content rich part of the world, the United States."
FCC Looking Into musicFIRST Petition
The FCC is now seeking comments on a petition filed by the musicFIRST Coalition in June, asking the agency to investigate radio stations for refusing to air musicFIRST ads and withholding airplay from artists who support the effort to create a performance right for radio. The coalition also called opposing ads from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) "misleading." The FCC is seeking comment on these actions and, according to the FCC notice, "whether and to what extent broadcasters are engaging in a media campaign, coordinated by NAB, which disseminates falsities about the PRA [Performance Rights Act]."
"We are pleased that the FCC has taken the first step in response to the musicFIRST petition," said Jennifer Bendall, executive director of musicFIRST. "Since we filed the petition in June, corporate radio’s spokespersons have not only confirmed the charges made in the petition, but boasted that they will continue to use the public airwaves to misinform policy makers and the public and punish artists and musicians for speaking out in support of a fair performance right on radio while refusing to run musicFIRST’s ads."
In a statement, musicFIRST said that radio stations must ensure that their private interests, including their private financial interests, do not interfere with their obligation to serve the public. Their petition notes that the use of a broadcast license to further a licensee’s personal economic interest is particularly egregious where it results in the skewing and distorting of a public debate.
"Our message to corporate radio is clear: We respect your right to oppose the Performance Rights Act. But we cannot tolerate your use of the public airwaves to stifle debate, threaten artists and musicians and undermine the public interest in pursuit of your narrow, private business interests," Bendall said.
Media Access Project (MAP) President and CEO Andrew Jay Schwartzman also chimed in, releasing a statement that said, "Media Access Project has no position on the performance royalty question, but it does have a strong position on broadcasters who abuse the public interest. If these allegations are proven to be true, they will raise serious questions as to whether some radio stations deserve to receive free licenses for exclusive use of the public’s airwaves."
In response, NAB EVP Dennis Wharton issued a statement saying, "NAB will be commenting on the distortions raised in the musicFirst petition at the appropriate time. Contrary to suggestions in the petition, broadcasters are under no obligation to carry everything that is offered or suggested to them." The NAB also cited the Supreme Court Case of Columbia Broadcasting vs. Democratic National Committee, which found that "neither the Communications Act nor the First Amendment requires broadcasters to accept paid editorial advertisements."
InternetNZ Brands Proposed NZ Copyright Law as "Too Costly"
InternetNZ says proposed new legislation designed to deter and prosecute illegal downloads of copyright content would see the creation of an expensive and bureaucratic system that would add costs for government, ISPs and rights holders.
Submissions closed last Friday for the New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development's review of the controversial section 92A of the Copyright Act designed to enable copyright owners, via ISPs to prevent or deter broadband users from illegally downloading copyright material.
The Government's first attempt at new legislation to achieve this goal met with such a strong response that the Government was forced to scrap the proposal and go back to the drawing board. That legislation would have required ISPs to terminate users' Internet access based on allegations that they had illegally downloaded copyright material.
The Government has instead proposed a scheme with a three phase approach, and invited submissions that were due on 7 August. A ministry of Economic Development spokeswoman told iTWire that a summary of submissions received would be posted on the website of the Ministry of Economic Development later in the week, but was unable to provide more details.
Under phase 1 of the government's new proposed legislation a copyright owner would be able to send a first infringement notice to an ISP containing sufficient details to allow the ISP to identify the subscriber concerned and the ISP would be required to forward the notice to the subscriber. If there was further copyright infringement by that subscriber the copyright owner would be able to send, via the ISP, a cease and desist notice. The subscriber would then be able to reply to the copyright owner, with their address details and a response to the allegation, which the copyright holder would be required to accept or reject.
If the copyright owner believed there to be ongoing infringement by a subscriber it would be able to apply to the Copyright Tribunal to obtain an order requiring the ISP to provide the name and contact details of the alleged copyright infringer. Then if the copyright owner and infringer were unable to resolve the issue themselves, or by mediation, the Copyright Tribunal would be called upon to determine the outcome and could impose damages, injunctions, a fine or termination of the subscriber's Internet account.
InternetNZ believes this system would impose costs that would outweigh its benefits and proposes instead a 'notice and notice' systems which it says has been shown to work successfully in other countries. In particular InternetNZ says that it regards Phase 2 and Phase 3 as "unnecessary, unlikely to contribute much to reduction in copyright infringement, and likely to incur significant costs for Government, ISPs, rights holders and users."
"The Government's proposal would see the creation of an expensive and bureaucratic system involving the Copyright Tribunal that would add costs for government, ISPs and rights holders," said InternetNZ deputy executive director, Jordan Carter. "A notice system should instead be implemented and its results assessed. We anticipate that it will be cost-effective and obviate the need for costly and complex procedures that will not deliver corresponding benefits."
He added: "InternetNZ reiterates in its submission its absolute opposition to termination being a remedy for copyright infringement by New Zealanders. Termination is an inappropriate and disproportionate remedy that will not work. Whatever approach the government takes to replacing section 92A, termination must be off the table."
InternetNZ is instead proposing that ISPs be required to send a series of notices and to maintain anonymised records enabling them to identify frequent infringers. "If rights holders became convinced of significant infringement by the customer or customers of a particular ISP, they could apply to the Courts for the release to them of the customer details of the most frequent infringers of their rights." Having got this information it would then be up to the rights holders to pursue the subscriber for alleged breach of copyright under the existing legislation.
In Australia ISP iiNet is facing a court challenge from AFACT, representing a number of movie houses, with AFACT alleging that iiNet failed to do sufficient to prevent illegal downloading by its customers when informed of breaches by AFACT. However iTWire understands that iiNet was provided only with IP addresses from which the alleged offences occurred - which cannot be tied unambiguously to a particular individual, and further that, without an interception order from a court iiNet says it cannot examine the data streams of individual customers to identify material likely to be copyrighted.
Public Spied On 1,500 Times a Day in UK, Study Finds
Police, councils and the intelligence services made more than 500,000 requests to access private emails and telephone records in the UK last year, according to an annual surveillance report.
The figures, compiled by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Paul Kennedy, found that about 1,500 surveillance requests were made every day in Britain.
That is the annual equivalent to one in every 78 people being targeted. It included 1,500 approved applications from local councils.
Each request allows public bodies to access data -- which includes telephone records, email and text message traffic -- but not the actual content of conversations or messages.
"It doesn't allow you to see the content of the message or conversation. It's about the who, where and when -- the time element essentially in directed surveillance," a Home Office spokesman said.
Although slightly down on last year, the total is up more than 40 percent on two years ago.
The Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne seized on the figures, saying they "beggared belief," warning that the UK appeared to have "sleepwalked into a surveillance state."
"Many of these operations carried out by the police and security services are necessary, but the sheer numbers are daunting," he said.
"It cannot be a justified response to the problems we face in this country that the state is spying on half a million people a year," Huhne said.
"The government forgets that George Orwell's 1984 was a warning and not a blueprint," he said.
The Liberal Democrats say only a magistrate should be able to approve a request for surveillance, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
The act was introduced in 2000, to take account of technological change. It was extended in 2003 by the home secretary at the time, David Blunkett, to tackle serious crimes including terrorism.
In his report, Kennedy also found 595 errors in interception requests last year, including mistakes made by the domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6.
The vast majority of requests to snoop on people's records were made by the police and security services.
But the report found that some were granted to council officials investigating trivial offences like dog fouling, fuelling concern that the act is being misused.
China Scales Back Plans for Software Filter
Chinese officials retreated on Thursday from a plan to install so-called anti-pornography software on every computer sold here, saying instead that Internet cafes, schools and other public places must use the program, but that individual consumers will be spared.
The industry and information technology minister, Li Yizhong, said the notion that the program, called Green Dam/Youth Escort, would be required on every new computer was “a misunderstanding” spawned by poorly written regulations.
The ministry order, first issued last May 19, had stirred an outcry from Chinese Internet users and foreign computer manufacturers alike, arguing that the software ran counter to China’s proclaimed goal of creating an information-based society.
The United States warned China that the installation requirement could be seen as a violation of world trade regulations.
Although the government insists that the program is meant to shield children from online pornography, its filter — automatically updated by the government — targeted many topics with political overtones. Free-speech advocates said that the program was a government attempt to extend its control of political opinions into people’s living rooms.
The information ministry previously had suspended the Green Dam pre-installation mandate on June 30, one day before it was to take effect, saying that computer makers needed more time to accommodate it in their manufacturing.
The Thursday statement by Mr. Li appeared to make that suspension permanent. Mr. Li said the government would neither require the program to come pre-installed on new computers or force computer makers to include the program on a CD with optional software.
A few Asian computer manufacturers, led by China-based Lenovo and Taiwan’s Acer, nevertheless include the software on computers sold in China.
Although Mr. Li’s concession is a step backward for the Green Dam program, the software remains mandatory in schools, Internet cafes and other sites used by scores of millions of people. The government already takes extraordinary steps to monitor computer use in Internet cafes, which remain common in a nation where owning a computer remains a comparative luxury.
China has sought to increase government control over ordinary people’s use of computers in recent months. The government has systematically blocked ordinary citizens from viewing foreign-based websites like Facebook, Flickr and YouTube that sometimes include comment critical of the government.
Domestic websites with political content also have increasingly been censored or blocked. Experts are divided over whether the increased censorship is a temporary measure in a year filled with sensitive events, including the coming 60th anniversary of modern China’s founding, or is a permanent attempt to clamp down on unapproved speech.
The government recently proposed a requirement that all users of online chat rooms and bulletin boards use their real names when posting comments, a move that would stifle the sometimes-freewheeling debate on many sites. Until now, government censors have played a cat-and-mouse game with anonymous Internet users who posted comments that flout approved positions.
U.S. Tests System to Break Foreign Web Censorship
The U.S. government is covertly testing technology in China and Iran that lets residents break through screens set up by their governments to limit access to news on the Internet.
The "feed over email" (FOE) system delivers news, podcasts and data via technology that evades web-screening protocols of restrictive regimes, said Ken Berman, head of IT at the U.S. government's Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is testing the system.
The news feeds are sent through email accounts including those operated by Google Inc, Microsoft Corp's Hotmail and Yahoo Inc.
"We have people testing it in China and Iran," said Berman, whose agency runs Voice of America. He provided few details on the new system, which is in the early stages of testing. He said some secrecy was important to avoid detection by the two governments.
The Internet has become a powerful tool for citizens in countries where governments regularly censor news media, enabling them to learn about and react to major social and political events.
Young Iranians used social networking services Facebook and Twitter as well as mobile phones to coordinate protests and report on demonstrations in the wake of the country's disputed presidential election in June.
In May, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Chinese government blocked access to Twitter and Hotmail.
Sho Ho, who helped develop FOE, said in an email that the system could be tweaked easily to work on most types of mobile phones.
The U.S. government also offers a free service that allows overseas users to access virtually any site on the Internet, including those opposing the United States.
"We don't make any political statement about what people visit," Berman said. "We are trying to impart the value: 'The more you know, the better.' People can look for themselves."
In addition to China and Iran, targets for the FOE technology include Myanmar, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, he said.
Berman, however, said there would be modest filtering of pornography on the system. "There is a limit to how much (U.S.) taxpayers should have to pay for," he said.
(Reporting by Jim Finkle, editing by Matthew Bigg and Paul Simao)
Two Convicted for Refusal to Decrypt Data
Up to five years in jail after landmark prosecutions
Two people have been successfully prosecuted for refusing to provide authorities with their encryption keys, resulting in landmark convictions that may have carried jail sentences of up to five years.
The government said today it does not know their fate.
The power to force people to unscramble their data was granted to authorities in October 2007. Between 1 April, 2008 and 31 March this year the first two convictions were obtained.
The disclosure was made by Sir Christopher Rose, the government's Chief Surveillance Commissioner, in his recent annual report.
The former High Court judge did not provide details of the crimes being investigated in the case of the individuals - who were not necessarily suspects - nor of the sentences they received.
The Crown Prosecution Service said it was unable to track down information on the legal milestones without the defendants' names.
Failure to comply with a section 49 notice carries a sentence of up to two years jail plus fines. Failure to comply during a national security investigation carries up to five years jail.
Sir Christopher reported that all of the 15 section 49 notices served over the year - including the two that resulted in convictions - were in "counter terrorism, child indecency and domestic extremism" cases.
The Register has established that the woman served with the first section 49 notice, as part of an animal rights extremism investigation, was not one of those convicted for failing to comply. She was later convicted and jailed on blackmail charges.
Of the 15 individuals served, 11 did not comply with the notices. Of the 11, seven were charged and two convicted. Sir Christopher did not report whether prosecutions failed or are pending against the five charged but not convicted in the period covered by his report.
To obtain a section 49 notice, police forces must first apply to the National Technical Assistance Centre (NTAC). Although its web presence suggests NTAC is part of the Home Office's Office of Security and Counter Terrorism, it is in fact located at the government's secretive Cheltenham code breaking centre, GCHQ.
GCHQ didn't immediately respond to a request for further information on the convictions. The Home Office said NTAC does not know the outcomes of the notices it approves.
NTAC approved a total of 26 applications for a section 49 notice during the period covered by the Chief Surveillance Commissioner's report, which does not say if any applications were refused. The judicial permission necessary to serve the notices was then sought in 17 cases. Judges did not refuse permission in any case.
One police force obtained and served a section 49 notice without NTAC approval while acting on "incorrect information from the Police National Legal Database", according to Sir Christopher. The action was dropped before it reached court.
2 U.S. Architects of Harsh Tactics in 9/11’s Wake
Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were military retirees and psychologists, on the lookout for business opportunities. They found an excellent customer in the Central Intelligence Agency, where in 2002 they became the architects of the most important interrogation program in the history of American counterterrorism.
They had never carried out a real interrogation, only mock sessions in the military training they had overseen. They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy. They had no language skills and no expertise on Al Qaeda.
But they had psychology credentials and an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists. For an administration eager to get tough on those who had killed 3,000 Americans, that was enough.
So “Doc Mitchell” and “Doc Jessen,” as they had been known in the Air Force, helped lead the United States into a wrenching conflict over torture, terror and values that seven years later has not run its course.
Dr. Mitchell, with a sonorous Southern accent and the sometimes overbearing confidence of a self-made man, was a former Air Force explosives expert and a natural salesman. Dr. Jessen, raised on an Idaho potato farm, joined his Air Force colleague to build a thriving business that made millions of dollars selling interrogation and training services to the C.I.A.
Seven months after President Obama ordered the C.I.A. interrogation program closed, its fallout still commands attention. In the next few weeks, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is expected to decide whether to begin a criminal torture investigation, in which the psychologists’ role is likely to come under scrutiny. The Justice Department ethics office is expected to complete a report on the lawyers who pronounced the methods legal. And the C.I.A. will soon release a highly critical 2004 report on the program by the agency’s inspector general.
Col. Steven M. Kleinman, an Air Force interrogator and intelligence officer who knows Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, said he thought loyalty to their country in the panicky wake of the Sept. 11 attacks prompted their excursion into interrogation. He said the result was a tragedy for the country, and for them.
“I feel their primary motivation was they thought they had skills and insights that would make the nation safer,” Colonel Kleinman said. “But good persons in extreme circumstances can do horrific things.”
For the C.I.A., as well as for the gray-goateed Dr. Mitchell, 58, and the trim, dark-haired Dr. Jessen, 60, the change in administrations has been neck-snapping. For years, President George W. Bush declared the interrogation program lawful and praised it for stopping attacks. Mr. Obama, by contrast, asserted that its brutality rallied recruits for Al Qaeda; called one of the methods, waterboarding, torture; and, in his first visit to the C.I.A., suggested that the interrogation program was among the agency’s “mistakes.”
The psychologists’ subsequent fall from official grace has been as swift as their rise in 2002. Today the offices of Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the lucrative business they operated from a handsome century-old building in downtown Spokane, Wash., sit empty, its C.I.A. contracts abruptly terminated last spring.
With a possible criminal inquiry looming, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen have retained a well-known defense lawyer, Henry F. Schuelke III. Mr. Schuelke said they would not comment for this article, which is based on dozens of interviews with the doctors’ colleagues and present and former government officials.
In a brief e-mail exchange in June, Dr. Mitchell said his nondisclosure agreement with the C.I.A. prevented him from commenting. He suggested that his work had been mischaracterized.
“Ask around,” Dr. Mitchell wrote, “and I’m sure you will find all manner of ‘experts’ who will be willing to make up what you’d like to hear on the spot and unrestrained by reality.”
A Career Shift
At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Dr. Mitchell had just retired from his last military job, as psychologist to an elite special operations unit in North Carolina. Showing his entrepreneurial streak, he had started a training company called Knowledge Works, which he operated from his new home in Florida, to supplement retirement pay.
But for someone with Dr. Mitchell’s background, it was evident that the campaign against Al Qaeda would produce opportunities. He began networking in military and intelligence circles where he had a career’s worth of connections.
He had grown up poor in Florida, Dr. Mitchell told friends, and joined the Air Force in 1974, seeking adventure. Stationed in Alaska, he learned the art of disarming bombs and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology.
Robert J. Madigan, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska who had worked closely with him, remembered Dr. Mitchell stopping by years later. He had completed his doctorate at the University of South Florida in 1986, comparing diet and exercise in controlling hypertension, and was working for the Air Force in Spokane.
“I remember him saying they were preparing people for intense interrogations,” Dr. Madigan said.
Military survival training was expanded after the Korean War, when false confessions by American prisoners led to sensational charges of communist “brainwashing.” Military officials decided that giving service members a taste of Chinese-style interrogation would prepare them to withstand its agony.
Air Force survival training was consolidated in 1966 at Fairchild Air Force Base in the parched hills outside Spokane. The name of the training, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE, suggests its breadth: airmen and women learn to live off the land and avoid capture, as well as how to behave if taken prisoner.
In the 1980s, Dr. Jessen became the SERE psychologist at the Air Force Survival School, screening instructors who posed as enemy interrogators at the mock prison camp and making sure rough treatment did not go too far. He had grown up in a Mormon community with a view of Grand Teton, earning a doctorate at Utah State studying “family sculpting,” in which patients make physical models of their family to portray emotional relationships.
Dr. Jessen moved in 1988 to the top psychologist’s job at a parallel “graduate school” of survival training, a short drive from the Air Force school. Dr. Mitchell took his place.
The two men became part of what some Defense Department officials called the “resistance mafia,” experts on how to resist enemy interrogations. Both lieutenant colonels and both married with children, they took weekend ice-climbing trips together.
While many subordinates considered them brainy and capable leaders, some fellow psychologists were more skeptical. At the annual conference of SERE psychologists, two colleagues recalled, Dr. Mitchell offered lengthy put-downs of presentations that did not suit him.
At the Air Force school, Dr. Mitchell was known for enforcing the safety of interrogations; it might surprise his later critics to learn that he eliminated a tactic called “manhandling” after it produced a spate of neck injuries, a colleague said.
At the SERE graduate school, Dr. Jessen is remembered for an unusual job switch, from supervising psychologist to mock enemy interrogator.
Dr. Jessen became so aggressive in that role that colleagues intervened to rein him in, showing him videotape of his “pretty scary” performance, another official recalled.
Always, former and current SERE officials say, it is understood that the training mimics the methods of unscrupulous foes.
Mark Mays, the first psychologist at the Air Force school, said that to make the fake prison camp realistic, officials consulted American P.O.W.’s who had just returned from harrowing camps in North Vietnam.
“It was clear that this is what we’d expect from our enemies,” said Dr. Mays, now a clinical psychologist and lawyer in Spokane. “It was not something I could ever imagine Americans would do.”
Start of the Program
In December 2001, a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered outside Philadelphia at the home of a prominent psychologist, Martin E. P. Seligman, to brainstorm about Muslim extremism. Among them was Dr. Mitchell, who attended with a C.I.A. psychologist, Kirk M. Hubbard.
During a break, Dr. Mitchell introduced himself to Dr. Seligman and said how much he admired the older man’s writing on “learned helplessness.” Dr. Seligman was so struck by Dr. Mitchell’s unreserved praise, he recalled in an interview, that he mentioned it to his wife that night. Later, he said, he was “grieved and horrified” to learn that his work had been cited to justify brutal interrogations.
Dr. Seligman had discovered in the 1960s that dogs that learned they could do nothing to avoid small electric shocks would become listless and simply whine and endure the shocks even after being given a chance to escape.
Helplessness, which later became an influential concept in the treatment of human depression, was also much discussed in military survival training. Instructors tried to stop short of producing helplessness in trainees, since their goal was to strengthen the spirit of service members in enemy hands.
Dr. Mitchell, colleagues said, believed that producing learned helplessness in a Qaeda interrogation subject might ensure that he would comply with his captor’s demands. Many experienced interrogators disagreed, asserting that a prisoner so demoralized would say whatever he thought the interrogator expected.
At the C.I.A. in December 2001, Dr. Mitchell’s theories were attracting high-level attention. Agency officials asked him to review a Qaeda manual, seized in England, that coached terrorist operatives to resist interrogations. He contacted Dr. Jessen, and the two men wrote the first proposal to turn the enemy’s brutal techniques — slaps, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall-slamming and waterboarding — into an American interrogation program.
By the start of 2002, Dr. Mitchell was consulting with the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center, whose director, Cofer Black, and chief operating officer, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., were impressed by his combination of visceral toughness and psychological jargon. One person who heard some discussions said Dr. Mitchell gave the C.I.A. officials what they wanted to hear. In this person’s words, Dr. Mitchell suggested that interrogations required “a comparable level of fear and brutality to flying planes into buildings.”
By the end of March, when agency operatives captured Abu Zubaydah, initially described as Al Qaeda’s No. 3, the Mitchell-Jessen interrogation plan was ready. At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, as reported in prior news accounts, two F.B.I agents used conventional rapport-building methods to draw vital information from Mr. Zubaydah. Then the C.I.A. team, including Dr. Mitchell, arrived.
With the backing of agency headquarters, Dr. Mitchell ordered Mr. Zubaydah stripped, exposed to cold and blasted with rock music to prevent sleep. Not only the F.B.I. agents but also C.I.A. officers at the scene were uneasy about the harsh treatment. Among those questioning the use of physical pressure, according to one official present, were the Thailand station chief, the officer overseeing the jail, a top interrogator and a top agency psychologist.
Whether they protested to C.I.A. bosses is uncertain, because the voluminous message traffic between headquarters and the Thailand site remains classified. One witness said he believed that “revisionism” in light of the torture controversy had prompted some participants to exaggerate their objections.
As the weeks passed, the senior agency psychologist departed, followed by one F.B.I. agent and then the other. Dr. Mitchell began directing the questioning and occasionally speaking directly to Mr. Zubaydah, one official said.
In late July 2002, Dr. Jessen joined his partner in Thailand. On Aug. 1, the Justice Department completed a formal legal opinion authorizing the SERE methods, and the psychologists turned up the pressure. Over about two weeks, Mr. Zubaydah was confined in a box, slammed into the wall and waterboarded 83 times.
The brutal treatment stopped only after Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen themselves decided that Mr. Zubaydah had no more information to give up. Higher-ups from headquarters arrived and watched one more waterboarding before agreeing that the treatment could stop, according to a Justice Department legal opinion.
The Zubaydah case gave reason to question the Mitchell-Jessen plan: the prisoner had given up his most valuable information without coercion.
But top C.I.A. officials made no changes, and the methods would be used on at least 27 more prisoners, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.
The business plans of Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, meanwhile, were working out beautifully. They were paid $1,000 to $2,000 a day apiece, one official said. They had permanent desks in the Counterterrorist Center, and could now claim genuine experience in interrogating high-level Qaeda operatives.
Dr. Mitchell could keep working outside the C.I.A. as well. At the Ritz-Carlton in Maui in October 2003, he was featured at a high-priced seminar for corporations on how to behave if kidnapped. He created new companies, called Wizard Shop, later renamed Mind Science, and What If. His first company, Knowledge Works, was certified by the American Psychological Association in 2004 as a sponsor of continuing professional education. (A.P.A. dropped the certification last year.)
In 2005, the psychologists formed Mitchell Jessen and Associates, with offices in Spokane and Virginia and five additional shareholders, four of them from the military’s SERE program. By 2007, the company employed about 60 people, some with impressive résumés, including Deuce Martinez, a lead C.I.A. interrogator of Mr. Mohammed; Roger L. Aldrich, a legendary military survival trainer; and Karen Gardner, a senior training official at the F.B.I. Academy.
The company’s C.I.A. contracts are classified, but their total was well into the millions of dollars. In 2007 in a suburb of Tampa, Fla., Dr. Mitchell built a house with a swimming pool, now valued at $800,000.
The psychologists’ influence remained strong under four C.I.A. directors. In 2006, in fact, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her legal adviser, John B. Bellinger III, pushed back against the C.I.A.’s secret detention program and its methods, the director at the time, Michael V. Hayden, asked Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen to brief State Department officials and persuade them to drop their objections. They were unsuccessful.
By then, the national debate over torture had begun, and it would undo the psychologists’ business.
In a statement to employees on April 9, Leon E. Panetta, President Obama’s C.I.A. director, announced the “decommissioning” of the agency’s secret jails and repeated a pledge not to use coercion. And there was another item: “No C.I.A. contractors will conduct interrogations.”
Agency officials terminated the contracts for Mitchell Jessen and Associates, and the psychologists’ lucrative seven-year ride was over. Within days, the company had vacated its Spokane offices. The phones were disconnected, and at neighboring businesses, no one knew of a forwarding address.
Changes Would Pose Serious Threat To Americans’ Personal Information, Says ACLU
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (202) 675-2312; email@example.com
WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union submitted comments today to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) opposing its recent proposal to reverse current federal policy and allow the use of web tracking technologies, like cookies, on federal government websites. Cookies can be used to track an Internet user’s every click and are often linked across multiple websites; they frequently identify particular people.
“Americans rely on the information from the federal government to research politics, medical issues and legal requirements. The OMB is now asking to retain the personal and identifiable information we leave behind,” said Christopher Calabrese, Counsel for the ACLU Technology and Liberty Project. “No American should have to sacrifice privacy or risk surveillance in order to access free government information. No policy change should be adopted without wide ranging debate including information on the restrictions and uses of cookies as well as impact on privacy.”
You Deleted Your Cookies? Think Again
More than half of the internet’s top websites use a little known capability of Adobe’s Flash plug-in to track users and store information about them, but only four of them mention the so-called Flash Cookies in their privacy policies, UC Berkeley researchers reported Monday.
Unlike traditional browser cookies, Flash cookies are relatively unknown to web users, and they are not controlled through the cookie privacy controls in a browser. That means even if a user thinks they have cleared their computer of tracking objects, they most likely have not.
What’s even sneakier?
Several services even use the surreptitious data storage to reinstate traditional cookies that a user deleted, which is called ‘re-spawning’ in homage to video games where zombies come back to life even after being “killed,” the report found. So even if a user gets rid of a website’s tracking cookie, that cookie’s unique ID will be assigned back to a new cookie again using the Flash data as the “backup.”
But the debate shouldn’t be about allowing browser cookies or not, according Ashkan Soltani, a UC Berkeley graduate student who helped lead the study.
“If users don’t want to be tracked and there is a problem with tracking, then we should regulate tracking, not regulate cookies,” Soltani said.
The study also comes as Congress and federal regulators are looking at ways of reining in the online tracking and advertising industry, whose attempts at self-regulation have conspicuously failed to make the industry transparent about when, how and why it collects data about internet users.
Websites and advertisers track users closely in order to improve services and to prove to advertisers that an ad has been shown one time to 1 million users, and not 10 times to the same 100,000 people. Ad networks also collect the information in order to segment users into different groups, such as “car fanatic” or “fashionista,” in order to charge advertisers a premium for reaching just the slice of the populace that the company thinks will be most receptive to its ad.
Smelling possible regulation coming, third party ad networks recently agreed to an updated voluntary code of conduct, though it prohibits little and has no enforcement mechanism. For instance, when it comes to sensitive health information, the networks are free to collect as much information as they like, so long as it does not involve an actual prescription.
Soltani led a summer research team at Berkeley, under the direction of Chris Hoofnagle, the Director of Information Privacy Programs at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. The team tested the top 100 sites to see what their privacy policies said, what their tracking technology actually does and what happens if a user blocks the Flash cookie.
The study found that 54 of the top 100 set Flash cookies, which vary from simply setting audio preferences to tracking users by a unique identifier. Wired.com, for instance, placed on this writer’s work computer to set the volume of a video player.
Adobe’s Flash software is installed on an estimate 98 percent of personal computers, and has been a key component in the explosion of online video, powering video players for sites such as YouTube and Hulu.
Websites can store up to 100K of information in the plug-in, 25 times what a browser cookie can hold. Sites like Pandora.com also use Flash’s storage capability to preload portions of songs or videos to ensure smooth playback.
All modern browsers now include fine-grained controls to let users decide what cookies to accept and which to get rid of, but Flash cookies are handled differently. These are fixed through a web page on Adobe’s site, where the controls are not easily understood (There is a panel for Global Privacy Settings and another for Website Privacy Settings — the difference is unclear). In fact, the controls are so odd, the page has to tell you that it is the control, not just a tutorial on how to use the control.
This so-called behavioral targeting is coming under scrutiny, in part since Google bought one of the largest practitioners — DoubleClick — and recently announced it would start using its troves of user data to deliver targeted ads. Its main money makers, the small text ads next to search results and on websites across the net, simply rely on the words in a search or on a webpage to place ads, a tactic known as contextual ads.
Defenders of behavioral ads say that privacy shouldn’t be a concern since cookies really identify a browser, not a person. Moreover, they argue that users would prefer to have relevant ads. Targeted Behavioral Ads could also help save online journalism. Under this theory, Google text ads don’t work on a news story about the governor raising the sales tax, since there’s no product that goes with that context. But if the site knew the reader was in the market for a car, it could show an ad for the new Lexus and earn much more.
The report names two companies, Clearspring and QuantCast, as companies whose technologies reinstate cookies for other websites.
Clearspring, the makers of the popular AddThis tool that lets users share a link by e-mail or on social networking sites, used its Flash cookie to reinstated deleted browser cookies for AOL.com, Answers.com and Mapquest.com, according to the report.
Clearspring’s AddThis tool is used by more than 300,000 publishers and the company collects data on some 525 million unique internet users monthly, according to Clearspring CEO Hooman Radfar. The data will soon be used to personalize the AddThis widget, making it so that a user who has previously shared a story by Twitter and Friendfeed will see those options first, rather than social networks he doesn’t use.
“We have the president, the pope and the queen of England using us,” Hooman told Wired.com in an interview a few weeks ago. “If they can trust us, then you can.”
Users who want to control or investigate Flash cookies have several options, according to reader Brian Carpenter:
* Better Privacy extension for Firefox -
* Ccleaner - http://www.ccleaner.com/
Mac OS X:
Where to find these flash cookies:
* Windows: LSO files are stored typically with a “.SOL” extension, within each user’s Application Data directory, under Macromedia\FlashPlayer\#SharedObjects.
* Mac OS X: For Web sites, ~/Library/Preferences/Macromedia/FlashPlayer. For AIR Applications, ~/Library/Preferences/[package name (ID)of your app] and ~/Library/Preferences/Macromedia/FlashPlayer/macromedia.com/Support/flashplayer/sys
* GNU-Linux: ~/.macromedia
Techno Boomers: In Some Families, The Elders Are The Ones Pushing Facebook, Texting And Skype
Kids these days!
Why can't they download a video, set up a Facebook page, send out a text or communicate with their parents through a simple video phone service such as Skype?
Grandparents are often depicted as hardened technophobes, yet some are asking these very questions as they try to drag their adult children and grandkids into the 21st Century.
"I'm seeing it," says Georgia Witkin, a senior editor at Grandparents.com.
"The grandparents have the affluence, they have the time and they have the motivation" to pursue new technologies, particularly those that facilitate communication with the grandkids," Witkin says.
"This is an extension of play for them, whereas the parents are so busy driving the kids to games or trying to juggle work and baby-sitting that it's a luxury for them."
In general, young people are still more tech-savvy than seniors, but some surveys show that older Americans are narrowing the gap. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 72 percent of adults 50 to 64 are now online, compared with 36 percent in 2000.
Recent interviews with 105 people 99 and older, conducted for Evercare by UnitedHealthcare, found that 21 percent went online, 12 percent used the Internet to share photos and 3 percent used Twitter.
Witkin, a grandmother of three, says that her own daughter, a mom and a lawyer, is a BlackBerry whiz but needs help in other areas: "When it comes to downloading things, so she can see outtakes of [videos] I've made of her with her friends, I get back messages almost every day: 'I can't open it.' And then I get on the phone and I'm explaining how you do it."
Maryan Pelland, 60, a freelance journalist (womendaybyday.com) who has written for publications including the Tribune, says that she was the one who suggested Skype when her daughter's husband was deployed in Iraq.
The free service effectively turns your computer into a video phone—you and the person you're calling can see each other onscreen as you talk.
"I showed it [to my daughter], and she was amazed," says Pelland. She, in turn, was thrilled when her daughter mastered the technology.
"It's very nice to feel like I can still do something that [my kids] can't," Pelland says.
Sally Olds, 75, author of "Super Granny: Great Stuff to do With Your Grandkids," says that she was on Facebook, getting "poked" by her 16-year-old granddaughter at a time when her daughter Nancy Olds was still resisting the trend.
Nancy Olds, a test developer at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., who has since joined Facebook at the urging of a friend, confirms the basic chronology.
"[Mom] beat me to it," she says.
Get Your Adult Kids Up To Speed
•Show, don't just tell. Kids and grandkids may have an easier time grasping a new technology if you take a few minutes to sit down with them and show them how to get started.
•Pick your battles. Rightly or wrongly, working parents think they are very, very busy. If they're accustomed to one technology (say, e-mailing), you may want to join them rather than trying to get them to convert to texting.
•Play the grandkid card. Parents may be willing to take a little time to master Skype, or another video phone service, if it's a way for their little darlings to bond with the grandparents.
Children Use Web to Watch Videos, Look Up "Sex"
Children are using the Internet to watch YouTube videos, connect with friends on social network sites and look up "sex" and "porn," according to a study of the top Web searches by youngsters.
Computer security firm Symantec Corp identified the top 100 searches conducted between February and July through its family safety service OnlineFamily.Norton, which monitors children's and teenager's Internet use.
It found the most popular search term was for YouTube, the video sharing website owned by Google, with Internet star, Fred Figglehorn, a fictional character whose YouTube videos are popular with children, coming ninth in the top searches.
The search engine Google was the second most popular search term and Yahoo came seventh, while social network site Facebook ranked third and MySpace came fifth in the list.
But the words "sex" and "porn" also made it into the top 10, ranked numbers four and six respectively.
Other popular search terms included Michael Jackson, eBay, Wikipedia, Miley Cyrus who plays Hannah Montana in the hit Disney series, Taylor Swift, Webkinz, Club Penguin, and the Black Eyed Peas' song "Boom Boom Pow."
California-based Symantec's Internet safety advocate Marian Merritt said the list showed that parents needed to be aware what their children were doing online.
"It also helps identify "teachable moments" when parents should be talking with their kids about appropriate online behavior and other issues in their kids' online lives," she said in a statement.
The list was compiled after Symantec studied 3.5 million searches made by the OnlineFamily.Norton which lets parents see what children are searching and who they are talking to on instant messaging and what social networks they are using.
(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)
New Law Makes Sex Offenders' Use of Internet Social Networking a Felony
Quinn also signs law against online 'grooming' of victims
Ray Long and Monique Garcia
Gov. Pat Quinn signed new laws Tuesday designed to limit sex offenders' use of technology as a way to find more victims.
One law taking effect Jan. 1 makes it a felony for registered sex offenders to use social networking sites, a move aimed at taking another step toward shutting down an avenue of contact between an offender and victim.
"Obviously, the Internet has been more and more a mechanism for predators to reach out," said Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), a sponsor of the measure and a governor candidate. "The idea was, if the predator is supposed to be a registered sex offender, they should keep their Internet distance as well as their physical distance.
"The object is to protect innocent individuals on the Internet from sex offenders."
Quinn also signed into law a new offense known as grooming, where a predator over time coaxes a minor into meeting for sexual activities. The law, whose sponsors included Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), is aimed at closing a loophole in the current sex registration law, he said. It takes effect immediately.
Another bill, signed on a busy day where Quinn dealt with dozens of bills, deals with child visitation rights. As of Jan. 1, the law will provide for visitation rights through electronic communication such as telephone, e-mail and instant messaging.
U.S. Cops Scour "Virtual Border" for Child Predators
Canadian John Wrenshall stands accused of bringing American child predators to Thailand to have sex with children, filming their crimes and then distributing the images over the Internet.
But late last month, the 62-year-old was extradited from Britain to the United States to face trial, in an operation led by U.S. federal immigration police.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is best known for its role securing the United States' physical borders against drug and human smugglers and traffickers.
But it is now playing a role policing the nation's "virtual frontier" against a surge in child pornography, sex tourism and trafficking in minors carried out over the Internet.
"Bad things, harmful things, dangerous things, criminal things are crossing unseen electronically," said special agent Don Daufenbach, speaking over the hum of computer servers at ICE Cyber Crimes Center, or "C3," a few miles outside Washington D.C.
"Our job is to stop bad things coming into the country."
Specialized agents, combining police, intelligence and computer forensic skills, work with counterparts from police forces across the United States and around the world.
"We don't really care where the bad guy is, we don't really care who grabs them first, the main objective here is to protect the child," said Daufenbach whose team's efforts have led to the arrest of over 11,600 people worldwide since 2003.
More than 1.5 billion people currently go online around the world, a figure that is expected to reach 2.2 billion by 2013, according to a recent study by Forrester Research.
Investigators and child protection experts say child exploitation is exploding online as broadband access grows and the cost of laptops, digital cameras and videos fall.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has reviewed some 25 million child pornography videos and images circulating online in the past six years alone.
"Suddenly the pedophile ... discovers that there are thousands like him around the world, with whom he can network and connect," said NCMEC president Ernie Allen.
"There is clear evidence that these people are ... sexually abusing children, photographing or videoing it ... and distributing it to like-minded individuals."
Aside from so called "peer-to-peer" sharing among predators, investigators say a growing number of tech-savvy criminal organizations are also piling into the activity.
They increasingly sell child pornography through web sites that can be put up and taken down in hours, banking the profits through online card processing centers.
"What we're now finding are criminal enterprises harnessing technology and using the Internet to make it a business. It's a global epidemic," said Jae Alexander Khu, section chief at C3, which also probes money laundering and intellectual property theft.
Staying One Step Ahead
In May, President Barack Obama announced he would name a coordinator to lead the fight against cybercrime threatening the networks that underpin the U.S. government and economy.
But Melissa Hathaway, who led a 60-day White House review of cyber policies, resigned this month and withdrew her application because of delays in filling the post.
As the government grapples with its cybercrime strategy, ICE investigators say online predators are using ever-greater cunning to hide their identities.
Some use "cloaking devices" -- technology that masks a computer's network location or IP address.
They are also storing hundreds of thousands of images and videos of abuse on easy-to-hide "thumb drives" or even stashing files online.
"Online storage is horrible. Let's say, I go through someone's computer and I do not see that he's got an account somewhere for online storage, I may never find that," says Peter Buchan, a computer forensic specialist at C3.
Though ICE's actions to round up and detain suspected illegal immigrants has attracted fierce criticism, its efforts to combat Internet child abuse has won praise.
"They have been really the front line with this effort," said Allen. "Ultimately what is at stake is the protection and the safety of the world's children."
(Editing by Alan Elsner)
Twilight Star in Nude Photo Scandal
Twilight star Ashley Greene is facing embarrassment on the back of her win at the Teen Choice Awards on Sunday after nude photos of the actress leaked online.
Raunchy images of the naked brunette began circulating in cyberspace on Monday morning - the same day she was revealed to be dating actor Chace Crawford after the pair was caught kissing in the back of a car at Los Angeles International Airport.
Greene's steamy shots, which feature a full frontal image, come less than 24 hours after she walked away with the Fresh Face prize at the Teen Choice Awards.
The 22-year-old is the latest star to become embroiled in a naked photo scandal - last week, Vanessa Hudgens was left red-faced after a set of saucy snaps surfaced online. It marked the second time in two years the High School Musical star had been embarrassed by candid snaps.
Tough Times in the Porn Industry
The business, centered in the San Fernando Valley, is being undercut by a growing abundance of free content on the Internet.
On a recent Saturday night, Savannah Stern earned $300 to hang out for seven hours at a party in Santa Monica wearing nothing but a feather boa.
The veteran of more than 350 hard-core pornography productions took the job to earn extra cash and to network. But the word at the 35th anniversary party for Hustler magazine was not heartening, especially among the roughly 75 other women working there.
"At least five girls I haven't seen in a while came up to me and said, 'Savannah, are you working?' " said Stern, who started in the industry four years ago and, like most adult performers, uses a stage name. "I had to say, 'No, not really,' and they all said, 'Yeah, I'm not either.' "
The adult entertainment business, centered in the San Fernando Valley, has weathered several recessions since it took off with the advent of home video in the 1980s. But this time the industry is not dealing with just a weakened economy. A growing abundance of free content on the Internet is undercutting consumers' willingness to pay for porn, and with it the ability of many workers to earn a living in the business.
For Stern, 23, the rapid decline of job opportunities in the porn business over the last year has been dramatic. She has gone from working four or five days a week to one and now has employers pressuring her to do male-female sex scenes for $700, a 30% discount from the $1,000 fee that used to be the industry standard.
Less than two years ago, Stern earned close to $150,000 annually, sometimes turned down work and drove a Mercedes-Benz CLK 350. Now she's aggressively reaching out for jobs and making closer to $50,000 a year.
As for that Mercedes? She's replacing it with a used Chevy Trailblazer -- from her parents.
"The opportunities in this industry really are disappearing," Stern said. "It's extremely stressful."
Industry insiders estimate that since 2007, revenue for most adult production and distribution companies has declined 30% to 50% and the number of new films made has fallen sharply.
"We've gone through recessions before, but we've never been hit from every side like this," said Mark Spiegler, head of the Spiegler Girls talent agency, who has worked in porn since 1995.
"It's the free stuff that's killing us, and that's not going away," said Dion Jurasso, owner of porn production company Combat Zone, which has seen its business fall about 50% in the last three years.
Porn is hardly the only segment of the media industry struggling with these issues. But its problems appear to be more severe. Whereas online piracy has forced big changes in the music industry and is starting to affect movies and television, it has upended adult entertainment.
At least five of the 100 top websites in the U.S. are portals for free pornography, referred to in the industry as "tube sites," according to Internet traffic ranking service Alexa .com. Some of their content is amateur work uploaded by users and some is acquired from cheap back catalogs, but much of it is pirated.
Sites like Pornhub, YouPorn and RedTube attract more users than TMZ and the Huffington Post. The porn sites are even bigger than Pirate Bay, the top portal for illegal downloads of movies, TV shows and music.
Frustratingly for porn producers and distributors in the Valley, none of these sites appears to be making much money. Suzann Knudsen, a marketing director for PornoTube, said the site's parent, Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network, uses it to attract customers for paid video on demand.
"PornoTube isn't a piggy bank," she said. "Its true value is in traffic."
The adult entertainment business, which was previously in the vanguard of home video, satellite and cable television and digital distribution, now finds itself leading the rest of the entertainment industry in losses from them.
"The death of the DVD business has been more accelerated in the adult business than mainstream," said Bill Asher, co-chairman of adult industry giant Vivid Entertainment, who estimates that his company's revenue is down more than 20% this year.
"We always said that once the Internet took off, we'd be OK," he added. "It never crossed our minds that we'd be competing with people who just give it away for free."
There are plenty of other signs of the porn industry's pain. Attendance at the Adult Entertainment Expo, an annual trade show in Las Vegas that's open some days to the public, was down 20% this year. Pay-per-view programming, a key revenue source for the industry, has fallen about 50% from its peak three or four years ago, according to a person familiar with the cable and satellite TV business.
Reliable revenue and employment figures for the adult industry don't exist, since no analysts or economists track it. Adult Video News estimated in 2006 that it was worth $13 billion, but Paul Fishbein, editor of the trade publication, said the number was "an educated guess."
"Almost all of the companies in our industry are privately held, and they keep the cards close to their chests," said Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, an industry trade group.
The effects of the downturn have been felt most severely by the thousands of people who work in the adult entertainment business.
Kelly Labanco doesn't need industry estimates to know what's happening. The makeup artist, who has worked in porn for five years, is landing half as many jobs as she did a year ago and has seen her pay drop from a high of $250 an hour to less than $100.
"A lot of companies say they don't even need makeup artists now and the girls can do it themselves," said Labanco, who has returned to her previous job doing freelance music publicity to pay the bills.
Even the industry's biggest events aren't worth what they used to be for working people like Labanco. Last year, she and a friend did makeup for a week at the Adult Entertainment Expo and earned $8,000. This year: $1,200.
Caroline Pierce, an adult film performer who lives in Las Vegas but flies to Los Angeles for work, said many companies have pressured her to do more scenes for less money.
"Instead of paying you $800 to do one, they'll pay you $1,200 for both," she explained.
As economic pressures increase, many performers have also changed their minds about what they are willing do on-screen. Previously, women earned hefty bonuses for unusual sex scenes. That's often no longer the case.
"A few years ago the girls we got were OK, but not stellar models, and we were sometimes paying $2,500," said porn director Matt Morningwood, referring to a website he shoots for that features one woman and multiple male partners.
"Nowadays some of the top-tier models will do that scene for us and you're looking at maybe $1,800. I'm happy for the production, but I feel bad for exploiting the girls' situation."
The only growth market most executives see is mobile devices, since they let consumers watch porn anywhere and in relative privacy.
Major companies that serve as a gateway to content on cellphones in the U.S. such as Verizon don't allow explicit adult content. But like cable and satellite companies in the 1990s, they may change their minds when they see the potential profit.
"Anyone betting against porn being a meaningful driver of traffic and revenue on mobile networks would be making a bad choice based on history," said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research.
Adult performers with big followings probably will continue to prosper, since they often work under a guaranteed contract and have loyal fans who buy all their work. Business managers for Belladonna and Tera Patrick, two of the industry's biggest stars, said their clients were using their celebrity to make money in other ways, like dancing in exotic clubs and licensing their name to sex toys and lingerie.
"The economy has forced us to look in other directions such as tangible goods," said Evan Seinfeld, who co-manages Patrick, his wife, and runs her production company, Teravision.
But for the "middle class" of the industry, those opportunities don't exist.
"It seems at this point that if you haven't established a well-known name, it's really hard to keep working," performer Alexa Jordan said.
Savannah Stern is adjusting to that reality. She's shooting scenes for her own subscription website and planning a tour of exotic dance clubs to earn money from her name while she can. After that, she hopes to go to college for an interior design degree and work in her family's real estate development and contracting business.
"I wish I would have never gotten into it," Stern said of her career in porn. "When you get used to a certain lifestyle, it's really hard to cut back and realize this may not be forever."
Three Top Hollywood Studios Bring Films to Web
Paul Thomasch and Sue Zeidler
It is a dash of Hulu and a sprinkle of YouTube, features a crystal clear picture, can rewind or fast-forward at lightning speed, and doesn't require a download of any special software.
But epixHD.com, the soon-to-launch video website, will have its success dictated more by the movies, concerts and original programs it offers than the technology behind it, said the executive charged with creating and running the site.
"The critical linchpin to what we've got is that we have one-third of the box office of Hollywood," Epix Chief Digital Officer Emil Rensing said in an interview.
That comes thanks to the three parent companies of Epix: Viacom Inc's Paramount film studio, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp and MGM. In putting together Epix, the companies hope to compete with Time Warner Inc's HBO and CBS Corp's Showtime in the premium movie channel business.
But they added a twist. In addition to the premium movie channel and a video-on-demand component, the venture is building epixHD.com, a website where the studios' vast collections of full-length movies and new original programing can be streamed by any subscriber.
Rensing, a former executive with Time Warner's AOL, was hired to run the site. His aim, he said in an interview, was to make it "all about being easy to use" yet not a "dumb player" that simply acts as a projection screen for video.
So epixHD.com comes with an array of features. When watching Paramount's "Iron Man," for instance, a person will have access to the trailer, lists of facts about the superhero film, a plot synopsis, and cast list.
Because of its relationship with the studios, Rensing said epixHD.com could eventually offer more unique features.
"Let's give something to the fans that gets them really excited," said Rensing. "We're asking (the studios) for some of the weird stuff. We'd like to go to sets on tear down days, talk to the teamsters about the crazy stuff that happened."
Building its Library
EpixHD.com is due to launch before the cable channel does in October, and will build its library of films from its parent studios in the months that follow. At the moment, it is still being tested in front of a small audience.
As for its appearance, the site features as wall of movies from which a viewer chooses with a click of the mouse. The movie then pops up, set against a traditional red movie theater curtain. Another mouse click plays the movie.
"My job is not to convince people to watch movies on the Internet. I already know they are doing that. What's my job? My job is to make it as easy and fun as possible to watch the stuff that I have access to," said Rensing.
"We're not a tech company, we're a media company," he said in response to a question about some similarities to Google Inc's YouTube or Hulu, owned by General Electric Co's NBC Universal, News Corp, and Walt Disney.
"I'm not going to reinvent the wheel. Hulu's got a great player. I'm going to take a couple things from Hulu. YouTube's got a couple cool features. I'm going to take them."
Rensing noted one feature he particularly liked: a sharing function. Under the current distribution agreement with Verizon Communications, Epix subscribers can invite up to four friends to watch a movie online -- from their own computers.
Those friends can also swap message about the movie through a chat function in the player. And so long as they are invited by an Epix subscriber, the friends watch for free.
"Hey, when you come to my house and we're going to sit down and watch the 'Sopranos' and you don't have HBO do I charge you a dollar and stick it in my cable bill?"
(Reporting by Paul Thomach in New York; Sue Zeidler in Los Angeles, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)
The Year's Most Pirated Videos
A word of advice to film and television execs frustrated by online video piracy: Stay away from superheroes.
Over the last six months, the hit graphic novel adaptation Watchmen and the popular NBC series Heroes ranked as the most often illegally downloaded movie and TV show, according to data tracked by peer-to-peer piracy research firm Big Champagne.
The simple lesson? Geeky young males--like many less piracy-capable viewers--don't necessarily like to pay for their entertainment. "I don't want to engage in too much stereotyping, but who are the people most actively helping themselves arm over arm to all this free video content?" asks Big Champagne Chief Executive Eric Garland. "They're going to be geek-leaning. Just think about how many Comic Con visitors are also heavy Bittorrent users."
Watchmen was downloaded nearly 17 million times from bittorrent trackers like the Pirate Bay and Mininova, according to Big Champagne. The second most pirated film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was downloaded 13 million times. Heroes episodes were downloaded a total of 54.5 million times, just ahead of the CBS ( CBS - news - people ) show Lost, with 51 million downloads.
Pirates' preference for tights and capes is nothing new. Last year's top pirated film by a large margin was the Batman sequel The Dark Knight, which was downloaded well in excess of 7 million times, by Big Champagne's rough count.
More significant may be the enormous growth in peer-to-peer downloads. The Dark Knight's 7 million downloads wouldn't even place the film in this year's top 10 pirated films. Even marginally successful films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Transporter 3 were pirated close to 8 million times so far this year.
That overall growth in piracy seems to show that users' gradual switch from peer-to-peer music downloads to legal streaming music sources may not extend to video piracy. In a widely read report published in July, analyst firm Music Ally reported that illegal music downloads in Britain had fallen by a quarter between December 2007 and January of this year as young users increasingly used ad-supported free streaming services like Spotify and Last.fm.
But those streaming models may not staunch the flow of pirated TV and video downloads, Big Champagne's numbers show. Every one of the 10 ten most pirated TV shows, in fact, can also be streamed for free on sites like Hulu.com, veoh.com, or major TV network Web sites.
Today's tech-savvy TV audience, says Big Champagne's Garland, simply won't wait even a few days for a live television show to appear on a streaming Web site. That unfortunate fact made 2008 a "breakout year for television piracy," according to Garland. "There's been an evolution of expectation," he says. "If you tell a kid he has to wait a few days to see a television show on Hulu.com, he'll give you a blank stare."
The growing flood of illegal peer-to-peer downloads has recently come under fire in a high-profile lawsuit against the Pirate Bay, the world's most popular aggregator and host of bittorrent tracking files. In April, the Swedish site lost a criminal case filed by a consortium of film, music and media companies; its administrators were sentenced to a year in prison and required to pay $3 million in fines. But even if the Pirate Bay shuts down or removes its infringing files, downloaders will simply move to a host of second-tier sites waiting to absorb the Pirate Bay's audience. (See "Why Google Is The New Pirate Bay.")
In Big Champagne's list of pirated movies, Garland was most surprised by what wasn't on the list: the most recent Star Trek film, which was downloaded only around 5 million times in the last six months. Despite that film's mass geek appeal, Garland chalks its low piracy numbers up to the fact that pirates are skipping the low-quality video versions made with camcorders in theaters, and waiting for a higher-fidelity file stripped from an as-yet-unreleased Star Trek DVD. "I think that really flies in the face of everything we've thought about pirates as undiscriminating viewers," Garland says. "Even pirates will wait for quality. That strikes me as a kind of maturity in the black market."
Regardless of why Star Trek hasn't seen widespread piracy this summer, its producers at Paramount Pictures aren't asking too many questions. Alfred Perry, the studio's vice president for legal affairs, wouldn't speculate as to why Star Trek had eluded pirates. "We can say," he added, "That this is one list we are happy not to be on."
'Spotify Are The New Pirates': Swedish Artist
Swedish musician Magnus Uggla has withdrawn his music from streaming music service Spotify claiming his "songs are being given away".
"I'd rather be raped by The Pirate Bay than shafted by Hasse Breitholtz and Sony Music," Uggla, who is one of Sweden's most prolific artists, wrote on his blog on Wednesday.
Magnus Uggla emphasizes that he likes the idea of Spotify, calling it "an incredible internet service". But he goes on to question the business model that allows users access to "everything" free of charge (and ad-financed) or for a monthly fee of only 99 kronor ($14).
"How can this be possible? Once again if something seems too good to be true, then it always is," Uggla writes, claiming that he earned as much from Spotify in the first half of 2009 than the average street busker would earn in a day.
Uggla directs his ire at Sony Music CEO Hasse Breitholtz whom he says has persuaded him of the importance of being a part of Spotify and who "waxes lyrical" over its potential to revolutionize revenue sharing within the music industry.
"I believe in Spotify's model but agree with Magnus Uggla that revenues need to be raised across the board," Breitholtz told The Local on Thursday.
"If artists had in the beginning received higher payments then there would be no Spotify and instead only illegal alternatives. A little money is better than no money," he said.
In response to news that Sony Music had paid 30,000 kronor to acquire six percent of Spotify, a company that despite its youth is already valued at close to two billion, Uggla has now decided to withdraw his catalogue of music.
"Sony Music, which is one of those that have sued the pants off The Pirate Bay, are now acting in exactly the same way as The Pirate Bay - only they are trying to hush it up," Uggla explains.
Hasse Breitholtz says that the share purchase should be seen more as a means to influence Spotify's development than as a capital investment.
"It is a way for us to ensure that it is kept legal, to have some control. It is is not as if we could sell the shares for 6 percent of the 1.8 billion kronor that I read somewhere that Spotify is estimated to be worth," Breitholtz said.
Magnus Uggla is not the first artist to resist the overtures of the Sweden-based Spotify. US artist Bob Dylan is also numbered among the doubters who have kept their body of work away from the service.
"I plan to remove all my music from Spotify while waiting for an honourable internet service," Magnus Uggla concluded in his blog post.
Hasse Breitholtz is concerned that if more artists were to follow Uggla's lead then the industry would once again be in upheaval.
"There would be turmoil. We would be back at The Pirate Bay. I hope that Spotify paves the way for a range of alternative services, but it needs to be given a chance to get established."
Independent Filmmakers Distribute on Their Own
Quentin Tarantino never had to go through this.
When “The Age of Stupid,” a climate change movie, “opens” across the United States in September, it will play on some 400 screens in a one-night event, with a video performance by Thom Yorke of Radiohead, all paid for by the filmmakers themselves and their backers. In Britain, meanwhile, the film has been showing via an Internet service that lets anyone pay to license a copy, set up a screening and keep the profit.
The glory days of independent film, when hot young directors like Steven Soderbergh and Mr. Tarantino had studio executives tangled in fierce bidding wars at Sundance and other celebrity-studded festivals, are now barely a speck in the rearview mirror. And something new, something much odder, has taken their place.
Here is how it used to work: aspiring filmmakers playing the cool auteur in hopes of attracting the eye of a Hollywood power broker.
Here is the new way: filmmakers doing it themselves — paying for their own distribution, marketing films through social networking sites and Twitter blasts, putting their work up free on the Web to build a reputation, cozying up to concierges at luxury hotels in film festival cities to get them to whisper into the right ears.
The economic slowdown and tight credit have squeezed the entertainment industry along with everybody else, resulting in significantly fewer big-studio films in the pipeline and an even tougher road for smaller-budget independent projects. Independent distribution companies are much less likely to pull out the checkbook while many of the big studios have all but gotten out of the indie film business.
“It’s not like the audience for these movies has completely disappeared,” said Cynthia Swartz, a partner in the publicity company 42 West, which has been supplementing its mainstream business by helping filmmakers find ways to connect with an audience. “It’s just a matter of finding them.”
Sometimes, the odd approach actually works.
“Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” a documentary about a Canadian metal band, turned into the do-it-yourself equivalent of a smash hit when it stretched a three-screen opening in April into a four-month run, still under way, on more than 150 screens around the country.
“I paid for everything, I took a second mortgage on my house,” said Sacha Gervasi, the film’s director.
Mr. Gervasi, whose studio writing credits include “The Terminal,” directed by Steven Spielberg, nearly three years ago, began filming “Anvil!” with his own money in hopes of attracting a conventional distributor. The movie played well at Sundance in 2008, but offers were low.
So Mr. Gervasi put up more money — his total cost was in “the upper hundred thousands,” he said — to distribute the film through a company called Abramorama, while selling the DVD and television rights to VH1.
The aging rockers of Anvil have shown up at theaters to play for audiences. Famous fans like Courtney Love were soon chattering online about the film. And an army of “virtual street teamers” — Internet advocates who flood social networks with admiring comments, sometimes for a fee, sometimes not — were recruited by a Web consultant, Sarah Lewitinn, who usually works the music scene.
The idea behind this sort of guerrilla release is to accumulate just enough at the box office to prime the pump for DVD sales and return the filmmaker’s investment, maybe even with a little profit. “Anvil!” has earned roughly $1 million worldwide at the box office so far, its producer, Rebecca Yeldham, said.
Finding even relatively small amounts of money to make and market a film is, of course, no small trick. “The Age of Stupid” raised a production budget of about £450,000 (about $748,000) from 228 shareholders, and is soliciting a bit more to continue its release, Franny Armstrong, its director, said.
“Money has simply vanished,” said Mark Urman, an independent-film veteran, speaking of the financial drought that has pushed producers and directors into shouldering risks that only a few years ago were carried by a more robust field of distributors.
Many of those distributors have either disappeared or severely tightened their operations, including Warner Independent Pictures, Picturehouse, New Line Cinema, Miramax, the Weinstein Company, Paramount Classics and its successor, Paramount Vantage.
Typically, the distributors have paid money upfront for rights to release films. That helped the producers recover what they had already spent on production, but it often left the distributor with most or all of the profit.
Mr. Urman’s own position as president for distribution at Senator Entertainment evaporated this year when financing fell through for a slate of films. So he started a new company, Paladin, to support filmmakers willing to finance their own releases.
In September, Paladin is expected to help the filmmaker Steve Jacobs and his fellow producers release “Disgrace,” a drama with John Malkovich that is based on a novel by the Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee.
The film won a critics prize at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, but no attractive distribution offers. One key to releasing it without a Miramax, said Mr. Urman, is to minimize expensive advertising in newspapers or on television and play directly to a friendly audience — in this case through extensive promotional tie-ins with Mr. Coetzee’s publishers.
“Everyone still dreams there’s going to be a conventional sale to a major studio,” said Kevin Iwashina, once an independent-film specialist with the Creative Artists Agency and now a partner at IP Advisors, a film sales and finance consulting company. But, he said, smart producers and directors are figuring out how to tap the value in projects on their own.
Some big companies will still be on the hunt in Toronto this year, where the annual festival is scheduled to begin Sept. 10.
“We’ll be there in full force,” said Nancy Utley, a president of Fox Searchlight Pictures, which last year acquired rights to “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Wrestler,” both screened in Toronto.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” said Robert G. Friedman, a chairman of Summit Entertainment, which acquired “The Hurt Locker,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow. The film was offered in Toronto last year and has already been mentioned widely as an Oscar contender.
But some filmmakers and producers pointed toward the festival have already started working for themselves, rather than waiting for the few remaining, and ever fussier, buyers to swoop in.
In fact, the next-wave Tarantinos are in Canada already — coddling not prospective buyers, but concierges, who just might steer people to promotional parties and screenings.
“These guys have figured it out,” Barry Avrich, a member of the festival’s governing board, said of the do-it-yourself crowd. “They’re into all the cool hotels, to get the concierges thinking about them.”
California Pays to Lure Filmmakers Back to Hollywood
After a decade of watching film production slowly abandon Hollywood, lured away by financial incentives first in Canada, then other U.S. states, California hopes to woo the movies back home.
But some worry that it might be too little, too late after the number of studio feature films shot in California has dropped to less than half of what it was in 2003.
Broadcast and cable television and commercial shoots, which had been more likely than feature films to stay in Hollywood in recent years, are also down significantly, with 44 of 103 pilot episodes shot outside southern California this year.
"In 2008 the worst numbers ever were recorded and the first six months of 2009 show a 50 percent drop from that. That can only be described as a disaster," said Paul Audley, president of FilmLA, the non-profit organization which coordinates film, TV and commercial production in and around Los Angeles.
Film production and its attendant industries generate $38 billion for California's economy and employ nearly 250,000 people, according to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office.
Although it contributes less than 3 percent of state output, movie making also adds value to the tourism and entertainment industries.
Schwarzenegger, former star of "Terminator" who has championed the fight against runaway film production, in February approved California's first-ever incentives. The package is targeted at movies most likely to leave the state and includes a 20 to 25 percent tax credit.
Gone With The Wind
But some say California's incentives may not be enough to compete with the 40 or so other U.S. states offering up to twice the tax credits, often with less red tape.
"(California's) was an incentive package for feature films where the largest budget film you could produce was $75 million, which a lot of people felt didn't go high enough, especially if you are trying to attract tentpoles," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp, referring to the big-budget event movies that can make or break a studio.
As film production has begun to desert California, the economic ripples reach across the state, to countless businesses, directly or indirectly related to the industry, that are already struggling during recessionary times.
In July Hollywood's second-largest prop house, 20th Century Props, closed its doors after 40 years, its owner saying he had fallen victim to runaway production and a 14-week strike by film and television writers that ended in February.
"There are so many shows that have already left," said 20th Century's owner, Harvey Schwartz. "'Ugly Betty' was the first big one to just shut down in California, lay everybody off and move to New York for that 30 percent rebate."
The Culver Studios, a landmark studio where "Gone With the Wind" and "Citizen Kane" were filmed, has also been hit.
Jamie Cella has run The Culver Studios since 2006 and has watched movie production plummet in Hollywood, where just a few years ago 70 percent of all feature films were made.
"It's important, it's a big part of the economy here," Cella said. "These are high-skilled, high wage-earning jobs with people who spend their money. Each dollar that's made in the entertainment industry gets spent 19 times, where in some industries its four or five times."
Cella said Hollywood is taking a wait-and-see attitude with California's incentives, with few willing to predict that the tax credits will be enough to turn the tide.
"They wish (the incentives) were bigger but it's seen as a good first step," Cella said, adding that most producers would prefer to shoot at home if they can justify it financially.
"So many feature films now that are green lit, they don't even look at California because of the rebates in other states," Cella said. "So hopefully with this program we can get some of those features to stay home."
Runaway production dates back at least a decade, when Canada began offering incentives in the late 1990s, which combined with the weaker Canadian dollar made shooting there relatively cheap for filmmakers.
An infrastructure has now been built in Vancouver and Toronto, saving studios even more money as they don't have to bring crews and equipment across the border.
About five years ago, U.S. states, including Louisiana, began getting in on the act. Now more than 40 U.S. states offer some form of incentives, most of them greater than those just rolled out in California.
While California's legislators were slow to get into the act, reluctant to give tax breaks to major film studios while other California businesses were suffering, those states haven't been shy about going after film dollars.
In July, for example, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was in Los Angeles, hawking his state's 25 percent rebate, loan program and 3,000-worker base to some 30 TV executives.
New Mexico, with its friendly business climate, eager-to-please officials and good climate, has proven particularly tempting to filmmakers.
For example this year's "Terminator Salvation," the latest installment in the franchise that once featured Schwarzenegger in his signature role, was shot in New Mexico to take advantage of the state's 25 percent tax rebate.
Last year's blockbuster "Twilight," the story of a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire, is set in a small town in Washington but was shot primarily in Oregon. Its sequel, "New Moon," was mostly filmed in Vancouver.
In July, Schwarzenegger approved the first 25 film and TV productions to qualify for incentives, including "Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2" and "Naked Gun 4."
"This is about the makeup artists, the caterers and the countless other small businesses that rely on film and television production to succeed and create jobs for Californians," said Schwarzenegger.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)
United States Box Office
Issued Tue Aug 11, 2009
Title/Distributor Wknd. Gross Total Gross # Theaters Last Wk. Days Released
1 G.I. JOE: RISE OF COBRA
PARAMOUNT $54713046 $54713046 4007 0 3
2 JULIE & JULIA
SONY PICTURES $20027956 $20027956 2354 0 3
WALT DISNEY STUDIOS $9870594 $86183076 3482 3 17
4 HARRY POTTER HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
WARNER BROS. $8928349 $273848633 3455 2 26
5 FUNNY PEOPLE
UNIVERSAL $7986435 $40537755 3008 1 10
6 THE UGLY TRUTH
SONY PICTURES $6750125 $68838257 2975 4 17
7 A PERFECT GETAWAY
UNIVERSAL $5948555 $5948555 2159 0 3
8 ALIENS IN THE ATTIC
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX $4021478 $16314371 3108 5 10
9 500 DAYS OF SUMMER
FOX SEARCHLIGHT $3739702 $12357265 817 12 24
WARNER BROS. $3674306 $34766199 2270 6 17
11 THE HANGOVER
WARNER BROS. $3369178 $261979331 1690 8 66
12 TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE..
PARAMOUNT $3008825 $393709339 1948 10 47
13 THE PROPOSAL
WALT DISNEY STUDIOS $2825483 $154751286 1870 9 52
14 ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX $2670160 $187871005 1727 7 40
15 THE COLLECTOR
FREESTYLE RELEASING $1275753 $6351293 1270 11 10
16 THE HURT LOCKER
SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT $1260820 $8987925 535 14 45
17 PUBLIC ENEMIES
UNIVERSAL $987665 $95491810 906 13 40
18 LOVE AAJ KAL
EROS ENT. $625057 $2134627 102 15 10
WALT DISNEY STUDIOS $624966 $287392452
Porsche Shooting Brake Is a Fake
Richard S. Chang
Last month, a mysterious Porsche shooting brake appeared on the Web. It arrived courtesy of a camera phone video, which showed what looked to be a test mule, clad in black primer, parked on the sidewalk of what looked to be an industrial area — of Germany?
Looking something like the product of a one-night-stand between said Porsche and either a Volvo C30 or an original BMW Z3-based M Coupe, the supposed mule is wearing all black, but apart from that, it appears to be undisguised. Of course, this could be a one-off made by someone with no official connection to Porsche (Rinspeed, anyone?), but then again, it could be a harbinger of a model to come.
The news spread like wildfire, reaching other enthusiast sites. Some were excited by the prospects of a Porsche wagon. Others were skeptical. “It also strikes us as odd that the only evidence comes in the form of an ultra-short video (the kids are doing crazy things with their computer machines these days),” wrote Jordan Brown of CarandDriver.com. “But if this is indeed Porsche’s doing, you can bet more sightings will follow.”
More sightings did appear. The first resembled a screen shot taken from the upcoming Forza 3 video game for the Xbox 360. The other image seemed to show the Porsche in the middle of a photo shoot, possibly for the Frankfurt auto show in September.
But there will be no debut at the show, just as there is no car. The Porsche shooting brake is a hoax — a parting gag gift created by TopGear.com America, which let go of its editorial team this week. According to Devin Johnson, a BBC spokesman, TopGear.com has migrated to BBCAmerica.com, and the company “is continuing to explore opportunities for a U.S. version.” The viral scheme was overseen by the site’s former editor, Jared Holstein, and was executed by summer interns.
The fake Porsche was designed by Matt DuVall, a digital arts student at Savannah College of Art and Design, using Maya, a 3D animation program. He pulled a 3D rendering of a Porsche Cayman off the Internet and modified it into a small two-door wagon, called a shooting brake.
“It’s definitely a polarizing design,” Mr. Holstein said. “Some people love it, some hate it, but we wanted it to feature enough cues from the Panamera’s design vocabulary to pass as a potential Porsche product. So we did spend a good bit of time on that part.” The Panamera is the new Porsche four-door.
Mr. Holstein said they were also fastidious with the details, applying Porsche development wheels, black tape on the front headlights and a front bumper that mimics other Porsche mule photos. Even the license plate number was selected to resemble proper Porsche development plates.
Eventually, the fake shooting brake was rendered in HD and then downgraded in size and quality to appear as if it were shot with a camera phone and output in FinalCut Pro. The video clip was shot in an alley in Brooklyn. An Italian soundtrack was added to give things a European twist. “Matt shot HDR to get the reflections right on the car, which meant shooting 360-degrees with a still camera with a fish-eye lens mounted and stitching it all together in Photoshop,” Mr. Holstein said.
Once the video was created, TopGear.com America planted the video, and that responsibility fell to another summer intern, Jon Masters, a master’s student in media studies at the New School in New York City. He placed links to the video in Porsche enthusiast sites, alerted sites like Autoblog and Jalopnik and inserted a fake screen shot from Forza 3 into the requisite fan forums. “It was originally posted on a Czech Forza fan site — in Czech to add a layer of deception and plausibility,” Mr. Holstein said. Christopher Gifford, an editorial assistant for BBC America, provided opinion on how well the strategies would work, and also pointed other Web sites to the images.
But why did they do it? “It’s never been done before,” Mr. Holstein said. “We love wagons. And we wanted to see what we could accomplish with a high degree of sophistication, but with only a conservative effort.”
Mr. Holstein also said that the project highlights a larger, evolving dynamic of the media environment. “Particularly the increasing — and often frightening — convergence of reality and simulation, especially the unlimited potential for its use/abuse in a hyper-mediated culture,” Mr. Masters added. “Is virtual reality an effective test bed for future design concepts, especially when married with the capabilities of future gaming software?”
While TopGear.com America didn’t fool everybody, it did fool some, and it did generate discussion. And for those who looked very carefully, there was a small clue in the video to hint at who was behind the hoax.
“There was also a little Easter egg that no one picked up on. There is a Stig helmet partially visible in the rear hatch at about the nine-second mark. Perhaps too hidden,” Mr. Holstein said, referring to the helmet worn by a character on the show.
Q&A: Why the UK Needs the Pirate Party
The UK Pirate Party wants to reform copyright and patent laws, abolish the surveillance state and increase our freedom of speech, and it's just been recognised as a political party. UK Pirate Party leader Andrew Robinson tells PC Pro how he's planning to shake up the political landscape.
Q The obvious first question - why does the UK need the Pirate Party?
A If you look at what's proposed in the Digital Britain report, there's a £50,000 fine for sharing files. There's approximately 7 million file sharers in this country - you're branding a huge percentage of this population criminals for doing something that doesn't have any proven implications. It's a ridiculous state of affairs.
Q What's the solution?
People who copy a movie are lumped in with people who steal cars
A There should be an exemption for non-commercial use in copyright. We're not in favour of abolishing copyright, or artists getting nothing. When things are copied and somebody makes a profit, that profit should go to the artist. When something's copied and there isn't a profit... well, that's a situation our law doesn't really have any way of dealing with at the moment, which is why people who copy a movie are lumped in with people who steal cars.
Our copyright law is horribly outdated and its skewed one way because all the lobbying is on the side of big businesses. This ties into our thoughts on patents. They've moved away from a way of encouraging invention to being a way for companies to lay claim to large areas of innovation. The Toyota Prius is an example of this. There's 2,000 patents covering the Prius, which isn't encouraging other companies to create environmentally cars, it's blocking them.
Q How do you respond to the counter argument that research costs are huge and patents help companies protect their investment?
A We're not trying to stifle innovation, what we're trying to do is set a legal framework that says 'okay, you can take a picture from the road, but pointing a camera at my bedroom window, that's not such a good idea'. Google Street View's a really good example of this. People were up in arms, saying 'no this shouldn't happen, yes it should happen'. We want to see laws in place before it happens, rather than after, so everybody knows where they stand.
Q These are important issues. Does the name Pirate Party really reflect this? The Swedish Pirate Party likes to parade around in costume.
Competing with the Conservatives while wearing an eye patch isn't going to do us any favours
A Competing with the Conservatives while wearing an eye patch isn't going to do us any favours. We've had the name foisted on us by the Swedish party, but it's difficult. We need to point out that we're saying very sensible things, while the industry lobby is labelling us as pirates. We're going to throw that back at them. We're trying to have a proper debate and when people actually listen to what we've got to say they'll realise we're being serious.
Q What will it take for the UK Pirate Party to be considered a success?
A Our first past the post system means that the chances of the Pirate Party being elected, let's be honest, are pretty much close to zero. I've set an internal target of us retaining one deposit [in the next general election]. That's our measure of success. What we really want to do is raise awareness, so that the other parties say 'bloody hell, they've got seven million votes this time out', or one million votes, or enough votes to make them care and seriously think about these issues.
Snatching Rights On the Playa
In a few weeks, tens of thousands of creative people will make their yearly pilgrimage to Nevada’s Black Rock desert for Burning Man, an annual art event and temporary community celebrating radical self expression, self-reliance, creativity and freedom. Most have the entirely reasonable expectation that they will own and control what is likely the largest number of creative works generated on the Playa: the photos they take to document their creations and experiences.
That’s because they haven’t read the Burning Man Terms and Conditions.
Those Terms and Conditions include a remarkable bit of legal sleight-of-hand: as soon as “any third party displays or disseminates” your photos or videos in a manner that the Burning Man Organization (BMO) doesn’t like, those photos or videos become the property of the BMO. This “we automatically own all your stuff” magic appears to be creative lawyering intended to allow the BMO to use the streamlined “notice and takedown” process enshrined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to quickly remove photos from the Internet.
The BMO also limits your own rights to use your own photos and videos on any public websites, (1) obliging you to take down any photos to which BMO objects, for any reason; and (2) forbidding you from allowing anyone else to reuse your photos (i.e., no licensing your work no matter what is depicted, including Creative Commons licensing, and no option to donate your work to the public domain).
Moreover, the Burning Man Terms and Conditions also strip attendees of their trademark fair use rights. The ticket terms forbid any use of Burning Man trademarks on any website, which means that ticket-holders can’t label their photos “Burning Man 2009” or even use the words “Burning Man” on their Facebook walls or Twitter updates.
We do empathize with BMO’s desire to preserve the festival’s noncommercial character and to protect the privacy interests of ticket-holders. But by granting itself ownership of your creative works and forbidding fair uses of its trademarks, BMO is using the “fine print” to give itself the power of fast and easy online censorship.
BMO's not the first to misuse the DMCA this way. Some doctors recently have begun to use the DMCA process to take down negative comments patients post about them to websites like RateMDs.com. How can they do this? Under the same theory BMO is using, each doctor demands that patients assign to the doctor copyright in anything the patient writes online about the doctor. It’s bad enough that some companies routinely trot out contracts prohibiting you from criticizing them, but it’s another thing altogether when they demand that you hand over your copyrights to any criticisms, so that they can use the DMCA to censor your own expression off the Internet.
The BMO’s motives here may be more laudable than those of the paranoid doctors. But the collateral damage to our free speech is unacceptable. Using take-it-or-leave-it fine print to assert veto rights over online expression is no way to promote a “society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers.” Burning Man strives to celebrate our individuality, creativity and free spirit. Unfortunately, the fine print on the tickets doesn’t live up to that aspiration.
Injunction on Microsoft Word Unlikely To Halt Sales
A judge said the software giant can't sell Word if it allows custom XML tagging
A judge on Tuesday ordered Microsoft to stop selling Microsoft Word products in their current form in the U.S., but legal appeals or technical work-arounds make an actual halt of sales unlikely.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas gave Microsoft 60 days to comply with the injunction, which forbids Microsoft from selling Word products that let people create custom XML documents, according to i4i. The ruling, which also includes additional damages Microsoft must pay, are related to a patent infringement suit filed by i4i.
The most common versions of Word on the market now, 2003 and 2007, both allow users to create custom XML documents.
Microsoft did not reply to questions about the affect the injunction will have on it and its ability to sell Word in the U.S. In a statement it said it planned to appeal the verdict.
An appeal could stay the injunction but even if the injunction stands, Microsoft could potentially strip the functionality from Word or possibly build a work-around.
The ruling is unlikely to affect anyone any time soon, said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. "It's going to take a long time for this kind of thing to get sorted out," he said.
Custom XML allows people to create forms or templates such that words in certain fields are tagged and then can be managed in a database, said Loudon Owen, a spokesman for i4i. Large companies and government agencies, for example, might create such templates.
I4i's patent covers technology that lets end users manipulate document architecture and content.
In a March 2007 suit, i4i charged Microsoft with willfully infringing its patent. Earlier this year, a jury in the Texas court ordered Microsoft to pay i4i US$200 million for infringing the patent.
Owen said that if the injunction stands, end users who use custom XML in Word will have to find another way to create templates. "Hopefully you're going to call us because our intention is to support custom XML," he said.
The judge also ruled that Microsoft should pay an additional $40 million for willful infringement of the patents and over $37 million in prejudgment interest. That brings total damages to more than $290 million.
Hacking Schools Flourish in China
Chinese hackers have been on the forefront of sustained hacking and disruption campaign against Western business and government networks -- some do it for fun, other for profit, but many do so on behalf of the Chinese government and its many intelligence and military agencies; ever wondered where all these hackers come from? "Hacker schools" are big business in China, generating $34.8 million last year
As if the world did not have enough problems caused by Chinese hackers, now comes this: China has seen the emergence of online training schools that teach students the skills necessary to either be a network defender or a cybercriminal. These "hacker schools," as they are known, are also big business, generating $34.8 million last year, China Daily reports.
Matthew harwood writes that Students can enroll in online classes for as little as a few hundred yuan. While some schools advertise themselves as training the next generation of security experts, many worry a percentage of the students will use their skills to commit various cybercrimes, such as identity theft or stealing trade secrets.
Wang Xianbing-a security consultant for a prominent online hacking school, Hackbase.com, likens the training provided by the Web site to that of the locksmith trade. "It's like teaching lock picking," he told Beijing Today. "No one can guarantee the student will become a professional locksmith rather than a future thief."
Rather, it is up to the individual and his conscience whether to use his knowledge for good or evil, Wang said. Interviewed by China Daily, he said that the company's students are explicitly told not to use their knowledge for illegal activities. "Lots of hacker schools only teach students how to hack into unprotected computers and steal personal information," said Wang. "They then make a profit by selling users' information."
Imparting such knowledge, even with caveats, runs obvious risks. Last year alone, according to China Daily, hacking cost the Chinese economy approximately $1 billion. Globally, Symantec estimates cybercrime cost firms a total of $1 trillion in 2008, CNet.com reported in January (but see 27 March 2009 HSNW for skepticism about this high figure).
Money is not the only motivation, reports China Daily.
Hackers Use Twitter to Control Botnet
Hackers are now using Twitter to send coded update messages to computers they’ve previously infected with rogue code, according to a report from net-monitoring firm Arbor Networks.
This looks to be the first reported case of hackers using the popular micro-messaging company to control botnets, which are assemblages of infected PCs that can be directed to spy on their users, send spam, or attack web sites with fake traffic.
Arbor Network’s Jose Nazario, an expert on botnets, discovered the so-called command-and-control structure. Infected computers were following the Twitter feed “Upd4t3″ (now suspended) through its RSS feed.
“Basically, what it does is use the status messages to send out new links to contact, then these contain new commands or executables to download and run,” Nazario wrote. “It’s an info-stealer operation.”
The tweets turned out to be obfuscated links to sites where further malicious code and instructions could be downloaded.
Hackers have long used IRC chat rooms to control botnets, and have continually used clever technologies, such as peer-to-peer strategies, to counter efforts to track, disrupt and sometimes decapitate the bots.
Perhaps what’s surprising then is that it’s taken so long for hackers to take Twitter to the dark side.
There’s something ironic about this finding, given that Russian hackers allegedly used a botnet to take Twitter down for two days last week. But we won’t go down that rabbit hole.
British Researcher Receives First Ever Doctor of Texting
Texts are much more about maintaining and building relationships rather than passing on raw facts; as such they tend to include a lot of information which is irrelevant but entertaining
A student at a British university has been awarded the first ever Ph.D. in text messaging. Linguist Caroline Tagg -- now Dr. Caroline Tagg -- spent more than three years at Birmingham University researching the subject of text messages and the language used within them.
The Telegraph.'s Richard Alleyne writes that she trawled through 11,000 text messages sent by 235 people aged between 18 and 65 and together containing 190,000 words, and analyzed them for the quality (or not) of their spelling, grammar, and abbreviation.
From her research she believes that texts are much more about maintaining and building relationships rather than passing on raw facts. As such they tend to include a lot of information which is irrelevant but entertaining.
"People deliberately use words like this when they don't need to." she said. "There is a panic about the effect of text messaging and people are genuinely worried about it but I don't think they should be. People use playful manipulation and metaphors. It is a playful language. Not only are they quite creative, it is also quite expressive. It was interesting to be able to research a number of linguistic methods and frameworks and apply them to the text message, because the text messages were quite fun. It was enlightening."
She concluded that the average text contains 17.5 words and, contrary to the popular view that text messaging is eroding existing styles of written communication, that texts are good for the English language. "Quite the contrary from destroying the English [language], [text messaging] is actually encouraging it."
40 Years Later, Woodstock a Thriving Business
Back in 1969, Woodstock organizers billed their three-day festival as "An Aquarian Exposition." But although the concert became free when an expected crowd of 200,000 grew "half a million strong," it was conceived as a business proposition.
And the business has endured. Woodstock Ventures, the firm that oversees the licensing and intellectual property related to the Woodstock festival, is still run by the original producers of the event. And for several decades now, that once ragtag group of hippies has evolved into -- if they weren't already -- good businessmen with savvy instincts.
For Woodstock's 40th anniversary -- officially August 15-18 -- the breadth of projects and merchandise is staggering. Rhino and Sony will deliver albums of performances, Warner Bros. will release the original film and the Ang Lee-directed narrative feature "Taking Woodstock," VH1 and the History Channel will air a documentary by Barbara Koppel, several publishers will release books, Target will sell anniversary-themed merchandise, and Sony is launching a social networking/e-commerce site, Woodstock.com.
"We're not perfect. There are some small decisions we would have changed here and there, but for the most part, if we weren't happy with the way something felt, then we didn't go ahead," says Joel Rosenman, one of the original organizers and now a partner in Woodstock Ventures. "And that's because what happened in 1969 and how it feels to us is more important than pretty much any commercial consideration."
'Couldn't Get Arrested'
What happened in 1969 is now rock 'n' roll history. Conceived by entrepreneurs Rosenman, Michael Lang, John Roberts and Artie Kornfeld amid a backdrop of social upheaval, the three-day concert had an impact that resonated far beyond the confines of Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y. With the formation of Woodstock Ventures before the festival, the producers also had the foresight to realize that the event was worth documenting in what ended up as the now-renowned Warner Bros. film and soundtrack album.
"We couldn't get arrested when we were putting Woodstock together," Rosenman says. "We had no production credits among the four of us that would get anybody to take our phone call. The only way we booked bands was to pay them much more than they'd ever been paid before. And the only way we got a film deal was, two days before the event, Artie Kornfeld managed to talk Warner into it. (Director) Mike Wadleigh had to reach into his own pocket to buy film stock."
The weekend of the event, Rosenman had a sound truck and a 12-track recording facility on-site and camera crews ready. The resulting film has captured the imagination of music fans ever since, creating a resource that instills interest in the event in one generation of music fans after another.
Many of the products related to the 40th anniversary are endorsed by Woodstock Ventures and some are independent, such as unofficial memoirs and photographs. "Some of them are cool and some are pushing the margins a bit," Lang says. "But it's great that there's that interest, and the essence of what's important is really what it means to people in their hearts. The products are just people trying to capitalize on the interest, and that's OK. We're a capitalist society and all. But it points to the fact that Woodstock has maintained its place in our culture and our history."
Woodstock the ideal has long interfaced with Woodstock the cash cow. Woodstock Ventures -- owned primarily by Rosenman's family and the Roberts family, with Lang retaining a minority ownership -- owns the Woodstock trademarks, including the iconic dove-on-guitar logo.
And while Woodstock-related projects have tapped into consumer interest for decades, the brand has not been exploited or over-saturated, at least by its owners. "We haven't monetized it much, to be honest," says Lang, who recently published his memoir, "The Road to Woodstock," co-written with Holly George-Warren. "You can't describe Woodstock as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Rosenman says. "It's much more the rainbow itself."
So how has Woodstock maintained its profile in popular culture? Rosenman's answer is properly philosophical. "We had an event that challenged people's concept of community, and they responded to that challenge over that weekend by essentially re-creating a society that was in danger of falling apart," he says. "That's a pretty strong beacon, and I guess that beacon continues to shine on some of the darker moments in subsequent years."
While it's easy to be skeptical of the producers' idealism in the context of the cash flow at stake, Woodstock Ventures does retain a guiding hand on the use of the brand.
"There are a number of different issues involved in merchandising, and many of them have to do with practical issues such as costs versus selling price, things you just can't get away from," Rosenman says. "There have been moments in Woodstock's past where we feel that it may have gotten away from us a little bit, but for the most part we're pretty strict about reviewing every bit of merchandise or every activity that might come out with Woodstock's logo or service mark on it."
Perhaps the most important angle, according to Rosenman: Does the opportunity feel like Woodstock? "That may sound a little fuzzy, but in fact there's no more definitive way of telling whether it's the right product for us or not than that instant visceral reaction," he says. "We trust ourselves on that because we've been doing it for so long."
A second consideration, which surely jibes with the original Woodstock ideals, is environmental friendliness and social impact. "Is this a green product? Does it leave a big carbon footprint? Would we be embarrassed to say we spent money developing and selling things like this back in 2009?" Rosenman asks. "We want our products to be positive, to give a boost to civilization and the community."
The most compelling Woodstock products relate to the initial audio and video recording from the 1969 event. "The record has endured because it's great bands and great music. It's as simple as that, and they have stood the test of time," Rosenman says.
This year, Warner and Sony are making a wealth of music available. In June, Rhino released remastered editions of the "Music From the Original Soundtrack and More: Woodstock" and "Woodstock Two" albums and is working closely with Warner Home Video, which released Lang's "The Road to Woodstock" in July.
From Warner Home Video, a "Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music" director's cut expands on the content of the original documentary.
On Tuesday (August 18), Rhino tees up "Woodstock -- 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm," a six-CD collection featuring the Grateful Dead, the Who, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe & the Fish and many others. Painstakingly assembled from Woodstock's 33 sets, the 77 tracks on the albums are peppered with illuminating stage patter and ambient sound, creating a trippy aural Woodstock experience like none before, according to co-producer Andy Zax.
Rhino also will release on August 25 the soundtrack to the new Ang Lee feature film, "Taking Woodstock." Finally, Rhino put together a two-hour radio special hosted by entertainer/activist Wavy Gravy that will promote the boxed set and other projects and which will be broadcast around the anniversary dates.
Sony Legacy took a different tack with its "The Woodstock Experience" collection in releasing CDs from five Woodstock acts that recorded albums in 1969 for Columbia, Epic and RCA, now all divisions of Sony Music. The project pairs 1969 albums from Santana ("Santana"), Jefferson Airplane ("Volunteers"), Johnny Winter ("Johnny Winter"), Sly & the Family Stone ("Stand") and Janis Joplin ("I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!") with the artists' Woodstock performances in eco-friendly two-disc packages at $19.98 each.
"The whole idea was to try and share what that year was like for that artist," says Jim Parham, vice president of marketing at Sony Legacy. "For someone like Santana, 1969 was an incredible year because that was the first album."
Among the highest-profile deals is a retail licensing pact with Target for merchandise including T-shirts, apparel, beach towels, posters, calendars, caps and tote bags. The deal was brokered by Live Nation Merchandise (formerly Signatures Network), the industry-leading merchandising firm headed by CEO Dell Furano.
Furano says he expects retail sales of Woodstock-related products to reach between $50 million and $100 million this year, about five times the sales of previous years.
Live Nation Merchandise has handled Woodstock merch for about three years under a worldwide deal with Woodstock Ventures. "I told Michael and Joel when I made the deal that there is no brand that has better captured the spirit of rock 'n' roll and communities -- the positive side of the '60s," Furano says. "They're very involved in every approval; they have a great team. It took us a year to do the Target deal. We all understand this is part of our legacy."
Target's exclusivity expires at the end of September, and Furano says more retail sales and products will roll out this month at retailers like Macy's, JCPenney and Kohl's and specialty stores like Hot Topic, the Gap, Spencer's and Urban Outfitters. Asked if the Woodstock merchandise would retain commercial clout after the anniversary, Furano replies, "We expect a merry Woodstock holiday season."
Lang recently appeared on QVC promoting Woodstock merchandise in a "very successful show," Furano says.
The potential of expanding the sense of community that permeated the original Woodstock increases exponentially with the power of the Web. Sony Legacy's Parham supervised the relaunch of Woodstock.com, a site dedicated to community as well as commerce. Lang and Rosenman oversee Woodstock Licensing, a sister company of Woodstock Ventures; Sony Music has a joint venture with Woodstock Licensing to run Woodstock.com.
"Part of what was attractive about relaunching the (site) around the 40th anniversary was there was an opportunity to rebuild the original Woodstock community online, and part of what we've been doing over the last few weeks is creating opportunities for people to come and share their experiences at the various festivals with anyone, particularly the people who have been there," Parham says. "It's sort of a one-stop place to go for anything that pertains to Woodstock."
The value of the brand is obvious but, as always, with the people behind Woodstock Ventures, it's not all about the money. "We would only form some kind of partnership with someone who was willing to explore the potential of Woodstock for its effect on civilization that goes beyond a financial profit," Rosenman says. "It would have to be somebody who got it, and that's a tall order."
(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)
Until next week,
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