|29-06-06, 09:03 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - July 1st, '06
"The First Amendment makes it clear no person or branch of government has the prerogative to usurp any American's right to speak or print what he or she believes is important and relevant truth. We believe honorable debate would focus on the issues raised by the reporting, not on attacks on the truth-tellers." – The American Society of Newspaper Editors
"This is an amazing case of simple piracy by a respected company. Virgin behaved in a surreal manner by downloading the song, cracking protection measures and then selling it from their own web site." – Herve Payan
"One thing I always wondered about. Since Macs are so easy to use, why does it require a 'genius' to fix one?" – snuf23
"I wish my grass was emo..... so it would cut itself." – joke making ‘net rounds
"It would be possible to use the cafe's computers to download in less than 15 minutes a file the equivalent size of the DVD version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, with its 19,000 illustrations, 629 audio and video clips and 100,000 articles. A standard broadband connection would typically take in excess of five hours." – Adrian Hosford
"The men who sailed under the skull and crossbones were ordinary folk, like America’s revolutionaries, standing firm against oppressive governments and economic systems." – Richard Burg
"They definitely take more ibuprofen than cocaine." – Doc McGhee
"The sad truth is, when we're gone, it's over." – Steven Van Zandt
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
July 1st, ’06
Experts: Ruling Weakens Bush Spying Plan
A Supreme Court ruling striking down military commissions seriously weakens the foundation of the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program, critics said Friday.
A congressional resolution President Bush relied on in creating commissions is a key rationale for the National Security Agency to listen in on phone calls without first obtaining a judge's permission.
The court ''reinforces our view that the NSA operation was unlawful,'' said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. ''The Supreme Court cut away the administration's principal legal argument for the NSA operation -- the congressional resolution following Sept. 11.''
Enacted a week after the Sept. 11 attacks, the congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution cannot be seen as authorization for military commissions, the court ruled.
In January, the Justice Department invoked the resolution 92 times in a 42-page paper designed to quell the outcry that the White House had broken the law with its program of warrantless surveillance. A centerpiece in the administration's counter-attack against its critics, the DOJ entitled the white paper ''Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Security Agency Described By the President.''
Asked about the NSA program, a Justice Department official said after the ruling that ''I don't think the court had before it any other broader issues concerning the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, except it clearly did recognize that it activated the president's war powers.''
The official said the implications of the decision beyond military commissions is ''something that we are studying and will be studying.'' The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is under review.
In the aftermath of the high court's ruling, lawyers for the Bush administration asked a federal appeals court in Washington to order more briefing on the decision's effect on civil lawsuits filed on behalf of hundreds of detainees held at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The NSA program faces a court challenge and the Supreme Court ruling ''gives new vigor to arguments that the administration does not have the power it says it has,'' said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Romero said the language in Justice Anthony Kennedy's concurring opinion against military commissions ''almost could have been speaking about the NSA litigation,'' providing useful material for the ACLU's lawsuit against the warrantless surveillance.
In the military commission case, the Supreme Court said the congressional resolution was insufficient.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution says that ''the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force'' to prevent future acts of international terrorism against the United States.
In Thursday's ruling Justice Kennedy wrote that ''trial by military commission raises separation-of-powers concerns of the highest order.''
''Located within a single branch, these courts carry the risk that offenses will be defined, prosecuted, and adjudicated by executive officials without independent review,'' Kennedy added.
It was the absence of any review that fueled the outrage against the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance.
The White House decided not to obtain orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before eavesdropping on phone calls.
The Supreme Court setback for the White House comes amid a full frontal assault by the administration against The New York Times for revealing the existence of the NSA program as well as another secret government initiative accessing a huge databank of bank records.
The American Society of Newspaper Editors, responding to such criticism, said Friday that the Bush administration and some in Congress ''are threatening America's bedrock values of free speech and free press with their attempts to demonize newspapers for fulfilling their constitutional role in our democratic society.''
The ASNE said newspaper editors don't claim to be infallible. ''However, the First Amendment makes it clear no person or branch of government has the prerogative to usurp any American's right to speak or print what he or she believes is important and relevant truth. We believe honorable debate would focus on the issues raised by the reporting, not on attacks on the truth-tellers,'' it said.
One Year After Landmark Grokster Decision, File-Sharing Continues To Grow
A year after the Supreme Court's landmark Grokster decision -- which set out to curb online theft of music and movies -- illegal-file sharing is as popular as ever even as Silicon Valley technologists and Hollywood moguls continue their awkward embrace.
The court's unanimous decision that Internet file-sharing services can be sued if they encourage people to use their sophisticated software to steal copyrighted material was hailed as a victory by the entertainment world.
But the ruling, which also detailed protections for technology companies, hasn't stopped the lawsuits and acrimony between the two sides. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) continues to file lawsuits against tech companies. And in just the last year, the association has filed some 6,000 suits against individuals it says are stealing material.
But changes are occurring, if for no other reason than the entertainment world needs the new distribution channels Silicon Valley can provide, while technology companies depend on content from rock stars and Hollywood to attract audiences.
``There are some people inside of record labels who admit that they are not doing the right thing in certain cases. There is some resistance'' to the digital era, said Ali Aydar, the first employee of Napster, the pioneering peer-to-peer music sharing network that eventually went bankrupt after battling the record industry. (A different incarnation of the formerly Redwood City-based Napster was launched in 2003 as a music subscription service.)
Aydar now works with Napster's co-founder Shawn Fanning at Snocap, a San Francisco company that has developed a technology to make file-sharing legal.
``But if you are able to show them how you can make them money, increase their exposure and respect their copyrights, then it's really a no brainer,'' he added.
Steve Jobs helped lead the way in showing a successful model of selling digital music through Apple Computer's popular iTunes online store, then sealing deals with entertainment companies to offer up TV shows. Hollywood has started to offer video through its own online sites.
And the industry has even found a common cause with file-sharing technology: In the spring, Warner Bros. agreed to offer video through BitTorrent, the San Francisco-based peer-to-peer technology company whose software code has been used by pirates to illegally trade movies and music.
``It was never BitTorrent's intent to circumvent copyrights,'' said Ashwin Navin, president of BitTorrent. ``That made us a partner, rather than an enemy.''
These early deals with Internet companies do not mean the entertainment industry has abandoned using its courtroom muscle as a weapon. Other file-sharing services have shut down since the Supreme Court's MGM vs. Grokster ruling. And the recording industry recently filed a lawsuit against XM Satellite Radio over its new device that allows people to store music.
Peer-to-peer file-sharing companies are not ``consuming all the digital oxygen in the marketplace,'' said Mitch Bainwol, chief executive of the RIAA, whose members saw CD sales plummet 30 percent after Napster's 1999 launch. ``The legal marketplace is getting some traction, and that is a basis for our hope in the future.''
Technologists, though, don't see dragging file-sharing companies into court as the answer.
``Shutting down peer-two-peer networks was like taking a half-course of antibiotics every six months,'' said Tom McInerney, co-founder of Guba.com, a video site that just announced an agreement with Warner Bros. to distribute TV shows and movies. ``It just led to the evolution of more decentralized networks that are more efficient and more difficult to shut down.''
Meanwhile, file-sharing, most of which is illegal, continues to grow. Nearly 10 million users worldwide simultaneously clicked into peer-to-peer technology last month -- 12 percent more than May, 2005, according to BigChampagne, a Los Angeles research firm that monitors file-sharing.
``The social networking aspect of the Internet is continuing to blossom and no landmark court decision or watershed event changes that,'' BigChampagne Chief Executive Eric Garland said.
Michael Weiss, chief executive of StreamCast, which makes Morpheus software and was a Grokster co-defendant, believes the two worlds can work together and create business models. Weiss pointed to a 2005 survey by U.K. research company, the Leading Question, which found people who illegally download music are voracious consumers of digital media -- so much so they are apt to spend more than four times more on legal downloads than those who never engage in piracy.
After years of legal skirmishes, StreamCast and the entertainment industry will be back in court next week, though Weiss said he is ``cautiously optimistic'' the two sides will eventually find common ground.
``Everyone in the peer-to-peer space and in the entertainment industry would like to find that magic solution,'' Weiss said.
He added, ``It's a shame we have to go through all this pain and suffering to get there.''
RIAA Shifts Lawsuit Strategy
June 26, 2003, marked the day the Recording Industry Association of America began collecting evidence and preparing lawsuits against individual file-sharers. At the time, the effort was the main spearhead in a multifaceted campaign to stem the unchecked growth of file-sharing.
Anticipation of the lawsuits had been growing for over a year, as early attempts to hold P2P developers responsible for copyright infringement proved difficult. In 2003, Presiding Justice Steven Wilson disagreed with the entertainment industry’s assertion that StreamCast Networks and Grokster were responsible for the unlawful activities of their users.
"Defendants distribute and support software, the users of which can and do choose to employ it for both lawful and unlawful ends," Wilson wrote in his opinion. "Grokster and StreamCast are not significantly different from companies that sell home video recorders or copy machines, both of which can be and are used to infringe copyrights."
The entertainment industry’s appeal in 2004 faired little better. The panel of three judges confirmed the lower court’s ruling, and maintained neither party qualified for secondary copyright infringement.
"This appeal presents the question of whether distributors of peer-to-peer file-sharing computer networking software may be held contributory or vicariously liable for copyright infringements by users. Under the circumstances presented by this case, we conclude that the defendants are not liable for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement and affirm the district court’s partial grant of summary judgment."
The entertainment industry, represented by the RIAA and MPAA, immediately appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court. Unlike the two previous rulings, the entertainment industry finally received the decision they so desperately sought. In a unanimous 9-0 ruling, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower courts, stating StreamCast Networks and Grokster could be sued for violating federal copyright laws.
“We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties,” Justice David H. Souter wrote in court’s decision.
While all three rulings varied in their success for the entertainment industry, the common denominator maintained that users are responsible for their own actions. This gave the RIAA and MPAA the ammunition they needed to continue pursuing individuals who distribute copious amounts of files online. Yet three years and over 18,000 lawsuits later, the strategy of launching a continuous barrage of monthly lawsuits aimed at approximately 750 individuals is being retooled.
The problem with the current barrage of lawsuits is equivalent to being hit with a fire hose of information. With so many individuals being hit at once, it becomes counterproductive to the entertainment industry’s effort to educate the file-sharing populace. The growing perception over the years has developed into complacency. Who are these people? Do they live near me? Why should I care if some nameless, faceless individual on the other side of the continent was sued for sharing 5,000 songs on the FastTrack network?
This lack of focus is apparent when alleged file-sharing pirates come forward to the media and plead ignorance in the face of a $3,000.00 settlement. Often times such individuals are completely befuddled, unaware their actions were unlawful.
Realizing this, the RIAA has shifted their strategy away from once a month, en masse lawsuits. Replacing the old strategy is one that still focuses on individuals; however the number is spread out over the course of a month rather than an immediate date. In addition, the weekly lawsuits focus on specific geographic locations, working with local media outlets to catch the attention of the surrounding populace.
“We are currently filing lawsuits throughout the month in batches, in order to maximize efficiencies and expand the geographic reach,” an RIAA spokesperson told Slyck.com. “We are always looking for ways to make the program as effective, smart and targeted as possible. We need to be flexible in how we manage these litigations in order to handle them efficiently. The lawsuits are and will continue to be an essential part of a larger effort to encourage fans to enjoy music legally.”
This new strategy is already taking shape. Quite noticeably, there has been a lack of RIAA press releases articulating the usual monthly, en masse round of lawsuits. Conversely, there’s been an increase of local and specific news articles describing potential lawsuits against alleged P2P pirates. For example, the Palm Beach Post recently reported that local Boynton Beach resident Dorothy O'Connell (and several others) was sued for sharing files online. It’s a similar story in Evansville, Indiana, where the Evansville Courier Gazette published an article this week describing two local residents currently facing potential RIAA lawsuits.
The aim of the new RIAA strategy is to give a name and face to a previously ho-hum lawsuit campaign. It’s designed to summon a reaction that invokes a sense of relevance and vulnerability, not one that’s perceived as something happening in a far off land. There’s little question the previous RIAA strategy is far from the worldly success hoped for. Three years and 18,000 lawsuits later, more people are populating P2P and file-sharing networks than ever before. This new campaign will certainly bring more localized attention to the issues surrounding the great file-sharing debate, however which direction the local populace focuses this attention will only be realized with time.
Virgin France Fined Over Piracy
French music retailer Virgin France has been fined 600,000 euros ($754,266; £414,147) for music piracy.
The firm, owned by Lagardere, was fined for illegally downloading Madonna's Hung Up to resell on its own website.
An industrial court found Virgin France unit Virginmega had ignored an exclusive deal reached by Warner Music France with France Telecom and Orange.
Under the ruling, Virginmega was told to pay 250,000 euros to each telecom firm and 100,000 euros to Warner.
Warner welcomed the decision, saying it had succeeded in protecting its rights and those of its artists.
France Telecom's Herve Payan told the International Herald Tribune: "This is an amazing case of simple piracy by a respected company.
"Virgin behaved in a surreal manner by downloading the song, cracking protection measures and then selling it from their own web site."
Under the deal with Warner, the telecom firms signed an exclusive 500,000-euro deal to offer the Madonna single on their website or for download on mobile phones for one week in October.
According to the Paris court's ruling, after the tune was made available the Virgin store downloaded it, repackaged it and made it available on the Virginmega website.
However, Virgin France said it had broken the exclusive agreement in the interest of consumers.
The judgement "confirmed the need to do everything to help build a balanced market for legal downloads", the firm said.
The group, and fellow French retailer Fnac, have recently attacked record firms for releasing top selling singles to mobile and internet firms under exclusive deals.
Similar deals in the US involving the Starbucks coffee chain have also prompted anger, with retailer HMV claiming such moves limit consumer access to music.
BitTorrent Beefs Up Network Capabilities
BitTorrent Inc. has signed an agreement with Global Netoptex Inc. (GNi) to provide IP transit for streaming videos at one gigabit per second, the companies said today. BitTorrent, the world's leading peer-assisted file distribution platform, is hosted at the 365 Main data center in San Francisco, where GNi also has operations.
By using transit agreements with Tier One providers, GNi provides BitTorrent with a single connection that peers with six networks to ensure consistent access to the fastest connections between two locations. GNi also acts as a network operations center (NOC) at the 365 Main Mission Critical Data Center in San Francisco providing 24/7 onsite technical support.
BitTorrent Inc. recently announced an agreement with Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, which will use the the company's delivery system for the electronic sale of motion picture and television content in the United States. "With this announcement, Warner Bros. becomes the first major studio to provide legal video content via the BitTorrent publishing platform," the company said last month.
"BitTorrent is emerging as a key player for distribution of video content over the Internet and needs bandwidth providers that can keep pace with our growth," said Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of BitTorrent. "GNi's reliability and flexibility were key factors in our decision to work with them, so we can focus on the best user experience for our service."
GNi provides relable service for mission-critical applications, using multi-carrier/multi-homed Internet transit to maximize uptime and eliminate points of failure. The growing managed services provider also guarantees "five nines" network availability for clients including Symantec, HP, the Oakland Raiders and Southern Cross.
"We're excited about working with BitTorrent," said Derek Wise, president and CEO of GNi. "Their video distribution model presents some interesting challenges that allow us to demonstrate our innovative approach to delivering the best Internet services and support."
BitTorrent's open-source, peer-assisted protocol is crafted to overcome the obstacles of transferring large files over the Internet. Created in 2001, BitTorrent is enabling millions of users worldwide to publish, search and download popular digital content quickly, easily and securely. BitTorrent is a privately held company with headquarters in San Francisco.
µTorrent Releases Upgrade
Popular bittorrent client µTorrent v 1.6 is now available from the web site.
Video Catching Up to Photos When It Comes to Sharing
David A. Kelly
For Robert Levitan, the revelation came after a summer hiking trip on Mount Washington in New Hampshire with his twin brother. During the five-day trip in 2004, he used his digital Canon Elph camera to snap 80 pictures and 6 video clips. After the trip, his brother asked him to e-mail copies of the video.
"I said no, I'll have to make a DVD," Mr. Levitan said. "The file sizes are too big to easily send via e-mail."
That got him thinking: Why couldn't someone just send video from a desktop or laptop computer to other people's computers?
It is a question that an increasing number of digital camera users may ask as they start using the increasingly sophisticated video abilities of digital cameras.
Luckily, consumers have an alternative to burning DVD's or uploading personal video to sharing sites like www.youtube.com or www.metacafe.com. A range of new services and companies are making it easier than ever to share digital video from cameras or camcorders.
Sharing by E-Mail
Many popular video-sharing Web sites do not allow you to share full-quality video, because of bandwidth limitations. Instead, they provide a compressed resolution and reduced-quality version of your video, optimized for online viewing.
Pando, which Mr. Levitan helped found, takes a different approach. It transmits video files (or any files) from one computer to another using easily downloadable peer-to-peer software that manages the file transfers and communication between the computers (the peers) in the background.
The whole process is wrapped into a simple, e-mail-friendly format so users can send links and initiate video transfers as easily as attaching and sending a digital picture.
"On a personal level, I needed this product after that camping trip," said Mr. Levitan, who was earlier a founder of iVillage, a collection of Web sites bought by NBC Universal this year for $600 million. "Normally you'd attach pictures or videos to an e-mail, but e-mail wasn't designed to handle sending very large files."
Pando's process is simple. Users register at www.pando.com, and download and install a small software program (available in a test version for both Mac and PC). After that, users simply open up Pando, hit the "send new" button, and select the files or folders they want to send, along with a short description of the package.
An e-mail message is sent to the recipients, who, once she has installed the Pando software, can click on a small attachment and start downloading the files. A strength of Pando is the ability to send large files — the service allows users to send up to a gigabyte at a time, which is enough for hours of video.
Pando does not compress or transcode video files, so there is no change in video quality. In addition, Pando can be used with any type of attachment — video files, digital pictures, documents, PowerPoint files. Pando seems to have answered a need, reporting more than 600,000 downloads of its software in six months.
Becoming a Broadcaster
Alternatively, you can become your own broadcaster with Pixpo. Pixpo allows consumers to maintain their videos on their own computer and broadcast them to selected friends or relatives.
"We allow users to create broadcasting channels that can be made public or kept private," said Robert Cooper, Pixpo's director of business. "Public ones are visible to anyone via your broadcast home page, while private ones can be viewed only by people you've e-mailed a link to."
Pixpo, available in beta testing, turns your PC (and in the future, your Mac) into a broadcasting center able to stream video. The service is free and has no limitations on the number of video clips or users involved in sharing. Resolution is optimized for Internet transmission, at 240 by 320 pixels, a compromise between speed and quality.
The advantage for viewing is that Pixpo streams the video over the Internet instead of sending the actual video files, which would require the receiver to have the right video software (known as a codec).
But since the files you are sharing remain on your PC, you need to have an always-on connection and leave your PC and Pixpo software running to provide round-the-clock access to your video.
Setup is easy: go to www.pixpo.com, download the software (currently a svelte 4.5 megabytes) and then create your broadcast channel by selecting the files you want to share, giving your channel a name and telling friends about it.
Of course, if 100 people show up at the same time to view your video, your computer connection probably will not support the load. Pixpo can help by storing highly requested video from your system in a cache, so multiple copies can be served simultaneously.
If you do not want people viewing video directly from your computer, you might consider a fee-based video hosting service like HomeMovie or Snapfish.
"We're positioning our services as video sharing for grown-ups, not 'ego-casting,' where people upload a two- to three-minute clip of themselves lip-synching," said Lars Krumme, a co-founder of HomeMovie.
HomeMovie's latest service, Afiniti 3.0, allows consumers to send in tapes for digitizing, upload saved files for sharing or connect their digital camera or camcorder directly to their computer and transfer new video or pictures. The service can also be used to download the video to iPods.
Users can have up to five hours of video content in their online account free. Up to 10 hours is $3.99 a month with no time limit for the clips — you can have one-minute clips or two-hour clips.
When you share video using HomeMovie (www.homemovie.com), the clips are uploaded from your computer to HomeMovie's servers. Invited friends and family members, who are given a password, can download the clips to their iPods, order DVD's or view the video online — all free.
You can tag movies or scenes with keywords, so that you can search for "vacation" video or "birthday" scenes. HomeMovie also offers a service that will encode a two-hour tape into digital files for $5.
An advantage of HomeMovie is that it provides basic video editing abilities, including combining clips into a longer movie, or the ability to remove unwanted scenes — particularly helpful when working with shorter clips from digital cameras.
However, there are no special transition tools, like dissolves or fades; the scenes simply cut from one to another. For other kinds of movie magic, you will need a video editing software package.
Mixing It Together
Of course, if you are recording video with a digital camera, you are probably also taking pictures, and may want to be able to upload both to one place for printing and sharing — at least that is the bet that Snapfish is making with its new video-sharing service.
Snapfish (www.snapfish.com) offers a 30-day free trial of its video-sharing abilities. Afterward, it's $2.99 a month or $24.99 a year for unlimited video sharing. The service was introduced in January, and Snapfish says thousands have already used it, and it is trying to integrate video and photo sharing as much as possible. Snapfish albums can have still pictures and video mixed together.
Any "family friendly" video up to 10 minutes can be uploaded to the site. A crucial part of the service is converting (known as transcoding) the video file — which can come in 13 different formats — into MPEG2, which can be easily uploaded and shared.
Snapfish lets visitors actually save the file they are viewing by right-clicking their mouse, but Ben Nelson, Snapfish's general manager, said viewing, not keeping, was the point of the service.
Unlike a snapshot, "printing a video isn't that easy," he said, "so the ability to share videos is a really important feature."
Senate Deals Blow To Net Neutrality
A U.S. Senate panel narrowly rejected strict Net neutrality rules on Wednesday, dealing a grave setback to companies like eBay, Google and Amazon.com that had made enacting them a top political priority this year.
By an 11-11 tie, the Senate Commerce Committee failed to approve a Democrat-backed amendment that would have ensured all Internet traffic is treated the same no matter what its "source" or "destination" might be. A majority was needed for the amendment to succeed.
This vote complicates Internet companies' efforts to convince Congress of the desirability of extensive new regulations, especially after the House of Representatives definitively rejected the concept in a 269-152 vote on June 8.
Republican committee members attacked the idea of inserting Net neutrality regulations in a massive telecommunications bill, echoing comments from broadband providers like AT&T and Verizon, which warned the rules were premature and unnecessary. Alaska's Ted Stevens, the committee chairman, accused his colleagues of "imposing a heavy-handed regulation before there's a demonstrated need."
What's more, Republicans warned, adding the regulations would imperil the final passage of the broader telecommunications bill, which is the most extensive set of changes since 1996. "This is absolutely a poison pill," said Nevada Republican John Ensign.
Democrats had rallied behind an amendment, adapted from a standalone bill they offered in May, which would have barred network operators from discriminating "in the carriage and treatment of Internet traffic based on the source, destination or ownership of such traffic." That could have prevented Verizon from inking deals to offer high-definition video and prioritizing that on its network, for instance.
Without new rules prohibiting such practices, "we're giving two entities, the Bells and cable, the power to be able to cut deals, and that will change the relationship of entrepreneurs to the Internet and to the financial marketplace," said John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat.
The concept of network neutrality, which generally means that all Internet sites must be treated equally, has drawn a list of high-profile backers, from actress Alyssa Milano to Vint Cerf, one of the technical pioneers of the Internet. It's also led to a political rift between big Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo that back it--and telecom companies that oppose what they view as onerous new federal regulations.
By a 12-10 vote, senators also rejected a second amendment that was broader. The amendment, proposed by Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye, included not just Net neutrality anti-discrimination language but also addressed topics such as video franchising and universal service.
Then, by a 15-7 vote, senators voted to send the broader telecommunications bill--called the Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act--to the full Senate for a vote. Its fate there is hardly assured, though a Net neutrality amendment is likely to be offered in any floor vote.
In a statement after the votes, Verizon urged the Senate to act swiftly on the bill, claiming that delays in boosting video competition will cost consumers billions of dollars a year in higher cable bills.
But Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said Wednesday that he would seek to prevent a floor vote on the telecommunications bill because it did not include extensive Net neutrality regulations. "I will object to any further action on this telecommunications bill until it includes a strong net neutrality provisions that will truly benefit consumers and small business," Wyden said, a promise that has teeth because the Senate often works through unanimous consent.
The Republican-backed bill does include some Net neutrality regulations. It would, for instance, create an "Internet consumer bill of rights" to be policed by the Federal Communications Commission. That would permit punishment of network operators who interfere with their subscribers' ability to access and post any lawful content they please, to use any Web page, search engine or application (including voice and video programs), and to connect legal devices to the network.
Stevens defended those rules against Democrats who charged they were not extensive enough. If companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon got their way, Stevens warned, "our costs for individual access to the (Internet) will double."
All the Republican committee members except Olympia Snowe of Maine voted against the more regulatory Net neutrality amendment. All the Democrats voted for it. The amendment was sponsored by Snowe and Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota.
If we build it they will come:
It's Time To Own Our Own Last Mile
Robert X. Cringely
Bob Frankston is one of the smartest people I speak to. If you don't recognize his name, Bob is best known as the programmer who wrote VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet, realizing the design of his partner, Dan Bricklin. Bob and Dan changed the world forever with VisiCalc, the first killer app. After a career at Lotus and eventually Microsoft, Bob would now like to change the world for the better again, this time by fixing the mess that we call the Internet.
The problem, to Bob's way of thinking, isn't the Internet per se, but the direction powerful political and business forces are attempting to take it. Part of this can be seen in last week's column on Net Neutrality, but Bob takes it further - a LOT further - to a point where it becomes logically clear that making almost any regulation specifically to hinder OR HELP the Internet can only make things worse. And by making it worse I mean inhibit in a severe way the growth of human knowledge, culture, and economic development. It's just a choice between freedom and totalitarianism, simple as that.
To Bob the issues surrounding Net Neutrality come down to billability and infrastructure. While saying they are doing us favors, ISPs are really offering us services they can bill for. Nothing is aimed at helping us, while everything is aimed at creating a billable event. Take WiFi hotspots, for example. Why should the telephone or cable company care about who connects to my WiFi access point? They are my bits, not the ISP's. I paid for them. If I can download gigabytes of pornography why can't I share my hotspot with someone walking down the street wanting to check his e-mail? Frankston's analogy for this is accusing someone of stealing your porch light by using it to read a street sign.
It isn't about service, it is about creating billable events, that's all. And billable events, by definition, are things we have others do because we are unable or unwilling to do for ourselves. So a Verizon or a Comcast does us a favor, they say, by licensing rights to a movie and allowing us to buy or rent it over the Internet. We could buy the rights ourselves, but who would know where to even go? And wouldn't Verizon, as a big buyer, necessarily get a better price? When you have a preferred or exclusive provider versus a competitive marketplace, prices are always higher, not lower. In this case the ISP isn't doing us a favor, they are forcing us to buy from them something that we might well be able to buy from someone else for a lot less.
But they need the money! After all, they spent billions bringing broadband to our homes in the first place. Don't they deserve to be paid back for that huge investment?
My Internet service isn't free, is yours? I'm paying Comcast every month and from what I can glean from the company's annual report, they seem to be making a profit from my business. Is it enough of a profit? Well they'd always like more, but the current return must be good enough because they keep my bits flowing.
To Bob Frankston's way of thinking this all comes down to who owns the infrastructure. The phone and cable companies own the wire outside our homes but we own the wire inside. (It didn't used to be that way, you know. There was a time when the phone company owned the wire in our walls even though we paid for its purchase and installation.) The Internet has been a huge success to date specifically because nobody much controls the electrons. This is as opposed to services like broadcasting where some perceived scarcity of spectrum allowed governments to determine who could give or sell us entertainment and information. The ISPs (by which I mean telcos and cable companies) would very much like to go back to that sort of system, where they, not you, are the provider and determinant of what bits are good bits and what bits are bad.
Frankston points out that we build and finance public infrastructure in a public way using public funds with the goal of benefiting economic, social, and cultural development in our communities. So why not do the same with the Internet, which is an information infrastructure? Well we did that, didn't we, with the National Information Infrastructure program of the 1990s, which was intended to bring fiber straight to most American homes? About $200 billion in tax credits and incentives went primarily to telephone companies participating in the NII program. What happened with that? They took the money, that's what, and gave us little or nothing in return.
But just because the highway contractor ran off with the money without finishing the road doesn't mean we can go without roads. It DOES mean, however, that we ought not to buy another road from that particular contractor.
The obvious answer is for regular folks like you and me to own our own last mile Internet connection. This idea, which Frankston supports, is well presented by Bill St. Arnaud in a presentation you'll find among this week's links. (Bill is senior director of advanced networks with CANARIE, which is responsible for the coordination and implementation of Canada's next generation optical Internet initiative.) The idea is simple: run Fiber To The Home (FTTH) and pay for it as a community of customers -- a cooperative. The cost per fiber drop, according to Bill's estimate, is $1,000-$1,500 if 40 percent of homes participate. Using the higher $1,500 figure, the cost to finance the system over 10 years at today's prime rate would be $17.42 per month.
What we'd get for our $17.42 per month is a gigabit-capable circuit with no bits inside - just a really fast connection to some local point of presence where you could connect to ANY ISP wanting to operate in your city.
"It's honest funding," says Frankston. "The current system is like buying drinks so you can watch the strippers. It is corrupt and opaque. We should pay for our wires in our communities just like we pay for the wires in our homes."
The effect of this move would be beyond amazing. It would be astounding. No more arguments about Net Neutrality, for one thing, because we'd effectively be extending our ownership and control of the wires all the way to the ISP interconnect. Of course you'd still have to buy Internet service, but at NerdTV rates the amount of bandwidth used by a median U.S. broadband customer would be less than $2.00 per month. Though with that GREAT BIG PIPE most of us would be tempted to use a lot more bandwidth, which is exactly the point.
There would be a community-financed Internet revolution and this time, because it would be locally funded and managed, very little money would be stolen. Dark fibers would be lighting up all over America, telco capital costs would plummet, and a truly competitive market for Internet services would emerge. In 2-3 years whatever bandwidth advantage countries like Korea have would be erased and we'd be back on track building even more innovative online industries.
This would be a real marketplace not a fake one. Today's system is a fake because it depends on capturing the value of the application -- communications -- in the transport and that would no longer be possible because with the Internet the value is created OUTSIDE the network.
"One example of the collateral damage caused by today's approach is the utter lack of simple wireless connectivity. Another is that we have redundant capital-intensive bit paths whose only purpose is to contain bits within billing paths," Frankston explains. "In practice, the telcos are about nothing at all other than creating billable events. Isn't it strange that as the costs of connectivity were going down your phone bill was increasing -- at least until VoIP forced the issue."
"We have an alternative model in the road system: The roads themselves are funded as infrastructure because the value is from having the road system as a whole, not the roads in isolation. You don't put a meter on each driveway. Tolls, fuel taxes, fees on trucks, etc. are ways of generating money but they are indirect. Local builders add capacity; communities add capacity and large entities create interstate roads. They don't create artificial scarcity just to increase toll revenues -- at least not so blatantly."
"I refer to today's carrier networks as trollways because the model is inverted -- the purpose of the road is to pass as many trollbooths as possible. We keep the backbone unlit to assure artificial scarcity. Worse, by trying to force us within their service model we lose the opportunity to create new value and can only choose among the services that fill their coffers -- it's hard to come up with a more effective way to minimize the value of the networks."
A model in which the infrastructure is paid for as infrastructure -- privately, locally, nationally, and internationally can create a true marketplace in which the incentives are aligned. Instead of having the strange phenomenon of carriers spending billions and then arguing that they deserve to be paid, we'd have them bidding on contracts to install and/or maintain connectivity to a marketplace that is buying capacity and making it available so value can be created without having to be captured within the network and thus taken out of the economy.
So why not do it? Well the telcos and cable companies would hate it. Who made them gods?
My recent discussion with Bob Frankston started with talk about Microsoft and what that company might do to turn itself around. "Microsoft seems to confuse end-to-end with womb-to-tomb," Bob said. "Or at least BillG did the last time I tried to speak to him about it. The problem Microsoft has is that it hasn't really given people enough opportunity to add value to the computing. Ironically, Google's APIs and mashups go more in this direction and I do need to give Ray (Ozzie) some credit for joining in this trend. The challenge will be reconciling that with the monolithic platform company. .Net, a stupid name for a great idea, could do very well if liberated from Windows."
So what's a Microsoft to do? Concentrate less on womb-to-tomb and more on end-to-end by embracing the idea of community-owned networks. One billion dollars each in seed capital from Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, and Google would be enough to set neighborhood network dominos falling in communities throughout America with no tax money ever required. And they'd get their money back, both directly and indirectly, many times over.
Microsoft could go it alone, but the point would have to be to build a market, not to control the last mile, and I think the temptation to fall back on old habits would be less with a consortium involved.
But this leads us to the promised question of what else Microsoft might do as it moves forward into an uncertain future? Well the one thing they aren't doing (hardly any companies do) is to plan for that uncertainty. I have a plan.
Frank Gaudette, when he was Microsoft's first-ever chief financial officer, told me that he hated having all that cash lying around because it was a drag on earnings. In the money markets he could make at most a few percent per year. Investing in Microsoft's own products was yielding more than a 50 percent annual return. The problem was that Microsoft was making so much money then (and now, frankly) that they couldn't spend it all on their core business.
Where Gaudette saw a problem, I see opportunity: spend it on something else.
In a sense Microsoft is a lot like the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire's growth and economy was driven by conquering and plundering neighboring regions. Within the Empire they created a sort of safe economic zone where commerce could work and technology could be developed. However, that came at a price, as they tended to destroy everything outside the empire as it grew.
Same for Microsoft, whose leaders were greedy and made a number of good, shrewd business decisions. They were also ruthless. Over time they managed to destroy the surrounding software industry. Within Microsoft's world was a sort of safe economic zone. If you were not a threat to Microsoft or if you did something Microsoft didn't want to do (like make PCs) you were able to grow under the shadow of Redmond. When the emperor spoke, you listened.
It is too early to predict the fall of the Microsoft Empire. Does Microsoft have the leaders and generals who can lead the company into the future? Who knows? In the software world there is nothing else to conquer or plunder. In other markets it will be hard, if not impossible, for Microsoft to dominate whole industries as it has in the past. Microsoft now needs to act like a responsible company, work well with others, and grow through cooperation and teamwork. This will be hard for Microsoft. The Romans couldn't do it. The Romans neglected one of their "partners" and eventually that partner did them in.
Today's Microsoft is a great generator of cash. With some good product refreshes, this cash generation can continue for years to come. The BIG decision is what to do with the cash. Microsoft needs to develop new businesses. Microsoft could have a great future doing things that have nothing to do with computers. They could be making a great electric car, or great new medications, or any number of other things. Microsoft could create new industries that could have a huge benefit to the economy. Microsoft could change the world, again. Ten years from now Microsoft could be a huge holding company of which PC software is but one part. They don't have to gut the software unit, which is viable enough to be a great moneymaker for another 25 years if Microsoft manages it well.
Right now Microsoft is like a deer in the headlights. They are stuck on software and computer stuff. They can't move. There are much more interesting growth opportunities out there.
And you know there is a really simple way to proceed. Warren Buffett announced this week that he's giving $30+ billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to continue their good work of curing diseases so we'll be around to buy more computers. Buffet is the best builder of holding companies in the history of industry. The simple answer for Microsoft is to give Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway half of Microsoft's excess cash flow every year. This year that would be about $6 billion. With Berkshire's switch to international investing, they'd find productive places for that money.
Eventually Microsoft's value might be mainly in its Berkshire shares, which would in turn greatly increase the value of Buffet's gift to the Gates Foundation. It seems only fair.
DoJ Reports on Criminal IP Enforcement
Fred von Lohmann
This week the Department of Justice issued a 100-page "progress report," [3mb PDF] measuring its activities in the intellectual property arena (copyright, trademark, patents, trade secrets) against the October 2004 Report [also a big PDF] issued by the DoJ's "IP Task Force" (this task force was headed by David Israelite, who then left DoJ to become head of the National Music Publishers Association).
This "progress report" is fascinating reading, describing the DoJ's current enforcement priorities in the intellectual property realm. Here are a few tidbits that caught my eye:
The feds have been staffing up on cybercrime generally, with more than 230 attorneys working either as CHIP Coordinators or directly assigned to CHIP Units. The number of CHIP Units around the country, moreover, has nearly doubled from 13 to 25 since 2004. (CHIP Units are specially-trained federal cybercrime prosecutors concentrated in a particular region.) CCIPS has also grown, with 35 attorneys, 14 of which are exclusively devoted to prosecuting IP crimes. (Based in Washington DC, CCIPS is DoJ's "brain trust" on cybercrime.)
Criminal prosecutions of IP offenses are way up, with 350 charged defendants in FY2005, as compared with 177 in FY2004.
The report mentions several high-profile copyright enforcement actions, including the colorfully named Operations Gridlock, Copycat, and Western Pirates. All of the featured copyright prosecutions involve commercial piracy or large-scale "release groups." (Notably overlooked was the federal indictment in Nashville of two Ryan Adams fans for uploading a few tracks from pre-release promotional CDs.)
The Attorney General has issued a guidance to all federal prosecutors instructing that "whenever possible, United States Attorneys should charge and convict offenders of readily provable violations of...core intellectual property statutes," including the DMCA, the anti-bootlegging statute (declared unconstitutional by a court in New York), satellite signal piracy, and the new law banning camcording in theaters.
Since 2004, the Civil Division has filed 13 amicus briefs on IP issues in the Supreme Court (the report identifies 9 of these cases, including the one in MGM v. Grokster siding with the entertainment industry) and "more than a dozen" amicus briefs in lower courts (the report identifies 5 of these cases, including 3 where the briefs opposed positions taken by EFF amicus briefs). The report does not mention how many amicus briefs were filed in previous years, but this appears to represent a newfound activism on the part of DoJ in attempting to shape IP jurisprudence.
The report details a wide variety of new international initiatives, including pressuring countries in treaty negotiations, developing an international "24/7 network" of law enforcement contacts for computer crime cases, and adding DoJ "attaches" in Asia and Eastern Europe.
The report endorses the proposed Intellectual Property Protection Act, which would dramatically expand the scope of criminal copyright infringement, adding attempt liability, conspiracy liability, and asset forfeiture. As we've discussed previously, these proposals are an outrage, effectively allowing the feds to put people in jail without having to prove that any actual copyright infringement ever took place.
All of this suggests that we can expect to see a marked increase in criminal IP cases being brought by the DoJ, as well as increasing DoJ activism as amicus in civil IP cases.
Fake Games and DVDs Seized In Raid On House
A PIRATE computer game and DVD operation in Bolton has been smashed by Trading Standards officers.
More than 1,000 discs, along with a computer and a duplicator were seized when Trading Officers swooped on a council owned terraced house in Breightmet.
Half of the haul contained fake Playstation 2 games, including the most recent Lara Croft: Tomb Raider game. The rest was made up of a mixture of counterfeit films and music CDs, including many up-to-date titles yet to be officially released.
It is believed the fakes were being sold from the house.
A 31-year-old man was arrested and then released following questioning. Trading Standards is preparing to bring charges under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act and the Trade Marks Act.
Glen Phoenix, Bolton Trading Standards officer, said: "This was an important discovery that came from information supplied to us by Crimestoppers.
"Sometimes it seems like this is a victimless crime, but buying fake goods costs us all in the long run. Counterfeiting operations take money out of the economy and are also frequently linked to organised crime."
Four Trading Standards officers, two police officers and two officers from the Department of Work and Pensions took part in the raid on Friday morning at around 10am.
The 31-year-man will also be questioned relating to claims he is making for incapacity benefit.
Last week Trading Standards officers swooped on a house in Kearsley, arresting a 30-year-old man who was using eBay to sell counterfeit Microsoft Xbox 360 games that the company had said could never be copied.
More than 500 discs were seized, along with a computer and other equipment. The genuine games cost around £40 each in the shops, but the fake ones were being sold for as little as £5 each.
Last month, the Bolton Evening News revealed that another fake CD operation in Bolton is estimated to have cost the music industry nearly £900,000.
Trading Standards officers discovered about 1,000 CDs on sale on an auction website, with each CD containing between 60 and 120 albums. Individual albums normally retail at about £10.
Film Piracy Saga Is Pure Hollywood
A distributor believes her movies are being counterfeited. She writes a script, finds actors, hires a gumshoe and tracks down a suspect.
After six months on the trail of a suspected Russian pirate, Joan Borsten was closing in.
She had staked out the scruffy-looking young man she thought was strangling her film distribution business. Now he was in her sights. Borsten peered out through the curtained windows of a minivan as a private eye she'd hired snapped photographs using a telephoto lens.
Click. The suspected pirate appears with a customer (actually a friend of Borsten's) who'd just bought 80 counterfeited DVDs of titles Borsten owns.
Click. The buyer and the seller shake hands.
Click. The target jumps into his BMW SUV and drives off.
Could it be that he was getting away?
What happened next was the culmination of Borsten's tireless crusade to save her Malibu-based film distribution business from a suspected piracy ring with ties to Russia. With the help of a detective named Jake, an actress playing "Natalya" and Oleg Vidov, Borsten's real-life husband, who was once known as the Robert Redford of Soviet-era cinema, this 58-year-old grandmother masterminded an amateur sting operation.
"I don't think he had any idea of who he was going up against," Vidov said of the man they believed was running the piracy ring. "She is a street fighter."
Major Hollywood studios aren't the only victims of movie piracy. Ask the owners of Southern California's many small production and distribution companies, and they'll tell you their very survival depends on curbing counterfeiting. But saying it needs to be stopped is one thing. Doing it is another.
That's what sets Borsten apart. The Santa Monica native is a short, spirited woman who is fluent in five languages and harbors a passion for Russian fairy tales.
She and her husband used their actor friends and their knowledge of the Russian emigre community to infiltrate a world that often confounds even Hollywood's anti-piracy agency, the Motion Picture Assn. of America.
Borsten owns the international distribution rights to a library of 1,200 Russian animated films, including "Little Locomotive From Romashkovo," "Tale About Czar Sultan" and "Vasila the Beautiful." She sells DVDs of these titles to small specialty stores that serve Russian communities around the country.
But in December, she noticed a sudden drop in Los Angeles-area orders to her company, Films by Jove. Worried, Borsten visited a bookstore in Studio City and posed as an American woman buying cartoons for her adopted Russian grandchild. She found half a dozen pirated versions of Films by Jove videos, including one of her favorites, "I'll Get You," a Russian Tom and Jerry-type series.
The videos appeared to be homemade. Each had the same make of case, photocopied color inserts, and poor picture and sound quality. They sold for $10 each, about half the normal retail price.
"I was shocked. There was no way that we were going to sit back and lose the second-largest market in the U.S. to a pirate operating out of a Hollywood pick house," Borsten said, using the industry lingo for a piracy operation. "I had to get to the bottom of it."
It wasn't the first time Borsten and Vidov had taken action to protect their business. During the last decade, they've been involved in numerous legal battles to protect copyrights on their film library, which includes a Russian-made feature-length version of Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" and a series of animated folk tales with the voices of American, French and Spanish stars.
First, Borsten asked a Russian friend to visit other Russian video shops and bookstores in West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. The woman bought several bootleg videos of Film by Jove titles and reported that store owners had told her to come back in a few weeks, when they would receive a new supply.
Borsten suspected that the stores were buying from a single supplier. Next, she had to find him.
So she and Vidov, who is also her business partner, wrote a script featuring a character called Natalya, who is described in court records as an "unscrupulous hard-edged businesswoman looking for bootleg tapes at the cheapest possible price."
Vidov put out the word among Russian actors he knows and soon found an actress who was perfect for the part: "She has a really good range. She can play a peasant woman or a princess." And this "was the best role in Hollywood."
Embracing the role, "Natalya" chatted up store owners and soon came up with a cellphone number of the supplier of illicit cartoons. His name was Dmitry. Store owners said he was importing pirated movies direct from Moscow's notorious counterfeit market, the Gorbushka.
Next, Natalya called Dmitry. She said she and her husband, "Andre," were opening a Russian video store in Palo Alto and wanted to buy some cheap DVDs. Dmitry agreed to meet with Andre (in actuality another friend of Borsten's) in the parking lot of a Carl's Jr. restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
Dmitry popped the rear hatch of his black BMW, revealing six cartons containing CDs and DVDs. He also handed Andre a catalog of about 5,000 movies, including not only many Films by Jove titles, but also such mainstream Hollywood fare as "Shrek" and "Basic Instinct 2," according to a declaration filed in court.
The merchandise looked suspect to Andre. There were no liner notes or labels identifying the name or address of the distributors. When Andre complained that they weren't wrapped, Dmitry suggested that he buy a machine and wrap them himself. Andre bought 80 of the DVDs for $400.
Borsten was close, but not close enough. She still lacked the suspected pirate's last name and business address.
So she turned to Jake "Spy4hire" Schmidt, a veteran Hollywood private investigator and owner of Clandestine Investigation Agency. She had hired the stocky former U.S. Army intelligence analyst before in connection with another piracy case.
Film piracy isn't his specialty; he's more used to tracking down cheating Hollywood spouses.
But Schmidt liked Borsten: "She's an honest, hard-working lady who pays her bills on time." And besides, "She gets caught up in the intrigue of it all."
When Borsten got a tip from a client that Dmitry was operating out of an office on North La Brea Avenue near Sunset Boulevard, she notified Schmidt. He drove by the office and saw a sign on the door: Europe Plus Russia.
Schmidt also ran a check on Dmitry's license plate and got a last name: Fayerman.
Borsten wanted to make sure it all added up. She checked city records and found that a Dmitry Fayerman, 36, had a business license for Europe Plus Russia at the same La Brea Avenue address.
The man posing as Natalya's husband (whose real name is Andre Violentyev) set up another buy, this one at Fayerman's office. Schmidt and Borsten parked the minivan and waited.
Violentyev later stated in a sworn declaration that in the midst of the transaction, Fayerman explained that "legal" DVDs would have cost him a lot more.
Fayerman left in his BMW, and Schmidt and Borsten tailed him. But after a few minutes, they lost him in traffic. Schmidt was ready to give up, but Borsten would have none of it: "Just go for it, Jake."
And five minutes later they caught up with Fayerman on Fairfax Avenue and followed him onto the westbound Interstate 10.
Borsten and Schmidt tailed Fayerman to the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Culver City, where Schmidt photographed him entering and then leaving half an hour later with a heavy briefcase. A clerk at the front desk told Schmidt that a flight crew from the Russian airline Aeroflot had recently checked in.
Two weeks later, court records state, Schmidt again spotted Fayerman at the Four Points, this time talking with someone who appeared to be a member of an Aeroflot flight crew that was staying at the hotel. The man handed over two heavy-looking bags.
"Inside the bags I could clearly make out long cylinder-type shapes, with three to four of these cylinder shapes in each bag," Schmidt said in a declaration. "The diameter of the cylinder shapes appeared to be consistent with the size of a DVD or compact disc."
For Borsten, things were starting to add up. A few of her clients had told her that they believed Fayerman was using smugglers to import pirated versions of DVDs manufactured in Russia.
Despite pledges by Russian President Vladimir Putin to crack down on the problem, the number of factories in his country that produce counterfeit DVDs and CDs and export them has ballooned from two in 1996 to 47 as of January, according to a recent report by the International Intellectual Property Alliance, a private coalition that represents U.S. copyright-based industries.
Many experts blame lax policing by the Russian government.
"They have to start enforcing their laws and busting up these optical disc manufacturers," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), who thinks Russia should be required to crack down on piracy before it is allowed to join the World Trade Organization.
Berman, ranking member of the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts, the Internet and intellectual property, has previously asked Borsten to testify before Congress about piracy.
"This is a bread-and-butter issue for her and other small companies like hers," Berman said.
Armed with the fruits of her sleuthing, Borsten in May filed an $11-million federal copyright infringement suit against Fayerman and eight owners of stores she alleged had carried his goods.
Then she persuaded a judge to authorize a temporary restraining order against Fayerman and those stores and to approve the seizure of any counterfeit DVDs of her titles from his office.
On a sweltering June afternoon, with rush-hour traffic clogging La Brea Avenue, five federal marshals pulled up outside Europe Plus Russia. Schmidt, Borsten attorney Jeffrey Miles and two court-appointed Russian interpreters — who had been waiting across the street in a Russian cafe — joined the marshals as they confronted Fayerman. Borsten later joined them.
Served with the court order, a flustered Fayerman led the whole group into two stuffy rooms crammed floor to ceiling with DVDs and CDs and a plastic shrink-wrap machine.
Fayerman paced back and forth as the interpreters went through his merchandise, checking titles against a list of Films by Jove catalog. In addition to such Hollywood fare as "The Incredibles" and "Polar Express," they found 250 counterfeit DVDs of animated films only Borsten has the rights to sell in the U.S.
"I don't know what to say," she said as she helped her lawyer pack up evidence. "We're finding stuff here that we didn't expect to find. I'm kind of overwhelmed."
Fayerman denied that he had done anything wrong, and no criminal charges have been filed.
"I don't know about all this because I'm a legal company," he told a reporter who witnessed the raid.
But a few days later, Fayerman failed to appear at a U.S. District Court hearing to contest the restraining order. Then, last week, in a confidential settlement of Borsten's lawsuit, he agreed to pay her an undisclosed amount to cover her losses.
Fayerman acknowledged last week that he was wrong to sell copies of Borsten's titles, though he said he was unaware that she had the U.S. distribution rights. Speaking in broken English, he said, "I make settlement. I've gone out of business."
The offices of Europe Plus Russia have been emptied.
Borsten doesn't kid herself that her problems are over. In her experience, even when you triumph over one pirate, another one eventually comes to take his place. But when that happens, she'll be ready.
"I think we won a major skirmish," she said, "but there's still a bigger battle to be won."
Official: FBI Breaks Up Movie Piracy Ring
FBI agents carried out early morning raids Wednesday and broke up two international movie-piracy rings that siphoned millions of dollars from the motion picture industry over the last year, a federal law enforcement official said.
Hordes of agents rounded up more than a dozen members of the two large-scale rings in raids throughout the New York City area, the official said. Recording equipment was also seized.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because announcement of the arrests had not been made. Details were to be unveiled at FBI headquarters later Wednesday.
A second federal official said one of the movies the suspects were conspiring to profit from was "Superman Returns," the highly anticipated film being released this week.
Movie piracy has become a huge problem for the film industry with the advent of high-speed Internet access. The Motion Picture Association of America claims the U.S. movie industry loses more than $3 billion annually in potential global revenue because of physical piracy, or bogus copies of videos and DVDs of its films.
Videotaped copies of films in theaters often are digitized or burned off DVDs and then distributed on file-sharing networks.
Warner Bros. Sells Films Via Guba.com
Warner Bros. began selling its movies and TV shows over the Internet video site Guba.com Monday, marking the second deal the studio has made to distribute content over Web sites that have offered pirated video in the past.
Guba.com has featured mainly user-generated video clips for free or as part of a subscription, some of which were unauthorized clips from TV shows or movies.
The site has since agreed to start filtering copyright and obscene content and institute tougher security measures after talks with the Motion Picture Association of America, a group that represents Hollywood studios.
In May, Warner Bros. agreed to start selling its movies and shows using peer-to-peer technology developed by BitTorrent Inc., which has been used to trade pirated copies of movies.
Both deals are aimed at appealing to younger consumers who watch shows on computers or portable devices.
"Kids in the dorm rooms don't own TVs," said Tom McInerney, co-founder and chief executive of Guba. "They've got computers and that's their source of entertainment."
Guba is one of a growing number of Web sites that offer short videos contributed by users who record song parodies and other short video content. Such sites have become popular, but have not yet developed a business model to make money off of such videos.
McInerney said that ultimately people will only pay for top quality shows produced by professionals.
"Nobody is going to pay for a video of a dog doing a stupid pet trick," he said.
Rental prices start at $1.99 for unlimited viewing during a 24-hour period.
Viewers can also download permanent copies of shows. New movies such as "Good Night and Good Luck" will sell for $19.99, while older titles, such as "Rebel Without a Cause," will sell for $9.99.
New films will become available the same day the DVDs are released in stores.
TV shows will sell for $1.79 per episode.
Users will be able to stream the shows over a home network and transfer them to a portable device using Windows media software.
As with other services that launched recently, consumers will not be able to burn the shows on DVDs that will work on normal DVD players.
Hollywood Needs Hits From "Superman," "Pirates"
One saves the world and the other robs it, but what Superman and pirate Captain Jack Sparrow share this summer is Hollywood's hope they will rescue it from the brink of a two-year losing streak at U.S. box offices.
Hollywood's summer season, which makes up as much as 40 percent of the roughly $9 billion annual domestic box office, hits its mid-point next week with the June 28 release of Warner Bros. "Superman Returns." Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" hits movie screens on July 7.
Each is an effects-filled adventure costing over $200 million, and each is the kind of movie that could rake in hundreds of millions of dollars at box offices.
But to do so, each needs a long run in theaters and that means delighting fans with a good story -- again, something Hollywood has not done well in recent summers.
"If we want the (box office) numbers to come out better than last year's performance, we need to be kicked into high gear," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co Inc. "It's a close race, and there is more pressure than ever for these movies to perform."
To date, summer ticket revenues are $1.37 billion, up a scant 1 percent from last year but down 8 percent from 2004. Hollywood has not had two straight down summers in revenues since 1995 and 1996, according to Exhibitor Relations.
Attendance, or the number of people in theaters, is two percent lower than 2005, 14 percent under 2004, and another dip this year would mark the fourth straight down year.
Hollywood's Creative Slump?
Opening ahead of "Superman" and "Pirates," was Adam Sandler in Sony Pictures' comedy "Click" which hit theaters on Friday. It typifies what is fast becoming a two-year creative slump in big-budget summer films tied to a lack of original ideas and too many sequels.
"Click" tells of a father who glimpses his future only to see he neglected his family. Even Sandler admits "there are similarities" to movies like classic "It's a Wonderful Life."
At rottentomatoes.com, which aggregates reviews, "Click" earned only 14 "fresh" scores out of a total 54, as of Friday.
Other star-driven movies like Sony's "The DaVinci Code," Twentieth Century Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand," Universal's "The Break-Up" and Paramount's "Nacho Libre," earned mixed comments, at best, from critics, despite solid ticket sales.
Studio executives have long argued that young men, who make up the core audience for big-budget and star-driven summer movies, pay more attention to studio marketing than to reviews.
But the question is whether two years of many bad summer movies is causing audiences to turn toward other entertainment.
Fortunately for Hollywood, early reviews give "Superman Returns" a thumbs up. Time Magazine's Richard Corliss calls it "beyond super. It's superb." He credits "a beguiling subtext" injected into a "crowd-pleasing story."
At $200 million-plus, it represents a big risk to Warner Bros., but the studio is trying to revive a franchise that died nearly 20 years ago. "It deserves a budget and it deserves the scope we are bringing to it," said director Bryan Singer.
Reviews are not yet available for "Pirates," but other movies are getting good reactions in early screenings including comedies "The Devil Wears Prada" and "You, Me and Dupree."
Hollywood also has high hopes for cop thriller "Miami Vice," mystery "Lady in the Water," comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," and thriller "Snakes on a Plane."
Individually, Hollywood's major studios are owned or controlled by conglomerates Time Warner Inc. <TWX.N>, The Walt Disney Co. <DIS.N>, Sony Corp <6758.T>, News Corp <NWS.N>, General Electric Co <GE.N> and Viacom Inc <VIAb.N>.
What Makes Richard Brener Run?
IT was a typical June Friday in Hollywood, and the town was anxiously awaiting early word on the titans and turkeys of the summer movie season. Over at Chaya Brasserie, Richard Brener, a lanky 34-year-old development executive for New Line Cinema, was having his weekly lunch with his longtime friend Chris Bender, a writers' manager and producer who dreamed up the concept for the hit "American Pie."
Mr. Brener and Mr. Bender easily segued from standard industry gossip about the Anthony Pellicano scandal ("Too many lawyers, not enough Tom Cruise," Mr. Bender said) to box-office predictions for the weekend's release of "Nacho Libre," whose star, Jack Black, is also in a coming film championed by Mr. Brener at New Line.
"The houses look good in New York," Mr. Brener said of the first matinee turnout in Manhattan.
"It's going to do 30 million," said Mr. Bender, predicting the film's total opening weekend gross in North America.
"Naw, a shade under," Mr. Brener countered. (The final figure was $28.3 million.)
Then Mr. Bender got to the matter at hand, a pitch for a movie based on "Y: The Last Man," a graphic novel by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan Jr..
The basic idea, as is often the case in today's Hollywood, is quite simple: the movie begins with shots of all the world's men — presidents, airline pilots, farmers, doctors and the rest — dropping dead for an unknown reason. All except one, a slacker who spends the rest of the movie chasing a ticking clock as he hunts down the reason for the genetic apocalypse while trying to adjust to being the only man left with billions of women.
"There are 15 of these 'last man left' stories going around the town, but they're all comedies," said Mr. Brener, who shepherded last summer's hit "Wedding Crashers" to the screen. "This is a thriller and a love story. It could work."
Mr. Bender grinned and reached for his BlackBerry. He has sold projects like "Monster-in-Law" and "The Butterfly Effect" to Mr. Brener, and he smelled pay dirt. "Wait till Richard hears the part where the only ones left picking up the garbage are supermodels," he said to a reporter.
Slick, smart and dashing, young movie studio executives were the stuff of classic fiction in "What Makes Sammy Run?" and "The Last Tycoon" and grist for thousands of news articles about Robert Evans, Jeffrey Katzenberg and their ilk. But along came the 21st century, bringing MySpace, iPods and pornography on demand, even as corporate giants like Sony, General Electric, Viacom and Time Warner swallowed the studios.
Which raises a question: What's become of Hollywood's young swashbucklers — the production and development executives who cruise cultural waters in search of the next big movie idea — in the age of technology and conglomeratization?
Judging from the experience of players like Mr. Brener, senior executive vice president of production at New Line, a unit of Time Warner, it appears that the time-honored hunt-and-kill, schmooze-or-lose chase for books, scripts and ideas is still as frantic as ever, despite all the buzz about high-tech frontiers, branding, product placement, co-ventures and cross-promotion.
For the 30 or so hunter-gatherers who fill the upper middle management ranks at the major studios, the rewards remain enormous. Mr. Brener's gig brings with it a Land Rover LSE and a house in the Hollywood Hills, just above that of the author Gore Vidal, which he bought when he was 28.
But the risks are still considerable. Mr. Brener would as happily not be remembered as the force behind "The Real Cancun," a downright embarrassing effort to bring the elements of a quickie spring-break reality television series to the big screen. The film, budgeted at $8 million, took in a mere $2 million at the domestic box office in 2003 before it was yanked from release.
"People hate to admit they watch reality TV, and we wanted them to stand in line and pay for the privilege," Mr. Brener said with a shudder.
Even so, "somebody still has to find all these scripts and push them up the ladder," Mr. Brener said over lunch in West Hollywood. "But even though people say, 'They must love you at New Line,' all they love is my last movie."
The chiefs at New Line certainly love the fact that Mr. Brener had the acuity three years ago to buy the idea for "Wedding Crashers" from the little-known screenwriters Steve Faber and Bob Fisher. The film was budgeted at just $38 million but took in $209 million in North American theaters, or nearly half the $421 million that New Line's entire 2005 slate of 13 films grossed domestically.
As a result Mr. Brener made a big name for himself with his immediate boss, Toby Emmerich, who is president of New Line's production arm. "Richard's job is to hang out a shingle and get out in the community and be perceived as an individual who has taste," said Mr. Emmerich, who took charge five years ago after his predecessor, Michael De Luca, got kicked to the curb following a bad run.
"Not necessarily good taste or bad taste, but someone with a particular kind of taste," he continued. "Richard has to have a particular personality where people think, 'Oh, he'd like this.' "
To move through the world of Mr. Brener and his peers is to realize that while the players change, the game itself remains very much the same. Thirty years ago contemporaries of Mr. Katzenberg, Don Simpson and Jim Wiatt, the current chairman of the William Morris Agency, often swapped notes while huddled over questionable chow mein at the decidedly unglamorous Roy's on Sunset Boulevard. Nowadays Mr. Brener meets at similarly off-the-beaten-track spots with friends like Mr. Bender, the producers Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson or the agent Adriana Alberghetti. A currently favored meeting place is a back booth at the Dime, a rather spartan hangout on Fairfax Avenue.
Like many before them, this bunch came together when they were assistants or entry-level executives. "We've grown up together," said Ms. Alberghetti, who represented writers on Mr. Brener's films "Boiler Room," "Final Destination 2" and "Monster-in-Law."
Ms. Alberghetti is also married to Mr. Vinson — who, with Mr. Flynn, is making a film, "The Number 23," with Mr. Brener. She described the group's professional relations in terms that would ring true to the industry's past generations.
"When you're young, you think you have to know everyone," Ms. Alberghetti said. "But as you get older, you find you often get more accomplished by working with people you have a history with, because you get honest answers."
A Yale graduate who wears T-shirts and jeans to the office, Mr. Brener considers what he terms "legitimate" story proposals — those with an honest shot at being purchased by the studio — at the rate of 3 times a day, 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year. What counts, he said, is finding an idea that fits New Line's business model. The basic test: Can the movie pull in substantial crowds in the all-important first week of release?
In search of that opening weekend, Mr. Brener typically leans toward films in easily recognized genres with casts that appeal mostly to the younger of what he calls the four quadrants — younger males, younger females, older males and older females. Along with "Wedding Crashers" and the 1999 Adam Sandler vehicle "The Wedding Singer," he succeeded with horror films like the "Final Destination" trilogy and thrillers with young stars, like "The Butterfly Effect," with Ashton Kutcher.
Mr. Brener acknowledged that what passes for taste took some getting used to. "It used to bother me that all the actors in teen horror films don't emotionally process much when their best friend has just gotten his head chopped off," he said. "But people demand great deaths in horror films, and the recollection stuff just slows the story, right?"
Even with the baggage of clunkers and disappointments he has inevitably accrued over time, Mr. Brener has built a loyal following among actors and other creative talent. "Richard actually gets a joke, which is kind of surprising, considering the humor from most studio exec-y types," Jack Black said in a telephone interview from the set of New Line's coming "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny."
That Mr. Brener picked up the "Tenacious D" project before Mr. Black's price skyrocketed with the 2003 release of "School of Rock" also says something about his basic business strategy. "I try to be a very conservative guy in an unconservative business," he said.
As New Line evolved after Robert Shaye founded it in a Greenwich Village walk-up in 1967, the company began training its young executives to temper their instincts with increasingly elaborate business math.
"We are constantly remodeling a proposed film's profit-and-loss analysis," said Mr. Shaye, now New Line's co-chairman. "We track the marketing campaign to gauge its awareness, and we screen films to the point where we know exactly what's working and what's not for a preview audience."
For Mr. Brener, whose moves are closely monitored by Mr. Shaye, that means treating the boss's inclinations as second nature. "We don't like to pay an actor $25 million unless the project is right, and unless we have something good, we don't like to be in the summer tent-pole business, where you have to spend a fortune in ads to become a weekend's first choice," said Mr. Brener, sounding very much like the 67-year-old Mr. Shaye. "What we try to do is find a $2 million actor who's on his way to $10 million, and we pay him $5 million. That way, everybody's happy."
Yet happiness in Hollywood is famously fleeting, and those who want Mr. Brener's job know the rules. (After "The Real Cancun" crashed on its opening weekend, Mr. Brener said, a young colleague at New Line greeted him with a terse "You still here?" the following Monday.) Mr. Brener will turn 35 next year, an age at which he can no longer be considered young by Hollywood standards. Mr. Brener, who started at New Line as a temp 11 years ago, worries constantly about what he calls "the end game," a preoccupation that comes early for a set whose patron saint, Irving Thalberg, died at 37.
"I don't know if I want to be a producer," he said, noting that he sees many former studio wunderkinder struggling with the producer's life, which revolves around selling instead of buying.
For the moment, he said, his plan is to keep playing the game: "New Line is the only place I've worked, and I know all the angles here. And if I had to get another job, if I were to lose this one, it's a Catch-22: I know the best time to get one is when I have one."
Studio Bosses Face Unwanted Attention
Studio bosses Brad Grey and Ron Meyer have scaled Hollywood's ruthless ranks to become two of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry.
On their way to the top, both enlisted the help of private eye Anthony Pellicano, who is now accused in a federal indictment of wiretapping celebrities and others to dig up dirt to help clients in legal disputes.
Federal authorities have looked into Pellicano's links to the two executives as part of their ongoing investigation. Neither has been charged, but the unwanted attention has come at a critical time.
Grey, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, is trying to revive the studio that struggled under previous leadership. Meyer, president of Universal, has been working to steer his company through a succession of corporate owners.
''It is a major distraction for them at a time when they have lots of other important business issues to deal with,'' media analyst Harold Vogel said. ''No one can be happy in being associated with this.''
Both executives have been questioned by the FBI and testified before a federal grand jury. They denied wrongdoing.
Grey, 48, declined further comment through studio spokeswoman Janet Hill. In April, he received a vote of confidence from executives of Viacom Inc., Paramount's parent company.
''I know it has been a stressful period for him, but professionally I haven't seen any difference,'' said ''Saturday Night Live'' creator-producer Lorne Michaels, who is working with Paramount on the film ''Hot Rod.'' ''All he's focused on is making Paramount the most successful studio in town.''
Meyer's camp said his relationship with Pellicano was more personal than professional.
The two men have been friends for more than a decade. Meyer once offered to pay for the schooling of Pellicano's autistic son and visited the private eye in prison while he served a 2 1/2-year sentence for possession of explosives.
Meyer refused a request for comment made through Kelly Mullens, his spokeswoman.
''This is not a distraction at all,'' she said. ''Mr. Meyer has been fully cooperative and we have no reason to believe he is under investigation.''
Fourteen people have been charged so far in the case, with six pleading guilty to a variety of charges, including conspiracy and wire fraud.
Federal prosecutors have said more charges would be filed before the start of trial in October. But the case has dragged as authorities try to decrypt audio files of telephone conversations seized from Pellicano's office.
''I think there has been an indication that prosecutors have their sights on Hollywood's higher-ups,'' said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor.
''But Pellicano's clients are pretty insulated. Prosecutors have to prove his clients knew there were illegal methods being used,'' she said.
Among other things, Pellicano is accused of wiretapping Hollywood stars such as Sylvester Stallone and paying two police officers to run names, including comedians Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon, through a government database.
Prosecutors have been interested in two lawsuits filed against Grey in which his attorney, Bertram Fields, used the services of Pellicano. Fields, one of the most feared litigators in Hollywood, has acknowledged being a subject of the wiretapping investigation and denied being involved in any illegal activity.
The first lawsuit was filed in 1998 by Shandling, who accused Grey, his former manager, of taking excess commissions and fees from the HBO hit ''The Larry Sanders Show.'' The federal indictment said a Los Angeles police officer took bribes from Pellicano to run Shandling's name through a government database.
Six months later, Shandling settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.
In a 2001 lawsuit, producer Vincent ''Bo'' Zenga claimed Grey reneged on a deal to equally share profits from ''Scary Movie.'' Prosecutors contend the same police officer conducted illegal background checks on Zenga and his attorney. The case is ongoing.
Meyer, 62, met Pellicano 11 years ago and the two men developed a friendship about the same time Meyer was hired as president of Universal.
Meyer sought Pellicano's help collecting money lent to businessman Bilal Baroody. In March 1999, Baroody's name was run through law enforcement computers, according to the indictment.
Grey and Meyer both built their reputations by spotting and grooming talent. Grey scouted comedians in New York before heading to Los Angeles and teaming with agent Bernie Brillstein to form a production company.
Grey was behind the ''The Larry Sanders Show'' and ''The Sopranos.'' He also produced films such as ''The Wedding Singer'' and ''Scary Movie.''
Before Grey was hired in early 2005, Paramount green-lighted what turned out to be a string of flops, including ''Aeon Flux,'' ''Elizabethtown'' and the remake of ''The Honeymooners.'' In its most recent quarter, profits at the studio fell 28 percent to $51.1 million.
Its fortunes could improve with the acquisition of DreamWorks, maker of the animated comedy ''Over the Hedge,'' which has grossed nearly $140 million in recent weeks.
Grey helped broker ''Mission: Impossible III,'' only to see the high-octane thriller sputter at the U.S. box office with just over $130 million.
Meyer co-founded Creative Artists Agency with several other talent agents in the mid-1970s. The talent agency became one of the most powerful in the nation, signing such A-list stars as Tom Cruise, Al Pacino and Warren Beatty.
Since Meyer took over at Universal, the studio has gone through three owners -- Canadian liquor distributor Seagram Co., French media company Vivendi and now NBC parent General Electric Co.
Once one of the most profitable studios, Universal has fallen to the middle of the pack. GE doesn't break out separate profit figures for the studio.
It has had several hits this year, including ''The Break Up,'' with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, that is approaching the $100 million mark. Last year, the studio released its remake of ''King Kong,'' which grossed about $550 million in theaters worldwide.
No matter how their studios perform, some observers believe the reputations of Grey and Meyer will suffer because of their association with Pellicano.
''They will have a cloud over their heads,'' Levenson said. ''It's a long-term stain.''
Pellicano Case Moves Beyond Hollywood
David M. Halbfinger and Allison Hope Weiner
Until now the Pellicano wiretapping case has seemed the kind of down-and-dirty imbroglio that could only happen in Hollywood, where a private eye's underworld patois could impress movie people familiar with noir clichés, allured by real physical danger and accustomed to getting whatever they want.
But confidential F.B.I. records show that the scandal's tentacles have extended beyond show-business figures to reach people prominent in the rarified worlds of fine art and classical music. Among the government's most important witnesses, the F.B.I. records suggest, are Adam D. Sender, a prominent collector of contemporary art and a wealthy hedge-fund manager, and Jacqueline A. Colburn, an ex-wife of a renowned Los Angeles donor to the performing arts, Richard D. Colburn, who died in 2004.
Both Mr. Sender and Ms. Colburn have admitted that they hired Anthony Pellicano, the jailed private detective charged with wiretapping and conspiracy, and that they knew he was surreptitiously recording their legal opponents, the F.B.I. records show.
They each listened repeatedly to those recordings, they acknowledged to investigators, according to summaries of the F.B.I.'s interviews that have been seen by The New York Times. But neither has been charged publicly with a crime, defense lawyers note.
Mr. Sender's lawyer, Lawrence Barcella, described his client's position simply. "My view is, he got defrauded, he hired lawyers to help him out, he ended up in a situation that was not at all of his own making, and he cooperated with the government from the moment he was contacted. And he continues to be a victim in this whole thing."
Ms. Colburn could not be reached, and her lawyer declined to comment.
With prosecutors still struggling to produce the actual recordings they say Mr. Pellicano made of other people's conversations, witnesses like Mr. Sender and Ms. Colburn who can testify that they listened to such intercepted calls could be crucial to the government's case.
Mr. Sender, 37, was a star trader for the Connecticut hedge-fund tycoon Stephen A. Cohen before striking out on his own in 1998. In 2001 he formed Exis Capital and made money hand over fist, according to the newsletter Hedge Fund Alert; by late 2003 its assets under management had reached $1.5 billion.
Like Mr. Cohen, Mr. Sender also plunged into the art world, hiring his own curator and investing in works by the likes of Matthew Barney, Keith Haring, Diane Arbus, Ed Ruscha, Bruce Nauman and Christopher Wool. His purchases established him as a pacesetter for his class of young financiers turned collectors: he was one of the first fund managers, for example, to discover the artist Richard Prince. And his practice of lending his works to museums worldwide raised his visibility even more.
Mr. Sender has also shown a taste for the provocative: in 1999, as the Brooklyn Museum's "Sensation" exhibition was being assailed by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for its inclusion of Chris Ofili's portrait of the Virgin Mary, which included elephant dung, Mr. Sender paid $43,700 for Andres Serrano's photograph of a crucifix immersed in urine. And in 2005 Mr. Sender paid a record auction price of more than $1 million for another work by Mr. Ofili, "Afrodizzia."
When he turned 30 in December 1998, Mr. Sender treated himself to an extended vacation in Hollywood, where he met Aaron Russo, a movie producer best known for the 1983 comedy "Trading Places." Mr. Russo wined and dined Mr. Sender and persuaded him to invest $1.1 million in a startup film company, the summaries show.
Mr. Sender wired the money, but Mr. Russo refused to sign a contract or account for his expenditures, and Mr. Sender became suspicious, he later told the F.B.I. After his first lawyer failed to serve Mr. Russo with legal papers, Mr. Sender was referred by another art collector, the Los Angeles lawyer Alan S. Hergott, to Bert Fields, the noted entertainment lawyer.
Mr. Fields's wife, Barbara Guggenheim, is a prominent art consultant, and his clients have included Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art.
Mr. Hergott declined to comment. Mr. Fields's lawyer, John W. Keker, said his client had done nothing wrong and "didn't ask or solicit or know of anything that Anthony Pellicano did that was wrong."
"He is an innocent man, and he has been treated very unfairly in this investigation," Mr. Keker said. "He is not going to be indicted. There isn't any evidence on which to indict him."
Mr. Sender does not directly implicate Mr. Fields in any wrongdoing in the F.B.I. summaries, and says he met with Mr. Fields only once, in late March 2001. In that meeting, Mr. Sender said, Mr. Fields urged him to hire a private investigator, and suggested Mr. Pellicano. "According to Fields, Pellicano employed 'unorthodox methods,' " but "got the job done," Mr. Sender told the agents.
Mr. Sender soon met with Mr. Pellicano, who said that for a $25,000 retainer, he would serve Mr. Russo and "take on other tasks to ensure that Sender got his money back from Russo," the agents wrote.
Within days, prosecutors say, Mr. Pellicano had sources illegally run criminal checks and get phone records on Mr. Russo and his family. Sometime in April 2001, they say, Mr. Pellicano began wiretapping Mr. Russo's phone. And on April 21, court records show, Mr. Pellicano and two employees surprised Mr. Russo at a salon in an attempt to serve him with legal papers.
Mr. Sender told F.B.I. agents he learned of Mr. Pellicano's wiretapping when Mr. Pellicano revealed it to him, saying "You have got to hear this," before playing a "perfect" recording of Mr. Russo speaking on the phone with someone Mr. Sender knew.
Mr. Sender said he listened to more recordings, knowing that wiretapping was illegal, but thinking that it was "standard operating procedure" for private investigators, or at least "one of the 'unorthodox methods' to which Fields had referred," he told agents.
At Mr. Pellicano's insistence, Mr. Sender told agents, he did not discuss the wiretapping with anyone. But he believed that a junior associate at Mr. Fields's firm had a "wink-wink" or "tacit understanding" of what Mr. Pellicano was doing, F.B.I. agents wrote.
Mr. Sender said he met with the junior lawyer and Mr. Pellicano several times to discuss the "fruits of Pellicano's efforts," without explicitly acknowledging the information had come from wiretaps.
He said the junior lawyer's "lack of inquisitiveness about the origin of the information" signaled that he "already had the answer to that question," the agents wrote.
As for Mr. Russo, his lawyer, Richard L. Charnley, denied that his client had defrauded anyone. "Mr. Sender and Mr. Russo had a business relationship that didn't produce the desired results," he said. "Neither party was happy, and somebody filed a fraud suit. It happens all the time." He said the erstwhile partners had settled their underlying lawsuit more than a year ago.
Ms. Colburn, the 9th of 10 wives of Richard D. Colburn, a multimillionaire, was pregnant with their second child in December 1999. At the time, her husband — a benefactor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera, whose name is also on a performing arts school that aspires to be the West Coast's Juilliard — shared his Beverly Hills estate with some of his adult children. And his wife was at odds with them, she later told the F.B.I.
The lawyer Robert Nachshin urged her to sue for divorce, she told agents, but first to hire Mr. Pellicano. Mr. Pellicano asked her for a $50,000 retainer. When she balked, an associate of Mr. Nachshin's pressed her to pay Mr. Pellicano, Ms. Colburn told agents. Mr. Nachshin did not return two calls.
Once hired by Ms. Colburn, Mr. Pellicano quickly set about wiretapping her husband, Ms. Colburn told agents; she admitted repeatedly listening in the detective's office to intercepts of her husband's conversations. She said she knew wiretapping was illegal but never told Mr. Pellicano to stop.
In May 2000, Ms. Colburn filed for divorce. At the same time her husband cut off support to her and their daughter, citing "the actions of Pellicano" on her behalf, Ms. Colburn told the F.B.I.
It was Mr. Pellicano, not Mr. Nachshin, who brokered a settlement in October 2000. Ms. Colburn agreed in May 2003 to waive the lawyer-client privilege so F.B.I. agents could interview Mr. Nachshin. The summaries do not indicate that Ms. Colburn's lawyer knew of Mr. Pellicano's wiretaps. But days after Mr. Pellicano's 2002 arrest, Jude Green, the ex-wife of a financier, Leonard I. Green, called the F.B.I. to tell them about a conversation she had had with Mr. Nachshin, who was her divorce lawyer as of mid-2000.
She said Mr. Nachshin had warned her then that Mr. Green's lawyer, Mr. Fields, often hired Mr. Pellicano, meaning "that they should be concerned about their telephones being 'tapped,' " F.B.I. summaries show. Mr. Nachshin urged a sweep of all their phones, Ms. Green said.
But when the agent called Mr. Nachshin that same day, Mr. Nachshin insisted he had only done so "out of an abundance of caution," not because of Mr. Pellicano's involvement, the agent wrote.
Film Rated PG to Warn Of ‘Thematic Elements’
The Motion Picture Association of America is crystal clear when it describes why its "PG" rating exists—it's a warning flag.
"The theme of a PG-rated film may itself call for parental guidance," the online explanation of the rating system states. "There may be some profanity in these films. There may be some violence or brief nudity.... The PG rating, suggesting parental guidance, is thus an alert for examination of a film by parents before deciding on its viewing by their children. Obviously such a line is difficult to draw."
Disagreements are a given. The Christian moviemakers behind a low-budget film called "Facing the Giants" were stunned when the MPAA pinned a PG rating on their gentle movie about a burned-out, depressed football coach whose life—on and off the field—takes a miraculous turn for the better.
"What the MPAA said is that the movie contained strong 'thematic elements' that might disturb some parents," said Kris Fuhr, vice president for marketing at Provident Films, which is owned by Sony Pictures. Provident plans to open the film next fall in 380 theaters nationwide with the help of Samuel Goldwyn Films, which has worked with indie movies like "The Squid and the Whale."
Which "thematic elements" earned this squeaky-clean movie its PG?
"Facing the Giants" is too evangelistic.
The MPAA, Fuhr noted, tends to offer cryptic explanations for its ratings. In this case, she was told that it "decided that the movie was heavily laden with messages from one religion and that this might offend people from other religions. It's important that they used the word 'proselytizing' when they talked about giving this movie a PG....
"It is kind of interesting that faith has joined that list of deadly sins that the MPAA board wants to warn parents to worry about."
Overt Christian messages are woven throughout "Facing the Giants," which isn't surprising since the film was co-written and co-produced by brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who are the "associate pastors of media" at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. In addition to working with the mega-church's cable television channel, they created its Sherwood Pictures ministry—collecting private donations to fund a $25,000 movie called "Flywheel" about a wayward Christian used-car salesman.
"Facing the Giants" cost $100,000 and resembles a fusion of the Book of Job and a homemade "Hoosiers," or perhaps a small-school "Friday Night Lights" blended with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association movies that used to appear in some mainstream theaters. Sherwood Pictures used local volunteers as actors and extras, backed by a small crew of tech professionals.
The movie includes waves of answered prayers, a medical miracle, a mysterious silver-haired mystic who delivers a message from God and a bench-warmer who kicks a 51-yard field goal to win the big game when his handicapped father pulls himself out of a wheelchair and stands under the goalpost to inspire his son's faith. There's a prayer-driven gust of wind in there, too.
But the scene that caught the MPAA's attention may have been the chat between football coach Grant Taylor—played by Alex Kendrick—and a rich brat named Matt Prader. The coach says that he needs to stop bad-mouthing his bossy father and get right with God.
The boy replies: "You really believe in all that honoring God and following Jesus stuff? ... Well, I ain't trying to be disrespectful, but not everybody believes in that."
The coach replies: "Matt, nobody's forcing anything on you. Following Jesus Christ is the decision that you're going to have to make for yourself. You may not want to accept it, because it'll change your life. You'll never be the same."
That kind of talk may be too blunt for some moviegoers, Kendrick said, but that's the way real people actually talk in Christian high schools in Georgia. Sherwood Baptist isn't going to apologize for making the kinds of movies that it wants to make.
"Look, I have those kinds of conversations about faith all the time and I've seen young people make decisions that change their lives," he said. "The reason we're making movies in the first place is that we hope they inspire people to think twice about their relationships with God.
"So we're going to tell the stories that we believe God wants us to tell. We have nothing to hide."
Christian Movie's Rating Worries Lawmakers
A Christian-themed movie about a football coach's faith in God is finding an audience in Congress - not so much for its inspirational message, but for the PG rating it received.
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and other lawmakers are demanding explanations after hearing complaints that the movie "Facing the Giants" was rated PG instead of G due to religious content.
The Motion Picture Association of America claims the controversy arose from a miscommunication with the filmmakers. It says religion was not the reason for the rating.
"This incident raises the disquieting possibility that the MPAA considers exposure to Christian themes more dangerous for children than exposure to gratuitous sex and violence," Blunt said in a letter to MPAA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan Glickman.
After meeting with MPAA officials, Blunt and a handful of other House members said they remain concerned about the subjective native of the ratings process.
"I'm not satisfied," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who attended the meeting with Blunt. "We probably will want to revisit this ratings process to have some commonality in the standards that exist for movies, videos and video games."
Blackburn said she wants the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold hearings on the issue later this year.
Blunt also brought up a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health that found that the MPAA standards on sex and violence in movies have been getting weaker.
"Mr. Blunt does continue to have questions about the process by which 'Facing the Giants' was rated and what that says about ratings creep in general," spokeswoman Burson Taylor said Friday.
An MPAA spokesman did not return calls seeking comment. But in a letter to Blunt earlier this month, the MPAA's Glickman insisted the rating for "Facing the Giants" was not based on religious content.
"Any strong or mature discussion of any subject matter results in at least a PG rating," Glickman said. "This movie had a mature discussion about pregnancy, for example. It also had other mature discussions that some parents might want to be aware of before taking their kids to see this movie."
A PG rating means parental guidance is suggested because the MPAA believes some material may not be suitable for children. A G rating means the MPAA has found the movie acceptable for all audiences.
Glickman said the movie's producers agreed with the rating and never appealed it.
The film's producers claim ratings officials changed their story after the controversy began.
"The first communication from the MPAA was that religion was a factor in the ratings," said Kris Fuhr, vice president of marketing at Provident Films, which is owned by Sony Pictures. "Since then, the MPAA has revised those factors to no longer include religion."
Fuhr says she is now satisfied with the rating and wants to move beyond the controversy to focus on marketing the film, billed as an inspirational drama about a high school football coach who relies on faith to battle fear and failure.
"He dares to challenge his players to believe God for the impossible on and off the field," the movie's Web site says.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgard, Bill Nighy
Captain Jack Sparrow discovers he owes a blood debt to the legendary Davey Jones, Captain of the ghostly Flying Dutchman. With time running out, Jack must find a way out of his debt or else be doomed to eternal damnation and servitude in the afterlife. Making matters worse, Sparrow's problems manage to interfere with the wedding plans of a certain Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, who are forced to join Jack on yet another one of his misadventures.
In his Oscar nominated performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp swanned through the first Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) with enough wicked zest to make you forget the film was a bloated crock. The flab extends to the overlong (two hours and thirty minutes) sequel, but mostly in the dawdling setup. A pirate could braid his beard in the time it takes for producer Jerry Bruckheimer's floating franchise to cut loose from the shoals of plot incoherence and put a wind in its sails. But once it does, nothing can stop it. The second Pirates does more than improve on the original, it pumps out the bilge and offers a fresh start. Returning director Gore Verinski and screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott have wisely taken a cue from Depp and learned how to play fast and loose with the material. Lively is an odd word for something called Dead Man's Chest, but lively it is. You won't find hotter action, wilder thrills or loopier laughs this summer.
Where did they go right? Start with Depp who could have hit paydirt just by repeating himself as Capt. Jack, the skeeviest pirate on the high seas. How easy it would be to let the dreads, the mascara and the gold teeth do the acting for him. Instead, Depp builds on the role, investing his pirate prince with quick wit, erotic mischief and a sneaky sense of decency. Keith Richards, who will play Jack's father in the third chapter of the series, is only one of Depp's inspirations for a character that keeps springing surprises. Depp's Capt. Jack is a classic comic creation and also the most subversive hero ever in a Disney movie -- a debauched, bi-sexual narcissist with a devilish glint that suggests he'll never tell where he's stashed his drug kit. You can't take your eyes off him.
Issue a ration of rum to the other actors who have managed to scrape the barnacles off their performances. Keira Knightley as Elizabeth and Orlando Bloom as Will, her intended, are finally asked to do more than stand around and look pretty and oh so pleased with themselves. Will meets up with his father Bootstrap Bill (the excellent Stellan Skarsgard) and Elizabeth finds her own inner pirate when she dresses up as a lad to stow away on ship. "I'm looking for the man I love," she tells Jack, whose retort --"I'm flattered, sir" -- has a teasing kinkiness. When hottie fortune teller Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) comes on to Jack and Will with a question -- "Do you want to know me?" -- Jack shuts down her lascivious smirk with a quick, "They'll be no knowing here."
And there isn't. Dead Man's Chest has blockbuster fish to fry, which means nonstop action, including a cannibal cookout (Jack is garlanded with a necklace of severed toes), narrow escapes, cliff dangling, duels on a giant wheel, a fight for a harvested human heart and every trick the filmmakers could raid from Spielberg's Indiana Jones trilogy. Homage or ripoff? You be the judge. The important thing is that it works. And what works most devilishly is Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), the squid-faced captain of the Flying Dutchman who bargains for the souls of those he captures. Davy and his crew of the undead have lived underwater so long they look like something out of an aquarium. I don't have a clue how the computer wizards accomplished the visual miracles -- just wait till you see the Kraken, a giant sea monster who sucks entire ships down into Davy's locker -- but Nighy's performance as the buccaneer Jack calls "fish face" brims over with mirth and menace. With slimy tentacles wiggling around his head, Nighy blows away every other villain this summer. Not since Disney killed Bambi's mother (Nemo's too) has the studio Walt built upped the jolt ante so high on PG-13 entertainment. Kids may wet their pants, but so what? It's the triumphant rogue in Depp that keeps this pirate ship afloat and actually makes the third voyage (coming next summer) a trip worth booking.
'Who Killed the Electric Car?': Some Big Reasons the Electric Car Can't Cross the Road
A murder mystery, a call to arms and an effective inducement to rage, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" is the latest and one of the more successful additions to the growing ranks of issue-oriented documentaries. Like Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" and the better nonfiction inquiries into the war in Iraq, this information-packed history about the effort to introduce — and keep — electric vehicles on the road wasn't made to soothe your brow. For the film's director, Chris Paine, the evidence is too appalling and our air too dirty for palliatives.
Fast and furious, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" is, in brief, the sad tale of yet one more attempt by a heroic group of civic-minded souls to save the browning, warming planet. The story mostly unfolds during the 1990's, when a few automobile manufacturers, including General Motors, were prodded to pursue — only to sabotage covertly — a cleaner future. In 1990 the state's smog-busting California Air Resources Board adopted the Zero-Emission Vehicle mandate in a bid to force auto companies to produce exhaust-free vehicles. The idea was simple: we were choking to death on our own waste. The goals were seemingly modest: by 1998, 2 percent of all new cars sold in the biggest vehicle market in the country would be exhaust-free, making California's bumper-to-bumper lifestyle a touch less hellish.
Given that some companies, including G.M., were already creating prototypes for electric cars that could be mass produced, the mandate didn't seem unfeasible or unreasonable. Electric cars have been around about as long as the automobile and, believe it or not, Phyllis Diller. Mr. Paine's résumé is peppered with Hollywood credits, which may explain why, in addition to the usual expert talking heads, he has tapped so many celebrities and pseudo-celebrities.
Presumably Mr. Paine thinks audiences listen to the famous and almost famous, which is certainly the case with Ms. Diller, who delivers a nostalgic ode to the first electric vehicles while in front of an ornately framed painting of Bob Hope. Both the comedian and the filmmaker certainly know how to grab your attention.
Henry Ford and cheap oil helped keep electric cars off the road, leaving the fast-growing highway system to the spewing, sputtering internal-combustion engine. Oscillating between interviews and an array of punchy visuals, including industrial and nonfiction films, Mr. Paine lays out how the country's romance with gasoline-thirsty cars quickly turned into the craziest kind of love. By the 1950's, the zoom years of Jack Kerouac and James Dean, Los Angeles pedestrians who braved the city's streets could be seen covering their mouths with handkerchiefs, trying to filter the air. Many decades and smog alerts later, the state took bold action. What happened next, Mr. Paine explains, is a familiar story of corporate greed and governmental corruption, mixed in with flickers of idealism and outrage.
It's a story Mr. Paine tells with bite. In 1996 a Los Angeles newspaper reported that "the air board grew doubtful about the willingness of consumers to accept the cars, which carry steep price tags and have a limited travel range." Mr. Paine pushes beyond this ostensibly disinterested report, suggesting that one reason the board might have grown doubtful was because its chairman at the time, Alan C. Lloyd, had joined the California Fuel Cell Partnership. Established in 1999, this partnership is a joint effort of the federal and state agencies, fuel cell companies, car manufacturers like G.M. and energy peddlers like Exxon to explore the potential (note that word, potential) of vehicles powered by hydrogen-cell fuels.
Why would a company like Exxon back a zero-emission vehicle technology that — according to some of the authorities interviewed in the film, like Joseph J. Romm, an assistant secretary in the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration and author of "The Hype About Hydrogen" — is a long way from real-life roadways? The answers may not surprise you, particularly if you are predisposed to watching a film titled "Who Killed the Electric Car?," but they're eye-and-vein-popping nonetheless. As Mr. Paine forcefully makes clear, the story of the electric car is greater than one zippy ride and the people who loved it. From the polar ice caps to Los Angeles, where many cars truly are to die for, it is a story as big as life, and just as urgent.
"Who Killed the Electric Car?" is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). Revelations of big-business and government collusion may provoke shock, shock.
Who Killed the Electric Car?
Opens today in Manhattan
Directed by Chris Paine; edited by Michael Kovalenko and Chris A. Peterson; narrated by Martin Sheen; produced by Jessie Deeter; released by Sony Pictures Classics. Running time: 92 minutes.
Build a Backyard Theater
Want some real home theater bragging rights? Instead of buying a projector capable of casting a 14-foot image at 1080p (progressive) resolution—the highest high-definition there is—build one yourself. After all, the front projector’s innards are simple: an LCD lit by a superbright lamp, and a few lenses to magnify and sharpen the image. Retail models start at around $800 and use proprietary $400 lamps that burn out every few years. But cheaper lamps work equally well, and none of the other parts are very expensive. Why not put one together yourself?
That’s the logic that led Grayson Sigler to found Lumenlab three years ago. The company makes and sells kits for DIY projectors with $50 metal-halide lamps that last up to 10 times as long as those in commercial models. And Lumenlab’s forums are the hub of an 11,000-member community that trades tips and tricks, answers newbie questions, and posts photos of their beloved builds.
The tradeoff is that Lumenlab projectors are quite a bit larger than store- bought models, which use small LCD screens (the DIY version relies on a disassembled 15-inch computer monitor). Then there’s the considerable elbow grease. Stripping an LCD is delicate work, and you have to carefully construct your own case so the optics line up just right. But the finished box can be mounted anywhere and easily upgraded. Below is a breakdown of how PopSci photographer John Carnett built the one shown here. For an in-depth photo how-to, click here.
You could build a no-frills model with a basic enclosure for around $500. We added a few extra parts to make ours yard-friendly
Build Your Own Projector
Time: 25 Hours
Easy | | | | | Hard
1. Order the Mega Kit from lumenlab.com, which includes everything except the enclosure and the LCD.
2. Consult Lumenlab’s forums for a list of the best 15-inch LCD panels for the project. Find deals at froogle.com.
3. Build a case, or browse the forums to find others who will make one for you.
4. Strip the housing and backlight from the LCD, taking care not to rip any cables.
5. Position your lenses in the case to create the correct focal length for the projected image.
6. Add fans, and wire up the electronics.
7. Attach a video source, such as a DVD player or computer, and hit “play.”
Click here for the in-depth photo how-to.
News From The North
The TankGirl Diaries
Swedish Musician Union Launches a Sales Service For Its Members
Sydsvenskan reports how the professional union of Swedish musicians, Musikerförbundet, is opening a new payment service to help its members to sell their music directly from their homepages.
The union is tired to see its members being fooled in royalty payments by the record companies. "The Swedish musicians do not get as much as they should from the record companies", says Musikerförbundet's Jan Granvik. "It is very hard to keep track of the royalty money streams. The industry has built an unbelievably complex system, and the musicians are constantly cheated. They are an easy prey as they are the only ones in the business who do their work because it is fun - all the other parties are there just to make money."
The union is presently running an inspection on Swedish record company Mariann. A number of artists suspect they have been cheated in Mariann's royalty payments. Such inspections are rare though as they are costly to organize. Therefore Musikerförbundet has chosen a new strategy: the artists can now handle the selling of their music themselves.
The union invested 500,000 Swedish crowns (50,000 USD) to new software that can handle the sales of audio files, t-shirts and CDs so that the items are sold from the various homepages of the artists but the money transactions are handled centrally by the union itself. Both credit card and mobile phone payments are accepted. The money goes first to Musikförbundet which then passes it to the artists. The system will be immediately helpful for unsigned artists; most signed artists will not be able to use the service right away because they have given exclusive sales rights of their albums to their record labels. This does not worry Jan Granvik. "Only by setting up an alternative system can we attract a larger number of musicians."
Musikerförbundet hopes that their new service will help to turn things back into right track. "This is our way to face both the threat of illegal filesharing and the threat of unethical businessmen.", says Granvik.
New Study: Downloading Not The Reason For Movie Industry's Problems
Svenska Dagbladet reports about a new large study on Swedish media consumers conducted by the University of Gothenburg (Göteborg). The results from the new study question movie industry's claims that filesharing is the reason behind the falling trend in the movie theatre audiences.
"A downloaded film does not offer the same experience as going to movies. The study shows clearly that most people think the movies are at best in movie theatres. I personally believe that the movies people download are those that they would not go to see in theatres anyway", says Rudolf Antoni, a doctorate on journalism and mass communication reponsible for the study.
The results show that 18 % of those who download films go to movies at least once a month while only 9 % of those who never download movies visit movie theatres as often. In other words, filesharers are twice as active moviegoers compared to non-filesharers. Downloading is most common among 15-29 old males, but even in this net-savvy consumer group the results are not particularly alarming for the movie industry: those who download movies go to movies approximately as often as those who never download them.
The study does not support the idea of downloading hurting DVD sales either. Those who download movies from Internet consume about twice the amount of DVDs compared to non-downloaders.
A total of 3000 Swedes were included in the study; answers were received from 65 % of those being polled. The study was done in 2005 when no online movie services were yet available to Swedes. Svenska Filminstitutet (Swedish Film Institute), a major organization supporting the production of Swedish movies, was one of the sponsors of the study.
Pirate Movement Spreads to France and Italy
Political initiatives to set up official Pirate Parties following the Swedish model have taken place both in France and in Italy.
Here is the agenda of the French Pirate Party:
Pirate Party Rules In A Large Online Election Poll
Demokrati.nu ('democracy now') is a Swedish online poll website charting the popularity of the various parties in the coming September 18 election. The site, sponsored by several Swedish magazines, certifies with both IP numbers and e-mail that people vote only once. Voters are allowed to change their earlier vote anytime they wish.
Now that over 6000 people have voted, Pirate Party has a clear lead with 33.7 % of the votes. The Pirates are followed by liberal-conservative Moderate Party (17.9 %), main government party Social Democrats (13.9 %) and populist right-wing party Swedish Democrats (13.9 %).
It is obvious that this type of online poll favors parties with active, net-savvy supporters and does not thereby represent the entire population. On the other hand, the sample of 6000 voters is already quite large and starts to give indications of the national trends.
The figures are certain to cause worries to the strategists of the established parties. To prevent a dramatic loss of votes - especially among 400,000 first time voters - four of the seven parliamentary parties have already bent to support Pirate Party's demand to legalize private filesharing in Sweden. But the voters may still not find the old parties credible enough - after all, those same parties forced a new stricter copyright law on Sweden just a year ago. Pirates, on the other hand, are street credible, generally considered cool, and they come with a sharp, modern agenda for a better information society. The additional merit in their agenda is the unconditional decriminalization of 1.3 million Swedish filesharers - which may be a big factor in this particular election.
Another Large Online Poll Indicates Strong Support For Pirates
IDG.se, a major Swedish technology web portal with 1.2 million visitors, dedicated its 'Weekly Poll' to the coming September 18 election, asking how the readers plan to vote. A total of 5050 people participated in the poll, and the final results gave Pirate Party a convincing 39.4 % support. The combined support of Moderates, Liberal Party, Christian Democrats and Center Party (lumped together as 'Borgerligt Parti') was 36.2 %. The main government party Social Democrats got only 6.4 % support, and the combined support of the Greens and Left Party was 6 %. Together with demokrati.nu results, these figures are to cause even more worries to the established parties. The Pirates seem to enjoy strong popularity among the tech-savvy part of the Swedish population.
Swedish Prosecutor: "Pirate Bureau is Like IRA and Pirate Bay Like Its Armed Wing"
The courtroom controversy between the Swedish filesharing activists and the officials behind the Pirate Bay raid is getting pretty tough. In a trial where service provider PRQ demands its confiscated servers back from the police - they contain e.g. their customer database and information needed to pay taxes - the State Prosecutor Håkan Roswall made the following statement: "I don't know how to put it, but you could say that Piratbyrån is like IRA and The Pirate Bay is like its armed wing."
A statement like this demonstrates well how hard it is for some Swedish officials to accept the fact that there can be a genuine political movement that campaigns for a copyright reform. The prosecutor is unwilling to return the servers to PRQ claiming they are needed as evidence, even if the time would already have allowed to copy all relevant data to other computers for evidence purposes. A more obvious motivation is to hinder the operation of Piratbyrån, the ideological headquarters of the Swedish copyright reform movement.
Starting from last year, the entertainment industry lobbyists have campaigned actively to hijack the new European data retention laws - motivated solely by the fight against terrorism - to serve their own commercial interests at the expense of the taxpayer.
French Lawmakers Approve 'iTunes Law'
Laurence Frost and Nathalie Schuck
French lawmakers gave final approval Friday to legislation that could force Apple Computer Inc. to make its iPod and iTunes Music Store compatible with rivals' music players and online services.
Both the Senate and the National Assembly, France's lower house, voted in favor of the copyright bill, which some analysts said could cause Apple Computer Inc. and others to pull their music players and online download stores from France.
The vote was the final legislative step before the bill becomes law - barring the success of a last-ditch constitutional challenge filed last week by the opposition Socialists.
Currently, songs bought on iTunes can be played only on iPods, and an iPod can't play downloads from other stores that rival the extensive iTunes music catalog from major artists and labels - like Sony's Connect and Napster.
Apple described the original version of the copyright bill as "state-sponsored piracy" earlier this year, but a company spokesman was not immediately available to comment on Friday's vote.
In a statement issued after lawmakers hashed out the final compromise text last week, Apple said it hoped the market would be left to decide "which music players and online music stores are offered to consumers."
The final compromise asserts that companies should share the required technical data with any rival that wants to offer compatible music players and online stores, but it toned down many of the tougher measures backed by lower-house lawmakers early on.
It also maintained a loophole introduced by senators, which could allow Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple and others to dodge the data-sharing demands by striking new deals with record labels and artists.
Is It Illegal To Describe The Sporting Event You're Watching?
A few years back, there was a service launched that would let anyone become their own sports announcer. It let web users broadcast their own audio commentary of a sporting event over the web. I can't remember when I read about it, and don't know if it's still around at all -- but the idea was certainly intriguing. There certainly are some people who just can't stand certain professional sportscasters, and the opportunity to open up sports commentary to just about anyone is an interesting idea. Of course, that doesn't fit with the way most organized sports view themselves. We've discussed in the past how ruthless Major League Baseball has been in claiming it owns nearly all aspects of a game. At the time, one of the questions was whether or not it would be illegal to sit in the stands and "broadcast" an audio description of the game to a friend using a mobile phone. Sports leagues may claim it's illegal, but it seems unlikely that the courts would agree.
This issue is only going to get a lot more legal attention in the near future. As amateur to amateur content becomes more common, it's going to hit organized sports in ways they don't seem to realize. Take a look at the World Cup, for example. Again, this is an organized sporting event that has been quite aggressive in trying to protect all game-related content -- going so far as to pre-warn random websites not to rebroadcast games. However, with the means of production and distribution now reaching the hands of just about everyone (for example a cameraphone and YouTube) some are starting to wonder whether organized sports will be able to cope. It certainly raises some questions about the boundaries of what can actually be presented. Where is the line? Can I call someone and describe what I'm seeing? What if it's a videocall? What if there are two people on the line? Or 200? Or 2 million? It becomes increasingly difficult to figure out what's okay and what isn't when it's no longer just a few big broadcast companies at the table. It also could destroy the idea that one broadcaster gets exclusive rights to an event. If individuals are able to broadcast their own content from a game, how long will it be until other professional sports broadcasters start to ask why they can't just show up and broadcast on their own, even without securing the "rights". If the events of a game are considered facts that are part of a news story -- what's to stop just about anyone, professional or amateur, from sending out their own version of the game?
Downloading Empathy to Your iPod
Online Playlist Creators Search for Catharsis, Discover a Marketplace
Justine Saylors is an accidental DJ on a mission.
Six months ago, she was a grieving mom spending hour after hour on Apple's iTunes online music service, downloading songs to match her sorrow. Josh Groban's "Remember" became a particular favorite, with its "Bolero"-like refrain "Remember/I will still be here/As long as you hold me/in your memory/Remember me." It made her think of her son, Lance Kowalski, who died in October 2003 at the age of 13.
Saylors was deep in "the grief pit" nearly two years after her son's death, she wrote in a recent e-mail exchange with a reporter.
"I sat outside with my iPod blaring it over and over," she recalled. "My world revolved around him, and when he was gone it crushed me beyond belief. There are times still when I miss him so much, I find myself holding my breath."
Last summer the 44-year old Lake Oswego, Ore., resident discovered iMixes -- music playlists compiled by iTunes users, then uploaded and shared with other customers. Soon she was typing words and phrases such as "bereavement" and "death of a child" into the iMix search tool, then sampling and in many cases buying songs at 99 cents a pop from the lists that turned up.
By the time another October arrived, Saylors had amassed a sizable collection of some of the most heartbreaking music to be found on iTunes. And nearly all of it had been recommended not by professional critics or some sort of Amazonian collaborative filtering bot, but by people who -- judging from notes posted with their iMixes or just the song selections alone -- seemed to Justine to be much like herself: hurting, missing someone special, reaching out.
The result was a personal playlist of songs that Lance would sing along to, that were used in soundtracks of home movies taken in his final months, that were played at his funeral, and that she could cry to after.
Today, Saylors is herself one of the more visible iMix creators, and in recent months iTunes users have rated hers among the best of the more than 300,000 lists available on the service. In searching for a way to cope with her loss and create awareness of neuroblastoma, the pediatric cancer that claimed her son, she became part of a phenomenon that some researchers predict will dramatically change the online music business before the decade is out.
'Something Important Going On'
IMixes -- as well as playlists on other services such as Rhapsody, Musicstrands and Soundflavor -- are the online cousins of amateur cassette-tape and CD mixes created over the years by countless music collectors as soundtracks for parties and road trips. Many of the playlists focus on a theme -- and many of those on a personal one, whether the subject is a lost love, a class reunion, a nasty breakup, duty in Iraq or a new romance.
Even late, lamented radio stations merit personal tributes. The old WHFS, an alternative-rock pioneer for decades on Baltimore-Washington area airwaves before changing to a Spanish-language format in early 2005, is the theme of more than a dozen current iTunes playlists.
But as personal and private as they can be, such playlists are expected to have a significant impact on online music distribution and sales, according to one recent study by market research firm Gartner Inc. and Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. By the year 2010, the study predicts, 25 percent of online music-store transactions will be driven by people like Saylors.
Not that Saylors and others like her go into it thinking about driving transactions for Apple, said Harvard researcher Derek Slater, co-author of the study "Consumer Taste Sharing Is Driving the Online Music Business and Democratizing Culture." And not that driving transactions is the only benefit the researchers see.
"Even if we're wrong in our prediction by however many percentage points, there is something important going on culturally here," said Slater, who also frequently writes on the subject in his blog, "A Copyfighter's Musings." Saylors and others like her may constitute a new breed of music "tastemakers," he argues.
"Instead of primarily disc jockeys and music videos shaping how we view music, we have a greater opportunity to hear from each other," he and Gartner researcher Mike McGuire wrote in their December study. "These [playlist] tools allow people to play a greater role in shaping culture, which, in turn, shapes themselves. In this way, recommendation tools encourage music fans to engage in expressive acts, becoming creators."
Rebecca Tushnet, a professor with Georgetown University Law Center, has studied and written about playlists and mix CDs from an intellectual-property perspective. Her conclusion: The creation of a playlist or mix CD of music composed by others is a creative act in itself, a form of free speech.
"It is an important means of self-expression," she says. "The motivation is an urge to say, 'This is who I am, and you can find out who I am by knowing what I love.'"
Anatomy of a Playlist
Saylors built her collection by cherry-picking from iMix playlists with names like "Long Drive From a Funeral." (Links to playlists will only work for iTunes users.) The list's compiler notes that "Long Drive" consists of "songs I recorded to listen to while driving back from my son's funeral. A weird assortment." Sample songs: "Melissa" by the Allman Brothers, "The Lady in Red" by Chris De Burgh, and "Vissi D'arte, Vissi D'amore" featuring Leontyne Price, from the album "20 Great Soprano Arias".
Saylors also found "Grief -- Love Carries You Through" (iMixer note: "On June 6th my twin girls, Riley and Dylan, were born too early to survive. In the last month with the help of other grieving parents, I have compiled these songs that touch my heart, comfort my soul and bring tears to my eyes." Sample songs: "Believe" by Brooks and Dunn, "Angels in Waiting" by Tammy Cochran, and "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack) and "Born to Be an Angel -- In Memory of Nathaniel Joseph 03/24/05" (iMixer note: "This mix of songs is dedicated to my Angel. ... He was diagnosed with anencephaly, and could not live outside of my womb." Sample songs: "Godspeed" by the Dixie Chicks, "Who You'd Be Today" by Kenny Chesney, and "Glory Baby" by Watermark).
"I would literally try to find the biggest tear-jerkers," Saylors said.
Around the second anniversary of her son's death, she decided to try her own hand at iMixing. "The songs on the first list are all songs that I could relate to, and also some of the songs that Lance loved by the Back Street Boys," she said. Other tracks include "Slumber My Darling" by Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma and "Only Time" by Enya .
"But," said Saylors, "the one that really stands out is Van Morrison's 'Have I told You Lately,' because I used to sing that to Lance all of his life."
The result was "Missing My Son, Lance," with an iMix note that reads: "This is a list I have created in honor of the best person I have ever known and miss so, so terribly." The 45-song expression of parental grief quickly became one of the service's top 10 user-ranked iMixes, much to Saylors's surprise. "I was literally stunned," she recalled in late December.
'I Found You on iTunes'
Among those supporters was Carla Wessel of St. Petersburg, Fla., the mother of Nathaniel Joseph, who had posted her "Born to be an Angel" iMix last spring.
A month before Nathaniel's due date in early 2005, Wessel was told her son would not survive childbirth. A diagnosis of anencephaly meant Nathaniel's brain failed to form. "The head stopped above the eyes and ears," Wessel said in a recent phone call, explaining the cap worn by Nathaniel in hospital photos taken soon after delivery.
With weeks to prepare for the inevitable, Wessel turned to iMix and downloaded songs to help her get through. "I chose songs that had words that would be appropriate to the situation," she said. "And some people mentioned songs they liked, so I downloaded them."
Though she made the playlist for herself initially, she soon decided to post it for the benefit of others. "I can't write a song, I can't write a poem, but this helps," she explained. "Whenever I find something that has helped me, I share it."
On the opposite coast, in the opposite corner of the country, Saylors came across Wessel's playlist while compiling her own collection several months later. "I downloaded a few from her mix and rated it five stars. That is how Carla and I got in touch via e-mail."
And Wessel, in turn, encouraged Saylors to continue iMixing in memory of Lance.
"Seeing the attention it was getting, and the attention for pediatric cancer, it's been a trip," said Saylors. She has gone on to post "Missing My Son Lance" parts 2, 3, 4 and 5, drawing in part from suggestions offered by the scores of visitors who have signed the guestbook of Lance's memorial site since her first playlist was first published.
"I found you on iTunes," wrote Jerry of Nashville. "Your story made me hug my son just a little tighter tonight. May God bless and keep you wrapped in his loving arms."
"I found the site on iTunes," wrote Stuart of Boca Raton, Fla. "My eyes are filled with tears."
Wrote Matt of Shreveport, La., "I never thought in a million years something so powerful as your words and dedication to your son would be discovered on a music download service."
And this, say Slater and McGuire, is what they're getting at when they write of personal playlists "democratizing culture."
"Once they find others that have similar or at least interesting tastes, consumers might interact with each other," the two wrote in their December study. "Some of these interactions may be simple and fleeting, but others may help form stronger bonds.
"To the extent the tools can create bonds between people, the creation of these communities may have beneficial spill-over effects into the rest of our lives."
Benefits of Self-Expression
The current percentage of sales driven by playlists is hard to pin down, according to McGuire. But with some 10 million credit cards reported on account with iTunes last quarter and the number of individual playlists approaching 400,000, McGuire said, "it is still a relatively small amount." ITunes does not have information about iMixes' effect on sales, according to spokeswoman Amy Gardner.
What is clear though, McGuire said, is that personal playlists are having an impact. "I don't think they'd keep it up if they weren't," said McGuire, citing as further evidence Yahoo's purchase in recent weeks of the music playlist service Webjay and the hiring of its creator, Lucas Gonze.
Enabling users to essentially recommend music purchases to others underscores that music is something worth paying for online, according to McGuire. "Over the long haul, these kinds of tools continue to place value on the music for consumers."
Besides encouraging purchases rather than piracy, playlists also serve to surface obscure or forgotten songs. "We now have access to music far beyond what the typical Wal-Mart would carry," said Slater. "How do you navigate that range of music? By exploring playlists created by people who share your tastes."
"The [music] industry needs to take a look at playlists and really rethink its approach to distribution. Turning individuals into tastemakers can be a good thing," said Slater, who sees a day when playlist creators become licensed distributors. "I'm not saying it's easy, but I do think it's necessary and beneficial for the industry to pursue."
In addition to the economic upside, the researchers see cultural plusses, as well. "There is the benefit of allowing me or any individual a way to place a stamp on the culture," said McGuire.
"For example, I can create a playlist that expresses my distaste and disdain for the war in Iraq," he said. And that playlist may include tracks recognized as protest songs as well as songs that might not be recognized as such, but in the context of the list they take on new meaning -- "the way I order it, the works I put in there."
Tushnet uses song lyrics for further illustration. Her "favorite footnote" in her December 2004 Yale Law Journal paper "Steal This Essay" quotes from "Avenue Q" and the band Semisonic to make her point that playlists provide a unique emotional outlet: "Sometimes when someone/Has a crush on you/They'll make you a mix tape/To give you a clue" and "Got your tape and it changed my mind/Heard your voice between the lines."
"These folks just enjoy and are passionate about music and like to be the Lewis and Clark, if you will, about music among their friends," McGuire said. "It's a statement of self."
Slater concurs: "This is not just something people are throwing together haphazardly. Music is important to our identity, our shared experience of culture, whether mass culture or niche culture, but also to the way we see ourselves -- what are my tastes? What am I about? It's a process of identity forming at its core."
McGuire is following up the December study with more research into what motivates playlist publishers and consumers. "Of those who look for opportunities to publish their tastes in music, more than two-thirds said they did so simply because they 'wanted to share the music they like with their friends.' So they're not looking for fame [or] fortune," he said of creators like Saylors and Wessel.
As for those who look to playlists for recommendations, McGuire has found that 20 percent said they preferred consumer recommendations over a professional DJ's, and 35 percent said they preferred the recommendations of like-minded individuals. And while those numbers don't constitute a majority, said McGuire, "it is a healthy chunk of people."
McGuire describes his work as identifying the "early indicators" of change, and views these baseline numbers as strong ones. "By supplementing and augmenting traditional tastemakers," he says, playlist creators "are adding a digital spin to word of mouth." These "new mediators and tastemakers," he continued, can exert a very strong influence, and their influence can be much larger than their immediate circle of friends."
"This," according to Slater, "is potentially a watershed moment."
For individuals such as Saylors and Wessel, though, the creation of a playlist marks a much more personal watershed moment. Among the things the two women have in common is that they listen to their own playlists often. It's a form of therapy, they say -- a step toward healing.
"There are times I can listen to them without tears, other times I listen to them when I'm in the grief pit and it allows me to cry," Saylors said. "Doing these iMixes got me through the holiday season."
Wessel listens to "Born to Be an Angel" periodically to check her state of mind.
"I make myself listen to it to put myself in that space," she said. "It's kind of a gauge for me to see where I am, to see what kind of shape I'm in. I can sit back and think about the blessing that I had. If I listen to it 10 times and haven't cried for 10 times, then I know I'm on a pretty good stretch."
And by sharing her gauge online, Wessel is doing her part to help others cope with personal tragedy. "A loss is a loss no matter what," she said, "and I think music can help all losses."
As for Saylors, playlists have helped her do more than get through the holidays. They have given her renewed purpose.
"Ive been obsessed with it, I guess," she said, shortly after publishing "Pediatric Cancer Survivor," a playlist commemorating one neuroblastoma patient's third year of remission. "I felt so bad since Lance died because I hadn't really done anything for the fight. I've been so grief-stricken."
But, she said, " I think since iTunes is so huge, people are seeing these Web sites about kids who are dying of cancer. So that's my goal, to get the word out. This is really one of the first things that's gotten me on a roll."
Arrests Made in '05 LexisNexis Data Breach
Five Men Charged With Aggravated ID Theft of Thousands of Personal Records
Federal authorities last week arrested five men in connection with a 2005 database breach at LexisNexis Group that the database giant said led to the theft of personal records on more than 310,000 individuals.
Some of the accused individuals, who range in age from 19 to 24, were also involved in the theft last year of revealing photos and other information from hotel heiress Paris Hilton's cell phone, and in using stolen or illegally created accounts at LexisNexis subsidiaries to look up Social Security numbers and other personal information on dozens of other Hollywood celebrities.
Copies of the indictments filed against two of the men and reviewed by a washingtonpost.com reporter indicate the government plans to charge all five suspects with "aggravated identity theft," which is defined as the use of a stolen identity to commit other crimes. Under a law passed in July 2004, persons found guilty of aggravated identity theft receive a mandatory two-year prison sentence in addition to any penalties for related crimes.
The indictment names Jason Daniel Hawks, 24, of Winston Salem, N.C.; Zachary Wiley Mann, 19, of Maple Grove, Minn.; Timothy C. McKeage, 21, of Woonsocket, R.I.; Justin A. Perras, 19, of New Bedford, Mass.; and Jeffrey Robert Weinberg, 21, of Laguna Beach, Calif. The men also face charges of conspiracy and computer fraud.
The government alleges that on two dates in January and March 2005, McKeage (known online by the hacker alias "Krazed") compromised a computer belonging to an officer in the Port Orange (Fla.) Police Department and used the department's credentials to access records at Accurint, a database service for law enforcement and legal professionals offered by Seisint, a Florida-based subsidiary of LexisNexis. The indictment charges that McKeage used that access to create even more user accounts, which he then allegedly shared with the other co-defendants.
The complaint also alleges that at that same time, Perras --- online alias "Null," --- gained access to an Accurint account belonging to a police department in Denton County, Texas, by impersonating a LexisNexis employee.
The government charges that the five men used the stolen Accurint accounts to look up sensitive data on a number of individuals. The victims are named only by their initials in the indictment.
But according to interviews washingtonpost.com had with at least three of the accused, the group accessed information on Hilton, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), and actors Laurence Fishburne and Demi Moore.
Perras said Friday that he admitted to U.S. Secret Service agents last February that all of the charges against him in the government's complaint were true. But he said no one in the group used the information obtained through Accurint for illegal purposes.
Reached by phone at the home of a friend in New Bedford, Mass., Perras said, "There was never any malicious intent. We were just a bunch of kids goofing around. No one was planning on stealing anyone's identities."
In May 2005, washingtonpost.com reported on the role of one of Perras's friends -- a minor -- in the hacking of Paris Hilton's cell phone. That individual -- whom washingtonpost.com is not naming because he is still a minor -- is currently serving an 11-month sentence in a Massachusetts juvenile detention center after pleading guilty to his role in the Hilton phone hack, among other charges.
Zach Mann, another one of the young men arrested last week, said he attended Central Lakes College in Minnesota last semester but said he doesn't plan to return to school next year, regardless of the outcome of his trial. In a phone interview with washingtonpost.com, Mann admitted that he looked up the personal information of several celebrities -- including Fishburne's. But he denied that anyone in the group ever tried to profit from any of the information they looked up using the stolen Accurint accounts.
But when asked whether he had any regrets or misgivings about his actions, Mann --- known in hacker circles by the online handle "Majy" --- was defiant.
"I'd do it safer, because way too many people involved were talking about it," Mann said. "I don't think what we did was that bad. We never used anyone's identity. Besides, don't you think it's wrong that a company like that has all this information that's available to anyone who's willing to pay for it?"
The five men are ordered to appear in a West Palm Beach, Fla., courtroom for a pre-trial hearing on July 12, and all are currently free on bond.
A spokesperson for the Secret Service declined to comment, referring inquiries to the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of Florida, which could not be reached for comment as of press time. LexisNexis officials did not return calls seeking comment.
Government Says Stolen VA Laptop Recovered
The government has recovered the stolen laptop computer and hard drive containing sensitive data for up to 26.5 million veterans and military personnel, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said Thursday.
Nicholson said law enforcement officials were still investigating to determine whether data from the equipment, which included names, birth dates and Social Security numbers, had been duplicated or utilized in any way.
So far, he said there have been no reports of identity theft stemming from the May 3 burglary at a VA employee's Maryland home.
"There is reason to be optimistic," Nicholson told a House committee at the opening of a hearing on one of the worst breaches of information security. "There is not a certainty, but we have to remain hopeful they have not been compromised."
Nicholson offered no immediate details on how the laptop was recovered. He acknowledged that the burglary "has brought to the light of day some real deficiencies in the manner we handled personal data."
"If there's a redeeming part of this, I think we can turn this around," he said.
Newly discovered documents show that the VA analyst blamed for losing the laptop had received permission to work from home with data that included millions of Social Security numbers and other personal information on veterans and military personnel.
"From the start, the VA has acted as if the theft was a PR problem that had to be managed, not fully confronted," said Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif. "They're trying to pin it on this one guy, but I think it's other people we need to be looking at."
The documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the data analyst, whose name was being withheld, had approval as early as Sept. 5, 2002, to use special software at home that was designed to manipulate large amounts of data.
A separate agreement, dated Feb. 5, 2002, from the office of the assistant secretary for policy and planning, allowed the worker to access Social Security numbers for millions of veterans.
A third document, also issued in 2002, gave the analyst permission to take a laptop computer and accessories for work outside of the VA building.
"These data are protected under the Privacy Act," one document states. The analyst is the "lead programmer within the Policy Analysis Service and as such needs access to real Social Security numbers."
The department said last month it was in the process of firing the data analyst, who is now challenging the dismissal.
VA officials have said the firing was justified because the analyst violated department procedure by taking the data home. They also said he was "grossly negligent" in handling sensitive information.
However, Filner noted that the employee had informed supervisors of the theft immediately after the crime, while supervisors waited nearly three weeks to inform the public on May 22. Nicholson himself was informed on May 16.
"The gross negligence in this case are the people above him," said Filner, the acting top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Veterans groups and lawmakers from both parties have criticized the VA for the theft and noted years of warnings by auditors that information security was lax. Some veterans also have filed suit in federal court, seeking $1,000 in damages — or up to $26.5 billion total — for privacy violations.
FTC Laptops Stolen, Along With Personal Data
Computers were stolen from a locked vehicle, government agency says.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is notifying 110 people that two laptop computers containing their personal data were stolen from a locked vehicle.
The information includes individuals' names, addresses, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and "in some cases, financial account numbers," the regulatory agency said this week.
The laptops are password protected, and the FTC said it had no reason to think the data on the laptops, rather than the laptops themselves, was the target of theft.
Those affected include defendants in current and past FTC cases. The agency was sending letters to them with information about how to limit their risk of identity theft and offering a year of free credit monitoring.
It's only the latest case in which sensitive information has been lost on government computers.
In May, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said personal data for 26.5 million veterans may have been compromised after a break-in at an analyst's home.
The analyst had violated a department security policy by taking home the sensitive data. The incident prompted calls for all government agencies to adhere more closely to the Federal Information Security Management Act.
Navy Finds Data on Thousands of Sailors on Web Site
Navy officials discovered this week that personal information on nearly 28,000 sailors and family members was compromised when it appeared on a Web site, fueling more concerns about the security of sensitive information belonging to federal employees.
Five spreadsheet files of data -- including names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of sailors and their relatives -- were found exposed on a Web site Thursday night during routine internal sweeps of the Internet for sensitive material, said Lt. Justin Cole, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel. He said the material was removed from the Web site within two hours.
"It was information you don't want on a public Web site," Cole said. "But there was no indication it was being used for illegal purposes."
The potential security breach is one of several losses of important personal data reported in Washington in recent weeks, part of an unusual string of thefts and Internet hacks that have compromised information belonging to millions of federal workers. Five other agencies and the D.C. government have reported similar problems since the beginning of May.
The largest breach occurred May 9, when a Department of Veterans Affairs laptop computer and external hard drive were stolen from an Aspen Hill home, a theft that officials said included personal information on up to 26.5 million retirees and active-duty personnel. There was no indication the thief was targeting the information.
Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office said it removed from its Web site archival records with names and Social Security numbers on fewer than 1,000 government workers.
Earlier this week, the Agriculture Department reported that data on as many as 26,000 employees had been compromised by a hacker. A laptop containing data on 13,000 D.C. workers and retirees was stolen last week. The Energy Department said that similar data for 1,500 employees may have been accessed by a hacker in September, and Internal Revenue Service officials said a laptop containing names, Social Security numbers and fingerprints of 291 employees and applications was misplaced in May.
In the Navy case, officials are unsure how the information ended up on an insecure Web site, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is looking into whether the person who posted it was supposed to have access to the data. Cole said it is possible the information was posted inadvertently.
The Navy plans to contact the people affected and urge them to closely monitor bank and credit card accounts for fraudulent activity.
Congress is considering a measure that would pay for credit monitoring for those affected by the VA data loss. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) called yesterday for the Defense Department to provide immediate free credit monitoring for sailors who may have been affected by the Internet posting.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Markey said the incident "raises serious questions about the nature and adequacy of privacy protections afforded to active duty military personnel, their families, and military veterans."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, applauded the Navy's speedy response to get the information removed from public view.
Cole said sailors may contact the Navy Personnel Command call center to determine whether their names were on the compromised list: 866-827-5672.
Used Hard Drives Retain Data in eBay Sale
Utility scrambles to recover customer records mistakenly released on unscrubbed disks.
Anybody with five bucks and a little patience may be able to score sensitive corporate data on eBay.
Organizations engaging in the common practice of disk drive recycling--selling unneeded disk drives directly or through a service--may find that company data winds up for sale on eBay's auction site, even if the drives have been wiped first.
Idaho Power found itself in that situation last week as it attempted to track down unscrubbed company disk drives that had been sold on eBay.
The drives contained confidential employee information, correspondence with customers, and memos that discussed proprietary company information, the company said.
The Boise, Idaho-based utility supplies electricity to approximately 460,000 customers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon.
Idaho Power said it hired Grant Korth of Nampa, Idaho, to recycle about 230 SCSI drives. Korth sold 84 of those drives to 12 parties, which have not been disclosed by the company, using the eBay Web site. The remaining 146 drives were returned to Idaho Power, the company said.
Korth declined to comment on the situation.
Search and Retrieval
Idaho Power has received assurance from ten of the 12 parties that bought drives over eBay that the hardware would be returned or the data on them would not be saved or distributed. The other two parties are still being tracked down, the company said.
An Idaho Power spokesperson said the company has hired a Seattle law firm, Blank Law & Technology, to launch an investigation to determine what information was on the affected drives and why they weren't scrubbed as required.
Typically, Idaho Power either destroys drives or scrubs them to Department of Defense standards, the spokesperson said. In this case, the salvage vendor was to have scrubbed the drives to DOD standards, he said.
The company said it will not know what regulatory penalties it may face until the investigation is completed.
In the meantime, Idaho Power has implemented a new policy that calls for drives to be destroyed rather than sold for salvage. That's the type of policy advocated by Simson Garfinkel, a postdoctorate fellow at Harvard University's Center for Research on Computation and Society who has researched the issue.
"The resale value of a hard drive is really minuscule," he said. "These things are worth $5 to $20 each. I don't think anyone's buying them on the secondary market for extortion, but you never know."
Frances O'Brien, an analyst at Gartner, said the distribution of drives carrying unscrubbed data is commonplace. "It happens all the time," she said. Typically, a user either doesn't know to clean the drives or doesn't do it correctly, she said.
Aside from the financial concerns related to losing data, organizations that improperly recycle disk drives can run afoul of a number of federal regulations, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, O'Brien said.
In addition, such incidents could lead to significant penalties in states like California and New York that have broad privacy regulations, said Robert Houghton, president of Redemtech, a Columbus, Ohio-based outsourcer.
When a company hires an outsourcer--which is a practice Gartner recommends--it needs to be aware of the outsourcer's methods for cleansing data, O'Brien said. "If everyone else is charging $20 and someone says they'll do it for $2," he said, "you've got to wonder why."
OMB Sets Guidelines for Federal Employee Laptop Security
The Bush administration is giving federal civilian agencies 45 days to implement new measures to protect the security of personal information that agencies hold on millions of employees and citizens.
The new security guidelines, issued Friday by the White House Office of Management and Budget, cap a month marked by data thefts or disclosures at five different agencies that compromised Social Security numbers and other private data on millions of people.
To comply with the new policy, agencies will have to encrypt all data on laptop or handheld computers unless the data are classified as "non-sensitive" by an agency's deputy director. Agency employees also would need two-factor authentication -- a password plus a physical device such as a key card -- to reach a work database through a remote connection, which must be automatically severed after 30 minutes of inactivity.
Finally, agencies would have to begin keeping detailed records of any information downloaded from databases that hold sensitive information, and verify that those records are deleted within 90 days unless their use is still required.
OMB said agencies are expected to have the measures in place within 45 days, and that it would work with agency inspectors general to ensure compliance. It stopped short of calling the changes "requirements," choosing instead to label them "recommendations" that were intended "to compensate for the protections offered by the physical security controls when information is removed from, or accessed from outside of the agency location."
That careful distinction indicates that the administration is under pressure to respond to the recent string of data mishaps, but that it could not quickly pull all the political and financial strings usually tied to regulatory mandates, according to James Lewis, director of technology and public policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"The encryption and authentication measures mean agencies are going to have to spend money that they weren't planning to spend, and so in that way it's probably easier for [OMB] to get a recommendation out than [a] command," Lewis said. "That said, this is more of an implied threat, because you usually don't threaten agencies with their inspector general unless you intend to lean on them."
"The safeguards that the White House is calling for are excellent," said Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute, a security training group based in Bethesda, Md.. However, Paller said, agencies are likely to become preoccupied with a document attached to the memo that spells out nearly a dozen new "action items" devised by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST).
"The sad thing is that NIST grasped defeat from jaws of victory by crafting a document that requires agencies to spend a lot of time and tens of thousands of dollars in studies to figure out what to do next."
The new guidelines (viewable here as a PDF document) also drew a strong reaction from House Government Reform Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), whose panel has awarded government-wide cyber-security efforts a grade of D-plus or worse for the past four years in a row.
"I sincerely hope this action leads to both better results and better practices -- and if not, perhaps Congress will have to step in and mandate specific security requirements," Davis said in a statement.
The recent string of data incidents began May 22, when the Department of Veterans Affairs disclosed that a laptop and external hard drive -- including the unencrypted names, Social Security numbers and birth dates for about 26.5 million veterans -- were stolen earlier in the month from the home of a VA employee.
On June 5, the Internal Revenue Service said a missing laptop contained the Social Security numbers, fingerprints and names of 291 employees and IRS job applicants. Two weeks later the Agriculture Department revealed that a hacker had broken into its network and stolen names, Social Security numbers and photos of some 26,000 employees and contractors in the Washington area.
Then on Thursday the Federal Trade Commission -- an agency whose mission includes consumer protection and occasionally involves suing companies for negligence in protecting customer information -- said it lost a pair of laptops that contained Social Security numbers and financial data related to different law enforcement investigations.
That same day, the Navy said it was investigating how Social Security numbers and other personal data for 28,000 sailors and family members wound up on a civilian Web site.
Sale of Digital Security Firm Said to Be Near
Andrew Ross Sorkin and John Markoff
RSA Security, a pioneering digital security company, quietly put itself up for sale several months ago and is now near a deal with EMC or at least one other bidder, people involved in the auction process said last night.
A deal, possibly worth more than $1.8 billion, could be reached in a few days, these people said. The company has a market value of $1.46 billion.
RSA's board is expected to meet before the weekend to review final bids, these people said. They cautioned, however, that it remained possible that RSA could still decide against a sale.
It could not be learned last night who was competing against EMC, the data storage giant.
RSA, based in Bedford, Mass., makes physical security cards under the SecurID brand that are widely used in authentication systems at corporations around the world. The company is also active in developing antifraud technologies and a variety of encryption systems.
RSA takes its name from the initials of its three founders: Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adelman. The three, who are academic researchers, are leading figures in the field of cryptography who developed an important algorithm in a technology known as public key cryptography.
The company became a commercial success largely through the efforts of an early chief executive, Jim Bidzos, who became an outspoken advocate of commercial cryptography in the face of government opposition. He struck an early deal to use RSA technology in the Netscape browser.
Today, the company has $322 million in annual revenue and $40.5 million in net income.
RSA is widely known for sponsoring the RSA Security conference, a trade show and conference that has become the focus of the computer security industry.
Shares of the RSA closed yesterday at $19.36, up 15 cents.
Analysis Finds e-Voting Machines Vulnerable
Most of the electronic voting machines widely adopted since the disputed 2000 presidential election "pose a real danger to the integrity of national, state and local elections," a report out Tuesday concludes.
There are more than 120 security threats to the three most commonly purchased electronic voting systems, the study by the Brennan Center for Justice says. For what it calls the most comprehensive review of its kind, the New York City-based non-partisan think tank convened a task force of election officials, computer scientists and security experts to study e-voting vulnerabilities.
The study, which took more than a year to complete, examined optical scanners and touch-screen machines with and without paper trails. Together, the three systems account for 80% of the voting machines that will be used in this November's election.
While there have been no documented cases of these voting machines being hacked, Lawrence Norden, who chaired the task force and heads the Brennan Center's voting-technology assessment project, says there have been similar software attacks on computerized gambling slot machines.
"It is unrealistic to think this isn't something to worry about" in terms of future elections, he says.
The report comes during primary season amid growing concerns about potential errors and tampering. Lawsuits have been filed in at least six states to block the purchase or use of computerized machines.
Election officials in California and Pennsylvania recently issued urgent warnings to local polling supervisors about potential software problems in touch-screen voting machines after a test in Utah uncovered vulnerabilities in machines made by Diebold Election Systems.
North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold did not return calls for comment. The company, a major manufacturer of e-voting machines, said earlier this month that security flaws cited in its machines were theoretical and would be addressed this year.
The new threat analysis does not address specific machines or companies. Instead, it "confirms the suspicions about electronic voting machines that people may have had from individual reports" of problems, Norden says.
Among the findings:
•Using corrupt software to switch votes from one candidate to another is the easiest way to attack all three systems. A would-be hacker would have to overcome many hurdles to do this, the report says, but none "is insurmountable."
•The most vulnerable voting machines use wireless components open to attack by "virtually any member of the public with some knowledge and a personal digital assistant." Only New York, Minnesota and California ban wireless components.
•Even electronic systems that use voter-verified paper records are subject to attack unless they are regularly audited.
•Most states have not implemented election procedures or countermeasures to detect software attacks.
"There are plenty of vulnerabilities that can and should be fixed before the November election," says David Jefferson, a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory computer scientist who served on the task force. "Whether they will or not remains to be seen."
The report said state election officials could improve voting-machine security if they conduct routine audits comparing voter- verified paper trails to the electronic record and ban wireless components in voting machines.
"A voting system that is not auditable contains the seeds of destruction for a democracy," says Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., a chief sponsor of a bill to improve electronic-voting security.
Voting Machine Technician Fired In Mishap
Leflore, Jackson had problems
A voting machine technician has been dismissed due to problems with the Leflore County machines in last week's Democratic primary, officials say.
The touch-screen machines, made by Diebold, were being used for the first time in the Tuesday primary.
"The voting machines in Leflore County were not set up right," said David Blount, a spokesman for Secretary of State Eric Clark. "They were not set up for each voting precinct. That led to the problems we had. The technician, employed by Diebold, should have caught and corrected any mistakes. That's what they are for."
Edward Course, chairman of the Leflore County Election Commission, identified the technician as Lorenzo Millsaps of Canton. Millsaps could not be contacted for comment on Monday.
After the polls opened, reports came in that machines weren't working throughout the county. Some machines were down for several hours, which forced election workers to use paper ballots.
Jesse Ross, chairman of the county Democratic Executive Committee, declined to comment on the firing.
On Friday, Ross and others finished certifying primary results. The new touch-screen system was used in 77 counties in the state for the primary. Each county was assigned a Diebold technician, Blount said.
Millsaps had been in Leflore County as a technician since May 6, Course said.
Course said the machines in the county were set up in a "post-election mode" when polls opened on Tuesday. For the machines to work properly, he said, they needed to be set up in "election mode."
Although there were some common problems associated with the primary across the state, the only two counties with major voting machine problems were Leflore and Jackson, Blount said.
The problems with the machines in Jackson County were not related to human error, he said.
"The Diebold folks, over the whole state, have done a very good job," Blount said.
He said officials consider the accuracy of the new machines to be critical in gaining the public's acceptance and use of them and that's why Millsaps was fired.
"We want to hold people accountable. We are insistent that things work right." Blount said. "Overall, we were very pleased. We want to make sure it is right in every county."
U.S. Unprepared For Net Meltdown, Blue Chips Warn
The United States has never experienced a massive Internet outage, but a coalition of dynamic chief executives said Friday that the nation must do more to prepare for that prospect.
The cautionary document (click here for PDF) was a product of the Business Roundtable, whose 160 corporate members include companies ranging from Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems to General Motors, Home Depot and Coca-Cola. All told, the group's high-rolling membership counts $4.5 trillion in annual revenues, more than 10 million employees and nearly a third the total value of the U.S. stock market.
Experts remain divided on the likelihood that a "cyber Katrina" will occur, as the round table itself acknowledges. But many sectors of the economy continue to urge the government to be better prepared should such an event occur.
Without proper planning, myriad industries--from health care to transportation to financial services--could face devastation if a natural disaster, terrorist or hacker succeeded in disrupting Net access, they said.
"There is no national policy on why, when and how the government would intervene to reconstitute portions of the Internet or to respond to a threat or attack," the report said. Private-sector companies may have individual readiness plans, but they aren't prepared to work together on a wide scale to restore normal activity, the businesses said.
The report called for the government to take a number of actions:
• Set up a global advance-warning mechanism, akin to those broadcasted for natural disasters, for Internet disruptions
• Issue a policy that clearly defines the roles of business and government representatives in the event of disruptions
• Establish formal training programs for response to cyberdisasters
• Allot more federal funding for cybersecurity protection
The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, or US-CERT, which bears primary responsibility for coordinating responses to cyberattacks, receives on average $70 million per year, or about 0.2 percent of the entire U.S. Department of Homeland Security budget, the report noted.
The suggestions drew praise from the Cyber Security Industry Alliance. That organization, composed of computer security companies, has long been lobbying for additional actions by Congress and the Bush administration in the cybersecurity realm.
"A massive cyberdisruption could have a cascading, long-term impact, without adequate coordination between government and the private sector," said Paul Kurtz, the alliance's executive director. "The stakes are too high for continued government inaction."
Homeland Security has borne the brunt of the criticism for alleged inaction, though the agency did lead a mock cyberattack and response earlier this year. An analysis of that exercise is expected this summer.
Congress Mulls Slew of Net Sex Rules
When it comes to topics conducive to political speechifying, few compare to the volatile mix of the Internet, sex and children.
At a hearing before the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, politicians served up a dizzying slew of suggestions about what kind of new federal laws should be enacted.
The ideas were all over the map, and most were new. Only one or two have actually been turned into formal legislation so far, but politicians are vowing to take action in the very near future.
A child exploitation law is "one of the highest priority issues not just before this subcommittee, but the full committee," said Rep. Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee. "It is my intention to...see if we can't develop very quickly a comprehensive piece of anti-child-pornography legislation."
Following is a roundup of some of the proposals for new federal laws, rules or regulations that would target American businesses--if, that is, various members of Congress get their way.
Forcibly blocking off-color Web sites: Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, lauded a U.K. approach that involves compiling a list of illicit Web sites and using it to cordon off access to them. Internet providers should, Stupak said, block "American predators from using U.S.-based platforms to access child pornography at any site worldwide."
Eavesdropping on what Americans are doing online: Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, suggested surveillance might do the trick. "One issue that keeps recurring is how these companies are monitoring communications that might reveal the contents are child pornography," she suggested.
Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, sounded a similar tone without endorsing the eavesdropping plan: "I don't think that people who are raping 2-year-old children on the Internet have any right to privacy."
Making certain hyperlinks illegal: One antigambling bill in Congress a few years ago would have required companies to delete hyperlinks to offshore gambling sites. Now the idea is resurfacing. "Who's able to link to which site...and how we filter that out" is key, said Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican. "Some ISPs are better than others."
Recording which customer is assigned which Internet Protocol address: Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who chairs the oversight subcommittee, said he wanted to learn "about Internet service providers' retention policies for IP addresses in particular." In one case, Whitfield warned, police could not find who had been assigned a "3-day-old IP address from an Internet service provider. That is unacceptable." (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been pushing for this as well.)
Dispatching "search and destroy" bots: The idea of disrupting peer-to-peer networks surfaced in 2002 in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Orrin Hatch said a year later that copyright holders should be allowed to remotely destroy the computers of music pirates. Now Rep. Walden has revived that idea, proposing that search and destroy bots be launched to scour the Internet for illicit content.
"If you could search for different things, you might be able to search for a known image, identify it and destroy it," Walden suggested. He dubbed the idea "technologically scan and destroy."
Restricting naughty Webcams: Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican and chairman of a consumer protection subcommittee, cited a New York Times article about an adolescent boy who charged customers to watch him perform erotic acts in front of his Web cam. "We've heard about one Web site that had 140,000 images of adolescents from their Web cam," Stearns said. We need "to do whatever we can in our power to protect the innocent."
Recording e-mail correspondents and Web pages visited: "Amazingly, even though we require telephone companies to keep records of telephone calls for 18 months...there is no federal law for Internet communications and there is no industry standard," said DeGette, the Colorado Democrat. "This is hindering investigations."
DeGette has been a leading proponent in the House of Representatives of data retention and already drafted legislation making it mandatory for Internet providers and Web sites.
Taking aim at search engines: Search engines were accused of selling sponsored links that relate to sex and minors. "I have serious concerns about the adequacy of efforts by the search engine providers," said Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat. Google was singled out for selling racy ads tied to the search term "pre-teen."
Rep. Chip Pickering, a Mississippi Republican, complained that Google fought a subpoena from the Justice Department in court and had a culture of liberalism. "Do you want to be known as the company where teenagers can have access to teen pornography and where your clients can go into child pornographic sites, feeling as they'll be protected and that information will not be given to the government?" Pickering said. (For its part, Google says it has a "zero-tolerance policy on child pornography." Nicole Wong, its associate general counsel, said that Google's system had blocked only "preteen" and it now recognized the hyphen.)
Letting government bureaucrats rate chat rooms: Video games and movies have ratings, so why not chat rooms, Rep. Stearns proposed. "Should chat rooms be set up with some sort of controls from the Federal Trade Commission, or should software be developed to categorize?" Stearns suggested. "Should manufacturers of computers provide that software? Sort of like a V-chip in a TV. You'd have this software program...that way it would be automatic."
Permitting the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to send subpoenas to Internet providers: This idea came from Gerard Lewis, Comcast's deputy general counsel and chief privacy officer, who testified at the hearing. NCMEC already receives federal tax dollars to forward reports of child exploitation to police. But the concept was shot down by DeGette, who said: "I don't think it would work."
Stupak said, however, that he wanted to give NCMEC the power to require Internet providers to preserve records in specific cases--a move that would effectively make it a quasi police agency. A 1996 federal law called the Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act currently requires Internet providers to retain any "record" in their possession for 90 days "upon the request of a governmental entity." (Also on Tuesday, Comcast said it would retain customer records for 180 days, up from 30 days.)
Targeting peer-to-peer networks: Politicians have been talking about enacting new laws targeting P2P networks since early 2003. Now it may happen. Government reports have talked about finding child pornography on P2P networks, and Stupak said he wants to find a way to pull the plug. "How to stop the peer to peer?" Stupak said. "I'd be interested in some suggestions...We have to find a way to block the peer to peer from person to person."
Granting Internet censorship power to federal bureaucrats: Under the current U.S. legal system, only a judge can decide what's legally obscene or pornographic. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a law that criminalized any computer-generated sex image that "appears to be" of a minor--which makes deciding what's legal and not even more tricky.
But Barton said the judicial process takes too long to rule in prosecutions of child pornography. "Why is it not possible to immediately terminate that site?" Barton said. "You have to have some agency of the government definitively say that is child pornography. Once that's established, why can't we immediately cut off that site? (That would avoid) waiting for a court to go out and convict the people operating the site."
Internet Providers To Combat Child Porn
Five leading online service providers will jointly build a database of child-pornography images and develop other tools to help network operators and law enforcement better prevent distribution of the images.
The companies pledged $1 million among them Tuesday to set up a technology coalition as part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They aim to create the database by year's end, though many details remain unsettled.
The participating companies are Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp., EarthLink Inc. and United Online Inc., the company behind NetZero and Juno.
Ernie Allen, the chief executive of the missing children's center, noted that the Internet companies already possess many technologies to help protect users from threats such as viruses and e-mail "phishing" scams. "There's nothing more insidious and inappropriate" than child pornography, he said.
The announcement comes as the U.S. government is pressuring service providers to do more to help combat child pornography. Top law enforcement officials have told Internet companies they must retain customer records longer to help in such cases and have suggested seeking legislation to require it.
AOL chief counsel John Ryan said the coalition was partly a response to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' April speech identifying increases in child-porn cases and chiding the Internet industry for not doing more about them.
The creation of the technology coalition does not directly address the preservation of records but could demonstrate the industry's willingness to cooperate.
Plans call for the missing children's center to collect known child-porn images and create a unique mathematical signature for each one based on a common formula. Each participating company would scan its users' images for matches.
AOL, for instance, plans to check e-mail attachments that are already being scanned for viruses. If child porn is detected, AOL would refer the case to the missing-children's center for further investigation, as service providers are required to do under federal law.
Each company will set its own procedures on how it uses the database, but executives say the partnership will let companies exchange their best ideas - ultimately developing tools for preventing child-porn distribution instead of simply catching violations.
"When we pool together all our collective know-how and technical tools, we hope to come up with something more comprehensive along the lines of preventative" measures, said Tim Cranton, Microsoft's director of Internet safety enforcement programs.
Ryan said that although AOL will initially focus on scanning e-mail attachments, the goal is to ultimately develop techniques for checking other distribution techniques as well, such as instant messaging or Web uploads.
Representatives will begin meeting next month to evaluate their technologies, determining, for instance, whether cropping an image would change its signature and hinder comparisons. Also to be discussed are ways to ensure that customers' privacy is protected. Authorities still would need subpoenas to get identifying information on violators.
The companies involved said they are talking with other service providers about joining. But companies that do not participate still are required by law to report any suspected child-porn images, and many already have their own techniques for monitoring and identifying them.
Free Web Browser May Give You More Than You Asked For
Security firm Panda Software says that Browsezilla secretly visits pornographic Web sites if you use the browser.
A free Web browser that bills itself as a tool for privacy protection is, in fact, a click-fraud engine for pornographic Web sites, security vendor Panda Software warned today.
Browsezilla, whose name and Lizard-like mascot are reminiscent of the open-source Mozilla browser products, claims to help surfers cover their tracks when visiting pornographic sites. It does not use browser history or save data to a cache, and it allows users to save their bookmarks on a remote server, according to the product's Web site.
However, Browsezilla also secretly installs adware that boosts the page view counts on certain pornographic Web sites, according to J.J. Schoch, director of marketing with Panda. "It's being used deceptively to get more hits on their site," Schoch says. "This adware opens a series of adult web pages, although they are not visible to the user."
Why the Warning Was Issued
On its Web site, Panda describes itself as a provider of integrated security solutions to protect PCs from viruses, spyware, hackers, spam, and other Internet threats.
The company issued a press release warning about the browser, after noticing that Browsezilla was becoming more widely used. Although the browser has been adopted by users in a number of countries, it appears to be most popular in Italy, Schoch says.
Schoch adds that this is the first browser he has seen that downloads this type of click-generating software.
Panda is drawing attention to the matter because it believes the browser's creators are acting in a deceptive manner that ultimately could harm unsuspecting users, Schoch explains. "It's not going to wreck your computer, but it could taint somebody's reputation," he notes.
Users might already be wary of the software, even without Panda's warning. The Browsezilla download page features an "Adult links" section with hard-core pornographic images, a rarity in browser download sites.
The Browsezilla team called Panda's allegations "unsubstantiated" in a statement on the Browsezilla.com Web site, but the group shed little light on the situation when asked for further comment on Panda's press release.
Study: Internet Partly To Blame For Your Lack Of Close Friends
Network World Staff
Increased use of the Internet, along with the number of hours people are spending at work, are factors contributing to a drastic decline in the number of close friends that Americans have.
The number of people who say they have no one to talk to about important matters has more than doubled, according to a new study by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona. The average number of people who respondents said they discuss important matters fell from about three to two. The more insular population is increasingly reliant on family members as confidants, the researchers say.
"This change indicates something that's not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. These ties also lead to civic engagement and local political action," said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a professor of sociology at Duke.
New technology links people over greater distances, but cuts into face-to-face meeting time, the researchers said.
The study, which compares data from 1985 and 2004, was published earlier this month in the American Sociological Review. The data derives from the long-running General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago since 1972. Roughly 1,500 people were surveyed.
Researchers said that one reason that the survey might have turned up such a shift in social networks is that many respondents might have interpreted the questions differently in 2004 than they did in 1985. People might not consider e-mailing or instant messaging "discussing," for instance.
Old at 10, Slate.Com Sparks Media Soul – Searching
Not much has survived 10 years on the Internet, so Slate magazine's celebration of that milestone this month sparked self-congratulation, criticism and much soul-searching about the future of old and new media.
Slate has plenty of critics, the loudest of whom were invited to air their views online. This prompted descriptions such as ``shrill and superficial,'' ``liberal, contrarian and haughty,'' ``insufferable'' and just plain ``irritating.''
But whatever the critics say, Slate has survived and boasts usage figures comparable to the Web versions of The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and National Public Radio, according to Internet usage measurement firm Hitwise.
A big reason for its survival is what media columnist Jeff Jarvis, author of media Web log www.buzzmachine.com, calls ``two very good sugar daddies.'' Launched in June 1996 by Microsoft Inc., Slate was sold to The Washington Post in 2005.
Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at New York University and blogs at www.PressThink.org, said Slate also succeeded in adapting -- going from weekly to daily to real-time, switching revenue models, and adding space for readers to talk back.
David Talbot, founder and editor for 10 years of Slate's longtime rival Salon, said newspapers and magazines were like ''oil tankers'' by comparison.
With circulation declining, major U.S. newspaper groups have announced rounds of job cuts in recent years, and the industry is immersed in endless debate about its future.
``The newspapers have lost one of their key bases now to Craigslist with the classifieds: you'd think that would be a huge wake-up call,'' Talbot said, referring to the free site that is now a one-stop shop for everything from apartments to dating.
``Newspapers' future is on the Web. They should be developing more opinionated writers,'' he said. ``Fox News showed where popular taste is. People want in-your-face, opinionated media.''
Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief of Time Inc. from 1995 until the end of 2005, said the Internet had overtaken newspapers in their three traditional strengths -- timeliness, being publications of record, and classifieds.
``The most exciting thing that could happen is that newspapers and magazines become more publications of opinion,'' Pearlstine said at a media forum for Slate's 10th anniversary.
Jarvis said British newspaper The Guardian was leading the way with its two-month-old communal blog www.commentisfree.com, where the paper's journalists write articles in the chatty style of blogs and enter into debate with readers.
Jarvis said the new role for the journalist was to be the moderator, but even that is being overtaken by sites such as www.digg.com, where readers choose what tops the news by voting on stories. ``What's one year old is more interesting than what's 10 years old,'' Jarvis said.
Rosen said his journalism students at NYU still aspire to a career in traditional media, but he started teaching ``Blogging 101'' this spring to open their horizons.
Vanity Fair media columnist Michael Wolff said the big challenge for print media apart from advertising was not the direct competition from the likes of Slate, but that nobody now relies on a single newspaper, Web site or TV channel. ``The idea of one source of information is laughable now,'' he said.
According to Hitwise, only four news sites boast a market share of more than 2 percent. Yahoo is top with 6 percent.
For Jarvis, that means advertising money spread more thinly and targeted at niche markets -- good news for ``citizen journalists'' and bloggers, including his 14-year-old son.
``My son gets checks for the blog he writes and it's plenty for him to buy an iPod,'' Jarvis said.
But Talbot said blogs and news sites like www.drudge.com, ranked No. 5, were entirely dependent on ``old media'' for the stories they link to ``like the birds that sit on hippos.''
``Without the old hippos, those birds would be out.''
Waiting for the Dough on the Web
NOW and then, an executive whose brain I'm siphoning will turn the tables and pose a question. And lately, I've been getting a few versions of this: "You talk to a lot of the traditional media companies. Who do you think has got this Internet thing figured out?"
That is a tough but very pertinent question, given all the digital hurly-burly of the past decade or so.
Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation, for instance, get points for their speed and resolve to gain traction online. The company's moves have included the purchase last year of the teenage hangout MySpace.
Robert A. Iger at the Walt Disney Company is notable for being the first to put television shows, his from ABC, on iTunes and then to try streaming them on the Web, supported solely by sponsors.
Time Warner has the AOL paradox on its hands: it owns one of the top Internet destinations but is clouded by the service's daunting business challenges.
Viacom has made some small but clever acquisitions — Neopets and iFilm, for instance — and has a proven record for knowing what young people want and giving it to them on MTV and Nickelodeon.
Among newspaper companies, I'd posit that the Washington Post Company and Dow Jones — and, yes, The New York Times Company — stand out for their online strategies.
And, for cable television channels, CNN and MSNBC seem to have staked out prime real estate online.
But one could make a case that the amount of focus on — and hype about — Internet activities at media companies has some kind of inverse relationship to the amount of near-term revenue they represent for these companies.
We're still in the early innings, but given how much the Internet has already transformed the media and society, it's surprising how little money traditional media companies make directly from it.
Don't take my word for it. Flip through the financial statements of some of the biggest names to see what they say about their Web sales and profits. You won't find separately broken-out figures at Disney, Viacom, or Time Warner (aside from AOL).
Even at the News Corporation, the combined Internet operations, including the increasingly popular MySpace, don't merit being listed separately on the income statement. Rather, the company focuses on seven somewhat old-fashioned "industry segments," including cable network programming, television, newspapers and filmed entertainment. Online activities are lumped into a category called "other," which includes billboard companies in Russia and Eastern Europe, a record label in New Zealand, an Israeli technology company and a business that owns the broadcast and sponsorship rights to the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
In the nine months ended March 31, "other" represented not quite $1 billion of the News Corporation's total revenue of $18.5 billion, and posted an operating loss of $68 million at a company that showed total operating income of $2.84 billion. In other words, the Internet was a rounding error.
Some companies are starting to give glimpses of how they are doing online. For instance, the Tribune Company, which owns dozens of newspapers and television stations, said that digital media revenue would total $225 million this year — or 6 percent of its publishing revenue, a percentage that it said it expected to double by 2010.
Disney's chief financial officer, Thomas O. Staggs, recently told an investors' conference that the company was generating roughly $500 million in online advertising sales across its properties, which include ESPN.com. But this is at a company that, over all, is expected to generate revenue of $34 billion this year.
A while back, I paid a visit to Sumner M. Redstone, the chairman of Viacom, at his home in Beverly Hills. While perusing his collection of saltwater fish — the world's largest such collection, he says — I ran by him my theory that strikingly little money is being generated online despite all the activity among the media cabal. "I'm expecting we'll have a $500 million business in three years' time," Mr. Redstone said. "That may not be a lot of money to you, but it is to me."
So maybe I was being a little cheeky. The optimist's view is that the spoils from this new frontier are still very much up for grabs. Only about 6 percent of all advertising spending in the United States went to the Internet in the first quarter of the year, according to Merrill Lynch. But it was clearly the fastest-growing category — up 38 percent year over year. And PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts that Internet ad spending over the next five years will more than double globally, to $51.6 billion.
The less-cheerful view of the traditional media companies is that all their online efforts will not translate directly into more revenue or fatter profits. Thanks to aggregators, file sharers, pirates and other disruptors, more value will leak away or be stolen than will be gained by these companies.
THIS is not to say that online will never be an important — if not central — financial contributor to media businesses of all kinds. For some companies, though, it could serve increasingly as a promotional or marketing outlet, or as a cut-rate but widely distributed version of what consumers can buy in conventional formats. (A case in point: if you are reading this on newsprint, the chances are that you paid for it one way or another. If you are reading it online, there is a decent chance that it is coming to you free. But, then again, it didn't cost very much to make it available to you digitally.)
For now, though, the question of who among the media companies has this Internet thing figured out remains open. But at this time of upheaval and gloom about media's prospects, it is funny to think about how much money there is still to be made in the good old offline world.
Pull my paycheck
No Cash? No Card? Just Stick In Finger
A Tampa Coast to Coast convenience store has installed a device that scans your fingerprint to process payment through a debit account.
Customers can pay with cash, plastic or their index finger at a new Coast to Coast Family Convenience store here.
Taking a big step beyond the ease of the Mobil SpeedPass, Coast to Coast has installed what's claimed as Florida's first biometric payment system.
There are no cards or PIN numbers to remember. Just stick your finger in the scanner and be on your way.
While applications are available to process credit and store loyalty card transactions by fingerprint, this one is limited to processing only debit account transactions.
"People either love it or think it's a sign of the coming apocalypse,'' said Amer Hawatmeh, owner of the new convenience store at 110 E Bearss Ave. who signed up a few hundred customers for Pay By Touch. "But to me, it's the wave of the future.''
Pay By Touch is one of several speedier payment technologies racing to build enough retailer acceptance to ace out rivals and overcome consumers' rising concerns over identity theft.
It's all on the road to payment gurus' vision of a cashier-free future, in which customers just walk out the door while their transaction is automatically processed.
The big credit card companies, for instance, are deploying a card reader developed by MasterCard International that picks up a radio signal to record a transaction when a card is merely tapped on or waved around a reader at the checkout stand. Other wireless systems in use in other countries use built-in payment system prompts broadcast to and from a cell phone to activate vending machines.
Pay By Touch is a closely held San Francisco startup that uses finger-scan technology to authenticate payment account holders. Backed by $130-million in venture capital money, Pay By Touch recently paid $82-million to acquire BioPay LLC, its biggest finger-scan competitor that has won a following in Europe big enough to authenticate $7-billion worth of transactions to date.
Pay By Touch now has tests under way with several convenience stores, gas stations and supermarket chains around the United States, including Harris Teeter in the Carolinas, Farm Fresh in Virginia and Jewel Osco in Chicago.
"Finger scanning is new, so we want to get people used to it by building acceptance at high-frequency, high-traffic retail locations such as gas stations and grocery stores,'' said Leslie Connelly, spokeswoman for Pay By Touch. "We're also going into places where people who don't have a banking relationship cash paychecks.''
The company is a bit puzzled by customer privacy fears. After all, they say, how can using a unique fingerprint for identification be riskier to theft than a plastic card, key chain token or account number that's tapped into a computer or spoken over the phone?
The company pledges not to sell or rent personal information, or access to it. The fingerprint image recorded is not the same as those collected by the federal government or law enforcement.
It's similar to the finger-scan technology used at theme park gates. Those systems take measurements of patrons' hands and fingers and link them to a multi-day pass to prevent several people from using one person's pass.
The Pay By Touch computer records a multitude of point-to-point measurements and stores them in an encrypted form in an IBM data center. Images of both index fingers are kept in case a shopper's trigger finger is hidden by a bandage.
To create an account, you must let the store get a fix on you and your bank account by scanning in a sample check and a driver's license. You can also apply online and be assigned a PIN number. The number is keyed in the first time you buy something to link your fingerprint to the personal account information.
The shopper needs neither a card nor a PIN number after that. Just place a finger on the scanner.
Retailers are paying a minimal amount to test the system. But many retailers such as Coast to Coast are drawn to Pay By Touch because it can process debit account payments or eChecks, an Internet version of a paper check, without subjecting the store to interchange fees that cost the retailers 2 to 3 percent of the transaction.
Murdoch Closer To Deal With Malone
RUPERT MURDOCH said yesterday that he intends to sell some of News Corporation’s local US television stations within the next year and may use the sale to buy back an 18 per cent stake in the company owned by John Malone, the billionaire investor.
Mr Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp, parent company of The Times, would not give a deadline for closing a deal over Mr Malone’s stake, but said that the company was “a little closer to talking about that [with Mr Malone] more meaningfully”.
One solution could involve selling Mr Malone “a number of TV stations” in an effort to minimise his tax bill on the News Corp holding. However, it is understood that Mr Murdoch does not intend to sell all the stations.
Selling the stake for cash would result in a large tax bill for Mr Malone because of the 17 per cent rise in News Corp shares this year. News Corp owns the Fox television network in the US as well as many local television stations.
Mr Murdoch also said that free-to-air broadcasters were likely to see “shrinkage” in revenues because of declining spending by advertisers.
News Corp lowered its 2006 operating income forecast after a property sale in Britain was postponed for regulatory reasons. The company said that the sale, which was expected to generate $140 million, was scheduled to have closed in the 2006 financial year but would be delayed until 2007. As a result, News Corp lowered its projection for operating income growth from 12 per cent to about 8 per cent in the year to June 2006.
Save Some For The HoneymoonCam
ONLY two guests — both strangers —were in attendance on May 18, when Dawn Westman and Einar Ollander of Tarpon Springs, Fla., were married in the chapel of the Grand Princess, a cruise ship sailing the Mediterranean. But dozens were watching from home.
The audience included the bride's father and stepmother, who witnessed the event from their home in Worcester, Mass.; the bridegroom's mother in Tarpon Springs; and the bridegroom's brother in Gainesville, Fla. All awakened around 4 a.m. and flicked on their home computers so they could view the wedding couple walking down the aisle, live over the Internet.
"None of our friends or family were there in person," said the new Mrs. Ollander, 39, who, like her husband, had been married once before. "But they were able to watch it on the Webcam."
This Webcast concept perfectly melds America's couch-potato culture and its obsession with weddings. Now there is no need to rise, dress up and go. Observers can quickly take in a niece's ceremony and openly engage in catty commentary, all from the privacy of home. For the couples it offers a high-tech, low-cost way to have their "destination wedding" and connect with friends and family, too.
"I think big weddings are overblown and expensive," said Carol Angell Beauvais, who watched her cousin's Caribbean wedding last year from her den in Westport, N.Y. "You should save your money for a down payment on a house."
It would surprise few to learn that Nevada, land of drive-through weddings and Elvis impersonators, has rapidly embraced online ceremonies.
About 5,000 couples have made use of Webcams perched in the chapels at the Treasure Island and MGM Grand hotels in Las Vegas. "One of the reasons we chose Treasure Island was because of the Webcast," said Shauntea Tolliver, 29, of Beach Park, Ill., who married Ransley Denton, 33, on May 2. Only 10 people witnessed the wedding in person, but a gaggle of relatives in five states tuned in.
How do people let guests know of their Webcasting plans? Via electronic invitation, naturally.
Marc Finkel, the chief operating officer of Cashman Enterprises (www.cashmanpro.com), a Las Vegas photography and video service which began offering Webcasting three years ago, asks the bride and bridegroom to provide the names and the e-mail addresses of all guests. Mr. Finkel then sends digital invitations.
Two years ago, Larry Fair began noticing how few guests were present at ceremonies he witnessed on Honolulu's beaches. "Obviously not everybody could come," Mr. Fair said. So he and a partner established a business there called Live Internet Weddings that charges $400 over the cost of producing the wedding video itself to stream it live on the Internet. His company (www.liveinternetweddings.com) keeps it online for two weeks, in case people miss it live.
Stephanie Coontz, the author of "Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage" (Penguin), has considered this phenomenon and declared it a mixed bag. "We no longer have cookie-cutter marriages, and people are very interested in using their wedding ceremony to indicate how unique their marriage is going to be," she said.
Some tech-savvy suitors are even getting engaged via the Web. On May 20, James Lee, 27, a Yale medical student, proposed to Uschi Lang, 26, a student at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, by Internet. Knowing that a round-the-clock Webcam had been set up in the new Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Mr. Lee stood outside it at 5 a.m. and held up three signs that read: "Uschi Lang. I love you. Will you marry me?"
Ms. Lang watched his proposal and "started crying," she recalled. "And of course said yes."
She was not the only one watching. They sent the link to their relatives in Seattle, China, Hawaii, Germany and Peru. And then, of course, there were the thousands of bloggers who mentioned the event on their Web sites. "I started realizing the implications," said Mr. Lee, who is undecided about doing a repeat performance when they marry. "In retrospect, it was a crazy thing."
For those who view a friend's wedding on the Web and wonder if they need to send a gift, Ms. Coontz has an answer: "My gift is watching it."
Beyoncé, Aguilera, Jackson, Simpson and Jewel: Seeking Another Turn in the Spotlight
I can't get over you. Every time I see you, everything starts making sense. Here's an opportunity that you don't wanna miss. Call on me, anytime that you please. Listen, dear, I need you to hear: I cannot disappear.
By accident or by design, it's comeback season on the pop charts. Which means that right now five A-list (or formerly A-list) pop stars are clamoring for our attention. They are, in the order their pleas were quoted, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Janet Jackson and Jewel. And they are, all of them, telling us how much they missed us, in hopes that we'll tell them the same thing.
For Beyoncé and Ms. Aguilera, both of whom are returning after hit albums, the task is simple: they just have to prove they can still do what they did last time. That explains "Deja Vu" (Columbia), Beyoncé's new single, which is a sequel to her 2003 smash "Crazy in Love." Like that song, this one is a duet with her boyfriend, Jay-Z, who sounds uncharacteristically deferential whenever he's around her. (The two performed it at the BET Awards, broadcast on Tuesday night.)
This song too has a disco beat so fierce it's practically macho. And it starts with a knowing tease as Beyoncé summons the instruments one by one: "High-hat. 808. Jay." (Drums, a drum machine and a rapper boyfriend: what else do you need?) But the refrain doesn't give Beyoncé a chance really to show off, and Jay-Z's second verse in particular sounds a bit clunky. It's a fair-to-middling single from a singer who is the opposite of desperate: Beyoncé has already topped the charts this year with her keyed-up Slim Thug collaboration, "Check On It." One way or another, she'll do it again.
Listeners in search of the next "Crazy in Love" should be looking instead to Ms. Aguilera, the unpredictable former teen-pop star. Her 2002 album, "Stripped," included a garish club track ("Dirrty"), an inspirational ballad ("Beautiful," accompanied by a pro-gay video) and a feminist hip-hop collaboration ("Can't Hold Us Down," featuring Lil' Kim).
Ms. Aguilera's new single, "Ain't No Other Man" (RCA), comes from her forthcoming double-album, "Back to Basics." It's devastating: all hard drums and horn blasts, with Ms. Aguilera delivering a series of nimble vocal runs and roaring ad-libs. (The song was produced by the pioneering hip-hop producer DJ Premier.) The period-piece video, directed by Bryan Barber, casts Ms. Aguilera as Baby Jane, a jazz singer tearing up a Harlem speakeasy. And for now her only problem is a happy one: How on earth will she top this?
Ms. Simpson, on the other hand, is a hugely successful singer with nothing in particular to top. Her 2003 album, "In This Skin," sold almost three million copies, and yet it's hard to think of a Jessica Simpson song everyone knows. What everyone knows of course is that her marriage to Nick Lachey was chronicled on a reality show, "Newlyweds," and that its demise has been chronicled in the tabloids.
Maybe that's why she has returned with "A Public Affair" (Sony), the first single from the forthcoming album of the same name. The title hints at scandal, but the lyrics are cheerfully inane. It's a bubbly, nostalgic synth-pop song and a canny move: instead of giving fans yet another glimpse into her (somewhat) real life, she has giving them a giddy daydream. "All the girls stepping out for a public affair," she sings, and in the music video she is to be flanked by Christina Applegate, Eva Longoria and Christina Milian, a singer recently dropped by Island Def Jam Records. (Come to think of it, she could use a comeback single too.)
Ms. Jackson is also changing the topic, although she has less choice. After committing the unpardonable sin of showing Super Bowl fans her nipple (who knew the anti-nipple lobby was so powerful?), she paid the price: her 2004 album, "Damita Jo," was a commercial failure. Like every album she has made since "Control," this one was full of playful songs and hard (sometimes ominous) beats. And maybe one day more listeners will realize that, like every Janet Jackson album since "Control," this one was also pretty great.
For now though she's making amends, or trying to. Her new single is "Call on Me," featuring Nelly, and the idea isn't a bad one: Get back on the charts by recording a thug-love duet. But why is the song — which hasn't yet caught on at radio — so bland? "I can meet you anywhere," she coos, and he replies that he too has a flexible schedule. Why don't these two stop making plans and get down to business?
For a singer like Ms. Jackson, recovering from a perceived failure is tricky. Do you stick with what you're good at? Or do you change to match a changing audience? Another slumping singer, Jewel, has figured out that she may not have to choose.
Jewel's 2003 album, "0304," was a disastrous attempt to turn a folky songwriter into a playful dance-pop star. And so she's back with "Goodbye Alice in Wonderland" (Atlantic), a return to the breathy, strummy sound that made her a star. And when does it hit shops? Um, two months ago. It hasn't, in other words, made much of an impact.
But in an alternative universe, the album's lead single, "Again and Again," isn't a three-month-old dud, it's a new "debut." And that alternate universe is called Nashville, where Jewel's rustic songs don't seem out of place, and where her boyfriend, the rodeo star Ty Murray, is a bona fide celebrity. The country channel CMT gave the "Again and Again" video a premiere on June 22, and if the strategy is a success, Jewel might pull off a neat trick: winning a new audience by being her old self.
With Online Music, It's a Buyer's Market
Shared, Often Eclectic Tastes Determine What Will Sell
For years, old recordings have piled up in the archives at Verve Records, including beloved jazz tracks that had no market big enough to justify pressing new discs. But thanks to the Internet, music lovers are rediscovering iconic titles like Ella Fitzgerald's "Sunshine of Your Love" and Quincy Jones's "Body Heat" -- rekindling enough popular demand to prompt Verve to reissue them through a project called Verve Vault.
"The demand for music has never been as big as it is today. We get all kinds of questions from customers worldwide, looking for a track name or an album, or asking, 'Why haven't you put that out yet?' " said Jon Vanhala, vice president of new media and strategic marketing at Verve. So far, about 2,700 albums have been brought back through the Vault, with more than 5,000 scheduled to follow.
Because the Internet has changed how people discover and share music, the rules of marketing it and the hierarchy of who determines what's hot have also changed. As radio-music listenership declines, the industry finds itself spending more time courting a broader field of tastemakers who, through Web sites, are popularizing songs that never get radio play. The primary tool in this transition is the playlist -- a sequence of tracks posted on blogs or shared on music purchase sites such as iTunes.
"I listen to way more music than I ever have in my life," said Robert Burke, a North Carolina quality assurance manager by day who spends nearly all of his free time searching through new music online, then compiling tracks in playlists with various themes, like rock songs that include a tuba, Top 20 bands from the 1980s with mullets, artists who sample riffs from Miles Davis, and so on.
"I kind of started it because I've always collected music, and I've become pretty obsessed with it since then," said Burke, whose blog on Yahoo Radish, Playlistradish.com, has published thousands of his playlists for the consumption of others.
With legions of new bands popping up online every day, fans need guidance just to keep up, said Oliver Wang, founder of Soul Sides, another high-traffic music blog.
In the online world, friends' recommendations or an endorsement from bloggers such as Wang and Burke, as well as podcasts such as "The Nashville Nobody Knows" and "Accident Hash," can yield significant marketplace results.
A duo called Gnarls Barkley, for example, found a huge following online. The band's songs, including "Crazy," were well established online before getting radio play. Its songs have been listened to on the band's MySpace social-networking site more than 6 million times. Transatlantic online exchanges made the British band Arctic Monkeys famous in the United States before any album came out here.
"Word of mouth benefits [independent labels] in particular, and we're only starting to see the benefits," said Kevin Arnold, founder and chief executive of the Independent Online Distribution Alliance, which disseminates music from 2,500 labels to digital music services.
To court the online tastemakers, the alliance last fall launched Promonet -- a system that maintains a master playlist of new releases for reviewers, Arnold said.
Digital music services themselves have become engines of recommendation. Music stores such as iTunes, EMusic, and Yahoo Music give users the ability to check out others' playlists, so people with similar tastes can find each other and discover new music. Additionally, services such as Rhapsody, Napster, Livefm, Pandora, AOL and Yahoo all have Internet-radio options with algorithms that register a person's taste and, based on the listeners preference, stream in similar, new music.
"I've found a few bands that way," including one called the Magic Numbers, said Alex Kilfoyle, 23, a Washington electrical engineer.
"When I started college, I was listening to rock and classic rock, and that's it," said Kilfoyle, who swaps music recommendations with old college friends through instant messaging, online chats and checking out each others' playlists on iTunes. A program called Hamachi also allows them to listen to music saved on each others' computers. Because of his friends, he said, his musical taste has evolved to "eclectic -- a lot of everything."
Ian Rogers, 33, grew up in Goshen, Ind., where there was no record store.
"I drove five hours to Chicago to see a punk rock band," he said. He'd pore over reviews in Maximumrocknroll magazine, then have his mother write checks so he could send off for albums without having listened to them, said Rogers, who is now director of product marketing for Yahoo Music.
The effort and cost involved in buying made him feel almost obligated to like what he could get, he said. "You end up consuming what's marketed to you. With the Internet, you consume exactly what you want."
To adjust to that shift, radio stations are experimenting with "send us your playlist," or by-request music shows, said Mike McGuire, an analyst with the research firm Gartner Inc. "It greatly complicates how you promote acts and content," which is why forward-thinking labels like Warner Music Group's all-digital label Cordless Recordings are spending more time and promotional money on finding bloggers, he said.
While consumers say the diversity and availability of more content is unequivocally good, some bemoan the lost art and distinction of having the great, comprehensive record collection.
In the past, a music aficionado had to invest time and money sifting through racks in the hunt for, say, a little-known ska band. Now, entire CD racks and vinyl-record collections can fit into several gigabytes of computer memory -- and people who never invested their resources in acquiring music can simply rip off a playlist, or type in a search to find that same, small-time ska band. It's yet another blow to brick-and-mortar record stores, which with the rise of digital music have already lost CD sales.
"The fun of collecting is gone," said Michael Crowley, who said he spent his childhood hunting for bootlegged copies of obscure acts in hidden-away record shops run by edgy people with nose rings. "They're not that fun if you can download them with a few mouse clicks," said Crowley, a Washington journalist who wrote about the rock snob's demise by digital music for the New Republic.
Crowley admits that he now relies more on music blogs and friends' playlists to keep up with trends in music, making him more of a follower than a leader in the online world. Still, he said, the ability to copy music can't stand in for taste. "Taste is something you have to cultivate."
Richard Carlisle toes a harder line. The self-described vinyl-record purist has sold records for 30 years and owns Orpheus Records in Arlington. He's never put an iPod to his ears and spends no time on the Internet surfing for new music. "I have a vested interest in people not using an iPod," he said. "I guess you could call it a sour-grapes phenomenon."
But online trends still affect his business; a customer recently came in asking for an album from an indie-rock band he'd never heard of -- Neutral Milk Hotel -- which had become popular online. Since then, he's sold roughly 30 of those albums.
Beatles in Vegas Against Long Odds
IT'S the Beatles! Live in Las Vegas! This week, and for the foreseeable future!
Well, O.K., it's not actually the Beatles performing live. After all, two of the Fab Four, John Lennon and George Harrison, are no longer among us. And although their surviving partners, both musical (Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr) and marital (Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison), are expected to be in the audience at the Mirage on June 30, when Cirque du Soleil opens "Love," its ambitious fantasy tribute to the band, there won't be so much as a Beatle cameo or a new song.
Still, Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian acrobatic troupe, and Apple, the company the Beatles started in 1967 to oversee their creative interests, have joined forces for this $150 million production, and they are billing it as "a timeless, three-dimensional" Beatles experience that, as one of its principals describes it, will "make the audience feel as though they are actually in the theater with the band."
Promised too is a new soundtrack. Apple has given the show's two music directors — Sir George Martin, who produced the Beatles' original recordings, and his son Giles, who has worked with Elvis Costello and Kate Bush — free run of the band's session tapes. Most Beatles fans would rather the tapes were mined for previously unreleased songs and upgrades of the standard albums. But as Giles explains, "Apple's idea was that Cirque shouldn't just be performing to a CD." He adds, "It had to be something more unusual, a new way of hearing this music."
What the Martins produced was a 90-minute soundtrack in which classic Beatles songs are remixed in surround sound, sometimes combining standard versions with outtakes, and even creating mash-ups, or versions in which riffs, vocal lines, guitar solos or sitar drones from one song are interposed on another. Next month the pair will return to London to remix the music again for a soundtrack album.
What's truly odd about all his, to longtime Beatles watchers, is Apple's enthusiasm for such innovation. For much of the last 36 years, Apple — whose four directors are the band members and their heirs — has been a barricaded fortress from which volleys of lawsuits are regularly launched. Its response to requests to use Beatles recordings in theatrical productions and films has generally been a firm no. And in its zeal to protect the Beatles' name, work and trademarks, Apple has sued everyone from the producers of the late-1970's hit "Beatlemania" to Apple Computer. So what's going on here? Isn't the soundtrack to "Love" akin to what Apple so vehemently opposed in 2004, when Danger Mouse created "The Grey Album," a mash-up of Jay-Z's "Black Album" and the Beatles' "White Album"? For that matter, aren't these mash-ups exactly what Internet-based Beatles fan groups have done, often brilliantly, though necessarily flying well below Apple's radar, on underground collections like "Mutation" and the three volumes of "Tuned to a Natural E," which can be found on various download sites?
Could it be that in allowing Cirque du Soleil to base a series of fantasy tableaus on Beatles music, and in letting the Martins take such liberties with the recordings, a usually cautious company is diving headlong into the 21st century? Has it awakened to an era in which promiscuous remixing has made the notion of a "definitive text" seem quaintly academic?
On the other hand, when Apple sics its lawyers on unauthorized use of the Beatles' music, is it really protecting the integrity of the group's work and image, or is it saying "We own the Beatles name and music, and therefore only we can compromise its integrity?"
WHEN the Beatles started Apple, they described it as the antithesis of the corporate entertainment world: a haven where musicians, poets, writers, filmmakers and artists of all kinds could find support for their projects. Along with the Beatles' last four albums, the company released a magnificently eclectic catalog and a handful of films. But the open-door policy didn't last long: a parade of hucksters and freeloaders quickly drained the company's resources.
When the Beatles went supernova in 1970, Apple absorbed the immediate shock.
Sir Paul, hoping to extricate himself from the partnership, at first sued to have the company dissolved, but later reconsidered its usefulness. And for the next 19 years a tangle of lawsuits — the Beatles against one another, and the Beatles and Apple against EMI Records — were about all that Apple produced.
Those suits were settled in November 1989, and the terms were not made public. One detail leaked out, though: EMI would maintain its ownership of the recordings the Beatles made for the company between 1962 and 1970 but could not release anything without Apple's approval. At first Apple exerted this control vigorously, refusing to release anything on CD beyond the standard British albums, released in 1987.
Gradually Apple began to relent. Two popular early-1970's compilations, known as the "Red" and "Blue" albums (officially, "1962-1966" and "1966-1970") were reissued on CD in 1993. More recently Apple and EMI have collaborated on new compilations, like "1," a collection of Beatles No. 1 hits, as well as "The Capitol Versions," two boxed sets (so far) of the group's recordings in the configurations that Capitol (EMI's American arm) released in the 1960's.
Meanwhile Apple undertook archival projects, including "The Beatles at the BBC" and "The Beatles Anthology," a multimedia autobiography that included a 10-hour video, a book and six CD's of unreleased recordings. The reissue of the Beatles' cartoon film, "Yellow Submarine," in 1999, brought with it a fully reconceived soundtrack album, "Yellow Submarine Songtrack," and in 2003 Apple addressed the Beatles' mixed feelings about Phil Spector's production of the "Let It Be" album by releasing the stripped-down "Let It Be ... Naked."
But those were in-house projects. Proposals from outside continued to find their way into the dustbin at Apple's London offices, until Guy Laliberté, Cirque du Soleil's founder, discovered the secret weapon: friendship with a former Beatle, in this case George Harrison. In 2000 they began discussing a a collaboration using the Beatles' music. After Harrison died, in November 2001, Apple kept the project going. It expects "Love" to run for at least 10 years, packing 2,000 people into the theater twice a night, five nights a week, with ticket prices ranging from $69 to $150.
If the shows sell out, it would be like the Beatles filling Shea Stadium nearly 10 times a year, without having to tune up. Or even turn up.
IN the world of Beatles obsessives, the response to "Love" has been a shrug. A Las Vegas spectacular? Isn't that a little ... Fat-Period Elvis? And a soundtrack of mash-ups?
Beatles fans just want the Beatles. They want things they haven't seen or heard, and they want the music they have heard to sound better than it does on the available CD's. They want Apple to remaster the classic albums, and they want those albums in surround mixes. Some fans would like to see the recordings available for download. (In court papers filed during the company's lawsuit against Apple Computer, Neil Aspinall, the Beatles former road manager who now runs Apple's daily operations, said a remixing project was under way, and that the group's recordings wouldn't be made available online until that process was finished. He said nothing about when that might be.)
They also want Apple to release projects that have long sat on its shelf, like the revamped video of the Beatles' 1965 Shea Stadium concert, and an expanded, bonus-packed DVD of the group's last film, "Let It Be." And how about a collection of the promotional films the group made in the 1960's? Or DVD's of Beatles concerts that were televised in Paris, Munich and Tokyo? Or the CD version of the 1964 and 1965 Hollywood Bowl concerts? Or the fabled 27-minute outtake of "Helter Skelter" and the avant-garde "Carnival of Light" collage, created for a London "happening" in 1967? For Beatles fans an extravaganza like "Love" looks like an unnecessary sideshow.
But they are in for a tremendous surprise.
A couple of weeks ago Giles Martin stopped in New York on his way to London, and invited me to hear his "Love" mixes on a five-channel surround system at Magno Studios. I was knocked out by some, but I was absolutely floored by the pristine quality and fine definition of the sound. With the compression of the original 1960's productions stripped away, voices and instruments seem real, as if they were in the room. The new mixes wrap you in the group's arrangements and let you hear long-buried interplay that illuminates the Beatles' brilliance. This is a level of detail that simply hasn't been heard outside the Abbey Road studios until now.
On "Yesterday" you can hear Paul McCartney's pick hitting the strings of his guitar and the strings snapping against the neck. The guitar solo and the orchestral strings on "Something" had similar clarity and presence, and in the surround version of "I Am the Walrus" the whole kaleidoscope of textures — including an extraordinarily crisp drum sound — made the song quirkier than ever.
The mixes of "Revolution" and "Come Together" are incomparably more powerful than the familiar versions. Mr. Starr's childlike "Octopus's Garden" gets a fantastic restructuring that begins with the string introduction to "Good Night" and then places Mr. Starr's vocal, unaccompanied, in a foggy ambience (using effects from "Yellow Submarine" and drums from "Lovely Rita") before the full band kicks into the more familiar arrangement. And a juxtaposition of the drum figure from "Tomorrow Never Knows" and the vocal line from "Within You, Without You" creates a link between those mystical songs, recorded nearly nine months apart.
The new recordings were made under the close watch of Apple. Sir Paul, Mr. Starr, Ms. Ono and Mrs. Harrison occasionally dropped in on the Martins to hear the mixes. "It was a little terrifying," said the younger Mr. Martin, who is 36, born a few months before the Beatles broke up. (His father is 80.) "When Ringo came in, the first thing he said was, 'Have you done "Octopus's Garden" yet?' Paul said he liked what he heard, but that we could go even farther out than we have, and we've gone pretty far. And we were very concerned that Yoko and Olivia feel we were treating John's and George's songs well, but they were both very pleased."
Why do these recordings sound so immensely better than the standard CD's? The Martins made the "Love" soundtrack directly from the original unmixed master tapes of the Beatles' sessions. Because of the way recordings were made in the 1960's, the Beatles' music as we know it, both on LP and CD, come from tapes that were several generations removed from those session tapes, and electronically processed to make up for the limitations of 1960's audio technology. When the Beatles' CD's were released, in 1987, these processed tapes were used for all but two of the albums. (Sir George Martin remixed "Rubber Soul" and "Help!")
At the time CD mastering was in its infancy and yielded a sound that seems harsh when compared with more recent CD's, which often rely directly on the session tapes. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Byrds and even the Monkees have seen their catalogs remastered to take these improvements into account. But not the Beatles. Their CD's, priced at top dollar and running only about 30 harsh-sounding minutes apiece, look more squalid every year.
Collectors endlessly debate what the ideal series of remastered Beatles albums would be. Until 1999 the answer seemed clear: upgraded versions of the British albums and singles in their original stereo and mono mixes (there are often notable differences in instrumentation, edits or vocal takes), along with the handful of variant mixes released in Japan, Australia, Germany and other countries.
But the release of the "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" in 1999 made some listeners reconsider. Produced by Peter Cobbin, they were updated remixes of the session tapes. The resulting version of "Nowhere Man" was telling: in the original stereo mix, the vocals are on one channel, the instruments are on the other. Mr. Cobbin spread the sweetly harmonized vocals that open the song across the stereo image, to stunning effect. Maybe, listeners began to argue, an upgraded Beatles catalog should take the flexibility of modern mixing into account.
The "Yellow Submarine" and "Beatles Anthology" DVD's added another complication. Some of the surround mixes were so revelatory that tech-savvy fans, knowing how long it takes Apple to do things, began creating their own surround mixes. Even though these amateur remixers don't have access to the session masters, their versions are often surprisingly effective.
Apple should, of course, get in there with its own surround series, now that it has dangled teasers in "Yellow Submarine," the "Beatles Anthology" and "Love."
But if the Beatles really want to be revolutionary — and counteract Apple's reputation for slowness and litigiousness — they should take a truly bold step: release the component tracks of their unmixed session tapes on DVD's, with a Creative Commons copyright license that would allow fans to create their own remixes, mash-ups and recompositions for noncommercial use.
Not that they'd be the first to move in that direction. Two years ago David Bowie offered the component tracks for songs from his "Reality" album for download on his Web site and even offered prizes — including a car — to fans who created the most original mash-ups. Wired magazine has offered unmixed tracks by several bands for similar use.
The Beatles, though, could be the first major group to open its archives freely. And if Apple was really meant to be, as Paul McCartney described it in 1968, "a kind of Western Communism," what could be a more natural expression of that ideal?
Iron Man Slows, and So Does the Industry
By Jeff Leeds
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. THERE are pockets of the country where a lurching 45-foot black bus festooned with demonic imagery would be an unwelcome sight. This is not one of them. When the Ozzfest 2006 motor coach, a rolling advertisement for Ozzy Osbourne's annual tour of hard-rock and heavy-metal bands, parks outside a shopping mall, a clutch of teenagers gathers outside hoping to score free tickets to the shows.
The bus is ostensibly part of a nationwide beauty contest designed to generate publicity, but judging from its reception here that hardly seems necessary. A woman in her 30's breathlessly dials her cellphone to tell her husband she has seen the bus. "The whole family loves Ozzy," she says. "They all pray to Ozzy." And they, like the multitudes of Mr. Osbourne's fans nationwide, worship at the box office.
Back in 1971 Mr. Osbourne prophetically declared himself the Iron Man. At 57 he finds himself with fans both older than he is and, thanks in part to his recent television stardom, a decade younger than his kids. Now in its 11th year, his tour, which begins again Thursday in Seattle, remains one of rock's biggest juggernauts. Generating almost $20 million a year in ticket sales — in addition to a lucrative mini-industry of souvenirs, merchandise and related CD's and DVD's — Ozzfest ranks among the top-selling tours in the nation.
But this year the Iron Man and his tour are confronting an uncomfortable reality: rust. Mr. Osbourne, who broke more than half a dozen bones in an accident a few years back, plans to play just 10 of this year's 26 dates. "Ozzy needed to take time out," said Sharon Osbourne, his wife and manager. (Mr. Osbourne was in tour rehearsals last week and unavailable for comment, his spokesman said.) "It just becomes like a routine. The thing is, you never want to get like that. He's got to be as excited as everybody else." But it is increasingly unclear how many more years a man of his age can stay with the tour in any capacity. "It's a worry to me," Ms. Osbourne acknowledged.
She's not the only one. The $3-billion-a-year concert industry is worrying right along with her, about Ozzy and all his contemporaries too.
This summer, a remarkable number of the projected best-selling tours are led by people eligible for AARP membership. Tom Petty is 55. Jimmy Buffett is 59. Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend are both 61. Madonna, whose tour is the hottest so far this year, is a youthful 47.
Last year, according to the concert trade journal Pollstar, 6 of the 10 highest-grossing tours starred artists in their late 50's or 60's, among them the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Eagles and Elton John. Those six alone accounted for more than $470 million in domestic ticket sales — about 30 percent of the total for the year's 50 biggest tours.
But keeping those guys on the road gets harder every year, with more canceled performances and more Bengay.
U2, Metallica and Prince, who made it big in the 80's, still seem to be going strong. After them, though, it's a precipitous drop-off to the next tier of younger performers. The Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay and Radiohead are often discussed as successors; the punk veterans Green Day and the dance-rock upstarts the Killers are also sometimes mentioned. None of them, however, can draw mass audiences at premium prices the way the older acts do. All of which has a great many people nervously counting down the years.
"Eventually," said Randy Phillips, chief executive of the concert promoter AEG Live, "we're going to run out of headliners."
Accounting for the shallow talent pool, some industry executives cite the effects of MTV, which lets fans see performers without ever leaving their couch. Others blame a recording industry more focused on disposable hits than long-term career development, or a universe of digital singles that can keep fans from establishing deep connections with an artist over a long career. Whatever the case, John Scher, the New York music promoter and entrepreneur, says that unless the industry's dynamics change, many of the nation's big summer music venues "will be plowed over and be made into housing projects."
MANY fans — and rival concert organizers — attribute Ozzfest's staying power to its mix. A daylong affair featuring 20 bands, it combines established rock acts that have older fans with up-and-coming metal talent that sways a fervent younger audience.
It's designed to serve as its own farm team. Smaller bands play on a second stage, usually in the parking lot. The greenest of them pay as much as $75,000 for this chance, in the hope of someday graduating to the highly lucrative main event. This year's headliner, System of a Down, is receiving about $325,000 per show, according to several people close to the tour.
Charlie Walker, president of the music division of Live Nation (the company that coordinates the tour with Ms. Osbourne), says the strength of the other headliners on this year's tour, including Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold, shows that the system has worked. "The torch has been passed to these younger bands, and they're carrying their weight," he said. But the numbers are already slipping: roughly 431,000 fans purchased tickets last year, down from almost 575,000 in 2001, according to data from Pollstar, and tickets to shows Mr. Osbourne is skipping generally go for less than those he intends to play. As an incentive this year the tour is offering four tickets for the price of three in most markets.
Much of its competition now comes from smaller package tours of metal bands, some of which came up through the Ozzfest ranks.
That's yet another reason many predict a major realignment in the concert industry. As stars able to fill a stadium — or sell $250 premium tickets, as Sir Paul did last year — pass from the scene, the business may coalesce around medium- and small-scale shows.
For bands that would mean more days on the road, and more theaters and clubs than stadiums and arenas. For promoters it would mean relying on smaller individual paydays to make the bottom line. Promoters may also be forced to rely more on tours with ensemble casts. One frequently mentioned example is the Vans Warped Tour, a punk-oriented outing featuring up-and-comers, stalwarts and skateboarding, which has lasted 12 years without any huge star to anchor it. But perhaps as a result that tour can't charge nearly as much as Ozzfest. So bands get paid less and have to play more. "It's very exhausting," said Kris Roe of the Ataris, a rock band that has played the full tour twice. "You just try to adapt."
Many are also pinning hopes not on cross-country tours but on stationary multi-day festivals like the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee; such events are already a tradition in Europe. But would there be enough local interest to stage such events in every market? Even 20 festivals a year might not offset the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales from the classic-rock set, Mr. Scher said.
Bill Silva, a longtime Los Angeles promoter who is an organizer of events at the Hollywood Bowl and other places, said: "It feels to me like a lot of people have their heads in the sand. More people are focused on the fact that they're having a hard time selling tickets this summer than are focused on the fact that they may not have anything to sell tickets to in 10 years."
OZZFEST has tried to prepare for the post-Ozzy era by turning itself into a multifaceted communal affair. Away from the stage fans can wander a vast, circuslike concession area called the Village of the Damned, where they can get a tattoo or body piercing and play carnival games to win CD's. This year, in nine markets, they can also watch fire-breathers, "human oddities" and other sideshow performers. And they can patronize the tour's sponsors, like FYE, the music retailer, and Sony PlayStation.
"It's not about Ozzy anymore," said Josh Grabelle, president of Trustkill Records, an independent metal label and a partner in a competing tour, Sounds of the Underground. "It's about hanging out with your friends, barbecuing and drinking beers."
Organizers are also trying to reach fans where they live. That's where the black Ozzfest bus, bearing the picture of a woman with a bouquet in her hand and a demonic red glow in her eyes, comes in. Eddie Webb, a rock radio D.J., and Dave Moscato, who will be onstage introducing bands once the tour gets under way, are riding it cross-country, soliciting entrants for the first Miss Ozzfest beauty contest. To ensure that they find suitable candidates, the two young men are armed with a binder listing the location of every Hooters restaurant and strip club on their journey. Along the way they are making pit stops at record stores and tattoo shops to hand out posters and encourage potential fans.
"A lot of the bands these kids listen to, you won't hear them on the radio," Mr. Moscato said. "We have to go to the street level to tell kids, 'Ozzfest is transforming, and we have been listening to you.' It's growing with our crowd, rather than forcing it down their throat."
Is it working? On the streets of San Bernardino, a stay-at-home mother with pink hair, a Black Sabbath T-shirt and a car bearing an "Osbourne family" decal seems excited. But other fans have doubts. "Last year was really good," said Wynter Shaw, 22, a fan who posed for the Miss Ozzfest cameras in West Hollywood. "This year I wouldn't pay to see it. Ozzy's not playing all the dates. It seems really commercial to me."
Barbara Molina, 17, a clerk at a Hot Topic store, comes from a multigenerational Ozzfest family. Her aunt and uncle have attended regularly, she says, but this year may be a different story: "I don't know if they're going to go anymore, because Ozzy's not going to be on it." As for herself, Ms. Molina says she can't afford tickets, the cheapest of which run $35 or $40 in big markets. But at least she has her memories: it was at Ozzfest that she got her first tattoo, a handsome Celtic knot on her hip.
UNTIL anyone comes up with a better model, or a new roster of proven performers, the industry's war horses are doing their best to keep going. In part that means reining in old excesses. Even the members of Kiss, who with an average age of 56 are preparing to tour Japan, know better than to rock and roll all night. "They actually go to sleep instead of stay up for three months or drink themselves into a coma," said Doc McGhee, the band's manager. "You just can't do that day in and day out, not as you get older." As it stands, he added, "they definitely take more ibuprofen than cocaine."
Keenly aware of the toll that regular touring can exact on their aging bodies, many established stars have sought ways to retain their energy. Aerosmith has made regular use of a nutritionist, for example. According to contract riders posted on the Smoking Gun Web site, James Taylor, 58, wants his band's hospitality room stocked with packets of Emergen-C powder (lemon or lime, preferably). The Beach Boys, led by Mike Love, 65, require a licensed masseur qualified in either Swedish or Oriental deep-tissue massage. Mr. Osbourne himself has requested an ear, nose and throat specialist to administer a B-12 shot.
Steven Van Zandt, 55, a longtime member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, said he decided decades ago to build a workout regimen into his road life. "We brought all this gym equipment, and when we get to a hotel, we turn one of the hotel rooms into a gym," he said. "You need it more than you did when you were young." Mr. Springsteen, he noted, "has a special diet, you cut down on meat-eating," and sometimes wears kneepads to protect his joints while performing his famous knee slides across the stage.
Mr. Van Zandt said he believes his generation of musicians has more energy, and an "obligation" to perform up to the standards of rock's pioneers. "I saw this coming, 20, 25 years ago, and we talked about it. The sad truth is, when we're gone, it's over."
These efforts don't always work. In March, Aerosmith canceled the latter part of its North American tour when Steven Tyler, 58, had to undergo surgery. (The cause was never disclosed.) And health issues from Keith Richards's head injury to Ron Wood's substance abuse have bedeviled the Rolling Stones' tour this year.
Still, the news isn't all bad. Writing on his blog last week, Pete Townshend, 61, told his fans, "I began this diary wishing to speak about how doing all this makes me feel old." But he continued: "In many ways, despite the years I carry, it all seems easier today. Flying home on a Lear jet is an indulgence that no one really deserves, but six hours in the back of a van trying to sleep with amplifiers falling on your head, is not an option any more."
As for Mr. Osbourne, if he is heading toward retirement, he has his own way of staying young. This year the Iron Man is playing some of his dates on Ozzfest's second stage: out in the parking lot, closer to the most rabid fans.
The Original Ray's of Comedy
DID you hear the one about the East Coast-West Coast Friars Club war?
The punch line is that it's true. Two once-related branches of the century-old fraternal organization of entertainers, a group that has counted as members the most famous jokesters ever, from Milton Berle to Whoopi Goldberg, from Will Rogers to Robin Williams, are locked in a bitter legal and financial battle rivaling the infamous bicoastal rap war of a decade ago, except this one is being fought with roast-quality insults and expensive lawyers instead of rap songs and bullets.
The East Coast side has been headed for the last 11 years by the comedian Freddie Roman, out of the club's opulent six-story town house on East 55th Street in Manhattan.
The West Coast posse is led by Darren Schaeffer, an entrepreneur who benefited from his father's pharmaceutical fortune. He bought the financially-strapped club in 2004, changed the name to the Friars of Beverly Hills and transformed it from a nonprofit organization to a commercial one. At stake is the right of the Los Angeles club to used the name Friars in association with celebrity roasts and other events it is host to.
Despite the Friars Club motto, "Prae Omnia Fraternitas," or "Before all things, brotherhood," sides are being drawn.
"I'm in the Freddie Roman posse," said Susie Essman, who has been a member of the New York Friars Club since 1995.
As a star on the HBO comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which is taped in Los Angeles, she said she stays in a hotel when she's working in Los Angeles and has never considered joining the West Coast club. "With their pharmaceutical money, who trusts them?" she said. "I trust comedians."
Jack Carter, 80, the veteran stand-up comic and a Los Angeles Friar, is in the Schaeffer posse. "All they have in New York City is the names of rooms," Mr. Carter said by telephone from his home in Southern California, referring to the New York club where most of the rooms are named after celebrities. "All the talent is in L.A. There's no one left in New York anymore except Stewie Stone." (Not that Mr. Carter is dissing Mr. Stone, an old friend with whom he performed recently on the Florida condo circuit.)
The bicoastal wrangling began after Mr. Schaeffer bought the club in Los Angeles, but it escalated in May 2005, when the New York Friars, officially known as Friars National Association, filed a trademark infringement suit in Federal District Court in Los Angeles over the use of the name Friars. The New York club, which was founded in 1904, holds the rights to control most uses of the name Friars Club, according to a licensing agreement devised when the Los Angeles club was started in 1947. Despite a court-brokered mediation session in April, no settlement has been reached.
But underlying the legal feud is a cultural rift between the coasts. The New York club, based in a city with deep roots in stand-up comedy and stage performance, has benefited from a sense of nostalgia that has not transferred to Los Angeles, where the Friars fell on hard times once the club's founding generation — a group who honed their craft in the fraternal glow of footlights — began to dim.
"The people who were driving it, like Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra, are gone and there's nobody there to carry the torch," said Eddy Friedfeld, 44, a New York Friar who helped write "Caesar's Hours," the autobiography of Sid Caesar, the longtime Los Angeles Friar. "Maybe the heart of the Friars was always in New York."
Red Buttons, 87, a longtime member of the Los Angeles club, put it this way: "There isn't much action out there for guys of my era. There's nobody left of our gang."
The New York club now has about 1,300 members, most of whom pay about $2,000 annually in dues, Mr. Roman said. Members include famous people like Jerry Seinfeld, and not-famous lawyers, writers and real estate brokers. (Two-thirds of the members must work in show business.) The sponsorship of two existing members, a background check and an interview process is required for admission. There are no initiation fees for performers, but those who aren't in the entertainment industry must pay $6,000. Mr. Roman said the club received about $5 million in membership dues and restaurant profits last year, spending about the same amount on overhead.
The Los Angeles club, which was down to around 200 members in 2003, now has about 700 members who pay $200 a month for a regular membership and $600 for a platinum membership. Both include access to the restaurant and amenities like Miltie's card room, an Xbox game room, and Groucho's cigar room, said Annie Teegardin, director of special events. There is a $2,500 initiation fee that has been waived for about 150 people, including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Leelee Sobieski, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It is hoped that they will attract paying customers. Fees are also sometimes waived that for those who rent its facilities for weddings and bar mitzvahs, Ms. Teegardin said.
"It is basically just a catering hall now," said Mr. Roman, a New York Friar since 1968, when the two clubs were on better terms. "Out there it was George Jessel, Jack Benny and all the New York guys that moved out there," he said of earlier days. "It was a nice relationship between the two clubs."
While such luminaries gained their greatest fame from the movies, it was their stage roots in New York that made them feel they were all in the same boat, said Rick Saphire, a longtime talent manager. "It was truly a fraternity," he said. "Many of them came up the same route. They worked their way through vaudeville and radio. They commiserated with each other."
At the top of the Los Angeles heap was Mr. Berle, the former abbot (a ceremonial title) of the New York Friars who helped the Los Angeles Friars move to their current home in 1961.
Decades of boozy good times reigned at both clubs. The comic Bobby Ramsen attended a Friars testimonial dinner for Frank Sinatra in California in the mid-1970's. "On the dais was Don Rickles, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Donald O'Connor, June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Tony Martin, Jack Carter and Bob Newhart," he said. "Milton was the toastmaster and they were very exciting nights and they were packed."
Times started changing in mid-1980's when memberships grew older. In 1987 the lawyer Gloria Allred forced the Los Angeles club to allow her and other women to be members; it was Mr. Berle who eventually sponsored her. " 'You think it's because you're a women?' " Ms. Allred recalls him saying. " 'Wrong,' he said. 'It's to lower the average age of the club because the average age of the club is dead.' " The New York club opened its membership to women the following year.
When Mr. Roman became the dean of the New York club in 1995, he instituted a program to attract younger members by offering to waive the initiation fee and grant six months without dues. It worked. Under that program, which still exists, Ms. Essman joined, as did Cory Kahaney, a competitor on the NBC show "Last Comic Standing 3"
Meanwhile, efforts in Los Angeles to recruit younger members through cocktail parties and toasts for personalities like the kittenish weatherwoman Jillian Barberie failed, said Zoë Yeoman, who was on the Los Angeles Friars board from 2000 to 2004. "Once we started losing our celebrity membership you ended up with a club with stockbrokers and lawyers and real estate developers — the sycophants who had the good fortune to be able to pay for entree," she said.
And with the club's cracked upholstery and mismatched china, those members soon lost interest. Ms. Teegardin said, "It looked like a really, really run-down Sizzler."
Mr. Schaeffer plans to turn it all around. After plunking down just under $500,000 for the club and investing $10 million in renovations, he wrote in an e-mail message that he plans "to have the best private club on the West Coast." (His father, Irwin, was president of the Los Angeles Friars Club from the mid-1990's to 2004.) Mr. Schaeffer wants to bring back the club's former glory, even if he has to broadcast past events throughout the club on plasma screens to resurrect the old mood, he wrote.
Mr. Roman, who said the New York club has spent "tens of thousands" of dollars on lawyers already, said his main worry is that Mr. Schaeffer's efforts might hurt the Friars Club brand. "I just don't want them to hurt us in the future," he said.
In the eyes of West Coast partisans, however, the future of the New York club is perilously trapped in its past. Mr. Carter pointed out that the subject of the most recent New York roast was Jerry Lewis. The jokes were funny ("Why are you so bloated?" the comic Jeffrey Ross asked. "You look like you drowned four days ago."), but perhaps too prescient. Mr. Lewis had a heart attack on the airplane back to San Diego after the show.
"You're in trouble when you have to roast a guy who's going to have a heart attack on the way home," Mr. Carter said. (A spokesman for Mr. Lewis said that he is out of the hospital and doing well.)
Still, for many comedians, the past is what makes the Friars Club relevant. "I became a member over 20 years ago," the comedian Richard Lewis, who lives in Los Angeles and was unaware of the bicoastal contretemps, wrote in an e-mail message. "I joined mainly because I love the astonishing history behind it, the food is the greatest and the several million anecdotes that one can hear, on a daily basis, remind me that I haven't been the only performer screwed in show business."
Has String Theory Tied Up Better Ideas In Physics?
Nobel physicist Wolfgang Pauli didn't suffer fools gladly. Fond of calling colleagues' work "wrong" or "completely wrong," he saved his worst epithet for work so sloppy and speculative it is "not even wrong."
That's how mathematician Peter Woit of Columbia University describes string theory. In his book, "Not Even Wrong," published in the U.K. this month and due in the U.S. in September, he calls the theory "a disaster for physics."
A year or two ago, that would have been a fringe opinion, motivated by sour grapes over not sitting at physics' equivalent of the cool kids' table. But now, after two decades in which string theory has been the doyenne of best-seller lists and the dominant paradigm in particle physics, Mr. Woit has company.
"When it comes to extending our knowledge of the laws of nature, we have made no real headway" in 30 years, writes physicist Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, in his book, "The Trouble with Physics," also due in September. "It's called hitting the wall."
He blames string theory for this "crisis in particle physics," the branch of physics that tries to explain the most fundamental forces and building blocks of the world.
String theory, which took off in 1984, posits that elementary particles such as electrons are not points, as standard physics had it. They are, instead, vibrations of one-dimensional strings 1/100 billion billionth the size of an atomic nucleus. Different vibrations supposedly produce all the subatomic particles from quarks to gluons. Oh, and strings exist in a space of 10, or maybe 11, dimensions. No one knows exactly what or where the extra dimensions are, but assuming their existence makes the math work.
String theory, proponents said, could reconcile quantum mechanics (the physics of subatomic particles) and gravity, the longest-distance force in the universe. That impressed particle physicists no end. In the 1980s, most jumped on the string bandwagon and since then, stringsters have written thousands of papers.
But one thing they haven't done is coax a single prediction from their theory. In fact, "theory" is a misnomer, since unlike general relativity theory or quantum theory, string theory is not a concise set of solvable equations describing the behavior of the physical world. It's more of an idea or a framework.
Partly as a result, string theory "makes no new predictions that are testable by current _ or even currently conceivable _ experiments," writes Prof. Smolin. "The few clean predictions it does make have already been made by other" theories.
Worse, the equations of string theory have myriad solutions, an extreme version of how the algebraic equation X2 4 has two solutions (2 and -2). The solutions arise from the fact that there are so many ways to "compactify" its extra dimensions _ to roll them up so you get the three spatial dimensions of the real world. With more than 10 raised to 500th power (1 followed by 500 zeros) ways to compactify, there are that many possible universes.
"There is no good insight into which is more likely," concedes physicist Michael Peskin of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
If string theory made a prediction that didn't accord with physical reality, stringsters could say it's correct in one of these other universes. As a result, writes Prof. Smolin, "string theory cannot be disproved." By the usual standards, that would rule it out as science.
String theory isn't any more wrong than preons, twistor theory, dynamical triangulations, or other physics fads. But in those cases, physicists saw the writing on the wall and moved on. Not so in string theory.
"What is strange is that string theory has survived past the point where it should have been clear that it wouldn't work," says Mr. Woit. Not merely survived, but thrived. Virtually every young mathematically inclined particle theorist must sign on to the string agenda to get an academic job. By his count, of 22 recently tenured professors in particle theory at the six top U.S. departments, 20 are string theorists.
One physicist commented on Mr. Woit's blog that Ph.D. students who choose mathematical theory topics that "are non-string are seriously harming their career prospects."
To be fair, string theory can claim some success. A 1985 paper showed that if you compactify extra dimensions in a certain way, the number of quarks and leptons you get is exactly the number found in nature. "This is the only idea out there for why the number of quarks and leptons is what it is," says Prof. Peskin. Still, that is less a prediction of string theory than a consequence.
If fewer physicists were tied to strings might some of the enduring mysteries of the universe be solved? Might we know why there is more matter than antimatter? Why the proton's mass is 1,836 times the electron's? Why the 18 key numbers in the standard model of fundamental particles have the values they do?
"With smart people pursuing these questions, more might have been answered," says Mr. Woit. "Too few really good people have been working on anything other than string theory."
That string theory abandoned testable predictions may be its ultimate betrayal of science.
'Blue Pill' Prototype Creates 100% Undetectable Malware
A security researcher with expertise in rootkits has built a working prototype of new technology that is capable of creating malware that remains "100 percent undetectable," even on Windows Vista x64 systems.
Joanna Rutkowska, a stealth malware researcher at Singapore-based IT security firm COSEINC, says the new Blue Pill concept uses AMD's SVM/Pacifica virtualization technology to create an ultra-thin hypervisor that takes complete control of the underlying operating system. ADVERTISEMENT
Rutkowska plans to discuss the idea and demonstrate a working prototype for Windows Vista x64 at the SyScan Conference in Singapore on July 21 and at the Black Hat Briefings in Las Vegas on Aug. 3.
The Black Hat presentation will occur on the same day Microsoft is scheduled to show off some of the key security features and functionality being fitted into Vista.
Rutkowska said the presentation will deal with a "generic method" of inserting arbitrary code into the Vista Beta 2 kernel (x64 edition) without relying on any implementation bug.
VM Rootkits: The Next Big Threat? Click here to read more.
The technique effectively bypasses a crucial anti-rootkit policy change coming in Windows Vista that requires kernel-mode software to have a digital signature to load on x64-based systems.
The idea of a virtual machine rootkit isn't entirely new. Researchers at Microsoft Research and the University of Michigan have created a VM-based rootkit called "SubVirt" that is nearly impossible to detect because its state cannot be accessed by security software running in the target system.
Now, Rutkowska is pushing the envelope even more, arguing that the only way Blue Pill can be detected is if AMD's Pacifica technology is flawed.
"The strength of the Blue Pill is based on the SVM technology," Rutkowska explained on her Invisible Things blog. She contends that if generic detection could be written for the virtual machine technology, then Blue Pill can be detected, but it also means that Pacifica is "buggy."
Read more here about Microsoft's moves to hardens Vista against kernel-mode malware.
"On the other hand—if you would not be able to come up with a general detection technique for SVM based virtual machine, then you should assume, that you would also not be able to detect Blue Pill," she added.
"The idea behind Blue Pill is simple: your operating system swallows the Blue Pill and it awakes inside the Matrix controlled by the ultra thin Blue Pill hypervisor. This all happens on-the-fly (i.e. without restarting the system) and there is no performance penalty and all the devices," she explained.
Rutkowska stressed that the Blue Pill technology does not rely on any bug of the underlying operating system. "I have implemented a working prototype for Vista x64, but I see no reasons why it should not be possible to port it to other operating systems, like Linux or BSD which can be run on x64 platform," she added.
Blue Pill is being developed exclusively for COSEINC Research and will not be available for download. However, Rutkowska said the company is planning to organize trainings about Blue Pill and other technologies where the source code would be made available.
Rutkowska has previously done work on Red Pill, which can be used to detect whether code is being executed under a VMM (virtual machine monitor) or under a real environment.
Buffett Beefs Up Gates Foundation
Donna Gordon Blankinship
With Warren Buffett's announcement that he will be sending about $1.5 billion every year to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the charity has a new, happy challenge: how to distribute twice as much money each year.
In a letter dated Monday, Buffett told Bill and Melinda Gates that the first donation of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. stock would go to the foundation next month.
The foundation, which has assets of $29.1 billion, spends money on world health, poverty and increasing access to technology in developing countries. In the United States, it focuses on education and technology in public libraries.
The money from Buffett, 75, comes with a significant catch. The letter says Buffett wants all his money to be distributed in the year it is donated, not added to the foundation's assets for future giving. The foundation gave away $1.36 billion in 2005, so the Buffett commitment would effectively double its spending.
Buffett said he plans to give away 12,050,000 Class B shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock to five foundations, which also include the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation named in honor of his wife and 350,000 shares for the three foundations run by each of his children.
The gifts would be worth nearly $37 billion, which represents the bulk of the $44 billion that Buffet's stock holdings are worth today. Five-sixths of the shares will be earmarked for the Gates Foundation.
In his letter to the Gates Foundation, Buffett said he admired the foundation and wanted to "materially extend it future capabilities." Until now, all the money given away by the Gates Foundation has come from the couple.
A statement issued Sunday by the Gates Foundation and signed by Bill and Melinda Gates spoke of their relationship with Buffett over the past 15 years and his influence on their philanthropy.
"Warren has not only an amazing intellect but also a strong sense of justice. Warren's wisdom will help us do a better job and make it more fun at the same time," they said. The couple said they were "awed" by Buffett's decision.
The Buffett pledge also requires that Bill and Melinda Gates remain alive and active in the policy-setting and administration of the foundation. Buffett plans to give each foundation 5 percent of his total pledge each year in July.
Bill Gates, the world's richest man, announced earlier this month that he would be stepping back from his day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft Corp. in July 2008 so he can spend more time on the Seattle-based foundation. The foundation followed his announcement by saying Melinda Gates would also be taking a more active role in their philanthropic work.
Buffett, the world's second-richest man, said in an interview with Fortune magazine that the timing of the two announcements - one week apart - was just "happenstance."
Buffett's gift is "really significant," not just for its size but for its potential to encourage other giving, said Diana Aviv, president and CEO of Independent Sector, a nonprofit coalition of about 550 charities, foundations and corporate giving programs that includes The Gates Foundation.
"I'm sure there are lots of young, wealthy individuals who have made their fortunes and who are watching this very carefully," she said. "These business leaders are icons."
Microsoft To Showcase Business Technology
Microsoft Corp.'s best-known business software is for creating spreadsheets, documents and presentations, but the company is hoping to convince corporations that it also can be the one-stop shop for sophisticated communications technology.
At an event Monday in San Francisco, it plans to showcase a slew of planned products designed to more closely link virtually all workers' communications, from e-mail and instant messaging to videoconferencing and even traditional telephone calls.
The idea is that a worker could, for example, receive an e-mail and, instead of responding in print, easily set up a conference call with all the recipients. Those people might even see the e-mail header on their phones, much like you see caller ID today.
When strung together, the so-called Unified Communications products also are designed to help employees immediately get in contact, whether the person they want to reach is sitting at a computer, driving home or on a business trip.
Microsoft has been working on early iterations of such technology for the past several years, and some, such as Live Communications Server 2005, are already on the market. The new products and updates are due to be out by mid-2007.
Microsoft's new software relies on technologies such as broadband Internet access and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). The Redmond company also is partnering with companies including cell phone maker Motorola Inc. to provide the hardware for the offerings.
Currently, many businesses rely on separate companies for things like traditional phone calls and voice mail, e-mail and instant messaging.
One challenge for Microsoft and other companies seeking to bundle such capabilities is that some of those services, such as instant messaging, are available for free.
But Zig Serafin, general manager for Unified Communications at Microsoft, said the software maker is hearing from more companies concerned about the security and reliability of free downloads.
Although he conceded that it could be several years before companies start using some of these advanced technologies, Microsoft's goal is to demonstrate that such technologies can evolve into one linked offering, rather than several separate ones.
As they (don't) say in Italy
That's right, Double Biquad luv! Twice the copper, twice the pleasure.
Ahhh, the art of the Cantenna. There's nothing like finishing off a reliable DIY 2.4GHz antenna to fill oneself with pride. When $10 of shopping nets you a $100 antenna plus lunch, you begin to appreciate junkfood in a new way. As a project approaches, each Pringle tastes sweeter and sweeter (or saltier and saltier, so many flavors!)
Alas, there are many cans. They come in many shapes and many sizes. Not all are well suited for cantennas. Thus, the world of the Beer Cantennas is lonely, with few examples.
Ladies and gents, kids of all ages, THAT HAS CHANGED! I sumbit my latest, greatest invention. An invention that utilizes cans of any shape or size! An invention that revolutionizes the way we do wireless! A tool that will turn the world of cantennas INSIDE OUT!
Behold! The Beerquad!
Biquads aren't new. Just googling for biquad nets lots of results.
The hard part is making a reflector that is 123 X 123mm, or, for a double, 246 X 123mm (or 110 X 110mm for use with a dish, see Google links.) For a biquad, 14oz Guinness cans are perfect. For a Double Biquad, the Labatt's Blue at 25oz was a TIGHT fit (practice your cutting!)
Alas, I am not the authority for wireless works. This is, literally, my first antenna of any shape or size. Compared to other double biquads, it rates on par (others are around 45dB SNR, mine peaked at 48dB with sustained of 46dB. Without a side by side comparison, though, these numbers are meaningless.)
My project was an answer to the fact that, indeed, beercans aren't used for cantennas, and that's just wrong. All garbage is created equal, some pieces more equal than others. Beer cans? Beer cans can be a symbol of taste and pride. Besides, they can be made to look damn cool.
So the following isn't the worlds best guide to how to make a biquad, it's merely an example of how to make a beerquad.
I really like how this turned out. I was split between whether I should keep both logos or just go for one, but since this is a double biquad, it made sense to go for double theme. I'm glad I did because it looks great, and I didn't have to drill or solder through the logo.
Cementing this much aluminum to acrylic isn't easy, and was almost as hard as drinking 25oz of beer before it went flat (a task I failed.) People interested in trying this, you need to find a good way to vice the two surfaces together. When cured, you'll see where the contact failed. Adjust, and make another.
Turning the world of Cantennas inside out!
The reflector is 244x122mm so it's quit large for, say, a laptop mount. I'm going to do it anyway because it's 1337! This IS a stand alone unit. I won't be using this with a dish.
Note where the antenna would intersect itself. I have a little jog there to prevent problems
There aren't many tricks to my application. For the brushed aluminum, I used a Dremel and a steel brush (I wanted to use the brass brush, but it didn't live long.) For the element, I was especially careful in preventing the wire from touching itself. Otherwise, I pretty much followed the instructions from Engadget.
It works fantastic. I haven't had a Pepsi (Labatt's?) challenge with anyone else's equipment, but my readings with netstumbler look typical.
I have 3 more to build, all Guinness. Two for my dishes, and another standalone. All of these are single biquads.
I just made a mounting system out of 3 PVC joints and some thumb screws. Pictures later. I SHOULD be writing my final essay.
Wi-Fi Pioneers Offer Cheap Router
A Spanish firm is to sell subsidised routers as part of a plan to turn domestic wi-fi networks into public hotspots.
Fon will sell wi-fi routers, which allow people to surf the net wirelessly, for $5 (£2.75).
The company, which has financial backing from Google and Skype, aims to create public wi-fi networks street by street across the US and Europe.
"Wi-fi is universal in cities, but access isn't," said Juergen Urbanski.
Mr Urbanski said Fon was aiming to have 50,000 working hotspots worldwide by September, 150,000 by year-end and one million hotspots by the end of 2007.
To date, 54,000 people worldwide have signed up to become "foneros," up from 3,000 in February, according to the company.
The company is hoping to create a "social movement" as well as a business.
The router offer is designed to overcome obstacles to helping consumers quickly set up hotspots using Fon software.
In exchange for receiving a router, users must agree to share their wireless connections with other Fon users for 12 months, the company said.
Users register their router with Fon via a PC which then lets other people access their wi-fi network safely - if they can pick up the signals from outside their homes.
"We are changing the economics of wi-fi," Mr Urbanski said during a conference in San Francisco. "We are just piggy-backing on the back of existing wi-fi connections."
But Fon faces challenges - from technical limitations to legal obstacles.
Current wi-fi networks have a limited operating range and Fon will need an army of "foneros" if the public hotspots they are advocating take off.
They will also face a challenge from firms planning to offer free, ubiquitous wi-fi in cities such as San Francisco.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and broadband carriers are also unwilling to allow a user's private broadband connection to be used publicly.
Mr Urbanski said Fon was seeking to win over carriers who lease the underlying internet connections by arguing its strategy could expand the market for wi-fi by giving customers a way to roam away from home, making them more loyal subscribers at home.
"The reality is that we are all talking with... many of the large ISPs in the United States."
|29-06-06, 09:08 AM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Superfast Internet Cafe Launches
An internet cafe offering connections 50 times faster than typical broadband services has opened in Cornwall.
Computers at Goonhilly satellite station, on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, are connected to BT's global internet protocol network.
That means users can download data at speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps).
It is thought to be the first time such high speeds have been seen at a UK internet cafe.
The service will be free to visitors.
Adrian Hosford of BT said: "It would be possible to use the cafe's computers to download in less than 15 minutes a file the equivalent size of the DVD version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, with its 19,000 illustrations, 629 audio and video clips and 100,000 articles.
"A standard broadband connection would typically take in excess of five hours."
The new internet cafe was officially declared open by Helston Community College pupils Chloe Smith and James Evans, both aged 17.
Goonhilly has 61 antenna dishes and handles thousands of international phone calls, TV broadcasts and data.
The first antenna, known as Arthur, was built to track the Telstar satellite and received the first live transatlantic television broadcasts from the United States in 1962.
What if They Built an Urban Wireless Network and Hardly Anyone Used It?
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Peter Shyu, an engineer, spends most of his day out of the office, and when he needs an Internet connection he often pops into one of the many coffee shops in this city that offer free wireless access.
He could use WiFly, the extensive wireless network commissioned by the city government that is the cornerstone of Taipei's ambitious plan to turn itself into an international technology hub. But that would cost him $12.50 a month.
"I'm here because it's free, and if it's free elsewhere, I'll go there too," said Mr. Shyu, hunched over his I.B.M. laptop in an outlet of the Doutor coffee chain. "It's very easy to find free wireless connections."
Despite WiFly's ubiquity — with 4,100 hot spot access points reaching 90 percent of the population — just 40,000 of Taipei's 2.6 million residents have agreed to pay for the service since January. Q-Ware, the local Internet provider that built and runs the network, once expected to have 250,000 subscribers by the end of the year, but it has lowered that target to 200,000.
That such a vast and reasonably priced wireless network has attracted so few users in an otherwise tech-hungry metropolis should give pause to civic leaders in Chicago, Philadelphia and dozens of other American cities that are building wireless networks of their own.
Like Taipei, these cities hope to use their new networks to help less affluent people get online and to make their cities more business-friendly. Yet as Taipei has found out, just building a citywide network does not guarantee that people will use it. Most people already have plenty of access to the Internet in their offices and at home, while wireless data services let them get online anywhere using phones, laptops and P.D.A.'s.
Like Q-Ware, operators in the United States, Europe and other parts of Asia are eager to build municipal networks. But they are grappling with the high expectations politicians are placing on them. On June 9, MobilePro backed out of plans to develop a wireless network in Sacramento because it said the city wanted it to offer free access and recoup its investment with advertising, not subscriptions, a model that other cities are hoping to adopt. Elsewhere, incumbent carriers have challenged cities' rights to requisition new networks. And many services have had difficulty attracting customers.
"There is a lot of hype about public access," said Craig J. Settles, a technology consultant in Oakland, Calif., and author of "Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless." "What's missing from a lot of these discussions is what people are willing to pay for."
Q-Ware's relationship with Taipei has been less contentious, partly because the WiFly network is just one piece of a far broader and highly regarded plan to incorporate the Internet into everything the government does.
The brainchild of Taipei's mayor, Ma Ying-jeou, the CyberCity project was first conceived in 1998 as a way to catapult past Seoul, Hong Kong and other Asian capitals that were recasting themselves as cities of the future. Many government agencies now communicate almost exclusively online, saving millions of dollars, and citizens have been given hundreds of thousands of free e-mail accounts and computer lessons.
WiFly plays a role, too, by allowing policemen to submit traffic tickets wirelessly, for instance. But making it appeal to the average citizen is another story. Q-Ware, which is part of a conglomerate that, among other things, operates 7-Eleven franchises in Taiwan, has found that consumers will pay subscription fees only if there are original offerings to pull them in.
"Content is really key," said Darrell M. West, a professor of public policy at Brown University who conducted a survey of how well governments use the Internet. "It's not enough just to have the infrastructure. You have to give people a reason to use the technology."
To that end, Q-Ware has developed P-Walker, a service that will let subscribers with Sony PSP portable game machines log on to WiFly to play online games and download songs and other material.
The company has also developed a low-priced Internet phone service. The handsets cost about $200 and allow users to call other mobile phones for just over a penny a minute; calling a traditional phone costs less than half a penny.
Ultimately, Q-Ware expects its network to communicate with more devices, including MP3 players and digital cameras.
"In the beginning, you have to do something to attract people to the service," said Sheng Chang, vice president of Q-Ware's wireless business group. "We're a wireless city, so if we can't make it here, it can't be made."
Mr. Chang added that Q-Ware lowered its target for attracting subscribers after several new product introductions were delayed, including the Internet phone service that he now expects to offer starting as early as August.
Q-Ware began building the network in 2003, working with Nortel Networks to install enough hot spots to reach nearly everyone living in this densely packed city.
Like municipal governments in many American cities, Taipei gave Q-Ware access to streetlight poles and other public property to install antennas and cables. Q-Ware has spent about $30 million putting together the network, which also reaches every subway station, hospital and public building. Streetlights did not have the electrical outlets needed to power the antennas, so outdoor hot spots cost about three times more than the indoor access points.
Initially, Q-Ware gave away subscriptions and about 60,000 people signed up. But once Q-Ware started charging for its service in January, only a few thousand subscribers remained.
"The problem is not the technology, but the business model," Mayor Ma said in an interview. "If they charge too much, people won't sign up. But Q-Ware needs to recoup their investment."
With so many options for getting online indoors, WiFly's main selling points are that its hot spots are in hard-to-reach spots like subway stations, and they link to unique services. But Amos Tsai, an office worker making his way through City Hall Station, said he rarely used his laptop or P.D.A. on trains and or in stations because they were too crowded — and because he also didn't want to pay. "Now that they started charging for WiFly, I stopped using it," he said.
For now, Q-Ware's most pressing problem is how to get people like Mr. Tsai to buy subscriptions. Q-Ware has been advertising its service on the radio, in computer magazines and on the Web, including Yahoo's local site. The company will also take out ads in newspapers and on television, and it has designed an interactive "survival" game called WiFly Hunter that offers cash rewards. It is teaming up with broadband providers so customers can get a D.S.L. line at home and WiFly access at a discount.
But even if Q-Ware meets its target this year, the company will need 500,000 users in a given month to break even, a target it is not expected to hit for several more years, according to Chou Yun-tsai, the chairwoman of Taipei's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, which oversees the WiFly project.
"It's a huge task," Ms. Chou said.
In Texas, Fighting to Keep Brahms on Air
Daniel J. Wakin
In this landscape of oil derricks and Rangerettes — a renowned drill team dressed in smiles and miniskirts — a tiny radio station sends out a lifeline to classical music lovers in East Texas.
It is KTPB, the station of Kilgore College, which educates the children of oil hands and other blue-collar workers. Now the college has decided it can no longer afford to support the station and has announced its sale. The new owner? A Christian-music broadcasting company from California, which will pay the college $2.46 million over 10 years.
Richard Jenkins, the president of the company, EMF Broadcasting, acknowledges that the sale has some people in the area outraged. "I know there are some unhappy campers out there," he said. "But it always happens with change."
Though classical music may be a minority taste, its adherents here are vocal. Some have formed a group, Save Our Arts Radio. They have advertised in the local newspaper and generated at least 175 letters, many of them sent to the Federal Communications Commission, which must still approve the deal.
"Just because we live out here in the middle of nowhere doesn't mean we have to be a cultural void," said Nancy B. Wrenn, the executive director of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, based in Tyler, about 30 miles away. She helped form the group. "This radio station has reached people who have no other access to the arts," she said. Meanwhile, three other Christian music stations lie just to the north on the FM dial.
The loss of a classical KTPB would be the latest footstep in the decline of classical music radio in the United States. Doomsayers see the trend as part of a broader diminishing of the art form, although new sources — satellite and digital radio and Internet streaming — are emerging. In 1990, about 50 commercial stations were on the air; the number is closer to 30 now. About two dozen public radio stations have cut back on classical programming to varying degrees in the last decade, said Tom Thomas, co-chief executive of Station Resource Group, an organization of public stations.
Kilgore's favorite son — the famously reclusive pianist Van Cliburn, who spent some of his childhood in the town — has spoken out against the sale. "There is no way to give a monetary evaluation to the world's heritage of great music," he wrote in a letter published in The Tyler Morning Telegraph this month. The trendy music of today is fleeting, he said, "but the permanent, ageless masterpieces are enduring and forever." Losing the station would be a travesty for the college, wrote Mr. Cliburn, whose name adorns a college auditorium.
The school's trustees voted unanimously on April 20 to approve the deal. The F.C.C.'s period for public comment ended Saturday; the commission must now issue a ruling, but it has not set a deadline.
The school, a junior college in this town of 11,000, has been increasingly strapped financially, and the money it was using to subsidize the station — about $125,000 a year — was better put toward educating students, officials said. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides about $85,000 a year, and donations amount to $80,000.
KTPB, the only classical music station between Dallas and Shreveport, La., a distance of 190 miles, has about 15,000 listeners and reaches a population of 300,000 to 400,000. Classical music plays from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the week; then an hour of talk and "The World" from Public Radio International; then more music or syndicated concert programs; then music all night. It also plays jazz, blues and swing.
In an interview, William M. Holda, Kilgore's president, said the public share of financing for the college had declined from 87 percent of the budget to 35 percent in the last 30 years, partly because of the drop in value of the oil fields and the associated dip in tax revenues. He has had to cut the work force and also trim courses, in areas like forensics, fashion merchandising and watch repair. Meanwhile, tuition and fees are on the rise. The college has 5,000 students, most of whom commute.
He said the college did not actively seek a buyer but was approached by a radio station broker.
Mr. Holda also pointed out that the station has a meager 650 members. "People want things, but they don't want to pay for them," he said. "It's not unique to the arts."
Supporters of the station see it differently. "It's a public trust," said Otis Carroll, a prominent Tyler lawyer and a leader of the group trying to save the station. He and others say the college kept the negotiations quiet until it was too late and made no attempt to ask for outside financing.
Mr. Holda pointed out that the board meeting had been advertised in the local papers several weeks in advance.
EMF Broadcasting, which is based in Rocklin, Calif., plans to eliminate local programming and said it would beam in a feed of its K-LOVE or AIR-1 networks, or possibly a new format. EMF began providing programming for one affiliate in 1988, and it now owns and operates 192 stations, delivering programming to a half-dozen more.
"The mission of the organization is to promote Judeo-Christian values and bring people to some kind of spirituality, a closer walk toward God," Mr. Jenkins said. He added that Texas was fertile ground for EMF. "It's just a great, great area," he said. "People respond to our programming very, very well."
The story of KTPB is not just Bible versus Beethoven. It has surprising nuances. Mr. Holda of Kilgore College is a former music professor who trained as a singer. "It's a bittersweet deal," he said, adding, "My whole original life was in music."
The sale also means a much smaller audience for the college's sporting events and an end to broadcasts of music from local churches. Nor are the station's staff members a godless bunch; most say they are churchgoers.
KTPB's programming is substantial, in contrast to the easy-listening style of many classical stations. On Friday, for example, there was the entire Brahms "German Requiem," a Beethoven string quartet, lesser-known Liszt piano works, music of George Butterworth and Mozart, Arthur Sullivan's Cello Concerto, Morton Gould's "Santa Fe Saga" and Bartok's second piano sonata.
A hint of class friction also tinges the affair. Most of KTPB's listeners and vocal supporters live in Tyler, a well-heeled city of about 90,000 that has traditionally housed executives. Look for country clubs, not derricks.
On the other hand, the trustees who voted to sell the station live in Kilgore College's tax district. They include a broker, a banker, a lumberyard owner, a former Kilgore College football coach, a pharmacist and an auto mechanic.
If the station goes, "it makes us a small town," said Cris Selman, a 90- year-old woman who is a pillar of Tyler's cultural scene.
Kilgore, where oil was struck in 1930, is at the center of the East Texas oil patch. Working wells are common in the area, but most of the big derricks in town are ornamental, monuments to one of the world's biggest oil bounties. Its other famous (and energy-producing) export are the college's Rangerettes, who started performing in 1940. Attired in white Western hats and boots, blue skirts and red tops, they have appeared at bowl games and presidential inauguration festivities.
Kilgore College was founded in 1935 to give the newly booming town some gravitas. It has strong vocational programs, and is also the home of the respected Texas Shakespeare Festival. Nearby Longview has an orchestra of its own, a small opera company and an art museum.
The loss of KTPB would leave the Tyler folks the most bereft (to the east, some receive Shreveport's public radio station). No more Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. No more New York Philharmonic.
Moreover, KTPB is a cultural glue, sponsoring events for children and broadcasting some 50 local concerts a year, including those of the Longview and East Texas orchestras and their guest soloists.
KTPB has five full-time employees, and they have struggled to remain neutral. "It really is like a grieving process," said Kathy A. Housby, the general manager and afternoon on-air host, who has been at the station for all of its 15 years.
Just a year ago, the station moved into a one-story renovated yellow brick building opposite the First Presbyterian Church. Its old site was used for a $5-million new residence for the Rangerettes, who have their own museum on campus, and a motto: "Beauty knows no pain."
Ultimate iPod Accessory?
A US firm has invented a new iPod accessory which combines the portable music player with a toilet roll holder.
Manufacturers say the iCarta is designed to "enhance your experience in the smallest room", reports the Daily Mail.
The gadget, which costs around £50, merges an iPod docking station with a loo roll dispenser.
The device delivers high-quality sounds from moisture-resistant speakers, according to the manufacturer Atech Flash Technology.
It also re-charges the iPod while playing songs - either pre-programmed or a random selection.
One website which reviews the latest technology described the iCarta as "one of the stranger iPod accessories we've ever seen".
Congress Approves Intellectual Property Law
Congress has approved the reforms to the intellectual property laws in Spain, with the deputies supporting amendments passed previously in the Senate.
However only the large parties have agreed the reforms of the text which has been criticized by cultural bodies, consumers’ organizations and the technology sector.
The new law means that a cannon is charged on any virgin media, be it for CD, DVD or MP3 players and mobile phones, scanners and even printers and pencil memories, and comes into effect as soon as it is published in the official state bulletin. However the amount of the cannon has to be agreed still between all sides.
The money collected will be paid to the copyright owners of the music or films concerned.
Paying for what you can’t have
Spain Outlaws P2P Filesharing
A Spanish intellectual property law has finally banned unauthorized peer-to-peer file-sharing in Spain, making it a civil offense even to download content for personal use.
The legislation, approved by Congress on Thursday, toughens previous provisions. An early May circular from Spain's fiscal general del estado, or chief prosecutor, allowed downloads for purely personal use.
Now Spaniards caught grabbing content from, say, eMule, will have to reimburse rights holders for losses --- although such losses will be difficult for authorities to track.
But the government is going after Internet service providers; it's a criminal offense for ISPs to facilitate unauthorized downloading.
The law also introduces a small tax to be levied on all blank media --- from a blank CD to mobile phones and even a memory stick. Computer hard disks and ADSL lines have been left out of the legislation despite their widespread use for illegally copying music and films. The money collected will be paid back to the owner of the copyright.
In Mexico, Internet Music Piracy Rising With Broadband Connections
On Genova Street in downtown Mexico City, illegally copied CDs of music by top U.S. artists sell for 20 pesos, just under $2 a piece, in tiny booths between tables overflowing with batteries, stuffed animals and cheap knockoff sunglasses. That's about one-tenth the price in nearby stores.
Music is even cheaper a few hundred yards away, inside the Internet cafes surrounding the pedestrian plaza of the Glorieta Insurgentes. At eMilios, about 20 customers a day fill virgin discs with illegally downloaded songs for about $1.60, according to the clerk, Luis Arturo Guerrero, and whether or not they pay legitimate Internet sites for the tunes is not his concern.
"We can't really be responsible for what people see or download," says Guerrero, who sells blank CD-Rs for 8 pesos, or about 70 cents, and charges 9 pesos, about 80 cents, for an hour of computer time. Most use the free file-sharing programs Limewire or Morpheus, he said.
Unauthorized downloads are a global challenge for the music industry, but the problem is becoming particularly serious in Mexico, where intellectual property laws don't punish file-sharing and an increasing number of people are getting the broadband Internet connections that make it easier to download content at high speeds.
Mexico today is a pirate's haven: In a nation where the government has made opening legitimate businesses bureaucratic and costly, consumers have learned to count on "ambulantes," street vendors like the crowd on Genova Street, for everything from contraband cigarettes to DVDs of just-released Hollywood movies to high-end electronics.
Illegal sales already account for 65 percent of CD sales in Mexico, and the entertainment industry is bracing for things to get much worse now that fast broadband connections have become more common, doubling to 61 percent of Web-enabled Mexicans in the last two years.
"Broadband makes it easier for people to trade musical files and to download recorded music, both legally and illegally," said Arturo Diaz, legal director of the Mexican Association of Music and Video Producers, which represents major labels like EMI and Universal Music in Mexico. "We're keeping track of it in order to define our strategies."
Mexico's intellectual property laws already provide for up to ten year prison terms for people caught selling pirated music in the street, but they are only occasionally enforced, and the penal code does not address file-sharing because no money is exchanged, Diaz said.
"It's a problem with the law that we are already working to solve," he said. When the next congressional term begins in September, Mexican legislators will consider his group's proposal to punish unauthorized file-sharers with fines of up to $20,000 and ten years in jail.
Internet use in Mexico increased about 20 percent per year from 2001 to 2006, and nearly one-fifth of the population of 107 million will have Web access by year's end, according to the Mexican Internet Association, which represents Web-related businesses. "People want faster connections to download music, videos and software," said the group's subdirector, Ernesto Valdez.
The global music industry has had some success in fighting illegal file-sharing on sites like Kazaa and Grokster. The global rate of Internet piracy has tapered off as people react to high-profile lawsuits and the risk of getting viruses from exposing their hard drives to peer-to-peer networks, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents the recording industry against piracy worldwide.
Countries like Mexico, where broadband is just taking hold and consumers are accustomed to buying contraband CDs, are a particular challenge.
According to the IFPI, with a pirate market valued at $111 million in 2004, Mexico is now within the top ten countries for music piracy. The major labels say Mexican computer users download about 568 million songs per year.
The movie industry already lost about $483 million to counterfeit sales in Mexico in 2005, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, and while film downloads remain frustratingly slow at broadband speeds, all it takes is one very fast Internet connection and a rack of DVD burners for a pirate to make many contraband copies of the latest blockbuster.
These losses have a multi-faceted impact on Mexico's artists as well, according to Raul Vazquez, IFPI's Latin America director: local music industry jobs disappear, tax revenues don't arrive, and legitimate Mexican music sites like Beon and Tarabu have little chance to develop in competition with free illegal downloads. Musicians with record deals lose money on sales, and emerging local musicians miss out because record companies can't afford to develop and market them, opting instead to sell big international names.
"The market keeps shrinking," he said. "The local musical culture disappears because you're not recording local artists."
Recording companies pursued 20,000 lawsuits in 17 countries last year against illegal fire-sharing, but not a single one was filed in Mexico.
"The laws in Mexico are weak and they haven't been updated to take into account online trade," Vazquez said.
Even if the laws do change, finding offenders won't be easy. At Internet cafes, where one-third of Mexico's Internet users go online, several people may use the same computer every hour.
Valdez thinks education is the answer, teaching Mexicans see piracy as a crime. It's a message driven home in Mexican-oriented public service announcements that seemingly precede every rental movie.
But changing the culture of piracy will take time. At the Centro de Communicaciones, which offers rows of Web-enabled computers just a few storefronts away from eMilios, clerk Alan Sanchez Navarro said the many customers downloading free music weren't putting the store at risk, or even doing anything wrong.
"It's legal for you to download music," he said. "It doesn't affect us."
Ottawa Will Limit Lobbying. It Will Also Finance It
The Federal Accountability Act, which was passed last week by the House of Commons, has been the focal point of the Conservatives' legislative agenda in 2006. If the Senate grants its approval in the fall, the Act will establish new limitations on lobbying activities and campaign financing. While few would object to placing limits on powerful lobby groups, recent information obtained under the Access to Information Act suggests that another form of lobbying exists that requires closer scrutiny — lobbying that is financed by the government itself.
According to government documents, last fall the Ministry of Canadian Heritage entered into a multi-year agreement with the Creators' Rights Alliance, a national coalition of artists groups and copyright collectives with members both small (the League of Canadian Poets) and large (SOCAN and Access Copyright). The CRA has eight objectives, which notably include "to ensure that government policy and legislation recognize that copyright is fundamentally about the rights of creators" and "to ensure that international treaties and obligations to which Canada is signatory provide the strongest possible protection for the rights of creators."
The Canadian Heritage-CRA agreement, which could run until 2008 at a total cost of nearly $400,000, requires the CRA to provide the Ministry with its views on copyright in the form of comments, analysis or research papers (other deliverables include a policy conference, website communications, and a regular newsletter). In other words, in return for $125,000 annually, the contract appears to be designed primarily to enable the CRA to lobby the government on copyright reform.
The contract raises several issues. First, there is some doubt that CRA is a group that needs government funding for lobbying purposes. While several of its smaller members could undoubtedly use the support, given that these associations typically lack the resources to provide ongoing representation, larger collectives such as Access Copyright and SOCAN already employ external lobbyists with millions of dollars budgeted for copyright regulatory hearings and reform.
Even if backing the CRA can be justified, the manner in which this contract was established elicits some concerns. Last summer, the contract was submitted through the Advance Contract Award Notification program, whereby the ministry notified potential contractors that it intended to award a contract to CRA to promote the interests of Canada's creative community. Other parties were given 15 days in early July to submit a counter-proposal. When none were submitted, Canadian Heritage was free to proceed with the contract.
The structure of the contract itself appears to have raised some eyebrows within Canadian Heritage. As the funding was being considered, an internal memo noted that the Copyright Policy Branch "would be funding an organization through this contract to provide comments on government policy. There is a concern that the Copyright Policy Branch would be setting an unwanted precedent in such matters."
To address that issue, a different branch within the same Cultural Affairs department administers the contract.
Internal correspondence also reveals that the contract was designed to further the department's own policy objectives. A senior official outlined the rationale behind the proposed contract, stating in an email that once the CRA funding was complete, "we should have streamlined, stable funding to an organization whose structure, purpose and activities suit our own policy needs."
Those activities were clearly identified in an email to Canadian Heritage from CRA's co-chair who commented that "the job of taking on the educational sector on copyright reform is clearly a huge and major undertaking," adding that education was a "well heeled, publicly funded lobby . . . devoted to abolishing creators' rights on the Internet."
In a fair and balanced policy making process, government must hear from all stakeholders. While well-financed lobby groups have little trouble marshaling the resources necessary to have their message heard, many smaller stakeholders frequently feel left out of the process.
The Internet has magnified the importance of this imbalance — social networking tools make it easy and inexpensive for groups of interested stakeholders to form online — yet many still struggle to convert that enthusiasm into clout in the political arena.
Given the need for the government to take all stakeholders into account, public financial support for groups that lack the resources to have their voice heard may be necessary. With plans from Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda and Industry Minister Maxime Bernier for consultations this year on telecommunications and broadcast regulation, privacy protection, as well as copyright reform, a transparent program that would allow groups to apply for financial assistance would enhance the policy making process and would be consistent with the Conservatives' focus on accountability.
The Canadian Heritage-CRA contract does not meet those standards of openness and accountability. If Canada is to achieve a balanced approach on copyright matters, policy makers must offer programs whose goals are not to advance a particular policy agenda, but rather to foster policies in the interests of all Canadians.
Canadian Anti-DRM Coalition Makes Timely Debut
A coalition of public interest groups and academic privacy experts has released a public letter and background paper to the Canadian government stating their concerns about digital rights management (DRM) technologies and their legal status. The coalition has also started a Web site, IntellectualPrivacy.ca, to coordinate its efforts.
We talked to representatives of two coalition members about the status of DRM in Canada: David Fewer, staff counsel at the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), Canada's leading legal technology law clinic, and Evan Leibovitch and Russell McOrmond of CLUE, an open source advocacy group.
The public letter was sent to Bev Oda, Minister of Canadian Heritage, and Maxime Bernier, Minister of Industry, the two cabinet members whose departments traditionally have been associated with copyright issues in Canada. In addition to CIPPIC and CLUE, signatories included public interest organizations such as the BC Civil Liberties Association and Online Rights Canada; groups that might be affected by DRM laws, such as the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Library Association; and leading experts such as Bruce Phillips, the former Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.
In the letter, the coalition expressed concern about the legal ramifications of DRM and offered to work with the government to ensure that any legislation would be compatible with existing privacy and copyright laws in Canada. In addition, the letter sought assurances from the ministers that any legislation "will create no negative privacy impact" and "will include pro-active privacy protections that, for example, enshrine the rights of Canadians to access and enjoy copyright works anonymously and in private." The rationale for this statement is expressed in a background paper, which explains the issues with DRM technologies and the possible effects of "anti-circumvention legislation" on a number of different groups, including Internet providers and consumers. All in all, the letter was a thorough summary of the issues -- and couldn't have come at a better time.
The legal climate in Canada
DRM and copyright issues are much the same in Canada as in the United States. In both countries, the movie and music recording industries and distributors such as Microsoft and Apple are actively promoting DRM. The names may be different -- for example, Canada has the Canadian Motion Pictures Distributors Association instead of the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft rather than the Business Software Alliance -- but the positions and arguments are much the same. Similarly, like the United States, Canada would be affected by the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) proposed treaty on the protection of broadcasters that is currently being drafted, which would consider DRM a reasonable exception to existing copyright and privacy laws.
However, the resistance to DRM laws in Canada enjoys several advantages. To start with, according to both CIPPIC and CLUE, the legal situation is much less favorable for DRM in Canada than in the United States. Canada has never had an equivalent of the American Digital Millennium Rights Copyright Act, which implements the WIPO Copyright and Performances and Phonograms Treaties Implementation Act, and provides strong protection to copyright holders which legally justifies DRM-like technologies.
Similar legislation has been under consideration in Canada since 2001, as McOrmond points out. However, those who, like McOrmond, were consulted in the process had the chance to learn from the American experience, and the drafting of the legislation proceeded much more slowly than in the United States. Bill C-60, a DMCA-like piece of legislation, did receive first reading in the Canadian House of Commons on June 20, 2005, but was tabled with the fall of the Liberal minority government several months later.
Because Bill C-60 failed to pass, Canada's current laws provide at least two strong objections to DRM. First, under Canada's Copyright Act, copyright holders are entitled to a levy to compensate for loss of income due to copying technologies such as recordable CDs and DVDs. It is this provision that allows Canadian music collectors to legally make backup copies. Since the act contains this provision, any group would probably have a hard time claiming that DRM is needed to prevent loss of income. A dissatisfied vendor or lobby group would most likely have better luck increasing a levy, or lobbying to alter how the audits are done that determine how a levy is distributed.
Secondly, Canada's Personal Information and Electronic Document Act includes stronger protection of personal information than exists in the United States. This law explicitly defines how personal information collected by non-government organizations -- the type of information that many fear will be collected by DRM -- is handled. Among other provisions, this information must be gathered only with consent, used only for the reasons it was gathered, collected for a reasonable purpose, and store securely. At least in theory, any DRM legislation could be mitigated by having to comply with these provisions. Not only that, but any specific implementation of DRM might become the object of a complaint to Canada's Privacy Commissioner.
In practice, DRM legislation could be specifically exempted from these laws. All the same, the existing laws do seem to provide strong legal defence against DRM in Canada.
The chance to start again
"The emergence of C-60, and the lack of full stakeholder involvement in its development, was a wake-up call," Leibovitch says. With the change of government that destroyed the bill, anti-DRM lobbyists have had a chance to start their efforts again.
They do so in a public and political climate that is suddenly much more hopeful. Public perception of the issue has recently been altered by the announcement of the Canadian Music Creators' Coalition (CMCA). Consisting of some of Canada's leading musicians, including Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, and Sarah McLachlan, the CMCA recently sent its own letter to Oda and Bernier.
In the letter, the CMCA strongly opposed DRM. "Artists do not want to sue music fans," the CMCA stated in its letter. "The labels have been suing our fans against our will, and laws enabling these suits cannot be justified in our names." The letter went on to suggest that DRM -- or digital locks, as it called the technologies -- are not in the best interest of consumers, and called upon the government to consider other means to help promote Canadian artists. Coming from one of the groups that DRM is supposed to protect, the letter was a clear and public denouncement. Implicitly, it suggested that DRM served corporate and non-Canadian interests, and no one else's.
This increasingly hostile public reaction to DRM comes at a time when the new Conservative minority government in Canada is just starting to formulate its policies on issues related to DRM. Although Fewer states that the government has been consulting on the issues informally since it took office in February, formal consultation seems to have started only on June 13, when Oda publicly called on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the government body that regulates broadcasting and telecommunications, for input on the effects of digital technologies.
"We anticipate," Fewer says, "that this government is going to try to put itself in the position to put together a bill, perhaps in the fall, perhaps later. This is a minority government, so probably it doesn't have a long life, but, regardless of whether it's this government or the next government, we do anticipate that we're going to see copyright legislation, likely in the near term."
Asked whether the legislation would resemble the discarded Bill C-60, Fewer replied, "We expect it to address the same issues. It remains to be seen whether it follows the C-60 route."
In the attempts to anticipate the current government's approach to DRM-related issues, the IntellectualPrivacy.ca coalition is scrutinizing the cabinet ministers involved. "Maxime [Bernier]," McOrmond notes, "is an unknown, without much history," since he was elected for the first time in February.
By contrast, both Fewer and McOrmond see reason to hope that Oda will be more receptive to their concerns than the previous Heritage Minister. "Bev Oda is a former Heritage critic [the member of the opposition in charge of critiquing the ministry], so she has the copyright file in front of her, and she has long and strong ties to the broadcasting community -- which we regard as somewhat hopeful, because that would suggest that she would be somewhat resistant to the sometimes strident rhetoric employed by copyright absolutists," Fewer says.
McOrmond agrees. "I met with Bev Oda when she was still the Heritage Critic," he says. "She was far more open-minded about the diversity of constituencies in copyright than her Liberal counterparts."
To date, neither Bernier or Oda have indicated any clear predisposition on such matters. However, regardless of their opinions, Fewer emphasizes that the time to lobby the government is now. "If we're raising our concerns for the first time when a bill goes to committee, it's too late. We need to educate the government on what the issues are."
"The government," Fewer says, "operates on a stakeholder basis. It relies on stakeholders to come forward and state their concerns. If no stakeholders do, or if the concerns they hear are disproportionately one-sided, government policy may reflect one side of the debate that they've heard."
Pro-DRM lobbyists evidently feel the same way. On his blog, Michael Geist, one of the founders of CIPPIC, recently revealed that David Dyer, a registered lobbyist for the Canadian Recording Industry Association, has been holding private meetings with members of the Heritage ministry and introducing them to pro-DRM representatives almost since the current government took office.
Differing opinions in the coalition
As a coalition, IntellectualPrivacy.ca includes a variety of opinions. Focusing on privacy issues, and, to a lesser extent, consumer concerns, Fewer sometimes talked as though DRM was inevitable. "We're realists, right?" Fewer says. "We have certainly said to the government -- and we will continue to say -- that no anti-circumvention law is a good law, and that Canada should not be legislating anti-circumvention laws. If, despite our warnings and despite our cautions, the government is dead set on drafting such a law, we have statements about the things that governments can do to mitigate the harmful effects of such laws."
While CLUE shares these concerns, McOrmond explains that free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) communities have addition concerns. Quoting the Free Software Definition, McOrmond says, "Any technology that revokes the right of the owner of a device to be in control that device for lawful purposes (i.e.: revokes the ability to 'run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software' that controls the device) can't be implemented with FLOSS. This is where the technical and the legal communities sometimes diverge." DRM legislation that protected privacy could still threaten FLOSS.
For this reason, while CLUE continues to work with other members of the coalition, McOrmond and Leibovitch are also developing their own policy documents.
Other members of the coalition may have their own positions. For instance, the various library associations that belong to the coalition may be chiefly concerned with how legislation affects their members. But, in general, Fewer feels that the coalition is a representative cross section of stakeholders. "I don't think anyone can look at the signatories on this letter and dismiss them as being an insignificant community. And they've spoken with us in a fairly firm and consistent message."
From whatever perspective, Fewer concludes, the coalition "would encourage anyone with concerns about these kinds of laws to speak up -- even if it's ordinary individuals, even if it's individual open source programmers. Make your voice heard."
The Monster Arrives: Software Patent Lawsuits Against Open Source Developers
We've warned you for a decade. Now the monster has finally arrived: attacks against Open Source developers by patent holders, big and small. One is a lawsuit against Red Hat for the use of the principle of Object Relational Mapping used in Hibernate, a popular component of enterprise Java applications everywhere. The other attack is on an individual Open Source developer for his model railroad software.
These two attacks are the tip of the iceberg, thousands more are possible as software patent holders turn to enforcement as an income producer and away from the patent cross-licensing détente exercised by large companies until the mid-1990s. Open Source will not be the only victim: small and medium-sized companies make up 80% of our economy and any of those companies that develops software, either proprietary or Open Source, will be vulnerable. The American IP Law Association estimates that defense against a single software patent lawsuit will cost between 2 and 5 million dollars. Under US law, even a company that only uses software can be sued. The suit against Red Hat's concerns the use of software "objects" to encapsulate a database record and make it easier to access, a technology called Object Relational Mapping or The ActiveRecord Pattern. That technology is used in the Hibernate software developed by jBoss, which Red Hat recently purchased. FireStar Software claims that it invented the technology, and that it is covered by its U.S. patent number 6,101,502. However, over the past two decades there has been much prior art for object-oriented databases, including TopLink, an object relational system developed in the early 90's and now owned by Oracle, so it may be that the filers of FireStar's patent made no invention.
There's also the question of obviousness, whether the principles claimed in the patent would be obvious to a normally-skilled practitioner of the software art and thus not be an invention at all. The function of an object is to encapsulate data, and object-oriented programming has been known since the Simula language introduced it in 1967. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing another patent lawsuit in which the defense claims that there should be a much higher standard below which purported inventions would be considered obvious and thus not patentable. A higher standard of obviousness could help, but the real solution is to go back to the original intent of the Patent Office and stop granting patents on software.
Should FireStar prevail, or should Red Hat be forced to settle, Open Source use of the object-relational paradigm, including that in Hibernate, PHP, and Ruby on Rails, might become impossible. Recently RIM Systems, maker of the ubiquitous Blackberry, settled their patent case with NTP for half a billion dollars, after most of NTP's patent claims had been overturned by the patent office! In that case, the patent office ruled the patents invalid after the judge rendered his verdict in the lawsuit, and the judge refused to reconsider. Justice seems to be hard to find where software patents are concerned.
Red Hat will probably stick with the FireStar case rather than settle, but how many of them can it sustain? It's not possible to write a significant program today without using a principle covered by a current U.S. software patent. A study of patents possibly infringed within the Linux kernel found 283 of them in 2004. And that's just one program out of the thousands that make up a Linux distribution.
The other current patent attack against Open Source faces Bob Jacobsen, the developer of the JMRI model-railroad control software. Jacobsen gives his work away, with full source code. He is faced with an invoice for over $200,000 from Michael A. Katzer and his company KAM, $19 for every copy of JMRI that Jacobsen gave away. KAM filed a patent making a broad claim covering the transmission of model-railroad control commands between multiple devices in 2002. Again, there's prior art: this technology probably goes back to the MIT Model Railroad Club in the 1960's. But Jacobsen could easily go bankrupt in defending himself or paying KAM's claim. Because the cost of a patent defense is many times the net worth of the typical Open Source developer, it's difficult to see how there can be justice for the little guy.
These patent attacks come at an interesting time, as SCO's lawsuit against IBM starts to collapse. But while SCO's case was never well-constructed, a software patent case is much more substantial. It's possible to invalidate some patent claims in court or at the patent office, but some of the potentially thousands that can be brought against significant Open Source programs will be found to be legitimate.
There is also the specter of patent shake-down operations, like Intellectual Ventures. Founded by ex-Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold and touted as a means to "encourage innovation", it appears to be a litigation factory in the making. Intellectual Ventures has been purchasing patents to construct a portfolio that it will then assert against someone, probably small and medium-sized businesses to start with. Most businesses, when faced with the prospect of an expensive patent infringement lawsuit, choose to pay a license fee, or shall we call it an extortion fee, rather than go to court and spend so much that even when they win, they lose. Income from license fees will fuel more attacks on more businesses. The effect of Myhrvold's business on Open Source could be crippling. But Microsoft, Intel, Apple, Google, and eBay have nothing to fear. They invested in the company, and will be excluded from attacks.
All of this could be excused if it only encouraged innovation, which is supposed to be the purpose of the patent system. Patents were created as a means to get inventors to disclose their inventions, rather than keep them secret. The disclosure of an invention was supposed to allow others to more easily build on that invention, thus creating more inventions. But the patent system has evolved into something useless for the purpose of disclosure, and engineers are now instructed to avoid looking at other companies' patents because if the victim of a patent lawsuit can be shown to have known of a patent, the award to the patent holder is tripled. There have been no reliable studies that show software patenting to have encouraged innovation, and there is much evidence that they actually impede it. Computer programs are already protected by copyright, and that protection is sufficient to protect proprietary software businesses. Software is unique in that it is protected by both copyright and patents, other industries have one or the other and that is sufficient for them.
There are many other problems with software patenting, too many for me to cover in one piece. But you can see my essays The Problem of Software Patent in Standards, Software Patents vs. Free Software, and The Open Source Patent Conundrum, and my State of Open Source message.
Even the United States Patent Office thought software patents were a bad idea. It was forced to grant them by the Supreme Court, in a lawsuit brought by IBM. More recently, there has been news about Europe resisting a big-company push to make software patents enforcible, a fight that will continue when the question comes up again next month in Brussels. Large companies, including some otherwise perceived as friends of Open Source like IBM, HP, Nokia, and Philips, continue to push for increases in software patenting as a means of fighting disruptive technologies from smaller companies and Open Source incursions into their proprietary software markets. This is a big-company vs. little-guy fight. Despite the fact that the "little guy" represents most of the economy and the main sources of innovation, the big companies have the political connections and thousands of full-time lobbyists, and they are winning.
Over the past decade, Open Source has shown itself to be a better paradigm for supporting software innovation than a software patenting system ever could be. Open Source developers share both principles and the actual implementation, and allow anyone to build upon their work. The Linux kernel development, just a single example of Open Source success at innovation, has been the fastest and most broad-ranging of any operating system project ever attempted, and has achieved many capabilities that are unmatched by proprietary operating systems.
But we should not be confident that we will continue to have the right to use and develop Open Source software. A coordinated patent attack by a few companies, or even one large company, could completely destroy Open Source in the United States and cripple it in other nations. Funds and patent portfolios that have been established to help defend Open Source would not be sufficient to defend it. Only legislative changes to the patent system can fully protect Open Source and maintain it as a viable source of innovation for our future.
10 Reasons Why High Definition DVD Formats Have Already Failed
I’m not typically a doom and gloom kind of guy – really, I’m rather optimistic. But this pending format release/war is simply the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in a long time. The hype machine is entirely enthusiast-created and since that day I realized Steve Jobs could sell a fart provided he sued a public Mac forum for talking about it before its release, I began to understand the power of public mania.
There are a number of reasons why the new high definition DVD formats have already failed and I’ll gladly go over some of them in this article. I am not a soothsayer, but I do study the industry – and at times, sit back and take assessment of what’s happening from both a consumer and manufacturer perspective.
Without any further ado, here are the reasons HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc will never turn into the dominant formats for digital media viewing:
1. Nobody likes false starts
With the debut of HD DVD at an underwhelming 720p/1080i, coupled with a buggy interface and a transport that makes boiling water seem like a speedy event, the entrance of high definition DVD into the mainstream came out of the starting gate lame and hobbled. For Toshiba to release a player that didn’t support true HD at 1080p (even though the software does), and with no lossless audio format to accompany the video track, the high definition wave was more of a ripple. Add to this the delay of HDMI 1.3, lack of market penetration and supply, and a dearth amount of software titles and you have a very unimpressive product launch.
2. Format Wars Don’t Sell Players
The only reason Sony’s Playstation, Microsoft’s Xbox and the Nintendo GameCube can sell so well simultaneously is because of the prevalence of excellent software titles. People want to buy the hardware just so they can play the software. This is not a format war – it is choice, just like Chevy and Ford (and just like the gaming systems, some people have one of each). The high definition DVD formats, however are really just the same source material packaged in two different wrappers- not to provide choice, mind you, but because the two camps simply are too greedy to combine forces, and not innovative enough to drive two truly separate products successfully. Take careful note – a format war is NOT competition, it is a hindrance and the bane of high definition DVDs.
3. HD DVD and Blu-ray are NOT Quantum Leaps in Technology
Consumers came over in droves when CDs were released back in 1982. The new format offered not only a new digital media, but also a way to instantly access tracks across an entire “album”. Convenience, not technology, drove this format to almost instant consumer adoption. Fast forward a bit to 1997 when the first DVD player was released. Again, convenience, not technology, drove people to the market en masse. Unlike VHS tapes, the new DVD format was smaller, easily navigated and would not wear down over time like existing tape-based formats. Heck, the concept of a shiny plastic disc was new – and quite frankly, it was the coolest thing to hit the technological shelf since solid state technology. In comparison, the high definition DVD formats, save the color of the business side of the disc, look exactly the same… and consumer confusion will surely follow.
What do the new high definition DVD formats offer consumers over DVD? Technology and more storage. Is this enough? Not on your life. Consumers, most of whom rarely know how to properly configure their players or home theater systems, are perfectly content with their current DVD players (and indeed some have just jumped on board to DVD in the last several years). While the potential for more extras and alternate endings exists due to increased storage on the new media, there is no compelling reason for consumers to migrate over to the new high definition DVD formats in large numbers.
4. Studios are Conservative, Greedy and Unmotivated
Studios are so conservative in their practices as to consistently miss out on market advances – even those that can make them money (ie. Why is a computer company running the world’s most successful online music store?) The studios are not jumping on board the high definition DVD bandwagon just yet – and you can see the lack of titles to prove it. If the movie studios decided that HD DVD or Blu-ray (or both) was to be the next dominant format, it need only to flood the market with software titles and present a plan to roll back on DVD production over the next 10 years. Even though this would grant them the secure format that they seem to want (HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs promise to be much harder to rip or duplicate) there is no indication in the industry that this is taking place or even in the works. The studios are making money hand over fist with DVD they cannot seem to bring themselves to seriously initiate a new, unproven technology – even if it saves them from some other copyright headaches.
Add to this the fact that new titles are coming out at $30 a pop (and this down from an initial $35/title) and you have a really hard sell for consumers who are used to $15 titles at Wal-mart and the large electronics chains.
5. Playstation3 Cannot Save the World
We have consistently heard it said that the Playstation3 will “jump start” the market by flooding it with millions of gaming systems capable of handling Blu-ray Disc software. The problem with this theory is that the PS3 is not being marketed as a home theater component and, if current installations prove the rule, most will not be situated in the average consumer’s living room. The result is that the PS3 will primarily be a *gasp* gaming system. Maybe I have a more traditional group of parents in my association of friends, but, taking into account #4 above, I do not think that Blu-ray will make any major leaps forward in market penetration as a home video format – at least not anytime soon.
History is bearing this out, as the HTPC market, though driven hard by such manufacturers as Microsoft, Dell and HP, has struggled to find a place in the living room. Nearly every gaming system of the past: PS2, Xbox, and even the legendary 3DO system have been touted as “set-top boxes” but in reality find themselves situated in more “gaming-centric” environments playing… you guessed it, games.
6. Those Who Ignore History…
For years we’ve heard about the evils of MP3 and illegal downloading. All the while the RIAA and music industry had two formats that could have prevented any illegal copying – at least for all but the most dedicated crackers: DVD-Audio and SACD. These formats proved to be higher quality than CD, presented much enhanced copy protection schemes and were easily used as alternative formats to CD. Yet both formats failed miserably to achieve any significant market penetration. Why? Without an artificial “shove” from the record industry – which never materialized – technology alone is never enough to push a new format into the hands of consumers. In terms of convenience and ease of use, DVD-Audio and SACD offered nothing to consumers. In fact, they made listening to music more complex, since most hardware was unable to correctly decode and provide adequate bass management for the new formats.
Could these formats have succeeded? Absolutely. If the recording industry had presented a plan to phase out CDs and the “format war” had been avoided (simply by the industry picking one format over the other) we would all be using DVD-Audio players and illegal downloadable music would be mostly confined to analogue rips or older music. Is this a stretch? Perhaps, but only because history shows us that corporate greed causes most companies to miss the long term economical gains over a short term loss of licensing revenues.
7. People Want Technology that’s 15 Minutes Ahead of Its Time
For many people, getting into HDTV is all about the widescreen and being able to see their DVDs with more clarity than ever before. When Billy Bob comes home with his new high definition 720p display, the difference between that and his older SD TV is amazing – at least when he’s watching DVDs. You see, that’s the problem – and it’s two-fold. While most consumers are still getting into the HDTV craze, they’re already impressed. And the difference between SD TV and HDTV is more amazing than the difference between 480p DVDs and 1080i downrezzed high definition discs.
The other side of the coin is the lack of HD content available on TV – and this is a biggie. While Billy Bob is impressed by his DVD player, he is dumbfounded by his cable TV – which actually looks worse than it did on his old set (mostly because it’s bigger). You see, nobody told Billy Bob that he’d have to get an antenna or subscribe to HD service from his cable/satellite provider. He was also not told that most of his favorite shows (Billy likes sitcoms and the Sci-Fi Channel) aren’t yet available in HD, regardless of technology or service provider. As a result, many Americans are underwhelmed or feel like they got burned by HDTV. The last thing they’re going to do is rush out and buy the next greatest thing.
8. Enthusiasts Are Getting Tired (and Smarter)
While some home theater audio- and videophiles have the money and inclination to rush out and buy the latest and greatest toys as soon as they are available, many more are becoming more cautious. Burned by 8-track, laserdisc, SACD, and DVD-Audio (and possibly soon non-HDCP HDTV) – these war-weary consumers are going to think long and hard before jumping onto any new technological bandwagons. This leaves a shrunken market of even the bleeding-edge consumers, and that means even less sales to early-adopters.
9. A Skeptical News Media Doesn’t Help
I’ll admit it, we’re part of the “problem” (though I’d like to think we’re saving consumers from making the next big mistake). An increasingly skeptical news media isn’t buying into the hype of HD DVD and Blu-ray, especially not after wasting millions of editorial words on DVD-Audio and SACD, only to watch the software and technology dwindle into obscurity. Even after almost 6 years, most consumers continue to proffer puzzled looks when these audio formats are mentioned. The new DVD formats are getting plenty of press, mind you, but with the Toshiba flop and lack of software, the fact that the Emperor has no clothes (at least not yet) is hard to avoid.
10. Broadband and IPTV to Compete?
With Verizon, AOL, Time Warner and others jumping to provide HD on-demand services for the consumer it is a very likely event that high definition DVD will be something that isn’t relevant in a service-directed marketplace. Add to this Apple Computer’s recent push for video downloads and we may find that consumers are far more interested in quantity, portability, and ease of use over high quality source material. Even with respect to high definition formats, downloadable files burned to consumer-supplied media may make data high definition DVDs more significant than the retail formats. This consumer model is being readied for testing in South Carolina’s head-end for Time Warner Cable this year.
So, while I certainly hope for the best, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. High definition is headed for a niche market at best, not an industry takeover.
If Your Face Fits
An online social network is sweeping the most famous universities. Is the Facebook website going to create the digital equivalent of the old school tie?
What are the three most important things in the life of students in the United States? Beer, iPods and Facebook.
That's the finding of a lifestyle-tracking survey in US colleges this month. But what's that third one again?
Facebook is an online social network which has swept the university population in the United States and is making a foothold in this country. It's already a verb: "to facebook" someone. And if a couple are really publicly together they'll be described as "facebook official".
But what is this thing that US students say is now more important than sex and texting?
Founded by a Harvard student a couple of years ago, Facebook allows people to list their personal details online and communicate with other people through the website. It's an online Who's Who. It's how you advertise your parties and politics.
Digital ivy league
So what? You might think this is just another campus fad, or a pale imitation of Myspace, the social networking site that's one of the top five websites in the world. But what's different about Facebook is that it's not just an easy way to keep in touch, it's also a way of keeping it exclusive.
The website works around individual institutions. So if you don't have an e-mail account from the University of Oxford, you don't get into the Facebook for students at Oxford.
And in the UK, the Facebook wave has made its biggest impact at the upmarket universities - in places such as Oxford, Cambridge, University College London, the London School of Economics.
"It's pretty much universal at Oxford, everyone is on it," says Richard Hardiman, deputy editor of the Oxford Student newspaper.
Students put on their pictures, describe their likes and dislikes and romantic status - and use the website to swap messages. You list your friends, you can check out your friends' friends, or find people who have matching interests.
People use their real names and pictures - and the fact that these are identifiably fellow students makes it seem safer, says Richard Hardiman.
There's also a dating aspect of the website - as account holders can identify their current relationship status as anything from single to "it's complicated".
"A tremor can go through a social group when they hear someone has updated their relationship profile," says Hardiman.
Founded as an online social directory by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004
7.5m people registered
Seventh most popular website in US
"Facebooking": checking someone's Facebook profile before meeting them
"Facebook official": really going out together
So widespread is the use of "facebooking" of potential partners - checking out how they look and what they like - that Cambridge students have warned about the death of the blind date.
This hasn't met with universal approval. Sam Steddy, a languages student at University College London, says that the obsession with using Facebook is disrupting non-online relationships.
"People will organise parties and I'll say 'I didn't know you were having one'. And they'll say: 'I put it on Facebook'. They forget that there's a real world out there."
Among the students supporting lecturers during the recent strike was UCL's Kat Lay - and she said distributing information through Facebook was the most effective campaign tool.
"Leaflets would get thrown in the bin. But everyone is so obsessed with Facebook that they use it every day - people would be more likely to see something there," she says.
'Wheat from the chavs'
But what are the implications of all this? In the United States, Facebook has drawn the enthusiastic attention of politicians and businesses, eager to influence the hatching ground of the bright, young middle classes.
For politicians, it's a form of digital hustings, giving them a chance to set up stall in the place where young people are meeting. And for brand promoters, it's an instant insight into what young people like and dislike.
Employers have also been using the website as a way of checking out job applicants - creating a rash of stories about sober-looking job applicants being caught out by their own frolicking Facebook listings.
But in the UK, the question raised by Facebook is whether it's going to be socially exclusive. As an Oxford paper asks, is it about sorting the "wheat from the chavs"?
This extends beyond university, because Facebook also provides an ongoing private connection for students after they've graduated and when they're in the jobs market.
Will people be using these networks to tap each other up for jobs? How would you know if people were recruiting from lists of Oxbridge friends of friends?
Social commentator and university professor, Frank Furedi, says that the "sub-cultures gathering around these networks will become very powerful".
Not least because these huge exchanges of information and ideas are all taking place below the radar - out of sight of the traditional media. But Professor Furedi says that overall these networks will help people to sustain relationships, rather than create division.
"On balance, these networks will be positive, people will be able to intensify their social engagement with each other."
More to the point, these online networks have already entered the language. What's the ultimate sign that someone is really committed to you?
"Can I say you're my girlfriend on Facebook?"
Kent Banning Athlete Web Profiles
One student chose a picture of himself shirtless holding a Miller Lite can for his profile photo. He's on the baseball team.
Another belongs to the "My cell phone is my best friend when I'm drunk in Kent" group and lists skinny-dipping as an interest. She competes in track and field.
Both are Kent State University athletes with profiles on Facebook.com, a social networking Web site that boasts more than 7.5 million users from high schools and universities nationwide.
But soon, Kent State's nearly 400 athletes will be banned from Facebook -- not by the Web site, but by university administrators.
Athletics Director Laing Kennedy recently told student-athletes they have until Aug. 1 to remove their Facebook profiles, citing a need to protect both their identities and the university's image.
"We're really concerned about the safety of our student-athletes and some of the personal information some of them have on there," he said.
Many universities also warn students against putting personal information on such online sites out of concern that it makes them targets for predators, and some schools review the sites for evidence of wrongdoing.
Kennedy said some Kent students who list phone numbers and addresses have been contacted inappropriately, either by strangers or sports agents.
Although Kennedy said he regrets limiting the students' ability to communicate, he sees it as a necessary step.
"It would be irresponsible on our part if this led to something serious," he said.
The move to ban the site came from students and coaches expressing concern over safety and privacy issues. Kennedy said he hasn't seen the site.
If student-athletes don't remove their profiles by the deadline, they risk losing their scholarships, he said. Coaches and athletics counselors will monitor the site for violators.
The ban presents some First Amendment concerns, said Gary Daniels, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.
Many high schools and colleges prohibit the consumption of alcohol during a sports season, which makes sense, he said.
But this is a different story.
"There's no clear connection between their roles as athletes and their use of these Web sites," Daniels said.
"For the government to say that you can't engage in First Amendment activities, they better have a really good reason. And saying, 'I don't want them to do it' is not a good-enough reason."
Student-athletes are representatives of the university, Kennedy said, and anything embarrassing on a student's profile can be embarrassing for the university as well.
"The expectations of a student-athlete are significantly higher than if you are an ordinary student," Kennedy said.
Most students have responded to the ban positively, Kennedy said.
Other universities have expressed concern with Facebook but have taken different steps.
Miechelle Willis, senior associate athletics director for Ohio State, said that university doesn't have a policy.
It instead engages coaches and student-athletes in talks of what is and isn't appropriate for networking sites.
"We're trying not to implement a policy where students have to remove their pages and instead using it as an educational opportunity," she said.
Greg Seibert, director of security and compliance for Kent State, said all students, not just athletes, face safety issues with networking sites.
By posting their addresses, class schedules and what bars they go to, they put themselves at risk, he said.
"That's pretty much a blueprint if you want to stalk me," he said.
Resident advisers at Ohio State review Facebook to see what their residents are doing behind closed doors, said Steve Kremer, assistant vice president for student affairs.
In a handful of occasions, he said, some students have been investigated by police based on their profiles.
In one instance, he said, a group of students was caught after posting a photo of themselves with stolen property.
Police at other universities have staked out parties and other illegal activities through the site.
Businesses are also checking out students' Facebook and Myspace profiles when considering a new hire.
For that reason, some information is best left off the sites, Kent State's Seibert said.
"If you go on and on about the times you were stoned out of your mind or drunk driving, and an employer sees that … you might not get the job," he said.
Erin Evans, a recruiter at the Worthington office of Act-I, a local staffing company, said it doesn't look at the Facebook profiles of potential hires.
But she stressed the importance of excluding information employers wouldn't want to see.
"Anyone can Google you and find many different things," she said. "The Internet is open for everybody."
Dispatch reporter Bob Moser contributed to this story.
Kent State Bans Student Athletes From Facebook
Kent State University has elected to ban its student athletes from placing profiles on Facebook.com. Reasons given range from concern over the safety of the athletes, who can be easily stalked using the personal information often found on Facebook profiles, to concern over the image of the university, given some of the info students choose to share in what amounts to a very public forum.
Free speech issues abound, of course, but it's hard to blame any school for being worried about its image if its most public representatives might be on display engaging in drug use, underage drinking, sex, or hazing. College athletic programs being what they are, many schools depend on the revenue generated by sports programs as a significant source of funding. There are also secondary benefits that come with the notoriety of a good athletic program, including being perceived as a desirable school by prospective students and potentially higher contributions from pleased alumni. Although few people probably expect any school to have a squeaky-clean student base, scandal does no one any good, and online chronicles of wild activity can alter public perception from "good school" to "party school" to "I'm not sending my kid there." With sites such as BadJocks.com trolling the 'Net for outrageous acts, a few minor incidents can begin to shift a college's image very quickly.
Kent State officials have also expressed concern over the personal information posted by student athletes. That data has been used by both sports agents and fans to contact students inappropriately.
Although there have been several cases in which Kent State students have gone public with activities the university would rather they kept private or avoided altogether, the school has so far been spared any real trouble from profiles on Facebook. Other schools have not been so lucky, as in the case with North Carolina's Elon University, where photos of baseball players at a party were displayed on Facebook. It wasn't so much the party that got them in trouble, but the fact that the students were displayed drinking and wearing women's underwear—probably not the public image a high-grade private university affiliated with the United Church of Christ is looking to project.
While asking college athletes to agree to a code of conduct is pretty standard practice, banning them outright from using a particular web site is seen by many as a fairly draconian reaction to the problem. For one thing, there is the question of just how much control a school should be allowed to exercise over an activity that could very well be benign most of the time. For another, banning a particular web site probably has little effect when numerous online outlets—ranging from other social sites like MySpace and Friendster to blogs and more traditional web pages—exist upon which students can post personal information.
Certainly, the schools have a right and a reason to be concerned. With students from such well-known universities as Northwestern and Penn State getting into trouble by documenting their activity on the web, and even the police beginning to take an interest, the problem is more than theoretical. On one level, Kent State could be applauded for having the foresight to prevent an issue from ever arising. However, outright bans are probably less likely to produce the desired effect than simply educating the students about what is expected of them and potential issues they may face. Education, after all, is what going to college is all about, isn't it?
"Shoot the messenger"
Bush Says Report on Bank Data Was Disgraceful
Sheryl Gay Stolberg
President Bush on Monday condemned as "disgraceful" the disclosure last week by The New York Times and other newspapers of a secret program to investigate and track terrorists that relies on a vast international database that includes Americans' banking transactions.
The remarks were the first in public by Mr. Bush on the issue, and they came as the administration intensified its attacks on newspapers' handling of it. In a speech in Nebraska on Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly criticized The Times by name, while Treasury Secretary John W. Snow dismissed as "incorrect and offensive" the rationale offered by the newspaper's executive editor for the decision to publish.
"Congress was briefed," Mr. Bush said. "And what we did was fully authorized under the law. And the disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America."
The New York Times, followed by The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, began publishing accounts of the program on Thursday evening.
In his remarks during a brief photo session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Mr. Bush appeared irritated, at times leaning forward for emphasis, though he did not mention any newspaper by name.
Mr. Cheney, who had earlier said he was offended by news accounts of the financial tracking program, on Monday went a step further, singling out The Times for criticism in a separate appearance at a fundraising luncheon for a Republican candidate for Congress, Adrian Smith, in Grand Island, Neb.
"Some in the press, in particular The New York Times, have made the job of defending against further terrorist attacks more difficult by insisting on publishing detailed information about vital national security programs," the vice president said, adding that the program provides "valuable intelligence" and has been "successful in helping break up terrorist plots."
The executive editor of The Times, Bill Keller, said in an e-mail statement on Monday evening that the decision to publish had been "a hard call." But Mr. Keller noted that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has "embarked on a number of broad, secret programs aimed at combating terrorism, often without seeking new legal authority or submitting to the usual oversight."
He added, "I think it would be arrogant for us to pre-empt the work of Congress and the courts by deciding these programs are perfectly legal and abuse-proof, based entirely on the word of the government."
Representative Peter King, Republican of New York and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, released a letter on Monday in which he called on the attorney general to investigate whether The Times's decision to publish the article violated the Espionage Act.
In a television interview on Sunday, Mr. King described the disclosure as "absolutely disgraceful" and said he believed that the newspaper's action had violated the statute.
In Nebraska on Monday, Mr. Cheney reminded his audience that The Times had also disclosed the National Security Agency's secret program of monitoring international communications of suspected terrorists without court warrants. Mr. Cheney said it was "doubly disturbing" that The Times printed the article and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, journalism's highest honor, for it.
"I think that is a disgrace," he said.
Administration officials had argued strongly that in reporting on the financial tracking operation, The Times would endanger national security by prompting the Belgian banking consortium that maintains the financial data to withdraw from the program. On Sunday, Mr. Keller, the paper's executive editor, posted a letter on The New York Times Web site saying that the newspaper "found this argument puzzling," partly because the banking consortium is compelled by subpoena to comply.
Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift.
Mr. Keller said in the letter that the administration had made a "secondary argument" that publication of the article would lead terrorists to change tactics, but he said that argument had been made "in a halfhearted way."
Mr. Snow, the Treasury secretary, challenged that view in strong terms in a letter to Mr. Keller, saying, "Nothing could be further from the truth." Mr. Snow said that he and other high-level officials, including Democrats, had made "repeated pleas" in an effort to dissuade The Times from publication. The letter was made public by the Treasury in a news release on Monday evening.
In explaining the newspaper's rationale for publication, Mr. Keller also wrote that it was not the newspaper's job "to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective" — an explanation that drew pointed criticism from Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, during a televised briefing on Monday.
Mr. Snow, who is not related to the Treasury secretary, said journalists made such judgments all the time, and accused The Times of endangering lives and departing from what he said was a longstanding tradition by news organizations of keeping government secrets during wartime.
"Traditionally in this country in a time of war, members of the press have acknowledged that the commander in chief, in the exercise of his powers, sometimes has to do things secretly in order to protect the public," Mr. Snow said. "This is a highly unusual departure."
Mr. Snow said there was no coordinated effort by the White House to ratchet up pressure on journalists, or The Times in particular. But he said the president seemed eager to have a chance to express his views about the issue, and decided at the last minute to take reporters' questions at Monday's photo session, after a meeting with supporters of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"If you want to figure out what the terrorists are doing, you try to follow their money," the president said. "And that's exactly what we're doing. And the fact that a newspaper disclosed it makes it harder to win this war on terror."
On Capitol Hill, the financial-tracking program itself has not generated much criticism, even from Democrats, since its existence was disclosed. A spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said Mr. Reid was briefed on the program several weeks ago and had concluded that "it does not appear to be based on the same shaky and discredited legal analysis the vice president and his allies invoked to underpin the N.S.A. domestic spying program."
An exception has been Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has made privacy a signature issue and who said in an interview Monday that the Bush administration was adopting a strategy of "shoot the messenger" in trying to avoid Congressional oversight of the financial tracking program.
"There are very serious constitutional and legal questions that have been raised," Mr. Markey said, "and they're being obscured by this almost ad hominem attack on The New York Times."
Administration officials have held classified briefings about the banking program for some members of Congress and the Sept. 11 commission, intelligence and law enforcement officials said, and more lawmakers were briefed after the administration learned that The Times was making inquiries for an article about the program.
Damage Study Urged on Surveillance Reports
Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, asked the director of national intelligence on Tuesday to assess any damage to American counterterrorism efforts caused by the disclosure of secret programs to monitor telephone calls and financial transactions.
Mr. Roberts, Republican of Kansas, singled out The New York Times for an article last week that reported that the government was tracking money transfers handled by a banking consortium based in Belgium. The targeting of the financial data, which includes some Americans' transactions, was also reported Thursday by The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.
In his letter to John D. Negroponte, director of national intelligence, Mr. Roberts wrote that "we have been unable to persuade the media to act responsibly and to protect the means by which we protect this nation."
He asked for a formal evaluation of damage to intelligence collection resulting from the revelation of the secret financial monitoring as well as The Times's disclosure in December of the National Security Agency's monitoring of phone calls and e-mail messages of Americans suspected of having links to Al Qaeda.
In London, meanwhile, a human rights group said Tuesday that it had filed complaints in 32 countries alleging that the banking consortium, known as Swift, violated European and Asian privacy laws by giving the United States access to its data.
Simon Davies, director of the group, Privacy International, said the scale of the American monitoring, involving millions of records, "places this disclosure in the realm of a fishing exercise rather than a legally authorized investigation."
The Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, has asked the Justice Ministry to investigate whether Swift violated Belgian law by allowing the United States government access to its data.
The American Civil Liberties Union has condemned the program, and a Chicago lawyer, Steven E. Schwarz, filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Swift on Friday alleging that it had violated United States financial privacy statutes.
President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and numerous Republicans in Congress have vigorously defended the financial tracking program as legal and valuable and condemned its public disclosure. They have suggested that the articles might tip off terrorists that their money transfers could be detected. Representative J. D. Hayworth, Republican of Arizona, circulated a letter to colleagues on Tuesday asking that The Times's Congressional press credentials be suspended.
Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said any effort to measure damage to intelligence collection would take some time.
"It's not as if the terrorists are going to say, 'Oops! Going to stop doing that,' " Mr. Snow said at a briefing. "But I think it is safe to say that once you provide a piece of intelligence, people on the other side act on it."
The electronic messaging system operated by Swift, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, routes nearly $6 trillion a day in transfers among nearly 8,000 financial institutions.
At a confirmation hearing on Tuesday for Henry M. Paulson Jr., the nominee for Treasury secretary, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, asked whether the monitoring might violate the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches. "I think you'll agree that we could fight terrorism properly and adequately without having a police state in America," Mr. Baucus said.
Mr. Paulson did not express an opinion on the propriety of the Swift monitoring but pledged to study it. "I am going to, if confirmed, be all over it, make sure I learn everything there is to learn, make sure I understand the law thoroughly," he said.
Democratic staff members said they had pressed Treasury officials in recent days for a fuller accounting of which members of Congress were briefed on the program and whether notification requirements under the International Economic Emergency Powers Act, invoked by President Bush days after Sept. 11, were met.
Treasury officials have told Congressional staff members that they briefed the full intelligence committees of both houses about a month ago, after inquiries by The Times, according to one Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. Some members were told of the program several years ago, but the Treasury Department has not provided a list of who was informed when, the aide said.
Democrats said they hoped to get a clearer idea of the legal foundations for the program, how it was monitored, and how long it will be allowed to continue under the president's invocation of emergency powers.
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat who serves on the House financial services committee, said Tuesday: "The administration is basing its actions on a 1970's law that never envisioned a state of perpetual emergency. It wasn't meant to become the status quo. That is why Congress needs to look at its current use."
Victor Comras, a former State Department official who served on a United Nations counterterrorism advisory group, pointed out on The Counterterrorism Blog that a 2002 United Nations report had noted with approval that the United States was monitoring international financial systems.
While providing no details, the report mentioned Swift and similar organizations, saying "the United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions."
Dan Bilefsky contributed reporting from Brussels for this article, andCarl Hulse and Eric Lichtblau from Washington.
Argument Against Report Puzzles NYT Editors
The New York Times is defending itself from criticism about a report on secret financial monitoring of terrorists, saying it found arguments by Bush administration officials against publishing it ''puzzling'' and ''half-hearted.''
In a note on the paper's Web site Sunday, Executive Editor Bill Keller said the Times spent weeks discussing with Bush administration officials whether to publish the report.
He said part of the government's argument was that the anti-terror program would no longer be effective if it became known, because international bankers would be unwilling to cooperate and terrorists would find other ways to move money.
''We don't know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling,'' Keller said, pointing out that the banks were under subpoena to provide the information. ''The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere.''
The note to readers was published the same day Rep. Peter King urged the Bush administration to prosecute the paper.
''We're at war, and for the Times to release information about secret operations and methods is treasonous,'' the New York Republican told The Associated Press.
Keller said the administration also argued ''in a half-hearted way'' that disclosure of the program ''would lead terrorists to change tactics.''
But Keller wrote that the Treasury Department has ''trumpeted ... that the U.S. makes every effort to track international financing of terror. Terror financiers know this, which is why they have already moved as much as they can to cruder methods. But they also continue to use the international banking system, because it is immeasurably more efficient than toting suitcases of cash.''
Stories about the money-monitoring program also appeared last week in The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. But King, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he singled out the New York paper because it also disclosed a secret domestic-wiretapping program in December.
He charged that the paper was ''more concerned about a left-wing elitist agenda than it is about the security of the American people.''
King said he would write Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, urging that the nation's chief law enforcer ''begin an investigation and prosecution of The New York Times -- the reporters, the editors and the publisher.''
King's action was not endorsed by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
''On the basis of the newspaper article, I think it's premature to call for a prosecution of The New York Times, just like I think it's premature to say that the administration is entirely correct,'' Specter told ''Fox News Sunday.''
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Treasury officials obtained access to a vast database called Swift -- the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. The Belgium-based database handles financial message traffic from thousands of financial institutions in more than 200 countries.
Democrats and civil libertarians are questioning whether the program violated privacy rights.
The service, which routes more than 11 million messages each day, mostly captures information on wire transfers and other methods of moving money in and out of the United States, but it does not execute those transfers.
The service generally does not detect private, individual transactions in the United States, such as withdrawals from an ATM or bank deposits. It is aimed mostly at international transfers.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the paper acted responsibly, both in last week's report and in reporting last year about the wiretapping program.
''It's pretty clear to me that in this story and in the story last December that the New York Times did not act recklessly. They try to do whatever they can to take into account whatever security concerns the government has and they try to behave responsibly,'' Dalglish said. ''I think in years to come that this is a story American citizens are going to be glad they had, however this plays out.''
In recent months, journalists have been called into court to testify as part of investigations into leaks, including the unauthorized disclosure of a CIA operative's name.
Gonzales has said the First Amendment right of a free press should not be absolute when it comes to national security.
Letter From Bill Keller on The Times's Banking Records Report
The following is a letter Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, has sent to readers who have written to him about The Times's publication of information about the government's examination of international banking records:
I don't always have time to answer my mail as fully as etiquette demands, but our story about the government's surveillance of international banking records has generated some questions and concerns that I take very seriously. As the editor responsible for the difficult decision to publish that story, I'd like to offer a personal response.
Some of the incoming mail quotes the angry words of conservative bloggers and TV or radio pundits who say that drawing attention to the government's anti-terror measures is unpatriotic and dangerous. (I could ask, if that's the case, why they are drawing so much attention to the story themselves by yelling about it on the airwaves and the Internet.) Some comes from readers who have considered the story in question and wonder whether publishing such material is wise. And some comes from readers who are grateful for the information and think it is valuable to have a public debate about the lengths to which our government has gone in combatting the threat of terror.
It's an unusual and powerful thing, this freedom that our founders gave to the press. Who are the editors of The New York Times (or the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and other publications that also ran the banking story) to disregard the wishes of the President and his appointees? And yet the people who invented this country saw an aggressive, independent press as a protective measure against the abuse of power in a democracy, and an essential ingredient for self-government. They rejected the idea that it is wise, or patriotic, to always take the President at his word, or to surrender to the government important decisions about what to publish.
The power that has been given us is not something to be taken lightly. The responsibility of it weighs most heavily on us when an issue involves national security, and especially national security in times of war. I've only participated in a few such cases, but they are among the most agonizing decisions I've faced as an editor.
The press and the government generally start out from opposite corners in such cases. The government would like us to publish only the official line, and some of our elected leaders tend to view anything else as harmful to the national interest. For example, some members of the Administration have argued over the past three years that when our reporters describe sectarian violence and insurgency in Iraq, we risk demoralizing the nation and giving comfort to the enemy. Editors start from the premise that citizens can be entrusted with unpleasant and complicated news, and that the more they know the better they will be able to make their views known to their elected officials. Our default position — our job — is to publish information if we are convinced it is fair and accurate, and our biggest failures have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough. After The Times played down its advance knowledge of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy reportedly said he wished we had published what we knew and perhaps prevented a fiasco. Some of the reporting in The Times and elsewhere prior to the war in Iraq was criticized for not being skeptical enough of the Administration's claims about the Iraqi threat. The question we start with as journalists is not "why publish?" but "why would we withhold information of significance?" We have sometimes done so, holding stories or editing out details that could serve those hostile to the U.S. But we need a compelling reason to do so.
Forgive me, I know this is pretty elementary stuff — but it's the kind of elementary context that sometimes gets lost in the heat of strong disagreements.
Since September 11, 2001, our government has launched broad and secret anti-terror monitoring programs without seeking authorizing legislation and without fully briefing the Congress. Most Americans seem to support extraordinary measures in defense against this extraordinary threat, but some officials who have been involved in these programs have spoken to the Times about their discomfort over the legality of the government's actions and over the adequacy of oversight. We believe The Times and others in the press have served the public interest by accurately reporting on these programs so that the public can have an informed view of them.
Our decision to publish the story of the Administration's penetration of the international banking system followed weeks of discussion between Administration officials and The Times, not only the reporters who wrote the story but senior editors, including me. We listened patiently and attentively. We discussed the matter extensively within the paper. We spoke to others — national security experts not serving in the Administration — for their counsel. It's worth mentioning that the reporters and editors responsible for this story live in two places — New York and the Washington area — that are tragically established targets for terrorist violence. The question of preventing terror is not abstract to us.
The Administration case for holding the story had two parts, roughly speaking: first that the program is good — that it is legal, that there are safeguards against abuse of privacy, and that it has been valuable in deterring and prosecuting terrorists. And, second, that exposing this program would put its usefulness at risk.
It's not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on an air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don't know about it.
We weighed most heavily the Administration's concern that describing this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don't know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the Administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker backlash against the program.
By the way, we heard similar arguments against publishing last year's reporting on the NSA eavesdropping program. We were told then that our article would mean the death of that program. We were told that telecommunications companies would — if the public knew what they were doing — withdraw their cooperation. To the best of my knowledge, that has not happened. While our coverage has led to much public debate and new congressional oversight, to the best of our knowledge the eavesdropping program continues to operate much as it did before. Members of Congress have proposed to amend the law to put the eavesdropping program on a firm legal footing. And the man who presided over it and defended it was handily confirmed for promotion as the head of the CIA.
A secondary argument against publishing the banking story was that publication would lead terrorists to change tactics. But that argument was made in a half-hearted way. It has been widely reported — indeed, trumpeted by the Treasury Department — that the U.S. makes every effort to track international financing of terror. Terror financiers know this, which is why they have already moved as much as they can to cruder methods. But they also continue to use the international banking system, because it is immeasurably more efficient than toting suitcases of cash.
I can appreciate that other conscientious people could have gone through the process I've outlined above and come to a different conclusion. But nobody should think that we made this decision casually, with any animus toward the current Administration, or without fully weighing the issues.
Thanks for writing.
Librarians holding firm – threat "without merit"
Feds Drop Request For Library Records
Federal authorities have dropped their demand for library patrons' computer records, saying Monday that they had since discounted a potential terrorism threat that sparked the request.
But the FBI said the failure by librarians to comply with the request last year slowed the investigation.
"In this case, because the threat ultimately was without merit, that delay came at no cost other than slowing the pace of the investigation," John Miller, the FBI's assistant director, said in a statement. "In another case, where the threat may be real, the delays incurred in this investigation could have increased the danger of terrorists succeeding."
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the librarians who received the demand for records, said the librarians might have been willing to comply with a similar demand if it had been approved by a judge.
"I'm glad that we're vindicated in resisting the request for the records," said George Christian of Windsor, one of the librarians. "We're just protecting our patrons to the extent we can."
The Library Connection, a consortium of 26 Connecticut libraries, sought help from the ACLU when the FBI demanded computer records through a national security letter last year.
The letter sought subscriber and billing information related to a computer used within a 45-minute time period on the day the threat was transmitted from a library computer on Feb. 15, 2005. Authorities said the request did not involve reading lists of library patrons.
"We concluded that based on the passage of time as well as other information we've been able to develop that this threat is probably not viable," Connecticut U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said.
"All I can say is there was an e-mail and the e-mail contained information about a potential terrorist threat and we were trying to determine the credibility and the identity of the person who sent that e-mail because that will tell us a lot about whether or not something is a viable threat," O'Connor said.
O'Connor said authorities are trying to prevent attacks and not every case involves enough information to get a warrant.
The librarians were initially under a gag order that was lifted by a federal judge who said it unfairly prevented them from participating in a debate over how the Patriot Act should be rewritten.
"First the government abandoned the gag order that would have silenced four librarians for the rest of their lives, and now they've abandoned their demand for library records entirely," said Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the ACLU. "While the government's real motives in this case have been questionable from the beginning, their decision to back down is a victory not just for librarians but for all Americans who value their privacy."
Beeson said in an interview that the government pursued the case until after Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act.
O'Connor said the national security letter was appropriately issued and said the ACLU should not question the motives of federal agents trying to investigate a threat.
The librarians who were subject to the gag order last month are all on the board of Library Connection. The computer in question was in a library that is part of the group's shared computer network. Federal authorities have declined to say where exactly that computer was located.
The Patriot Act, passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, allows expanded surveillance of terror suspects, increased use of material witness warrants to hold suspects incommunicado and secret proceedings in immigration cases. It also removed a requirement that any records sought in a terrorism investigation be those of someone under suspicion. Now anyone's records can be obtained if the FBI considers them relevant to a terrorism or spying investigation.
Prosecutors argued that secrecy about demands for records is necessary to avoid alerting suspects and jeopardizing investigations. They contended the gag order prevented only the release of librarians' identities, not their ability to speak about the Patriot Act.
ACLU Seeks Information About Government Use of Brain Scanners in Interrogations
Group says technology should not be deployed until it is proven effective
In the face of suspicions that the government is using cutting-edge brain-scanning technologies on suspected terrorists being held overseas or at home, the American Civil Liberties Union today announced that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with all the primary American security agencies.
"There are certain things that have such powerful implications for our society -- and for humanity at large -- that we have a right to know how they are being used so that we can grapple with them as a democratic society," said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project. "These brain-scanning technologies are far from ready for forensic uses and if deployed will inevitably be misused and misunderstood."
The most likely technology to be used for anti-terrorism purposes is Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), which can produce live, real-time images of people's brains as they answer questions, view images, listen to sounds, and respond to other stimuli. Two private companies have announced that they will begin to offer "lie detection" services using fMRI as early as this summer. These companies are marketing their services to federal government agencies, including the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, the National Security Agency and the CIA, and to state and local police departments.
"This technology must not be deployed until it is proven effective -- and we are a long way away from that point, according to scientists in the field," said Steinhardt. "What we don't want is to open our newspapers and find that another innocent person has been thrown into Guantánamo because interrogators have jumped to conclusions based on a technology no one understands very well."
Experts in the field say that the science to back up any reliable use of fMRI as a "lie detector" or "mind reader" simply does not exist. At most, correlations have been observed between certain brain patterns and particular, highly controlled behaviors produced in laboratory experiments. But experts note that these early experiments on a few American college students are a long way from real-world settings, involving individuals in widely varying situations and with widely varying cultures, intelligence levels and states of mind.
The ACLU's FOIA requests were filed yesterday with the Pentagon, NSA, CIA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security.
"These brain-scanning technologies have potentially far-reaching implications, yet uncertain results and effectiveness," said Steinhardt. "And we are still in our infancy when it comes to understanding the underlying processes of the brain that the scanners have begun to reveal. We do not want to see our government yet again deploying a potentially momentous technology unilaterally and in secret, before Americans have had a chance to figure out how it fits in with our values as a nation."
Coming Soon -- Mind-Reading Computers
A raised eyebrow, quizzical look or a nod of the head are just a few of the facial expressions computers could soon be using to read people's minds.
An "emotionally aware" computer being developed by British and American scientists will be able to read an individual's thoughts by analyzing a combination of facial movements that represent underlying feelings.
"The system we have developed allows a wide range of mental states to be identified just by pointing a video camera at someone," said Professor Peter Robinson, of the University of Cambridge in England.
He and his collaborators believe the mind-reading computer's applications could range from improving people's driving skills to helping companies tailor advertising to people's moods.
"Imagine a computer that could pick the right emotional moment to try to sell you something, a future where mobile phones, cars and Web sites could read our mind and react to our moods," he added.
The technology is already programmed to recognize different facial expressions generated by actors. Robinson hopes to get more data to determine whether someone is bored, interested, confused, or agrees or disagrees when it is unveiled at a science exhibition in London on Monday.
People visiting the four-day exhibition organized by the Royal Society, Britain's academy of leading scientists, will be invited to take part in a study to hone the program's abilities.
The scientists, who are developing the technology in collaboration with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, also hope to get it to accept other inputs such as posture and gesture.
"Our research could enable Web sites to tailor advertising or products to your mood," Robinson told Reuters. "For example, a webcam linked with our software could process your image, encode the correct emotional state and transmit information to a Web site."
It could also be useful in online teaching to show whether someone understands what is being explained and in improving road safety by determining if a driver is confused, bored or tired.
"We are working with a big car company and they envision this being employed in cars within five years," Robinson said, adding that a camera could be built into the dashboard.
Anyone who does not want to give away too much information about what they are feeling, he said, can just cover up the camera.
WEP Cracking, the FBI Way
WEP cracking usually takes hours. Lots of hours, depending on the amount of traffic on the access point. A few months ago, two FBI agents demonstrated how they were able to crack a WEP enabled access point within a couple of minutes. 3 minutes to be exact. This is unbelievable when compared to, say 3 days of work. Here is how they did it, and how you can do it. You may need to know your way with each and every of these tools to get this done. You can ask Google for that. Anyway, if you are familiar with them, just do as follows :
o Run Kismet to find your target network. Get the SSID and the channel.
o Run Airodump and start capturing data.
o With Aireplay, start replaying a packet on the target network. (You can find a ‘good packet’ by looking at the BSSID MAC on Kismet and comparing it to the captured packet’s BSSID MAC).
o Watch as Airodump goes crazy with new IVs. Thanks to Aireplay.
o Stop Airodump when you have about 1,000 IVs.
o Run Aircrack on the captured file.
o You should see the WEP key infront of you now.
The software runs on Linux, they are all available on the Knoppix Linux Live CD. And finally, I think you should always use a combination of 2 or more security features. As for what you need, get Aircrack (Includes Airodump, Aireplay, Aircrack and optional Airdecap for decrypting WEP/WPA capture files) and get Kismet.
Update: Kismet for Windows (Kiswin32) is available now.
The Newbie's Guide to Detecting the NSA
It's not surprising that an expert hired by EFF should produce an analysis that supports the group's case against AT&T. But last week's public court filing of a redacted statement by J. Scott Marcus is still worth reading for the obvious expertise of its author, and the cunning insights he draws from the AT&T spy documents.
An internet pioneer and former FCC advisor who held a Top Secret security clearance, Marcus applies a Sherlock Holmes level of reasoning to his dissection of the evidence in the case: 120-pages of AT&T manuals that EFF filed under seal, and whistleblower Mark Klein's observations inside the company's San Francisco switching center.
If you've been following Wired News' coverage of the EFF case, you won't find many new hard revelations in Marcus' analysis -- at least, not in the censored version made public. But he connects the dots to draw some interesting conclusions:
· The AT&T documents are authentic. That AT&T insists they remain under seal is evidence enough of this, but Marcus points out that the writing style is pure Bell System, with the "meticulous attention to detail that is typical of AT&T operations."
· There may be dozens of surveillance rooms in AT&T offices around the country. Among other things, Marcus finds that portions of the documents are written to cover a number of different equipment rack configurations, "consistent with a deployment to 15 to 20" secret rooms.
· The internet surveillance program covers domestic traffic, not just international traffic. Marcus notes that the AT&T spy rooms are "in far more locations than would be required to catch the majority of international traffic"; the configuration in the San Francisco office promiscuously sends all data into the secret room; and there's no reliable way an analysis could infer a user's physical location from their IP address. This, of course, directly contradicts President Bush's description of the "Terrorist Surveillance Program."
· The system is capable of looking at content, not just addresses. The configuration described in the Klein documents -- presumably the Narus software in particular -- "exists primarily to conduct sophisticated rule-based analysis of content", Marcus concludes.
My bullet points don't come close to conveying the painstaking reasoning he lays out to back each of his conclusions.
Perhaps the most interesting -- and, in retrospect, obvious -- point Marcus makes is that AT&T customers aren't the only ones apparently being tapped. "Transit" traffic originating with one ISP and destined for another is also being sniffed if it crosses AT&T's network. Ironically, because the taps are installed at the point at which that network connects to the rest of the world, the safest web surfers are AT&T subscribers visiting websites hosted on AT&T's network. Their traffic doesn't pass through the splitters.
With that in mind, here's the 27B Stroke 6 guide to detecting if your traffic is being funneled into the secret room on San Francisco's Folsom street.
If you're a Windows user, fire up an MS-DOS command prompt. Now type tracert followed by the domain name of the website, e-mail host, VoIP switch, or whatever destination you're interested in. Watch as the program spits out your route, line by line.
C:\> tracert nsa.gov
1 2 ms 2 ms 2 ms 184.108.40.206
7 11 ms 14 ms 10 ms as-0-0.bbr2.SanJose1.Level3.net [220.127.116.11]
8 13 12 19 ms ae-23-56.car3.SanJose1.Level3.net [18.104.22.168]
9 18 ms 16 ms 16 ms 22.214.171.124
10 88 ms 92 ms 91 ms tbr2-p012201.sffca.ip.att.net [126.96.36.199]
11 88 ms 90 ms 88 ms tbr1-cl2.sl9mo.ip.att.net [188.8.131.52]
12 89 ms 97 ms 89 ms tbr1-cl4.wswdc.ip.att.net [184.108.40.206]
13 89 ms 88 ms 88 ms ar2-a3120s6.wswdc.ip.att.net [220.127.116.11]
14 102 ms 93 ms 112 ms 18.104.22.168
15 94 ms 94 ms 93 ms 22.214.171.124
16 * * *
17 * * *
18 * *
In the above example, my traffic is jumping from Level 3 Communications to AT&T's network in San Francisco, presumably over the OC-48 circuit that AT&T tapped on February 20th, 2003, according to the Klein docs.
The magic string you're looking for is sffca.ip.att.net. If it's present immediately above or below a non-att.net entry, then -- by Klein's allegations -- your packets are being copied into room 641A, and from there, illegally, to the NSA.
Of course, if Marcus is correct and AT&T has installed these secret rooms all around the country, then any att.net entry in your route is a bad sign.
Man Charged After Videotaping Police
A city man is charged with violating state wiretap laws by recording a detective on his home security camera, while the detective was investigating the man’s sons.
Michael Gannon, 49, of 26 Morgan St., was arrested Tuesday night, after he brought a video to the police station to try to file a complaint against Detective Andrew Karlis, according to Gannon’s wife, Janet Gannon, and police reports filed in Nashua District Court.
Police instead arrested Gannon, charging him with two felony counts of violating state eavesdropping and wiretap law by using an electronic device to record Karlis without the detective’s consent.
The Gannons’ son, Shawn Gannon, 18, is charged with resisting detention and disorderly conduct, and his wife also was cited for disorderly conduct, she said.
Janet Gannon said the family plans to hire a lawyer, and expects to sue the police department.The couple’s 15-year-old son also was arrested, charged as a juvenile in an unrelated robbery case, according to police reports and Janet Gannon.
The Gannons installed a video and audio recording system at their home, a four-unit building at 22-28 Morgan St., to monitor the front door and parking areas, family members told police. They installed the cameras about two years ago, buying the system at Wal-Mart, Janet Gannon told the police, according to reports filed in court. The Gannons have owned the property, which is assessed at $382,700, for the past three years, city records show.
Janet Gannon spoke with The Telegraph by phone Wednesday afternoon, before going to bail out her husband. She said they installed the system in response to crime in the neighborhood, and at their house.
“We’ve had two break-ins. One guy came right up our stairs and started beating on my husband, and we called the cops,” she said. Another time, after someone broke into a camper on their property, Janet Gannon said an officer suggested they were “too rich” for the neighborhood, and should move.
The security cameras record sound and audio directly to a videocassette recorder inside the house, and the Gannons posted warnings about the system, Janet Gannon said.On Tuesday night, Michael Gannon brought a videocassette to the police department, and asked to speak with someone in “public relations,” his wife said and police reported.
Gannon wanted to lodge a complaint against Karlis, who had come to the family’s house while investigating their sons, Janet Gannon said. She said Karlis showed up late at night, was rude, and refused to leave when they asked him.
“He was just very smart-mouthed. He put his foot in the door, and my husband said, ‘Excuse me, I did not invite you in, please leave,’ and he wouldn’t,” Janet Gannon said. “We did not invite him in, we asked him to leave, and he wouldn’t.”
After the police arrested the Gannons’ sons, Janet Gannon said, they “secured” the house, and told her and her sister-in-law they had to stay out of it from around 8:45 p.m. Tuesday until about 4 a.m. Wednesday.
Police said they were waiting to get a warrant to search the house, Janet Gannon said.
“They were waiting for a warrant to seize the cameras and the tapes in my house . . . because they said having these cameras was against the law. They’re security cameras,” she said, adding, “They said they could do that. They could seize my apartment.”
Karlis went to the Gannons’ home at about 11:30 p.m. Friday night and again at about 7 p.m. Tuesday, police reported. Karlis was investigating the Gannons’ 15-year-old son in connection with a June 21 mugging outside Margaritas restaurant, for which two other teens already have been charged, according to police reports. The boy also is charged with possessing a handgun stolen three years ago in Vermont, and resisting detention, police said.
The boy wasn’t home when Karlis went there, and the Gannons were “uncooperative” regarding his whereabouts, police reported.
The Gannons felt police were harassing the family, Janet Gannon said.
“There were six cops in my yard,” the first time police came, she said. “My husband was very upset. How many cops does it take to talk to a 15-year-old.”
Karlis didn’t know about the security camera until his second visit, when Michael Gannon told him to “smile” for the camera, police reported.
Janet Gannon said her husband explicitly warned officers of the camera, later adding “smile,” as a joke.
“I heard him say it,” she said. “He said, ‘Gentlemen, there’s a camera right there.’”
According to police, however, Janet Gannon told officers she didn’t remember her husband warning police about the security camera.
Police reported that Gannon “has a history of being verbally abusive” toward police, and that after his arrest, he remarked that the officers “were a bunch of corrupt (expletives).”
Lawmakers: NSA Database Incomplete
Members of the House and Senate intelligence committees confirm that the National Security Agency has compiled a massive database of domestic phone call records. But some lawmakers also say that cooperation by the nation's telecommunication companies was not as extensive as first reported by USA TODAY on May 11.
Several lawmakers, briefed in secret by intelligence officials about the program after the story was published, described a call records database that is enormous but incomplete. Most asked that they not be identified by name, and many offered only limited responses to questions, citing national security concerns.
In the May 11 article that revealed the database, USA TODAY reported that its sources said AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon had agreed to provide the NSA with call records.
AT&T, which is the nation's largest telecommunications company, providing service to tens of millions of Americans, hasn't confirmed or denied its participation with the database. BellSouth and Verizon have denied that they contracted with the NSA to turn over phone records. On May 12, an attorney for former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio confirmed the USA TODAY report that Qwest had declined to participate in the NSA program.
Most members of the intelligence committees wouldn't discuss which companies cooperated with the NSA. However, several did offer more information about the program's breadth and scope, confirming some elements of USA TODAY's report and contradicting others:
•Nineteen lawmakers who had been briefed on the program verified that the NSA has built a database that includes records of Americans' domestic phone calls. The program collected records of the numbers dialed and the length of calls, sources have said, but did not involve listening to the calls or recording their content.
•Five members of the intelligence committees said they were told by senior intelligence officials that AT&T participated in the NSA domestic calls program.
AT&T, asked to comment, issued a written statement Thursday. "The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that AT&T may neither confirm nor deny AT&T's participation in the alleged NSA program because doing so would cause 'exceptionally grave harm to national security' and would violate both civil and criminal statutes," it said. "Under these circumstances, AT&T is not able to respond to such allegations."
•Five members of the intelligence committees said they were told that BellSouth did not turn over domestic call records to the NSA.
Asked about BellSouth's denial, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, "What they said appears to be accurate."
Still, BellSouth customers' call records could end up in the NSA database, he said. "Obviously, a BellSouth customer can contract with AT&T (for long-distance phone service). There is a possibility that numbers are available from other phone companies."
•Three lawmakers said that they had been told that Verizon did not turn over call records to the NSA. However, those three and another lawmaker said MCI, the long-distance carrier that Verizon acquired in January, did provide call records to the government.
While Verizon has denied providing call records to the NSA, it has declined to comment on whether MCI participated in the calls database program.
"The President has referred to an NSA program, which he authorized, directed against al-Qaeda," Verizon said in a written statement May 12. "Because that program is highly classified, Verizon cannot comment on that program, nor can we confirm or deny whether we have had any relationship to it." The statement also said the company was now "ensuring that Verizon's policies are implemented at that entity (MCI) and that all its activities fully comply with law."
In the weeks since the database was revealed, congressional and intelligence sources have offered other new details about its scope and effectiveness.
"It was not cross-city calls. It was not mom-and-pop calls," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who receives briefings as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee. "It was long-distance. It was targeted on (geographic) areas of interest, places to which calls were believed to have come from al-Qaeda affiliates and from which calls were made to al-Qaeda affiliates."
Other lawmakers who were briefed about the program expressed concerns that gaps in the database could undercut its usefulness in identifying terrorist cells.
"It's difficult to say you're covering all terrorist activity in the United States if you don't have all the (phone) numbers," Chambliss said. "It probably would be better to have records of every telephone company."
"The database is not complete," said another lawmaker who was briefed on the program, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information is classified. "We don't know if this works yet."
Other publications have characterized the breadth of the database and how it is used.
The New York Times reported on May 12, for instance, that a senior government official had confirmed that the NSA had access to records of most telephone calls in the USA but said the records are used in a limited way to track "known bad guys."
The Washington Post reported on May 12 that "sources with knowledge of the program" said that the Bush administration had been collecting the domestic telephone records in "gargantuan databases" and that the "companies cooperating with the NSA dominate the U.S. telecommunications market and connect hundreds of billions of telephone calls each year."
President Bush and his top aides have defended the legality of the program, although they haven't directly confirmed its existence.
Three days after the USA TODAY story was published, national security adviser Stephen Hadley said on CBS' Face the Nation that he couldn't "confirm or deny the claims that are in the USA TODAY story."
He went on: "But it's very interesting what that story does not claim. It does not claim that the government was listening on domestic phone calls. It does not claim that names were passed, that addresses were passed, that content was passed. It's really about calling records, if you read the story. ... There are a variety of ways in which those records lawfully can be provided to the government."
At a news conference two weeks later, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made a similar point. "There has been no confirmation about any details relating to the USA TODAY story," he said. "I will say that what was in the USA TODAY story did relate to business records." Citing a 1979 Supreme Court decision, he said, "There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in those kinds of records."
Lawmakers who were briefed about the program disagree about whether it's legal.
"It was within the president's inherent powers," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said there was a "schizophrenia in the presentation" by the administration. Officials say, " 'It's legal,' " she said. "But in the same breath they say, 'Perhaps we should take another look at FISA.' " FISA refers to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which established a secret court that can grant warrants for eavesdropping.
Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., another member of the House Intelligence Committee, said, "I find it interesting that it seems the government is asking telephone companies to do things that their customers and shareholders would find totally unpalatable."
Debate over the database continues in several areas:
•In federal courts, at least 20 class-action lawsuits have been filed alleging that the government and phone companies have violated the rights of people whose calls have been reviewed by the NSA. The Justice Department signaled its intention in a court filing in Chicago this month to assert the "military and state secrets privilege" in all of them. That privilege allows the government to seek the dismissal of lawsuits if pursuing them would imperil national security.
•In New Jersey, the state attorney general is investigating whether telephone companies released confidential information without the consent of their customers. The federal government asked a court this month to quash subpoenas the state had issued to phone companies seeking information.
•At the Federal Communications Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union requested this month that approval of AT&T's acquisition of BellSouth be withheld until the commission reviews the companies' dealings with the NSA. However, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said last month that the commission couldn't investigate complaints about the phone companies and the NSA because the reported activities were classified.
•On Capitol Hill, Vice President Cheney held private talks this month with Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Cheney discouraged them from supporting Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter's vow to call telecommunications executives before the panel to answer questions about the database. Specter, R-Pa., protested to Cheney in an angry public letter.
The White House then agreed to talks with Specter on legislation he has drafted that would give the administration the option of putting the NSA's warrantless-surveillance program — which includes domestic wiretapping without a court warrant when one participant in a conversation is overseas — under the scrutiny of the FISA court.
"I'm prepared to defer, on a temporary basis, calling in the telephone companies," Specter said. If the discussions on his legislation fall through, however, he said, he will move again to demand testimony from the telephone executives about the database.
This story was reported by Leslie Cauley, John Diamond, Jim Drinkard, Peter Eisler, Thomas Frank, Kevin Johnson and Susan Page. It was written by Page.
Court Review of Wiretaps May Be Near, Senator Says
Anne E. Kornblut
Senator Arlen Specter said Sunday that the White House and Congress were close to reaching a resolution on submitting a National Security Agency wiretap program to judicial review.
"I think there is an inclination to have it submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and that would be a big step forward for protection of constitutional rights and civil liberties," Mr. Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday."
President Bush and his top advisers have resisted calls for formal legal oversight of the program under which the N.S.A. listens in on phone calls and reads e-mail messages to and from Americans and others in the United States who the agency believes may be linked to terrorists. Only those communications into and out of the country are monitored, administration officials say.
Until late 2001, the security agency focused only on the foreign end of such conversations; if the agency decided that someone in the United States was of intelligence interest, it was supposed to get a warrant from the intelligence surveillance court. Now such warrants are sought only for communications between two people in the United States.
Revelations about that program have incited debate in Congress and beyond about the president's constitutional authority to order the wiretaps, and lawsuits have been filed against the government and phone companies.
At a Senate hearing in March, five former judges on the intelligence surveillance court urged Congress to give the court a formal role in overseeing the program. Members of Congress have offered proposals for oversight, and discussions continue with the administration over possible legislation.
Mr. Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, has proposed such legislation. In his television appearance on Sunday, he said discussions with Vice President Dick Cheney appeared to be leading to that end.
Mr. Specter expressed less concern over new reports that the administration, in another effort to investigate and block terrorists, has been secretly tracing financial records through a banking consortium in Brussels. He said he had not yet seen the need to hold hearings on the financial monitoring, disclosed Thursday by The New York Times and other news organizations.
But Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, said he was outraged that such a sensitive method had been exposed and called for a criminal investigation into The Times.
"I'm calling on the attorney general to begin a criminal investigation and prosecution of The New York Times, its reporters, the editors that worked on this and the publisher," Mr. King said on the same Fox News program. "What they've done here is absolutely disgraceful."
He did not say on the program why he had singled out The Times in his remarks when others had also published articles about the banking program.
In a telephone interview on Sunday night, Mr. King said the reason was that "The Times is more of a recidivist" because of its publication of its article on the N.S.A. program last year. He added, however, that he believed that the actions of other news organizations, including The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, should also be examined.
Responding to Mr. King's remarks on the television program, Mr. Specter said: "I think it's premature to call for a prosecution of The New York Times, just like I think it's premature to say that the administration is entirely correct. I think you start with the proposition that there is not the privacy interest in bank records that there is in a telephone conversation. And let's find out more before we try to make a judgment here."
In a letter to readers posted Sunday on The Times's Web site, Bill Keller, the executive editor, wrote about the decisions to report about secret programs to monitor terrorism.
"Most Americans seem to support extraordinary measures in defense against this extraordinary threat, but some officials who have been involved in these programs have spoken to The Times about their discomfort over the legality of the government's actions and over the adequacy of oversight," Mr. Keller said. "We believe The Times and others in the press have served the public interest by accurately reporting on these programs so that the public can have an informed view of them."
Asked on Sunday whether Mr. Bush was moving closer to accepting legal curbs on the N.S.A. program, Ken Lisaius, a White House spokesman, said: "The administration has long said that while we don't believe additional legal authority is necessary that we are willing to listen to the ideas of members of Congress on possible legislation. Further active discussions are ongoing, and we'll continue to work with Chairman Specter, as well as members of the Intelligence Committee, as that process proceeds."
Italians Weary of Scandals Generated by Phone Tapping
Italy's justice system is famous for grinding slowly. But recently, whenever a scandal arises, the newspapers quickly fill up with tapped phone conversations of some of the nation's most important people, in the most embarrassing situations.
"She is Sicilian, so she isn't going to talk," Salvatore Sottile, an aide to one of Italy's most powerful politicians, is portrayed as saying in one transcript, as he discussed having an affair with a television presenter.
Theirs is the latest tale in a string of titillating though important cases that are, in effect, being tried in the mass media through leaked transcripts long before they get to court. The defendants often argue that their remarks were taken out of context.
But more and more, legal scholars — not to mention worried politicians — are objecting to both tapping and leaking on principle, seeing a grave risk to a fair trial. La Stampa newspaper contends that the obsession for tapping and leaking has become a national psychosis.
While the United States is struggling with the Bush administration's approval of broader eavesdropping on Americans, Italian authorities' use of phone-tapping has long been a simmering issue. But since 2001, the number of tapped phones has more than tripled, the Justice Ministry says. In each of the past two years, 100,000 phones have been tapped — representing a total of some 1.5 million overheard conversations — at an annual cost of 300 million euros, or some $379 million.
An Italian law established in 1974 stipulates that a judge may permit a tap if it is "indispensable" to an investigation and only when it pertains to crimes that carry sentences of five years or longer in prison.
"In some cases they are indispensable," said Antonio Polito, a former journalist who is now a senator representing the liberal Ulivo Party. "In many other cases, however, it is born from the laziness of the judges who don't know how to conduct an investigation any other way. Some think that if they cast out enough line, sooner or a later a fish will bite."
The current and nearly continual wave of transcript leaking began last year, in a case involving the Bank of Italy governor at the time, Antonio Fazio. He was brought down after a series of intercepts, one of which caught his wife cooing on the phone to a man who was trying to take over an Italian bank. More recently, tapped phone calls generated scandals over fixed soccer matches and party rivalries in regional elections.
The remarks of Mr. Sottile, who works for Gianfranco Fini, a national leader of the political right, were leaked while he was under house arrest in connection with a sting operation that centered on Prince Victor Emmanuel, the onetime heir to the Italian throne.
The prince's conversations were intercepted as he chatted about accepting bribes, swapping votes for political favors, insulting leftist politicians and seeking sex with young women.
"I wanted to go get a hooker," the prince was recorded as saying in a conversation with a businessman, Ugo Bonazza, who then provided an address. "I'll give her no more than 200 euro, eh?" the prince asked. "Even nothing," Mr. Bonazza responded. "Tell her that I'll arrange it later."
The prince, 70, is now under house arrest and the conversations have provided fodder for newspaper front pages.
A significant amount of the leaking seems to be deliberate. The possible culprits are many, including prosecutors — who are aching to intimidate wrongdoers but frustrated that the court system drags on — defense lawyers, politicians, or the carabinieri, Italy's national police force. Because the intercepted conversations pass through so many hands, leakers face little threat of being discovered.
In this climate, some lawyers see a threat to basic rights. Alberto Biffani, a prominent defense lawyer, said, "This is a country where civil liberties don't exist and where no one respects privacy."
In the early 1990's, Mr. Biffani said, he was shown transcripts of his phone conversations with a former client, Claudio Vitaloni, a former government minister. Mr. Vitaloni, with former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, was accused of involvement in the murder of the Italian journalist Mino Pecorelli. Both Mr. Andreotti and Mr. Vitaloni were acquitted.
But during the investigation, Mr. Biffani said, "We would pick up the phone and the carabinieri would be on the other end of the line. It shouldn't happen, but it does."
Italy's involvement with tapping dates to the early 1970's, when the government was locked in a battle with organized crime. But Stefano Rodota, a professor of law at Sapienza University in Rome and the former chairman of the Italian data protections commission, said, "The use and the aim has changed deeply."
Part of the problem, Mr. Rodota says, is Italy's cumbersome judicial system. "If you have to wait as we do in Italy for months or years before the conclusion of the investigation, and then wait for the trial, and you do not diffuse the data collected, it means that public opinion cannot be informed. If you have a faster and more efficient legal system, you can escape some aspects of the use of the media," he said.
It seems that Italian politicians have had enough of the intercepts making their way into the press. This week senators from both the left and right were howling in protest with rarely seen solidarity. A group of 53 senators signed a petition to form a commission to look into the practice of phone tapping, one of five parliamentary initiatives looking into the practice.
Italy's justice minister, Clemente Mastella, said he was willing to make changes through a decree if he were to get more bipartisan support. "I am ready to intervene with a decree against this bulimia of interceptions," Mr. Mastella was quoted as saying.
Senator Polito said, "It is certain that justice in Italy is slow, and inefficient in some cases." But, he warned: "If we want to substitute the penal justice with media justice, we are ruined. We drop to the level of a country that has no respect for rights."
Big Brother Watching You Surf?
One of Canada's largest Internet service providers is warning its customers that Big Brother is lurking on-line, with the federal government expected to revive an Internet surveillance bill.
If the legislation is reintroduced, it could allow police unfettered access to personal information without a warrant, experts warn.
Bell Sympatico has informed its customers that it intends to "monitor or investigate content or your use of your service provider's networks and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy any laws, regulations or other governmental request."
Bell Sympatico's new customer service agreement, which took effect June 15, is a clear signal the telecommunications industry expects the Conservative government to revive the surveillance law, said Michael Geist, an Internet law professor at the University of Ottawa.
"Everybody expects it's going to be reintroduced," Geist said in an interview. "If anything, [the new bill] will be a hardened approach."
A spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said no decision has been made on the bill, known as the Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act.
But she noted that Day has spoken to telecom industry officials and legal experts about bringing it forward as early as the fall session.
"We don't know if it will be introduced in the fall, winter or spring," said Melisa Leclerc. "We're working on it."
The act was originally introduced by the Liberals last November, but died on the Commons order paper when their minority government fell shortly after.
Surveillance laws in the U.S. sparked controversy recently after several newspapers reported the U.S. Treasury Department has been secretly monitoring on-line banking activities to track terrorist financing.
Geist said Bell's new customer service agreement shows that Canadian telecommunications companies are already preparing to comply with new on-line surveillance legislation.
Bell Sympatico did not return calls requesting an interview.
Geist fears police will be able to demand customer information from Internet providers without having to make a case before a judge, opening the door wide to an abuse of civil rights.
The recent arrest of 17 men in the Toronto area on terrorism charges proves that Canada already has effective law enforcement tools, Geist argues.
"Authorities were able to investigate and arrest 17 individuals with the laws we have in place," he said. "Even if we do reach the conclusion that we need new laws, we need oversight included in the system."
Geist said police haven't yet made a compelling case to prove why the new surveillance rules are needed.
A spokesman for the RCMP said it would be premature to comment on the proposed legislation, since it has not yet been re-introduced.
“Mmm mmm good”
Axl Rose Allegedly Bites Security Guard
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- Axl Rose was arrested early Tuesday after allegedly biting a security guard in the leg in a hotel scuffle, police said.
The Guns N' Roses frontman was held on suspicion of attacking and threatening the guard and causing damage to the Berns Hotel, said police spokeswoman Towe Hagg.
"He was deemed too intoxicated to be questioned right away," Hagg told The Associated Press. She said a prosecutor will decide whether to press charges.
It was unclear what caused the fight, but Swedish tabloids said the guard tried to intervene when the 44-year-old rocker started arguing with a woman in the hotel lobby.
Police officer Fredrik Nylen was quoted by the daily Aftonbladet Web site as saying Rose acted aggressively toward police and had to be "handcuffed and restrained."
"He kept a high profile, so to speak," Nylen was quoted as saying.
Guns N' Roses played a concert in Stockholm's Globe Arena on Monday night, and had been partying at a well-known nightclub before the scuffle, Aftonbladet said.
In May, Rose and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger capped an evening out at a new club called The Plumm in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood with midnight fisticuffs.
The scuffle reportedly started after Rose moved the drink of Hilfiger's girlfriend. According to Rose, Hilfiger, 55, smacked him in the arm and told him to put the drink back.
Rose was at the club to play a surprise set for "Rent" actress Rosario Dawson for her 27th birthday party.
He did perform, and dedicated the song "You're Crazy" to "my good friend Tommy Hilfiger."
Limbaugh Detained At Palm Beach Airport
Rush Limbaugh was detained for more than three hours Monday at Palm Beach International Airport after authorities said they found a bottle of Viagra in his possession without a prescription.
Customs officials found a prescription bottle labeled as Viagra in his luggage that didn't have Limbaugh's name on it, but that of two doctors, said Paul Miller, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
A doctor had prescribed the drug, but it was "labeled as being issued to the physician rather than Mr. Limbaugh for privacy purposes," Roy Black, Limbaugh's attorney, said in a statement.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection examined the 55-year-old radio commentator's luggage after his private plane landed at the airport from the Dominican Republic, said Miller.
The matter was referred to the sheriff's office, whose investigators interviewed Limbaugh. According to Miller, Limbaugh said that the Viagra was for his use, and that he obtained it from his doctors.
Investigators confiscated the drugs, which treats erectile dysfunction, and Limbaugh was released without being charged.
The sheriff's office plans to file a report with the state attorney's office. Miller said it could be a second-degree misdemeanor violation.
Limbaugh reached a deal last month with prosecutors who had accused the conservative talk-show host of illegally deceiving multiple doctors to receive overlapping painkiller prescriptions. Under the deal, the charge, commonly referred to as "doctor shopping," would be dismissed after 18 months if he continues to submit to random drug tests and treatment for his acknowledged addiction to painkillers.
Tips n tails
How to Get Rid of Restart Now/Restart Later
I found this after a lot of Googling, so I'd like to share the solution. Yep, this may not be new or even advanced but it surely helped me...
Anyone who is running Windows XP SP2 know what I'm talking about. That stupid, annoying, most ill-designed dialog box ever invented in the history of the computer science that asks "Updating your computer is almost complete. You must restart your computer for the updates to take effect. Do you want to restart your computer now?"
And there are only two options: Restart Now/Restart Later. "Restart Later" means that this stupid thing will ask you again in 10 minutes. Yes, if you're willing to work for the next 4 hours until lunch before rebooting, this means you'll need to answer this question 24 times. Did I mention that the dialog steals the focus?
Now, to get rid of it:
Start / Run / gpedit.msc / Local Computer Policy / Computer Configuration / Administrative Templates / Windows Components / Windows Update / Re-prompt for restart with scheduled installations
You can configure how often it will nag you (I re-configured it for 720 minutes, which means I'll be asked twice on a work day), or completely disable it.
Oh, I almost forgot: this setting is only loaded when Windows starts, so a reboot is needed. If that stupid dialog is on your screen now, just stop the "Automatic Updates" service (but keep it as Automatic, so it gets reloaded on the next start) and you won't see it again.
Microsoft Makes Anti-Piracy Tool Less Intrusive
The company upgraded its Windows Genuine Advantage tool to communicate less with Microsoft and changed its end-user license agreement to make it more clear what the tool does.
Microsoft Corp., stung by criticism over the daily phone-home feature within its Windows Genuine Advantage tool, released on Tuesday an upgrade of the anti-piracy software that communicates less with the company's server.
In addition, Microsoft replaced the end user license agreement with one that the company said more clearly explains the purpose of the software and how it operates.
The Redmond, Wash., company came under fire this month following media reports that WGA communicated with Microsoft each time a PC connected to the Internet. In addition, critics complained that the company mislabeled the software as a "critical update" when it was distributed through the Windows Update feature in XP, and then gave no way to remove it.
Microsoft at the time acknowledged that it made mistakes in trying to get WGA in as many PCs as possible and promised to make changes. In general, WGA checks that the version of Windows XP running on a PC is a legal copy.
To correct previous mistakes, the WGA upgrade no longer calls to Microsoft servers each time a computer launches on the Web. Instead, the software will validate the copy of Windows when first installed, and only run the check again when a new version of the tool is deployed.
In addition, WGA would be distributed as a "high priority" update, rather than a "critical update," and a preamble added to the end user license agreement provides a high-level summary of the program, its purpose and functions.
Finally, Microsoft also made available instructions for people who downloaded the previous version and wished to remove it. The instructions were available through the knowledge base on Microsoft's support site, using the KB number 921914.
Installing the anti-piracy software is not mandatory, but the version of Windows XP running on a computer must be validated before updates are installed via Microsoft's Automatic Updates and Windows Update features, or Microsoft update Web sites. If WGA finds that the version of Windows is not legal, the PC users can still get critical security updates, but nothing else. Those with invalid copies are notified through the tool, which directs them to resources for obtaining a valid copy of XP.
Lauren Weinstein, co-founder for the advocacy group People for Internet Responsibility, said the changes were an improvement, but didn't address the broader issue of how far a vendor can go in protecting themselves against piracy, while not infringing on PC owners' rights to privacy and to control communications between their machines and vendors' remote systems.
"This whole controversy is one of those teachable moments where you can use them as good examples of broader issues," Weinstein said. "It points us at a bigger problem."
To protect the rights of all parties, consumer groups, high-tech vendors and lawmakers would have to work together toward a compromise. If the high-tech industry goes it alone, it risks angering consumers, which could lead to a backlash in the marketplace and from government.
"I do have this sense that people are really starting to feel that this is all getting too complicated, and that's not a good thing for the industry," Weinstein said. "You want to go after pirates, but worst thing you can do is upset the innocent."
The update release on Tuesday marked the end of Microsoft's WGA pilot program, which has been rolled out in phases since November 2005. The company plans to gradually make the tool generally available worldwide.
Lawsuit Calls Microsoft's Anti-Piracy Tool Spyware
Company disputes claim, says action is baseless
A computer user is suing Microsoft Corp. over the company's Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy tool, alleging that it violates laws against spyware
The suit by Los Angeles resident Brian Johnson, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Seattle, seeks class-action status for claims that Microsoft didn't adequately disclose details of the tool when it was delivered to PC users through the company's Automatic Update system.
Windows Genuine Advantage is designed to check the validity of a computer user's copy of the operating system. But the tool became a subject of heightened controversy earlier this month, after PC users began noticing that it was making daily contact with Microsoft's servers without their knowledge, even if their software was valid.
"Microsoft effectively installed the WGA software on consumers' systems without providing consumers any opportunity to make an informed choice about that software," the suit alleges.
A Microsoft spokesman, Jim Desler, called the suit "baseless" and disputed the characterization of the tool as spyware.
"Spyware is deceptive software that is installed on a user's computer without the user's consent and has some malicious purpose," Desler said.
Windows Genuine Advantage "is installed with the consent of the user and seeks only to notify the user if a proper license is not in place."
Microsoft issued a software update this week to address some of the concerns computer users had raised about the Windows Genuine Advantage tool.
The suit deals with one of the software industry's most controversial issues -- the circumstances under which companies should be able to deliver programs to computers, and what they must disclose to PC users when they do.
The lead lawyer representing Johnson in the suit against Microsoft, Scott Kamber of Kamber & Associates LLC in New York, was co-lead counsel for consumers in the lawsuit over Sony Corp.'s surreptitious placement of copy-protection "rootkit" software on PCs, through music CDs. That software, designed to prevent music from being copied illegally, disabled protections against viruses and spyware, potentially leaving unaware computer users vulnerable. Sony settled the suit.
But even those who have questioned the behind-the-scenes activities of Windows Genuine Advantage say the Microsoft tool doesn't appear to do anything damaging.
"It doesn't seem to me that this particular incident rises anywhere near the kind of damage that is normally associated with spyware," said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility. "That's not to say that Microsoft should have done it the way they did. ... But that doesn't necessarily make it illegal."
Kamber acknowledged key differences between the Microsoft and Sony cases. But he said some of the same underlying principles are at work.
"The statute says that people have a right to know what's on their computer," Kamber said. "We're at a point in time right now where people's rights on their own computers and technology are really at issue."
Kamber declined to say how the suit began or to describe his client, Johnson, beyond calling him "a typical user of Microsoft operating systems."
Microsoft has said that the purpose of the daily check-in was to allow for changes in the tool's settings, because Windows Genuine Advantage was still in test mode. The company says those who installed the tool via the company's Automatic Update system have always seen a license agreement that gave information about the tool.
At the same time, a previous version of the WGA license agreement didn't explicitly state that it was making the daily check-ins.
"The disclosure was slim to none, and it certainly isn't what we're looking for as a matter of public policy from a distinguished company like Microsoft," said Ben Edelman, a Harvard University doctoral candidate and anti-spyware researcher.
Earlier this week, Microsoft released a finished version of Windows Genuine Advantage tool that it says no longer checks in daily with its servers.
The company also issued a revised license agreement that spells out in greater detail what Windows Genuine Advantage does, including the fact that it sends the PC user's Windows product key and Internet Protocol address to the company.
But the suit goes beyond that issue to challenge the company's practice of using the automatic updating system as one method of delivering the tool. Although Microsoft has delivered a variety of programs through Automatic Updates, it's most commonly used for security updates, and the suit alleges Microsoft effectively hid delivery of the tool under that guise.
Microsoft's Desler disputed that assertion and said the suit shouldn't obscure what he called the "real issue," software piracy. "The WGA program was carefully developed to focus on what is really an industrywide problem in a manner that is lawful, and provides customers with the confidence and assurance that they're running legitimate software," he said.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, makes claims under statutes including the Washington Consumer Protection Act and California Unfair Competition Law, in addition to anti-spyware statutes in both states.
Worm Appears as Microsoft Antipiracy Program
Security analysts have detected a new piece of malware that appears to run as a Microsoft Corp. program used to detect unlicensed versions of its operating system.
The malware has been classified as a worm and spreads through AOL LLC's Instant Messenger program, said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos PLC, a security vendor.
Sophos is calling it W32.Cuebot-K, a new variation in the Cuebot family of malware. The worm has a range of malicious functions. After it's installed, the worm immediately tries to connect to two Web sites, a sign it may try to download other bad programs on the machine.
Cuebot-K can disable other software, shut off the Windows firewall, download new malicious programs, perform basic distributed denial-of-service attacks, scan local files and spawn a command prompt, Sophos said.
Worms that spread through instant messaging programs often appear as messages or links sent from friends, which trick a user into executing the program. Cuebot-K propagates by sending itself as a file named "wgavn.exe" to more people in the user's Buddy List but without a message, Cluley said.
If installed on a computer, Cuebot-K is registered as a new system device driver service named "wgavn." When a list of services running on the computer is summoned, the worm appears as "Windows Genuine Advantage Validation Notification" Sophos said.
Cuebot-K's registry entry appears as HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\wgavn\.
The worm's ruse comes as Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program is being criticized for functioning like spyware. WGA collects hardware and software data on a user's computer and compares it to a database of licensed operating systems.
If an improper copy is detected, Microsoft warns the user and cuts off some free downloads.
Hmmm, where’d I put that copy of Ubuntu…
Is Microsoft About to Release a Windows "Kill Switch"?
Two weeks ago, I wrote about my serious objections to Microsoft’s latest salvo in the war against unauthorized copies of Windows. Two Windows Genuine Advantage components are being pushed onto users’ machines with insufficient notification and inadequate quality control, and the result is a big mess. (For details, see Microsoft presses the Stupid button.)
Guess what? WGA might be on the verge of getting even messier. In fact, one report claims WGA is about to become a Windows “kill switch” – and when I asked Microsoft for an on-the-record response, they refused to deny it.
Last week, a correspondent on Dave Farber’s Interesting People list posted some comments about his experiences with Windows OneCare Live. In the middle of the post, he added this tidbit:
I like to review updates before they are installed. The only update that I have not installed is the latest WGA because of the security issues related to it.
I called Microsoft support to see if there is a hidden option to say, "yep, I've got updates turned to manual… it's okay." The rep said, "No and why wouldn't you want to get the latest updates to Windows."
I responded with the issues relating to WGA. He spent some time telling me that WGA was a good thing, etc. I reiterated that I have accepted all the updates except WGA and just want to review the updates before they're installed on my machine.
He told me that "in the fall, having the latest WGA will become mandatory and if its not installed, Windows will give a 30 day warning and when the 30 days is up and WGA isn't installed, Windows will stop working, so you might as well install WGA now." [emphasis added]
I'm wondering if Microsoft has the right to disable Windows functionality or the OS as a whole (tantamount to revoking my legitimate Windows license) if I do not install every piece of software that they send it updates.
That can’t be true, can it? I’m always suspicious of any report that comes from a front-line tech support drone, so I sent a note to Microsoft asking for an official confirmation or, better yet, a denial. Instead, I got this terse response from a Microsoft spokesperson:
As we have mentioned previously, as the WGA Notifications program expands in the future, customers may be required to participate. [emphasis added] Microsoft is gathering feedback in select markets to learn how it can best meet its customers' needs and will keep customers informed of any changes to the program.
That’s it. That’s the entire response.
Uh-oh. Currently, Windows users have the ability to opt out of the Windows Genuine Advantage program and still get security patches and other Critical Updates delivered via Windows Update. The only thing you give up is the ability to download optional updates. Hackers have been working overtime to find ways to disable WGA notification. If WGA becomes mandatory, would it mean that Microsoft could prevent Windows from working if it determines – possibly erroneously – that your copy isn’t “genuine”? That’s a chilling possibility, and Microsoft refuses an easy opportunity to deny that that option is in its plans.
Over at Ed Bott’s Windows Expertise, I’ve been soliciting feedback from Windows users who’ve been burned by WGA. So far, I’ve received 20 comments. Here’s a sampling:
§ I have an XP Media center with a promise RAID 0 4-disc array. When I installed the WPA it broke the drivers for the array by causing failed delayed writes (half of the array just “disapears”.) If I do a system restore to before the installation of the WPA everything goes back to working just fine.
§ [S]ince installing WPA … I’ve had blue screens and a total inability to boot. I had to run the XP repair function to get the computer to boot. I had a damaged boot sector on the hard drive. I am running two drives on a RAID 1 config.
§ I purchased a SEALED OEM copy of XP Professional. WGA said the license key was already used. I called MS and they said I should uninstall and buy another copy. I told them I wasn’t made of money and hung-up.
§ Microsoft rejected the product key that came with the ThinkPad I’m using. I had to call in and they gave me another code to enter which supposedly worked but now I get the blue screen of death about every other time I reboot. I’ve also lost all internet connectivity.
§ I sent my Compaq Presario notebook for service repair, and it fails the WGA check. I have a legal version of windows xp professional on it. But I have no way to correct this problem.
What’s most disturbing about this whole saga is Microsoft’s complete lack of transparency on the issue. And before the ABM crowd jumps in with predictable “What did you expect?” comments, let me argue that Microsoft actually has a fairly good track record on transparency issues in recent years. Windows Product Activation is very well documented, and when a similar uproar occurred in 2001, it was squelched quickly by some fairly prominent postings from high-level executives who provided details without a lot of spin. Likewise, the Microsoft Security Response Center has done an exceptional job at providing quick responses to security issues. (Just ask Adam Shostack.)
Currently, no one at Microsoft is blogging about this fiasco. No executive has been quoted on the record about it. There are very few technical details available, and those that have been published are being tumbled through the spin machine and spit out as press releases.
If Microsoft really does plan to turn WGA into a kill switch in September, be prepared for an enormous backlash.
Life Without Windows
Ubuntu, a user-friendly version of Linux, has been running so nicely on my home personal computer that I decided to do an experiment. I wrote down a list of tasks I normally do with Windows XP and decided to see how many of them I could do on Linux.
Here’s what my list looked like: 1) Write this column; 2) Browse the Web; 3) Get new software and install it; 4) Download files; 5) Play music and video files; 6) Burn CDs; and 7) Print my documents.
Of all these, the first was the easiest. Ubuntu comes with OpenOffice.org 2.0, an excellent personal productivity suite that works much like Microsoft Office, with its own word processor, spreadsheet, database and presentation programs. It reads and writes files in MS Word, RTF and a variety of other formats, so sharing your files with colleagues who use Windows or Mac PCs won’t be a problem. Unlike earlier versions, too, the program seems to load and run much faster.
Browsing was just as easy. Ubuntu lets you take your pick from several Web browsers, including Firefox. I experienced some glitches initially with YouTube—the videos were playing without sound—but that worked itself out after I rebooted the system.
For Windows users, downloading and installing new software on Linux can be rather daunting. Where’s the .EXE file? What do you do with the downloaded file (called a package, in Linux)? What file do you run? Fortunately, Ubuntu takes care of most of these problems for you. A program called Synaptic Package Manager takes care of finding new programs and installing them for you. These are sorted by program types, but the sheer number may be overwhelming. When I ran Synaptic Package Manager, it happily reported that there were more than 18,808 programs available, only 1,221 of which I had installed.
Downloading music and videos? Check. My favorite BitTorrent client, uTorrent, isn’t available on Linux but KTorrent, which works much the same way, already comes with Ubuntu. I put the program through its paces and found it held up quite nicely against my trusted file-sharing utility.
To play music and videos, Ubuntu comes with a number of multimedia players. For MP3 files, I like XMMS, which looks like WinAmp. Downloaded AVI files won’t play properly on the default Movie Player, but installing VLC Media Player (using Synaptic) will take care of that.
Burning CDs proved to be trickier.
Ubuntu is smart enough to detect a blank CD when it’s inserted and will ask if you’d like to burn a data or an audio CD. If you choose data, it will open a window into which you can drag files you’d like burned. Burning a data CD in this manner is simplicity itself, but it might be a bit too simple. The program, Nautilus, doesn’t even tell you how much disc space you’re using.
If you choose to burn an audio CD, Ubuntu will start a program called Serpentine, which enables you to add audio files to an audio CD compilation. The puzzling thing is, Serpentine will not accept MP3 files by default! All is not lost, however. You need to install the LAME encoder for the Gstreamer package (gstreamer0.8-lame), again using Synaptic. Once you’ve done that, Serpentine will burn your MP3 files into an audio CD without a hitch.
Burning a VCD from AVI files is even trickier. In very broad strokes, you’ll need to install K3b, a CD burning program, and a package called VCDimager, and tell K3b where it’s located. You’ll also need a command-line program called FFmpeg to convert AVI files to MPG, which is the format that K3b uses. Sounds complicated? It is, but it’s doable.
Finally, I wanted to print documents on my Epson Stylus C50 inkjet printer. Simple as it sounds, this last task almost stumped me. Even though Ubuntu detected my printer and said it was using the correct printer driver from a program called Gimp-print, my C50 kept spewing out garbled, unreadable text. Hours of online research about Gimp-print only confused me further with what seemed to be gobbledygook. Many sheets of wasted paper later, I remembered a snippet of information from a mailing list. It was written before the C50 driver was available and suggested that the driver for an earlier Epson model, the C44UX might work. I went to Ubuntu’s printer setup utility and told it to use that driver and—voila!—I was finally able to print. Frustration faded away and a sense of satisfaction set in. I had survived the weekend without Windows.
Univision's Board OKs $12.3 Billion Sale
Univision Communications Inc.'s board has agreed to sell the nation's largest Spanish-language broadcaster for $12.3 billion in cash to a consortium of investors, the parties involved in the sale announced early Tuesday.
The figure agreed upon late Monday equals $36.25 a share, according to a news release on the sale. That's a 13 percent premium to Univision's closing stock price on Monday. The group of investors will also assume about $1.4 billion in debt.
The consortium, led by private equity firms Texas Pacific Group Inc. and Thomas H. Lee Partners, also includes Madison Dearborn Partners LLC, Providence Equity Partners Inc., and media mogul Haim Saban.
"Univision is truly a one-of-a-kind property," the acquiring group said in a joint statement. "It is an outstanding media brand with exceptional positions in the fastest-growing markets in the country, world-class assets, strong management, popular programming and unmatched ratings."
The consortium initially bid $35.50 a share, or just under $11 billion total, last week. But the broadcaster, which had reportedly been seeking an offer of $40 a share, rejected the group's initial bid as too low.
The investor group's offer remained on the table until Friday, when it expired. Both sides talked over the weekend and came to terms, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press.
Each of the private equity groups is expected to invest around $1 billion initially and Saban somewhat less, the person said.
The deal, if approved by Univision shareholders and regulators, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year or first quarter of 2007, according to the news release.
Univision dominates the U.S. Hispanic media market through its three television networks - Univision, TeleFutura and Galavision - more than two dozen television stations, a recorded music division, Internet portal and Spanish-language radio stations.
Monday's agreement ended a rocky auction for the broadcaster, which decided in February to explore selling the company.
A rival investor group led by Mexican broadcaster Grupo Televisa SA - which owns an 11 percent stake in Univision and is a key supplier of Univision's programming - struggled to put together a bid early last week amid defections by several of its investor partners.
First, private equity firm Carlyle Investment Management LLC dropped out, followed by Blackstone Management Associates V LLC, and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
On Friday, Televisa lost the investment arm of Venezuelan broadcaster Venevision, a unit of The Cisneros Group of Companies. Venevision owns a 14 percent stake in Univision and also supplies the U.S. network with programming.
Still, Televisa and its remaining partners, private equity firms Bain Capital Partners LLC and Cascade Investment LLC, which invests for billionaire Bill Gates, managed to submit an offer Friday that they claimed at the time exceeded the Texas Pacific Group's initial offer.
Univision shares fell 92 cents, or 2.79 percent, to close Monday at $32.03 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has traded in a 52-week range from $23.52 to $36.67.
From last fall
Imagine a World Without Copyright
Joost Smiers and Marieke van Schijndel
Amsterdam Copyright was once a means to guarantee artists a decent income. Aside from the question as to whether it ever actually functioned as such - most artists never made a penny from the copyright system - we have to admit that copyright serves an altogether different purpose in the contemporary world. It now is the tool that conglomerates in the music, publishing, imaging and movie industries use to control their markets.
These industries decide whether the materials they have laid their hands on may be used by others - and, if they allow it, under what conditions and for what price. European and American legislation extends them that privilege for a window of no less than 70 years after the passing of the original author. The consequences? The privatization of an ever-increasing share of our cultural expressions, because this is precisely what copyright does. Our democratic right to freedom of cultural and artistic exchange is slowly but surely being taken away from us.
It is also unacceptable that we have to consume cultural creations in exactly the way they are dished out to us, and that we may change neither title nor detail. We thus have every reason to ponder about a viable alternative to copyright.
At the same time, a fascinating development is taking place before our very eyes. Millions of people exchanging music and movies over the Internet refuse to accept any longer that a mega-sized company can actually own, for example, millions of melodies. Digitalization is gnawing away at the very foundations of the copyright system.
What might an alternative idea of copyright look like? To arrive at that alternative, we first have to acknowledge that artists are entrepreneurs. They take the initiative to craft a given work and offer it to a market. Others can also take that initiative, for example a producer or patron who in turn employs artists. All of these artistic initiators have one thing in common: They take entrepreneurial risks.
What copyrights do is precisely to limit those risks. The cultural entrepreneur receives the right to erect a protective barrier around his or her work, notably a monopoly to exploit the work for a seemingly endless period of time. That protection also covers anything that resembles the work in one way or the other. That is bizarre.
We must keep in mind, of course, that every artistic work - whether it is a soap opera, a composition by Luciano Berio, or a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger - derives the better part of its substance from the work of others, from the public domain. Originality is a relative concept; in no other culture around the globe, except for the contemporary Western one, can a person call himself the owner of a melody, an image, a word. It is therefore an exaggeration to gratuitously allow such work the far-reaching protections, ownership title and risk-exclusion that copyright has to offer.
One might ask whether such a protective layer is really necessary for the evolving process of artistic creation. Our proposal, which will entail three steps, will demonstrate that this is not the case.
What then, do we think, can replace copyright? In the first place, a work will have to take its chances on the market on its own, without the luxurious protection offered by copyrights. After all, the first to market has a time and attention advantage.
What is interesting about this approach is that this proposal strikes a fatal blow to a few cultural monopolists who, aided by copyright, use their stars, blockbusters and bestsellers to monopolize the market and siphon off attention from every other artistic work produced by artists. That is problematic in our society in which we have a great need for that pluriformity of artistic expression.
How do we think this fatal blow could work? If the protective layer that copyright has to offer no longer exists, we can freely exploit all existing artistic expressions and adapt them according to our own insights. This creates an unpleasant situation for cultural monopolists, as it deprives them of the incentive to pursue their outrageous investments in movies, books, T-shirts and any other merchandise associated with a single cultural product. Why would they continue making these investments if they can no longer control the products stemming from them and exploit them unhindered?
The domination of the cultural market would then be taken from the hands of the cultural monopolists, and cultural and economic competition between many artists would once again be allowed to take its course.
This would offer new perspectives for many artists. They would no longer be driven from the public eye and many of them would, for the first time, be able to make a living off their work. After all, they would no longer have to challenge - and bow down to - the market dominance of cultural giants. The market would be normalized.
Certain artistic expression, however, demands sizeable initial investments. This is the second situation for which we must find a solution. Think about movies or novels. We propose that the risk bearer - the artist, the producer or the patron - receive for works of this kind a one-year usufruct, or right to profit from the works.
This would allow the entrepreneur to recoup his or her investments. It would still be an individual decision whether or not to make the large investments, for example, needed to make a movie, but no one would be granted rights to exploit that work for more than a year. When that period expired, anyone could do with the work as he or she pleased.
The third situation for which we must conceive a solution is when a certain artistic creation is not likely to flourish in a competitive market, not even with a one-year usufruct. It may be the case that the public still has to develop a taste for it, but that we still find, from the perspective of cultural diversity, that such a work must be allowed to exist. For this situation it would be necessary to install a generous range of subsidies and other stimulating measures, because as a community we should be willing to carry the burden of offering all kinds of artistic expressions a fair chance.
Cultural monopolists desperately want us to believe that without copyright we would have no artistic creations and therefore no entertainment. That is nonsense. We would have more, and more diverse ones.
A world without copyright is easy to imagine. The level playing field of cultural production - a market accessible for everyone - would once again be restored. A world without copyright would offer the guarantee of a good income to many artists, and would protect the public domain of knowledge and creativity. And members of the public would get what they are entitled to: a surprisingly rich and varied menu of artistic alternatives.
Ignoring the “Great Firewall of China”
The Great Firewall of China is an important tool for the Chinese Government in their efforts to censor the Internet. It works, in part, by inspecting web traffic to determine whether or not particular words are present. If the Chinese Government does not approve of one of the words in a web page (or a web request), perhaps it says “f” “a” “l” “u” “n”, then the connection is closed and the web page will be unavailable — it has been censored.
This user-level effect has been known for some time… but up until now, no-one seems to have looked more closely into what is actually happening (or when they have, they have misunderstood the packet level events).
It turns out [caveat: in the specific cases we’ve closely examined, YMMV] that the keyword detection is not actually being done in large routers on the borders of the Chinese networks, but in nearby subsidiary machines. When these machines detect the keyword, they do not actually prevent the packet containing the keyword from passing through the main router (this would be horribly complicated to achieve and still allow the router to run at the necessary speed). Instead, these subsiduary machines generate a series of TCP reset packets, which are sent to each end of the connection. When the resets arrive, the end-points assume they are genuine requests from the other end to close the connection — and obey. Hence the censorship occurs.
However, because the original packets are passed through the firewall unscathed, if both of the endpoints were to completely ignore the firewall’s reset packets, then the connection will proceed unhindered! We’ve done some real experiments on this — and it works just fine!! Think of it as the Harry Potter approach to the Great Firewall — just shut your eyes and walk onto Platform 9Â¾.
Ignoring resets is trivial to achieve by applying simple firewall rules… and has no significant effect on ordinary working. If you want to be a little more clever you can examine the hop count (TTL) in the reset packets and determine whether the values are consistent with them arriving from the far end, or if the value indicates they have come from the intervening censorship device. We would argue that there is much to commend examining TTL values when considering defences against denial-of-service attacks using reset packets. Having operating system vendors provide this new functionality as standard would also be of practical use because Chinese citizens would not need to run special firewall-busting code (which the authorities might attempt to outlaw) but just off-the-shelf software (which they would necessarily tolerate).
There’s a little more to this story (but not much) and all is revealed in our academic paper (Clayton, Murdoch, Watson) which will be presented at the 6th Workshop on Privacy Enhancing Technologies being held here in Cambridge this week.
NB: There’s also rather more to censorship in China than just the “Great Firewall” keyword detecting system — some sites are blocked unconditionally, and it is necessary to use other techniques, such as proxies, to deal with that. However, these static blocks are far more expensive for the Chinese Government to maintain, and are inherently more fragile and less adaptive to change as content moves around. So there remains real value in exposing the inadequacy of the generic system.
The bottom line though, is that a great deal of the effectiveness of the Great Chinese Firewall depends on systems agreeing that it should work … wasn’t there once a story about the Emperor’s New Clothes ?
Russian Prosecutors Target 3 Teen Mags
Russian prosecutors on Wednesday asked media officials to close three popular teenage magazines, arguing the publications propagate sexual activity.
Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky said in a letter to education officials that the magazines Molotok (Hammer), Cool and Cool Girl ''exploit underage readers' interest toward sex,'' and asked that a law suit be filed to have the publications shut down.
For instance, Molotok ''regularly publishes materials that pervert underage readers and provoke them to begin sexual life early,'' Fridinsky wrote. He also asked that ''persons responsible'' for the publications be prosecuted. In the letter he did not specify whether he was referring to the journalists, the editors or mass media officials.
Yekaterina Mil, deputy chief editor of the Molotok publishing house which prints Molotok said the magazine violated no laws and that it was not advertising sex but merely educating teenagers on the subject.
''It is not propaganda, but enlightenment -- we explain why early sex is bad for you, why it is dangerous, about AIDS, about how sexual diseases are transmitted,'' Mil told The Associated Press.
Darya Samsonova, spokesman for the Burda publishing house which publishes Cool and Cool girl declined to comment until the house gets official notification from the Prosecutor General's office.
With a Cellphone as My Guide
John Markoff and Martin Fackler
Think of it as a divining rod for the information age.
If you stand on a street corner in Tokyo today you can point a specialized cellphone at a hotel, a restaurant or a historical monument, and with the press of a button the phone will display information from the Internet describing the object you are looking at.
The new service is made possible by the efforts of three Japanese companies and GeoVector, a small American technology firm, and it represents a missing link between cyberspace and the physical world.
The phones combine satellite-based navigation, precise to within 30 feet or less, with an electronic compass to provide a new dimension of orientation. Connect the device to the Internet and it is possible to overlay the point-and-click simplicity of a computer screen on top of the real world.
The technology is being seen first in Japan because emergency regulations there require cellphones by next year to have receivers using the satellite-based Global Positioning System to establish their location.
In the United States, carriers have the option of a less precise locating technology that calculates a phone's position based on proximity to cellphone towers, a method precise only to within 100 yards or so.
Only two American carriers are using the G.P.S. technology, and none have announced plans to add a compass. As a result, analysts say Japan will have a head start of several years in what many analysts say will be a new frontier for mobile devices.
"People are underestimating the power of geographic search," said Kanwar Chadha, chief executive of Sirf Technology, a Silicon Valley maker of satellite-navigation gear.
The idea came to GeoVector's founders, John Ellenby and his son Thomas, one night in 1991 on a sailboat off the coast of Mexico. To compensate for the elder Mr. Ellenby's poor sense of direction, the two men decided that tying together a compass, a Global Positioning System receiver and binoculars would make it possible simply to point at an object or a navigational landmark to identify it.
Now that vision is taking commercial shape in the Japanese phones, which use software and technology developed by the Ellenbys. The system already provides detailed descriptive information or advertisements about more than 700,000 locations in Japan, relayed to the cellphones over the Internet.
One subscriber, Koichi Matsunuma, walked through the crowds in Tokyo's neon-drenched Shinjuku shopping district on Saturday, eyes locked on his silver cellphone as he weaved down narrow alleys. An arrow on the small screen pointed the way to his destination, a business hotel.
"There it is," said Mr. Matsunuma, a 34-year-old administrative worker at a Tokyo music college. "Now, I just wish this screen would let me make reservations as well."
Mr. Matsunuma showed how it works on a Shinjuku street. He selected "lodgings" on the screen. Then he pointed his phone toward a cluster of tall buildings. A list of hotels in that area popped up, with distances. He chose the closest one, about a quarter-mile away. An arrow appeared to show him the way, and in the upper left corner the number of meters ticked down as he got closer. Another click, and he could see a map showing both his and the hotel's locations.
Mr. Matsunuma said he used the service frequently in unfamiliar neighborhoods. But it came in most handy one day when he was strolling with his wife in a Tokyo park, and he used it on the spur of the moment to find a Southeast Asian restaurant for lunch.
The point-and-click idea could solve one of the most potentially annoying side effects of local wireless advertising. In the movie "Minority Report," as Tom Cruise's character moved through an urban setting, walls that identified him sent a barrage of personally tailored visual advertising. Industry executives are afraid that similar wireless spam may come to plague cellphones and other portable devices in the future.
"It's like getting junk faxes; nobody wants that," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a policy group in Washington. "To the degree you are proactive, the more information that is available to you, the more satisfied you are likely to be."
With the GeoVector technology, control is given over to the user, who gets information only from what he or she points at.
The Ellenbys have developed software that makes it possible to add location-based tourism information, advertising, mobile Yellow Pages and entertainment, as well as functions for locating friends. Microsoft was an underwriter of GeoVector development work several years ago.
"We believe we're the holy grail for local search," said Peter Ellenby, another son of John Ellenby and director of new media at GeoVector.
The GeoVector approach is not the only way that location and direction information can be acquired. Currently G.P.S.-based systems use voice commands to supplement on-screen maps in car dashboards, for example. Similarly, many cellphone map systems provide written or spoken directions to users. But the Ellenbys maintain that a built-in compass is a more direct and less confusing way of navigating in urban environments.
The GeoVector service was introduced commercially this year in Japan by KDDI, a cellular carrier, in partnership with NEC Magnus Communications, a networking company, and Mapion, a company that distributes map-based information over the Internet. It is currently available on three handsets from Sony Ericsson.
In addition to a built-in high-tech compass, the service requires pinpoint accuracy available in urban areas only when satellite-based G.P.S. is augmented with terrestrial radio. The new Japanese systems are routinely able to offer accuracy of better than 30 feet even in urban areas where tall buildings frequently obstruct a direct view of the satellites, Mr. Ellenby said. In trials in Tokyo, he said, he had seen accuracies as precise as six feet.
Patrick Bray, a GeoVector representative in Japan, estimated that 1.2 million to 1.5 million of the handsets had been sold. GeoVector and its partners said they did not know how many people were actually using the service, because it is free and available through a public Web site. But they said they planned in September to offer a fee-based premium service, with a bigger database and more detailed maps. Juichi Yamazaki, an assistant manager at NEC Magnus, said the companies expected 200,000 paying users in the first 12 months.
He said the number of users would also rise as other applications using the technology became available. NEC is testing a game that turns cellphones into imaginary fly rods, with users pointing where and how far to cast. Another idea is to help users rearrange their furniture in accordance with feng shui, a traditional Chinese belief in the benefits of letting life forces flow unimpeded through rooms and buildings.
The market in the United States has yet to be developed. Verizon and Sprint Nextel are the only major American carriers that have put G.P.S. receivers in cellphone handsets.
"The main problem is the carriers," said Kenneth L. Dulaney, a wireless industry analyst at the Gartner Group. Although some cellular companies are now offering location-based software applications on handsets, none have taken advantage of the technology's potential, he said, adding, "They don't seem to have any insight."
Sirf Technology, which makes chips that incorporate the satellite receiver and compass into cellphones, said they added less than $10 to the cost of a handset.
Several industry analysts said putting location-based information on cellphones would be a logical step for search engine companies looking for ways to increase advertising revenues. Microsoft has already moved into the cellular handset realm with its Windows Mobile software, and Google is rumored to be working on a Google phone.
According to the market research firm Frost & Sullivan, the American market for location-based applications of all kinds will grow from $90 million last year to about $600 million in 2008.
It is perhaps fitting that the elder Mr. Ellenby, a computer executive at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970's, is a pioneer of geolocation technology. In the 1980's he founded Grid Computer, the first maker of light clamshell portable computers, an idea taken from work done by a group of Xerox researchers.
A decade later a Xerox researcher, Mark Weiser, came up with a radically different idea — ubiquitous computing — in which tiny computers disappear into virtually every workaday object to add intelligence to the everyday world. Location-aware cellphones are clearly in that spirit.
Game Maker's Shares Slide Amid Inquiry
The video game publisher Take-Two Interactive, which surprised investors on Monday by disclosing that it had received criminal grand jury subpoenas inquiring into a range of its business practices, has shown signs since early this year that it continues to struggle with problems that have plagued it since 2001.
In March the company appointed three new outside directors to its board and put them on a committee to investigate charges raised in several shareholder lawsuits, according to a motion the company filed in response to one of the suits. That came after a director resigned and complained that the board was not independent enough of management.
Both steps were unusual and appeared to be characteristic of a company facing significant continuing struggles, said Paul Hodgson, senior research associate with the Corporate Library, a corporate governance research group.
The company's problems were compounded yesterday when its share price fell to $10.85, more than 15 percent below Monday's close.
Take-Two, publisher of the hit video game franchise Grand Theft Auto, said after the market's close on Monday that it had received the subpoenas from the Manhattan district attorney. The company said the inquiries pertained to its inclusion of hidden sexually explicit material in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and to many business and accounting practices dating back to 2001.
Take-Two said the district attorney had not informed it whether or not it was the focus of the criminal inquiry. A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office declined to comment on the investigation.
Investors have grown accustomed to Take-Two operating under a cloud; the company has been investigated by, and reached settlements with, the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission over accounting issues. In early 2002 it restated seven quarters of financial returns.
But some Wall Street analysts said news of the latest investigation gave considerable new reason for concern. Elizabeth Osur, a video game industry analyst with Citigroup, lowered her 12-month price target for the stock to $9, from $12.
Ms. Osur said the company's profits could suffer amid higher legal fees, management distraction and departing employees.
"There is amazing breadth to the investigation," Ms. Osur said, adding, "We assume the district attorney is not reckless in their investigation. They at least found something worth investigating further."
Take-Two has declined to comment on the investigations. Ms. Osur said she spoke with a company executive and characterized his sentiments as frustration and confusion as to why the New York district attorney would begin an investigation, as opposed to federal regulators.
Some Wall Street analysts remained optimistic about a rebound for the company's stock. Heath P. Terry, an industry analyst with Credit Suisse, wrote in a note to investors today that "while the inclination may be to throw in the towel here," the company had $142 million in cash and no debt, and was unlikely to go out of business.
In January, Barbara A. Kaczynski, formerly the chief financial officer of the National Football League, resigned as a director of Take-Two. Her lawyer then sent a letter to the board saying management had failed to keep the board "informed of important issues facing the company or failed to do so in a timely fashion."
Ms. Kaczynski's attorney, Bruce A. Baird, declined further comment.
Mr. Hodgson of the Corporate Library said it was rare for a director to step down on the grounds that the board was not adequately independent of management.
In March, the Take-Two board established a so-called special litigation committee composed of three new directors. They were charged with investigating issues raised in shareholder lawsuits that, for example, accused company executives of insider trading and of failing to disclose the sexually explicit material hidden in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The company withdrew the game from the market for a month to remove the material.
According to a court filing by the company, the three directors — Grover C. Brown, Michael Malone and Jon F. Levy — are "nonparty independent directors, none of whom has been alleged to have received any benefits from the transactions" questioned in the shareholder suits.
Mr. Hodgson said the fact that the company appointed independent directors to investigate the issues was unusual and indicated that some members of the current board could be compromised. "It suggests they don't think the existing outside directors are free enough from the existing problems, or that they don't possess enough leverage" to obtain the information they need, he said.
Warner Music Throws Out EMI Bid
The world's fourth-largest music firm, Warner Music, has rejected a $4.2bn (£2.2bn; 3.3bn euros) bid by rival EMI.
A merger between the two has long been on the cards, in an attempt to compete more effectively with larger rivals Universal Music and Sony BMG.
Warner Music said it had carefully examined the offer, but decided it did not benefit shareholders.
The rejection came just 24 hours after EMI had tendered its $28.50 a share offer to Warner.
"This is disappointing, as we believe the logic for combining the two businesses is compelling," said Lorna Tilbian, an analyst with Numis.
If the two had merged, the combined company would have held about 25% of the recorded music market, based on figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
Warner Music has the rights to more than a million songs via its publishing arm Warner/Chappell Music.
Artists recording on the Warner label include Madonna and James Blunt, while EMI's list includes Coldplay, Robbie Williams and Norah Jones.
In 2000, attempts to merge EMI and Warner Music were blocked by European competition regulators.
Warner Music was once part of the Time Warner group, but was sold to a group of investors in 2003.
No you c’mon
EMI Rejects Warner Takeover Bid
UK-based music group EMI has turned down a £2.5bn ($4.6bn) takeover offer from US rival Warner Music Group, the firm which it is itself trying to buy.
The 320 pence a share approach from Warner is the second the UK group has received in less than two weeks.
Both Warner's offers have been "wholly unacceptable", EMI said in a statement.
The UK firm has already made two approaches to Warner, following talks with Warner's management and with some of its shareholders.
A combination between the two firms would slim the roster of global music majors down to three, making a new group similar in size to Sony-BMG and Universal Music.
Tug of war
The tit-for-tat bidding began in early May, when EMI offered $28.50 a share - or about $4.2bn - for Warner.
3 May: EMI Group makes $28.50 a share ($4.2bn) bid for Warner Music Group. The US firm rejects the approach.
14 June: Warner makes cash counter-proposal of 315 pence a share, valuing EMI at £2.46bn. EMI's board unanimously rejects it.
23 June: EMI comes back with a revised proposal offering $31 a share, again in cash.
27 June: Warner Music renews its own approach, suggesting a price of 320 pence a share.
28 June: EMI announces its board has again unanimously spurned Warner's approach.
The US firm, home to performers including Madonna and REM, rejected the deal but talks continued.
On 14 June, Warner countered with its own 315 pence a share offer for the UK group, whose artists include Robbie Williams, Gorillaz and Corinne Bailey Rae.
In rebuffing Warner's renewed approach, EMI said it remained keen to pursue its own offer, which it has raised to $31 a share.
"An acquisition of Warner Music by EMI... would deliver value to EMI's shareholders which is far superior to Warner Music's revised alternative proposal," it said.
EMI's most recent financial performance, published in late May, showed the firm's profits up 13% in the year to March on the back of surging download sales.
In early trading, EMI shares were up 8.28% or 23.5 pence at 307.25 pence.
Warner shares closed in New York on Tuesday night at $27.23, down 29 cents or 1.05%.
Satellite Radio Company Addresses Music Industry Concerns
In an open letter to musicians published last week, XM Radio affirms its respect for artists and responds to criticism from the recording industry. Last month, several recording companies sued XM Radio for producing a satellite radio receiver with recording functionality, contradicting the RIAA's previously stated position regarding satellite radio recording devices.
RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol contends that XM's new recording device threatens legitimate music downloading services by enabling "broadcast programs to be automatically captured and then disaggregated, song by song, into a massive library of music." In the open letter, XM Executive Vice President Eric Logan argues that the Inno and Helix satellite radio recorders are merely time-shifting devices like Tivo rather than piracy tools. Logan points out that the new devices do not enable users to duplicate, redistribute, or permanently preserve downloaded content, and that the service itself doesn't enable users to select which songs are played.
The open letter also responds to Bainwol's claim that XM's devices are "fundamentally unfair to songwriters and labels" by clarifying the parameters of the company's financial relationship with the music industry. According to the letter, "the satellite radio industry is the single largest contributor of sound recording performance royalties to artists and record labels." The letter explains that XM and other satellite radio companies are paying tens of millions in performance royalties. The letter also points out that satellite radio services directly benefit artists by promoting music purchases.
As the Consumer Electronics Association has pointed out, FM radio and the cassette tape were both once subjected to similar attacks by the recording industry. The RIAA's hollow criticisms of satellite radio sound a lot like the music industry's typical alarmist attitude towards technological innovation. That said, is there reason to be skeptical about XM's claims regarding the capabilities of the new devices? History shows us that it is usually only a matter of time before even the most elaborately protected content system is cracked. Although XM has intentionally chosen not to include a mechanism for copying music from their devices to a computer, enterprising users will probably find a way to adapt the technology.
Arif Mardin, 1932-2006
The Grammy-winning producer generated hits with Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Norah Jones, and many others
Arif Mardin, the longtime Atlantic Records producer whose remarkable resume includes major hits with Aretha Franklin, the Bee Gees, Norah Jones and many others, died Sunday of pancreatic cancer. He was seventy-four.
Born March 15, 1932, to an aristocratic Turkish family, Mardin studied at the London School of Economics. In 1956, when he was writing orchestral arrangements, Mardin met Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones at a concert in Istanbul. The two musicians were impressed. Two years later Mardin moved to Boston, where he became the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music. Much later, in 1985, Berklee awarded him an honorary doctorate. After graduating in 1961, Mardin joined Atlantic Records as an assistant to Nesuhi Ertegun, brother of label founder (and fellow Turkish expatriate) Ahmet Ertegun. Mardin's compositional touch soon earned him a role as staff producer and arranger. His first work was with the label's jazz artists, including Eddie Harris and Sonny Stitt.
Soon Mardin moved into the pop realm, scoring a 1966 No. 1 hit with the Young Rascals' "Good Lovin'." The team behind that single, including co-producer Jerry Wexler and engineer Tom Dowd, helped make Atlantic a multi-genre powerhouse. Mardin worked extensively with Aretha, the Queen of Soul, and made definitive records with Dusty Springfield, Rod Stewart, Laura Nyro and Roberta Flack.
In the early 1970s, Mardin worked on several albums by John Prine, then considered a new Dylan, as well as Bette Midler's debut and early records by Hall and Oates. His successes with the Average White Band and the Bee Gees, who credited him with suggesting the falsetto sound that became the group's trademark, led to his first Producer of the Year Grammy in 1975.
Mardin's commercial instincts served him well on pop productions with Carly Simon and Chaka Khan, whose 1984 smash "I Feel for You" was one of the producer's biggest hits. He proved adept at ever-changing musical styles, working with Grandmaster Melle Mel on Khan's hit and going New Wave with Culture Club and Howard Jones. In 1989 he had another blockbuster with Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings"; his production work over the next decade included records by Jewel and the original cast recording of Rent.
Mardin became a vice president at Atlantic in 1969 and remained senior vice president until his retirement from the label in 2001. After leaving, he joined EMI's Manhattan Records, playing a major role in its revival, and produced Norah Jones' breakout album, Come Away With Me, which earned him his second Producer of the Year Grammy. In total, he won eleven Grammys, as well as the Recording Academy's prestigious Trustees Award in 2001.
Mardin considered himself a facilitator, lucky to work with great talent. He prided himself on his ability to match an artist with his or her appropriate key. In the studio, he considered himself more an arranger than a technician. "I'm not a nerdy technical person," he said. "I don't care about brand names, model numbers -- but I know what can be done."
Always in the Camera's Eye
Traffic cameras zoom in enough to capture your dangling cigarette. Crime cameras "see" in the dark. Satellite images show whether your car is in the driveway. Most Americans realize ubiquitous monitoring is the price of living in a high-tech world.
These days, surveillance cameras aren't just mounted on buildings and satellites, controlled by government and businesses. Now they're carried by a nation obsessed with its own image.
Kids snap cellphone pictures at parties and instantly put them on the Web; fans who nab photos of unsuspecting celebrities share them on celebrity-watch sites. The guy in the car next to you is leaning out of his window, taking a video that he later uploads to a video site where it could be seen by dozens or hundreds of people — maybe even millions.
"Our computers are about to become unblinking paparazzi," says Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif. "And we're all going to feel a little bit like Brad and Angelina."
Thanks to the availability of cheap digital cameras and websites that simplify photo-sharing, Americans have a new favorite pastime: creating their own reality shows, featuring themselves — and anyone else they see along the way.
While many, especially young people, think it's all fun, privacy watchers are eyeing the new trend, trying to gauge just how it will affect us legally and shape us socially.
"We're going to be a society where tons and tons of photographs and information about us are available online without our consent," says Jason Schultz, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy and civil liberties advocacy group that focuses on computers and digital technology.
"Privacy is sometimes something we don't realize we value except in hindsight."
It's not that most citizen videographers are looking to violate anyone's privacy.
Instead, many of today's burgeoning filmmakers are tomorrow's Hollywood hopefuls just looking for their lucky break. And many bystanders will do anything they can to be in pictures.
"I usually have my camera on me," says Steven Downie, 22, a manufacturing technician from Woburn, Mass., whose home-brewed videos have drawn some attention on YouTube, a rapidly growing website where people post and watch a huge array of homemade and professional videos. "If you go to a party or convention, you'd be surprised how many people wave, (flash) a peace sign, stick out their tongue or just yell 'Hey.'
"Cameras are fun. It's like the new thing to do," he says. "TV shows are boring. Cameras are the way to go. It's fresh."
When Downie is at a party, he says there "are just flashes left and right. I'll run over and do stupid things to get on camera. I do love the camera a lot. I will admit it.
"Obviously, everybody wants to be famous."
Well, maybe not everybody. While most people mug for the camera when he takes pictures at work, for instance, some of the older workers "put their hands in front of it and yell, 'Get out of my face.' "
Some parents of teens also can't fathom why teens pose provocatively or flaunt illegal behavior, such as downing a beer when they're under 21, in photos online.
"The gesture of putting up these pictures is the gesture of 'Know me,' " says Parry Aftab, an expert on teen safety and the Internet. " 'Understand me. Let me express my identity to you.' This is the job of adolescence."
The wilder — and more seductive — the picture, the more likely a teen is to draw attention and make new online "friends." (Friends are made when one person invites another to be a friend on a personal profile. Sometimes they know each other well. Sometimes they're passing acquaintances.) The more links to friends someone has on sites such as MySpace and Facebook, the higher their status.
Most kids are posting for each other, but quickly are learning that the world also is watching.
Internet expert Nancy Willard has been warning parents about the possibly incriminating pictures their kids' friends may post online after graduation parties.
"Kids go to these parties, and everybody's going to have a camera," she says. "And when they finally wake up (the day after the party), they'll post all these really fun pictures on the Internet and maybe post names to go along with the pictures. Nobody has any ability to control what's going to happen with those images. And they can be damaging."
But being able to post photos also can empower young people, says Ginger Thomson, CEO of YouthNoise, a site aimed at helping young people use the Web to promote social causes.
It gives young people "a sense of 'I'm someone' in a world of tremendous complexity and enormous population," Thomson says.
Experts are resigned to the reality that our photos increasingly are everywhere.
Our images are not only stored in government databases (taken from places such as traffic cameras and satellite images), but they also are stored on the computers of our friends, our neighbors and family and in the databanks of Internet companies that host photo sites.
Right now, those images are relatively benign because technology doesn't yet allow us to search through images, Saffo says.
Photo searches online are based on the words used to describe those photos and not on the photos themselves.
"So far they haven't really destroyed our privacy because it's too much trouble for humans to look through and find the things they want to find," Saffo says.
But face recognition software has been improving rapidly. And the point at which it is good enough for people to use computers to quickly scan images, "things are really going to change a lot," Saffo says. "Automating the watcher is going to sweep away the last vestiges of privacy. It's starting to happen now.
"Americans are touchingly naive about these things."
Privacy advocate Schultz sees a legal solution: passing laws that will keep the government from using our pictures against us.
"As more people take private photos and make them available online or save them, the temptation for the government or other powerful entities to want to subpoena or take those photos and plow through them will increase," he says. "The government will think 'Oh, someone else has already collected all this data. I'll just take theirs instead of doing my own internal criminal investigation.' That's a danger."
But cameras offer "upsides as well." They can allow ordinary citizens to keep would-be assailants and authority figures from overstepping their bounds, Schultz says.
Political protesters regularly photograph police at rallies, for example. In a now well-known story, a woman identified a man who had exposed himself to her in New York's subways by snapping his photo with her cellphone camera. A San Francisco photographer regularly posts pictures of security guards who try to stop him from taking photos in public places.
Aside from the legal issues, however, social scientists worry about the way the ever-present lens already is affecting society.
Just the knowledge that cameras are everywhere can "have a chilling effect," says psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It can give people "a sense of living your life on camera and living your life potentially being watched."
That changes behavior, adds Howard Rheingold, an author and consultant on online communities. "It forms an environment in which the assumption that there's a camera around is more and more part of your daily awareness. This assumption you're being watched internalizes surveillance."
The result: super-self-consciousness.
"Nobody's ever going to scratch their nose in public again," Saffo says, only half joking.
"In the past, privacy meant a right to be invisible. But I think it's fallen to the lower standard of the right to be left alone. You're going to accommodate yourself to the fact that you're constantly being watched. All you're going to say is just 'Don't bother me. Don't hassle me.' "
Unless, of course, you want to be in pictures.
Today's Movie Theaters, Tomorrow
Welcome to The Theater Replica Catalog. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the last commercial movie theater closing and interest in re-creating the early 21st-century American movie-going experience is higher than ever. We have the products you need to create an authentic historical setting in your own AV room, recreation pod or orbital party yacht. What follows are just a few of our newest carefully researched offerings.
Cell phone sound-effect generator
This module provides one of the most vital aspects of the early 21st-century movie experience: the thrilling chirps and trills of ringing cellular phones. We've programmed the generator with over three hundred authentic antique cell-phone alert signals, or "ringtones," including "Laffy Taffy," "My Humps" and "Please Let Me Touch Your Secondary Sexual Characteristics."
In addition, the cell phone sound-effect generator can be set to three modes: 2001 mode, in which the phone is quickly shut off when it rings; 2004 mode, in which the call recipient answers the phone and has a brief conversation; and 2008 mode, in which a moviegoer makes an outgoing call to someone watching a different movie so they can decide which one has better testicle jokes.
Authentic ad reel
In the early 21st century, it was common for American consumers to pay to see ads for other products they could pay for. In many cases these products contained ads for still more products, and so forth. Historical economists say this is what sustained the economy once all actual useful jobs were outsourced to the Third World, robots or Third-World robots.
We help bring this charming turn-of-the-century custom to you with an ever-changing lineup of advertisements for soft drinks, video games, online services and pheromonic implants. These can be played, depending on the year you're replicating, either before the lights go down, after the lights go down but before the previews, or right in the middle of the movie during what was called a "customer service intermission." For full authenticity, during customer service intermissions the exit doors should be locked and bolted.
The "shakedown package"
As movie theaters faced increasing pressure from pirates and counterfeiters, whose free or nearly free "warez" cut into the theaters' "revenuez" and "profit marginz," theater owners retaliated with increased harassment of their paying customers. Historical economists are unclear on the reasons for this, but there is evidence for hysteria induced by a hallucinogenic mold.
For an early 21st-century experience, you can play the included "public service announcement" (also called a "guilt trip") which explains that you're a dirty, waste-covered pirate and personally responsible for the deaths by starvation of over 60 directors, actors and Foley artists, and a slight downturn in the annual income of producers and movie executives. For a later feel, the package includes a variety of metal detectors, strip-search gloves, "hospitality bats" and memory wipe helmets.
Self-serve food aisle
Many theater replica fans have painstakingly re-created early 21st-century snack bars, complete with charmingly inflated prices and marijuana-scented robotic food servers with authentic bloodshot eyes who have to ask you three times if you said Coke or Diet Coke. However, our researchers have recently discovered a very exciting tradition of the early 21st century. It turns out that many theater owners felt that a 2,000-percent markup on soda provided insufficient profit to actually hire someone to pour the soda for you.
In many theaters, the snack counter was replaced with a snack section, where the only employees in evidence were there to scoop popcorn and take money. The customers themselves paid money to pour their own drinks, fetch their hot dogs from bins kept at the perfect temperature to encourage the growth of delicious bacteria, and balance everything on a food holding device that was the federally mandated minimum size to qualify as a "tray" rather than a "business card." And now you can have that experience in your own entertainment room! Comes with optional Roomba 9000X floor cleaner and home defense robot.
Court Refuses To Return Servers
A Stockholm court today rejected an application to return servers seized in raids against file-sharing site The Pirate Bay.
Internet hosting company PRQ had demanded the return of both paperwork and computer equipment seized by police, saying that the material had no significance for the investigation and arguing that it was vital for PRQ's work.
But Stockholm District Court rejected the application after a hearing held behind closed doors on Wednesday.
The company said it intended to appeal the decision.
Pirates Pursued Democracy, Helped American Colonies Survive
Jason Acosta, who studied pirates for his history thesis at the University of Florida, shows his pirate paraphernalia, including a replica of a 17th century pirate flintlock gun and sword, on May 10, 2006. Pirates deserve more credit than the Hollywood stereotype of bloodthirsty one-eyed peg-legged men who bury treasure and force people to walk the plank, Acosta said. They helped European nations explore the Americas and practiced the same egalitarian principles as our Founding Fathers, he said. Acosta is a descendant of a pirate who fought in the Battle of New Orleans. (University of Florida/Kristen Bartlett)
Blackbeard and Ben Franklin deserve equal billing for founding democracy in the United States and New World, a new University of Florida study finds.
Pirates practiced the same egalitarian principles as the Founding Fathers and displayed pioneering spirit in exploring new territory and meeting the native peoples, said Jason Acosta, who did the research for his thesis in history at the University of Florida.
“Hollywood really has given pirates a bum rap with its image of bloodthirsty, one-eyed, peg-legged men who bury treasure and force people to walk the plank,” he said. “We owe them a little more respect.”
Acosta, a descendant of a pirate who fought for the United States in the Battle of New Orleans, studied travel narratives, court hearings, sermons delivered at pirate hangings and firsthand accounts of passengers held captive by pirates. Comparing pirate charters with the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, he said he was amazed by the similarities.
Like the American revolutionaries, pirates developed three branches of government with checks and balances. The ship captain was elected, just as the U.S. president; the pirate assembly was comparable to Congress; and the quartermaster resembled a judge in settling shipmate disputes and preventing the captain from overstepping his authority, he said.
Colonists and pirates also were alike in emphasizing written laws, democratic representation and due process, Acosta said. All crew members were allowed to vote, ship charters had to be signed by every man on board, and anyone who lost an eye or a leg was compensated financially, he said.
These ideals grew out of both groups’ frustration at being mistreated by their leaders; the British forced the colonists to quarter troops and pay taxes, and captains on merchant ships beat their shipmen, starved them and paid less than promised, Acosta said.
“It’s no wonder that many sailors seized the opportunity to jump ship and search for a better way of life, namely piracy, which offered better food, shorter work shifts and the power of the crew in decision-making,” he said.
A golden age of pirating emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries as these Brethren of the Sea sailed the world’s waterways, plundering hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold, silver and other merchandise, shaping the modern world in the process, Acosta said.
Pirates mapped new territory, expanded trade routes, discovered good ports and opened doors with the native peoples, Acosta said. “They really helped European nations explore the Americas before Europeans could afford to explore them on their own,” he said.
By selling stolen silks, satins, spices and other merchandise in ports and spending their booty in the colonies, pirates created an economic boom, helping struggling settlements and making Port Royale in Jamaica and Charleston, S.C., huge mercantile centers, Acosta said. “They didn’t bury their treasure, they spent it, helping colonies survive that couldn’t get the money and supplies they needed from Europe,” he said.
Without the infusion of money into the New World from piracy, it is possible that Britain and France may not have been able to catch up with Spain, Acosta said.
“Had it not been for pirates, Britain might have had trouble holding onto the American colonies,” he said. “Pirates decimated the Spanish so badly that Spain finally had to give up some of its American empire just to get pirating to stop.”
Native Americans and black slaves oppressed by the Spanish in the Caribbean gave pirates inside information on where to dock ships and find supplies, Acosta said. Slaves fleeing plantations were welcomed on pirate ships, where they shared an equal voice with white sailors, he said.
Acosta said he believes pirates would be given a place in the history books if they had been able to write their stories and leave diaries like the more literate American colonists.
A Gainesville middle school teacher, Acosta occasionally brings up pirates in his classroom, where he has a captive audience, thanks to the popularity of the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which has a sequel opening July 7. “I had one group of students in my class who just went around the playground all the time saying, ‘Aaar, we’re the pirates,’” he said.
Richard Burg, an Arizona State University professor and expert on pirates, said Acosta is performing a great service by emphasizing pirates’ democratic and egalitarian ways. “The men who sailed under the skull and crossbones were ordinary folk, like America’s revolutionaries, standing firm against oppressive governments and economic systems,” he said. “Mr. Acosta is one of the few scholars who understand this.”
Until next week,
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