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Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - September 19th, '09
"France's Ministry of Culture estimates that 1,000 people a day could be cut off from the internet under the bill." – Austin Modine
September 19th, 2009
France Passes Three-Strikes Bill
Opponents vow to block Hadopi II
France's lower house has approved an amended version of the controversial three-strikes legislation intended to crack down on illegal downloads.
The French National Assembly passed the anti-piracy bill today by a 285 votes to 225, with the ruling majority UMP in favor and the Socialist Party leading opposition votes.
Before the legislation is definitively adopted, it will go to a parliamentary commission of seven senators and seven members of the lower house to pen a final draft that's acceptable to both houses. But the Socialists say they will appeal again to the Constitutional Court to have the bill blocked.
The Sarkozy administration championed the bill though legislation in May, creating a new state agency, the Higher Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (HADOPI), to oversee temporarily disconnecting individuals from the internet if they are accused of online copyright infringement three times.
In June, France's top court rejected the law as unconstitutional, saying Hadopi lacks the authority to shut down web access without a trial. The bill adopted today leaves it to a judge to order disconnections through an "ordonnance pénale" - a simplified proceeding that doesn't include the presence of the person accused of copyright infringement unless an appeal is filed.
Opponents say they will challenge the law again in front of the Constitutional Council because it deprives the accused of being able to defend themselves properly. France's Ministry of Culture estimates that 1,000 people a day could be cut off from the internet under the bill.
After first being sent a warning email and then a formal letter by Hadopi, those accused of illegal file-sharing for a third time could be disconnected for up to a year and face a €300,000 fine and jail time.
Even those found guilty of "negligence" for allowing others (such as their children) to pirate online material risk a month-long internet suspension and a €1,500 fine.
Japan Aims to Cut Off Music Piracy
Every mobile phone in Japan may be installed with software to block illegally copied music if the world’s first such system is approved by talks that start in Tokyo next week.
The talks between the Recording Industry Association of Japan, mobile phone companies and music download sites aim to agree on new anti-piracy measures by the end of the year, according to several participants. A system could be in place by 2011.
Building anti-piracy software into the main device on which young Japanese people listen to music could make Japan the first country in the world to find an effective answer to illegal downloads.
Under the system proposed by the RIAJ, whenever a user tried to play a song, software in their mobile phone would ask a security server whether it is covered by copyright. If so, and the phone did not have a code to indicate it was bought legally, the song would not play.
Japan’s love affair with high-tech mobile phones extends to music piracy – with songs swapped between users via message boards – rather than the computer file sharing common in the rest of the world. Mobile phones made up almost 90 per cent of the Y90.5bn ($1bn) market for legal music downloads in Japan last year.
The proposed system is possible because Japanese mobile operators control all the software in their handsets, said Yoichiro Hata, technical director of the RIAJ and a member of the working group. That means it will be hard to use as a model for reducing piracy on computers or mobile phones elsewhere in the world. “Logically it is possible,” said Mr Hata, “But in the case of PCs, it is hard to enforce the use of the software, and without that it has no effect.”
Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which is overseeing the talks, believes the scheme can be implemented.
Music Industry Ready for Climbdown on Internet Piracy Demands
The music industry is preparing to back down from its demands that people caught downloading songs illegally be disconnected from the internet after a revolt by leading musicians.
UK Music, the body that represents the British music scene, will release a statement today clarifying its stance on file-sharing. It has been forced to drop any mention of cutting off internet connections, to ensure unity across the industry.
The move comes after the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), an influential group of musicians that includes members of Pink Floyd, Radiohead and Blur, told The Times that plans by Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, to suspend the connections of those caught sharing music were “grossly disproportionate”.
The FAC’s stance has polarised the industry, with record labels, which strongly support Lord Mandelson’s proposals, enlisting other artists to condemn the group. Lily Allen, the singer, wrote on her blog yesterday that “music piracy is having a dangerous effect on British music”.
She said: “Last week, in The Times, these guys from huge bands said file-sharing music is fine. It probably is fine for them. They do sell-out arena tours and have the biggest Ferrari collections in the world. For new talent, though, file-sharing is a disaster as it’s making it harder and harder for new acts to emerge.”
Lord Mandelson’s intervention came only two months after the Government’s Digital Britain report, published in June, failed to back disconnection as a deterrent for pirates. Instead it proposed giving Ofcom, the media watchdog, powers to direct internet service providers to block pirate websites or “throttle” the speed of internet connections. The Times has obtained a draft copy of the UK Music statement to be released today. It markedly makes no mention of disconnection, stating: “In context of an evolving licensed digital music market, we believe that government intervention is extremely welcome and that, subject to assessment, Ofcom should be granted appropriate and proportionate powers as directed by the Secretary of State.
“The purpose of these powers is to encourage users of unlicensed P2P networks towards existing and future digital music services.”
Those close to the drafting of the statement said it had been necessary to drop demands for disconnection. A source said: “One way for this to be derailed is for the music industry to have a great big row. If it’s a case that the entire industry agrees over everything but one tiny point of detail, then maybe it’s worth making that point.”
The FAC, which is not affiliated to UK Music, is still engaged in meetings with various parts of the industry in an attempt to reach a compromise.
The group met with Sony and EMI and a group of artist managers on Monday evening in what all parties described as “constructive” talks.
At the same time, Jeremy Hunt, the Shadow Culture Secretary, criticised Lord Mandelson, saying that the peer had “gone for the soundbite”.
“Do we really want to prosecute someone that does a video of their cat with a Beatles soundtrack behind it and posts it on YouTube?” he asked.
Major Music Piracy Ring Broken Up
Federal authorities have broken up a major online music piracy ring, which reportedly worked with sources inside the music industry to acquire music early. Adil R. Cassim was charged as the leader of the group, known as "Rabid Neurosis" (or RNS for short). According to multiple reports, the authorities said that RNS had gained a reputation online for having access to releases far ahead of release dates and access to thousands of songs on its servers. However, Wired reports that the group had disbanded in 2007.
The group used music industry connections, including radio station employees and retailers, to acquire music early. An employee at a North Carolina CD production plant, Bennie Glover, is accused to providing the group with music months in advance to leak online. According to The Washington Examiner, Glover's production plant specifically supplies Universal Music Group with CDs.
The prosecutors said that other members of the group were "Tuesday Rippers," who would buy an album on release day and hurry to rip the album and leak it illegally online that day. In addition to Cassim and Glover, Matthew Chow and Edward Mohan were also charged as members of the group. The four members of Rabid Neurosis publicly charged yesterday in Virginia could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
Two other men were previously charged with involvement in the piracy ring: Patrick L. Saunders and James A. Dockery.
According to a statement from the U.S. Department Of Justice, "the case is part of a multi-year federal investigation of organized piracy groups responsible for the illegal distribution of significant amounts of copyrighted movies, software, games and music through the Internet. The investigation of music piracy groups was led by agents from the FBI's Washington Field Office-Northern Virginia Resident Agency."
Police Recover Pot, Bootlegged CDs In Raid Of Vernon, Conn Shop
Police got a tip that a t-shirt shop on West Street wasn't selling a lot of t-shirts, but was doing a steady trade in something else — marijuana.
East Central Narcotics Task Force officers gathered enough evidence to obtain a search warrant and hit the T-Shirt Stop about 1:20 p.m. Tuesday.
Sgt. Marc Hughes said police recovered 26.5 grams of marijuana packaged for sale and 844 bootlegged CDs.
Police took Momodou Jobe, 34, of 51 Whitmore St., Apt. 108, Hartford, into custody on charges that possession of marijuana with intent to sell and 844 counts of possession of bootleg CDs. Jobe had also failed to register his business with the town or state, Hughes said.
Australian Idol Damien Leith Didn't Make a Cent on 300,000 CDs
AUSTRALIAN Idol survivor Damien Leith sold more than $5 million worth of records when he won the 2006 crown but had to sell his car to pay the rent.
The popular family man, whose new single To Get To You has returned him to radio playlists for the first time in three years, has revealed he did not receive any of the proceeds from selling more than 300,000 copies of his The Winner's Journey record.
According to industry sources, Leith and his runner-up Jessica Mauboy were victims of fine print in the standard contract signed by contestants, which specifies that the Idol creators 19 Entertainment and local producers Fremantle Media own the rights to their performances on the show.
The The Winner's Journey records, released by SonyBMG, compiled those performances, leaving Leith and Mauboy without an income from their "debut" records.
The following year, winner Natalie Gauci re-recorded her Idol songs for The Winner's Journey to avoid the same fate.
But by the time Wes Carr won last year, the concept record _ designed to give the winners time to record their real studio debut record _ was abandoned.
Leith, who worked as a chemist before being dared to audition for Idol by two mates, said there have been "patches" since his win when he considered going back to his day job.
He and wife Eileen re-mortgaged their home in 2006 so he could chase his dream for the three months he needed to devote to the series.
Once he won, they believed there would be income from the sales of The Winner's Journey, which was recognised as the Highest Selling Album at the 2007 ARIA Awards.
But when his lawyer gave him the bad news that the contract didn't grant him any royalties for the compilation, the Leiths were left with no choice but to sell their car to pay their bills.
After three years of "fighting", Leith still doesn't know where the estimated $3 million profit from The Winner's Journey sales went.
"For the first few months after the series, we were really stressed about what was happening; we thought money from The Winner's Journey was going to come through and it didn't, basically I didn't get paid," he said.
"In fairness, in the months that followed the fanbase came to the shows and we got a couple of really nice guardian angels along the way who helped us out. Sony gave me an advance when they knew we were doing it tough without me asking for it.
"But it was tough, it wasn't what it was painted out to be."
Leith said he didn't know what to tell family and fans who approached him after his Idol win telling him they had bought 10 copies of The Winner's Journey thinking they were helping support him, his wife and baby boy Jarvis. They now have a second son, Jagger.
"Fans would come up at signings and say `I bought two copies because you really gave us all this entertainment'," he said.
"It's in the past. I would be lying to say I wasn't really angry about it; I hate the fact it was done and it's not what the show is advertised to do.
"Guy [Sebastian] got his million-dollar cheque two years earlier for his debut record, photographed with it and everything.
"You put your life on the line for the potential release of an album and making a career and that's the risk you take."
The singer and songwriter has released two records since _ studio album Where We Land and covers album Catch The Wind _ and has kept his career alive and bills paid by touring.
But it is his fourth album, Remembering June, which is released on October 9, which he feels is the record he has dreamed of making for the past 16 years.
"I've bitten my tongue so many times but I'm not worried about it any more because I've got this new album and it means so much to me. This is the first real album," he said.
To Get To You is set to put Leith back on top as it was the second most added track to radio playlists last week and features on a Channel 7 promotion for their new hospital drama Mercy.
It’s lights out for KaZaa Lite
Brazilian Court Bans P2P Software
After an earlier decision failed to reach its objective, this week a Brazilian court made an unprecedented ruling against file-sharing clients. Following legal action by anti-piracy groups against a website offering a file-sharing client for download, the court decided that software which allows users to share music via P2P is illegal.
Two years ago, legal action was initiated by the Protective Association of Phonographic Intellectual Property Rights (APDIF). The outfit, an anti-piracy group now part of the Anti-Piracy Association of Film and Music (APCM), unsurprisingly counts EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner as key members.
The lawsuit was issued against Cadare Information Technology Ltd, a company which controls the iPlay.com.br site.
iPlay distributed a piece of popular P2P file-sharing software known as K-Lite Nitro, which allows users to download from several P2P networks including Gnutella, OpenFT and Ares.
In February this year a judge decided that rather than force iPlay to remove K-Lite Nitro from its site, the software should have a copyright filter implemented instead, to block sharing of unauthorized music. The anti-piracy groups promptly provided a list of 4 million tracks to be filtered.
However, the ruling fell flat since iPlay are not the developers of the software and have no control over it, so the case headed back to court.
Following a trial on August 25th, on Monday this week the 6th Civil Chamber of the Court of Paraná in southern Brazil handed down an unprecedented ruling.
The judge came to the conclusion that since the proposed K-Lite Nitro filtering mechanism was ineffective, he had no alternative than to issue a complete ban on the software instead, saying that the website offering it would be assisting the copyright infringements of its users.
He went on to suggest that any website offering the software alongside advertising (i.e, trying to profit from offering it) would be committing a crime, punishable by between two and four years in jail.
“By this logic, virtually any site in Brazil that offers P2P clients would be subject to accountability, to have their business threatened by the alleged illegality of the act of hosting certain types of software,” said Omar Kaminski, author of attorney Internet Legal, a blog specializing in IT law.
Announcing that Cadare Information Technology will appeal the decision, Nelson Cadare Luciano, owner of iPlay said: “We will defend ourselves because we always had the feeling that it [K-Lite Nitro] is not illegal since you can use it to share legal content as well.”
APCM said that the ruling is “important for the future of the digital music market in Brazil.”
Currently K-Lite Nitro has been removed from the iPlay site, but can be obtained from a number of other sources.
Skype Founders File Copyright Suit Against eBay
The founders of Skype are escalating their legal battle with eBay.
Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, who became billionaires after selling Skype to eBay in 2005, have filed a copyright lawsuit against Skype in United States district court in Northern California. The suit comes a little more than two weeks after eBay announced it would sell most of the company for $1.9 billion, to a consortium of investors led by the private equity firm Silver Lake Partners.
In the court filing, Joltid, a company owned by the Skype founders, alleges that eBay violated their copyright by altering and sharing the peer-to-peer source code behind the free Internet calling service. The Skype founders maintained ownership of that source code after selling Skype to eBay in 2005 and licensed it to eBay.
Joltid seeks an injunction on the infringement and statutory damages, which it alleges could total more than $75 million a day. The lawsuit also names as defendants Silver Lake Partners and its partners in the buyout, Index Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
The Skype founders originally sued eBay in March over the matter in a British court. The case is expected to come to trial next year. eBay has said it is developing a workaround technology in case it loses the lawsuit, although it has said it is confident it will prevail.
Several potential bidders for Skype, including Google, cited wariness about potential liabilities in the Skype case as a reason for backing away from a potential deal, according to a person briefed on the Skype sales process.
EBay said it had no comment on the matter. Mr. Zennstrom did not immediately return a request for comment.
Mr. Zennstrom and Mr. Friis have developed a reputation for litigiousness in some legal circles. They filed three separate lawsuits against Pamela Colburn, an investment banker who represented them in the original sale of Skype, in the United States, Holland and Britain. In May, a British Judge dismissed the case and said the duo’s reason for pursuing the matter in his country “remains inexplicable.”
The buyers of Skype have not publicly addressed the founders’ lawsuit against eBay in Britain or their potential legal liability. However, a person briefed on the buyers’ due diligence ahead of the deal says that the venture capital firms hired a private investigations firm to examine the Skype founders’ business practices. The firm produced a “multi-hundred” page report that explored the duo’s litigiousness, among other matters, this person said.
Skype Founders Escalate Legal Battle
The founders of Skype appear to be scorching the Earth in an effort to assert their interests in eBay’s high-profile sale of the Internet calling service.
On Friday, Joost, an early but unsuccessful Internet video service founded by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, the same duo who created Skype, sued Joost’s former chief executive, Michelangelo Volpi, and his investment firm, Index Ventures. Last week, Joost declared that it had removed Mr. Volpi from its board of directors and had begun an investigation of his conduct.
The lawsuit, filed in Delaware state court, asserts that Mr. Volpi misused confidential technical information about both Skype and Joost in an effort to convince investors that he could sidestep an intellectual-property dispute.
Mr. Zennstrom and Mr. Friis sold Skype to eBay for more than $2 billion in 2005, though they kept the ownership of the peer-to-peer infrastructure underlying the service. Mr. Zennstrom and Mr. Friis then licensed the technology back to eBay and, later, Joost.
Having knowledge of that technical information, the lawsuit asserts, allowed Mr. Volpi to put together a successful group of private-equity and venture-capital funds to buy 65 percent of Skype from eBay for $1.9 billion in cash. The deal was announced earlier this month.
The complaint notes that “sophisticated parties” including Microsoft and Google considered buying Skype from eBay but “could not get comfortable proceeding with formal bids” considering the legal issues involved.
The lawsuit follows two others filed by the Skype founders. Two days ago, Joltid, another firm owned by the Skype founders, sued eBay and the Skype buyers in Northern California district court over copyright infringement of Joltid’s source code, which Skype uses. That lawsuit followed a similar one filed by Joltid in Britain in March that asked a British court to force Skype to shut down. That case is scheduled to come to trial next year.
EBay has said that it is confident of the outcome. “We had a good clean process, we got a good valuation, and our focus now is on getting the deal closed,” said an eBay spokesman, Alan Marks.
In a court hearing in London last June, eBay’s lawyer told the court that if Mr. Friis and Mr. Zennstrom won the case, the result would be “devastating” to the service. Skype has been downloaded by almost 500 million people, many of whom use the software to make free calls to each other.
According to the complaint filed in Delaware, Joost had been trying to merge itself with Skype through an acquisition of Skype from eBay. Earlier this year, the Times reported that Mr. Zennstrom and Mr. Friis unsuccessfully tried to buy Skype back again.
The successful group, lead by Silver Lake Partners and Mr. Volpi’s Index Ventures, beat out a rival group lead by Elevation Partners, another Silicon Valley private equity fund.
“Janus and Niklas are pulling out every stop they can, in the hope that they can pry the Skype sale out of Silver Lake’s paws and back into their own,” said Randy Katz, partner with the law firm, Baker Hostetler.
Mr. Zennstrom and Mr. Friis founded Skype 2002 after creating the controversial peer-to-peer file sharing company Kazaa, which was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America.
A person briefed on the Skype sale process says that as part of the sale, Skype’s founders were offered “hundreds of millions” worth of Skype common stock. The founders declined the offer.
“This is emotional,” this person said. “This is ‘you stole my baby.’ These are two guys who survived lawsuits from the RIAA. They have staying power, they know how the legal system works, and they are not wimps.”
Mr. Volpi declined to comment. The new Skype buyers would not comment either, but they have said publicly that they were well aware of the legal issues.
A person familiar with Silver Lake’s and Index Ventures’s due diligence process said that that the investors hired a risk-assessment company to analyze the legal issues, and the firm produced a lengthy report that chronicled the litigious history of the Skype founders, who have initiated multiple lawsuits against many of their former business partners.
Still, eBay and Skype do not appear to have much room to navigate out of the expanding legal mess. In regulatory filings on the Skype sale, eBay revealed that it agreed to pay half of any settlement costs and legal judgments. And Skype’s buyers agreed to pay a $300 million penalty if they back away from the acquisition agreement.
Veoh Wins Copyright Case; YouTube Wins, Too?
A federal district court says Veoh, a Web video site that has come under legal fire from entertainment companies the past several years, is not liable for the copyright violations committed by its users, a decision that could help YouTube defend itself against Viacom's $1 billion copyright suit.
Universal Music Group, the largest of the four top record companies, accused Veoh of copyright violations in a lawsuit filed two years ago. But on Friday, U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz granted Veoh's motion for summary judgment, and ruled that the company is protected against such claims by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The decision would have meant more for Veoh if the video site was still relevant. The company has fallen on hard times since YouTube and Hulu took control of most of the online-video sector. Veoh's legacy, however, could be that it helped to establish that Internet service providers aren't liable for crimes committed by users.
"This decision reaffirms the judicial consensus and what we've known all along: the DMCA protects services like YouTube," Zahavah Levine, YouTube's chief counsel said. "With the DMCA, Congress intended to foster online platforms like YouTube, which empower users, offer new distribution channels for content owners, and respect copyright."
To be sure, Universal Music will file an appeal to Matz's decision and the case likely still has a long way to go.
"The ruling today is wrong because it runs counter to established precedent and legislative intent and to the express language of the DMCA," Universal Music said in a statement. "Because of this and our commitment to protecting the rights of our artists and songwriters who deserve to be compensated for the use of their music, we will appeal this ruling immediately."
Martz's decision is not binding on other courts and it must be noted that the case was heard in the Ninth District while YouTube's court fight is in the Second District.
"Our case is in a different forum, not bound by the Veoh case," said Michael Fricklas, Viacom's general counsel, in a statement. "We remain confident that we will prevail on the law and the facts. Today's decision contradicts the consensus that sites and copyright owners share the responsibility to use readily available tools to minimize copyright infringements."
How YouTube may benefit
YouTube and Google could be the big winner in all of this, said Fred von Lohmann, senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Viacom accused YouTube of infringing its copyright in a lawsuit filed in March 2007.
"Veoh's policies are very similar to YouTube's," von Lohmann said. "The judge gave Veoh a clean bill of health. I think the court in New York (where the Viacom-YouTube case is being heard) is going to take this ruling very seriously. The facts are very, very close."
In Martz's decision, he noted that this was not the first time a court has ruled that Veoh is covered by the DMCA's Safe Harbor provision.
"On August 27, 2008, Magistrate Judge Howard R. Lloyd, sitting in the Northern District of California, wrote that the court does not find that the DMCA was intended to have Veoh shoulder the entire burden of policing third-party copyrights on its Web site (at the cost of losing its business if it cannot)," Martz wrote in his decision.
"Rather, the issue is whether Veoh takes appropriate steps to deal with copyright infringement that takes place. The record presented demonstrates that, far from encouraging copyright infringement, Veoh has a strong DMCA policy, takes active steps to limit incidents of infringement on its Web site, and works diligently to keep unauthorized works off its Web site. In sum, Veoh has met its burden in establishing its entitlement to safe harbor for the alleged infringements here."
While the judge ruled against Universal Music group and delivered a blow to copyright owners, he also confirmed that such sites must take reasonable steps to stop infringement once they've been made aware of its existence on their sites.
The legal fight between Viacom and YouTube will likely go to trial sometime next year. Many observers thought that case would be the one to establish whether managers at YouTube and similar services would be required to police their sites. But YouTube vs. Viacom could be anticlimatic, according to von Lohmann.
"The ironic thing is that so much attention has been paid to the YouTube litigation," von Lohmann said. "But the law is actually being made in other cases because the YouTube case is turning into an eternal trench war. In the meantime, smaller companies like Veoh and Perfect 10 are defining the law. The courts have consistently given an interpretation (of the law) that has been in line with what Web 2.0 companies have been arguing."
Aussie Censors Persist in Making a Bad Fist of it
Screwing up with prohibitive iTunes movie policy
Male masturbation and extreme anal fisting are now PG, as far as the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) are concerned.
However, mainstream films such as V for Vendetta and American Gangster are prohibited content – at least if they happen to be distributed through the iTunes Store (ITMS) "Gift this movie" menu. This would appear to be the latest peculiar twist to the censorship debate in Australia, and is in part a direct consequence of the Australian government pressing ahead with plans for its super-hi-tech firewall – without first sorting out the law that the firewall is meant to embody.
Cameron Watt is a Reg reader and a member of anti-censorship organisation, Electronic Frontiers Australia. He objects to government proposals to censor the internet: but instead of protesting on the street, he has set himself the task of showing up just how ludicrous existing government policy is.
His sharp-eyed analysis has identified at least one central flaw in the Australian Government’s internet blocking policy. As he explains on his blog: although Communications Minister Stephen Conroy claims the purpose of government policy is the eradication of child porn, the current ACMA block list contains just 977 URLs, of which just under a third are identified as child porn.
Speaking to the Reg last night, he said: "Of those, a high proportion of sites claimed as child porn are actually US-based and certified as over 18.
"Despite all the government rhetoric about protecting children online they have ended the NetAlert Filter program where Australian's could download a "free" (the government paid the license fee) Internet filter and hasn't replaced it."
He and fellow activists Geordie Guy and Mark Newton have also been helping to undermine government policy on censorship by complaining about a range of films and images – and then standing back whilst ACMA makes itself look foolish.
Geordie Guy complained about Pulp Fiction on the BigPond Movies service, on the grounds that the film is classified R18+, but not offered under the auspices of a Restricted Access System which meets the requirements for R18+ content in the ACMA Restricted Access System Declaration 2007.
Luckily for ACMA, BigPond withdrew that film before the complaint could be fully investigated, and no decision was given.
Mark Newton raised the issue of V for Vendetta and American Gangsters on much the same grounds: they are classified MA15+, sold for profit, and are offered without a restricted access system. ACMA agreed – at least in respect of distribution of these films via the ITMS "Gift" function: so for now, those films are also banned from part of the Australian internet.
A part of the problem, according to Cameron Watt, is that Apple assume that anyone able to buy with a credit card must be over 18 – and so they are not applying an approved age rating system to the transaction.
Last but by no means least, Cameron himself submitted a complaint in respect of works produced by Robert Mapplethorpe (NSFW: nor for the squeamish). ACMA’s response was categorical: "The content is not prohibited under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the Act)."
While he claims to be pleased with this result, the overall effect is to raise further doubts about the ability of the Australian authorities to put in place any sort of internet censorship policy that will not instantaneously rebound, leaving Australia the butt of jokes around the world for its inconsistency and narrow-mindedness.
Web Censoring Widens Across Southeast Asia
Governments lacking technical means use coercion and intimidation in efforts to suppress criticism online
Attempts to censor the Internet are spreading to Southeast Asia as governments turn to coercion and intimidation to rein in online criticism.
Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam lack the kind of technology and financial resources that China and some other large countries use to police the Internet. The Southeast Asian nations are using other methods -- also seen in China -- to tamp down criticism, including arresting some bloggers and individuals posting contentious views online.
That is distressing free-speech advocates who had hoped that Southeast Asia -- until recently a region where Internet use was relatively unfettered -- would become a model of open debate in the developing world as its economies modernize.
Malaysia has recently used its colonial-era Internal Security Act, which allows detention for up to two years without trial, to muzzle bloggers. Thailand is ramping up its reliance on a recently introduced Computer Crimes Act to restrict criticism of its royal family and limit the spread of what the government calls seditious material. Vietnam, an authoritarian Communist state, has been arresting people caught posting thoughts that run contrary to government policy, and has detained lawyers who try to defend them.
"A number of governments in the region have discovered they can't use technology alone to block out dissent because people will always find a way around it," says Roby Alampay, executive director of a Bangkok-based media advocacy group, the Southeast Asia Press Alliance. "Instead they are trying to send out the message that the government is watching what their citizens are up to, and many of these arrests are deliberately high-profile."
To be sure, not every government in the region is trying to bolt down the Internet. Singapore, where mainstream media are largely controlled by the government, has taken a relatively hands-off approach to the Internet. The governments of Indonesia and the Philippines don't limit political content on the Internet in their countries.
The case of Raja Petra Kamarudin, Malaysia's best-known blogger, reveals a different approach. The 58-year-old prince, or raja, in one of Malaysia's royal families started his feisty Malaysia Today news Web site a decade ago after the arrest of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges, which Mr. Anwar denied. Mr. Anwar was convicted, jailed until the conviction was overturned, and is now being prosecuted again on sodomy charges, which he again is denying.
Since launching his Web site, Raja Petra has been a thorn in the side of Malaysia's ruling National Front coalition, posting a series of articles notable for their criticism of the government. His postings led to his detention for nearly two months under the Internal Security Act in 2008.
Malaysian authorities have accused Raja Petra of suggesting in a letter to prosecutors investigating the murder of a Mongolian model in 2006 that Prime Minister Najib Razak was involved in the killing, which Mr. Najib denies. Raja Petra was charged with sedition and went into hiding. He says the charge is misdirected because he didn't publish the letter, though he admits writing it and stands by its contents.
Malaysian government spokesman Tengku Sharifuddin Tengku Ahmad declined to comment about Raja Petra's allegations, and he didn't respond to questions about the broader issues surrounding Malaysia's approach to censorship.
Malaysia's government is careful not to be seen to be directly censoring the Internet because of a longstanding pledge not to interfere online and potentially scare off foreign technology companies, such as Microsoft Corp., which operate there.
In August, Mr. Najib's government backed off from implementing Web filters similar to those used in China to weed out certain political topics and other contentious discussions. It has also considered requiring that bloggers register with the government, but decided not to implement the rule.
Instead, says Raja Petra, Malaysia's authorities are using criminal laws "to make an example of me so that others will run away from the truth," although he says their efforts will backfire. "Other bloggers are becoming more vocal and more aggressive."
Some media analysts suggest governments are catching up with the impact of the Internet and mobile-phone messaging and how they helped to trigger social upheavals in countries such as Ukraine and the Philippines. Iran's success in putting down Twitter and Facebook-driven protests this summer may have lent some indirect encouragement, too.
"Even if governments aren't censoring outright, they are providing an adequate disincentive to posting criticism. People now know there will be consequences," says Rebecca MacKinnon, a professor of journalism and media studies at Hong Kong University and a co-founder of GlobalVoices, an international citizens' media Web site.
In Thailand, police last month arrested two people for forwarding an audio recording of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva purportedly ordering soldiers to attack antigovernment demonstrators. Mr. Abhisit said the recording is fake. Another Thai, Suwicha Thakor, was sentenced to 10 years in jail in June after pleading guilty to posting videos mocking Thailand's revered monarchy.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn says the country's computer-crime laws are designed to protect people from fraud and defamation, and says the laws are at times being used to address what he describes as "national security" issues.
In recent weeks in Vietnam, meanwhile, popular blogger Bui Thanh Hieu was detained for several days after criticizing the government's mining policies; another blogger, Huy Duc, was fired from his job at a Ho Chi Minh City newspaper after the Communist Party complained about his posts, while others have also been briefly detained. A Vietnamese foreign-ministry spokeswoman on Thursday said the bloggers had been detained to enable police to investigate alleged violations of national security.
Internet-freedom advocates worry that more governments beyond Southeast Asia will follow the region's lead and try to take additional steps to tighten Internet controls.
"Being blocked from visiting a Web site is frustrating," Mr. Alampay, the Bangkok-based activist, says. "But when you see or hear about people being arrested, then that could stop you from logging on at all."
Chinese Schools Quietly Discard Controversial Web Filter
Huang Yan and Lucy Hornby
Schools in Beijing are quietly removing the Green Dam filter, which was required for all school computers in July, due to complaints over problems with the software.
China last month formally backed down on a plan to preinstall the Internet filter software on all new computers sold in the country after July 1 after an international and domestic outcry.
But schools were still ordered by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to install the web filter, which Chinese officials said would block pornography and other unhealthy content. Critics said it could be used to spy on Internet users and block politically sensitive sites.
Nonetheless, some schools have chosen to uninstall it.
"We will remove all Green Dam software from computers in the school as it has strong conflicts with teaching software we need for normal work," said a notice carried on the home page of the Beijing No.50 High School (www.bj50.com), dated Sept 1.
A technology director, surnamed Wang, confirmed Tuesday that the software had been taken off most computers.
"It has seriously influenced our normal work," he said.
The software had proven incompatible with most of the software used for the school administration, he said.
"We have received many complaints from schools about the problems in the software," an official surnamed Sun at the Chongwen District Education Commission, which is in charge of the school, told Reuters.
"It is really a contradictory situation for us," Sun added, saying the commission was caught between central authorities' directions to install the software and the school complaints.
Li Yizhong, minister of industry and information technology, said in August that schools, Internet bars and other public places must still install the Green Dam software. But he said no ordinary consumers would be forced to install it.
The software, developed by Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co, has been condemned by the technology industry as badly designed even for those looking to protect children.
During the Green Dam test phase, an outcry from school computer administrators and teachers throughout the country triggered hot discussions on the Internet about its flaws. The software must be installed on each computer, not from a central server, and can cause other programs to crash.
Earlier this month, some newspapers reported that the Beijing City Education Commission had agreed to let schools uninstall the Green Dam softwares. An official reached by Reuters Tuesday said he knew nothing about the new decision.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)
Porn Blocking Up To Schools, Parents: McGuinty
It's not really up to the government to block access to pornography on computers at schools and libraries, Ontario's premier said Wednesday, amid a push for mandatory Internet filtering software to protect children across the province.
Premier Dalton McGuinty, who said he wasn't ready to commit to any new filters, said he believed that responsibility really should fall on parents themselves.
"You've got to take a personal interest in the technology in your home, you've got to understand what they've (your kids) got access to, there are certain kinds of filters that you can put in place," he said.
"It's really important for us not to devolve that responsibility to any authority or government."
Progressive Conservative Gerry Martiniuk, who represents the riding of Cambridge, argues it's unrealistic to expect library or school staff to constantly monitor the sites accessed by their computers.
Only between 25 to 35 per cent of schools and libraries have filters in place, Martiniuk said, because they aren't required to by law, and he wants an uniform policy right across Ontario.
"One of the misconceptions is that most libraries and schools are filtered," said Rob Nickel, a cyber safety expert and former OPP officer who supports the bill.
Last year, Nickel witnessed a man in his 60s downloading porn at the Cambridge Library, "viewing some of the most graphic material I've seen," as he sat beside two young children.
Library staff asked the man to leave, but told Nickel they didn't have filters to block such sites because of privacy and censorship concerns.
"We can't go to a corner store and see Playboys or Penthouse on the rack -- they have to be in wrappers, they have to be hidden from view, same with cigarettes," Nickel said.
"Yet our children can go into a public library and view any type of material they want, or somebody might be accessing material that they can happen by and see."
Education Minister Katheen Wynne insists that decision is up to the individual school boards, adding the schools are "very, very aware of this."
"There's some software that we worked on with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services that's gone into schools around the province," said Wynne.
"But they're going to be local initiatives."
The province has given $500,000 to an organization called KINSA, or Kids Internet Safety Alliance, which has worked in more than 3,000 schools to train adults and kids on Internet safety.
"We're very aware of this as an issue. One of my concerns is that it's not just at schools that kids are on computers so what's really important is that they're educated, that their parents and teachers are educated, in the broader issues of Internet safety, so they can know about how to use a computer safely wherever they are," she said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the debate an important one, but said she wasn't yet ready to say whether her party would support the bill.
"There's no doubt that there's concern about access young people might have to materials that are perhaps not something that their parents would let them have access to, so I think the debate and discussion is an important one, because we know that communications technology is forever changing."
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the bill hadn't been brought up in caucus yet, so his party had no official position.
Martiniuk said Netsweeper, a Guelph, Ont.-based company, helps provide safe access to school and library computers around the world and should be used across the province.
He also added he doesn't have any interest in Netsweeper, or in any filtering company, nationally or internationally.
Andrew Graydon, Netsweeper's chief operating officer, said it would only cost a small library a few hundred dollars over two to three years to install such software, adding it's not something his -- or any other filtering company -- would make much money on.
"I don't think it's a very big market if you're looking at the dollars," he said.
A Free Speech Battle Arises From Videos of Fighting Dogs
The next great First Amendment battle in the Supreme Court concerns, of all things, dogfight videos.
The ones at issue in the case are old and grainy, and they feature commentary from the defendant, Robert J. Stevens, an author and small-time film producer. Mr. Stevens calls himself an educator, and his subject is the history and status of pit bulls.
“For centuries,” Mr. Stevens exclaimed on one videotape, “the American pit bull terrier has reigned supreme as the gladiator of the pit!”
Mr. Stevens, 69, had nothing to do with the dogfights themselves. But he did compile and sell tapes showing them, and that was enough to earn him a 37-month sentence under a 1999 federal law that bans trafficking in “depictions of animal cruelty.”
The Supreme Court will hear his case, which has divided animal rights groups and free-speech advocates, on Oct. 6. The central issue is whether the court should for the first time in a generation designate a category of expression as so vile that it deserves no protection under the First Amendment. The last time the court did that was in 1982; the subject was child pornography.
Dogfighting and other forms of cruelty to animals are illegal in all 50 states. The 1999 law was aimed solely at depictions of such conduct. A federal appeals court last year struck down the law on First Amendment grounds and overturned Mr. Stevens’s conviction.
The law has an odd history. It was enacted in large part to address what a House report called “a very specific sexual fetish.” There are people, it seems, who enjoy watching videos of small animals being crushed.
“Much of the material featured women inflicting the torture with their bare feet or while wearing high-heeled shoes,” according to the report. “In some video depictions, the woman’s voice can be heard talking to the animals in a kind of dominatrix patter.”
When President Bill Clinton signed the bill, he expressed reservations prompted by the First Amendment and instructed the Justice Department to limit prosecutions to “wanton cruelty to animals designed to appeal to a prurient interest in sex.”
But the Justice Department in the Bush administration pursued at least three prosecutions for the sale of dogfighting videos.
There is little dispute that crush videos are profoundly disturbing. The two dogfighting videos Mr. Stevens was prosecuted for selling present a harder question.
There was conflicting testimony at Mr. Stevens’s trial about the nature and social worth of the videos. Defense experts said the films had educational and historical value, noting that much of the footage came from Japan, where dogfighting is legal. A veterinarian who testified for the prosecution disputed that and said the videos depicted terrible suffering, including scenes of dogs that were “bitten, ripped and torn” and “screaming in pain.”
There is certainly biting in the dogfighting videos, but the fights are not bloody. In their Supreme Court brief, Mr. Stevens’s lawyers denied that any of the dogs in the videos were “ripped and torn,” and they counted “at most, 25 seconds containing yelps” in the more than two hours of footage on the tapes.
The third video at issue in the case, “Catch Dogs and Country Living,” shows pit bulls being trained to attack hogs and then hunting wild boar. The encounters are gory and brutal. Mr. Stevens participated in the hunting and filmed parts of the third video, which bears some resemblance to nature documentaries.
The law applies to audio and video recordings of “conduct in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed.” It does not matter whether the conduct was legal when and where it occurred so long as it would have been illegal where the recording was sold.
That means it may be a crime for an American to sell a video of a bullfight that took place in Spain, where bullfighting is legal. And because all hunting is illegal in Washington, a literal reading of the statute would make the sale of hunting videos illegal here. The law contains an exception for materials with “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.”
That exception may well protect journalism, scholarship and animal rights advocacy about subjects like factory farming, pharmaceutical testing, circuses and the slaughter of baby seals. But the determination of whether particular materials have “serious value” is, in the first instance at least, made by prosecutors.
News organizations, including The New York Times, filed a brief supporting Mr. Stevens. The 1999 law, the brief said, “imperils the media’s ability to report on issues related to animals.”
In a brief supporting the government, the Humane Society of the United States said that “gruesome depictions of animal mutilation targeted” by the law “simply do not merit the dignity of full First Amendment protection.”
When federal agents raided Mr. Stevens’s home in rural Virginia in 2003, he had no idea, his lawyers and family say, that he was breaking the law.
But there are hints in the videotapes that Mr. Stevens at least knew that people participating in dogfighting in the United States were doing something illegal.
“Because I’m not going to show any participants or spectators, I have to cut a lot of it,” Mr. Stevens, who has a folksy manner and looks a little like the actor Bill Murray, said on one of the videos. “I only show certain action clips I think you’ll enjoy.” Mr. Stevens did not try to hide the identities of those involved in the Japanese dogfights or in the video of dogs attacking hogs.
There is a crucial difference, Mr. Stevens’s lawyers told the Supreme Court, between illegal conduct and depictions of that conduct.
“While acts of animal cruelty have long been outlawed,” the brief for Mr. Stevens said, “there have never been any laws against speech depicting the killing or wounding of animals from the time of the First Amendment’s adoption through the intervening two centuries.”
State and local governments occasionally try to ban depictions of violence against people, notably in videogames. But those laws are routinely struck down, and the Supreme Court has never ruled that speech about nonsexual violence is beyond the protection of the First Amendment.
Mr. Stevens’s sentence was 14 months longer, the brief noted, than that of Michael Vick, the football star who actually participated in a dogfighting venture.
Through his lawyers, Mr. Stevens declined to be interviewed. He has said he never had his own dogs participate in dogfights.
Mr. Stevens’s son, Michael, said his father was guilty of nothing more than a longtime fascination with the affection, loyalty and passion of pit bulls. “You couldn’t treat a dog any better,” the younger Mr. Stevens said, “than my father treats pit bull dogs.”
Police Ready to 'Take On' Commenters, Chief Says
People who misrepresent themselves as officials in online comments could face civil, criminal penalties, Acevedo says.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says he and some of his officers have been harassed, lied about and had their identities falsely used in online blogs and in reader comment sections on local media Internet sites.
They've had enough.
In a meeting this month with department brass, Acevedo and the group discussed how they think such posts erode public trust in the department and how they have been wrongly maligned.
They have since researched their legal options and decided that from now on, they might launch formal investigations into such posts, Acevedo said. He said investigators might seek search warrants or subpoenas from judges to learn the identities of the authors — he thinks some could be department employees — and possibly sue them for libel or file charges if investigators think a crime was committed.
"A lot of my people feel it is time to take these people on," Acevedo said. "They understand the damage to the organization, and quite frankly, when people are willfully misleading and lying, they are pretty much cowards anyway because they are doing so under the cloak of anonymity."
The effort to crack down on potentially illegal statements or comments that are possibly libelous — those published with the goal of defaming a person — is the second time in recent months that the department has confronted new social media.
In March, the social networking site Twitter shut down a fake account that pretended to issue official Austin police bulletins after the department and the Texas attorney general's office complained.
University of Texas law professor David Anderson said the hosts of sites where potentially libelous comments are posted are granted immunity by federal laws. Those who post comments can still be sued, however.
State lawmakers this year passed a law that took effect Sept. 1 making it a third-degree felony to use another person's name to post messages on a social networking site without their permission and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten.
Along with Internet blogs that offer readers a chance to give their opinions, media outlets — including the American-Statesman — in recent years have begun allowing readers to make comments online about stories and blogs.
The American-Statesman has a policy on what people can write in online comments. The newspaper asks that people keep their comments civil, not engage in personal attacks and not use profanity or racial or ethnic slurs. Comments about a person's sexual orientation or religion also are grounds for the removal of a comment.
Acevedo said he and other officers in recent months have faced allegations of sexual impropriety and suggestions that they engaged in quid pro quo behavior. A police commander has had his name falsely used as the author of comments about the department.
Acevedo said that in several cases, he thinks department employees were responsible for comments that appeared on sites such as Statesman.com. Officers and civilian workers who were responsible for the comments could face disciplinary action.
According to police policy, employees are barred from criticizing or ridiculing the department, its policies or employees in speech or in writing when it is "defamatory, obscene or unlawful." Rules also prohibit such speech or writing when it affects "the confidence of the public in the integrity of the department and its employees."
"If you want to criticize, critique, question actions, that's allowable under the First Amendment, and we encourage that," Acevedo said. "When you start actually representing facts, when they are absolutely outright lies, that can lead to civil liability and, potentially, criminal liability."
Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr recently updated department policies prohibiting people from posting obscene or defamatory comments on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Department spokeswoman Michelle DeCrane said Thursday that officials have not yet discussed how they will enforce the updated policy.
According to published reports, lawsuits have been popping up nationally involving anonymous online speech.
However, the Associated Press has reported that most of the cases fail because statements of opinion are protected under the First Amendment. Courts are requiring officials to show they have a legitimate defamation claim — that is, one involving a false assertion of fact that hurts someone's reputation.
Internet Firms Help Canadian Courts ID Authors of Controversial Email
Sam GustinSam Gustin
Think you can be anonymous online? Most people simply have no idea how easy it is for law enforcement officials -- and other litigants, like someone suing you -- to gain access to personal email, Google searches, and other online information users think is "theirs."
The latest ominous evidence of this fact comes from our friends to the north. A Canadian court has ordered Google (GOOG) to turn over the identities of anonymous Gmail users who had accused York University faculty members of fraud and dishonesty. Like similar cases in the U.S., the York incident shows just how easy it is for courts to allow authorities to gain access to "our" personal information.
"People need to know that very little information that they give or make available to third parties [like Google] is unavailable to the government or private litigants," says Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law. "I think most people are surprised at how relatively easy it is for the government and private litigants to obtain 'their' information."
When York announced its hiring of Martin Singer in January as the first dean of its new Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, the university called the professor a "renowned scholar of Chinese history" and quoted university president Mamdouh Shoukri as saying: "York University is fortunate to have attracted such a strong scholar and administrator."
Shortly thereafter, someone circulated an email from an account belonging to a group called "York Faculty Concerned About the Future of York University" among members of the community accusing Singer of "lying about scholarly credentials" and accusing Shoukri of perpetrating "an outrageous fraud." The anonymous group called for the president's resignation and a new search for a dean, according to Canada's National Post.
University authorities were not amused, and won a court order in May compelling Google to turn over the IP addresses linked to the Gmail account. Google, in turn, identified Bell Canada and Rogers Communications as the internet service providers from which the email originated.
Last month, neither of the ISPs opposed a court order requiring them to turn over the contact information of the persons who used the Gmail account. This past week, Justice George R. Strathy of Ontario Superior Court called the orders a reasonable balance between protecting freedom of speech and protection from libel, according to the paper.
David Noble, whom the Post refers to as "an outspoken professor at York," was outed as one person linked to the account. On Friday, he told the paper that York's legal action was "a fishing expedition" and accused the university of "trying to create a chill among faculty."
Noble maintained that the allegations raised about Singer were legitimate. "They are spending enormous sums, for what?" the Post quotes him as saying. "I think they are just desperate to find out who is involved," adding that his colleagues wanted to remain anonymous because they were "afraid of reprisals."
In response, Will McDowell, York's lawyer, defended the action, saying, "Academics enjoy quite extensive latitude in what they say and what they write and what they research at Canadian universities, but I would say this about any of us: The right of free speech is not unlimited."
"Like all law-abiding companies, we comply with local laws and valid legal process, such as court orders and subpoenas," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to DailyFinance. "At the same time, we have a legal team whose job is to scrutinize these requests and make sure they meet not only the letter but the spirit of the law."
York now has the identities of half a dozen people who allegedly had access to the Gmail account.
American laws governing similar situations differ somewhat from Canadian statutes, but the York case is reminiscent of the recent "Skank blogger" ruling, in which a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ordered Google to turn over the e-mail and IP address of an anonymous blogger who called model Liskula Cohen "the skankiest in NYC."
Writing about the case, my colleague Jeff Bercovici noted that the ruling could force anonymous internet cranks to go to greater lengths to shield their identity. "In trying to make people accountable for the vicious things they write online, that judge is only going to force them to cloak their identities ever more effectively," Bercovici wrote.
Google search queries -- obtained by court-ordered warrants -- have been used in numerous criminal cases, including the recent case of a Florida man who was convicted of murder based on evidence that included his own Google research, which included searching on terms like "trauma, cases, gunshot, right chest."
No matter how many precautions we take to remain private or cloak our identity, the authorities and other potential litigants usually have little difficulty obtaining this content. And they do it not by nefarious mean like hacking, but through our very own court system.
Internet users everywhere would do well to take heed. Your emails -- and maybe even your Google searches -- could be one subpoena away from the prying eyes of federal authorities, not to mention private litigants.
ISPs Asked to Cut Off Malware-Infected PCs
Voluntary code of conduct puts onus on service providers.
The Internet Industry Association (IIA) has drafted a new code of conduct that suggests Internet Service Providers (ISPs) contact, and in some cases disconnect, customers that have malware-infected computers.
The drafted code, which will not be mandatory, suggested ISPs take a four-step approach to protecting customers.
"Once an ISP has detected a compromised computer or malicious activity on its network, it should take action to address the problem. ISPs should therefore attempt to identify the end user whose computer has been compromised, and contact them to educate them about the problem," the new code states.
Chief regulatory officer of ISP iiNet, Steve Dalby, said he would adhere to the code if the process could be automated and development costs weren't prohibitive.
"Potentially it's something that we would do. If there were some costs we might consider whether government funding was available, but again it's very hypothetical," Dalby said.
IBRS analyst James Turner welcomed the move and said ISPs should be able to find a way to fund the initiative.
"They'll find a way of commercialising it and making it, at the very least, cost neutral if not cost positive," he said.
Turner said it was reasonable to expect a form of "quality control" for computers connected to the internet in a similar way cars need to be roadworthy.
"The Government make laws and regulations about what you can drive on the roads. If you're in New South Wales, after your car gets over five years old ... you've got to take it over to the pits every year. A form of quality control for computers that are on the internet seems perfectly reasonable to me," said Turner.
Communications Minister Senator Conroy has voiced his support for the new code. In May, he said the "code will provide a consistent approach for Australian ISPs to help inform, educate and protect their clients in relation to e-security issues."
"It will contribute to the range of efforts being made by Government and industry to raise awareness of online security and to foster digital confidence," said Conroy at the time.
However, an IIA spokesman said that if Stephen Conroy was serious about addressing eSecurity he would fund more education initiatives. Government initiatives, such as the once a year e-security campaign that told Australians to change their password, was not enough, he said.
"The government has spent an awful lot of money on a single website," the spokesman told iTnews. "I think there's about two or three websites doing exactly the same thing and they all assume you've got to log on to the website. It's kind of like a web 1.0 style approach," he said.
Initiatives such as the recently announced Queensland Government war driving mission were praised by the spokesman.
The code of conduct was initiated on 10 June when the IIA, in association with the Government, ISPs, security vendors and consumer representatives convened a meeting to explore the merits of a new voluntary eSecurity code.
"The meeting agreed that A Draft Code Principles with representative from all stakeholders with a final version of the voluntary code envisaged by 1 December 2009," the IIA said.
ISPs that adhere to the code would be able to display an IIA tortoise log on their website.
Members of the public are asked to respond to the draft code by posting their comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Friday 30 October 2009.
ISP Appeals Decision Forcing it to Disconnect Pirate Bay
The ISP that until recently was the bandwidth supplier to The Pirate Bay, is set to appeal the court ruling which forced it to take the world’s largest BitTorrent tracker offline. Supported by various politicians, Black Internet says the issue reaches far beyond The Pirate Bay and that fighting the ruling is important for all ISPs.
On 24th August Stockholm’s district court ordered action to remove The Pirate Bay from the Internet, pending the outcome of a civil action taken by several entertainment companies.
The court ordered Black Internet, supplier of bandwidth to The Pirate Bay, to disconnect the site from the Internet or face penalties of 500,000 kronor ($70,600). The ISP had little choice but to comply. The issue is a serious one and goes far beyond The Pirate Bay – it could be used to silence many other sites in the future unless action is taken.
Earlier this month several politicians objected to the court’s decision, including Camilla Lindberg who sits in parliament for the Liberal Party. She believes that threatening an ISP with damages is taking things too far;
“To silence an operator, I think this is outrageous. We need to review the law and we need a proper investigation,” she said. “Both the public and companies in the IT industry have been surprised and outraged by the Stockholm district court’s decision to issue the ban on Black Internet. The decision is considered by many to go against the legislative history behind the amendment of the Copyright Act in 2005.”
Lindberg went on to say that there is fear that in the future ISPs may be forced to examine the content of traffic that passes through their networks, in order to protect themselves from legal action.
Now, after taking a little while to consider its options, Black Internet has changed its mind about appealing the decision. Initially Black Internet CEO Victor Möller told the Swedish press his company would not appeal, citing a laborious and expensive legal process, but now there has been a change of heart.
“This is the first time in Sweden that an operator has been ordered to stop delivering Internet to someone. We want to know if it’s correct to do so,” said Möller
“The district court made a very controversial decision. The entire ISP business needs some clarity in this matter. A door has been opened and we don’t know what’s behind it. This is a very important question for all ISPs and we can’t just lay down,” he added.
Having previously cited cost as a barrier to an appeal, TorrentFreak learned that there are other groups who are very interested in Black Internet appealing the Stockholm court’s decision, so it appears some sort of collaboration could be on the cards to enable that.
U.S. Regulator to Unveil Open Internet Plan
The top U.S. communications regulator plans to unveil proposals Monday for ensuring Web traffic is not slowed or blocked based on its content, sources familiar with the contents of the speech said on Friday.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski will announce plans to ask his fellow commissioners to adopt as a rule net neutrality and four existing principles on Internet access issued by the agency in 2005, one of the sources said.
Net neutrality pits open Internet companies like Google Inc against broadband service providers like AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and Comcast Corp, which oppose new rules governing network management.
Advocates of net neutrality say Internet service providers must be barred from blocking or slowing traffic based on its content.
But service providers say the increasing volume of bandwidth-hogging services, like video sharing, requires active management of their networks and some argue that net neutrality could stifle innovation.
"He is going to announce rulemaking," said one source familiar with the speech due to be delivered at the Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank.
The rule proposal will also try to seek greater clarity into what constitutes "reasonable" network management by Internet providers.
The FCC could formally propose the rule aimed at both wireless and landline Internet platforms at an open meeting in October.
Because of the implications for applications such as Internet phone calling services, like those provided by eBay Inc's Skype and Google, agency staff are expected to propose setting a lengthy public comment period before any final action.
The Monday speech coincides with a deadline for the FCC to file a court brief in a case against Comcast, which is challenging whether the agency has the authority to regulate actions involving the Internet.
The FCC is expected to defend its position by arguing that the agency has broad authority under the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
Public interest groups praised Genachowski for moving forward with a rule that would protect speech and commerce, predicting the policy move would be a big win for consumers.
"It will be a big win for consumers if the FCC delivers strong net neutrality rules that apply across all technologies," Ben Scott, policy director at Free Press, said in a statement.
(Reporting by John Poirier; Additional reporting by Sinead Carew, Yinka Adegoke in New York; Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco; Editing by Gary Hill and Tim Dobbyn)
Net Neutrality Gets a Boost from Leading Democrat
Net neutrality supporters got a boost Thursday when Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he had added himself as a co-sponsor to the Net neutrality bill introduced by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
The House Energy & Commerce Committee oversees the Federal Communications Commission. Waxman said during a hearing for the subcommittee Thursday that it was time to make sure rules were imposed to keep the Internet open.
"Industry will benefit from clarity, consistency, and predictability with regard to Net neutrality," Waxman said at the hearing. "I think that the time is right to formally establish, through legislation if required, the rules of the road with respect to Net neutrality."
The bill, which was introduced by Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), would prevent Internet service providers from blocking or prioritizing content on the Web.
Advocacy groups that helped elect President Obama last year have been pushing hard for Net neutrality legislation or regulation. And they applauded Waxman's support.
"The addition of Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Henry Waxman as a co-sponsor of H.R. 3458, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, is a major and welcome step in Congressional support of the open Internet," Markham Erickson, executive director, Open Internet Coalition, said in a statement. "On behalf of our 77 members, we thank him for his strong leadership on this issue."
Large broadband providers, such as AT&T, Verizon Communications, and Comcast, have argued against a Net neutrality law. They say they need to be able to manage their networks. Most supporters of Net neutrality agree that service providers should also be able to provide "reasonable network management," but they think safeguards should be in place to make sure service providers don't abuse their power.
Republicans indicated they would likely fight legislation. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said she is "weary of talk of efforts to increase regulation." She said there was no case to do so.
There is no clear definition of the term "Net neutrality." But in general it refers to the concept that Internet users should have unfettered access to content and services. In other words, service providers should not be allowed to either impede or favor access to particular sites or applications.
The debate over Net neutrality began heating up about three years ago, when congressional leaders first started holding hearings on new laws to ensure that Internet service providers couldn't monkey with traffic. The discovery that the nation's largest cable operator, Comcast, had slowed down certain kinds of peer-to-peer traffic on its network fanned the flames and sparked public outrage over such practices.
But the fight to create new laws to protect Net neutrality languished after the FCC, which regulates the communications industry, publicly admonished Comcast for violating its Net neutrality principles. These principles aren't regulation and the FCC is somewhat powerless in imposing any real punishment for violating the rules, but the public slap on the wrist coupled with public outcry was enough to get Comcast to change its practices.
A federal appeals court is reviewing the FCC's citation last year of Comcast.
For many folks in the industry, the FCC's handling of the situation and the public response seemed to be sufficient. And support for passing new laws or regulation that might later have unintended consequences appeared to wane.
The U.S. Congress has already rejected at least five bills that would impose Net neutrality regulations.
AT&T to FCC: Gaming is Not "Broadband," But an Added Service
The computer/video game industry is peeved at AT&T for suggesting that real-time gaming isn't a core part of broadband like e-mail and Web browsing, but that it's instead an "aspirational service."
The computer gaming industry is not pleased with comments that AT&T filed with the Federal Communications Commission on how to define "broadband," particularly the suggestion that online games should be relegated to the category of "aspirational services." "For Americans who today have no terrestrial broadband service at all," AT&T wrote the FCC, "the pressing concern is not the ability to engage in real-time, two-way gaming, but obtaining meaningful access to the Internet’s resources and to reliable email communications and other basic tools that most of the country has come to expect as a given."
This did not sit well with Kenneth L. Doroshow, Senior Vice President of the Entertainment Software Association. "What AT&T describes as aspirational services are no less important to the future of the Internet than email and web browsing were to the past and are today," he told the Commission on Wednesday.
They're used for employee training and in schools, he noted. "Online video games are a meaningful part of our participative culture. They remove geographic barriers, connecting people from across the country and around the world. They teach cooperation, cultivate leadership skills, and empower users to express their creativity."
AT&T did acknowledge that the capacity to play games should be included in a larger definition of broadband. But at present, the concept "should take the form of a baseline definition of the capabilities needed to support the applications and services Americans must access to participate in the Internet economy—" the company wrote, "to learn, train for jobs, and work online." AT&T's "minimal set of applications" includes the ability to use email, instant messaging, and basic Web surfing. "It also should include the ability to engage in Internet-based education programs, interact with Internet based government services, and participate in online energy, healthcare, and public-safety programs."
But as Doroshow points out, interactive games are already used for employee training and in schools. "Entertaining does not mean trivial," he wrote.
Is gaming "civic"?
So is there a case for seeing two-way gaming as central to a definition of broadband? The cooperation/leadership argument may not be the strongest point, at least not if the implication is that games make gamers more helpful to society. A Pew Internet and American Life study released last September on Teens, Video Games and Civics concluded that almost all teens (97%) play computer, Web, portable, or console games for sure. And over a quarter of these kids play with others connected to the Internet.
But Pew also found that the most common civic behavior teens displayed while playing was helping others learn the game of the moment. Linking the play experience to moral, ethical, or social issues took place much less frequently. "There is little evidence to support the idea that playing video games, in general, is associated with a vibrant civic or political life," the survey concluded.
On the other hand, Pew did notice that teens tended to link gaming to civic issues more often when playing together in the same physical place, rather than when playing alone or with others online. Enjoying games together, they were more likely to look online for information about politics, raise money for charity, or try to persuade someone how to vote in an election.
But if the civic case for including games in a definition of broadband is still uncertain, the argument that they boost demand for the service seems stronger. Pew's latest report says that one out of every four "economic users" of the Internet—folks who go online to look for jobs or keep track of the economy—also go there to relax by watching a video or playing a game. This is especially true for young users (18-29), half of whom reported playing on the 'Net on a regular basis. If speeding up the rate of broadband adoption requires stimulating demand as well as availability, extending gaming capacity to a definition of broadband becomes that much more credible.
What it enables
All this has become part of the broadband definitional debate. And there's a noticeable divide here between the telcos and cable companies on one side, and content providers and users on the other. The latter camp very much wants the FCC to embrace an "application-based approach" to the broadband definition question, as the FCC put it in its request for definitional comments.
Google leads the pack on this issue. "Ultimately what interests us about broadband is not what it is, but what it enables," the search engine giant wrote to the Commission. Broadband should be defined at speeds "that enable full utilization of broadband services and applications." The connections should be "sufficiently robust" enough to let users "receive, generate and interact with voice, data, graphics and video, which will enable users to receive the maximum value of broadband."
Google's dream definition of broadband? "A high-quality, 'always on,' packet switched, technology-neutral, high speed communications transmission platform," the company suggests. "This platform further should allow users to harness the Internet, access and upload content, and otherwise engage in high-speed two-way connectivity and interactivity."
Internet2, a non-profit representing enterprise server users, argues in a similar vein. A definition "should encourage the construction of networks that will ensure that such users have access to the applications they need," the group argues. It is critical, contends the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, that "community anchor institutions" have access to the bandwidth that "enables them to utilize all of the applications the public needs, not just a few of them."
But do we "need" online games? There's a question to keep us busy for eternity.
Verizon Boss Hangs Up on Landline Phone Business
Roll over in your grave, Alexander Graham Bell.
That was in effect what Ivan Seidenberg, the chief executive of Verizon Communications -– one of the largest descendants of the old Bell System — declared this morning.
Speaking to a Goldman Sachs investor conference, Mr. Seidenberg said Verizon was simply no longer concerned with telephones that are connected with wires.
All traditional phone companies are suffering because many customers are canceling their landlines in order to use phone service from their cable companies or simply to rely on their cellphones. Speaking earlier at the Goldman conference, Randall Stephenson, chief executive of AT&T, and Ed Mueller, head of Qwest Communications, both talked about seeing a day when their landline businesses would stop shrinking.
Mr. Seidenberg said that his “thinking has matured” and that trying to predict when the company would stop losing voice landlines “is like the dog chasing the bus.”
In other words, that snipping sound you hear around copper phone lines is just going to get louder.
This prospect, however, doesn’t rattle him.
Not only does Verizon control the largest mobile phone company in the country, it has also largely moved away from copper wires. Verizon is selling off most of its operations in rural areas and is spending billions to wire most of the rest of its territory with its fiber optic network, or FiOS.
FiOS, of course, offers voice calling as well as video and Internet service, but from now on, traditional phone service will be more of an add-on than the centerpiece of Verizon’s offerings to consumers (much as voice service is treated today by cable firms).
“Video is going to be the core product in the fixed-line business,” Mr. Seidenberg declared. And the focus will move from selling bundles of video and landline to video and cellphones, he added.
By converting most of its landline operation to FiOS, Mr. Seidenberg said Verizon had a new opportunity to cut costs sharply. FiOS uses the decentralized structure of the Internet rather than the traditional design of phone systems, which route all traffic through a tree of regional, then local offices.
“We don’t look any different than Google,” he said. “We can begin to look at eliminating central offices, call centers and garages.”
Mr. Seidenberg said that he was just beginning to work through the implications of this and that he planned to reorganize the company in order to emphasize this strategy. He told investors it may take a year or two for the financial impact to be apparent.
Mr. Seidenberg criticized himself for not seeing this sooner. “I could have done a better job of accelerating the idea that fiber creates productivity opportunities,” he said.
But Mr. Seidenberg also talked of the psychological lift he had gotten from finally escaping from the shadow of the legendary Bell.
“Once I shed myself of the burden of chasing the inflection point in access lines and say ‘I don’t care about that anymore,’ I am actually liberated,” he said.
EC Anti-Piracy Measures Soothe But Don't Satisfy
IFPI chairman/CEO John Kennedy says new European Commission measures on intellectual property rights are "good news for Europe's music sector," but rights-holders still want stronger anti-piracy legislation across Europe.
The Commission today (Sept. 14) issued a Communication which it said in a statement contained "practical, non-legislative measures to combat counterfeiting and piracy." It aims to complement the existing legal framework by tightening up enforcement, which it says can be achieved through “greater collaboration between the private sector, national authorities and consumers" across the European Union.
According to Kennedy, the EC is proposing "practical and sensible steps aimed at making a concrete difference to the enforcement environment for intellectual property rights in Europe."
However, his statement continued: "Past experience has shown that such a non-legislative approach, while an excellent platform, does have its limits in delivering real change."
The communication calls upon member states to improve administrative cooperation between different enforcement authorities nationally and with other EU members. "Due to the international nature of IPR infringements," it says, "improving internal cross-frontier cooperation is not only a legislative obligation, it is a clear necessity."
In a statement, Internal Market and Services Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said intellectual property rights "offer consumers a reassurance that the products and services they buy are legitimate, reliable and above all safe."
He added: "Unfortunately, there are always those who will seek to undermine honest intentions. We need to stop this dangerous trend not by more legislation, but by mobilising stronger collaboration helping us to fight back."
IFPI, Kennedy affirmed, will "do everything to support these new measures, while at the same time working with the Commission on the next step, which in our view would consist of strengthening the legislative framework."
The EC measures involve member states setting up a network of contact points across the EU to facilitate rapid exchanges of information on suspect products, manufacturing sites, distribution routes and key sales points.
Individual states are also called upon to appoint national coordinators to synchronize intellectual property rights enforcement issues between their own respective national enforcement agencies, which will act as pivotal contact points for industry bodies.
The EC has also called for increased transparency in national structures and systems for dealing with intellectual property issues. The Communication additionally says member states should help build coalitions between stakeholders with the aim of developing voluntary agreements on dealing with the sale of counterfeit goods.
Direction on these issues will be provided by the European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy, which the EC set up in May with the aim of sharing data and developing best practices.
The observatory brings state and private sector representatives together to analyze the scope and scale of the problem, share information, promote best practices and strategies and propose solutions.
It held its first meeting Sept. 4, when two subgroups were created to look at issues surrounding data gathering and existing legal frameworks. No schedule has yet been published for its activities, or for EU member states to fall in line with the new EC measures.
Retailer Must Compensate Sony Anti-Piracy Rootkit Victim
In 2005 there was a huge scandal when it was revealed that Sony’s attempts to crack down on music piracy had got out of control. The company included a rootkit (XCP) on many of its music CDs which was installed on the user’s PC without permission. Now a court has ordered compensation to be paid to an XCP victim.
During 2005, Song BMG introduced a new copy protection mechanism on its audio compact discs. The Extended Copy Protection system, better known as XCP, was included on around 50 titles. It was to cause a huge scandal.
Once one of these legitimately purchased music CDs was put into the PC drive of a Sony customer it automatically installed software on Windows computers which changed the way the operating system played files, installing a rootkit on the host PC.
Adding insult to injury it was discovered that Sony had used code created by Jon Lech Johansen (DVD Jon), violating its GPL license.
Following these frankly unforgivable actions by Sony, the company was forced to recall all affected CDs and was subjected to various lawsuits. One such legal action has just come to an end.
According to Germany’s Heise, a district court has just ruled in a case where an individual claimed that the presence of the Sony rootkit caused him financial losses.
After purchasing an Anastacia CD, the plaintiff played it in his computer but his anti-virus software set off an alert saying the disc was infected with a rootkit. He went on to test the CD on three other computers. As a result, the plaintiff ended up losing valuable data.
Claiming for his losses, the plaintiff demanded 200 euros for 20 hours wasted dealing with the virus alerts and another 100 euros for 10 hours spent restoring lost data. Since the plaintiff was self-employed, he also claimed for loss of profits and in addition claimed 800 euros which he paid to a computer expert to repair his network after the infection. Added to this was 185 euros in legal costs making a total claim of around 1,500 euros.
The judge’s assessment was that the CD sold to the plaintiff was faulty, since he should be able to expect that the CD could play on his system without interfering with it.
The court ordered the retailer of the CD to pay damages of 1,200 euros.
Repair Options for Ailing Electronics
FOR months, I had been trying to ignore it. Like an ailing relative, my desktop computer was becoming increasingly frail. With each passing day, it took longer and longer to boot up. It sent endless “connecting” messages as I tried to get on the Internet. It froze in confusion if I clicked away too quickly.
My first assumption was that it was time for a new computer. Ours was about five years old, relatively ancient in technological years.
But then I started thinking — should I be so quick to assume that computers and the other gadgets of modern life, like iPods and game systems, are always ready to retire after two years, or three or four? For economic and environmental reasons (repairing is better than replacing), shouldn’t I look into the possibility that we could salvage our computer?
I decided to call Adam Sanderson, chief executive of Computer Overhauls, based in Manhattan. I interviewed Mr. Sanderson about four years ago for a column and have since hired him occasionally for emergency computer problems.
Mr. Sanderson remotely peeked into my computer and confirmed my worst fears — the hard drive was dying.
We could go out and buy a new one. Or, he suggested, we could ship or bring in the tower that contains the hard drive and he would replace it for about $150 — far less than the cheapest desktop we could buy. Prices can be higher for more powerful hard drives and up to about $200 for laptops.
“We would clean out the whole machine, reinstall everything fresh and it would be like a brand-new computer,” he told me.
But then my software wouldn’t be upgraded, would it?
No, Mr. Sanderson told me, but you may not really need to.
“It depends on what you’re using the computer for,” he said. “If you’re surfing the Internet and doing e-mail, which is what the bulk of people do, then you’re only using 5 to 10 percent of the actual power of your computer anyhow. Most people don’t need upgraded software.”
The turnaround is about 48 hours, he said, and comes with a three-year guarantee.
On the other hand, he said, if you are going to work on video editing or movie production, you probably want the newest software available. Also, any computer older than seven years should probably be replaced if it’s having difficulties, he added.
Mr. Sanderson also repairs iPods and iPhones, and his business is booming.
“There’s definitely a huge surge in the amount of repairs” in this economic climate, he said, as people choose to keep what they have rather than spend twice as much on the newest model.
Once I started looking into it, I found a surprising array of repair options, ranging from specialized experts to a community of techies who offer free advice online.
Rapid Repair, for example, based in Kalamazoo, Mich., “tries to serve an underserved population,” by fixing game systems like Nintendo Wiis, PlayStations, Zune MP3 players, iPods and iPhones, said Aaron Vronko, service manager for Rapid Repair.
The company, which does not repair computers, was founded in 2004 and fields about 500 requests a week, Mr. Vronko said. In general, he advised, repairs make sense if they can be done for less than half the cost of a new item.
“If you have a $200 gadget and you can repair it for $80 or $90, the customers sees value in saving over $100,” he said. “There’s a certain feeling you get buying something new, but saving money is also good.”
Suppose, for example, that your 30-gigabyte iPod with video has some problems. If the device is still under warranty, you send it back to Apple. If the warranty has lapsed, you can still send it to Apple and it will cost $129 to repair or $59 for a new battery, which is often the problem.
At Rapid Repair, the highest repair cost would $90, but often runs less if the trouble is minor. The company also offers to replace batteries for $20.
“About half our customers buy the parts and do their repairs themselves,” Mr. Vronko said. He suggests, though, that once the item is about five years old, it’s probably not worth fixing.
What if the product is still under warranty, but something that isn’t covered breaks, and you want to get someone to fix it for less than the manufacturer will charge? You need to check if the repair company is authorized by the manufacturer. If it is, then typically the repair can be done and the warranty remains valid if other problems crop up.
Here is another option. Let’s say you have a technologically savvy friend who is willing to help you figure out your computer’s problem. But she lives in California and you live in London.
There are a variety of services and software that allow you to remotely control a computer. I checked out a company called CrossLoop, which offers two options. You can download software from the company’s Web site that allows you to remotely gain access to another computer system — either MacIntosh or Microsoft Windows — and diagnose the difficulty.
To protect security, said Mrinal Desai, co-founder of CrossLoop, each time you and your friend use the software, you must type in a randomly generated 12-digit code that is changed for each use. And both of you have to do it within two minutes.
Or, if you don’t have a friend willing or able to help, you can hire one of the 14,000 experts listed on CrossLoop’s site. They are posted with their experience, prices, customer ratings and where they are located — which can be anywhere in the world. CrossLoop takes 15 percent of the experts’ fees.
Mr. Desai says that his company does not vet the experts, but rather, like eBay, the online community weeds out the bad ones through reviews and ratings.
And if you like your expert, you can return to him again and again. “He becomes your I.T. guy,” Mr. Desai said.
Want an even broader base to draw on for repairing just about anything? Try FixYa.com. If you have a problem with your lawn mower, computer, toaster or car, you can tap for free into the 250,000 “enthusiasts,” as FixYa’s founder, Yaniv Bensadon, calls them.
And if one of the enthusiasts is especially helpful, and well, enthusiastic, that person can be promoted to premium expert. For $20 you can have a live chat with your expert; for $13, you can have a one-time e-mail exchange; or, if you have a lot of fixing to do, you can sign up for a $10 monthly unlimited e-mail exchange.
So, back to me and my failing computer. In the end, we decided that because the computer was five years old — with a sticky keyboard and a few other problems as well — we would opt for a new one.
I’m still getting used to it, so it’s nice to know that there’s a world of experts at my fingertips, just waiting to help.
For the last 30 years, the computer industry has bragged about its achievements. And when the industry was excited about a breakthrough, it expected — even demanded — that consumers get excited, too. But that less-than-symbiotic relationship may be coming to an end.
What the industry calls a “fact tag” has been evidence of its hubris.
The fact tag sits next to PCs at stores like Best Buy and Fry’s, bewildering one consumer after another. It trumpets things like DDR2 RAM, 5400 r.p.m. hard drives, Turion benchmark scores and the robust L2 cache sizes of Core 2 Duos.
Once cherished, the fact tag has turned into an object of scorn as PC makers finally reach a realization that many other industries discovered ages ago: the consumer is truly king.
“We have been stuck in 1995,” said Leslie Sobon, the vice president of product marketing at the chip maker Advanced Micro Devices. “We are basically the laggards.”
Over the last couple of years, the industry has made a slow lurch away from its engineering roots toward a more shopper-friendly strategy that recognizes that if you make your product simpler to understand, more people will buy it.
Intel, for example, has spent less time talking about its variety of chip brands and more time hawking products under its flagship Core brand.
“We were our own worst enemy, making it confusing about which chip is best for a computer,” said Deborah Conrad, the vice president of corporate marketing at Intel.
A.M.D., Intel’s main rival, took an even more drastic step on Thursday, announcing a new marketing program, in conjunction with retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, that emphasizes computer uses over specifications. The old tradition of flogging 220 different combinations of A.M.D. chips has been traded in and replaced with three categories of PCs: See, Share and Create systems (the designations roughly line up with “good,” better” and “best”). A.M.D.’s 40-page manual that explained its technical wizardry to salespeople has met its demise as well, replaced with a two-page pamphlet.
PC makers began to sniff a change in consumer sensibilities a couple of years ago and, often influenced by Apple, went on a quest to find their swagger. Dell, for example, placed a premium on design, wrapping computers in everything from brushed aluminum to bamboo sheaths. Hewlett-Packard hired the fashion designer Vivienne Tam to construct a multicolored, purselike laptop and put a slick piano-black finish on its main product line.
Computer makers have tried to make life easier by sidestepping Microsoft’s Windows and adding their own user interfaces. Many of these changes come less from a sense of largess than a sense of desperation.
While under attack from several fronts — including smartphones and the growth of online applications and services — the industry has also seen its usual safety net, the corporate market, dry up. Last year, for the first time, consumers bought more PCs than businesses did.
Meeting the needs of these newly empowered consumers meant that the PC industry had to come up with a new bag of sales tricks. The method of championing faster, bigger components did less for a group that found yesteryear’s machines adequate for most of its needs.
Now, many consumers desire a speedy Internet connection above all else. They are the people buying the underpowered, low-cost netbooks, providing the PC industry with its lone bright spot (though lower profit margins) during the recession.
Traditionally, PC makers relied on their software partners to build bulkier, more demanding applications that required new hardware. But that strategy has fallen apart. Consumers and businesses balked at Microsoft’s bloated Vista operating system, so the company’s upcoming Windows 7 software should actually require less horsepower and storage space to run well. The same goes for Apple’s new Snow Leopard operating system.
Intel has dabbled with what it called “use-model marketing,” where computers were aimed at people who wanted to play games or those who wanted entertainment like movies over the gearhead speak of a fact tag. Intel poured money into its Viiv concept, which centered on using computers for entertainment, only to find that it confused consumers who also wanted to use the machines to do work. Intel has since turned elsewhere for answers.
“We have been looking at the automotive industry,” said Ms. Conrad. “Computers have become an emotional purchase like cars. We’re getting very emotional with our marketing and advertising.”
And, like carmakers that spend ages fine-tuning the sound of a slammed door, Dell has focused on the touch and sound of its computers. This idea has even carried over to the company’s data-center hardware with replaceable components like fans, which no longer have to just work but must have aesthetic appeal as well.
“Things like the feel of a fan module coming out were the things really driving customer perceptions of our products,” said Ken Musgrave, Dell’s head of industrial design. “Was it rattling? Did it drag on the metal?”
Workers now also want their computers at work to look as good as their computers at home.
“Back in the olden days, you had a computer at work and that informed what you might buy at home and now that has switched,” Ms. Conrad said.
A number of companies have started to give employees a budget for their computers, allowing them to pick any machine they like. Typically, these workers will pack their computers with software for work and play like social networking or watching YouTube, blurring boundaries between the home and office.
And so the kingly consumer has started to change the business world as well.
“The Internet and all of these mobile devices have created this consumer expectation that they can and should have everything they want right now,” said John Jordan, the president of BusinesSuites, which provides staffed office space to businesses. “They bring those expectations into the office on Monday morning.”
Facebook Fights Virginia's Demand for User Data, Photos
The state of Virginia has backed away from its attempts to force Facebook to divulge the complete contents of a user's account to settle a dispute over workers' compensation, narrowly avoiding what promised to be a high-profile privacy battle in federal court.
On Monday, the Virginia's Workers Compensation Commission said it was no longer going to levy a $200-a-day fine on the social-networking site for refusing to comply with a subpoena from an airline that previously employed a flight attendant named Shana Hensley.
Facebook had objected to the June 4 subpoena from Colgan Air--the Manassas, Va.-based company that operates under the names United Express, US Airways Express, and Continental Connection--on privacy grounds. It said federal law prohibits divulging user data in response to a subpoena, and promised to "further litigate this issue by seeking, among other things, an injunction from the federal courts."
In principle, this isn't a novel concept: employers and insurance companies have long used private investigators to ferret out fraud and show that someone who claims to be a virtual cripple actually participates in waterskiing competitions.
Because social-networking sites offer such information-rich glimpses into a person's private life, insurers and employers have begun eyeing them. A personal injury lawyer in Elmira, N.Y., noted in July that an accident victim claiming to be severely injured was, thanks to Facebook, revealed to be playing in soccer games. An article last week in Business Insurance said that social-networking sites revealed exaggerated claims of injuries from a judo instructor, a bowler, and a rodeo bronco rider.
In the Colgan Air case, Facebook says it's happy that privacy rights prevailed. "We're pleased with the outcome and that our users' information will be protected," said Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt.
Colgan Air, which is owned by the publicly traded Pinnacle Airlines, initially paid Hensley's disability benefits that were related to a back injury while on the job (she was diagnosed with a herniated disc that did not want surgery). After about 18 months, however, Colgan Air claimed that Hensley was not cooperating with its efforts to find her a desk job and appears to have concluded that Hensley's holiday vacation photos posted on her Facebook account would demonstrate that any back problems were not severe.
The airline's June 4 subpoena from Virginia attorney Charles Midkiff demands "all documents, electronic or otherwise, related directly or indirectly, to all activities, writings, photos, comments, e-mails, and/or postings" on Hensley's Facebook account.
Six days later, Facebook responded, saying that the request must come from a California court, and that it was "overly broad" because the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) protects the privacy of user accounts. Midkiff, the airline's lawyer, replied by requesting a "contempt citation against Facebook" from the Virginia's Workers Compensation Commission.
Randolph Tabb, a deputy worker's compensation commissioner, granted it. On August 28, Tabb held Facebook in contempt for "a failure to comply" and ordered a $200-a-day fine "until such time as compliance is satisfied by the production of said documentation."
Facebook's response to Tabb sent last week says that "users such as Ms. Hensley rely on Facebook to protect their data and vigorously enforce the privacy decisions they make on Facebook." It adds: "Courts have interpreted the ECPA to prohibit services such as Facebook from producing a non-consenting subscriber's communications even when those communications are sought pursuant to a court order or subpoena."
Put another way: unless you change your mind, we'll see you in federal court.
It worked. Tabb backed down, reversing his previous ruling and fine, and claimed that Facebook should have made the full scope of its objections clear earlier.
James Szablewicz, Virginia's chief deputy worker's compensation commissioner, said in an interview on Monday that he didn't know of any other case involving Facebook that his colleagues have faced. "I think it's a pretty good chance that this is a case of first impression for us," he said.
Privacy advocates applauded Monday's decision, likening it to Google's mostly successful effort to fend off a subpoena from the Justice Department three years ago. Jim Dempsey, a vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said: "Too often, lawyers in civil cases are turning to service providers like Facebook, AOL, and Google with fishing requests. The law is clear--service providers cannot turn over content in civil cases."
Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the principles are similar to the one involving Apple Computer's efforts to unmask product leakers (the case is O'Grady v. Superior Court). "We were very glad to see that the rule of law we helped to establish in the O'Grady case is being used to ensure that Facebook content is not disclosed in violation of federal privacy statutes."
There's an ironic ending to this story. Julie Heiden, a Virginia personal injury lawyer representing the former flight attendant, Shana Hensley, said in an interview on Monday that the subpoena won't be necessary after all.
"We agreed to sign a release," Heiden said, meaning a document that authorizes Facebook to disclose the contents of Hensley's account to her former employer. "Shana has executed the release...She has nothing to hide."
Update 9/15/2009: Colgan Air spokesman Joe Williams says: "As you might expect, we do not comment on pending litigation."
Voice Chat Coming to Facebook
Look out, Facebook users: Here comes voice chat.
Sometime in the next few weeks, the social network's tens of millions of users will begin to be able to have high-quality voice conversations, even as its third-party developers are able to start including voice in their applications.
The new technology is not being offered by Facebook itself, however. Instead, it's from Vivox, a Boston-based company that provides the integrated voice service for virtual worlds like Second Life and EVE Online, and which already has more than 15 million users worldwide.
The service, which is currently in closed beta, will allow Facebook users to have high-fidelity conversations with anyone on their friends list. Each user, however, will have to download Vivox's plug-in. But once installed, the service works almost seamlessly with Facebook, and is intended for everything from one-to-one chat to large group discussions.
Further, even non-Facebook users will be able to participate, as Vivox plans to offer free dial-in numbers that will allow anyone to call into an existing conversation, much as is possible today with call-in phone conferences.
Perhaps more importantly, according to Vivox co-founder Monty Sharma, the company is making its technology available to any third-party Facebook application developer, meaning that almost any app, from games to utilities, can have a voice component.
For now, it's not clear how many of Facebook's users will choose to adopt Vivox's technology, and for the time being, at least, Facebook is not involved in any way in promoting the new service. But while some people may decide that they don't want to use a tool that requires a plug-in, many others may well find that it's worth the trouble in order to be able to easily start a conversation that rivals, or even betters, phone call quality.
One person who may be an early adopter is Charlene Li, a well-known social media consultant, and the co-author of the book Groundswell.
"I would (use voice service on Facebook)," Li said, "because I see it as a continuum of communications with the people I want to stay in touch with."
Another social media expert, Gnomedex organizer Chris Pirillo, was even more effusive about the potential for a full-fledged Facebook voice chart system.
"It is about time," Pirillo said. "I guarantee you this is going to bite into Skype."
For Pirillo, the Vivox system will provide a valuable incentive for Facebook users to streamline their friends lists since it's likely that they won't want to be getting voice chat invites from people they've friended but might know only peripherally.
"When these tools come about," Pirillo said, "it becomes less valuable (to have too many friends) and actually promotes a cleaner ecosystem."
Great for retailers
To Li, giving third-party Facebook developers the ability to integrate voice chat into their applications may mean a big victory for retailers. She pointed out that a company like Overstock.com may find it extremely valuable to put out a Facebook app with voice built-in--without having to build the voice system themselves--because it would give people a way to quickly and easily chat with their friends about products they see.
"Retailers don't have to put in chat themselves," Li said. "They can just put in Facebook chat. That's where it starts getting very interesting."
And to Pirillo, the ability for Facebook friends to have a voice chat during, say, a game of Scrabble, is a very "smart" innovation that means users can streamline the number of different tools they're running simultaneously.
To be sure, Vivox's offering is not the first to make voice possible for Facebook users, though it may well be the most seamless.
Other options have included Equals' Party Line, which offers group chat for up to five people, and, of course, a work-around like Skype.
Vivox argues that its technology rises above anything else available today because of its scope and scalability. For one, the Vivox system has been proven on services like Second Life and EVE Online--and is about to be built into a series of online Electronic Arts games, beginning with Command & Conquer 4 Tiberian Twilight--and has been shown to support thousands of simultaneous users on a single channel. Further, the company said that because it already has more than 15 million users, it doesn't anticipate any problems handling the flood of new users that could come when the Facebook system is rolled out.
But while experts like Li and Pirillo think that voice chat is a natural extension for Facebook, there are some who feel that the technology make take some time to catch on in certain segments of the Facebook ecosystem, particularly one of the most popular, social games.
There are millions of people who play social games from developers like Zynga, Playfish, and others, and together the segment makes up one of the largest on the social network. But because social gaming is largely asynchronous--meaning users don't have to be online at the same time to enjoy playing games against each other--voice chat may not present as much utility.
"For social games, I don't see a strong need for (voice chat) yet," said Siqi Chen, the CEO of Social Business, a leading Facebook social games developer. "I do see a shift for more synchronous game play over time, but it hasn't really been happening for most games."
In part, Chen said, that's because among friends who like to play games together, it's fairly uncommon to be online at the same time. In addition, social games are built around short play sessions.
But he allowed that over time, as people spend more and more time on Facebook, there may well be an opportunity for social game developers to launch more engaging games that are built around longer session times, and which might work well with voice chat.
At Vivox, no one is expecting that tens of millions of users will immediately start using its voice chat technology. But the company is aware that it will likely see a significant spike in usage, and is ready to handle it when it comes, said co-founder Sharma.
And Sharma suggested that while it may be too early to know exactly how the company will monetize its Facebook integration, there are some obvious opportunities in microtransactions and audio ads that users would hear before being put into a voice channel.
For now, it's also too early to tell just how much of a game-changer any new voice chat system will be. But based on Vivox's track record, it is certainly one of the few companies well-positioned to jump headlong into a community as large as that of Facebook.
And to Pirillo, adding a seamless voice chat system is a natural, and just one step on the path toward where we may well be going in the near future: fully functional video chatting across the entire social network.
"Is it revolutionary? No," Pirillo said of Vivox's offering. "Is it evolutionary? Absolutely."
Facebook Makes Money, Tops 300 Million Users
Facebook is making enough money to cover its costs and now has 300 million users, the world's largest social networking site said on Tuesday, proving the Internet's newest star industry can be a viable business.
Facebook is now generating enough cash to cover its operating expenses, as well as the capital spending needed to maintain its fast-growing service.
Analysts said this shows the financial viability of Facebook, which has faced questions about its underlying business model, despite its popularity, and was a good sign for a potential initial public offering.
"It's certainly meaningful to show that this is absolutely the real deal," said Broadpoint Amtech analyst Ben Schachter. "They are executing. People are spending money on the site."
Since its creation in a Harvard dorm room five years ago, Facebook has emerged as one of the Internet's most popular destinations and is increasingly challenging the Web's established powerhouses like Yahoo Inc and Google Inc.
Facebook unveiled a revamped search engine last month and is currently testing an online payment system. Facebook users have tripled from about 100 million a year ago.
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post on the company site on Tuesday that Facebook reached its goal of being free cash flow positive in its most recently ended quarter. The company had previously projected reaching the target sometime in 2010.
"This is important to us because it sets Facebook up to be a strong independent service for the long term," said Zuckerberg in the blog post.
Facebook spokesperson Larry Yu said the free cash flow metric does not include any cash from private investment.
In May, Facebook announced a $200 million investment from Russian investment firm Digital Sky Technologies in a deal that valued the company's preferred shares at $10 billion.
DST valued Facebook's common shares at $6.5 billion in a subsequent deal to purchase shares from Facebook employees.
Facebook's becoming cash flow positive ahead of schedule provides another nugget of data to back up the lofty valuations, and according to one analyst, makes Facebook a more attractive candidate for a potential public offering.
"They can command higher confidence from investors now," said Collins Stewart analyst Sandeep Aggarwal, who noted that he believes Facebook could go public in the second half of 2010, or in 2011.
Zuckerberg said in May that any IPO is "a few years out."
Facebook did not provide any other financial details on Tuesday. The company has previously said its revenue was on track to grow 70 percent this year.
Facebook board member Mark Andreesen told Reuters earlier this year that the company will surpass $500 million in revenue this year.
Zuckerberg said in his post that the company is exploring ways to make the service perform faster and more efficiently as the number of Facebook users continues to grow.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Gary Hill, Richard Chang and Bernard Orr)
Swedish Changing Rooms Equipped with Cameras for Fashion Bloggers
Blogging about fashion has become so popular in Sweden that a Stockholm department store has announced plans to open up dressing rooms especially designed for web-savvy fashionistas.
Advertising company Ruth and department store Kfem in the Stockholm suburb of Vällingby have together developed the idea of digital dressing rooms where shoppers will be able to have their pictures taken and available to be posted online straight away.
By the end of September, fifteen departments in Kfem should have the new changing rooms installed.
"Our aim is to catch up on different trends. The bloggers have a huge impact in Sweden these days, so it was an obvious thing to push through," Andreas Petterson, Kfem's marketing manager, told The Local.
Fashion blogger Michaela Forni of Stureplan.se thinks installing dressing room webcams is a great idea.
"It's fantastic. I had some friends who went to the launch of it and they really liked it. Hopefully this will spread to stores all across Sweden," she said.
Each week the store intends hosting an 'Outfit of the week' campaign, where bloggers can agree to have their pictures used to advertise the clothes in Swedish newspapers.
The models will not get paid for the adverts, but Petterson stressed that cheap advertising is not the reason for installing the new web-ready dressing rooms.
"Certainly it's very cheap for us, but we are doing this for the fashion bloggers, who probably will get excited to see themselves in the papers," he said.
Forni said she would not mind having her images used for advertising purposes.
"If they asked me I would probably say yes, if the picture was good," she said.
Will this mean longer dressing room queues for people who don't blog?
"No," said Petterson.
"There will just be one special dressing room in each department, and each store will make sure it won't affect anyone else."
Exploring New Routes to the Indies
Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott
SUMMER is Hollywood’s silly season, but it’s also when the big studios dominate chatter and screens with blockbuster blowouts like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Fall, on the other hand, is the industry’s serious season, when the studios trot out the kind of aesthetically ambitious, modestly priced work that dominates Top 10 lists and tends to clean up at the Oscars.
In the last two years, however, several studios have shut down or absorbed the specialty divisions that provided them with some of their most critically praised titles, films like “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “There Will Be Blood.” Financing has dried up as the economy has gone sour, and even well-regarded films have struggled to turn a profit. All of which makes us wonder if these types of serious, middle-size movies will become an endangered species.
Yet even as the ranks of studio divisions have thinned, the movies have kept coming. In the past few years the critics at The New York Times have reviewed more than 600 movies annually, sometimes 20 in a given week, a trend showing few signs of reversal. And it isn’t just big studio releases that are bringing people into theaters: business is also brisk at boutique theaters like the IFC Center in Greenwich Village. And buying a ticket to stare at a screen in a room full of strangers is, of course, no longer the only way to see a movie. Distribution innovations, like video on demand (VOD), which can allow you to watch movies on your TV the same day they open in theaters, have ushered in a new age of spectatorship.
Is all this plenty a good thing? Subtitles and Paul Thomas Anderson’s widescreen compositions don’t look good on a cellphone, and the aesthetic and economic consequences of these new ways of watching are not yet apparent. Is the audience for thoughtful, challenging, adventurous cinema growing, disappearing or dispersing into ever-smaller niches? Will moviegoing, which survived broadcast television and the VCR, continue in the age of the smartphone and the DVR? Will there be more movies or fewer? Will they get better or worse? Next year the Academy Awards will include 10 nominees for best picture. Will the studios fill those slots with “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”? Or is there room for a gem like “Goodbye Solo”?
We will be grappling with these questions in the months to come. To get the conversation started — and to help clear our heads after a summer of hangovers, Transformers and inglorious so-and-sos — we assembled, via e-mail, a virtual roundtable of experts. Seven distributors, some longtime players in independent film, others relative newcomers, were invited to shed some light on the state of the industry. We anticipated a lot of gloom and anxiety, so we were pleasantly surprised to find a healthy dose of optimism not only about their own bottom-line interests, but also the continued vitality of the art and its audience. Here is an edited version of what they had to say.
Independent film is dead (again)! Long live independent film!
JONATHAN SEHRING, IFC ENTERTAINMENT The rise and most recent demise of studio specialty divisions has come about because of size, ego, envy and hubris. Corporations bought the studios and a different set of economics came into play.
HOWARD COHEN, ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS When Miramax was a pioneer for this type and budget of film in the ’90s, the DVD gravy train of the time made them profitable. Now, they lose money more often than not. (“There Will Be Blood” reportedly helped sink Paramount Vantage.) Now the only significant upside is Oscars, and in tough economic times that just isn’t enough.
BOB BERNEY, APPARITION Although there will probably be fewer of these ambitious films in the immediate period, they will not disappear. It will be interesting to see if some of these same studios decide to return to the mid-level, auteur films in a few years, starting these divisions all over again. It’s a cycle that has been repeated several times.
MR. COHEN True American indies have always had their ups and downs, but I would agree we’re going through a fallow period where it’s hard to get people to see them in theaters. Part of it is that the heavyweight casting and heavy TV marketing used on the more “midlevel” American films, such as “There Will Be Blood,” have conditioned the audience in a bad way and made it harder on excellent small films like “Wendy and Lucy” and “Sugar.” They look puny by comparison without all the ad dollars, and fewer people see them, and they are gone from theaters quickly. But there are always surprise performers like “The Visitor.”
Coming soon to a theater near you ...
MR. COHEN Aesthetically, I don’t think anything will ever replace a 40-foot screen and a shared audience experience. My confidence in that keeps me in the theatrical game. I hope there will always be people in our society who can afford that luxury.
MICHAEL BARKER, SONY PICTURES CLASSICS When I started in this business over 29 years ago, there was no home entertainment to speak of and rarely, if ever, did television play independent or foreign language films. Former porno houses and bowling alleys became art theaters, and the major circuits never played an independent film of any kind. Yes, independent films always opened and did well in New York City, but quite often these films didn’t go to many places west of the Hudson River. Today we have major independent theater circuits (Landmark Theaters, Angelika theaters, the newer digital Emerging Cinemas) that have an insatiable appetite for independent films.
ADAM YAUCH, OSCILLOSCOPE LABORATORIES People still want to go out to the movies on a date, or as an outing with friends, and hands down it is still the best way to experience a film. There is something to be said for the whole experience, even buying a ticket, queing up, finding your seat, the energy of an audience when they laugh or feel emotion, not to mention a big screen, a powerful sound system, a dark room, and the film playing from beginning to end without being paused to answer the door or the phone. The whole experience of going to the movies can’t really be compared with watching something on your TV or phone. People have not stopped going to concerts even when they can listen to a band’s CD.
... Or to a laptop or plasma screen or cellphone.
MR. SEHRING New platforms like VOD and streaming over the Web have democratized the specialized business, taking the opening of a movie like Spike Lee’s “Passing Strange” out of the exclusive domain of New York City filmgoers and making it available to audiences around the country at the same time. These new platforms are enabling more filmmakers to connect with audiences they would never have reached before. In many cases new home-theater systems (and even some large-screen computer monitors) are a better viewing experience than some of the older art houses around the country.
MR. BARKER There is a huge appetite for content out there in a current marketplace that has so many formats and platforms: Theatrical (35-millimeter, digital, 3-D), DVD, Blu-ray, pay TV, cable TV, pay per view, iTunes, Internet feeding new electronic devices, Crackle, pay download sites, iPods, new satellite networks, the Playstation network, the Xbox network, etc., etc.
MR. SEHRING There is no question that subtitles don’t look great on a cellphone, but I have heard Steven Soderbergh say many times that he doesn’t care how someone sees one of his films, what he wants most is for audiences to see his films, and if that means delivering them to film lovers on iPods or laptops then so be it.
STEPHEN GILULA, FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES How the films are accessed, whether through Netflix, one of the other mail systems, VOD or downloads is not the primary issue. Creating awareness of a film, marketing it and making it an event, is the key to success in capturing attention and getting people to take a chance and commit time to it. With the seemingly limitless number of films now available, it appears that most people watch films they already know about. VOD and downloading are already significant sources of revenue for successful films. It is the smaller, lesser known films that still struggle to find an audience anywhere — theaters, DVDs VOD, cable or downloads.
MR. YAUCH I think that VOD, streaming and/or downloading will soon replace the rental market. And buying DVDs will just be for serious collectors, or when someone really loves a film. DVD sales are becoming more like people who collect vinyl records.
MR. COHEN Something to remember, though, is that some of the excellent writing, directing and acting talent from those “midlevel” films has shifted to TV — i.e., “Mad Men,” “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under.” If the VOD offering isn’t better than those great series, or isn’t following some significant zeitgeist from the theatrical release, what’s going to make people watch it in this format?
So many movies, so little time.
MR. BERNEY There has been a glut of films, many of which probably shouldn’t have been made or released. Plenty of cash and willing investors wanting to play in the film business made it difficult for the stronger films to have the time to breathe and let word of mouth take them to their full potential. It wasn’t healthy at all.
MR. SEHRING The one comment from my colleagues that drives me nuts is that there are “too many movies.” If one looks at specialized film as “art,” it is the only art form I can think where people who work within the industry say there are “too many” of. I never hear anyone in the music industry say there are too many songs, no one in publishing says there are too many books, no gallery or museum says there are too many paintings, no one in fashion says there are too many designers — why too many movies? When my colleagues say this it sounds like the anti-immigration, protectionist rhetoric from the far right.
MR. GILULA The oversupply of films has been a critical factor in the difficulties encountered by smaller independent American and foreign-language films. There is a huge imbalance in the market for movies. There are simply many more films being made than the public can possibly watch. Distributors don’t determine the supply. A flood of money funding independent production, along with the development of inexpensive high-quality cameras and production equipment, have made it easier than ever to produce films. The barriers to production have never been lower.
And with the breakout “crossover” successes going all the way back to “sex, lies, and videotape,” investors and filmmakers became prospectors and wildcatters, not for gold or oil but for fame, glory and careers. The huge financial returns on a tiny number of films out of the thousands and thousands of independent films made over the past few decades have blinded many people to the realities of how difficult it is to recoup investments and actually make money in the movie business. But the glamour of the movies, and the chance of going to Sundance and/or the Oscars has created an irresistible urge for many people to take out their checkbooks.
ED ARENTZ, MUSIC BOX FILMS There does seem to some relief in sight as one of the happy effects of the recession is that there will be less money for ill-considered U.S. independent productions, and the studios seem intent on producing fewer but bigger budgeted movies. Still the unnecessary theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles will continue largely due to the vanity of the film’s makers. Producers either insist contractually that their film will open in these cities prior to DVD, VOD and TV or now more commonly go the “service deal” route, where a distribution company is hired to release their film.
The Golden Age is now.
MR. ARENTZ With the risk of sounding Panglossian, there are actually more cinemas in the U.S. dedicated fully or at least open to showing off-Hollywood and foreign-language films than ever before. Certainly the age demographics of the art-house audience are a cause for concern but there are enough countervailing tendencies to give cause for optimism. World trade applies to culture as well, which suggests Americans, or at least a certain segment of the population, will increasingly have an international and interdependent outlook. This group will invariably be drawn to well-chosen foreign-language films. On the supply side there are simply too many good international filmmakers for there not to be a future for foreign-language films in the U.S.
MR. GILULA The Bergman-Fellini-Truffaut generation has already moved on to a wide range of movies. The younger generation is selectively embracing alternative film, but mostly English-language American independent films.
MR. COHEN The past tends to cast a fake rosy glow, at least in terms of foreign-language film. Did more people go to see “The 400 Blows” and “The Virgin Spring” when they were first theatrically released than went to see “Gomorrah,” “Persepolis,” “Let the Right One In” or “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” in the last couple of years? Doubt it.
MR. SEHRING There are great filmmakers making movies all over the world. Economically not all may warrant a theatrical release but there is definitely a substantial (and growing) audience in this country for great movies from all over.
MR. BARKER What happens when the Bergman generation is gone? You will have the Almodóvar and P. T. Anderson generation. And it’s growing every year.
MR. YAUCH There are creative people out there who are driven, who are going to find some way to make their film no matter what. The fact that there is less financing out there will just make people get more creative about how to get it done, and thus it may weed out some of the people who are in it for the wrong reasons.
I hope it means better movies.
Music Publishers: iTunes Not Paying Fair Share
Songwriters, composers, and music publishers are making preparations to one day collect performance fees from Apple and other e-tailers for not just traditional music downloads but for downloads of films and TV shows as well. Those downloads contain music after all.
These groups even want compensation for iTunes' 30-second song samples.
At a time when many iTunes shoppers are still fuming over Apple's first-ever increase in song prices, the demands by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), and other performing-rights groups, would likely lead to more price hikes at iTunes. For many, this would also undoubtedly confirm their perception that those overseeing the music industry are greedy.
For those reasons, composers and songwriters will struggle to sell their case to the public. But these royalty-collection groups say they're at the bottom of the music-sector food chain and aren't trying to gouge anyone. They say their livelihoods are threatened and wonder why movie studios, big recording companies, TV networks, and online retailers are allowed to profit from their work but they aren't.
"We make 9.1 cents off a song sale and that means a whole lot of pennies have to add up before it becomes a bunch of money," said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters' Guild of America. "Yesterday, I received a check for 2 cents. I'm not kidding. People think we're making a fortune off the Web, but it's a tiny amount. We need multiple revenue streams or this isn't going to work."
An Apple spokesman declined to comment.
ASCAP and BMI have their sights set on collecting fees from three main areas: downloads of music; downloads of films and TV shows, and 30-second song samples.
In case you don't know the lingo of music licensing, here are some important definitions. When music is performed in public, say at radio stations, restaurants, or sports stadiums, groups such as ASCAP and BMI collect fees and pass it on to composers and songwriters. This is different than a "mechanical" licensing fee, which is paid for the right to record or distribute a song (ASCAP and BMI don't collect mechanical fees).
"In the U.S. while we do get paid a mechanical (licensing fee) from ITunes, we are not getting any performance income from Apple yet," David Renzer, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, said in interview late last month with entertainment-industry publication, Encore. "(On iTunes) you can stream radio, and you can preview (tracks), things that we should be getting paid performance income for.
"Also, if you download a film or TV show," Renzer continued, "there's no performance (payment) and typically there's no mechanical (payment) either."
Taking their case to Congress
Apparently, the music industry can't obtain the fees through negotiations. They have begun lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would require anyone who sells a download to pay a performance fee, according to David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers Association.
"If you watch a TV show on broadcast, cable or satellite TV there is a performance fee collected," Israelite said. "But if that same TV show is downloaded over iTunes, there's not. We're arguing that the law needs to be clarified that regardless of the method by which a consumer watches the show there is a performance right."
Israelite acknowledges that the legislative efforts to this point have produced little. And they won't produce a thing if Jonathan Potter gets his way.
Potter is executive director of the Digital Media Association (DiMA), a trade group that represents Web music services and media companies, such as RealNetworks, Pandora, and Apple.
He stresses two points.
First, publishers, composers and songwriters do get paid for music inserted into TV shows and movies. A production company must pay a "synchronization" fee for the right to include a song in any show or film. Then, once the show airs or the film is screened, the music guys will require a separate payment from TV networks or studios for performing the music publicly. Israelite confirmed this.
Critics argue this is double dipping.
Israelite makes no apologies. He says that synchronization and performance fees cover very different rights. To illustrate the point, he says not all composers receive money from TV and films. Say, for example, a TV show licenses a popular tune from singer Aimee Mann or the rock band The Fray. Those acts would likely be paid both sync and performance fees. But the person who writes the little-known background music heard during a fight scene may not see any sync money. That's because traditionally, composers of this kind of production music gave away sync rights in the hope they would make money from performance fees.
"This is really a fight about the future," Israelite said. "As more and more people watch TV or movies over an Internet line as opposed to cable or broadcast signal, then we're going to lose the income of the performance. For people who do production and background music, that's how they make their living."
"They aren't getting paid for the public performance in a download because there is no public performance in a download."
--Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association
Potter says he is very sorry for those people. But if their income is drying up--this was the second major point he wanted to make--their troubles are not the fault of iTunes, Amazon, or consumers.
"These guys are afraid that the business model is shifting away from public performances to a model of private performances," Potter said. "This is a turf battle. They are saying, 'The songwriters aren't getting paid.' Baloney. Songwriters are getting paid. They're paid sync rights and (mechanical) rights. They aren't getting paid for the public performance in a download because there is no public performance in a download."
Downloading count as a performance?
Whether downloading a song from the Web should be considered a performance is much contested. So far, the courts have sided with digital media companies.
In 2005, ASCAP entered into a rate-court proceeding to set licensing fees for the music services of Yahoo, AOL, and RealNetworks. A U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York delivered a blow to composers and songwriters by ruling that downloading music from a Web store was not a music performance. On the other hand, the judge found that streaming music was subject to a performance fee.
"The songwriter gets a performance fee if the song is streamed without the video," Carnes noted. "But if it is downloaded within an audio-visual work like a movie we don't get a performance fee--same song, no money."
ASCAP has appealed the decision and arguments in the case will be heard later this year.
Of all of the efforts to collect performing-rights fees, few will likely be more controversial than trying to charge for 30-second samples. These are the previews iTunes offers so users can test drive a song and hear what they're buying. According to sources close to the company, iTunes has acquired licenses to offer the previews but hasn't paid anything for them. According to Renzer's comments, music publishers want that to change.
Potter from DiMA argues that copyright law protects Apple and music stores from being charged performance fees for in-store sampling.
"They are picking on Apple because they say Apple is making a bundle of money," Potter said. "But these companies should be thrilled that Apple and the other services are selling music and generating millions, maybe tens of millions, in royalties."
The Beatles Turn U.S. Charts Back to 1960s
The Beatles boasted some of the best-selling albums on the U.S. pop chart on Wednesday after nostalgic fans scooped up the Fab Four's much-hyped reissues.
In all, the Beatles sold 626,000 albums during the week ended September 13, according to tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan. Until last week, they had sold 635,000 copies this year, a low tally by their standards as buyers held out until the 09-09-09 release date.
Their best-seller last week was 1969's "Abbey Road," which moved 89,000 copies, making it the third-most-popular album in the United States. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band," the 1967 release that often tops lists of the greatest albums of all time, was No. 5 overall with 74,000 copies.
But don't look for either album to appear on the benchmark Billboard 200 chart, which generally ranks only those albums released in the last 18 months -- not catalog items.
On Billboard's Top Catalog Album Chart, the Beatles claimed 15 of the top 18 places with their 13 studio albums, the "Past Masters" compilation reissue and the 2000 "1" compilation. Michael Jackson was at No. 6, No. 15 and No. 16.
Behind "Abbey Road" and "Sgt. Pepper's" were "The Beatles" with 60,000, "Rubber Soul" with 58,000, and "Revolver" with 46,000. All were among the 10 biggest albums in the United States. The least-popular Beatles reissue was "Yellow Submarine" with 14,000 copies.
The Billboard 200 was led by rapper Jay-Z, who sold 476,000 copies of "The Blueprint 3," his fifth No. 1 album. The only other act to reach the top more times is the Beatles with 19.
Disney starlet Miley Cyrus was No. 2 after selling 120,000 of "The Time of Our Lives" in its third week of release.
The Beatles managed to log two new entries on the Billboard 200 -- the boxed sets containing all their albums. The new packages were offered in stereo and mono configurations, stirring up an intense debate about which one was better.
Consumers cast their votes for the stereo version, which sold 26,000 copies and landed at No. 15. The mono version, preferred by purists, ranked at No. 40 with 12,000 copies. Each boxed set counts as one unit.
The stereo version has 13 CDs plus "Past Masters," while the mono version omits "Yellow Submarine," "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be," which were recorded in stereo.
The Beatles albums were released in the United States by Capitol Records, a unit of private-equity partnership Terra Firma's EMI Group Ltd.
(Reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
People who died
Jim Carroll, Poet and Punk Rocker, Is Dead at 60
Jim Carroll, the poet and punk rocker in the outlaw tradition of Rimbaud and Burroughs who chronicled his wild youth in “The Basketball Diaries,” died Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 60.
The cause was a heart attack, said Rosemary Carroll, his former wife.
As a teenage basketball star in the 1960s at Trinity, an elite private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Mr. Carroll led a chaotic life that combined sports, drugs and poetry. This highly unusual combination lent a lurid appeal to “The Basketball Diaries,” the journal he kept during high school and published in 1978, by which time his poetry had already won him a cult reputation as the new Bob Dylan.
“Today was my first Biddy League game and my first day in any organized basketball league,” the diaries began, innocently. “I’m enthused about life due to this exciting event.”
By the end of the book, Mr. Carroll was a heroin addict who supported his habit by hustling in Times Square. “Totally zonked, and all the dope scraped or sniffed clean from the tiny cellophane bags,” the final entry read, continuing, “I can see the Cloisters with its million in medieval art out the bedroom window. I got to go in and puke. I just want to be pure.”
“Basketball Diaries,” republished in a revised version in 1980, became enormously popular, especially on college campuses. In the film adaptation, released in 1995, Leonardo DiCaprio played the part of Mr. Carroll
The writer’s good looks and flair for drama made him ideal raw material for rock stardom. “When I was about 9 years old, man, I realized that the real thing was not only to do what you were doing totally great, but to look totally great while you were doing it,” he told the poet Ted Berrigan in the 1960s. In the late 1970s, with the encouragement of Patti Smith, he formed a musical group, the Jim Carroll Band, whose first release, “Catholic Boy” (1980), is sometimes called the last great punk album.
James Dennis Carroll, the son of a bar owner, spent his childhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where he attended Roman Catholic schools. After the family moved to Inwood, at the northern end of Manhattan, he won a basketball scholarship to Trinity. There he discovered a love of writing and began spending time at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in the East Village, falling under the spell of Allen Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara.
Still in his teens, he published a limited-edition pamphlet of his poems, “Organic Trains” (1967), which, with its successor, “4 Ups and 1 Down” (1970), won him a cult following that was enhanced when The Paris Review published excerpts from his journals in 1970. “Living at the Movies” (1973), issued by a mainstream publisher, won him both acclaim and a wider audience.
His life was colorful. Hailed by Ginsberg, Berrigan and Jack Kerouac as a powerful new poetic voice, he became a fixture on the downtown scene. After briefly attending Wagner College on Staten Island and Columbia University, he found his way to Andy Warhol’s Factory, where he contributed dialogue for Warhol’s films. Later he worked as a studio assistant for the painter Larry Rivers and lived with Ms. Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer. He chronicled this frenetic period in “Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries, 1971-1973.”
In 1973 Mr. Carroll left New York to escape drugs. He settled in Bolinas, an artistic community north of San Francisco, where met and married Rosemary Klemfuss in 1978. The marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by a brother, Tom.
Mr. Carroll’s music career started by accident, when Ms. Smith, during a West Coast tour, brought him onstage to declaim his poetry with her band providing background. Encouraged by the response, Mr. Carroll formed his own band, which caught the attention of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who arranged a three-record deal with Atlantic Records.
The critic Stephen Holden described Mr. Carroll in The New York Times in 1982 as “not so much a singer as an incantatory rock-and-roll poet.” Like Lou Reed, he had a mesmerizing power, evident on songs like “People Who Died,” from “Catholic Boy,” a poetic litany of Mr. Carroll’s dead friends that became a hit on college radio stations and part of the soundtrack for “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.”
The group’s next two albums, “Dry Dreams” (1982) and “I Write Your Name” (1984), caused much less stir. After writing lyrics for Blue Oyster Cult and Boz Skaggs, Mr. Carroll returned to the studio in 1998 to record “Pools of Mercury.”
Mr. Carroll published several more poetry collections: “The Book of Nods” (1986), “Fear of Dreaming” (1993) and “Void of Course: Poems 1994-1997” (1998), as well as several spoken-word albums.
Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary Dies at 72
Mary Travers, whose ringing, earnest vocals with the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary made songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” enduring anthems of the 1960s protest movement, died on Wednesday at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. She was 72 and lived in Redding, Conn.
The cause was complications from chemotherapy for a bone-marrow transplant she had several years ago after developing leukemia, said Heather Lylis, a spokeswoman.
Ms. Travers brought a powerful voice and an unfeigned urgency to music that resonated with mainstream listeners. With her straight blond hair and willowy figure and two bearded guitar players by her side, she looked exactly like what she was, a Greenwich Villager directly from the clubs and the coffeehouses that nourished the folk-music revival.
“She was obviously the sex appeal of that group, and that group was the sex appeal of the movement,” said Elijah Wald, a folk-blues musician and a historian of popular music.
Ms. Travers’s voice blended seamlessly with those of her colleagues, Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, to create a rich three-part harmony that propelled the group to the top of the pop charts. Their first album, “Peter, Paul and Mary,” which featured the hit singles “Lemon Tree” and “If I Had a Hammer,” reached No. 1 shortly after its release in March 1962 and stayed there for seven weeks, eventually selling more than two million copies.
The group’s interpretations of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” translated his raw vocal style into a smooth, more commercially acceptable sound. The singers also scored big hits with pleasing songs like the whimsical “Puff the Magic Dragon” and John Denver’s plaintive “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”
Their sound may have been commercial and safe, but early on their politics were somewhat risky for a group courting a mass audience. Like Mr. Yarrow and Mr. Stookey, Ms. Travers was outspoken in her support for the civil-rights and antiwar movements, in sharp contrast to clean-cut folk groups like the Kingston Trio, which avoided making political statements.
Peter, Paul and Mary went on to perform at the 1963 March on Washington and joined the voting-rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.
Over the years they performed frequently at political rallies and demonstrations in the United States and abroad. After the group disbanded, in 1970, Ms. Travers continued to perform at political events around the world as she pursued a solo career.
“They made folk music not just palatable but accessible to a mass audience,” David Hajdu, the author of “Positively Fourth Street,” a book about Mr. Dylan, Joan Baez and their circle, said in an interview. Ms. Travers, he added, was crucial to the group’s image, which had a lot to do with its appeal. “She had a kind of sexual confidence combined with intelligence, edginess and social consciousness — a potent combination,” he said. “If you look at clips of their performances, the camera fixates on her. The act was all about Mary.”
Mr. Yarrow, in a statement on Wednesday, described Ms. Travers’s singing style as an expression of her character: “honest and completely authentic.”
Mr. Stookey, in an accompanying statement, wrote that “her charisma was a barely contained nervous energy — occasionally (and then only privately) revealed as stage fright.”
Mary Allin Travers was born on Nov. 9, 1936, in Louisville, Ky. When she was 2 her parents, both writers, moved to New York. Almost unique among the folk musicians who emerged from the Greenwich Village scene in the early 1960s, Ms. Travers actually came from the neighborhood. She attended progressive private schools there, studied singing with the music teacher Charity Bailey while still in kindergarten and became part of the folk-music revival as it took shape around her.
“I was raised on Josh White, the Weavers and Pete Seeger,” Ms. Travers told The New York Times in 1994. “The music was everywhere. You’d go to a party at somebody’s apartment and there would be 50 people there, singing well into the night.”
While at Elisabeth Irwin High School, she joined the Song Swappers, which sang backup for Mr. Seeger when the Folkways label reissued a collection of union songs under the title “Talking Union” in 1955. The Song Swappers made three more albums for Folkways that year, all featuring Mr. Seeger to some degree.
Ms. Travers had no plans to sing professionally. Folk singing, she later said, had been a hobby. At New York clubs friends like Fred Hellerman of the Weavers and Theodore Bikel would coax her onstage to sing, but her extreme shyness made performing difficult. In 1958 she appeared in the chorus and sang one solo number in Mort Sahl’s short-lived Broadway show “The Next President,” but as the ’60s dawned she found herself at loose ends.
By chance, Albert Grossman, who managed a struggling folk singer named Peter Yarrow and would later take on Mr. Dylan as a client, was intent on creating an updated version of the Weavers for the baby-boom generation. He envisioned two men and a woman with the crossover appeal of the Kingston Trio. Mr. Yarrow, talking to Grossman in the Folklore Center in Greenwich Village, noticed Ms. Travers’s photograph on the wall and asked who she was. “That’s Mary Travers,” Grossman said. “She’d be good if you could get her to work.”
Mr. Yarrow went to Ms. Travers’s apartment on Macdougal Street, across from the Gaslight, one of the principal folk clubs. They harmonized on “Miner’s Lifeguard,” a union song, and decided that their voices blended. To fill out the trio, Ms. Travers suggested Noel Stookey, a friend doing folk music and stand-up comedy at the Gaslight.
After rehearsing for seven months, with the producer and arranger Milt Okun coaching them, Peter, Paul and Mary — Mr. Stookey adopted his middle name, Paul, because it sounded better — began performing in 1961 at Folk City and the Bitter End. The next year they released their first album.
Virtually overnight Peter, Paul and Mary became one of the most popular folk-music groups in the world. The albums “Moving” and “In the Wind,” both released in 1963, rose to the top of the charts and stayed there for months. In concert the group’s direct, emotional style of performance lifted audiences to their feet to deliver rapturous ovations.
Ms. Travers, onstage, drew all eyes as she shook her hair, bobbed her head in time to the music and clenched a fist when the lyrics took a dramatic turn. On instructions from Grossman, who wanted her to retain an air of mystery, she never spoke. The live double album “In Concert” (1964) captures the fervor of their performances.
On television the group’s mildly bohemian look — Ms. Travers favored beatnik clothing and Mr. Yarrow and Mr. Stookey had mustaches and goatees — gave mainstream audiences their first glimpse of a subculture that had previously been ridiculed on shows like “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.”
“You cannot overemphasize those beards,” Mr. Wald said. “They looked like Greenwich Village to the rest of America. They were the first to go mainstream with an artistic, intellectual, beat image.”
Although the arrival of the Beatles and other British invasion bands spelled the end of the folk revival, Peter, Paul and Mary remained popular throughout the 1960s. The albums “A Song Will Rise” (1965), “See What Tomorrow Brings” (1965) and “Album 1700” (1967) sold well, as did the singles “For Lovin’ Me” and “Early Morning Rain,” both by Gordon Lightfoot, and Mr. Dylan’s “When the Ship Comes In.” The gently satirical single “I Dig Rock and Roll Music” (1967) reached the Top 10, and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (1969), their last hit, reached No. 1 on the charts.
In 1970, after releasing the greatest-hits album “Ten Years Together,” the group disbanded. Ms. Travers embarked on a solo career, with limited success, releasing five albums in the 1970s. The first, “Mary” (1971), was the most successful, followed by “Morning Glory” (1972), “All My Choices” (1973), “Circles” (1974) and “It’s in Everyone of Us” (1978).
Ms. Travers’s first three marriages ended in divorce. She is survived by her fourth husband, Ethan Robbins; two daughters, Erika Marshall of Naples, Fla., and Alicia Travers of Greenwich, Conn.; a sister, Ann Gordon of Oakland, Calif.; and two grandchildren.
Peter, Paul and Mary reunited to perform at a benefit to oppose nuclear power in 1978 and thereafter kept to a limited schedule of tours around the world. Many of their concerts benefited political causes. “I was raised to believe that everybody has a responsibility to their community and I use the word very loosely,” Ms. Travers told The Times in 1999. “It’s a big community. If I get recognized in the middle of the Sinai Desert I have a big community.”
It was a faithful community. Musical fashions changed, but fans stayed loyal to the music and the political ideals of the group. Ms. Travers once told the music magazine Goldmine, “People say to us, ‘Oh, I grew up with your music,’ and we often say, sotto voce, ‘So did we.’ ”
Jury Still Out on Music's Benefits for Preemies
There is no high-quality evidence that listening to music helps tiny babies born prematurely cope with pain, feed better and calm down, according to a review of studies.
While there are some "preliminary" indications that music could be helpful for specific purposes, such as easing pain during circumcision, "these findings need to be confirmed in methodologically rigorous trials," Dr. Manoj Kumar of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada and his colleagues conclude.
Premature infants must undergo a multitude of painful procedures, such as blood sampling with heel pricks, often without pain killing medication or other tactics, the researchers point out.
They reviewed the medical literature to determine if music, which has been promoted as helping preemies in many ways, could indeed reduce pain during such procedures and have other benefits.
The researchers identified nine studies: three of music for circumcision pain; three for pain during heel prick; and three looking at music's impact on behavior like crying and other signs of stress, feeding rates and "physiological" measures.
Overall, Kumar and his colleagues found, the studies were of poor quality.
Two of the circumcision studies were of poor quality and found no benefit, but one high-quality study in 23 infants found that music did help reduce heart rate, boost oxygen levels in the blood, and ease pain.
The heel prick studies all found benefits of music for behavior and pain, but were all of low quality.
Of the remaining studies, one found music helped improve a few measures of behavior. The second, in 32 poorly feeding preemies, found feeding improved in babies given pacifiers that activated a lullaby when sucked, compared to babies who didn't get the musical binkies.
The third study, in 22 preemies with lung disease, found no benefit of music on any physiological measures.
If pacifier-activated music could indeed help newborns feed better, it could have major benefits, the researchers note; however, the study in the review didn't report on important factors such as how soon babies were able to begin feeding on their own.
Additional studies of higher-quality are needed on the potential benefits of music for newborns before any recommendations can be made on its use, Kumar and colleagues conclude.
SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood, Fetal Neonatal Edition, September 2009.
Microsoft: No TCP/IP Patches for You, XP
Won't fix flaws addressed in Vista, says firewall can stymie attacks
Microsoft late last week said it won't patch Windows XP for a pair of bugs it quashed Sept. 8 in Vista, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008.
The news adds Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and SP3 to the no-patch list that previously included only Windows 2000 Server SP4.
"We're talking about code that is 12 to 15 years old in its origin, so backporting that level of code is essentially not feasible," said security program manager Adrian Stone during Microsoft's monthly post-patch Webcast, referring to Windows 2000 and XP.
"An update for Windows XP will not be made available," Stone and fellow program manager Jerry Bryant said during the Q&A portion of the Webcast (transcript here).
Last Tuesday, Microsoft said that it wasn't patching Windows 2000 because creating a fix was "infeasible."
The bugs in question are in Windows' implementation of TCP/IP, the Web's default suite of connection protocols. All three of the vulnerabilities highlighted in the MS09-048 update were patched in Vista and Server 2008. Only two of the trio affect Windows Server 2000 and Windows XP, Microsoft said in the accompanying advisory, which was refreshed on Thursday.
In the revised advisory, Microsoft explained why it won't patch Windows XP, the world's most popular operating system. "By default, Windows XP SP2, Windows XP SP3 and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition SP2 do not have a listening service configured in the client firewall and are therefore not affected by this vulnerability," the company said. "Windows XP SP2 and later operating systems include a stateful host firewall that provides protection for computers against incoming traffic from the Internet or from neighboring network devices on a private network."
Although the two bugs can be exploited on Windows 2000 and XP, Microsoft downplayed their impact. "A system would become unresponsive due to memory consumption ... [but] a successful attack requires a sustained flood of specially crafted TCP packets, and the system will recover once the flood ceases."
Microsoft rated the vulnerabilities on Windows 2000 and XP as "important" on Windows 2000, and as "low" on XP. The company uses a four-step scoring system, where "low" is the least-dangerous threat, followed in ascending order by "moderate," "important" and "critical."
The same two bugs were ranked "moderate" for Vista and Server 2008, while a third -- which doesn't affect the older operating systems -- was rated "critical."
During the Q&A, however, Windows users repeatedly asked Microsoft's security team to explain why it wasn't patching XP, or if, in certain scenarios, their machines might be at risk. "We still use Windows XP and we do not use Windows Firewall," read one of the user questions. "We use a third-party vendor firewall product. Even assuming that we use the Windows Firewall, if there are services listening, such as remote desktop, wouldn't then Windows XP be vulnerable to this?"
"Servers are a more likely target for this attack, and your firewall should provide additional protections against external exploits," replied Stone and Bryant.
Another user asked them to spell out the conditions under which Microsoft won't offer up patches for still-supported operating systems. Windows Server 2000 SP4, for example, is to receive security updates until July 2010; Windows XP's support doesn't expire until April 2014.
Stone's and Bryant's answer: "We will continue to provide updates for Windows 2000 while it is in support unless it is not technically feasible to do so."
Skipping patches is very unusual for Microsoft. According to a Stone and Bryant, the last time it declined to patch a vulnerability in a support edition of Windows was in March 2003, when it said it wouldn't fix a bug in Windows NT 4.0. Then, it explained the omission with language very similar to what it used when it said it wouldn't update Windows 2000.
"Due to these fundamental differences between Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 and its successors, it is infeasible to rebuild the software for Windows NT 4.0 to eliminate the vulnerability," Microsoft said at the time.
6 Unique Features That Make Opera 10 Stand Out
Opera, one of the oldest names in the browser world, has just released its latest version. There must be something that enabled Opera to survive for so long. And looking at its track record, it’s only natural for users to expect something special with this version 10.
Being an Opera long-time fan (back to the days of Netscape vs. IE), I’m also curious about what goodies Opera 10 has to offer. So I gave Opera 10 – Mac version for me – a test drive, and here is my Opera browser review with several nice features that I like.
Speed Dial those pages
The first thing that users will notice is the “speed dial” page which will always be shown every time a new blank page is opened. The idea is that users will be able to access their favorite pages using these pre-configured “dial-pad”. Something like “Top Sites” in Safari.opera browser review
There are nine default boxes, click an empty one to add a web page and click on an assigned one to go directly to that page.
Users can configure how many dial-pad boxes they want – from 4 (2 x 2) to 25 (5 x 5), what background image to show, or whether they want to hide or show speed dial.opera browser review
What makes this feature special is the ability to synchronize these speed dial boxes to other Operas in other places, even under different OSes and different devices.
Link with Opera Link
The synchronization process discussed above is done using a feature called Opera Link. Using this service, users can synchronize Speed Dial, Bookmarks, Personal Bar, Typed History, Notes, and Searches.
But before using it, users should sign up first for an Opera account.
I think this synchronization feature could be Opera’s strongest selling point because of the existence of Opera Mini. As one of the leaders in mobile browsers, Opera Mini could “persuade” its users to try the desktop version just to have all of their data synchronized between devices.
Playing with Panels
Opera has a customized side panel which can be opened by clicking the “Panels” button next to tabs. give me information on the browser operaUsers can fill in the panels with useful tools like Bookmarks, Widgets, Notes and History, by going to Tools –> Appearance menu give me information on the browser operaand then choosing the Panels tab.opera web browser reviews
Mail and Chat
Opera has an email client built-in the browser. Even though some users might prefer a stand-alone client, others would likely embrace the idea of Mail-Browser integration.
The first step of using this client is creating an account.opera web browser reviews
Beside email, there are other kinds of account that could be set, such as Newsgroups and IRC chat. (I wonder whether anybody still use these two classics and I also wonder why Opera included them).opera web browser reviews
Peeking through tabs
This one is a simple feature which I think is very useful. Users can peek into the background tabs just by hovering the mouse above the tab.opera browser reviews
Turbo-charge the browsing experience
Opera 10 has another unique feature called Opera Turbo. Opera claims that this feature is able to boost the Internet bandwidth speed on slow connections by using Opera proxy servers to compress data and image traffic before they reach the browser.
To enable the feature, just click on the Opera Turbo’s teeny-weeny button on the bottom-left corner of the window.opera browser reviews
Users should customize the turbo setting first before using it. There are three settings available: Automatic, On and Off. opera browser reviews
Those with slow internet connections will be grateful for this free service provided by Opera as there are many similar services out there that charge high monthly fees for more or less the same features.
Surely, there are many more features in Opera 10 such as mouse gestures and widget support (similar to addons for Firefox), but for now, I’ll limit myself to these favorite features of mine.
And if you think you still need a little bit “nudge” to try Opera, please look at the CPU usage comparison between Opera and our favorite Firefox. (Those are dynamic numbers which always change slightly from time to time, but you get the picture, right?)free opera browser
One more thing, for this Opera browser review I used Opera for Mac, but I assume the features would be the same under different OS. Opera 10 is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, QNX, OS/2 and BeOS.
Times Web Ads Show Security Breach
OVER the weekend, some visitors to the Web site of The New York Times received a nasty surprise. An unknown person or group sneaked a rogue advertisement onto the site’s pages.
The malicious ad took over the browsers of many people visiting the site, as their screens filled with an image that seemed to show a scan for computer viruses. The visitors were then told that they needed to buy antivirus software to fix a problem, but the software was more snake oil than a useful program.
Exploiting weaknesses in online ad systems is an increasingly common approach for computer criminals around the globe who hope to make a quick buck from the audiences of the sites they attack. Experts say the problem is likely to get worse as companies scramble to satiate a click-happy online culture.
“The development of multimedia ads, mini-applications and social networking tools is far outpacing the speed of the thinking process about the security that goes into those applications,” said Joe Stewart, a director of malware research at SecureWorks, a security services company.
Web sites like FoxNews.com have been victims of such attacks in the past. And there were anecdotal reports in recent days of similar ads popping up on a range of sites.
Kelly Harville, a spokeswoman for The San Francisco Chronicle, said the newspaper was looking into a problem on its site. “We did get hit with something over the weekend,” she said. “We’re still looking into it.”
While Web site owners usually review the ads they run for quality control and security reasons, many online ads are sold and distributed through middlemen known as ad networks. As a result, ads can appear on a site that its operators have not directly approved, and they may be pulled into its pages from computer servers that it does not control.
About half of the ads delivered to The Times’s Web site come from ad networks. As reports of strange activity came in over the weekend, the technical and advertising staff at The Times began to suspect that a rogue ad had slipped through this way, and they moved to stop displaying such ads, said Diane McNulty, a spokeswoman for the Times Company.
But it now appears that the ad was approved by the site’s advertising operations team, Ms. McNulty said. People visiting nytimes.com continued to complain about the pop-up ads throughout the weekend.
“Our first instinct was that it was a third-party ad network,” said Marc Frons, chief technology officer of the Times Company. “That is where we looked first and why it took a longer amount of time to shut down. The other issue is that it was sporadic and difficult to reproduce.”
The creator of the malicious ads posed as Vonage, the Internet telephone company, and persuaded NYTimes.com to run ads that initially appeared as real ads for Vonage. At some point, possibly late Friday, the campaign switched to displaying the virus warnings.
Because The Times thought the campaign came straight from Vonage, which has advertised on the site before, it allowed the advertiser to use an outside vendor that it had not vetted to actually deliver the ads, Ms. McNulty said. That allowed the switch to take place. “In the future, we will not allow any advertiser to use unfamiliar third-party vendors,” she said.
Mr. Frons said it was unclear how many people saw the ads.
Security experts say that people who followed the ads’ instructions and installed the fake antivirus software will likely receive periodic offers to buy more types of software. (Most legitimate antivirus programs are able to clean up the mess left behind.)
“Once they’ve fooled you with one thing, they try and fool you with something else,” said Kevin Haley, a director in the security software maker Symantec’s response team. “It’s extremely profitable for them.”
According to security experts, groups that are often based in Russia and Ukraine create the fake antivirus software and then recruit people to help distribute it by giving them a cut of any money made by selling the software. These so-called affiliates can mimic the advertisements of legitimate companies, learn their techniques for submitting ads to networks and sites, meddle with ad servers and then go so far as to provide customer support for people who install the software, keeping the scam running as long as possible.
The malicious ads and software can damage a Web site’s reputation and make its visitors nervous. The Register, a British technology news site, was hit in 2004. “We took down all of our ads for several days, even when we were told the problem had been fixed,” said Drew Cullen, an editor for the Web site. “We wanted to make absolutely certain that everything was fine, so that our readers would have faith in us.”
When a Web site with millions of readers is tricked into running such ads, it can generate a flood of software sales for the criminals, but it can also draw more attention than they had hoped for, Mr. Stewart said.
“Still, there’s probably not a big downside for them,” he said. “They will make plenty of money.”
The Times posted a note about the ad problem on its Web site Sunday. Ms. McNulty said it was considering working with law enforcement in a bid to track down the people who submitted the deceptive ad, while also creating new policies to prevent such mistakes.
Safety First for IT Executives in China
US Government recommends weighing laptop before and after each visit.
Senior executives in US IT companies have been advised by the US Government to follow extremely strict policies for visits to China which extend far beyond standard software protection.
The policies encourage them to leave their standard IT equipment at home and to buy separate gear only for use in China.
Mark Bregman, chief technology officer at security firm Symantec said he left his MacBook Pro behind in the US and took his MacBook Air whenever he flew to China. Bregman said he only ever used the Air in China and re-imaged the machine every time he returned home.
However, he said he was "pretty relaxed" when it came to following the security policies. "I don't let my IT department near my laptop," he said.
"I was advised by people in three-letter agencies in the US Government to weigh the machine before I left and when I got back," Bregman said.
"They also don't want me to take my phone. They said to buy a mobile phone in the US and throw it away when you come back."
Bregman said the US was also concerned about its companies employing Chinese coders, particularly in security.
He said the "software supply concern" was due to fears that Chinese developers would insert malicious code into software sold to American companies or the US government.
"If you're a big company doing development in China the US government asks, ‘Why should we trust you? We won't buy from you.'"
However, he said every software company used developers in China including Microsoft, Oracle and others.
And Bregman asked why the US should fear Chinese developers but not US developers, when terrorist attacks were carried out in the US by American citizens.
Instead of worrying about the software products produced in China, the US Government should look at the tools and processes software vendors use to test their code, he said.
Symantec, as a security vendor which analyses code for malware, should be considered very reliable, said Bregman.
Bregman said the US had never asked Symantec to gather evidence using its own products.
"I'm not paid by the US Government. Why would I do it?
"I want all governments and customers to be assured that the software I'm selling them does what I say it does and nothing more."
State's Top Court OK's Use of Secret GPS Tracking Devices
John R. Ellement
For the first time, the state's highest court ruled today that the state Declaration of Rights allows police to break into a suspect’s car to secretly install GPS tracking devices, provided they have a warrant before they act.
In a unanimous ruling written by Justice Judith Cowin, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the drug trafficking conviction of Everett H. Connolly, a Cape Cod man who was tracked by State Police after they installed a GPS device in his minivan.
The court said using GPS devices as an investigative tool – which can require police to secretly break into a vehicle to install the device – does not violate the ban on unreasonable search and seizures found in the state’s Declaration of Rights.
“We hold that warrants for GPS monitoring of a vehicle may be issued,’’ Cowin wrote. “The Commonwealth must establish, before a magistrate… that GPS monitoring of the vehicle will produce evidence’’ that a crime has been committed, or will be committed in the near future.
The SJC said the devices can only be installed for 15 days. Generally, search warrants are in effect for just seven days.
Three justices – Justices Ralph Gants, Robert Cordy and Margot Botsford – generally agreed with Cowin's conclusion. But they said the SJC must address the issue through the prism of privacy rights of the individual to be free from constant government monitoring.
“Our constitutional analysis should focus on the privacy interest at risk from contemporaneous GPS monitoring, not simply the property interest,’’ Justice Ralph Gants wrote for the group.
“Only then will we be able to establish a constitutional jurisprudence that can adapt to changes in the technology of real-time monitoring, and that can better balance the legitimate needs of law enforcement with the legitimate privacy concerns of our citizens," he wrote.
In 2004 while sitting in his minivan, Connolly sold crack cocaine to an undercover officer in Harwich. On Aug. 31, 2004, State Police installed the GPS device inside Connolly’s van while it was parked at his apartment complex.
When he returned form New York – where police learned he obtained his cocaine – State Police stopped him on Route 6 and seized the van. Inside, they found a ball of cocaine weighing 124 grams.
Connolly was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in state prison by Barnstable Superior Court Judge Gary Nickerson.
Blockbuster to Close Up to 960 Stores by End of 2010
Top U.S. movie rental chain Blockbuster Inc, which is facing tough competition from Netflix Inc and Coinstar Inc's Redbox, plans to close up to 960 stores by the end of next year.
The company said in a regulatory filing on Tuesday that along with the conversion of certain stores to outlets and lease mitigation or termination efforts, total store closures would be in the range of 1,335 to 1,560.
The company expects a one-time net working capital benefit of $26 million from the store closures.
Blockbuster, a provider of retail movie and game entertainment, had over 7,100 stores in the United States and its territories and 20 other countries as of July 5.
The brick-and-mortar company has struggled to reposition itself while fending off increasing competition from Redbox, which rents films for $1 per night at automated kiosks, and Netflix's mail-order service.
Blockbuster's shares closed at $1.40 Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Purwa Naveen Raman in Bangalore; Editing by Anne Pallivathuckal)
Pirate Bay Buyer Faces Bankruptcy
A creditor of Global Gaming Factory X, the potential buyer of The Pirate Bay site, has asked a court in Stockholm to declare the company bankrupt.
The bankruptcy suit for the Swedish advertising and software company has been submitted to the Stockholm District Court, according to a report in Svenska Dagbladet. Global Gaming Factory X grabbed international headlines when it announced on June 30th its intention to take over The Pirate Bay.
Global Gaming Factory X was due to pay Advatar System 1,378,525 kronor ($200,204) by July 25th this year - a debt which today remains unpaid.
Johan Sellström - a former board member of the Global Gaming Factory X and Advatar Systems' Managing Director - is reportedly now tired of chasing the overdue debt. The suit states that "the debtor canot legally pay its debts, and such incapacity cannot be regarded as 'temporary'."
Global Gaming Factory X's ambitious plans to acquire Pirate Bay now seem likely to be put on hold due to question marks over the company's lack of capital.
Stockholm district court will hear the case in November, according to a spokeswoman at the court.
Global Gaming Factory has been in trouble since August 21st when trading of its shares was suspended after it was accused of financial irregularities. On September 10th, the company was kicked off equity market Aktietorget when regulators concluded it had misled investors with claims that it was set to buy Pirate Bay.
Media reports have suggested its announcement on June 30th to buy the site was merely a bluff to boost its share price.
Kiosk of Piracy: An Offline Copy of The Pirate Bay
In the past weeks the Pirate Bay has been ripped, copied and rebuilt by avid file-sharers, guaranteeing that the site’s legacy will be preserved no matter what. The people behind the Kiosk of Piracy take this trend to a whole new level as they have created an offline copy of the site which is open to the public.
When The Pirate Bay team announced they were selling the site, many BitTorrent fans feared that one of the largest collection of torrents would vanish forever. To prevent this from happening several people started collecting TPB torrents which they distributed to the public, while others used them to rebuild the site elsewhere on the Internet.
However, the Pirate Bay ’spirit’ doesn’t end at the borders of the Internet. To prove this, the people behind the Kiosk of Piracy installed a copy of the site on a local WiFi network that is open to the public but not actually connected to the Internet.
“The Kiosk is not connected to the Internet in any way, but the interested public is invited to use the service in a WiFi-radius around it,” the people behind the project write on their weblog.
Even in a worst case scenario where anti-piracy outfits manage to shut down the Internet because it assists in copyright infringement, people will still be able to trade files. As the Kiosk of Piracy people explain:
“With our newest project, we are joining the work of the dear people and groups which managed to duplicate the contents of The Pirate Bay on other places in the Net. We want to show in a very physical way that the Internet is neither a machine nor controllable in any way – it is just a system of agreements which work in any circumstances. We don’t need the Internet – the magic can happen anywhere.”
The downside is that this old fashioned file-sharing network will cause some logistical problems, unless you live in Weimar, Germany. But then again, everyone can setup a similar system in his or her backyard by using some old hardware.
For those interested in visiting the Kiosk of Piracy, a map of the exact location is available below. Detailed download instructions are available on the spot.
Until next week,
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