|26-08-09, 07:36 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - August 29th, '09
"We have, ourselves, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once more able to defend our Internets, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone." – The Pirate Bay
"Windows, for some time now, has really been a DRM platform." – Peter Brown
"Mea culpa." – Chris Anderson
August 29th, 2009
UK Proposes Cutting Web Access to File Sharers
Repeat offenders who persist in illegally downloading music from file-sharing sites such as Limewire could be blocked from accessing the Web under British government proposals issued on Tuesday.
The government said it was publishing new ideas to speed up the process of tackling unlawful peer-to-peer file sharing to prevent damage to the content industries.
Proposals include requiring Internet Service Providers to take action against individual repeat infringers, including blocking access to download sites, reducing broadband speeds or by temporarily suspending an individual's Internet account.
Earlier government proposals had said media regulator Ofcom would need to ascertain that technical measures were needed, meaning the earliest measures to counter the problem would not come into play until 2012.
"The government has now reached the view that, if action was deemed necessary, this might be too long to wait given the pressure put on the creative industries by piracy," it said in a statement. "The new ideas outlined today would potentially allow action to be taken earlier."
Under the new proposals, the Secretary of State would direct Ofcom to introduce technical measures to clamp down on piracy if necessary.
"Technology and consumer behavior is fast-changing and it's important that Ofcom has the flexibility to respond quickly to deal with unlawful file-sharing," Minister for Digital Britain Stephen Timms said in a statement.
Governments around the world have been trying to find a solution to the problem of Internet piracy, with varying levels of success.
A law backed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to cut Internet access to those found guilty of downloading music illegally has already been watered down by France's top constitutional court and a vote has been delayed until September.
(Editing by David Holmes)
ISP Friendly BitTorrent Tracker Doubles Download Speeds
A new Open Source BitTorrent tracker set to be released in September promises to boost download speeds by up to 150% and decrease the load BitTorrent users put on ISP networks by 20 to 50 percent. Based on the widely used OpenTracker software, the new BitTorrent tracker aims to overcome many of BitTorrent’s current limitations.
Since it was first released by Bram Cohen back in 2001, very few changes have been made to the way BitTorrent works. It was a revolutionary invention and to date it is by far the most effective way to transfer large files online. However, BitTorrent does have its limitations.
On the one hand users sometimes complain about slow download speeds, but most of all, Internet providers are not always happy with the heavy load BitTorrent transfers put on their networks.
The Swedish based company Peerialism hopes to tackle these problems and make BitTorrent future proof. Aside from their issues with GGF, they are currently working on the release of a new Open Source BitTorrent tracker based on the OpenTracker software currently in use at most of the larger public BitTorrent trackers.
Andreas Dahlström, the CTO and founder of the company explained to TorrentFreak that the key to solving BitTorrent’s main problems is to make the tracker location aware, so that peers first try to share files with other peers that are closer to them.
“In standard BitTorrent the tracker chooses a totally random number of peers for you. There are some good reasons for this since random actually gives some nice and robust network properties but in many cases this will force you to download for peers far away from you,” Dahlström said.
“This has two effects: slower download speed and unnecessary network traffic for the ISPs. And since BitTorrent traffic causes so much problems for ISPs many use traffic shaping, causing even slower download speeds,” he explained.
The solution to this problem according to Dahlström is to make the tracker select peers more intelligently, based on their geographical location. The initial tests of this new methodology are very promising, as they result in faster download speeds for BitTorrent users, and less traffic going outside the ISPs network.
“We have built p2p algorithms which actually map the entire Internet. We can use this to let a BitTorrent Tracker assign you to the peers closest to you. The effect for the downloader is 30-150% faster downloads and 20-50% less traffic for the ISPs,” Dahlström told TorrentFreak.
This sounds like a classic win-win situation. If it’s implemented by most of the leading BitTorrent trackers, ISPs will have less trouble handling BitTorrent traffic and thus less incentive to slow it down. On the other hand, BitTorrent users will see a boost in their download speeds.
There is a minor drawback to the plan though. The new trackers will use more CPU and memory, which means that more power is required than with the current setup. This means that the people who run the trackers will have to invest in new hardware.
“We work hard to together with Ergeist [the creator of the original OpenTracker software] to minimize the extra load,” Dahlström said. “We do believe the extra resources are well spent compared to the improved download speeds and less ISP traffic.”
If Peerialism can deliver what they are promising, their new tracker will be one of the most significant advancements to BitTorrent in years. Although they are not the first to come up with the idea of location based peer allocation, some might remember P4P, the solution they offer is superior since it requires no changes to the existing BitTorrent clients.
In addition, Peerialism is already working together with the developer behind the most widely used BitTorrent tracker software currently in use by The Pirate Bay, OpenBitTorrent and PublicBitTorrent trackers. Thus, they are as close to the fire as they can be.
The Open Source tracker, currently codenamed OpenTracker 2.0, is set to be released in September. If some of the larger trackers decide to use it we might see a huge drop in Global Internet traffic instantly, along with faster download speeds for most BitTorrent users.
The Pirate Bay Taken Offline By Swedish Authorities
Following the earlier court defeat for Fredrik, Gottfrid and Peter and the pending civil action taken by several Hollywood studios, the Swedish authorities have now ordered The Pirate Bay to be disconnected from the Internet. The site’s bandwidth suppliers have been threatened with a large fine. The site is completely offline.
Today, Stockholm’s district court took action to completely remove The Pirate Bay from the Internet.
The court ordered the site’s major bandwidth supplier, Black Internet, to disconnect TPB from the Internet or face penalties of 500,000 kroner ($70,600). The ISP complied, saying that it had no choice but to uphold the law.
The censorship of The Pirate Bay will continue pending the outcome of a civil action taken by several entertainment companies including Disney, Universal, Warner, Columbia, Sony, NBC and Paramount.
Rick Falkvinge, leader of The Pirate Party said: “This is absolutely ridiculous. The Court seems to consider themselves above the Constitution,” while criticizing the effect that these civil actions are having on freedom of speech. “This clarifies how copyright law has become untenable, and how information is lacking political skills in the judiciary,” he added.
Black Internet is probably not the only supplier of bandwidth to The Pirate Bay, so it may be possible for them to reconnect to the Internet elsewhere. Whether or not another Swedish supplier would even consider doing that is seriously in doubt.
Update: As expected, The Pirate Bay site relocated and is back online. A Pirate Bay insider told TorrentFreak that they “got a new connection to the net.” The tracker is still down and is expected to be fully operational tomorrow morning, we were told. Ever since their servers were raided back in 2006 they were prepared for takedown attempts like this.
“The MAFIAA has spent millions of dollars and endless amounts of time to get this ban in order. Our guess is that they also bribed a bit to get it since it violates so many laws not only in Sweden but also in the EU, not to mention violations against human rights. And what do they have to show for it? 3 hours of partial downtime,” the Pirate Bay team adds.
The t-shirt below (currently the logo on the Pirate Bay homepage) will be sent to the people responsible for the takedown attempt tomorrow morning, the Pirate Bay insider told TorrentFreak.
25 Great Pirate Bay Alternatives
The end of the Pirate Bay is nearing. Even if the deal with GGF doesn’t go through the current owners are likely to sell to one of the other interested parties. For many BitTorrent fans this means that they have to find an alternative. Luckily there are plenty of good ones out there.
Replacing The Pirate Bay is easier said then done. The tracker is currently responsible for approximately half of all public torrent transfers, which represents a significant percentage of global Internet traffic.
However, history has shown that BitTorrent users are an adaptive species that simply migrates to the next site when their home bases become uninhabitable.
While private trackers certainly have their place and will accommodate those lucky enough to get an invite, for this article we are interested in sites that are open to everyone, ranging from full Pirate Bay replacements to a do-it-yourself setup.
Full Pirate Bay Alternatives
The only full Pirate Bay alternatives are sites that index torrent files, are open to everyone and also have a working tracker. Unfortunately, there are only a few sites out there that offer this full package -there are four of them below. We decided to include Demonoid here because it tracks many public torrents.
4. Demonoid (semi-private)
Torrent indexers are sites that have a searchable directory of torrent files, but don’t host a (public) tracker of their own. Mininova has a tracker, but they only allow ‘featured’ torrents uploaded through their content distribution service. The most used torrent indexers are:
Torrent Meta-Seach Engines
BitTorrent meta-search engines are yet another brand of torrent sites. They don’t have a tracker and don’t host any torrent files on their servers. Instead they search for and link to torrents hosted on third party sites.
Private Trackers (open signup)
Most of the larger private trackers require an invite to join, but there are always a few that allow new members. Below are four of these (open) private trackers and more can be found on Btracs.
Standalone BitTorrent Trackers
Torrent indexers and meta-search engines can be used to find torrents, but none of them will be of much use without a stable BitTorrent tracker. Standalone BitTorrent trackers are much needed, they handle the communication between downloaders but don’t index any torrents themselves.
19. The Hidden Tracker
DIY Pirate Bay Alternatives
The last category of Pirate Bay alternatives are the do-it-yourself projects. By using the three ingredients below The Pirate Bay can be easily rebuilt. It might take a few hours, but then the path to world domination is clear.
21. Pirate Bay Torrents Clone
22. Pirate Bay HTML Clone
23. Torrage: Torrent API
24. Tracker Software
Last but not Least
Google, the mother of all search engines has a filetype:torrent search command that allows you to find torrent files scattered across the Internet. Don’t tell the MPAA and RIAA.
If you think we missed any good alternatives, please feel free to add your own in the comment section below, while clearly noting which category they fit into.
Court Castrates Mininova, The Pirate Bay Alternative
BitTorrent file sharing suffered another setback on a global scale Wednesday when a Dutch court ordered Pirate Bay rival, Mininova, to remove all its copyrighted works or face millions of dollars in fines.
The decision by the Utrecht District Court comes a day ahead of the planned sale of The Pirate Bay to a Swedish software concern that hopes to transform the world’s most notorious BitTorrent tracker into a pay-to-play site for content.
It was the second legal setback for the illicit file sharing scene since April, when the founders of The Pirate Bay were found guilty of facilitating copyright infringement and ordered to spend a year each in prison pending appeal. The ruling against Mininova and its millions of users is likely to bolster content owners’ resolve to use the courts to protect their interests.
Mininova was seen by many as an alternative to The Pirate Bay. But recently, under legal threats Mininova began removing content upon receiving takedown notices.
The lawsuit against Mininova by Stichting Brein, a Dutch copyright group, also underscores that Europe, once viewed as a copyright scofflaw haven, is no longer tolerating rampant copyright infringement on such a massive scale.
The case is also important because, with last year’s death of TorrentSpy, there are no U.S. torrent trackers even though the U.S. courts have never ruled squarely on the merits whether hosting a BitTorrent tracker or index is unlawful.
Testing those boundaries is isoHunt, a Canadian index being sued by the Motion Picture Association of America in a Los Angeles federal court. That case has been pending nearly three years. IsoHunt, another popular alternative to the The Pirate Bay, removes several hundred listings from its BitTorrent index each week upon requests from copyright owners.
Mininova co-founder Erik Dubbelboer said in an e-mailed statement to Threat Level that the site’s operators were surprised by the decision, given that Mininova removes content upon request.
“We are obviously not satisfied with this ruling. The result of this ruling for Mininova is that we have to re-evaluate our business operations. At this time, we cannot determine what this will actually entail or imply. We will have to examine the verdict thoroughly first. We are considering to appeal this judgment.”
Pirate Bay Clone Threatened By Romanian RIAA
Last week, following the availability of a torrent carrying a large backup of The Pirate Bay, the admin of BTArena became the first to turn it back into a working website. Now, a representative of Romania’s answer to the RIAA has contacted TorrentFreak informing us that they have begun legal action against the site.
Around 10 days ago, an almost complete copy of The Pirate Bay’s entire site became available for download via BitTorrent. The idea behind the upload was simple – if the proposed sale to GGF didn’t go the way TPB fans would like, the site could be reinstated in the original style.
Then TorrentFreak got word from Alex, the admin of BTArena. He had downloaded the archive and spent quite some time putting all back together. “I made an online copy of The Pirate Bay,” he told us. The news flashed around the world and was covered by hundreds of news outlets – The Pirate Bay had been successfully cloned.
Then yesterday, quite unexpectedly, TorrentFreak received an email from AIMR (Asociatia Industriei Muzicale din Romania) – Romania’s answer to the RIAA.
According to AIMR, last Friday they contacted BTArena’s host and informed them about “illegal activity” and the ISP said it would pass on the notification.
It is worth noting that the backup of The Pirate Bay available via BTArena does not offer the full structure of The Pirate Bay. It is just an archive of TPB’s .torrent files and BTArena makes no attempt to track any of the torrents with its own tracker – that task is still being carried out by The Pirate Bay.
At the time of writing, BTArena.org is intermittently available and BTArena.net, the location for the TPB backup, is unavailable.
Isohunt Judge Says MPAA Has Yet to Prove Direct Infringment
File-sharing sites haven't had a great year, especially in court, but on Wednesday they received a smidgen of good news.
The Motion Picture Association of America asked a federal court to rule that Isohunt was liable for copyright violations committed by its users, but the judge in the case was unconvinced. In his order, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson said the studios had yet to prove that the Isohunt's users had broken U.S. law.
Lawyers for the MPAA, the trade group representing the six major Hollywood film studios, are trying to convince the judge that Isohunt encouraged and contributed to the infringing activity of users. Wilson gave the MPAA until Sept. 15 to file a brief that convinces him direct infringement at the site was committed by those in the U.S. Apparently, Wilson has questions about whether U.S. residents have pirated content using Isohunt.
"United States copyright laws do not reach acts of infringement that take place entirely abroad," Wilson, wrote in his order.
A spokeswoman for the MPAA did not immediately have a response.
The significance of the judge's order, at least from the point of view of Ira Rothken, Isohunt's attorney, is that MPAA's investigators have struggled to draw specific examples of infringement occurring in the U.S.
"Our view is that it would be difficult if not impossible," Rothken said, "to be able to trace any direct infringement to the users of the Isohunt's site in a manner that would hold Isohunt responsible for the infringing conduct. I think the judge's order will hopefully demonstrate to the court that Isohunt, besides lacking knowledge of direct infringement, can't possibly be held liable for users conduct, especially since any such conduct occurs after they leave the site."
Rothken is hoping to argue Isohunt's case before a jury, something that no other BitTorrent sites have managed to do.
"I believe there has not been a single case in U.S. law where there has been a decision on the merits of a Torrent search engine," Rothken said. "We're cautiously optimistic Judge Wilson will deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and ultimately there will be a trial on the merits."
Some of the cases that have gone against BitTorrent or file-sharing sites Sweden-based BitTorrent search engines, The Pirate Bay, was brought up on criminal misconduct charges and TorrentSpy's case was decided on a discovery sanction. Some of the issues in the Usenet.com case closely resemble Isohunt and TorrentSpy's, although the company is not a BitTorrent tracker or search engine.
Usenet.com is a company that enabled users to access the Usenet network and it too lost on a discovery sanction.
Most of these companies claim to do nothing more than help people locate files. One question often asked by readers is how is this different than what Google offers? One can find plenty of infringing content using the behemoth search engine.
"I believe the difference is that for one reason or another courts seem to place greater social importance on the Google search engine," Rothken said. "Courts also tend to frown on search engines created to find specific file types like .torrent files. And other than that there is no difference (Isohunt and Google)."
Seven Crimes That Will Get You a Smaller Fine than File-Sharing
Thinking about file-sharing? Don't. You'll get fined, and crime doesn't pay (unless you rob banks and/or armored cars, then it pays very well). Take it from Jammie Thomas, who was fined $2 million for downloading 24 songs, or anyone else who tried to fight the RIAA.
Instead, try another crime, because plenty of them draw far lighter penalties than downloading Jason Mraz's latest. Thanks to the Mechanics blog at Gapers Block, here are seven crimes that will get you smaller fines than file-sharing:
1. Child abduction: the fine is only like $25000.
2. Stealing the actual CD: the fine is $2,500
3. Rob your neighbor: the fine is $375,000
4. Burn a house down: The fine is just over $375,000
5. Stalk someone: The fine is $175,000
6. Start a dogfighting ring: the fine is $50,000
7. Murder someone: The maximum penalty is only $25,000 and 15 years in jail, and depending on your yearly salary, would probably be far slighter a penalty that $2 million.
Seriously, murdering someone will result in a lighter overall penalty than downloading a bunch of songs and getting caught. Granted, you don't get shivved in the showers at home, but still.
Curt Smith on the (Musical) Value of Sharing
Curt Smith is a musician and a co-founder of Tears for Fears.
Posted by: Eric Steuer
I got my first record deal when I was 18 years old—next year that will be about 30 years ago, so I have been doing it for quite a while. The industry when I first started was very much one-sided in the sense that it favored the industry and not the musicians. We would sign deals when we were quite young that were pretty bad across the board: from record deals to publishing deals, even management deals and touring. You just didn’t make as high of a percentage as you would now. But of course that has changed over the years, especially in the last few years with the internet and sharing your music with people.
Technology has changed so much that now, people are quite capable of making records themselves. It used to be a very expensive process, but its not anymore. In the past, the industry controlled how your music got out there, so if you didn’t have a record deal it would never be on shelves; there was no Amazon, there was no iTunes. There was basically just radio, and the record companies controlled that as well. Now, with the freedom of the internet, people can go and discover your stuff.
The down side is that there is now so much music, some form of filtering tool is required. That’s starting to happen more with sites where people vote on music—you can breeze through a site, listen to different genres of music, and see which songs are being appreciated the most. But I think one of the big challenges is finding a good system of filtering so you can far more easily find music you may be interested in.
A bigger challenge, from the perspective of the artist, is how to get yourself seen. How do you stand out from X-million people on MySpace or however many there are now? Some of it you can get through hard work—live work, for example, is far more important than is has been in a long time, because that’s something you can’t replicate online. So building up a live following holds the value that it used to do, only now the word of mouth will spread more quickly due to the internet.
Artists have always created things with the goal of sharing them with people, and that idea goes way back. If you wrote music, you would go out and perform it on the street corner or you would perform it in a club; you wanted to be heard and share it with people. So I think the primary reason to make art is to share it with people. I don’t primarily make music just for me, I want it to be listened to by other people, I want people to take it apart, I want people to delve into it and get the different textures and different meanings of lyrics. That kind of stuff I find fascinating. I like to delve into music or any form of art; then I actually feel like I’m involved in it. The difficulty right now lies with how we monetize that. Without sounding completely cold, unless we find a consistent way of monetizing it, then we can’t do it any more. We love the stories of the starving artist, but there is only so long you can starve before you are actually going to have to go out and find a job. Those are the problems we have yet to completely solve.
Obama’s FCC to Enforce ‘Net Neutrality’
Kevin Bogardus and Kim Hart
The Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to keep the Internet free of increased user fees based on heavy Web traffic and slow downloads.
Julius Genachowski, the FCC chairman, told The Hill that his agency will support “net neutrality” and go after anyone who violates its tenets.
“One thing I would say so that there is no confusion out there is that this FCC will support net neutrality and will enforce any violation of net neutrality principles,” Genachowski said when asked what he could do in his position to keep the Internet fair, free and open to all Americans.
The statement by Genachowski comes as the commission remains locked in litigation with Comcast. The cable provider is appealing a court decision by challenging the FCC’s authority to penalize the company for limiting Web traffic to its consumers.
The FCC chairman, only in the job for roughly two months, said the commission’s general counsel is working on the best legal strategy to defend its open Internet principles. In 2008, then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, joined with the commission’s two Democrats in voting to penalize Comcast for limiting Web traffic related to the file-sharing program BitTorrent, which the company is challenging in federal court.
Genachowski, a Harvard Law School classmate of President Barack Obama's and a fundraiser for his 2008 campaign, has been a big supporter of net neutrality. An Internet venture capitalist, he helped write the campaign’s tech policy as an adviser, which included solid support of such principles.
Telecom corporations have often chafed at net neutrality. They have lobbied against similar limits placed in the stimulus package, saying they represented unnecessary regulation that could impede private innovation.
The FCC can also look to Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) for backing on the issue. The lawmaker introduced net neutrality legislation just before the onset of the August recess that would guard against discriminatory practices by network operators.
Genachoswki would not offer an opinion on the pending legislation but said “the FCC’s job for legislation like that is to be a resource … to make sure they have the facts and the data that they need.”
Asked if he needed more tools to enforce violations of the commission’s open Internet principles, Genachowski said the commission will speak up if it needs more authority.
“If we don’t, we will say so,” he said.
U.S. Lags Other Nations in Internet Speed
The average Internet download speed in the U.S. is slower than that in 27 other countries, according to a new report by the Communications Workers of America.
Web surfing in the U.S. averages around 5.1 megabits per second (mbps), lagging far behind top-ranked South Korea, where speeds average more than 20 mbps. In 2007, the U.S. download speed was 3.5 mbps, inching up only 1.6 mbps since then. At that rate, notes the report, it will take the U.S. 15 years to catch up with South Korea.
The CWA's 2009 Report on Internet Speeds also compared Internet performance throughout all 50 U.S. states.
The report discovered that Internet users who live in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic regions enjoy faster speeds than those in the South or West. The five fastest states included Delaware (9.9 mbps), Rhode Island (9.8 mbps), New Jersey (8.9 mbps), Massachusetts (8.6 mbps), and New York (8.4 mbps).
States on the slow end were Mississippi (3.7 mbps), South Carolina (3.6 mbps), Arkansas (3.1 mbps), Idaho (2.6 mbps), and Alaska (2.3 mbps).
"Every American should have affordable access to high-speed Internet, no matter where they live. This is essential to economic growth and will help maintain our global competitiveness," said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America. "Unfortunately, fragmented government programs and uneven private sector responses to build out Internet access have left a digital divide across the country."
The U.S. is the only country without a national policy to promote high-speed Internet access, noted the report. But that may be about to change.
Signed earlier this year, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes a provision for a national broadband plan by spring of next year and grants of $7.2 billion to bring high-speed Internet to rural and remote locations across the country.
That's a step in the right direction, said the CWA. But the organization would like to see more specific improvements.
In the report, the CWA called for such measures as an Internet infrastructure with enough capacity for 10 mbps downstream and 1 mbps upstream by 2010, tax incentives for businesses to provide faster speeds, and grants to provide computers and broadband equipment to low-income households.
The 2009 report was compiled using data from the CWA's latest Speed Matters test, which measures the time it takes to communicate with the nearest server on the Net. Gathered from May 2008 to May 2009, the test tracked the speed of more than 413,000 Internet users.
The Truth: What’s Really Going On With Apple, Google, AT&T And The FCC
Apple has responded to the FCC’s request for information around its rejection of various Google and third party iPhone applications for the iPhone.
In short, Apple denies that they rejected the Google Voice application, but they go into great detail about how the Google Voice application hurts “the iPhone’s distinctive user experience.” All of those statements are either untrue, or misleading, or both.
The first part of Apple’s argument, that they never rejected the application, is “a total lie,” according to many sources with knowledge of the Google Voice application process.
The second part of Apple’s argument, that the Google Voice application hurts the iPhone’s distinctive user experience, is seriously misleading. I know this because I’ve become intimately familiar with the Google Voice service and applications over the last few months. See here, here, here and here, for example. I haven’t used the Google Voice app for the iPhone specifically, because it never launched. But I have been briefed by the Google team on two separate occasions on how the app would work over the last couple of months. Also, I’ve demo’d the Blackberry version of the app, and now use the Android version of the app.
Here’s the key language from Apple’s letter, with my comments:
Apple: “Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it.”
Reality: One third party Google Voice app developer disclosed to us in July that Apple SVP Phil Schiller told them that Google’s own app would be or already was rejected. Google also confirmed this to us later. There is overwhelming evidence that Apple did in fact reject the application.
Apple: “The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail. Apple spent a lot of time and effort developing this distinct and innovative way to seamlessly deliver core functionality of the iPhone.”
Reality: This strongly suggests that the Google Voice app replaces much of the core Apple iPhone OS function. This certainly isn’t accurate, and we believe the statement is misleading. More details below, but in general the iPhone app is a very light touch and doesn’t interfere with any native iPhone apps at all.
Apple: “For example, on an iPhone, the “Phone” icon that is always shown at the bottom of the Home Screen launches Apple’s mobile telephone application, providing access to Favorites, Recents, Contacts, a Keypad, and Visual Voicemail. The Google Voice application replaces Apple’s Visual Voicemail by routing calls through a separate Google Voice telephone number that stores any voicemail, preventing voicemail from being stored on the iPhone, i.e., disabling Apple’s Visual Voicemail.”
Reality: Not true and misleading. The Google Voice application has its own voicemail function, which also transcribes messages. But it only works for incoming Google Voice calls, not calls to the iPhone. The Google Voice app in no way “replaces” Apple’s voicemail function.
Apple: “Similarly, SMS text messages are managed through the Google hub—replacing the iPhone’s text messaging feature.”
Reality: Not true and misleading. The Google Voice app doesn’t replace or in any way interfere wtih the iPhone’s text messaging feature. If someone sends a text message to your Google Voice number, the Google Voice app shows it. If it is sent directly to the iPhone phone number, nothing is different.
Apple: “In addition, the iPhone user’s entire Contacts database is transferred to Google’s servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways. These factors present several new issues and questions to us that we are still pondering at this time.”
Reality: Complete fabrication, way beyond misleading. The Google Voice app can access the iPhone’s contacts database, like thousands of other iPhone apps. But the Google Voice app never syncs the contacts database to their own servers. There is no option for users to do this. However, Apple offers the ability to sync iPhone contacts with Google via iTunes. So not only is Apple’s statement untrue, but they also provide this exact feature themselves via their own service.
So how did Google answer the same question in their own separate letter to the FCC, also made publicly available today? We don’t know, because Google requested that the answer be redacted. But my guess is that the answer, which the FCC has and can compare to Apple’s response, tells a significantly different (approximately the exact opposite) story:
Our sources at Google tell us in no uncertain terms that Apple rejected the application. And we have an independent third party app developer who tells us that an Apple Exec also told them back in July that the Google Voice Application was rejected.
In other words, there is strong evidence that Apple is, well, lying.
Which also is the easiest way to explain Apple’s long rambling letter to the FCC. Why go into so much detail about the problems with the Google Voice application, and then say that it was never rejected? If the app does actually replace all of those core apple phone, contact and SMS features, why not reject it out of hand? I don’t believe anyone would say Apple made the wrong decision if that laundry list of nonsense had any truth to it (we have an answer to that, below).
Multiple sources at Google tell us that in informal discussions with Apple over the last few months Apple expressed dismay at the number of core iPhone apps that are powered by Google. Search, maps, YouTube, and other key popular apps are powered by Google. Other than the browser, Apple has little else to call its own other than the core phone, contacts and calendar features. The Google Voice App takes things one step further, by giving users an incentive to abandon their iPhone phone number and use their Google Voice phone number instead (transcription of voicemails is reason enough alone). Apple was afraid, say our sources, that Google was gaining too much power on the iPhone, and that’s why they rejected the application.
Apple seemed to be fine telling Google and others that the real reason they wouldn’t accept the Google Voice app on the iPhone was a fear of being turned into little more than a hardware manufacturer over time as users spent more and more time on Google Voice and less time on the competing native iPhone apps. Or simply letting people believe that AT&T was behind the rejection. Until the FCC got involved, that is. Then Apple denied the rejections and directed the FCCs attention to misleading or simply untrue factual statements about the App.
Of course, now both Google and AT&T are required to tell their side of the story to the FCC, too. And those stories aren’t adding up.
What Happens Next?
Here’s what we believe Apple is preparing to do next. Their statement that they haven’t rejected the app, along with the long laundry list of complaints (none of which are true) tells us that they’re backtracking, and fast. Sometime soon, we guess, Apple will simply accept the Google Voice application. They have to - any serious investigation into the app by the FCC will show that the complaints around the app are unfounded and that it does none of the things Apple accuses it of doing. So Apple will save face by simply asking Google to ensure that the App doesn’t take over native phone, sms and other functions, and doesn’t sync the contacts to Google’s servers. Google will comply (they already have), and Apple will graciously accept the application.
But we’ll all know exactly where Apple stands - jealously guarding control of their users and trying to block Google and other third party developers at every turn from getting their superior applications in front those users.
This isn’t about protecting users, it’s about controlling them. And that’s not what Apple should be about. Put the users first, Steve, and don’t lie to us. We’re not that dumb.
Apple’s FCC Response Infuriates Google Voice App Developer
Apple’s open letter to the FCC has left at least one iPhone app development team “more frustrated than ever.”
Kevin Duerr and his crew at Riverturn, a technology consulting firm that built the VoiceCentral Google Voice app, have been hoping that Apple would come clean about why their app, along with three other Google voice apps, were suddenly removed from iTunes on June 27 with no warning, an action that ultimately launched an FCC inquiry.
But Duerr was infuriated by Apple’s response to the FCC, proudly posted on Apple.com late Friday afternoon. Duerr described Apple’s FCC letter as “nothing but hot air for PR purposes.” He also suspects Apple is being more than a bit disingenuous with the FCC.
“Perhaps they are assuming no one at the FCC ever used VoiceCentral or the other two Google Voice Apps that were available for months before they were removed from the App store. Or maybe Apple is banking on the FCC not being deeply familiar with either the iPhone or the Google Voice service. Because anyone who knows the services in question, or anyone who ever used our app, would be able to see the insincerity in many of Apple’s statements.”
Apple’s response to the FCC’s question about why the Google voice apps were pulled from iTunes states that the apps weren’t rejected, they just haven’t been approved because Apple is “still pondering” whether Google can be trusted with iPhone user data.
Apple explains that the Google Voice apps transfer “…the iPhone user’s entire Contacts database … to Google’s servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways.” Apple is also ruminating over whether it’s acceptable for these apps to replace “the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.”
“In their entire description of how their review process works and why they reject apps they did not mention one single item that could apply to our app,” says Duerr. “And none of the explanations offered come close to explaining why our app was approved and selling for four months prior to being pulled with no warning. Richard from Apple specifically told me that our app was removed because it was not allowed by policy. He made absolutely no mention of any ‘pondering.’"
(“Richard from Apple” contacted Duerr three days after VoiceCentral was removed from the app store, but was unable to provide specific, useful information to Duerr details beyond the fact that “VoiceCentral has been removed from the App Store because it duplicates features of the iPhone… and was causing confusion in the user community.”)
Duerr says that he and his team are still waiting for responses to the emails they directed towards both the App review team and App technical support on July 27 requesting detailed information about why their app was removed and how they could remediate any problems. In their desperation to get some sort of concrete answer they even sent emails to Steve Jobs and other Apple executives, which have also gone unanswered.
Apple cheerily wrote in its FCC letter that: "If we find that an application has a problem, for example, a software bug that crashes the application, we send the developer a note describing the reason why the application will not be approved as submitted. In many cases we are able to provide specific guidance about how the developer can fix the application. We also let them know they can contact the app review team or technical support, or they can write to us for further guidance."
“Where’s our “specific guidance”? Phil Schiller, you’ve been the App Store Angel lately… can we talk?” fumes Duerr. “When I spoke with Richard I begged him to ask one of his superiors to at least have a legitimate conversation with me about the situation. To date we have heard nothing. And I find it telling that Apple never says who “us” is in the FCC statement. Who exactly should we write to? Apple’s a pretty big company so they might want to narrow down that ‘us’.”
Unsurprisingly, Duerr has done a lot of thinking about what Apple needs to do to support its app developers more effectively. He thinks the following is the absolute bare minimum:
Non-binding pre-approval: Developers should be able to outline a proposed app’s functions to Apple and get feedback on whether the app will be approved before they invest time and money into actually building it. Apple would have the right to reject pre-approved apps if they provably deviate from the developer’s approved proposal.
Complete overhaul of the approval process and team: Duerr says that “developers often get a response that includes one esoteric section of the Developers Agreement quoted to them. That’s a far cry from the ‘provide specific guidance about how the developer can fix the application’ that they claimed in their response letter. Clearly a reviewer knows why, in layman’s terms (not Developer Agreement vague legalese), why they intend to say no. What’s the harm in just saying ‘No, but if you do X then we will probably say yes’?
Better communication: Duerr says that the emails that developers currently receive “shed little to no light on the real issue. They almost always require a hefty amount of interpretation, followed by a leap of faith that the developer knows what Apple actually meant.” He adds that emails to the app review team result in canned responses 99.99% of the time.
Appeals process: Duerr thinks there should be a defined process of appeals where a developer could speak with someone higher in the chain of command that is capable of answering questions with specific information rather than just reciting the rejection script. “Even if the answer remains no, coming to an understanding on that answer would go a long way to convincing developers that the iPhone is still a worthwhile platform. When you are completely in the dark it’s really hard to justify continued investment,” says Duerr.
Fix the refunds Issue: “If Apple decides on a whim to change their mind and remove an App from the store after it has already been for sale for any length of time, then Apple has to foot the bill on refunds that they decide to grant end users,” Duerr says.”This obviously hits close to home for us, but it couldn’t be more obvious that the party that made all of the decisions leading up to the reason a refund is being requested should be responsible for the cost of that refund.”
Duerr says that Riverturn’s own iPhone apps development effort is now on hold until further notice but the company is still performing iPhone development work for their clients. Riverturn has also begun developing for other mobile development platforms, including Android, Palm Pre and “another exciting idea that we will be announcing soon.”
Time Warner Cable to Test TV on the Internet: Report
Time Warner Cable Inc has signed up at least seven large media companies for a test that will offer television programs on the Internet to paying subscribers, the Wall Street Journal said on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.
Networks participating in the trial are expected to include General Electric Co's Syfy, Time Warner Inc's TNT, Cablevision Systems Corp's AMC and the British Broadcasting Corp's BBC America, the people told the paper.
Other companies that could be involved in the trial are CBS Corp, Discovery Communications Inc and Viacom Inc, the paper cited some of the people as saying.
The test involves TV shows being made available on the Web to a limited number of homes, the paper said.
In July, Comcast Corp signed up CBS along with 17 more cable networks to participate in the cable company's trial to make more television shows available to its subscribers on the Web.
Time Warner Cable could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters outside regular U.S. business hours.
(Reporting by S. John Tilak in Bangalore; Editing by David Holmes)
TiVo Sues AT&T and Verizon
DVR firm claims patent infringement
Unable to strike a deal with either of the major phone companies that offer TV services, TiVo on Wednesday sued them both.
TiVo filed its DVR patent infringement lawsuits against AT&T and Verizon in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas, where it has been battling -- mostly successfully -- Dish Network for five years.
TiVo has already taken Dish for more than $200 million and a judge has slapped a permanent injunction, now being appealed, against Dish. If all goes TiVo's way, Dish will have to shut off millions of its customers' DVRs or strike a licensing deal with TiVo.
Now, the company that introduced DVRs to the world is hoping for a similar outcome against the two phone companies.
"We need to stop their continued use of our intellectual property," TiVo CEO Tom Rogers said Wednesday during a conference call with analysts to discuss quarterly financial results.
Rogers was asked more than once why TiVo has been so selective about its lawsuits, leaving out cable operators and the makers of set-top boxes, for example. One analyst asked specifically why TiVo hasn't sued Time Warner Cable.
Rogers dodged such queries except to indicate that negotiations with cablers have been going better than they had with Dish and the phone companies. Comcast, for example, has launched its service with TiVo in New England and will do so soon in Chicago.
TiVo reported a net loss of $4.2 million in the fiscal second quarter compared with net income a year ago of $3.6 million on revenue that fell 10% to $54.9 million.
TiVo lost 139,000 subscribers quarter-over-quarter to 3.2 million, with the bulk of the losses coming from DirecTV users who are switching to HD-DVRs. TiVo's HD-DVR for DirecTV users is yet to come.
Recent highlights noted by Rogers included a deal that will have 4,000 Blockbuster stores selling TiVos and an arrangement with Best Buy that will include the retailer building TiVo's interface into Best Buy's exclusive TV brands.
Rogers promised Best Buy was preparing to throw "substantial marketing muscle" behind that and other initiatives involving TiVo.
He also boasted of TiVo's measurement services that can tell advertisers and media companies detailed demographic information about a show's audience, including the political party they belong to, car brands they own and groceries they purchase.
Analyst Tony Wible at Janney Montgomery Scott asked Rogers about networks "seemingly pushing back against Nielsen" recently.
"We are not looking to dislodge the Nielsen data as the key currency for advertising ratings negotiations," he said. "Our goal is to fill all kinds of voids that the Nielsen data has in the marketplace."
Clive Thompson on the New Literacy
As the school year begins, be ready to hear pundits fretting once again about how kids today can't write—and technology is to blame. Facebook encourages narcissistic blabbering, video and PowerPoint have replaced carefully crafted essays, and texting has dehydrated language into "bleak, bald, sad shorthand" (as University College of London English professor John Sutherland has moaned). An age of illiteracy is at hand, right?
Andrea Lunsford isn't so sure. Lunsford is a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, where she has organized a mammoth project called the Stanford Study of Writing to scrutinize college students' prose. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples—everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusions are stirring.
"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization," she says. For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.
The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That's because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.
It's almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.
But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it's over something as quotidian as what movie to go see. The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn't serve any purpose other than to get them a grade. As for those texting short-forms and smileys defiling serious academic writing? Another myth. When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn't find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.
Of course, good teaching is always going to be crucial, as is the mastering of formal academic prose. But it's also becoming clear that online media are pushing literacy into cool directions. The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision. At the same time, the proliferation of new forms of online pop-cultural exegesis—from sprawling TV-show recaps to 15,000-word videogame walkthroughs—has given them a chance to write enormously long and complex pieces of prose, often while working collaboratively with others.
We think of writing as either good or bad. What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all.
Wired Editor Apologizes for Copying From Wikipedia in New Book
Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, copied portions of his coming book, “Free: The Future of a Radical Price,” from Wikipedia without attribution. The passages were discovered by a reviewer for The Virginia Quarterly Review, who was reading an advance galley of the book, which is being published by Hyperion Books early next month.
The passages, some copied word for word, include references in a section titled “The First Free Lunch,” as well as segments on usury and the learning curve.
“It’s really simple,” Mr. Anderson said in a telephone interview. “Mea culpa.” Mr. Anderson, who also wrote “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More,” said that while he believed Wikipedia was a valid source for books, he and his publisher had not been able to agree on a format for citations.
He said he originally wrote the sections using the material from Wikipedia in quotations, and had hoped to cite them using footnotes. But while Mr. Anderson wanted to provide a URL address in the notes, he said the publisher wanted to add a time stamp as well. Mr. Anderson objected, on the grounds that Wikipedia pages change constantly as users update them. “It felt archaic and clumsy,” he said. Such notes, he said, “would be months out of date.”
Mr. Anderson said he rewrote the sections that relied on Wikipedia for source material in his own words, but missed several passages. “That’s my screw-up and I totally take the blame for that,” he said. He said the errors would be corrected in the digital version of the book and that footnotes to the hardcover edition would be posted online.
In a statement, Hyperion said: “We are completely satisfied with Chris Anderson’s response. It was an unfortunate mistake, and we are working with the author to correct these errors both in the electronic edition before it posts, and in all future editions of the book.”
Drugs to Do, Cases to Solve
By Thomas Pynchon
369 pp. The Penguin Press. $27.95
The private eyes of classic American noir dwell in a moral shadow land somewhere between order and anarchy, principle and pragmatism. They’re too unruly to be cops and too decent to be crooks, leaving them no natural allies on either side but attracting enemies from both. Their loneliness resembles that of cowboys, those other mournful individualists who pay for their liberty with obscurity, and it makes them at least as intriguing as their cases, which usually start as tales of greed and lust but tend to evolve into dramas of corruption that implicate lofty, respected institutions and indict society itself.
What allows the detectives to penetrate these schemes is not their intelligence, chiefly, but their autonomy. Private eyes are skeptics and outsiders, their isolation the secret of their vision. Doc Sportello, the mellow gumshoe hero of Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice” — a psychedelic homage to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler set in the last days of hippie-era Los Angeles, after the Manson murders have spoiled the vibe — lives, like his old-school models, on the margins, unaffiliated and unencumbered. His funky little hometown, Gordita Beach, is perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, its back turned squarely on America, both geographically and culturally. The town is a haven for dropouts, freaks and misfits who don’t so much live outside the law but as though the law had never been invented. For Doc, who stumbled into the detective trade and found that it suited his easygoing lifestyle, his beach bum neighbors are ideal clients, prone to getting into minor jams but disinclined to stir up serious trouble. This keeps Doc’s workload relatively light, freeing him to stay stoned around the clock and live in the now, which isn’t hard for him, because he’s toked away his short-term memory. It’s a wonder he can still function as a person, let alone make a living as a sleuth. He nods off during stakeouts, draws blanks while quizzing witnesses and can’t seem to turn down the volume on the surf music playing incessantly inside his head.
If Doc sounds like a literary joke — the Private Eye with drooping lids who can’t trust the evidence of his own senses — then he must be a joke with a lesson to impart, since Pynchon isn’t the type to make us laugh unless he’s really out to make us think. Even in “V.” and “Gravity’s Rainbow,” the colossal novels of ideas that have inspired a thousand dissertations as unreadable as the books are said to be but actually aren’t, he grounds his intellectualism in humor and livens it up with allusions to pop culture while sacrificing none of its deep rigor. He’s our literature’s best metaphysical comedian. The weighty points his work makes about the universe — that it’s slowly winding down as the Big Bang becomes the Final Sigh — tend to relieve our despair, not deepen it, by letting us in on the cosmos’s greatest gags: for example, that the purpose of the Creation was to make itself perfectly unmanageable and purely unintelligible. No wonder so many of Pynchon’s characters revel in chemical dissipation. Entropy — if you can’t beat it, join it.
That’s Doc’s way, at least, and once the plot gets rolling (spurred by the search for a missing land developer whom his trampy ex-girlfriend has a thing for), the story takes on the shape of his derangement, squirting along from digression to digression and periodically pausing for dope-head gabfests of preposterous intensity on subjects including the ontological subtleties of “The Wizard of Oz” and the potential re-emergence of the sunken continent of Lemuria. Pynchon’s ear for the atonal music of attention deficit disorder is both pitch perfect and extremely patient, as in this riff on the semiotic nuances of StarKist’s Charlie the Tuna: “It’s all supposed to be so innocent, upwardly mobile snob, designer shades, beret, so desperate to show he’s got good taste, except he’s also dyslexic so he gets ‘good taste’ mixed up with ‘taste good,’ but it’s worse than that! Far, far worse! Charlie really has this, like, obsessive death wish! Yes! he, he wants to be caught, processed, put in a can, not just any can, you dig, it has to be StarKist! suicidal brand loyalty.” These manic outbursts aren’t arbitrary, of course, but cluster around the novel’s core concern with the waning of the Summer of Love, when all was balmy and celestial, into the chilly Autumn of Authority, which Pynchon implies has yet to end. Some readers will tire of this high nonsense, however, despite its skillful orchestration and period authenticity. Pothead humor, whatever its guilty pleasures, hasn’t evolved much over the last half century, and what was once its charming wackiness has succumbed to orthodoxy. It still relies on vast epiphanies aroused by fleeting trivialities and suddenly interrupted by junk-food cravings. One minute all the great puzzles have been solved, especially those that never puzzled anyone, and the next moment everyone’s pigging out on carbs and lighting their cigarettes from the wrong end.
Like the stoned symposium on tuna, Doc’s manhunt for the AWOL billionaire eventually spirals off into absurdity, becoming a collage of trippy interludes peopled by all manner of goofs and lowlifes. These scenes only fitfully advance the narrative and sometimes cause us to forget there is one. But that’s as expected, since Pynchon doesn’t write plots; instead, he devises suggestive webs of circumstance whose meanings depend on the angles from which they’re viewed and can seem ominous and banal by turns, like so many situations in life. In Pynchon, the problem of distinguishing between coincidences and conspiracies, between the prosaic and the profound, is one of the defining tasks of consciousness. For some, like Doc, whose cerebral equipment is particularly unreliable, this perennial mental challenge can prove insuperable, but that may be why Pynchon chose him for the job. His confusion is all of ours exaggerated, his paranoia a version of normal patternmaking amped way up by his intake of hallucinogens. That doesn’t mean he’s blind, though, or delusional. Hyper-awareness makes sense at times, especially when, as in 1970 (the year in which the book is set), the times are changing more rapidly than usual and were radically out of joint to start with.
The grand conclusion of Doc’s nonlinear sleuthing, the revelation he stumbles on despite himself, is that he and his freedom-loving kinfolk (the private eye and the hippie, we finally see, are related as outcast seekers of the truth) have been boxed in by the squares, their natural foes, and will henceforth be monitored with their own consent, to assure their own ostensible safety. The oppressors’ specific methods and identities continue to mystify Doc to some degree (they include the Internet, it seems, which appears in the novel in a nascent version, as the plaything of a techno-hobbyist), but he divines their overarching goal: to close the frontiers of consciousness forever by rendering life in the shadows impossible and opening the soul itself to view, or at least criminalizing its excursions into deeply subjective, hidden realms. The age of the private eyes is over, that is, and with it the age of privacy itself. And what’s left? The sleepless, all-seeing, unblinking public eye.
1,000 Cameras 'Solve One Crime'
Only one crime was solved by each 1,000 CCTV cameras in London last year, a report into the city's surveillance network has claimed.
The internal police report found the million-plus cameras in London rarely help catch criminals.
In one month CCTV helped capture just eight out of 269 suspected robbers.
David Davis MP, the former shadow home secretary, said: "It should provoke a long overdue rethink on where the crime prevention budget is being spent."
He added: "CCTV leads to massive expense and minimum effectiveness.
"It creates a huge intrusion on privacy, yet provides little or no improvement in security.
"The Metropolitan Police has been extraordinarily slow to act to deal with the ineffectiveness of CCTV."
Nationwide, the government has spent £500m on CCTV cameras.
But Det Sup Michael Michael McNally, who commissioned the report, conceded more needed to be done to make the most of the investment.
He said: "CCTV, we recognise, is a really important part of investigation and prevention of crime, so how we retrieve that from the individual CCTV pods is really quite important.
"There are some concerns, and that's why we have a number of projects on-going at the moment."
Among those projects is a pilot scheme by the Met to improve the way CCTV images are used.
A spokesman for the Met said: "We estimate more than 70% of murder investigations have been solved with the help of CCTV retrievals and most serious crime investigations have a CCTV investigation strategy."
Officers from 11 boroughs have formed a new unit which collects and labels footage centrally before distributing them across the force and media.
It has led to more than 1,000 identifications out of 5,260 images processed so far.
A Home Office spokeswoman said CCTVs "help communities feel safer".
Teenage Girl is First to be Jailed for Bullying on Facebook
A teenager who posted death threats on Facebook has become the first person in Britain to be jailed for bullying on a social networking site.
Keeley Houghton, 18, of Malvern, Worcestershire, has been sentenced to three months in a young offenders' institution after she posted a message saying that she would kill Emily Moore. She pleaded guilty to harassment.
On 12 July, Houghton updated her status on Facebook to read: "Keeley is going to murder the bitch. She is an actress. What a fucking liberty. Emily Fuckhead Moore."
Moore, also 18, had been victimised by Houghton for four years, the court heard, and had previously suffered a physical assault as well as damage to her home.
Worcester magistrates court heard how two days before the threat was made, Moore was in The Vaults pub in Malvern when she saw Houghton staring at her. Sara Stock, prosecuting, said: "Later when Emily was sitting on her own the defendant came over and sat next to her and asked her: 'Are you Emily Moore? Can I have a huggle?' Emily told the defendant to leave her alone otherwise she would call the police. Keeley then told her: 'I'll give you something to ring the police about.' "
Houghton wept throughout the 15-minute hearing. The court was told she had two previous convictions in connection with Moore. In 2005 she was convicted of assaulting her as she walked home from school and was subsequently expelled from school. Two years later she was convicted of causing criminal damage after kicking Moore's front door.
District judge Bruce Morgan told her: "Bullies are by their nature cowards, in school and society. The evil, odious effects of being bullied stay with you for life. On this day you did an act of gratuitous nastiness to satisfy your own twisted nature."
Houghton, who is unemployed, was also issued with a restraining order banning her from contacting Moore.
The court heard how she told police that she wrote the death threats while she was drunk late at night and had no memory of it. But when police examined internet records they discovered Houghton wrote the comments at 4pm on 12 July and kept them on her Facebook page for 24 hours.
At an earlier hearing Houghton defended herself and told magistrates: "I'm here for trying to apologise. She threatened to call the police and all I was doing was saying sorry."
Edward Gaynor-Smith, defending, told the court Houghton now "fully admitted her involvement" in the case.
The Metropolitan police has hired a consultancy to help monitor social networking sites for evidence of crime.
Rosemary Port to Sue Google Over Liskula Cohen 'Skank' Blog
A NEW YORK blogger who described a model as a “skank” is planning to sue Google for $18 million after the internet giant revealed her identity.
Rosemary Port was sued by former Vogue cover girl Liskula Cohen after Google was forced to reveal her identity following a court order, The New York Daily News reports.
Ms Cohen had sought the identity of the fashion blogger so she could pursue a defamation case against her, it had earlier been revealed.
Ms Port's offending part of the blog - which was run on Google’s blogger.com – read “I would have to say the first-place award for ‘Skankiest in NYC’ would have to go to Liskula Gentile Cohen”.
She also described Ms Cohen as an “old hag” and a “psychotic lying whore”.
Ms Port had originally defended her actions in court, claiming blogs “serve as a modern-day forum for conveying personal opinions, including invective and ranting”, and should not be treated as factual assertions, a claim rejected by the judge.
"This has become a public spectacle and a circus that is not my doing," Ms Port said.
"By going to the press, she defamed herself."
The 29-year-old New York fashion student now says Google didn’t do enough to protect her privacy.
"When I was being defended by attorneys for Google, I thought my right to privacy was being protected," she told the NY Daily News.
"But that right fell through the cracks. Without any warning, I was put on a silver platter for the press to attack me.
"I would think that a multi-billion dollar conglomerate would protect the rights of all its users."
Her suit claims Google "breached its fiduciary duty to protect her expectation of anonymity," Ms Port’s lawyer, Salvatore Strazzullo, said.
"I'm ready to take this all the way to the Supreme Court," Mr Strazzullo said.
"Our Founding Fathers wrote The Federalist Papers under pseudonyms. Inherent in the First Amendment is the right to speak anonymously.
"Shouldn't that right extend to the new public square of the internet?"
Mr Strazzullo said: "Ms Cohen loves the spotlight. She brought this notoriety on herself. Then she used a PR circus to defame my client."
But Cohen's lawyer, Steven Wagner, hit back saying the model was never chasing media attention.
"The idea that Liskula brought this on herself is repulsive,” he said.
“If we had thought for a minute that the Google case would have brought more attention to the anonymous blogger's site, we never would have started it."
Jessica Biel Tops List as Most Risky Star in Cyberspace
Actress Jessica Biel has overtaken Brad Pitt as the most dangerous celebrity to search in cyberspace, according to Internet security company McAfee Inc.
For the third consecutive year, McAfee surveyed which A-list celebrity was the riskiest to track on the Internet after Pitt topped the list last year and Paris Hilton came in first in 2007.
Biel, 27, who shot to fame in the TV show "7th Heaven" and most recently starred in "Easy Virtue," was deemed the most dangerous, with fans having a one-in-five chance of landing at a website that has tested positive for online threats, such as spyware, adware, spam, phishing, and viruses.
"Cybercriminals are star watchers too - they latch onto popular celebrities to encourage the download of malicious software in disguise," McAfee's Jeff Green said in a statement.
"Consumers' obsession with celebrity news and culture is harmless in theory, but one bad download can cause a lot of damage to a computer."
"Every day, cybercriminals use celebrities' names and images, like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna, to lure surfers searching for the latest stories, screen savers and ringtones to sites offering free downloads laden with malware," the statement added.
Coming second in the list for the second year running was pop star Beyonce, with McAfee finding that putting "Beyonce ringtones" into a search engine yielded a dangerous website linking to a distributor of adware and spyware.
Actress Jennifer Aniston was third, with more than 40 percent of the Google search results for "Jennifer Aniston screensavers" containing nasty viruses.
Young Hollywood stars Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale and Lindsay Lohan all edged out Heidi Montag and Jessica Alba who appeared on last year's list.
They also ranked higher than other young personalities including "Twilight" stars Robert Pattinson who came 30th and Kristen Stewart who was 20th, the Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift, Lauren Conrad, Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron.
Megan Fox and Angelina Jolie tied as the eighth most dangerous celebrities on the Web while newlyweds Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen came in fourth and sixth respectively.
However, U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who have featured on most celebrities list this year, were not at the top of risky public figures to search.
The Obamas ranked in the bottom-third of this year's results, at No. 34 and No. 39 respectively.
Brad Pitt came 10th in the list this year.
(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)
Defying Experts, Rogue Computer Code Still Lurks
It is still out there.
Like a ghost ship, a rogue software program that glided onto the Internet last November has confounded the efforts of top security experts to eradicate the program and trace its origins and purpose, exposing serious weaknesses in the world’s digital infrastructure.
The program, known as Conficker, uses flaws in Windows software to co-opt machines and link them into a virtual computer that can be commanded remotely by its authors. With more than five million of these zombies now under its control — government, business and home computers in more than 200 countries — this shadowy computer has power that dwarfs that of the world’s largest data centers.
Alarmed by the program’s quick spread after its debut in November, computer security experts from industry, academia and government joined forces in a highly unusual collaboration. They decoded the program and developed antivirus software that erased it from millions of the computers. But Conficker’s persistence and sophistication has squelched the belief of many experts that such global computer infections are a thing of the past.
“It’s using the best current practices and state of the art to communicate and to protect itself,” Rodney Joffe, director of the Conficker Working Group, said of the malicious program. “We have not found the trick to take control back from the malware in any way.”
Researchers speculate that the computer could be employed to generate vast amounts of spam; it could steal information like passwords and logins by capturing keystrokes on infected computers; it could deliver fake antivirus warnings to trick naïve users into believing their computers are infected and persuading them to pay by credit card to have the infection removed.
There is also a different possibility that concerns the researchers: That the program was not designed by a criminal gang, but instead by an intelligence agency or the military of some country to monitor or disable an enemy’s computers. Networks of infected computers, or botnets, were used widely as weapons in conflicts in Estonia in 2007 and in Georgia last year, and in more recent attacks against South Korean and United States government agencies. Recent attacks that temporarily crippled Twitter and Facebook were believed to have had political overtones.
Yet for the most part Conficker has done little more than to extend its reach to more and more computers. Though there had been speculation that the computer might be activated to do something malicious on April 1, the date passed without incident, and some security experts wonder if the program has been abandoned.
The experts have only tiny clues about the location of the program’s authors. The first version included software that stopped the program if it infected a machine with a Ukrainian language keyboard. There may have been two initial infections — in Buenos Aires and in Kiev.
Wherever the authors are, the experts say, they are clearly professionals using the most advanced technology available. The program is protected by internal defense mechanisms that make it hard to erase, and even kills or hides from programs designed to look for botnets.
A member of the security team said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had suspects, but was moving slowly because it needed to build a relationship with “noncorrupt” law enforcement agencies in the countries where the suspects are located.
An F.B.I. spokesman in Washington declined to comment, saying that the Conficker investigation was an open case.
The first infections, last Nov. 20, set off an intense battle between the hidden authors and the volunteer group that formed to counter them. The group, which first called itself the “Conficker Cabal,” changed its name when Microsoft, Symantec and several other companies objected to the unprofessional connotation.
Eventually, university researchers and law enforcement officials joined forces with computer experts at more than two dozen Internet, software and computer security firms.
The group won some battles, but lost others. The Conficker authors kept distributing new, more intricate versions of the program, at one point using code that had been devised in academia only months before. At another point, a single technical slip by the working group allowed the program’s authors to convert a huge number of the infected machines to an advanced peer-to-peer communications scheme that the industry group has not been able to defeat. Where before all the infected computers would have to phone home to a single source for instructions, the authors could now use any infected computer to instruct all the others.
In early April, Patrick Peterson, a research fellow at Cisco Systems in San Jose, Calif., gained some intelligence about the authors’ interests. He studies nasty computer programs by keeping a set of quarantined computers that capture and observe them — his “digital zoo.”
He discovered that the Conficker authors had begun distributing software that tricks Internet users into buying fake antivirus software with their credit cards. “We turned off the lights in the zoo one day and came back the next day,” Mr. Peterson said, noting that in the “cage” reserved for Conficker, the infection had been joined by a program distributing an antivirus software scam.
It was the most recent sign of life from the program, and its silence has set off a debate among computer security experts. Some researchers think Conficker is an empty shell, or that the authors of the program were scared away in the spring. Others argue that they are simply biding their time.
If the misbegotten computer were reactivated, it would not have the problem-solving ability of supercomputers used to design nuclear weapons or simulate climate change. But because it has commandeered so many machines, it could draw on an amount of computing power greater than that from any single computing facility run by governments or Google. It is a dark reflection of the “cloud computing” sweeping the commercial Internet, in which data is stored on the Internet rather than on a personal computer.
The industry group continues to try to find ways to kill Conficker, meeting as recently as Tuesday. Mr. Joffe said he, for one, was not prepared to declare victory. But he said that the group’s work proved that government and private industry could cooperate to counter cyberthreats.
“Even if we lose against Conficker,” he said, “there are things we’ve learned that will benefit us in the future.”
New Attack Cracks Common Wi-Fi Encryption in a Minute
Attack works on older WPA systems that use the TKIP algorithm
Computer scientists in Japan say they've developed a way to break the WPA encryption system used in wireless routers in about one minute.
The attack gives hackers a way to read encrypted traffic sent between computers and certain types of routers that use the WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encryption system. The attack was developed by Toshihiro Ohigashi of Hiroshima University and Masakatu Morii of Kobe University, who plan to discuss further details at a technical conference set for Sept. 25 in Hiroshima.
Last November, security researchers first showed how WPA could be broken, but the Japanese researchers have taken the attack to a new level, according to Dragos Ruiu, organizer of the PacSec security conference where the first WPA hack was demonstrated. "They took this stuff which was fairly theoretical and they've made it much more practical," he said.
They Japanese researchers discuss their attack in a paper presented at the Joint Workshop on Information Security, held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan earlier this month.
The earlier attack, developed by researchers Martin Beck and Erik Tews, worked on a smaller range of WPA devices and took between 12 and 15 minutes to work. Both attacks work only on WPA systems that use the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) algorithm. They do not work on newer WPA 2 devices or on WPA systems that use the stronger Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm.
The encryption systems used by wireless routers have a long history of security problems. The Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) system, introduced in 1997, was cracked just a few years later and is now considered to be completely insecure by security experts.
WPA with TKIP "was developed as kind of an interim encryption method as Wi-Fi security was evolving several years ago," said Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director with the Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry group that certifies Wi-Fi devices. People should now use WPA 2, she said.
Wi-Fi-certified products have had to support WPA 2 since March 2006. "There's certainly a decent amount of WPA with TKIP out in the installed base today, but a better alternative has been out for a long time," Davis-Felner said.
Enterprise Wi-Fi networks typically include security software that would detect the type of man-in-the-middle attack described by the Japanese researchers, said Robert Graham, CEO of Errata Security. But the development of the first really practical attack against WPA should give people a reason to dump WPA with TKIP, he said. "It's not as bad as WEP, but it's also certainly bad."
Users can change from TKIP to AES encryption using the administrative interface on many WPA routers.
Arrest Over Software Illuminates Wall St. Secret
Flying home to New Jersey from Chicago after the first two days at his new job, Sergey Aleynikov was prepared for the usual inconveniences: a bumpy ride, a late arrival.
He was not expecting Special Agent Michael G. McSwain of the F.B.I.
At 9:20 p.m. on July 3, Mr. McSwain arrested Mr. Aleynikov, 39, at Newark Liberty Airport, accusing him of stealing software code from Goldman Sachs, his old employer. At a bail hearing three days later, a federal prosecutor asked that Mr. Aleynikov be held without bond because the code could be used to “unfairly manipulate” stock prices.
This case is still in its earliest stages, and some lawyers question whether Mr. Aleynikov should be prosecuted criminally, or whether a civil suit may be more appropriate. But the charges, along with civil cases in Chicago and New York involving other Wall Street firms, offer a glimpse into the turbulent world of ultrafast computerized stock trading.
Little understood outside the securities industry, the business has suddenly become one of the most competitive and controversial on Wall Street. At its heart are computer programs that take years to develop and are treated as closely guarded secrets.
Mr. Aleynikov, who is free on $750,000 bond, is suspected of having taken pieces of Goldman software that enables the buying and selling of shares in milliseconds. Banks and hedge funds use such programs to profit from tiny price discrepancies among markets and in some instances leap in front of bigger orders.
Defenders of the programs say they make trading more efficient. Critics say they are little more than a tax on long-term investors and can even worsen market swings.
But no one disputes that high-frequency trading is highly profitable. The Tabb Group, a financial markets research firm, estimates that the programs will make $8 billion this year for Wall Street firms. Bernard S. Donefer, a distinguished lecturer at Baruch College and the former head of markets systems at Fidelity Investments, says profits are even higher.
“It is certainly growing,” said Larry Tabb, founder of the Tabb Group. “There’s more talent around, and the technology is getting cheaper.”
The profits have led to a gold rush, with hedge funds and investment banks dangling million-dollar salaries at software engineers. In one lawsuit, the Citadel Investment Group, a $12 billion hedge fund, revealed that it had paid tens of millions to two top programmers in the last seven years.
“A geek who writes code — those guys are now the valuable guys,” Mr. Donefer said.
The spate of lawsuits reflects the highly competitive nature of ultrafast trading, which is evolving quickly, largely because of broader changes in stock trading, securities industry experts say.
Until the late 1990s, big investors bought and sold large blocks of shares through securities firms like Morgan Stanley. But in the last decade, the profits from making big trades have vanished, so investment banks have become reluctant to take such risks.
Today, big investors divide large orders into smaller trades and parcel them to many exchanges, where traders compete to make a penny or two a share on each order. Ultrafast trading is an outgrowth of that strategy.
As Mr. Aleynikov and other programmers have discovered, investment banks do not take kindly to their leaving, especially if the banks believe that the programmers are taking code — the engine that drives trading — on their way out.
Mr. Aleynikov immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1991. In 1998, he joined IDT, a telecommunications company, where he wrote software to route calls and data more efficiently. In 2007, Goldman hired him as a vice president, paying him $400,000 a year, according to the federal complaint against him.
He lived in the central New Jersey suburbs with his wife and three young daughters. This year, the family moved to a $1.14 million mansion in North Caldwell, best known as Tony Soprano’s hometown.
A video on YouTube portrays Mr. Aleynikov as a disheveled workaholic who suffers through romantic misadventures before finding love when he rubs a lamp and a genie fulfills his wish by granting him a wife. A friend, Vladimir Itkin, says the Aleynikovs are devoted to their children and seem very close.
This spring, Mr. Aleynikov quit Goldman to join Teza Technologies, a new trading firm, tripling his salary to about $1.2 million, according to the complaint. He left Goldman on June 5. In the days before he left, he transferred code to a server in Germany that offers free data hosting.
At Mr. Aleynikov’s bail hearing, Joseph Facciponti, the assistant United States attorney prosecuting the case, said that Goldman discovered the transfer in late June. On July 1, the company told the government about the suspected theft. Two days later, agents arrested Mr. Aleynikov at Newark.
After his arrest, Mr. Aleynikov was taken for interrogation to F.B.I. offices in Manhattan. Mr. Aleynikov waived his rights against self-incrimination, and agreed to allow agents to search his house.
He said that he had inadvertently downloaded a portion of Goldman’s proprietary code while trying to take files of open source software — programs that are not proprietary and can be used freely by anyone. He said he had not used the Goldman code at his new job or distributed it to anyone else, and the criminal complaint offers no evidence that he has.
Why he downloaded the open source software from Goldman, rather than getting it elsewhere, and how he could at the same time have inadvertently downloaded some of the firm’s most confidential software, is not yet clear.
At Mr. Aleynikov’s bail hearing, Mr. Facciponti said that simply by sending the code to the German server, he had badly damaged Goldman.
“The bank itself stands to lose its entire investment in creating this software to begin with, which is millions upon millions of dollars,” Mr. Facciponti said.
Sabrina Shroff, a public defender who represents Mr. Aleynikov, responded that he had transferred less than 32 megabytes of Goldman proprietary code, a small fraction of the overall program, which is at least 1,224 megabytes. Kevin N. Fox, the magistrate judge, ordered Mr. Aleynikov released on bond.
The United States attorney’s office declined to comment and the F.B.I. did not return calls for comment.
Harvey A. Silverglate, a criminal defense lawyer in Boston not involved in the case, said he was troubled that the F.B.I. had arrested Mr. Aleynikov so quickly, without evidence that he had made any effort to use or sell the code. Such disputes are generally resolved civilly rather than criminally, Mr. Silverglate said.
“It is astonishing that the F.B.I. arrested this defendant at all,” he said. Other firms have also sued former employees recently over concern about high-frequency trading software, though two similar cases are the subject of civil suits rather than criminal prosecution.
Six days after Mr. Aleynikov’s arrest, Citadel, the hedge fund, sued Mr. Aleynikov’s new employer, Teza Technologies, which was founded in March by three former Citadel employees. While Teza is not yet conducting any trading, Citadel claimed the former employees had violated a noncompete agreement with Citadel and might even be trying to steal Citadel’s code, causing “irreparable harm.”
As part of the suit, Citadel detailed the extraordinary steps it takes to protect its software. Besides encrypting its programs, the firm discourages employees from writing down details about them. Its offices have cameras and guards, and there are secure rooms that require special codes to enter. The precautions are necessary because Citadel has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing its software, the firm said.
In its response, Teza said that it had never stolen or tried to steal Citadel’s software, did not ask Mr. Aleynikov to take code from Goldman, and had never seen the code he took. A lawyer for Teza did not return calls for comment.
Meanwhile, in March, the giant Swiss bank UBS sued three former members of its high-speed trading group in New York state court. UBS contended that the defendants had lied to the bank about their plans to work for Jefferies, another firm. Also, one defendant sent some UBS code to a personal e-mail account.
Lance Gotko, a lawyer for the men, said that they had not used the code they took and that it might not be valuable to Jefferies in any case. A lawyer for UBS referred calls to a bank spokeswoman, who declined to comment. A spokesman for Jefferies declined to comment.
FBI Investigating Laptops Sent to US Governors
There may be a new type of Trojan Horse attack to worry about.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is trying to figure out who is sending laptop computers to state governors across the U.S., including West Virginia Governor Joe Mahchin and Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal. Some state officials are worried that they may contain malicious software.
According to sources familiar with the investigation, other states have been targeted too, with HP laptops mysteriously ordered for officials in 10 states. Four of the orders were delivered, while the remaining six were intercepted, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
The West Virginia laptops were delivered to the governor's office several weeks ago, prompting state officials to contact police, according to Kyle Schafer, the state's chief technology officer. "We were notified by the governor's office that they had received the laptops and they had not ordered them," he said. "We checked our records and we had not ordered them."
State officials in Vermont told him they've received similar unsolicited orders, Schafer said. Representatives from that state could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Schafer doesn't know what's on the laptops, but he handed them over to the authorities. "Our expectation is that this is not a gesture of good will," he said. "People don't just send you five laptops for no good reason."
The computers are now being held as evidence by state police, who are working with the FBI to figure out how the machines were sent to the governor's office, said Michael Baylous, a sergeant with the West Virginia State Police.
The West Virginia laptops were delivered Aug. 5, according to the Charleston Gazette, which first reported the story.
The laptops sent to the Wyoming governor's office arrived in two separate shipments on Aug. 3 and Aug. 6, according to Cara Eastwood, a spokeswoman for Governor Freudenthal.
"We received one package, opened it and realized that it was an error since no one in our office had ordered them," she said. "The next day we received another package. At this point we realized that they needed to be turned over to law enforcement."
Although there is no evidence that the computers contain malicious code, HP confirmed Thursday that there have been several such orders and that they have been linked to fraud. "HP is aware that fraudulent state government orders recently have been placed for small amounts of HP equipment," spokeswoman Pamela Bonney said in an e-mail message. "HP took prompt corrective action to address the fraudulent orders and is working with law enforcement personnel on a criminal investigation."
With users now more reluctant to install suspicious software or open attachments on their networks, scammers appear to be looking for new ways to get inside the firewall.
Criminals have tried to put malware on USB devices and then left them outside company offices, hoping someone would plug them into a computer and inadvertently install malicious software on the network. Many Windows systems are configured to automatically run software included on CDs and USB devices using a Windows feature called AutoRun.
Many organized criminals would be happy to spend the cost of five PCs in order to access government computers, said Steve Santorelli, director of investigations with security consultancy Team Cymru. "What is a netbook? $700? You send five of them; you're dropping three grand, and say you get into the Congressional e-mail system. How valuable would that be?"
ACLU Sues for Records on Border Laptop Searches
The American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday that it had filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), demanding records from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) policy of searching laptops at border crossings without any suspicion of wrongdoing.
CBP instituted the policy last year, saying it had the right to look at the contents of traveler’s laptops without any need for a warrant. Obviously, the agency is framing this as an anti-terrorism measure, hoping to prevent terrorists and other criminals from entering the country.
However, the scope of what they can search is quite expansive. According to the ACLU, personal financial information, web site histories, and photgraphs are fair game, as well as “documents, books, pamphlets and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard drives and other electronic or digital storage devices.”
It is irrelevant whether or not the traveler is a US citizen or not: everyone is subject to search at the CBP’s discretion. The ACLU argues that this is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which reads:
While I can understand the Border Patrol’s desire to use this policy as an anti-terrorism tool, its expansiveness as to what it can include makes me leery. There is too much of an opportunity here for abuse, and it seems to violate in some way our rights to privacy, especially for American citizens that may have been subjected to these searches.
The CBP did not respond to requests for comment on the ACLU’s action.
Copyrights trump probable cause
U.S. Unveils New Rules on Border Searches of Laptops
The Obama administration unveiled new rules on Thursday for searching computers and other electronic devices when people enter the United States, attempting to address concerns about violating privacy and constitutional rights.
At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security defended such searches as necessary to detect information about potential terrorism plots as well as other crimes such as child pornography and copyright infringement.
"The new directives announced today strike the balance between respecting the civil liberties and privacy of all travelers while ensuring DHS can take the lawful actions necessary to secure our borders," DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
Between October 1, 2008 and August 11, 2009, 221 million travelers were processed at U.S. borders and about 1,000 searches of laptop computers were conducted, of which 46 were in-depth examinations, the agency said.
Searches often involve asking people to turn on the device to verify it is what it appears to be, the DHS said.
Privacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have pushed Congress to stop border officers from searching laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices without probable cause when people enter or return to the country.
The rules permit searches of such devices without a person's consent. The review is to be done in the presence of the owner, unless there are national security or law enforcement reasons to conduct it elsewhere.
Immigration and customs officers can also hold the devices or the data, which may be copied without the knowledge of the owner for further review, according to the rules.
The new regulations note that border officers should be particularly careful when handling legal or business materials or other sensitive data like medical records or information carried by journalists.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by John O'Callaghan)
Bill Would Give President Emergency Control of Internet
Internet companies and civil liberties groups were alarmed this spring when a U.S. Senate bill proposed handing the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet.
They're not much happier about a revised version that aides to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, have spent months drafting behind closed doors. CNET News has obtained a copy of the 55-page draft of S.773 (excerpt), which still appears to permit the president to seize temporary control of private-sector networks during a so-called cybersecurity emergency.
The new version would allow the president to "declare a cybersecurity emergency" relating to "non-governmental" computer networks and do what's necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a federal certification program for "cybersecurity professionals," and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.
"I think the redraft, while improved, remains troubling due to its vagueness," said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance, which counts representatives of Verizon, Verisign, Nortel, and Carnegie Mellon University on its board. "It is unclear what authority Sen. Rockefeller thinks is necessary over the private sector. Unless this is clarified, we cannot properly analyze, let alone support the bill."
Representatives of other large Internet and telecommunications companies expressed concerns about the bill in a teleconference with Rockefeller's aides this week, but were not immediately available for interviews on Thursday.
A spokesman for Rockefeller also declined to comment on the record Thursday, saying that many people were unavailable because of the summer recess. A Senate source familiar with the bill compared the president's power to take control of portions of the Internet to what President Bush did when grounding all aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001. The source said that one primary concern was the electrical grid, and what would happen if it were attacked from a broadband connection.
When Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced the original bill in April, they claimed it was vital to protect national cybersecurity. "We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs--from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records," Rockefeller said.
The Rockefeller proposal plays out against a broader concern in Washington, D.C., about the government's role in cybersecurity. In May, President Obama acknowledged that the government is "not as prepared" as it should be to respond to disruptions and announced that a new cybersecurity coordinator position would be created inside the White House staff. Three months later, that post remains empty, one top cybersecurity aide has quit, and some wags have begun to wonder why a government that receives failing marks on cybersecurity should be trusted to instruct the private sector what to do.
Rockefeller's revised legislation seeks to reshuffle the way the federal government addresses the topic. It requires a "cybersecurity workforce plan" from every federal agency, a "dashboard" pilot project, measurements of hiring effectiveness, and the implementation of a "comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy" in six months--even though its mandatory legal review will take a year to complete.
The privacy implications of sweeping changes implemented before the legal review is finished worry Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. "As soon as you're saying that the federal government is going to be exercising this kind of power over private networks, it's going to be a really big issue," he says.
Probably the most controversial language begins in Section 201, which permits the president to "direct the national response to the cyber threat" if necessary for "the national defense and security." The White House is supposed to engage in "periodic mapping" of private networks deemed to be critical, and those companies "shall share" requested information with the federal government. ("Cyber" is defined as anything having to do with the Internet, telecommunications, computers, or computer networks.)
"The language has changed but it doesn't contain any real additional limits," EFF's Tien says. "It simply switches the more direct and obvious language they had originally to the more ambiguous (version)...The designation of what is a critical infrastructure system or network as far as I can tell has no specific process. There's no provision for any administrative process or review. That's where the problems seem to start. And then you have the amorphous powers that go along with it."
Translation: If your company is deemed "critical," a new set of regulations kick in involving who you can hire, what information you must disclose, and when the government would exercise control over your computers or network.
The Internet Security Alliance's Clinton adds that his group is "supportive of increased federal involvement to enhance cyber security, but we believe that the wrong approach, as embodied in this bill as introduced, will be counterproductive both from an national economic and national secuity perspective."
Tech Know: Programming, Meet Music
It might just be the most conceptually complex way of making music that modern man has yet devised.
But that is the challenge of live coding - the process of writing computer code, in real time, to compose and play music or design animations.
"It's not just a passive process, not just someone creating sounds, which is the problem with electronic music - because people don't really see what it is that the musicians are doing," says Dave Griffiths.
Dave is a live coder and a performer in a night of live coding held in a south London pub, organised by the collective Toplap.
"Live coding brings the audience closer; they can see that you're making something in front of them," he says.
The furious coding is also projected onto a screen for the audience, making the programming as much - or more - of the performance as the music it codes for.
Live coding eschews the normal route of developing computer code, which starts with writing a program in a "high-level" language - one that looks not too far removed from English.
Then, the programmer compiles it, meaning it is converted by another program into a language not too far removed from the 1s and 0s of computing.
Then they run it. If anything it should go wrong - and anyone who has ever done any programming will know how frequent this is - they get nothing out.
A crash. Epic fail.
Because the software that live coders use is designed for a compile-free, real-time use, the performers face this prospect much less often.
But it does happen, Dave tells me. "That's what keeps it exciting," he says.
A crash means a deadly uncomfortable silence in front of an expectant audience, which on the night includes quite a few people who have simply stumbled upstairs into the pub's function room to see what live coding is.
Up first is Chris McCormick, whose performance is a world premiere.
Live coding has its own, custom-made programming languages, some of which are as simple as a 1970s computer interface, with lines of code entered onto a black screen.
Others might be more visual, with musical directions encoded as shapes that are arranged freehand on a screen.
"It might not be any easier to understand but it's visually more interesting than just text," Dave says.
"But then there's also something nice about the purity of just having lines of code."
Chris is a fan of the more visual software, but he follows the live coding purist's tradition of starting off with a blank screen.
As he adds shapes corresponding to sounds, filling them in with numbers that finely tune their timbre or frequency, his stage fright is not in evidence.
He says that live coding is like building the computer programs that are commonly used to make electronic music; it is "one more level of abstraction" from the music itself.
"Making boring techno music is really easy with modern tools," he says, "but with live coding, boring techno is much harder."
As if to prove the point, the performances after Chris's held no full-fledged, boring techno.
Dave and his collaborator Alex McLean perform a live-coding duet, each of them running independent programs.
They listen to each other's output and work separately but together in a way that is conceptually not so different from two saxophonists "trading fours".
Matthew Yee-King and his partner Nick Collins - known by his stage name Click - have opted to stray from standard live coding this evening, instead performing their "algorhythmic choreography".
Instead of code entered on the screen resulting in sound, it results in Click performing dance moves. It's less high-tech and more conceptual performance art.
But they share the others' passion about what it is that live coding taps into.
"I've done all sorts of things with a computer and a stage, but [live coding] feels like it's really native to computing," says Matthew.
"It's like a virtuosic exploration of the guts of the machine, in the same way that a piano virtuoso engages with the machine they're using.
"You're deeply engaging with the machine in a way that you don't if you're using someone's ready-made software."
And this seems to be the point; no one has come expecting to make or to hear heroically composed, massively melodic and moving music.
It's more an exposition of what can be done starting from absolutely nothing with a novel, stripped-down set of sonic tools.
Dave sums it up: "It's such a new thing, and we don't know if we're any good at it - it may well be that a new generation comes along and just blows us away".
The group is looking into doing a tour of sorts by playing in planetariums across the country, with the first in September at Plymouth Planetarium.
Wikipedia to Add Layer of Editing to Articles
Wikipedia, one of the 10 most popular sites on the Web, was founded about eight years ago as a long-shot experiment to create a free encyclopedia from the contributions of volunteers, all with the power to edit, and presumably improve, the content.
Now, as the English-language version of Wikipedia has just surpassed three million articles, that freewheeling ethos is about to be curbed.
Officials at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit in San Francisco that governs Wikipedia, say that within weeks, the English-language Wikipedia will begin imposing a layer of editorial review on articles about living people.
The new feature, called “flagged revisions,” will require that an experienced volunteer editor for Wikipedia sign off on any change made by the public before it can go live. Until the change is approved — or in Wikispeak, flagged — it will sit invisibly on Wikipedia’s servers, and visitors will be directed to the earlier version.
The change is part of a growing realization on the part of Wikipedia’s leaders that as the site grows more influential, they must transform its embrace-the-chaos culture into something more mature and predictable.
Roughly 60 million Americans visit Wikipedia every month. It is the first reference point for many Web inquiries — not least because its pages often lead the search results on Google, Yahoo and Bing. Since Michael Jackson died on June 25, for example, the Wikipedia article about him has been viewed more than 30 million times, with 6 million of those in the first 24 hours.
“We are no longer at the point that it is acceptable to throw things at the wall and see what sticks,” said Michael Snow, a lawyer in Seattle who is the chairman of the Wikimedia board. “There was a time probably when the community was more forgiving of things that were inaccurate or fudged in some fashion — whether simply misunderstood or an author had some ax to grind. There is less tolerance for that sort of problem now.”
The new editing procedures, which have been applied to the entire German-language version of Wikipedia during the last year, are certain to be a topic of discussion this week when Wikipedia’s volunteer editors gather in Buenos Aires for their annual Wikimania conference. Much of the agenda is focused on the implications of the encyclopedia’s size and influence.
Although Wikipedia has prevented anonymous users from creating new articles for several years now, the new flagging system crosses a psychological Rubicon. It will divide Wikipedia’s contributors into two classes — experienced, trusted editors, and everyone else — altering Wikipedia’s implicit notion that everyone has an equal right to edit entries.
That right was never absolute, and the policy changes are an extension of earlier struggles between control and openness.
For example, certain popular or controversial pages, like the ones for the singer Britney Spears and for President Obama, are frequently “protected” or “semi-protected,” limiting who, if anyone, can edit the articles.
And for seven months beginning in November, The New York Times worked with Wikipedia administrators to suppress information about the kidnapping of David Rohde, a correspondent in Afghanistan, from the article about him. The Times argued that the censorship would improve his chances of survival. Mr. Rohde escaped from his Taliban captors in June, but the episode dismayed some Wikipedia contributors.
The new system comes as some recent studies have found Wikipedia is no longer as attractive to first-time or infrequent contributors as it once was.
Ed H. Chi of the Palo Alto Research Center in California, which specializes in research for commercial endeavors, recently completed a study of the millions of changes made to Wikipedia in a month. He concluded that the site’s growth (whether in new articles, new edits or new contributors) hit a plateau in 2007-8.
For some active Wikipedia editors, this was an expected development — after so many articles, naturally there are fewer topics to uncover, and those new topics are not necessarily of general interest.
But Mr. Chi also found that the changes made by more experienced editors were more likely to stay up on the site, whereas one-time editors had a much higher chance of having their edits reversed. He concluded that there was “growing resistance from the Wikipedia community to new content.”
To other observers, the new flagging system reflects Wikipedia’s necessary acceptance of the responsibility that comes with its vast influence.
“Wikipedia now has the ability to alter the world that it attempts to document,” said Joseph Reagle, an adjunct professor of communications at New York University and one of a half-dozen scholars to earn a Ph.D. in Wikipedia studies (itself a discussion topic at Wikimania).
Under the current system, it is not difficult to insert false information into a Wikipedia entry, at least for a short time. In March, for example, a 22-year-old Irish student planted a false quotation attributed to the French composer Maurice Jarre shortly after Mr. Jarre’s death. It was promptly included in obituaries about Mr. Jarre in several newspapers, including The Guardian and The Independent in Britain. And on Jan. 20, vandals changed the entries for two ailing senators, Edward M. Kennedy and Robert C. Byrd, to report falsely that they had died.
Flagged revisions, advocates say, could offer one more chance to catch such hoaxes and improve the overall accuracy of Wikipedia’s entries.
Foundation officials intend to put the system into effect first with articles about living people because those pieces are ripe for vandalism and because malicious information within them can be devastating to those individuals.
Exactly who will have flagging privileges has not yet been determined, but the volunteer editors will number in the thousands, Wikipedia officials say. With German Wikipedia, nearly 7,500 people have the right to approve a change. The English version, which has more than three times as many articles, would presumably need even more editors to ensure that changes do not languish before approval.
“It is a test,” said Jimmy Wales, a founder of Wikipedia. “We will be interested to see all the questions raised. How long will it take for something to be approved? Will it take a couple of minutes, days, weeks?”
Mr. Wales began pushing for the policy after the Kennedy and Byrd hoaxes, but discussions about a review system date back to one of the darkest episodes in Wikipedia’s history, known as the Seigenthaler incident.
In 2005, the prominent author and journalist John Seigenthaler Sr. discovered that Wikipedia’s biographical article connected him to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, a particularly scurrilous thing to report because he was personally close to the Kennedy family.
Since then, Wikipedians have been fanatical about providing sources for facts, with teams of editors adding the label “citation needed” to any sentence without a footnote.
“We have really become part of the infrastructure of how people get information,” Mr. Wales said. “There is a serious responsibility we have.”
Murdoch Attack on 'Dominant' BBC
News Corporation's James Murdoch has said that a "dominant" BBC threatens independent journalism in the UK.
The chairman of the media giant in Europe, which owns the Times and Sun, also blamed the UK government for regulating the media "with relish".
"The expansion of state-sponsored journalism is a threat to the plurality and independence of news provision," he told the Edinburgh Television Festival.
The scope of the BBC's activities and ambitions was "chilling", he added.
Organisations like the BBC, funded by the licence fee, as well as Channel 4 and Ofcom, made it harder for other broadcasters to survive, he argued.
News Corporation, which owns Sky television, lost $3.4bn (£2bn) in the year to the end of June, which his father, News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch, said had been "the most difficult in recent history".
Other media organisations are also struggling as advertising revenues have dropped during the downturn.
Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, told the BBC's World Tonight that Mr Murdoch had underplayed the importance of Sky as a competitor.
"Sky continues to grow and get stronger and stronger all the time so this is not quite a set of minnows and a great big BBC," Sir Michael said.
"The BBC has a very strong competitor in Sky, and not one to be ignored."
Mr Murdoch said free news on the web provided by the BBC made it "incredibly difficult" for private news organisations to ask people to pay for their news.
"It is essential for the future of independent digital journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it," he said.
News Corporation has said it will start charging online customers for news content across all its websites.
Former BBC director general Greg Dyke said Mr Murdoch's argument that the BBC was a "threat" to independent journalism was "fundamentally wrong".
He told BBC Radio 5 live: "Journalism is going through a very difficult time - not only in this country but every country in the world - because newspapers, radio and television in the commercial world are all having a very rough time."
He said declining advertising revenues in the recession, rather than the corporation, were to blame for the problems facing the commercial media.
"That is nothing to do with the BBC, that is just to with what's happening," he said.
News Corporation owns the Times, the Sunday Times and Sun newspapers and pay TV provider BSkyB in the UK and the New York Post and Wall Street Journal in the US.
Rupert Murdoch addressed the same festival 20 years ago, and was also critical of the UK's media policy.
Mining the Web for Feelings, Not Facts
Computers may be good at crunching numbers, but can they crunch feelings?
The rise of blogs and social networks has fueled a bull market in personal opinion: reviews, ratings, recommendations and other forms of online expression. For computer scientists, this fast-growing mountain of data is opening a tantalizing window onto the collective consciousness of Internet users.
An emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape around one of the computer world’s unexplored frontiers: translating the vagaries of human emotion into hard data.
This is more than just an interesting programming exercise. For many businesses, online opinion has turned into a kind of virtual currency that can make or break a product in the marketplace.
Yet many companies struggle to make sense of the caterwaul of complaints and compliments that now swirl around their products online. As sentiment analysis tools begin to take shape, they could not only help businesses improve their bottom lines, but also eventually transform the experience of searching for information online.
Several new sentiment analysis companies are trying to tap into the growing business interest in what is being said online.
“Social media used to be this cute project for 25-year-old consultants,” said Margaret Francis, vice president for product at Scout Labs in San Francisco. Now, she said, top executives “are recognizing it as an incredibly rich vein of market intelligence.”
Scout Labs, which is backed by the venture capital firm started by the CNet founder Halsey Minor, recently introduced a subscription service that allows customers to monitor blogs, news articles, online forums and social networking sites for trends in opinions about products, services or topics in the news.
In early May, the ticket marketplace StubHub used Scout Labs’ monitoring tool to identify a sudden surge of negative blog sentiment after rain delayed a Yankees-Red Sox game.
Stadium officials mistakenly told hundreds of fans that the game had been canceled, and StubHub denied fans’ requests for refunds, on the grounds that the game had actually been played. But after spotting trouble brewing online, the company offered discounts and credits to the affected fans. It is now re-evaluating its bad weather policy.
“This is a canary in a coal mine for us,” said John Whelan, StubHub’s director of customer service.
Jodange, based in Yonkers, offers a service geared toward online publishers that lets them incorporate opinion data drawn from over 450,000 sources, including mainstream news sources, blogs and Twitter.
Based on research by Claire Cardie, a former Cornell computer science professor, and Jan Wiebe of the University of Pittsburgh, the service uses a sophisticated algorithm that not only evaluates sentiments about particular topics, but also identifies the most influential opinion holders.
Jodange, whose early investors include the National Science Foundation, is currently working on a new algorithm that could use opinion data to predict future developments, like forecasting the impact of newspaper editorials on a company’s stock price.
In a similar vein, The Financial Times recently introduced Newssift, an experimental program that tracks sentiments about business topics in the news, coupled with a specialized search engine that allows users to organize their queries by topic, organization, place, person and theme.
Using Newssift, a search for Wal-Mart reveals that recent sentiment about the company is running positive by a ratio of slightly better than two to one. When that search is refined with the suggested term “Labor Force and Unions,” however, the ratio of positive to negative sentiments drops closer to one to one.
Such tools could help companies pinpoint the effect of specific issues on customer perceptions, helping them respond with appropriate marketing and public relations strategies.
For casual Web surfers, simpler incarnations of sentiment analysis are sprouting up in the form of lightweight tools like Tweetfeel, Twendz and Twitrratr. These sites allow users to take the pulse of Twitter users about particular topics.
A quick search on Tweetfeel, for example, reveals that 77 percent of recent tweeters liked the movie “Julie & Julia.” But the same search on Twitrratr reveals a few misfires. The site assigned a negative score to a tweet reading “julie and julia was truly delightful!!” That same message ended with “we all felt very hungry afterwards” — and the system took the word “hungry” to indicate a negative sentiment.
While the more advanced algorithms used by Scout Labs, Jodange and Newssift employ advanced analytics to avoid such pitfalls, none of these services works perfectly. “Our algorithm is about 70 to 80 percent accurate,” said Ms. Francis, who added that its users can reclassify inaccurate results so the system learns from its mistakes.
Translating the slippery stuff of human language into binary values will always be an imperfect science, however. “Sentiments are very different from conventional facts,” said Seth Grimes, the founder of the suburban Maryland consulting firm Alta Plana, who points to the many cultural factors and linguistic nuances that make it difficult to turn a string of written text into a simple pro or con sentiment. “ ‘Sinful’ is a good thing when applied to chocolate cake,” he said.
The simplest algorithms work by scanning keywords to categorize a statement as positive or negative, based on a simple binary analysis (“love” is good, “hate” is bad). But that approach fails to capture the subtleties that bring human language to life: irony, sarcasm, slang and other idiomatic expressions. Reliable sentiment analysis requires parsing many linguistic shades of gray.
“We are dealing with sentiment that can be expressed in subtle ways,” said Bo Pang, a researcher at Yahoo who co-wrote “Opinion Mining and Sentiment Analysis,” one of the first academic books on sentiment analysis.
To get at the true intent of a statement, Ms. Pang developed software that looks at several different filters, including polarity (is the statement positive or negative?), intensity (what is the degree of emotion being expressed?) and subjectivity (how partial or impartial is the source?).
For example, a preponderance of adjectives often signals a high degree of subjectivity, while noun- and verb-heavy statements tend toward a more neutral point of view.
As sentiment analysis algorithms grow more sophisticated, they should begin to yield more accurate results that may eventually point the way to more sophisticated filtering mechanisms. They could become a part of everyday Web use.
“I see sentiment analysis becoming a standard feature of search engines,” said Mr. Grimes, who suggests that such algorithms could begin to influence both general-purpose Web searching and more specialized searches in areas like e-commerce, travel reservations and movie reviews.
Ms. Pang envisions a search engine that fine-tunes results for users based on sentiment. For example, it might influence the ordering of search results for certain kinds of queries like “best hotel in San Antonio.”
As search engines begin to incorporate more and more opinion data into their results, the distinction between fact and opinion may start blurring to the point where, as David Byrne once put it, “facts all come with points of view.”
A Few Dollars at a Time, Patrons Support Artists on the Web
Earl Scioneaux III is not a famous music producer like Quincy Jones. He is a simple audio engineer in New Orleans who mixes live albums of local jazz musicians by day and creates electronic music by night. He had long wanted to pursue his dream of making his own album that married jazz and electronica, but he had no easy way to raise the $4,000 he needed for production.
Then he heard about Kickstarter, a start-up based in Brooklyn that uses the Web to match aspiring da Vincis and Spielbergs with mini-Medicis who are willing to chip in a few dollars toward their projects. Unlike similar sites that simply solicit donations, patrons on Kickstarter get an insider’s access to the projects they finance, and in most cases, some tangible memento of their contribution. The artists and inventors, meanwhile, are able to gauge in real time the commercial appeal of their ideas before they invest a lot of effort — and cash.
“It’s not an investment, lending or a charity,” said Perry Chen, a co-founder of Kickstarter and a friend of Mr. Scioneaux. “It’s something else in the middle: a sustainable marketplace where people exchange goods for services or some other benefit and receive some value.”
Mr. Scioneaux, who ultimately raised $4,100, offered a range of rewards to his supporters: for a $15 payment, patrons received an advance copy of the album; for $30, they got a personal music lesson as well. A payment of $50 or more got both of those, and a seat at Mr. Scioneaux’s dinner table for a bowl of his homemade gumbo and a chance to listen to some of his studio recordings. “I didn’t expect people to be all over that one,” he said, “but it sold out almost immediately.”
That sense of inclusion is an important part of the appeal to Kickstarter’s supporters, who don’t get a tax deduction for their payments. Mr. Scioneaux’s dozen or so dinner guests included Mark Barrilleaux, an engineer from Houston, and his wife, Janet, a retired nurse, who put up a total of $100. “We decided it’d be worth it for the entertainment value and the opportunity to participate in a musical production,” said Mr. Barrilleaux. “I’m a petroleum engineer. How else could I join the music business?”
So far, projects on Kickstarter have included building a temporary wedding chapel in Manhattan, converting an old bus into a mobile Thai restaurant, sailing around the world and shooting photographs from all 50 states.
Mr. Chen began toying with the concept in 2002 after he reluctantly called off a concert he had been planning to host during the New Orleans JazzFest because the $20,000 investment was too risky for him to shoulder alone. “I realized there was an underlying problem that needed a solution,” he said. “There could be a way to find out if people were willing to commit to an event and even fund it to manage the risk involved.”
The idea simmered until 2005, when Mr. Chen befriended Yancey Strickler, who used to head the editorial staff at eMusic, an online retailer, and the two decided to see if the concept would work.
“Money has always been a huge barrier to creativity,” Mr. Chen said. “We all have a lot of ideas we’d like to see get off the ground, but unless you have a rich uncle, you aren’t always able to embrace those random ideas.”
After raising about $300,000 in seed financing from family and friends, including the comedian David Cross and the Pitchfork Music publisher Chris Kaskie, Kickstarter introduced its platform in April.
The company doesn’t currently have any profit — all money raised goes to the projects. So far, more than $400,000 has been pledged for almost 400 ideas.
To date, all the projects on the site have been hand-picked by the founders, although they plan to eventually open the site to anyone. Once that happens, they said, they will consider charging a fee to process transactions.
In the world of small-project finance, Kickstarter is pioneering its own niche. It is not a charity site like DonorsChoose.org, which solicits tax-deductible donations for classroom projects. Nor is it a peer-to-peer microlender like Prosper or Lending Club, in which people can post their borrowing needs and individuals finance pieces of it. And it is not an investment firm.
“I see Kickstarter as micropatronage,” said Lewis Winter, a 27-year-old graphic designer from Melbourne, Australia, who has pledged money to five projects. “If I was rich, I’d fund whole projects, but this allows me to fund as much or as little as I can afford.”
Patrick Rooney, director of research at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, said that some online donors, particularly younger ones with less money to contribute, could find Kickstarter’s model more appealing than donating to traditional nonprofit institutions. “It’s very personal in some ways, as opposed to giving a gift to, say, Indiana University,” he said.
Indeed, Emily Grenader, a 24-year-old artist in Houston, directly involved her patrons in her project: mailing postcards every day for an entire year. “I needed the funding but I also needed addresses — people — to make it work,” she said.
Ms. Grenader asked for $5 contributions and quickly raised double her original goal of $365. But money is still rolling in from people who want one of her cards. “It works because people want to support the artists, but they also want the things being offered,” she said.
Utah Gets Tough With Texting Drivers
In most states, if somebody is texting behind the wheel and causes a crash that injures or kills someone, the penalty can be as light as a fine.
Utah is much tougher.
After a crash here that killed two scientists — and prompted a dogged investigation by a police officer and local victim’s advocate — Utah passed the nation’s toughest law to crack down on texting behind the wheel. Offenders now face up to 15 years in prison.
The new law, which took effect in May, penalizes a texting driver who causes a fatality as harshly as a drunken driver who kills someone. In effect, a crash caused by such a multitasking motorist is no longer considered an “accident” like one caused by a driver who, say, runs into another car because he nodded off at the wheel. Instead, such a crash would now be considered inherently reckless.
“It’s a willful act,” said Lyle Hillyard, a Republican state senator and a big supporter of the new measure. “If you choose to drink and drive or if you choose to text and drive, you’re assuming the same risk.”
The Utah law represents a concrete new response in an evolving debate among legislators around the country about how to reduce the widespread practice of multitasking behind the wheel — a topic to be discussed at a national conference about the dangers of distracted driving that is being organized by the Transportation Department for this fall.
Studies show that talking on a cellphone while driving is as risky as driving with a .08 blood alcohol level — generally the standard for drunken driving — and that the risk of driving while texting is at least twice that dangerous. Research also shows that many people are aware that the behavior is risky, but they assume others are the problem.
Treating texting behind the wheel like drunken driving raises complex legal questions. Drunken drivers can be identified using a Breathalyzer. But there is no immediate test for driving while texting; such drivers could deny they were doing so, or claim to have been dialing a phone number. (Many legislators have thus far made a distinction between texting and dialing, though researchers say dialing creates many of the same risks.)
If an officer or prosecutor wants to confiscate a phone or phone records to determine whether a driver was texting at the time of the crash, such efforts can be thwarted by search-and-seizure and privacy defenses, lawyers said.
Prosecutors and judges in other states already have the latitude to use more general reckless-driving laws to penalize multitasking drivers who cause injury and death. In California, for instance, where texting while driving is banned but the only deterrent is a $20 fine, a driver in April received a six-year prison sentence for gross vehicular manslaughter when, speeding and texting, she slammed into a line of cars waiting at a construction zone, killing another driver.
But if those prosecutors want to charge a texting driver with recklessness, they must prove the driver knew of the risks before sending texts from behind the wheel.
In Utah, the law now assumes people understand the risks.
The law “is very noteworthy,” said Anne Teigen, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, an organization of state legislators. “They have raised the bar and said texting while driving is not just irresponsible, and it’s not just a bad idea — it is negligent.”
Ms. Teigen said legislators throughout the country were struggling with how to address threats created by new technology, just as they once debated how to handle drunken driving.
Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, has said drivers should not text behind the wheel, and several United States senators recently introduced legislation to force states to ban texting while driving.
Utah, governed by a Republican legislature with a libertarian bent, may seem an unlikely state to pursue particularly tough penalties governing driver behavior.
But the issue forced itself onto the legislative agenda here because of what occurred on the rainy morning of Sept. 22, 2006.
The accident occurred on a two-lane highway just west of Logan, in a verdant valley in Utah’s northernmost county.
Reggie Shaw, a 19-year-old college student working as a house painter, was driving west to work in a Chevrolet Tahoe S.U.V. Approaching him, in a Saturn sedan, was James Furaro, 38, and his passenger, Keith P. O’Dell, 50. The senior scientists were commuting to ATK Launch Systems, where they were helping to design and build rocket boosters.
Mr. Shaw crossed the yellow dividing line on the two-lane road and clipped the Saturn. It spun across the highway and was struck by a pickup truck hauling a trailer filled with two tons of horseshoes and related equipment.
The two scientists were killed instantly.
At the scene, the investigating officer, Bart Rindlisbacher of the Utah Highway Patrol, said he could not pinpoint the cause of the crash. Mr. Shaw said he could not remember doing anything out of the ordinary.
The trooper figured it was an unfortunate case of “left of center,” a catch-all for a traffic offense that involves crossing the yellow divider.
But a witness told the police he had seen Mr. Shaw swerving several times just before the accident, raising Mr. Rindlisbacher’s suspicions. The trooper’s concerns grew as he drove Mr. Shaw to the hospital. He saw Mr. Shaw, in the passenger seat, pull out his phone and start texting.
“Were you texting while you were driving?” Mr. Rindlisbacher recalled asking.
“No,” he recalled Mr. Shaw responding. (Mr. Shaw said he did not remember the conversation or much about the accident.)
The trooper was deeply skeptical. He figured out how to subpoena Mr. Shaw’s phone records. Six months later, with help from a state public safety investigator, they got the records and their proof: Mr. Shaw and his girlfriend had sent 11 text messages to each other in the 30 minutes before the crash, the last one at 6:47 a.m., a minute before Mr. Shaw called 911. Investigators concluded he sent that last text when he crossed the yellow line.
Still, county prosecutors thought they were unable to charge Mr. Shaw with something other than “left of center.” For instance, if they wanted to prove Mr. Shaw guilty of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, they would need to show he knew of the dangers or should have known of the dangers of texting while driving.
Mr. Shaw, who had retained a lawyer, would not discuss the issue with law enforcement or prosecutors.
Then Terryl Warner, a victim’s advocate in the county where the accident occurred, got involved.
Ms. Warner had a personal interest in the case because she knew the family of one of the scientists.
In July 2007, Ms. Warner, convinced by the trooper’s evidence, wrote to prosecutors arguing for a vehicular manslaughter charge. She said the dangers of texting and driving were broadly known, therefore Mr. Shaw should have known better.
Mr. Shaw had just started a Mormon mission in Canada when he was called home to face charges of negligent homicide. The trial was set for early 2009.
Then, just before Thanksgiving in 2008, at a hearing, Mr. Shaw looked at the families of the two dead scientists and decided he could no longer keep dismissing the phone records that showed he was texting, even though his lawyers advised him to remain quiet. “It hit me that I was being selfish dragging this on,” he said. “I decided I’ve got to do whatever it takes to make this come to an end. If there was anything I could do — spend a year in jail, two years in jail, whatever — I’d do it.”
He pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent homicide, but his record will be cleared if he fulfills the sentence imposed by the judge. It included 30 days in jail, 200 hours of community service, and a requirement that he read “Les Misérables” to learn, like the book’s character Jean Valjean, how to make a contribution to society.
Last February, Mr. Shaw spoke to the state House Subcommittee on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, which was considering a ban on texting for motorists. The measure seemed likely to fail given the legislature’s lack of interest in previous such efforts. Then Mr. Shaw stood to talk about his crash and started sobbing.
“I was the one driving and texting,” Mr. Shaw said through tears. “Excuse me. I apologize. I didn’t know the dangers.”
Ms. Warner, the victim’s advocate, said that moment was a turning point. “Before he spoke, some legislators were talking and texting,” she recalled. “After he started talking, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”
Under Utah’s law, someone caught texting and driving now faces up to three months in jail and up to a $750 fine, a misdemeanor. If they cause injury or death, the punishment can grow to a felony and up to a $10,000 fine and 15 years in prison.
Alaska is the only other state that takes a similarly tough approach to electronic distraction, said Ms. Teigen of the National Conference of State Legislators.
A law passed there in 2007 makes it a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison if a driver causes a fatal accident when a television, video monitor or computer is on inside the car and in the driver’s field of vision. (The law applies to phones used for texting, but not to phones used exclusively for calling or to some other devices, like GPS devices.)
The law, which is less focused on texting than Utah’s, resulted from a 2003 accident in which a driver, who prosecutors said was watching a movie on a video monitor perched on his dashboard, killed two motorists.
These tougher penalties can lead to prickly legal questions.
John Wesley Hall, who just stepped down as president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the police might have difficulty proving a driver suspected of texting wasn’t merely dialing a phone. And, he said, there are serious privacy and search issues raised when an officer wants to confiscate a phone.
“The police have no business going into my phone,” he said.
James Swink, the Cache County attorney, expects such challenges, but says that the police in some cases could simply get phone records later, as in the Shaw case.
More broadly, Mr. Swink said, drivers in Utah are now on notice that texting while driving is inherently reckless. And as drivers across the nation become more aware of that notion, he said, judges and prosecutors will feel more comfortable asking for big penalties. He said the Shaw case helped to pave the way.
“Once the word is out there,” he said, “it will become easier for judges to lower the big boom.”
Who’s Driving Twitter’s Popularity? Not Teenagers
Claire Cain Miller
Kristen Nagy, an 18-year-old from Sparta, N.J., sends and receives 500 text messages a day. But she never uses Twitter, even though it publishes similar snippets of conversations and observations.
“I just think it’s weird and I don’t feel like everyone needs to know what I’m doing every second of my life,” she said.
Her reluctance to use Twitter, a feeling shared by others in her age group, has not doomed the microblogging service. Just 11 percent of its users are aged 12 to 17, according to comScore. Instead, Twitter’s unparalleled explosion in popularity has been driven by a decidedly older group. That success has shattered a widely held belief that young people lead the way to popularizing innovations.
“The traditional early-adopter model would say that teenagers or college students are really important to adoption,” said Andrew Lipsman, director of industry analysis at comScore. Teenagers, after all, drove the early growth of the social networks Facebook, MySpace and Friendster.
Twitter, however, has proved that “a site can take off in a different demographic than you expect and become very popular,” he said. “Twitter is defying the traditional model.”
In fact, though teenagers fueled the early growth of social networks, today they account for 14 percent of MySpace’s users and only 9 percent of Facebook’s. As the Web grows up, so do its users, and for many analysts, Twitter’s success represents a new model for Internet success. The notion that children are essential to a new technology’s success has proved to be largely a myth.
Adults have driven the growth of many perennially popular Web services. YouTube attracted young adults and then senior citizens before teenagers piled on. Blogger’s early user base was adults and LinkedIn has built a successful social network with professionals as its target.
The same goes for gadgets. Though video games were originally marketed for children, Nintendo Wiis quickly found their way into nursing homes. Kindle from Amazon caught on first with adults and many gadgets, like iPhones and GPS devices, are largely adult-only.
Similarly, Twitter did not attract the young trendsetters at the outset. Its growth has instead come from adults who might not have used other social sites before Twitter, said Jeremiah Owyang, an industry analyst studying social media. “Adults are just catching up to what teens have been doing for years,” he said.
Many young people, who have used Facebook since they began using the Internet and for whom text messaging is their primary method of communication, say they simply do not have a need for Twitter.
Almost everyone under 35 uses social networks, but the growth of these networks over the last year has come from older adults, according to a report from Forrester Research issued Tuesday. Use of social networking by people aged 35 to 54 grew 60 percent in the last year.
Another reason that teenagers do not use Twitter may be that their lives tend to revolve around their friends. Though Twitter’s founders originally conceived of the site as a way to stay in touch with acquaintances, it turns out that it is better for broadcasting ideas or questions and answers to the outside world or for marketing a product. It is also useful for marketing the person doing the tweeting, a need few teenagers are attuned to.
“Many people use it for professional purposes — keeping connected with industry contacts and following news,” said Evan Williams, Twitter’s co-founder and chief executive. “Because it’s a one-to-many network and most of the content is public, it works for this better than a social network that’s optimized for friend communication.”
Wendy Grazier, a mother in Arkansas, said her two teenaged daughters thought Twitter was “lame,” yet they asked her to follow teenage pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift on Twitter so she could report back on what the celebrities wrote. Why won’t they deign to do it themselves? “It seems more, like, professional, and not something that a teenager would do,” said 16-year-old Miranda Grazier. “I think I might join when I’m older.”
The public nature of Twitter is particularly sensitive for the under-18 set, whether because they want to hide what they are doing from their parents or, more often, because their parents restrict their interaction with strangers on the Web.
Georgia Marentis, a 14-year-old in Great Falls, Va., uses Facebook instead of Twitter because she can choose who sees her updates. “My parents wouldn’t want me to have everything going on in my life displayed for the entire world,” she said. (Of course, because of the public nature of social networks and the ease of creating a fake identity on the Web, even sites with more privacy settings have proved dangerous for young people in some cases.)
Many young people use the Web not to keep up with the issues of the day but to form and express their identities, said Andrea Forte, who studied how high school students use social media for her dissertation. (She will be an assistant professor at Drexel University in the spring.)
“Your identity on Twitter is more your ability to take an interesting conversational turn, throw an interesting bit of conversation out there. Your identity isn’t so much identified by the music you listen to and the quizzes you take,” as it is on Facebook, she said. She called Twitter “a comparatively adult kind of interaction.”
For Twitter’s future, young people’s ambivalence could be a good thing. Teenagers may be more comfortable using new technologies, but they are also notoriously fickle. Although they drove the growth of Friendster and MySpace, they then moved on from those sites to Facebook.
Perhaps Twitter’s experience will encourage Web start-ups to take a more realistic view of who uses the Web and go after a broader audience, Ms. Forte said. “Older populations are a smart thing to be thinking about, as opposed to eternally going after the 15- through 19-year-olds,” she said.
Love That Dares to Tweet Its Name Sparks Web Series
On the evening of Aug. 4 Twitter’s list of 10 “Trending Topics” reflected, as it usually does, the headlines of the day. But eighth on the list, nestled between the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, and AT&T, was a surprise: Crystal Chappell, an actress on the CBS soap opera “Guiding Light.” The big news? It was her birthday. As a present her fans had conspired to tweet her name until she landed a spot on the list.
Ms. Chappell’s popularity on the Web is largely because of her role as one-half of the same-sex couple on “Guiding Light” known as Otalia, the portmanteau name given by fans of the characters Olivia Spencer (Ms. Chappell) and Natalia Rivera (Jessica Leccia). They’re middle-American single moms who fell for each other while folding laundry and baking cookies, and their love story has inspired the creation of impassioned message boards, blogs, podcasts and videos.
“I’ve never had this experience with a fan base before,” said Ms. Chappell, a nearly 20-year soap opera veteran. “It struck a nerve. I love this story line because it is about universal love and acceptance.”
But even universal love can’t conquer bleak ratings realities. Taping on “Guiding Light,” television’s longest-running drama, ended on Aug. 11 after 57 years. (It was on the radio for 19 years, four overlapping with TV.) The final episode is to be broadcast on Sept. 18.
Ms. Chappell, who has signed up for a new role on “Days of Our Lives” this fall, said she had suggested, unsuccessfully, to executives at Procter & Gamble, which owns “Guiding Light,” that they move the show to the Web, or transplant the Otalia story line to “As the World Turns,” another Procter & Gamble show. She has also pushed, she said, for what her fans see as a conspicuous lack: a single romantic kiss for Olivia and Natalia.
Executives at CBS declined to be interviewed for this article. Representatives for TeleNext Media, which produces “Guiding Light” for Procter & Gamble, did not respond to several requests for comment.
Ms. Chappell said, “Like the audience I hated the idea of letting” the story line go.
So she won’t. She will try to keep the spirit of Otalia alive by starting a Web series in November called “Venice.” While it won’t have Olivia and Natalia — those characters are the property of Procter & Gamble — the show will feature Ms. Chappell as a single, gay career woman, and follow other fictional inhabitants of Venice Beach, in Los Angeles. Her leading lady on “Guiding Light,” Ms. Leccia, has agreed to join the cast without pay. One big difference from Otalia: “In the first 30 seconds you see these two women kiss,” Ms. Chappell said.
Producing “Venice” is a labor of love as everyone is working without pay for now. Ms. Chappell recruited as cast mates the actors Hillary B. Smith (“One Life to Live”), Jordan Clarke and Daniel Cosgrove (both from “Guiding Light”), and Elizabeth Keener (“The L Word”). “I can’t pay you anything,” she said she told them. “How’s that for an opening line?” (She’ll cover food and transportation, she said.)
Camera equipment was donated by friends. And her partners in the newly formed Open Book Productions — Kim Turrisi, the writer for “Venice,” and Hope Royaltey, the series’s director — are also donating their services.
Ms. Chappell’s ability to mobilize her online fans will help the promotion of “Venice.” Since setting up a Twitter account in May, she has amassed more than 6,500 followers, robust compared to her soap peers, though minuscule when set against the more than three million people who follow the Twitter veteran Ashton Kutcher or the hundreds of thousands tracking the pop star Lady Gaga.
She also may be able to draw on the support of gay viewers. Bob Witeck, co-founder and chief executive of Witeck-Combs Communications, a marketing firm specializing in lesbian and gay households, stressed these viewers’ loyalty. “It’s hard to find truthful stories about our lives, our families, the people we love,” he said. “And when we do, we give a higher degree of confidence and support to a program that reflects us.”
Ms. Chappell is the rare soap opera performer to find another full-time acting job within the shrinking genre of daytime drama. On “Days of Our Lives” she will reprise the role of Dr. Carly Manning, which she played from 1990 to 1993. Her husband and former “Days” co-star, Michael Sabatino, will also return.
Ms. Chappell’s online territory has no fewer than nine Web destinations, including the Twitter accounts of her producing partners, Ms. Turrisi and Ms. Royaltey; “Venice” Facebook and Twitter pages; Ms. Chappell’s Web site, crystal-chappell.com and Facebook pages; and her series site, venicetheseries.com.
It’s a business model that costs next to nothing — only one Web designer is paid. And now Ms. Chappell has taken the next step: calling on fans to design the logo and music for “Venice” through contests. Ms. Chappell’s fan club president, Cathie Wagner, a 54-year-old married kindergarten teacher from Ohio, oversees 15 volunteers for Ms. Chappell’s Facebook page and Web site.
For performers creative freedom is the Web’s primary draw. Eden Riegel, a former “All My Children” star, has been nominated for a daytime Emmy Award this year in the new approaches category for her Web series, “Imaginary Bitches.” Written and directed by Ms. Riegel’s husband, Andrew Miller, it was produced with no interference from “some guy in an office on Wilshire Boulevard deciding what people want to see,” she said.
That’s not to say there isn’t money to be made. Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University and author of the coming book “New New Media,” said advertising on the Web “has the potential to be more successful than in any other medium,” because of measurable sales results from click-through ads and precise customer profiles. “A successful show on the Web is just waiting to happen.”
Ms. Chappell is considering a few financial models, polling fans to see if they would watch “Venice” with ads, pay a $10 per season subscription fee or buy products from potential sponsors.
Given Ms. Chappell’s tweets about her fondness for Red Bull (by day) and Grey Goose vodka (by night), would either company sponsor “Venice” in return for her endorsement? The courtship, at least, seems to have begun. “Red Bull actually sent me some cases,” she said with a smile. “I’m still working on Goose.”
Loophole Over DVD Age Rating Law
Retailers who sell violent video games and 18-rated DVDs to children cannot be prosecuted because of a legal blunder 25 years ago.
Dozens of prosecutions under a 1984 Act have been dropped because the government of the day failed to notify the European Commission about the law.
But previous prosecutions will stand, according to the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).
The Lib Dems said the error had "thrown film censorship into chaos".
The Video Recordings Act (VRA) was brought in by Margaret Thatcher's government and set down that videos and video games must be classified and age rated by the British Board of Film Classification.
It made it illegal to sell violent video games to children and the most explicit adult films could be sold only in licensed sex shops.
Culture Media and Sport Minister Barbara Follett has written to the industry bodies to inform them the act was "no longer enforceable".
In her letter, she said: "Unfortunately, the discovery of this omission means that, a quarter of a century later, the VRA is no longer enforceable against individuals in United Kingdom courts."
Mrs Follett said the government hoped to remedy the "unfortunate situation" as quickly as possible.
She asked the industry bodies to handle the situation with "care and sensitivity" to ensure "minimal" advantage is taken of the loophole.
The loophole means no-one can be prosecuted until the law is passed again and that will take three months.
A spokeswoman from the government department said retailers had agreed to keep to the rules on a voluntary basis and previous prosecutions will still stand.
"Our legal advice is that those previously prosecuted will be unable to overturn their prosecution or receive financial recompense," she said.
Ministry of Justice figures for 2007, the latest available, show 87 people were convicted under the act for offences including supplying material which should be sold only in sex shops and selling unclassified work.
The Liberal Democrat's culture spokesman Don Foster said: "The Conservatives' incompetence when they were in government has made laws designed to prevent video piracy and protect children from harmful DVDs unenforceable and thrown film censorship into chaos.
"This must be a massive embarrassment to the Tories, especially as David Cameron was the special adviser to the home secretary in 1993 when the law was amended."
But the shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was "outrageous" such an administrative error could go unnoticed for so many years.
"Much of the problem would have been avoided if they had sorted out the classification of video games earlier, as we and many others in the industry have been urging them to do," he added.
The error was discovered during work on the UK government's Digital Britain project, which aims to boost broadband and new media in the UK.
Paramount in Trial Deal to Supply DVDs to Redbox
Movie studio Paramount Pictures is following the lead of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and Sony Corp. by agreeing to supply films to $1-per-night DVD rental kiosk company Redbox.
Paramount Home Entertainment Inc. and Redbox, a subsidiary of Bellevue, Wash.-based Coinstar Inc., said Tuesday they have begun a trial licensing program through which Redbox will be able to stock its kiosks with Paramount Pictures DVDs on the day they are released for retail sale and rental, through the end of the year.
Los Angeles-based Paramount, which is owned by Viacom Inc., will get detailed DVD rental information from Redbox, which the studio will use to determine the worth of the program. Paramount will be able to extend the deal through 2014, with an option to opt out after two years.
As part of the deal, Redbox has agreed to destroy any Paramount DVDs it removes from its rental kiosks.
In a statement, Redbox President Mitch Lowe called the trial a "positive step with Paramount."
"The agreement ensures that our customers will have increased access to some of the biggest titles of the year," he said.
Coinstar said in a regulatory filing Tuesday that Redbox estimates it would pay Paramount $575 million if the deal runs through 2014. It said that Redbox, which has kiosks at more than 15,000 locations across the country, plans to license and buy DVDs from Paramount that will represent about 18.5 percent of the total discs it licenses and buys this year.
The deal comes two weeks after Lions Gate agreed to supply Redbox with DVDs on the same day they are offered for retail sale, from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31, 2014, according to a regulatory filing.
In that filing, Coinstar estimated Redbox will pay Lions Gate $158 million over the life of the deal. Lions Gate, too, can pull out after two years.
Coinstar said in July that it had penned a five-year, $460 million deal with Sony's movie division.
Other Hollywood studios, such as News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox and General Electric Co.'s Universal Pictures, have moved to cut off supply to Redbox unless it agrees to delay rentals until more than a month after DVDs are available for sale, in the hopes of preserving demand for higher-priced DVD purchases.
Last week, a federal judge in Delaware rejected a request from Universal to drop a suit filed by Redbox that stemmed from its demand that new releases be kept out of Redbox's kiosks for 45 days after they go on sale. Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. has also insisted on an availability delay and it, too, is embroiled in a legal fight with Redbox.
Even if studios cut off supply, Redbox has kept its kiosks loaded with new-release DVDs by buying through retailers.
Film Fresh, DivX Sign DVD Agreement
Deal allows users to back up their downloads
There's another player making inroads into the business of Internet distribution of mainstream films. Unlike many others, though, this time you can burn your downloads onto a disc and make backup copies.
Film Fresh struck a deal with DivX, and the two have pacts to sell movies from Paramount, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate.
Some of the titles available for about $16 apiece are "The Da Vinci Code," "Hancock," "3:10 to Yuma," "Spider-Man," "My Bloody Valentine" and the "Saw" and "Matrix" franchises.
There are about 200 million devices worldwide that can play DivX media, including DVD and Blu-ray players and PlayStation 3 consoles.
"We move content off the PC," said DivX content services director John Greene.
Once purchased, movies can be burned to as many DVDs as the customer wishes, but the DVDs can only be played on the device that is registered to the proper user.
"We don't want to limit their ability to back up their content," Greene said.
Film Fresh, founded four years ago by CEO Rick Bolton, primarily competes with CinemaNow and Apple's iTunes.
Until it struck its distribution deals with Paramount, Sony, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate and merged it with the DivX format approval agreement with those four studios, Film Fresh dealt primarily with indie and foreign films and niche titles.
Bolton hired Mike Arrieta two months ago to help coordinate distribution deals with major studios. Arrieta was formerly executive vp digital distribution and mobile entertainment for Sony Pictures.
"Having the studios on board is an important moment," Bolton said.
Turn On, Tune In, Turn Back the Clock
JAGAT PANDEY and his wife, Asha, owners of the Valley Rest Motel here, stood forlornly next to their garage. Although most of their property was well maintained — neatly trimmed grass, freshly painted brick-red doors, newly gleaming paneling in the front office — one wall looked atrocious. Paint peeled on the clapboard. The window was caked with grime. An overturned wagon lay haphazardly on the ground.
“The garage, I had it nice,” Mr. Pandey said. “But they came and put old paint on there, made it rough looking.”
The wall isn’t just any wall; it’s Ang Lee’s wall. Last summer Mr. Lee filmed scenes from his latest film, “Taking Woodstock,” at the Valley Rest, transforming it into a run-down Catskills resort called El Monaco, which served as a base camp for the organizers of the Woodstock festival in 1969. The film crew let the grass grow long, strewed weeds and wildflowers, added mismatched multicolored paint to the room doors, even touched up trees in the yard to give them a mossy, overgrown feel. And they resurfaced the exterior of the Valley Rest with several layers of peeling, contrasting paint. After the shoot was finished, the crew just as fastidiously spruced the motel up again. But when it came to that last garage wall, Mr. Pandey put his foot down. He wanted a souvenir.
“They wanted to paint this,” he said. “I said: ‘Forget about it. I’ll have somebody do it later.’ ”
For five months in 2008 “Taking Woodstock” set up its own base camp in New Lebanon, and Mr. Lee and his crew made such an impression that townspeople will probably still talk about it 40 years later. Granted, the town needed excitement. On the Massachusetts border in Columbia County, about 140 miles north of New York City, New Lebanon was feeling the effects of the recession. Business in its handful of stores and cafes had slacked off. Tourism — the place is a budget alternative to high-end towns in the nearby Berkshires — had waned. New Lebanon doesn’t even have a particularly cute main street: the two intersecting thoroughfares, Route 22 and Route 20, are broad, pokey streets dotted with strip malls, gas stations and musty secondhand shops.
But for Mr. Lee the town, along with other locations in the county, offered the perfect evocation of Woodstock-era low-key scenic beauty: twisting, forgotten byways that could be clogged with vintage traffic jams; lush, rolling fields and farms; dusty crossroad general stores. “When we were building the set, people constantly stopped their cars and looked,” Mr. Lee said. “Some even drove their cars to see. One woman said: ‘All the events are on the other side of the border, in Massachusetts. Finally we’ve got a cultural event here.’ ”
“Taking Woodstock,” which opens Wednesday, is a stark change of pace for Mr. Lee, who won an Academy Award for “Brokeback Mountain.” It tells the story of Elliot Tiber (played by Demetri Martin), a semi-closeted New York City painter who returns to the Catskills in the summer of 1969 to help his crotchety Russian Jewish immigrant parents (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton) revive their fleabag motel. When the nearby town of Walkill pulls the plug on the Woodstock festival, Elliot steps in, bringing peace, mud, flower children, the cream of late-’60s rock ’n’ roll and a dose of enlightenment to his parents’ backyard. After the film had its premiere at Cannes in May, some American bloggers complained that it was too lightweight for a director known for brutally emotional stories like “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Ice Storm” and “Lust, Caution.”
But Mr. Lee’s longtime creative partner, the producer and screenwriter James Schamus, said lightweight was the point. “He’d made six very depressing movies in a row,” Mr. Schamus said. “I said: ‘We’re going to make a movie that is joyous. If you’re not having fun every day making it, I quit.’ ” Mr. Schamus, who is also the chief executive of Focus Features, secured a budget of around $30 million and instructed the famously detail-oriented director to stick to it.
“I said: ‘You’re going to have to be modest. You can’t make demands that stress people out,’ ” he recalled. “Usually he sweats out every single hire: the costume designer, production designer, director of photography. Is this person’s style too operatic? Do they have the color palette? I said: ‘I’m going to put three people in front of you for every major department head. You can look at their résumés, but I suggest you don’t, because they’re all at the top of their game. I only want you to hire the nicest person you meet.’ ”
Still, Mr. Lee was concerned about how the community would receive the production. “We don’t know what we’re going to meet,” he said. “People might be troubled or inconvenienced. Sometimes they want to kick you out. But it was just wonderful. Nobody protested. Everybody wanted to help. The spirit of Woodstock was very much with us.”
Mr. Schamus especially was intent on setting a good tone with the locals. He owns a weekend house in Columbia County. He recalled telling the crew: “At the end of the shoot you get to go home, and I’m stuck here like some hostage in a Greek tragedy. If you do anything rude, if you do anything that makes people feel like they’ve been used, I get to go shopping with them for the next 30 years of my life.”
But it appears that over the five months of the production a love affair sprang up between the locals and the crew. “Wonderful people,” said Sam Dawson, the 92-year-old owner of a farm that doubled for Max Yasgur’s, the festival site. “There wasn’t a scrap left on the farm when they were done.”
Sometimes a crew member would knock on the door and invite the family to meals. “One morning they brought breakfast up,” Mr. Dawson added. “I was already eating.”
Others marveled at the crew’s efficiency. For Barbara Ferrari, who rented out Slattery’s Country Store in East Chatham, to the filmmakers for a week, the experience was like one of those “What if film crews ran the world?” commercials.
“We ran out of water the first day,” she said. “They said, ‘We’re going to bring Porta Potties in.’ And I see these huge things coming in. They were like dressing rooms. They were the Cadillac of Porta Potties.”
Michael DeBella, the burly, tattooed owner of the Hitchinpost Cafe in New Lebanon, gets misty just thinking about Mr. Lee and his crew. “Without the movie, I doubt we would have made it through last winter,” he said. “That’s how close to closing we were.” Mr. DeBella started out washing pots and pans and eventually was drafted to produce catered meals and box lunches for the crew and extras. “I put out, like, 3,000 lunches and never heard one complaint,” he said.
The filmmakers’ largess extended throughout the town: they hired local contractors and plumbers, rented a vacant office building and made donations to local churches and schools.
Mr. Lee’s famed perfectionism was occasionally on display. Sandy Dawson, Mr. Dawson’s daughter, was drafted as a cow wrangler, and Mr. Lee wanted her cows to pose just so.
“Cows are cows,” Ms. Dawson explained. “In the morning they were very happy. Then after lunch it was hot, and cows like to lay down after lunch. We had to physically push them to stand there. They wanted them by this post or that post. And Morgan, he’s a big steer; after a while he was rolling his eyes, like: ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I don’t want to be a movie star, I’m done.’ ”
Mr. Pandey and his wife had been on the verge of tearing down the Valley Rest. Mr. Pandey, a former engineer for General Electric, had bought the motel in 1990 for his wife to manage. But business had dropped off by 2007, and they were ready to retire. Two weeks before demolition was scheduled to begin, they returned from a visit to India to find their cellphone clogged with desperate messages from the crew. Mr. Lee won them over: they’ll leave it standing.
A few weeks ago Mr. Lee headed, so to speak, back to the garden. He and Mr. Schamus returned to Columbia County for a “people’s screening” of “Taking Woodstock” at the Crandell Theater, a slightly decayed 1926 movie palace in downtown Chatham. A flimsy red carpet decorated the sidewalk. A lone news van from a local cable channel parked across the street, and police officers in spotless uniforms cast a leisurely eye on the proceedings. Locals sported themewear like tie-dyed and tiered skirts, and an aging hippieish woman with flowing gray hair serenaded the crowd with folks songs on an acoustic guitar.
Inside, as the film was about to begin, Mr. Lee stepped forward. The roar of appreciation might have been heard all the way to Manhattan. He tried to make a speech thanking the crowd, but his microphone kept feeding back. Finally he just said, “This is a real-life Woodstock for me.”
Afterward the crowd adjourned to a party down the street, where a big white tent stretched over the village green. The Dawsons and the Pandeys sat together, eating hot dogs and chili. Mr. Schamus’s wife, Nancy Kricorian, suitably dressed in a jean jacket, couldn’t get over the change in atmosphere from the New York premiere the night before. “Where’s the security?” she asked, noting that nobody was guarding the tent entrances.
Mr. Lee posed for photographs with his arms around the Pandeys. Later Mr. Pandey was asked how his motel looked in the movie. “Terrible!” he said, beaming.
United States Box Office
Issued Tue Aug 25, 2009
Title/Distributor Wknd. Gross Total Gross # Theaters Last Wk. Days Released
1 INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY $38054676 $38070437 3165 0 3
2 DISTRICT 9
SONY PICTURES $18213546 $72804317 3050 1 10
3 G.I. JOE: RISE OF COBRA
PARAMOUNT $12204927 $120235874 3953 2 17
3 G.I. JOE: RISE OF COBRA
PARAMOUNT $12204927 $120235874 3953 2 17
4 THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE
WARNER BROS. $9742427 $37165676 2988 3 10
5 JULIE & JULIA
SONY PICTURES $8800674 $59088965 2463 4 17
WARNER BROS. $6410339 $6410339 3105 0 3
WALT DISNEY STUDIOS $4114661 $107224616 2561 5 31
8 HARRY POTTER HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
WARNER BROS. $3478149 $290238524 1936 7 40
9 THE UGLY TRUTH
SONY PICTURES $2774174 $82811624 1971 8 31
10 THE GOODS:LIVE HARD, SELL HARD
PARAMOUNT VANTAGE $2710194 $11247625 1849 6 10
11 POST GRAD
FOX SEARCHLIGHT $2651996 $2651996 1959 0 3
WALT DISNEY STUDIOS $2425644 $8136515 927 9 10
13 500 DAYS OF SUMMER
FOX SEARCHLIGHT $2280680 $22077070 988 11 38
14 THE HANGOVER
WARNER BROS. $1474236 $268277556 848 14 80
15 A PERFECT GETAWAY
UNIVERSAL $1090615 $14205010 1322 12 17
16 TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE..
PARAMOUNT $970360 $398441218 740 15 61
17 FUNNY PEOPLE
UNIVERSAL $922555 $50551440 932 10 24
SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT $858829 $4435538 2121 13 10
19 X GAMES 3D: THE MOVIE
WALT DISNEY STUDIOS
Supreme Court to Revisit ‘Hillary’ Documentary
The Supreme Court will cut short its summer break in early September to hear a new argument in a momentous case that could transform the way political campaigns are conducted.
The case, which arises from a minor political documentary called “Hillary: The Movie,” seemed an oddity when it was first argued in March. Just six months later, it has turned into a juggernaut with the potential to shatter a century-long understanding about the government’s ability to bar corporations from spending money to support political candidates.
The case has also deepened a profound split among liberals, dividing those who view government regulation of political speech as an affront to the First Amendment from those who believe that unlimited corporate campaign spending is a threat to democracy.
At issue is whether the court should overrule a 1990 decision, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates. Re-arguments in the Supreme Court are rare, and the justices’ decision to call for one here may have been prompted by lingering questions about just how far campaign finance laws, including McCain-Feingold, may go in regulating campaign spending by corporations.
The argument, scheduled for Sept. 9, comes at a crucial historical moment, as corporations today almost certainly have more to gain or fear from government action than at any time since the New Deal.
The court’s order calling for re-argument, issued in June, has generated more than 40 friend-of-the-court briefs. As a group, they depict an array of strange bedfellows and uneasy alliances as they debate whether corporations should be free to spend millions of dollars to support the candidates of their choice.
The American Civil Liberties Union and its usual allies are on opposite sides, with the civil rights group fighting shoulder to shoulder with the National Rifle Association to support the corporation that made the film.
To the dismay of many of his liberal friends and clients, Floyd Abrams, the celebrated First Amendment lawyer, is representing Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, a longtime foe of campaign finance laws.
“Criminalizing a movie about Hillary Clinton is a constitutional desecration,” Mr. Abrams said.
Most of the rest of the liberal establishment is on the other side, saying that allowing corporate money to flood the airwaves would pollute and corrupt political discourse.
“This is rough business,” said Fred Wertheimer, a veteran advocate of tighter campaign regulations. “We’re not dealing with campaign finance laws. We’re dealing with the essence of power in America.”
The case involves “Hillary: The Movie,” a mix of advocacy journalism and political commentary that is a relentlessly negative look at Mrs. Clinton’s character and career. The documentary was made by a conservative advocacy group called Citizens United, which lost a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission seeking permission to distribute it on a video-on-demand service. The film is available on the Internet and on DVD. The issue was that the McCain-Feingold law bans corporate money being used for electioneering.
A lower court agreed with the F.E.C.’s position, saying that the sole purpose of the documentary was “to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world and that viewers should vote against her.”
At the first Supreme Court argument in March, a government lawyer, answering a hypothetical question, said the government could also make it a crime to distribute books advocating the election or defeat of political candidates so long as they were paid for by corporations and not their political action committees.
That position seemed to astound several of the more conservative justices, and there were gasps in the courtroom.
“That’s pretty incredible,” said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
The discussion of book banning may have helped prompt the request for re-argument. In addition, some of the broader issues implicated by the case were only glancingly discussed in the first round of briefs, and some justices may have felt reluctant to take a major step without fuller consideration.
The question of what Congress may do to regulate books is a hypothetical one: the relevant law, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, more commonly called McCain-Feingold, applies only to broadcast, satellite or cable transmissions. That leaves out old technologies, like newspapers and books, and new ones, like the Internet. But the constitutional principles involved, some of the justices suggested, ought to apply regardless of the medium.
In an interview, Mr. Wertheimer seemed reluctant to answer questions about the government regulation of books. Pressed, Mr. Wertheimer finally said, “A campaign document in the form of a book can be banned.”
The McCain-Feingold law does contain an exception for broadcast news reports, commentaries and editorials. But a brief supporting Citizens United filed in January by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press questioned whether the government should be making decisions about what is and is not news.
“ ‘Hillary: The Movie,’ ” the brief said, “does not differ, in any relevant respect, from the critiques of presidential candidates produced throughout the entirety of American history.”
In a measure of the importance of that group’s support, Theodore B. Olson, who represents Citizens United, referred twice to the brief at the argument in March. (He stumbled both times, though, calling the group the “Reporters Committee for Freedom of Speech” and the “Reporters Committee for the Right to Life.”)
After the argument, Mr. Wertheimer pushed hard to persuade the group to alter its stance.
“He e-mailed, he memo-ed, he advocated, he called a couple of people who were donors, and he cost us some money,” said Lucy Dalglish, the executive director of the committee.
But the group filed a second brief supporting Citizens United in July. “I got fair treatment,” Mr. Wertheimer said, “and they basically disagreed with my position.”
The disagreement echoes one within the civil rights community, said Burt Neuborne, the legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and a former official of the A.C.L.U.
Mr. Neuborne said he disagreed with the A.C.L.U.’s longstanding position that regulation of corporate campaign spending may violate the First Amendment. The A.C.L.U.’s position was the product of “a huge fight” within the group, he said, adding that “it never was more than a 60-40 split on the board.”
The Brennan Center filed a brief supporting the government in the case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, while the A.C.L.U. filed one supporting Citizens United.
Mr. Neuborne and four other former A.C.L.U. officials took a middle ground, urging the court to rule narrowly to protect the documentary without making a major constitutional statement.
Indeed, it would not be hard for the court to rule in favor of Citizens United on narrow grounds. The court could say the film was not the sort of “electioneering communication” that McCain-Feingold, which mostly concerned television advertisements, was meant to address. It could say that communications that people had to seek out might be treated differently from uninvited advertisements. Or it could say that Citizens United was not the sort of corporation that can be regulated.
But the request for re-argument suggests that the court is on the verge of bolder action.
Movie Fund Set to Close Housing Unit for the Aged
In a favorite movie plotline, victimized small fry strike back against the operators of a corrupt and heartless system. As in “Erin Brockovich.”
Usually, though, Hollywood isn’t cast as the villain.
On Tuesday some 78 residents of a long-term-care unit and associated hospital in the San Fernando Valley — an operation that has tended generations of elderly movie stars, character actors, directors, crew members and others, along with their dependents — received word from the site’s operator, the Motion Picture and Television Fund, that it would go ahead with plans to close the two by year’s end. The residents can now expect what amounts to an eviction notice in coming weeks if they do not accept the fund’s help in finding a new home or otherwise relocate.
The notification, which comes after months of turmoil over the proposed closing, is expected to result in a lawsuit by residents and others against both the fund and the Hollywood producers, executives and union leaders on one or more of its governing boards.
Mediation between the sides failed in July. In good cinematic style, the fight pits big guys against some very fragile little ones.
“When they’re put out, they die,” said Patricia Alexander, whose husband, Hal, an 86-year-old former actor and television director, is a resident.
Asked where her husband, whose credits include “The Flip Wilson Show,” would go if the unit were closed, Ms. Alexander said: “We’re not closing. I haven’t looked. Don’t ask me that.”
But the dispute also points to deep and perplexing changes in care for the old.
“We’re on the precipice of a transformational era around aging services,” said Larry Minnix, president of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Mr. Minnix said rising costs, diminishing support and a growing tendency among the elderly to remain at home as long as possible were eliminating relatively small hospital-residential facilities like that operated by the fund.
Apparently, the courts may now have to decide whether a charity whose various boards include the likes of Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks Animation, Jim Gianopulos of 20th Century Fox, Jay D. Roth of the Directors Guild of America, the filmmaker Nora Ephron, the investor David Geffen and Warren Beatty is stepping on Hollywood’s needy or simply dealing with health care’s new reality.
The letters and anticipated lawsuit were the most serious crisis to date in a melodrama that has been playing out on Web sites and in news reports here since the fund — long regarded as Hollywood’s favorite charity — first said it could not afford to operate the 150-bed hospital and care center without endangering its other assisted-living and health care operations. Those serve about 60,000 people.
According to Dr. David Tillman, the fund’s chief executive, more than 20 residents have accepted help in finding beds elsewhere, including at the nearby Los Angeles Jewish Home and a center in Portland, Ore., to which the fund moved a resident at its own expense.
More drama lies ahead: Among the lawyers who have been working with the residents and their families is Thomas V. Girardi, a litigator on whom a character played by Peter Coyote in “Erin Brockovich,” about a small town’s fight against pollution by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, was loosely modeled. The Girardi & Keese firm, which has its own weekly radio show here, “Champions of Justice,” bills itself as a specialist in “passionate litigation with corporate giants.”
Legal action may help sort through claims that have turned the dispute into a crucible for debate about the sustainability of premium care for an aging population and about whether Hollywood’s wealthiest power brokers are turning their backs on their own during hard economic times.
The fund’s initial decision to close the unit — once a refuge for aging stars like Hattie McDaniel, who had an Oscar from “Gone With the Wind” — followed a report by the Camden Group, a consulting concern that in January said the residential unit and hospital were dragging the fund toward bankruptcy.
According to Camden, high labor costs, stagnant or declining reimbursements from state and federal health care programs, sharply reduced investment income and declining philanthropic support resulted in a $24 million deficit in 2008. A projected shortfall averaging about $16 million over the next five years, the group said, threatens to exhaust the fund’s net investment reserves of about $68 million by 2013.
About half of a projected operating deficit of $23 million annually — only some of which is expected to be made up by donations and investments — was attributed to the long-term-care unit, making it a prime target for a cutback.
But public financial statements through 2007 actually showed growth in net assets, leading to furious criticism from residents and commentators. Those objecting were particularly galled by the disclosure that Dr. Tillman received a pay increase of about 40 percent from 2005 to 2007, raising his compensation to about $600,000 at a time when the fund’s finances were supposedly deteriorating.
Marty Katz, a partner with Mercer Consulting, which advised the fund regarding Dr. Tillman’s pay, said the compensation figure — which combined salary with performance-linked bonus payments — was slightly below the median for comparable executives when the bonuses were excluded and slightly above the median when they were counted.
By last year, however, the pain was visible in the fund’s audited financial statement: in 2008 net assets, hurt by investment losses, declined by 26 percent, to about $168.8 million.
Reviewing various proposals under consideration in the national health care reform debate, the fund’s advisers concluded that hospital reimbursements were likely to shrink. “Health care reform does not come and save the day for us,” said Steve Valentine, the Camden’s Group’s president.
“New management” is the cure recommended by Nancy Biederman, whose mother-in-law, Jane Biederman, has been a resident for nine years, and whose mother, the television writer Irma Kalish, served on two of the fund’s boards before resigning this year. Ms. Biederman said she believed the fund’s reported financial crunch was a “created crisis,” intended to help Dr. Tillman, who formerly ran the organization’s clinics, toward an expansion of clinical care.
But, said Bertram Fields, a well-known Hollywood lawyer who has been representing the board members pro bono, some of the more volatile claims in the debate are rapidly damaging the fund’s ability to help anyone at all. “They’re defaming the staff,” he said.
An inevitable argument has held that Hollywood’s rich and famous could simply give a little more.
The actress Diane Ladd, quoted on an anti-closing Web site, savingthelivesofourown.org, as reprimanding the industry’s wealthy for permitting the shutdown, said on Monday that she and a handful of allies were scratching for a solution on their own.
“I’m crying over those people in that nursing home,” said Ms. Ladd, who is joining Ed Asner, Elliott Gould and others to host a fund-raiser this weekend. Proceeds are intended both for the Membership First faction of the Screen Writers Guild and for assistance to the soon-to-be-displaced residents — but not for the once-golden fund.
“This is a tragedy in our time,” Ms. Ladd said. “My God, it’s been there since Mary Pickford.”
Recording Industry Helps Rapper/Single Mom Get A PhD, Though It Tried To Weasel Out
Michael sends in this excellent story of a major record label actually doing right by one of its (former) artists... though, the story really doesn't reflect that well on Warner Music. It's the story of Roxanne Shante, one of the first female hip hop stars, who came out with a hit song in the 80s (when she was 14-years-old), leading the way for other female rappers. Of course, like so many other artists, she found out that the big record labels weren't so great after all. After two albums, when she realized that her label was basically stealing from her, she called it quits from music. At age 19, however, she remembered that Warner Music has put a clause in her contract, promising to "fund her education for life." She figures they put that in as a "throwaway, never believing a teen mom in public housing would attend college." But, attend college, she did. She didn't just get a bachelor's degree, but went all the way through to a PhD. in psychology.
Of course, Warner Music, already having done plenty to try to cheat her out of her contract, worked hard not to pay. But the dean at, Marymount Manhattan College, where she attended for some of both her undergraduate and graduate degrees, read over the clause and simply kept sending bills to Warner Music. Warner (so nice of them, as per usual) ignored the invoices until Shante threatened to go public with the story of Warner Music Group not living up to their contract promises on something so basic as funding her education. In the end, Warner Music had to pay up around $217,000 for Shante's education, and she's put the doctorate to good use, launching a therapy practice focused on urban African-Americans, experimenting with new ways to get them over the taboo associated with therapy. It's nice to see how Warner Music actually did some good in the world, even if it had to be dragged there kicking and screaming.
Apple’s Sleek Upgrade
Buying software is not like buying a vase or a comb or a lawnmower where you pay, you take it home, and the transaction is complete.
No, buying software is more like joining a club with annual dues. Every year, there’s a new version, and if you don’t upgrade, you feel like a behind-the-curve loser.
There’s a time bomb ticking in that business model, however. To keep you upgrading, the software company has to pile on more features each time. Sooner or later, you wind up with a huge, sloshing, incoherent mess of a program; a pile of spaghetti code that doesn’t run well and makes nobody happy.
You’re in even worse shape if that bloatware is your operating system — the software you run all day. Just ask anyone with Windows Vista.
This year, though, Apple and Microsoft both realized that the pile-on-features model is unsustainable. Both are releasing new versions of their operating systems that are unapologetically billed as cleaned-up, slimmed-down versions of what came before.
Microsoft’s, called Windows 7, comes out in October. Apple’s, called Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, arrives on Friday, a month earlier than announced. (Apple to Microsoft: “Surprise!”)
Apple’s release strategy is highly unorthodox: “Leopard, a k a Mac OS X 10.5, was already a great OS-virus-free, nag-free and not copy-protected. So instead of adding features for their own sake, let’s just make what we’ve got smaller, faster and more refined.”
What? No new features? That’s not how the industry works! Doesn’t Apple know anything?
And then there’s the price of Snow Leopard: $30.
Have they lost their minds? Operating-system upgrades always cost a hundred-something dollars! ($30 is the price if you already have Leopard. If not, the price is $170 for a Mac Box Set that also includes two suites of Apple software: iLife (iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb and the GarageBand music studio), and iWork (the Numbers spreadsheet, Pages word processor and Keynote presentation software).
In any case, Snow Leopard truly is an optimized version of Leopard. It starts up faster (72 seconds on a MacBook Air, versus 100 seconds in Leopard). It opens programs faster (Web browser, 3 seconds; calendar, 5 seconds; iTunes, 7 seconds), and the second time you open the same program, the time is halved.
“Optimized” doesn’t just mean faster; it also means smaller. Incredibly, Snow Leopard is only half the size of its predecessor; following the speedy installation (15 minutes), you wind up with 7 gigabytes more free space on your hard drive. That, ladies and gents, is a first.
Unfortunately, Snow Leopard runs only on Macs with Intel chips — that is, Macs sold since 2006. If you have an older Mac, you’re stuck with Leopard forever.
(Techie note: Popular conception has it that the space savings comes from removing all the code required by those earlier chips. But that’s not true, according to Apple. Yes, that code is gone, but new 64-bit code, described below, easily replaces it. No, Apple says that the savings comes from “tightening up the screws,” compressing chunks of the system software and eliminating a huge stash of printer drivers. Now the system downloads printer drivers as needed, on demand.)
As it turns out, Apple programmers could not leave well enough alone. They disobeyed the original “no new features” mantra. As they pored through all the bits of Mac OS X, they kept stopping and fixing little things that had always bugged them, or coming up with neat little ways to make things better. So:
The Mac now adjusts its own clock when you travel, just like a cellphone. The menu bar can now show the date, not just the day of the week. The menu of nearby wireless hot spots now shows the signal strength for each. When you’re running Windows on your Mac, you can now open the files on the Macintosh “side” without having to restart. Icons can now be 512 pixels (several inches) square, turning any desktop window into a light table for photos.
There’s now a Put Back command in the Trash, just as in Windows’ Recycle Bin. You can page through a PDF document or watch a movie right on a file’s icon. When you click a folder icon on the Dock, you can scroll through the pop-up window of its contents, turning a worthless feature into a useful one.
Buggy plug-ins (Flash and so on) no longer crash the Safari Web browser; you just get an empty rectangle where they would have appeared.
There’s an impressive trove of tools for blind Mac users, including one that turns a Mac laptop’s trackpad into a touchable map of the screen; the Mac speaks each onscreen element as you touch it.
There are some bigger-ticket items, too. Movies open up into a gorgeous, frameless playback window with built-in trim handles and a “Send to YouTube” command built right in. You can now record your screen activity as a movie — fantastic for tutorials. The old Services feature has been reborn as powerful commands that appear only when relevant — and you can modify, make up or assign keystrokes to them.
Once a system administrator provides setup details, your company’s Microsoft Exchange address book, e-mail and calendar can show up in the Mac’s own address book, e-mail and calendar programs, right alongside your own personal information. That’s irony for you: the Mac now has Exchange compatibility built in, but Windows itself does not.
There are hundreds more little tweaks. In all, Apple says that more than 90 percent of Leopard’s 1,000 software chunks were revised or polished. Many are listed on Apple's site, but I kept finding more undocumented surprises until the deadline for this column. Just little stuff. Like: When you rename an icon on an alphabetically sorted desktop, it visibly slides into its new alphabetic position so you can see where it went.
Despite all of this, the haters online deride Snow Leopard as a “service pack” — nothing more than a bug-fix/security-patch update like the ones Microsoft periodically releases for Windows.
That’s a pretty uninformed wisecrack. Especially because the biggest changes in Snow Leopard are under the hood, completely invisible, but responsible for some big speed and stability advances.
A big one: Mac OS X and most of its included programs (the desktop, Web browser, calendar and so on) are 64-bit software, a geeky term that, for now, pretty much means “faster.” Other new underlying technologies, called OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch, are features that software companies can exploit for even greater speed in their new or rewritten programs.
That Snow Leopard’s looks haven’t changed at all, in other words, betrays the enormous changes under its pretty skin. Unfortunately, that fact also explains the number of non-Apple programs that “break” after the installation.
I experienced frustrating glitches in various programs, including Microsoft Word, Flip4Mac, Photoshop CS3, CyberDuck and TextExpander, an abbreviation expander. (Interestingly, Snow Leopard offers its own typing-expander feature, but it works primarily in Apple programs, like TextEdit, Mail, Safari and iChat.) The compatibility list at snowleopard.wikidot.com lists other programs that may have trouble.
Most of these hiccups will go away when software companies update their wares (although Adobe says, “Just upgrade to Photoshop CS4”). Let’s hope that Apple hurries up with its inevitable 10.6.0.1 update, too, to address the occasional Safari crash and cosmetic glitch I experienced, too.
Otherwise, if you’re already running Leopard, paying the $30 for Snow Leopard is a no-brainer. You’ll feel the leap forward in speed polish, and you’ll keep experiencing those “oh, that’s nice” moments for weeks to come.
If you’re running something earlier, the decision isn’t as clear cut; you’ll have to pay $170 and get Snow Leopard with Apple’s creative-software suites — whether you want them or not.
Either way, the big story here isn’t really Snow Leopard. It’s the radical concept of a software update that’s smaller, faster and better — instead of bigger, slower and more bloated. May the rest of the industry take the hint.
Hey, PC, Who Taught You to Fight Back?
SEAN SILER would never be mistaken for a movie star. A former Navy officer who wears glasses and is a tad on the heavy side, Mr. Siler works at Microsoft, where he oversees the Windows division’s adoption of new Internet connectivity software called IPv6.
But there were audible gasps last summer when Mr. Siler, 39, auditioned for Microsoft’s new ad campaign for Windows, created by Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the Miami agency best known for its cheeky work for Mini Cooper and Burger King.
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ ” recalls Rob Reilly, one of the agency’s executive creative directors. “It couldn’t have been more perfect.”
Everybody agreed that Mr. Siler looked exactly like PC, the character played by the comedian John Hodgman in Apple’s popular “Get a Mac” ads that lampoon Windows-based computers and those who love them. Two weeks later, Mr. Siler reported to a nearby television studio. The agency dressed him in PC’s dorky uniform — white shirt, baggy khakis, brown sport coat and matching brown tie — and handed him a script with the lines: “I’m a PC. And I’ve been made into a stereotype.”
Mr. Siler joined a parade of environmentalists, budget-conscious laptop shoppers, mixed martial arts fighters, mash-up DJs and remarkably tech-savvy preschoolers who appear in Microsoft’s new campaign, which is intended to show that real Windows users aren’t all clueless drones.
For Mr. Siler, the experience was almost like being a geeky incarnation of Brad Pitt. His e-mail address was on the screen, and he received 4,000 messages from viewers — some from grateful parents whose children had wanted expensive Macs over PCs and now had second thoughts.
Crispin put up a video on YouTube in which Mr. Siler discussed his role in the campaign; it was viewed more than 702,000 times. At work, he was constantly interrupted by his fellow Microsoft employees. “For a couple of weeks,” Mr. Siler recalls, “I had people coming by my office and saying: ‘Hey, you are the PC guy, aren’t you? That’s so cool!’ ”
His mother wasn’t so sure. “You look so horrible,” she told him. “You don’t look anything like that man. Why did they make you look so bad?”
Somebody better explain to Mr. Siler’s mother that this isn’t a beauty contest; it’s an ad war, one destined to go down in history with the cola wars of the 1980s and ’90s and the Hertz-Avis feud of the 1960s. According to TNS Media Intelligence, Apple spent $264 million on television ads last year, 71 percent more than Microsoft. In the first six months of 2009, however, Microsoft responded with $163 million worth of commercials, more than twice Apple’s spending.
Surprisingly, Microsoft, which has never been known for running cool ads, has landed some punches. Shortly after the Microsoft campaign started, Apple unleashed commercials that mocked its competitor as spending money on advertising when it should have been fixing Vista, its much-maligned operating system.
“It got Apple’s attention, didn’t it?” says Robert X. Cringely, host of PBS’s NerdTV.
FOR years, Microsoft was the stodgy market leader. It sold 90 percent of the world’s operating system software, and generally left the advertising to Dell, H.P. and other hardware makers who licensed Windows. The only time Microsoft hawked its most recognizable brand on television was when the latest version of the software hit the shelves. Then the company flooded the airwaves with commercials full of loud music and swirling imagery saying that the new version of Windows is out — and that it’s awesome!
Apple is the classic smaller insurgent. Its share for desktops and laptops in the United States is just over 8 percent. Every time Apple grabs another point of market share from Microsoft’s partners, its stock price climbs. And one way that Apple has tried to gain share is by running clever ads that ridicule everything Microsoft stands for.
There’s no better example than “Get a Mac,” unveiled three years ago by Apple’s longtime ad agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day. No technology company would choose Mr. Hodgman’s character, PC, to personify its brand. He reeks of the past. He boasts of using his desktop to make spreadsheets and ridicules his more youthful friend, Mac, played by the actor Justin Long, for using his desktop for “juvenile” pursuits like blogging and movie making — even through it’s clear that PC would like to be in on the fun. He just can’t get his Windows computer to do his bidding.
Like a classic sitcom character — think Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners” — PC is always dreaming up ill-advised schemes intended to show his superiority. He’s thwarted by viruses, system crashes and other problems more associated with Windows-based computers than Apple’s products — and, recently, he has become a hapless apologist for Vista. Mr. Long’s character smugly watches his friend’s pratfalls, glancing at the audience with raised eyebrows as if to say, “If only this poor guy would buy a Mac. . . .”
PC will never learn. Not as long as he keeps driving sales for Apple. Since 2006, the year that he first appeared in all his pasty-faced glory, Apple’s share of the computer desktop market in the United States has more than doubled, according to IDC, the technology industry research firm. Its stock price, meanwhile, has risen 142 percent since May 2006, while Microsoft’s has barely budged. Yes, the astonishing success of newer Apple products like the iPod and the iPhone has helped. But the PC character should also take a bow. (Representatives of Apple and TBWA/Chiat/Day declined to be interviewed for this article.)
Apple’s ads put Microsoft in a bind. One of Madison Avenue’s rules is that a market leader never acknowledges a smaller competitor in its advertising. What’s more, if Microsoft responded with ads that backfired, it would look just like Mr. Hodgman’s character. Maybe it was better to grin and bear it.
Then, last year, Microsoft hired Crispin Porter and struck back with uncharacteristic wit. There was Mr. Siler’s star turn. The agency also handed bunches of cash to shoppers and asked them to choose between a PC and a Mac. Lauren, a 20-something in one of the “Laptop Hunter” spots, is giddy about the money she has left over when she selects a $699 H.P. with a 17-inch screen, rather than a $1,000 Mac with a 13-inch screen. “I guess I’m just not cool enough to be a Mac person,” she sighs. This time, the joke was on Apple. In a recession, it’s pretty hip to save $300.
Microsoft’s effort to inspire PC pride seemed to resonate after its debut last September. According to IDC, Mac shipments in the United States plummeted 20 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 versus the previous quarter, as the economy went into a tailspin, while those of PCs manufactured by Dell and H.P. fell only 13 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
Microsoft was quick to declare victory — maybe too quick. In the second quarter this year, Mac sales in the United States rebounded 34 percent, IDC said, while Dell and H.P. had more modest gains. Even more humbling for Microsoft was the company’s announcement in late July that its year-over-year operating income for the quarter declined 29 percent.
As a result, some analysts have argued that the Microsoft campaign has failed. But they, too, may be too hasty. We are only weeks away from the Oct. 22 release of Windows 7, which may undo much of the company’s self-inflicted damage from Vista. PC users, many of whom skipped buying Vista machines, could be holding off until then to buy. And the introduction of Windows 7 will be accompanied by yet another Crispin Porter ad blitz.
“You are not so embarrassed to take your PC out of the bag on a plane anymore,” said Mr. Reilly at the ad agency. “It’s actually kind of cool that you do. I know this is working.”
EVERY Wednesday, Lee Clow, the creative director of TBWA/Chiat/Day, travels from Los Angeles to Cupertino, Calif., for his weekly meeting with Steven P. Jobs, the Apple chief executive. They started doing this years ago and have created ads that are as stylish and cool as anything on television. Usually, the subtext of these ads is that Microsoft is the Evil Empire.
Mr. Jobs started working with Mr. Clow, a laid-back former surfer dude, in the early 1980s when Mr. Clow helped to create Apple’s path-breaking “1984” television commercial introducing the Macintosh. The ad’s unsubtle message was that buyers of the new machine would be striking against I.B.M., portrayed as Apple’s Orwellian foe.
Mr. Jobs struggled to persuade Apple’s board to run the ad, which was directed by Ridley Scott. Mr. Clow was similarly adamant when his boss, the late Jay Chiat, tried to shelve it. The ad ran only once, during the 1984 Super Bowl, but it has never been forgotten.
Apple forced out Mr. Jobs the next year and hired a new ad agency, BBDO. But when Mr. Jobs returned triumphantly to the company in 1997, he reunited with TBWA/Chiat/Day. Mr. Clow brought him the idea for “Think Different,” a campaign that identified Apple with figures like Bob Dylan, Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr. Mr. Jobs used it to introduce the iMac and to re-establish Apple as an iconoclast.
TBWA/Chiat/Day went on to create the 2002 “Switchers” campaign, in which the director Errol Morris filmed real computer users describing why they ditched their PCs for a Mac. Who can forget Ellen Feiss, the slow-talking teenager who made the hearts of young geeks flutter when she explained how her PC ate her homework? “It was, like, beep beep beep beep beep beep beep,” Ms. Feiss says. “And then, like, half of my paper was gone.”
Then came the iPod ads from TWBA/Chiat/Day that not only helped drive sales of Apple’s breakout product, but also made stars of little-known indie rock acts like Feist. Such is the power of Apple’s marketing wizardry.
Many of Apple’s new customers were plugging their iPods into PCs. Mr. Clow proposed “Get a Mac” to get them thinking about springing for an Apple machine. Mr. Jobs was intrigued. But he wanted the ads to be perfect.
“The discussion within Apple was: ‘Is this the right tone? How young a guy should Mac be? How dorky do we make PC look?’ ” recalls Ken Segall, a former TBWA/Chiat/Day creative director who worked early on as a consultant for Apple on the campaign. “It went many rounds before Steve was comfortable with the idea. Then he loved it.”
IN spring 2007, a year after Apple introduced the “Get a Mac” ads, Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft C.E.O., barged into the office of Mich Mathews, head of the company’s central marketing group. The two had talked about a campaign that would repair the damage from the Apple ads.
Ms. Mathews recalls Mr. Ballmer enthusiastically asking her, “When are we going to move?”
Advertising has never seemed to be part of Microsoft’s DNA. The chairman, Bill Gates, “never really seemed to get marketing,” says Rob Enderle, a longtime technology industry analyst. And for many years, Mr. Enderle says, Mr. Ballmer “just didn’t think it was worth spending the money on it.”
The company’s Windows campaigns seemed to reflect executives’ lack of interest. Perhaps the best example was the push for Microsoft Vista in 2007, created by McCann Erickson with the slogan “The Wow Starts Now.” It showed people gaping in childlike wonder at the newest version of Windows. But Vista, to put it mildly, didn’t live up to the ads.
“The operating system was visually beautiful,” said Jeff Musser, a former McCann Erickson creative director who worked on the campaign. “But it was a bad product. I didn’t really hear anybody saying, ‘Wow.’ ”
There were also cultural issues at Microsoft when it came to advertising. On Madison Avenue, they say that the more hands that touch an advertisement, the worse it becomes. Microsoft felt differently. “They thought the more people saw it and gave an opinion, the better it would be,” Mr. Musser said. “That’s how you develop software. It’s not how you develop great creative.”
So Ms. Mathews tried to change things. She set up a nine-member task force to figure out a marketing strategy and keep meddlers at arm’s length.
In February 2008, Microsoft picked Crispin Porter. At the agency, Mr. Reilly was initially apprehensive. He didn’t even own a PC; he had an ultraslim MacBook Air. (He has since bought himself two PCs — a Sony Vaio and a Lenovo ThinkPad.)
The adman also wondered whether Microsoft was ready for a Crispin campaign. Mr. Reilly himself oversees the agency’s irreverent work for Burger King, aimed at young men hungering for menu items like the Triple Whopper.
He wanted to come up with a campaign that would redefine Windows, and he counseled against ads that attacked Apple. Then he changed his tune. Last summer in Apple ads, Mr. Hodgman’s PC character morphed into a personification of Microsoft itself. PC was haunted by problems with Vista. He took up yoga to calm his nerves, only to discover that his teacher was on edge because Vista wreaked havoc on her billing system. PC tried to find peace by creating a line of herbal teas with names like “Crashy-Time Camomile” and “Raspberry Restart.”
“As the tone of their campaign became more and more negative, we were like, ‘We gotta do something,’ ” Mr. Reilly said. “That’s where the whole notion of ‘I’m a PC’ and putting a face on our users came about. We have a billion users. That’s who our cast is, whereas Apple is just two fictitious characters.”
Crispin recruited influential Windows fans like the “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria. “I feel bad about the little PC guy,” she said this month. “He is always getting beaten up.” It also brought in some who would appeal to niche audiences, like the Pittsburgh mash-up D.J. Gregg Gillis, who is better known as Girl Talk.
When Mr. Ballmer finally saw the ads in September, he congratulated Ms. Mathews and gave her a high-five. Then, Ms. Mathews says, he started shouting, “I’m a PC!”
THE new Windows campaign got off to an inauspicious start. Puzzling ads featuring Mr. Gates kidding around with the comedian Jerry Seinfeld left a lot of people scratching their heads. The ads quickly disappeared.
As the “I’m a PC” ads with Mr. Siler replaced them two weeks later, Apple’s “Get a Mac” spots disappeared. Microsoft doesn’t think that was a coincidence. When PC and Mac reappeared, it was in the advertising that criticized Microsoft as spending on ads rather than on Vista.
Microsoft thought that it had scored a point. “You’ve got to look at that and say, ‘You are not advertising to consumers; you’re advertising to the Microsoft marketing department,’ ” Ms. Mathews says. “I just admit that did bring a smile to my face.”
Emboldened, Microsoft continued its barrages. In February, it unveiled its “Rookies” ads, arguing that PCs are so easy to use that even Kylie, an adorable 4 1/2-year old, could upload a picture of her goldfish, Dorothy, onto her PC and e-mail it to her relatives. You want to make fun of Kylie, Apple? Microsoft and Crispin dare you to try it.
The next month, Microsoft deployed its “Laptop Hunters” ads. They clearly moved the needle in Microsoft’s favor. Ted Marzilli, a managing director of BrandIndex, a company that tracks consumer perceptions, said that at the beginning of the year, adults thought Apple offered more value than Microsoft. In May, however, Microsoft closed the gap in the firm’s surveys. “Apple took a hit,” Mr. Marzilli said. “Since then, they have been neck and neck.”
In June, Microsoft felt that it had more reason to gloat. The chief financial officer, B. Kevin Turner, says he got a call from an Apple lawyer who asked him to change the ads because Apple was lowering its prices by $100. “I did cartwheels down the hallway,” Mr. Turner subsequently boasted in speech at a New Orleans conference.
Then Apple announced its second-quarter rebound. And for some analysts, it seemed like game over. “The reality is that Apple’s business has been impacted by the overall economy, not by Microsoft’s campaign,” said Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray. “Those ‘What can I get for 1,000 bucks’ ads? That was a clever campaign. But it never really caught on. If you compare it to ‘Get a Mac,’ it didn’t even register.”
And yet Apple keeps responding. On Friday, it released its Snow Leopard operating system a month ahead of schedule, accompanied by a new round of “Get a Mac” ads. One involves a red-headed woman who is clearly intended to resemble Microsoft’s Lauren. PC introduces her to his suave friend, a top-of-the-line model played by Patrick Warburton, who was David Puddy on “Seinfeld.” She declines to buy a Windows machine when they can’t promise that she won’t have virus woes.
Microsoft, however, has found it enjoys mixing it up with Apple on the airwaves. In July, Mr. Ballmer told analysts that Crispin’s work had been “quite effective.” He promised that Microsoft would continue investing heavily in Windows marketing. “We didn’t do that three, four, five, six years ago,” he added.
For Mr. Siler, this is a welcome change. “I’ve never seen more pride at Microsoft,” he says. “You walk through the campus, and you see people’s laptops that have ‘I’m a PC’ stickers on them. I walk in the company store, and there are these huge banners that say, ‘I’m a PC’ and shirts and ties and mugs. I think I made a difference. My God, that’s so cool!”
Kid From Helsinki Foments Linux Revolution
Linus Torvalds, a 21-year-old university student from Finland, writes a post to a user group asking for feedback on a little project he’s working on. He’s built a simple kernel for a Unix-like operating system that runs on an Intel 386 processor, and he wants to develop it further. The kernel eventually becomes Linux, which is released in 1994 and distributed over the internet for free.
Thousands of contributors began refining the Linux kernel and the operating system built on top of it. Linux went on to become, arguably, the biggest success story of the free-software movement, proving that the work of thousands of volunteers can create a piece of free software as powerful as one sold by any corporation.
In the early 1980s, the Unix operating system was already in widespread use throughout academia and businesses for both servers and workstations. It was being rapidly developed and deployed. Unix code could be made to run on hundreds of different types of computer hardware. This high level of portability was integral to its popularity.
But as it grew more complex, Unix (and its many Unix-like cousins) became increasingly saddled by licensing fees. Demand began to rise for a free operating system, something as powerful and flexible as Unix, that could be distributed and modified openly and freely without the encumbrance of commercial licenses.
To that end, Richard Stallman, a programmer at MIT, founded the GNU Project in 1984. Stallman and his collaborators began assembling the various pieces of a free operating system that would be compatible with Unix, strictly adhering to the idea that software should be not only be freely available, but also give its users the ability to freely experiment with its inner workings.
A few years later, the GNU team (the name is a recursive acronym for “GNU’s Not Unix”) had created several of the building blocks of an OS, but a few of the key components, including a kernel — the master control program essential to an operating system — remained incomplete. The project was stalled.
In 1991, Linus Torvalds was a student at the University of Helsinki. He had written some software that would enable his new workstation, a PC powered by a 386 processor, to access the university’s Unix servers.
Torvalds’ simple terminal emulator was based on Minix, a Unix-like operating system that worked on many different computer hardware platforms and was widely used in academia as a teaching tool. Torvalds kept tinkering, and before long he had created a working operating system kernel.
Torvalds had borrowed none of Minix’s code, but he had adopted much of its architecture, including its file system. So, he enlisted hackers from the Minix community to help him flesh out his project.
On August 25, 1991, Torvalds posted a note to the comp.os.minix Usenet group titled, “What would you like to see most in minix?“:
Unlike his initial announcement, Torvalds’ follow-up post contained no emoticons.
From these humble beginnings, a full operating system kernel would emerge. The first version was called Freax, a name chosen by Torvalds because it incorporated elements of “free” and “freak” — the “x” at the end is a common attribute of the names of many Unix-like systems. But when the source code files were posted to the FTP servers at the Helsinki University of Technology, the sysop renamed the kernel “Linux” in honor of its creator.
The first version of Linux, released in late 1991, was published with its own license. But since several pieces of GNU software were required to run the Linux kernel, Torvalds eventually relented and published Linux version 0.99 under the GNU Public License in December 1992. The change made Linux fully compatible with the rest of GNU’s software, and the GNU Project began integrating the kernel — the project’s biggest missing link — into its free operating system.
Linux 1.0, the first fully-baked version of the GNU Project’s operating system, was released in March of 1994. It was quickly ported to multiple platforms and was updated to include support for multiprocessor installations. By the late 1990s, Linux had grown into a major force in the server space, ending Unix’s dominance within corporations and becoming the biggest threat to Microsoft’s commercial-server-software business.
The Linux Foundation, a nonprofit group chartered with the task of promoting Linux and fostering its development, estimates the Linux ecosystem will reach the $50 billion mark by 2011, as the software continues to make inroads on PC desktops, netbooks, servers, mobile phones and embedded devices like TV set-top boxes, GPS units, and media players.
Now, the Linux kernel is kept up to date by thousands of programmers from around the world. Most of them are volunteer contributors or work under the sponsorship of corporations like IBM, HP and Intel. Torvalds himself is now sponsored by the Linux Foundation and continues to work on the Linux kernel full-time.
In other words, it’s no longer “just a hobby.”
Free Software Group Attacks Windows 7 'Sins'
Among them, says FSF: Taking away privacy, strong-arming into upgrades
The Free Software Foundation today launched a campaign against Microsoft Corp.'s upcoming Windows 7 operating system, calling it "treacherous computing" that stealthily takes away rights from users.
At the Web site Windows7Sins.org, the Boston-based FSF lists the seven "sins" that proprietary software such as Windows 7 commits against computer users.
They include: Poisoning education, locking in users, abusing standards such as OpenDocument Format (ODF), leveraging monopolistic behavior, threatening user security, enforcing Digital Rights Management (DRM) at the request of entertainment companies concerned about movie and music piracy, and invading privacy.
FSF's Windows 7 'being trashed' poster.
"Windows, for some time now, has really been a DRM platform, restricting you from making copies of digital files," said executive director Peter Brown. And if Microsoft's Trusted Computing technology were fully implemented the way the company would like, the vendor would have "malicious and really complete control over your computer."
The result is that Microsoft could do things like Amazon.com, which last month went into customers' Kindle e-readers and deleted illegally-sold copies of novels such as George Orwell's 1984, he said.
"This is treacherous computing," Brown said.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The group, best-known for overseeing the General Public License (GPL) used by most open-source software, including Linux, will hold a rally at noon in Boston Common, where it will unveil a 12-foot-tall art installation depicting Windows 7 "being trashed," Brown said.
The group is also sending a letter (available at the group's Web site) to top executives at Fortune 500 companies that argues their companies would benefit ethically, technically and, in the long-term, financially, from switching away from Windows and Microsoft Office to free alternatives such as Linux and OpenOffice.org.
Founded in the mid-1980s by hacker-activist Richard Stallman, the FSF argues that free software and source code is a moral right. It takes pains to distinguish itself from the open-source movement, which advocates sharing of source code but tolerates charging for software.
Both groups, however, view proprietary software vendors such as Microsoft, Adobe Systems Inc., and Apple Inc. as the enemy, Brown said.
Even with DRM, users running Windows PCs still maintain more freedom and privacy than those who use cloud computing services such as Google Docs and store their data there, Brown said.
"That is the ultimate giving-away of your freedom," he said. "That's not a software freedom issue, it's a stupidity issue."
While Brown acknowledges that many Fortune 500 companies base their businesses around proprietary business models similar to Microsoft, he also points out that most of them, at least regarding software, are more consumer than vendor.
"Large corporations spend an awful lot of money on software. They face numerous software audits and more vendor lock-in than you or me," Brown said. "Do you think they would rather be driving on a freeway, or always be paying on toll roads?"
"I'm not expecting an instant wave of companies switching off XP to Linux," he said. "But we would like get that debate going. Hopefully, some will re-evaluate and say no to Windows 7."
FSF protesters "trash" proprietary software in Boston on Wednesday.
Stallman Takes His Free-Software Crusade to Argentina
Two whirlwinds blew into Buenos Aires this week: the hundreds of Wikipedia supporters, editors and administrators here for their annual Wikimania conference, and the free-software activist Richard Stallman, who was in town as part of his never-ending tour of the globe to promote his cause.
Mathias Schindler under Creative Commons license Richard Stallman
The two are set to meet Wednesday, when Mr. Stallman gives the keynote address at Wikimania in a theater across the street large enough to accommodate the expected crowd. But they don’t exactly blow in the same direction.
While Wikipedia’s officials were holding a news conference Tuesday to introduce themselves to dozens of local journalists in a big hall with a booth to offer simultaneous English-Spanish translation, Mr. Stallman was into the second hour of his own news conference two floors above in a small room with a handful of tech-focused journalists. “I do have some criticisms of Wikipedia that I am going to save, I would rather save, for my speech tomorrow,” he said.
Mr. Stallman said he is generally a fan of the online, collaborative encyclopedia, but it is on the narrow grounds that befit a single-issue activist who has spent more than two decades preaching the cause that software wants to be free –- “free as in freedom, not free as in beer.” Translation: It’s not necessary that software be cheap, but once someone owns it, she should be free to do with it what she pleases.
This principle is true for Wikipedia, in that anyone is free to reuse its contents in any way he likes, as long as he follows the same ethic with a new product and credits Wikipedia. That applies to a blogger as well as to companies that have created businesses around Wikipedia content, including one publishing house that has republished German Wikipedia content in book form while agreeing to those terms.
But that is where the Stallman-Wikipedia concord begins and ends.
Mr. Stallman was asked whether he favors Wikipedia’s plan to impose an extra layer of vetting on some of its articles, as the English version will soon be doing for articles about living people? Does he worry that it will change the free-flowing, all-edits-are equal ethos of Wikipedia?
He hadn’t heard about the proposal and didn’t much care. “The wiki aspect is not inspired by the free-software movement,” he explained at his news conference. “Wikipedia’s text is free. It is released under a free license. That is the aspect to me that makes it ethical. How you write the text is a different question. I’m not so concerned with that. I’ll leave that to them. Whatever method seems to work is fine with me.”
In fact, the idea that anyone should be allowed to make a change is not quite the way he operates:
“A lot of the questions were about how the government could help with free software,” said Sebastian Martinez, a producer for Radio America in Buenos Aires, who asked Mr. Stallman questions in Spanish, which he answered in Spanish.
When asked to describe the spectacle of Mr. Stallman sitting in front of a desk, twirling his hair, with his shoes discreetly removed underneath the table, Mr. Martinez said, “He reminds me more of a maharishi, a guru — an information guru.”
Another Argentine journalist, Juan Gutmann, who writes for Users magazine, said, “He knows he is the head of a movement.”
Mr. Stallman said there was room for the free software movement to grow in South America for practical reasons. “People are not happy about pirating,” he said. “The press keeps pushing the idea that if you illegally download software, you are committing a felony.”
Describing the attraction of free software, he said, “It is great to get the same deal for free.”
Pirate Bay Suitor: 'Deal Done Next Week'
Global Gaming Factory (GGF) insists it will seal a deal to take over file sharing Site before the end of next week despite questions from financial regulators about how it intends to finance the purchase.
GGF chief executive Hans Pandeya told a press conference in Stockholm he expected the deal would go through "within the next eight days" once authorities allow trading to resume.
But Peter Gönzci, the vice-president of the equity market Aktietorget, told AFP that the Stockholm-based company had failed to provide details on who was backing its 60 million kronor ($8.4 million dollar) bid for the site.
"We are sceptical as he (Pandeya) couldn't deliver the answers that we want: where the money is (to fund the takeover)," Gönzci said.
"They have not been able to show us any written agreements made with their investors," he added.
GGF's share price was suspended on August 21 after doubts surfaced over how it would fund its proposed purchase of The Pirate Bay.
Swedish media have suggested that the acquisition announcement on June 30 was merely a bluff to boost Global Gaming Factory's share price.
Pandeya previously told AFP the sale would be completed on Thursday.
"Nothing can stop it," he said in a telephone interview on Monday.
But Gönzci said the Aktietorget disciplinary committee was investigating whether GGF should continue to be listed.
"You can't trade in the market if you can't tell the market the correct information," he added.
Founded in 2003, The Pirate Bay makes it possible to skirt copyright fees and share music, film and computer game files using bit torrent technology, or peer-to-peer links offered on the site.
It claims to have some 22 million users worldwide.
Pirate Bay Founders Win Debt Collection Decision
Media companies will struggle to grab any money owed by The Pirate Bay, as Sweden's official debt collector found that three of the four founders have "no attachable assets" in that country.
In April, a group of 13 media companies, including Warner Music Group and EMI, asked the Swedish government agency, commonly known there as the "bailiff," to collect more than 30 million Swedish Kronor, or about $4 million on their behalf.
This was the amount the media firms were awarded by a Swedish judge after finding four men associated with The Pirate Bay--Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi, Fredrik Neij, Gottfried Svartholm Warg, and Carl Lundstrom--guilty of copyright violations. The men were also sentenced to a year in prison.
But on Monday, the Swedish newspaper Di.se, reported that the bailiff can't find anything to collect for Neij, Warg, and Lundstrom. In addition and perhaps most importantly, the bailiff rejected claims made by the media companies that Reservella, the firm listed as the official owner of The Pirate Bay, is a shell company controlled by The Pirate Bay founders.
The decision by the bailiff might have more significance if the acquisition attempt by Global Gaming Factory X, the software maker and operator of Internet cafes, didn't appear doomed.
In June, Global Gaming announced it had agreed to pay about $8 million, half in cash and half in Global Gaming stock, for The Pirate Bay. Global Gaming CEO has said for weeks the deal would be completed by this Thursday. The transaction appears seriously threatened now after Swedish exchange officials halted trading in the company's stock on Friday over concerns about whether Global Gaming has adequate financing to complete the purchase. There is also a criminal investigation into possible insider trading involving the company's stock.
Questions have also been raised about the accuracy of some of the claims made by Global Gaming's CEO Hans Pandeya. One example is that he said he received a $10 million bid from Napster co-founder John Fanning, uncle of Shawn Fanning. The elder Fanning denied Pandeya's claim.
One part of the claims made by the entertainment industry is that the founders were the ones who negotiated with Pandeya and other Global Gaming leaders. Sources close to Global Gaming told CNET this weekend that Pandeya finalized the agreement with the founders.
According to Di.se, Pandeya has told the bailiff that he doesn't know who is behind Reservella. The major music labels have pressured Pandeya to turn over any money he pays for the site to them. The Pirate Bay's founders have denied owning The Pirate Bay since 2006.
The bailiff said it could not connect The Pirate Bay founders to Reservella and just because they oversaw negotiations, doesn't prove that Reservella is a dummy corporation, according to the report in Di.se.
Should Pandeya come up with the money for The Pirate Bay, it's unclear whether the music and film industries could require him to turn it over to them.
The Pirate Bay Returns With Guns Blazing
After initially being taken offline by Swedish authorities, and after its first escape route failed, The Pirate Bay has returned with all guns blazing. With a modified copy of one of Churchill’s most famous speeches, The Pirate Bay team tells the public that they will defend the Internet, with or without the site.
When The Pirate Bay was shut down yesterday many believed that this was the end for the Internet’s largest BitTorrent tracker.
However, despite the fact that the site is set to be sold later this week, the Pirate Bay team worked around the clock to serve their users in these final hours.
A mere three hours after it went offline the site reappeared from a different location, but because of technical issues at the new ISP a full comeback took almost a day. The site is back online and the tracker is expected to follow soon.
The Pirate Bay team has always anticipated an unwanted disconnection of the site. After their servers were raided in 2006 several measures were taken to ensure that the site could simply come back online from a new location in a few hours, and this is the first time that this backup plan had been executed.
With its reemergence the people behind the site hope to show the authorities and the entertainment industry that the war is not over just yet. Perhaps it’s only the beginning of a battle on a different front. The future will tell.
A few minutes ago, the Pirate Bay team released the following statement, adapted from Churchill’s famous “We Shall Fight On the Beaches” speech. Make of it what you will.
Arrrvast reports – and apologizes for – its false positive blocking of TBP, Jack.
Anger at UK File-Sharing Policy
Internet service providers (ISPs) have reacted with anger to new proposals on how to tackle internet piracy.
The government is proposing a tougher stance which would include cutting off repeat offenders from the net.
UK ISP Talk Talk said the recommendations were likely to "breach fundamental rights" and would not work.
Virgin said that "persuasion not coercion" was key in the fight to crack down on the estimated six million file-sharers in the UK.
TalkTalk's director of regulation Andrew Heaney told the BBC News the ISP was as keen as anyone to clamp down on illegal file-sharers.
"This is best done by making sure there are legal alternatives and educating people, writing letters to alleged file-sharers and, if necessary, taking them to court."
“ If Lord Mandelson really 'doesn't get the internet', you can be sure that there will be plenty of people now offering to educate him ”
But introducing measures to simply cut people off will not work, he said.
"Disconnecting alleged offenders will be futile given that it is relatively easy for determined file-sharers to mask their identity or their activity to avoid detection," he added.
There are also concerns that the method of identifying offenders using the IP address of a specific machine may punish those who share a web connection.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Media was concerned that a "heavy-handed, punitive regime will simply alienate consumers".
Politicians on all sides have been split by the proposal.
Speaking on Radio 4's PM programme, the former Cabinet Secretary, Tom Watson MP, said that Lord Mandelson had reached "the wrong conclusion".
# File-sharing is not illegal. It only becomes illegal when users are sharing content, such as music, that is protected by copyrights
# The crackdown will be aimed at people who regularly use technologies, such as BitTorrent, and websites, such as The Pirate Bay, to find and download files
# There are plenty of legitimate services which use file-sharing technology such as some on-demand TV services
Don Foster MP, the Liberal Democrat's culture and media spokesman, told BBC News that Lord Mandelson's move was "reckless and dangerous".
"There are many families whose children, unbeknown to them, might be illegally downloading but now their own access could be put in jeopardy by Lord Mandelson's proposals."
Mr Foster acknowledged that online piracy was "a major problem in the UK" but said overriding the opinions of Lord Carter and two secretaries of state was "bizarre".
The Conservative MP John Whittingdale, who is also chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said he was broadly supportive of Lord Mandelson's proposals, but said that he may have inadvertently "killed his own bill".
"Personally I am on his [Lord Mandelson's] side; peer-to-peer sharing is the greatest threat to our creative industries," he said.
"I don't think people should have their broadband cut off, but there are measures to restrict speed which is better than prosecuting people so they get a criminal record.
"That said, I have severe doubts that the government can get this bill through in the time available as if there is any opposition to it - and there will be now - there will be a general election before it goes through."
Originally the Digital Britain report, published in June, gave Ofcom until 2012 to consider whether technical measures to catch pirates were necessary.
However, according to a statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) released on Tuesday, that timeframe is now considered "too long to wait".
Stephen Timms, minister for Digital Britain, said: "We've been listening carefully to responses to the consultation this far, and it's become clear there are widespread concerns that the plans as they stand could delay action, impacting unfairly upon rights holders."
It proposes that internet service providers (ISPs) are obliged to take action against repeat infringers and suggests that the cost of tracking down persistent pirates be shared 50:50 between ISPs and rights holders.
The proposal has been welcomed by the BPI, which represents the recorded music industry in Britain.
"'Digital piracy is a serious problem and a real threat to the UK's creative industries," it said in a statement.
"Today is a step forward that should help the legal digital market to grow for consumers."
BIS denied that it had changed its position since the publication of Digital Britain and said that the recommendations were open to consultation.
"We are simply adding new ideas to the table that could potentially make the whole system more flexible and provide a quicker way to bring in technical measures," it said in a statement.
It is estimated that half of all the traffic on the net in the UK is content that is shared illegally.
The UK government has set a target of reducing the problem by at least 70%.
Until next week,
Current Week In Review
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